Oscar Thoughts (2017)

By Sean Gardner

The Oscars usually have a pretty boring ceremony and we usually have to suffer through pointless musical acts, comedy bits, and so forth until they announce the winners. This year, however, ended up being one of the craziest shows ever. A lot of it had to do with the mix up of the Best Picture winner. The real winner was low budget underdog, Moonlight. However, there had been a mix up in the winner envelopes, and the overwhelming favorite, La La Land, was announced first. In a bitter sweet moment, the producers of La La Land had to hand over the Oscars they had just been given to the producers of Moonlight, and they could not have handled it more gracefully. 

But, that was not the only thing that happened. There were awards given to many deserving films. Here’s how the major categories turned out (winners in bold):

Picture 

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land 

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

My favorite film from 2016 was Arrival so I was hoping that it would take Best Picture. But I knew it had no shot against La La Land and Oscar-bait, heavy films like Moonlight.


Director

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Kenneth Logerman, Manchester by the Sea

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

The same thing I said about Best Picture can be said about Best Director. I love Arrival and Denis Villeneuve films in general, so I was hoping he’d get it. Yet, Damien Chazelle takes it for La La Land, despite the recent backlash. And the way Villeneuve’s career is going, I’m sure he’ll get a statue eventually. 


Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Vigo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences 

I am glad Casey Affleck won. While Manchester by the Sea overall was just an ok movie for me, all of the performances were stellar. I also loved the congratulatory hug Casey got from his older brother, Ben. Having two brothers myself, I can relate to that kind of happiness for a sibling’s success. 


Actress

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Ruth Negga, Loving

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Why Streep keeps getting nominated, I’ll never know. However, that’s beside the point. I thought Emma Stone should’ve won for Birdman a few years ago, but she takes it this year. 


Supporting Actor 

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Lance Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel, Lion

Michael Shannon, Nocternal Animals

Mahershala Ali was the favorite from the start, so no big surprise here. 


Supporting Actress

Viola David, Fences

Naomi Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

There is a legitimate argument that can be made that Viola Davis was really the female lead in Fences rather than a supporting character. It would’ve been interesting to see her up against Emma Stone in the Lead Actress category, but since she was in this category, it was hers to lose. 


Original Screenplay

20th Century Women

Hell or High Water

La La Land

The Lobster

Manchester by the Sea

I thought Hell or High Water, as far as dialogue goes, was the most compelling on this list. Again, the relationship between the brothers, and having a tight knit family, is something that I can relate too really well. Plus, the fact that Hell or High Water was overall a more hopeful movie, left me a little let down that Manchester by the Sea won. 


Adapted Screenplay

Arrival

Fences

Hidden Figures

Lion 

Moonlight

The Academy took the bait with this one as far as I’m concerned. I’ve gushed enough about Arrival,  so I’ll spare you the details. But, after the “Oscars so white” controversy over the past few years, of course they were not going to give this award to the only movie in the category involving mostly white characters. 


Animated Picture

Kubo and the Two Strings

Zootopia

Moana 

The Red Turtle

My Life as a Zucchini

I’m going to be honest, Zootopia is the only movie on this list that I’ve seen. So I can’t really judge the merit of the other ones. That being said, a Disney movie won Best Animated Picture, so no surprise here. 

Those are my thoughts on this years Oscars. Despite the controversy, it was a fairly well done ceremony with good speeches and deserving winners. Thoughts? Comment below! 

Favorite Films of 2016

By Sean Gardner

With the Oscars only a short time away, it has caused me to reflect on this past year in movies. There were a lot disappointments as far as the summer blockbusters go (Independence Day Resurgence, Batman v. Superman, etc.)  but it finished strong with indies like Hell or High Water, and Arrival. So, without further ado, here is my list of favorite movies from 2016:

Arrival

I put all of my in-depth thoughts on this film in my full review, but I will say that Denis Villeneuve plants himself firmly among the best directors in Hollywood. Arrival is science fiction the way it is supposed to be done. It is smart, visceral and deeply emotional.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

This is the prequel Star Wars fans always wanted. It adds to the story of the original trilogy without feeling forced (pun intended). Because it is set right up against Episode IV, it enhances the viewing experience of that movie specifically. If Disney can keep it up, I look forward to other future stand alone Star Wars films.

Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water is one of the best films of the year. I love that it has been getting lots of love from basically all the awards organizations. There are great performances by Ben Foster and Chris Pine. But, Jeff Bridges has been getting all of the nominations. It is a great modern neo-western that tells a unique story about loyalty and family. Having two brothers, 

10 Cloverfield Lane

This one came out of nowhere. The first trailer came out only a few weeks before it debuted in theaters. Loosely connected to the 2008 found footage film, Cloverfield, it is a great claustrophobic thriller. John Goodman gave the performance of a lifetime and is by far the best part of this movie. The ending was a little weak but still one of the most fun times watching a movie last year.

