"NANCY" - *** 1/2 (87 MINUTES)

Sunday May 6, 2018

You may recall a classic 1980's Saturday Night Live recurring skit of Tommy Flanagan, the pathological liar played by Jon Lovitz.  Although Lovitz's characterization of the phenomenon was quite humorous, watching Nancy had me thinking that most of us have surely encountered at least one such individual during our lifetime - but, contrarily, how disturbing and disruptive these individuals really are. 

Writer/director Christina Choe's riveting inaugural feature presents a fascinating character study of a pathological liar who embarks on an ill-advised campaign of deception that quite possibly could result in devastating consequences by wreaking emotional havoc upon an innocent grieving couple.  

When we meet Nancy Freeman (a chillingly effective Andrea Riseborough), an introverted 30-something, we see her caring for her ill mom (Ann Doyd) while working at temp jobs and trying to meet someone to enlighten her dreary existence.  Short episodes are introduced to incredulously emphasize her tendency to "stretch" the truth no matter the circumstance.

After her mom suddenly dies, the main plot is set in motion when Nancy, now totally alone with her cat, sees a news report about a couple, Leo and Ellen (J. Smith-Cameron and Steve Buscemi, the latter effective in a normal low-key role totally against type) desperately still holding out hope of locating their daughter who was kidnapped 30 years earlier.  When a computer image is shown of what the daughter possibly looks like present-day, Nancy believes the image is strikingly close to her visage (the child's photo actually belongs to Riseborough).  You can hear her brain cells churning as she intently focuses on the image on the screen.  She then embarks on a journey that could possibly end her loneliness while creating an instant family, if she can convince the couple she is their long-lost daughter. 

Riseborough has an uncanny knack of using facial expressions to convey multiple emotions without speaking a word of dialogue.  Her ability to elicit a certain empathy despite raising troubling moral questions is both a tribute to her acting and the screenplay.  And it is Choe's intelligent and thoughtful script which was well deserved in winning this years Sundance Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award.  The director is certainly a talent to watch.

A special mention for the music composed by Peter Raeburn (Under The Skin; Sexy Beast) which provides a perfect undertone to the action.

Nancy, which I screened at the Maryland Film Festival, has a limited release scheduled for June 8. 


Nancy face to face with Jeb (John Leguizamo) after 
meeting on the Internet

     (l to r) Leo (Steve Buscemi), Nancy (Andrea Riseborough) 
and Ellen (J. Smith-Cameron) 

Director Christina Choe at the Q and A


Monday June 2, 2018

Saturday, I attended a wonderful event at the fabulous AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland.  A special screening of an archival 35mm print of the 1956 William Wyler directed film Friendly Persuasion starring the late great Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire and Anthony Perkins was followed by a fascinating Q and A with Wyler's daughter, Catherine, and Cooper's daughter, Maria Cooper Janis and moderated by film historian Foster Hirsch.

For those interested in hearing a fascinating peak into the backstory of the film and the lives of two Hollywood legends, go to my Facebook page to listen to the majority of the Q and A.

(l to r)  Film historian Foster Hirsch, Maria 
Cooper Janis and Catherine Wyler



Image result for oscar 2018

Wednesday April 11,  2018 

THE SHOW (* out of 4)

Jimmy Kimmel returned for a second go-round and, as it turns out, hosted a 204 minute political agenda show that happened to find some time to hand out 24 cinematic awards. By my (unofficial) count there were these jokes/references/mention totals by the host and others:
- #TimesUp movement:  7
- #MeToo movement:  6
- Mexico/Pence/Immigration/Fox TV Network: 6
- President Trump:  5
- Harvey Weinstein: 3

Figuring that the musical numbers for Best Song would offer a welcome respite from all the pontificating, to my utter dismay there was rapper Common prefacing "Stand Up For Something" (from Marshall) by continuing these rants ad nauseum.

I now propose a new movement for this annual overblown extravaganza:  #EliminateThePolitics. When will these "entertainment" folks, as well as the protesting athletes, most notably in the NFL, realize that their pronouncements are increasingly turning off a huge portion of the general population, like myself, who just want to be entertained.  As the NFL attendance this year has deteriorated faster than a corpse left out in the sun, so too were these final numbers for the ABC telecast:  Viewership hit a record low of 26.5 million - down a whooping 20% from last years 33 million.  The new meager embarrassing total destroyed the old record of 32 million set in 2008 when Jon Steward hosted 11 weeks after the conclusion of the writers' strike that had incapacitated other award shows.  Hollywood:  are you getting the message??  Unfortunately, I doubt it.

Of course it didn't help that there was no standout universally appealing film this year that captured the public's interest.  (Top award winners The Shape Of Water and 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  have garnered domestic box office totals of $56 and $52 million, respectively.)  At best, I gave a couple of the Best Picture nominees 3 1/2 stars (out of 4) - an overall disappointing year for this reviewer.

