Saturday, November 18, 2017

A look at "Blade Runner 2049," "Wonderstruck," and "The Florida Project" (with a dash of "Stranger Things)

Yesterday, I finally finished "Stranger Things." It was certainly a different experience than season one. For one thing, I watched the first season in one sitting, which could account for the fact that I couldn't grasp what was going on half the time while watching the 2nd series. All that said, I felt it was an improvement in many ways. The work by Winona Rider as Joyce and Noah Schnapp as Will was awards worthy. Also, I loved Joe Keery as Steve Harrington. The end of the season was great. Including the very polarizing "Lost Sister" episode. I found it to be a really interesting take on teenage runaways in a time very different than today. Teens could so easily get lost in the 80s. And I thought it was perfect for setting up the tension of the final 2 brilliant episodes.

At the end of the day I started watching "Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold Now," but I didn't quite finish it. Which reminded me that I still haven't finished the Lady Gaga documentary either. "Gaga Five Foot Two." Maybe I can fix that today as well as watch "Mudbound," Netflix's best shot at a serious run for the Oscars, directed by Dee Rees starring Mary J. Blige.  Living in Mississippi it's hard to stay in the moment when it comes to the Oscars, at least at this stage of the game. Anne Thompson and Eric Kohn were discussing on the latest episode of their podcast "Screen Talk" how they only have 2/3 films left to see. That is certainly not the case for me. But watching "Mudbound," released yesterday, would make me feel part of the moment for at least a couple of hours.

For those who are new to Awards Wiz or need a refresher, I will start a 12 day intensive series, "12 Days of Christmas Catch Up" in order to see as many films leading up to publishing my top 10 as possible.  What am I looking for? Well, I would like to see all the big Oscar players by then, but also other things that I might love, not in consideration for the big awards. 

For example, I will have to see "Darkest Hour," "Call Me By Your Name," "Lady Bird," "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri," because what kind of Oscar blogger would I be if I only talked about what others were saying.  But I also want to see "A Ghost Story," "Spiderman: Homecoming," "Greatest Showman" and "The Last Jedi" because these are films that might make it into my top 10 depending on how they tickle certain singular fancies I have for films. I do love a musical!

There are a few films that I have seen that I haven't talked about yet, and thought today would be a good day to do that. 

"Blade Runner 2049"
"The Florida Project"

I saw "Blade Runner 2049" a few weeks ago, after it's pre-release buzz had significantly died down. I was on Twitter declaring, sight unseen that I thought this was the year that Deakins would win the Oscar.

Roger Deakins, the cinematographer for "Blade Runner 2049" has been nominated 13 Oscars and has never won. His best work might be for his first nomination, for "The Shawshank Redemption." That was a remarkable film, one which has more than sustained the test of time. Also, his work on "No Country For Old Men" was equally amazing. That year he was nominated twice! But lost, deservedly so, in my opinion,  to Robert Elswit who shot "There Will Be Blood."

I watched the first 30 minutes or so of "Blade Runner 2049" with an incredibly critical eye. I could feel it happening and wanted very much so to simply enjoy the film. Eventually the critic calmed down and I started to really have fun and appreciate the work Deakins had done. 

I loved the film. I had strange hopes that it would fill the "Mad Max: Fury Road" slot with both Oscars and my Scifi fanboy self, but that didn't quite happen. I partially blame the marketing for the film. It simply wasn't what I expected it to be. Does that matter? No...but it took me a few days to process what I had seen. Director Denis Villeneuve paced the film very deliberately, something that some people seem to have negatively related to the film's running time, but I found it thrilling and masterful. The film would not have been what it was without its length. And why do films have to be short? I think some press forgets that a lot of people are actually paying for tickets and might want their money's worth. That being said, not a lot of people actually went to see the film, at least not considering what it cost. 

Will that hurt its Oscar chances? My thought is yes. We have talked about Deakins winning before. And he hasn't. 

"Wonderstruck" directed by Todd Haynes ("Carol," "Far From Heaven") has made a really delightful film about a young boy and a young girl, their stories 50 years apart, who connect in ways I certainly won't spoil here. Before the film was released, people were talking about it having a shot at Cinematography. It's part black and white, part 70s era color. And within the black and white section, cinematographer  Edward Lachman gets a chance to recreate the silent films of the era, and it is wonderful. Lachman was nominated for both "Carol" and "Far From Heaven" but lost to Emmanuel Lubezki for "The Revenant" and Conrad L Hall for "Road to Perdition" respectively. I haven't seen many of the films people are saying will give Deakins a run for his money, but over at Awards Daily, "Wonderstruck" isn't even in contention. I enjoyed "Wonderstruck," but as I have said on social media, Haynes only took me to the edge of an emotional payoff. Which isn't good enough, especially when talking about the Academy. 

In terms of "The Florida Project" and its chances, let's stick with Cinematography for a moment.  Yes, we all know that Sean Baker, the director, shot his last film, "Tangerine," himself with an iphone. This time he went with Alexis Zabe. I think "The Florida Project" has the best cinematography I've seen all year. Zabe truly captures the heat of Orlando, the desolation of the underbelly of that city. I've been there outside of a trip to Disney and he nails exactly what I experienced at the hotel I was staying at. But again, no one seems to be talking about this film in terms of cinematography. Maybe if it gets a slew of critics awards it might have a chance.

The film does have a chance to get nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, but it might have to settle for William Defoe for Supporting Actor, who is very good in the role of Bobby, the hotel manager, who might very well win! 

I did really love the film. I think I would have loved it even more had Bria Vinaite, the Instagram discovery, who played mom Halley been able to reach a few more deeper levels. I found her character almost completely lacking in redeemable qualities, which made the ending, acted to the stratosphere  by breakout Brooklynn Prince as Moonee, a bit of a letdown for me. I had a reaction, that's for sure, but it wasn't the one I think Baker might have intended. If you haven't seen it, skip this last reaction was this. 

Poor Moonee, (and yay Brooklynn for acting her ass off!) she is really upset about this...but thank goodness they took her away from that wretched monster of a selfish Mother. 

I had to find empathy with her well after leaving the cinema. And that's a pretty big flaw, especially when we are getting down to the nitty gritty of these things.

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