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.

Top Films in 2019

I like to say that film appreciation is akin to wine appreciation. I can’t tell YOU what your favorite wine will be as it’s a matter of so much more than just palate. You judge things by bringing your experiences, your emotions, your predilection for what’s new as opposed to tried and true.

My favorite films are the ones released this year that I managed to see, either at theaters or festivals. That leaves out many smaller films that are getting a 2020 release and many films that I didn’t find warranted a long drive. Living in the mountains limits what films I can get to…especially since we no longer have a movie theater in Telluride, Colorado while it’s under construction. I also don’t consider terror or violence to be entertainment. So if you’re looking for accolades for war movies, mobster films or Horror…look elsewhere. Yes, I know US was amazing. I’m sure 1917 and Midsommar were too, but I won’t be seeing them or making time to watch The Irishman. You all enjoy.

The Film that made me Swoon

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (PORTRAIT DE LA JEUNE FILLE EN FEU)
Director: Céline Sciamma, limited release Dec 6, US release Feb 14th (how perfect!)

At once moving and mysterious, Portrait of a Lady on Fire has a wonderful soundtrack, gorgeous cinematography and an unusual love story. An 18th century French portrait painter must paint a young woman’s image without her knowledge. When romance blossoms, she must use her talent knowing she will lose her lover to another. A sublime romance; French writer/director Céline Sciamma won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes. This is a gorgeous romantic film and the chanting of the women gathered around the fire will linger in your mind. This is one film to seek out.

The Funny Sad Film that will make you hug your Grandma

The Farewell, Director: Lulu Wang, now re-released in certain cities to take advantage of award season

Director and Writer, Lulu Wang won accolades for her touching, personal film. The Farewell won Audience Favorite at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. The emotional story follows a Chinese American family traveling from America for a fake wedding. The immediate family have decided to hide the truth about their matriarch’s diagnosis and the wedding is an excuse for everyone to say goodbye. Awkwafina is perfectly cast as the American daughter straddling two cultures; her character is a fictionalized Wang. The Farewell is based on a true story about Wang’s family which the director first shared as a story in a 2016 episode of This American Life. It was released early in 2019 and now re-released and I’m glad that some audiences will get to discover this gem of a film.

The Stand Out Rock Film of the Year

Rocketman, Director: Dexter Fletcher

Yesterday, Blinded By the Light and many great rock documentaries and movies about music were made this year. What sets Rocketman apart is the amazing performances and costumes that make you want to dig out your platform shoes and join the fun. Both the young boy, Matthew Illesley and Taron Egerton are outstanding. One weak supporting role is Bryce Dallas Howard. Undone by her reputation as a sweet person, she comes off as a caricature and isn’t helped by poor old-age makeup. There are some dark moments in this Elton John biopic and there’s no sugar-coating depression and suicide. Having the story unfold thru flashbacks from a counseling session at an addition facility is brilliant. It’s nice to see a tale of triumph as opposed to a rock star biography that ends in death. Taron Egerton does all his own singing and Elton John has applauded his performance. I hope Egerton gets an Oscar nomination.

The Quietly Profound Film

Queen & Slim, Director: Melina Matsoukas, in theaters now

An amazing directorial debut from Grammy award winner, Melina Matsoukas. Her skill directing music videos like Beyonce’s Formation, was likely good training for this powerful film of a couple on the run. Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Jodie Turner-Smith navigate an awkward first date that ends tragically and forces them to flee the country. Days spent on the lam create an intimacy to their relationship, and Matsoukas use of voice-over to share their thoughts reveals another level of nuance. This is not a violent film (save for the key scene and ending) and as the couple travels across the country, they encounter a need for urban heroes and a reckoning of the awful toll of American racism. This is a drama that feels like a documentary. This is an important film.

The Film I’m seeing more than once

Little Women, Director: Greta Gerwig, in theaters now

There have been many versions–both stage and screen adaptations–of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel. This is the definitive version. A perfect melding of superb cast, a screenplay that does justice to Alcott’s intention (she never wanted her lead, Jo March to marry) and intimate cinematography that brings the audience right into the family fray. A period drama both funny and touching, that allows each of the March girls a voice. Little Women is charming, beautifully realized and a feminist retelling.

The Most Fun Film

Captain Marvel, Directors: Anna BodenRyan Fleck

Not all film-going experiences have to be about changing the world. Sometimes you just want to go cheer on a hero! I like my heroes to be women in women-directed films if I have a choice and thankfully, this year we had Captain Marvel. I enjoyed Brie Larson‘s performance and the otherworldly nature of the story. Her chemistry with Samuel Jackson was hilarious and it was a fun ride.