As for Kimmel, look for him to be a mainstay as the future Oscar host for the mostly left-leaning Hollywood elitists.  That being said, he was adequate and appeared relaxed in the role but, again, how many fans have ultimately abandoned the late-night host, as well as this annual telecast, no matter who hosts, because of the above?  

My annual apologies to Sergio Leone, as this breakdown will pretty much sum up the event through this reviewer's eyes:


- It was nice that the producers found the time to actually hand out awards.

- The "star" of the evening might have been the ever-changing set/stage that formed the evening's backdrop.  A somewhat gaudy yet interestingly spectacular presentation that correctly reflected the absolute pretentiousness of Hollywood.

- Usually the highlight of every Oscars are the film clips from the past that take us back to why we love the movies.  All the major acting awards this year were preceded by corresponding glimpses of past winners.

- Finally!  The great cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049) won a coveted gold statuette after 13 unsuccessful nominations.  

- Presenters and Hollywood Legends 86-year-old Rita Moreno (who won Best Supporting for West Side Story) dancing merrily onstage, as well as 93-year-old Eva Marie Saint (who won Best Supporting for On The Waterfront) pointing out that she was actually older than Oscar.

- The wonderful montage celebrating the 90 years of Oscar.

- The montage of 90 years honoring the military in movies introduced by Vietnam vet Wes Studi (Hostiles) who became the first native american (Cherokee) to present at The Academy Awards.

- Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder wonderful rendition of Tom Petty's "Room At The Top" during the "In Memoriam" segment - made all the more poignant considering the recent premature demise of the talented pop star.

- The elimination of the speech by the president of The Academy which yearly halts any momentum the telecast may have.

- There was no repeat of last year's disastrous announcement of the wrong winner (although it might have made the program much more interesting than it was). 

- The show started a half-hour earlier than usual to allow viewers to get to bed earlier.


- The show is still about at least an hour too long as it clocked in this year at 204 minutes. 

- Unending monotonous non-humorous repartee from the majority of the presenters.

- Although most speeches ended before the requisite "reminder" from the orchestra, there was the notable exception when winner Robert Lopez was accepting for Best Original Song ("Remember Me" from Coco) who was rudely interrupted as he began to pay tribute to his deceased mother.  One of the more uncomfortable moments.

- The performance of "Remember Me" that began with a rather amateurish turn by actor Gale Garcia Bernal followed by an equally uninspired production number.  The victorious song writers were thankful it wasn't a consideration for winning the award!

- Having the embarrassing moment with presenters tied to a nominated film in the category they are presenting - and then lose.  This happened with Ansel Elgort and Eiza Gonzalez presenting the sound awards and then putting on a happy face when Dunkirk won over their film Baby Driver.

- The show's overnight ratings (see above).


- The yearly scratching-your-head omissions from the In Memorium segment.  Among the most notable names left off the 51-name list:  Adam West, directors Tobe Hooper and Bruce Brown, Glen Campbell, Dina Merrill, Powers Boothe, Dorothy Malone, Miguel Ferrer, Rose Marie, John Mahony, Jim Nabors and Robert Guillaume.  It is understood that there were too many mentions for a three to four minute segment.  So maybe a slightly longer accompanying song is warranted in the future for unusually lengthy lists.  The bottom line:  If you are going to do this, then do it right! 

- Kobe Bryant (?!) winning for the short film Dear Basketball.  Imagine how life-long struggling filmmakers must have felt to see Bryant, accused of sexual misconduct in 2003, step up to the podium.  In the midst of the #MeToo movement, the hypocrisy of the Hollywood faithful has never been so clearly evident.

-The orchestra began playing just before co-producer J. Miles Dale (The Shape Of Water) was about to speak after his and co-producer Guillermo del Toro's film won the biggest award of the night.

- The noticeably tepid response by the audience at the conclusion of the military clips, who had no trouble giving standing ovations for a musical performance but gave mild claps and annoyed faces after the tribute.  


Director Jordan Peele for his original screenplay for Get Out.  Not that it didn't deserved to win, but Hollywood rarely honors a script with a horror theme.  

Mark Bridges for his costume designing for Phantom Thread.  As I stated in my predictions column, a film about an elite fashion designer better win this award or Bridges might have difficulty finding work in the future.

Coco (Best Animation).  A dazzling visual film with a knockout script.  Pixar handily wins yet another well-deserved award. 

Fourteen is finally the charm for the immensely talented cinematographer Roger Deakins who won for Blade Runner 2049.

Longtime indie actor Sam Rockwell (Best Supporting Actor for 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing), who proclaimed, "I'd like to thank the academy.  I never thought I'd say those words" and then proceeded to dedicate the award to his late friend Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Best Actress Frances McDormand (3 Billboards Outside Ebbing) who took her moment to honor all the female nominees by having them stand to be acknowledged while calling for diversity inclusion riders in studio contracts.

