Sunday, February 28, 2016

Share the wealth: Spotlight wins, Mad Max cleans up, Leo steals the show

Spotlight took home the award for Best Picture on Sunday night at the Academy Awards.

We can now put a bow on the most unpredictable Oscar season in recent memory. With four films battling it out for the top award going into the night, the Academy spread the love around to all of them. Tom McCarthy’s masterful investigative journalism drama Spotlight took Best Picture, as well as Best Original Screenplay, while George Miller’s action extravaganza Mad Max: Fury Road picked up six awards, all in the crafts categories.

Alejandro González Iñárritu won his second consecutive Best Director award – just the third person in history to achieve that feat – for his epic The Revenant, for which Leonardo DiCaprio earned his first Oscar for Best Actor and Emmanuel Lubezki won his record third straight Best Cinematography award. Adam McKay and Charles Randolph won Best Adapted Screenplay for McKay’s The Big Short, which was shut out elsewhere on the night.

With DiCaprio taking home Best Actor and frontrunners Brie Larson and Alicia Vikander winning Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, the only surprise in the acting categories came in Best Supporting Actor, where Mark Rylance won for his glorious, subtle performance in Bridge of Spies, besting sentimental favorite Sylvester Stallone for Creed.

Chris Rock proved a tremendous host and pulled no punches when it came to the diversity issue that has hovered over this Oscars season. He was funny, sharp, and quick, moving the show along while also delivering a damn fine evening of entertainment. His bit with the Girl Scout cookies was hysterical – a relative of and improvement upon Ellen Degeneres’ pizza-delivery stunt from two years ago – and he successfully revisited one of the most famous sketches in recent Oscar history, asking movie-goers in Compton whether they had seen the nominees. They had not.

DiCaprio, who earned a standing ovation from a crowd clearly excited to hand the thespian his first Academy Award, thanked the people who made The Revenant possible and thanked his parent before going off on an impassioned speech about the environment and our responsibility to be stewards of the natural world. DiCaprio’s victory was as much a foregone conclusion as any on Oscar night, and the whole movie-loving world was waiting for this moment. DiCaprio owned every second of it with a speech that will be replayed and rewatched for decades to come.

The biggest surprise of the night came when the low-budget sci-fi thriller Ex Machina beat out four huge blockbuster hits in Best Visual Effects, likely due to split support among the more popular films. The win was one of my favorite moments of the evening on a show full of moments that made me cheer out loud. In addition to wins for DiCaprio, Spotlight, and Ex Machina, I was most excited for Bear Story in Best Animated Short, Stutterer in Best Live Action Short, and Ennio Morricone winning Best Original Score for The Hateful Eight.

I had some problems with the broadcast and some of the winners, but I am just so overjoyed for the Spotlight team and DiCaprio that I do not want to focus on those right now. I will have a more thorough reaction tomorrow, but for tonight, let’s just enjoy the fact the Academy awarded a masterpiece of American film its top award.

Good night. More to come tomorrow.

Totally Accurate, 100 Percent Guaranteed 2015 Academy Awards Predictions*


Alright, I did not do so hot at this last year. I ignored the warning signs and went with my gut, which is always a fatal error in the predicting game. If it looks like a winner and talks like a winner, it is probably the winner. This year, I am throwing my lot in with the blockbuster epic to win it all by a couple touchdowns.

If you have followed the site this month, you know that movie is The Revenant. It is a big, artsy statement by a well respected director and features not just the best crafts of the year but the most, which is always a plus with this group. I am unsure how wise it is to predict something that has never happened – a filmmaker directing back-to-back Best Picture winners – but it feels like this is the year to throw out the past and embrace the now. The movie of “the now” just happens to be a survivalist revenge saga set in the American pioneer days. Go figure.

So, here they are, Last Cinema Standing’s Totally Accurate, 100 Percent Guaranteed 2015 Academy Awards Predictions*. Click on any category to jump to a full analysis of the nominees and check back after the ceremony for some thoughts about the winners and the show itself. Enjoy, everybody.

*Once again, I cannot vouch for the efficacy of this guarantee anywhere a human language is spoken.

Will win: The Revenant
Should win: Spotlight

Will win: Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant
Should win: Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant

Will win: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant
Should win: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant

Will win: Brie Larson for Room
Should win: Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years

Will win: Sylvester Stallone for Creed
Should win: Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies

Will win: Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl
Should win: Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight

Will win: Spotlight
Should win: Ex Machina

Will win: The Big Short
Should win: Room

Will win: The Revenant
Should win: The Revenant

Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Will win: Cinderella
Should win: Carol

Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Will win: The Revenant
Should win: The Revenant

Will win: The Revenant
Should win: The Revenant

Will win: The Revenant
Should win: Ex Machina

Will win: The Hateful Eight
Should win: The Hateful Eight

Will win: “’Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground
Should win: “Simple Song #3” from Youth

Will win: Inside Out
Should win: Anomalisa

Will win: Amy
Should win: Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Will win: Son of Saul
Should win: Mustang

Will win: Stutterer
Should win: Shok

Will win: Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
Should win: Last Day of Freedom

Will win: Sanjay’s Super Team
Should win: World of Tomorrow

Predicted big winners

The Revenant – 7
Mad Max: Fury Road – 3

Saturday, February 27, 2016

From Spotlight to 50 Shades: All 57 Oscar nominees ranked


Usually, something stands in the way. Maybe a film has not been released in this country yet, it has not opened anywhere near me, or perhaps I missed it in theaters and it is in that ever-shrinking window between theater and DVD (or streaming, now). Anyway, I never before had seen every film nominated at the Oscars in a given year. The hardest categories have always been the shorts, the documentaries, and the foreign films because those must be sought out. Well, this year, I sought them out.

