(Canada, 95 min.)
Written and directed by Darren Curtis
Starring: Nabil Rajo, Jahmil French, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Oluniké Adeliyi, Fanny Mallette, Brent Skagford, Théo Pellerin
One of my guilty pleasure when it comes to cheap Canadian cinema nobody’s heard of is Darren Curtis and Pat Kiely’s cracked-out and ridiculous comedy Who is KK Downey? A wonderful discovery at the 2008 Kingston Canadian Film Festival that some of my friends still cite as a reason why they won’t see Canadian films with me, KK Downey is a riotously silly parody of faux-author JT LeRoy who gained fame by penning a bestseller allegedly based on a previous life as a truck stop hustler. It’s a hoot largely due to its madcap direction and to Curtis’s fearlessly looney performance as the privileged white guy who crafts a story of oppression to sell his shitty book.
Isle of Dogs
(USA, 101 min.)
Written and directed by Wes Anderson
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Koyu Rankin, Liev Schreiber, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Courtney B. Vance, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono
|Fox Searchlight Pictures|
Give Wes Anderson a bone! His latest film Isle of Dogs is pooch perfection. Even a die-hard cat person will fall head over heels in love with this movie and leave the theatre doing little back flips whilst yapping for joy.
|Sally Hawkins stars in Maudie|
|Brigitte Poupart in Les affamés - the only Best Picture nominee that's truly excellent|
Emmanuel Crombez / Les Films Séville
The Canadian Screen Awards are tonight and it’s an evening to quietly celebrate a so-so year in Canadian film. The roster of nominees indicates that the nomination committees went out of their way to find a diverse group of contenders and unearthed some buried nuggets, but few of these films screened theatrically and some of them barely made a peep on the festival circuit. A lot of the best Canadian work was short changed. The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it qualifying runs don’t help much either when it comes to giving audiences a chance to see the films. Canadian television seems to be picking up steam with Schitt's Creek and Alias Grace expanding their wow factors beyond the land of the maple leaf, but our films are struggling.
The Heart is What Dies Last (C’est le cœur qui meurt en dernier)
(Canada, 105 min.)
Dir. Alexis Durand-Brault, Writ. Gabriel Sabourin
Starring: Gabriel Sabourin, Denise Filiatrault, Paul Doucet, Geneviève Rioux, Céline Bonnier, Sophie Lorain
|Denise Filiatrault in The Heart is What Dies Last|
Les Films Séville
This year’s totally random Canadian Screen Award nominee for Best Picture is The Heart is What Dies Last. It’s titled less awkwardly as C’est le coeur quit meurt en dernier in its native français, but presenters probably won’t be stumbling over syntax while ripping open the envelopes. It’s a fine, decently acted drama, but nothing to make the heart stir.
Never Steady, Never Still
(Canada, 112 min.)
Written and directed by Kathleen Hepburn
Starring: Shirley Henderson, Théodore Pellerin, Mary Galloway, Nicholas Campbell, Jared Abrahamson, Lorne Cardinal
Shirley Henderson, the actress with the squeaky voice, is a tremendous force in Never Steady, Never Still. This debut feature from Kathleen Hepburn gives the British actress an outstanding lead role as Judy, a woman living in oil country, BC, who experiences a tragic illness because of contamination from the fields. Judy suffers from crippling tremors having lived with Parkinson’s disease for twenty years and Henderson finds in the character the same empathy and strength that Sally Hawkins brought to her performance as severely arthritic painter Maud Lewis in Maudie. The physical power of this performance is incredible, but the emotional might is even greater.
“This is a really long show,” said Jimmy Kimmel while introducing last night’s Academy Awards broadcast. Kimmel started on the wrong note. The Oscars never seemed to end, but the duration wasn’t the problem. The monotony was. I could barely hear much of the show at the Oscar party I attended, and after a while, that wasn’t a bad thing because the banter in the room was often much livelier than the telecast. There wasn’t any big hiccup in the show, yet Kimmel kept apologizing and asking folks to move it along when he had no reason to say sorry. The absence of Envelopegate 2 stressed a big takeaway from the evening: safe doesn’t make for great TV.
