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

Sunday Mornings

Good morning dear reader! I hope your weekend has been filled with fresh air and a little sunshine. I can feel spring coming. Can you? Hang in there.

The photo above is a picture of bacon-and-chocolate -covered -strawberry-roses. Remember how on Thursday I mentioned I once did one fun Valentine gift for E? That was it. It was during my first year in Los Angeles and I decided to get crafty. Needless to say the roses (and how I delivered them) were a big hit. Now the bar has been set too high. (Also, I apparently had sushi that week?? I dunno.)

As for this week, I want to bake a chocolate cake. Not for Valentine’s Day per say, but mostly because I know it will be a rough work week. I feel like it will be good therapy/self-care: baking (and eating) a chocolate cake. Options one, two and three. (Feel free to add your vote or share a favorite in the comments!)

Besides looking at several dozen chocolate cake recipes, I found a few other tidbits on the ‘net this week.

Enjoy the day! Chocolate cake for everyone!

XO

 

Movie & Menu: Clueless (1995)

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Valentine’s Day. It’s a holiday I’ve often overlooked because, this time of year, I’m trying to stay alive and in one piece. In the past I typically had no one to “celebrate” the day with so I focused on my work and ate some chocolate like any other night. My mind is going in all these other places during February and it’s all I can do to stay focused on my work and all the decisions I need to make. This “holiday was made by greeting cards” and “love should be shared every day” mentality..that was me.

Then a few years ago I fell in love (yes, crazy gooey love that I didn’t think was actually possible) and Valentine’s Day became just another day, but now I felt like I needed to “do” something. Equal parts fun and exhausting (again, lots of work happening!). I’ve only gone out of my way once with a fun Valentine’s gift (check back later for details). Other than that, E usually gets a small treat and extra flirting from me that day. We don’t do a gift exchange. Maybe we get each other a card. Maybe. I’m a romantic deep down, but I don’t like a spotlight on my love. Certainly not just for ONE day. I love big and love hard. There’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in it. It has to be spread out.

All that to say, I’m not a huge Valentine’s Day fan, but I am a Galentine’s Day fan.

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Parks and Rec

My gals have been there for a lot of ups and downs. We don’t always talk regularly, but I know I can text or call them at any time and they’ll be there for me to cry on the phone or lift me up with encouragement. That’s something worth celebrating.

In the spirit of Galentine’s Day, I’m highlighting a film that’s truly close to my heart. A film I can watch over and over and over again with my girls, quoting all the lines we know by heart.

Of course, I’m talking about Clueless.

Judge if you like, but this story of friendship and love is one of my favorite films ever. (I’m sure it will appear on this blog again in the future.) Cher may seem superficial on the surface, but you have to dig a little deeper with her. She’s a true friend, genuine and thoughtful.

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Clueless (1995)

Make a date with your best gal, whip up some Chocolate Cake Mix Waffles and spend an evening with Cher and her friends. Sounds like a perfect Galentine’s Day to me!

Are you a big Valentine’s Day fan? If so, what are your plans? If not, what’s your pick for a Galentine’s movie night? Curious to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Chocolate Cake Mix Waffles
from DessertForTwo.com

Yields 4 waffles

1 1/4 cup dry chocolate cake mix
1 large egg
2 tablespoon neutral oil (like grapeseed)
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips
ice cream, for serving

Blackberry sauce:
1 cup fresh blackberries
1 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons crème de cassis (black currant liquor), optional

  1. Preheat a waffle iron to the highest setting.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the cake mix, egg, oil, water and chocolate chips.
  3. Scoop batter into waffle iron (i have a Belgium waffle iron that holds 1/2 cup batter per waffle; I made 4 waffles from this recipe).
  4. Cook the waffles until done.
  5. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, combine the blackberries with the sugar and a splash of water. Simmer until the blackberries collapse into a sauce, about 5 minutes. Stir in the crème de cassis, if using.
  6. Scoop ice cream over each waffle and top with blackberry sauce.

Watch the films mentioned in this post:
Clueless on iTunes, Netflix or Amazon.

Shorts & Snacks: Mr. Madila (2015)

I’m in the weeds. Deadlines for programming one of the festivals I work for are looming. One day last week, I watched thirty shorts in one day. Not my best, but certainly no piece of cake either.

Which means, I’ll be keeping it fairly short here the next few weeks. Today, I need a spiritual time out. A cleansing of the mind and body. And what better way to do that than with a quick short+snack with Mr. Madila.

I discovered this clever and fun animated short last year while researching for a Denver program. Rory Waudby-Tolley successfully combines humor with cosmic insight. When feeling overwhelmed with life, this short is a good reminder that the universe is big. This short both grounds me and encourages me. And lets me laugh with ease – which is always helpful to reduce stress.

My go-to snack during these times is not always healthy. I reward myself with small treats when hitting certain goals (in the past, that’s been soda – Dr. Pepper to be specific) and lately it has been a bite of cookie dough. Yes, the baked chocolate chip cookies are tasty too, but sometimes the dough doesn’t make it to the oven.

What’s one of your self-care habits or edible treats when you’re stressed? I’d love to hear your thoughts. It will help me get over the finish line!

Mr Madila or The Colour of Nothing
Directed by Rory Waudby-Tolley

2015 / 9 min / UK 

Mr Madila or The Colour of Nothing documents a series of conversations between the film-maker and a gifted spiritual healer, exploring the inner mind, the fabric of the universe, and the nature of reality itself, through the sacred art of animation. Oooooooh.

Bad short film titles

Creating a great title for a film can be tough. You want the title to stand out and stick with people. Something that highlights themes, characters or actions in your story. A hint of something scary, funny, dramatic or unworldly. Maybe it’s a metaphor or something poetic. Whatever the title, once you have it you know in your gut that it’s right.

