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Oscars Watch 2017: The Far Less-Depressing Campaign: What Did That All Mean?

So…wow guys.

Look, I know I’d been talking predictable for the Oscars this year, and I realize now that I’m sorely wrong about that. Trust me, my ballot shows it. For better and for worse, this year knew how to keep us on the toes.

There’s enough recaps of the whole night out there (including one elsewhere from me), so I won’t bore you by going over the clips you’ve seen a hundred times, praising and jeering what’s already been plenty praised and plenty jeered. Instead, I want to try to dive a little deeper here, and get into some of the political and industrial shifts and moral questions raised by the winners that we’ll have to deal with.

First things first, Moonlight won Best Picture. That’s huge for a lot of reasons. It’s a 1.6 million dollar film from a first-time production company (though long-time Distribution company) that was made by a majority Black production crew with an all Black cast that told the story of a young Black gay man.

It’s an almost direct repudiation to the idea that Black films simply don’t have an audience. Moonlight is not a slavery narrative nor a Civil Rights narrative. It’s a contemporary one about the Black experience as it exists in the modern day. It does those same things with its queer themes, telling the story of a gay man coming into his own with fullness, even ending on a romantic and joyful note. It’s unabashed about that, it presents the world with thought and deep deep empathy. And it won. That’s major, and it’s likely the clearest signal to Hollywood that these contemporary stories do have a prestige audience, even if they should have had that signal YEARS AGO.

It’s also a signal of a shift in the industrial necessity of filmmaking. It’s no secret that the film industry is staring at a bit of a precipice and it’s absolutely trying to figure out where to go right now. The mid-budget picture is all but gone as filmmaking increasingly splinters into massive budget and low budget. This puts the major studios over a barrel in how to keep up on both ends, and that leaves a vacuum for new groups to move in.

Last night was pretty much the confirmation that A24 and Amazon Studios would likely be those, with A24 functioning as the millennial Miramax. Amazon Studios seems to simply be the benefit of a great cash stream, picking up great films and giving them strong campaigns. A24 is a bit bigger.

Moonlight was the first film fully financed by A24, making it their first film as Production company rather than just as Distributor. Which means, yes, the first film from A24 won Best Picture. For a company that went from a dotted few wins to Best Picture in a year after being founded 5 years ago, that’s a huge deal. Expect to hear their name again, A24 has all eyes on it now more than ever. The A24 style is gonna get hot, as is their penchant for allowing directors a lot of room to tell unique, singular, visually stylish stories on low budgets. Putting 1.6 million (the kind of money a young first-timer could finance) into a film and getting a Best Picture out of it is the model everyone is going to try to follow.

The second big thing we need to talk is the Best Actor win. Casey Affleck won out over Denzel Washington. Casey is, of course, mired in controversy for 2010 sexual harassment allegations. This is the art and the artist conversation we’ve had for years, but it reflects an interesting wrinkle to the way we do awards.

With awards, we usually ask two separate questions. Does the performance merit it and does the performer merit it? This is how we get narratives like “It’s DiCaprio’s time” where he wins for a performance that is impressive but not necessarily good or what he’s good at. We think through what’s deserved for the performer based on who they are and their history.

In other words, separating art from the artist doesn’t just mean excusing the artist for the art. It means understanding how the artist and the art really are separate, and that we must look at them separately. That also means that both must factor in when we ask questions about rewarding any singular piece of art. Because though we separate them, we view an award as a validation of the art and the artist.

I bring this up here because the question of whether Casey Affleck deserves the award for this performance and whether we should give it to him are two entirely different questions. Does his performance deserve the award? Despite what the revisionism may tell you, of course he does. Casey’s performance in Manchester by the Sea is EXTRAORDINARY. A truly all-timer, jaw-dropping cinematic performance that wears years of history and pain and grief effortlessly, that carves out a character that you truly do feel for.

Does he deserve it though? Does Casey himself deserve it? With that sin hanging over his head, no. It’s a reward for bad behavior, a proof that he really could just get away with being an absolute scumbag to the women he had power over. Remember, this was on a film that he was directing, he had power over those people. The art may be worthy, the artist is not. We validated the artist by validating the art, and we have to wrestle with the fact that a harasser was validated by that.

It’s important to understand too that good art can come from bad people. Every time we pretend that only good people make good art, we create the environment where people get away with all manner of misdeed. We refuse to believe the people we like and that we look up to can be evil. Hell, that’s the message of the Best Documentary winner from this year. OJ Simpson was OJ, he could never murder anyone no matter what.

We have to understand art in its fullness and wrestle with what it means to see deep empathy come from people who don’t seem to feel it themselves. It’s how we begin to actually break down the power structures where when you’re a celebrity, you can apparently get away with anything.

Finally, I just want to say that I’m again incredibly thrilled for Moonlight. I love La La Land, but I think Moonlight is the first film in decades that can bear the weight of being a Best Picture nominee, and certainly the best film that’s won since 2007 or possibly 1993. I’m looking forward to the hopeful shift in storytelling possibilities that Moonlight winning will allow for the industry, and I’m looking forward to La La Land being a movie that I’m allowed to just enjoy and no longer being the avatar of film industry evil.

So yeah, that was a hell of a thing. I’ll see you all next year.

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Oscars Watch 2017: The Less-Depressing Campaign: The Real Race Begins

Well, one of the major competitions of February ended only in heartbreak for me, so let’s not dwell there. Instead, it’s time for the Oscars! The nominations have given way to the actual race, where things have narrowed down significantly. The dark horses are out of the way, and now it’s time for the big boys to duke it out.

