Oscar predictions, 2017

Hello! As you may have noticed, this blog is in a bit of a transition. This spring has been an exciting one. Between a new client and a few personal huddles, life has been a little chaotic and it has kept me away from writing as much as I would like. In an attempt not to burn out on this project, I’m moving to one post a week (Tuesdays), plus the usual every-other-week Sunday. Thanks for sticking with me through this.

 

Awards weekend is this weekend and Los Angeles is abuzz with parties and street-closure traffic (aka avoid Hollywood at all costs). Since I’ve been in screening mode for a couple of clients, I haven’t seen all the award contenders. This is normal and I may or may not get to them over the summer. I still have a few predictions though.

Some will not be surprising if you’ve been reading this blog the last few months, others though are based on the industry-inside thoughts. Most years I am frustrated by the Oscars. Remember, it is big business and often you can see right through the politics and money of ad campaigns to the winners. Then there are those films or performances you think are deserving of the honors, which makes a win money well-spent. Hopefully we’ll see a few surprises and members who are in touch with today’s culture (no guarantee though).

Below are a few of my thoughts and predictions on the Oscars. You can find the full list of nominees here.

Best Picture
My vote: Moonlight
What will probably win: La La Land
Hollywood loves honoring itself. La La Land is also the escapism story that Hollywood always promotes. So don’t be surprised if La La Land wins. Moonlight will win if enough of the new Academy voters (who were added in an attempt for diversity and cultural relevancy after last year’s #OscarsSoWhite) really do make a difference and/or if Hollywood decides to make a statement to the current political climate. I also think Moonlight is a better film. So you know, there’s that.

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Moonlight (2016)

Best Director
My vote: Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
Who will win: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Both men came from a festival upbringing. If you’ve made three films about white dudes playing jazz, of course you’re going to get better at directing them. I think Jenkins made the more interesting film this year and it would be wonderful to see him win. Lonergan is also in the mix though.

Actor, Leading Role
Who will win: Denzel Washington (Fences)
Most industry press talk about how this is up between Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington. The only film I’ve seen in this category is La La Land. I’m going with Denzel, because I think the Academy will think this is a safe choice.

Actress, Leading Role
Who will win: Emma Stone (La La Land)
Lionsgate and Stone’s publicity team have been working this for months. She’s the front-runner. If there’s an upset here, that would be fun.

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La La Land (2016)

Actor, Supporting
My vote/Who will win: Mahershala Ali  (Moonlight)
Again, I haven’t seen all the films in this category, but his performance was amazing. And he’s picking up many of the awards that lead to the big night. Another front-runner.

Actress, Supporting
Who will win: Viola Davis (Fences)
Another category where I haven’t seen all the films, but Davis seems to have the publicity train in her favor. Spencer has previously won, but could do a repeat. Williams is competition too.

Best Animated Feature
Who will win: Zootopia
Going with a blockbuster for this pick. Have you seen the DMV scene?

Best Documentary Feature
My vote/who will win: OJ: Made in America
Still my favorite doc of last year, but if you haven’t seen I Am Not Your Negro yet, get thee to a theater!

Best Cinematography
My vote: Bradford Young (Arrival)
Who will win: Linus Sandgren (La La Land)

Best Editing
Who will win: Tom Cross (La La Land)
This is how the Titantic-like sweep happens, but I’d love for an upset in one or two of these categories.

There are many more categories of course (original/adapted screenplay, score, makeup, costume!), but these are my highlights. If you’re interested in reading more predictions, both Indiewire and the Hollywood Reporter have their own lists to help with your party ballot.

What are your picks for the Oscars this year? Will you be throwing an Oscar party? I’m curious to hear your thoughts!

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Awards Season: Cinema Eye Honors ’17

Awards season is in full force. The Golden Globes were last night (Yay Moonlight!). Publicists and studios are working their asses off getting their clients and filmmakers in front of the press. The hosts for the Spirit Awards have been announced. Film critics are a buzz with possible Oscar contenders and FYC ads are popping up everywhere here in Los Angeles.

One of my favorite genres of films, documentaries, are often overlooked during awards season. That’s where the Cinema Eye Honors come into play. This week documentary filmmakers and industry leaders gather in New York City for the tenth annual awards. I’m honored to be a part of the nomination committee for Cinema Eye, but sadly I won’t be able to join in the festivities.

