2018 AFI DOCS Documentary Film Festival

The 16th yearly edition of the AFI DOCS documentary film festival (formerly AFI SILVERDOCS) continued its excellent tradition  first established in 2003 when the event was primarily anchored in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Now splitting its screenings between there and the main hub in the District of Columbia, AFI DOCS this time around was able to present a total of 92 films (down from 112 in 2017) representing 22 countries (last year there were docs from 28 countries).  The breakdown was as follows:  52 feature films (of these were five world premieres, seven U.S. premieres, two East Coast premieres, one North American premiere and one international premiere); 29 shorts; 11 films in the Virtual Reality Showcase which immersed viewers in VR experiences "around the world - and beyond". 

Major screening venues returned to the D.C. Penn Quarter Landmark E Street Cinema and the Silver Spring AFI Silver Theater.  A special screening of Rory Kennedy's latest, "Above And Beyond:  NASA's Journey To Tomorrow", honoring NASA's 60th anniversary, was shown in 4D at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum's spectacular IMAX theater, which was utilized for the first time by the festival organizers.

AT&T was once again the Presenting Sponsor of the festival which featured the World Premiere of "Personal Statement" as the Opening Night film at the Newseum, about three Brooklyn high school students who work as college guidance support for their peers, while the Closing Night film (held for the first time at the Landmark venue) was "United Skates" about the role roller-skating plays in African-American culture.                                                           
Notable feature films:  "Foster", the latest from  Oscar winners Mark Jonathan Harris and Debbie Oppenheimer ("Into The Arms of Strangers" and "Stories Of The Kindertransport"); "A Murder In Mansfield" from two-time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple ("Harlan County, USA" from 1977 and "American Dream from 1991); "Into The Okavango" which is the directorial debut of National Geographic photographer Neil Gelinas; two Sundance Film Festival winners:  "Shirkers" won the Directorial Award while "Hale County This Morning, This Evening" was honored with the Special Jury Price.  

The Guggenheim Symposium, which each year recognizes a virtuoso documentary filmmaker, welcomed Steve James ("Hoop Dreams", "The Interrupters", "Life Itself", "Abacus:  Small Enough To Jail").  It began with a retrospective of his works followed by a terrific interview moderated by Chicago Tribune film critic, Michael Phillips.  The audience was then treated to the first installment of Steve James 10-hour documentary series "America To Me" which focuses on the examination of diversity at a Chicago high school.  The series is set to debut this fall on the Starz cable network.

The fourth-annual AFI DOCS Impact Lab, produced by AFI DOCS and RABEN_IMPACT, included  a three-day training program preceding the festival and, as stated in the festival guide, is "designed for filmmakers who aim to create change through the power of film."  Adding, "The Lab offers exclusive trainings with sought-after tacticians in the social and political sphere . . . and are connected with policymakers and Congressional aides working on legislation relevant to their films."

Yet another festival highlight was a unique conversation between NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd and Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday asking whether a documentary is "Journalism or Art?"-or can it be both?

Finally, this was another tremendous 5-day festival which continues each year to successfully emphasize its importance in nonfiction filmmaking.  Although the festival organizers indicated they would continue to maintain a presence in Silver Spring, unfortunately, the role of this birthplace of the fest appears to have diminished since its move to the nation's capital in 2013.  Last year there were 22 of the 112 features, or 19%, that failed to screen at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring.  This year there were 21 out of 92 films, or 22%, that played only in DC.  Despite this troubling trend, here's hoping the organizers will continue to include the spectacular AFI Silver Theater in their screening venues in the future.

NOTE: The Audience Award for Best Feature went to “Mr. Soul!” directed by Melissa Haizlip and Sam Pollard about the late 1960s WNET public television series "Soul!" and its producer Ellis Haizlip who created one of the most successful black-produced TV shows in US history.  The controversial series was among the first to focus on African Americans on TV shifting from inner-city poverty and violence to the enthusiasm of the Black Arts Movement. The Audience Award for Best Short went to "Earthrise” directed by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee about the legendary 1968 photo of the first image of Earth taken from space. (Neither film was screened by this reviewer.)


