Oscar Reflection | Best Picture & Best Director from the 78th Academy Awards

Written by Alexander Reams

Crash: 46/100

Brokeback Mountain: 76/100

Venice Film Festival, September 2, 2005. Ang Lee brought a new film to the Lido, entitled Brokeback Mountain, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams, and Randy Quaid. Premiering to universal praise, and winning the festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion. This kicked off the Oscar campaign, but also the memes. After the hype from festivals hit the internet, the film became known as the “gay cowboy movie”.

A year prior, Paul Haggis premiered his latest film at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival, Crash. The film received mostly positive reviews but was not considered an Oscar frontrunner sans the screenplay. The film would mostly go unnoticed until the summer? Yes, Crash was a summer release. Quite surprising given that most Oscar-fare doesn’t begin to roll out until mid-September/ October.

Then Oscar nomination day came, and Brokeback Mountain won the day with 8 nominations, with Crash following close behind with 6, both receiving nominations in the Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor categories, with Crash also receiving a Best Original Screenplay nom. Whereas Brokeback Mountain received a Best Adapted Screenplay nom. 

None of these nominations were really a surprise, especially after Lionsgate took advantage of home media distribution and used that as a major push for Crash. While these other films were slowly rolling out into theatres, Crash was already available to be purchased and seen at home, saving a trip to the theatre for moviegoers. Whereas Brokeback, along with their competition; Capote, Munich, and Good Night, and Good Luck (in both Best Picture and Best Director categories) were all being released in theatres around the same time. 

When you look at where race relations were in America at the time of the release of Crash, one can’t be surprised that the mostly white Academy would want to nominate the film that explored race relations (in the most white-person way possible) for as many awards as possible to make themselves feel good. The film itself is an Altman-ripoff ensemble film, exploring the lives of its incredibly stacked cast. A cast that includes (deep breathe folks),  Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillion, Michael Peña, Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, Nona Gaye, Terrence Howard, Ludacris, and Thandiwe Newton. Almost everyone here is serviceable, sans Don Cheadle, Matt Dillion, and Brendan Fraser. These 3 men were somehow able to take the very surface-level script by Haggis and Robert Moresco and add depth and reality to their pipe dream aspirations of solving race problems in America. 

When I looked at what inspired Haggis to birth this film, he was carjacked, and what is one of the inciting incidents? Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock are carjacked, except here it is by 2 black men, something the film never lets you forget. This leads to Bullock rationalizing her predetermined prejudices not to be racism because of this incident. Haggis uses the subtlety of a sledgehammer to tell you that even though the white people were carjacked, they deserved it, instead of analyzing the crime through both sides of the story, again, the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

On the flip side, a quiet, moving, decades-spanning romance film sounds right up The Academy’s alley. Until you find out the romance is between- two men. This was during the height of the rumored anti-gay movement within the AMPAS. Considering the New Queer Cinema movement had been exploding within independent films for the past 12ish years, one could assume that The Academy would move with the times and that one could be laughed at greatly for that. These folks have always been at least 20 years behind the times, these are the same people that waited 82 years to award Best Director to a woman (Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker). 

I digress, The Academy was destined to hate this film, even if this checks all of their so-called “boxes”. Even the plot of this film is something to hate, two men fall in love while taking care and driving cattle through the American west over a span of 20 years. Future Scorsese regular Rodrigo Prieto was the DP (Director of Photography) and shot it on gorgeous 35mm film See how much there is to hate? How boring it sounds? No wonder The Academy went against it, even though it won the BAFTA, Critics Choice, Golden Globe, and the PGA award for Best Picture. All precedents that (most) eventual Best Picture winners not only contend but win before winning the big one. 

Upon finally seeing both of these films 15 years after their wins at the Academy Awards in 2006, the hype had died down and I could temper expectations and after seeing both films neither one is deserving of the biggest award in the film industry. Both are tales that squander their potential. Crash could have been a film that actually analyzed the racial problems in America. Thoughtfully presenting ideas that audiences already know, but in a way that only film can present them. Brokeback could have been an intriguing romance that would break hearts all around and instead disappointed me by the lack of care I had for every character. 

Unfortunately the Best Picture and Best Director race that year was not as stacked as it could have been. In a dream year, Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins), Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), and Terrence Malick (The New World) would have all been nominated in the Best Director category. With films like King Kong and V for Vendetta eking into the Best Picture category. However, this was before the time that the Academy would nominate a film about a giant ape and a film based on a…. comic book? The thought hadn’t even begun to enter the Academy’s mind that a comic book film could be “worthy” of a nomination in their prestigious little club. With the nominations we were given I would give Best Picture and Best Director to Munich (and director Steven Speilberg). However, with the Academy giving Best Picture to Crash we will forever have some of the Internet’s finest jokes and memes at their expense.