Cinema Eye Honors recognizes outstanding accomplishments and innovation in nonfiction filmmaking. The organization was born out of frustration with how documentaries were recognized in the past, how there was an awards emphasis focused solely on the topic of a documentary and not the artistic approach or craft. As filmmaking technology has gotten easier to put in the hands of artists, the documentary genre has boomed and expanded in exciting ways. While this was happening though, nonfiction filmmakers were not getting a proper spotlight on their work. You’d often hear more about social issue films getting all the awards attention. (In recent years, there have been many changes to the Documentary Branch of the Academy Awards to try to fix that. I’ll let you travel down your own rabbit hole there.)

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A collage of “The Unforgettables” nominees, the year’s most notable and significant nonfiction film subjects.

CEH awards include prizes for cinematography, editing and producing – all elements that make or break a great doc film. There are even awards for graphic design/animation and, always a favorite, the Heterodox Award which recognizes narrative films that incorporate nonfiction filmmaking strategies or style in interesting ways (think Boyhood).

Being on the nomination committee, we watched over 100 eligible films. So many amazing stories and voices. Talk about a hard job. Once our votes were counted, the nominees were announced and now we wait to hear the winners announced on Wednesday. You can take a look at all of the nominees on the CEH website. If you are interested in catching the best documentaries of 2016, I highly recommend checking off the films from this list.

Congrats and good luck to all the nominees!

Film Festival Highlights: Sundance 2017

December means the end of a festival season. While films are being pushed by studios and distributors for the awards season, a new crop of films are announced for the upcoming Sundance Film Festival. As films are bought (or not) they will be rolled out over the course of the new year and festival circuit.

December is also a time of anticipation as Sundance spends the first two weeks announcing their lineup. As a curator, it’s exciting to see what projects you’ve heard about or tracked over the past few months (and sometimes years) will have their premieres in Park City. The 2017 festival seems to have many great films in store for us.

Sundance has announced most of their titles and you can dig into the full lineup through their press releases: the competition films, New Frontier, Premieres/Midnight/Family and Shorts. These are a few of the new competition titles I’m excited to see:

US Narrative Feature Competition

  • Crown Heights / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Matt Ruskin) — When Colin Warner is wrongfully convicted of murder, his best friend, Carl King, devotes his life to proving Colin’s innocence. Adapted from This American Life, this is the incredible true story of their harrowing quest for justice. Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul, Bill Camp, Nestor Carbonell, Amari Cheatom.
    Quick thoughts: Always down for a film adaptation from TAL.
  • The Hero / U.S.A. (Director: Brett Haley, Screenwriters: Brett Haley, Marc Basch) — Lee, a former Western film icon, is living a comfortable existence lending his golden voice to advertisements and smoking weed. After receiving a lifetime achievement award and unexpected news, Lee reexamines his past, while a chance meeting with a sardonic comic has him looking to the future. Cast: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, Katharine Ross
    Quick thoughts: Haley’s last film, I’ll See You In My Dreams, also premiered at Sundance and was the opening night film at DIFF. Any film that can pair Sam Elliott and Nick Offerman is on my list.
  • The Yellow Birds / U.S.A. (Director: Alexandre Moors, Screenwriters: David Lowery, R.F.I. Porto) — Two young men enlist in the army and are deployed to fight in the Iraq War. After an unthinkable tragedy, the returning soldier struggles to balance his promise of silence with the truth and a mourning mother’s search for peace. Cast: Tye Sheridan, Jack Huston, Alden Ehrenreich, Jason Patric, Toni Collette, Jennifer Aniston.
    Quick thoughts: David Lowery is multi-talented and an old filmmaking friend. Always interested to see his work.

US Documentary Feature Competition

  • Casting JonBenet / U.S.A., Australia (Director: Kitty Green) — The unsolved death of six-year-old American beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey remains the world’s most sensational child murder case. Over 15 months, responses, reflections and performances were elicited from the Ramsey’s Colorado hometown community, creating a bold work of art from the collective memories and mythologies the crime inspired.
    Quick thoughts: Green’s previous work includes an amazing short film called The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul. I heard about this doc when I programmed that short a few years ago and have been looking forward to it ever since hearing the premise.