The ballots are printed, the predictions are set, and the red carpet is ready! A laid back atmosphere can make or break any good Oscar party as friends become rivals when battle lines are drawn between Three Billboards, Lady Bird, and Get Out. (Anyone without a stake in the race should take a bathroom break during Best Original Screenplay.) Help create a cozy and convivial mood with some themed Oscar noms for this year’s contenders. Draw out the finer points of the films over bubbly and have a good laugh: tonight’s for celebrating.
|Billboards, Lady Bird, Darkest Hour, The Post, The Shape of Water, and I, Tonya|
For every ‘yup’ there’s a ‘but.’ This year’s Best Picture race is an unlikely field. Some major stat looks to be broken since all the contenders have a bit of baggage that decreases the odds of a confident win. Get ready for the Oscars to break the Internet on Sunday night! Awards season ends its six-month grind of toxic mudslinging on March 4th when either Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri or The Shape of Water takes Best Picture. It’s a tight race with Get Out, Dunkirk, and Lady Bird having adoring fans, and after last year’s crazy finale, the memory of #OscarsSoWhite, the shadow of Harvey Weinstein, the stench of Donald Trump, and the energy of #TimesUp, it feels as if there are many factors percolating with the usual stats and precursors. With an open mind, let’s look at who will win and should win in the top categories!
Les affamés (The Ravenous)
(Canada, 96 min.)
Written and directed by Robin Aubert
Starring: Marc-André Grondin, Monia Chokri, Charlotte St-Martin, Micheline Lanctôt, Brigitte Poupart, Marie-Ginette Guay, Robert Brouillette
Some call it home and others call it cottage country, but what often draws one to the rural regions of Canada is the silence. The quiet and leafy countryside can be an idyllic reminder of a way of life that seems forgotten in the fast-paced and impersonal cities to which everyone flocks. There’s something truly beautiful, however, about sitting back and watching the sunset over grassy plains rather than through tightly packed condos, smelling pine-scented air rather than carcinogenic smog, or being in a neighbourhood where people wave rather than accuse randomly you of offending them. The sound of silence rather than the din of traffic. This image of “Canada” doesn’t really fit the cultural imagination anymore, but it hasn’t died away.
Mom and Dad
(USA, 83 min.)
Written and directed by Brian Taylor
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert Cunningham
Why would anyone have kids? They whine. They’re messy. They’re expensive. They’re noisy. They completely consume one’s life and one’s identity. These points could all be positives provided one’s the paternal/maternal type and/or up for a challenge. If not, kids might be one-way tickets to crazy town. Having just raised a kitten, I don’t know how or why people do it when it comes to human children.
|Oscar voters should consider Margot Robbie, Dunkirk, Christopher Plummer, |
The Post, On Body and Soul, and The Breadwinner
Oscar ballots are in the mail! February 20th marks the beginning of the final round of voting for this year’s Academy Awards race. Best Picture still looks to be a nail-biter with The Shape of Water and Three Billboards going neck-and-neck and their distributor Fox Searchlight laughing all the way to the bank, while the four acting categories look locked for Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Allison Janney, and Sam Rockwell. But last year’s upset proves that no frontrunner is secure, so let’s send the annual memo to the Academy with cases to be made for some of this year’s most worthy contenders:
Fake Tattoos (Les faux tatouages)
(Canada, 87 min.)
Written and directed by Pascale Plante
Starring: Anthony Therrien, Rose-Marie Perrault
Fake Tattoos is the real deal. This raw and intimate film from Pascale Plante deserves to be in the spotlight. It’s easily the best feature dramatic debut from the Canadian circuit in 2017 and director Pascale Plante shows the most overall finesse in fusing the authenticity of style with storytelling. This rugged and easygoing love story is Once meets Nuit #1 for the indie rock crowd. It’s Sleeping Giant for people who came of age in grungy concerts or in their bedrooms listening to music on late summer nights instead of getting to bask in the sunlight of cottage country. Find love and lose it in the freeing summers of youth with this bittersweet number that pulses with passion, adrenaline, and pain.
In Between (Bar Bahar)
(Israel/France, 103 min.)
Written and directed by Maysaloun Hamoud
Starring: Mouna Hawa, Sana Jammelieh, Shaden Kanboura, Henry Andrawes, Mahmud Shalaby
Discover a voice in writer/director Maysaloun Hamoud. Her feature debut In Between is a welcome drama about Arab women negotiating love and independence within a male-dominated society. Set in the Arab quarters of Israel, In Between presents three women who are outsiders among outsiders in a world wrestling with change. It’s a bold and funny tale of female friendship and women’s rights.
