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Sunday, February 26, 2017


Most people I've talked to expect this year's Academy Awards to be pretty predictable. La La Land, with 14 nominations, is tied for the most nods in Oscar history. It would need 11 wins to tie with Titanic, Ben-Hur and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for the most trophies ever. Though this may be a tall order, many believe that La La Land is the favorite in many of the major categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Music (Score and Song), Best Cinematography, Best Editing and for other technical awards. But all I have to say is this: remember Boyhood. Though Boyhood didn't have quite the tally of nominations that La La Land has, it was the favorite of just about everyone to win the major awards in 2015. But Birdman took home the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (though Michael Keaton lost for Best Actor, which was also a bit of an upset after the award went to Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything). My point? Upsets happen. And in a year with so many great talents, as well as strong powers at play in the political/personal arena, I'd suggest three words of caution: expect the unexpected.

Though La La Land is undoubtedly the favorite this year, 2016 also was possibly the strongest year ever for diversity in film. And, according to many, 2016 was the year of Moonlight. According to Metacritic, Moonlight was the best-reviewed movie of last year. But that's not all. After two consecutive years of #OscarsSoWhite, there were more than 20 nominations in various categories for films with non-white main characters including Moonlight, which were Fences, Hidden Figures, Loving, and Lion. Also, 2016 did not exist in a vacuum. Outside of the immense talent from diverse filmmakers on screen, 2016 was a year fraught with violence against minorities from police and white supremacists and the advent of the Trump presidency. One of the reasons the Oscars are so significant is that winners are also considered based on the zeitgeist at the time (for example, Sean Penn won Best Actor for Milk in 2009 after California voted in Prop 8, which some considered an upset for Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler). My conclusion is that it would be entirely appropriate for a coming-of-age film about a poor, black and gay kid in Miami based in part on the biography of its extremely talented writer-director Barry Jenkins to take home some of the top awards as well. 

The Oscars is often unpredictable and is also very important in the national psyche. Though a recent poll showed that two-thirds of Americans couldn't name a single Best Picture nominee, 7-in-10 admitted that they will tune in for the awards. Therefore, who wins is very important. To pure film junkies, it's important that a new generation of young and talented filmmakers could have their lives changed tonight. For others, tonight is a chance for their struggles to be recognized by the Academy and therefore the country. Either way, in a year with so much originality and so many Millennials poised to take home the top awards, tonight has the potential to be life-changing for many. For these reasons, the night of Academy Awards is my favorite TV night of the year. So, let the Oscars begin!


  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • Hidden Figures
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Moonlight

WILL WIN: La La Land

COULD WIN: Moonlight

SHOULD WIN: Manchester by the Sea (my personal favorite)


  • Casey Affleck - Manchester by the Sea
  • Andrew Garfield - Hacksaw Ridge 
  • Ryan Gosling - La La Land
  • Viggo Mortensen - Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington - Fences

WILL WIN: Casey Affleck - Manchester by the Sea

COULD WIN: Denzel Washington - Fences

SHOULD WIN: Casey Affleck (This category could go either way – Affleck gave a surprisingly powerful performance, but Denzel is Denzel, though he also already has two Oscars) 


  • Emma Stone - La La Land
  • Natalie Portman - Jackie 
  • Ruth Negga - Loving
  • Meryl Streep - Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Isabelle Huppert - Elle

WILL WIN: Isabelle Huppert - Elle

COULD WIN: Emma Stone - La La Land

DARK HORSE: Natalie Portman - Jackie

SHOULD WIN: Isabelle Huppert (I don't think it'll be Emma Stone, though just about everyone else thinks it will be. I think Isabelle Huppert gave the most riveting performance by far)


  • Mahershala Ali - Moonlight
  • Jeff Bridges - Hell or High Water
  • Lucas Hedges - Manchester by the Sea 
  • Dev Patel - Lion
  • Michael Shannon - Nocturnal Animals

WILL WIN: Dev Patel - Lion

COULD WIN: Mahershala Ali - Moonlight

SHOULD WIN: Dev Patel (I'm bucking the expert opinions on this category and going with Patel, who was a far more integral in making Lion what is was than Mahershala Ali was in Moonlight, since the latter only appeared in the film for like 15 minutes)


  • Viola Davis - Fences
  • Naomie Harris - Moonlight
  • Nicole Kidman - Lion
  • Octavia Spencer - Hidden Figures
  • Michelle Williams - Manchester by the Sea

WILL WIN: Viola Davis - Fences

COULD WIN: Michelle Williams - Manchester by the Sea

SHOULD WIN: Viola Davis (this is the only category I'm 99% sure about)


  • Denis Villeneuve - Arrival
  • Mel Gibson - Hacksaw Ridge
  • Damien Chazelle - La La Land
  • Barry Jenkins - Moonlight
  • Kenneth Lonergan - Manchester by the Sea

WILL WIN: Damien Chazelle - La La Land

COULD WIN: Barry Jenkins - Moonlight

SHOULD WIN: Damien Chazelle 


  • Kenneth Lonergan - Manchester by the Sea
  • Taylor Sheridan - Hell or High Water
  • Damien Chazelle - La La Land
  • Mike Mills - 20th Century Women
  • Efthymis Filippou & Yorgos Lanthimos - The Lobster

