Thursday, January 5, 2017

Life, death, triumph lead actors, directors to 2016 favorites

Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae in "Hidden Figures."
And, on the fifth day of 2017, the list (in alphabetical order) of our 10 favorite films from 2016 finally arrives. There's also some other odds and ends that helped make last year a fairly memorable one at the movies.

"Arrival": Amy Adams plays a brilliant linguist called on by the government to reach out to aliens who have landed in 12 locales around the world. Under the guidance of equally exceptional director/co-writer Denis Villeneuve ("Sicario," "Incendies") this scientific thriller becomes smart, touching and likely one of the year's sure-to-become cinematic classics.

"Deadpool": Creatively strange and as violent, raunch-filled and "R"-rated as it gets, this Marvel marvel also regularly has its legitimately funny superhero (Ryan Reynolds) talking to the audience. It's a laugh riot that producer/star Reynolds went to the mat to develop. Even better news: The sequel comes out in March 2018.

"Hacksaw Ridge": Mel Gibson (an Oscar-winner for "Braveheart") directs this true, in-your face WWII drama that introduces us to a great love story, then some even greater Okinawa heroics from a Virginia pacifist who served his country as a medic while never carrying a gun. It's an uncommonly bloody, but still somehow sensitive telling, with the terrific Andrew Garfield, as the aw-shucks hero.
"Hell or High Water": This one looks and feels like a classic Western, only with the trimmings of a modern-day tale that takes on banks and environmental issues while an aging lawman (Jeff Bridges) chases anti-hero brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) robbing for a reason. The dialogue from actor-turned screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is about as good as it gets, too.
 
"Hidden Figures": Three heroic African-American women (smartly played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae) carry this true NASA story to the heights of crowd-pleasing from start to finish. The recent death of living legend/astronaut John Glenn (portrayed nicely here by Glen Powell) adds even more heft to a movie that should serve as an inspiration to anyone who perseveres.(Opens everywhere Friday,)

"The Jungle Book": A "live-action" remake of a so-so 1967 animated musical becomes a thrilling Disney adventure in the hands of director Jon Favreau and a talented vocal cast which really does give Rudyard Kipling's 10-year-old Mowgli good cause to talk to the animals. It also might be the year's most visually effective movie.

"La La Land": Young Damien Chazelle's first movie, "Whiplash," topped this list two years ago, and here we go again. This time he inspires Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. as struggling Hollywood artists, to become a terrific song-and-dance team in a very special Tinseltown musical/fantasy.  

"Loving": What might be the year's more purely beautiful film -- in texture, subject matter and imagery -- tells the true story of an interracial couple actually named Richard and Mildred Loving. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are simply sublime in a legitimate gem from screenwriter/director Jeff Nichols.

Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges dominate "Manchester by the Sea."
"Manchester by the Sea": When I initially saw it in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, I wrote that some parts grabbed me as much by the throat as by the heart. I also predicted that Casey Affleck already had the Best Actor Oscar statue locked up. He's simply that genuinely believable, as a moody janitor tormented by his past in a powerful, yet simple story that has him returning to his hometown to help raise his nephew (played by a terrific teen named Lucas Hedges). If I had to pick the year's best picture, this stunning emotional piece from another writer/director, Kenneth Lonergan, would be the one.

"Tower": Some of us old enough to remember the summer-of-1966 day that eventually controlled a week of news coverage with one of the first mass shootings in American history likely will appreciate this razor-sharp documentary more than others.
Still, it says here that director Keith Maitland's use of real footage and animated characters, who turn into the real survivors of a troubled ex-Marine's barrage from the top of a University of Texas landmark, is as riveting as it gets.


Another dozen well worth seeing -- "10 Cloverfield Lane," "13th," "Christine," "Everybody Wants Some," "Eye in the Sky," "Fences," "Green Room," "Jackie," "Life, Animated," "Live by Night" (opens Jan. 13), "A Monster Calls" (opens Friday), "Moonlight."

Felicity Jones plays ailing mom to Lewis MacDougall in "A Monster Calls."  
Performers of the Year -- Amy Adams ("Arrival," "Nocturnal Animals," "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"); Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight," "Hidden Figures," "Free State of Jones"); Felicity Jones ("Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," "A Monster Calls," "Inferno"); Ryan Gosling ("La La Land," "The Nice Guys").

But, what the hell were they thinking? -- Jennifer Aniston ("Mother's Day," "Office Christmas Party"); Robert De Niro ("Dirty Grandpa," "Hands of Stone"): Julia Roberts ("Money Monster," "Mother's Day").

A few guilty pleasures -- "The Legend of Tarzan," a real summer swinger; the toe-tapping "Sing"; and those unabashedly colorful "Trolls."

Major disappointments (after all that hype) -- "Florence Foster Jenkins," "The Girl on the Train," "Suicide Squad."