Fifty-seven different films, including shorts, have been nominated across 24 categories this year, and I have seen them all. The first one I caught was writer-director Alex Garland’s superb Ex Machina way back on April 10, and the last one was Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s When Marnie Was There just two days ago – in time to finish an analysis of the Best Animated Feature category. Since I have seen them, of course, my immediate instinct was to put them all on a list. So, here is a completely subjective ranking of all 57 2015 Oscar nominees:

5. Ex Machina
6. Embrace of the Serpent
9. Room
10. Anomalisa
12. Shok
14. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
15. Son of Saul
17. Carol
18. When Marnie Was There
19. A War
21. Cartel Land
23. Shaun the Sheep Movie
24. Creed
28. The Look of Silence
29. Sicario
30. Trumbo
31. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
33. Amy
37. Day One
39. Straight Outta Compton
40. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
42. The Hunting Ground
44. What Happened, Miss Simone?
46. Theeb
47. Boy and the World
49. Spectre
50. Cinderella
52. Joy
54. Youth
57. 50 Shades of Grey

Friday, February 26, 2016

Countdown to the Oscars: Best Picture

The Revenant could make history Sunday night if it wins Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Welcome to the final day of Last Cinema Standing’s Countdown to the Oscars, a category-by-category breakdown of the Academy Awards, all leading up to the Oscars on Feb. 28. If you have not been to the site before or have not been in a while, click through the list to the right and check out our analysis of the other 23 categories. If you joined us all month, your support is appreciated, and be sure to check back tomorrow and Sunday for a couple more fun features ahead of the big night.

Best Picture


The nominees are


Despite what some will try to tell you – both earnestly and derisively – there is no formula for an Oscar-winning film, certainly not for Best Picture. Perhaps you have some vague concept in your mind of a prestige picture – something arty or high-minded. Well, that is fair. These awards are meant to be high-minded. They are not the People’s Choice Awards. They are these people’s choice, the Academy’s.

Even so, there is no single connecting thread among films such as Birdman, 12 Years a Slave, Argo, The Artist, The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, or No Country for Old Men. Those are the last eight Best Picture winners, and the only thing they have in common is quality. It is not as if these are exclusionary films, either, movies meant for the elite rather than the public. Only one of those films made less than $40 million at the box office, and three of them were blockbuster-sized hits, relative to their budgets.

No, the reason people like to claim the Academy is predictable or stagnant or boring is because the films they like do not win. All calls for increased racial and gender diversity are warranted and necessary, but as we have discussed, the Academy is not the root of the problem. It is the result. I do not begrudge anyone their boycott, but I also do not think it will solve anything. The Academy is simply an easy, highly visible target.

It is a weird world in which social media have made immediate reactions the only reactions that matter. True of almost everything now, it seems particularly true of art. New book? The consensus has formed before most of us have finished reading the dust jacket. New album? It is declared the greatest of all time, overhyped, and already overplayed before your download is even finished. New film? Well, we all know how that goes.

So, no matter which of these eight fantastic films wins, there will be a backlash, then a backlash to the backlash, then a thousand think-pieces on which film won, why, and what should have won. It will be talked to death for a day or two, then people will move on to the next thing. This is just the cycle of information now. However, thankfully, the work itself is not part of the cycle. Once the world moves on, the book is still there to read, the album to listen to, and the film to watch.

Keep that in mind over the next few days as you watch the Oscars or read about them. No matter what films win or do not win, were nominated or not nominated, every film you love is still out there to enjoy and share with others. No one person or organization can take that away. The art rises above it all. If the Academy stands for anything, it is the preservation of film – whether literally or in the public consciousness. If years from now people discover these films because the Academy nominated them, that victory will mean far more than any related to a little gold statue.

The Revenant (directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu) – What more is there to say about The Revenant? It is a flawlessly executed, immaculately realized film about man’s struggle with nature, vengeance, and his own soul. Right now, Iñárritu is the filmmaker other filmmakers want to be. His ambition and skill are unrivaled in the industry. No one else is making the kind of technically masterful, ideologically investigative films he makes.

This is not just the Iñárritu show, however. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy give the performances of their lives. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki somehow finds new ways to paint with light and digital images. All the way down the line, every element of production fully commits to bringing the brutal and beautiful reality of The Revenant to life. We talked above about high-minded art. There is no film this year more artful or high-minded than this.

It absolutely can win Best Picture, and in fact, it is probably the frontrunner. A win would mean making history, the first time consecutive films by the same director will have won Best Picture. If that happens, it will be hard to argue against Iñárritu being the first to achieve it. Crafting two films as different but equally impressive as Birdman and The Revenant in back-to-back years is an achievement that deserves a place in history.

The Big Short (directed by Adam McKay) – You have to laugh so you do not cry. The Big Short employs a comedic lens to consider the massive fraud the banking industry perpetrated on all of us and the failure of seemingly anyone to care. People do not get away with huge crimes because they are crafty or smart or somehow do not get caught. The only reason crimes of this sort go unpunished is because we have created a system complicit – some might argue reliant – on their commission.

The Big Short is as infuriating as it is funny, the kind of film you shake your head in disbelief at as you try to forget that it is all real. It is too painful to acknowledge the truth. We were all lied to, and we all got screwed. We are still being lied to, and we are still getting screwed. Several of this year’s Best Picture nominees tackle vitally important topics, but this is the only one that directly affects each and every single one of us.

Barring an unprecedented victory by The Revenant, The Big Short has the best chance of taking the top prize. It has all the key nominations – Picture, Director, (Adapted) Screenplay, Editing, and an acting nomination – of which only one other film in this lineup can claim to have all (Spotlight). The Big Short won the Producers Guild award, which has predicted every Best Picture winner since 2007. The Producers Guild has not been wrong since it and the Academy switched to a preferential balloting system, which seeks greater consensus for a winner. If this is not the consensus pick, then the next film down is.

Spotlight (directed by Thomas McCarthy) – Here is how the preferential balloting system works, briefly. Voters rank all eight nominees. The film with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, and its votes go to the second-ranked film on the individual ballots. This process of eliminating films and redistributing votes continues until one film garners 50 percent of votes plus one. What this means is that not only is it important to be everybody’s favorite film, but it is important to get a lot of second- and third-place votes as well.

Nobody dislikes McCarthy’s film. Even those who do not think it is the grandest artistic achievement of the year still think it is a good story well told. Spotlight will get a lot of No. 1 votes, and it will not be at the bottom of many lists. As films get eliminated from the balloting, many votes will be redistributed to Spotlight, as opposed to more divisive films such as The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road. This film is a certain beneficiary of the preferential system, which is just as well since it is the best of the nominated films anyway.

