Oscar de la Renta

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This afternoon, in anticipation of stepping up my San Francisco Opera opening-night game, I took in the Oscar de la Renta exhibit at the de Young Museum. If you are in San Francisco this month, I highly recommend checking it out.

Here are some of my favorite looks:

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Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective is at the de Young until May 30.

Film Quarterly, Vol. 2016, Issue 1

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The sisters of Mustang (clockwise from bottom left): Güneş Şensoy (Lale), Tuğba Sunguroğlu (Selma), İlayda Akdoğan (Sonay), Doğa Doğuşlu (Nur), and Elit İşcan (Ece).

The sisters of Mustang (clockwise from bottom left): Güneş Şensoy (Lale), Tuğba Sunguroğlu (Selma), İlayda Akdoğan (Sonay), Doğa Doğuşlu (Nur), and Elit İşcan (Ece).

Since I’m watching more movies these days, and since it was so hard to gather my thoughts on so many films for my 2015 year-in-review post, I thought I should perhaps break my movie viewing down into smaller bite-size pieces. Hence, my first “film quarterly” post.*

While the first quarter of any year is generally devoted to my Oscar Blitz, that wasn’t quite the case this year since I had already seen so many nominees in 2015. Instead, my movie selections were dominated by my 52 Films By Women project, which represented exactly one-third of the thirty-nine movies I saw this past quarter. More on this endeavor below.

If you read my year-end post, you may recall that I couldn’t come up with a top ten, but instead chose a favorite five. Would it be easier to make such a list now that I’ve seen a few more of the critical darlings of 2015? I think so. There are still some 2015 movies I want to see, but if I had to come up with a top ten today it would look something like this:

Top Ten Films of 2015
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mustang
Bande de filles (Girlhood)
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Spy
Phoenix
Tangerine
Spotlight
Meadowland

I’ve discussed a number of these films already, so I’ll focus on those that I saw this past quarter.

Most Feminist: Mustang
Mustang is one of those deceptively breezy, naturalistic films that is often underrated. The dynamic between the five sisters is utterly charming; they don’t feel scripted and have lots of energy. This film has been compared to The Virgin Suicides, which I watched as part of my Directed by Women series last fall; however, an important difference between the two is that Mustang is not filtered by the male gaze—the sisters, especially Lale, are independent agents, not simply a mystery some man is trying to solve.

Most Surprising: Phoenix
Oh, goodness, where to begin. Sort of like Vertigo, but way less creepy. It’s a Holocaust story, but not really. It is ridiculously implausible, yet utterly believable. I really shouldn’t say much more except the acting is brilliant and that last scene is a killer. If you appreciate foreign films, check this one out.

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Most Human: Tangerine
There was a lot of hullabaloo about Tangerine starring two transgender actresses and the film being shot on iPhones (and, don’t get me wrong, that feat is impressive because it’s beautifully shot). But there is so much more here. Tangerine depicts a Hollywood that Hollywood usually doesn’t want to show us—the gritty underbelly of dingy motels and doughnut shops, car washes and bus stops. Amidst the grit is the most human of stories, involving friendship, jealousy, loneliness, and love.

Most Underrated: Spotlight
There seems to be a lot of rumbling about Spotlight not being Oscar-worthy, I think mainly because it doesn’t have a showy visual style. While it wouldn’t have been my choice for the win, I think this film has been rather underestimated in the wake of the in-your-face styles of Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant. The most impressive thing to me about this film was that it wasn’t based on a book. And maybe that was to its benefit. It felt well paced, you got the story and didn’t feel like vital information was left out. It was moral, but not melodramatic, and that fit the story being told. Furthermore, the solid cast and subtle performances and direction allowed this important story to shine (which is the job of any good reporter really).

Most Disturbing: Meadowland
I could have chosen Meadowland for most underrated, but since barely anyone has seen it that tag didn’t quite fit (I myself had never heard of it, but the Math Greek got a copy in his set of screeners for the Independent Spirit Awards). That invisibility is certainly unfortunate as Meadowland is an impressive directorial debut from Reed Morano, the cinematographer of such films as Frozen River. The excellent cast delivers an incredibly dark look at how people process grief and guilt.

