Oscars So White, So Male

White male actors in big showy roles: Joaquin Phoenix–The Joker, George MacKay–1917, Robert DeNiro–The Irishman & Leonardo DiCaprio–Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood

There was some hope that the 92nd Oscar Nominations might reflect more diversity after the Golden Globes awarded Awkwafina for her lead role in The Farewell — Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (1st Asian American win) and gave Director Bong Joon Ho, Parasite — Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language (1st South Korean win). There was Cynthia Erivo nominated for Harriet and Eddie Murphy for Dolemite is My Name to bring some color to the Acting Categories. However, the only women nominated in the Directing Categories were in the Documentary and Animated Features.

Sadly, when the Oscar Nominations were announced Monday morning, the only actors adding any color are Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory (how is this his 1st Oscar Nomination?!) and Cynthia Erivo, Harriet. Even worse, the only women directors nominated are the co-director of Honeyland, Tamara Kotevska (the first non-fiction feature to land nominations for Best Documentary and Best International Feature Film–formerly Best Foreign Language Film!) and a few women in Documentary Features: American Factory co-director Julia Reichert, The Edge of Democracy, Petra Costa, and For Sama co-director Waad Al-Kateab.

Once again the hashtag #OscarSoWhite is trending. Perhaps it would be more representative to say #OscarSoWhiteSoMale. At least Little Women was nominated in the Best Feature Category but to give the film a nomination for Best Picture, Writing (Adapted Screenplay), Costume Design AND Music (Original Score) and to not nominate Greta Gerwig in the Directing category seems to defy logic. What does a Director do, if not to make all those brilliant choices? It feels like it’s another year for the Oscars to recognize films that celebrate white men and their violent tendencies. The recognition is for the Directors wrangling big budgets and big action pieces.

One nice thing about the nominated features this year; many people have been able to see them. They’ve been both popular and award-worthy. Plus, the films have been accessible, even if you don’t have an art house cinema in your town. Where to watch the nominated films? You can catch The Irishman and Marriage Story, I Lost My Body and Klaus on Netflix. Many of the Documentary and International Features can be found on Streaming Sites: Honeyland (Hulu), For Sama (PBS Frontline Website), American Factory (Netflix), The Edge of Democracy (Netflix), Two Popes (Netflix) and Missing Link (Hulu).  Little Women and 1917 are still playing in theaters.

If you love to celebrate women in film and people of color, please seek out the films that feature a more diverse cast and a story that reflects the world around us. There are some wonderful films streaming and in the theater that deserve your attention; even if the Oscars didn’t bless them with nominations. Check out Queen & Slim, Just Mercy, Bombshell, Parasite and Little Women.

Why "Clemency" is Better Than "Just Mercy".

There’s a certain gestalt that seems to create similar stories that resonate with people at the same time. When it comes to movies, that can lead to two movies featuring volcanoes (Dante’s Peak, Volcano) released in the same month or an actor being asked to audition for very similar roles in two projects. This week saw the release of Just Mercy, an adaption of civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s memoir about Alabama’s Death Row. This comes on the heels (no-nonsense working woman heels) of the release of Clemency starring the talented Alfre Woodard as the warden of a prison that must oversee death row executions.

You’ll notice that both posters feature the leads; Michael B Jordan for Just Mercy and Alfre Woodard for Clemency. Just Mercy, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) is more of an ensemble piece. Though Michael B Jordan turns in a nuanced performance as the young lawyer facing old boy racism, the film’s heart is Jamie Foxx’s riveting embodiment of Johnny D, a man beaten down by living under that unrelenting racism. The film spends time with some of his death row inmates, in the court room, with the extended family of Johnny D, and the office where Equal Justice Initiative is being ably run by Brie Larson’s no-nonsense passionate Operations Director. Just Mercy opens up to view the surrounding prejudiced world.

Of the 100 top films of 2018, only four starred or co-starred older women of color, according to the U.S.C. study. In 2019, Woodard had two such roles. Clemency is a more interior, locked down affair. Alfre Woodard’s buttoned-down Warden Bernadine Williams is respected and runs a tight ship. She’s in charge and her emotions are tightly controlled. The film focuses on interior shots of the prison and her home, with a few trips to a local watering hole where she tries to drink away her stress. As a lethal injection goes horribly wrong, we witness Bernadine’s composure slipping. Her marriage is suffering, she’s not sleeping and as her control over her life and job falters…then her supportive husband (Wendell Pierce) leaves her. The executions are shaking her convictions and the stress is destroying her life.