McCarthy’s film is a masterpiece, grafting an arthouse sensibility onto a more middle-brow legal thriller and taking on one of the most important stories of this generation. Spotlight is not just the story of the investigative reporters who uncovered the sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. It is the story of a city and its legions of faithful who were betrayed by the very organization they trusted with their souls. No film this year hits harder or pulls fewer punches than Spotlight, which makes sense for a drama about journalists. Nothing comes before the truth.

Mad Max: Fury Road (directed by George Miller) – If you said back in June that Mad Max: Fury Road would be a Best Picture nominee – all credit due to the few people who did – then you were either mocked or quietly dismissed. The third sequel to an action franchise that started nearly 40 years ago would not be anyone’s idea of a sure-fire Oscar contender. Add to that the film itself, which is a wild, adrenaline-fueled ride through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and you could forgive those who did not see its awards potential.

However, the one thing it has going for it that no other nominee – nor any other film this year – can claim is Miller. Miller is the brains, the soul, and the beating heart beneath all of this. At 70 years old and directing his first live-action film in 17 years, Miller has crafted a gonzo action epic that will be admired and studied for years to come. If sequels and reboots are Hollywood’s way of the future – as they are the way of its present – then this is the template by which all should be judged. Mad Max: Fury Road drives relentlessly forward rather than looking back. It infuses new energy and instills new ideas in a tired genre that apparently needed a kick in the pants from one of its old masters.

There were moments this season when it looked like Miller’s film might push its way to the top by sheer force of will. It is too big, too bold to ignore. Those moments seem to have passed, and the film will likely prove too divisive to win on a preferential ballot, though Miller is still a major threat to Iñárritu for the Best Director prize. The victory is for something this strange to get this close to the top award, and hopefully, it will inspire other films to take similar risks.

Room (directed by Lenny Abrahamson) – The power of great storytelling is that it puts you in the mind of the characters and allows you to experience, for a brief period of time, what they experience. Except for maybe The Revenant, which is on another scale entirely, no nominee this year does a better job of drawing the audience into the characters’ world than Room. The world it explores is claustrophobic, hellish, and frightening, but it is also all too real.

One thing that has been strangely forgotten throughout this Oscar season is the truth behind the fiction of Room. It is common for awards strategists to highlight their films’ importance through real-world parallels – Spotlight and the Catholic Church, The Big Short and Wall Street, The Revenant and the environment, etc. – but the tragedy of sexual slavery in this country and around the world has come up very little. One could argue it is more respectful not to use such a tragedy to campaign for awards, but those campaigns also have the ability to draw attention to an issue. It is unlikely it would have affected Room’s awards chances one way or the other, but it is unfortunate the opportunity to talk about such a pressing issue was mostly bypassed.

Abrahamson was a surprise nominee for Best Director, though wholly deserving of the recognition, and his nomination signaled strength for Room that had seemed to dissipate throughout the season. During the festival season last year, Room picked up the coveted audience award at the Toronto Film Festival. Since 2008, only one film to win that award has failed to be nominated for Best Picture, and three went on to win. Perhaps Room has proved a little too tough, too dark for some viewers, but it has lasted because those who see it do not soon forget its impact.

The Martian (directed by Ridley Scott) – In my review of The Martian, I talked about how satisfying it is to watch talented people work. Those comments were made in the context of the plot of the film, which follows a group of scientists working toward the common goal of bringing home an astronaut stranded on Mars. However, the same comments work just as well for the filmmakers behind The Martian, all of whom are talented craftspeople working together to bring a wonderfully imaginative, refreshingly un-cynical film to the screen.

I never mean workmanlike as a pejorative. There is nothing wrong with doing solid work on a difficult project. To me, it means unfussy, uncluttered, and unself-conscious, and in all those ways, The Martian is workmanlike. Scott depicts a simple, Robinson Crusoe-like premise in a straightforward fashion and does not feel the need to pile on overworked clichés or strained metaphors to impose deeper philosophical meaning on the story. It is meaningful enough to watch the process of science done well by talented experts, and it is engaging enough to watch an entertaining film made well by talented experts.

Bridge of Spies (directed by Steven Spielberg) – Only one director in history has had more films nominated for Best Picture than Spielberg (William Wyler with 13). As of this year, Spielberg has helmed 10 films that went on to vie for the top award. He is one of the most popular and successful film directors of all time. Some would say his success is because he makes popular entertainments such as the Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park series, but I would argue it is because he makes good films popular.

What other director could turn a three-hour holocaust drama into a $300 million-plus worldwide grosser? Who else but Spielberg could craft hit after hit after hit without forfeiting his directorial vision or personal connection to his material? So, Spielberg returns this year with a Cold War thriller about a good man standing up for what is right in complex, difficult times, and he casts the ultimate good-guy actor, Tom Hanks, as his leading man.

Bridge of Spies is timeless. It could have been made in any era and proven successful because its message is powerful, its filmmaking is impressive, and its story is engaging. This film will not win Best Picture, following in the footsteps of eight other Spielberg films to fall short of the top prize once nominated, but the director has made his magic once again. He has turned a forgotten footnote from mid-20th century history into a rousing entertainment, a $160 million global hit, and a Best Picture nominee.

Brooklyn (directed by John Crowley) – Smart, elegant, and delicately handled, Brooklyn is an immigrant story for a time when there has never been more discussion of the American Dream and who is entitled to it. I do not think anyone would argue Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), the intrepid traveler at the center of this tale, has not earned the right to pursue the life she desires. Hers is one of millions of immigrant stories, and she stands in for all the people whose stories we will never hear, never know, because so many of these people were never given a voice.

Brooklyn will seem like the lightweight if feel-good choice among these nominees. Some have and will continue to dismiss it as a silly little love story, a frivolity that does not hold up to closer inspection. On the contrary, Crowley’s film absolutely requires closer inspection. Only upon deeper examination do the film’s layers become clear. There is a romance at the center of the story, yes – though I would also argue when the stories of most of our lives are told, there is a romance at the center – but the margins of the story are suffused with the color and detail of the hardships and perseverance that define the immigrant experience in America.

