Sunday, February 22, 2015

2015 Oscar Predictions

Here we are folks! I've watched all the movies I can, and now that we're a few hours away from the show I'm going to make my predictions (highlighted). Let me know who you think will win tonight in the comments!

Best Motion Picture of the Year

American Sniper
The Imitation Game
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Theory of Everything

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Steve Carell for Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game
Bradley Cooper for American Sniper
Michael Keaton for Birdman 
Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything
Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl
Julianne Moore for Still Alice 
Reese Witherspoon for Wild

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Robert Duvall for The Judge
Ethan Hawke for Boyhood
Edward Norton for Birdman
Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons for Whiplash 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Patricia Arquette for Boyhood
Laura Dern for Wild
Keira Knightley for The Imitation Game
Emma Stone for Birdman
Meryl Streep for Into the Woods

Best Achievement in Directing

Richard Linklater for Boyhood 
Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman
Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Boyhood: Richard Linklater
Birdman: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Foxcatcher: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness
Nightcrawler: Dan Gilroy

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

American Sniper: Jason Hall
Inherent Vice: Paul Thomas Anderson
The Imitation Game: Graham Moore
The Theory of Everything: Anthony McCarten
Whiplash: Damien Chazelle

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

The Boxtrolls
Big Hero 6
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Tangerines: Zaza Urushadze
Ida: Pawel Pawlikowski
Leviathan: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Wild Tales: Damián Szifrón
Timbuktu: Abderrahmane Sissako

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Birdman: Emmanuel Lubezki
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Robert D. Yeoman
Ida: Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lenczewski
Mr. Turner: Dick Pope
Unbroken: Roger Deakins

Best Achievement in Editing

Boyhood: Sandra Adair
The Imitation Game : William Goldenberg
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Barney Pilling
Whiplash: Tom Cross
American Sniper: Joel Cox, Gary Roach

Best Achievement in Production Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel: Adam Stockhausen, Anna Pinnock
The Imitation Game: Maria Djurkovic, Tatiana Macdonald
Interstellar: Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
Into the Woods: Dennis Gassner, Anna Pinnock
Mr. Turner: Suzie Davies, Charlotte Watts

Best Achievement in Costume Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel: Milena Canonero
Inherent Vice: Mark Bridges
Into the Woods: Colleen Atwood
Maleficent: Anna B. Sheppard
Mr. Turner: Jacqueline Durran

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

Foxcatcher: Bill Corso, Dennis Liddiard
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Frances Hannon, Mark Coulier
Guardians of the Galaxy: Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou, David White

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

The Imitation Game: Alexandre Desplat
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Alexandre Desplat
Interstellar: Hans Zimmer
The Theory of Everything: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Mr. Turner: Gary Yershon

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

The Lego Movie: Shawn Patterson (Everything is Awesome)
Selma: Common, John Legend (Glory)
Beyond the Lights: Diane Warren (Grateful)
Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me: Glen Campbell, Julian Raymond (I’m Not Gonna Miss You)
Begin Again: Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois (Lost Stars)

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

American Sniper: John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, Walt Martin
Birdman: Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Thomas Varga
Interstellar: Gary Rizzo, Gregg Landaker, Mark Weingarten
Unbroken: Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, David Lee
Whiplash: Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins, Thomas Curley

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

American Sniper: Alan Robert Murray, Bub Asman
Birdman: Aaron Glascock, Martín Hernández
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: Brent Burge, Jason Canovas
Interstellar: Richard King
Unbroken: Becky Sullivan, Andrew DeCristofaro

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Dan Deleeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill, Daniel Sudick
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Erik Winquist
Guardians of the Galaxy: Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner, Paul Corbould
Interstellar: Paul J. Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter, Scott R. Fisher
X-Men: Days of Future Past: Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie, Cameron Waldbauer