Two of the above films—Meadowland and Mustang—were also part of my main film project for the year, 52 Films by Women, whereby I have pledged to watch fifty-two films directed by women before the end of the year. This follows on the success of my personal “Directed by Women” film festival that I undertook last September. If you follow me on Twitter (@sly_wit), you know some of the highlights of that project were The Babadook (2014), Beyond the Lights (2014), In a World… (2013), Stories We Tell (2013), and Wadjda (2012). But there are plenty more films by women that I haven’t seen and I’m excited to get through as many as I can. I will be counting rewatches, but only if it has been twenty years or more since my last viewing. You can follow my progress on this challenge at Letterboxd (like Goodreads for movies, sort of).

In the first quarter of 2016, I watched fourteen films directed by women, with only Clueless by Amy Heckerling not counting for the challenge. The thirteen remaining films were Efes Beyahasei Enosh (Zero Motivation) by Talya Lavie (2014), I Will Follow by Ava DuVernay (2010), The Intern by Nancy Meyers (2015), Ishtar by Elaine May (1987), McFarland, USA by Niki Caro (2015), Meadowland by Reed Morano (2015), Mécaniques célestes by Fina Torres (1995), Middle of Nowhere by Ava DuVernay (2012), Mustang by Deniz Gamze Ergüven (2015), La Pointe-Courte by Agnès Varda (1955), Selma by Ava DuVernay (2014), Sedmikrásky (Daisies) by Věra Chytilová (1966), and Walking and Talking by Nicole Holofcener (1996).

Top Five #52FilmsByWomen
Mustang
Walking and Talking
Meadowland
McFarland, USA
I Will Follow

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In terms of my other movie watching this quarter, here are some favorite (and not-so-favorite) selections:

Best Classic Rewatch: Laura (1944)
This is one of my favorite noirs that I rewatched because I recently read the novel of the same name by Vera Caspary, which I also highly recommend.

Best New-to-Me Classic: Blow Out (1981)
How had I never seen this? I don’t know, but it was a fantastic thriller.

Best Math Greek Selection: Welcome to Sarajevo (1997)
Not what I thought it was going to be. The Math Greek is rather annoying in his ability to pick good movies that I’ve always dismissed as not for me.

Best Movie Seen in the Theater: Mustang (2015)

Best Movie Seen in the Theater (runner-up): Spotlight (2015)

Biggest Theater Disappointment: Hail, Caesar! (2016)
I was looking forward to this but, while entertained, I was wildly disappointed by the major Bechdel-Wallace fail and the general treatment of women.

Most Overrated: Zootopia (2016)
An enjoyable movie with gorgeous animation but rather slow and simplistic in its message. This is a movie that is more for kids than adults.

Most Suspenseful: Sicario (2015)
A well-made thriller about the drug trade with some interesting twists and turns. The excellent cinematography and score really heighten the atmosphere.

Best Documentary: The Wrecking Crew (2015)
A Twenty Feet from Stardom for studio musicians, this documentary was an interesting follow-up to Love & Mercy.

Best Audio Experience: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone/Wizard People, Dear Reader (2001/2004)
The Math Greek has never read Harry Potter (and yet he’s so Ravenclaw it’s scary), but he did agree to watch the first movie with the alternative soundtrack by Brad Neely. People, this is hilarious, whether or not you love, or even know, the world of Harry Potter.

Worst Geography: Man’s Favorite Sport (1964)
In the opening of this film, Rock Hudson starts out going west on Pine Street at Nob Hill but then all of a sudden is downtown in the financial district. Don’t even get me started on the fishing scenes.

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Best Ending: Phoenix (2015)
The final scene of this film is just everything I wanted. Perfect.

Best Opening: The 5th Wave (2016)
The opening scene of this film, which shows Chloë Grace Moretz raiding an abandoned post-apocalyptic gas station, is absolutely riveting. And yet…

Five Films I Can’t Recommend
Efes Beyahasei Enosh (Zero Motivation) (2014)
The 5th Wave (2016)
Ishtar (1987)
Sedmikrásky (Daisies) (1966)
Wake of the Red Witch (1949)

Worst Rewatch: Inside Out (2014)
That’s right, I gave this one another chance, but it was even worse the second time around because, in addition to confirming everything I thought the first time, it was simply boring once you know the few funny or clever bits. I am not surprised it has already fallen below a 90% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and will be interested to see how it fares over the long term.

