Arkansas Cinema Society, Filmland 2018, and Growing a Local Film Culture

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My mind was racing as I walked to my car under the glimmering street lamps of Little Rock’s cozy River Market. It was a late Thursday evening and I had just left a screening of 1998’s “The Newton Boys” followed by a Q&A featuring acclaimed filmmakers Jeff Nichols and Richard Linklater. Needless to say that’s a pretty big deal for any fan of cinema. At the same time I kept thinking of how bigger it was for my home state of Arkansas and its growing movie culture.

The screening marked the start of Filmland, a four-day event put together by Arkansas Cinema Society. Filmland would feature a day set aside for Arkansas-made movies complete with Q&As with local filmmakers. Other days featured a comedy panel, a documentary screening, and a closing night sneak preview of the upcoming historical drama “Operation Finale”. In addition to Linklater, ACS brought in Will Forte, Mary Steenburgen, David and Christina Arquette, and a host of other writers, directors and producers.

Arkansas Cinema Society’s inaugural event was just last August but in a short one year’s time the organization has seen tremendous growth particularly in local sponsorships and in exposure. This is great news for local filmmakers and cinephiles. Filmland built upon last year’s success and expanded into several intriguing areas. But ACS isn’t just about annual events. Throughout the past year they have featured outdoor screenings, a writing seminar, the introduction of their Homegrown Film Series, and many other activities.

Cinema

The driving force behind ACS is Jeff Nichols. With five stellar feature film credits serving as both writer and director, Nichols has earned the reputation as one of America’s best cinematic voices. Yet his love for his hometown and his desire to see an ever-growing Arkansas film community has driven him to use his resources and connections to bring quality films and talents to Arkansas. His goal for the ACS – to educate, encourage and inspire both filmmakers and film lovers from the Natural State.

But Nichols couldn’t do this alone. Co-founder Kathryn Tucker tirelessly works to make the local events happen and she is always quick to thank her incredible team. Much of the preparing, promoting and running of the events fall in their laps and observing their dedication and enthusiasm is infectious. ACS simply couldn’t function without them. As Tucker herself has stated, “It takes an army.”

The true beneficiaries of all the hard work and effort are us – the Arkansas film fans. Whether we aspire to make movies, write about them, or simply love the art form, Arkansas Cinema Society has given many of us a seat on the inside where the filmmaking process is opened up and made alive. Not only is it enlightening, but it offers opportunities for our love of cinema to be nurtured and expanded. That has certainly been the case for me whether it’s seeing good movies, listening to the artists who made them, or watching those hard at work to make the events happen.

As I was getting closer to my car a big smile spread across my face. I had just watched a movie with a theater full of fellow movie lovers. I had just listened to, met and had a photo with 5-time Academy Award nominee Richard Linklater. That same photo was photobombed by one of my favorite working filmmakers Jeff Nichols, a proud and unashamed Arkansas guy. It was truly a great night and it was only day one! Thanks ACS.

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Oscar’s New Category – Best Popular Movie???

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Yesterday the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced the addition of a brand new Oscar category. A mere five months removed from their lowest rated Oscar broadcast in history, the Academy voted in some fairly big changes to their big show. Tops on the list is a new award “for outstanding achievement in popular film.” Really?

First and foremost whether this matters to you will largely hinge upon whether you think the Oscars do. There seems to be a growing number of moviegoers who dismiss the Oscars as a frivolous and pointless entity of no inherent value. They aren’t entirely wrong and I say that as a fan of the Academy Awards. But if you do fall into that group, humor me just a tad.

Much of the early reaction to this has been negative and for good reason. While “eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming“, it’s hard to see this as anything other than desperate pandering. The Academy folks are clearly feeling pressure to increase viewership but come on. Talk about ridiculously transparent.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the logic. There is a chance the broader, more easygoing movie audience will tune in if the big box office blockbusters they love are in the running for a statue (I kinda doubt it, but maybe). And if the blockbusters are there so will their A-list stars. They will be on television strolling down the red carpet and talking about their movies. I get all of that. But does it in any way make ‘Best Popular Film’ anything more than a token award?

