About Jill

With more than 20 years experience working (and attending) film festivals, nationally and internationally, I have a great passion for film. I love entertaining, esp. making cocktails for friends. I love art and theater--and have been to known to dance with wild abandon! If the sun is shining; you'll almost always find me in a sunny mood!

Fun films to finish off the Winter Blahs

I like to compare film reviews to discussions about wine. Your enjoyment of either is often determined by far more that what’s in your glass or on the screen. To appreciate a fine wine or have a great cinematic experience, you must take into account your present state of mind, your affinity for certain things (notes of cherry say or affection for pratfalls), what you’re pairing it with (salmon, a matinee with your ex-boyfriend) and your previous experiences (extensive wine tasting, several cinema appreciation classes). I can’t tell you what’s going to make your heart go pitter patter…but I can give you an idea about what might be in store for you.

My film blog (and Instagram Feed), Drinks With Films gives a one to five rating for a film based on what drinks seem appropriate for the characters in the film. One shot of tequila for a bad Western for instance, five glasses of Champagne for an excellent Romance. I believe that the best way to give someone a recommendation on a film, is to understand their taste in films!

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 3 (PG • 104 mins.)

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/KhMlZeKx0BKhW00aT7R16zJv5dBJdnMFRBTC-0NOYHrpffZkNHq5vSQo-spbTpGAaJnM49gxd4eDRKdzfol-ZUz_A3Y9c9ignQhptsgGnD-fY466CC9Rf7ZNuQnPmPxxegUwXPcM

How to Train Your Dragon 3 The Hidden World, directed by Dean DeBlois: rare is the series that maintains this high of entertainment value. Not only is the story fresh and the animation charming, the message of being true to yourself and the importance of family remain strong across all three films. Funny characters, dragons both scary and sweet, and the final resolution that if you love someone or something–sometimes you have to let it go. It’s all packaged in an action-packed tale that stays true to the characters. A great film for the whole family, though a few scary moments for the very young or easily frightened.

4 mugs of glog (out of 5)

WHAT MEN WANT (R • 1 h 57 mins.)

What Men Want, directed by Adam Shankman and starring Taraji P. HensonAldis HodgeRichard Roundtree, and Tracy Morgan. A loose remake of the 2000 film What Women Want, the plot follows a woman who, after drinking a potent concoction offered by a psychic, hilariously portrayed by Erykah Badu, gains the ability to hear men’s inner thoughts. Ali is a successful sports agent who can’t seem to make partner in her male-dominated field. Will she use her new power to hear the random, mostly crass thoughts of her colleagues to advance her career? Will it ruin her friendships and her new love interest? This over-long adaptation features a few chuckles and lots of reinforced stereotypes. Taraji P Henson has some great outfits and brings a warmth and wit to this portrayal of Ali, yet the only interesting character is the assistant played by Josh Brener.

1 cup of disgusting tea out of 5

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, directed by Mike Mitchell featuring the vocal talents of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett and Tiffany Haddish is the fourth Lego film and predictably, not the best in the series. The kids at the screening I attended were laughing and seemed to enjoy the animation but the soundtrack is not as catchy, the plot–not as inventive, and the animation isn’t anything new. Instead of the Father and Son, this edition features Maya Rudolph as the Mom threatening to put the Legos in a storage bin. An amusing, if modest effort for the franchise.

2 super sweet Slurpies out of 5

Isn’t It Romantic,directed byTodd Strauss-Schulson. A delightful parody of Hollywood Romantic Fillms. Rebel Wilson is hilarious and real.Liam Hemsworth and Adam Devine have fun parodying the romantic lead and the guy stuck in the “friend zone”. Just like the actress, the film pretends to be all snarky till you get to the soft gooey, lovable ending. A fun date movie.

3 fruity, overly sweet drinks out of 5

Captain Marvel, directed by Anna BodenRyan Fleck. I really enjoyed the origin story and Brie Larson gives a refreshing performance as the Super Hero. There was wit and humor and girl power. It could’ve used some more character development and more fun…why so dark? A few odd bits, like why is her nose bleeding green in the flashback? Overall, a good time at the movies.

