I have always had a love affair with the Academy Awards but at the end of 2010 I realized how few of the Best Picture winners I’d actually seen. So I made it a goal to see all [then] 83 winners and write my thoughts about them along the way. (I even re-watched the ones I'd already seen so I could write a fresh post.)

That was the initial inspiration behind this blog... I wanted to document my thoughts as well as start a potential conversation or at least ask some thought-provoking questions. Why did it win? Should another movie have won instead? Has it become a beloved classic or do many of you not even recognize the title? For each film, I post the original movie poster, a brief synopsis, the films it was up against, my favorite scene(s), and any lessons I learned.

I have since completed the challenge and have seen all of the Academy's Best Picture winners. (For my collective thoughts at the end of the challenge, including lists of my favorites and least favorites, check out this post.) I keep this blog up-to-date by coming back each year to post my thoughts on the recent winner. I still invite you, my friends and guests, to comment along with me. Do you agree/disagree?

And the Oscar goes to…

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Green Book, 2018

Rated PG-13

Green Book was the award-winning biopic that snagged the top honor this year, and I finally had the chance to sit down and watch last month. I can always appreciate a film that teaches me something about history, and in this film, I learned that the title refers to The Negro Motorist Green Book that circulated for those traveling in the south from 1936-1966. This thick pamphlet, a “safe traveling companion” of sorts, indicated where people of color could dine and stay the night, navigating its owner through the volatile areas of the segregated south. 

The movie is inspired by the true story of Dr. Don Shirley, a classically trained and talented pianist who, in 1962, has been scheduled to tour the southern states for several months giving highly-anticipated performances for wealthy and well-known people along the way. Here’s what makes for an interesting story though… Dr. Shirley is an African-American man and he doesn’t like to drive. He not only needs to hire a driver but needs to hire someone who can “take care of business” if something comes up. Since he’s a learned, wealthy black man about to travel deep into Jim Crow territory, unpredictable situations might arise. Enter Tony ‘Lip’ Vallelonga, played brilliantly by Viggo Mortensen, who knows how to throw a good punch, doesn’t take backtalk, and will eat 26 hot dogs just to win a $50 bet. At first Tony doesn’t think he’s the right man for the job, but because he needs the money to support his family, he signs on to be at Dr. Shirley’s beck and call for several months, as long as he’s back by Christmas. Tony’s given the Green Book as his guide and the road trip commences. And the audience is treated to a reverse “Driving Miss Daisy” in a way – plenty of sarcasm, cantankerous comments, and odd looks in the rearview mirror will have you laughing out loud.

This odd couple couldn’t be more different… Dr. Shirley lives like a king above Carnegie Hall and comes across as elitist and snobbish. Tony is a practical working-class Italian-American from the Bronx who says what he means and is lacking in etiquette. BUT, given those differences, these men learn to not only work well together, but actually get along (eventually). Along the way, we get to see a more compassionate side of Tony and a vulnerable side of Dr. Shirley. It’s understandable how this real-life duo developed a life-long friendship.

It wasn’t all funny and feel-good though- there are scenes that had me shaking my head in shame at our country’s ignorance and inexcusable hatred. But at times, I was proud of both men and how they handled certain situations, albeit differently.

In the end, it was clear that these men were changed for the better because of the time they spent together. Lessons were learned, opinions were altered, and lives were thus impacted forever.

“Green Book” was up against “BlacKkKlansman”, “Black Panther”, “Roma”, “A Star is Born”, “Vice”, “The Favourite”, and “Bohemian Rhapsody”. (Is it fair that “Roma” is in Best Picture category and the Best Foreign Language Film category…?) I would’ve liked to see “Mary Poppins Returns” get a nom, simply because I am a Disneyphile and I thought it was a brilliant sequel. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any of the other nominees so I can’t rightly compare, but I will say that almost all of them were the forerunner at some point. After “A Star is Born” came out, that’s all anyone talked about and it was a shoo-in to win. Then “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, Drama [and “Green Book” won for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy…. does that confuse anyone else?!?!], so people thought “Bohemian Rhapsody would snag the Oscar. But then, like days before the Awards ceremony, all people could talk about was “Roma”. So really, I had no idea who would win and figured they were all probably pretty good.