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    Casting JonBenét (2017)
  • City of Ghosts / U.S.A. (Director: Matthew Heineman) — With unprecedented access, this documentary follows the extraordinary journey of “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”—a group of anonymous citizen journalists who banded together after their homeland was overtaken by ISIS—as they risk their lives to stand up against one of the greatest evils in the world today.
    Quick thoughts: Been a fan of Heineman’s work for several years, having programmed his previous two docs. If you haven’t seen Cartel Land yet, then add it to your queue to watch ASAP.
  • Dina / U.S.A. (Directors: Dan Sickles, Antonio Santini) — An eccentric suburban woman and a Walmart door-greeter navigate their evolving relationship in this unconventional love story.
    Quick thoughts: I saw this as part of my consulting work for Sundance. It’s a beautiful story of intimacy and love. Put it on your must-see list.

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    Dina (2017)
  • The Force / U.S.A. (Director: Pete Nicks) — This cinema verité look at the long-troubled Oakland Police Department goes deep inside their struggles to confront federal demands for reform, a popular uprising following events in Ferguson and an explosive scandal.
    Quick thoughts: Topical film from the director of another great doc, The Waiting Room.
  • Unrest / U.S.A. (Director: Jennifer Brea) — When Harvard PhD student Jennifer Brea is struck down at 28 by a fever that leaves her bedridden, doctors tell her it’s “all in her head.” Determined to live, she sets out on a virtual journey to document her story—and four other families’ stories—fighting a disease medicine forgot.
    Quick thoughts: I’ve been tracking this film for a few months. Having dealt with odd health issues myself, I’m sure this film will hit home with me.

World Documentary Feature Competition

  • Motherland / U.S.A., Philippines (Director: Ramona Diaz) — The planet’s busiest maternity hospital is located in one of its poorest and most populous countries: the Philippines. There, poor women face devastating consequences as their country struggles with reproductive health policy and the politics of conservative Catholic ideologies.
    Quick thoughts: Docs about women and healthcare – I’m all about it.
  • Tokyo Idols / United Kingdom, Canada (Director: Kyoko Miyake) — This exploration of Japan’s fascination with girl bands and their music follows an aspiring pop singer and her fans, delving into the cultural obsession with young female sexuality and the growing disconnect between men and women in hypermodern societies.
    Quick thoughts: Another film topic I’m always interested in: exploring the issue of female sexuality.

NEXT Competition

  • A Ghost Story / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: David Lowery) — This is the story of a ghost and the house he haunts. Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, Sonia Acevedo, Rob Zabrecky, Liz Franke.
    Quick thoughts: Lowery and company snuck in the production of a strange little film back in Texas (amongst finishing and a publicity tour for Pete’s Dragon)Very excited for this team to be back in Park City with a new film.

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    A Ghost Story (2017)
  • Person to Person / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Dustin Guy Defa) — A record collector hustles for a big score while his heartbroken roommate tries to erase a terrible mistake, a teenager bears witness to her best friend’s new relationship and a rookie reporter, alongside her demanding supervisor, chases the clues of a murder case involving a life-weary clock shop owner. Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Michael Cera, Tavi Gevinson, Philip Baker Hall, Bene Coopersmith, George Sample III.
    Quick thoughts: Dustin Guy Defa has been on the circuit with short films for a while. Excited to see his second feature-length film.

 

What are some of the Sundance films you’re excited about? Let’s discuss in the comments!

Gift Guide for the Movie Lover

Earlier this week I shared some of my favorite gift ideas for the foodie in your life. Today, I’m back with ideas for your favorite movie lover.

For this particular list, I’ve included a few “experience” gifts. I think those are often the most fun to give to someone because it creates memories and stories to share later. Here’s a few ideas to help you find the perfect gift:

A membership or gift certificate to a local arthouse cinema. You may have heard a particular theater name dropped by your movie fan before, but in case you need a little help finding that arthouse theater check out the lists here or here. This is a great stocking stuffer!

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Castro Theatre, San Francisco

A next level gift to effect is buying a pass to a film festival they’ve always wanted to attend (or the flight that will help them get there). Sundance may be too hard to organize this late in the year (typically finding a place in Park City is difficult by mid-December), but there are several great regional festivals in the spring, summer or fall that are options too. Granted this particular gift may include a discussion before you buy a flight or pass for someone, but I promise this get-a-way trip will be an experience they won’t soon forget!