Not gonna lie. Way back when, I would have called this for a tighter race, more fiercely fought competitions. But as the Guilds begin to hand out their individual awards, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that there’s one juggernaut named La La Land in this game and everything else is picking up whatever’s left in the wake.

Unless you’re Ryan Gosling.

But yeah, let’s get into it.

Best Picture:
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

  • Like I said, we’re pretty much seeing no real challenge to La La Land here. It’s running ramshod over every competitor, and the love the industry has for this movie pretty much points to nothing being able to find another foothold. Moonlight hasn’t managed to find its angle yet and that’s the only real possibility here.
  • By the way, when La La Land wins, can we all agree to a moratorium on the “What Does This Particular Win Mean in TRUMP’S AMERICA” takes? They’re exhausting already and it’s been less than a month. They’re happening after basically every major cultural event, and they’ve never found a single new angle or interesting insight. This way of engaging with art as solely indicative of political utility is deleterious, not to add on with the danger of placing the Awards Season context onto the film itself.

Best Actor:
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

  • So, here’s your nailbiter this year. There’s a crazy amount of momentum on both Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington’s side. Affleck has the super wide critical acclaim and the momentum on his film’s side as well as a host of critics and other organizational awards. He’s also got sexual harassment allegations that seem to pop back into the public consciousness from time to time. Washington has super wide critical acclaim without momentum on Fences‘ side, but he has the SAG Award, which is one of the better predictors. But SAG has differed from the Oscars before. In other words, no one has the clear path, we’ll see how people are feeling closer to.

Best Actress:
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

  • As much as everyone talks Portman, I really don’t see ANY momentum for her performance anywhere, and losing the SAG was a coup de grace. That’s where Portman could have won and I think that wrecked any momnetum. And Huppert is never gonna find the wide support. So this is Stone’s to coast into.

Best Supporting Actor:
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

  • God, what a great category. But yeah, Mahershala Ali (minus a few weird diversions) has this one on lock. Good, he should.

Best Supporting Actress:
Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

  • Same as Supporting Actor. Davis probably would have ran away with Actress, but she’s especially gonna run away with Supporting Actress. Great category, but she’s got this one on lock.

Best Director:
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

  • Yeah, I’m willing to believe there’s gonna be a surprise here, but between Moonlight moving to Screenplay (giving Jenkins a clear award for recognition) and the DGA win for Chazelle, it’s becoming pretty clear that all momentum is shifting to him.

Best Original Screenplay:
20th Century Women
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
The Lobster

  • Still holding the line here for now. We’ll wait for the WGA Award, but I really think Manchester‘s script is gonna end up being the ultimate sign of its recognition.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Lion
Moonlight

  • Yeah, this was a clear lock once Moonlight moved in.

Best Original Score:
Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Passengers

  • If you think there’s a chance for anything else…

Best Original Song:
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
City of Stars” – La La Land
Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Trolls
“The Empty Chair” – Jim: The James Foley Story
“How Far I’ll Go” – Moana

  • Again, if you think there’s a chance for anything else…you’re not totally wrong. Lin-Manuel’s EGOT is a powerful narrative and if La La Land‘s two songs split the vote, that would be the one to sneak in. But I think they’re gonna end up totally pushing “City of Stars” given that it’s become the movie’s theme song,

Best Cinematography:
Arrival
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

  • I’ll see how things are being felt closer to, which is why my prediction is holding where it is, but Lion won the ASC, which makes this race kind of interesting. Granted, the ASC is a small part of the Academy, but that’s where the passion for this category is.

Best Costume Design:
Allied
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

  • It’s that canary-yellow dress. It’s pretty much one of the iconic film looks this year, La La Land‘s general love will get it this one.

Best Editing:
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Moonlight

  • Yeah, technical sweep, same deal, no surprises. It’s how Titanic and Lord of the Rings and Ben-Hur got the awards they did. Movies people love that are really technically well put-together.

Best Production Design:
Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land
Passengers

  • Drinking game idea. Make primary colored Jello shots. Take one every time La La Land wins. Your liver will hate you.

 Best Sound Editing:
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully

Best Sound Mixing:
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

  • Just a quick review. Sound Editing is the creation of the sounds, Mixing is the way they’re put together. Editing almost always goes to Action flicks of some kind due to what you have to produce. Mixing is usually a toss-up but if a film is on a tech sweep, it’s got a pretty good shot. La La Land being a musical means the Mix is probably going to be at the forefront and people may just vote for the musical because why not. Hacksaw Ridge is the most prestigey action flick here, so my guess is it takes Editing.

Best Visual Effects:
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

  • There’s some seriously great challengers here, but no one is going to be able to touch the photorealism of The Jungle Book and its mo-capped animals.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

  • Tons of seamless prosthetics? Yeah, Star Trek Beyond is the right sort of impressive for this makeup work.

Best Animated Feature Film:
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

  • Zootopia has sooooo much momentum here. Kubo is the only possible challenger (and one I would love to see win) but I have a feeling Laika can’t match Disney’s awards campaign cash.

Best Documentary:
13th
Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
OJ Made in America

  • OJ: Made in America is about as buzzy as any of these have got. 13th is your challenger here thanks to Netflix DYING to get something a win to legitimize themselves here, but I think the sheer density of love for OJ: Made in America keeps this in the competition.
  • Fun fact. If OJ: Made in America wins, it will be the longest winner in Oscars history.

