Category Archives: Best Feature- Independent Spirit Award Winners

Short Cuts-1993

Short Cuts-1993

Director Robert Altman

Starring Tim Robbins, Julianne Moore, Lily Tomlin

Scott’s Review #1,400

Reviewed September 20, 2023

Grade: A

I am such a fan of acclaimed director Robert Altman because he typically features an enormous cast with richly composed characters all serving a story purpose. Frequently, with much character development and investment.

Short Cuts (1993) is a latter-day Altman offering set in Los Angeles, California, the City of Angels that is nearly as good as my all-time favorite of his, Nashville made in 1975.

Similarities burst to the screen with twenty-two principal characters to Nashville’s twenty-four. Their lives frequently intersect and the fun is peeling back the layers of their lives and discovering who is connected to whom.

Comparisons to 1992’s The Player (also Altman) and 1999’s Magnolia, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson can also be made for obvious Los Angeles setting reasons.

But, Magnolia is much weirder than Short Cuts.

The irony is that most characters are anything but angels as they suffer from insecurities, deaths, infidelity, and various shenanigans as they attempt to get through California life amid an earthquake and a fleet of helicopters spraying for medflies.

Altman based the film on the nine short stories and a poem by Raymond Carver.

Some of the tales include a waitress Doreen (Lily) who is married to an alcoholic limo driver (Tom Waits) who accidentally runs into a boy with her car. Soon after walking away, the child lapses into a coma. While at the hospital, the boy’s grandfather (Jack Lemmon) tells his son, Howard (Bruce Davison), about his past affairs.

Meanwhile, a baker (Lyle Lovett) starts harassing the family when they fail to pick up the boy’s birthday cake.

Dr. Ralph Wyman (Matthew Modine) and his wife, Marian (Moore), meet Stuart Kane (Fred Ward), an unemployed salesman, and Claire Kane (Anne Archer), a party clown, at a cello concert.

They impulsively decide to have a Sunday dinner date. seemingly having nothing in common.

Meanwhile, Marian’s sister, Sherri (Madeleine Stowe), is married to a cheating cop named Gene (Tim Robbins), who is having an affair with Betty Weathers (Frances McDormand), while Betty is divorcing one of the helicopter pilots, Stormy (Peter Gallagher).

There are other stories and connections to round out the fabulous cast.

The juicy and dramatic storylines play out like a terrific story arc on Days of Our Lives or As the World Turns with some needed comedic elements to balance things out.

Anyone who knows Altman will salivate with the name recognition among the cast most notably Tomlin and Robbins. Actors frequently chomped at the bit to appear knowing that he was an actor’s director.

This means he allowed his cast open range to create dialogue appropriate for their characters.

There’s no better example than when Jack Lemmon tells a story in the film. His improv and free dialogue are a dream to watch and a lesson in good and natural acting.

Despite the enormous cast everyone has something of quality to do. Nobody is languishing on the back burner with throwaway scenes or unimportant activities. All characters connect to others in some way.

Fans who fancy Los Angeles both in film and in real life with its bursting sunshine and cheery perception will revel in the down and dirty sub texture of Short Cuts.

The fun is getting there.

Some characters are wealthy but most struggle with day-to-day routine so the film contains a harsh realism. They try to find some shreds of happiness wherever they can get them.

Like real life which is part of the mastery of Short Cuts. The audience can relate to the characters because we all know people like them which makes the film a beautiful and treasured experience.

Or some may even be like us. The writing is brilliant and the characters are true to form.

One day I’ll create a list of my Top Ten Robert Altman films and I bet Short Cuts (1993) lands in the Top Five.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Robert Altman

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 3 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Robert Altman (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Supporting Actress-Julianne Moore

Everything Everywhere All at Once-2022

Everything Everywhere All at Once-2022

Director Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan

Starring Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Kwan, Stephanie Hsu

Scott’s Review #1,337

Reviewed January 26, 2023

Grade: A

Released in March 2022, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a film that built momentum throughout the year resulting in an astonishing eleven Academy Award nominations.

Traditionally, films scrambling for awards season notice and subsequent praise and honors are released in the fourth quarter and earlier releases are shuffled off to the discount racks.

But Everything Everywhere All at Once breaks the mold thanks to being a visionary, absurd comedy that demands the appreciation it has received.

As of this writing, it is the highest-grossing film released by A24, a champion of independent and quality cinema.

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), plays a flustered and bedraggled immigrant mother who runs a laundromat along with her goofy husband Waymond (Ke Huy Kwan). They reside in the laundromat with Evelyn’s irritable father Gong Gong (James Hong) and daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) who is gay.

In trouble with an IRS inspector, Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), Evelyn is contacted from a parallel universe and told that only she could save the world. She must quickly learn to channel her newfound powers and fight through the timelines of the multiverse to save her home, her family, and herself.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is not conventional and is admittedly a complete mess meant in the finest of ways. It takes the cinematic formula and tips it on its ass but intelligently incorporates heartfelt scenes and gripping performances so that the viewer falls in love with the characters before knowing what’s hit them.

I semi-cringed when I heard the film was action mixed with science-fiction and superhero multiverses, none of which are my genre of choice. The film goes beyond that with a sensory overload, a warped, onslaught of colorful wackiness that includes hot dog fingers, butt plugs, and a drag performance.

You can’t make this up kids.

Michelle Yeoh kicks ass (literally!) and gets the role of a lifetime. At sixty years old she has played a Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and a rich bitch Mom in Crazy Rich Asians (2018), decent roles, but nothing like Evelyn.

Directors, the Daniels, show through Evelyn’s character, how her life has disappointed her. Never appreciated by her father and living in the doldrums, angry and frustrated, she develops into a woman who appreciates the small moments of human connection in her life.

We can all learn from Evelyn.

What a treat to see Jamie Lee Curtis chew up the scenery playing Deirdre. Displaying her gut, wearing a bizarre grey wig, she plays part IRS agent, part lesbian lover depending on what universe she is in, and is a hoot.

Ke Huy Kwan is famous as the child actor from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984 and not much since. He somersaults back into the acting spotlight in the role of Evelyn’s kind husband.

Finally, Stephanie Hsu is a gem as Stephanie who just wants to be loved by her mother. The actor has a bright future ahead of her.

These actors get to play four or five different characters and show their acting chops.