Best Documentary, Feature

Citizenfour: Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy, Dirk Wilutzky
Finding Vivian Maier: John Maloof, Charlie Siskel
Last Days in Vietnam: Rory Kennedy, Keven McAlester
The Salt of the Earth: Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, David Rosier
Virunga: Orlando von Einsiedel, Joanna Natasegara

Best Documentary, Short Subject

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1: Ellen Goosenberg Kent, Dana Perry
Joanna: Aneta Kopacz
Our Curse: Tomasz Sliwinski, Maciej Slesicki
The Reaper: Gabriel Serra
White Earth: Christian Jensen

Best Short Film, Animated

The Bigger Picture: Daisy Jacobs, Chris Hees
The Dam Keeper: Robert Kondo, Daisuke 'Dice' Tsutsumi
Feast: Patrick Osborne, Kristina Reed
Me and My Moulton: Torill Kove
A Single Life: Joris Oprins

Best Short Film, Live Action

Aya: Oded Binnun, Mihal Brezis
Boogaloo and Graham: Michael Lennox, Ronan Blaney
Butter Lamp: Wei Hu, Julien Féret
Parvaneh: Talkhon Hamzavi, Stefan Eichenberger
The Phone Call: Mat Kirkby, James Lucas

Oscar Nominees: Rounding off the Best Picture Nominees

American Sniper

Despite being the film most grossly out of it's league in this category, American Sniper has also been stealing a great deal of the media attention leading up to the Oscars. Director Clint Eastwood's PR company was obviously money well spent, because without good PR, a big name director, and the pro-American swill that this film makes the viewer drink, there would be no reason for it to be top at the box office, let alone an Oscar nominee several times over.

It tells the story of prolific sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), who was recently murdered by a fellow soldier suffering from PTSD while on a shooting expedition. The story seems to want to tell us about this great man's sacrifice for his country, for the toll that war took on his home life, and for the good that he did when he returned. None of that really resonates at all, at least not nearly as well as the half dozen other films on the subject of PTSD and the war in the Middle East that have come before.

The film shines during it's action sequences, which are very well executed. There is most certainly a marketable angle there for the film as simply a solid war movie. It's when Kyle is at home that it completely falls apart. Not only does it fail to properly address the issue of PTSD, but it somehow wants us to believe that Kyle is a hero because rather than helping his comrades seek mental health support, he decides the best way for them to overcome their severe mental trauma is to take them to shooting ranges and give them a deadly weapon they last used while in combat. Forgive me if I'm callous, but the fact that Kyle was shot by one of these soldiers he was "helping" is somehow not a surprise to me. It's certainly tragic, but the film even manages to fail to drive that message home.

I chalk this up to Hollywood continuing to kiss the ring of the great Eastwood, even though he really deserved to be scrubbed from the invite list this year. My suggestion to anyone thinking about seeing American Sniper is don't. Instead, rent Stop-Loss starring Channing Tatum, Ryan Phillippe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Hell, rent The Lucky One. That's right, I said it: a mediocre Nicholas Sparks romance does a better job at addressing PTSD and the war than this movie.


The Theory of Everything

No one wants to say it, so I will: why is there a biopic about Stephen Hawking when Stephen Hawking is not only still alive, but still a major public figure? Sure, his life is miraculous and he forever changed the way we viewed the universe, but aren't we jumping the gun a little?

At any rate, The Theory of Everything is one of the puzzling additions to the Best Picture nominees this year because, frankly, there's nothing particularly special about it other than Eddie Redmayne's performance as Hawking (which is absolutely phenomenal). It is an incredibly strong biopic, but it I found it surprisingly understated for a film about a man who literally delved into the cosmos to attempt to explain the very existence of humanity.



Sometimes you watch a movie and you know you're supposed to really like it, but it just doesn't leave the same impression on you that it does others. Part of me is trying to be as unbiased as possible in explaining why Whiplash was nominated for Best Picture, among other things, but I also can't help but feel like I might have missed the boat on this one.