 “Green Book” had five nominations and three wins including Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor which went to Mahershala Ali (for Dr. Shirley). This was almost a back-to-back win in the same category for him since he won for “Moonlight” in 2016. Interestingly, this was only the fifth time in Oscar history that the winning film’s director wasn’t even nominated.


It is abundantly clear that Tony is not one with romantic words, and Dr. Shirley is made painfully aware of this during a pit stop when watching Tony attempt to write a letter home to his wife. Dr. Shirley ends up giving him some writing advice (that have the lady relatives back home swooning) but keeps it real enough for Tony. It’s a humorous scene as Dr. Shirley even works in a spelling lesson. 

Tony gets Dr. Shirley to let loose in a club unlike any he’s played in before and it was a joy to see him smile so naturally like that.


1.       Another favorite scene of mine was when the two men were arguing about how the other didn’t know who the other really was (their background). Tony accused Dr. Shirley of complaining while living in a castle and Dr. Shirley shot back with,

Yes, I live in a castle, Tony! Alone. And rich white people pay me to play piano for them because it makes them feel cultured. But as soon as I step off that stage, I go right back to being just another nigger to them. Because that is their true culture. And I suffer that slight alone, because I'm not accepted by my own people 'cause I'm not like them, either. So, if I'm not black enough and if I'm not white enough and if I'm not man enough, then tell me, Tony, what am I?

I thought this was a profound statement. Whether we mean to or not, we expect people to fit into a nice little box. It’s easier for us if people behave the way we expect them to behave, but this is too simplistic. We are all complicated and unique. Imperfect people make gross exaggerations on racial, social, and economic profiles too. Obviously, it’s wrong and massively unfair for all involved. It’s sickening that Dr. Shirley didn’t feel at home with “his people” because of his education and talent and also didn’t feel accepted elsewhere because of his skin color.

I wish I had a profound answer or solution to this. Instead, I just keep ruminating on it and wishing there was a way we could accept each culture for what it offers and each person for the child of God that s/he is. If God sees us all as the human race, then why can’t we?

2.       A long road trip is a great way to get to know somebody (or get on somebody’s nerves). 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Shape of Water, 2017

Rated R

I started to watch this year’s Best Picture winner on board my flight to Europe this summer, thinking it was the perfect time to relax and jot down some of my thoughts. I guess I totally forgot that I was traveling with my four children and that I wouldn’t have one minute of peace or silence since my two year old would be in my face the whole time. I also noticed twenty minutes in that something was blurred out and I then remembered it saying that the film had been “modified and edited for content” so I turned it off. If I couldn’t watch the “real” version, I couldn't give an honest opinion.
I was able to sit down a couple of months later, and I have to say, I did not fall in love with this movie, nor with the aquatic creature that our main character does. The Director/Writer Guillermo Del Toro says this is a “fairytale for troubled times”. Overall, I found it rather ridiculous and sometimes laughably so. But, for tradition’s sake, I’ll go through with the plot line and my thoughts on it all…

The narrator introduces the main character, Elisa, and describes her as a princess, letting us know off the bat how we should feel for her and this fairytale film. Elisa cannot speak, but can hear and use sign language, so she seems to get along just fine. She even cares for her next door neighbor who appears to be one of her two friends. The other is Zelda, and the two of them work as night-time cleaning ladies at an aeronautical research institute. The setting is early 1960’s Baltimore, in the middle of the Russian space/science race. A “highly sensitive specimen” gets delivered to the institute (Lord knows why exactly), and Elisa befriends it, bringing it her favorite food, hard-boiled eggs, and playing music for it on a record player. Though wild, the amphibious creature (who looks a whole lot like the Creature from the Black Lagoon) learns she is a gentle soul, unlike the fairytale villain, Strickland, who uses an electric cattle prod when he doesn’t behave as expected.