Best Supporting Actress Allison Janney (I, Tonya) who, instead of rattling off a list of thank-yous, proclaimed, "I did it myself".

The Shape of Water with 4 of its 13 nominations.

The 2018 Oscars telecast.

Kimmel's offer to award a jet ski and a trip to Arizona to the winner with the briefest speech.

Kimmel's ski bit.  In 2000, a giant screen TV was offered to the winner with the shortest speech.

Get Out's Lakeith Stanfield who threaten, in character, to run onstage screaming "Get Out" to any awardees whose acceptance speech goes on too long.  (If you saw the film, you'd understand the setup.)  

Guillermo del Toro double checking the Best Picture award envelope to make sure he won.

Jane Fonda commenting that the beyond elaborate stage reminded her of the Orgasmatron from her classic film Barbarella.

A humorous homage to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining with a commercial ad for the Overlook Hotel which was the haunted setting for the classic film.

A game Helen Mirren who looked marvelous modeling in a gown atop a jet ski.

Costume designer Mark Bridges who walked off the podium with an Oscar and, later, a jet ski.

Where last year Kimmel brought unsuspecting bus-touring folks into the Dolby Theater, this time he took celebrities from the audience into a movie theater across the street where there was a preview screening of Disney's A Winkle In Time.  Having food and souvenir items thrown into the crowd went tiresomely on way too long. 

A shoeless Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip) and Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids) who began their humorous repartee by saying that, "We know what you're thinking, are the Oscars too black now?" They have my ardent vote to replace Kimmel.

Octogenarian Christopher Plummer, who seemed increasingly annoyed as the beneficiary of Kimmel's incessant age jokes. 

Accused sexual harasser Kobe Bryant winning an Oscar.

Kimmel walking up to Steven Spielberg and asking him for pot.

Keala Settle ("This is Me" from The Greatest Showman)

Gale Garia Bernal ("Remember Me" from Coco).

Film clips covering 90 years of film and ending with a thank-you to moviegoers over those years.

86-year-old Rita Moreno who sashayed her way to the podium wearing a version of the same dress she wore while accepting her Best Supporting Actress Award in 1962 (West Side Story).

93-year-old Eva Marie Saint who proclaimed she was older than Oscar.

Lady Bird

Latin America in general and Mexico in particular.


Image result for helen mirren oscars 2018 pic jet ski
Helen Mirren models the jet ski 

Image result for helen mirren oscars 2018 pic jet ski
Mark Bridges wins for shortest accceptance speech

Image result for helen mirren oscars 2018 pic jet ski
Best Picture presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty 
try again

Image result for helen mirren oscars 2018 pic jet ski
Guillermo del Toro accepts for Best Picture

Image result for sam rockwell oscars 2018 pic
Sam Rockwell for Best Supporting Actor

Image result for helen mirren oscars 2018 pic jet ski
Allison Janney accepts for Best Supporting

Image result for helen mirren oscars 2018 pic jet ski
Frances McDormand accepts for Best Actress

Image result for helen mirren oscars 2018 pic jet ski
Best Actor Gary Oldman

Image result for 2018 oscar telecast pics eva marie saint
Eva Marie Saint

Image result for 2018 oscar telecast pics rita moreno
Rita Moreno

Image result for helen mirren oscars 2018 pic jet ski
(l to r) Presenters Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph

Image result for helen mirren oscars 2018 pic jet ski
Songstress Keala Settle performing "This Is Me"


Sunday March 4, 2018
Image result for academy award photos
- As everyone knows by now, there was actually more drama in the last ten minutes of last years extravaganza than was present in most of the nominated films.  Because of that Best Picture announcement snafu, in which the incorrect winner was initially announced that had the eventual losers starting to accept their precious statuettes on stage, there will probably be more folks now struggling to stay awake until the final credits.  But I doubt it.

- Jimmy Kimmel returns for a second go-round.  Now a darling of the Hollywood snowflakes for his unremitting bashing of the President and his policies from his late night platform, it was a no-brainer that he would be asked back.  He actually did a fairly confident hosting job last year and handled the disaster referred to above with admirable aplomb.  However, it is this writer's fervent hope he abandons jokes directed to the White House and instead concentrates mainly on Harvey Weinstein, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.  But I doubt it.

- The Shape of Water is this years La La Land with a whooping 13 nominations, one less than All About Eve, Titanic and La La Land.  However, I predict it will win less than the six Oscars the musical won last year (becoming the 11th film to do so).  Of course, we all know how close it was to winning a seventh (see my first thought above).

- Tom Hanks, once considered an almost yearly slam-dunk to receive at least a nomination, continues his unenviable streak of being left off the final acting list.  It's been 17 years ago since he last received a nom for Cast Away.

- I'm a bit surprised that Woody Harrelson garnered a Best Supporting Actor nomination for 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri over Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name).  Harrelson certainly gave a competent performance.  However, Hammer's acting chops were far superior and memorable, and Sam Rockwell, who I predict will win, was already nominated in this category for 3 BillboardsHopefully, Woody's presence on the list will not take votes away from Rockwell who gave the years best supporting performance as a racist cop in what I feel is the best film of the year (see my predictions below).

