Showing posts with label Best Picture winner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Best Picture winner. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Review: "Nomadland" is Frances McDormand's Land

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 64 of 2021 (No. 1802) by Leroy Douresseaux

Nomadland (2020)
Running time:  104 minutes (1 hour, 44 minutes)
MPAA – R for some full nudity.
DIRECTOR:  Chloé Zhao
WRITER:  Chloé Zhao (based on the non-fiction book by Jessica Bruder)
PRODUCERS:  Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, and Chloé Zhao
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Joshua James Richards (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Chloé Zhao
COMPOSER:  Ludovico Einaudi
Academy Award winner including “Best Picture”


Starring:  Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie, and Bob Wells

Nomadland is a 2020 drama film directed by Chloé Zhao.  The film is an adaptation of the 2017 nonfiction book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, by author Jessica Bruder.  Nomadland the film depicts the real-world phenom of “nomads” people who live as transients, traveling around the United States and living in motor vehicles (“vandwelling”).  The film portrays this through the eyes of a woman who leaves her hometown to live as a vandwelling working nomad.

Nomadland opens sometime in 2011.  Sixty-something Fern (Frances McDormand) recently lost her job after the “US Gypsum Corporation” plant in Empire, Nevada shut down.  Fern had worked there for years along with her husband, who recently died.  Empire, a company town of US Gypsum, basically becomes a ghost town as almost everyone leaves after the jobs disappear.

Fern decides to sell most of her belongings and purchases a van, which she names “Vanguard.”  It becomes her new home.  Fran travel the country searching for work, sometimes working at an Amazon fulfillment center.  When she isn't at Amazon, Fern embarks on a journey through the American West, a modern-day nomad, living in her van.  Is this her new life or is it just a temporary state?

It has been noted that a number of real-life nomads and vandwellers appear as themselves in Nomadland, especially of note, Bob Wells, one of the best known proponents of vandwelling.  However, Nomadland, despite its title, is not so much about nomads and vandwelling as it is about Fern's journey.  The film's writer-director Chloe Zhao chronicles Fern's evolution from someone who becomes a vandweller out of necessity into someone who seems to fully embrace the life of a nomad.

In that, I can see why McDormand would go on to win the Academy Award for “Best Actress” for her performance as Fern.  McDormand creates in Fern a character that seems so real that I found myself believing that Fern was a real person.  This certainly helps to sell the docudrama mode Zhao sometimes adopts to tell particular chapters of this film.  In a career filled with virtuoso performances, Nomadland presents one of McDormand's very best.  Although the film does have another professional actor, David Strathairn, playing a character named “Dave,” a nomad who falls in love with Fern.  However, Strathairn and his character seem like a sapling trying to stay rooted in the hurricane that is McDormand's performance.

Nomadland is poetic and poignant; sometimes, it is poignant to the point of being too sorrowful to watch.  The film captures the restlessness in Fern, and its director captures the precariousness of Fern's new lifestyle.  Nomadland is about Fern's journey and life in Nomadland.  The “nomadland” and its nomads, are there to serve the purpose of her story.  If the film's title were more honest, it would be entitled “Fern” or “Fern in Nomadland.”  Nomadland is like a series of vignettes about Fern more than it is an actual story about something.

Still, Nomadland is a powerful character study that is successful because it is in the hands of both a powerful actress, Frances McDormand, and highly-skilled film director, Chloe Zhao, who can create multiple layers within the story of a character.  Nomadland reminds me of director Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980).  People see it as a great film, while I see it as a good, but meandering film that has built a great reputation largely on a truly great, generational performance by by its leading man, Robert DeNiro (who also won the “Best Actor” Oscar for this role).  Nomadland is a really good, but meandering film that has built a great reputation on...

As a character study, Nomadland is an exceptional film, but it has no larger meaning beyond being an exceptionally well-made film.  Nomadland is one of those film's that will make some people ask, “What's the point of this?”  Art for art's sake? Oscar bait? – I couldn't really answer that question.  However, I will give Nomadland a higher grade than I gave Raging Bull.

8 of 10

Sunday, October 31, 2021

2021 Academy Awards, USA:  3 wins: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, and Chloé Zhao), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Frances McDormand), and “Best Achievement in Directing” (Chloé Zhao); 3 nominations: “Best Adapted Screenplay” (Chloé Zhao), “Best Achievement in Film Editing” (Chloé Zhao), and “Best Achievement in Cinematography” (Joshua James Richards)

2021 BAFTA Awards:  4 wins: “Best Film” (Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, and Chloé Zhao), “Best Leading Actress” (Frances McDormand), “Best Director” (Chloé Zhao), and “Best Cinematography” (Joshua James Richards); 3 nominations: “Best Screenplay-Adapted” (Chloé Zhao), “Best Sound” (Sergio Diaz, Zach Seivers, and Mike Wolf Snyder), and “Best Editing” Chloé Zhao)

2021 Golden Globes, USA:  2 wins: “Best Motion Picture – Drama” and “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Chloé Zhao); 2 nominations: “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Chloé Zhao) and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Frances McDormand)

The text is copyright © 2021 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Review: "Moonlight" Shines as Groundbreaking American Cinema

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 15 (of 2017) by Leroy Douresseaux

Moonlight (2016)
Running time:  151 minutes
MPAA – R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout
DIRECTOR:  Barry Jenkins
WRITERS:  Barry Jenkins; from a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney
PRODUCERS:  Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Adele Romanski
EDITORS:  Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders
COMPOSER: Nicholas Britell
Academy Award winner including “Best Picture”


Starring:  Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, Andre Holland, and Janelle Monae

Moonlight is a 2016 coming-of-age drama from director Barry Jenkins.  This won the “Best Picture of the Year” Oscar at the 89th Academy Awards (February 2017).  It was the first film with an all-Black/African-American cast and also the first LGBT film to win the best picture Oscar.  Moonlight looks at the difficulties of identity and sexuality faced by the main character, an African-American male, by examining three stages of his life:  childhood, adolescence, and burgeoning adulthood.

His name is Chiron (Alex Hibbert), but some call him by the nicknames, “Little” and “Black.”  In Liberty City, Miami, Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer originally form Cuba, finds Little in an abandoned crack house, hiding from a pack of bullies.  Juan and his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monae), befriend Little, and Juan becomes a mentor, of sorts.  However, Little finds himself dealing with the word, “faggot,” and with the fact that his mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), is a customer of Juan's.

Later, teen Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is a high school student.  His mother's addiction is worse, and a bully named Terrel is constantly harassing him.  Chiron befriends another teenager, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), who likes to call Chiron by the nickname “Black,” but their friendship will be complicated by high school politics.

Later, adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) deals drugs in Atlanta.  He tries to reconcile with his mother.  Also, after receiving a phone call from him, Chiron travels to Miami to reunite with an adult Kevin (André Holland) to explore what could have been.

In the moonlight, black Black boys look blue (or purple, as some people say).  I think what immediately makes Moonlight stand out is what a beautiful Black boy Alex Hibbert, who plays young Chiron, is.  His subtle and fiercely quiet performance gives life-blood to the early chapters of Moonlight.  Just his demeanor humanizes all young Black boys, putting them in a positive light, similar to the way other films make young White boys cute and precocious.  In this film, gay is a journey to discovery, and while that journey is difficult, it does not yield tragedy (as in Brokeback Mountain).  So Hibbert is the first leg of the relay race that carries Moonlight to Oscar gold.

When Mahershala Ali won the best supporting actor Oscar for his performance as Juan, he became the first Muslim to win an Oscar.  Although the role is small, Juan is a giant, and Ali establishes him with richness and grace.  In a way, Ali is the pillar that supports this film, and he turns Juan into the rocket that launches the story of the stages in the life of Chiron.

Naomie Harris is electric as Paula, in a role that some African-American actresses are reluctant to play.  A Black female crack addict as a fictional character is just as likely to be a melodramatic trope as it is likely to be multi-layered character.  The crack-head can be a treacherous role, but Harris picks her spots; in each scene in which Paula appears, Harris gives her another layer.  Thus, she creates a character that can engage us, rather than a caricature that annoys the audience.