In an attempt to possibly quell any negativity, the Academy came out a short time later and clarified that a movie could be nominated as both Best Popular Film and Best Picture. Well that could seemingly snuff out any potential suspense for the new category. Let’s say “Avengers 15” is the only film nominated in both. Since it would be the only ‘popular’ movie worthy of a Best Picture nomination, it’s petty obvious it should win the ‘Popular’ Oscar, right?

And what about the prestige of the Academy Awards? Sure, sometimes they miss the mark (the last two years have shown that), but in many eyes the Oscars have maintained a pretty high standard and stature. While not without their scars, it’s part of what makes the Oscars special. I’m not sure this kind of pandering helps that reputation.

And couldn’t the very existence of this category give Academy voters an out when it comes to these types of movies? Why give them the Best Picture consideration they deserve when you can toss them a bone here? It could make for some easy and not-so-veiled marginalization.

As you can probably tell I’m all in for the Academy giving more consideration to quality box office hits and they’ve done so in the past. But for every “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” and “Titanic” win you have multiple “The Dark Knight” and “Wonder Woman” snubs. I can’t see a scenario where a Best Popular Film category solves the issue. A little more Hollywood introspection, maybe. But this, nope.

My favorite movie of the year so far is “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”. As of right now do I believe it should be a Best Picture nominee? Absolutely. Would I be remotely excited if it was in the Best Popular Film category instead? Absolutely not. So I’m sorry Academy, your experiment doesn’t work on me. Then again I was already going to be watching, even without a new gimmick award.

What say you? I would love to hear your thoughts on Oscar’s new addition.

5 Phenomenal Cold Weather Movies

I don’t know about where you are, but August heat in the deep south can be pretty brutal. Maybe that’s why I’ve been thinking about (and in some cases yearning for) cold weather. And since I’ve been behind on Phenomenal 5 lists what better summer topic than cold weather movies? I shouldn’t need to say that the number of worthy movies is large. To narrow it down I’ve focused on films where the cold weather plays a significant part. Also no Christmas movies. Now with so many candidates I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there is no denying that these five cold weather movies are most certainly phenomenal.

#5 – “Snowpiercer”

Snowpiercer

In Bong Joon-ho’s dystopian science-fiction thriller “Snowpiercer” cold weather has a rather huge effect. An attempt to end global warming has turned the planet into a uninhabitable frozen wasteland. As a result the remains of humanity are trapped inside a non-stop globe-trotting train. It sounds silly but the themes it wrestles with and the visual style of the auteur behind it make it an easy choice for this list.

#4 – “The Shining”

Shining

It’s kinda hard to imagine this list even existing without including Stanley Kubrick’s beloved “The Shining”. The film’s iconic setting needs little introduction – The Overlook Hotel high up in the Colorado Rockies. Off-season caretaker and struggling writer Jack Nicholson burrows in for the winter, but as he spirals towards insanity his wife and son are trapped inside with him by the frigid elements. And to say things get a little chilly for Jack in the final act is an understatement.

#3 – “Alive”

Alive

Frank Marshall’s 1993 survival drama “Alive” was based on the true story of a Uraguayan rugby team’s fight to survive following their plane crashing high in the Andes Mountains. Isolated and with no ability to communicate, no food and amid brutally cold conditions, the group was pushed to their limits and the life-or-death decisions they made changed them forever.

#2 – “The Thing”

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I adore John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi horror classic “The Thing” and cold weather definitely has a role to play. Kurt Russell and his team trudge through snow and sub-zero temperatures to uncover answers to a violent encounter at a research base in Antarctica. Parasitic monsters and paranoia take center stage, but the harsh weather is an ever-present threat that makes for the ideal setting.

#1 – “Fargo”

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When it comes to the #1 pick how could it be anything other than this Coen Brothers gem. “Fargo” is a movie that encapsulates everything that makes the Coens both unique and extraordinary. This bizarrely delicious crime comedy spans from icy Minneapolis, Minnesota to icier Fargo, North Dakota. And while “Fargo” is all about the characters, the cold weather supplies the perfect backdrop.

Now it’s your turn. How about my choices? See something I missed? Please let me hear your picks in the comments section below.

The Movie Trailers of San Diego Comic-Con 2018

COMIC

The huge entity that is San Diego Comic-Con came and went like a flash but not before dropping several movie trailers worth talking about. Superheroes and monsters made up the bulk of the conversation. Some of them were pretty exciting, one specific one not so much. Below are the biggest trailers from SDCC 2018. Give them a look and tell me what you think.