The Charming Animated Film we didn’t know we needed

Klaus, Director: Sergio Pablos, on Netflix

An Animated Christmas film that has a refreshing sensibility, Klaus is a retelling of the Santa legend. This time we’re on an island where a postman must prove his worth amid warring clans. The Klaus of this tale is a woodsman in a beautiful snowy retreat. The animation is gorgeous, the dialogue equal measures witty and snarky and the resolution is delightful. A new classic for families to share.

The Most Audacious Film

JoJo Rabbit, Director: Taika Waititi, still playing in some theaters

Who makes a dramedy about a little boy who’s imaginary friend is Hitler? Who can walk that fine line between slapstick and pathos? Taika Waititi created this film of wild emotional swings and exuberant performances. The children are amazing actors and Sam Rockwell seems dropped in from a Wes Anderson film but also perfectly cast. This film is astonishing.

The Film I thought would bore me but was intriguing

The Two Popes, Director: Fernando Meirelles, Netflix

The performances by Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce are mesmerizing but it’s the fascinating look at the politics and intrigue of the Vatican that make this film thought-provoking. I expected pomp and politics, instead it’s a warm humane look at two public figures and their unexpected friendship.

Two Films that I’d have liked much more without their last 15 minutes

Parasite, Director: Bong Joon-ho — Brilliant film with crazy twists but the violence left me reeling.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Director: Quentin Tarantino — Awash in nostalgia (and close-ups of feet), I loved the central performances by Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. If I’d left the film 15 minutes before credit roll…

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!

Women in Film at Denver Film Festival 42 – 3 Films You Need To Experience

Saint Frances, my favorite film at DFF42
Show Me What You Got – a sexy film reminiscent of Jules et Jim
The Truth (La Verité)

This year’s Denver Film Festival had a particularly robust Women + Film program. 14 films, including the film series Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema directed by Mark Cousins. Four of those films won awards at the festival–Song Without a Name, The Conductor, Scheme Birds, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. And though the Women Make Film series was uneven (Part One was a fascinating 3-hour tour w/hundreds of clips of women’s work to illustrate the first 7 of 40 topics of filmmaking & Part Three was a snooze fest with fewer extended clips), the rest of the selections showed the breadth of women’s films from documentaries to social justice to hilarious farce.

There was also a Women + Film luncheon featuring a discussion between Britta Erickson, DFF Festival Director and Svetlana Cvetko, writer/director/cinematographer and winner of the Grand Prix du Public in Films de Femmes in France. Cvetko has a long history with the Denver Film Festival. Starting as a photographer for the festival, her shorts and then documentaries screened at DFF. Her latest film, and first narrative feature, Show Me What You Got played after the luncheon. The beauty of this film, shot in evocative black and white, and the intimate portrayal of three talented young adults trying to find their place in the world is impressive. Sexy and tender, the relationships feel real and I was drawn into their embrace. Shot in LA, Italy and Paris with a multilingual cast and narrated in French, the actors become more beautiful the longer Cvetko’s camera lingers on them. The title doesn’t seem to represent the film and I didn’t feel it needed to be narrated in French yet I loved this film. I hope it will get distribution and receive the audience it deserves.

My favorite film at DFF42 is an award-winner from the Sundance Film Festival. Saint Frances is hilarious, rude, and incredibly astute. I described it as — if Brie Larson starred in a dramedy with the young actress (Quvenzhané Wallis) from Beasts of the Southern Wild and the plot was reminiscent of Obvious Child (director Gillian Robespierre with star Jenny Slate). Writer and star Kelly O’Sullivan has crafted a charming film about a young woman whose considerable talents have not yet resulted in a satisfying career or relationship. The young woman takes a position as a nanny and begins an affair with a younger man that results in a pregnancy. Her life and choices resonated with me on a deeply personal level.