Elisa decides, with the help of her two friends, to bust Fish-Man out of his watery cage and release him when the canals are at their fullest, on a specific date in October. He spends a good deal of time in her bathtub waiting for his release date. (Meanwhile, drama goes down between a Russian spy/scientist and Strickland who’s in deep water, no pun intended, for letting the specimen escape.) While it is clear Elisa has sincere feelings for Fish-Man and his well-being, I think it is too far-fetched of an idea to believe she actually falls in love with him. But she does; she feels connected to him like no other, and they share a love scene in her flooded bathroom. Then we have to learn about a few of the details as she signs them to Zelda. TMI, thanks.

ENDING SPOILER: In typical fairytale fashion, the monstrous villain is destroyed and the happy couple is reunited in love and live happily ever after… in water.

Del Toro is quite the visionary though, I’ll give him that. He wanted people to see this film as “realistic historical fiction” and NOT as fantasy, or sci-fi, bless his heart. His film definitely had a well thought out look. Almost everything in the film appears to be wet or relates to water… whether it’s actually raining, or there’s a massive leak, or the main character is mopping the floor of the institute. Also, the color palette for the whole movie seems to have settled on blues and greens, aquatic in tone. Add to that the music and camera work, both of which sound/seem fluid in nature, and it’s a wonder I didn’t get seasick. The camera’s focus almost floats from scene to scene rather effortlessly, and the accompanying music sweeps you along melodically, not punctuated at all.

There were three or four scenes that contained nudity, most of which I thought were unnecessary. There was also offensive language- they seemed to want to cover all bases so there were inappropriate comments made to or about women, blacks, homosexuals, and the disabled.

I went ahead and watched the special features on my rented DVD which had a few interviews of the cast and crew. Ironically, they each exuded more heart-felt emotion describing the film than when they actually made it. Regardless, I still didn’t believe them when they said this is “the ultimate love story”. And all I felt was bad for Sally Hawkins (Elisa) who said that for us to believe they were falling in love, it had “to be real and right”…. agreed; and it was not.  And then she lost me for good when she tried to convince us that “love can literally break down walls”. There aren’t enough eye-rolling emojis in the world to go after that.

This year’s broadcast had the lowest viewing audience in history which could be due to a number of reasons: the disinterest from the lack of more popular blockbusters on the ballot, the ever-increasing run-time of the show year after year, and/or even the politicization of Hollywood and cultural movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up. “The Shape of Water” had a whopping thirteen nominations and won four awards, including Best Director, Best Original Score, and Best Production Design (those three didn’t surprise me based on what I mentioned above). This drama/fantasy/romance film was up against “Darkest Hour”, “Call Me by Your Name”, “Ladybird”, “Dunkirk”, “The Post”, “Get Out”, “Phantom Thread”, and the oddest titled one, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”. Most critics predicted that last one to win BP. 


“Favorite” meaning this scene is memorable because it made me laugh out loud and roll my eyes at the same time. There is a black and white daydream sequence where Elisa starts professing her love for Fish-Man through song and dance. It looks like it came straight from the ending of the Best Picture winner of 2011, “The Artist”. Compare….


I have to admit that the ending suited this fairytale well. No matter how harebrained the storyline is, I root for love.


Empathy is an honorable character trait and/or complicated skill to possess and/or cultivate. No matter how it is properly defined, a person who is empathetic is automatically more trusting and relatable. Empathy allows for more intimacy, tearing down barriers like facades. 

Love can grow in the oddest of places. And who am I to question its validity? Just a critic. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Moonlight, 2016

Rated R

 Following last year’s winner, “Spotlight”, we have “Moonlight”. This came as quite a shock to me… as well as EVERYONE that night in the Dolby theatre and watching at home. In case you missed it, the already 6-time winner, “La La Land” was pretty much a shoo-in for the top award. That’s all anyone was talking about. “La La Land” was special; it was different; it was a fun musical with an interesting love story. Critics and fans all over called it. Nobody was really talking about “Moonlight”. Then Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway take the mic to announce the Best Picture winner. Warren, for a brief second, looks a little confused, but keeps smiling and shows the card to Faye, who happily says, “La La Land”!!! The appropriate people take the stage and start making speeches, except Warren comes back out with Jimmy Kimmel, the host, to explain that this was NOT a joke, but that the wrong card was handed out (it was a duplicate from when Emma Stone won Best Actress for “LLL”), and “Moonlight” was indeed the real winner. Cue gasps from the audience and the awkward switching of important people on stage.