Stylistically, the film is off the wall. Dizzying special effects and absurd editing pummel the viewer with ‘stuff’ that can be talked about from a technical perspective for weeks.

But at the end of the film, you will shed a tear or two at the emotion that sneaks up from behind in the most wonderful way. Quiet scenes between the noisy ones show humanity and love for one another.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) has reaffirmed my appreciation of film and the creativity and beauty that can be mastered.

Oscar Nominations: 7 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (won), Best Actress-Michelle Yeoh (won), Best Supporting Actor-Ke Huy Kwan (won), Best Supporting Actress-Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis (won), Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Original Score, Best Original Song-“This is a Life”, Best Costume Design, Best Editing (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 6 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (won), Best Lead Performance-Michelle Yeoh (won), Best Supporting Performance-Ke Huy Kwan (won), Jamie Lee Curtis, Best Breakthrough Performance-Stephanie Hsu (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Editing (won)

The Farewell-2019

The Farewell-2019

Director-Lulu Wang

Starring-Awkwafina, Tzi Ma

Scott’s Review #927

Reviewed August 6, 2019

Grade: A-

Any film with a dark premise such as The Farewell (2019) runs the risk of resulting in a bleak and depressing outcome, but the film is anything but a downer.

Surprising to many will be that the film is classified as both a drama and a comedy with snippets of humor and sadness prevalent throughout.

Met with lots of critical acclaims, the film is successful at furthering the much-needed presence of quality Asian representation in modern cinema well into the twenty-first century.

Young upstart/comedienne, Awkwafina, memorable for her humorous turn in Crazy Rich Asians (2018), returns to the big screen in a more sedate role, crafting a passionate and dramatic character, strongly leading the charge in an ensemble project exploring the family dynamic.

The film succeeds extraordinarily as a multi-generational glimpse into humanity, though at times suffers from being too slow-moving.

A thirty-something struggling writer, Billi (Awkwafina), lives in New York City near her parents, all ex-pats from China. Billi is particularly close with her grandmother, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), who still resides in her birth land as they speak regularly via telephone.

When Billi is informed that her grandmother suffers from terminal lung cancer and has weeks to live, the entire family reunites and decides to hold a mock wedding as an excuse to all be together.

The decision is made by the family not to tell Nai Nai she is dying preferring to let her live out her days in happiness rather than fear.

Awkwafina is the main draw of the film and much of the action is told from her perspective.

One wonders if perhaps director Lulu Wang drew from personal experience when she wrote the screenplay. The audience does not know Billi’s sexuality nor is that even relevant to the film, but the vagueness was noticed.

She does not date nor seem very interested in men, does her laundry at her parent’s apartment, and attempts and fails at a prestigious writing scholarship.

The supporting characters add tremendous depth so that the film is not solely Billi’s, providing unique perspectives from her mother, her father, and her aunt, as they each possess their viewpoints about Nai Nai’s illness.

I adore this technique in rich storytelling as it not only fleshes out secondary characters, it also provides interesting ideas.  Nai Nai is not written as a doting old lady nor a victim; she is strong, witty, and full of life.

Shuzhen, unknown to me before viewing this film, adds tremendous poise in a crucial role portraying it in just the right way.

The Farewell is a quiet film with both comic and dramatic elements, sometimes within the same scene, thereby giving relief from the dour subject matter. Wang gets the balance just right and makes sure she does not make the film too heavy.

A hysterical bowing marathon takes place as the entourage decides to visit grandfather’s grave, as they prepare the essentials to comfort him during the afterlife.

As a direct contrast to a physical comedy nuance, not a dry eye can be found when Billi and her parents depart China by taxi to the airport. Nai Nai tearfully waves goodbye to them, not knowing that will certainly be her final goodbye.

Any audience member with an elderly relative who they seldom see will be churning with emotion over this poignant scene. Questions such as “would you keep a loved one unaware of a terminal disease?” will gnaw at the viewer, the central theme of the story.

Influenced by the buzz and word of mouth encircling the film, I salivated at the thought of one big, powerful, emotional scene, but one clearly defined, a bombastic moment never came.

Rather, the film offers small tidbits, careful not to overpower the audience or risk making the film too sentimental or overwrought. I still think a pivotal teary scene might have been added for good measure.

A scene where Billi breaks down in front of her parents was adequate but never catapulted the film over the top.

The Farewell (2019) is a wonderful film rich with emotion and importance.

Like Black Panther (2017) did with a completely different genre, bringing black characters to the forefront of mainstream film, this film provides exposure to the Asian population, typically relegated to doctors, Chinese takeout owners, or other cliched roles.

Wang delights with an independent film steam-rolling itself across Middle America.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature (won), Best Supporting Female- Zhao Shu-Zhen (won)

If Beale Street Could Talk-2018

If Beale Street Could Talk-2018

Director-Barry Jenkins 

Starring-Kiki Layne, Stephan James

Scott’s Review #854

Reviewed January 8, 2019

Grade: A

2018 proved to be a year where filmmakers of color prided themselves in telling stories of diversity, inclusion, social injustice, and the never-ending challenges of minorities.

One of the best films of the year is If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), a lovely piece of storytelling by director Barry Jenkins. His other major work, Moonlight (2016) is a similarly poignant and melancholy experience.

The film is based on a novel by James Baldwin.

The title is explained in the first dialogue of the film. Beale Street exists in New Orleans, but thousands of streets exist in other cities and is a metaphor for discrimination and unnecessary struggles that black folks continue to endure. Right away the audience knows that an important story is to be told.

The wonderful part of If Beale Street Could Talk is all of the combined elements that lead to brilliance.

Tish Rivers (Kiki Layne) and Fonny Hunt (Stephan James) have known each other since childhood. Growing up in a Harlem neighborhood their families are interconnected and community-centered.

Events begin in 1973 as Tish realizes she is pregnant. Ordinarily a happy occasion, the situation contains a major challenge because Fonny is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.

A woman has accused him of rape and a corrupt policeman has positively identified Fonny as the rapist despite this being a logistical impossibility. Tish is determined to prove his innocence before the baby arrives with the assistance of her family.

The story is non-linear as Jenkins begins the film in the present day with Tish breaking the news of her pregnancy to him then notifying her family.

As the film progresses more of the Fonny and Tish love story is explored. The couple falls in love has romantic dinners and nervously makes love for the first time. In this way, the film becomes a tender story of young love.