Creating a bad title, on the other hand, is far easier.

When watching hundreds of shorts each year, there’s always generic titles that pop up several times. Before even watching a film, if I see a common title I think the film is amateur or lazy. My judgement before I even watch a frame: uncreative. A title is the first thing that sells your film to an audience – and when a short is a calling card of you to the world should you really make the title that ordinary?

Today, I’m sharing a few of the most common short film titles I’ve seen. I’m not saying that you can’t have your film titled one of these words. But what I am saying is that each year, I see at least one film – often multiple films – with this title. The one word title is most common. It doesn’t matter if you put it in all caps either. It’s still the same word. I’m wondering if your film is going to be the same as every other one as well.

As you’re reading this list, imagine what kind of film it might be. Does it perk your interest at all? Do you feel you already know what the film is about? Do you feel like you need to watch it?

Some of the title offenders include:

Repeat

Butterfly

Locked

Animal

Memory

My Name is…   (and then a name)

Crossing   (or The Crossing)

Numb

Float

Change

Beyond   (this is also usually followed by another word or two… which reminds me of the next one…)

After   (Pick a word, any word, to follow After and it has probably been done before.)

Hello    (Only Adele can get away with this now. #SorryNotSorry)

and one of the worst titles I see multiple times each year:

Home

Look, I get it. Being original is difficult. There’s a lot of content out there and plenty of films that have come and gone. But the title is the hook and just as much effort should be put into that as the film itself. So please filmmakers, make an effort with your title. I want that title to make me curious.

What are some of the worst film title’s you remember? What are some of your favorite titles? I’d like to hear them in the comments!

 

That’s a wrap: Sundance Film Festival 2017

The Sundance Film Festival officially wrapped yesterday (though for many industry folks traveling, they left after Tuesday or Wednesday of last week). This year’s festival will be memorable for many reasons, but not all good ones. This Sundance included a blizzard (great for skiers, awful for pedestrians and traffic), a cyber attack on the box office, power outage at a venue, a march on Main Street and Netflix/Amazon flexing its purchasing power en force. The festival has been growing for years. Beyond the film program, the “extras” of the festival continue to grow. The ski town bursts at the seams during the first five days. As one film critic writes (and others have commented on in the past), maybe the festival should go on a diet.

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When attending a house party at Sundance, please take off your boots.

What interests me most, however, is how many films Netflix picked up at the festival this year. They came into Sundance with major purchasing power. I don’t remember when a distributor has had that much cash to throw at films. In the past, a distributor like Fox Searchlight may have picked up one or even two films above $8 million. But then, beyond purchasing an additional film with a smaller price tag, that would be it. As of writing this post, Netflix has purchased eleven films and Amazon has purchased five out of Sundance (list below). Two years ago, Sundance films were not easily selling to Netflix or Amazon. How quickly that environment has changed.

This situation is interesting for various reasons. From a film festival perspective, it means that many of the now-Netflix films will not be programmed on the circuit later. Based on my experience and talking with fellow festival programmers, festivals are not part of the strategy for a distributor like Netflix*. It is much easier for their company to throw it up on their streaming platform and build word of mouth that way. Everything is done in-house and costs to distribute are low (no need to make several DCPs for theaters). These films could stream for six or eight weeks and then be pulled down. Audiences may not be able to find them easily later. It will be at the discretion of the streaming platform. Festivals may miss out on programming quality films, which may hurt their bottom line – ranging from ticket sales, press impressions and thus sponsorships (that are dependent on the “success” from the previous two elements).

(*In the past Amazon Studios has partnered with traditional distributors for theatrical releases of films in addition to streaming, whereas Netflix has not typically done this.)

It seems this trend will only continue, which makes me wonder what will happen to the industry that attends Sundance. Will less industry attend if they think they can not competitively purchase or showcase a film? The expenses to attend Sundance are very expense, especially for a non-profit festival. If films are being picked up by a distributor that cuts out festival runs…then you could see how that budget line could quickly be cut.

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Main Street is quiet on the opening night of Sundance 2017.

The smaller distributors that don’t have this kind of cash for a buying offer are going to have to get creative. These streaming companies are driving up prices. While I don’t think distributors will stop looking for films all together at Sundance, I wonder: will this open an opportunity for another festival(s) to court distributors and create another market festival? SXSW doesn’t have an industry office to handhold the agents and buyers, so many industry folks are frustrated when attending it. Tribeca doesn’t court most Angelenos and mostly serves their native-New York industry. Does this allow for another regional festival to step up to the next level?

The festival and distributor’s world is a delicate ecosystem for films (as several people discussed last week at Art House Convergence), so this trend will definitely have an effect. The question is how. What do you think?

As of 1/29, here is a list of Netflix and Amazon’s purchases at Sundance (gathered from as many different press releases as I could find):

NETFLIX
To the Bone (worldwide rights, $8 million)
Joshua: Teenager Vs Superpower (worldwide rights, “low seven-figure range”)
The Incredible Jessica James (worldwide rights, $2.5 million)
Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press (worldwide rights, $2 million)
Casting JonBenet (worldwide rights)
Chasing Coral
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
Icarus (worldwide rights, $5 million)
Fun Mom Dinner (streaming rights, partner with Momentum Pictures, $5M)
Berlin Syndrome (streaming rights)
Mudbound (US and other select rights, $12.5 million) *largest acquisition at Sundance 2017

AMAZON STUDIOS
City of Ghosts (worldwide, more than $2 million)
Crown Heights (worldwide, $2 million)
The Big Sick ($12 million)
Long Strange Trip ($6 million)
Landline (US rights, $3 million)