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!

Movie & Menu: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

While today is all about your bestie, tomorrow you’ll have trouble avoiding all the pink and red hearts.

I’m not anti-Valentine’s Day. I’m actually a hopeless romantic, but I think love is complicated. It’s full of messy emotions and memories. It makes you the best person and sometimes the worst person.

There are dozens of amazing romantic movies. I think, by far, one of the greatest is Casablanca (which I’ve written about before). When considering what romance film to write about this week, I was drawn to one I frequently revisit: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

I first saw this movie while in college. I remember being blown away by the opening scenes – it is bold and unique. I remember being immediately curious about how the rest of the story would reveal itself. Many viewings later – knowing how it unfolds – I’m still memorized by it. There are many quotable lines from the film. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet shine as Joel and Clementine. Eternal Sunshine is the work of two brilliant people (director Michele Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman) coming together to make something purely magical. This kind of film is rare and something to cherish.

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

It is a story of intimacy and love entangled in our memories. Love so powerful that choosing to erase someone and escape the pain of being without them is a better option. That choice creates a peculiar void and deep down something seems off. This film beautifully shows how love is messy and not perfect. How our heart beats faster with each memory of a shared intimate moment. Many romance films show moments of passion and heartbreak, but Eternal Sunshine goes deeper than that. It encourages us to share all of our messy feelings with the person we love: the fear, the sadness, the frustration, the anger, the joy and the laughter. And, in one of my favorite exchanges in the film, reminding us to enjoy it.

I recommend getting some Asian take-out and settling in for the night. Whether or not you’re with the one you love, enjoy those precious memories of romance.

What are some of your favorite romance movies? What scenes from Eternal Sunshine stick with you the most? Would you erase someone from you mind if you could?

Watch Enternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
on Netflix, Amazon or iTunes

Movies & Menu: Moulin Rouge! (2001)

2016 has been a mixed bag. The highs were very high (Getting married! Seeing Radiohead from the front row!) and the lows have been..pretty low (health issues, job issues, the election blues…). There have been more of them than I’d like to think about.

I watched Moulin Rouge! recently and I think it’s a great film to end this year on. The characters share the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It’s also a lovely way to honor one of the (too many) artists we lost this year, David Bowie.

Directed by Baz Luhrmann, Moulin Rouge! is a story of truth, beauty, freedom and love. In the late 1800s, a poor poet (Ewan McGregor) moves to bohemian Paris and falls in love with a courtesan (Nicole Kidman). They must hide their love from a jealous duke, who funds their new play at the infamous Moulin Rouge night club.

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Moulin Rouge! (2001) presented by 20th Century Fox

I saw this film the first time when it was originally released. Similar to experiencing Luhrmann’s previous film Romeo + Juliet, I watched in awe as this creative, sensory feast unveiled before me. My heart jumped in delight with the very first frame: a conductor on-screen setting the mood and opening curtains for the studio logo. Until seeing R+J and Moulin Rouge!, I had never seen a film cut so quickly (I wasn’t as well versed in action films or Michael Bay at the time). The crosscutting as the Moulin Rouge club is first introduced and, later, the “El Tango de Roxanne” scenes are particular highlights and favorites. I remember a wave of excitement each time a new pop song weaved into a scene. Many viewings later and I still singing along loudly to this film (and know most of it by heart from my endless days of listening to the soundtrack). If you’ve had a rollercoast of a year like me, then I would recommend coming back to Moulin Rouge!, singing along and let the feelings flow. (If you live in Seattle, then you should hang out with the good folks at SIFF and do it up right on New Years Eve!)

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Moulin Rouge! (2001) from 20th Century Fox

While watching this dazzling musical, I suggest making yourself a stiff and spectacular Sazerac. The Sazerac is a well-known drink in New Orleans (and you can read more about the history on the Esquire link below). Absinthe is the fun addition to this cocktail and it, of course, makes an appearance in Moulin Rougeas the poet and his bohemian friends celebrate with the green fairy.

What do you remember feeling when you first saw a Baz Luhrmann film? What’s your favorite scene in Moulin Rouge!?

Cheers to a new year!
2017, I’m ready for you.

