Tag Archives: Academy Awards

Hey Oscars – This is no time for La La

Hey Pal:

I know my last post was a rant and I know I sometimes get too soap-boxy in this space, so I apologize in advance for this post, but it has to happen. I’m getting back on my soap box and I’m now going to stop talking to you, Pal, and address some important folks in the entertainment business.

Dear Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences:

Congratulations! The nominations for the upcoming Academy Awards are out and by most accounts you got it right this year. Critics seem to agree the nominated films and performances recognize the best in movies rather than the best in “for your consideration” campaigns, and there’s plenty of diversity in the mix to help you begin to shake that whole #OscarsSoWhite thing.

Well done.

Now, can we talk about next steps? The real decision-making starts now and I’d like to get radical and strongly suggest that you surprise everyone with your Best Picture choice and not give it to La La Land. Nothing against La La Land, I’ve seen it twice, and it’s a tasty morsel of cinematic confection; beautiful to behold and impeccably made. But this is not the time for La La Land, as great as it may be, because we are living in dangerous times. On November 8, the American electorate made a wildly bizarre choice and the doomsday clock was moved the closest it’s been to midnight since 1953, and now the whole world sits on the edge of our collective seats, watching a freak show unfold while chewing our nails and clenching our sphincters.

This is no time for singing and dancing.

This is time for a statement.

There is a certain film up for Best Picture that can be that statement. I’m not going to say it’s better than La La Land, but it is bigger, bolder and brainier. It’s more important and more profound. That film is…Arrival, the cerebral and thrilling  science fiction film starring Amy Adams as a linguistic professor tasked with finding a way to communicate with a newly-arrived alien species.


I know it’s a longshot but hear me out. I’m asking that Hollywood Meryl Streep the shit out of this situation and give Washington a smack upside the head. I’m asking that you stare down a bully with his fake news and “alternative facts” and make a statement of truth and purpose. I’m asking that you award a film that is a perfect counterpoint to so much that’s going on right now, a film that is everything the new president isn’t.


As the president drags political discourse into the gutter and shits in its mouth, Arrival eloquently explores the connection between the complexity of language and sophistication of thought.

As the president validates evidence-hating climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers, Arrival knows that truth is found through scientific inquiry and the collection of facts.

As the president builds walls out of hatred and discrimination, Arrival shows that a truly evolved species does not waste time and resources bickering over political borders, skin colour and religion.

As the president feeds off the worst human instincts, Arrival is a tribute to the potential of humankind.

As the thin-skinned president thinks small and petty thoughts, Arrival thinks big.

Very big.

Plus – it also happens to be a really exciting movie with plenty of intrigue and surprise, great acting, a perfect score and a killer ending. It’s exciting and emotional, and it would be a great choice for Best Picture no matter who’s in the White House.

There is a particularly potent and stressful moment in Arrival when 12 computer screens one by one blink to black and I fear the world is moving toward that moment for real.

So what do you say, Academy? Do you want to do the obvious thing and go all La La on us, or do you want to make a statement that may, in some small way, help turn those screens back on?

Later, Palsoap-box


Best of 2014 in Movies: The Second Annual Pal-Ademy Awards

miloHey Pal:

Well it’s that time of year again – the Academy Awards are upon us and those of us who love movies are pumped. But even more pump-erific is the annual Pal-Ademy Awards, in which I make up categories to celebrate my favourite movie stuff of the year.

The theme this year is surprises. I had many movie surprises. It was surprisingly surprising. Also, they inspired surprisingly long award names. So without further adieu, here are the awards:

And the award for “Most surprisingly good performance by an actor everyone recognizes but nobody knows” goes to…



A moment of tribute, please, for character actors — those guys who do piles of movies and shows over dozens of years, and everyone knows he’s that guy from that thing, but no one knows his name. Every so often, one of those guys pulls off a performance so commanding and juicy that all of a sudden everyone notices and he’s up for awards.

This year, it’s Simmons turn. You’ve seen him as Ellen Page’s sweet dad in Juno and Paul Rudd’s sweet dad in I Love You, Man, and now watch as he chews apart the scenery as a monstrous jazz teacher who verbally and physically assaults his students, all in the name of trying to produce just one player whose music will be remembered long after he’s dead (probably of a drug overdose in his 30s).

He seems to have found his match in Miles Teller’s Andrew, an aspiring jazz drummer who couldn’t agree more that greatness comes with a price. It all comes together in my third favourite ending of the year. Great film. Great performance. Best supporting actor Oscar is in the can.


You’re not a one tear guy, are you?


And the award for “Most surprisingly good performance in a movie that is so much more than my wife thinks it is but for the life of me I can’t convince her to see it with me” goes to…



OK, so Johansson is a sexpot. And she’s usually just so-so as an actress. And in this movie she plays a sexy alien who seduces men for mysterious purposes. And there are several scenes in which she peels away her clothes while seductively walking away from the camera…But it’s not what it sounds like! It’s not trashy! It’s not a re-hash of Species starring Natasha Henstridge!


