Film

#OscarsSoWhite, and More Depressing News from This Year's Oscar Nominations

Featureflash / Shutterstock.com
Image via Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

For the second year in a row, every Academy nominee in an acting category is white.

Forget Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation. Or Michael B. Jordan in Creed. Or Bernicio Del Toro in Sicario. Or Will Smith in Concussion.

The 93% White, 76% Male Academy wasn't interested.

Straight Outta' Compton was also lauded as a potential best picture nominee, but was only nominated for Best Original Screenplay, which was written by two white writers. Similarly, only Sylvester Stallone was nominated for Creed, a film with a black lead actor and a black director.

The Best of 2015

Shaun the Sheep
Shaun the Sheep

HERE ARE my picks for the best films of 2015. Honorable mentions for Creed’s operatic dignity and subtle advocacy of racial reconciliation; The Forbidden Room’s unabashed creative inspiration; Mad Max: Fury Road for being a pro-feminist action film; Spectre for James Bond going beyond an eye for an eye; Grandma, Lily Tomlin’s crowning achievement as an actor embodying that it’s okay to be different; and Room, part-thriller, part-existential exploration, honest about trauma and the lengths love will go to protect the vulnerable.

10. Shaun the Sheep. A delightfully inclusive, breathtakingly crafted story about humans, animals, and nature as one family. With frenetic comedy and an open heart, it honors the marginalized, critiques superficiality, and even lets the villain live to learn his lesson.

9. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. An indie comedy-drama that avoids cliché and makes heroes out of nerds.

8. Beasts of No Nation. Evoking Apocalypse Now, a harrowing story of child soldiers, the legacy of colonialism, and how violence is transmitted from one generation to the next.

7. Clouds of Sils Maria. A stark reflection on identity and the conversation each of us has with the voice(s) in our head. Olivier Assayas’ film asks if we are living from the inside out or for external reward.

6. Brooklyn. A poetic and compassionate painting of the paradox of finding home as an immigrant.

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'Carol' and How Identity Is Bound Up With Relationship

Image via 'Carol'/Facebook

Director Haynes and writer Phyllis Nagy (working from Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt) understand that cinema, just like all forms of storytelling, is a window into someone else’s personal life. They tell the story of Therese and Carol’s relationship in such exquisitely realized detail, down even to the smallest carpet-fiber, that you almost feel as if you’re there yourself. When the world the characters inhabit feels so real, their experiences and emotions feel real, too — helped in large part by perfectly-pitched performances by Blanchett and Mara.

The Uninitiated

wongwean / Shutterstock
wongwean / Shutterstock

MICHAEL FASSBENDER'S uncanny performance as Apple Inc. co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs begs the question of how someone so clueless about human relationships could win the hearts of so many people. Of course, the performance and the Aaron Sorkin script it’s based on are not the same thing as the man himself. Steve Jobs may be unfairly treated by Steve Jobs. The question of its accuracy is not unimportant, and people who knew him deserve a hearing. But the film only sketches a persona rather than providing an encyclopedia of the soul.

Treating Steve Jobs as a film about power and personality evokes the Quaker teacher Parker Palmer’s notion of an “undivided” life. Palmer quotes Rumi’s warning, “If you are here unfaithfully with us, you’re causing terrible damage.” One facet of this unfaithfulness is the difference between living “from the inside out” and living primarily for external reward. Undivided lives are punctuated by initiatory experience, familiar to our ancestors, and now re-emerging in communities such as the ManKind Project and Woman Within. Initiatory experiences take people into the depth of their psyches, supported by wise elders, opening a crack that lets in the light of transformation. Initiated egos thrive in balanced service to the highest self and the common good (so the wise elders tell me).

The Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs has no such initiation—he seems basically the same shallow egotist at the end of the movie as he was at the start. The joy of Steve Jobs is the kinetic dance of image and sound, and actors at the top of their game (Kate Winslet as the definition of long-suffering colleague, Seth Rogen in a rare dramatic role, and Michael Stuhlbarg, all of them representing prickly conscience). The problem of Steve Jobs is that it omits engagement with the personal transformation that many think unfolded for him as his products achieved something like omnipresence. There’s no initiation here, unlike in Bridge of Spies, where Tom Hanks risks his life to negotiate a prisoner swap in a gripping, if light, Cold War thriller. Mark Rylance’s accused Soviet spy emerges more humanized than Jobs’ community-building entrepreneur.

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On Release Week, 'Chi-Raq' Gun Commentary Is Grimly Relevant

Image via Chi-Raq The Movie.com.

Spike Lee didn’t plan Chi-Raq’s release to coincide with a year in which the number of mass shooting on record surpassed the number of days in the year thus far . Nobody could have expected that days before the film’s release, the shooting in San Bernadino, Calif., would push the gun debate to (another) boiling point, with cries for legislative action in addition to the frequent “thoughts and prayers” of politicians.