Sazerac
Recipe from Esquire

Ingredients

1 Sugar Cube
2 1/2 oz. (GOOD) rye whisky
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash Angostura Bitters
absinthe
lemon peel
old-fashioned glass

  1. In an Old-Fashioned glass (not a mixing glass; it’s part of the ritual), muddle a sugar cube with a few drops of water.
  2. Add several small ice cubes and the rye whiskey, the Peychaud’s bitters, and the Angostura bitters.
  3. Stir well and strain into a second, chilled, Old-Fashioned glass in which you have rolled around a few drops of absinthe until its inside is thoroughly coated, pouring off the excess.
  4. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

Watch the films mentioned in this post:
Moulin Rouge! on iTunes, Amazon, add to Netflix queue.
– Or support your local video store!

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!

Movie & Menu: Home for the Holidays (1995)

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. My mother is a wonderful cook. I have fond memories of the house smelling amazing all day long and delicious holiday meals.

We never had an annual, large family gathering for Thanksgiving. It was typically small, just the four of us and my grandparents (and sometimes my Dad was working, so the day’s schedule worked around whether he would be home). There were one or two times we travelled to see family (and those road trips are memorable for various other reasons), but for the most part we did a low-key holiday. It wasn’t until I started dating E that I experienced another family’s holiday get-together. E’s extended family travels to Northern California every other year to spend Thanksgiving weekend together. The first time I attended it was a whirlwind: over a dozen family members under one roof. I was not as emotionally prepared as I needed to be. I managed to find a quiet spot to hide at one point and called my mother. I missed hanging out in the kitchen with her, observing how she managed to make it all come together and helping when I could. After spending several Thanksgivings with E’s family, I now know what to expect and understand how many other families often experience this holiday. This week is another one of the big family Thanksgivings. After having been in work mode for most of this month, I sat down to watch Home for the Holidays in an effort to get in the Thanksgiving spirit.

Directed by Jodie Foster, Home for the Holidays is a playful family drama and very much a ’90s movie: back when your parents could meet you at the airport gate as you walked off a plane. Claudia (played by Holly Hunter) has a rough day before her Thanksgiving trip to visit her family. She’s lost her job and her teenage daughter (Claire Danes) is staying home to spend the holiday with her boyfriend. Claudia is not looking forward to spending the weekend with her parents. She confesses her current misery in a call to her brother Tommy (Robert Downey, Jr) on the flight home. Remember those giant airplane phones? Yep, more 90’s nostalgia for you.

This film hosts another wonderful ensemble cast. Besides Hunter, Danes and Downey, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott, Steve Guttenberg and Cynthia Stevenson fill out the family members. Geraldine Chaplin is the kooky aunt (we all have one, or several). The legendary Anne Bancroft plays Claire’s mother. How I miss her presence on-screen these days.

I’m drawn to ensemble casts. Interesting staging and playing with dialogue are typically key elements to the directing. In Home for the Holiday, Foster does this well during the main event: the Thanksgiving dinner scene. Emotions rise and fall, moving from awkwardness, to comedy, to that frustration we’ve all felt with our family before. Momentum builds with each scene. One scene quickly leads to another. Family members pair off in different ways and there’s no place to escape or be alone. Adults act in childish ways. Bitterness lies under the surface and compromises must be found through the tension. You’re all under the same roof for these few hours, love it or hate it. This is family. homefortheholidays

These holiday get-togethers pressure us to have it “together”. Let’s be honest here: none of us know what we’re doing with our lives. We’re all trying in our own way. We’re all making mistakes along the way too. None of us are perfect. And while this movie may not be perfect either, Home for the Holidays reminds us how Thanksgiving brings out the best and worst of our messy lives. We can be mean to family because they are just that, family. It takes work to be around siblings, parents, aunts and uncles and yet, the holidays are supposed to be a break from work. It is one of life’s great oxymorons.

Family takes different shapes and forms. It is having each other in life despite differences or frustrations. Deep down there’s love and understanding – even on those occasions when you have to dig really deep. Whatever your family, it offers community and belonging, just as you are. At the risk of being too warm and fuzzy, I must say, that’s something to be thankful for.

Whether or not you’re spending Thanksgiving with crazy family members or quietly binge-watching your favorite show after the parade & dog show, I hope you’ll have a slice of turkey and a holiday treat. Enjoy the moment before the real madness begins (aka Christmas).

Below is a recipe for a dip I made the first time I spent Thanksgiving with E’s family and away from my home. I figured with caramelized onions, cheese AND bacon, how could I not win them over?

Do you spend your Thanksgiving with lots of family or find a quiet escape? What’s your favorite Thanksgiving meal? What shows or movies get you in the Thanksgiving spirit? Please share in the comments!