Whiplash is the story of an overbearing, abusive, and frankly sociopathic music teacher (JK Simmons) who brutalizes his student (Miles Teller) into becoming one of the greatest Jazz drummers of his generation. The entire film, the audience is asked to decide whether Simmons' violent outbursts and psychological abuse is merely a means to bring the best out of his students. Frankly, in the end it seems that he has become so blinded by his own ego and search for the "next great" that he no longer recognizes it when it's standing right in front of him.

JK Simmons is so far out of his comfort zone in this film that he would be unrecognizable were it not for the fact that he is already so recognizable. But the most underrated person in this film is Teller, who has clearly moved beyond shitty rom coms and seldom noticed indie flicks to become a real player in Hollywood. He is the most interesting thing about this film for me, mainly because it made me stop hating him so much.



I can safely say that this film is unlike any other film you will have seen in your entire life. In fact, it is unlike anything that I've seen in my life, and I went to film school and had to watch an inordinate amount of really really weird stuff.

Michael Keaton is Riggan, a former superstar comic book movie hero who is attempting to reinvigorate his dead career with a Broadway Play adapted from his favourite book. It is often a hilarious farce about the many goings on behind the scenes in theatre, but it is so much more than that. It is a tragedy about the crippling effects of super stardom, it is an examination of one man's descent into madness, and finally it is a story of rebirth and resurrection.

The reason why I believe Birdman will take home the Best Picture statue tonight, however, is in director Alejandro González Iñárritu's choice to create a film which is ostensibly one long shot. You won't notice it at first, especially if you aren't looking for it, but with the exception of the beginning and the end of the film there are no cuts. Why is this significant? Well, partly because the average comic book movie, for instance, will have anywhere from 3000-4000 cuts (shot changes/edits) in the entire film. This film instead sews shots together to make the audience feel as though we are invisible observers to private moments, moving seamlessly through the backstage of the theatre, wandering unseen on stage, watching 3 days worth of drama unfold without interference. It is a true feat of filmmaking, and one that everyone should see. Keaton, who is better in this role than perhaps any role of his life, will definitely be my top pick to take home the Best Actor award as well. If there was ever anyone meant to play a role, Keaton as Riggan is it.



Full disclosure: I have a major soft spot for Richard Linkater. Many in the public weren't necessarily aware of who Linklater was other than a name on the screen after School of Rock, however I have been a huge fan of his since I saw his Before Sunrise "trilogy" (3 films about two lovers that spans two decades). Little did I know that Linklater had an even greater experiment under his belt: shooting a movie for 12 years... with the same actors... without any real plot....

It's only a truly brilliant man who can even think of that idea as a possibility. Casting a child in a film, and then making that movie for 12 years in the hopes that he won't grow bored with the process half way through? Or be a terrible actor? Or the money will run out?

Linklater not only decided to do that, but he succeeded in creating a story so authentic that it seems to transcend the idea of narrative film and instead invite the audience to spectate on the tiny moments and major memories of one child as he becomes a man. We also watch as his family grows and changes. His father, played by Ethan Hawke, is not really a grown-up himself when we first meet him. Irresponsible and unpredictable, we watch him grow into the kind of father he wants to be. His mother, played masterfully by Patricia Arquette, gives a voice to single mothers everywhere as she attempts to raise her two children and pursue a career under a mounting number of obstacles.

But it is the boy Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, who of course is the focus. What makes him who he is? What shapes who he becomes? What moments, big or small, have left a mark on this young man? A decade in a persons life is not something most remember day-by-day, but rather moment by moment. There will be a moment in this film that each viewer will feel a little jolt of recognition inside of them when Mason's life mirrors their own childhood memories. The honesty and the restraint that Linklater shows in telling this magnificent story is the reason why I believe he deserves the Best Director statue tonight. Boyhood is something so unprecedented that, even if he doesn't win a thing tonight, he will find his name in textbooks and anthologies and academic journals for decades to come.