In fact, all of the performances here are good and the actors have excellent characters, via the story and screenplay, with which to work.  Tarell Alvin McCraney's story is rich source material, and Barry Jenkins turns it into a screenplay for the ages, simply because it is like nothing else before it.  Moonlight is achingly and beautifully human.  Here, the Black person – straight, gay, addict, bully, etc. –  is a life, a precious life – a life that matters.  The focus is not on tragedy but on love, connectivity, and reconciliation.  This makes Moonlight the best American LGBT or gay-theme film to date.

10 of 10

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

2017 Academy Awards, USA:  3 wins: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Adele Romanski – Dede Gardner became the first woman to win Best Picture twice.), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Mahershala Ali), and “Best Adapted Screenplay” (Barry Jenkins-screenplay and Tarell Alvin McCraney-story); 5 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Naomie Harris), “Best Achievement in Directing” (Barry Jenkins), “Best Achievement in Cinematography” (James Laxton), “Best Achievement in Film Editing” (Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders – Joi McMillon became the first African American female to be nominated for Best Film Editing.), and “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)” (Nicholas Britell)

2017 Golden Globes, USA 2017:  1 win: “Best Motion Picture – Drama;” 5 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Mahershala Ali), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Naomie Harris), “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Barry Jenkins), “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Barry Jenkins), and “Best Original Score - Motion Picture: (Nicholas Britell)

2017 BAFTA Awards:  4 nominations: “Best Film” (Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Adele Romanski), “Best Supporting Actor” (Mahershala Ali), “Best Supporting Actress” (Naomie Harris), and “Best Screenplay (Original)” (Barry Jenkins)

The text is copyright © 2017 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Review: "Spotlight" Deserved All the Praise it Received and More

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 11 (of 2017) by Leroy Douresseaux

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

Spotlight (2015)
Running time:  128 minutes (2 hours, 8 minutes)
MPAA – R for some language including sexual references
DIRECTOR:  Tom McCarthy
WRITERS:  Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy
PRODUCERS:  Blye Pagon Faust, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin, and Michael Sugar
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Masanobu Takayanagi
EDITOR:  Tom McArdle
COMPOSER:  Howard Shore
Academy Award winner including “Best Picture”

DRAMA with elements of a biopic

Starring:  Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d'Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, and Billy Crudup

Spotlight is a 2015 drama from director and co-writer Tom McCarthy (The Visitor).  Part biographical, Spotlight is based on a true story and is a dramatic retelling of The Boston Globe's efforts to uncover child sex accuse in the Boston area that was perpetrated by Roman Catholic priests.  At the 88th Academy Awards (Sunday, February 28, 2016), Spotlight won the Oscar as the “Best Picture of 2015.”

Spotlight focuses on the editors, reporters, and employees at the venerable newspaper, The Boston Globe, which has a small group of journalists known as the “Spotlight” team.  Spotlight is the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative unit in the United States.  The Spotlight team works on investigative newspaper articles that take months to research and write before they are published.

In 2001, The Boston Globe hires a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber).  Baron meets with Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), the editor of the Spotlight team. Baron had read a Globe column about a lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), who works with adults who were victims of childhood sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests and also the parents and their children who are currently being abused.  Garabedian says that the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou), knew that the priest, Father John Geoghan, sexually abused children and did nothing to stop the abuse.

Robinson gathers his Spotlight team:  Michael Rezendes (Mike Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James) and begins the investigation.  However, they discover a scandal of child molestation and  a cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese that is massive, widespread, and older than they could ever imagine.  In order to uncover this conspiracy, the Globe and Spotlight will have to shake the cultural, political, social and spiritual foundations of a city and a church that is determined to keep its darkest secrets hidden.

Spotlight is one of the best films that I have seen over the first 16 years of this 21st century.  I do remember early in my “career” as a “serious” movie watcher reading the writings of people who took American films seriously, and they often talked about “important movies.”  Such films focused on topical or historical matters of importance to America; or were based on true stories that once resonated with Americans or still did to some extent; or they were about racism, bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination based on skin color, sexual orientation, gender, religion, ethnicity, etc.; or they were about terrible events in history, such as wars or genocide (in particularly, the Holocaust).

Then, there seemed (to me at least) to be a backlash against “serious movies.”  Audiences supposedly hated movies with messages or movies in which the filmmakers used the characters as mouthpieces for their believes and agendas.  To me, the result was fewer films like Silkwood, The Killing Fields, and Platoon and more escapist fare like Back to the Future, Armageddon, and Pirates of the Caribbean and like films which have dominated movie theaters for the better part of four decades.

Well, the important movie is back and the result is Spotlight, a film that not only concerns something of great importance, but is also greatly entertaining.  By now, dear reader, you have heard that Spotlight is supremely directed, excellently written, superbly acted, and just an all-around great freakin' film, and that is all true.  I could not stop watching Spotlight.  I think director Tom McCarthy's biggest achievement in this film is to give this story a hypnotic power that holds the viewer in vice-like grip until the credits role and the end of the film.

However, I think Spotlight's true power and achievement are in its indictment of us.  How does great evil “get away with it” in the end?  The fault is not only on the institution which commits and covers up crime, in this case the Roman Catholic Church in general and the Archdiocese of Boston specifically.  The fault is also with basically an entire society, in this case Boston, as the social, political, and economic order down even to the personal level either looks the other way or mitigates the fact that horrible crimes are being committed against that society's most vulnerable members, the children.

It seems that much, if not all, of Boston found a way to avoid punishing, to say nothing of stopping, a group of men (priests and bishops) who basically had the faith, respect, and worship of everyone from raping and sexually abusing children.  The Spotlight is not on why it happened, but is (1) on the people who let it happen, let it keep happening, and let it go unpunished and (2) on the people who decide that it is time to stop the abuse, the abusers, and their apologists and sympathizers.

10 of 10

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The text is copyright © 2016 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for reprint or syndication rights and fees.

2016 Academy Awards, USA:  2 wins:  “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin, and Blye Pagon Faust) and “Best Writing, Original Screenplay” (Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy); 4 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Mark Ruffalo), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Rachel McAdams), “Best Achievement in Directing” (Tom McCarthy), and “Best Achievement in Film Editing” (Tom McArdle)

2016 Golden Globes, USA:  3 nominations: “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Tom McCarthy), and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer)

2016 BAFTA Awards:  1 win: “Best Original Screenplay” (Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer); 2 nominations: “Best Supporting Actor” (Mark Ruffalo) and “Best Film” (Steve Golin, Blye Pagon Faust, Nicole Rocklin, and Michael Sugar)


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review: As a Character Study, "Birdman" Has Wings

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 45 (of 2015) by Leroy Douresseaux

[A version of this review originally appeared on Patreon.]

Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
Running time:  119 minutes (1 hour, 59 minutes)
MPAA – R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
DIRECTOR:  Alejandro G. Iñárritu
WRITERS:  Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., and Armando Bo
PRODUCERS:  Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan, and James W. Skotchdopole
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Emmanuel Lubezki (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione
COMPOSER:  Antonio Sanchez (drum score)
Academy Award winner, including “Best Picture”


Starring: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifanakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, and Amy Ryan with Lindsay Duncan

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a 2014 drama and black comedy film from director Alejandro G. Iñárritu.  The film focuses on a Hollywood actor, who once starred in a series of popular superhero movies, as he tries to forge a comeback with a Broadway play.  Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), commonly known as Birdman, won four Oscars, including “Best Picture,” at the 87th Academy Awards (February 22, 2015).

Birdman introduces Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton).  He is a washed-up Hollywood actor and former movie star best known for playing the iconic superhero, Birdman, two decades ago in a series of blockbuster films.  Riggan hopes to reinvent his career by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway production.  Riggan's play is a loosely based adaptation of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” a short story written by the late Raymond Carver (and first published in the former literary journal, Antaeus, in 1981).