- Nice to see a female being considered for Best Director.  Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) becomes only the fifth in this category and the last since Kathryn Bigelow won in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.  And on this subject, Rachel Morrison becomes the first ever female cinematographer nominated for Mudbound.

- Meryl Streep adds to her most nominated actor total with the 21st for The Post.  However, don't look for The Academy to add to her 3 wins as Frances McDormand will assuredly place a spanking new statuette on the mantle next to her Fargo Oscar on Sunday (see my predictions below).

- And speaking of nomination totals, John Williams gets his 46th for scoring The Post (and 51st overall for 5 original songs), trailing only Walt Disney who had 59.

- Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.), with his 8th acting nomination, is now the most nominated black actor, previously winning twice for Glory and Training Day.  However, don't look for that number to increase as Gary Oldman is almost certain to win.

- Composer Diane Warren tries again with her 9th nomination.  Over the years the highly successful songwriter (in the running for "Stand Up for Something" from Marshall) has fifteen Grammy noms and nine number ones on Billboards Top-100 -  but nary an AA.  

-Christopher Plummer stepped in at the last minute and replaced disgraced actor Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World and as a result becomes the oldest actor at 88 to receive an acting nom.

- Netflix finally breaks into the Hollywood party with their well-received Mudbound.  Although it failed to make the Best Picture list (a surprise to many insiders), it did get nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (songstress Mary J. Blige, who also sings the nominated song "Mighty River").

- The acclaimed Wonder Woman got totally shut-out.  Not unusual for a superhero movie but a surprise to many who sung its praises last June when it was released.

- In case you ever wondered, the 24-caret gold-plated Oscar statuette has an estimated value of $900.

- My prediction record last year:  10 out of 14 correct - missing out on Best Picture, Actor, Actress, & Editing.  (Sour Grapes comment:  The final tally should have been 11 out of 14 as Faye Dunaway got it right the first time: La La Land  was the best film of the year!  So there!!)

The envelope, please . . . 


What will win:  The Shape of Water
(Very Extreme) Upset Possibility:  Get Out
What should win:  3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
Overall, I would have renamed the award this year the Best-of-the-Very-Good Picture.  None of the nominees on the list totally bowled me over to the extent where I tend to mutter "great picture!" to myself as the credits begin to role.  And the preferential voting process, used only for determining Best Picture, makes it even harder to predict (see last years result).  That being said, I'm going with my head instead my heart and predict Guillermo del Toro's wonderful homage to The Creature From the Black Lagoon the winner based only on momentum and buzz.  It would then be the second fantasy film ever to win (the first was 2003's Lord of the Rings:  Return of the King).  However, my personal fav was 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri which had everything an ardent film goer would want:  outstanding story coupled with great ensemble acting (Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell are both assured of acting Oscars - see below) and  direction - it had it all.  AA history also points out that a film where the director is not on the Best list tends to miss out on the big one.  Only 4 previous films have ever won without a Best Director nomination (Wings, Grand Hotel, Driving Miss Daisy and Argo).  Although Irish director Martin McDonaugh deserved to be nominated, he needed more than the five slots allotted to join the list.  What could sneak in as the round of ballots roll on is the critically acclaimed horror film Get Out.  1991's The Silence of the Lambs is the only film of this genre to win BP.  In the final analysis, I feel first-time director Jordon Peele's intelligent haunting film an extreme long shot in this category.

FOR THE RECORD:  here are the nine nominated films I rated from best to least: 
(1)   3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
(2)  The Shape of Water
(3)  Get Out
(4)  Dunkirk
(5)  Lady Bird
(6)  Phantom Thread
(7)  Darkest Hour
(8)  Call Me By Your Name
(9)  The Post

Who will win:  Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
Upset possibility:  Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
Who should win:  Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo, one of the most inventive and talented directors in the business, should have no trouble winning this award.  However, the great Christopher Nolan might give him a run for his money in his spectacular WWII epic based on the Allied evacuation from the French town of Dunkirk in 1940 ahead of the Nazi occupation.  An incredible achievement in film making, Nolan equally deserves to be recognized with the award.  However, it is only a matter of time before the brilliant British director starts winning multiple Oscars.  Nonetheless, Guillermo will more than likely be giving a speech Sunday night from The Dolby Theater stage.

Who will win:  Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Upset possibility:  Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Who should win:  Gary Oldman
One of the few certainties.  Oldman gives an uncanny portrayal of the iconic late British Prime Minister.  More than an merely an impersonation, Oldman seems to embody the man and, in the process, becomes virtually unrecognizable. No other actor on the list impresses more other than possibly Chalamet (who also happened to appear in Lady Bird).  There is no question his immense acting range drives the narrative of the Indie film.  However, Hollywood will more than likely bestow the statuette to the longtime British thespian who gave the most memorable male lead performance of the year.