Two films that have executions and death row inmates–inmates that are predominantly black and often, unfairly imprisoned. The biggest difference is the method of execution: electric chair and lethal injection. Just Mercy is set in the early 80’s and looks at the cruel injustice of the justice system in Alabama. Michael B Jordan portrays Stevenson as a noble, caring young man on a crusade. Sadly, the heavy-handed musical score and polished speeches lend the film a preaching-to-the-choir feel. The film is saved by Foxx’s strong performance and that of his fellow inmate, Morgan (Herbert Richardson). The remorse, terror and misery that Morgan battles is heroic and witnessing his execution brings Jordan’s character a horrible wake-up call. Watching the film made me want to read the book and learn more about Stevenson and his human rights organization.

Clemency is restrained, much like the Warden. Bernadine’s quiet desperation is all the more powerful for Woodard’s expressive eyes; it’s a masterful performance. Written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu–she won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance for this directorial debut. Quiet, assured and powerful, Clemency is a film that can be watched multiple times for the performances and a message that might change hearts and minds. Both films condemn the death penalty and deserve to be widely-seen.

Drinks With Films Rating Clemency: 4 shots of whiskey to drink away the pain (out of 5) Just Mercy: 3 tall glasses of sweet tea (out of 5)

When One Door Closes…Pull Up A Couch — how streaming saved my sanity

Still from the beautifully animated Klaus

The only movie theater in Telluride is under construction. So am I.

When I decided to have bilateral knee surgery (total joint replacement of both knees), there wasn’t much choice for timing. I HAD to get it done as I’d put if off for 5 years and they were reminding me with constant pain. So when one job ended and I didn’t have another lined up, I checked myself in for surgery. Two weeks later, I’m happy to report that it’s actually easier and less painful to stand than it was prior to surgery! I’m doing my recuperating in the tiny mountain town of Norwood, Colorado. Sadly, that’s an hour and 15 minutes from the nearest movie theater. How frustrating is it to not be able to drive…but to know that even if I could, going to a movie is a long, sometimes-harrowing trip on mountain roads.

I’m doing my PT and hoping to be able to drive sometime this month but it’s a shame that this is happening during prime Oscar-contender film releases. I’m not blessed to have access to screeners from The Academy. I was never a tv girl. My limited experience has been binge-watching a series with friends. Now streaming is saving my sanity. With the advent of two new screening services, Disney+ and Apple TV+, and some Oscar-contender films screening on Netflix (The Irishman and Marriage Story for instance), I can watch some of the movies safe on my couch.

One such film that received a very limited theatrical release, Klaus, is a gorgeous Spanish film and the first original animated feature for Netflix. Written and directed by Sergio Pablos, the style of animation nods toward hand-drawn animation from the early days of Disney; the forest is reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty crossed with a Charlie Harper drawing. With gorgeous animation and a comic heart-warming story, the only misstep was casting Jason Schwartzman as the voice of the petulant postman. A small quibble and a personal one at that, I don’t enjoy a whiny voice. Joan Cusack as one of the head baddies is spot on. I believe this movie has a good chance to be a family’s Go-To Christmas movie; an instant Classic.

Drinks With Films Rating: 4 hot cocoas graced with peppermint candy canes (out of 5)

There have been so many wonderful films directed by women this year. Once such film, Atlantics (Atlantique) is written and directed by Mati Diop and is also streaming on Netflix. I noticed a very different twist in the way it’s marketed on Netflix as it was at film festivals. The programs at festivals featured the romantic image of the lead couple embracing and noted the supernatural element but also played up the immigrant angle. The more spooky image is used on Netflix; supernatural is the lure. Whichever subtext appeals to you, this is one unusual film. Diop wanted her Senegalese film to focus not on the construction workers who go to sea to seek a better life but on the women left behind. It’s moody, dramatic and a triumph of a first film. Atlantics won the Grand Jury prize at the Cannes Festival and the lead actress, Mame Bineta Sane, as our lovelorn Ada, is luminous.

Drinks With Films rating: 3 1/2 tropical cocktails at a seaside bar (out of 5)

This week, whether you’re headed to the movies…or headed to your couch, there’s a lot of wonderful movies to choose from. Happy screening!

In Defense of “Angels”

Fresh crop of Angels: Naomi Scott, Kristen Stewart, and Ella Balinska w/director (and Bosley), Elizabeth Banks

When asking friends which film they were excited to see this Thanksgiving weekend, there were lots of votes for Frozen 2, Ford v Ferrari and JoJo Rabbit and a majority vote for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Surprisingly few votes for the latest Charlie’s Angels directed by Elizabeth Banks. “Oh, I hear that film flopped”, was the response I received. In this crowded release weekend, I was saddened to think that this fun feminist film was not getting a fighting chance. It made me wonder if we’re measuring female-directed films with a more critical gaze or if this film should’ve been released in the summer instead?