Unfortunately, Riggan's play is beset by complications.  The play is produced by Riggan's best friend and lawyer, Jake (Zach Galifanakis), who is very demanding and high-strung.  The film's two actresses are Riggan's girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), who claims to be pregnant, and a first-time Broadway actress, Lesley (Naomi Watts), who has a worried mind.  Riggan's daughter, Samantha (Emma Stone), a recovering addict, serves as her father's assistant.  The other male actor in the play is Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a brilliant actor who is also volatile, disruptive, and attention-seeking.  The biggest complication, however, is the spirit of Birdman, which haunts Riggan with a mocking, critical voice, and that voice wants another Birdman movie.

Taking what the movie gives us, which is a little over one hour and fifty minutes of film narrative, Birdman is an extraordinary character study about the life of a struggling actor in a particular moment in time.  This moment in time is a two-week period, of which we only observe in select pieces.  People who watch this movie have to take Riggan at face value because the film is vague about whatever happened to Riggan's life prior to the two-week period that it depicts.

This situation helps to make Birdman ambiguous, and I think the director and his co-writers wanted their film to have many ambiguities.  Is this film a true black comedy?  Is it a drama about domestic and professional failures?  Is it real, or surreal, or both (when considering Riggan's powers)?  Is the last act and the ending a resolution via rebirth or by closure?  Birdman is a complex, different and fascinating work of cinema.

Considering its subject matter, that of a failed movie star in the tailspin of a midlife crisis, it is fairly obvious why the film was so attractive to so many Oscar voters.  How many members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), which votes on the Oscars, have experienced something similar to Riggan's experiences or how many know they will... eventually.  I think that this is a tremendous movie, and I can see why it won the Oscars that it did.

On the other hand, Edward Norton and Emma Stone are good in Birdman, but there is little in their work here, in terms of substance or character portrayal, that says that either one of them gave a top five performance in the respective categories for which they were nominated for Oscars.  I also find Michael Keaton a little uneven.  He is at his best when he is emoting without dialogue and when he is giving voice to Birdman.  When he tries to give voice to anger and frustration, he is over-the-top, in his now trademark manner, familiar to us who remember him as Batman and as Beetlejuice.

Many people seem to think that Keaton was perfect for the role of Riggan Thomson who played a superhero at the height of his career and fame in Hollywood because Keaton played the title role in Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) at the height of his film career.  Keaton's career seemed to diminish after Batman, gradually though, until he had seemingly disappeared from Hollywood films.  The truth is Keaton is a good actor whose full talent has rarely been utilized.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) gives him a chance, and there are moments in which Keaton shines.  This film is unique and has many moments of brilliance, in which Alejandro G. Iñárritu shows us that cinematic magic is indeed real.  Birdman has it, revealing that drama need not be tied to the ground nor to be framed in notions of stiff realism.  Birdman has a sense of wonder and of curiosity, believing that it is as exciting to explore a man's life as it is to explore a faraway magical kingdom or an island full of dinosaurs.

9 of 10

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

2015 Academy Awards, USA:  4 wins: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Lesher, and James W. Skotchdopole), “Best Achievement in Directing” (Alejandro González Iñárritu), “Best Writing, Original Screenplay” (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo), and “Best Achievement in Cinematography” (Emmanuel Lubezki); 5 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Michael Keaton), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Edward Norton), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Emma Stone), “Best Achievement in Sound Mixing” (Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, and Thomas Varga) and “Best Achievement in Sound Editing” (Aaron Glascock and Martín Hernández)

2015 Golden Globes, USA:  2 wins: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical” (Michael Keaton) and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo); 5 nominations: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Alejandro González Iñárritu), “Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical,” “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Emma Stone), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Edward Norton) and “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Antonio Sanchez)

2015 BAFTA Awards:  1 win “Best Cinematography” (Emmanuel Lubezki); 9 nominations: “Best Film” (Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Lesher, and James W. Skotchdopole), “Best Leading Actor” (Michael Keaton), “Best Supporting Actor” (Edward Norton), “Best Supporting Actress” (Emma Stone), “Best Editing” (Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione), “Best Original Music” (Antonio Sanchez), “Best Sound” (Thomas Varga, Martín Hernández, Aaron Glascock, Jon Taylor, and Frank A. Montaño), “Best Original Screenplay” (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, and Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo), and “David Lean Award for Direction” (Alejandro González Iñárritu)

The text is copyright © 2015 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Review: "12 Years a Slave" is the Best of Its Year and Among the Best of All Years

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 13 (of 2015) by Leroy Douresseaux

12 Years a Slave (2013)
Running time:  134 minutes (2 hours, 14 minutes)
MPAA - R for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality
DIRECTOR:  Steve McQueen
WRITER:  John Ridley
PRODUCERS:  Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, Anthony Katagas, Arnon Milchan, and Bill Pohlad
CINEMATOGRAPER:  Sean Bobbitt (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Joe Walke
COMPOSER:  Hans Zimmer
Academy Award winner


Starring:  Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard, Adepero Oduye, Garret Dillahunt, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam, Chris Chalk, Michael Kenneth Williams, Liza J. Bennett, Devyn A. Tyler, Kelsey Scott, Quvenzhané Wallis, Cameron Zeigler, Dwight Henry, and John McConnell

12 Years a Slave is a 2013 historical drama and period film from director Steve McQueen.  The film is based on the 1853 memoir and slave narrative, Twelve Years a Slave.  At the 86th Oscars, 12 Years a Slave became the first film directed and produced by a black filmmaker (Steve McQueen) and also the first film to be written by an African-American (John Ridley) to win the Academy Award for “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (for the year 2013).  12 Years a Slave the movie is the story of a free black man from upstate New York, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in antebellum Louisiana.

12 Years a Slave introduces Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man.  In 1841, Solomon lives in New York with his wife, the former Anne Hampton (Kelsey Scott), and his children, Alonzo (Cameron Zeigler) and Margaret (Quvenzhané Wallis).  Solomon works as violinist, and that is what gets him the offer of a two-week job as a musician in Washington D.C.  What Solomon does not realize is that this job offer is a trap.  His erstwhile employers drug and abduct him, and later sell Solomon to a slave trader in New Orleans.

The slave trader gives Solomon a new name, “Platt.”  He is sold first, to sugar cane plantation owner, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), and then, to cotton plantation owner, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).  It is on Epps' plantation that Solomon meets Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o), a young female slave.  Through her, Solomon learns the true depravity of slavery and falls into despair, believing that he may never see his family again.

12 Years a Slave is not only the best film of 2013, it may also be the best film of the 21st century.  Everything about it is magnificent.  Steve McQueen's directing is a work of art – truthfully.  McQueen stages and composes this film with a painter's attention to detail, dedication to story (both narrative and message), and an artist's quest for the sublime and for even the divine.

McQueen creates a sense of intimacy between his characters – master/slave, oppressor/oppressed, abuser/abused – so that the action and emotions between characters feels like the interactions between real people.  This is a masterstroke in film-making, with the film drama having the power and immediacy of stage drama.  Hans Zimmer's evocative and heartbreaking score has uncannily perfect timing and tone in emphasizing story, setting, and mood, and also in embellishing and strengthening McQueen's choices.

12 Years a Slave is buttressed by three incredible and dumbfounding performances that are also works of art.  Damn, you could take the performances given by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong'o, individually, in pairs, or as a trio, and hang them on a museum wall.

Fassbender could become the most honored actor of the next quarter-century the way that Daniel Day-Lewis has been the most honored of the last quarter-century or so.  As Edwin Epps, Fassbender personifies both the banality of evil of slavery and also of the institution's naked lust for money (as in the need to recoup costs and to make even more money).  Fassbender received an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor in 2014, but lost to Jared Leto as the cartoonish stereotype, Rayon (in Dallas Buyers Club).  That's a shame and maybe even a tragedy.  For real, it should have been Fassbender's.

On the other side, as Patsey, Lupita Nyong'o becomes the face of the slaves, especially the face of black female slaves, surviving brutality and enduring degradation even while wishing for the sweet freedom that death might bring.  The depth, the poignancy, and the prowess of Nyong'o as an actor defy description, but at least she won her Oscar as best supporting actress for her supernaturally good acting.

