a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

 

The Independent Spirit Awards just announced their Nominees for this past year and as usual there were some startling surprises. And some snubs.

Created to honor films with budgets under $20 million dollars, large studio films like “A Star Is Born” and “First Man” were not eligible. But art house Indies like one of my favorite films for this year “You Were Never Really Here” grabbed FOUR of the top nominations. Best Picture, Best Actor(Joaquin Phoenix)Best Director Lynne Ramsey as well as Best Editing.

I’m so happy this little seen but incredibly powerful film is being highlighted here. I felt this was really Joaquin Phoenix’s best work ever and lest we forget, he did win Best Actor in Cannes the year before last.

This definitely puts this terrific film right in the middle of the Oscar conversation, right where it should be. I really do think Phoenix is better than any of the other leading males under consideration.

I just wish they had nominated the great Judith Roberts for Best Supporting Actress as his dysfunctional mother.(See picture above ^). Phoenix plays a Bounty Hunter who is hired to kill the kidnappers and re-capture the victims of child abductions. His casual, frightening, single-minded pursuit of  the perpetrators is chilling. And thrilling. This is no walk in the park, by any means. Tough stuff, but worthy, Necessary. You want to look away as he plies his trade with a ball peen hammer, but you can’t. “You Were Never Really Here” COMPELLS you to watch it, every single minute.

For a complete list and explanation of this year’s nominees go to ~

http://www.indiewire.com.

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One of the great delights of a film critic’s life is to suddenly fall down an artistic rabbit hole one rainy wind-swept night in the West Village and be absolutely delighted by the talent that he finds there. Such was the case of the short film “The Bump,” a cute-meet romantic comedy that is the rarest of rava avis these days. A delight. Who does delightful any more? Why this uber talented crew of NYU Grad Acting and Juilliard grads, that’s who. It was playing at the Village Cinema as part of their Short Film Festival.

The wonderful combo of Jeff Biehl and Diane Davis were unforgettable. Under the super expert direction of Michael Izquierdo, working from an original script also by Ms. Davis. I keep coming back to that word delight, and “The Bump” just filled me with helium, as only really funny, intelligent comedies can. I laughed so much I thought I would float away!

Biehl and David meet cute in a coffee shop(above) in Brooklyn(?) Queens(?) Wherever. It is a social media hook-up and they’ve never met before. Quips Biehl, “Not to be superficial or anything, but thank you for looking like your profile picture .”

Davis, “I know. The last guy on Tinder had a picture from 1984”

Biehl replies “I bet you were pretty rad 20 years ago.”

Davis says “I did rock a pretty awesome bull cut.”

Biehl, “I had hair!”

Red-headed, red-bearded, bald Biehl I always felt was one of America’s finest young actors, and he has certainly had a versatile career thus far that proves it. I remember him vividly from Juilliard when he was “Sir Patient Fancy.”Here he exhibits that tremendously apt comic skill that  Davis matches him for beat for beat. And she wrote this snappy script, too!

I won’t reveal the twist, er, the “Bump” in their road, but suffice it to say, this unique comic cupcake of a film left me hungry for more. The two of them are a match made in comedy heaven.

And Diane Davis, now that Woody Allen has gone down in flames, we need you to step up to the plate and take over the world, as I’m sure you will! Bravo to all!

 

“Boy, Erased” is one of the most important, powerful films of the Year. Will Oscar take notice?

It is one of the greatest most important Gay films ever made. And undoubtedly one of the best.

21 year-old Lucas Hedges, an Oscar Nominee already for the year before last’s “Manchester by the Sea” should really be nominated for Best Actor this year for his sympathetic, searing, unforgetable portrayal of the 18 year old Garrard Conley on whose life story and  book this is based.

An Australian-American co-production, “Boy, Erased” is amazingly top heavy with Australian talent. Nicole Kidman is Mrs. Conley and Russell Crowe is the Baptist Minister dad. Neither want their son to turn out to be gay. In this day and age, it seems shocking for parents to feel that way, but this is all a true story. They send him to a sort prison/jail like half-way house to get “de-gayed” an appauling process that, of course, does not work.

Garrard has these feelings of attraction for men of his own sex. He is even raped one night In his college dorm. And so, OF COURSE, his worried, Baptist parents send him away to get conversion therapy as soon as they can. Another awesome Aussie, Joel Edgerton. wrote, directed, produced and stars in “Boy, Erased” as the villain, who runs this horrifying institution.

People have expressed astonishment to me over and over again that such places as depicted in this film actually exist. But THEY DO. It’s legal in over 33 States.

Edgeton’s direction is very spare and toned down, totally concentrating on the simplicity of the great performances his three great lead actors are giving him.