(1)  Pick of the Litter  (**** out of 4 - 81 Minutes)
We've all seen them.  Attentive guide canines dutifully accompanying the disabled folks they protect and service.  Ever wonder about the journey these animals take to attain this career status?  Directors Don Hardy and Dana Nachman marvelously answers this question with a superb heartwarming film that also documents the plight humans undergo who are in charge of training them.  A short prologue recounting the myriad of dangers impaired people face while going about their everyday lives is followed by our introduction to a newly birthed litter of five black and tan Labradors born on the nonprofit San Rafael campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind.  Training begins shortly after the Labs are born as the directors meticulously depict the extensive journey where, along the way or at the conclusion, they will attain one of the three classifications that will ultimately determine their life purpose:  guide dog, breeder, or career-changed.  The latter designation meaning not eligible to be a part of the program, and where they are transferred to other programs or just adopted out as a domestic pet.  When eight weeks old, they are paired with "puppy raiser" families or individuals, to be socialized and trained for up to sixteen months.  We find that some of these foster families with problem dogs, or novice families, don't succeed as fast as the GDB personnel would like and abruptly find a different home to continue the process.  Following the initial foster care, if the pups make it that far, they begin a rigorous 10-week training and evaluation session at GDB headquarters with handlers who subject them through multiple testing scenarios - sometimes undergoing retests before their final designation.  Despite GDB breeding 800 puppies a year, less than 40% are deemed suitable as guide dogs - which emphasizes the painstaking process GDB personnel and raisers face to triumphantly lead these dogs to graduation.  The filmmakers wisely shift their focus back and forth from dogs to handlers, simultaneously raising the drama and emotional level each time.  Filming four hours a day for 120 days makes the outstanding editing job by Hardy (who also co-wrote the script and assisted in photography) all the more remarkable as he precisely juggled multiple story lines with seemingly effortless ease.  And when you add an unobtrusively perfect background score provided by British composer Helen Jane Long, you have all the ingredients for a perfect documentary.  "Pick of the Litter" was bought by ITV/Sundance Selects and will be released August 31 (it will premier at the E Street Landmark in DC on September 14).  One bit of advice:  bring Kleenex - and lots of it.

Directors Don Hardy (center) and Dana 
Nachman (far right) share a post screening
photo with audience members and their
guide dogs

(2) Hesburgh  (*** 1/2 out of 4 - 104 Minutes)
The world premiere of the latest by director Patrick Creadon (2006's I.O.U.S.A. and 2008's Wordplay) is a biopic that will totally satisfy with no requirement that you know any of the background of this extraordinary figure in U.S. history.  Serving for 35 years (1952-1987) as the president of the University of Notre Dame, Reverend Theodore Hesburgh's life is chronicled in such a way that, by its conclusion, will clearly illustrate why this kind inspirational gentleman is considered one of the most influential people of the 20th century.  An ordained priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Hesburgh was successful in transforming and elevating UND from just an average University with an impressive football team into an institution that was much much greater and significant. His horizons expanded outside Notre Dame by serving on corporate boards while becoming confidante and adviser to four presidents (the reverend served on 16 presidential commissions), popes and even Ann Landers.  A portion of the film covers his influence and importance in the Civil Rights
movement when he was appointed to Eisenhower's federal Commission on Civil Rights.  Comprised of three republicans and two democrats, the commission, with the independent Hesburgh providing guidance and common sense wisdom and persuasion, was incredibly able to produce a bi-partisan twelve point recommendation to Congress that would become the cornerstone of historical civil rights legislation eventually signed into law by Lyndon Johnson.  (As Creadon pointed out in the post-screening interview, Rev. Ted throughout his career was a man, " who could disagree without being disagreeable.")  This is just a small example of the impact Hesburgh had during his lifetime - which are way too numerous to itemize in this space.  The director has added a fascinating first-person narration that will hold your interest throughout a film which also possesses a wonderful score by Notre Dame senior Alex Mansour and seamless editing by Nick Andert and William Neal.  Creadon (who also did an ESPN "30 For 30" feature Catholics vs Convicts) does not just spew out historical facts; however, by using a tremendous amount of black and white archival photos, archival film and newsreels surrounding interviews with family members and clergy, he has created a fascinating human interest picture of a man the likes of which we may never see again.  As of this writing, no distribution deal has yet to be firmly established.

NBC News' Anne Thompson conducts a post-
screening interview with Director Patrick 