I’m Sold

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters”

https://youtu.be/wVDtmouV9kM

This thing looks wild. It’s the third film in Warner Brothers’ MonsterVerse and a sequel to the 2014 Gareth Edwards film. With quick but stunning images of Mothra, Ghidorah, and the King himself, it looks to be a super ambitious undertaking. I can’t wait to see it.

“Glass”

https://youtu.be/95ghQs5AmNk

I hope by now everyone has seen “Split” and the really cool curveball M. Night Shyamalan threw at us. I never saw it coming. Now we get our first look at “Glass”, the crazy, unexpected result and it looks great. Fingers crossed that M. Knight can pull this off.

Very Interested, Want To See More

“Aquaman”

https://youtu.be/WDkg3h8PCVU

Warner Brothers and DC really need this one to work. So far I’m onboard. Jason Momoa has a big, beefy charm and it goes a long way in selling the “Aquaman” trailer. The world itself looks intriguing and the story has genuine potential. Lots of CGI and armored sharks have me slightly concerned, but so far so good.

No Thanks!

“Shazam!”

https://youtu.be/go6GEIrcvFY

The rumblings of a “Shazam!” movie have been around for a while and we finally got a glimpse. It looks like they are all-in on making this a goofy spoof which doesn’t bode well for fans of the character’s long history. That aside, comedy can work. But that brings up a second problem – what we see isn’t that funny. Hopefully a second trailer can leave a better impression.

Random Thoughts: The 2018 Oscars

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I do love Oscar season, but my excitement level for this year’s big show was as low as it has been in decades. One reason is because there was practically no suspense going in. ‘Predictable’ was unquestionably the theme of the night. It also doesn’t help that most of the guaranteed big winners wouldn’t even crack my Top 5 for their categories.

Nonetheless I pushed forward and watched Hollywood’s biggest event. After all it is a tradition at my house. Could I have been wrong? Could the Academy surprise me by going their own way and making the night interesting? Well, NO. For the most part they fell right in line with the other major awards shows. Funny how that works, isn’t it? Nonetheless here are a few random thoughts.

  • Interestingly there wasn’t a runaway winner this year. Well, unless you count “The Shape of Water” which won four Oscars. “Dunkirk” won three and a couple of others grabbed two statues.
  • And speaking of “The Shape of Water”, it took home the big prize of Best Picture. Of the three obvious frontrunners it had the fewest flaws but not by much. It’s hardly a movie I’ll remember from 2017. But Guillermo del Toro’s slight fantasy romance packed a heavy-handed messaging which the Academy could easily get behind.
  • And to go along with it, del Toro won for Best Director. Literally no surprise but I would have loved to have seen a Christopher Nolan upset win. But ‘surprise’ and ‘intrigue’ weren’t part of the Academy’s game plan.

SHAPE

  • Here’s something cool and interesting: Del Toro’s win marks the fourth time in the last five years that a Mexican has won the Best Director Oscar!
  • The head-scratching Best Supporting Actor category saw Sam Rockwell win for giving a Sam Rockwell performance. He wouldn’t have even made my nomination list but c’mon, you gotta like Sam.
  • I love Gal Gadot and it was great seeing her at the show. I’m thrilled she was asked to present since she certainly wasn’t there because the Academy gave “Wonder Woman” any awards attention.
  • Jimmy Kimmel was pretty bland. A few laughs but quite a few dry spells. He could have shaved off a few minutes from his act and it would have been fine.
  • I mean did we really need a group of us ordinary folks once again being surprised by beautiful movie stars? Sure it’s kinda funny, but for a show pushing four hours…
  • That said, I would be pretty giddy if Gal Gadot, Lupita Nyong’o, Emily Blunt, and Mark Hamill walked into my theater. Just being honest.

