Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Oscars 2017


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has released its list of nominations for the Academy Awards.  Winners will be announced during the annual Oscar telecast on February 26. 

Below, we've listed the nominees in each category.  Every year, there are surprise nominees and equally surprising omissions, and following several categories we have added notes acknowledging them. 

First, though, some meta-facts about this year's nominations:


Nominations by Film
14 - La La Land  (Tied with Titanic and All About Eve for the most ever)
  8 - Arrival, Moonlight
  6 - Hacksaw Ridge, Lion, Manchester by the Sea
  4 - Fences, Hell or High Water
  3 - Hidden Figures, Jackie
  2 - Deepwater Horizon, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Florence Foster Jenkins, Kubo             and the Two Strings, A Man Called Ove, Moana, Passengers, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

20 - Meryl Streep broke her own record for number of nominations

  7 - Denzel Washington (Fences) broke his own record for number of nominations for a Black actor

13 - Dev Patel (Lion) is the first Indian actor in 13 years to be nominated

  3 - Viola Davis (Fences) is the first Black actress to achieve 3 nominations (Doubt, The Help)

8/0 - Arrival has 8 nominations but 0 (zero) for acting

6/3 - Manchester by the Sea had 6 nominations and 3 for acting

  6 - People of Color who received acting nominations--a record.

Best Picture
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
(Mild surprises: Hacksaw, HoHW, Hidden Figures in, but no Loving, or Jackie, Sully, Silence)

Damien Chazelle - La La Land
Mel Gibson - Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins - Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan - Manchester by the Sea
Denis Villenueve - Arrival
(Surprise: Mel in, Scorsese out;  mild disappointment: no David Mackenzie for Hell or High Water)

Actor in a Leading Role
Casey Affleck - Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield - Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling - La La Land
Viggo Mortenson - Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington - Fences
(Surprise: Viggo Mortenson in, Tom Hanks out)

Actress in a Leading Role
Isabelle Huppert - Elle
Ruth Negga - Loving
Natalie Portman - Jackie
Emma Stone - La La Land
Meryl Streep - Florence Foster Jenkins
(Surprise: Ruth Negga, but no Amy Adams--lead in Arrival, film with 8 noms; no Annette Bening)

Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali - Moonlight
Jeff Bridges - Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges - Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel - Lion
Michael Shannon - Nocturnal Animals
(Shannon supplants co-sideman Aaron Taylor-Johnson; no Hugh Grant for Florence Foster Jenkins)

Actress in a Supporting Role
Viola Davis - Fences
Naomie Harris - Moonlight
Nicole Kidman - Lion
Octavia Spencer - Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams - Manchester by the Sea
(Oscar got it right)

Original Screenplay
20th Century Women
Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea

Adapted Screenplay
Hidden Figures

Foreign Language Film
A Man Called Ove - Sweden
Land of Mine - Denmark
The Salesman - Iran
Tanna - Australia
Toni Erdmann - Germany

Animated Feature
Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
($1 billion+ WW earner Finding Dory up the creek)

Sound Editing
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land

Visual Effects
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Film Editing
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land

Short Film, Animated
Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Short Film, Live Action
Ennemis Interieurs
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights
Sing (Mindenki)

Documentary Short Subject
4.1 Miles
Joe's Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

Original Score
La La Land

Original Song
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) - La La Land
Can't Stop the Feeling - Trolls
City of Stars - La La Land
The Empty Chair - Jim: The James Foley Story
How Far I'll Go - Moana

Production Design
 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
 Hail, Caesar!
 La La Land

La La Land 

Costume Design
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
La La Land

A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

Documentary Feature
Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
O.J.: Made in America

Sound Mixing
13 Hours
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Fences Review