The Jungle Book 

The Jungle Book should be in the conversation with Avatar and Star Wars as some of the most influential special effects of all time. It’s just unbelievable that the only real thing in this entire movie was the kid who played Mogli. Great call back to the cartoon while adding its own new flavor.

What are your favorite films of 2016? Comment below!

Thoughts on Kevin Smith (Part One)

By Sean Gardner

When I first set out to write this article, I thought I could efficiently talk about Kevin Smith in one shot, but because his career now is so completely different that it was when he started, I thought it would behoove me to do it in two parts. So what follows is the first, in a two part series on my thoughts on this eclectic indie legend.

During the 1990s, there was a strong independent film movement that produced some of the most unique films and filmmakers. Indie filmmakers like Quinten Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Spike Lee all made critically and financially successful, low-budget, self-produced feature films like Pulp Fiction, Desperado, and Malcom X to name a few. However, the writer/director that has had the most unique and interesting foray into the world of movies is Kevin Smith. 

Smith started his career with the indie hit, Clerks, about his fantastically mundane experiences working at a convenience store in New Jersey. Fittingly, the store in the movie is the exact store where he used to work. He even went back to working at that store after he was done filming. Clerks was highly successful with critics and audiences alike. It ended up going to Sundance almost by accident and was bought and distributed by Miramax, thus commencing Smith’s career. 

Clerks was followed by Mall Rats, Chasing Amy (arguably his best film) which was followed by Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and later, my personal favorite, Clerks II. These movies make up what is known as the “Askewnivers” named after his production company, View Askew. 

What I like about all of these films is that they seemingly take place in the same location. They are connected by two low level tokers named Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) which appear in every movie and make references to the other movies. This type of “world building” which is so common now thanks to the popularity of super hero movies, was essentially unheard of in the early ’90s. It creates a sense of intimacy with the characters when the setting is always the same. It’s easier to know what to expect because it becomes so familiar. 

Smith, who is extremely self critical, will often say he doesn’t know how to write scripts, he just knows how to write dialogue. I can see where he’s coming from, yet I adamantly disagree. True, most of his early movies are of people just standing around talking. Most of what his characters talk about is crass and vain. They are insecure, petty, and immoral. Yet, underneath all the excessive vulgarity are honest people with very human personalities, beliefs, and motivations. This ability to give each character and each film a heart, is a testament to Smith’s tremendous writing ability. 

However, his films and his writing kind of took a down turn in the 2000s. The box office failures of Jersey Girl, Zack and Miri, and his tumultuous relationship with Bruce Willis while filming Cop Out, really took a lot out of his confidence. But recently, wth films like Red State, Tusk, and Yoga Hosers, Smith redefined himself as a filmmaker and an artist. 

This “Smith-aissance” will be the topic of Part Two of my thoughts on Kevin Smith. 

Oscar Nomination Thoughts (2016)

By Sean Gardner

I love the Oscars. While the actual ceremony is usually pretty boring, I love every excuse I get to celebrate the most potent art form. Plus it is kind of like college basketball’s March Madness. You can print out a list of the nominees and try to guess who’s going to win. So without further ado, here are a list of the nominees in the major categories: 

Picture

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land 

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight 


Director

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Kenneth Logerman, Manchester by the Sea

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival


Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Vigo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic 

Denzel Washington, Fences 
Actress

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Ruth Negga, Loving

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins 


Supporting Actor 

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Lance Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel, Lion

Michael Shannon, Nocternal Animals


Supporting Actress

Viola David, Fences

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea


Original Screenplay

20th Century Women

Hell or High Water

La La Land

The Lobster

Manchester by the Sea


Adapted Screenplay

Arrival

Fences

Hidden Figures

Lion 

Moonlight


Animated Picture

Kubo and the Two Strings

Zootopia

Moana 

The Red Turtle

My Life as a Zucchini


Not many surprises given the most recent awards buzz, but there were a few. La La Land received a record tying 14 nominations. Mel Gibson is back in the game with a Best Director nom, despite his off screen behavior. Also, I was a little surprised that Deadpool did not at least get a shot at Best Screenplay after getting nominated in both the Producers and Writers Guild Awards. Streep got nominated again for some reason. Get her out of there and throw in Amy Adams from Arrival and I don’t think anyone would complain. Lastly, a little bit nitpicky, but I thought that Ben Foster gave the stronger supporting performance in Hell or High Water, but Jeff Bridges got the nomination instead. Overall, it was a  pretty predictable list of potential winners. The winners will be announced on February 26 on ABC. 