The final analysis


There are three films that could win this award – The Revenant, The Big Short, and Spotlight. Each has picked up a win with a major industry group. The Revenant won the Directors Guild, The Big Short prevailed with the Producers Guild, and Spotlight triumphed with the Screen Actors Guild. The Big Short and Spotlight, as mentioned, have all the key nominations, but The Revenant is the nominations leader, hitting in every crafts category, two acting categories, Director, and Picture. The Revenant won the top prize with BAFTA and the Golden Globes, but it is divisive where The Big Short and Spotlight might do well with a consensus vote.

The truth is no one could possibly say what is going to happen. The Revenant has looked impressive recently with those major wins at the Directors Guild, BAFTA, and Golden Globes, but it could all be an illusion. Nothing is certain until the envelope is opened. Last year, I predicted against the prevailing winds of the season and was dead wrong. This year, I will go where the wind blows, and if it leads me astray, so be it. I am banking on The Revenant to make history.

Will win: The Revenant
Should win: Spotlight
Should have been here: The Tribe

This weekend: A ranking of all 57 nominees, predictions in all 24 categories, and more

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Countdown to the Oscars: Best Animated Feature

Co-directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa is nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards.

Welcome to Last Cinema Standing’s Countdown to the Oscars, our daily look at this year’s Academy Awards race. Be sure to check back every day this month for analysis of each of the Academy’s 24 categories.

Best Animated Feature


The nominees are:

Anomalisa
Boy & the World
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There

It is hard to believe this category has existed for only 15 years. Maybe it is because I am younger, but this category has always felt like a part of the Oscars to me. It makes sense. Certainly before 2001, there were not nearly enough feature-length animated films to justify a separate category. But with the explosion in independent animation houses in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a wealth of quality animated films flooded the market, and thus, a category was born. Still, despite the growth on the margins of the industry and the democratization of production, one very big company has ruled them all.

Pixar Animation Studio has earned 10 nominations in this category in 15 years, missing out with only three eligible films. Of the 14 Best Animated Feature Oscars so far handed out, Pixar films have won seven. No other studio has more than two, while two different Pixar directors have two Animated Feature awards. Each one of those numbers is set to be raised by one this year as previous winner Pete Docter returns this year with a seemingly unbeatable frontrunner. The nominees are universally fantastic, but it is a fool who bets against the Pixar machine.

Inside Out (directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen) – There was talk among pundits when Inside Out came out in June last year of the film possibly being nominated for Best Picture. Only three animated films ever have been nominated in the top category – Beauty and the Beast, Up, and Toy Story 3 – and none since the Academy changed its rules to allow five to 10 nominees rather than a straight 10. The Best Picture nomination did not pan out for Inside Out, but such talk was emblematic of the love the film inspires among critics and fans.

Surely, it is a wild, imaginative ride through the mind of a preteen girl, showing us what it is like to experience the world as someone who still understands so little of it. It is a literal depiction of depression – which is tackled too rarely in film – for a target audience that is just beginning to understand its feelings and how it fits into the culture as a whole. It is also the work of parents, valiantly pleading with their children to keep as much joy in their lives as possible.

Docter, Del Carmen, and co-writers Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley know how easy it is for the world to get you down, and they have created a beautiful expression of youth and imagination that celebrates life above all else. Docter won this award in 2009 for Up, which showed how an old man can recapture the joy in his life by embracing what it means to be young. Docter will likely win the award this year for the opposite – for showing how a young girl does not have to give up joy just because she is getting older.

Anomalisa (directed by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman) – There is no one who writes films like Kaufman. There never has been, and it would be shocking if there ever were again. His perspective on life and human relationships is so specific and so unique that to attempt to replicate it would be to destroy it. Kaufman’s films are what they are because of the man who made them, and for his first animated feature, with co-director Johnson, he has taken his distinctive writing style and translated it to a medium that can truly express the depth of his vision.

Nothing much happens in Anomalisa. A customer service expert arrives in Cincinnati to give a speech on, well, customer service. While at the hotel, he meets a woman who is unlike anyone he has ever met in his life. She is in fact the only other unique person in this world, so far as he can tell. Their courtship and the fragile bond they form makes up the bulk of the film, which ultimately is less about the story it tells than the feelings that story inspires in the audience. There is pain, fear, and regret, along with fleeting moments of happiness, and it all adds up to one man’s not-so-special life, made momentarily whole by his meeting another individual.

Kaufman is a previous Oscar winner for Original Screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, while he was also previously nominated for co-writing Adaptation. and writing Being John Malkovich. Each of those films, plus his brilliant directorial debut Synecdoche, NY, is exemplary of the kind of insight and world building of which Kaufman is capable. No one else does what he does. Johnson is a 37-year-old wunderkind animator working on his first feature. His mix of stop-motion and puppetry on Anomalisa is what makes the film tick. Without Johnson’s technical wizardry, they would be just amazing words on a page.

Shaun the Sheep Movie (directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starzak) – The only film in this lineup for the most part strictly for children, Shaun the Sheep Movie is one of my favorite discoveries of the year. I was unfamiliar with the television show on which the film is based, a Wallace & Gromit spinoff also produced by Aardman Animations; however, the Aardman style is unmistakable. Both in its look and its emotional core, Shaun the Sheep Movie is an absolute delight from start to finish.

The stop-motion animation is simply flawless, and the script hits on a number of interesting ideas about routine, taking our loved ones for granted, and the importance of home and family. It is fairly deep stuff for a movie about an intrepid sheep who leads his flock into the big city to find their farmer who has accidentally become an icon of the hairstyling world. The gags are great, the music is wonderful, and if you can allow yourself to be taken in by its charms, Shaun the Sheep Movie is a joyously realized, surprisingly tender little movie.