The social injustice and family drama situations are carefully mixed in amid the central romance.

The film impresses with warm touches and ingenious cinematography and musical score. These left me resounding with pleasure at the intricate and intimate details. The frequent use of jazz music over dinner or as the Rivers family sips celebratory wine adds sophistication to many scenes.

The texture of the film is muted and warm giving it a subdued look that is genuine to the quiet and timeless nature of the production.

The plume of cigarette smoke can be seen in nearly every scene as most of the characters smoke. Since the period is the 1970’s the authenticity is there, and a glamorous image is portrayed.

Smoking enhances the sophistication of the characters and adds to the tremendous cinematography.

Several scenes of simple dialogue crackle with authenticity and passion. In one of the best scenes Fonny’s friend Daniel, a recent parolee, stays for dinner and the friends share a conversation over beer and cigarettes.

The lengthy scene is poignant and tremendous with meaning. Daniel recounts his experience in prison and how black men are victims of the whims of white men and the terror involved in that. The scene is powerful in its thoughtfulness and a foreshadowing of Fonny’s impending trauma.

The supporting characters are stellar and add to the bravura acting troupe.

Regina King as Sharon Rivers gives a rave performance when she bravely travels to Puerto Rico and confronts Fonny’s accuser in hopes of getting her to modify her story. The scene is laden with emotion and honest dialogue.

The other notable actors are Colman Domingo and Teyonah Parris as Tish’s father and sister, respectively. Both do wonders with fleshing out the Rivers family as strong and kind people.

Jenkins is careful to add white characters who are benevolent to offset the other dastardly white characters. Examples are the kindly old woman who comes to the rescue of Fonny and Tish and berates the cop.

The Jewish landlord who agrees to rent a flat to the pair is portrayed as decent and helpful, and finally, the young lawyer who takes Fonny’s case is earnest and understanding.

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) continues talented director Barry Jenkins plunge into the depths of being one of the modern greats. With a beautifully visual and narrative film, he creates an experience sure to win more and more fans.

The ending is moving yet unsatisfying as so many more miles are to go in the race for prison justice. Adapting an important story of race and repression based on skin color is a powerful and detailed affair.

I cannot wait to see what Jenkins comes up with next.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Regina King (won), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature (won), Best Director-Barry Jenkins (won), Best Supporting Female-Regina King (won)

Little Miss Sunshine-2006

Little Miss Sunshine-2006

Director Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Starring Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell

Scott’s Review #697

Reviewed November 23, 2017

Grade: A

A film that became a sleeper hit at the time of release in 2006 and went on the achieve recognition with year-end award honors galore, Little Miss Sunshine holds up quite well after over ten years since its debut.

Combining family humor with heart, audiences will fall in love with the antics of the dysfunctional Hoover family, warts and all, as they strive to persevere endless obstacles to enable precociously, seven-year-old daughter, Olive, a chance at competing in a beauty pageant hundreds of miles away.

The film is a comedic treat with charm and contains uproarious fun.

Directors  (and husband and wife team) Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris start right to work kicking off the humor in style as the one hour and forty-one-minute film introduces depressed Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) to the rest of the Hoovers as he comes to live with the family after a failed suicide attempt.

Frank, who is gay and has recently been dumped, is Sheryl Hoover’s (Toni Collette) brother and has a dry sense of humor.

He fits in well with the other peculiar members of the clan- Dad Richard (Greg Kinnear), a struggling motivational speaker, Grandpa Edwin, a vulgar, irritable man, brother Dwayne, angry and refusing to speak, and finally, pudgy-faced, Olive.

The brightest spots in Little Miss Sunshine are the exceptional writing and the nuanced, non-one-dimensional characters. Each character is both good yet troubled in their way and the overall message of the film is an important one.

The plot of the film encompasses a beauty queen pageant and the lifestyle this involves- hypocrisy and plastic nature is the main theme.

When the family stops at a roadside cafe for breakfast, Olive hungrily orders ice cream and is shamed by a member of the family- she must watch her figure, she is told.

Other members instead encouraged Olive to be herself.

Little Miss Sunshine poses an interesting dissection of the pressures very young people face to be perfect, especially in the beauty pageant business, and the message society sends.

Shocking is a scene where many of the contestants, all under the age of ten, appear in sexy, glamorous makeup, and bikinis.

Little Miss Sunshine is a very funny film and this undoubtedly is due to the chemistry that exists among the cast of talented actors. Quite the ensemble, all five of the principal characters have an interesting relationship with each other.

Too many film comedies suffer immensely from forced jokes or typical “set-up” style humor, plot devices created to elicit a response from the audience- which I call “dumbing down”.

Little Miss Sunshine, however, feels authentic and fresh- a situation becomes funny because there is an honest reaction by the characters.

The film is a slice of the life experience of an average blue-collar family.

A standout scene to mention is the hysterical one in which the Hoovers are pulled over by a highway police officer. To say nothing of the fact that the Hoovers are “escorting” a corpse to their destination, along with pornographic magazines, their classic, beat-up, yellow Volkswagen bus barely runs and contains a malfunctioning horn that beeps at inopportune times.

These hilarious scenes work on all levels as the comic timing is palpable and leads to a laugh-out-loud response.

Furthermore, the climactic “beauty pageant” scene is fraught with physical humor.

Olive, the oddball in a group of hypersexualized, young starlets, takes inspiration from her grandfather to simply “be herself”. She does so in a hilarious version of “Super Freak” that is R-rated, both shocking the audience and celebrated by others- specifically her entire family.

Olive successfully proves that she can be herself and happily does so.

How wonderful and refreshing to find a comedy with honest, ample humor and real integrity that can shine many years after its first release and retain the richness and zest that originally captured legions of viewers.

As proven over time with many independent films, wonderful writing and directors sharing a vision, go a long way in achieving a quality piece of filmmaking.

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor-Alan Arkin (won), Best Supporting Actress-Abigail Breslin, Best Original Screenplay (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 4 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (won), Best Supporting Male-Alan Arkin (won), Paul Dano, Best First Screenplay (won)

Get Out-2017

Get Out-2017

Director-Jordan Peele

Starring-Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams

Scott’s Review #629

Reviewed March 28, 2017

Grade: A

Get Out, a modern-day horror film, is a unique film, mixing classic horror elements (especially great camera angles to elicit jumps) with bits of slapstick humor, not done very often in horror.