But none were as awful as these five -- "Bad Santa 2," "The Boss," "Colonia," "Dirty Grandpa," "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2."

Here's hoping the dawn of 2017 signals much better choices throughout another long and fruitful year.


(Look for my ratings on most new releases elsewhere on this page.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Music makes the best Christmas magic in new movie offerings

So, you going to the movies for Christmas? Then follow the melodies (and these capsule reviews) that might help draw you into northeast Ohio theaters this holiday weekend.

OPENING TODAY 
A mom (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) with 25 piglets is a"Sing" scene-stealer.

"Sing" ($ $ $ $ out of $5): The highlight film of this day will start toes tapping from the get-go in a family-filled romp about an entertainment-oriented koala who runs a singing competition for an an assortment of talented animals. It's simply terrific, animated fun. (Rated "PG" and starring the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Hudson and many others)

"Assassin's Creed" ($ $ and 1/2): Only legitimate video gamers might care that the ending lends itself to sequels, but we'll give it some extra points for actually playing a tad better than we thought it might. Considerable trimming (to under two hours) from an original 140-minute running time obviously helps, too. (Rated "PG-13" and starring, believe it or not, Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons)

"Passengers" ($ $): This one offers a tie between boring and absurd and a concept that must have been initiated on the heels of the huge success of 2013's "Gravity." Talk about giving new meaning to being lost in space. (Rated "PG-13" and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt and Michael Sheen, with cameos from a couple of aging actors who might have gained a few pounds during the movie's much-discussed hibernation process)


OPENING SUNDAY (CHRISTMAS DAY)

"La La Land" ($ $ $ $ $): I first saw this Tinseltown fantasy/musical/romance in September at the Toronto International Film Festival and loved it, then saw it again a few weeks ago and embraced it even more. Now the ideal Christmas Day release gives the gift of its ever-engaging lead couple, music and director Damien Chazelle's surefire Oscar-bound craftsmanship for all to behold. (Rated "PG-13" and starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt and John Legend)

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis show off their chops in "Fences."
"Fences" ($ $ $ $):  Despite its minimal Pittsburgh locales, this Denzel Washington-directed take on August Wilson's 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning play still looks, feels and sounds like a stage production. However, that doesn't mean that the words, written for the screen by Wilson before his death in 2005 and spit out by a mostly bitter garbage man (Washington), aren't as racially relevant today as they were in its '50s story. The ensemble acting is damn powerful, too, with Viola Davis a mortal lock for Best Supporting Actress as the put-upon wife. (Rated "PG-13" and starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson and Mykelti Williamson)

"Lion" ($ $ $ and 1/2): Truth-based lost-and-found stories such as this usually feature dogs or cats. Here, though, it's the rather slow, if moving tale of a poor, 5-year-old Indian boy who falls asleep in a train station and winds up in Calcutta, more than 1,500 miles from home. Of course, for Hollywood purposes, all the players get movie-star looks, except for the usually stunning Nicole Kidman, as an oddly plain mom. In fact, even the character she portrays seems a lot more lovely during a closing montage of the real people involved in it all. (Rated "PG-13" and starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara and charming little Sunny Pawar)

Check out more of John's ratings for most current releases at left.

Monday, December 12, 2016

As expected, 'La La' and 'O.J.' dominate Critics' Choice awards


Even if you missed last night's three-hour A&E telecast of the 22nd annual Critics’ Choice Awards, live from the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, you likely won't be surprised by the evening's big winners. As expected, “La La Land,” the most nominated film of the evening, took home eight awards, the night's biggest haul, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (a tie) for Damien Chazelle, Best Song ("City of Stars"), and Best Score for Justin Hurwitz.

The top acting awards were all bestowed upon different films, with Casey Affleck taking home Best Actor for his work in “Manchester by the Sea,” and Natalie Portman awarded Best Actress for “Jackie.” The Best Supporting Actor trophy went to Mahershala Ali for “Moonlight,” and Best Supporting Actress to Viola Davis for her standout performance in “Fences.”

On the TV side of things, FX's heavily nominated "The People v. O.J. Simpson"  took home four trophies, including Best Movie Made for Television or Limited Series, Best Actress Sarah Paulson and Best Actor Courtney B. Vance.

As previously announced, Viola Davis received the first-ever #SeeHer Award, presented by the Association of National Advertisers in conjunction with A&E Network. Ryan Reynolds was the recipient of  Entertainment Weekly’s Entertainer of the Year Award, which was presented during the ceremony as part of a multi-platform content and promotional partnership launched this year between EW and the Critics’ Choice Awards.