Chiwetel Ejiofor lost the best actor Oscar to Matthew McConaughey who played Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club.  McConaughey did deliver an exceptional performance, but the reason film award voters were so impressed with McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club was because they did not know that he had a Ron Woodroof in him.  Up to that point, McConaughey had spent much of his career playing shallow pussy-hounds, grown-ass men in a state of pathetic arrested development, and leading roles that required him to do little more than give good face.  Being a white man also gave McConaughey an advantage with Oscar voters.

On the other hand, it is easy to take Ejiofor for granted; he is always good.  In film, he has perhaps never been better than he is in 12 Years a Slave.  He carries this movie because it is his character's story, a personal and hellish travelogue into the darkest and cruelest countries of mankind's nature.  Ejiofor opens up his heart, his mind, his personality, his emotions – his very being – to the audience.  Through him, we experience the suffering and dehumanization of Solomon Northup.

I think this movie is, in large measure, about how people will make others suffer for their own material gain and how some humans degrade others for their own satisfaction and pleasure.  Few films have depicted that as well as 12 Years a Slave does.  Maybe, it is indeed too hard for some to watch, but 12 Years a Slave is a great film (one of the greatest of all time), and it is a necessary one – more necessary than some of us will admit.

10 of 10

Saturday, March 7, 2015

2014 Academy Awards, USA:  3 wins: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, and Anthony Katagas), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Lupita Nyong'o), and “Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay” (John Ridley); 6 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Chiwetel Ejiofor), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Michael Fassbender), “Best Achievement in Costume Design” (Patricia Norris), “Best Achievement in Directing” (Steve McQueen), “Best Achievement in Film Editing” (Joe Walker), and “Best Achievement in Production Design” (Adam Stockhausen-production design and Alice Baker-set decoration)

2014 BAFTA Awards:  2 wins: “Best Film” (Anthony Katagas, Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Steve McQueen) and “Best Leading Actor” (Chiwetel Ejiofor); 8 nominations: “Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music” (Hans Zimmer); “Best Adapted Screenplay” (John Ridley), “Best Supporting Actor” (Michael Fassbender), “Best Supporting Actress” (Lupita Nyong'o), “Best Cinematography” (Sean Bobbitt), “Best Editing” (Joe Walker), “Best Production Design” (Adam Stockhausen and Alice Baker), and “David Lean Award for Direction” (Steve McQueen)

2014 Golden Globes, USA:  1 win: “Best Motion Picture – Drama;” 6 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Chiwetel Ejiofor), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Michael Fassbender), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Lupita Nyong'o), “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Steve McQueen), “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (John Ridley), and “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Hans Zimmer)

2014 Black Reel Awards 2014:  8 wins: “Outstanding Motion Picture” (Brad Pitt, Steve McQueen, Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Bill Pohlad, and Arnon Milchan – Fox Searchlight Pictures), “Outstanding Actor, Motion Picture” (Chiwetel Ejiofor), “Outstanding Supporting Actress, Motion Picture” (Lupita Nyong'o), “Outstanding Director, Motion Picture” (Steve McQueen), “Outstanding Screenplay (Adapted or Original), Motion Picture” (John Ridley), “Outstanding Ensemble” (Francine Maisler (Casting Director), “Outstanding Score” (Hans Zimmer), and “Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female” (Lupita Nyong'o); 1 nomination: “Outstanding Song” (Alicia Keys: Performer & Writer for the song "Queen of the Field (Patsey's Song))

2014 Image Awards:  4 wins: “Outstanding Motion Picture,” “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Lupita Nyong'o), “Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture - (Theatrical or Television)” (John Ridley), and “Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture” (Steve McQueen); 2 nominations: “Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture” (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Alfre Woodard)

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: "Argo" is Indeed a Best Picture

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 30 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

Argo (2012)
Running time: 120 minutes (2 hours)
MPAA – R for language and some violent images
DIRECTOR: Ben Affleck
WRITER: Chris Terrio (based on the book, The Master of Disguise, by Antonio J. Mendez and the article, “Escape from Tehran,” by Joshuah Bearman)
PRODUCERS: Ben Affleck, George Clooney, and Grant Heslov
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rodrigo Prieto (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: William Goldenberg
COMPOSER: Alexandre Desplat
Academy Award winner


Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Zeljko Ivanek, Titus Welliver, Shelia Vand, Richard Kind, Michael Parks, Adrienne Barbeau, and Mark Rhino Smith

Argo is a 2012 thriller and historical drama directed by Ben Affleck, who also plays the lead role and is one of the film’s three producers. Argo is based upon two sources: the book, The Master of Disguise, by Antonio J. Mendez and the Wired magazine article, “Escape from Tehran,” by Joshuah Bearman. The film dramatizes a real-life event – the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.

At the 85th Academy Awards (February 24, 2013), Argo won the Oscar for “Best Picture.” It is not my pick for best picture of the year (which I still think is Django Unchained), but it is not far behind. Argo is not only one of the greatest American thriller films ever made, but it is also a joy to watch.

Argo opens on November 4, 1979 at the United States embassy in Tehran, Iran. Militants and protestors storm the embassy and take the occupants hostage in retaliation for President Jimmy Carter giving asylum to the recently ousted Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi). However, six of the embassy staff escape and find shelter in the home of the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor (Victor Garber).

The U.S. State Department begins exploring options for exfiltrating the six Americans from Iran. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA “exfil” specialist who uses the name “Kevin Harkins,” concocts a rather unusual idea. He creates a cover story in which a Canadian film production crew is scouting locations for a new science fiction film, and Iran is one of the locations he wishes to scout. With the help of his supervisor, Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), Mendez recruits John Chambers (John Goodman), an Oscar-winning make-up artist, and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), a film producer.

They pretend to have a film in development; entitled Argo, it is a science fantasy in the style of Star Wars. When Mendez moves to Iran for the most crucial stage of the operation, he discovers that he and his fake movie are always in real danger.

From the very beginning of the film, Argo grabbed me and pulled me to the edge of my seat, and from there, the movie kept me in the grip of fear and trepidation. From start to finish, damn, this is a great movie. Argo is an example of how supremely important the film editor, in this case, William Goldenberg, is to a film; Goldenberg is totally indispensable to success of the Argo. The nerve-wracking thriller that Argo is results from Goldenberg putting together what becomes a transfixing narrative. He certainly deserved and earned his best editing Oscar for Argo.

Of course, by praising Goldenberg, I do not want to take anything away from Ben Affleck as director. Affleck has made a movie that is a terrific thriller, but it is not an action thriller. Affleck uses the suspense weaved into Chris Terrio’s Oscar-winning screenplay and summons his inner Hitchcock, turning in what is one of the best heist movies in recent memory. He does it with such intimacy. Argo isn’t wide open. Affleck squeezes everything into tight and cramped visual spaces, as if it to emphasize that the characters are working hard to avoid the confines of either prison or the grave.

There are some good performances in this film, though nothing really outstanding, except for two. Alan Arkin and John Goodman turn in some of their most distinctive work in supporting roles as the unconventional Lester Siegel and John Chambers, respectively. Ben Affleck is oddly muted and stiff as Tony Mendez/Kevin Harkins. There are a few scenes when that works, but not many. Sometimes, it is as if Mendez isn’t even present in the movie, even when he’s in a scene; maybe that not-really-there act is the way a CIA operative is supposed to be.

Anyway, Argo is fantastic. This is one time when I don’t think that the “Best Picture” Oscar winner is a joke, even if it isn’t my choice. I plan to make Argo a favorite of mine, worthy of repeated viewings.