3 1/2 All American Beers out of 5

Sonoma International Film Festival — A festival featuring film, food, wine and spirits in Sonoma, California

UPCOMING 22ND ANNUAL SONOMA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Festival to Open with LADIES IN BLACK; SIR is Closing Night Film

Wednesday, March 27 – Sunday, March 31

Sonoma, CA (March 11, 2019) – The 2019 Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) is celebrating 22 years of film, food, wine, and spiritsWednesday, March 27 to Sunday, March 31, 2019. All films are shown at intimate venues within walking distance of Sonoma’s historic plaza. In total, 123 films from around the world, from over 28 countries and 200 filmmakers, will be showcased as all eyes turn to Sonoma for a Festival that consistently attracts the most prominent names in the film industry and has become a marquee destination for film lovers, as well as lovers of world class food and wine!

The film festival guide has all films and events by day, times, venues, and includes film trailers when available. Some of the films highlighted this year include MIKE WALLACE IS HERE, ART PAUL OF PLAYBOY: THE MAN BEHIND THE BUNNY, FIRE ON THE HILL, GIRL ON WAVE, CHARGED, and the Oscar® winning animated short BAO.

The Opening Night Gala is Wednesday, March 27 from 5pm to 7pm in the Diageo Backlot Tent and features music from The Rich Little Band. The Opening Night Film, LADIES IN BLACK to follow at Sebastiani Theater (7:15pm) and Meyer Sound & Dolby Hall at Vets 1 (7:45pm). From Academy Award nominated director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Mao’s Last Dancer), LADIES IN BLACKis set in the summer of 1959 when the impact of European migration and the rise of women’s liberation is about to change Australia forever. Sixteen-year-old Lisa takes a holiday job at the prestigious Sydney department store, Goode’s. There she meets the “ladies in black.” Beguiled and influenced by Magda, the vivacious manager and assisting sales ladies Patty and Fay, Lisa is awakened to a world of possibilities. As she grows from a bookish schoolgirl into a glamorous and positive young woman, the impact they have on each other will change all their lives. Julia Ormond (Actor),Rachael Taylor (Actor) and Allanah Zitserman (Producer) will all be on hand to walk the red carpet in support of the film, which is the largest grossing film in Australia’s history.  Jennifer Brown of Flagstar Bank and Tina DeMartini of DeMartini Electric, Inc., are the presenting sponsors of the Opening Night Film.

The sellout SIFF/Devour! Chefs & Shorts is back! This year’s event features highly regarded culinary luminaries who will each prepare a dish inspired by short food-focused films from around the world. Michael Howell and Lia Rinaldo, founders of DEVOUR!—the world’s largest food and film festival in Nova Scotia, Canada—curate the chefs and the films. Each course, paired with a select wine, creates a multi-sensory dining experience. This unique event will appeal to all foodie, film and wine buffs. The evening starts with a reception of passed appetizers, Gloria Ferrer bubbles and a SIFF signature cocktail from Ketel One Botanical. The wine pairings feature Huge Bear Wines, Deerfield Ranch Winery, Bee Hunter Wine, and Landmark Vineyards. The featured chefs include Michael Howell (Founder and Executive Director of Devour!), Chef Marcellus Coleman (Executive Chef at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa), Chef Cole Dickinson (Executive Chef at MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa), Pastry Chef Michelle Gayer (Owner Salty Tart bakery), Chef Della Gossett (Pastry Chef at Spago) and Chef Eduardo Garcia (Co-founder Montana Mex). Adding to the night’s experience Chef Tyler Florence will screen his trailer for UNCRUSHABLE, showing twice at SIFF22. The event takes place on Thursday, March 28 at 6pm at host Ramekins Culinary School, Events & Inn located at 450 W. Spain Street, Sonoma. Tickets are $250 with Soirée, $275 with Cinema Pass, $300 General Public, $500 for seat at Tyler Florence’s hosted table (only five seats available) and are available at http://www.sonomafilmfest.org/page464.html.

The list of accomplished jury members for this year’s festival includes casting director Ferne Cassel (DIE HARD, COMING TO AMERICA, ROADHOUSE, DICK TRACY), Courtney Sexton (Vice President of CNN Films), powerhouse film distributor Adeline Monzier, Michele Maheux (Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Toronto International Film Festival), Bart Walker (partner at ICM Partners), cinematographer John Bailey (GROUNDHOG DAY, AS GOOD AS IT GETS, HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS, MUST LOVE DOGS), Bill Keith (Deputy Editor of Entertainment Weekly), award winning producer Tom Davia (ARE WE NOT CATS, LA GRANJA), and actress Angela Sarafyan (THE INFORMERS, A BEAUTIFUL LIFE, THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN – PART 2, WESTWORLD).