Top Ten Unseen 2015 Films I’m Most Looking Forward To
Appropriate Behavior
Breathe
The Duke of Burgundy
Eden
45 Years
Grandma
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
The Second Mother
Slow West
The Wonders

You may notice that this looks remarkably like the list in my year-end post. Somehow I only managed to see three of those films (Mustang, Sicario, Tangerine) this quarter. I will try to remedy this in the next few months.

Monica Bellucci in Alice Rohrwacher's The Wonders

Monica Bellucci in Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders

*These posts are in no way affiliated with the Film Quarterly journal published by the University of California Press.

Disney Ditties

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Yesterday on Twitter, podcaster and blogger extraordinaire @SavidgeReads posted about his top five Disney tunes. That set “Castle in Spain” off in my brain and, because I can’t resist a list, I present below* my very own top ten Disney favorites. When I sat down to do this, I thought there would be more songs from the great soundtracks of the early 90s, but choosing individual tunes mostly led me in other directions.

1. “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from Mary Poppins

In my opinion, the best Disney tunes have a whiff of nostalgia or melancholy in them and “Chim Chim Cher-ee” is no exception. The mix of joy and wistfulness in the two halves of this tune is just magnificently done.

2. “Cruella De Vil” from 101 Dalmatians

Best song about a villain ever? Perhaps. Sometimes I think this movie was made simply to justify the existence of this song. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The Replacements had a great big band swing version on Stay Awake, an album of Disney covers from the late 1980s that I highly recommend.

3. “Castle in Spain” from Babes in Toyland

Stay Awake was how I was introduced to this lesser-known song, but the original with Ray Bolger and Annette Funicello is pretty fun to watch since any time you get to see Bolger dance is a treat.

4. “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book

Speaking of Disney cover albums, my absolute favorite is Disney Songs the Satchmo Way where Louis Armstrong takes on the likes of “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo,” “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” and “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” among others. But my favorite is “The Bare Necessities” because there is something about Armstrong’s delivery that injects just the right amount of pathos into this tune, taking it to another level.

5. “Little April Shower” from Bambi

An overlooked song in the Disney canon, “Little April Shower” manages to be both a basic round and symphonic tone poem, and is probably the closest thing to Fantasia that you’ll find in any other Disney film.

6. “I Wanna Be Like You” from The Jungle Book

I didn’t think I would have two songs from the same movie here, but Louis Prima’s “I Wanna Be Like You” is just so much fun. [Side note to Disney: No one asked for a live action remake. Go away.]

7. “Beauty and the Beast” from Beauty and the Beast

“Beauty and the Beast” is the sappiest song on this list, but I love the sentiment that the best partners aren’t necessarily those that seem a perfect fit but rather the ones that challenge us to be better versions of ourselves. Plus, Angela Lansbury, bitches!

8. “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid

Sure Menken and Ashman ripped off their own “Somewhere That’s Green” theme for this showstopper, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is brilliant songwriting. The original “Let It Go” power anthem.

9. “Winnie the Pooh” from Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree

If you know me at all, you knew this would be on here. I can still occasionally be heard singing “tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff” if you catch me in the right mood.

10. “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin

As I’ve stated before, I’m not really a huge fan of animation, but if there is anything that sold me on its possibilities it’s this number by the late Robin Williams.

For the haters out there: No, not once did I consider putting “Let It Go” on this list. But I’m admittedly weak on post-Lion King Disney. What would be in your top ten? What would you put at #1? Let me know in the comment box below.

Coda: “Les Poissons” from The Little Mermaid

Both my French and American halves love this Disney take on French haute cuisine. Hee-hee-hee, hon-hon-hon!

 

* Note to email subscribers, there is embedded video in this post that may not appear in your email. Please click through to the actual post to see the complete list of selections.

Oscar Blitz 4: The Long and the Short of It

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We’re almost there! Excited? I am.

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Just a few more categories to get through. For the sixth year in a row, La Maratonista and I took in both the Animated and Live Action Short Film programs at our local Landmark cinema. This year, we both felt the Animated Shorts nominees presented a far stronger program overall.