(3) For the Birds  (*** 1/2 out of 4 - 92 Minutes)
It never ceases to amaze me that, after attending countless documentary Q&A's over the years, how many times filmmakers start out with a specific idea and end up with something completely different and more profound than their original concept.  In this case, first-time director Richard Miron set out to do a film about animal rescue so he volunteered at an animal sanctuary in Wawarsing New York while a senior at Yale.  That is where he first met Kathy Murphy, gained her trust and obtained total access throughout to end up with this gem of a subject and story that was never originally intended when he began.  I'm a news junkie and, on a regular basis, have seen and read of animal hoarders and the subsequent cruelty, whether intentionally or not, inflicted on their "pets".  I often wonder what the backstory was behind the sensational end-result that one only sees on the news - when the surviving animals are rescued and the owner often prosecuted.  And it is this backstory that For the Birds chronicles, that began when Kathy found a single duckling on her lawn.  Ten years after raising it, she has accumulated hundred of birds including hordes of chickens, ducks, geese and two turkeys which have overran, both inside (yuck!) and outside, her and her husband Gary's house.  When the Woodstock Animal Sanctuary first becomes involved, she was agreeable to relinquishing custody of some of her birds.  It is only after a subsequent rescue visit, when sanctuary personnel turn their attention to her beloved turkeys, that the plot takes a sudden right turn.  No spoilers will be offered here to the many surprising twists and turns accompanied by an incredible narrative arc to Kathy's story, none of which the director could have imagined in his wildest dreams.  It is no wonder that young Miron spent 6 1/2 years on this project.  A number of side stories are introduced including Kathy's colorful attorney who easily could be made the focus of his own film.  Special mention goes to another Yale alum, Andrew Johnson, whose effectively discreet soundtrack permeates the visuals.  During the Q&A Johnson revealed that he tried to create the score as if it was tailored for a feature film and not a documentary.  His extraordinary composition made For the Birds that much more interesting and memorable.  This splendid first film makes Richard Miron a definite talent to watch for in the future.  The movie, which had its North American premiere at AFI DOCS, was recently purchased by Dogwoof for world sales so be on the lookout for the release.
(l to r) Composer Andrew Johnson, co-
producer and co-editor Jeffrey Star &
director and co-editor Richard Miron

(4) Studio 54  (*** 1/2 out of 4 - 99 Minutes)
The rise and fall of the fabled Manhattan disco-era nightclub and the story of its two colorful owners is given a lively thoroughly entertaining critique by director Matt Tyrnauer.  When Studio 54 exploded on the scene like a supernova on April 26, 1977 by two young Brooklyn friends who met at Syracuse, its fame, as well as its infamy, blasted off as fast and bright as a Fourth of July firework.  Unfortunately, just as quickly, Studio 54 became a footnote in club lore with its demise in 1979 after just 33 months.  If you were a celebrity, it was the place to be and to be seen.  It was also considered a safe havens for the LBGT community.  However, if you were the everyday common folk, or if you dressed like one, you more than likely languished forever behind the velvet ropes that guarded its front door.  A perfect example of the exclusivity of its selection process was the amusing anecdote given that when the four Rolling Stones wandered by, only the more famous and recognizable Jagger and Richards were allowed access.  One of the joys of the film is the manner in which Tyrnauer uses a gargantuan amount of archival photos and video, along with a pulsating soundtrack, that will transport the viewer inside the club, with its lights (they hired Tony award-winning lighting designers), sets, and gliding balcony, to directly experience its grandeur and decadence without being judged outside the ropes.  After the outgoing flamboyant Steve Rubell failed with a chain of steak restaurants, he and his lawyer friend, the more introverted Ian Schrager, tried their hand in the nightclub scene and opened a club in Queens with the hope of creating the perfect nightspot.  When they later walked into the empty Manhattan space on the seedy W. 54th St, which was originally the 1927 built Gallo Opera House, and they witnessed the stage, balcony, and the towering ostentatious ceiling, they instantly realized the transformational possibilities.
Six weeks and hundreds of thousand of dollars later, they advertised the opening and the rest was club history.  Hilariously, when they realized they lacked a liquor license, they shamelessly formed a catering company so they could apply for daily permits.  The film's description of Studio 54's joyous hedonism (the rampant drug use, and orgies that were commonplace in the basement and later the balcony where it was eventually rubberized to make it easier to wash down) morphs into the legal troubles that beset the owners.  Keeping records of their incredible skimming operation and the storage of large amounts of drugs at the club for their personal and clientele use, was uncovered when the IRS raided the establishment on a tip by a disgruntled employee.  However, this incredible story didn't end with their incarceration.  Now 71, the surviving owner Schrager (Rubell succumbed to AIDS in 1989), for the first-time opens up to relate the details.  Also interviewed are ex-employers (including the club's first doorman) and even the lighting designers.  Even if one never heard of Studio 54, the doc will never bore and one only has to wonder why it took nearly 40 years to have it told - a story that perfectly fits this years festival motto:  You Can't Make This Stuff Up!  A distribution deal has yet to be finalized.