9 of 10

2013 Academy Awards, USA: 3 wins: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, and George Clooney), “Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published” (Chris Terrio), and “Oscar Best Achievement in Editing” (William Goldenberg); 4 nominations: “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score” (Alexandre Desplat), “Best Achievement in Sound Editing” (Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn), and “Best Achievement in Sound Mixing” (John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, and José Antonio García), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Alan Arkin)

2013 BAFTA Awards: 3 wins: “Best Film” (Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, and George Clooney), “Director” (Ben Affleck), “Editing” (William Goldenberg); 4 nominations: “Adapted Screenplay” (Chris Terrio), “Leading Actor” (Ben Affleck), “Original Music” (Alexandre Desplat), and “Supporting Actor” (Alan Arkin)

2013 Golden Globes, USA: 2 wins: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Ben Affleck) and “Best Motion Picture – Drama;” 3 nominations: “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Alexandre Desplat), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Alan Arkin), and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Chris Terrio)

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Friday, December 14, 2012

Review: "The Return of the King" is a Crowning Achievement

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 178 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Running time: 201 minutes (3 hours, 21 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and frightening images
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
WRITERS: Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson (from the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien)
PRODUCERS: Peter Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, and Fran Walsh
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andrew Lesnie (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Jamie Selkirk
COMPOSER: Howard Shore
Academy Award winner including “Best Picture”


Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Billy Boyd, Cate Blanchett, Dominic Monaghan, Miranda Otto, John Rhys-Davies, Andy Serkis, David Wenham, Paul Norell, Lawrence Makoare, and Alan Howard (voice)

The subject of this movie review is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, a 2003 fantasy film from director Peter Jackson. The film is the third of three movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s three-novel cycle, The Lord of the Rings (1954-55), specifically the first book, The Return of the King (1955).

The Rings trilogy ends with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, a magnificent epic of war, romance, honor, loyalty, and salvation. Although I view it as the least of the three films, ROTK is quite entertaining – at many moments, spectacularly so. Anyone who loved the first two pictures will certainly love this finale.

Most of the former Fellowship of the Ring: the man who would be king Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the elfin archer Legolas (Orlando Bloom), the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and the HobbitsPippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) gather in preparation for the final battle in the defense of Middle Earth. They join the people of Rohan to aid Gondor in a ferocious battle to save the human royal city of Minas Tirith. Meanwhile, Gollum leads the other two hobbits – Sam (Sean Astin) and the bearer of the One Ring, Frodo (Elijah Wood), to Mount Doom. The Hobbits are unaware of the treacherous path upon which Gollum leads them; he is the former owner of the One Ring and seeks to destroy the Hobbits so that he may regain possession of the Ring. As Frodo and Sam approach Mount Doom, the birth place of the Ring and the only place where it can be destroyed, the good guys gather at the Black Gates for a battle against the bad guys as the evil eye of Sauron searches for the One Ring, the object that will restore Sauron to Middle Earth.

Although ROTK is certainly a fine film, it has an air about it of being a story that’s run too long. Much of what makes The Lord of the Rings so endearing, the pageantry, the epic scope, the romantic soliloquies, the grand battles, the sweeping score, and the lead characters love for one another slowly creep towards self-parody. Thrilling speeches seem flat; fascinating fantastical creatures become comical. That maybe one reason director Peter Jackson cut the film to three hours and 20 minutes, as an earlier cut of the film had reportedly crept close to four and half hours in length.

Because the film story’s is so wonderful and engaging, I can overlook the flaws as ROTK wraps up LOTR. All aspects of the filmmaking is, for the most part, either excellent or very good: directing, acting, script, score, photography, visual effects, costume and set design. The one really great element of the film is it’s editing; that is what holds the film together even in the moments when it starts to tread the fine line between sublime and pure ridiculous.

In the end, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is probably the best closing chapter of a trilogy since Return of the Jedi, and ROTK is, even with its blemishes, a technically superior effort to Jedi. It’s certainly better than The Matrix Revolutions, so I’ll be happy that The Return of the King is a tremendously satisfying conclusion and heartily recommend it.

8 of 10

2004 Academy Awards: 11 wins: “Best Picture” (Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson, and Fran Walsh), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” (Grant Major-art director, Dan Hennah-set decorator, and Alan Lee-set decorator), “Best Costume Design” (Ngila Dickson and Richard Taylor), “Best Director” (Peter Jackson), “Best Film Editing” (Jamie Selkirk), “Best Makeup” (Richard Taylor and Peter King), “Best Music, Original Score” (Howard Shore), “Best Music, Original Song” (Fran Walsh, Howard Shore, and Annie Lennox for the song "Into the West"), “Best Sound Mixing” (Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, and Hammond Peek), “Best Visual Effects” (Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook, and Alex Funke), and “Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay” (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson)

2004 BAFTA Awards: 5 wins: “Best Film” (Barrie M. Osborne, Fran Walsh, and Peter Jackson), “Audience Award, “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (Joe Letteri, Jim Rygiel, Randall William Cook, and Alex Funke), “Best Cinematography” (Andrew Lesnie), and “Best Screenplay – Adapted” (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson); 9 nominations: “Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music” (Howard Shore), “BAFTA Children's Award Best Feature Film” (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Barrie M. Osborne), “Best Costume Design” (Ngila Dickson and Richard Taylor), “Best Editing” (Jamie Selkirk), “Best Make Up/Hair” (Richard Taylor, Peter King, and Peter Owen), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Ian McKellen), “Best Production Design” (Grant Major), “Best Sound” (Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins, David Farmer, Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, and Hammond Peek) and “David Lean Award for Direction” (Peter Jackson)

2004 Golden Globes, USA: 4 wins: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Peter Jackson), “Best Motion Picture – Drama” “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Howard Shore), and “Best Original Song - Motion Picture” “Howard Shore, Fran Walsh, and Annie Lennox for the song "Into the West")


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Monday, August 13, 2012

Silence Makes "The Artist" Golden

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 66 (of 2012) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Artist (2011)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: France, Belgium; Language: English
Running time: 101 minutes (1 hour, 41 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for a disturbing image and a crude gesture
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius
PRODUCERS: Thomas Langmann and Emmanuel Montamat
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Guillaume Schiffman
EDITORS: Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
COMPOSER: Ludovic Bource
Academy Award winner


Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Ken Davitian, Michael McDowell, and Uggy

The Artist is a 2011 French romantic comedy and drama done in the style of a black and white silent film. It should be noted that although the film is French, what dialogue it does have is in English. The Artist won the Academy Award for “Best Picture,” one of five it won at the 84th Academy Awards (February 2012). It was the first primarily silent film to win the best picture Oscar since 1927 and the first black and white film to win since Schindler’s List (1993).

The Artist was also one of the best reviewed films of the year (if not the best). I had my doubts, but after seeing it, I can say that it is indeed a fine and exceptional film. It is a true feel-good movie, and is also visually quite beautiful.

The Artist opens in 1927 and finds silent film star, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), posing for pictures with his dog and frequent film sidekick, Jack the dog (Uggy). That is when he meets aspiring actress, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). George and Peppy strike up a friendship that creates newspaper headlines, and soon Peppy is getting small parts in some films.

George’s boss at Kinograph Motion Picture Company, Al Zimmer (John Goodman), informs his star that silent films are about to be replaced by “talkies,” motion pictures with a sound. As silent films fade away, Peppy’s career begins to rise. How will George survive in this new era in motion pictures and will his relationship with Peppy survive all the changes occurring in this new world?

Some of you, dear readers, may groan when I say that I found The Artist to be inimitably charming. Well, it’s true; this movie has a lot of charm, and I think its charm is what wins people over. There is a simplicity in the storytelling here that reminds viewers that movies don’t need a wall of surround sound noise and the tsunami of cinema technology to create something that wins hearts and captures imaginations.

For a little over two decades, beginning especially with Terminator 2: Judgment Day and personified by Jurassic Park (1993), movie making (in general) and the Hollywood filmmaking industry (in particular), have been on an inexorable march towards post human cinema. Movies seem to be mostly generated inside a computer, but The Artist harks back to what is still pure about movies. A group of people in front and behind the camera come together and ply their trade, show off their skills, and let their humanity show.

Taking advantage of the human body and face’s ability to express emotion, ideas, and even thought, actors Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo embody Michel Hazanavicius’ delicate but spry love story. In The Artist, the people are the show, not science, although I imagine that it took cinema-tech to bring us back to early filmmaking and to remind us of people power in film. The Artist deserved its Oscars.