In the case of Get Out, all of these tidbits come together in a marvelous experience, and the subject matter is rather risqué (see below), a plus for me as I like films that push the envelope a bit.

Certainly, as with most horror films, liberties must be taken in the way of plot points and continuity issues, but this film is an impressive work. Kudos, given the film, is director Jordan Peele’s directorial film debut.

Chris Washington is a young photographer, handsome, educated, and enjoying life. He is black, and his girlfriend, Rose, is a pretty white girl from an affluent upbringing- it is implied that they are opposites on the social scale.

One weekend, they traverse out of the city (presumably New York City) to visit Rose’s parents in the country. Her parents, Dean and Missy, own a sprawling estate with acres of land. Nervous to meet Rose’s parents and make a good first impression, Chris notices that Dean and Missy’s servants are all black and act in quite a peculiar fashion.

Soon, it is revealed that Chris’s mother died when he was a little boy and when Chris is hypnotized by Missy, things begin to go from strange to downright scary.

I adore how the film immediately feels ominous- there is simply something not “right” with the situation-even before Chris and Rose arrive at her parent’s estate, something seems off. They hit and kill a deer with their car, the policeman who aids them seems racist, and despite Rose seeming fresh-faced, she also seems not to be trusted.

There are so many ominous warnings not to approach her parent’s house, that when they finally do arrive the audience is compelled to nervously watch for more, perhaps while biting fingernails.

Jordan Peele’s decision to have everything cheery and bright during most of the film only makes the audience wonder what secrets are lurking about in the grand estate- the setting where most of the action takes place.

When the pair finally arrive at her parent’s house everything is out of whack. The film undoubtedly borrows from The Stepford Wives in the pleasant, almost robotic cheerfulness of some of the characters.

The big reveal and the rather objectification of all of the black characters- specifically black males- can certainly be cause for debate. The racial motives of the characters are also only skimmed over and never discussed or rationalized in detail.

The physical strength and resilience of the black male are mentioned a few times and Rose’s parents being a psychologist and a neurosurgeon are major points in the story, but the intentions are somewhat wishy-washy and hardly plausible.

In a wise move, Peele mixes a hilarious scene amid the doom and gloom. The comic relief of the film, Rod, Chris’s best friend, and proud TSA agent, calls the police and describes in detail his fears of a sex slave operation, which results in the police having a good guffaw- at Rod’s expense. Rod serving as an instrumental part of the film’s conclusion is a fantastic decision- mixing dark humor with more grotesque horror moments.

This succeeds in setting Get Out well above the traditional genre.

The acting by all parties is believable and deserving of acclaim, but newcomer (to me) Daniel Kaluuya carries the film very well, even offering more than one heartfelt dramatic scene, mostly when remembering his mother.

Allison Williams (a dead ringer for a young Jennifer Connelly) is also a marvel, especially as the character changes direction mid-stream and essentially becomes a different character.

Fantastic are the throwback elements of The Stepford Wives, complete with a similar setting. The film does not reveal whether “in the country” is Connecticut or upstate New York-Stepford Wives was Connecticut.

Get Out is a fresh, novel approach to the standard elements of horror, mixing comedy and aspects of race into a story brimming with suspense, good frights, and especially, interesting camera angles.

This film, a great success at the box office, does not seem like the sequel type, but if so, I am intrigued by what more can be done with it.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Jordan Peele, Best Actor-Daniel Kaluuya, Best Original Screenplay (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature (won), Best Director-Jordan Peele (won), Best Male Lead-Daniel Kaluuya, Best Screenplay, Best Editing

The Player-1992

The Player-1992

Director Robert Altman

Starring Tim Robbins, Peter Gallagher

Scott’s Review #601

Reviewed January 11, 2017

Grade: A

The Player (1992) ranks up there with other Robert Altman classics such as Gosford Park (2001), Nashville (1975), and Short Cuts (1993).

The film is an excellent piece of Hollywood satire and centers around a jaded movie executive, played by Tim Robbins, who does an incredible job with his role.

Robbins plays Griffin Mill, a man with no scruples. Feeling usurped by a younger executive, played by Peter Gallagher, as well as receiving death threats, he goes on the hunt for the person he feels responsible for, which leads to murder.

The audience is unsure whether to love or hate Mill, thanks to Robbin’s performance. He is snarky, but also vulnerable and a tad sympathetic.

The film contains a slew of real Hollywood celebrities (Cher, Malcolm McDowell, Bruce Willis) playing themselves and is largely improvised (as many of Altman’s films are).

Whoopi Goldberg and Lyle Lovett star as odd police detectives.

The plot is nothing that hasn’t been done before, but it’s the realness and the direction that make this movie a must-see, especially for Robert Altman fans.

The Player (1992) is a hidden gem.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Robert Altman, Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 1 win-Best Feature (won)

The Grifters-1990

The Grifters-1990

Director Stephen Frears

Starring John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening

Scott’s Review #597

Reviewed January 9, 2017

Grade: B-

The Grifters (1990) is a film that has witty writing and an overall appeal. It is unique and quirky and is in the style of a charismatic film noir from one of the golden ages of film, the 1930s, and the 1940s.

Additionally, the film has a very sharp, clean look to it.

The performances, especially Anjelica Houston, are excellent. All three principles, (John Cusack and Annette Bening) give fantastic performances and feed off each other so that the chemistry works quite well.

Cusack plays a small-time crook named Roy Dillon, inept in ways, and estranged from his mother (Huston). When she returns to town, she along with his girlfriend (Bening), all attempt to con and outmaneuver each other for their gain.

The film is set in sunny Los Angeles.

As compelling as the film sounds on paper, I did not find myself completely captured by it. It took me a while to get into the film and by the time I finally did, it had ended.

Overall, well made, and respectable, and I can see how some people would love it, but for me, there remained something missing.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Stephen Frears, Best Actress-Anjelica Huston, Best Supporting Actress-Annette Bening, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 2 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Female Lead-Anjelica Huston (won)

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire-2009

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire-2009

Director Lee Daniels

Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique

Scott’s Review #581

Reviewed January 2, 2017

Grade: A

Precious is an amazing film and one of the best to come out of the year 2009. Due to the hype, I had high expectations entering the theater and I was not disappointed.