(l to r) Studio 54 co-owners Steve Rubell
and Ian Schrager

A youthful Michael Jackson with co-owner
Steve Rubell

(5) The Price of Everything (*** 1/2 out of 4 - 98 Minutes)
In 2004 director Nathaniel Kahn produced and directed My Architect - one of my all-time favorite documentaries.  His Academy Award nominated debut film won the 2004 Directors Guild Best Documentary Award and the 2003 AFI SILVERDOCS Sterling Award for a Feature Film in this festival's first year.  As the illegitimate son of famed architect Louis Kahn, Nathaniel created a beautifully moving film of the father he never really knew.  Nearly 15 years later, the long wait for his second film has been well worth it as he now tackles the nebulous world of contemporary art commodification.  Although Kahn chapters the doc with a countdown to a Sotheby major contemporary art auction, the film is generally structureless as he explores the pricing, selling and valuing of art replete with fascinating interviews involving collectors, dealers, auctioneers and artists.  The insane monetary escalation that works of art are bringing can be traced back to October 18, 1973 when Robert Scull sold 50 pieces of his collection at the Sotheby Park-Benet Gallery where one was bought for $135,000 - an unheard of price at the time.  In 1997, the same item sold for $10 million.  Today it would be worth $100 million.  Other eye-opening revelations include the "value" of a Jeff Koons inflatable silver rabbit estimated to be worth $65 million, currently sitting in the living room of colorful collector/philanthropist Stefan Edlis' (who is featured extensively in the doc).  Also, Koons' reproduction of works by Masters such as Titian, Van Gogh and Manet with a blue glass gazing ball painted in the foreground, sell for many millions. It is this current insane commercial pricing and the ramification it is having on the artist in particular and the art world in general that the film, as Kahn pointed out in his introduction, "brings up lots of questions but doesn't give lots of answers."  Special mention goes to the enormous talent of accomplished composer Jeff Beal who has impressively added a memorable soundtrack to Nathaniel's visuals.  The movie's title refers to a quote by Lord Darlington in Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windemere's Fan who joked that a cynic was, "a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."  A relevant description that aptly describes those involved in the shifting dynamics between artists and consumers.  Kahn's intriguing film is partnered with HBO and will eventually make it to the cable network in November after a theatrical release scheduled for mid-October.
Director Nathaniel


Hal (*** 1/2 out of 4 - 90 Minutes) - Hal Ashby was one of the most significant  figures of the motion picture industry of the last 50 years and is given a wonderful tribute by director Amy Scott who explores the rise and fall of one of the New Hollywood Cinema's finest directors.  Leaving his hometown of Ogden Utah after a tumultuous childhood, he landed in California starting out in Hollywood as a film editor for Norman Jewison (Ashby actually won an Oscar for editing In the Heat of the Night).  He then went on to direct seven of the most memorable films of the 1970's:  The Landlord,  Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Coming Home and Being There.  Unfortunately, it was all down hill from there - ending in his way too early demise in 1988 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 58.  The last reel speculates on some of the reasons for his downward career trend, which could have been attributed to his hippie/druggie lifestyle, his obsessive perfectionism and/or the actions of the Hollywood suits who tried to take control over his projects which effectively limited his creative talents and artistic vision.  The fascinating biopic, which premiered at Sundance, is currently making the festival circuit and no distribution deal has been struck as of this writing.

Love, Gilda (*** 1/2 out of 4 - 84 Minutes) - The brilliant career of Gilda Radner, one of the original Saturday Night Live Not Ready For Prime Time Players, cut tragically short by ovarian cancer, is given a hilarious and poignant treatment that should please everyone besides her ardent fans.  Lisa D'Apolito's directorial debut (her previous credit was as the character of Lisa in Good Fellas) does an admirable job piecing together the history of the comedian with home movies detailing her early life growing up in Detroit, her participation in Toronto's Second City and National Lampoon, her meteoric rise to fame with SNL, her one-woman show on Broadway, and her short-lived film career during which she met and married Gene Wilder who was with her until her death at the young age of 42.  D'Apolito includes touching readings from Radner's notebooks by her contemporaries from the memoir released the year she died, where she touches on her struggles with health (including an eating disorder and depression), relationships, and fame.  Besides the heartfelt interviews by those who knew her and/or were influenced by her work, is the unique narration provided by Gilda herself from audiotape excerpts she created the last year of her life.  Interviews with Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtin are curiously absent from the film, and, at a brisk 84 minutes, additional footage from her glorious SNL years could have easily made the cut without disrupting the flow.  Despite that, Love, Gilda assuredly will have many patrons clicking on YouTube to revisit the memorable characters and moments brought to life by one of the more enduring and courageous entertainers of our time.  A limited theatrical release is scheduled for September 21.

UPCOMING:  Coverage of the 4th annual Investigative Film Festival/Double Exposure held in Washington DC from October 10-14.

"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.