New to SIFF this year is The UNCRUSHABLE Dinner with Tyler Florence. On Friday, March 29 join celebrated Chef Tyler Florence for a one-of-a-kind “Dinner and a Movie” event. View Tyler’s documentary, UNCRUSHABLE, and after the film, savor a four-course dinner paired with wines from SIMI, Ravenswood, Robert Mondavi and The Prisoner Wine Company. The dinner begins at 5pm at Ramekins Culinary School, Events & Inn located at 450 W. Spain Street, Sonoma. Tickets are $250 with Soirée Pass, $275 with Cinema Pass, $300 General Public and $500 for a seat at Tyler Florence’s hosted table (only five seats available) and are available for purchase at http://www.sonomafilmfest.org/page464.html.

Saturday, March 30 SIFF will host two Industry Panel Discussions in the Diageo Backlot Tent. Panel #1 at 9:30am “Representation: A Look Into The Business of Agents and Managers” will feature Bill Keith, Deputy Editor of Entertainment Weekly), Bart Walker (ICM), Beth Holden Garland (Talent Manager), and Melissa Hirschenson (Agent at Innovative Artists). Panel #2 at 10am “Destination Filming: The Practicalities of Filming Outside the ‘Hollywood Zone’” will feature Mark Walker (Cinelease Director of Studio Development and General Manager, Film Mare Island).

Sunday, March 31 is the Closing Night Film and Wrap Party, presented by Daniel Casabonne of Sotheby’s International Realty. The Closing Night Film is SIR directed by Rohena Gera, starring Ahmareen Anjum, Vivek Gomber, and Geetanjali Kulkarni, will show at 7:15pm at the Sebastiani Theatre and at 7:30pm at Meyer Sound & Dolby Hall at Vets 1. SIR is the story of worlds and classes colliding – of human connection across the invisible, oppressive barriers of society. A live-in domestic worker, Ratna is an impoverished but determined woman dedicated to her dreams. While working, she meets affluent Ashwin who, despite his riches, seems to have given up on his dreams and lost himself in the process. As the connection between them grows and their disparate worlds are irreparably intertwined, the social barriers that seek to separate them only appear to grow more insurmountable.

Pass Information

The 22nd Annual Sonoma International Film Festival runs from Wednesday, March 27 through Sunday, March 31. The best way to experience the festival and have access to all films is by getting a SIFF pass. SIFF can be enjoyed at different levels. Currently Cinema Passes are $325, $950 for Soirée, and $2,500 for Patron. All Cinema pass holders will have day access to the Diageo Backlot Tent. Soirée pass holders will have day VIP area and evening parties access. For information about tickets, festival passes, prices, and benefits visit www.sonomafilmfest.org.

About the Sonoma International Film Festival

The Sonoma International Film Festival, an entirely walkable festival, is a 501(c)3 corporation dedicated to promoting independent film and filmmakers from around the world, inspiring film lovers, and introducing the power of film to student filmmakers. SIFF’s signature initiative—the Media Arts Program started at Sonoma Valley High School in 2002—introduces students to the process of storytelling and provides the resources for them to create films, many of which are shown annually at The Student Showcase.  This “only in SONOMAWOOD” five-day event features screening venues in and around Sonoma Plaza, offers world-class cuisine from local artisans and exceptional wines from Wine Country vintners. Renowned filmmakers, industry leaders and celebrities such as Bruce Willis, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, John Lasseter, Danny Glover, Demián Bichir, Mary-Louise Parker, Ray Liotta, Michael Keaton, and Meg Ryan have walked the SIFF red carpet and enjoyed its intimate ambiance.

Over the past 22 years, the Sonoma International Film Festival continues to promote independent film and filmmakers from around the world with the support of incredible sponsors who include but are not limited to: Manitou Fund, Diageo, Sonoma Magazine, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Arrowood, Bank of Marin, Dolby, Sonoma Market, Sophienwald, Stor-It-All, WildFire Web, Spritz, Don Julio, Johnnie Walker, Ketel One Botanical, San Francisco Chronicle, Landmark Vineyards, Brew Dr., Huge Bear Wines, OHM Coffee Roasters, Farm Fresh To You, Rodney Strong, Gloria Ferrer, and Lake Sonoma Winery.

For more information, please visit www.sonomafilmfest.org

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Media contact: Allison Coats, allison@coatspr.com or (707) 935-6203

2019 Oscars: Diverse and Divisive

Women won in record numbers this year! Hurrah for Regina King, Rayka Zehtabchi, Hannah Beachler and RuthE. Carter

From the get-go, the 91st Academy Awards courted controversy by announcing Kevin Hart as this year’s Host. The Academy should’ve done it’s homework. People remember when you’ve said homophobic slurs; especially when posted on Twitter. To make matters worse, the Producers thought to make the show shorter by awarding a few categories featuring less glamorous nominees, i.e., cinematography, editing, make-up and hairstyling, and live-action shorts, off-camera.