FENCES Review 01/10/2017

In my review of La La Land, among my many compliments, I noted that fans of musical theater will especially love it.  I bring this up because, two days later I saw Fences and my immediate thought was, fans of stage dramas will love this.  Before Denzel Washington brought it to the screen, he and Viola Davis starred in a Broadway revival of August Wilson's Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning chapter of his "Pittsburgh Cycle" of plays.  Washington serves as director and lead role in this gripping family drama of the African-American experience in 1950s Pittsburgh.  It truly seems like a play brought to the screen.  With the exception of a few establishing shots of the neighborhood with steel mill smokestacks in the background, most scenes play out in and around a home in the Hill District.  The small cast and minimalist score accentuate the intimacy of the film, effectively focusing our attention on the details therein, from dynamic interactions to nuances of expression and foreshadowing.

As the story opens, Troy Maxson (Washington), a 53-year old garbageman, is on his way home from work with Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson), his long-time Sancho Panza, who feeds Troy's ego while trying to keep him grounded in reality.  The men settle in Troy's backyard and crack open a pint of gin, soon to be joined by Troy's sober and stoic wife Rose (Davis).  This setting and set-up become a refrain throughout the film: Troy holds court, beginning his homilies with humorous and boastful memories from his days as a star in the Negro baseball league.  Soon, though, his superficial good nature turns bittersweet and eventually resentful of the treatment of Black athletes by White power brokers.  Each subsequent set of recollections reveals more of Troy's difficult history and provides a window into his current behaviors, including his battle to become the first Black driver for the Pittsburgh DPW; his reluctance to sign a letter allowing his and Rose's son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), a football scholarship; his refusal to see Lyons (Russell Hornsby), his 34-year old son from a previous marriage and aspiring musician, play blues at a local club; and his relationship with his brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson in a touching turn), who suffered brain damage during WWII.  Through it all, Rose is his rock; she tries to bring Troy closer to those he loves, even as he seems to want to push them away.  In the end, we learn that some people build fences to keep people in, and some build fences to push the devil-world out.

Like the marvelous Doubt (2008), which won the same awards as a play, Fences features powerful performances (coincidentally, with Davis in both) and mercilessly intense writing.  August Wilson's adaptation of his play is honest, and the big screen amplifies the power of this film and its performances.  Denzel Washington has never been better, but he is oddly taken for granted in his best roles (and off-handedly awarded an Oscar for his lesser, bombastic lead in Training Day).  He has many dazzling peaks, but his best scene is a quiet recollection. Troy's bombast needs a counterpoint, and Viola Davis's subtle, stoic Rose is pitch-perfect.  It is reminiscent of Sally Hawkins portrayal, as Cate Blanchett's sister in Blue Jasmine, but where Hawkins's performance got lost in the hype surrounding Lupita Nyong'o, no such injustice will occur this year.  Davis ensures that in one heart-wrenching scene where pent up frustrations brought on by years of unrewarded acceptance and patience burst forth from Rose, and it is this scene, within this performance, that makes Viola Davis an absolute lock for the Supporting Actress Oscar. 

8.5 out of 10

FilmZ and Guy S. Malone, Researcher 

Here is a good article giving background of August Wilson and Fences:

La La Land Review

LA LA LAND Review   01/08/2017

Two years ago, Damien Chazelle struck silver as writer-director of the highly regarded Whiplash; this year the 31-year old Auteur hopes to mine gold with his festival darling La La Land.  Whiplash was a heavy drama set in a jazz conservatory, centering on the abusive relationship between an instructor and a callow student drummer. There was music, yes, but one couldn't call Whiplash a musical. For La La Land, Chazelle goes all out on his dream production, enlisting his collaborator, Justin Hurwitz, to compose the score for a full-blown musical.  Yes folks your appreciation of La La Land will hinge on your level of love/tolerance for musical theater, but Chazelle builds in several fail-safes: the ever-charming Emma Stone's natural sweet optimism matches the tone the director aspires to, and former Disney-kid Ryan Gosling has found a role that's right in his wheelhouse.  Chazelle makes another wise choice: instead of having his characters suddenly break out in tunes that seem tacked onto their performances like rococo sconces, the music in La La Land builds organically out of the dialogue and the natural behavior of the characters. 