The film is an in-your-face slug-fest with some of the rawest acting performed in recent years.

The marvelous aspect is that the film takes the viewer into a world that is probably not one’s own experience and makes them empathize with the characters.

The film is very disturbing at times, raw, gritty, and violent, but also has some light, humorous moments and an oh-so-important film to see. There is a heartwarming charm that offsets the violence perfectly.

The story itself, and the direction are basic, but the wonderful acting is what sets this film on a high pedestal. Gabourey Sidibe, a relatively unknown and novice actress, gives an astounding turn as an unloved, overweight, pregnant teen mom.

She is abused by both of her parents in separate ways and seems to have a life of pain ahead of her.

Paula Patton, who has been in several fluff films, impresses as a teacher who takes a shine to Precious. Mariah Carey is simply unrecognizable as a plain-looking social worker, who is also a sympathetic character.

However, actress and comedienne, Mo’Nique plays an unfeeling, brutal, violent mother to the hilt and holds nothing back. Her Best Supporting Actress Oscar win was deserving.

Everyone should see this fantastic slice-of-life film.

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Picture, Best Director-Lee Daniels, Best Actress-Gabourey Sidibe, Best Supporting Actress-Mo’Nique (won), Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 5 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Lee Daniels (won), Best Female Lead-Gabourey Sidibe (won), Best Supporting Female-Mo’Nique (won), Best First Screenplay (won)



Director-Barry Jenkins

Starring-Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland

Scott’s Review #512


Reviewed November 6, 2016

Grade: A

Moonlight is a wonderful film, rich with character and grit, that tells the story of one man’s life- from childhood to teenage years, to adulthood, sharing the bonds he forms, and the demons he wrestles.

The acting all around is fantastic and the story poignant and truthful.

The film is not preachy, but rather tells a story and leaves the audience to sit and observe- quietly formulating their own opinions. Moonlight is a mixture of beauty and heartbreak and is told very well.

The film is divided into three chapters- in chronological order of the central character’s life.

Chiron is a shy, docile, young boy of six or seven living in a drug-filled world of Miami, Florida in the 1980s. He is bullied for being “different” though he knows not why he is shunned. Chiron is introverted and distrusting.

A kind-hearted drug dealer named Juan (Mahersala Ali) takes a shine to Chiron, whose own mother becomes more and more absent and emotionally abusive to her son.

Naomie Harris plays Paula, mother to Chiron and herself a drug addict. Juan and his girlfriend Theresa (Janelle Monae) become surrogate parents to Chiron and share their home with him as needed.

Chapter two focuses on Chiron as a teenager- still bullied and coming to terms with his sexuality and feelings of insecurity. By this time his mother has spiraled out of control and his life is a sad one. He is filled with emotions such as rage, despair, and confusion. He has an experience with his best friend Kevin that changes the direction of his life. Kevin is his saving grace and a decent person amidst his troubled life.

In chapter three, we are re-introduced to Chiron as an adult- having completely reinvented himself and become a changed man, but is he changed for better or for worse? People from his past resurface at this time and Chiron must face various demons and emotions, and come to terms with himself and others surrounding him.

Does his story have a sad or a happy ending is the question we are left wondering.

The aspect that left me impressed the most is the storytelling and the ground that is broken with this film.

From an LGBT perspective, by this time (2016), we have experienced numerous offerings on the subject, but the fact that Moonlight is not only a character study, but a love story between two black men have not been done to this degree yet in cinema, or arguably at all, especially in mainstream fare.

Happily, Moonlight is receiving critical praise. The fact that Chiron lives in a macho, male-driven society, makes his self-acceptance all the more challenging for him.

The direction in Moonlight is impressive and director Barry Jenkins deserves much praise.

Quiet scenes of Chiron as a boy asking Juan and Theresa why the bullies call him a certain name are heartbreaking. Another scene, muted and in slow motion, reveals an abusive Paula calling Chiron a degrading name leaving him confused and hurt. Otherwise, tender scenes between Chiron and Kevin are sweet and passionate and told on such a humanistic level.

Moonlight delves into such territory as loneliness and self-identity and is an interesting film to view for anyone who has struggled with these issues or anyone who is empathetic to those who have.

Moonlight breaks stereotypes and molds a film that is subtle and low-key but speaks volumes.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director-Barry Jenkins, Best Supporting Actor-Mahershala Ali (won), Best Supporting Actress-Naomie Harris, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature (won), Best Director-Barry Jenkins (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Editing (won), Robert Altman Award (won)



Director Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Starring Frances McDormand, William H. Macy

Top 100 Films #79

Scott’s Review #366


Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Fargo (1996) is a treasure as far as I’m concerned and the role that deservedly propelled Frances McDormand to the forefront of the film audience’s minds- not to mention a gold statue for Best Actress.

The film epitomizes dark humor, and zany freshness, during a time in cinema when originality was emerging, and independent films were growing in popularity.

Fargo led the pack.

The film suffers from some derision by locals in and around the upper mid-west U.S.A. for its depiction of accents- perhaps overdone, but hysterical all the same.

Mixed with the snowy and icy locales, the film perfectly presents a harsh and small-town feeling.

The introduction of a crime- initially done innocently, escalates out of control.

Fargo is a part caper, part thriller, and part adventure and is a layered, cool film.

The fact that the time is 1987 is great. The cars, the Oldsmobile dealership, all work particularly.

McDormand plays a local Police Chief- Marge Gunderson, very pregnant, who stumbles upon the crime and slowly unravels the mystery.

All the while, the character keeps her cool, cracks jokes, and emits witty one-liner after another, presenting a slightly dim-witted image, but brilliantly deducing the aspects of the crime.

William H. Macy, in 1996 largely unknown, is perfectly cast as a car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard. Nervous, and shaky, yet with down-home respectability, he hatches a plot to have his wife kidnapped, the ransom to be paid by her wealthy father, enabling Jerry to pay off an enormous embezzling debt, and splitting the money with the kidnappers.

Predictably, things go awry and spiral out of control.

I love how the film crosses genres and is tough to label- is it a crime drama, a thriller, or a comedy? A bit of each which is the brilliance of it.

Fargo (1996) is an odd, little piece of art, and is remembered as one of the best films of the 1990s, making a star out of Frances McDormand.