Caramelized Onion, Gruyére & Bacon spread
Recipe from Cooking Light, Nov. 2011

Serves 8
Serve with crackers or bread.

Cooking spray
3 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded and divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided
1/3 cup canola mayonnaise
1/3 cup fat-free sour cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled

1. Preheat oven to 425°.

2. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan lightly with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low; cook 20 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.

3. Reserve 2 tablespoons cheese. Combine remaining cheese, caramelized onion, 1 tablespoon chives, and the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Transfer the mixture to a 1-quart glass or ceramic baking dish coated lightly with cooking spray. Sprinkle with reserved 2 tablespoons cheese. Bake at 425° for 20 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon chives.

Watch the films mentioned in this post:
– Home for the Holidays on iTunes.
– Or even better, support your local video store!

Arrival (2016)

Back at home briefly and catching up on life. Laundry (so much of it), pre-Thanksgiving errands, chores.

Part of my week’s to do list: seeing Arrival.

I’m not here to write a review per say. Part of my desire for this blog is to share the experience of screening films. So with that in mind….

Watching this film was one of the most enjoyable and thrilling experiences I’ve had in a theater in a while. The last time I felt this way was after seeing Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) or the TIFF premiere of Gravity (2013). Arrival was a film I became totally enveloped in.

The first frames instantly reminded me of something Malick-esque. Throughout the film I felt the same chills I had when watching Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or Inception (2010) for the first time. While there are influences from other films on Arrival, this screening experience felt fresh and alive (perhaps, one part, because it is not another remake). This script is smart and thoughtful. A film about language: the depth of communicating and the true meaning of our words. With the wonderful cinematography and score, this film creates a world all its own. One you can sink into. (And oh, how I wish I could live in Dr. Banks’ house!)

And now here is your spoilers warning. If you have not seen Arrival yet, you may want to come back later.

The way this film plays with time is masterful and fun. The big moment when the story “clicks” and proves why scenes are placed where they are is a thrill. I’m ready for a second viewing to catch some of the links I missed the first time (and those I’m still thinking about today: the knocking on the window, the double meaning of the title with the telling of a birth story).

There are many things that make this film one of my favorites of the year, but one of the strongest reasons is this: it is a story from a woman’s perspective and ultimately the “weapon” could only be given to a woman. The aliens’ language is emotional. That is why it is given to Dr. Louise Banks and not Ian Donnelly (or another man). She will understand it and she will feel it. She will ensure peace. Yes, it is a generalization or stereotype on gender, but tell me how that is not a powerful statement? She’s not just “emotional”. She’s bold and clearly an intelligent leader given her career and status (for the government to come a’knockin’ in the first place). Arrival reminds us to trust and empower our female leaders. What better time to have that reminder than now.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around this film and I’m eager to see it again. At the moment the only thing I can think to pair this with is a glass of red wine. Not only does Amy Adams’ character drink wine in the film, but I felt like having a glass myself after seeing Arrival. As the credits rolled, I wanted for the film to linger – like how the taste of a good wine stays on your tongue. The conversation this film created between E and I afterwards seemed to warrant a glass of something to sip, talk, and listen. If you do see it in a theater soon, I encourage you to plan a little time to think or discuss afterwards with whatever beverage you enjoy best.

Have you seen Arrival yet? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

And if you loved Arrival, check out my previous post on Denis Villeneuve’s short film Next Floor (2008).

arrival
Arrival (2016), Paramount Pictures

Films that feel like October, Part II

On Monday, I wrote about a few films that make me feel the shift in seasons and the cooler weather. With Halloween approaching, many would consider horror classics that should be in the mix of film viewing this time of year. While I enjoy a good scare, those films don’t necessarily feel like autumn to me. Around Halloween I gravitate towards Tim Burton’s Ed Wood or the classic animation special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown brings back a sense of childhood and wonderment for me. I don’t remember watching it every fall, but there is something so feel-good and traditional about it. It makes me long for those evenings of innocent treat-or-treating, before girls suddenly dress in costumes that are suppose to be sexy. I’d be happy to eat some candy corn and watch it any day.

For something a little different though, there’s Ed Wood. I discovered this film while in college and became slightly obsessed with it at the time. Johnny Depp plays the overly ambitious, but troubled 1950s film director Ed Wood. The film is based in truth: Ed Wood was a Hollywood outcast and is often called the worst film director ever. (Perhaps you’ve heard of Plan 9 From Outer Space? That was him.) Wood befriends an eclectic group of friends including an aging Bela Leguosi -Hollywood’s original Dracula- to create his next “masterpiece” despite the consistent lack of support from the studio system.

