Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Updated Lester's Contenders for Best Picture Nominations

Updated Lester's Contenders for
Best Picture Nominations
 Date: November 23rd, 2016:

Hello All:

Well some movies previously listed have fallen out of the early contenders list and some have moved up. So once again based solely on what I have researched this is the SECOND update (not my personal preferences) of those films I believe now are early contenders to receive one of a possible 10 Oscar Nomination for Best Picture for 2016.

 The Red highlight means this is the early favorite to win.

 “Arrival” - A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating of aliens who have landed pnm earth and want to communicate with humans. Amy Adams is on everyone early lips as possibly winning her Oscar here for Best Actress. Don’t be surprised if Director Denis Villeneuve also gets a Best Director nomination, as well as Actor Jeremy Renner getting a Best Supporting nomination. Director Denis Villeneuve is the hot new Director in HW everyone wants to work with.

“Fences” - An African-American father struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. Denzel Washington Directs and Acts in this film and could garner him a double nomination along with co-star Viola Davis (Doubt, Antwone Fisher and The Help) for serious consideration for the Best Supporting Actress category.

“Hell or High Water” - A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family's ranch in West Texas. Actors Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster as well screen writer Taylor Sheridan who also penned the words to “Sicario” are almost certain to receive serious Oscar nominations consideration for their respective categories. Also Director David Mackenzie could get some consideration as well.

“Jackie” - The film follows Jackie Kennedy in the days when she was First Lady in the White House and her life following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, in 1963. It focuses on Theodore H. White's Life magazine interview with the widow at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

“La La Land” - In the heart of Los Angeles, aspiring actress Mia serves lattes to movie stars in between auditions while dedicated jazz musician Sebastian plays in dingy bars in order to scrape by. The two meet and fall in love, but, as success mounts, the dreams they worked so hard to maintain threaten to rip them apart. Actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are on a lot of possible short list for respective Best Actor – Actress Nominations. Some are already saying this film is “magical”. We will see.

“Lion” - A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family. Stars Dev Patel (Sum Dog Millionaire) as well as Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

“Loving” - Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married who eventually take their case to the SCOTUS. Actors Ruth Negga (World War Z) and Joel Edgerton (Zero Dark Thirty) are on a lot of possible short list for respective Best Actor – Actress Nominations. We will see. Director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Mud and Take Shelter) is another hot new Director everyone now wants to work with.

“Manchester by the Sea” - An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.  Actor Casey Affleck is on everyone’s possible short list for a Best Actor Nomination. We will see.

"Moonlight” - A timeless story of human connection and self-discovery, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. This film break new ground as a rare and touching story about growing up black and gay.

“Silence” - In the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and propagate Christianity. Could this be Actor Liam Neeson’s time (Taken and Schindler‘s List) to win an Oscar for Best Actor. We will see. Directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese.

“Sully” – Clint Eastwood could hear one of his films nominated again in the true story of “Sully”. On Jan. 15, 2009, Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) tries to make an emergency landing in New York's Hudson River after US Airways Flight 1549 strikes a flock of geese. Miraculously, all of the 155 passengers and crew survive the harrowing ordeal, and Sullenberger becomes a national hero in the eyes of the public and the media. Despite the accolades, the famed pilot now faces an investigation that threatens to destroy his career and reputation.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Arrival - Review


Director Denis Villeneuve who has had a great run of success lately with films such as Incendies, Prisoner and Sicario, and who in August 2017 will also be releasing the sequel to the 1982 cult science fiction classic “Blade Runner” titled “Blade Runner 2049”, is now offering up one of my personal favorite film genres in the form of science fiction with the new dramatic story simply called “Arrival”.

Running 2 hours and set in current time the film “Arrival” starts out immediately with the sudden mysterious arrival of 12 spacecraft all touching down (more like hovering) across the globe. Headed by the elite expert linguist Professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams), she also is brought in to work together with renowned mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) who collectively investigate why the “aliens” are here.

As time goes by without any overt threats from the 12 spacecraft mankind nonetheless anxiety levels are percolating hotter and hotter with the innate fear of the unknown about the beings and as a result humanity becomes more convinced with the passage of time that humans may actually be teetering on the verge of a global war. Professor Banks and the team race against time to find answers and above all to fully understand them with sometimes coming to risky assumptions which could be taking a dangerous chance with their own lives as well all of humanity too.

“Arrival” is less science fiction and more basic premortal human drama; that being to always first feel fear to what we don’t know and or don’t understand.  And with that as its core focus Director Villeneuve delivers for the first 1:30 minutes some real authentic tension as you observe meaningful intellectual dissection of a problem at work with the desire of trying to solve a huge problem which is “what is the purpose of the visitors to our planet”.  