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Picture, Best Director-Joel Coen, Best Actress-Frances McDormand (won), Best Supporting Actor-William H. Macy, Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 6 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Joel Coen (won), Best Male Lead-William H. Macy (won), Best Female Lead-Frances McDormand (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Cinematography (won)

Brokeback Mountain-2005

Brokeback Mountain-2005

Director Ang Lee

Starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal

Top 100 Films #46

Scott’s Review #338


Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Brokeback Mountain (2005) is a revolutionary film and one of the most important films to be released during the 2000s. Never before had an LGBT film been given as much exposure and widespread viewership as this film did.

Robbed of the 2005 Best Picture Academy Award (the great, but not as great, Crash won), Brokeback Mountain received other tremendous accolades and word-of-mouth buzz that helped it achieve great success.

A treasure that must always be remembered and appreciated.

Perfectly cast, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal play two cowboys who fall madly in love with each other. The period of the film runs from 1963 until the early 1980s. Through the years we see their unbreakable bond tested by outside factors- namely being gay is forbidden at this time and location- Wyoming and Texas.

Jack Swift (Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) meet one summer in 1963 when they are both hired by grizzled Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) to herd sheep one summer on Brokeback Mountain in remote Wyoming.

They immediately form a friendship that turns physical one drunken night. From this point, the men are inseparable and share a passion insurmountable.

Due to the times, there is no possible way they can openly share life, so they arrange for periodic “fishing trips”, away from their wives and children so that they can spend time together in secret.

The chemistry is evident between Ledger and Gyllenhaal, which is extremely important to the success of the film.

The audience needs to truly buy their bond and director Ang Lee is successful at eliciting wonderful performances from each actor. This is especially crucial during the first forty-five minutes of the film as all the scenes are only the two actors together.

The famous “tent” scene, in which Jack’s and Ennis’s passion first erupts is perfectly choreographed- it is as much animalistic as it is passionate and this sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Eventually, other characters are introduced and Ennis and Jack live lives largely separate from each other. Michelle Williams plays Alma, a kind-hearted country girl, married to Ennis. She accidentally stumbles on Jack and Ennis’s secret and keeps this hidden throughout the years.

Williams is fantastic in the role- sweet, yet saddled with the pain of knowing her husband is in love with another man causes her to mistrust and eventually destroys their marriage.

Jack forges a life in Texas and marries well-to-do Lureen (Anne Hathaway), but the marriage is a sham, Lureen’s father hates Jack, and Jack cannot forget Ennis. Jack is the aggressor, the one more confident with his sexuality, and one would surmise, would be the one more likely to be “out” if circumstances were different.

He looks for other men, even going to Mexico to find some companionship.

The ending of the film is tragic and heartbreaking and we witness Ennis being a good father to his now grown-up kids. A wonderful scene is written between Ledger and Kate Mara, who plays his daughter. She asks the lonely Ennis to attend her wedding and the scene is sweet and tender.

Another scene involving Ennis meeting Jack’s parents is monumental- as important as what is said in this wonderful scene is what is left unsaid.

Brokeback Mountain (2005) is an honest, graceful, and brave film, that thanks to the talents and direction of Ang Lee, was able to be made.

The exceptional cast led by Ledger and Gyllenhaal is dynamic and enables the film to come together as one masterpiece, that will surely never be forgotten.

Oscar Nominations: 3 wins-Best Picture, Best Director-Ang Lee (won), Best Actor-Heath Ledger, Best Supporting Actor-Jake Gyllenhaal, Best Supporting Actress-Michelle Williams, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Cinematography

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 2 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Ang Lee (won), Best Male Lead-Heath Ledger, Best Supporting Female-Michelle Williams

Far From Heaven-2002

Far From Heaven-2002

Director Todd Haynes

Starring Julianne Moore, Dennis Haysbert

Top 100 Films #53

Scott’s Review #332


Reviewed January 8, 2016

Grade: A

Far From Heaven (2002) is a gorgeous film, set in 1950’s upper-class and sophisticated Connecticut, that tackles not one, but two, separate social issues, in a wonderful story-telling fashion.

An interracial couple fraught with discrimination, and a homosexual husband hiding his secret lifestyle encompass this amazing film by acclaimed director Todd Haynes.

In years to follow, Haynes would also direct such masterpieces similar to the period (and story) of Carol (2015).

For starters, the cinematography and art direction are simply breathtaking- the beautiful and colorful small town in Connecticut, on the surface, prim and proper, is oozing with secrets and scandal just waiting to bubble to the surface.

An aerial view of the town allows the viewer to see this perfectly carved town in a sweeping motion.

Far From Heaven contains many similarities to All That Heaven Allows, made in 1955, and also focuses on a great scandal in a small, seemingly idyllic New England town.

Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) seems to have everything perfectly styled and kept at home in affluent Connecticut, a successful husband named Frank (Dennis Quaid), who is an advertising executive, beauty, and a neighborhood filled with friends.

One night when Frank is working late, Cathy surprises him with dinner at the office, only to be surprised herself by catching Frank passionately kissing another man. In an awkward scene, Frank admits to Cathy that he needs conversion therapy, but instead turns to alcohol and continues to secretly see men.

Devastated, Cathy befriends her gardener, Raymond Deagan (Haysburt), a handsome black man, and slowly begins a relationship with him. Needless to say, this causes gossip and scandal amongst the townspeople.

Far From Heaven is fantastic story-telling, weaving, in essence, two main social stories together.

Frank questions his sexuality, afraid to admit he is gay and risking his reputation and career. Undoubtedly, he is a tormented individual and we see him slowly come to terms with his sexuality.

Haynes, fantastic at crafting a worthy story, carves a similar tale in 2015’s Carol, only she is a woman confident about her sexuality, but hiding it from society. Since the time in both films is the 1950s, the sexual revolution has not occurred, let alone anything gay-related.

The center story though belongs to Cathy and Julianne Moore portrays her to perfection. I would argue that Cathy is Moore’s best role- along with Amber Waves from Boogie Nights.

Hurt and betrayed by her husband, she suddenly is filled with new and dangerous emotions- falling in love with a black man in a not very open-minded time.

Moore and Haysbert have fantastic chemistry from their very first scene together.

I love how Haynes showcases the perfection of the town- the lawns are perfectly mowed, the flower beds flawless, and everyone appears cheerful and colorful. But when something in their little town becomes amiss (in this case Cathy going against the grain) the fangs come out and the animals bear their teeth.

