Award Show Round Up: Oscars 2017

I’m just going to start with the elephant in the room…this happened:

The most important thing that happened here is that Moonlight won Best Picture. It’s one of the most original and best films I have ever seen. I feel so bad for everyone involved in this mistake (no it wasn’t staged, shut up with your conspiracy theories Twitter). I also don’t think it was Warren Beatty’s fault.

I have watched this video countless times this morning and the only reaction I cannot understand is Jimmy Kimmel’s. “You guys should get it anyway”??!! Obviously they should not. They didn’t win. Just shut up and let Jordan Horowitz and Warren handle this. Otherwise though, I thought he was a pretty good host. (Though the show felt long. That’s not his fault really though, it is just long. I miss being in the central time zone where it ends after 11 instead of after midnight.)

Anyway, there were hours of show before the most interesting end to an awards show ever. My highlights are:

An opening with real energy (whatever your feelings are on this song):

The first award of the night went, as it absolutely should have, to Mahershala Ali:

Viola finally has an Oscar, which is great, but I would like to state one last time for the record that she deserved to win Best Actress in a Leading Role for this film. Her studio should have had that confidence in her, but I’m happy for her all the same:

Lin-Manuel was there! And, I confess that I have yet to see Moana, but this girl just punched her ticket to Broadway if that’s where she wants to go:

(Also, Dwayne Johnson for Oscar host next year?)

I also, really liked the rearranged La La Land number. (Because, the music is good. It’s a good movie. You don’t have to hate it to love Moonlight, despite what the internet tells you.)

(I’ll post a better video of this once its available…)

Also, this happened:

Unfortunately, they then presented an Oscar to Hacksaw Ridge which is not a good film.

Good Will Hunting was formative for me, and though they are imperfect people, I will always love Matt and Ben and the little fraternity they surround themselves with and I loved that they got to have this moment of presenting an Oscar to their friend. (And this was one of the best Kimmel-Damon ‘feud’ moments of the night:

(I’m not going to rehash my take on Casey Affleck again, but I’m glad he won. And he should have combed his hair.)

I would have given my personal Oscar to Natalie Portman for Jackie, but I’m happy for Emma:

But I’m even happier for these men:

And now, dresses. There were fewer strange appliqués last night, which I appreciated. And a lot of sparkle:

 

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Ruth Negga in Valentino (Photo Credit: Jeff Kravits/FilmMagic)*

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Felicity Jones in Christian Dior (Photo Credit: Glamlog)

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Emma Stone in Givenchy Haute Couture (Photo Credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

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Scarlett Johansson in Azzedine Alaïa (Photo Credit: David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock)

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Alicia Vikander in Louis Vuitton (Photo Credit: REX Shutterstock)

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Michelle Williams in Louis Vuitton (Photo Credit: Noel West)

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Taraji P. Henson in Alberta Ferretti (Photo Credit: Lionel Hahn/ABACA USA/INSTARimages.com, Getty)

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Isabelle Hupert in Armani Privé (Photo Credit: WireImage)

*The blue ribbon is to support the ACLU

And the Nominees Are 2017: Final Round

Happy Oscar Sunday! I’m going to a watch party at Q.E.D. in Astoria in a few hours, but I wanted to get my last few catch up reviews posted before the ceremony.

Toni Erdmann

Pretty much every film critic I read, listen to, and/or follow on Twitter heaped praises upon this movie. But they all also mentioned that it was almost 3 hours long…so it took me awhile to find time to go. And while I really appreciated the performances, and some of the set pieces had me laughing out loud, it was too long. No comedy, even one as emotionally layered as this, needs to be 3 hours long. (In fact, I can tell you exactly when it should have ended, and it was at least 15 minutes before the actual end, with the yeti hug in the park.)

That being said, the parts of this that are a satire of international business culture are scathingly spot on. And the central message, that we should all take ourselves a little less seriously, is a welcome one.