9 of 10

2012 Academy Awards: 5 wins: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Thomas Langmann), “Best Achievement in Directing” (Michel Hazanavicius), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Jean Dujardin), “Best Achievement in Costume Design” (Mark Bridges), and “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score” (Ludovic Bource); 5 nominations: “Best Achievement in Art Direction” (Laurence Bennett-production designer and Robert Gould-set decorator), “Best Achievement in Cinematography” (Guillaume Schiffman), “Best Achievement in Film Editing” (Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Bérénice Bejo), and “Best Writing, Original Screenplay” Michel Hazanavicius)

2012 BAFTA Awards: 7 wins: “Best Cinematography” (Guillaume Schiffman), “Best Costume Design” (Mark Bridges), “Best Director” (Michel Hazanavicius), “Best Film” (Thomas Langmann), “Best Leading Actor” (Jean Dujardin), “Best Original Music” (Ludovic Bource), and “Best Original Screenplay” (Michel Hazanavicius); 5 nominations: “Best Editing” (Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius), “Best Leading Actress” (Bérénice Bejo), “Best Make Up & Hair” (Julie Hewett and Cydney Cornell), “Best Production Design” (Laurence Bennett and Robert Gould), and “Best Sound” (Michael Krikorian and Nadine Muse)

2012 Golden Globes, USA: 3 wins: “Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical,” “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Ludovic Bource), and “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical” (Jean Dujardin); 3 nominations: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Michel Hazanavicius), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Bérénice Bejo), and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Michel Hazanavicius)

2011 Cannes Film Festival: 1 win: “Best Actor” (Jean Dujardin) and 1 nomination: “Palme d'Or” (Michel Hazanavicius)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review: "All About Eve" is an Eternal Film Classic (Happy B'day, Bette Davis)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 41 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

All About Eve (1950) – Black & White
Running time: 138 minutes (2 hour, 18 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
WRITER: Joseph L. Mankiewicz (based upon the short story, “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr)
PRODUCER: Daryl F. Zanuck
EDITOR: Barbara McLean
Academy Award winner


Starring: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Gregory Ratoff, Barbara Bates, Marilyn Monroe, and Thelma Ritter

The subject of this movie review is the 1950 American drama, All About Eve. This Oscar-winning “Best Picture” was produced by Daryl F. Zanuck and was based upon Mary Orr’s 1946 short story, “The Wisdom of Eve.”

Considered the great “backstage” movie of all time, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve was recently released in one of those shiny DVD retrospective packages, deservedly so. Filled with an all star cast that is more than up to the challenge of turning on the thespian heat, the film is as mesmerizing, catty, and blunt as it probably was over half a century ago.

Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), an aspiring actress, insinuates herself into a circle of theatre friends, the most famous of them being the established but aging stage actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis). Eve wants so badly to be an actress that she will manipulate, grovel, connive, lie, cheat, and do whatever it takes to make it as a star of the theatre, including hiding her real name and creating a fictitious past. Before long she is Margo’s unofficial assistant and soon fashions a close relationship with Margo’s best friend, Karen Richard (Celeste Holm), but she has her eyes of Karen’s husband Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe), a popular and critically respected playwright. Margo, in a sense, is Lloyd’s muse, and she has starred in most of Lloyd’s plays; however, Margo is fortyish and beyond the age of some of Lloyd’s youthful fictional female leads. Here is where Eve believes she can step in and capture the essence of a Lloyd character, and with the help of Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), a theatre critic (and the film’s dominant narrator), she makes it to the top of the theatrical world over the bodies of her friends.

All About Eve is a study of where ambition can get you, but it is also an examination of how cut throat a person feels she has to be to get to the top. Ms. Baxter languishes in the early part of her character as the tepid friend who just wants to serve Margo, but the actress bears her fangs and claws when Eve finally gets the proverbial foot in the door. It’s a radical and shocking transformation.

What can I add about the incomparable Bette Davis? Believe me, she shines like a nova, and she chews up her part. Margo is a force of nature and a supernatural force, throwing her weight around the story. The movie is ostensibly about Eve; she is the catalyst for the proceedings, but much of the film deals with Margo’s travails. Ms. Davis’s performance is the work of an actress dominating the screen in the chosen style of the time. Movie lovers, films buffs, and critics – none of them should ever miss this on the strength of Ms. Davis’s performance alone.

It’s a bonus to get star performances by Sanders (who won an Academy Award for his supporting role as DeWitt), drool and witty by turns and slightly menacing and all knowing most of the time. Hugh Marlowe hams it up as the playwright Lloyd Richards, but it’s the only way he can keep up with Ms. Davis.

As the film approaches the end, it really delves into the process of how stars of the stage are born, but it really lays bare the potential for ugliness in a dog eat dog world. By the end of the film, you can’t help but watch Eve’s ascendancy and realize that you have been watching what could be a story similar to Margo’s as a young, struggling actress. All About Eve is about Eve becoming Margo as the latter’s career winds to the end and the former becomes the new star of Broadway and theatre. And as another ingénue walks into the picture as the story closes, we realize that the stage is a vicious circle. Eve is about to experience what she did to Eve and her friends.

There’s only one Margo, and there’s usually only place for one at the top. In the world of performance, one has to climb over everyone else who is also trying to reach the pinnacle. After you’ve reached the top, you can sulk over the bitter feelings and ruthless process. You can wish things hadn’t been so nasty, but at least you get to sulk from the top of the heap.

9 of 10

1951 Academy Awards: 6 wins: “Best Director” (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), “Best Picture” (20th Century Fox), “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (George Sanders), “Best Costume Design, Black-and-White” (Edith Head and Charles Le Maire), “Best Sound, Recording” ((20th Century-Fox Sound Dept.), and “Best Writing, Screenplay” (Joseph L. Mankiewicz); 8 nominations: “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Anne Baxter), “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Bette Davis), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Celeste Holm), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Thelma Ritter), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White” (Lyle R. Wheeler, George W. Davis, Thomas Little, and Walter M. Scott), “Best Cinematography, Black-and-White” (Milton R. Krasner), “Best Film Editing” (Barbara McLean), “Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture” (Alfred Newman)

1951 BAFTA Awards: 1 win: “Best Film from any Source” (USA)

1951 Golden Globes: 1 win: “Best Screenplay” (Joseph L. Mankiewicz); 5 nominations: “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” “Best Motion Picture Actress – Drama” (Bette Davis), “Best Motion Picture Director” (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), “Best Supporting Actor” (George Sanders), and “Best Supporting Actress” (Thelma Ritter)

1990 National Film Preservation Board: National Film Registry


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review: "On the Waterfront" is Still an American Classic (Happy B'day, Marlon Brando)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 75 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

On the Waterfront (1954) – Black & White
Running time: 108 minutes (1 hour, 48 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Elia Kazan
WRITER: Budd Schulberg; from a story by Budd Schulberg (suggest by the series of articles “Crime on the Waterfront” for the New York Sun newspaper by Malcolm Johnson)
PRODUCER: Sam Spiegel
EDITOR: Gene Milford
Academy Award winner


Starring: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint, Pat Henning, Leif Erickson, James Westerfield, John Hamilton, Marty Balsam, Fred Gwynne, and Pat Hingle

The 1954 “Best Picture” winner, On the Waterfront, remains one of the all-time greats of American cinema. A landmark “issue” film, its screenplay is based upon Malcolm Johnson’s series of articles for the New York Sun, “Crime on the Waterfront;” the Pulitzer Prize-winning series focused on organized crime’s control of the longshoreman’s union, specifically in New York City. However, On the Waterfront is more than just an important film or some kind of docu-drama, it is film art as truth, taking real life and wringing the drama out of it into a story that is compelling because it portrays true crime and also because it beautifully depicts the struggle of real lives.

Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando in an Oscar-winning role) was a prizefighter who threw fights for his corrupt boxing manager and for his brother Charley “the Gent” Malloy (Rod Steiger), who was in tight with organized crime. Now, Terry feeds his pigeons and runs errands for Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), the corrupt boss of the longshoreman’s (or dock workers’) union, but one of those errands leads to the death of an acquaintance, Joey Doyle, at the hands of Friendly’s thugs. Now, the Waterfront Crime Commission is about to hold hearings on the underworld’s infiltration of unions, specifically the longshoremen.

Terry feels pangs of guilt, especially after he meets and falls for Joey Doyle’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint, who won an Oscar for supporting actress for the role). Spurred on by Edie (who sees more in Terry than he sees in himself) and Father Barry (Karl Malden), a local priest who wants to stop the corrupt union from preying on desperate workers, the washed up boxer contemplates taking on the corrupt union boss, Friendly, much to the chagrin of Friendly and Friendly’s right hand man, Terry’s brother Charley.