A wonderful scene showcases Cathy and Raymond’s slow dancing in a solely black bar. They sway as one and Cathy is accepted by the black patrons. Raymond (and his daughter) are not treated the same way by the white folks of the town once they catch wind of the shenanigans going on between the interracial couple.

Far From Heaven (2002) is a beautiful film- from the way it looks and is shot, to the powerful acting performances all around. Moore may be the star and the central character of the film, but Quaid and Haysbert certainly deserve their due.

They each give layered performances as wounded and tortured men- and the conclusion of the film- perceived as open-ended- is also not a happily ever after climax.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Julianne Moore, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 5 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Todd Haynes (won), Best Female Lead-Julianne Moore (won), Best Supporting Male-Dennis Quaid (won), Best Cinematography (won)



Director-Thomas McCarthy

Starring-Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo

Scott’s Review #294


Reviewed December 9, 2015

Grade: B+

Spotlight is a film with an important story to tell. A telling of true events that occurred within the Catholic Archdiocese for ages, Spotlight’s focus is specifically on the Boston scandals, as a team of reporters working for the Boston Globe uncover and expose a multitude of child molestation cases committed by priests, subsequently covered up, and leaving victims paid off to keep quiet. The number of proven cases in Boston alone is staggering.

Starring are a plethora of talents including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams, who lead the pack.

They make up the “Spotlight” team at the newspaper,  an investigative unit that works on special stories as they arise.

Their new boss, Marty Baron (ironically a Jewish man), played compellingly by Liev Schrieber, takes over as head of the department, he quizzically asks why the story is not already a priority. Suddenly it is a hot-burner issue and the film delves into an investigation to uncover the facts.

Spotlight is a minimalist film done very well. There is nothing cinematically unique or razzle-dazzle about it, but somehow that is okay.

In some aspects, the film reminds me of the 1975 thriller All The Presidents Men, starring Dustin Hoffman.

For instance, the bleak, bare news rooms-sterile in their look, are similar- cubicle after cubicle,  harsh lighting, and generic conference rooms.

This is the filmmaker’s intent. Also, the fast, energetic pacing, successfully emitting the tight deadlines newspaper folks are faced with, transfers perfectly on film.

The sexual abuse scandal is a cold, harsh reality and the film introduces several victims, who, now as adults, are forever scarred. Some attend support groups, some take drugs, one is sadly not “all there”. Another, now a gay man, was singled out by a priest during a vulnerable period in the, then young boy’s, life. It is a heartbreaking reality that many victims in the film are based on real cases.

Let’s focus on Schrieber’s character for a minute.  He gives such an understated yet compelling performance that my fear is it will wind up being an overlooked one. He calmly, yet passionately initiates the case. It is not a showy performance, in fact rather subdued, but a compelling one if enough attention is paid to it. He is a standout.

Unfortunately, the film does not delve much into the defense (if any) of the Catholic church. Did they do anything but deny the allegations? Why were the victims paid off? Not much is noted from the church’s point of view.

In real life, the Catholic church did hide the abuse that transpired- for decades.

A slight negative is that the film does not delve into the characters’ personal lives very much.

Michael Keaton’s character, Robby Robinson, is arguably the lead character, spearheading the case,  though very little is known about him.

Is he married? happily? Yes, he is a workaholic, but what else?

Ruffalo’s Michael Rezendes is separated from his wife, but little is known as to the reasons.

Finally, McAdam’s Sacha is probably the most fleshed-out she is happily married and close with her religious grandmother, who is affected by the scandal. But we do not know her in-depth either.

I found myself wanting to know more about these people.

All in all, Spotlight is a very good film that is deserving of the recognition it is receiving. Intense, gritty, and filled with honesty, it is a story that needed to be told and has been told well.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director-Tom McCarthy, Best Supporting Actor-Mark Ruffalo, Best Supporting Actress-Rachel McAdams, Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature (won), Best Director-Tom McCarthy (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Editing (won), Robert Altman Award (won)

Pulp Fiction-1994

Pulp Fiction-1994

Director Quentin Tarantino

Starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman

Top 100 Films #22

Scott’s Review #242


Reviewed May 12, 2015

Grade: A

Pulp Fiction (1994) is one of the most influential films of the 1990s and single-handedly kicked the film industry in the ass. It led an entire generation of filmmakers, who were starved and determined to make more creative work after the largely dull decade of the 1980s.

The success of the film, both creatively and critically, helped ensure that edgier and more meaningful artistic expression would continue to occur.

The leader of the charge, of course, was director, Quentin Tarantino.

With Pulp Fiction, a black comedy crime film, Tarantino mixes violence, witty dialogue, and a 1970’s cartoonish feel to achieve a filmmaking masterpiece.

The plot is non-linear and the story contains three main focuses that intersect- a new style of filmmaking that has become commonplace in commonplace in modern cinema, but at the time was a novel adventure.

Set in Los Angeles, Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta portray hitmen named Jules and Vincent, who work for a powerful gangster, Marsellus Wallace, played by Ving Rhames. We get to know them as they interrogate four college-aged youths who double-crossed Marsellus, all the while discussing fast-food hamburgers and adventures in Europe.

On another front, Butch (Bruce Willis) is hired by Marsellus to lose a fight to another boxer. Later, Marcellus instructs Vincent to take his wife Mia (Uma Thurmon), a former unsuccessful television actress, out for dinner and a night on the town.

Finally, we meet Pumpkin and Honey Bunny (Tim Roth and Amanda Plumber), two small-town robbers plotting a heist at a local diner. As the film develops these plots relate to each other in unique ways.

The film is quite stylistic, resembling a 1970s film production in the way it looks, and the use of 1970s style sets- the diner, in particular, looks very of that time, and an automobile where a death occurs, is a 1970s, Chevy Nova.

The film, however, is set in present times.

The dialogue throughout Pulp Fiction is immensely impressive to me. Long dialogues occur between characters, usually sitting over a meal, discussing the meaning of life, religion, fast-food burgers, and other wonderfully real conversations.

I love the many food references- from Butch’s girlfriend salivating over an impending meal of blueberry pancakes to the French version of the Big Mac being discussed, to the price of a shake, these make the conversations between the characters rich and unique and oh so creative.