Also, I’ll never again be able to heat “The Greatest Love of All” without thinking of Sandra Hüller and laughing.

The Eagle Huntress

I needed this story right now. Aishlopan, a 13 year old girl living with her nomadic family in the mountains of Mongolia, wants to be an eagle hunter like her father. Her parents let her despite there never having been a female hunter before. When she tries, she’s brilliant at it.

It’s a feel good feminist story. Parents, please take your preteen children of all genders to see this (though, warning for the squeamish: Eagles are birds of prey and nature has some gruesome aspects, but they are handled tastefully.)

May we all, as we face our own versions of the old men sitting in huts saying in the same breath that woman can’t hunt eagles because they will get cold in the mountains and that Aishlopan only succeeds in competitions because she is a girl, maintain the strength and ease that she has & ride off to break those men’s records with smiles on our faces.

(Also, Mongolia looks really beautiful.)

13th 

This movie should be required viewing for all Americans. Ava DuVernay (who you may recognize as the Oscar-snubbed director of Selma) lays out the devastating history that leads directly from slavery, through the dismantling of Radical Reconstruction through Jim Crow to today’s mass incarceration and police brutality. It isn’t an easy watch, but we are never going to make progress if we ignore the reality of the history that informs out current debates and tragedies.

Although she clearly has a point of view, DuVernay does a good job of including voices from across the political spectrum. I was pleasantly surprised by the nuance that Newt Gingrich brought to his interview. And if you need a definition of unhelpful white nonsense you can play a compilation of all the times that Grover Norquist reduced complicated political grievances to complaints about “mean people.” She also doesn’t let Democrats off the hook, because racism isn’t a Republican issue, it is a human issue and we all need to acknowledge this in able to fix it.

Just watch it. It’s on Netflix. Go now.

I Am Not Your Negro

I’ve loved James Baldwin since I was assigned Giovanni’s Room in a class in college. (I had read Go Tell It On the Mountain before that but it had gone over my head.) So, I knew I was in for brilliance when I went to see Raoul Peck‘s new documentary that uses only Baldwin’s words to examine the lives of MLK, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers and through them the story of the mistreatment of black people in America.

A Facebook friend of mine called this “required viewing” and it certainly is. It’s well crafted and edited and well-deserving of its Oscar nomination. I found it to be very emotional and distressingly relevant to our current moment. I hope that it inspires people to read Baldwin, and more history in general, because its beautiful, but there are gaps that may need filling in for an uninformed viewer. (Such as the fact that Malcolm X was not murdered by a white man, but a member of the Nation of Islam.)

Overall, this is a remarkable documentary, worth waiting in the lines I’ve seen at every independent movie theater showing this in NYC.

 

 

Best Picture Baking Project: Chariots of Fire

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Happy President’s Day! I don’t think I’ve ever celebrated this particular strange American holiday, and I’m certainly not going to start under the current administration, but I did take the opportunity to head home to New Haven for a bit of rest and relaxation. And for me that means movies and baking (though the baking was not my best effort…more on that later.) First, the film:

Had I seen this one before?

Nope. Which was surprising to both of my parents. All I knew was the opening sequence with the team running down the beach.

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. This movie is so incredibly British. Which means, it’s charming, incredibly well acted, and obsessed with questions of whether it is acceptable to focus on individual excellence over a “feeling of esprit de corps.” Which as an American is hilarious to me.
  2. The depiction of Americans as professional, running machines that are borderline evil or Bible thumpers. It’s always funny to me (especially in later Richard Curtis movies), but here it is particularly pronounced.

    I mean, look at him with his hat on backwards, how gauche.
  3. I love a good sports movie, and this is one of the best. It’s a classic for a reason. And I like that it takes on other issues, anti-Semitism and commitment to faith, without getting too preachy or overreaching for metaphors. These men are more than just runners, but true Olympians, then as now, are a unique breed motivated by physical challenge, which, as I am very much not, will always be fascinating to me. 

