Live Action (Short Subject) Nominees

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Toni Erdmann

This father-daughter dramedy/farce from German director Maren Ade may clock in at 162 minutes, but I never got bored and it certainly didn’t drag. The film starts with a familiar premise, but doesn’t go to the sentimental or obvious places you’re expecting. It pits Ines (Sandra Hüller), an über-focused young corporate consultant, against her semi-retired dad Winfried (Peter Simonischek) who just loves a good gag or practical joke. He drops in for an unannounced visit with Ines and tries to get her to loosen up and have a life, and all she wants is for him to go home so she can get back to business. Though it does lead to a happy ending, the journey is full of absurd scenes and uncomfortable moments.

Frantz

French writer/director François Ozon has made some of my favorite films these last few years. With The New Girlfriend, In the House,  and Potiche he’s shown himself to be very adept with comedy and unusual situations. But with his new film Frantz, he enters the realm of historical drama and shows he is equally skilled in more serious films. A semi-remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby, it’s set just after the first World War, in a small German town. It’s the story of Anna (Paula Beer), a beautiful, young German woman whose fiancé Frantz (Anton von Lucke) died in the war and Adrien (Pierre Niney), a sad young Frenchman, who comes to town having been close friends with Frantz in Paris before the war. She discovers him as he is laying flowers on Frantz’s grave, and he becomes a source of happy memories for her and for Frantz’s grieving parents.

Live Action (Short Subject) Nominees

This is also a hard category, because the films are all so different, and the art of telling a story in a short time without either rushing it or shortchanging the narrative creates its own sort of film making. There’s dancing, and singing, and interrogation, and infatuation, and this year’s theme of the Islamic immigrant/refugee is included. They’re funny and romantic and sad and surprising. It’s really a great bunch of shorts. I am sure they will land their filmmakers a meeting or two with people who can help them and their careers along. See them if you can. They’re in theaters now and will certainly be streaming later. And once more I will plead with theaters to start showing shorts before the features. Please!

(Trailers for all the films below.)

John Wick: Chapter 2

He’s back! And he’s still a bad ass killer. I called the original John Wick stylishly violent, and this one takes it up another notch, both on the style and the violence. But it’s still the story of a sad and weary hit man who’s brought back in to the violent world he’s trying to leave behind. Keanu Reeves stars as Wick and he’s just as fun to watch as the last time.

Animation (Short Subject) Nominees

The Animated shorts category is always a hard one for me to judge. Will the Academy members go with the best, most amazing animation, or will it be about telling a great story? Since I don’t really know how hard it is to create these films (I’m assuming it ain’t easy), I’m going with the power of story to keep my attention. Without doubt all the films’ nominees this year are fabulous animators.  Since one of them is from Pixar, that is a given. But are the stories worthy of the animation? Or are these animators using their films as calling cards, looking for a step up to features?  I don’t have a clue, but here are my takes on the nominees for the 2017 Oscar.

Documentary (Short Subject) nominees

This has got to be the toughest group of the shorts to watch. They’re usually a lot more diverse, but this year, with one feel-good exception, they are all about people suffering. Three are about the War in Syria and it’s effects on the people there, and sadly none of them points a way forward to peace. But they give you a front row seat to the horrifying toll of the war there on real Syrians trying to cope with the day to day, and the reason so many are fleeing their homes. All of these films are very deserving of their nominations.

Below are brief reviews and the trailers, and for a couple of them, the whole film is available here. I highly recommend watching them all.

BRING PLENTY OF TISSUES!

I Am Not Your Negro

This brilliant documentary walks its audience through the Civil Rights era with undoubtedly the most articulate and engaged guide possible – James Baldwin, writer (The Fire Next Time, Notes of a Native Son, Go Tell It on the Mountain), intellectual and social critic. Using archival footage from his many speaking engagements on television and at key locations during the Civil Rights fight, along with voice-over from a book that Baldwin never finished (read by a very reverential Samuel L Jackson), the film is told entirely in his words. And his thoughts about the state of the black life in America in the 60s sadly still apply today.

20th Century Women

20th Century Women takes place at the end of the 70s in Santa Barbara, California. Dorothea (Annette Bening) is a bohemian, mid-50ish, single mom trying to raise her son, adolescent Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). They live in a big old house in the middle of renovations and have two boarders – budding photographer Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Zen mechanic William (Billy Crudup). And there is a teenage neighbor Julie (Elle Fanning) who frequently climbs in the window to lie chastely in bed with young Jamie, her BFF, to his growing dismay. Dorothea feels that she needs help with Jamie, and thinking they’re closer in age, she asks the girls to help her with his transition to manhood. What follows is both funny and touching.

The Brand New Testament

Looking for a fun flick that isn’t on everyone’s lips yet? Look no further than The Brand New Testament. This absurdist film from Belgium starts with a blasphemous premise. God lives in an apartment in Brussels with his wife (Yolande Moreau) and 10-year-old daughter Ea (Pili Groyne) who are never allowed to leave said apartment. This Old Testament vengeful and angry God (Benoît Poelvoorde) sits around all day in his bathrobe, drinks beer, controls the world through his computer, and thinks up “devilish” ways to harm and annoy the humans he created. But his meanness goes too far for Ea, so she sneaks into his locked God cave and sends text messages to everyone on earth with their death dates. Knowing Daddy won’t be amused, she talks with JC, her statue of her brother, who tells her how to get out of the house. And so little Ea gets her first taste of humanity.

Patriots Day

The Boston Marathon bombing is like so many of our recent tragedies. We remember where we were when it happened and were glued to the news, trying to come to terms with the horrifying display of carnage born from hatred. Then over the following days we watched and waited as the perpetrators were identified, killed, and captured. Patriots Day is essentially this story told through one Boston cop’s eyes. Mark Wallberg is Sgt. Tommy Saunders, a cop who’s made some mistakes and has been forced to be a Marathon traffic cop, so he just happens to be there when the bombs go off, which throws him into the middle of the hunt for the perps who may be planning more attacks. You know what’s going to happen, so there aren’t many surprises, but the film is fast paced with enough detail to make it extremely absorbing, and it works!