This is what the Oscars playing Russian roulette looks like

As it turns out, even at 91 years old you can still experience growing pains.

That’s the scenario the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finds itself in Tuesday, following its unveiling of nominations for this year’s Oscars, the culmination of which was a field of eight wildly varied Best Picture nominees which collectively confirm one thing: The Academy is as clueless as the rest of us about its identity in 2019.

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Are the Oscars about to take a step back?

There’s more than one reason why we continue to remember the final Oscar awarded on the evening of February 26, 2017 – or, more specifically, the act of its awarding – as a shocking turn of events for the Academy Awards, awards shows in general and those involved, not to mention the millions watching at home.

If dictionaries included video examples of its entries, we would see this under “fiasco”: Those few moments, witnessed then and recalled now as feeling like much longer, when golden statuette-clutching “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz announced that the actual Best Picture winners were in fact those behind “Moonlight.” And legitimately so; it remains an absurd occurrence, an oft-forgotten example of the mayhem that can unfold on live television.

When the golden Oscar dust had settled, however, when all the actors (pun partially intended) involved had said their piece on what happened and media outlets broke down the sequence of events like an episode of “CSI,” a more historically impactful (and decidedly less clickbaity) reason for that event’s enduring legacy began to emerge. Continue reading →

Fish-men, dressmaking and peaches: The top 10 movies of 2017

With a few weeks left before what has quite loudly morphed into the most unpredictable Oscars in years, it’s finally time to take stock of what we had in 2017 at the cinema.

In brevi: It was an astounding dichotomy of auteurs operating – or continuing to operate – at the height of their powers (Guillermo Del Toro, Paul Thomas Anderson, Denis Villeneuve) and first-time directors yielding surprise gems and excitement for the future of film (Greta Gerwig, Jordan Peele).

In a year that ended with Hollywood beginning to form a new identity – the result of which may not be evident on the big screen until at least 2019 – it also gave us much to cry, scream and ponder about in the theater.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that in the months following an incredibly epic and incredibly awkward Best Picture win by “Moonlight” – itself a eulogy to identity and the winding road it can personify itself as – some of 2017’s best movies featured heroes, villains and everyday characters grappling with theirs.

Sometimes it involved busting out a move at an impromptu dance party in Italy, other times it was shedding your identity for the entertainment of others.

And, at other times still, it involved fish sex. 2017 truly had it all.

Adding to the sea of similar pieces that represent closing a chapter and opening a new one more than anything of actual substance, here is this film critic’s top 10 films of the year. Continue reading →

Review: In ‘Darkest Hour,’ a resplendent Gary Oldman is the highlight, but not its sole strength

The year is 1940. Hitler’s Nazi regime is forging a merciless trail across Europe. France is under siege. England is backed into a corner both metaphorically and, in the case of the 300,000 British soldiers stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, literally.

If you watched Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” over the summer, you know the story and you know what’s at stake for these soldiers. But what you may not know about is the chaos unfolding at Parliament. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain has been pushed out for a replacement much less suitable for the office, not to mention at wartime – the easy-to-scrutinize Winston Churchill.

Churchill may be commonly discussed in high school textbooks, and cited in epigraphs of WWII videogames, but as told in “Darkest Hour,” he was just a benchwarmer until peace negotiations could begin. Continue reading →

Review: In ‘Shape of Water,’ beauty saves the beast. No verbiage necessary.

For 20 years, Guillermo Del Toro has found success in the bizarre and carved himself a niche in the eclectic. He’s done more than anyone (not named Peter Jackson) to create a spot for fantasy in contemporary cinema, with 2006’s piercingly original “Pan’s Labyrinth” serving as the crown jewel of his catalog.

The imaginative Mexican director’s latest effort, though, makes a strong claim for the crown. A more character-driven story than anything he’s undertaken before, “The Shape of Water” is simultaneously a departure from Del Toro’s unfettered imagination and a showcase of the filmmaker at the height of his technical powers.

The fantastical has always been Del Toro’s forte, but “Shape of Water” operates as proof that he can tell a spellbinding story while leaving nightmarish creatures on the bench, while also trading mysticism for a previously untapped amount of realism. Continue reading →

Unbroken is unwavering, relentless, and uncommonly well told

In recent years the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has had an unceasing infatuation for the historical drama; period pieces centered on a protagonist who must overcome some – or several – obstacles before he eventually triumphs. It’s come to the point where it’s easy to tell which films Oscar voters will immediately fall head over heels for because the Academy’s consistently conservative nature has become easy to predict.