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

Atlantic City –  Never heard of it.

On Golden Pond – I really only know of this, because of Jane Fonda accepting her dad‘s Oscar for it, which is a nice awards history moment, but doesn’t really help me judge the film

Raiders of the Lost Ark – I love that this was nominated, but of course it didn’t win.

Reds – Oh, I love this one so so much.

This is tough. Reds is one of my favorite movies of all time, but Chariots is pretty fantastic too. I’m going to go with, I would have voted for Reds but I’m not mad that Chariots of Fire won.

Bechdel Test Pass?

Nope. There are two named women, they are both reluctantly supportive partners to their respective champions. They never meet. (This is one of those cases where this didn’t bother me that much. Cambridge, where most of this narrative takes place, was an overwhelmingly male environment. It would be strange and forced to shoehorn women into this particular narrative.)

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Sybil (Alice Krige) seeing Harold off at port – in a shot later echoed in a future Best Picture, Titanic

OK, dessert time, I wanted to do a flaming dessert for obvious reasons, but…that turns out to be trickier than I thought…

Flaming Baked Alaska Cupcakes

Ingredients for cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 cups of your favorite ice cream, I used strawberry field

Ingredients for meringue and flambe

  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2-2 cups brandy

Directions 

Prepare the cupcakes

  • Heat oven to 350F and line cupcake pan with papers
  • Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt
  • In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  • Add eggs one at a time, mixing well between additions
  • Beat in vanilla extract
  • Add flour mixture and milk alternately, beginning and ending with flour
  • Divide batter evenly into liners, filling them about 2/3 full
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes (*check them at 15, mine took 18 minutes)
  • Remove from oven and let cool
  • Peel away cupcake liners and discard
  • Cut a small divot out of the top of each cupcake, large enough to hold ice cream
  • Fill each divot with ice cream
  • Put filled cupcakes in freezer

Prepare the meringues

  • In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites until foamy
  • Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form
  • Gradually beat in the sugar until the meringue is stiff and glossy
  • Preheat oven to the hottest setting
  • Remove the cupcakes from freezer
  • Set each cupcake on their own small place
  • Place the plates onto a baking sheet
  • Cover each cupcake with meringue using an offset spatula
  • Place the sheet into the oven until lightly browned (*pay close attention and take them out exactly when they are browned) 
  • Remove from oven
  • Pour tablespoons of brandy over each cupcake
  • Ignite the brandy and let burn until the flame subsides
  • When the flame dies down serve immediately

Or…this could happen:

We did try them, they tasted like cheap brandy… But the unlit ones (ie the ones I didn’t put in the oven/douse with brandy tasted good…)

Six Degrees of Cinema: Silence

I’m not sure how to write about SilenceAs a film fan I was struck by the beauty of the cinematography and the ambition of telling a story that in many ways is very internal, in a visual medium. As a person who, while admiring of his obvious genius, has a really complicated relationship with Martin Scorsese, I must say that I appreciate his contemplative side much more than whatever you want to call The Wolf of Wall Street

But, despite fantastic performances all around, not much of this movie stuck with me when I left the theater as I expected it to. Well, nothing artistic at least. As an exploration of religion and the nature of belief, I cannot stop thinking about it. It raised so many deep questions about martyrdom and apostasy and what faith in the face of the actual persecution looks like, and why governments engage in it. (I think it has something to do with fear of a power greater than themselves.) It’s an exploration of evangelism, and when its more dangerous for converts than liberating, what then is asked of a believer?

I don’t have answers, but its been a very long time since a movie made me think this deeply about spiritual things. So, let’s see if 1980s era Scorsese will pull that off as well with the next link, his The Last Temptation of Christ.

In this chain: Paterson – Silence

Award Show Round Up: BAFTAs 2017

So, once again, the BAFTAs and the Grammys were on the same night, and I made the totally in character decision to skip the Grammys in favor of a rather subdued, very British film award show. (Don’t worry, I’ve seen the important Adele, Beyonce, and Chance the Rapper highlights from the other show. Gotta love YouTube.)