After significant uproar from the film community, the Academy President reversed that decision and the Show went on, without a Host.

This year’s program was one of the most diverse–both in Oscar Winners and the rainbow of Presenters. There was Serena Williams, Senator John Lewis, actors and musicians, both young and old. Black Panther was the first Super-Hero film to be nominated for Best Picture, and was awarded Oscars for Best Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter) and Best Production Design (Hannah Beachler). The two women made history as African American women winning awards in non-acting roles. Regina King’s win for Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk and Mahershala Ali, Green Book added to that celebration of diversity.

Billy Porter, star of the TV series Pose, broke gender norms with his tuxedo-inspired ball gown. Melissa McCarthy, Awkwafina, Amy Poehler, and Elsie Fisher walked the red carpet in pantsuits. The cast of Crazy Rich Asians was featured in many red carpet interviews. There were moments of triumph for Egyptian Americans (Rami Malek winning Best Actor), Iranian Americans (Rayka Zehtabchi for Best Documentary Short), a record number of LGBTQ-inspired films nominated, and Mexican Director Alfonso Cuarón applauding “…the Academy for recognizing a film centered around an indigenous woman. One of the 70 million domestic workers in the world without workers’ rights.”

There was some disappointment that Glenn Close didn’t win and silly gossip about Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s music performance and whether it signified an affair.

The show went along at a nice pace with some great acceptance speeches. Then the envelope for Best Picture was opened and Green Book was the Oscar winner! This film that landed one of it’s stars, (Viggo Mortensen, nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Frank Anthony “Tony Lip” Vallelonga) in hot water for use of the “N” word. Green Book was also boycotted by the family of the real Don Shirley. Was this another film about a White Savior–did it create drama with altercations that never happened so that the white character could come to the rescue? Spike Lee, after his triumphant win for Best Adapted Screenplay for BlackKKlansman, turned his back on the stage and later said, “the ref made a bad call” and “every time someone’s driving someone, I lose” — referring to Driving Miss Daisy.

Did Roma, the Best Picture film favored to win, not garner enough votes because it was produced by Netflix? Was the Old Guard Hollywood voting with it’s pocketbook and trying to protect theaterical screening? Alfonso Cuarón had a great response. “For me the conversation about theatrical is super important… I’m a filmmaker. I believe in the theatrical experience. But there has to be diversity. The multiplex theatrical experience is a very gentrified experience. You have one kind of product with few variations. It’s hard to see art-house films. It’s hard to see foreign films. Most theaters play big Hollywood movies.”

As Cuarón told IndieWire before the Roma premiere at the Venice Film Festival last August, the main reason he went to Netflix in the first place was because no other platform that would globally release a black-and-white, Spanish-language drama featuring a cast of mostly unknown actors.

The 2019 Oscar’s may have escaped the #OscarsSoWhite label this year, but we still have some work to do to change hearts and minds. Diversity and inclusion are important, but the Academy needs to continue to welcome younger voters who’ll embrace the changing dynamic of today’s film culture.

Inspired Cinema in 2018: Innovative, Universal and showcasing flawed human beings as Heroes!

72 film tickets which doesn’t include films screened for festivals, shorts watched on my computer or any of the 15 films watched on Netflix, rented from Redbox or DVDS!

This was a wonderful year for movies. No matter how you consumed them: via Netflix, at your local cineplex or at a starry Festival premiere, there was a broad array of offerings. A few of the sequels were as good, if not BETTER than the original films (Paddington 2, Incredibles 2, Bumblebee), our comic book films celebrated diversity and empowerment (Wonder Woman, Black Panther) and it was a banner year for documentaries (RBG, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Free Solo).

My favorite movies this year were two beautiful black and white films that transported me to another time and place with amazing cinematography and rich storytelling. Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski‘s tragic love story tracked lovers thru a decade of Polish folk music to jazz in Paris. It was in the small moments when a stillness seemed to freeze frame the characters so we could study their emotions. The lush cinematography and the amazing, luminous performances of Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot really drew me in. The film had a documentary feel and was almost as moving as my favorite films from 2013, Ida, by the same director.