What Arrival does brilliantly in my opinion is tell this basic story with the appropriate degree of “spookiness” which you would expect from an earth invasion film with an equal more prescient and perceptive challenge of telling that same story by talking about this mysterious alien invasion in a way that forces the viewer to always keep up without ever “dumbing it down”.

If you want to see what a smart and introspective sci-fi film would wonder about as in how a first human contact with an alien species might look like, this quiet but forceful film offers up a solid tale of what could be possible.

Amy Adams felt star quality real every moment on the screen as she made me and you as well feel the power of human intellect and human learning as the first basic tool of our essence, which inevitable leads to the next step in the evolution process which is to be able to communicate including on those occasions with a stranger with a different language. I hope she gets an Oscar nomination, but I always do with her.

“Arrival is not great, but it is damn solid and while the last 25 minutes of the film does levels off a bit by moving to a more conventional safe conclusion and message, I nevertheless was still highly impressed with this film being one of the smarter efforts of 2016. But what was buried in the overall purpose, direction and focus of this films plot was in fact not so much an attempt to reveal some evil intentions on the alien’s arrivals to earth as some mysterious outsiders. No, it was slightly more surreptitiously implied but evident nonetheless through the films “Q & A’ process which is when people ask smart questions and conclude smart answers that process itself is in fact an internal examination of our own minds and thoughts as well. Particularly so in all those many times we have asked from our own birth to adult hood both solemnly to ourselves and directly to others the basic simple question “why”? And by asking “why” and asking questions in general by doing so we get that much closer to a more intricate and more thorough exploration of our own human selves and our human purpose on this earth.  Don’t you agree?

4 Stars

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge - Review

Hacksaw Ridge

Academy Award winning Director Mel Gibson returns to stand behind the camera again with the World War 2 true story called “Hacksaw Ridge”. A story by any measure that is extraordinary about Army Medic Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who grew up in Lynchburg VA, who enlisted in the war as an Consciences Objector and as Seven Day Adventist; meaning he did not carry a gun nor did he work or in this case fight on Saturdays.

After enduring a brutal training camp, Doss was shipped to the Pacific Theater to fight on the island of Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWII. There he was credited with saving 75 men without firing or carrying a gun. He was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon, as he believed that while the war was justified, killing was nevertheless wrong. As an army medic, he single-handedly evacuated the wounded from behind enemy lines, braved fire while tending to soldiers and was wounded by a grenade and hit by snipers. Doss was the first conscientious objector to ever earn the Congressional Medal of Honor.

REVIEW: Overall, the film is entertaining, but far from being great mostly because of Gibson’s meandering direction. In the beginning the film felt like Bill Murrays “Stripes” with the second half feeling more like “Saving Private Ryan”. And with a running time of 2:20 minutes, the first 1:15 for me was rather ordinary in the same was some basic network TV mini-series movie of the week could be. Meaning? Well, I felt as if I was watching someone tell a story the exact same way some frustrated painter might try to paint a picture of the Mona Lisa using the numbered color codes etched into the canvass to use the right crayon color. Nothing magical ever happens.

Another issue that bothered me was as the movie proceeded early on with the introduction of the numerous supporting characters, who all collectively seemed to be both conventionally dull, with dialog that was almost at time amateurish to listen to.

Actor Andrew Garfield who dominates most of the film’s screen time does a decent job as Doss with his mannerisms mix of the loveable Mayberry town Sheriff Andy Taylor from the popular 1960’s situation comedy “The Andy Griffith Show" and TV evangelist Joel Osteen. With an overall solid effort on Garfield's part to capture the moral tone of the fiilm, there were a few occasions his acting seemed to be a little flat and less that authentic, even though we discover the real life Doss did in fact speak the same way towards the end of the film.

The movie does get much better when the fighting begins at the 1:15 mark as the depiction of the combat scenes of taking the Island was as brutal, gory and bloody as any film about war I have ever seen. If past is prolog (Passion of the Christ), Gibson has had no problem in letting the blood and carnage flow in truck loads to make a shocking unnerving point. But to his credit here it is to great and moving effect. War in deed is truly hell.

Finally, I do have to mention one little matter that caught my eye that lasted all about 10-20 seconds that I can honestly say I was not looking for. Gibson is persona non grata in some circles in Hollywood for an anti-Semitic tirade he had during a sobriety check point. He is also notoriously known for being a prankster. During a scene where Doss is walking with his military attorney for his court martial, the attorney ever so briefly cast an eerie likeness profile, including wind swept comb over hair hairstyle and forward pointed chin walking posture of Germany’s notorious Old Uncle Adolph. And while he did not have the square mustache he had a mustache nonetheless. Now I can’t say for sure it wasn't a coincidence or not or was it Gibson ever so very briefly thumbing his noses very subtly. If you see it, you tell me what you think. But I digress.

Overall, Hacksaw Ridge is just good enough for a trip to the mall theater to see. Mostly for the heroism and moral convictions of a brave American hero.

3-1/2 Stars