It really was a very calm night in London. A few surprises, but no love for Moonlight at all, which is sad, but a few lovely speeches (and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were there!):

After, an inexplicable Cirque du Soleil performance, Ken Loach, director of I Daniel Blake, which I missed in theaters here and still need to see, started the night off strong with the political theme:

Then Viola, rightfully won. I unfortunately couldn’t find a clip with Hugh Grant’s little intro to this, which was very charming. But this is also time for your reminder that Ms. Davis was the leading actress in this film, and she should be winning Leading Actress awards for it:

I used to say that the BAFTAs could always be predicted by guessing who in the category is the “Most British.” In the fast few years that hasn’t really been true, but I’m going to say that’s why Dev Patel beat out Mahershela Ali last night. (Because Dev is great don’t get me wrong, but c’mon…):

I will never complain when Kenneth Lonergan wins awards:

(Also, I love how excitedly his wife claps at the beginning of this clip.)

And, once again, I agree the best performance was rewarded. (Though I do not feel like praising him is uncomplicated.)

I wish I could find a video of Sir Mark Rylance’s beautiful speech on the importance of art in dark times, but I can’t. (He gave the Best Director award to Damien Chazelle.)

This was a pretty great Lifetime Achievement award presentation:

Although I still think Natalie Portman (or Viola Davis) gave the best Leading Actress performance this year, I do love an Emma Stone speech:

I do love La La Land and I knew it was going to win, but still think Moonlight being completely shut out is really sad:

So, not the most groundbreaking show ever, and the dresses were pretty subdued, a lot of black and white with some glitter thrown in. (There’s was also strange embroidery, but I didn’t love any of those.) Here were my favorites:

The Duchess of Cambridge in Alexander McQueen (Photo Credit: Tim Rooke/REX/Shutterstock) 

Emma Stone in Chanel Couture (Photo Credit: Telegraph)

Sam Taylor-Johnson with Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Tom Ford (Photo Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Viola Davis in Jenny Packham (Photo Credit: David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock)

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Bryce Dallas Howard in Solace London (Photo Credit: Got Celeb)

Felicity Jones in Christian Dior (Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

Weekly Adventure:The Glass Menagerie

I had a snow day from work yesterday. Which meant that I spent all day eating and finally watching The Crown. But earlier in the week, I had bought a discount ticket to The Glass Menagerie from Lincoln Center Theater, because Sally Field is in it. It was worth the cold walk to the subway (but honestly, house mangers, on the day of a blizzard when the temp is 10 below freezing, let people go to their seats early instead of lining up outside. C’mon.)

Anyway, this play has long been on my list of blindspots. I knew a few references, just enough to get “gentleman caller” jokes without ever having actually read or seen it. Because it was by Tennessee Williams I assumed it was bleak and beautiful. And I assumed right (though I didn’t find the ending to be terribly sad. There’s some room for hope there, or maybe I’m deluding myself.)

This production is strange, non-linear, and lovely. Like a so called “memory play” ought to be I suppose. At first, I was confused as to how I was supposed to believe that Joe Mantello was the younger brother of Madison Ferris, but then I realized that he was stepping into his own memory of the past. A conceit that actually worked really well once I got used to it.

Ms. Field did not disappoint. She is delightfully unhinged, and I don’t think I will ever forget the image of her in that Glinda the Good Witch courting dress. (Since the show is in previews, I can’t find a picture, but trust me it’s perfect.)

The heart of the show me though was the last 20 minutes, with Finn Wittrock, as the long awaited gentleman caller and Ferris*, lit only by candles and a neon sign. It was touching and intimate in a way I expect more from my beloved Chicago store fronts, not a grand Broadway house.