The nominees are…

Animated Short Film
Bear Story
Prologue
Sanjay’s Super Team
We Can’t Live without Cosmos
World of Tomorrow

In the odds game, the shorts are always a mixed bag in terms of predictions. This year, I’d say they fall in line with my general appreciation of the animated films, namely placing Sanjay’s Super Team (aka the Pixar short that played before The Good Dinosaur) at the top of the list, then World of Tomorrow, and finally Bear Story. However, I’ve heard more people rave about World of Tomorrow, which is available to stream on Netflix if you are interested in catching it. La Maratonista and I both agree that Prologue has no chance, which usually means a win, but this time I think you can safely bet against it.

Live Action Short Film
Ave Maria
Day One
Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)
Shok
Stutterer

The live action films were all good, but none stood out as great to us. It really depends what you are looking for. Comedy? Ave Maria is the odds-on favorite, but I thought it was pretty hollow. Drama? Everything Will Be Okay and Day One both had interesting elements but fell short in their conclusions. I feel it will come down to Shok, about two boyhood friends during the Serbian occupation of Kosovo, and Stutterer, which is the “sweet” entry this year. I’ll probably vote Shok myself.

Speaking of short, after a brief respite last year, it seems the Best Picture nominations are creeping up in length again. Only three were two hours or under (Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Room). Stop bloviating, people!

And with that, let’s celebrate the final craft category I care about: editing. Roughly half of the Best Picture winners since the early 1950s have won for editing as well.

Film Editing
The Big Short
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Spotlight
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road. You know I hope the oddsmakers are right on all these because it will mean the Fury Road will take home more statues than The Revenant and that will be very satisfying. Not as satisfying as George Miller winning, but still.

Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road. I would also be happy with Spotlight winning this, but ultimately I’d rather see another woman up there giving a speech for her incredible work.

Should Have Been Nominated: While I would certainly be happy to replace Star Wars: The Force Awakens on this list, I can’t think of a film I saw this year that stood out to me for its editing beyond the two listed above. Maybe Creed, for which I’ve heard raves, might deserve a place here?

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Best Picture
The Big Short (5 nominations)
Bridge of Spies (6 nominations)
Brooklyn (3 nominations)
Mad Max: Fury Road (10 nominations)
The Martian (7 nominations)
The Revenant (12 nominations)
Room (4 nominations)
Spotlight (6 nominations)

Will Win: The Revenant. Second in line is Spotlight, followed by The Big Short. The oddsmakers don’t seem to think this is up for grabs but I have seen a lot of backlash against The Revenant so who knows? Seriously, a film where I know of multiple screenings with people walking out is going to win? Okay, fine.

Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road. If the oddsmakers are right, this is going to take home six Oscars. It could easily have been up for acting nods for both its leads if the Hardy vote hadn’t split and the female acting categories weren’t so strong this year. Plus, it should take home the directing prize if there is any justice in the world. Also, as rarely happens with the Oscars, it was one of the best pictures of last year.

Should Have Been Nominated: I already ranked my favorites from last year and I have since seen a bunch of very good films,* but do any of them scream “Best Picture”? Certainly I’d like to see The Diary of a Teenage Girl here (and it did take home the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature last night). Rather than adding more names to fill out the ten potential nominee slots, I think I’d be more inclined to reduce this list back down to the good old days of five: The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, and Spotlight.

Variety recently posted a ranking of the best pictures that I whole-heartedly agree with, though I might slide Brooklyn down the list a notch or two.

For foreign films, the general consensus is that Son of Saul will win, with Mustang in second place. I haven’t seen any of the nominees beyond Mustang but I highly recommend it.

Who would you like to see take home an Oscar tonight?

* Of the Oscar-eligible films I have seen from 2015, the thirty I would most recommend you see and judge for yourself are Bande de filles (Girlhood); Brooklyn; Carol; The Diary of a Teenage Girl; Dope; Ex Machina; The Hateful Eight; Joy; Love & Mercy; Mad Max: Fury Road; Magic Mike XXL; The Martian; McFarland, USA; Me and Earl and the Dying Girl; Meadowland; Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation; Mr. Holmes; Mistress America; Mustang; Room; Sicario; Spotlight; Spy; Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Straight Outta Compton; Tangerine; Trainwreck; Trumbo; What Happened, Miss Simone?; Woman in Gold

Oscar Blitz 3: Spoken Word

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In this penultimate post before the big event, we look at the spoken word, who wrote it down and who best delivered it.