Best Actor Casey Affleck, Best Original screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan, Best Young Actor Lucas Hedges and producer Matt Damon all represented "Manchester by the Sea' at last night's 22nd Critics' Choice Awards.
WINNERS OF THE 22ND ANNUAL CRITICS’ CHOICE AWARDS

FILM:
BEST PICTURE – “La La Land”

BEST ACTOR – Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”

BEST ACTRESS – Natalie Portman, “Jackie”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Viola Davis, “Fences”

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS – Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE – “Moonlight”

BEST DIRECTOR – Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY TIE: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land” and Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Eric Heisserer, “Arrival”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – Linus Sandgren, “La La Land”

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, “La La Land”

BEST EDITING – Tom Cross, “La La Land”

BEST COSTUME DESIGN – Madeline Fontaine, “Jackie”

BEST HAIR & MAKEUP – “Jackie”

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – “The Jungle Book”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – “Zootopia”

BEST ACTION MOVIE – “Hacksaw Ridge”

BEST ACTOR IN AN ACTION MOVIE – Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”

BEST ACTRESS IN AN ACTION MOVIE – Margot Robbie, “Suicide Squad”

BEST COMEDY – “Deadpool”

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY – Ryan Reynolds, “Deadpool”

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY – Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

BEST SCI-FI/HORROR MOVIE – “Arrival”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – “Elle”

BEST SONG – “City of Stars” from “La La Land”

BEST SCORE – Justin Hurwitz, “La La Land”


TELEVISION:
BEST COMEDY SERIES  Silicon Valley, HBO

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES – Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live, NBC

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES – Donald Glover, Atlanta, FX

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES – Jane Krakowski, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Netflix

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES – Louie Anderson, Baskets, FX

BEST GUEST PERFORMER IN A COMEDY SERIES – Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live, NBC

BEST DRAMA SERIES  Game of Thrones, HBO

BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES – Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld, HBO

BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES – Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul, AMC

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES – Thandie Newton, Westworld, HBO

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES – John Lithgow, The Crown, Netflix

BEST GUEST PERFORMER IN A DRAMA SERIES – Jeffrey Dean Morgan, The Walking Dead, AMC

BEST MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION OR LIMITED SERIES  The People v. O.J. Simpson, FX

BEST ACTRESS IN A MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION OR LIMITED SERIES– Sarah Paulson, The People v. O.J. Simpson, FX

BEST ACTOR IN A MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION OR LIMITED SERIES – Courtney B. Vance, The People
v. O.J. Simpson, FX

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION OR LIMITED SERIES – Regina King, American Crime, ABC

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION OR LIMITED SERIES – Sterling K. Brown, The People v. O.J. Simpson, FX

BEST REALITY COMPETITION SERIES  The Voice, NBC

BEST STRUCTURED REALITY SERIES  Shark Tank, ABC

BEST UNSTRUCTURED REALITY SERIES  Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, CNN

BEST REALITY SHOW HOST – Anthony Bourdain, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, CNN

BEST TALK SHOW  The Late Late Show with James Corden, CBS

BEST ANIMATED SERIES  BoJack Horseman, Netflix

The Broadcast Film Critics Assn. and the Broadcast Television Journalists Assn. bestow the Critics' Choice awards annually to honor the finest in cinematic and television achievement. The BFCA is the largest film critics' organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 300 television, radio and online critics. BFCA members are the primary source of information for today's film-going public. BTJA is the collective voice of journalists who regularly cover television for TV viewers, radio listeners and online audiences. Historically, the “Critics’ Choice Awards” are the most accurate predictor of the Academy Award nominations.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

'La La Land' leads pack of Critics' contenders; watch on Dec. 11

 The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) today announced the film nominees for the 22nd Annual Critics’ Choice Awards.  
 “La La Land” leads all films this year with 12 nominations, followed by “Arrival” and “Moonlight,” with 10 apiece, and  “Manchester by the Sea,” with eight.

“This year’s nominees showcase the best that
Hollywood has to offer, spanning a wide array of genres, subject matters, time periods, and more,” said BFCA President Joey Berlin.  “We hope that they will serve as a roadmap for viewers, offering guidance for movie lovers and ticket buyers as we launch this awards season. We are so thrilled to be able to recognize these incomparable artists and look forward to bringing them together for an unforgettable evening!”
The winners will be revealed live at the star-studded Critics’ Choice Awards gala, which will be broadcast from the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica on A&E at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 11.  The awards broadcast will immediately follow the “Critics’ Choice Red Carpet Live” on A&E.  As previously announced, actor and comedian T.J. Miller will return as the show’s host.

Also as previously announced, HBO leads the television honors with 22 nominations, followed by ABC and Netflix with 14 each, and FX with 12.  Topping the list of nominated series is "The People v. O.J. Simpson" (FX) with six. "Game of Thrones" (HBO), "The Night Manager" (AMC), and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" (Netflix) follow closely behind with five each.   