Many people – this critic included – would like to see the Academy become more inclusive of all genres on a more even playing field. Not since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King went 11-for-11 on Oscar night in 2005 has such a blockbuster and crowd pleaser also had the honor of taking home the coveted Best Picture honor, although many a film have certainly been deserving. It’s become somewhat frustrating for many people.

That being said, Angelina Jolie’s second directorial effort – stronger than her first on all counts, and then some – fits all the traits necessary for being in the running for Best Picture. It’s historical. It’s a period piece. It endures hopelessness which leads to triumph. And bonus points – it’s a true story.

What sets Unbroken apart from other clichéd films of its genre is that its story is so well crafted and told that it would be deserving of being named the best film of 2014.

Unbroken tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a U.S. Olympic runner who is sent to war against Japan, and eventually is a prisoner of the enemy. He endures a tormenting amount of abuse at the hands of his captors – one nemesis, to be specific – as he and his comrades do their absolute best to exact revenge – by living to see another day.

Unbroken is as visually gripping as it is emotionally arresting.

Unbroken is as visually gripping as it is emotionally arresting.

Unbroken is tense from the opening sequence and that mood lingers throughout, our only solace being flashbacks to Louis’ life before the war, when he represented his country in a different way. Jolie strives for two hours to make Louis’ ordeal just as painful for us as it is for him, and she succeeds on all fronts. It isn’t easy to sit through some of Unbroken’s more unforgiving scenes, and damn near impossible to not sympathize with what the POWs are going through.

Although the way we get there is by no means comfortable – a credit to Jolie’s direction – by the time the credits roll it becomes clear that she has created an endearing tribute to the power of the human spirit. Unbroken is as hopeless as it is uplifting, as powerful as it is straightforward, and as honest as Louis himself.

The strength of the film’s early half is how it manages to make coherence out of the flashbacks to Louis growing up as a person and as an athlete, in what may seem as a whole other movie entirely due to his situation. While some directors may have been satisfied as simply going through the motions and showing what Louis did before the war, Jolie shows with flawless storytelling how Louis the soldier came to be. His life was never short of overcoming obstacles, as the flashbacks show.

The film is at times unapologetically bleak and daunting, each scene and method of torture to Louis raising the emotional stakes further and further, but make no mistake that it pays off in the end. When Louis finally proves himself to be stronger than his captors, it’s hard not to stand and applaud. That’s a credit to Jolie’s direction and accomplished vision as much as it is to Joel and Ethan Coen, who have strayed from their usual style of cinema to deliver their most epic screenplay yet.

Jolie makes sure to give intimacy to every character, but the humanity she gives Louis is on a whole other level. You become fully invested in him from the start, and remain that way through his trials, which at one point shows him literally taking up his cross. Through it all he is undoubtedly one of the most satisfying characters to come out of 2014.

O'Connell will make you feel every bit of pain that Louis is forced to endure.

O’Connell will make you feel every bit of pain that Louis is forced to endure.

Although the film’s bookend acts are dutiful in keeping the audience’s attention, the middle act begins to lag a bit as some of the film’s more grisly details mount up and the plot becomes impatient with itself, and us along with it. The pace slows down a bit too much for a short stretch as Jolie attempts to build a meaningful relationship between Louie and his primary tormenter, in a way that doesn’t truly become so until the very end. Thankfully, once we get a change in scenery things start to pick up again.

Louis is played impeccably by Jack O’Connell (300: Rise of an Empire, Starred Up) in a role more physical than many we’ll see this year. He effortlessly translates his pain into a sense the audience also experiences, and he is written in such a way that O’Connell is able to become the type of person that we can easily root for.

In the end, Unbroken is a story that starts and ends with Louis, and that becomes apparent with how the film prioritizes different triumphs in the film’s third act. It is a biopic beyond anything else, one which inspires as much as it horrifies and teaches us as much about the darkness as it does the light that we sometimes take for granted.


In a Nutshell

Well-written, well-acted, and excellently directed by one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, Unbroken sets forth the daunting task of enduring the torments that Louis is forced to go through, and it pays off in a profound and moving way.


8.5 / 10




Unbroken is rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language

Starring: Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihira, Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock

Directed by Angelina Jolie



Oscar Watch

Best Picture

Best Directing – Angelina Jolie

Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Best Sound Editing

Best Sound Mixing