That most people are Chi-Raq with the shootings in California fresh in their minds is a coincidence — one which makes the film’s message all the more immediate.

Chi-Raq is a satirical drama, a modern retelling of the ancient Greek Lysistrata. In Lee’s version of the story, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris of Dear White People) is the girlfriend of Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon), a rapper and gang leader on the south side of Chicago. He’s also in the midst of a war with Cyclops (Wesley Snipes), the leader of a rival gang. When a young girl in the neighborhood is killed by a stray bullet, Lysistrata rallies women affiliated on both sides of the gang war to demand peace by denying their men sex.

What starts as a protest becomes a movement, taking the city of Chicago and the world by storm.

SPOTLIGHT: The True Story Behind the Scandal That Shook the World

Starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, and Stanley Tucci, SPOTLIGHT tells the riveting true story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation that would rock the city and cause a crisis in one of the world’s oldest and most trusted institutions. When the newspaper’s tenacious “spotlight” team of reporters delves into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover up at the highest levels of Boston's religious, legal, and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelations around the world. 

Pixar's New Film Takes Gamble on Hindu Theme

Screenshot via Youtube / Disney•Pixar

Pixar, the computer animation studio beloved for its kid-friendly fare such as Finding Nemo and Inside Out, is not known for taking on religious themes.

But its newest short film tells a personal story about a boy who learns to appreciate his religious heritage by envisioning the Hindu gods as superheroes.

Sanjay’s Super Team, directed by artist Sanjay Patel, is based on Patel’s relationship with his father and his experience growing up in California as the son of Indian-American immigrants.

“This is a very personal story; it’s the truth about how I grew up,” Patel said.

“It’s about how difficult it is for different generations to see eye to eye.”

A Step into Beauty

Songquan  Deng / Shutterstock
Songquan Deng / Shutterstock

When I first saw the DeLorean rush toward me at the end of Back to the Future, I was 11 years old, and I felt alive in a way that I’m not sure I had experienced before. The endings of the films of Robert Zemeckis would continue to give me that rush of good feeling—Tom Hanks at the crossroads in Cast Away, and on the tree stump waiting for his little son to come home from school in Forrest Gump; Denzel Washington faced with the question “Who are you?” in Flight. Some critics, believing that things need to be difficult in order for them to be good, find it easy to turn down a Zemeckis invitation. I beg to differ—there’s no contradiction in loving the populist sentiment of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the serious melodrama of The Elephant Man, the painful and nonlinear narrative of Exotica, the surreal plunge into the human shadow of Enter the Void, and the high art intellectual sensibilities of Eternity and a Day. And those are just a handful of very different films beginning with the letter “E.” Authenticity is what matters, not how “elite” the work can appear to be.

Zemeckis makes large-scale populist entertainment that makes us laugh and cry, but he deals in authenticity. Along with the fun and the flights (Forrest running across the U.S., Marty McFly and Doc Brown’s race to connect the wires with the clock tower, and two of the most harrowing plane crashes in the movies), emotional beats are earned, characters behave as they might in real life (even if they are in a time-traveling sports car or abandoned on an island), and audiences get the chance to wrestle with the same question faced by Denzel: Who am I?

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'There Is No Why': The Unbearable Lightness of Robert Zemeckis

Screenshot via Sony Pictures Entertainment / Youtube

At one point in the new film The Walk, high-wire walker Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is asked, after successfully walking a tightrope strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center, why he chose to perform such a dangerous, death-defying act. His answer: “There is no ‘why.’ I just look for a place to hang my wire, and when I find it, I put it there.”

There are a couple of ways you could take this statement. One is a thrilling feeling of limitless possibility. The other is a little more disconcerting: that there was no deeper meaning; Petit simply did it because, well, why not?

Form Follows Function

Sergey Mironov / Shutterstock
Sergey Mironov / Shutterstock 

MY FRIEND the architect Colin Wishart says that the purpose of his craft is to help people live better. Just imagine if every public building, city park, urban transportation hub, and home were constructed with the flourishing of humanity—in community or solitude—in mind. We might be inspired to create new, hopeful thoughts, friendships with strangers, or projects that bring transformation into the lives of others.

It is easy to spot architecture divorced from its highest purpose. In a building or other space made to function purely within the bounds of current economic mythology—especially those created to house the so-called “making” of money—the color of hope only rarely reveals itself. Instead we are touched by melancholy, weighed down by drudgery, compelled by the urge to get away. But when we see a space whose stewards seem to have known that human kindness, poetry, and breathing are more important than the “free” market, we realize that it is possible to be always, everywhere, coming home. Think of a concert hall designed for the purest acoustics, a playground where the toys blend in with the trees, a train station where the transition from one place and way of being to another has been honored as a spiritual act.

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