Director Alex Thompson, who met O’Sullivan when making her sizzle reel, handles the material with finesse. Though there are a few under-developed characters, the central relationships are awkward and fraught and real. I love this quote from Thompson that refers to the surprisingly well-handled appearances of blood in the film. “The movie is all about the ways that women are made to feel ashamed of their bodies, their choices and inherent parts of womanhood,” says O’Sullivan. “It’s annoyed me that [menstrual blood] has never made its way believably on screen — even in TV commercials for tampons, the liquid is blue! Knowing that we would be tackling this subject matter in a realistic and authentic way, the only way to do that is show it the way it is. Saint Frances is a feminist film, and I wanted to approach it so that these inherent parts of womanhood would take place on screen, not off.” 25 New Faces of Independent Film 2019, Filmmaker Magazine

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed The Truth (La Verité). There had been little buzz about this film at other festivals even though it has such an amazing cast. After I was telling friends how much I loved the film, I heard the sad news about Catherine Deneauve having been in the hospital for a minor stroke. The Truth, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda (last year’s Indie hit, Shoplifters) is very meta. It’s about a famous actress and her fraught relationship with her daughter, played by Juliette Binoche. The daughter has traveled with her daughter and her sitcom-actor husband (a nice turn by Ethan Hawk) to celebrate the publication of the famous mother’s biography. There’s a film within the film and both actresses give very nuanced performances. There’s even a woman acting as Deneave’s character’s mother in the film played by the wonderful Ludivine Sagnier. It’s a film about mothers and daughters, jealousy, memory and forgiveness. How a Korean director making his first English language (and French) film got so much right show a great talent. This film is a real delight. Take your mom!

Overall, a stellar year for women in film at the Denver Film Festival and a wonderful slate of films! The Truth (La Verité) has distribution with Wild Bunch so look for it an arthouse cinema near you. Saint Frances is still traveling the festival circuit (in Cork this week!) but it doesn’t look they’ve announced a distributor yet. Show Me What You Got is also still on the circuit and was being shopped at the American Film Market last weekend. Follow the films on social media for release dates.

The Serendipity of Agnés Varda

Serendipity

ser·en·dip·i·ty/ˌserənˈdipədē/ noun

  1. the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”

Three film festivals. Three opportunities to celebrate Agnés Varda.

Telluride Film Festival (TFF46) dedicated their festival to her memory. Mill Valley (MVFF42) hosted Mind the Gap celebrating women in the industry and screened a film featuring Varda, Serendipity. Varda would applaud the festival’s (lead by the wonderful Zoe Elton) gender equity mission to have 50% of films feature women directors programmed by 2020. Denver (DFF42) also screened Varda by Agnés and has a great Women + Film program started 14 years ago by Tammy Brislin and supported, and now lead, by Barbara Bridges and her foundation.

I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Telluride tribute and screening of Varda by Agnés. What an incredible panel with her family and friends there to speak. Martin Scorsese spoke about her visit with JR to his The Irishmen set. She teased him about his lack of female characters. They seemed to have had a warm relationship and he considers her a great talent. Varda’s daughter and son discussed carrying on her vision and what it was like growing up with a mother who documented their lives wherever they lived. Tom Luddy, a founder of the festival, is actually featured in the documentary! He introduced Varda to her uncle in Sausalito and helped get her crew together to film their meeting–Uncle Yanco, in 1967. He was also instrumental in encouraging her to film the Black Panther movement in Oakland. It was a pleasure to hear him speak and then see a younger Tom Luddy on the big screen.

Those serendipitous moments continued. I traveled to Mill Valley to help manage the Outdoor Art Club for the festival and one of our events was a reception for Serendipity. Prune Nourry’s documentary is her story of how her work as a sculptor and her journey through breast cancer was incredibly intertwined; reflected and refracted. She is a French sculptor married to the art photographer JR. The film includes a sequence filmed by Varda when Prune Nourry shaves her head. During the Q & A after the screening, Nourry revealed that during that filming, Varda had breast cancer too. “She had the young woman’s version of cancer, aggressive and fast”, Nourry said shaking her head. “I had the old woman version, slow to spread and easier to stop.” Agnés would die of her breast cancer a few months later.

The documentary is powerful and beautiful and celebrates the transcendence of art. It was also incredibly personal to me having myself had a breast biopsy and a family that has suffered the ravages of breast cancer. The night of the screening, I had just received news of a new case of breast cancer in my own family. What a sad serendipity. Watching JR, in his sunglasses even at the evening film screening, supporting his wife as she travels with her film, I thought of the wonderful film, Faces, Places (Visages Villages). And again, there was the frission of synchronicity.

Now I’m the Denver Film Festival and the one film that fit into the schedule for my two busy film festival buddies…Varda by Agnés. As we had drinks post-film, I shared the story of Prune Nourry’s connection to Varda and my own relationship to her film, Serendipty. My life is full of serendipity and I’m grateful for my wonderful friends who share my journey. Now I want to get back to SF to visit JR’s photography exhibit at SFMOMA…on thru April 2020.

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.