The Grand Budapest Hotel

Here's the thing about Wes Anderson: he's not a director that people are ever unsure about. You either love him or hate him. Some film hipsters close to worship him. I won't go that far, but I am among the people who find his whimsical, odd little films delightful and fun. For some, they might be the nonsensical blabberings of a pretentious weirdo, but to each their own.

It follows the life of a immigrant bell hop named Zero (Tony Revolori) and his tutelage under the peculiar and legendary Concierge Monsieur Gustav (Ralph Fiennes). It is a tale that becomes more ridiculous (and hilarious) the longer you watch. Jail breaks, satirized Nazi's, love affairs with elderly dowagers, murder, intrigue, bright colours, shiny things: what more could you want? The power that Andersen holds in Hollywood is evident by a quick glance at the ensemble cast of this film, which includes Adrien Brody, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Defoe, Harvey Keitel and Jeff freakin' Goldblum.

Unlike the much smaller, less noticed Moonrise Kingdom from last year, The Grand Budapest Hotel has garnered much more public attention and award nominations that is usually expected from one of Anderson's strange films. Helped in part by it's early release on Netflix, it's colourful and exultant scope is a departure from the indie-feel that Andersen so often covets. It is a big movie that feels small, it's whimsy still very much present, and it's story increasingly compelling the more ridiculous it becomes. I believe it will take home Best Original Screenplay tonight, based solely on the fact that it embodies "originality" more than perhaps any other film nominated this year.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Oscar Nominees: Documentary Shorts

The final instalment of shorts in the Oscar Challenge are the documentary shorts. If it's difficult to tell a fictional story in a short format, it's even more challenging to tell a compelling true story. The 4 nominees available to watch prior to the awards (Our Curse is unavailable at this time) were vastly different in theme and subject matter, but definitely worth the short time it will take to watch them all.

Joanna (Poland, 40 minutes)

A snapshot of tiny moments in the last weeks of a young mothers life with her young son, Joanna is devastating and honest in it's portrayal of a life ending too soon. Joanna is a blogger who documents her battle with cancer for the world online, but it's in the tiny, everyday moments with her young son that we see the full impact that her loss will have on his life. She soaks up every last moment she has with him. He seems to know that his time with her is limited too, asking her questions so honest that they could only come from a child. There is one she cannot answer: "What are you scared of, mother?" Later, in a private and tragic moment with her husband, Joanna admits that while she doesn't fear death, she fears most leaving her son and husband alone without her. Poignant, tragic, and yet oddly beautiful, this portrait of a woman's last days is a powerful insight into the heart of a mother.

White Earth (USA, 20 minutes)

In rural North Dakota, vagabond trailer parks spring up after oil drilling business booms. But this tale of the modern day gold rush is not all money and the American Dream. Through the eyes of children, we learn of the true cost of this lifestyle in the harsh world of the oil industry. In the end, these parents have uprooted their families in the hopes that their children will never have to do the same, but it's difficult for even the children to see a life beyond the oil fields, poverty, and frozen tundra.

The Reaper (Mexico, 29 minutes)

The Reaper examines the day to day life of a man who has worked in a slaughterhouse in Mexico his entire life, killing up to 500 cattle per day by hand. It harkens back to the classic documentary Meat (1976), but adds an existential twist. Even after all this time, the executioner seems to struggle with the morality and reality of his job. It should be mentioned that this doc is not for the faint of heart, especially because this slaughterhouse is most certainly not up to American or Canadian health codes.