 Roma, Alfonso Cuaron’s personal film about life in an upper middle-class Mexican family home is also shot in black and white (by Cuaron). Told thru the eyes of the caring family helper (both maid and nanny), Roma reveals how the personal and the political impact and influence everyone’s lives. The casualness of how a normal day can be shattered by violence, transformed by a brush with death or unite a family to battle a brush fire; while the family tries to maintain security and stability. We may not suffer as much trauma but it’s a universal struggle to protect those we love that everyone can understand.

There were some astounding films this year. I was so moved by A Beautiful Boy (Steve Carell and Timothy Chalamet), and Ben is Back also explored the drug crisis with searing performances (Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts). Welcome to Marwen and Annilahation were visually stunning as was the sweet Paddington 2. Into the Spiderverse was a zany Pop Culture Spiderman that we didn’t know we needed.

There were some great explorations of race and gender this year in film. My favorite was Blindspotting. I had to see Black Panther and Wonder Woman twice! And cheered for RBG AND On the Basis of Sex. One of my favorite moments at the movies this year was Edna Mode in The Incredibles 2 transforming into Aunt Edna and hustling the exhausted Dad (Bob, trying to be a Super Dad) back home. I felt that this year, the movies gave us some heroes that were flawed and all the more likable for it. Our society is changing. How we perceive ourselves and others is changing. Our films should too.

There may well have been other films I would’ve ranked in my Top 10 if I’d made one, but I know I missed seeing some great films this year: Madeline’s Madeline, Happy as Lazzaro, Private Life, The Rider, Support the Girls, Let The Sunshine In, Capernaum, Never Look Away, Burning, and Shoplifters.  A few I’ll be able to see on Netflix or Hulu, and a few that may still screen at an arthouse cinema somewhere.

Follow me on Instagram for snapshots of films as I see them.

See you at the movies my friends!

Writing about culture–is it just adding to the noise?

When you go to a concert, read a book, attend a poetry reading, take a trip to the theater or visit a museum, I like to think that you’re starting a conversation with an artist. They’ve created this outpouring of creativity to try to reach your heart, your mind, yes, even your soul. If they succeed, you’ve been moved and you want to share that experience with others.

That water cooler moment when you share your thoughts about it, transforms that passive experience of you taking something in, into a transformative experience where you can relive the joy or share that knowledge learned. It makes you feel good to share those feelings or to warn someone to skip a show that you know they’d find offensive or bland.

I’ve often compared writing about film as a process similar to discussing wine. You gain an understanding of films and wines by sampling many types and learning about the craft. You can discuss nuances and enjoy flavors and discerns smells that might be missed by others. But still, you bring your own palate, your own experience to the table. My top pick of an Orin Swift Cellars Mercury Head wine or the Polish masterpiece, the film Cold War may strike you as overwhelming or pretentious. And what does my opinion matter to you?

A.O.Scott, one of the top film critics at the New York Times wrote a marvelous piece about criticism, A Critic Reviews His Own Role. He argues that writing about culture is akin to news reporting though “inherently subjective”. “No reader will agree with a critic all the time, and no critic requires obedience or assent from readers. What we do hope for is trust*. We try to earn it through the quality of our writing and clarity of our thought, and by telling the truth. The truth, in this case, about what we thought about what we saw, read or heard.” (*my emphasis)

What critics hope to share is what moved us. We want you to be inspired and to seek out the gems that might not get the attention we feel they deserve. That’s why, though I enjoy “Best of” Lists, what I love is lists like The Most Under-Appreciated Films of 2018 from Indiewire. When critics I respect, like Mick LaSalle of the SF Chronicle write rapturous reviews of films I’ve heard might be disasters ( “Vox Lux” review) or I read on Twitter that Kate Erbland and Tomris Laffly mention a film I should see on Netflix (Happy as Lazzaro), I make time to sit in front of a tv or seek out a film screening. Even though I don’t always agree with David Ehlrich, I crack up reading his reviews on Letterboxd. Manohla Dargis wrote an insightful piece on Barry Jenkins’ new film If Beale Street Could Talk and it makes me want to see the film again.

Whether you’re trying to save yourself money by not purchasing a ticket to an event that you’re not sure about…or looking for something exciting and fresh…find a critic writing reviews you can trust. Whether it’s in a paper, on a website, a blog or an Instagram post, you can start a conversation. It will lead you to an experience that’ll be worth your time and money. And who knows, it might enrich your soul.

Boy, Oh Boy, which film about a young man in crisis should you see?