“Moonlight” is a coming-of-age drama told in three acts. Chiron, who goes by the nickname Little, is a young black boy living in the projects of Miami (in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s?). We see he is a shy, quiet boy who lives with his crack-addicted Mama, and occasionally gets picked on by his peers. He finds a friend in an adult black man named Juan who kind of takes him under his wing, providing him with home-cooked meals and opportunities for safe and open conversations. We get the first glimpse of Chiron’s struggle with identity: he asks Juan what faggot means and if he is one. At one point, the little nine-year-old comes home to an empty house and pours himself a bath using hot water from the stove; I just wanted to pull him out and hug him tight. Unfortunately, Juan is a drug dealer who ironically is providing Chiron’s mom with her fixes. When Chiron discovers this, you can tell it will affect their relationship. We don’t know how it does though, because act two starts and we learn that Juan has passed away years ago.

In act two, Chiron is a teenager who still seems shy and naïve. He has one friend, Kevin, who he has one (non-explicit) sexual/sensual encounter with while sharing an intimate conversation on the beach late at night. It’s clear Chiron is inexperienced and perhaps confused, like many adolescents. Kevin ends up betraying him though when, egged on by the school bully, he beats up Chiron. This clearly was a turning point in Chiron’s life that hardened his heart and closed him off from having any other future intimate relationships of any kind.  

In act three, we find Chiron a decade older, and hardened into manhood. Apparently, upon release from juvie, he started “trapping” (which I had to look up- it means setting up drug deals on corners) and made quite a name for himself. I held out hope that he had listened to Juan’s advice years before, “At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.” I mean, I guess he did; I had just hoped it would be for the positive. The film ends shortly after Kevin reaches out to him by phone one random day and Chiron decides to drive back to Miami from Atlanta to visit him. The encounter is a little awkward as both men avoid talking too much about the past and their unstable futures. We don’t know what the future holds for Chiron… will he ever turn his life around and open his heart?

Overall, I thought the movie was alright. I thought the acting was great. I can appreciate the story itself and the gravitas it has in today’s society. But I did think the film moved on a little too slow.
I LOVE the movie poster. It’s very simplistic in its image and coloring, but intriguing in its effect; the three actors’ faces are sliced into one face- the three different, but related, colors also symbolizing the three parts of Chiron’s life journey in the film: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. The color palette was fitting; in the first third of the film, Juan explains to “Little” why his nickname was “Blue” (an old Cuban lady said that when little black boys run under the moonlight, they soak up all the light and look blue).  I couldn’t help but think of the phrase, “black and blue” throughout the film. Chiron’s body took a beating, but more importantly, his heart did too.
This film was up against “Arrival”, “Fences”, “Hacksaw Ridge”, “Hell or High Water”, “Hidden Figures”, “Lion”, “Manchester by the Sea”, and the one everyone thought would snag the award, “La La Land”. Of these nominees, I have seen “Arrival” and “La La Land”, but I’m very interested in seeing a few of the others. I thought “Arrival” was VERY interesting- a subject I haven’t seen done much in movies (and I’m not talking about alien invasion). “La La Land” was cute. The ending kind of threw me and I’m not a fan of Emma Stone, so that may be why I’m not singing its praises (as a BIG fan of musicals). “Moonlight” also won awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was the lowest-grossing film among its nominees. From a historical standpoint regarding the Awards, this is the first film to win Best Picture that not only had a homosexual main character but also had a completely non-white cast.
Juan, albeit not perfect, was the father-figure that young Chiron was missing in his life. “Little” was desperate for the positive attention and their relationship was special, even if short-lived. It was reassuring to know that Chiron experienced a parental love like that in small doses. Who knows where he’d be if Juan (and his sweet girlfriend) never stepped into his life? One scene that made me smile was when Juan took Chiron to the beach to teach him to swim. The dialogue is barely audible over the music, but that’s intentional; it’s not the point. You can see the trust Chiron has in Juan as he learns to relax in the water and float. The symbolism here was not lost on me either… Juan’s hands, lightly supporting this emotionally fragile boy’s body, saying in so few words, “I’ve got you”.  