 

*Side note: it’s refreshing to see a disabled character played by an actress who uses a wheelchair rather than an able bodied actress putting on a limp (or something similar). More of that please.

 

 

Six Degrees of Cinema: Paterson

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Remember when I used to do these posts? Well, I have a couple of non-nominated Adam Driver movies that I wanted to see so I’m resurrecting this. As I wrote yesterday, I had just finished rereading Paterson by William Carlos Williams, the morning that I went to see this. I didn’t know if that would feel relevant, but it definitely did. It’s not a direct adaptation of Williams’s poem, but the feeling of the movie, it’s repetition and it’s preoccupation with notable figures in history with some connection to Paterson, has the same tone and rhythm.

On the level of plot there’s not much to recap here. A bus driver named Paterson wakes up next to his Iranian partner, gets up, eats Cheerios, works on a poem, drives his bus, eats dinner, walks the woman’s English bulldog Marvin, goes to the bar. Repeat. Then repeat again, with slight variations throughout the week. She flits between slightly odd creative projects, all variations on black and white, he remains consistent, but they clearly love each other. There is no love between the man and the dog. That’s it really.

But the sum of these days is something really lovely. Watching this couple navigate the mundane while also remaining committed to their creativity was quietly inspiring. Sitting in the this theater felt like communal meditation. And, not to put too fine a point on it, it felt like reading poetry. Complete with symbols that are clearly important but open to interpretation (what’s with all the twins?) and a laundromat rapper reminding us of WCW’s mantra, “No ideas but in things. No ideas but in things.”

In this chain: Paterson – 

Read Harder Review: Paterson by William Carlos Williams

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So, this one is a bit of a cheat. I’m counting Paterson as my “book I had read before” on my Book Riot Read Harder list, because I have a distinct memory of being assigned the book length poem in college. I even remember that the only copy I had at the time was in a Norton Anthology, one of those bricks with the very thin paper and crazy small print. I remember reading the first page, that English professors always made us buy for survey courses. (I think this was for Modern American Poetry? Or maybe even just the second half of the intro to American Lit? Fellow Northwestern English majors help me remember…)

Anyway, that’s really all I remember about having read this. I’m sure I finished it. I was/am a big nerd and usually did all of my reading, especially in my poetry classes. But like most stuff I read for survey classes, I remember the one sentence , (in this case: “No ideas but in things,” that I’m sure I quoted in a midterm paper. You may know that there is a movie of the same name out right now with Adam Driver as a bus driving poet. The director, the indie legend Jim Jarmusch, didn’t directly adapt the book (that’s really not possible), but seems to have taken his own swing at the Williams’s central premise, that a man and a city can stand in for each other.

I’m going to see the movie tonight and decided to revisit the book in preparation. And this time around I was amazed that I could ever have forgotten it. It’s an epic collage of history, found text (including letters from a young, slightly sycophantic Allen Ginsberg!), and of course, poetry.

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As with any work of this length, some sections are better than others. It went off the rails a bit in the third (or maybe 4th book) when he tries to tell a more coherent narrative story. I much prefer the grand pronouncements (though he didn’t like them much himself – see above re: ideas and things.)

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This section really spoke to me as I read it the night of the airport protests. My Instagram followers seemed to like it too.

He also takes a weird tangent in book 5 where he goes on and on about women being either virgins or whores, where I couldn’t tell if he believed that, or his Paterson believed that, or if he was being satirical. I kind of don’t want to unpack it, because I hate discovering my favorite writers hate women…especially when he dropped this reference in an earlier book:

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For those not in the know on their Temperance Movement radicals…Carrie Nation was hardcore

But contradictions are part of the point of course. (There’s a direct line easily drawn between Leaves of Grass and Whitman’s multitudes and this poem.) If Paterson the character is Paterson the city, I think it’s pretty clear to say that Paterson the city is also means to be America. And as we all see right now, America is a mess of contradictions.

But if you let Williams’s writing just wash over you, the effect can be pretty glorious:

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