Boy & the World (directed by Alê Abreu) – This is the kind of film for which animators tend to fall head over heels. It takes the simple premise of a young boy setting off to find his father who has left home and turns it into an examination of corporatization, globalization, and the way the innocence of youth gives way to the compromise and corruption of adulthood. It blends hand-drawn animation – Abreu made every one of this film’s drawings himself – live-action documentary footage, and a raucous, rousing musical score to create a sensory experience unlike any other.

The film opens with simple line drawings over a white background, depicting a boy who has never left the safety of his home. The more he explores, the more complex the animation becomes, reflecting his fuller understanding of the world around him. It is not a happy life he finds in the larger world. In fact, it is damn hard – demoralizing and dehumanizing in equal measure. He comes to understand how people must find small joys in moments or actions that may seem meaningless but carry great emotional and symbolic weight for them.

When Marnie Was There (directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi) – The Studio Ghibli banner has always been a mark of quality. From the earliest films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, Ghibli has stood for superbly rendered animation that brings to life worlds of magical realism that help people understand their own inner worlds and struggles a little better. Yonebayashi, who has been an animator of Studio Ghibli films for nearly 20 years, here directs just his second feature, and it is unmatched for majesty and depth of feeling.

When Marnie Was There is the story of a young orphan girl suffering from depression who meets another young girl whose family is always away. Through their friendship, each learns to cope with the pain and difficulties of life. It is rare to see such deep and meaningful female friendships portrayed onscreen, and it is refreshing. To watch Anna and Marnie interact is to watch the work of filmmakers who truly understand what it is to be young, to feel lost and alone, and to discover another soul that looks like yours.

The final analysis


Inside Out is one of the biggest hits of the year, it is culturally ubiquitous, and many would argue it is a new high-water mark for the standard-bearer of animation studios. There is every likelihood more Academy members will have seen Inside Out than the other four nominees combined. Its popularity and its quality will carry it to the win over a remarkable field. Among these nominees, there is no wrong answer, but the winner will be Inside Out.

Will win: Inside Out
Should win: Anomalisa
Should have been here: Minions

Tomorrow: Best Picture

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Countdown to the Oscars: Best Foreign Language Film

Embrace of the Serpent is the first Colombian film to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.

Welcome to Last Cinema Standing’s Countdown to the Oscars, our daily look at this year’s Academy Awards race. Be sure to check back every day this month for analysis of each of the Academy’s 24 categories.

Best Foreign Language Film


The nominees are:

Embrace of the Serpent
Son of Saul
Theeb
A War

Profile matters as much as anything when it comes to Best Foreign Language Film. If voters hear a movie is good or read high praise from critics, they are more likely to seek it out – as would be true of any of us. So, films that have earned critical accolades, international recognition at film festivals, and some moderate box-office success have a leg up on the competition in this category.

The two highest-profile films in this lineup are Son of Saul and Mustang. Son of Saul has been the presumed frontrunner most of the year, ever since it won four awards, including the Grand Jury Prize, at the Cannes Film Festival. It picked up the lion’s share of critics’ awards and won the Golden Globe for foreign language film. It is also the only film among these to make more than $1 million at the U.S. box office, though two of these just opened in theaters this month.

Mustang also was a prizewinner at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, its cast and director have been everywhere promoting the film and its urgent message, and it is second behind Son of Saul in box-office take. It has also been a huge success on the film festival circuit around the world, picking up prizes for its director, its cast, and its singular vision and voice. Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia), Theeb (Jordan), and A War (Denmark) have all enjoyed tremendous success in their home countries, but their U.S. appeal has been limited so far, which means we are likely looking at either Son of Saul or Mustang for the win.

Son of Saul (directed by László Nemes) – With Son of Saul, first-time feature director Nemes has immediately announced himself as a director to watch. Not only is his film emotionally devastating, but it is technically masterful. Told almost entirely from a subjective point of view, it follows a member of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz as he attempts to give his son a proper burial before a prison break. The camera wizardry puts the viewer directly in the place of Saul as he navigates the physical and mental torture of the Holocaust and tries to complete one final act of good amid the horror.

It is a taxing but rewarding experience, a first-person take on the Holocaust unlike any ever before attempted in fiction. It puts the audience on the ground level of an atrocity, trading on the oft-cited maxim that one death is a tragedy and a million is a statistic. Son of Saul shows us the tragedy of a single death within the context of the unimaginable suffering of untold millions. Star Géza Röhrig gives one of the best leading-man performances of the year with 90 percent of the movie playing out in just a tight close-up on his face. Rarely has so much pain been so viscerally communicated onscreen.

This is just the ninth Hungarian film ever nominated in this category at the Oscars, and four of those previous nominations came by way of director István Szabó. Szabó also directed the only Hungarian film to win this award, Mephisto in 1981. If this film is any indication, though, Hungarian cinema will find its way back to the Oscars, and it will be led by Nemes.

Mustang (directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven) – One of the best films of the year, Mustang is about what happens when we let culture and custom subvert our basic humanity. It tells the story of five sisters in a small Turkish village whose family tries to tame them after the smallest of infractions and how the sisters fight back against their oppressors. That such injustices are allowed to carry on in the civilized world today should infuriate us as there is no room in society for these outdated beliefs.

Apart from the vital storytelling, Ergüven, on her first feature, proves to be a master filmmaker with subtle, inspired direction that draws on a wide range of influences to achieve a wholly unique effect. Ergüven slowly tightens the noose around her protagonists until they must choose whether to be hanged or take up arms and cut the rope. The film walks a fine line between triumph and tragedy, and its bold, brilliant closing passages seem to imply the two are not so far removed from one another.

Despite being set in Turkey and all of the film’s dialogue being spoken in Turkish, Mustang is actually France’s submission to the Oscars this year. Of course, France has a long history in the Foreign Language category. This is the country’s record 39th nomination, and with 12 wins, it trails only Italy (14).

Embrace of the Serpent (directed by Ciro Guerra) – Like an Alejandro Jodorowsky dream filtered through a Werner Herzog nightmare, Embrace of the Serpent is a hallucinatory trip through the Amazon. It stuns with the beauty of its images, but it stays with you because of the strength of its ideas. The film follows somewhat parallel stories of white outsiders coming into the Colombian jungles and seeking a mythical plant the natives believe has healing properties.