A child’s upbringing shapes who s/he becomes as an adult. The past leaves physical, emotional, and mental scars that affect the person’s life forever. This may seem obvious and almost cliché; but it is painfully apparent how precious the time is when a child is young. As adults, we have the responsibility to mold and shape our youth, equipping them with self-confidence, awareness, compassion, hope, and a drive to do good.

Children want (and need) to be heard. As parents/teachers/friends, we need to lend an ear as they learn to work through difficulties. We need to be available for them.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Spotlight, 2015

Rated R

I admit I was hesitant to watch this film. I am a born-and-raised Catholic and am proud of my faith. I am certainly not proud of the atrocities that have happened under the shroud of this religion. I had a fear this film would Hollywood-ize these tragic events and end up making blanket statements that ‘Catholicism is corrupt’ or ‘most priests are pedophiles.’ “Spotlight” did not do that, in its defense, but I can’t help but wonder how many more people were turned off to religion because of it, and that saddens me.

The journalistic team behind Spotlight, a side circulation of the Boston Globe, is responsible for focusing on and bringing to light major stories, and in 2001, they dig up a doosie. What is first an investigation into a few child abuse cases within the local Catholic Diocese, snowballs into a major scandal that involves a shocking 80+ cases and reveals that these priests were not punished, but rather just relocated to different churches or dioceses. It’s a sickening revelation. Boston has a very large population of Catholics, many of whom we realize have been affected in some way by abuse but have been too afraid to come forward. We learn the Church capitalized on this fear, paid out-of-court settlements when needed, and simply rerouted the offenders rather than jailing them and seeking therapy. The movie follows the team as they discover more and more cases and speak to more and more victims. The end of the film lists the names of the dioceses across the US that were/are under question (although the list is not complete) after this sparked a nation-wide investigation.

Another disconcerting piece of this scandal though is that the Boston Globe had been sitting on information given to them by previous victims for many years before this was sufficiently given the attention it deserved. Boxes of evidence were shelved in the basement because somebody dismissed it as speculation or insubstantial. Later victims could have been saved if this had been brought to light sooner. Yet another upsetting part of all this, is the small group of lawyers who represented the Church, settling for pittances in order to basically shut the victims and their families up. So. Many. Disastrous. Mistakes.

Overall, I think the film was well done but don’t think it deserved this top award for the year. I can’t help but wonder if the Academy felt pressured to vote for it because it would make a political and social statement in doing so. The proper media didn’t give it the deserved attention when it was appropriate, and perhaps they felt they could now. The film almost felt like a made-for-TV movie or a documentary… I feel that a Best Picture winner should represent the very best we had to offer in a year, taking the viewing audience on a journey and reaching a range of emotions doing so. I don’t think I’m alone in this thinking, as it turned out to be the second lowest-grossing film to win this award (behind “The Hurt Locker” from 2009).

“Spotlight” also won Best Original Screenplay and had four other nominations. It was up against seven other movies for BP: “The Big Short”, “Bridge of Spies”, “Brooklyn”, “Mad Max: Fury Road”, “The Martian”, “Room”, and the one most deserving of Best Picture IMHO, “The Revenant.”  I saw “The Martian” in the theatre on date night and was pretty impressed. When the hubs was first telling me about the movie, it sounded so extreme but realistic, and in my late pregnancy-brain haze, I asked, “Wow, true story?” Face palm. I will say though, if we had been to Mars and left a man behind, that movie shows exactly what would have happened- it all looked very plausible. I also recently saw “The Big Short” which was considered a top contender for this award. I’m not entirely sure it should’ve been though. Aside from it being a very interesting/distressing/true story, it didn’t have that certain je ne sais quois to win.  (It could be the fact that I felt like it was really a foreign language film… sadly, that vernacular and certain intelligence is not compatible with my brain.) “The Revenant”, on the other hand- holy mother of intensity! I saw a preview for that movie when we saw “The Martian” and I immediately thought, no way man. If I could get an anxiety attack from the preview alone, there was no way I could handle the whole movie, even IF my main squeeze Leo is in it. After “Spotlight” won, I figured I couldn’t accurately judge whether it was the deserving winner or not unless I watched the film everyone thought was a shoo-in for the award. So, I forced myself to watch it. On a small screen. With a crappy sound system. There’s no doubt in my mind that it deserved to win Best Picture. It’s just the type of film that encapsulates that achievement in cinema. From the nail-biting storyline and passion of the actors to the award-winning cinematography and breathtaking beauty of the rugged landscape- it is an overall pretty phenomenal film.