Best Foreign Language Film:
Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
Tanna
Toni Erdmann
The Salesman

  • Prediction here. The Salesman is from currently-banned (sort of, it’s complicated) from the United States filmmaker Asghar Farhadi. The Foreign Language competition so tends to get overlooked that I get the feeling anything to get the name in front of people will help. The Salesman just got a name in front of a whole bunch of people and I’m sure Hollywood would love to make a political statement as a big “SCREW YOU TRUMP.” The Salesman has a WAY better shot than it did before,  so much so that I think it’s the quiet frontrunner even with the love for Toni Erdmann. 

Best Documentary Short
Extremis
4.1 Miles
Joe’s Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

Best Animated Short
Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Pearl
Piper

Best Live Action Short
Ennemis Interieurs
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights
Sing
Timecode

  • *shrugs* Shorts are hard.

Oscars Watch 2017: The Less-Depressing Campaign: Final Calls Before The Nominations

Well, guys, we’re finally here. Tomorrow, the nominations come out, and you all discover me for the guessing fraud that I am. But before I’m exposed, why don’t I make one last call for what the nominations are gonna look like? Forged out of Guild Awards, other predictions, and stubborn gut feelings, this is my official prediction for the 85th Academy Awards.

Commentary comes where anything has been added or changed. I’m not calling Shorts because…who could?

Best Picture:
La La Land
Moonlight
Manchester by the Sea
Fences
Hidden Figures
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Arrival
Lion

  • Officially calling 9 nominees for Best Picture this year, there’s a lot that’s getting enough attention to make over the usual 8.
  • Silence, sadly, is gone. Paramount completely screwed up this release by being scared of it. No early watching, no attempt to sell it to the faith community, no wide guild support, no angle. Silence could have been, but I think it’s going to have a longer life than this award season. Alas, this is not the article for that.

Best Actor:
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

  • Officially taking the writing on the wall. Captain Fantastic apparently ran a smart and quiet campaign and got Viggo Mortensen some attention. Good for him.

Best Actress:
Amy Adams, Arrival
Annette Benning, 20th Century Women
Isabelle Huppert, Elle 
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land

  • I’ll get into it a little later, but Arrival got seriously major attention from the guilds and early awards love. So I think Amy Adams’ central performance is going to make it in over the surprisingly inert Loving.

Best Supporting Actor:
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion

Best Supporting Actress:
Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

  • I really think it’s weird that Octavia Spencer is the one with awards momentum here. She’s kind of barely in the movie, and not really doing anything we’ve not seen her do before. Janelle Monae is way more interesting, but whatever, anyone from that cast getting recognized is a good thing.

Best Director:
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Garth Davis, Lion
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

  • The first story here is the way that the Guilds pretty much anointed Arrival. The main frontrunners have played really well, but Arrival managed to get WGA/DGA/PGA, which means that at least in terms of nominations this is gonna be a force to be reckoned with. Which is why (deservingly) Villeneuve is sitting in this category for putting it all together.
  • So that leaves the final slot. I’m going to go along with the DGA sweep and give it to Lion given that the film got nominated in both the main category and the first-timer category.

Best Original Screenplay:
20th Century Women
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
The Lobster

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Moonlight
Nocturnal Animals

  • Going along with how Silence seems to be getting totally ignored for creative awards seems right here. Nocturnal Animals has been getting some surprise love, so seems right to throw it in here, especially given the WGA and Golden Globes admiration.

Best Original Score:
Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
The BFG

  • Yeah…so this is La La Land‘s category. Everything else is just to fill it out, Hurwitz’s score is delightful and powerful, and a musical this popular isn’t going to lose the Score award.
  • Why the rest? I think the way Mica Levi’s score pulls Jackie along is going to get attention as the film gets a lot of technical and below-the-line attention. Lion and Moonlight both have pretty essential scores in the way that they play in the film and have been noted in a lot of critic work. The BFG is John Williams. Never count him out.

Best Original Song:
“Runnin’” – Hidden Figures
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
City of Stars” – La La Land
“How Far I’ll Go” – Moana
Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Trolls

Best Cinematography:
Arrival
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

  • A really solid list here recognizing a pretty gorgeous bunch of films. This is pretty much just the Guild Awards, which I think are a pretty good measuring stick of where things are in this category.

Best Costume Design:
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Hidden Figures
Jackie
La La Land

  • I think this is gonna be a mostly period-flick heavy year minus the technical tear La La Land is gonna go on. That was my guiding principle, taking guesses from the Guild Awards and other guesses. Hidden Figures is honestly a gut call.

Best Editing:
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Moonlight

  • This is pretty much the Dramatic Editor’s Guild Awards with La La Land subbed in because Tom Cross won on Whiplash. I don’t think we’re gonna find too many surprises here.

Best Production Design:
Arrival
Hail, Caesar!
Jackie
La La Land
Silence

  • This is an award that really favors period-picture work as well, so I’m going with the biggest works from that with an indulgence pick for Hail, Caesar! Then La La Land because you should know the score by now.

Best Sound Editing:
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Silence

Best Sound Mixing:
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

  • Totally honest here? I took wild guesses based on other predictions. I will learn to call Sound awards one day!

 

Best Visual Effects:
Arrival
Doctor Strange
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
The Jungle Book
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

  • Since I put Arrival ALL over the place for technical awards, I’m just gonna go ahead and stay consistent and put Arrival in Visual Effects as well.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
Deadpool
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond

Best Animated Feature Film:
Finding Dory
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

Best Documentary:
13th
Cameraperson
I Am Not Your Negro
OJ Made in America
Weiner

  • Cameraperson is one that’s had enough buzz and collecting more and more awards that I think it’s going to lock in its place here over Fire at Sea. 