Ed Wood is one of Burton’s less talked about films, but it’s one of my favorites. Depp transforms into Wood and it is a joy to watch. The film hosts another wonderful ensemble cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette and Martin Landau, who one an Oscar for his portrayal of Lugosi. I’m drawn to comedies and this is partly why I love this film. There is a bit of insider film humor included, but there’s also Wood’s drive. The determination to make his dreams come true resonates with everyone. How you get there is half the fun. (Plus, there’s angora sweaters! #SweaterWeather.)

To add to the mood of this Halloween weekend picks, make some hot apple cider (and spike if you like!) Whether or not you’re handing out Halloween candy or eating it on the couch while watching either of these titles, the cider will make a nice pairing.

What’s your favorite Halloween candy? What film puts you in the spirit of tricks and treats? Let me know in the comments!

Hot Apple Cider
from Southern Living

2 quarts apple cider
1/2 cup molasses
4 lemon slices, cut in half
12 whole cloves
2 (2-inch) cinnamon sticks
1/4 cup lemon juice
Garnishes: cinnamon sticks, lemon wedges, whole cloves

Bring cider and next 4 ingredients to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally; reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes.

Remove cinnamon sticks and cloves with a slotted spoon; stir in lemon juice. Garnish, if desired.

Watch the films mentioned in this post:
– It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on Amazon, iTunes or add to Netflix queue.
Ed Wood on Amazon, iTunes or add to Netflix queue.
– Or even better, support your local rental store!

Films that feel like October, Part I

October has always been one of my favorite months. As a kid, I loved getting into the Halloween spirit and thinking of creative costumes. In my 20s, October seemed like the month when a routine for the season finally set in. I love that changes in temperature and maybe discovering a golden leaf. In the South, the break in the heat was a much-needed relief. In Los Angeles, the land of no-seasons, the change isn’t as clear. There are moments when the breeze comes through the window and we wake up to our apartment being chilly. Suddenly, autumn has arrived.

There are some films I revisit every October. They give me a sense of the autumn spirit and remind me of the passage of time no matter what the weather is outside. This is part one of two posts this week about films that set the autumn mood for me.

Good Will Hunting not only has the “back to school” vibe, but I feel the cool Boston air as the camera moves through the Harvard and MIT campuses. Robin William’s cozy sweater wardrobe can’t be ignored either. They are on point.

The story of When Harry Met Sally covers all the seasons, but the shots of Harry and Sally walking amongst those bright red and orange trees in New York City are saved like a screen shot in my brain. Watching that comedy is like preparing yourself for the oncoming holiday madness, no matter your dating or marriage status. As Sally mentions, you just have to get through Thanksgiving to New Years.

Days of Heaven‘s stunning cinematography reminds me of how the days are getting shorter. Set in the early 1900s on the panhandle of Texas, this Terrance Malick film was shot mostly during “magic hour”. The sky glows beautifully during the harvesting scenes and its easy to get lost in this love triangle story. (I may have to curl up in a blanket and write a longer post about this one.)

As soon as the weather turns slightly cooler here, I start baking. Because we don’t have central air/heat, we are particular about when we use the oven. The moment I realize I can turn it on and it wouldn’t make the house too hot, my mind and stomach immediately goes to baking. I’ve been on a low FODMAP diet for the last several months for health reasons and including gluten is still a little tricky at times. While deep in the recipe-rabbit-hole, I came across a recipe for Pumpkin Granola Bars. I’ve made it each week for the past month (despite a short heat wave last week). So yes, we’re now a little obsessed with them. It’s perfect as a snack or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert. And it “feels” healthy because OATS, so that’s good, right?

What are some of your autumn favorites? Any non-horror films put you in the October mood for tricks-or-treats? Do you find yourself craving pumpkin (or do you hate the non-stop marketing and vow to eat all things non-pumpkin)?

Stay tuned for more autumn picks on Thursday!

Pumpkin Granola Bars
from The Well Balanced FODMAPer
*I have experimented a little with the amounts for this, using a little more pumpkin or adding ginger spice at times. It’s always turned out amazing, so go for it.