Marlon Brando gives one of the great screen performances as Terry Malloy, and the cab ride with Terry and Charley having a man-to-man chat in the backseat is one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history. Brando embodies a man who is soured on life and made cynical by his bad decisions, the cruel injustices, and minor (and major) disappointments in life. We can watch Brando struggle to better himself against the part of him that really believes in nothing more than getting by each day, a man who believes that you live longer if you don’t have ambitions. This performance is a work of art that established Brando in many minds as the greatest screen actor of all time.

Don’t let Brando’s performance take away from the rest of the cast. There are some really great supporting performances here. Eva Marie Saint is fetching as a young woman who can be both relentless in her quest for justice and coy in her play at getting a man. Karl Malden’s Father Barry also has a great scene at the dock when he delivers a powerful “eulogy” about standing up like Christ to injustice and accepting that Christ is in each and every man, making each man your brother – powerful stuff.

On the Waterfront is superbly directed; it’s as if Elia Kazan couldn’t help but make the right choice every time. He was blessed with Budd Schulberg’s screenplay, which mastered the perfect balance of gritty realism and potent drama. Combine excellent cinematography with the real locations in NYC, and you have must-see cinema.

10 of 10

1955 Academy Awards: 8 wins: “Best Picture” (Sam Spiegel), “Best Director” (Elia Kazan), “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (Marlon Brando), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Eva Marie Saint), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White” (Richard Day), “Best Cinematography, Black-and-White” (Boris Kaufman), “Best Film Editing” (Gene Milford), and “Best Writing, Story and Screenplay” (Budd Schulberg); 4 nominations: “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Lee J. Cobb), “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Karl Malden), “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Rod Steiger), and “Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture” (Leonard Bernstein)

1955 BAFTA Awards: 1 win: “Best Foreign Actor” (Marlon Brando, USA); 2 nominations: “Best Film from any Source” (USA) and “Most Promising Newcomer to Film” (Eva Marie Saint)

1955 Golden Globes: 4 wins: “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” “Best Cinematography - Black and White” (Boris Kaufman), “Best Director” (Elia Kazan), and “Best Motion Picture Actor – Drama” (Marlon Brando)

1989 National Film Preservation Board: National Film Registry

Saturday, May 21, 2005


Review: "Schindler's List" is Fine Art

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 19 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Schindler’s List (1993) – B&W with color segments
Running time: 194 minutes (3 hour, 14 minutes)
MPAA – R for language, some sexuality and actuality violence
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
WRITER: Steven Zaillian (from the novel by Thomas Keneally)
PRODUCERS: Gerald R. Molen, Branko Lustig, and Spielberg
EDITOR: Michael Kahn, A.C.E.
Academy Award winner

DRAMA/WAR with elements of thriller

Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagalle, and Embeth Davidtz

When Steven Spielberg finally won his Oscar for “Best Director,” he also picked up an additional statue as a producer when Schindler’s List won the “Best Picture” of 1993. Schindler’s List is without a doubt one of the greatest films of the last quarter of the 20th century, and it is also truly film as art.

The film’s title character is the real life Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a member of the Nazi Party and a war profiteer. The Czech-born, German businessman made his fortune exploiting cheap Jewish labor in German-occupied Poland. As World War II progresses, Schindler grows more horrified as the Nazi’s step up the process of exterminating Jews, especially after he witnesses the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto in 1943. He convinces a barbaric German commander, Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), to let him have the 1100 Polish Jews he has on a list he created with his longtime partner and Jewish prisoner, Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley). This group of Jews are scheduled to be gassed at Auschwitz, but he is allowed to use them to operate a munitions factory at Brinnlitz. The second half of the film follows Schindler as he lavishly spends his fortune on bribes, parties, and gifts on important German officials who will tolerate him using Jewish workers. Schindler’s Jews and their benefactor struggle to stay alive as Germany steadily loses the war because it is at this point that Germany begins to try to hide evidence of the Holocaust.

Although many have criticized the film for being overly-sentimental, propagandistic, and historically inaccurate (Oskar Schindler may have been less charitable and more opportunistic in his quest to save the Jews, and Jewish prisoners may have had to pay their way onto the list, according to some), Schindler’s List is nevertheless a very powerful film. It resonates more than just emotionally and is also a very well made film. In fact, Spielberg’s mixture of classic Hollywood style, black and white photography, and a documentary-like directing technique make for a inimitable and distinctive film. Whenever the film narrative turns to Liam Neeson’s Schindler, Spielberg frames the character as if Schindler were in an archetypal 1940’s Hollywood film noir. When chronicling the Germans’ brutality against the Jews, Spielberg creates a raw, visceral, and immediate art splashed on the wide canvas of a world simultaneously real and dreamlike.

It’s a bravura effort from one of the great film helmsmen. Spielberg makes a compelling film that you can’t help but watch even as he brazenly displays the monstrous cruelty of Germans. Still, that is the way Spielberg emphasizes that the Germans considered their Jewish slaves and prisoners to have no future, that they were merely the tattered remains of a history already forgotten.

It’s a shame Neeson did not win the “Best Actor in a Leading Role” Oscar that year, losing to Tom Hanks. In many ways, Neeson is as important to the film as Spielberg. Schindler is both the foundation upon which this story is built and the axis upon which it turns. Neeson recognizes the faults of the man and subtly pushes Schindler’s less than savory attributes to the surface. He makes him more human than hero. Neeson conveys the sense that there is always something else going on in Schindler’s mind, something quite different from what he tells his friends and adversaries. An actor giving a character that much verisimilitude is rare. That Neeson can make the sly, sneaky, and recklessly flawed Schindler so engaging and intriguing is itself a work of art.

10 of 10

1994 Academy Awards: 7 wins: “Best Picture” (Steven Spielberg, Gerald R. Molen, and Branko Lustig), “Best Director” (Steven Spielberg), “Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published” (Steven Zaillian), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” (Allan Starski and Ewa Braun), “Best Cinematography” (Janusz Kaminski), and “Best Film Editing” (Michael Kahn), “Best Music, Original Score” (John Williams); 5 nominations: “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (Liam Neeson), “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Ralph Fiennes), “Best Costume Design” (Anna B. Sheppard), “Best Makeup” (Christina Smith, Matthew W. Mungle, and Judith A. Cory), “Best Sound” (Andy Nelson, Steve Pederson, Scott Millan, and Ron Judkins)

1994 BAFTA Awards: 7 wins: Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Ralph Fiennes), “Best Cinematography” (Janusz Kaminski), “Best Editing” (Michael Kahn), “Best Film” (Steven Spielberg, Gerald R. Molen, and Branko Lustig), “Best Score” (John Williams), “Best Screenplay – Adapted” (Steven Zaillian), and “David Lean Award for Direction” (Steven Spielberg); 6 nominations: “Best Actor” (Liam Neeson), “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Ben Kingsley), “Best Costume Design” (Anna B. Sheppard), “Best Make Up Artist” (Christina Smith, Matthew W. Mungle, Waldemar Pokromski, and Pauline Heys), “Best Production Design” (Allan Starski), and “Best Sound” (Charles L. Campbell, Louis L. Edemann, Robert Jackson, Ron Judkins, Andy Nelson, Steve Pederson, and Scott Millan)

1994 Golden Globes: 3 wins: Best Director - Motion Picture (Steven Spielberg), “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Steven Zaillian); 3 nominations: “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (John Williams), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Liam Neeson), and “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Ralph Fiennes)

2004 National Film Preservation Board: National Film Registry


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Casablanca: Still the Greatest 70 Years Later

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 143 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Casablanca (1942) – B&W
– wide release in 1943 –
Running time: 103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Michael Curtiz
WRITERS: Julius J. Epstein & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch (based upon a play Every Body Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett and Joan Allison)
PRODUCER: Hal B. Wallis
EDITOR: Owen Marks
Academy Award winner

FILM-NOIR/DRAMA/ROMANCE with elements of thriller

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Dooley Wilson, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S.Z. Sakall, Madeleine LeBeau, Leonid Kinskey, and Corinna Mura

The subject of this movie review is the 1942 American romantic drama film, Casablanca. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, the film was apparently considered, at the time of its production, to be just another Hollywood movie.