True confessions; I didn’t carry a Charlie’s Angels lunch box or have a poster on my wall of the fighting females iconic silhouette. I didn’t grow up with the television series, but I’ve always been a fan. Who wouldn’t want a job that involved fabulous costumes, fast cars, exotic locales–while getting to work with clever women that got the job done but also made sure to have some fun while doing it? There may have been shots of slow-motion running, shiny lip gloss, lots of hair tossing and more cleavage shots than taking down the villain warranted, but there was plenty of girl power.

The latest remake opens with a scene that could’ve been in the TV series. Wearing bubble gum pink with lacquered lips, Kristen Stewart’s character is toying with a villain. Using her sex appeal, she’s got this guy wrapped around her finger. In seconds she’s got him wrapped in a long diaphanous drape as well, and at her mercy. As the camera tracks out, we see the rest of the team descend, Stewart’s spy sheds her chic dress and sex kitten demeanor and she’s dressed in commando gear and rappelling off the roof.

There’s a great article about the costumes and how the designer Kym Barrett experienced the job almost as an Angel on assignment; Charlie’s Angels Costume Designer dishes on Kristen Stewart’s “Barbie Look” Laurie Brookins, 11/22/19, The Hollywood Reporter. It’s clear that the costumes and personas of our spies are candy-coated shells cloaking the skilled intelligent women and their gadgets of espionage. That’s been true from the inception of the series but in the updates, there’s more focus on the women building their relationships between assignments. With Elizabeth Banks leading the charge; both literally as the director and figuratively, as a Bosley, the focus is less on gadgets and clothes and more on team building and witnessing how the women train, research and solve the case.

Could the story have more intriguing? Did Elizabeth Banks perhaps take on too much as the writer, director, actor and producer? Yes and yes. But Charlie’s Angels is a fun ride and a great time for women to get together and enjoy a good hoot and holler. My one minor complaint was to not be able to hear Kristen Stewart’s dialogue at times, but that may have been the theater sound system at the mall cineplex. So gather the gals, have a Cosmopolitan and share some good feminist fun. We need to support every female filmmaker and not let critics sway us from a good time at the movies.

Drinks with Films rating: 2 Cosmos (out of five)

How to take advantage of a festival if you’re a procrastinator!

The 42nd Denver Film Festival is halfway over. What if you’re just realizing it’s happening? You put it on your calendar and didn’t manage to purchase any tickets yet. Is it too late? Of course not! The Festival is on till Sunday, November 10th. You can still take advantage of some excellent programming even TODAY!

An exciting documentary series

Here’s where to start: head on down to the Festival Annex at the McNichols Building. Yes, yes, parking can be tough in the Civic Center area but there are garages nearby or take an Uber/Lift. Once you walk through the doors, head to the ticketing counter and ask what special $5 tickets might be available. Yes, that’s right, $5! Weekdays between 11am and 5pm there are a selection of tickets available and even prizes and giveaways!

Now grab a program and enjoy a libation in the cafe. Look at all the exciting activities available right there at the Annex. There’s more to this festival than films! You could check out some of the Free Virtual Reality in the Arcade. There are conversations and panels, art exhibits and parties. Ask other festival goers for their recommendations on films or experiences at the Festival. Escape from Godot is an exciting escape room experience based on “Waiting for Godot” or maybe you’d prefer “Star Wars Shakespeare”?

If you want to check out some of the excellent film programming, there’s still time. It’s a very diverse slate of comedies, dramas, animation, shorts and everything in between. There’s been a lot of buzz about The Conductor, Zumriki and the CO feature, 3 Days, 2 Nights. I can recommend the feminist adventure The Aeronauts and the wonderful documentary on Agnès Varda, Varda by Agnès.

There’s a steamy romance that’s beautiful and has a gorgeous lush soundtrack, Show Me What You Got. My favorite documentary 17 Blocks, has one more screening. If you’re interested in film making, there’s a comprehensive 14-hour documentary series called Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema. Now don’t worry, you don’t have to see ALL 5 parts! Nor do you have to see them in order. Tonight is Part Two and it’s a 3-hour look at different aspects of film making using women’s films as examples. Prepare for some enlightening cinema and expose yourself to directors you may have never heard of, and images you’ve likely never seen.

Don’t let the fun pass you by…come join the party at the Denver Film Festival!

A big groan for “Genesis”

@DFF, J’Adore + CineQueer

Rarely do I leave a theater angry. And I can count on one hand the times I’ve left a theater before the film ends! Genesis (Genése) was infuriating. A French Canadian film directed by Philippe Lesage (Les Démons (2015) & The Heart That Beats (2010)); this coming-of-age film features a sister and brother and a soundtrack the repeats the same pop song multiple times.