Really it isn’t. It’s artful, provocative, profound and strange, and it’ll make you see the world differently. And Johannson is damn good. Really. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m saying. Come to think of it, if you have seen it, could you maybe talk to Mrs. Pal about it? I could use a little help. All she seems to expect from this movie is this:


But it’s not just this! Really!


And the award for “Most surprising documentary about a band that isn’t actually a documentary about a band but that nevertheless really makes me want to see that band in concert” goes to…



It ain’t easy being an under-achieving, bumbling schlub. It’s even harder being an under-achieving, bumbling schlub when your brother is the lead singer of one of the most adored indie rock bands around. Matt Berninger, lead singer of The National, let his brother Tom come on tour to help out with the food and equipment, and to make a little movie while he’s at it. The resulting film I suspect surprised everyone involved. Ostensibly, it’s about The National but it’s really about Tom and Matt, and it’s touching and funny and wonderful.

And even though it’s not really about the band, there is concert footage. Oh, the concert footage! And my second favourite ending of the year.

national live

Oh, you wouldn’t want an angel watching over, surprise, surprise, they wouldn’t wanna watch/Another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults


And the award for “Most surprisingly good performance in a surprisingly good movie that I never would have seen if I didn’t have a teenage daughter” goes to…


shailene woodley2

Author John Green tapped right into the teen zeitgeist with his novel about kids with cancer falling in love. I knew all about it because it made the rounds in my house but I didn’t feel a strong need to read it, or see it when it was inevitably made into a film.

But in exchange for introducing my 13-year-old to the teen movie of my time –  Breakfast Club (she loved it) – she sat me down to watch the teen movie of her time, and I don’t mind telling you…I cried a little. Yes, the movie is carefully constructed to detonate every tear duct in range, and it does go over the top at times (I’m looking at you, Anne Frank House scene), but it’s got enough snappy dialogue and brains to keep it compelling and real.

And it has Shailene Woodley, whose effortless, natural performance surprised the heck out of me, and kept the whole thing together. I’d heard of this actress — I believe she’s in lots of other teen-centric movies I’ll probably never see. I can’t wait to see what the kid’s going to do when she grows up.


Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.


And the award for “Most surprisingly awesome, loveable character who only says one thing and is voiced by an actor I never paid a moment’s attention to” goes to…



Vin Diesal starred in about 25 movies before 2014 and I didn’t give a crap about any of them. So imagine my surprise to learn that he was the voice behind the marvelous creation that is Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy.

I enjoyed Guardians, Marvel’s latest super-hero opus. It’s got a lot a more spunk and humour than these things usually have, though it also contains the usual hyper-kinetic, ultra-violent action scenes that we’re all supposed to love but usually just turn my brain to goo and make my over-stimulated eyeballs twitch.

But the best thing by far was Groot. How is it possible to find yourself dearly loving a tree that is smart enough to talk but not smart enough to know more than four words? No idea but, amazingly, Vin has something to do with it.


We are Groot. Believe it!


And the award for “Most surprisingly great sequel in a franchise that’s been around forever but I never bothered with until my son got me into it” goes to…



I’ve often thought I should check out at least one Planet of the Apes movie, but never got around to it until my 9-year-old decided that he and I were going to spend some time with the latest entry in the franchise, and boy oh boy, what a grand surprise this turned out to be — possibly the biggest surprise on this list.

It’s a sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In Dawn, battle lines between human and ape have been drawn and tensions are rising fast. There are good guys and bad guys on both sides, and it’s not easy to choose a side. “I don’t know who to cheer for” my boy said at one point. “I know!” I said excitedly, before realizing that, for him, this was not a good thing. He has a strong moral compass and likes a clear definition between good guys and bad guys. Not me — I like the grey zone.

For him, it was a lesson that right and wrong is not always clear cut. For me, it was one of the most exciting surprises of the year — ape movies are cool! We went back and watched Rise. Just as good. And though it’s been said a million times before I’m going to say it too — Andy Serkis is wicked-awesome at performance-capture acting. That damn dirty ape is a revelation.



And the evening’s final award – “Best movie without need for qualifications or explanations” – goes to…



I’ve already written about it here, so I won’t go on and on. Suffice to say Richard Linklater’s 12 year experiment moved me and thrilled me. Plus, of course, it had my favourite ending of the year.

I hope it wins every Oscar it’s up for plus a few others.


Later, Pal.

First Annual Pal-Ademy Awards: The Awesome Films of 2013

miloHey Pal:

Well, the Academy Awards are this weekend…


…and that’s a big deal for a lot of people, including myself. But you know what’s an even bigger deal?


This is where I make up categories to suit my own purposes so I can creatively reward my favourite films of last year. I have every confidence these will one day be more anticipated than the Oscars. Here we go:

Best Supporting Actor/Actress in a Movie that didn’t Deserve Him/Her:

Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club


Dallas Buyers Club is about an important and interesting subject and wants desperately to be an important and interesting film, but it isn’t. It’s disjointed and sloppy, and not nearly as emotional as it should be.

Matthew McConaughey’s solid but I wouldn’t give him a best actor award (see below for the right recipient). But then there’s the amazing Jared Leto playing a transgendered junkie who becomes McConoughey’s partner and warms his bigoted heart.