As we head into Awards Season, there’s one sure bet. At least one film about a young man facing a crisis will be garnering nominations…and possibly all three. Beautiful BoyBoy Erased, and Ben is Back not only love the letter “B” — they all explore families struggling with addiction or homosexuality as they try to find a way to love their son while his actions threaten to destroy their family life. All three films showcase heart-felt performances by two talented young actors.
Lucas Hedges (Academy Award nominee for Manchester by the Sea) in both Boy Erased, as a Christian teen in conversion therapy and Ben is Back, as a drug addict determined to spend Christmas with family.
Timothée Chalamet (Golden Globe nominee) in Beautiful Boy is the affluent teen who spirals out of control with a meth addiction.

Having seen The Miseducation of Cameron Post, starring the talented
Chloë Grace Moretz, it‘s hard not to compare Lucas Hedge’s performance to hers and find it less-assured. Boy Erased is also about conversion therapy but it’s also a moving look at the relationship between this traumatized young man and his parents. Nicole Kidman gives another nuanced performance as a woman who loves her husband (Russell Crowe) and their religious life, but knows her son is hurting and damaged by the church dogma and this awful practice of forcing him to be someone he’s not.

Ben is Back features another mom/son relationship. Julia Roberts is receiving lots of critical acclaim for her performance as a woman determined to save her son even as she realizes she’s let a demon back into her home. Lucas Hedges is convincing as the young man who knows the truth about his addiction.

When a movie is set in an area you’re familiar with, like Marin County was for me in Beautiful Boy, I think it tends to draw you in even deeper into the story. The juxtaposition of gorgeous settings with depraved behavior made it even more unsettling. For me, the interactions between Steve Carell’s devasted dad and Timothee Chalamet’s helpless lying boy left me weeping and wanting to read both books based on this real struggle: Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines.

If you’re only going to see one film of the three, my recommendation would be Beautiful Boy. Heart-breaking but hopeful, and the performances are Award-Worthy. This film is beautiful, mesmerizing and reveals the difficult truth that letting go when all you want to do is hold on, is sometimes the only way to save the one you love.

Men. In cars. Bonding. “Green Book” & “The Upside”

Green Book
The Upside

My favorite film at the Denver Film Festival this year was The Biggest Little Farm.  I’m excited for people to see this beautiful documentary when it comes to theaters in April. Oddly enough, it was two films with major stars that tied as my other favorites…and both films haven’t been getting much love from the critics.

Green Book and The Upside both feature actors at the top of their game playing characters that are extreme opposites. Based on true stories, both films have scenes that show the characters finding common ground while driving in cars.  And the similarities keep coming. While writing love letters to a woman, both sets of characters reveal their softer, sentimental sides. Black and white, rich vs poor, educated vs street smarts…even the conversations about music play out similarly. They may be set in different time periods and in different cities but where Bryan Cranston’s character loves opera–Kevin Hart is a fan of Aretha Franklin.  Mahershala Ali’s pianist, Dr Don Shirley teaches Viggo Mortenson’s working class stiff, Tony Lip to appreciate classical music and in turn, the refined Dr Shirley learns to appreciate 70’s soul music.

A remake of the brilliant French film, The Intouchables, The Upside has not received a wide release. On-hold since 2017 due to Miramax and #metoo villian Harvey Weinstein’s involvement—is it throwing the baby out with the bath water to stall this film? I really enjoyed it. There are some wicked funny moments between Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart and there are touching scenes that reveal both character’s grief. Though Nicole Kidman has a small role here…her presence of gentle guidance and respect give the film a sure footing. I loved the refection on how wealth changes ones approach to art (both good and bad) and felt that this version based on the real lives of the ex-con and the quadriplegic has something new to say.

Green Book melted my heart. Critics have been calling it trite or sentimental, even complaining that it’s predictable. I found it charming and frightening in places and yes, some of the scenes we’ve seen before. But aren’t stereotypes, stereotypes, because of an endearing trope that has some basis in truth? A tale of two men, but also of two cultures and the racism and bigotry of the South that resonates with our own troubled present. Viggo Mortenson’s Tony Lip is a charming ruffian with a heart as big as Kansas but little opportunity or skill to express it and limited options for betterment. His role as bodyguard and driver to the refined and reserved Dr Don Shirley changes both of their lives. The juxtaposition between concert hall and juke joint, between Dr Shirley’s ornately-decorated penthouse–beautiful ye cold and empty, and Tony Lip’s loud, happy family home…these moments provide both the blues and the joyful jazz to this film.