Casablanca: some consider it to be the best American film ever made; the winner of the Oscar for “Best Picture” at the 1944 Academy Awards certainly has a place in my holy trinity. Directed by Michael Curtiz, who won the directing Oscar for helming this film, Casablanca is a beloved and popular movie, cherished by film fans, movie historians, and film critics throughout America – then and now.

In the story: Casablanca (a city in Morocco, a country in northwest Africa), circa 1941, is easy to enter, but much harder to leave – especially for people trying to escape the Nazi infestation of Europe. Living a life of exile in Casablanca is American Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), who owns and operates Rick’s Café Américain. He’s a cynical man who sticks his neck out for no one, but his ex-lover Isla Lund (Ingrid Bergman) tests that rigid cynicism when she arrives in Casablanca with her husband, both on the run from Nazi persecutors.

Isla’s husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), is on the top of the Nazi’s most wanted list. Victor and Isla came to Casablanca seeking the transit papers/official documents that would get them safe passage to Lisbon, Portugal, from where they could leave for America. From the USA, Victor could continue his work in support of the various European undergrounds fighting the Nazi’s. However, the papers have come into Rick’s possession, and his bitterness at Isla for suddenly and mysteriously leaving him some years ago after a whirlwind Paris love affair. So when Isla offers herself to Rick in exchange for Victor’s safe transport out of the country, the bitter and angry Rick must decide what’s important – his happiness, revenge, or the countless lives that hang in the balance and depend of Victor Laszlo’s safe passage.

What can I say that hasn’t been said. Casablanca was the right movie at the right time. It’s the consummate Hollywood production – superbly acted and directed, and filmed with beautiful production values, including art direction, set decoration, cinematography, and editing. The film’s popularity at the time has much to do with America’s involvement in World War II. The Allies invaded Casablanca in real life on November 8, 1942, and Warner Bros. premiered Casablanca in New York about three and half weeks later. By the time, of the film’s wide release in 1943, the real life city was still in the news, and the film captured the sense that the good guys (represented by Rick, Isla, and Victor) were at war with the bad guys (the Nazi’s, best represented in the film by Major Strasser, played by Conrad Veidt), mirroring American’s situation. The semi-tragic romantic triangle of Rick, Isla, and Victor, the intense drama, the fictional Casablanca’s atmosphere of intrigue and danger all came touched audiences and continues to.

The miracle, considering that Casablanca began filming without a completed script and went through the usual casting difficulties, is not really that the film was popular then (it was, after all, topical), but is instead that the film remains a favorite and outshines most of the great films made after its release nearly 63 years ago.

10 of 10

1944 Academy Awards: 3 wins: “Best Director” (Michael Curtiz), “Best Picture” (Warner Bros.), and “Best Writing, Screenplay” (Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch); 5 nominations: “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (Humphrey Bogart), “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Claude Rains), “Best Cinematography, Black-and-White” (Arthur Edeson), “Best Film Editing” (Owen Marks), “Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture” (Max Steiner)

1989 National Film Preservation Board, USA: National Film Registry

Friday, September 9, 2005

Monday, October 17, 2011

Review: "Chicago" is Bold and Splash (Happy B'day, Rob Marshall)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 35 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Chicago (2002)
Running time: 113 minutes (1 hour, 53 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sexual content and dialogue, violence and thematic elements
DIRECTOR: Rob Marshall
WRITER: Bill Condon (based upon the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins and the musical by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb)
PRODUCER: Martin Richards
EDITOR: Martin Walsh
COMPOSER: Danny Elfman
2003 Academy Award winner

MUSICAL/CRIME/DRAMA with elements of comedy

Starring: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs, Colm Feore, Christine Baranski, Dominic West, and Mya

Adulterous Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) kills her lover after he boldly admits lying to her and stringing her along. Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) kills her song and dance partner sister and her own husband when she catches them knocking boots. Both end up in the same dark and dank prison awaiting trial, clients of William “Billy” Flynn (Richard Gere), a flamboyant lawyer who specializes in representing gals who’ve killed their husbands and lovers. Under the tutelage of Matron “Mama” Morton (Queen Latifah), the girls struggle to escape the gallows for their crimes and strive for fame in scandal laden 1920’s Chicago.

Yes, it’s good, damn good. Director/choreographer Rob Marshall’s Chicago, a film version of the famed musical, is a thoroughly enjoyable and invigorating film spectacle. If this and Moulin Rouge! represent what the return of film musicals will look like, we are in for a treat. Marshall choreographed “Annie” and “Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” for television. In his film, he creates lavish and electrical dance scenes of the musical’s songs and integrates them with the dark and gritty world of 20’s Chicago. The colorful staged renditions of the songs flit back and forth showing us the idealized worlds of the characters, juxtaposed against the brutal frankness of their real world. The dance numbers are stirring and attention grabbing, as visually attractive as anything on MTV.

Screenwriter Bill Condon, who won an Academy Award for writing his film Gods and Monsters, does an excellent job composing a story that can compete with the energy and electricity of the songs. That’s no easy feat. Condon had to structure the story so that we would be as interested in it as we were thrilled by the songs. Chicago’s central story is rife with engaging tension and conflict and with characters we can support along every step of their treacherous journey.

Can Ms. Zellweger, Ms. Zeta-Jones, and Mr. Gere sing and dance? The answer is a resounding “yes!” Seeing them in the staged numbers and in the story scenes is like watching six different performers. I had a hard time believing the actors and singer/dancers were the same people; I know these performers and to see them pull off these performances is a revelation. I didn’t know Gere had it in him. It’s simply stunning and worth every minute of your time to watch.

The supporting performances are quite nice. Queen Latifah’s presence asserts itself strongly on the film; it often seems as if Mama is the puppeteer backstage directing events. Taye Diggs adds a sense of style to the film, and John C. Reilly quietly adds a sense of innocence and moral dignity to a story of people ready to grab fame at any costs.

Chicago, like Moulin Rouge!, is not like your average film. In fact, it’s very different from most quality and “serious” films. Like a good drama, it’s thoughtful; like the best action movies, it’s quite explosive. Chicago is a dream work, a film that is as visually rambunctious as the best music videos, but with the strong story and characters that you can take to heart – a must see movie.

8 of 10

2003 Academy Awards: 6 wins: “Best Picture” (Martin Richards), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Catherine Zeta-Jones), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” (John Myhre-art director and Gordon Sim-set decorator), “Best Costume Design” (Colleen Atwood), “Best Film Editing” (Martin Walsh), and “Best Sound” (Michael Minkler, Dominick Tavella, and David Lee); 6 nominations: “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (John C. Reilly), “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Renée Zellweger), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Queen Latifah), “Best Cinematography” (Dion Beebe), “Best Director” (Rob Marshall), “Best Music, Original Song” (John Kander-music and Fred Ebb-lyrics for the song "I Move On"), and “Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay” (Bill Condon)

2003 BAFTA Awards: 2 wins: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and “Best Sound” (Michael Minkler, Dominick Tavella, David Lee, and Maurice Schell); 10 nominations: “Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music” (Danny Elfman, John Kander, and Fred Ebb), “Best Cinematography” (Dion Beebe), “Best Costume Design” (Colleen Atwood), “Best Editing” (Martin Walsh), “Best Film” (Martin Richards), “Best Make Up/Hair” (Jordan Samuel and Judi Cooper-Sealy), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Renée Zellweger), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Queen Latifah), “Best Production Design” (John Myhre), and “David Lean Award for Direction” (Rob Marshall)

2003 Golden Globes: 3 wins: “Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” (Martin Richards), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” (Richard Gere), and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” (Renée Zellweger); 5 nominations: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Rob Marshall), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (John C. Reilly), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” (Catherine Zeta-Jones), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Queen Latifah), and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Bill Condon)

2003 Black Reel Awards: 1 win: “Theatrical - Best Supporting Actress” (Queen Latifah)