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SIFF Cinema Uptown, Seattle

A membership to a local film society. There’s not a full organized list online, so your best bet is to google the person’s city plus “film society” or “film festival”. That should help you find the non-profit in that area that has a mission to promote film and art. (If you need help finding a good one, email me.) This is a gift that’s both fun and feel-good. Many of these non-profit orgs do specials around the holidays for just such gifts!

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The Graduate (1967)

Blu-rays are always an option, but the trick is picking the right film. It’s all a matter of knowing taste, both yours a gift giver and theirs as a gift receiver. I think you can never go wrong with gifting a few classics like Casablanca,  Dr. Strangelove, The Graduate, or the James Bond collection.

An alternative to the blu-ray: a gift card for streaming service through iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, HBOGo, SundanceNow (for the doc fans) or TCM/Criterion’s FilmStruck. Films are increasingly moving to these online services, so while it’s not the most fun gift to open it’s the reality of how most people are watching their movies.

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Napoleon Dynamite poster, Etsy

Film art and posters! The options here are endless. You could go with something classic like Sunset Boulevard or The Apartment. Or try something a little different, like a minimalist original design. Mondo is one of the more famous stores for this, but you can also find an assortment on Etsy: Ghostbusters, Funny FaceHarry Potter, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Napoleon Dynamite. Or even a “badly drawn” portrait of Orson Welles for that Citizen Kane fan!

Apple TV. We received this as a gift last year and it has been used far more than our blu-ray player ever since. The Amazon Fire is a decent alternative (though we rarely use the one I received for work). For someone that streams movies through Amazon over iTunes, it may be the one to get.

What have been your favorite movie gifts of the past?  What are you getting your movie lover this year? (Don’t worry, I won’t tell them!) I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Good luck with your holiday shopping!

Film & Food: Denver Film Festival

Y’all, tomorrow is November.
That’s crazy right? I don’t know where October went, but here we are.

Tomorrow I am off to spend two weeks in the Rockies with my lovely colleagues at the Denver Film Society. The 39th Denver Film Festival opens Wednesday night, November 2, with a highly anticipated screening of La La Land. Lead actress Emma Stone and director Damien Chazelle will be hanging out with Denver audiences at the beautiful Ellie Caulkins Opera House in downtown Denver.

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La La Land (2016)

As Shorts Curator of the Denver Film Festival, I spent most of my summer watching over 500 short film submissions for this festival. I narrowed it down to a group of 44 shorts from 16 countries, screening in blocks and in front of features. I’m so excited for the Denver audiences to discover these shorts. Watching audiences watch the films I’ve curated is one of the most satisfying parts of the job. It’s always fun to meet the filmmakers you’ve been emailing with for weeks and reuniting with those you’ve worked with before too. If you’re curious what shorts made the cut, take a look at the Shorts program here.

Once again, Denver’s program lineup is eclectic and unique. There are several films I want to see while I’m not on call with programmer duties (like the Closing Night film Jackie). Of the films I have seen though, this festival pair showcases a couple of peculiar occupations:

  • Obit – This doc focuses on the small group of The New York Times obituary writers.  Imagine trying to research and summarize, under a tight deadline and with great tact, a life lived so fully that it is chosen to have space in The New York Times. One of my favorite scenes reveals the clippings room. Rows and rows and towers of file cabinets all full of news clippings and photos of people. The talented writers share their knowledge and experience and the beauty in writing about death.
  • Actors of Sound – Another charming documentary that shows a behind-the-scenes look at foley artists. All those little sound effects in films are typically created in a post-production studio by talented experts. After seeing this film, I now know what makes up the noise for E.T.’s “voice” and I’ll never watch the film in the same way! I’m looking forward to hosting one of the Q&A sessions with director Lalo Molina and a foley artist from the film! I’m sure it will be a fun and memorable time.

This will be my third time in Denver and I’m still exploring the city with each visit. The trick with working festivals is knowing when you have a window to escape for meals. Often those breaks end up being short, so food is limited to what is nearby. I enjoy escaping into the Tattered Cover Book Store next door to the SIE FilmCenter. It’s my go-to for a warm chai latte and quiet moments spent walking the aisles of books. The Three Lions is a cozy nearby pub with tasty curry. One of my favorite meals in Denver last year was a solo brunch at Snooze an A.M. Eatery. I’m looking forward to another brisk walk downtown followed by a filling and flavorful benedict.