Nicole Kidman has never been better as is almost assured of getting an Oscar Nomination for Best Supporting Actress. In the work of her career, she brings us inside the point of view of a concerned Southern preacher’s wife, who undergoes her own conversion arc when she realizes what torturous things are being done to her son. She could win her second Oscar here. She has the audience cheering at one point toward the end of the film. I never knew Nicole Kidman could be this good, but she IS. She’s now become an outspoken spokesperson for GLBTQ rights. Brava Nicole!

And of course, you just hate Russell Crowe’s bible-thumping Baptist preacher, but Crowe is such a great actor, he makes you understand, and yes, even care for his confused character, as he tries to make sense out of his young son’s gay choices.

It’s a difficult film to watch, but you have to. It’s a masterpiece, and SO important. Bringing these horrid practices to light. “Boy Erased” could change lives. It can save lives. You must see it.

 

 


Oscar Winner Mahershala Ali is now being picked by a majority of my pundit colleagues as the probable winner of Best Supporting Actor for “The Green Book.” I know it’s early still, but his closest competitor is Timothee Chalament for “Beautiful Boy.” And Timothee is still very young ,and Mahershala is in the Oscar Honeymoon period, where it is still quite possible that he could get Oscar number Two for his tremendous portrayal of a real life person, pianist Don Shirley. This would tie him with Denzel Washington, for being the only two African-American actors, who have two Oscars.

AND it’s a gay role. AND it’s a lead. Or co-lead. And yes, he shouldn’t be in the Supporting Category at all, but that’s what his film company is doing. They are running him in Supporting because as we’ve seen he could win there, and if he and fellow co-star Viggo Mortensen were BOTH in the Leading Actor category (as they should be), they would probably cancel each other out and neither would win.

Green Book 1

 

Mahershala when he was a student at NYU’s very much lauded Graduate Acting Program went by the name, Mahershala Karim Ali. I saw him in many student productions there, and as I said, he was always a stand-out and always accomplished.

When he was graduating in 2000, I saw his Actor Presentation night. This is when the entire graduating class does a series of three minute scenes for the assembled masses of New York’s agents, managers and casting directors.

I was privileged to have seen Mahershala do scenes from “Cowboy Mouth” by Sam Shepherd,”Angels in America: Part One, Millenium Approaches” by Tony Kushner, where he was partnered with the great Carson Elrod, and played the part of Belize, the sassy, smart male nurse, which kind of foreshadowed how well he was going to do with “Green Book”s demanding, commanding homosexual pianist. Don Shirley.

Lastly he did a scene from August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars.”

Obviously, he totally aced that important night, which is something of a trial by fire and also a litmus test of the career that’s going to be awaiting all these talented students upon their graduation a few weeks hence. Clearly, he passed with flying colors.


I love Oscar surprises! And the biggest surprise of the year may be just the film everybody needs to see right now, the enjoyable, well-crafted, almost Old Fashioned Hollywood crowd pleaser “The Green Book.” And surprisingly well-directed by Peter Farrelly (of “Dumb and Dumber” fame), it’s very funny, too.

This low budget, character-driven movie movie about the most unlikely of road trip couples, just won the Toronto Film Festival’s prestigious Audience Choice Award. Voted on by the cinephiliac citizens who love their Film Festival which is abbreviated TIFF(Toronto International Film Festival) and treat it like it’s a Canadian Christmas, this award, and the out-pouring of affection that is greeting “The Green Book” must be taken very, very seriously by all Oscarologists. I think it is going to win EVERYTHING.

It has that “Driving Miss Daisy” Oscar inevitability about it. In our troubled times, “The Green Book” is a delicious, delightful, comforting helping of Soul Food. The very best kind, in that it shows that it is really possible for the extreme types of personalities that inhabit the frames of “The Green Book” to ultimately get along and overcome their seemingly insurmountable differences.

Hollywood stalwart Viggo Mortensen, who is originally Danish, here delivers the performance of his career, as Tony Lip. a Bronx wise guy through and through, Deese, Dems and Dose all the way. But he has a heart, a big one.

Being Scandanavian, it must have been like learning a foreign language to the cultured Dane Mortensen, but he pulls off the meat-head act and accent brilliantly. He doesn’t miss a beat and this role, based on a real person, who this actually happened to, just may win him Best Actor this year. Yes. Really.

His Tony is an Italian family man who is out of work as a bouncer at the Cococabana Night-club. He’s so hard up he takes a job driving a classical jazz pianist played majestically by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Mahershala Ali through the Deep South of 1962.

Everywhere they go they encounter racial prejudice of the worst kind, even landing in jail at one point.

Mortensen is matched beat for beat by Ali, who is simply stunning in a role you would never think of him playing, a persnickety pianist who lives in a luxurious apartment over Carnegie Hall, where much of the action takes place. He’s meticulously neat, if not downright OCD, and Tony, of course, is a slob. The Odd Couple Redux.