Few romantic stories begin with a young woman flipping off a young man who is passing her in anger in a Los Angeles traffic jam.  That's the first of several chance meetings between Mia (Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Gosling), a jazz pianist who hopes to own a jazz club one day.  Each subsequent encounter reveals more of their personalities to each other, deepening their mutual attraction; two people drawn to each other personally but whose careers, should one or both meet success, threaten to pull them apart.  As their relationship blooms along with a series of increasingly romantic song and dance duets, culminating in a (figuratively) heavenly number at Mt. Palomar Observatory, there doesn't seem to be any fear that professional success will pull them apart.  Despite their mutual affirmation, Mia meets rejection at every audition, and Sebastian is too much of a jazz traditionalist to evolve into a marketable style.  Well, we know where things go from here, don't we?

The plot of La La Land isn't terribly original, but it's very entertaining.  The music is wonderful--modern without being trendy, jazzy but accessible.  Linus Sandgren's cinematography, along with the set and art designs bring bright hues and excitement and infuses the modern era with Golden Age Hollywood style.  So we buy into it when one is about to perform and the other has promised to come but is held up and might not make it; we don't roll our eyes when one of them gets frustrated and wants to chuck it all and go home or when one one intends to sell out for success.  We buy it because it feels fresh, because the dialogue, the actors, the music, the approach, the vivid hues elicit young love and dreams that are not faded or jaded, because Chazelle has realized his dream and invited us in.

9 out of 10

FilmZ and Guy S. Malone, Researcher  


The Golden Globes sneaked up on my, so here we go just hours before they begin:

Picture - Drama
Will win: Manchester by the Sea; Should Win: Moonlight
The family drama wins out over the startling coming of age film

Actress - Drama
Will win and should win: Natalie Portman (Jackie)

Actor - Drama
Will win: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea); Denzel Washington (Fences)
A competitive field where any choice would be good

Picture - Musical/Comedy
Will win and should win: La La Land
The darling of the festival circuit will pull in the most awards tonight

Actress - Musical/Comedy
Will win and should win: Emma Stone (La La Land)
All nominees are deserving, but--La La Land

Actor - Musical/Comedy
Will win and should win: Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
See above

Supporting Actress
Will win and should win: Viola Davis (Fences)
If you are a betting person, this is the lock (though Naomie Harris is amazing in Moonlight)

Supporting Actor
Will win and should win: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) or Dev Patel (Lion) could surprise

Will win and should win: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
La La Land hits the big four, but Mel Gibson's bid for redemption in Hacksaw Ridge is excellent, too

Animated Film
Will win: Zootopia; Should win: Kubo and the Two Strings
Both are terrific, but I like the fable-like Zen quality of Kubo

Foreign Language Film
Will win: Elle; Should win: Toni Erdmann
This award is for Isabelle Huppert

Will win: Manchester by the Sea; Should win: La La Land
La La Land is just too engaging

Will win and should win: La La Land
When you see this you will want the soundtrack

Will win and should win: City of Lights (La La Land)
If How Far I'll Go (Moana) wins, it wouldn't surprise.

Full disclosure: Where we live, several of the nominated movies either have just arrived or never will.  In those cases, I must rely on the in-depth and thorough research of Guy S. Malone, Researcher. Also, I just saw La La Land yesterday, and I am basking in the glow of its charm.
Hugs, FilmZ

Passengers Review

PASSENGERS Review 01/5/17

Passengers is an odd but entertaining film.  It has an Oscar pedigree: Sony brought in Morton Tyldum (The Imitation Game) to realize Jon Spaihts' blacklist screenplay, and they signed Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt to star.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, three things: First, that assemblage of talent put huge expectations (and a huge target) on its back, and it seems some critics couldn't wait to pounce--several attacked it even before they saw it, others graded it on the curve of Oscar-bait films when all it ever tried to be was a fun popcorn flick with a hook that's meant to provoke thought.  Second, that hook.  The movie features an existential question of moral ambiguity that audiences generally accepted but that some critics self-righteously abhorred.  More on that later.  Third, and this is my biggest complaint, Passengers is a romantic dramedy/Sci-Fi action movie with a thought-provoking, art house core conflict.  This was simply too much turf to cover in a two-hour movie. 