(South Africa/Luxembourg, 71 min.)
Dir. Jenna Bass
Starring: Qondiswa James, Nala Khumalo, Francesca Varrie Michel, Liza Scholtz
|Courtesy of TIFF|
The concept of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is getting a bit worn in the heel. Why not try something bigger, like wearing someone else’s pants, (clean) undies, or skin?
All I See Is You
(USA, 109 min.)
Dir. Marc Forster, Writ.
Starring: Blake Lively, Jason Clarke, Ahna O’Reilly, Miquel Fernández, Danny Houston, Wes Chatham
Jason Clarke is a sad sight in All I See Is You. One has to hand it to an actor for letting his mug be the face of disappointment as James, the pathetic and controlling husband in this new drama from Marc Forster (World War Z). Just look at the blank reaction of James’s wife, Gina (Blake Lively), when she regains her sight for the first time in their marriage. The film introduces Gina as she makes love to James, whom she imagines as a hunky Latin lover delighting her amidst a CGI orgy of bodies writhing in a kaleidoscopic field of fantasies. Then, when she opens her eyes and sees her husband for the first time, Gina wears a vague expression that reads, “I married this?”
|My Nephew Emmett|
Courtesy of TIFF
It often happens that the five Oscar nominees for Best Animated Short are significantly stronger than their live action counterparts are. Such is not the case this year. While there is an air of familiarity to the quintet of nominees for Best Live Action Short, this year’s Oscar contenders are a solid group. There isn’t a stinker in the bunch.
(USA, 96 min.)
Written and directed by Brian Crano
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dan Stevens, Morgan Spector, David Joseph Craig, François Arnaud, Gina Gershon, Jason Sudeikis
There’s a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode somewhere to which Anna (Rebecca Hall) and Will (Dan Stevens) could have been referred. That episode sees Cheryl give Larry an odd birthday present in the form of her permission to sleep with another woman. Anyone with a subscription to HBO could draw from Larry’s experience and tell Anna and/or Will a four-word relationship survival guide: just don’t do it.
Did an interview with month with director Jason James (That Burning Feeling) on the new Vancouver-shot dramedy Entanglement. Read a chat in Beatroute (or pick up a copy if you're in Vancouver!) to learn more about James's approach to research, creating the worlds of his characters, and finding the right pieces of the city to bring the film to life.
A Fantastic Woman (Una mujer fantástica)
(Chile/Germany/Spain/USA, 104 min.)
Dir. Sebastían Lelio, Writ. Sebastían Lelio, Gonzalo Maza
Starring: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Genecco, Aline Küppenheim, Nicholás Saavedra
Is Sebastían Lelio the new Pedro Almódovar? The Chilean director already met the Spanish auteur by giving praise to older women in 2013’s festival hit Gloria, but he matches the master filmmaker’s intoxicating visual sense and sensitivity to queer stories with the outstanding new drama A Fantastic Woman. The film, produced by various hands behind Jackie, Spotlight and Toni Erdmann, is a worthy nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars and its Almódovar-esque passion is bound to satiate film buffs hungry for another hit from the Spanish director. The film proves Lelio to be one of international art cinema’s next auteurs.
The Insult (L’insulte)
(Lebanon/France, 112 min.)
Written and directed by Ziad Doueiri
Starring: Abdel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salamé, Christine Choueiri
The Insult is a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film this year and come March 4th it could be the winner. Lebanon’s contender The Insult is a thrilling, gripping, and thought-provoking essay on collective trauma and letting go. The film is both a riveting courtroom drama and a powerful moral fable as writer/director Ziad Doueiri constructs a taut grudge match packed tight like a bomb. There are shards of hate and prejudice wedged deeply within the explosive that threatens to go off at any moment, and this volatile thriller dexterously defuses the bomb. Breathe a sigh of relief and let old wounds heal.
All You Can Eat Buddha
(Canada, 88 min.)