Spotlight’s Team Leader, Peter Canellos, said something that hit me hard: “They say it's just physical abuse but it's more than that, this was spiritual abuse. You know why I went along with everything? Because priests are supposed to be the good guys”. He’s absolutely correct and that’s what’s so tragic. Along with the physical and mental abuse as a direct result of these acts, the victim is also being given a very distorted and false depiction of a spiritual mentor. The victimized  will naturally come to question and likely renounce their faith if the very person who’s supposed to be trusted is the one taking advantage of them. I worked for a year as a second grade teacher at a Catholic school in a suburb of Chicago where I witnessed the closure of several schools in the Archdiocese as a result of declining enrollment. One of the reasons: people were just too afraid to send their children to an educational institution run by the Church.


Don’t ignore someone’s pleas for help or dismiss them as insignificant.

Bringing attention to something so monumental takes patience and a whole lot of guts. The journalists worked long, hard hours making sense of clues and notes, researching, and interviewing both victims and offenders all in order to attempt to right a very big wrong. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), 2014

Rated R

The title. I mean, seriously… Are you asking me to pick which title I like best? Because, neither. The title(s), and the movie, for that matter, are pretty ridiculous. I was floored when this movie won the Academy’s most coveted award. I hadn’t even seen it yet, but based on all the movies’ previews alone, I knew it shouldn’t have even been in the running.

I’m being harsh. It was mildly entertaining, but certainly not up to the caliber I’ve come to expect from my Best Picture winners. The film follows Riggan Thomson (played by comeback kid Michael Keaton), a washed up actor known as the superhero “Birdman”, who is trying to hack it on Broadway by finally directing, funding, and starring in his first play. But… the thing is, his alter-ego “Birdman” talks to him in his head, berating him for being a nobody, and insisting he be great again. But it’s not just that internal battle with his ego… Riggan has powers.  He can move things across the room with his mind. He can levitate. (But apparently, no one can see this.) Here are my problems: There is no explanation of the supernatural; for a film that has everything else based in the nitty-gritty of reality, I don’t get how he can turn into Birdman for a couple of minutes and no one sees anything. Also, what was Birdman’s super power?? He looks like a completely narcissistic, oddly-costumed bird that does nothing for society. Why was he even popular?


I was more intrigued by the play that Riggan wrote and was starring in and his quest for the right actor (entertainingly played by Edward Norton). Emma Stone, who plays his daughter, on the other hand, drove me bonkers. So. Much. Overacting. (Oscar nomination? Really?)

Throughout the movie, Riggan is internally fighting for his self-worth, a better relationship with his grown-up daughter, and some sort of closure (?) with his ex-wife. He basically wants what everyone wants: to feel validated and be heard. He wants to leave his mark on the world and he’s feeling rushed to do so.

The music in the film kept throwing me off. It was endless jazz drum solos, varying in intensity and volume. I didn’t like the end of the film either, but I guess it matched the rest of the movie: just silly and a bit ridiculous. Overall, I was not a fan of this film, nor would I recommend it, but I do however, know that I do not speak for everyone, as many people online tout this film as being a psychological and philosophical masterpiece. To each his own.