Who will win:  Frances McDormand (3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri)
Upset possibility:  Sally Hawkins(The Shape Of Water)
Who should win:  Frances McDormand
A virtual lock.  McDormand, married to famed director Joel Coen, is spectacularly emotive as the grieving mother whose daughter was raped and murdered, and then chooses to mock the local police department utilizing three consecutive billboards outside her town.  One of Hollywood's great character actresses, she delivers the most memorable performance of her career which is chock-full of them.  Hawkins (nominated for Mick Leigh's 2008's Happy-Go-Lucky), as the mute who falls-in-love with a sea-creature gives a solid worthy performance whose win won't surprise come Oscar time.  However, McDormand deserves and probably will win Best Lead Actress.

Who will win:  Sam Rockwell (3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri)
Extreme Upset possibility:  Wilem Defoe (The Florida Project)
Who should win:  Sam Rockwell
Another no-brainer.  Longtime Indie actor Rockwell, as the racist cop in 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, should have no problem in this category - unless, as pointed out above, co-star Woody Harrelson takes votes away from the final tally.  However, since I feel Harrelson shouldn't have been nominated in the first place as one of the five best (Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name was far and away more deserving to make the list) I don't feel there will be enough votes to matter.  Much praise has been feast upon Wilem Defoe who ultimately may slip into the lead.  However, it would be a shame if Rockwell doesn't win as he was the more memorable and effective supporting actor.

Who will win:  Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Upset possibility:  Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Who should win:  Laurie Metcalf
The momentum is clearly behind Janney's portrayal as Tonya Hardings dominating abusive mom.  Although memorable, to me her interpretation is more caricature while Metcalf, as the strong-willed mom of the title character, is more subtle and powerful.  That being said, it will not be a surprise when Janney ultimately mounts the stage.

What will winFantastic Woman (Chile)
Upset possibility:  The Insult (Lebanon)
What should win:  The Insult
A tough category to predict.  I absolutely loved The Insult  and considered it one of the finest thought-proving films I screened this year.  However, the first ever film nominated from Lebanon by famed director Ziad Doueiri is up against a strong contingent and personally wouldn't be surprised by any of the nominees winning.

Who will win:  Coco
Upset possibility:  (None)
Who should win:  Coco
The Pixar masterpiece should have been on the Best Picture list, joining past animations films Beauty  and the Beast (1991), Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010).  So, expect it to win easily.  Although others on the list are competent, none can compete with the animation and the deeply affecting narrative created once again by the computer geniuses at Pixar.

What will win:  Faces Places
Upset possibility:  Last Men In Aleppo
What should win:   Faces Places
Long-time documentary French filmmaker (over 50 years in the business) Agnès Varda should easily win with her doc about rural France.  At 89-years-old she is the oldest nominee ever.  If Varda wins, she will also be the first woman to receive an honorary Oscar and a competitive Oscar the same year.  However, the current political climate might allow Last Men In Aleppo about war-torn Syria to appeal more to the voters.

Who will win:  Hoyte van Hoytema (Dunkirk)
Upset possibility:  Dan Laustsen (The Shape of Water)
Who should win:  Hoyte van Hoytema
An absolute glorious achievement in cinematography, Hoytema's stunning recreation of Dunkirk is one filmdom's finest ever.  Yet, it would not be surprising if Laustsen accepts considering the love for The Shape of Water and his imaginative recreation of Guillermo del Toro's unique fantasy world.  Unfortunately, long-time cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049), who did an admirable job filming the science fiction sequel and is a worthy accomplishment recreating the futuristic world first spectacularly created in 1982 by cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, will have to wait yet another year to be finally honored.  His 14th nomination is the most by any cinematographer.

Who will win:  James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name)
Upset possibility:  Aaron Sorkin (Molly's Game)
Who should win:   Aaron Sorkin
Another tough one to predict.  Considering the almost universal love exhibited in most circles for the tale of first love, I expect James Ivory's thoughtful script based on American author André Acimen's 2007 novel to win the night in this category.  However, Sorkin's perceptive script, based on Molly Bloom's 2014 memoir of her journey from Olympic skier to high-stakes poker princess involving some of Hollywood's elite, is an upset possibility - especially since the excellent film was generally ignored and Jessica Chastain was cheated out of a well-deserved acting nomination.  Nevertheless, the voters might be inclined to lean away from the controversy and honor Ivory with the award.

Who will win:  Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (The Shape of Water)
Upset possibility:  Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Who should win:   Martin McDonaugh (3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri)
The romantic fantasy written by Vanessa Taylor and director Guillermo del Torois is likely to win as it has all the elements Hollywood voters love:  fantasy, romance, and adventure.  However, my personal favorite is the original riveting drama director Martin McDonaugh created.  Director Jordan Peele wrote over 40 drafts to create his socially relevant comedy/horror script and produced one of the best films of the year.  However, the fierce competition in this group, I feel, will be too much to overcome.