Crisis Line: Veterans Press 1

This years submission from HBO is also my favourite to take home the big prize. Oddly similar to Fiction Short nominee The Phone Call, Crisis Line gives an unprecedented look into the jobs of Veteran Suicide Hotline workers in upstate New York. It is impossible not to be affected by the stories these operators listen to each day, and every tale is more tragic than the next. Frantically trying to get help to the veterans before they take their own lives, one operator harkens their job to a second battle: the battle to return to civilian life after experiencing the unfathomable horrors of war. They are the last line of defence against an enemy which takes more American soldiers lives than any foreign conflict: mental illness. If you watch any of the 5 nominees, this is the most important. If we are not prepared to take care of our veterans when they come home, we shouldn't send them to war to begin with.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Oscar Nominees: Animated Shorts

Along with the Live-Action Shorts, TIFF is showing the animated shorts (along with some of the honourable mentions) leading up to the awards this weekend. Animated shorts are some of the most fun, and most accessible, of shorts films. Disney, for one, plays shorts before many of their animated films. This accessibility is incredibly important for the continuation of this art form, and this years stock have continued the tradition.

The Bigger Picture (UK, 8 minutes)

The stark subject matter of two sons caring for their dying mother is painted upon the walls of a house, with real props, stop-motion, oil painting and other creative techniques being melded together to form a slightly inaccessible but poignant portrayal of loss, duty, and brotherly love.

The Dam Keeper  (USA, 18 minutes)

In a world where the only thing protecting a small village of farm animals from deadly pollution is a windmill operated by a little pig boy, the bullying and intolerance of the townspeople threatens to doom them all. It is a beautiful painted animation which will hit home for parents and children alike, and is perhaps the most visually stunning of the 5.

Feast (USA, 6 minutes)

Disney is the most accessible creator of animated shorts, and this years' submission is adorable, funny, and insightful. When a man finds a stray dog and takes him home, the two form a fast friendship. But Winston the dog is thrown for a loop when his owner begins to make a life for himself with a new woman. It is a beautiful portrait of the unconditional love of a pet, and humans attempts to match it by sharing the food off our plates. As someone who often gives the last few bites of my meal to my rescue dog, it hit a real soft spot for me. If the Oscars were won by audience popularity, Feast would be taking home the statue for sure. It pulls at your heart strings while hitting your funny bone in a way only Disney can.

Me and My Moulton (Canada/Norway, 14 minutes)

This film is the only nominee from Canada, and it felt oddly familiar to me. Despite being brand new, it will remind many of the short films that used to be available to rent at the library on VHS. Remember VHS?

Me and My Moulton is the story of 3 sisters who's parents are a bit odd. All they want is to be like the other children, and to have a bicycle like the other children, and to have a normal dad like the other children. As the film progresses, the girls begin to realize that perhaps their odd family isn't so bad after all, and that the grass isn't always greener on the other side.

A Single Life (Netherlands, 3 minutes)

This most brief of the films is done in a claymation style with the oddball comedy one comes to expect from great series' like Wallace and Gromit, but with a modern twist. A young woman plays a record entitled "A Single Life" and quickly watches her life pass by her in a flash. It is darkly hilarious and incredibly memorable, particularly at only a few minutes in length.

Oscar Nominees: Documentary Features

Every year, one of my favourite parts of the Oscar Challenge is watching the nominees for Best Documentary Feature. Documentaries are one of the most interesting and moving forms of film out there, and yet the one that receives perhaps the least attention. Case and point: I can't even watch all of the nominees before the awards, because 2 of the 5 aren't available in Canada until after the awards are handed out. Seems to defeat the purpose, if you ask me. What fiction films have you found that aren't available to view before the awards? None. You can watch them all, digitally or in theatres. That's something that disappoints me every year.

I was lucky enough to watch 3 of the nominated documentaries, though. They're vastly different but all incredibly riveting pieces of storytelling that I hope you'll all have a chance to watch at some point this year.


Netflix is becoming a champion of the documentary, putting their resources behind talented filmmakers to deliver incredible stories otherwise left untold. Last year, their documentary The Square was nominated in the same category. This year, they've outdone themselves again.

Virunga follows the men and women who fight to save the National Park of the same name in a war torn region of the Congo. The meddling of the West has stoked the fires of conflict in the region for decades, and it is sparked again when oil is found by a British company known for their love of profiting off of troubled nations oil reserves. The Park Rangers steadfastly stand against the oil giants and the rebels they underhandedly fund to protect the last known population of mountain gorillas who live in the park, among other endangered species.