Written and directed by Ian Lagarde
Starring: Sylvio Arriola, Ludovic Berthillot, Yaite Ruiz, David La Haye, Alexander Guerrero
|The Shape of Water leads the nominations|
There was a little something for everyone as Oscar voters shared the wealth today. Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water led the nominations with 13 citations including Best Picture. The top category had nine spots this year and once again fell short of filling out the potential tenth Best Picture berths. If it didn’t happen this year, it’s probably never going to be a full house. The other films that landed with The Shape of Water in the Best Picture race were Dunkirk (woohoo!), Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, Darkest Hour, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, Get Out, Phantom Thread, and the film that had me on edge throughout the nominations, The Post.
|Clockwise from top: On Body and Soul; I, Tonya; Unrest, Mudbound, First They Killed My Father, The Beguiled|
What a year, what a year. A lot had happened since we last checked in on the Oscars. And I mean, a lot.
The Canadian Screen Award nominations are out! Ava, Never Steady Never Still and Hochelaga, Land of Souls lead the field with 8 nominations each. However, in a rare snub, Canada's Oscar big Hochelaga was shut out of all major categories and only received technical noms. Oscar contender The Breadwinner did much better landing a Best Film nomination, as did the Sally Hawkins vehicle Maudie
The full list of feature-length film nominees is:
(Iran/Canada/Qatar, 103 min.)
Written and directed by Sadaf Foroughi
Starring: Manhour Jabbari, Bahar Nouhian, Leili Rashidi, Vahid Aghapour
Sarah Foroughi is undoubtedly a talent to watch. The deep and insightful screenplay for her first feature Ava gives a strong voice and agency to its young protagonist struggling against patriarchal society in Tehran. Ava is a bold a necessary film that gives hope for young girls and women as our parents’ generation becomes more progressive and learns to offer daughters the same opportunities and respect afforded to sons.
|The Crying Conch|
The shorts on display at this year’s Canada’s Top Ten festival are, overall, a respectable bunch. Like the feature selections, the shorts selected by the TIFF team are carefully calibrated to ensure a wide range of representation and to move the spotlight outside the Toronto bubble. And, like the features, there are many stronger titles that didn’t make the list, like Caroline Monnet’s hypnotic Creatura Dada, Molly Parker’s haunting Bird, Andrew Moir’s effective Babe, I Hate to Go, Sol Friedman’s hilarious An Imagined Conversation: Kanye West & Stephen Hawking, Chintis Lundgren’s funny Manivald, Michelle Latimer’s potent Nuuca, and Philippe David Gagné and Jean-Marc E. Roy’s Cannes debut Crème de menthe to name a few. There are nevertheless three genuinely great films in the mix, plus others that show much promise and/or bring voices from traditionally underrepresented communities to the conversation. Might as well #SeeTheNorth even at a short glance.
(USA, 104 min.)
Dir. Jaume Collet-Saura, Writ. Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, Ryan Engle
Starring: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern
|Vera Farmiga and Liam Neeson in The Commuter |
Toot! Toot! The Commuter offers oodles of metaphors for Liam Neeson’s career with its story of a man miscast in the hero role and a train that flies off the rails in its final act. The film is the latest entry in old man Neeson’s most lamentable decline into geriatric action flicks, which has created a sort of parodic sub-genre for aging stars in the decade following the original Taken. The element of novelty is still there even if this self-serious crazy train is one that Neeson’s ridden before. The Commuter is the first class car of the Neeson train, but hardly the caboose.
Ashley McKenzie’s Werewolf was this year’s winner of the Best Canadian Feature prize from the Toronto Film Critics Association. Werewolf, McKenzie’s debut feature, offers the raw verité-style story of two meth addicts struggling to go clean in their sparse Cape Breton community. The film scooped a cash prize of $100,000 to go along with the honours.
Vancouver! Pick up a copy of YVR's indie arts mag BeatRoute on your way to the movies this week for reviews of Molly's Game and Hostiles! (Or have a read below!)
|Clockwise from top left: The Shape of Water, Lady Bird, Dunkirk, The Post, Darkest Hour, I, Tonya|
Donald Tr*mp tweeted that he plans to announce "THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR" [his caps] on Monday, but I don’t think he got the memo that the Golden Globes are actually Sunday night. Yes, it’s been a year since Meryl Streep famously slammed the First Idiot at Hollywood’s second biggest award show and there could be round two of Meryl vs. Trump. It’s really fun, and odd, to see a voting body as openly corrupt as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association become a beacon for free speech and sanity, but in an award season where anything goes and presumably anybody could win, Sunday’s Golden Globes are a must see.