Based loosely on the diaries of German scientist and explorer Theodor Koch-Grunberg, Embrace of the Serpent is a damning exploration of the destruction European settlers brought down upon the forests. The gorgeous black-and-white photography helps orient the viewer within the denseness of the jungle, while the script never lets the audience get too comfortable in its loyalties. Questions of who is good and who is bad matter little. In the end, it comes down to who respects the natural order of the world and who does not.

This is the first Colombian film to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, and it represents a stunning achievement in the national cinema. There has to be a first, but rarely is that first so impressive and so deserving as this.

A War (directed by Tobias Lindholm) – About 80 percent of A War’s nearly two-hour runtime goes by before we get to the central conflict of the story. By the time the film arrives at its main plot, we are so invested in all the characters and so deep in their headspace it becomes devastating to watch them deal with the moral quandary in which they find themselves.

Lindholm’s storytelling patience allows the audience to get involved with the characters in a far more intimate way than we are used to in a more traditional war film. By doing so, the film’s pre-climactic action sequence is more effective than it otherwise would be because the stakes are not based in vaguely defined patriotism but in family ties and personal responsibility. These are people we can relate to in circumstances we could not begin to imagine, and Lindholm carefully outlines what it means to be a soldier and a human being at the same time.

Denmark has had 11 films nominated in the Foreign Language category with three winners. The most recent winner was Susanne Bier’s In a Better World in 2010, while Danish legend Thomas Vinterberg was the most recent nominee in 2013 with The Hunt, which Lindholm actually co-wrote with Vinterberg.

Theeb (directed by Naji Abu Nowar) – Nowar is the third director among this group to have never directed a feature film before. Of the three, this is the one that feels most like a first film from a storytelling perspective. The photography is beautiful, and the setting – the Ottoman Empire during World War I – orients the audience in a highly specific place and time, but the structure is too loose to be totally engaging.

A young Bedouin boy, Theeb (Jacie Eid Al-Hwietat), tags along as his brother leads a British soldier through the desert. Along the way, they encounter bandits, and the mission becomes one of survival. The film’s themes of loyalty, manhood, and pride are all quite striking, but the plot has little forward momentum and gets bogged down in its middle section.

This is the first Jordanian film nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and is just the second ever submitted to the Academy. Hopefully, the honor will encourage more development in Jordanian cinema and create more attention for an area of the world that is sadly underrepresented in the film landscape.

The final analysis


I have no good reason to think this other than just a gut feeling, but this category feels ripe for an upset. Son of Saul has won every meaningful precursor – and for that matter, almost every award out there – but it perhaps inspires more appreciation than passion. In that case, Mustang would be the likely beneficiary of an upset. However, experience tells me, with few exceptions – such as 2006 when Pan’s Labyrinth lost out to The Lives of Others – the most likely winner prevails. This year, that means Son of Saul.

Will win: Son of Saul
Should win: Mustang
Should have been here: The Tribe

Tomorrow: Best Animated Feature

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Countdown to the Oscars: Best Director

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu directs Leonardo DiCaprio in Best Picture frontrunner The Revenant.

Welcome to Last Cinema Standing’s Countdown to the Oscars, our daily look at this year’s Academy Awards race. Be sure to check back every day this month for analysis of each of the Academy’s 24 categories.

A quick programming note: Yesterday, I said we would cover Best Foreign Language Film today. However, instead, we will look at Best Director. Best Foreign Language Film will follow Wednesday with Best Animated Feature on Thursday and finally Best Picture on Friday.

Best Director


The nominees are:

Lenny Abrahamson for Room
Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant
Thomas McCarthy for Spotlight
George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road
Adam McKay for The Big Short

Four of these directors have never been nominated for Best Director before. The last time that happened in this category was 2007. In that year, interestingly enough, there were six nominated directors, and five had never been nominated. Joel Coen was the only previous nominee, and he shared the award win with his brother, Ethan Coen, for No Country for Old Men. This year, Iñárritu is the only previous nominee, having won just last year for Birdman.

Another bit of trivia: It has been 65 years since a director has won this award in back-to-back years. In fact, it has happened only twice. Joseph L. Mankiewicz won in 1949 for A Letter to Three Wives and in 1950 for All About Eve, while John Ford won in 1940 for The Grapes of Wrath and in 1941 for How Green Was My Valley. Iñárritu has a very real shot this year of becoming the third name on that list.

How about this? Though Best Picture and Best Director are strongly correlated – both awards have gone to the same film 63 of 87 times – no director has ever directed back-to-back Best Picture winners. Even when Ford and Mankiewicz won Best Director twice in a row, only in the second years did their films win Best Picture. Well, Iñárritu directed last year’s Best Picture winner and helmed one of this year’s frontrunners. The feat would be unprecedented.

Finally, since 1990, only four times has the winner of the Directors Guild Award not gone on to win the Oscar for Best Director. Iñárritu has already made history by becoming the first back-to-back winner of the Directors Guild Award. In that same span, the Directors Guild winner has directed the Best Picture winner all but five times. All of this means we could be set up for a historic night at the Academy Awards, but the other four nominees might have something to say about that.

Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant – If it were up to me, this would not even be a question. The Revenant is not only the most beautiful film this year, but it is among the most beautiful films ever made. In scope, ambition, and execution, there is no film that comes close in this lineup, and I say that with all due respect to the other nominees. The magic that Iñárritu captured is unparalleled.

Working from a fairly bare-bones script, Iñárritu turns the film into a meditation on god, nature, and man’s place in the universe. By allowing the narrative to drift freely through memory and dreams, then back to the harshness of life, Iñárritu crafts a wholly sensory experience that engulfs viewers in its mélange of sights, sounds, and emotions. This is to say nothing of the hardships the production faced in even filming such an epic tale of survival.

When taking this all into account, Iñárritu’s achievement is just stunning. So much so it boggles the mind. It is high art depicting a brutal reality on the largest canvas imaginable. There is nothing to which it compares, and if Iñárritu makes history, it will be a hard-earned, richly deserved distinction, coming on the back of the most majestic film of the year and a true masterpiece.