The racism, disrespect for nature, greed, and war mongering that plagues this nation is a massive adversary for this small group of rangers, but they are willing to lay down their lives (as some do) to protect these animals and the park that they call home. It is heartbreaking, infuriating, and important for all to see. Educating the masses is the only hope this region has for saving it's valuable wildlife from certain extinction, and from further scarring their land with war.



There are few who didn't listen intently in 2013 when news broke that the NSA was spying on the communications of their citizens and those of other nations, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Under the guise of preventing terrorism, the NSA went virtually unchecked as they gathered powerful data unrelated to the war on terror.

This news broke after a whistleblower named Edward Snowden revealed secrets he had gathered under his Top Secret security clearance working as a contractor for the NSA. Citizenfour tells the never-before-seen story of Snowden's decision to come forward, and the journalists who helped him do it. From secret encrypted communications, government bullying, media manipulation and eventual asylum in Russia, the film shows us Snowden's side of the story we already know.

I didn't know what to make of Snowden before watching the film, but this candid portrait helped me to better understand his intentions. Say what you will of whether or not Snowden's whistleblowing was good or bad for the world to hear, but you cannot deny that his intentions were just. He believes in the neutrality of the internet, in the right of the people to privacy and freedom, and he gave up his entire life and career to fight for it. So did the journalists who broke the story, including the films director Laura Poitras and the lead journalist on the story Glen Greenwald, who now live with constant surveillance and intimidation from the country they once called home.


Finding Vivian Maier

My favourite of the 3, and likely to take home the prize, is a film unlike any other I've seen. Each year there are great documentaries profiling great artists, but Finding Vivian Maier is very different indeed.

Vivian Maier was a nanny living in Chicago and New York throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s. A spinster with no children or family to speak of, her belongings went up for auction after her death and were bought by filmmaker John Maloof.  He quickly realized that the photographs and negatives found in these boxes were more than just a bunch of snapshots, but brilliant photography never seen by the public. He began posting the images online, and Vivian Maier quickly became a posthumous photography superstar.

But who was this woman? She was reclusive and secretive, even changing her name at times. Maloof retraces her life through her photographs and meets with many of the now-grown children she helped rear. Through interviews with this group of men and women from across the country, Maloof begins to paint a picture of the woman who is now the greatest up and coming photographer in the country (unbeknownst to her).

Having researched my own families secrets by digging through old boxes and googling until my fingers were raw, I became quickly invested in finding out more about this enigmatic woman. The film is brilliantly put together, incredibly compelling, and hard not to love. This imperfect woman may have been odd, but she also had an eye for capturing some of the most beautiful images this world has ever seen. Finding Vivian Maier is not to be missed.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Oscar Nominees: Live-Action Shorts

TIFF Bell Lightbox is one of the only places you can catch the Live-Action and Animated Shorts Nominees every February, and it's screenings have been growing in popularity. I was so happy to see a semi-full, large theatre last night for the screening of the Live-Action Shorts.

Short films are unique in that they have a very limited time to tell a story compelling enough to resonate with the viewer. The best of the best are nominated each year for the Oscars, and every year they are incredibly unique and interesting to watch. If you have time to check them out, head out to TIFF Bell Lightbox this week.

Parvaneh (Switzerland, 25 minutes)

A teenaged Afghan asylum seeker named Parvaneh (Nissa Kashani) is alone in a transit centre in the Swiss Alps, taking side work to try to send money home to her family. When she ventures into Zurich for the first time, she is turned away from Western Union because she is not 18 and can't send money until she is.

Desperate to help her sick father, she asks for the help of a Swiss girl (Cheryl Graff) to help her send the money. When she is forced to wait until the next morning, the two spend the night out and about in the city and form an unlikely friendship.