My favorite sequence is the one between Vincent and Mia, mostly taking place at a trendy 1950s-themed diner named Jack Rabbit Slim’s, where the staff dresses up in costume impersonating their favorite stars of the day, such as Marilyn Monroe.

After winning a dance contest (and a possible homage to Saturday Night Fever) the two go back to Mia’s place where she accidentally overdoses on heroin thought to be cocaine.

The song “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” by Neil Diamond, is both integral and haunting to the scene.

An intense and shocking scene of male gay rape is extremely violent and the hillbillies involved could be straight out of Deliverance from 1972 despite being in Los Angeles.

This scene is disturbing yet mesmerizing at the same time, and might I say even comedic in a dark way?

Pulp Fiction is not a mainstream affair and has its share of detractors and plain old non-fans, but for film-goers seeking a fun, entertaining, cleverly delicious work of art, influential to Hollywood and Independent filmmakers alike, Pulp Fiction (1994) is a film to watch over and over again and admire its style and creativity.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Director-Quentin Tarantino, Best Actor-John Travolta, Best Supporting Actor-Samuel L. Jackson, Best Supporting Actress-Uma Thurman, Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (won), Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 4 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Quentin Tarantino (won), Best Male Lead-Samuel L. Jackson (won), Best Supporting Male-Eric Stoltz, Best Screenplay (won)



Director Alejandro G. Inarritu

Starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone

Scott’s Review #190


Reviewed November 6, 2014

Grade: A

Birdman (2014) is a unique art film that, happily, has garnered major exposure and publicity because a movie like this runs the risk of receiving praise and notice only from the art-house crowd itself.

The film’s star, Michael Keaton, portrays Riggan Thomson, a former action hero superstar from the 1990s, who was made famous for the “Birdman” character he created.

Having made sequels to the film, his career has since dried up and he hopes to establish credibility and prove himself a real actor by writing, directing, and starring in his play.

The film is set in and around the Broadway theater in New York City.

As opening night approaches, he struggles to pull everything together and emit a successful production while faced with an injured terrible actor, a difficult actor, his insecurities, and a miserable theatre critic destined to ruin his big chance.

To make matters worse, his daughter Sam, played by Emma Stone is a recovering drug addict who hangs around the theatre distracting actors with her charm and good looks.

Naomi Watts and Edward Norton play Leslie and Mike, other cast members in the production. Watts is sympathetic as the emotional actress with a heart of gold who finally has her dream of performing on Broadway realized.

Norton, outstanding as Mike, is blunt yet socially awkward and can only perform truthfully on stage.

Keaton is simply a marvel as he plays a dark and vulnerable man. He hates and wishes to shed his ridiculous movie persona of yesteryear and secretly cringes when recognized by fans. He uses it with a voice inside his head when he played “Birdman” years earlier.

The uniqueness of the film is the use of what seems like one long take as the action rarely stops and is ongoing. The film belongs to Keaton, who wonderfully relays vulnerability, pain, and fear within with an outward persona of bravery and masculinity.

Throughout the film I wondered, is Riggan suicidal? What is real and what is imagined? Are certain scenes foreshadowing later events?

The film has much depth.

One marvels at how art imitates life, is Keaton portraying himself? He was the original Batman in the successful superhero franchise beginning in 1989 and his career tanked shortly after.

Birdman is a comeback film for him and he is devastatingly good.

Norton’s character Mike impressed me. He is blunt flawed, scared, and addicted to the stage.

Stone has one particularly brilliant scene as she lambasts her father and with regret, later on, tells him that the world has moved on without him and that he is irrelevant just like everyone else. It is a powerful scene.

In another, Riggan is locked outside the theater during the performance, clad only in his underwear. How on earth will he return to the stage and complete the show? The quick slights at current Hollywood superstars playing superheroes, specifically Robert Downey Jr. are deliciously naughty.

It is impossible to predict what will come next and the film is very New York theater style. Keaton’s run-in with a theater critic in a cocktail bar is the best scene in the film as the critic’s vicious critique of “You’re a celebrity, not an actor” resonates with both pain and tremendous anger for Riggan.

Riggan is a sensitive, struggling man and Keaton so wonderfully shows his vulnerability in every scene.

Oscar Nominations: 4 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Alejandro G. Inarritu (won), Best Actor-Michael Keaton, Best Supporting Actor-Edward Norton, Best Supporting Actress-Emma Stone, Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Cinematography (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 3 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Alejandro G. Inarritu, Best Male Lead-Michael Keaton (won), Best Supporting Male-Edward Norton, Best Supporting Female-Emma Stone, Best Cinematography (won)

12 Years a Slave-2013

12 Years a Slave-2013

Director Steve McQueen

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender

Scott’s Review #62


Reviewed June 24, 2014

Grade: A

At the time of 12 Years a Slave’s (2013) release, a ton of buzz began circulating. Was it that good?

Considered the front-runner to win the Best Picture statue, it did go on to win the top honor.

The film is not easy to watch. It is brutal and heart-wrenching at times. I will spare the details, but the most intense scene involves a whip.

There are scenes of torture, degradation, and cruelty against the slaves by the slave owners.

While tough to watch, I applaud the film for not glossing over the atrocities of slavery. Some have criticized it for being a retread of similar films, but I disagree. It is worlds more intense than watered-down versions.

However, the film is not a downer.

Yes, a class of people is beaten down and victimized, but they also rise above and never give up hope. The fact that it’s a true story and a book was written on the subject by the real Solomon Northup makes it all the more powerful.

The performances are outstanding (Ejiofor, Fassbender, Paulson, and Nyong’o).

The look and cinematography are sharp and I love the distinctiveness of the north and south scenes. The setting is stifling hot and dreary.

There are at least two scenes where the camera pans on a shot and holds it for seemingly an eternity until an action occurs, which makes the scenes effective.

While difficult to watch, 12 Years a Slave (2013) should be viewed by everyone to see how far society has come, not forgetting how far we still need to go to eliminate discrimination and victimization.

Oscar Nominations: 3 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Steve McQueen, Best Actor-Chiwetel Ejiofor, Best Supporting Actor-Michael Fassbender, Best Supporting Actress-Lupita Nyong’o (won), Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 5 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Steve McQueen (won), Best Male Lead-Chiwetel Ejiofor, Best Supporting Male-Michael Fassbender, Best Supporting Female-Lupita Nyong’o (won), Best Screenplay (won), Best Cinematography (won)