GADOT

  • The ‘In Memoriam’ segment was just brutal.
  • Almost as brutal as the musical performances from the Best Original Song nominees. 😬
  • Speaking of the ‘In Memoriam’ video, where the crap was Tobe Hooper and Powers Boothe??? The Academy needs to explain themselves.
  • Have I mentioned how much I love Daniel Day-Lewis. A very humble, unassuming presence. The camera only showed him twice, but both times he seemed quite nervous of the attention. That’s rare to see in those settings.
  • Allison Janney wins Supporting Actress for “I, Tonya”. Predictable, expected, no suspense.
  • Great seeing “Dunkirk” win three technical awards. Doesn’t quite make up for the shameful ignoring of it elsewhere in the show. But was anyone surprised?
  • Jordan Peele and “Get Out” wins the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Apparently the Academy can overlook some pretty big flaws if you have the right social commentary. And most of those flaws can be traced right back Peele’s screenplay.
  • While I wasn’t a fan of Peele’s screenplay, he did make some history. He is the first African American to ever win in that category. Let that fact sink in for a second.
  • Notice how they place Meryl Streep in the very front row of every Oscars ceremony? Prime seating for maximum attention.

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  • Frances McDormand won Best Actress just as she has with every other major award she has been nominated for. Again, isn’t it convenient how all of these groups seem to fall in line with each other? Her speech was manic, scattered and livelier than most of the broadcast. Loved her nod to hubbie Joel Coen.
  • McDormand’s parting two words “Inclusion, Rider” turned quite a few heads. It’s a shame we are in a place where that would even be needed. At the same time it’s potential effect on creativity is curious and a tad concerning.
  • And why not stay on the subject of predictability. Gary Oldman won Best Actor for “Darkest Hour”. I was rooting for Daniel Day-Lewis, but it’s impossible not to see Oldman as deserving.
  • It was a wonderful seeing both Eva Marie Saint and Rita Moreno on stage. It’s nice to see the Academy recognizing stars young and old.
  • “Academy Award winner Roger Deakins”. Talk about something long overdue. It was so good to see Deakins not only finally get an Oscar, but win for some truly brilliant work in “Blade Runner 2049”.
  • While I’m not onboard the Timothée Chalamet hype train, I did love the enthusiasm he showed the entire night. There’s no doubt he loved being there.

90th Annual Academy Awards - Show

  • So is Jodie Foster super short or is Jennifer Lawrence super tall? Maybe both?
  • Wasn’t it kinda weird seeing Kobe Bryant win and get an ovation in light of the #MeToo era? 🤔
  • There was a lot of Academy lip service about “Lady Bird” but Greta Gerwig’s delightful coming-of-age dramedy was completely shut out. Such a shame. Gerwig, Ronan, Metcalf – I would have cheered if any of them had won.
  • As expected the entire broadcast was laced with politics but it all lacked bite. Most of it felt flat and self-indulgent, much like the entire 90th Academy Awards. Here’s hoping for a better show next year.

So I’m with a lot of others, this year’s Oscars was a slog. Remove any suspense and it tends to go that way. Overall a very D+ kind of show. 

Oscar Prediction Time…

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I usually just throw out some random thoughts after Hollywood’s big show, but I decided I would join several of my blogging pals and give some meaningless predictions for this year’s Academy Awards. You could say this is an attempt to get myself excited for Sunday’s extravaganza. I’m usually hopping up and down, but my lack of enthusiasm for many of this year’s nominees and the overall lack of any suspense has me a bit….blah.

Nonetheless here we go:

BEST PICTURE

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WHO WILL WIN: “Three Billboards”

WHO SHOULD WIN: “Dunkirk”

DARK HOUSE: “Get Out”

The smart money says this is a race between “Three Billboards” and “The Shape of Water”. I’m not high of Guillermo del Toro’s visually beautiful but narratively clunky love story. But I thoroughly disliked “Three Billboards” and it’s aimless, morally contradictory story. It’s been winning a lot and it will probably win again. But don’t count out the profoundly mediocre “Get Out”. Both it and “The Shape of Water” seem to have enough political messaging to cover up their significant storytelling issues. At least in the Academy’s eyes.

As for Nolan, let’s face it. Apparently he simply doesn’t make the kind of movies the Academy gives its big awards to. The brilliance of “Dunkirk” has been all but forgotten by voters.

BEST ACTOR

OLDMAN

WHO WILL WIN: Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”)

WHO SHOULD WIN: Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread”)

DARK HORSE: None (it’s in the bag)

I loved Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill and I won’t cry if he wins. And while I liked Denzel’s performance more than most people, Day-Lewis swept me away (once again). If he wins it won’t be a “Bon voyage” award. He deserves it. But don’t worry Oldman fans. Gary has this one locked up.