Director Talkhon Hamzavi paints a short but sweet portrait of two young women who seem to be worlds apart finding common ground.

Butterlamp (France, China, 15 minutes)

In oddly funny tableauxs, a young photographer captures shots of Tibetan nomad families, some who have never been photographed before, beneath a variety of "popular" backdrops (Disneyland, Tiannemen Square, etc). The younger generations want to dress and look more cosmopolitan and modern, while others cling stoically to their traditions. Director Wei Hu gives viewers a strangely compelling look at the collision between a traditional and insular people and the ever encroaching modern world.

The Phone Call (UK, 21 minutes)

In perhaps the most compelling of the 5 shorts, we follow Heather (Sally Hawkins) during her shift as a Crisis Line worker. When John (Jim Broadbent) calls her after taking antidepressants to kill himself, she must stay on the phone with him as he slowly fades and attempt to figure out where he is to send him help. It is a short portrait of life, loss, and the comfort one can find even with a complete stranger.

Aya (Israel, France, 39 minutes)

After a snap decision to moonlight as a chauffeur, Aya (Sarah Adler) drives an unsuspecting Danish man (Ulrich Thomsen) from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. The further they drive, the more Aya reveals to him about who she is. Still, the audience will remain slightly puzzled by this enigmatic young woman and the intimacy she feels with a complete stranger.

Boogaloo and Graham (UK, 14 minutes)

In Northern Ireland in 1978, two young boys are given chicks by their underemployed father. They grow to love their chickens so deeply that they are devastated when their mother decides that the birds must go. It is a brief but incredibly sweet and funny tale of the purity of a child's love and the happiness of a young family amidst conflict and poverty. It is irresistibly adorable, and left me wishing it was longer.

Sunday, February 8, 2015


In the last two years, I've completed two Oscar Challenges. I thought they were tough; this year is tougher. I'm off to a very slow start, and I'll have to buckle down hard in the next 2 weeks to get through this list.

But I'm not giving up! I've got 3 more films to review for you, and they happen to be 3 of my favourites so far.


I was lucky enough to see Selma back in November thanks to the ever-generous Ryan McNeil, who invited me to tag along to a special early screening and sit down chat with the films director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo at TIFF Bell Lightbox. After the incredibly powerful film, there was an equally powerful discussion fueled by the ongoing protests in the United States. The room was buzzing with emotion, and there was little doubt in my mind that Selma would be at the top of the Oscar nominations list come January.

The film follows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery, during which the nation watched as thousands joined arms to demand voting rights be upheld for black people across America. While technically allowed to vote, they were prevented from doing so through biased and unfair practices at registration offices and by government officials. The peaceful protest quickly turned violent when police brutally beat protestors, but it was captured by national media outlets and broadcast to living rooms around the country and world. It forever changed the civil rights movement and its perception by the public, and led to a great deal of support from non-blacks for the cause.

We have all seen depictions of King on film, but he has never been the subject of his own biopic. The selection of this particular moment in time may be a period piece, but while watching the film the images will feel all too familiar. Through sheer coincidence, the films release coincides with one of the most tumultuous times in the United States in decades, and it speaks to both sides of the conflict. King and his followers preach non-violence at every turn, even when faced with vicious beatings and oppression from police and government. It is only through unity, through passivity, and through respect that they achieve their goal. They cannot do it by antagonizing politicians, by fighting back against police, by looting and burning and screaming slurs. They must rise above to move ahead.

For me, the biggest and most unacceptable snub of this Oscar season has been the complete disregard for the two greatest parts of this film: Director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo. DuVernay is only a rookie filmmaker (she made her first film just 3 years ago) and yet she has created a future classic. No small feat, but she does so in a controlled, measured, moving, insightful and visually captivating way. She is a trailblazer as well, the first African American woman to be nominated for a directing Golden Globe. Another opportunity for progress and growth missed by the Oscars...

