Movies

2017 Awards Season: Feature Film Highlights

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Get ready for the Oscars! (February 26, 2017)  Check your local theaters to see if they run a viewing package for films that are nominated for best picture.

Here are some of the films nominated in various categories: (best picture, leading actor, leading actress, supporting actor, supporting actress,  directing, writing, cinematography, costume design, film editing, production design, sound design/editing/mixing, music and visual effects)

Below are some of the highlights:

“Allied”

Old-fashioned espionage, romance and Casablanca.  In 1942, Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button“) locks eyes and lips with a  French resistance fighter, Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard; “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Inception“).  Their mission is to attain an invitation to an event where a Nazi ambassador will be attending.  A ticking clock counts down to a diversion, the duo executes the assassination with precision and make their exit.  Max and Marianne move to London, get married and have a baby daughter.   It’s domestic bliss until Max is notified by his superiors that Marianne might be a German spy.  Max refuses to believe that Marianne is not who she says she is and goes to great length outside of the official channel to prove her innocence.  It’s a conflict between duty to his country and love for his family.  “Allied” plays like a beautiful montage with sumptuous sets, luxe lighting, impeccable costumes and glamorous stars.  It’s a glossy spies-in-love war dramaold-Hollywood styleCheck out the full review and trailer here

***

“Arrival”

A dozen alien spaceships have descended on various locations around the world.  Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams, “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “American Hustle,” “Leap Year“) is an expert linguist recruited to help decode the language of aliens.  Language is the basis of civilization.  It’s how we understand and communicate with the world around us.  And therefore, our brain is wired to comprehend certain elements of life in definite ways, such as the notion of time.  However, since we may not be alone in this universe, our understanding may not necessarily be-all and end-all.  It would behoove us to keep an open mind, observe, listen, learn to seek meaning and understanding, including a principle or practice that may differ from our normal perception, and do our best to communicate with one another.  The ingenuity of the film lies in the overarching premise, pieces that come in the form of the past, present and future that connect a life story to the overall theme.  An enlightening tale about the human mind, communication and perception, “Arrival” is thoughtful and thought-provokingCheck out the full review and trailer here

***

“Doctor Strange”

Superhero meets sorcery.  Dr.  Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game“) is a brilliant neurosurgeon, who is also self-centered and an all-around jerk.  His glorious career ends when he suffers nerve damage from a car wreck.  He discovers the existence of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, “Hail, Caesar!“), the guru of mystical and martial arts.  Dr. Strange magically transforms into a master sorcerer; from forming a glowing weapon with his disfigured hands to floating from one dimension portal to another, casting spells and manipulating energy, space and time.  He violates the natural law of time in order to gain the upper hand and preserve humanity.  Everything is not in the clear, however. There’s an inherent order of things, including life and death, and they balance humanity.  It’s a visually impressive spectacle.  Skyscrapers, walls and floors are twisting, turning, shifting, shaping, folding and collapsing.  Ruins rebuilt.  The parallel realms are a kaleidoscope of colors, fire, light and darkness.  Blending fantasy and magic with superhero action and humor, “Doctor Strange” is a fresh, entrancing entrance into the ever-expanding Marvel Universe.  Check out the full review and trailer here

***

“Hidden Figures”

“Hidden Figures” is a remarkable story about three African-American women who worked at NASA in the age of space race as the ‘human computers.’  While it tells a weighty story, it is filmed with a lighthearted tone and has a breezy pace.  Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) work at a segregated research center.  Racism and sexism permeate every fabric of the severely prejudiced society.  Not only relegated to the back of the bus, there are ‘colored’ sections for everything – work area, restroom, cafetaria.  Memorable scenes pack emotional and inspirational punch, powered by great acting.   These women march on every day with dedication, diligence, persistence, resilience and determination.  It’s a fine balance between knowing their place, stepping back and showing deference to their peers and supervisors, and at the same time, being resourceful, assertive and confident in themselves in seizing opportunities, moving towards achieving their dreams, and being a part of history.  And if history has taught us anything, there’s always a first in everything.  “Hidden Figures” is phenomenally uplifting and life-affirming.  Check out the full review and trailer here

***

“La La Land”

An aspiring actress (Emma Stone, “The Amazing Spider-Man“) and an idealist jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling; “The Big Short,” “The Ides of March,” “Drive“) fall in love and work through their ambitions to make it in the city of dreamers and movie stars.  The charming leads sing, tap and twirl through their meet-cutes and rocky relationship.  The road to achieve one’s dreams is not without crushed hopes and personal sacrifice.  Los Angeles is aesthetically filmed, awash with a pastel palette and accentuated with pops of bright colors.  Dreamlike cityscapes and streets in daylight, twilight and illuminated night.  Flared dresses in blood red, royal blue, emerald green and canary yellow.  Melodious song-and-dance numbers include memorable sequences such as a real freeway traffic jam, whimsical tap-dancing on the hill in the dusk, magical floating among the stars in the planetarium, among others.  There’s also a melancholic duet on the original song for the movie, “City of Stars.”  A romantic musical that blends Old Hollywood fantasy with modern reality, it’s a lovely movie to end or start the year.  Check out the full review and trailer here