BEST ACTRESS

FRANCES

WHO WILL WIN: Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards”)

WHO SHOULD WIN: Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”

DARK HORSE: None (definitely in the bag)

McDormand was fine in “Three Billboards” despite McDonagh’s queasy writing, but I don’t quite get the adoration. For my money Ronan gave yet another fabulous performance so true in every word and expression. She won’t win (neither will anyone else). This is McDormand’s all the way.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

ROCKWELL

WHO WILL WIN: Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards”)

WHO SHOULD WIN: Willam Dafoe (“The Florida Project”)

DARK HORSE: None (once again…)

Rockwell has won this at every turn which leaves any intrigue all but nonexistent. Again, Rockwell is fine playing a Sam Rockwell character but it’s far from a Oscar-winning performance. None of the nominated made my Top 5 for the category, but of those nominated I would go with Dafoe’s stellar work in “The Florida Project”. But he hasn’t a chance in the world.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Janney

WHO WILL WIN: Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”)

WHO SHOULD WIN: Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”)

DARK HORSE: None…zzzzzzzz

See my comments in the previous category. Janney has won everything and will win here. Metcalf will have to be content with a nomination but her intensely authentic performance deserves the statue. Love seeing Manville and Blige nominated. I would put them both ahead of Janney, but they have no shot.

BEST DIRECTOR

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WHO WILL WIN: Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”)

WHO SHOULD WIN: Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”)

DARK HOUSE: Jordan Peele (“Get Out”)

Again, Nolan apparently doesn’t make movies the Academy loves. As proof, this is the first time he has EVER been nominated in this category. I’d love to say he would grab an upset win here by del Toro seems to be the frontrunner. I guess directing one-half of a movie well is enough to get a statue.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

CALL ME

WHO WILL WIN: “Call Me By Your Name”

WHO SHOULD WIN: “Molly’s Game”

DARK HORSE: “Mudbound”

I don’t really think “Mudbound” has a shot but I wanted to mention it somewhere. It certainly deserves consideration. But Aaron Sorkin’s “Molly’s Game” is still tops for me. “Logan” is a neat surprise, but if we’re honest it’s no Oscar-worthy script.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

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WHO WILL WIN: “Three Billboards”

WHO SHOULD WIN: “Lady Bird”

DARK HORSE: “Get Out”

The very idea that Martin McDonagh will win a screenplay award for “Three Billboards” blows my mind. Most of what I despised about the film can be traced back to the screenplay. Yet it will win. Only slightly less mind blowing would be a “Get Out” victory. Don’t count it out. Of those nominated, I’ll be rooting for “Lady Bird”.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

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WHO WILL WIN: “The Shape of Water”

WHO SHOULD WIN: “Phantom Thread”

DARK HORSE: None

Not much intrigue here either. Desplat’s sweet waltzy score will win and I won’t be sad. It’s one of the best parts of the film and that isn’t a slight. I prefer Greenwood’s beautiful and elegant work, but either one is deserving.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Film/ Blade Runner 2049

WHO WILL WIN: “Blade Runner 2049”

WHO SHOULD WIN: “Blade Runner 2049”

DARK HORSE: “Dunkirk”

Will we all finally get to celebrate a long overdue Roger Deakins Oscar win? I think we will. It’s shameful that the brilliant cinematographer has never won. And as much as I love “Dunkirk” and “Mudbound”, his work in “BR2049” was the cream of the crop. And this won’t be some token win.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

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WHO WILL WIN: “War for the Planet of the Apes”

WHO SHOULD WIN: “Blade Runner 2049”

I will applaud either of these winners. But when it comes to all-around visual effects and how they effect the movie as a whole, I’m cheering for “Blade Runner 2049”.

RANDOM PREDICTIONS

  • BEST COSTUME DESIGN: “Phantom Thread”
  • BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: “Coco”
  • BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: “The Square”
  • BEST ORIGINAL SONG: “This Is Me” (“The Greatest Showman”)
  • BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: “Faces Places”
  • BEST FILM EDITING: “Dunkirk”
  • BEST MAKEUP: “Darkest Hour”
  • BEST SOUND MIXING: “Dunkirk”
  • BEST SOUND EDITING: “Dunkirk”

I’ll be doing some live-tweeting on Sunday night. See you there!