As for Oyelowo, there is no reasonable explanation for his lack of nomination for Best Actor. The man is a British actor with a rather high pitched vocal tone, and yet he completely transforms into King, mastering his rich and rumbling intonation and southern drawl. He is inspiring, stoic... he's perfection.

The explanation I've heard fellow writers give for this snub is merely that the film was poorly marketed prior to the awards. This is even more bamboozling, especially when you consider that Oprah Winfrey produced and starred in the film, and dedicated an entire month of programming to the film on her show. Did they just forget to put the screeners in the mail? Still, it has nabbed a Best Picture and Best Original Song nomination, and they are favourites to win the latter. Either way, this is one of the films you mustn't miss this year.



The Imitation Game, starring the white hot talent Benedict Cumberbatch as code-cracking Brit Alan Turing, follows the efforts of Allied forces to crack the Nazi code machine "Enigma". With a code that changes every morning, the British were unable to make any headway without overcoming this massive technological obstacle, and so they combed the land for the best minds in science to help crack the code. Turing quickly determined that man alone could not crack the code, especially with only a few hours each day. A machine could though, he believed, and since none existed that could do the job he set about making his own. It was the first modern computer.

While we all know that the Allies cracked the code, and won the war, what we don't often hear about is the horrible fate of this most brilliant man. His nearly single-handed salvation of the world from Nazi rule was top secret, his records erased, and so when the police picked him up for being caught in a homosexual liaison, he was instead chemically castrated and ostracized until he eventually committed suicide.

That's right, they gave him drugs to kill his "unnatural" urges. Oh, and it also took with it his mathematical abilities, the very thing that saved them all from a psychotic dictator a decade earlier.

He also had Aspergers Syndrome, making him as unique (and perhaps unlucky) a film hero as anyone could ask for. It's refreshing to see someone who can speak to so many troubled people and show them as powerful and important members of society rather than flouncy gay men or irritating nerds on primetime TV shows with adorable catchphrases.

The film itself, however, has gotten a bit more accolades than I would have deemed necessary. The film hinges solely on the performance of Cumberbatch, and while supporting cast members such as Kiera Knightley and Matthew Goode are strong additions, they aren't important in the grand scheme. The film is woefully lopsided towards Turing and Turing alone, and doesn't carry much merit beyond being a very well-performed biopic. While Cumberbatch is one of my favourites to win the statue, I doubt the film will get much more love from the Academy



Wild, starring a metamorphasized Reese Witherspoon, is the story of a troubled woman who decides to escape the broken life she's living by walking from Southern California to the Washington-British Columbia border. She thinks it will take 3 months, and she doesn't have a companion. She doens't even have an iPod, or a cell phone. Apparently she didn't see Into the Wild...

After the unexpected death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) falls into a life of drugs, alcohol, and anonymous sex. She destroys her marriage, alienates her friends, and essentially falls to pieces. She is not the woman her mother wanted her to be, or that she wants to be. So she decides to take a risk, and just walk. Alone. For 3 months. It's just as crazy as it sounds, and crazier when you realize that this film is based on the real Cheryl Strayed's memoir.

The film isn't really about the walking or nature, though. Each step she takes, she walks further away from the person she was. She works through another traumatic memory, forgives herself for another catastrophic mistake. It's only by the end of the film, as she stands at the Canadian Border, when the audience (and Cheryl) finally see how far she's really come.

Canadian Director Jean-Marc Vallée (an actors dream, evidenced by last years double-acting statue winner Dallas Buyers Club) does an amazing job at weaving the past and present together as we go for a journey through the many trials of Cheryl's life. He brings out the best in his star, with Witherspoon pushing the envelope well beyond her comfort zone, even appearing fully nude in several scenes. She is Elle Woods no longer, she's gritty. It's payed off, as she's nabbed a nomination for Best Actress. Dern is nominated as well for Best Supporting Actress, a role which is small but monumentally important. This film is all about the women, but it will inspire everyone who's ever gone through rock-bottom life moments (so, basically everyone).


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