Who will winPhantom Thread
Upset possibility:  (None)
Who should win:  Phantom Thread
This is a category I usually don't tackle.  However, I'm trying to up my win percentage so I am including this category.  A film about a fictional legendary British dressmaker who produces fashion from royalty to Hollywood stars better have top-notch costume design and this one delivers in spades.  If it doesn't win, it assuredly will be the upset of the night and possibly longer.


2017 Double Exposure (Investigative Film Festival)

(The following coverage of the 2017 Investigative Film Festival appeared online at Film Festival Today)

The third annual Investigative Film Festival and Symposium (aka Double Exposure) saw a couple of significant changes from the previous two years.  Instead of The National Portrait Gallery hosting all screenings during the festival, the venue was only involved in the Opening Night film, while all remaining films were screened at the Naval Heritage Center.  Also, all symposiums were newly located at the National Union Building and The Loft instead of at The National Press Club.  The good news is that all locations were still easily within walking distance once you made your way to the heart of downtown D.C.  

The most significant change was expanding the festival from three to four days and fully incorporating the weekend (as I recommended in my review of the second annual festival).  This expansion through Sunday allowed for even more documentary films (eleven up from eight in 2016) while providing a much user friendly weekend approach for the general public. 

Returning once again were a full slate of symposiums that included one-on-one conversations, panels, workshops and mentoring sessions headed by scores of leading investigative journalists and filmmakers.  Included were such diverse investigative topics such as Rapid Response in the Age of Trump, Protecting Sources and Subjects in a (Newly Hostile Environment, Calculated Chaos:  The Real Take on Fake news and Am Embedded:  From Cinema Verité to Immersive Journalism.

Also, heading the festival for the third consecutive year were co-creators and co-directors Diana Jean Schemo and Sky Sitney.  Diana, as the executive editor of the nonprofit news organization 100Reporters and Sky, who brings over twenty years experience in the media arts, both continued to bring unqualified leadership and expertise throughout the four day festival.  

Their mission statement in this year's catalog Welcome Letter succinctly stated their objective, noting that, "This year's slate underscore the care, the determination and the risks investigative storytellers take, in print and film, to find and convey the closest approximation of truth they can reach.  Fraught and messy as the process sometimes is, it is grounded in the belief that knowledge untethered to special interests is essential for democracy to function, and for a rich cultural life."  

Once again, Double Exposure clearly met these objectives as it continues to be one of the most unique and important filmic events in the country.  


(1)   Voyeur  (**** out of 4 - 95 minutes)
With the recent explosive and disturbing revelations in the news concerning voyeuristic activities at vacation destinations, including the most recent at an Airbnb Florida location, this documentary couldn't be more timely.
The D.C. premiere and closing night film was clearly the standout of the eleven films I screened.  Directors Myles Kane and Josh Koury have crafted a superlative, albeit creepy, somewhat comedic documentary that, on the surface, appears to be strictly an exposé of a former Colorado 21-room roadside motel owner, Gerald Foos, who spied on his guests for decades.  That fact alone would in and of itself hold ones attention.  However, the filmmakers cleverly turn this singular sensational subject into one focused as much or more on legendary controversial journalist Gay Talese whom Foos entrusted his revelations decades before.  Foos bought the hotel and custom fitted a hidden catwalk about the rooms where he stealthily and repeatedly spied on guests.  Talese's 1981 book on America's sexual revolution, Thy Neighbor's Wife (an eight year project which included his participation in the swinging sex scene-a revelation which nearly destroyed his career) spurs Foos to contact the author with his story.  Intrigued, Talese met with him and discovered that Foos kept meticulous records documenting what he observed for those many years.  He even joined him for one of his sessions where they were nearly caught above a copulating couple when the writer's tie slipped through the ceiling vent cover during their voyeurism.  At 84, the author, after following the story for over 30 years, wrote a short story in 2016 for The New Yorker that he expanded into a book, The Voyeur's Motel.  When a Washington Post reporter revealed certain inaccuracies, Talese was at first forced to publicly renounce his book but later retracted when minor inaccuracies could be readily explained while maintaining the overall accuracy of Foos' nefarious activity.  In the final analysis, the movie slyly asks whether Talese, or even the viewing audience are the true voyeurs of the title.  The original Netflix documentary premiered on the network on December 1. 

