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.

Over the River and Through the Woods…Is It Worth the Trip?

Would you make the drive to Montrose (an hour and 15 min on mountain roads) on Christmas Day to see a movie? What if you didn’t have a way to pre-purchase tickets and you knew there was a good chance your film was going to sell out? What if there was snow in the forecast? If you’re crazy about the movies like I am…the answer is YES!

Arriving 30 minutes prior to show time, the line snakes out the door at the San Juan movie theater. There are two small theaters in Montrose, Colorado. The Fox Cinema has three screens and was playing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell, and Spies in Disguise (an animated film voiced by Will Smith & Tom Holland). The San Juan Cinema was screening Jumanji: The Next Level and Little Women. As I approached the 20-deep line full of families and older couples, I heard a Mom say, “I can’t believe it’s sold out! And so is Star Wars!” My heart sank. Was it MY screening that was Sold Out? No, it was Jumanji. Turns out, if you only have two screening times on Christmas, both in the evening, there’s a good chance that you’re going to disappoint some people.

Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan, and Eliza Scanlen as the March sisters

On the plus side, even some of the families with kids decided to forgo Jumanji to see Little Women. Good choice. Skip the sequel and see the film that may very well become the new Classic. THIS Little Women will now be the definitive version of the Louisa May Alcott novel. Director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), referred back to an older version of the novel to create the two plot streams following the sisters from adults back to their impoverished but loving upbringing as young girls. Shooting the childhood scenes in golden tones with the talented young actresses in long tresses and colorful dresses, then cooler tones and more muted costume choices for the young women helps the audience navigate the time shifts. Already a feminist manifesto, subtle changes to the dialogue have allowed Greta Gerwig to align the film to reflect what Alcott could not change in her time. As Jo March (the luminous Saoirse Ronan) is told by her editor (played by Tracy Letts), “if you write anything with a young woman, have her married by the end…or dead” and “If insist on ending your delightful novel with a spinster, it will never sell”. There wasn’t an audience for entertainment that featured single successful women.

Little Women begs for multiple viewings. I love this discussion of one scene, “Notes on a Scene” by Vanity Fair. The scenes are staged with overlapping dialogue as the girls act like typical siblings. They roll about on the floor, squabble and act like tomboys; racing around each other with the camera following to capture every poignant moment. The casting is brilliant. Laura Dern as Marmee, the mother of this brood of very different young ladies, is warm and wise but the camera follows her to show her sadness and anger that she hides from her girls. Meryl Streep is the perfect fussy older Aunt, lording her influence over the family but also trying in her way to bring financial stability to a family of women who keep falling in love with impoverished men.

The casting of Timothee Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan as Laurie and Jo is perfect as they already have such a comfort level with each other from their previous film (Lady Bird) and they’re both well-suited to their roles. All the Marsh women are well-cast. It’s great to see Emma Watson as the sister who marries for love. She gives Meg’s journey from giddy debutante to mother and wife an honesty and believability. Florence Pugh as the spoiled outspoken Amy is a standout as she realizes that her beauty is her only true talent but knows she must utilize it to land a wealthy husband. I hope this film introduces her to audiences who don’t know her other outstanding work (Midsommar, Lady Macbeth). It was also wonderful to see Chris Cooper in a wonderful role as Mr Laurence.

I’m not the only one swooning over this film. NYTimes’ AO Scott gave it a rave review and there’s a great critical look at Gerwig’s adaption that I love by Alissa Wilkinson of Vox. One of my favorite exchanges in the film is between Amy (Pugh) and Jo (Ronan) and reflects a continuing struggle today to get men to value stories that feature women. Jo is trivializing her little stories of “domestic struggles and triumphs” saying that writing about it doesn’t elevate it.

“Writing doesn’t confer importance,” Jo says. “It reflects it.”

But Amy disagrees. “Writing things,” she says, “is what makes them important.”

I would say that is the same with regards to filming that story. So bring your whole family, and especially the men folk. This is not just a story of domestic struggles. This is a great family film about finding and trusting your voice…and telling your story.

Drinks With Films rating: 5 glasses of Civil War Era wine (out of 5)

Denver Film Festival 40 — Day One, “Lady Bird”

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Opening Night is an exciting, exhilirating time at a Film Festival. The program has launched, guests are arriving, everyone’s getting on their party shoes…and the scene is set. SThere may still be a hundred thousand details for the staff to check and double check, but there’s a feeling of pride…and relief…once the first feature is one the screen.