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The nominees are…

Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

The male acting categories are pretty weak this year and it is telling that the winners are both considered virtual locks in terms of odds.

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone. Stallone’s only competition is from Mark Rylance.

Should Win: Mark Rylance. I’ve heard that Stallone is a well-deserved nod from those I trust (I don’t like boxing movies particularly so I’m waiting on video for this one), but I’d be very happy with a Rylance win. He was the only interesting thing about Bridge of Spies.

Should Have Been Nominated: This is where I really part ways with the Academy as I would have put up Liev Schreiber from Spotlight instead of Mark Ruffalo and given Tom Hardy a nod for Mad Max: Fury Road instead of The Revenant. But I think before either of them I’d want to include Jason Mitchell for Straight Outta Compton or maybe Benicio del Toro for Sicario (though both are straddling that fine line between lead and supporting role). And, now that I’ve finally seen it, I’m stunned Idris Elba isn’t here for Beasts of No Nation.

Actor in a Leading Role
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

I suppose these nominees make a little more sense, but are they really standout performances? I’m not excited about the possibility of any of these winning.

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio. If there is any category that is a lock this year, this is it.

Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio. I guess. Can we just give all the acting awards to women this year? There are plenty of interesting contenders within those nominees.

Should Have Been Nominated: Where do I start? Abraham Attah for Beasts of No Nation, Emory Cohen for Brooklyn, Paul Dano and/or John Cusack for Love & Mercy, Ian McKellen for Mr. Holmes, Jacob Tremblay for Room. I would be more excited about any of these actors being included in this category.

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Actress in a Supporting Role
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

This is where things get crazy because of the Cheaty McCheatersons who managed to sneak lead performances into the supporting category.

Will Win: Alicia Vikander. But don’t count out Kate Winslet or Rooney Mara, both are in there odds-wise.

Should Win: Jennifer Jason Leigh. A true supporting role and an unexpected turn for Leigh.

Should Have Been Nominated: I think you could make more of an argument that Vikander is a supporting actress in Ex Machina, so I would rather see her included for that role. Instead of Mara, who is in the wrong category, I would love to see Elizabeth Banks for Love & Mercy or, for a comic twist, Rose Byrne for Spy. I could easily replace McAdams with Tatiana Maslany for Woman in Gold or Kristen Wiig for The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Actress in a Leading Role
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Will Win: Brie Larson. This is Larson’s to lose. Saoirse Ronan is a distant second.

Should Win: Saoirse Ronan. Larson is excellent, but Ronan’s performance is subtler. Ultimately, I could see other actresses in the Larson role, but no one but Saoirse as Eilis.

Should Have Been Nominated: While this is a strong field, and any of these women winning is deserved, there are so many others I would have loved to see nominated, starting with Bel Powley for The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Karidja Touré for Bande de filles (Girlhood), and Mya Taylor for Tangerine.

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Adapted Screenplay
The Big Short
Brooklyn
Carol
The Martian
Room

Will Win: The Big Short. A distant second is Room.

Should Win: The Martian. This script took a book I had no interest in reading and turned it into a movie I really enjoyed.

Should Have Been Nominated: The Diary of a Teenage Girl. This movie should have gotten so many nominations, not least of which should be Marielle Heller’s astounding transformation of the graphic novel, first into a play, and then a film.

Original Screenplay
Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton

Will Win: Spotlight. Well behind is Inside Out.

Should Win: Straight Outta Compton. I’m fine with a Spotlight win; I thought leaving the theater that it had a great script and was really impressed when I learned it was not adapted from a book. But, man, Straight Outta Compton also condensed a lot of material into a tight story and really got me to understand and care about a wide range of characters from a world I did not know at all.

Should Have Been Nominated: You know I want to replace Inside Out with practically anything, but I’d settle for Mistress America by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig.

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What words leapt off the screen for you? Whose performance made you sit up and take notice? Let me know in the comment box below.

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