***

“Manchester by the Sea”

A mournful loner, handyman named Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck; “The Finest Hours,” “Gone Baby Gone“) rushes to his hometown upon hearing the news about his brother’s condition in the hospital.  After his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler; “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Argo“), dies, he is appointed guardian of Joe’s teenage son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).  Returning home is one of the hardest things for Lee, who faces reminders of his painful past, including his ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams; “My Week with Marilyn,” “Shutter Island“), and the working class community that whispers behind his back.  Lee was a happy-go-lucky guy with a loving family and friends.  An unfathomable tragedy broke him and drove him out of town.  “Manchester by the Sea” is exquisitely shot, with the winter seaside town as an integral part of the film.  Snowy streets, gray skies, cold seas and fishing trips.  It pulls you in gently and it’s soberly absorbing.  It feels like real life, with messiness and setbacks.  Not everything broken can be made whole again.  A simple slice of life story, yet a complicated one.  Check out the full review and trailer here

***

“Passangers”

Jim Preston (Chris Pratt, “Jurassic World,” “Guardians of the Galaxy“), is aboard a spaceship transporting over 5,000 passengers to a new planet.  All passengers are in cyrosleep during the planned 120-year interstellar trip.  Jim’s pod has malfunctioned, awakening him 90 years too soon.  A second passenger, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence; “The Hunger Games” series, “X-Men” series, “American Hustle“), is also awakened later.  Eventually Jim and Aurora realize they are onboard of a sinking spaceship.  The movie’s got very cool visual effects.  A super sleek spacecraft with expansive exterior and interior design that looks futuristically real.  A viewing deck for a luminous cosmic show.  An infinity pool at the edge of deep space.  While it’s easy to judge Jim’s morally questionable actions, none of us will likely never know what it truly feels like being the last person alive.  The movie touches on an existential and morality issues.  It may be easy to dismiss “Passengers” as a Titanic in space with a Hollywood ending, but it’s more than that.  “Passengers” offers a sci-fi romance with a thought-provoking twist.  Check out the full review and trailer here

***

“Sully”

On January 15, 2009, a flight took off to the clear winter skies under the command of Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (Tom Hanks; “Bridge of Spies,” “Saving Mr. Banks,” “Captain Phillips,” “Cloud Atlas“).  Shortly after, bird strikes damaged both engines and disabled the aircraft.  After a distressed exchange with the air traffic controller and rapidly evaluating his options, the veteran captain made a split-second decision to glide his plane onto the Hudson River.  That decision proved to be crucial in saving the lives of all 155 people onboard.  Sully is heralded as a hero by the press and public, yet facing intense investigations from NTSB.  Clint Eastwood successfully stages realistic-looking crash and rescue scenes. Chills fill the air when passengers shiver out in the open, sliding down the rafts, lining up the wings or plunging into the frigid river.  Flying may be a routine experience these days.  Until it isn’t.  You’ll come out with a greater respect and appreciation for the fine men and women that help keep our skies friendly.  “Sully” is an unassumingly riveting docudrama with a heart and a touch of miracle.  Check out the full review and trailer here

***

“Zootopia”

It’s not another animation.  “Zootopia” zestily deals with complex issues, such as racism, sexism, discrimination, segregation, bullying, stereotyping, nature vs. nurture.  It cleverly camouflages them behind cute animation mirrors, making them are surprisingly engaging and entertaining. Not to mention shrewdly humorous.  An ambitious little bunny grows up a in farm, becomes a cop, and moves to Zootopia.  In this vibrantly rendered, diverse utopia, preys and predators exist harmoniously.  But reality is complicated.  Through a series of unfortunate incidents, the bunny reluctantly teams up with a sly fox with a traumatic past.  They work on an intricate investigation, uncovering the whereabouts of missing mammals. City hall politics are involved, fear campaigns and peace rallies.  Blame game and misdirection abound.   In the end, there is no perfect world.  We all make mistakes.  We don’t always get along.  But we also can try to do our best to make a difference, and in the process, we can make the world a better place.  Imaginatively fresh and very grown-up, “Zootopia” is quite possibly the most brilliant, best animation of all time!  Check out the full review and trailer here.

Copyright (c) 2017.  Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com.

"Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com."

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