Best Foreign Language Film:
Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
Tanna
Toni Erdmann
The Salesman

Final (Predicted) Stats:
Most Nominations:
La La Land – 13 nominations
Arrival – 10 nominations
Moonlight – 8 nominations
Manchester by the Sea and Lion – 6 nominations
Hidden Figures and Hacksaw Ridge – 5 nominations
43 total films nominated.

 

The Best of 2016: #10-1

Yeah, you should know the rules by now. If what’s on my Top 10 isn’t on yours, write your Top 10. These are the films that meant the most to me this year, that made me sing their praises at the top of my lungs, that made me laugh and cry and feel so deeply. I hope you love them as much as I did.

If you’re so inclined, feel free to click here and participate in a little contest.

10) Hail, Caesar! 

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Hail, Caesar! is the rare ode to Hollywood that actually understands the significance that the institution can hold. The Coens immerses themselves in the styles, the gossips, and the concerns of old Hollywood. They’re mocking religious epics, westerns, manners dramas, and musicals while absolutely feeling free to indulge in the fun of getting to make those. It delves deep to find the power of Hollywood, which Hail, Caesar! views as something akin to religion, with the film as its sacrament and the producer as a God. Indeed, the faith of Brolin’s Mannix becomes an avenue to explore faith and the meaning of the all-powerful and unknowable, a film as Catholic as the A Serious Man is Jewish. The fact that all that couched in a movie that’s a barrel of explosive comedic fun with great performances from Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, and Josh Brolin is just icing. The fact that Alden Ehrenreich still manages to steal the movie out from under them is even more amazing. Hail, Caesar! is about as enjoyable as it gets to confront the unknowable and powerful God.

Best Scene: “No Dames”

9) Silence

silence

Scorsese’s great passion project, in development for 26 years, adapted from one of the greatest novels of faith ever written. Silence is an epic of doubt that manages to live up to all that weight and more, boldly forging a film art that’s sweeping and ambiguous and difficult and from a voice of faith that we’re never going to appreciate. Of a kind with the work of Ingmar Bergman and Robert Bresson, Silence is a technical masterwork, impossibly confident with shot after shot that makes you gasp. But it uses that masterworking to think through the toughest questions of God. What does it mean when we can’t hear God, what does it mean when our prayers and our suffering seem to go unanswered? What does faith mean when I’m in so much pain? Silence‘s most amazing quality is how it pokes and prods and tries, but it knows that as long as we live, we may never find the answers.

Best Scene: Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) makes one final decision over whether or not he will apostatize.

8) Manchester by the Sea

manchester-by-the-sea

The secret of Manchester by the Sea is that for all of its crushing and bleak portrayals of the depths of grief, it’s possibly one of the funniest films of the year. Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea portrays the process of loss and it really can be, blending the quiet humor and real humiliations of family and moving on with its more outright breakdown moments. What awes about Manchester by the Sea is its specificity, the way it feels so couched in a specific time and place with people plucked from the world it’s showing. Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler is one of the best performances of this year, using Casey’s natural reticence and mumbling to his advantage, letting the silent gaps of grief speak the loudest. Manchester by the Sea is a healing film, one that shows in loss, you’re not alone.

Best Scene: One last conversation between Lee Chandler and Randi (Michelle Williams)

7) Pete’s Dragon

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This is about as good as family filmmaking gets, full of wonder and awe at the world and curious about the limitless possibilities that childhood holds. David Lowery found a way to tell this story as a deeply human fantasy, a story of a boy and his dog that will keep you in tears from the sheer beauty and awe that it inspires. It’s a story that knows we all deserve a chance and we all deserve to see something better in our futures. Disney’s still got it.

Best Scene: Elliot’s New Family

6) The Witch

vv_film_20160217_the_-witch_photo_warner_bros-_photofest

There are few debut features as confident as The Witch, a psychological horror film that figures it might as well let you know its title is literal in the first 20 minutes. From there, The Witch becomes a swirling horror of the first sins of America, of the fear and the hate that laid under the surface of our early days. Shot like a Hudson River School painting of Hell, it’s a film that feels all the more horrific for its authenticity, from its dialogue ripped from journals of the day to its immaculately recreated sets, like you’re looking into a Pilgrim nightmare. It all leads up to one of the most bone-chilling finales in years. The Witch is a nightmare of the fears of religion and the dark underbelly of the myth of pure Americana.

Best Scene: “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”

5) Arrival

hero_arrival-tiff-2016-2

I will state that part of my impression of this film was formed by two outside sources. First, my previous knowledge of Villeneuve certainly didn’t make me think he would be capable of something so emotionally open and immersive, so being taken off guard there should certainly be taken in account. The second I won’t spell out here, but perhaps a quick Google of the release date should tell you all you need to know.

In that, understand my viewing of Arrival as a beautiful clarion call to find unity in the darkest hour and to understand the brief time we have on this planet. Arrival resonates as a film that shows the understanding we must attain of how fragile we are and how all we’ve done and the possibilities of what we will do inform who we are. Arrival is fundamentally hopeful for the future, showing the objects and the people who carve it in glowing and heavenly light, making decisions that strike deep into our own fears of what we may be asked to do.

Best Scene: Louise learns the cost of understanding the Heptapod language.

4) Paterson

paterson_producers_interview_no_film_school_3

Cinema is important not just for the grandiose visions it shows us of other times, places, and worlds, but for the empathy it generates for the ordinary and everyday. Paterson is a film that elevates the ordinary to extraordinary by showing us just how beautiful the everyday is. Seeing the world through Driver’s extraordinary performance as the titular character driving a bus through the titular character transforms everything.