George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road – Perhaps I have dipped into hyperbole, making the case too strongly for my preferred winner. The truth is Miller’s work is awe-inspiring in a completely different way. Mad Max: Fury Road is a big, bold statement, a referendum on the action genre while being an almost perfect exemplar of the genre. For a film that feels so wild, so out of control, like it might fly off the rails at any time, Miller’s precision in the writing, choreographing, shooting, and editing is what makes everything click into place.

Miller is a living legend with a small but beloved body of work. Since 1979, he has directed just nine feature films, four of them in the Mad Max series. Somehow, the same man responsible for Max Rockatansky, Imperator Furiosa, and Immortan Joe is also largely responsible for giving us Babe the pig and Happy Feet.

He is a six-time nominee across four different categories and won his only Oscar for Best Animated Feature as the director of Happy Feet – when you watch Mad Max: Fury Road, try to wrap your mind around that. However, this is his first nomination for directing, and with Iñárritu already a winner, there could be a push to award Miller for his distinguished career and his remarkable achievement this year.

Adam McKay for The Big Short – Now, if it seems odd Miller would have directed multiple animated children’s hits and the decidedly not-for-children Mad Max films, try on this bit of cognitive dissonance: The director of Anchorman and Step Brothers is now a multiple Oscar nominee. Here is the thing about that, though, you do not get to where McKay has gotten in his career without being a bright, savvy, talented filmmaker.

McKay had already proven all those things throughout his career, but with The Big Short, he has proved he is engaged, engaging, and passionate about the state of the nation. That is a lot more than can be said for many other artists. McKay’s stamp is all over The Big Short with its smart editing, unfussy camera setups, and snot-nosed attitude. Not everything works all the time in this film, but McKay’s willingness to step outside the box and look at the financial crisis and world banking collapse from a skewed view is always an asset.

Thomas McCarthy for Spotlight – McCarthy has been rightly lauded for his and Josh Singer’s work in piecing together the screenplay for Spotlight; however, some have also taken the opportunity to deride McCarthy’s direction of the film as flat or uninspired. Such charges could not be further off base. These commenters seem to believe if a film is not flashy or does not call attention to itself, the direction must not be that special. This belief is so obviously wrong it is laughable, but here we are, having to defend one of the best films of the year as well directed.

Anyone watching closely will see the care and thought that has gone into every frame of Spotlight, from the strategic positioning of the camera when the reporters are going through the archives – wide enough to show us the enormity of the undertaking – to the scattering of churches throughout the background, a subtle reminder of the church’s influence over everyday life in Boston.

The film’s bravura closing passage, set to a children’s choir performing “Silent Night,” is among the most memorable and effective sequences of the year, thrilling, cathartic, and utterly haunting. If voters cannot see the artistry in McCarthy’s accomplishment, they probably should not have a vote. McCarthy may not win this award against his flashier competition, but his inclusion is without a doubt merited.

Lenny Abrahamson for Room – Most pundits, yours truly included, had predicted the other four nominees in this field, being as they directed the four frontrunners for Best Picture. The fifth slot we had chalked up for Ridley Scott for The Martian or maybe Todd Haynes for Carol or Steven Spielberg for Bridge of Spies. However, when Room showed up in four major categories – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay – it was clear the Academy had fallen hard for this brutal, beautiful little movie.

Abrahamson deftly blends an impressionistic art-house film with a pulpy thriller to deliver one of the truly unique viewing experiences of the year. With the story confined for the first hour to a single room, Abrahamson opens up the characters’ world with an array of carefully employed camera angles and selective edits. He shows us a tragic situation through the eyes of a child who does not yet know enough about life to understand the tragedy, and in doing so, Abrahamson turns a difficult viewing experience into one of the must-see films of the year.

The final analysis


Abrahamson’s is the only name on this list it would be an out-and-out shock to hear called out on Oscar night. Any of the other four could win, and each would tell us something different about where the night is headed. If either McKay or McCarthy wins, that would be the clincher for their respective films. The Academy showing its love in that way would be the ultimate indication one of those films will win Best Picture.

If Miller wins, we would have to question the love for The Revenant, and because Mad Max: Fury Road at this point is a highly unlikely winner, the door would be open for either Spotlight or The Big Short to claim the top prize. If Iñárritu wins – and all signs are pointing that way – anything could still happen. A split has not been uncommon in recent years between Best Picture and Best Director, but Iñárritu clutching his second directing Oscar in a row would invite the possibility that history is about to unfold.

Will win: Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant
Should win: Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant
Should have been here: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky for The Tribe

Tomorrow: Best Foreign Language Film

Monday, February 22, 2016

Countdown to the Oscars: Best Documentary Short

Last Day of Freedom is among this year's Academy Award nominees for Best Documentary Short.

Welcome to Last Cinema Standing’s Countdown to the Oscars, our daily look at this year’s Academy Awards race. Be sure to check back every day this month for analysis of each of the Academy’s 24 categories.

Best Documentary Short


The nominees are:

Body Team 12
Chau, beyond the lines
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Last Day of Freedom

There has been talk in social media circles and elsewhere that this may be the dourest lineup ever assembled for this category. Put briefly, these five short films range in topic from the Ebola virus in Liberia, Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam, and the Holocaust to honor killings in Pakistan and the death penalty in California. On the surface, no, this group does not exactly give off positive vibes, but if we are honest, this category is usually home to unimaginable horrors and tragedies beyond belief. So, in that context, this year is about par for the course.

The simple reason is that in the 40 minutes or less that these films run, emotional resonance counts for a lot, and nothing gets the heart pumping like death and injustice, which all of these have in spades. However, it would be a mistake to think of this as just a grim pageant of despair, though it also is that. Rather, each of these movies – with one exception that we will get to in a moment – has something vital to say about the world in which we live and how we treat the people with whom we share this world.

It is a cliché, but yes, the Academy is inclined to vote for Holocaust films. When you remember that a majority of Academy members were born during or right after World War II, many of them into families directly affected by the war, that tendency is understandable. Beyond that general assessment, it is a little hard to pin down a pattern in this category through the years. If a film covers an important topic with an intimate story that tugs at the heart strings, that film has the makeup of a winner. Our likely frontrunner this year does not quite cover those bases, but it is about the Holocaust.

Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah – For those unaware, Shoah is a 10-hour documentary about the Holocaust directed by Claude Lanzmann. It is a masterpiece of filmmaking and considered by most to be the definitive record of the Holocaust. Lanzmann began work on the film in 1973 and was not finished until 12 years later. He traveled across the globe, put himself directly in harm’s way, endured intense emotional trauma, and came away with a grand statement on the depths of human suffering and the capacity for evil demonstrated by the Holocaust.

The making of Shoah is a remarkable story, but the 40-minute runtime of director Adam Benzine’s Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah is not nearly enough time to tell it. Benzine essentially collects a greatest-hits package of Lanzmann telling stories from the production, using specific moments from Shoah to lead Lanzmann into a memory. Lanzmann, a gifted storyteller not known for his brevity, has time for about four or five memories. Knowing it took 12 years to make a 10-hour movie, four or five recollections from the production just do not cut it.

Still, as we discussed yesterday with the feature documentaries, the Academy loves films about artists, and that is doubly true of films about filmmakers. Lanzmann is not widely liked – as mentioned in the film, he is prickly, stubborn, and just generally difficult – but he is highly respected. Though he is not a nominee, awarding this film about Lanzmann’s work could be a way for the Academy to honor Lanzmann himself, who has never been recognized with either an Oscar win or a nomination.

Last Day of Freedom – First-time filmmakers Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman immediately distinguish their film by choosing to present it entirely in hand-drawn animation. It is not unheard of to blend documentary and animation, and among the benefits of the shift in medium is that it allows the filmmakers to depict scenes they otherwise never could. In Last Day of Freedom, Hibbert-Jones and Talisman match of the vividness of their interview subject’s tragic tale with the vibrancy of their animation style, drawing viewers deeper into the narrative than traditional storytelling techniques might.

Last Day of Freedom tells of Manny Babbitt, a mentally ill Vietnam War veteran whom a failed justice system executed for murder. There is no question of whether Babbitt committed the crime, but because of his personal history, his level of culpability is suspect at best. As interview subject Bill Babbitt, Manny’s brother, identifies: In an election year for the district attorney, blood demands blood. At no point did Manny Babbitt receive fair or just treatment under the law with an incompetent attorney, an overreaching, politically minded DA, and an all-white jury.

The tragedy of the film – beyond the obvious miscarriages of justice – is in listening to Bill Babbitt tell the tale of his brother’s life. The animation allows us to see this tale in full as we watch the two men dig for clams at the beach or play football together as children. Hibbert-Jones and Talisman bring Manny Babbitt back to life through their drawings, and though we cannot undo the harm that has been done, the film makes it clear we have a moral responsibility to prevent further harm in this world.

Chau, beyond the lines – Director Courtney Marsh started out with the intention of making one film – a disturbing chronicle of daily life in a Vietnamese hospital for children with disabilities caused by exposure to Agent Orange – yet over the course of eight years, she allowed her film to transform into a stirring portrait of defiance and triumph. The nurses interviewed in the film refer to the hospital as a camp, which gives the impression of a sort of summer day school, but as the film’s primary subject, Chau, later identifies, it is closer to a prison where the disabled are held in isolation.

Chau is told by the nurses his dream of becoming an artist and clothing designer is unattainable and a waste of everyone’s time. We learn early on that children can be voted out of the hospital by nurses who no longer want to deal with them, and Chau treads dangerously close to that line. So, rather than be told to leave, he takes off on his own, first staying with his parents, who steal his disability checks, then by himself in the city.

Though his struggles with finding a job and fending for himself are all-consuming, he returns to his dream of creating art and begins turning out beautiful paintings by holding the brush in his mouth. It is only by Marsh’s dedication to the process, visiting Chau over eight years, that the film undergoes a transformation from one about victimization to one about accomplishment.

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness – There is no such triumph or victory in director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s A Girl in the River. There is only pain, misery, and endless oppression. Saba is a 19-year-old girl who marries the man she loves, though her family has forbidden it. For supposedly bringing shame upon her family, Saba is taken to the river by her father and uncle, shot in the head, bagged, and thrown in the water. She miraculously survives the attack and sets out to find justice, but in Pakistan, where we are told 1,000 girls a year are murdered in so-called “honor killings,” justice may not be achievable.

Obaid-Chinoy is a previous Oscar winner in this category for co-directing Saving Face, which follows along similar thematic lines but concerns victims of acid attacks in Pakistan. However, where that film was a record of hope and shined a light forward, A Girl in the River is despairingly bleak. Saba becomes a victim all over again as local custom demands she forgive her attackers so they can be set free without punishment and so that ill will among neighbors can be avoided. It is an entire culture built on the subjugation of women and the privileging of “honor” over humanity.

Body Team 12 – The shortest and consequently least satisfying among this year’s nominees, director David Darg’s Body Team 12 shows the Ebola crisis in Liberia through the eyes of a woman tasked with removing the dead bodies of Ebola victims from homes. Running just 13 minutes, much of the footage shown in the film is of the process of preparing to remove a body, the removal, and the cleanup afterward – truly, you have never seen so many shots of someone putting on goggles.

Speaking over most of this footage is Garmai Sumo, the only female member of the body team, who takes great pride in the work she is doing for her country. She sees it as her patriotic duty to help stop the spread of the Ebola virus. In fulfilling this duty, she puts herself and her family at great risk and loses most of her friends to fear of contracting the virus. Sumo is intelligent, talented, and philosophical, and one wishes we only had more time to spend with her.

The final analysis


Any of these could win and it would not be surprising. As is so often the case with the shorts categories, the winner comes down to who has seen the films. Urgency of topic and emotional impact often show the way, but at least four of these films concern issues we continue to deal with in our society, and they all tread in similar emotional waters with questions about human decency and moral obligation. No one film stands out as necessarily more deserving than the others, so this is a best-guess scenario, and my best guess is Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, though I would add A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is a strong second possibility.

Will win: Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
Should win: Last Day of Freedom

Tomorrow: Best Foreign Language Film