Best Actress and Actor contenders Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dance their way through "La La Land." 

Movie nominations were announced this morning by Entertainment Weekly via EW.com and the People/Entertainment Weekly Network (People.com/PEN), as part of a multi-platform content and promotional partnership between EW and the “Critics’ Choice Awards.”

FILM NOMINATIONS FOR THE 22ND ANNUAL CRITICS’ CHOICE AWARDS


BEST PICTURE
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Lion
Loving
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Sully
 
BEST ACTOR
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Joel Edgerton – Loving
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Tom Hanks – Sully
Denzel Washington – Fences

BEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams – Arrival
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Ben Foster – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Viola Davis – Fences
Greta Gerwig – 20th Century Women
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Janelle Monáe  – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – 
Manchester by the Sea

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Alex R. Hibbert – Moonlight
Lewis MacDougall – A Monster Calls
Madina Nalwanga – Queen of Katwe
Sunny Pawar - Lion
Hailee Steinfeld – The Edge of Seventeen

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE
20th Century Women
Fences
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight 

BEST DIRECTOR
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight 
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
David Mackenzie – Hell or High Water
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Denzel Washington – Fences

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Barry Jenkins - Moonlight
Yorgos Lanthimos/Efthimis Filippou – The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea 
Jeff Nichols – Loving
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Luke Davies – Lion
Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
Eric Heisserer – Arrival
Todd Komarnicki – Sully
Allison Schroeder/Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
August Wilson – Fences

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Stéphane Fontaine – Jackie
James Laxton – Moonlight
Seamus McGarvey – Nocturnal Animals
Linus Sandgren – La La Land
Bradford Young – Arrival

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Arrival – Patrice Vermette, Paul Hotte/André Valade
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Stuart Craig/James Hambidge, Anna Pinnock
Jackie – Jean Rabasse, Véronique Melery
La La Land – David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
Live by Night – Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh

BEST EDITING
Tom Cross – La La Land
John Gilbert – Hacksaw Ridge
Blu Murray – Sully
Nat Sanders/Joi McMillon - Moonlight
Joe Walker – Arrival

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Colleen Atwood – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Consolata Boyle – Florence Foster Jenkins
Madeline Fontaine – Jackie
Joanna Johnston – Allied
Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh – Love & Friendship
Mary Zophres – La La Land

BEST HAIR & MAKEUP
Doctor Strange
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hacksaw Ridge
Jackie
Star Trek Beyond

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
A Monster Calls
Arrival
Doctor Strange
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The Jungle Book 

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Finding Dory
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
The Red Turtle
Trolls
Zootopia

BEST ACTION MOVIE
Captain America: Civil War
Deadpool
Doctor Strange
Hacksaw Ridge
Jason Bourne

BEST ACTOR IN AN ACTION MOVIE
Benedict Cumberbatch – Doctor Strange
Matt Damon – Jason Bourne
Chris Evans – Captain America: Civil War
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool

BEST ACTRESS IN AN ACTION MOVIE
Gal Gadot – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Scarlett Johansson – Captain America: Civil War
Margot Robbie – Suicide Squad
Tilda Swinton – Doctor Strange

BEST COMEDY
Central Intelligence
Deadpool
Don’t Think Twice
The Edge of Seventeen
Hail, Caesar!
The Nice Guys

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Ryan Gosling – The Nice Guys
Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins
Dwayne Johnson – Central Intelligence
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool

 BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Kate Beckinsale – Love & Friendship
Sally Field – Hello, My Name Is Doris
Kate McKinnon – Ghostbusters
Hailee Steinfeld – The Edge of Seventeen
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

BEST SCI-FI/HORROR MOVIE
10 Cloverfield Lane
Arrival
Doctor Strange
Don’t Breathe
Star Trek Beyond
The Witch

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Elle
The Handmaiden
Julieta
Neruda
The Salesman
Toni Erdmann

BEST SONG
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls
City of Stars – La La Land
Drive It Like You Stole It – Sing Street
How Far I’ll Go - Moana
The Rules Don’t Apply – Rules Don’t Apply

BEST SCORE
Nicholas Britell – Moonlight
Jóhann Jóhannsson – Arrival
Justin Hurwitz – La La Land
Micachu – Jackie
Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka – Lion

“The Critics’ Choice Awards” are bestowed annually by the BFCA and BTJA to honor the finest in cinematic and television achievement. The BFCA is the largest film critics' organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 300 television, radio and online critics. BFCA members are the primary source of information for today's film-going public. BTJA is the collective voice of almost 100 journalists who regularly cover television for TV viewers, radio listeners and online audiences. Historically, the “Critics’ Choice Awards” are the most accurate predictor of the Academy Award nominations. For more information, visit: www.CriticsChoice.com