The city, the people and their conversation, the natural world all becomes a poem, a place full of art and meaning and juxtapositions that are extraordinary and beautiful. Through him, we experience his wonderful wife (Golshifeth Farahani) and her caring ambition, the artist trying to share what she has with the world. Through him, we see the value of art and those who try everyday to reach for it and find meaning through it. The fact that all of this story is told with wonderful heart and humor is simply more indicative of how much Jarmusch deeply cares for these people and for the world around them.

Best Scene: We find out why Paterson’s mailbox tips over everyday.

3) Swiss Army Man

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No, really, this movie happened. Daniel Radcliffe, the guy who played Harry Potter, played a farting corpse that helped a guy played by Paul Dano come to grips with humanity AND adventure around an abandoned island. We’re all the luckier for it.

Swiss Army Man is one of the most human films of the year, a film that uses its vulgarity and audacity to break deep into the human fears of raising children, of explaining the meanings of life and trying to figure out why we do what we do. It’s a film that tries to understand the outcast and the downtrodden, but is fully aware of why they’re in that position. It’s a bold, daring work that actually feels like it’s putting everything it has out there. Directors The Daniels, most famous before now for the “Turn Down For What” video, feel like they’ve tapped into another world, two people who know the rules and know how to bend them for their own twisted and wonderful ends. Swiss Army Man will make you laugh, cry, and cry laughing. And maybe you’ll come out having learned a little something at the end.

Best Scene: Just pick a montage. Any montage.

2) Moonlight

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Moonlight is a minor miracle of filmmaking, one I’m still not sure we deserve, but that is vital to understand. Barry Jenkins has tapped into a world that feels like a dream but is all the more remarkable for the reality it portrays. This is a film of specific experiences, of the black experience, of the queer experience, that finds such deep empathy to map onto every single viewer. Heartbreaking and affirming in equal measures, Moonlight is a work of cinematic power in that it trusts its filmmaking to do all the talking, to capture the amazing work that the actors do, and always trust its audience to understand.

Its secret is how sweet of a film it is too, Jenkins has affection for the characters he creates. No matter what he puts them through, he wants them to be happy, and he makes sure that we see them in the smallest moments. An attempt to act tough, a quick bit of grooming before meeting someone you haven’t seen in a while. And no one short of Wong Kar-Wai has ever made romance this stylish and gorgeous and arresting.

Moonlight is an important work. It’s important as a beacon for the future of cinema, it’s important as a guide to the stories that cinema can tell and the empathy it can generate.

Best Scene: Everything in the diner between Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) and Kevin (Andre Holland), but specifically the moment where Kevin puts “Hello Stranger” on the jukebox.

AND THE TOP OF THE TOP IS…

1) La La Land

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Shocker, right?

If La La Land was simply the technical masterpiece that it is, it would have a firm and high place on this list. Director/writer Damien Chazelle’s dizzying Technicolor whirlwind is perhaps one of the most beautiful reminders of why we go to the theater to see movies. The gorgeous primary colours, the lavish and dazzling musical numbers, the costumes, the score, the mood lights. It’s a nonstop feast for the senses, not even getting into the sublime pleasures of watching Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling be as charming as they’ve ever been in their most intimate romance yet.

Why it places up top is that it understands in the most purely cinematic way how a break from the real world makes the difficult parts of human love and ambition feel all the more real. It’s bringing us up to crash us back down. La La Land is a film that knows the personally dark parts of ambition, of the compromises that we must make, the fears that we feel. The call that it’s not working out just yet, the dream slipping away because we can’t afford it, doing what you have to so you can cling to the hope of what you can. And the fact that you will have to say goodbye to the ones you love, that you’ll have to leave others behind for ambition.

There’s a lot people seize onto about jazz and Hollywood and all that. But for me, that’s all cursory to La La Land. La La Land is a movie about the dreams we make and the hearts that ache to achieve them. It’s a clear reminder of the power of cinema to show what lies inside, to reminds us of the aching pains and glories that being human comes with. It does it in a beautiful world that you want to reenter as soon as you leave.

La La Land is an escape that helps you to confront yourself and your pain, a film that’s been there and it understands. Empathy in a musical number.

Best scene: The reunion in the jazz club, a scene that has managed to make me cry 4 times.

The First Annual “Should Be The Oscars”: My Picks For The Best Individuals of Film in 2016

Welcome one, welcome all. As we continue our journey through 2016, it’s time to highlight some of the individual moving parts that made 2016 so wonderful (for film). The artists, the musicians, the craftspeople, and the thinkers that put these movies together and deserve to be recognized.

More than anywhere else, a note needs to be made that this is all subjective. Even more than overall films, what works and what doesn’t varies from person to person, so this is what particularly struck me. It’s also good to note that individual elements don’t always determine the cohesive whole, which can strike differently depending on mood and thematic coherence and a mess of other elements.

Best Original Score:

Michael Giacchino, Doctor Strange

Nicholas Britell, Moonlight

Jóhann Jóhannsson, Arrival

Mica Levi, Jackie

Winner:

Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

This really shouldn’t surprise, but let’s not let its inevitability take away from what an accomplishment this score really is. Hurwitz blends the jaunty, sprightly jazz that keeps the movie upbeat with the sweeping classical strings that slowly worm their way into your heart until the beautiful and wrenching ending. La La Land‘s score is deeply important for the movie because it doesn’t just underline the beats, it is the beats. It’s through Hurwitz’s score, blended with the images, that La La Land really finds its power.