Opening Night Video of the Fun

One terrific thing that Denver Film Festival does is to give filmmakers and talent from the entire program the chance to walk the Red Carpet on this big night…and many others. Whether you’ve made a short film, a student work or it’s your masterpiece documentary, everyone can share this moment to strut their stuff for the cameras.

I was fortunate to see Ladybird at the Telluride Film Festival with both the director, Greta Gerwig and her talented stars, Laurie Metcalf and Tracie Letts in attendance. The question and answer session was warm and lively.  The three of them seemed relaxed and enjoyed teasing each other.  All of them praised Saoirse Ronan.  She is so natural in the role and gives another intriguing, nuanced performance as the main character.  This journey from adolescent angst to eager college freshman feels distinctly personal.  Based on Greta Gerwigs’s own upbringing in Sacramento, there are so many moments that ring true and make you cringe or cry.

Each character is infuriating real.  I loved that the Mom is so emotionally distant and the Dad is helpless to heal the fractured relationship between the daughter and mother. The costumes, settings and language brought me right back to high school.  I identified with this stubborn, ballsy gal with a yearning for a future that seems so out of her reach. A wonderful directorial debut by Greta Gerwig, Ladybird  is a film I highly recommend.

Drinks With Films Rating: 4 glasses of pretentious wine while trying to act sophisticated out of 5

#DFF40 #feminist #comingofage

UPDATE: November 16, 2017 (DENVER) – The Denver Film Society (DFS) is excited to announce a collection of films from the 40th Denver Film Festival (DFF40) to open for special engagements at the Sie FilmCenter. Among those slated to open is the recently wrapped DFF’s Opening Night Red Carpet Premiere
title, LADY BIRD.

“Lady Bird – a film for the ages – explores all that is weird and wonderful about growing up,” says Festival Director, Britta Erickson. “Greta Gerwig, who we have long admired for her acting and writing, proves she’s a triple threat with a directorial debut as sure-handed and genuine as any we’ve come across. Featuring stellar performances from Saoirse Ronan, as the feisty angst-ridden eponymous teen, and Laurie Metcalf as her loving but opinionated mother, Lady Bird earns its awards buzz. For only the second time in history, Denver Film Festival was proud to open the Festival with a film helmed by a female director. We believe it is important to continue to showcase voices underrepresented in cinema, not only at the Festival, but at our year-round home, the Sie FilmCenter.”

LADY BIRD opens at the Sie FilmCenter on November 22, with an early preview on November 21.

Click to purchase LADY BIRD tickets

 

“Frances Ha” — Indecision, in black and white

Great Gerwig & Mickey Sumner

Greta Gerwig & Mickey Sumner

There are times I feel like a character in one of the movies I’m seeing…  As I sit in the theater watching the trailer for “Frances Ha”, I think to myself, “Wow, they’re sure giving away a lot of the relationship”. Then the title appears and I realize, “DOH, this is the film I’m here to SEE!”.  So, obviously, I’m not just a passive audience member, I’m as indecisive as our heroine!

Filming in black and white, Noah Baumbach has given “Frances Ha” an older, European feel.  There’s even a John Cassavette vibe in the New York setting and the focus on intimate relationships.  The soundtrack is fantastic.  Something about the David Bowie songs and the characters exuberant walks around New York City…it’s a perfect fit.  It’s refreshing to have a coming-of-age story about a 28 year-old woman, who’s prone to some bad decisions, yet isn’t portrayed as a child.  Greta Gerwig plays Frances as an intelligent young woman with an education and a calling; just not the drive or the connections to get where she needs to go.  This is no Man-Child comedy of potty humor and pratfalls, but a sweet relationship drama that’s not focused on a romantic relationship!

Frances may be prone to moments of whacky behavior and over-sharing, but she’s not an idiot.  She may be socially-akward and she doesn’t land a hot boyfriend, but she’s kind and hopeful and loved by many.  Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig co-wrote the script and “Frances Ha” has a nice balance of characters that all seem to act their age.  There are wonderful performances by all members of the cast with well-rounded male performances that are endearing. Mickey Sumner is a delight as the best friend.

Frances hasn’t hit her stride and when she moves in with two younger men, they treat her like a whacky older sister but not as a failure.  Her main relationship is with her female best friend and the scene where she’s achieved success and looks across the room to share her triumph with the one person who truly “gets her” — is not only sweet, it’s feels like an act of empowerment…for all women!   What a change — a film featuring a woman who’s striving for success but isn’t waiting for a man, acting catty or in need of a fashion make-over to achieve her goals!

Rating: 4 glasses of French wine…purchased, unwisely, on a credit card