This film was up against “American Sniper”, “Boyhood”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “The Imitation Game”, “Selma”, “The Theory of Everything”, and “Whiplash”….. ALL which I thought would’ve won over “Birdman”. (I would’ve liked to see Angelina Jolie’s film “Unbroken” in that list as well.) It had a whopping nine nominations with four wins including: Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Screenplay. I’m sure it was awarded Best Cinematography because it was entirely filmed with a hand-held camera. While this style of film can be interesting and effective, sometimes it can be plain irritating. In this film, I often got unattractive shots far too close to an actor’s face during dialogue, and got a little nauseous following Riggan backstage through endless corridors and around countless corners to get to his dressing room. I did notice and was intrigued that because of this style, the film was made to look like one long, never-ending scene. From beginning to end, we were one with Riggan.

I’m a fan of Norton as an actor, so I enjoyed this scene where he plays a highly-sought-after, albeit often intoxicated, actor who agrees to perform in Riggan’s debut play. He ends up coaching his director in the parts and it’s comical.

We are our own worst critics. We’re hard on ourselves, demanding the best. While it’s good to strive for greatness, accept your faults and failures and don’t be too tough on yourself. Chances are, nobody else saw what you saw.

Don’t be too consumed with the admiration of others, that you fail to see the love of people who truly matter. Riggan’s relationship with his daughter was a bit strained and almost non-existent since he was so preoccupied with being everybody else’s idol.  

Thursday, July 23, 2015

12 Years a Slave, 2013

Rated R
Tightness. Anxiety. Heart in my throat. Pit in my stomach. That’s how I started watching this movie, based on what I had read and heard from others regarding the harrowing scenes that this film depicts about the brutal honesty of slavery. This is not an easy film to watch. It has what seems like one unimaginable scene after another. Yet, I will admit, it is a poignant film; one that is fully deserving of this year’s Best Picture award.

Chiwetel Ejiofor BRILLIANTLY portrays Solomon Northup, a Northern-born musician and free man who when traveling away from his wife and two children for a gig, gets drugged, kidnapped, and awakened in shackles. His nightmare (or anyone’s really) is now a reality: he is sold into slavery and brought to the Antebellum South. Nobody believes he is free, and why should they? It was far too easy for absolutely everything to be taken away from him. An educated and respectful man, he eventually succumbs to keeping his head down and mouth shut in order to survive the following years after he’s sold yet again, to a ruthless, despicable slave-owner, played villainously by Michael Fassbender.

It’s impossible for me to imagine how Solomon had the will to survive TWELVE years of back-breaking and spirit-crushing work knowing his freedom papers and his family were safe on another side of the country. It is also impossible for me to envision that there was such hatred, discrimination, and brutality towards fellow human beings. The tension that mounts between Solomon, Master Epps, and even the young female slave, Patsy (who is the object of both Epps’ lust and beatings), is enough to make you shake with fury. One such outburst leads to one of the film’s most disturbing scenes; it is burned into my memory. But Solomon’s steadfast devotion to his family, his quiet pride, and his honest work ethic are all admirable.

Sadly, slavery didn't end with the Civil War or the Emancipation Proclamation. It was outlawed, but it has not ended. Human trafficking is one example of the modern-day slave trade. Stereotypes and attitudes that surrounded slavery then still permeate our society today. The same racism that fueled the slave trade can be seen around the country on a daily basis, and the media have field days shoving the resulting violence in our faces, often blowing some instances out of proportion thus instigating new aggression.

“12 Years a Slave” was nominated alongside some other award-worthy (and -winning) contenders: “Dallas Buyers Club”, “Gravity” (the film with the most wins this year), “Her”, “Philomena”, “American Hustle”, “Captain Phillips”, “Nebraska”, and “The Wolf of Wall Street”. Interestingly, six of these nine films were based upon true stories with real people and events. This film received only three wins from its nine nominations, including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. Ejiofor was nominated for Best Actor, but lost to Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club”. Oh, how I wish Ejiofor had won… I’m not sure I’ve seen a more deserving actor, considering his role. His facial expressions conveyed what no uttered words could. The man barely had to change the look in his eyes, and we were right there with him feeling his struggles. My hat is off to you Mr. Ejiofor.