Best Original Song:

“How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, written by Opetaia Foa’i, Lin Manuel-Miranda, and Mark Mancina, performed by Auli’i Carvalho

“Montage” from Swiss Army Man, written by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, performed by Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe

“Equal Rights” from Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, written by Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Raphael Judrin, Pierre-Antoine Melki & Yoan Chirescu, produced by soFly & Nius, performed by Andy Samberg and Alecia Moore

“Drive It Like You Stole It” from Sing Street, written by John Carney and Gary Clark, performed by Sing Street

Winner: 

“Another Day of Sun” from La La Land, written by Justin Hurtwitz and Pasek and Paul, performed by The Cast of La La Land

To be honest, this was one of the hardest categories of the year, and any song on this list deserves to be up at the winner’s slot. It was even harder to pick one track from La La Land, a soundtrack that I really do love piece by piece. I choose Another Day of Sun not only because of how impressive the sequence that it accompanies is, but how emblematic it is of the movie on the whole. It’s a beautiful and charmingly fun number with a sad little core. It’s about the dreams artists share and the compromises the singers had to make to try to achieve them. It’s a thematic statement that prepares you for what you’re about to experience, and one that you’ll be whistling for a week.

Best Cinematography:

Silence, shot by Rodrigo Prieto

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The Witch, shot by Jarin Blaschke

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Lion, shot by Grieg Fraser

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La La Land, shot by Linus Sandgren

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Winner: 

Moonlight, shot by James Laxton

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Cinematography at its core is about the way we shape what the eye of the camera is looking at. The colors of the world we capture, the framing and the motion that tells us what these people are thinking and feeling. With that, no movie had cinematography more key to its aims and no movie succeeded more in what it tried to accomplish than Moonlight. Laxton’s eye shows us the beauty of this world, the blue shadows and the contours of the light. It shows us the way that people hold back and the pain and joy they feel. It’s Laxton’s cinematography that makes a scene between two men at a diner so pregnant with meaning, the shadows hiding the tiniest movements of their face and then revealing what they’re trying to hide. This is a gorgeous film that uses its camera at every step to tell the story.

Oscars Watch 2017: The Less-Depressing Campaign: Do The Golden Globes Matter?

It was the Globes last night, the show pony of Hollywood Awards! We all got together to make some jokes, let the booze flow free, and hand out awards from a small shadowy cabal.

One of the more ironic jokes of the evening was Jimmy Fallon remarking that it’s one of the few places America still respects the popular vote (which I saw on Twitter because I didn’t actually watch the ceremonies, I was seeing Silence instead) because Golden Globes is the major ceremony that hews far far away from the popular vote.

Repeat after me: THE HFPA IS A SMALL SHADOWY CABAL THAT HAS A VERY AMBIGUOUS MEMBERSHIP. THEIR CHOICES ARE ONLY MILDLY REFLECTIVE OF THE LARGER CONVERSATION AS A WHOLE.

It’s really way closer to Critics’ Awards than something like the Oscars which has a far larger voting body and far different composition. You can get a sense of which way the wind is blowing, but that’s really it. It can confirm narratives, it won’t necessarily create or alter them. So, let’s take a look.

Best picture, drama: “Moonlight”
Best picture, comedy or musical: “La La Land”
Actress, drama: Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Actor, drama: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Actress, comedy or musical: Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Actor, comedy or musical: Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Supporting actress: Viola Davis, “Fences”
Supporting actor: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, “Nocturnal Animals”
Director: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Screenplay: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Animated film: “Zootopia”
Foreign language film: “Elle” (France)
Original score: Justin Hurwitz, “La La Land”
Original song: “City of Stars,” “La La Land”

First thing you’re going to notice is how many times La La Land appears on that list. I’m certainly not displeased with that, though no one should be all that surprised that the HFPA specifically loves this movie. It legitimately swept, winning every award it was nominated for, and I think it deserves damn near all of them. Minus Screenplay, which is the only part of the film where I think there are other works that clearly overcome it.

But the bigger function of this sweep is to make the film community unbearable for the next month as we leap to tear down the frontrunner as for no reason but to flagellate ourselves as martyrs for good taste. 2016 is the first year that has produced legitimately staggering works of art that have placed themselves as Award season frontrunners, why not celebrate that? This is one of the few years where no matter which of the frontrunners wins, we all win, and we seem to be completely looking past that.

Other than that, the surprises are minimal. I’ll admit that Aaron Taylor-Johnson is absolutely baffling, as the guy was fine, but not even the best supporting actor in that film, much less better than the others in the category. But every other award seems to fall in line with the general direction of Awards Season right now.

The only other real twist was the awards for Elle, a movie I unfortunately still haven’t had the chance to see. While it can’t repeat its total win tonight (given that Elle didn’t make the shortlist for the Oscars), the momentum seems (in my mind) to be shifting towards Huppert and away from Portman, who seems to have largely disappeared from much of the Awards conversation. Though to be fair, pretty much everyone in Lead Actress who isn’t Huppert and Emma Stone has pretty much dropped out. A much different race than I anticipated.

I also think this is the key shift for Casey Affleck, moving him to the clearer frontrunner over Denzel. It’s been an ambiguous race, but Denzel hasn’t picked up the momentum that Viola Davis has.

This is also all the confirmation I need to favor Zootopia for Best Animated. It’s been winning a lot of smaller awards, but this is a big one, and Moana and Kubo are getting no momentum as competitors, much less Finding Dory. 

Will we see this again at the Oscars? Probably, but not because of the Golden Globes. I think we’ll see more wins for Moonlight and Manchester, but other than that, I think we’re in for a La La Land heavy evening. Put your bets there.

And for TV, why not?