WILL WIN: Kenneth Lonergan - Manchester by the Sea

COULD WIN: Damien Chazelle - La La Land

SHOULD WIN: Kenneth Lonergan

  • Luke Davies - Lion
  • Eric Heisserer - Arrival
  • Barry Jenkins - Moonlight
  • Theodore Melfi & Allison Schroeder - Hidden Figures
  • Fences - August Wilson
WILL WIN: Barry Jenkins - Moonlight

COULD WIN: August Williams - Fences

SHOULD WIN: Barry Jenkins - Moonlight

Saturday, December 31, 2016

La La Land

LA LA LAND (2016)

written & directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling

ENJOYMENT: **** (out of 4)

Musicals are cheesy. They're for adults. Adults are boring. Therefore, musicals are boring. If you're anything like me, this may have been the view you held as a child about a film where the cast gets out of their cars to sing and dance on a busy Hollywood freeway in the middle of rush hour. But now as an adult, I must say that I like this movie a hell of a lot. And I'm not the only one. In fact, La La Land is the best reviewed major-release movie so far this year as determined by all audience members on IMDB and has a 9.0/10 average among >10,000 reviewers under 29 years old. This may be because La La Land is the first original musical of the 21st century and was made by a member of our generation (31 year-old writer-director Damien Chazelle, creator of Whiplash). In this world, a woman's dreams are just as important as a man's, and both partners support each other's aspirations as much as their own – for better or worse. 

La La Land is about a young aspiring actress, Mia (Emma Stone), who works as a barista in a movie studio cafe and auditions for many roles, but is stuck. After a disappointing night out, Mia stumbles into a dingy Hollywood restaurant where she hears the heartfelt jazz pianist, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). This starts a love story that depicts the life of many aspiring artists in Hollywood – a life of auditions, rejections, unfulfilling jobs, old movie theaters, Griffith Park, traffic and grungy restaurants. Both Mia and Sebastian want success in their own careers and support the hell out of each other, but their individual paths may end up at odds with each other's. What unfolds is one of the most engulfing films of the year, full of amazing music (jazz!), colors and beautiful faces. In the end, La La Land is the first movie I've seen in 2016 that I'm excited to see for a second (and third) time. 

Oscar predictions
  • Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Emma Stone), Best Actor (Ryan Gosling), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Song ("City of Stars")
  • Wins: Best Picture (similar chances as Manchester by the Sea or Moonlight), Best Director (maybe), Best Original Score, Best Song

Manchester by the Sea


written & directed by Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count On Me)

starring Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler

ENJOYMENT: **** (out of 4)

On a single day in a life of tragedy and regret, it might be hard to understand exactly the events that led to that point. Who's at fault? Can it it get better? You're in a job you can't stand. You and your wife are separated. You have lost track of your kids. You feel all alone in the world. Then, one day, your one connection to normalcy disappears and you're faced with a choice: do you make a last-ditched effort to engage or do you recede ever more into oblivion? In Manchester by the Sea, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is presented with this choice. As his story unfolds through a series of disparate-seeming flashbacks that eventually tell his story, Lee begins to understand who he is as a man, and, more acutely, as an uncle. After a tragedy leaves Patrick (Lucas Hedges) in the care of his Uncle Lee, the two men explore their existence together in the small New England town that gives the film its name. Filled with love and comedy as well as utter tragedy, Manchester by the Sea is the most honest depiction of the trials as well as the joys of life that I have seen all year. For this, and for its impeccable acting, cinematography and score, this is my favorite film so far this year.

Oscar predictions
  • Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Casey Affleck), Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score
  • Wins: Best Picture (similar chances as La La Land and Moonlight), Best Director (maybe), Best Original Screenplay
  • Snubs: Best Supporting Actor (Lucas Hedges)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Stanford Prison Experiment


directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez

written by Tim Talbott

starring Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, Billy Crudup

ENJOYMENT: *** (out of 4)

"Decent indie movie about the importance of a rigorous institutional review board for academic research using human subjects."

Inside Out


directed by Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen (Up, Monsters Inc.)

written by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve & Josh Cooley

starring Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black

ENJOYMENT: *** (out of 4)

"Cute. And deep for a kids' film. But it may be a bit too cutesy for my taste to be taken seriously, which is something that the film seems to want."

While We're Young


written & directed by Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, Mistress America)

starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried

ENJOYMENT: *** (out of 4)

"Baumbach has had a very prolific couple years, having released two movies in 2015 alone (the other being Mistress America). This film was funny and thoughtful with good actors delivering decent performances, but not Baumbach's bests."

Mistress America


directed by Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, While We're Young)

written by Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig

starring Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Matthew Shear

ENJOYMENT: *** (out of 4)

"From an amazing writer-director team, this dry comedy is interesting and sorta real – in the the vain of an episode of Girls. But even the best directors have flops. So many scenes needed to be reshot and yet they made it through the end. All in all, eh."