Review: Arrival (2016)

By Sean Gardner

For the past four years, there seems to be an awards caliber science fiction film come out in the fall. Last year it was Ridley Scott’s The Martian, in 2014 it was Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, the year before that it was Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.  This years annual sci-fi think piece, Arrival, stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker and is directed by one of my favorite up-and-coming directors Dennis Villeneuve.

Strange alien ships have landed in twelve different locations across the globe. Humanity does not know why the pilots of these intergalactic vessels chose to land on Earth or what they want from humanity. Governments all over the world are scrambling to send in linguists (Adams) and physicists (Renner) to try to get some answers.

Having previously directed films such as Enemy, and Prisoners, Villeneuve has his own distinct style that really shines through in this film. It is deeply emotional. It is stirring. It is uniquely thought provoking, and was an honestly spiritual experience. This film is the epitome of great science fiction. It takes real science and pushes it just past the realm of current understanding for dramatic effect. It makes us think about our place in the universe. It turns our understanding of the world inward and forces us to examine what kind of people we are. In a tumultuous time, especially in the United States, films like this make us ponder what kind of society we want to be a part of now, and what we should do the have a better one in the future.

As talented as Adams, Renner, and Whitaker are, Villeneuve is the real star of this film. Similar to EnemyArrival uses nonlinear storytelling that is chock full of symbolism. In a way, the nonlinear storytelling in itself is a symbol. The symbolism of the actual space ships reminds me of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, which symbolized discovery and scientific advancement. Villeneuve’s decision to focus the story on Adams as the main character was a stroke of genius. Through her eyes, we experience this global event. Walking through tents endlessly filled with talking heads on computer monitors, we get the sense of how vastly influential the arrival of these aliens are. However, we never lose focus on Adams’ character. We are able to relate to her, feel for her, cry with her.

I know its been out for awhile but if it is playing near you, take the time to go see this film while it is still in theaters. Also, keep an eye out for it during the Oscar nominations in February. Expect Adams and Villeneuve to be nominated and the film for best picture as well.

Review: The Congressman (2016) 

By Sean Gardner

In this hectic political climate, I find it refreshing and appropriate that a film like The Congressman gives us a realistic look at politicians as imperfect people and not as the saviors they often claim to be during campaigns. 

Written and directed by former New York congressman Robert J. Mrazek, The Congressman is poignant look at a broken   man who happens to be a politician. Starring Treat Williams as the titular congressman, this film is more about the transformation of his character than anything else. He begins as a broken man: divorced, at the end of his career, bitter. Yet by the end I was rooting for him to succeed. 

This film also provides an interesting look at US politics. It shows how easily the media can edit around interviews in order to put a particular spin on a story. It examines the presence and influence of wealthy interest groups. These are disturbing things that corrupt the integrity of our government, but this film decides to present them in a pseudo-satirical way that lost me at points. Sometimes it was trying to be super serious while at others it was over the top comical. 

Overall this film was insightful and relevant to the times, but was a little too slow paced for my tastes. It is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Check it out if you are interested in American politics. 

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to share, like and comment! 

Trailer Review: Logan (2017)

By Sean Gardner

First and foremost, if you have not seen the new Logan (Wolverine 3) trailer, what are you doing? Why haven’t you watched it yet? Watch it here, then continue reading. 

Ever since I was a kid, I loved Wolverine. The earliest memory I have of Halloween is going to my preschool Halloween party as Wolverine. I loved the animated X-Men series and still watch it to this day. As far as the movies go, I did not like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the second one, Wolverine, is a guilty pleasure at best. So, I was a little hesitant of the idea of a third one. Not anymore. 

This trailer blew me away. It was emotional. It was intensely personal. It is engaging. The music was perfect. The raspy and somewhat weak, older Johnny Cash vocals are perfectly reflected in the faces of Charles and Logan. But perhaps my favorite part of the trailer has nothing to do with the fact that this is a Wolverine movie. 

About half way through, there is a moment when Charles, Logan, and the little girl are sitting around what looks like a dinner table. Their surroundings are dark and grimy, yet they are laughing. For a brief second, these poor souls were able to find joy, and it broke my heart. Based on the other images in the trailer, we know that that joy is momentary. We know that these people are not going to be laughing for long. I admit, it made me tear up a little bit.

Now, all of this should be taken with a grain of salt because it is just a trailer. We don’t know if the actually movie is good or not. It could be a giant stinker, but I doubt it.