I’ll post again with a festival update soon. If you have any suggestions on restaurants, bakeries or bars to check out in Denver, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your recommendations!

Happy Halloween!

Shorts & Snacks: Bacon & God’s Wrath (2015)

Bacon is on the list of my favorite foods. A no-brainer. Breakfast, lunch, dinner or just a bacon snack. If I can include bacon in a meal I will certainly try. The how-much-bacon-is-too-much-bacon struggle is real.

So when filmmaker Sol Friedman created his last short film Bacon & God’s Wrath, I was immediately intrigued by the title. I’ve been a fan of Sol’s work for sometime now, sharing some of his unique blend of live-action and animation shorts at festivals over the years. Bacon is a turning point for his work however. It takes a personal story of faith, throws in some creative animation and becomes an exciting piece of documentary art. The Sundance jury that year thought so too, awarding it with the jury award for non-fiction.

Take a few minutes, take out a bacon snack and enjoy this short. I guarantee you’ll never think of bacon the same way again. Feel free to share you thoughts in the comments!

Bacon & God’s Wrath
Directed by Sol Friedman
2015 / 9 minutes / Canada
A 90-year-old Jewish woman reflects on her life’s experience as she prepares to try bacon for the first time.

Films & Food: New Orleans Film Festival

The New Orleans Film Festival kicks off its 27th annual event this week, running from October 12 to 20, 2016. I was privileged to attend this festival three years ago as a Juror and had a blast. The NOFS team, led by Executive Director Jolene Pinder, knows how to put on a show and treat filmmakers well. Between the creative and very New Orleans-based parties, the community of filmmakers and the many local film fans this is a wonderful, festive atmosphere to eat, drink and happily sink into film screenings for a week.

If you are lucky enough to attend NOFF this year, here’s a few of the programs I recommend checking out:

  • Opening Night & LBJ: Coming off its premiere at TIFF, Rob Reiner’s latest film about President Lyndon Johnson (played by Woody Harrelson) will kick off the festival. NOFF had by far one of the best Opening Night events I have attended. They fully embraced and celebrated the local scene, having a second line parade from the film to the party, where live jazz and brass band continue to play throughout the evening.
  • FARMER/VETERAN: I was honored to host the world premiere of this intimate documentary at DIFF earlier this year. It follows Alex Sutton, an Iraq vet with PTSD, as he attempts to rebuild a life and family by creating a farm at home. It’s a haunting and honest portrait of a soldier.
  • WHITE GIRL: Filmmaker Elizabeth Wood is a force. She’s definitely one to watch and this feature is proof.

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    Contemporary Color
  • CONTEMPORARY COLOR: The Ross brothers’ latest captures a rare and unique live event with performances by David Byrne, Nelly Furtado, St. Vincent, Ira Glass, tUne-yArds and others.
  • Short films: Short films are always a treat and important as I’ve mentioned before. NOFF has a great lineup of shorts this year. While I haven’t seen it yet, I must highlight THE NEW ORLEANS SAZERAC in the “Louisiana Stories: Act Three” block. I am so intrigued and love the synopsis (and the cocktail)!

In between films and festival parties, be sure to check out a few of my favorite spots for a taste of New Orleans. (Plus, there are things to do beyond Bourbon Street y’all.)

  • Treat yo’self to an amazing meal at Cochon or Herbsaint. You won’t regret it. I’m drooling just thinking about it. (Reservations encouraged.)
  • Speaking of Sazeracs, sip one at the beautiful Sazerac Bar inside The Roosevelt. #NewOrleansClassyDrinking #Adulting
  • If you can manage to get a seat, take a spin on the Carousel Bar & Lounge at Hotel Monteleone and order a Vieux Carre.
  • Don’t miss the amazing fried chicken at Willie Mae’s.
  • If near the French Quarter or Central Business District, you can’t go wrong with brunch at Palace Cafe or Mother’s.
  • Looking for a dive? Try a frozen irish coffee at Molly’s at the Market.
  • Po’boys and beignets (and cash). That’s really all you need in life.

Congratulations to Clint Bowie and the programming team on a great lineup! And best wishes to Jolene as she moves on to new and exciting work after this year’s festival. It will be strange not to see her at the helm of NOFS, but I’m looking forward to what the future holds for her and the film society.

Have you attended NOFF before? Are you excited to see any films in their lineup? What’s your favorite restaurant in New Orleans? Tell me in the comments below.