(2)   No Stone Unturned  (*** 1/2 out of 4 - 111 minutes)
No Stone Unturned Movie Poster
The DC premiere of the latest film by the excellent prolific Academy Award-winning investigative documentarian Alex Gibney, focuses on an unsolved massacre in Loughinisland, Northern Ireland where, in 1994, six men were slaughtered and five others wounded by two masked men while they were watching a World Cup soccer match in a local pub.  Despite a initial claim of responsibility by the Protestant paramilitary group called the Ulster Volunteer Force, the actual perpetrators were never charged and prosecuted -  despite the immediate confiscation of key forensic evidence.  Gibney opens the film recreating the shooting in lurid detail.  From there, he gives a brief history of The Troubles, the ongoing conflict between Catholic republicans and Protestant loyalists that dated back to the 1920s. Determined to solve and eventually name the perpetrators, Gibney diligently documents his investigation - which ultimately reveals a possible massive political collusion and cover-up that appeared to reach from the local police up to the highest levels of the British government.  The director obtained poignant interviews of surviving family members who are achingly longing for definitive answers beyond mere speculation.  And Gibney's anger is transparently obvious during interviews with key figures in the investigation as well as in his ongoing narrative.  My main problem is his overdone continued use of the reenactments and the somewhat intrusive soundtrack by Ivor Guest.  Although an essential question, as to whether the cover-up was maintained to avoid a flare-up in tensions between the two groups as the decades-long conflict appeared to be nearing an end, is never satisfactorily answered, the murder-mystery film never bores as key information, as well as the identity of the killers, are meticulously revealed.  No Stone Unturned will likely have a limited U.S. theatrical release in 2018 followed by its later availability on Amazon.

(3)   Devil's Freedom (La Libertad Del Diablo)  (*** 1/2 out of 4 - 74 minutes)
Director Everardo Gonzalez's offers a fresh yet harrowing look at Mexico's "disappeared" phenomenon where over 100,000 folks have been executed just over the last five years and have indirectly affected another 300,000 victims.  Not all involve drug-related activities but also include roving gangs kidnapping, torturing, or murdering for non-payment of debts or merely to exert power over the defenseless citizenry.  All of those interviewed (murderers, soldiers, and even orphaned toddlers) are masked and their anonymity allows each to freely and frankly relate their involvement without fear of retribution.  The details related during the brief but effective 74 minutes are mind-boggling and much more effective in relating the horrors than can be gathered in a thousand cold news sound bites.  Just a few examples of the everyday horror Mexican citizens face:  a mother who recounts discovery of her son in a shallow grave by identifying his shoes; the man who infiltrated a cartel in search of his brothers; the young girl who recounts the moment her mother was kidnapped.  And the killers who include one who recalls his indoctrination at the age of 14 when he was received an Audi as a reward for his first kill; or another who states payment for a kill could run as little as $10 or as much as $3000.  Law enforcement officials are also depicted in some instances as corrupt as the gangs.  Devil's Freedom punctuates an illustration of a country that could be the most dangerous on earth.  As of this writing, the film is still looking for domestic distribution.

 Cocaine Prison (*** out of 4 - 78 minutes)
The prison is Bolivia's notorious San Sebastian jail and it is here that director Violeta Ayala follows the blight of a drug mule arrested on his first cocaine run while his sister on the outside tries to win his freedom, and a father whose work in the coca fields has landed him inside the prison.  Unlike Mexico, the drug trade in Bolivia is not run by violence but is sustained by ordinary folks whose lives are disposable and bleak.  A powerful alternative look at the Bolivian drug trade and the deplorable conditions the condemned face who are unlucky to escape capture and prosecution.  The film, which had its DC premiere at the festival, is currently in discussion for distribution.

Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun? (** out of 4 - 70 minutes
The weakest of the films I screened is this somewhat experimental yet maddening doc by Travis Wilkerson who investigates the murder in 1946 of Bill Spann, an unarmed black man in rural Alabama by the director's white supremicist great-grandfather.  The director adds an unbelievably annoying narrative with bold visual texts which flash repeatedly over and over accompanied by an equally obnoxious soundtrack that had me constantly checking my watch.  In the end, the 70 minute running time seemed like 140.

End Of Truth  (*** out of 4 - 58 minutes)
The world premiere of this investigative film by Directors Eric Matthies and Tricia Todd covers the ISIS kidnappings during their rise to power in war torn Syria by focusing on the kidnappings of freelance journalist James Foley and photographer/correspondent John Cantile.  The former was eventually beheaded after two years in captivity while the latter returns to the region despite having been captured once previously.  The filmmakers obtained interviews with negotiators, investigators, and others caught up in the situation who desperately work to obtain their freedom.  A powerful, emotional work that will stay with you long after its conclusion.

Hall Of Mirrors  (**1/2 out of 4 – 87 minutes), 
Fabled reporter/author Edward Jay Epstein is profiled by Ena Talakic and Ines Talakicthis in their DC Premiere of Hall of Mirrors.  Now 81, the old school investigative journalist, who has authored 18 books, for the last 3 years has concentrated on Edwin Snowden who leaked classified documents pertaining to government surveillance in 2013.  His old school methodologies are briefly explored in his past investigations such as the Warren Commission, the diamond industry, and the bizarre career of Armand Hammer.  Also, a failed past attempt at film producing of The Iliad  (with a script by Mario Puzo) is included in a scattered film that lacks focus but ultimately entertains.  The doc is currently seeking distribution.