As the film opens, the starship Avalon cuts across the galaxy, carrying more than 200 crew and 5,000 passengers on a 120-year journey to a colony planet.  Suddenly, a meteor field appears, and a huge blast penetrates the ship's deflector shields, foreshadowing problems to come, one of which is the deep hibernation pod of a passenger. Jim Preston (Pratt), a mechanic whose skills are obsolete on Earth but will become valuable in the colony.  Jim soon finds out he is alone; worse, he is only 30 years into the journey, meaning that he will grow old and die alone, his only companion an android bartender named Arthur (a terrific Michael Sheen).  Arthur convinces a despondent Jim to make the most of the situation and enjoy all of the amenities of the Avalon.  Jim dances, he plays basketball, he tinkers, but he can't overcome his loneliness.  When he is at his lowest point, another passenger awakens--Aurora Lane (Lawrence), a writer who wants to be the first journalist to cover life on a colony planet.  Aurora goes through the same grief that Jim has already processed, albeit in somewhat greater luxury as befits her first-class passage.  The relationship between Aurora and Jim develops and deepens until a terrible act of betrayal is revealed, driving them apart.  When it seems that they will live out their lives parallel but separate, the effects of the Avalon's technological and structural problems begin to cascade.  The awakening of deck chief Gus Mancuso (Lawrence Fishburne) offers some enlightenment but no solution and it dawns on them that they are, as Aurora says, "on a sinking ship" and the only hope for the sleeping colonists and crew.

There is a central dichotomy that is both blessing and curse to Passengers: The core conflict that brings the film its originality and thus elevates it above the run-of-the-mill Sci-Fi genre movies also creates the illusion that it aspires to be an awards contender.  Ironically, had it left out that element, it would have been a lesser film, but it probably would have been better received by critics and some audience members.  The two stars have charisma and charm to spare, although our group agreed that, put side-to-side, Lawrence has acting chops that Pratt, for all of his likeability, cannot match; in fact, several of her scenes are as good as we saw all year.  The film is visually stunning; the VFX and set designs are sumptuous and beg to be seen on the big screen, and yet the small cast and the claustrophobic sense of being entrapped with no escape will transfer well to a cold night on the home screen with a glass of Cabernet.  The major drawback of the film is trying to do too much in two hours.  With all that transpires, we are asked to intuit character transformations and some crisis interventions, and, as such, one character's transformation and the film's ending are a bit rushed and ultimately too pat.
As a post script, I stated above that several critics of national publications decided before they even saw Passengers to judge it harshly, and others, lemmings that they are, quickly picked up the narrative, torpedoing the film for viewers.  (It is true that they committed the same mob mentality assassination of Will Smith's Collateral Beauty--see below.)  A polarizing complaint about Passengers is a moral dilemma facing one of the characters, a fatal choice for which there is no right answer.  Given the moral self-righteousness and mob mentality of today's critics, I wonder if they might have condemned the entirety of Lawrence of Arabia because T.E. Lawrence assassinated the helpless Gasim in cold blood and later admitted that he enjoyed it.  And I have yet to hear any complaints about Stockholm Syndrome as it relates to Beauty and the Beast.  That is not to compare Passengers to these classics, but rather to condemn the petty prejudices and hypocrisy of the critical body.  

In the end, consider this companion piece in light of the film Passengers:

8 out of 10

FilmZ with Guy S. Malone, Researcher

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