Almost an hour of random daily activities as each character attempts to find love or express love and there’s a rape and an expulsion from school. A brief tender moment between the siblings with no dialogue relating the tragic events they’ve experienced and then the film leaves them behind. A band is performing the same randy folk song from earlier and we have another musical interlude with teens dancing…and suddenly, the focus is on two NEW teens. Only later did I read that the young man is actually a character from Les Démons — an earlier autobiographical film. It’s one thing to make a film for your fans, but to expect filmgoers to have seen your previous film seems arrogant and unrealistic.

There’s rumbling from the screening next door (an action film? a war movie?) and vibrations that make me worry it’s an earthquake. What’s happening at the UA Pavilion Theaters? My fellow theater mate at the end of the recliners looked at me with alarm and we both gave the universal shrug 🤷‍♂️ and tried to get back into this disjointed film.

My level of irritation rose when the same French pop song began playing again. I wasn’t willing to wait out another side story to find the resolution to the first set of troubled teens. The first two hours had moments of interest, mainly the brother’s attempt to explain his love for his best friend to his entire class. There is a clear male gaze in the film with long shots of the young woman’s breasts. The casual misogynistic attitude of the characters…which seems to reflect the director’s sensibility, was maddening. One male teacher struts in front of his class of male teen students pontificating that while now the boys may be infatuated with breasts, when they mature–they’ll learn the joy of women’s vaginas!

One empty wine glass (out of 5 full ones) for this tragedy that tries to explore loss without presenting any closure or enlightenment.

So You Want to be a Festival Gypsy?

As staff and volunteers arrive in the soon-to-be-bustling mountain town of Telluride in advance of the 46th Telluride Film Festival, there’s an excitement in the air. What films will screen? Who will the guests be? Will we get to see all the films we want to get into? For many of us, this is a chance to see friends we see only once a year at this Festival. And for others…this is another festival to work on the festival circuit.

I’ve been working film festivals for over 30 years. I didn’t plan to be a Festival Gypsy. It’s like potato chips, you have one and suddenly you’re looking sadly at an empty salty bag. What starts as a passion for films and one festival job that allows you access to films and behind-the-scene comradery, becomes a few festivals that you travel to to work with your friends…to what can become a full slate of festivals and suddenly–you find that it’s your life. I’ve had the opportunity to produce my own film festivals, curate film programs for festivals and have worn many hats for over 20 festivals here and abroad.

Not to be confused with attending a few festivals when you have the means for Passes and accommodations…a true Festival Gypsy may not even have a home base. I have a few festival friends that stay with family or friends but all of their belongings either fit in a few suitcases or live in perpetual storage. Every gypsy has different story. Some started like myself, in the SF Bay Area, where there’s a film festival every month. Or they found a particular niche in the festival business: Events, Guest Relations, Transpo or Theater Ops and realized that if they knew others in the biz, they could work at other festivals doing the same job. Some festivals even provide lodging and transportation.

The short-term contracts mean that you need serious budgeting skills, you may have to pay quarterly taxes, and you must be able to make dinner out of cheese cubes and bread sticks from the Hospitality lounge. You’ll get to travel, meet many interesting people, and each festival has its own perks and pitfalls; its own zeitgeist if you will. Many festivals don’t hire festival staff, relying mostly on volunteers (Boulder, Portland) or are very difficult to break into for a paid gig (Sundance, Telluride) because so many staff come back every year.

If you have a certain skill set and can adapt easily to new environments, working festivals can be a wonderful experience. As with any job, it’s your team that makes all the difference. Everyone who works a festival will have a different experience. You may find yourself joining a team of long-time friends that doesn’t make room for newbies or land in a venue that requires long hours and heavy lifting. As in any line of work, there are a few power-mad staff that think a walkie-talkie or a position of authority give them carte blanche to act like a dictator. Not everyone working a Festival knows that without the FEST, ie. the fun, they shouldn’t be part of the crew, or at least not on the front lines.

If you live in the town like Telluride or San Francisco, you can work the plethora of festivals that happen there almost every weekend. In Telluride, that would be summer work and you’d be traveling out of town come the end of September after The Telluride Festival of Cars and Colors. However, most of the jobs are volunteer, so you’d be hard pressed to make a living. Very few people have the wherewithal to travel the festival circuit as a Volunteer. A Gypsy is likely working multiple jobs for the privilege of traveling to do what they love–becoming part of the crew that bands together to bring amazing, potentially life-changing films to the masses. So if you see someone carrying a festival sign, toting a bin of passes/waters/ballots, wearing a headset or badge…give them a smile and acknowledge their hard work. They may be sleeping on a couch, subsisting on bagels and coffee (LOTS of coffee), and possibly, they’re a Festival Gypsy far from home.