Crash Trailer

Crash is currently available to rent and purchase on most major VOD platforms.

Brokeback Mountain Trailer

Brokeback Mountain is currently available to rent and purchase on most major VOD platforms.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Fantasia 2021 Film Festival Review: Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes

Written by Patrick Hao

73/100

Not to be Christopher Nolan, but movies can function as a magic trick. Sure, you can start poking around any logical fallacies or explanations, but to truly enjoy the experience is to allow yourself to be immersed in the hands of a capable director or magician. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes might be one of the best movies as a magic trick in recent memory.

The feature debut of Junto Yamaguchi, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes takes place entirely in a café and apartment upstairs. Shot in a faux one-take style in the vein of 1917 or Birdman, the film follows Kato (Kazunori Tosa) a café owner who notices that the café television set is broadcasting the future to his computer screen. The kicker is that the computer screen can only see two minutes into the future and is limited by what the television set sees.

This leads to a rambunctious series of events and time loops as Kato’s employee, Megumi (Aki Asakura), and a cast of café regulars (Riko Fujitani, Gota Ishida, Suwa Masashi) discovers the “Time TV.” Due to the limitations, the characters run up and down between the apartment and the café to learn about the future and give the future to their past selves. It’s amazing that watching the winsome group of characters perform the same routine repeatedly never gets tiresome.

Shot on a meager $50,000 budget, Yamaguchi’s film follows the sketch comedy logic of “if this is true then what else must be true.” The one take nature of the film’s editing makes the film feel like live theater in that the actors had a  sense of play in their performances. Yamaguchi allows his characters to tease out, experiment, and discover the natural limitations the situation presents them – an aspect that always seems to be absent in other time travel movies. This is also the perfect way to seamlessly ingrain the exposition of the rules into the film. Soon the characters begin thinking of ways to exploit this power that is comically not too powerful. There is only so much you can learn in two minutes. 

Despite the two simultaneous gimmicks – the time travel and one-shot aspect – the film is never engulfed by it. Yamaguchi keeps a lighthearted tone throughout but does not shy away from more heady themes of predestination.  It is interesting the way the characters make the decisions of their future selves to not disrupt time. And at less than 70 minutes, the film is the perfect length: brisk and never wearing out its welcome.

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is the perfect kind of festival discovery. The film embraced the limitations of its budget and sets to make something creative and fun. By the end, I was so in awe of the film’s precision that I never once questioned the film’s premise and just embraced the experience. That is true magic.

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes Trailer

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is screening as part of the Fantasia 2021 Film Festival.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

2021 Golden Globes Wrap-Up

Written by Alexander Reams

Well, the Golden Globes have come and gone. However, they have planted some interesting seeds of what seem to be shoe in Oscar nominations, and added some dark horses to be watching for in the coming weeks. 

The biggest surprises of the night were Jodie Foster winning in the Best Supporting Actress category for The Mauritanian, Andra Day winning in the Best Actress; Drama category for The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and my favorite win of the night, Rosamund Pike winning in the Best Actress: Musical/Comedy category for I Care A Lot. Jodie Foster was never in the running for an Oscar nomination, and even her Globes nom was a complete surprise, but now I think she will at least be a dark horse in the Best Supporting Actress race in the Oscars. Most everyone has seemed to forget Lee Daniels middling and juvenile, and quite frankly, terrible film The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Despite most people forgetting about it, Andra Day nonetheless took home the award for Best Actress: Drama, making her presence in awards season all the more prevalent, for some reason. I would’ve much preferred Vanessa Kirby or Frances McDormand take her place on the stage. 

Nomadland winning Best Picture: Drama, and Chloê Zhao winning Best Director was not a big surprise. I was very happy to see her take home both awards, and will continue to root for her winning streak to continue on this awards season. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm winning Best Picture: Musical/Comedy was not a surprise, in the past the HFPA has loved Sacha Baron Cohen as the titular character, while he isn’t doing anything new here, what he does, he does well, and his win for Best Actor: Musical/Comedy was not a shock. Best Actor: Drama of course went to Chadwick Boseman for his career best work in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, for which I am very happy to see him getting all this acclaim for his magnificent work. Aaron Sorkin returned to the stage to take home the Best Screenplay Award for The Trial of the Chicago 7, which was one of my favorite films of last year. I’m happy to see him get more recognition as his directing career continues. 

Best Supporting Actor winner Daniel Kaluuya won for his powerful and heartbreaking portrayal as “Fred Hampton” in Shaka King’s brilliant Judas and the Black Messiah, which hopefully after this coming weekends Critics Choice Awards, will pave the way for him to take home the Oscar. Disney’s last offering of 2020, Soul, took home two big awards, Best Motion Picture: Animated, and Best Original Score, now I wholeheartedly agree with its BMP: Animated win. I define a good score as something that sticks with me, and none describe that more than Ludwig Göransson and his phenomenal work for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which I believe should’ve taken home the Best Original Score award. Best Foreign Language film went to A24’s Minari. At the Oscars however, this film will not be competing for this award so expect Thomas Vinterberg’s film Druk/Another Round, will be taking the award home that night.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.