Best series, drama: “The Crown,” Netflix
Best series, comedy or musical: “Atlanta,” FX
Best television movie or mini-series: “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” FX
Actress, mini-series or television movie: Sarah Paulson, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”
Actor, mini-series or television movie: Tom Hiddleston, “The Night Manager”
Actress, drama: Claire Foy, “The Crown”
Actor, drama: Billy Bob Thornton, “Goliath”
Actress, comedy or musical: Tracee Ellis Ross, “black-ish”
Actor, comedy or musical: Donald Glover, “Atlanta”
Supporting actress: Olivia Colman, “The Night Manager”
Supporting actor: Hugh Laurie, “The Night Manager”

Did anyone watch The Night Manager? Honestly? Why did this thing win so much, who saw it? Like I’m glad Oliva Colman is winning awards, she’s a wonderful supporting actress who deserves all the awards ever, but just…why is this all happening? The HFPA must be the only group who liked it.

Yay for double Donald Glover wins, Atlanta is amazing. Yay for Tracee Ellis Ross. Yay for American Crime Story. I guess I need to keep trying to push through The Crown, it’s gonna be an Emmy player. What the hell is Goliath? 

Alright, we’re two weeks away from the nominations. Time to update the Category Calls.

Category Calls

This week, we’re gonna start making real calls. That’s right, I’m gonna guess what I think the frontrunner is in the category.

Best Picture:

La La Land
Moonlight
Manchester by the Sea
Fences
Hidden Figures
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Arrival
Lion
Silence

  • La La Land is the frontrunner here. Just barely. Moonlight is hot on its heels and the right campaign could swing it back up front.
  • I’m taking out Loving which seems to have largely disappeared from the Awards season narrative. I thought it was going to be a favorite, but it just appears quiet.
  • This is the only ranked list. The higher up, the more likely it is to actually end up being nominated.

Best Actor:

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Tom Hanks, Sully
Denzel Washington, Fences

  • Same as BP, Loving is pretty much out of the conversation.
  • So, welcome back Tom Hanks! I think you make a lot of sense here.

Best Supporting Actor:

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion

  • Hedges is picking up more momentum and Costner seems to be making people unable to give a shit, so welcome Hedges. I’m thrilled you’re here.
  • Issei Ogata not being here is a crime. More on that soon.

Best Actress:

Annette Benning, 20th Century Women
Isabelle Huppert, Elle 
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land

  • I still refuse to put Meryl Streep in. I’m probably wrong, but she does not deserve a spot for Florence Foster Jenkins. 

Best Supporting Actress: 

Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

  • Monae over Spencer dammit!

Best Director:

Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water
Martin Scorsese, Silence

  • Denzel Washington is gone here, I think Fences is just not what the Academy is feeling this year in terms of direction.
  • So I took a dice roll. I’m kinda feeling Hell or High Water hitting a little harder than we’re expecting.

Best Original Screenplay:

20th Century Women
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
The Lobster

  • Shakeup here. Moonlight officially moves to Adapted in a break with the WGA, clearing the way for Manchester by the Sea to take the award.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Moonlight
Silence

  • Moonlight moving here locks up the Adapted race.

Best Original Song: 

“Runnin’” – Hidden Figures
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
City of Stars” – La La Land
“How Far I’ll Go” – Moana
Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Trolls

Best Animated Feature Film:

Finding Dory
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

Best Documentary:

13th
Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
OJ Made in America
Weiner

Best Foreign Language Film:

Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
Tanna
Toni Erdmann
The Salesman

Best Visual Effects:

The BFG
Doctor Strange
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
The Jungle Book
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

Deadpool
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond

Next Week: We finish off with  the Below the Line awards (Cinematography, Costume Design, Editing, Production Design, and Sound) and make our final calls going into the official nominations.

When You’re Sick Of Talking To Your Family: A 2016 Holiday Film Guide

Around the holidays, sometimes things get tense. It’s gonna happen when people who have only one bond all get together and force themselves to be chummy for as much as a week at a time. Especially this year when politics just totally went to hell. Sometimes you want to go to a place where everyone is socially mandated to sit in the dark and shut the hell up.

Or hey, maybe you love your family and this is just your thing? No matter what, the holidays are always chock-full of new movie releases, and you need some help parsing through them all to find which one won’t lead to even more awkward conversations.

“I need a movie for everyone!”

La La Land

Why this one?: The Best Picture frontrunner is never a bad idea around the holidays. You’re all going to feel smarter for doing it and you’re jumping on the bandwagon that everyone’s gonna be talking about.

But La La Land is particularly well-suited for your family outing. For starters because it is an incredible picture, passionate and exciting and plenty of stuff to chew on. But also because it’s a crowd-pleaser, a film that everybody can find something in. It’s got pretty people in a beautiful romance, plenty of great song and dance, and generous amounts of laughs and tears. Plus, it’s fairly chaste for the more conservative family out there.

Who should avoid?: Those who absolutely do not do musicals, your cousin who spends a whole lot of time on hyper-ironic Weird Twitter and can no longer engage with sincerity.

Rogue One

Why this one?: It’s Star Wars. An almost universal modern mythology that everyone has some kind of connection with. You’re socially obligated to see it at this point and hell, why not go ahead and see it with your family.

It may be a flawed movie, but there’s also still a hell of a good time to have here, big and thrilling and messy. Unless you’ve got a family of dedicated film buffs, they’re probably not gonna care about the story sagging and just get swept along in the grandeur of the whole thing. Plus, that final act is gonna leave your family chattering for a while.

Who should avoid?: Families with younger and more impressionable children, due to the intensity of the violence and the horror it occasionally dabbles in. Also, if you’ve got family that says embarrassing things about minorities from time to time, this may not be the movie for you.