It is difficult to pick a “favorite” scene when the film is riddled with heart-wrenching ones, but my spirits were raised when Solomon confides in Samuel (Brad Pitt) and a glimmer of hope is sparked. Samuel admonishes slavery. There’s a chance he’s willing to risk his life to retrieve Solomon’s freedom papers.

The very last scene is one I will never forget. I literally stood up from sitting on the couch with tears streaming down my face, surprised at the ending (and upon learning that this film was based on Solomon’s own autobiography).


The Bible was and still is deliberately used to manipulate and control the gullible or unsuspicious. Its context is constantly misconstrued in order to satisfy the person doing the preaching.

“Is everything right because the law allows it?” This loaded question was posed during a fantastic dialogue between Samuel Bass and Master Epps. Our country was founded on certain principles, mandated a set of laws, and even amended those in years that followed. I pray that as we continue to fight today for what’s “right”, we are showered in and guided by God’s grace and mercy.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Argo, 2012

Rated R 

The Academy Awards have come and gone again and I’m back to comment on last year’s winner for Best Picture.

“Argo” is a drama/ thriller that is based on the true events taking place during the Iran Hostage Crisis in the Middle East during 1979. Six US Embassy workers escaped the building during a storm of Islamic revolutionaries and take up hiding in the private home of the Canadian ambassador. CIA agents then concoct a scheme on how to free the homebound six without being noticed and/or identified at the airport.

CIA “exfiltration” specialist, Tony Mendez (Affleck), comes up with a risky idea to sneak the diplomats out of the country: He’s going to go over there, posed as a movie director, and take the six trapped Americans out in public as the rest of his Canadian film crew in search of ideal filming locations for their new sci-fi adventure flick “Argo”. Of course, he has to change their appearance a bit, but not too much, so that they aren’t immediately recognized by the revolutionaries who have word of their hiding, but enough so that their Passport pictures still look like them. Given all new identities to memorize, the six are understandably shaken at the prospect of this literal life or death covert operation. And they’re not the only ones, several CIA members back home aren’t too thrilled with this plan but admit, it’s their best chance. It’s an incredibly precarious move for Mendez too though. Not only is he risking the lives of the six, but if this situation fails, it could be a national embarrassment for the US AND Canada. The plan is so crazy that it just might work.
This secret mission was kept secret from the public for decades in an effort to protect everyone’s identities. I’m glad it was eventually revealed though, because I knew nothing of this story.

The costuming and make-up departments did an excellent job recreating this time period. Everything looked incredibly authentic. In fact, I think there was real footage of the protests interspersed with the film in the beginning. I did wonder how true it truly was towards the end (the escape). My heart was racing like I was standing there next to Mendez waiting to be interrogated at the airport. Was the getaway really that close? Or were things a bit “Hollywoodized”?

This film was up against eight other films including “Amour”, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, “Django Unchained”, “Life of Pi”, “Lincoln”, “Silver Linings Playbook”, “Zero Dark Thirty”, and “Les Miserables”. I didn’t go to the theatres much last year, but being that I adore the stage version, I did make time to see “Les Mis”. It was a bit of a surprise that “Lincoln” didn’t win since that was the favored frontrunner and highest grossing film that year. Although, six of the nine films pulled in quite a bit of box-office sales all within a small range of each other. There are some claims that “Argo” won the sympathy vote for the obvious snub of Ben Affleck’s nomination for Best Director… who knows. He did win that award at the Golden Globes, and it’s very unusual (only three films in the past) for a Director not to be nominated when the film is nominated for Best Picture. No matter what, I recommend this film and am very pleased I was “forced” to see it for this continuing Oscar challenge. “Argo” was nominated for 7 awards and walked away with 3 including “Best Adapted Screenplay” and “Best Film Editing”.


The whole last half hour or so kept me glued to the screen due to the suspense of the escape. Here they are as they’re being interrogated by airport security after showing their Passports. They have to pull out all their fake film materials and really sell it to them.

Think of others. Mendez could’ve been a coward and refused to put his own neck on the line, but he had confidence in himself and knew he had to do what was right in order to save innocent lives.

Sometimes, you have to take risks in order to get rewards.

The CIA has some crazy stories hidden in their secret files that we may never know…