Episode 96: Doc Talk Part 5 / Man with a Movie Camera / Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound / Ex Libris: The New York Public Library

“I don’t like to read novels where the novelist tells me what to think about the situation and the characters. I prefer to discover for myself.”

Frederick Wiseman

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of Vivos & State Funeral and the Documentary Titles: Man with a Movie Camera, Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound, and Ex Libris: The New York Public Library.

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Streaming links for titles this episode

The Man with a Movie Camera on Kanopy

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound on Hoopla, Tubi TV, and Prime Video

Ex Libris: The New York Public Library on Kanopy

Possessor

Written by Nick McCann

95/100

It fills me with joy when filmmakers have kids that go on to do filmmaking of their own. Enter David Cronenberg, the king of body horror! His movies over the years raised as many social and thematic questions as they did drain blood out of people. Now comes his son Brandon, following in his footsteps with something that’s as entertainingly gross as it is thought provoking!

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Possessor moves at a methodical pace, slowly building it’s world when appropriate and taking the viewer on an increasingly crazy trip. It leaves plenty up for interpretation. I’m still going over details in my head as of this writing, but I could see some parallels to topics of invasive technology, identity and others. All while the plot goes in a couple of neat and unexpected directions! Even with some parts that are slower than others, nothing feels unimportant.

With the Cronenberg name also comes the trademark bloodshed. Again, Brandon takes nicely after his father. The violence adds to the story rather than simply exploiting content. That’s great on top of the effects simply looking solid in their disturbing nature. This may be some of the best practical work and make-up I’ve watched all year! It’s composed to a degree that reminded me slightly of the tangibility found in 80’s horror. Whether it be shootings, stabbings or other nasty details in between, there’s genuine creativity and craft on display. It’s plain gnarly.

It’s backed up with a good cast that looks well suited for the world they roam. So good that I can honestly listen to them talk cerebral sci-fi for a good hour! Andrea Riseborough once again shines, with her most strung out emotional state that’s felt even in places where she isn’t on camera. I also gotta give props to Christopher Abbot! That guy I genuinely believed he wasn’t the person he was. At a point, his performance only gets better thereon. Jennifer Jason Leigh should not be ignored either, being a reserved foil to Riseborough. Top it off with a delightfully scummy Sean Bean and you really don’t have a weak link on screen. They have strong dialog and interesting characters to take their time with for excellent results.

Cinematography looks incredible, with particularly interesting uses of dead space and PLENTY of psychedelic colors. This combined with the editing gives off a mood that’s intense on a subconscious level. It’s about the ideal joining of Inception and Scanners, in the weirdest and best way I can put it. Just as it should, everything on screen is reflecting the subsurface hectic feeling in the plot. All of it strung along with the menacing drone of the score that had my heart pounding a bit.

This is strange. Possessor is an arthouse horror movie that I actually mostly get and enjoy! It asks many questions and succeeds in following through on its varied concepts. Equally entertaining in it’s shocking bits of carnage as it is ponderous about the bigger picture. Most won’t get it or be really turned on by it, but I’m jiving good with it. It’s a thinking man’s blood fest. 

Highly Recommended.

Possessor is part of the Vancouver International Film Festival 2020 line up.

VIFF Website: https://viff.org/Online/

Tenet

Written by Taylor Baker

86/100

Nolan revisits all the pieces of formulaic ingenuity that have risen him to the pinnacle of non-franchise blockbuster cinema, and it’s fun. The whole time you’re there, it’s a good time. When it’s done, you feel mostly satisfied, but that thing from Inception and Interstellar, the longing for a better understanding of the film. That is absent. The sheer emotional ride of Dunkirk leading you out the doors of the cinema winded, is also absent. But you had a fantastic time keeping up thru the spectacle of it all and seeing glorious movie stars projected on a screen with some of the largest action set pieces you’ll ever witness.

At bottom Tenet feels like a live concert from Nolan. Some of his greatest hits strung together in different ways than they were before. The fun of the premise is assuredly there, but the substance is notably absent. And I think I’m mostly okay with that. But after the runtime I am also filled with a deep longing to see him shoot a walk and talk that doesn’t include exposition in every drop of dialogue.

First trip to a theater in 6 months, it felt good to be back.

PS: While WB is developing shows on HBO based on their blockbuster films in 2020, I’d appreciate them greenlighting a TV-MA show centered around whatever Aaron Taylor-Johnson does outside of what we see in the movie.

Taylor Baker originally posted this review on Letterboxd 08/31/20

Tenet is currently in theaters.