Should make about 10 smaller size granola bars. Serving size: 1 bar

2 cups oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon all spice

Preheat oven to 325°.
Blend all ingredients together. Press very firmly into lightly greased 8 x 8 square pan.
Bake for 40 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting.
Refrigerating will keep the bars firmer.

Watch the films mentioned in this post:
– Good Will Hunting – watch on Amazon, iTunes, add to Netflix queue
– When Harry Met Sally – watch on Amazon, iTunes, add to Netflix queue
– Days of Heaven – watch on Amazon, iTunes, add to Netflix queue (make sure you get the Blu-ray!)
– Or support your local rental store!

 

Movie & Menu: Gosford Park (2001)

First, I must confess something.

It’s possible that the first time I watched Gosford Park, I fell asleep on the couch halfway through it. And it’s also possible that the last time I watched this great film, I also fell asleep. They were typically nights where I already had spent about 60% of my day watching films. It happens. But I’ve watched the entire film – which one of E’s favorites – without snoozing at least once. It’s a favorite in our household and he picks it often on his night.

Ok, now that my secret is out, let’s talk about Gosford Park.

Before “Downton Abbey”, there was Gosford Park. This 131 minute drama takes place in a lavish 1930s English country house. The McCordle family is hosting a weekend shooting party and their wealthy guests arrive with their servants in tow. Everyone has something to hide. Everyone is reminded of their “place”. At some point during the weekend, a murder occurs, startling the guests and servants. This upstairs/downstairs story transforms into a murder mystery as secrets are revealed and suspects are considered.

Robert Altman, who was in his mid-70s when he directed Gosford Park, was a remarkable filmmaker. His work is filled with amazing ensemble casting and performances (Nashville and M.A.S.H. are two that come to mind) and complex scenes. He was known to have natural dialogue in his films and when you watch these scenes unfold it’s like peeling back onion layers. Characters speak over each other, layering and weaving together context, clues and feelings. It’s amazing to watch as you realize how challenging this type of filmmaking can be to achieve.

This style plays out again in Gosford Park. To start, the cast is insane and far too talented: Helen Mirren, Kristin Scott Thomas, Bob Balaban, Michael Gambon, Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Ryan Phillippe and Stephen Fry. Our favorite, however, is Maggie Smith as Constance Trentham. Her sass and one liner delivery are the BEST. This ensemble perfectly crafts party conversations and gossip. The movement from both actor and camera are carefully staged revealing details and clues. Every time E and I watch this film, we find ourselves following a different character in a scene and (more so for me) catching something I missed before.

The actions leading to murder are methodical and humor is sprinkled throughout, making this film elaborate both on screen and on the page. Gosford Park was nominated for a slew of Academy Awards in 2002, winning for Best Writing (Written Directly for the Screen). Screenwriter Julian Fellowes went on to write and create “Downton Abbey”.

As you may expect with a weekend long party, various scenes in the film involve food. One of my favorite moments is the Bloody Mary that drops during the post-hunt brunch: a great visual hint of the looming murder to come.

As I was thinking about what meal would pair nicely with this film, it seemed fitting to pick something as creative (and possibly complex) as the film: roasting a small quail (or dove or other small game bird). But if you’re like me and you’re stuck in a city like Los Angeles, where game hunting is not exactly the norm, AND you don’t have a slew of downstair servants, go pick up a rotisserie chicken at Vons or Whole Foods and make it easy on yourself. After all, you must make sure you don’t exhaust yourself beforehand. Otherwise you may not find out who dun’ it!

Roasted Small Game Bird
From Joy of Cooking

All small birds, except coots, should be dry plucked. To use the entrails after cooking, sieve or chop the intestines and flambé them briefly in brandy.
Small birds should be barded or you may wrap them first in fig or grape leaves. All lend themselves to roasting and skewering or broiling from 3 to 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450°
Bard, 6 small game birds
It is not necessary to stuff them, although a few peeled grapes or bits of celery or parsley may be tucked inside and discarded later. Place in the pan with the birds:
1 Tablespoon butter
Bake the birds about 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 350° and bake them 5 to 15 minutes longer, according to their size.
Timing in general varies from woodcock, 8 to 10 minute, to quail, unstuffed, 10 to 15 minutes; to stuffed, 15 to 18 minutes.

Have you seen Gosford Park? What movies do you ALWAYS fall asleep in? Did you try roasting a bird?

-Watch Gosford Park on Amazon, iTunes or add to your Netflix queue. (Support your local rental store if you can!)-