One Of Us  (*** out of 4 – 95 minutes)
Academy-nominated directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (2006's Jesus Camp) explores the world of New York's Hasidic ultra-orthodox Judaism community as they follow the lives of three individuals over three years who have decided to leave the sect and enter the secular world.  An abused divorce mother of seven, an abused teenager struggling with addiction and a would-be actor now living in LA who left the community eight years earlier each personalize their story and consider the cost they have endured while pursuing individual freedom.  Their narratives are traumatic and haunting as each grapples with the decision to leave the only world they have ever known. I would have like a parallel look inside the Hasidic community that would have rounded out the discussion on both sides.  (I suspect the elders would not have granted much access in this regard to the two directors.)  However, the film succeeds by introducing a world that is both hidden and mysterious.  One Of Us is currently available on Netflix.

The Other Side Of Everything  (*** out of 4 – 100 minutes)
Winner of the Feature-Length Competition at Amsterdams's IDFA, the world's largest non-fiction festival, the U.S. premiere of the latest doc by director Mila Turajic is essentially a portrait of the director's Serbian mother and the apartment in which she lived. Srbijanka was Serbia's deputy education minister from 2001-2004 and a prominent revolutionary in the 1990s during the former Yugoslavia's tumultuous period.  Using the Communist divided apartment as a metaphor for the political upheaval and through the use of archival footage and interviews, Mila tries to  personalize a complicated recent history of a region ruled first by Tito followed by Milosevic and the aftermath of his downfall.  Distribution of the film has not yet been finalized as of this writing.

The Rape Of Recy Taylor  (*** out of 4 – 91 minutes)
The D.C. premiere of this haunting film by director Nancy Buirski (2011'sThe Loving Story) recounts the 1944 rape of a 24-year-old black mother in Alabama by six white boys as she walked home from church.  Although most white on black rapes went unreported by African-American women during this time and place, Recy Taylor refused to recoil - even enlisting the chief investigator for the NAACP:  Rosa Parks -  years before her Montgomery bus boycott.  Told through old photographs and movies, as well as interviews with Recy's brother and sister (Recy, who turned 98 on New Years Eve was not lucid enough to be interviewed), the documentary mirrors a mindset of racism that, until then, was largely ignored by the mainstream media.  The Rape Of Recy Taylor began a limited theatrical release last December 8.

TrustWHO  (*** out of 4 – 85 minutes)
The Geneva-based World Health Organization is given the once-over in director Lilian Franck's searing exposé which had its world premeire at the IFF.  This United Nations body, with the responsibility of protecting global health, has been found to be an organization lacking funding, power and transparency and that has been invaded by special interests groups including the tobacco, pharmaceutical and nuclear industries.  The end result is an organization fraught with special interests that is making governmental politics obsolete and is affecting their ability to focus on world health.  No distribution deal has yet to be finalized as of this writing.


(l to r)  Co-creators and directors of  Double
Exposure, Sky Sitney and Diana Jean Schemo
open the Investigative Film Festival
Opening night post-film discussion 
(l to r):  co-director of "One of Us"
Rachel Grady and  moderator
Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus


"Cocaine Prison" (l to r):
Director Violeta Ayala and Deputy 
Foreign Director at CBS News, Tony

"No Stone Unturned" (l to r):
Director Alex Gibney and Washington
Investigative Editor of The New York
Times, Mark Mazzetti
"Devil's Freedom (La Libertad Del 
Diablo" (l to r):  
Manuel Roig-Franzia, Washington Post
national features writer and former 
Mexico bureau chief ; director Everardo
"Hall of Mirrors" (l to r):
Director  Ines Talakic; University of 
Maryland professor and veteran
investigative reporter, Mark Feldstein; 
director Ena Talakic
"The Rape of Recy Taylor" (l to r):
Indira Hensard, Executive Director of
the D.C. Rape Crisis Center; director
Nancy Buirski; moderatorDiana Jean
Schemo, co-director of Double
"Voyeur" (l to r):
Moderator,  Ricardo Sandoval, Managing
 Editor of  100Reporters; directors 
Myles Kane and Josh Koury
"TrustWho" (l to r):
Director Lilian Franck and moderator
Diana Jean Schemo, co-director of 
Double Exposure
"The Other Side of Everything" (l to r):
Moderator Laura Blumenfeld from The 
 State Department; director Mila Turajlic
"End of Truth" (l to r):
Directors Eric Matthies and Tricia Todd; 
John Foley, brother of kidnapped freelance
reporter James Foley; Molly McCluskey, 
freelance correspondent; Nathalie 
Applewhite, Managing Director  of the 
Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting; Gabe
Rottman, Washington Director for PEN 
America (Not Pictured:  Moderator, 
journalist Ahmed Shihab-Seldin)

UPCOMING next week:  My annual Academy Award predictions-What will win and what should win