I need to take some kids!”

Sing

Why this one?: There’s not a whole lot of other explicitly kid-friendly entertainment coming out this season, so Sing is pretty much it.

Besides, the kids might be asking for this one anyway. Coming from the same animation studio that brought you The Secret Life of Pets, Despicable Me, and the slow encroaching plague of Minions, the marketing blitz for this one is dense and effective. A feature-length version of that part in every kid’s movie where they dance and sing to a popular song, there’s enough funny animals and energy to keep them going.

Who should avoid?: Anyone without kids. Illumination can muster up an alright story every so often, but there’s enough far better musical fare right now as well as a wealth of better movies for teens and above.

“I need to get some teenagers out of the house!”

Why Him?

Why this one?: The kids love James Franco, right? Is that a thing? Or Cranston?

Well, regardless, Why Him? is the kind of insane gross-out comedy that everyone loved as teenagers, why not be the cool parent/aunt/uncle/cousin who takes them to it? I could think of worse things to do with your time during Christmas (like anything involving “Christmas Shoes”) and you may end up having an alright time yourself, getting a few laughs out of the comic capabilities of Franco, Cranston, Megan Mullally, Keegan Michael-Key and I’m sure some surprise cameos.

Who should avoid?: Those with excessively good taste, those who want to punch James Franco on sight.

Assassin’s Creed

Why this one?: I assume video games are popular among the youth, and who doesn’t love a good action movie starring Europeans that is half in Spanish?

It’s a familiar property for sure, the Assassin’s Creed games are still a pretty big thing. But through the eye of Justin Kurzel and with an Oscar-worthy cast (Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Michael K. Williams), it might stand to be more interesting and exciting than just paying 8 bucks to pull one of the older games out of Gamestop.

Who should avoid?: Any member of your family that still refers to all video game systems as a “Nintendo.”

“I need to impress my Liberal family!”

Lion

Why this one?: A big, based-on-a-true-story/book crowd pleaser about an adoptee seeking to find the family he lost? What’s not to love? It’s a feel-good movie with a prestige coating and it might make everyone a little more grateful for the family that they actually do have around them.

Who should avoid?: Those who have a problem with Google, those who still haven’t forgiven Dev Patel for The Last Airbender. Or Chappie. 

Fences

Why this one?: It’s an adaptation of August Wilson starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. If you aren’t already putting this one on your calendar, then why aren’t you? The early talk centers around the incredible work Washington gets out of his actors and how much it does feel like the original stage work. Why not bring your family to the movies for Christmas so you can bring them to the theater?

Who should avoid?: The extraordinarily impatient, your weird aunt who’s a total theater snob.

I need to impress my Conservative family!”

Patriots Day

Why this one?: The second movie in the now surprisingly common genre of “Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg do a true story movie about a recent major news story.” This one on the Boston Bombing promises a bit of feel-good Americana about Bostonians uniting and doing good for each other and seems to serve as a bit of patriotic reminder of Americans being decent to each other.

Who should avoid?: The wokest members of your family, Uncle Mikey who swears Mark Wahlberg stole his seat at a Sox game.

The Founder

Why this one?: A good old-fashioned tale of capitalist derringdo (read: moral turpitude) starring the secret crush of the members of your family who grew up in the 80s. The movie equivalent of one of those “The True Story of…” pop history books that people buy up in droves, The Founder is a look at the complex web that got McDonald’s into the multibillion dollar franchise it is.

Who should avoid?: People who are more into Burger King, people who get real defensive about things

“I need to impress my film buff cousin I only see once a year!”

Silence

Why this one?: It’s a long-gestating Scorsese passion project, what more could you ask for? I mean, besides the version of this that starred Benicio del Toro, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Daniel Day Lewis, but that’s a pipe dream.

Based on one of my favorite books ever written, Silence is a harrowing and powerful examination of faith in the face of the unimaginable and an examination of exactly how universal any belief truly is. The talent here is extraordinary and this is certainly one that’s going to be worth giving serious consideration and thought.

Who should avoid?: Anyone who bought a ticket for God’s Not Dead 1 or 2. Also, if you happen to be related to Emma Stone, probably shouldn’t remind her she’s gonna have to see her ex at the Oscars this year.

20th Century Women

Why this one?: A24 is pretty much the millennial version of Miramax in the 90s and if you get that reference this is probably the movie for you.

A movie starring a murderer’s row of critics’ favorite actors (Annette Benning, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup) that has a plot that seems pretty applicable to The Way We Live Now. It’s the kind of indie flick that Sundance dreams are made of, but I’m probably being dismissive towards what seems to be a smart and deeply felt film with some killer people leading it.

Who should avoid?: Anyone who doesn’t get that first line, your great aunt who still swears when she says Jimmy Carter’s name

“I need to make sure my family never lets me pick the movie again!”

Collateral Beauty

Why not this one?: Because it’s repellent garbage created by cynicial human trash who find a heartening Hallmark tale out of a film where a grief-ridden depressed man is mostly an obstacle to a business deal.

Who should go?: No human. Or maybe your grandfather who possibly murdered some people.

Passengers

Why not this one?: Look, I swear the script for this one was really pretty good and interesting and the sort of difficult and morally complex science fiction that we don’t often see in film. But somewhere along the way it got people who were way too charming for its roles cast and it got turned into a big, slick production and given to a director who isn’t capable of nuance if he tried. So, now it seems that it’s mostly here to sustain the thinkpiece industry, too bland for anyone else.

Who should go?: Your cousin who needs another article for Slate to make rent this month.