Mahershala Ali is beyond superlative as this gay, but troubled musical genius who drinks himself to sleep every night with a bottle of Cutty Sark, but feels impelled to take his acclaimed musicianship and his trio on tour in the South of Dixie that has nothing but contempt for him off-stage. Like when he tries to buy a suit in a store that caters only to whites. Or wants to use a white bathroom or dine in a white restaurant. Tony is shocked by all this and it gets worse as they travel deeper and deeper into the Deep South. They even end up in jail!

Mahershala Ali is just extraordinary in this part and he may be looking at his second Oscar. He’s even playing all his complex musical numbers himself! For that alone he should get another Golden statue.

Both he and Mortensen are co-leads, but they are running Ali in Supporting and he will probably win there. Making him tied with Denzel Washington as the only African-American actor to have won TWO acting Oscars.

I predicted this much earlier in the season, and now everyone is catching on that this may be a reality. I’ve known his work since I saw him in plays when he was in NYU Grad Acting. No performance of his ever was less accomplished and his acclaim is totally thrilling and justified.

And “Moonlight”! His Juan, a drug dealer couldn’t be further from the magisterial piano virtuoso, he’s playing in “The Green Book.”

“The Green Book” refers to by the way the small brochure-like pamphlet that tells “colored travelers” where they can stay, eat and use the rest rooms in Southern American in 1962.

Two Best Acting Oscars and Best Picture, too. I can see it all happening for this wonderful, heart-warming film that reminds us all why we go to the movies.

The Gotham Awards Nominations have been announced(They are always the first to do so.) and my favorite film, or ONE of my favorite films of the year “The Favourite” scored big with three major nominations. Including a brand-new category “Female Ensemble” for all three tremendous actresses, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone and Olivia Colman.

Doesn’t help figure out who is going where with the Oscars. But Colman WANTS to be run in lead, whether she wins or not. And both Weisz and Stone have Oscars of their own already. If that happened, the duo would be in Supporting(and deserve to be). Emma Stone is really the lead here, but all ways here are the Queen’s way. And the Queen(Olivia Colman) wants to be in lead, and so it shall be. Unless the Academy decides to go its own way(as it often does.)

Recently when Kate Winslet had some category confusion going on for her two roles in “The Reader” and “Revolutionary Road,” while she won TWO Golden Globes that year, the Academy went with only “The Reader” as the Actress contender. And Winslet won it.

Olivia Colman is an Oscar newbie, and though she has a stellar career in British films and onstage, she’s more or less unknown here. And she’s not an ingenue, just breaking through.

“The Favourite” was also nominated for Best Feature and Best Screenplay. This squarely puts it in running for Oscar nods in all those categories.

Of the other much-talked about contenders for Best Actress, only Glenn Close for “The Wife” made it here with the Gothams, who are the East Coast equivalent of the Indie Spirit Awards.

Yalitza Apericio was nominated as Best Breakthrough Performance for “Roma.”

I think all these five above mentioned women are going to be nominated for the Oscars, too.

For complete list go to http://www.awardsdaily.com, and you can also find my complete review of “The Favourite” there.

I feel so swamped. Trapped. I used to be a fan, but after seeing “A Star is Born’ I was just boiling mad and supremely disappointed in all aspect of it, except the uber drag queen scene in the gay bar at the beginning, where the Lady Herself turns “La Vie En Rose” inside out. I was enchanted. Then Bradley Cooper, who also in incongruously in this particularly outre bar, sees her for the first time and immediately falls in love with her.

A cute meet by a heterosexual couple in a gay bar. OK. That unique. That was special, then a scene in a parking lot at night time was kind of touching and poignant but from there it went down hill. For another HOUR AND A HALF!!!

I posted this on Awardsdaily.com tonight, where some insist I do my best writing ~

I walked into a tony bar tonight and the typical Academy-aged-voter-of-yore was talking and talking and talking about Lady Gaga and that she was going to win Best Actress. I disagreed. But everywhere I turn it’s gagagagagaga -GAG ME! But if the Oscars were voted on TODAY, she’d undoubtedly win. But they aren’t. It’s a long way til January. But TODAY, she’s the Talk-of-the-Town. Can she act? Can she not act? Wasn’t she snubbed once already? Isn’t this just like Bette Middler and “The Rose”?

And Glenn will be lucky if her film is even in theaters by January. She has to sweep all the critics awards to stay in the conversation. Right now the conversation is gagagagagaga. Well, I repeat myself.

Glenn Close, that is, for “The Wife.” Poor Glenn Close. Always a bridesmaid but never a bride. Close, but no cigar.

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