Leto has been all the talk when it comes to this movie and he deserves it. He absolutely shines. He’s also really pretty. No idea how he does it but it’s amazing.


Dear Jonah: You were a damn close second, I swear.

Best Actress You Could See:

The ladies of American Hustle


Cate Blanchett is going to win Best Actress for Blue Jasmine despite the fact that director Woody Allen is giving everyone the creeps right now, but I am just loving Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence.

Between the two of them they’ve been in every single movie made in Hollywood in the last two years, and they’re wonderful in all of them. For some, Adams will always be the little cutie in Enchanted and Lawrence will always be ass-kicking Katniss, but to these people I say blow it out your science oven and check out their transformations in the wacky and sublime American Hustle, in which they play hot-blooded disco lionesses pouncing on the same cat.

In a movie that also features award-worthy performances from two fellows – Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper – it’s the ladies who own the show.

Best Actress You Couldn’t See:

Scarlett Johannson in Her


What a stupid idea: a movie about a man who falls in love with an operating system, who actually gets it on with the voice inside his phone! Ridiculous, right?

Well, no. Not when the movie is perfectly written and directed by Spike Jonze. And not when the man is believably played to flawed but loveable perfection by Joaquin Phoenix.

And not when said operating system is voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

I’m not much of a fan of Johansson, always thought she had loads of hotness but minimum range, but she infuses her machine character with so much curiosity, wit and sexiness it makes perfect sense that Joaquin would fall in love. There’s a reason it’s called Her and not It.

I walked out of Her convinced that machines could feel and that bodies were not necessary for love. Mrs. Pal told me I was an idiot, and she’s probably right, but big fat kudos to Spike, Joaquin and especially Scarlett for temporarily persuading me such things are possible and, perhaps, imminent.

Best Actor:

Bruce Dern in Nebraska


Holy shit I love this movie. I. Love. This. Movie. And I love Bruce Dern, whose long and illustrious career had completely escaped my attention until this year.

He plays a broken old man who decides he’s won a million dollars and needs to get from Montana to Nebraska to collect his winnings. At the beginning of the film, we think we’re watching a stubborn, cantankerous old fart who barely knows where he is. By the end, we know he is so much more. Marvel at his stooped, busted walk and withered but expressive face. Then watch his eyes. There’s worlds in those eyes. I can’t remember the last time an actor communicated so much while saying so little.

Awesome. Just, awesome.

Best Showboat:

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street


Martin Scorsese’s latest tribute to manly men being beastly bad is delirious fun even if it is basically three hours of being punched in the groin and face by the same joke over and over and over again. I guess I’m a masochist because I seriously loved it.

I can’t say Leo’s hurricane of a performance resonated as deeply as Mr. Dern’s, but it must be acknowledged for what it is: a maniacal tour de force.

Two scenes come to mind:

  • A speech during which his drug-addled millionaire scam artist quits, then un-quits, while his legion of cultish employees lose their minds.
  • The already infamous Quaaludes scene, in which Leo does things with his body that should not be possible.

The guy really is amazing, a worthy successor to Robert De Niro as Martin Scorsese’s go-to dude.

Best Picture but Only in the Theatre:



If you haven’t seen Gravity yet and you plan to catch up with it on Blu-ray – don’t bother. It’s too late. There is no point. Gravity need not exist in two dimensions on your TV screen. It must be seen in 3D and it must be seen on the biggest screen imaginable. It is a ride as much as a film.

This is not a weakness of the film. Do not dismiss it as “pure spectacle”. It just happens to be a masterpiece that was designed for the big screen.

Gravity has been accused of having a too-lean plot and backstory. Nonsense. Sandra Bullock’s backstory was more than enough to get me fully invested in her ordeal of surviving a space disaster and trying to get back to Earth. A technical marvel but an extremely emotional experience also.

Something else: Director Alfonso Cuaron is director of the year. When he couldn’t find the technology he needed to make this groundbreaking movie, he invented it. He raised the moviemaking bar. If that isn’t award-worthy, what is?

Best Picture Anywhere:



I already said it above. If you haven’t seen this quiet, hilarious, heartbreaking movie about beaten down people trying to cling to any sort of hope in a depressed rural America, go see it now. It’ll snap your heart, in good ways. The scenes in the living room should get their own Academy Award. 


Two goddamn days from Billings!

Best Picture in the Future:

Inside Llewyn Davis


If there is one thing I have learned about my favourite movie-making team, the Coen Brothers, it’s that one viewing is never enough. From Blood Simple to True Grit, and the 13 movies in between, there has never been a single Coen Brothers movie I didn’t appreciate more the 2nd, 3rd or 4th time I saw it. Creepers, one and all.

You and I saw this film together, Pal, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The recording of “Please Mr. Kennedy” may be my favourite scene all year. But it wasn’t quite enough to unseat Gravity, Nebraska and Her as my top three movies. (Though I would be remiss in not pointing out Oscar’s biggest error this year – having Dallas Buyers Club up for Best Picture, but not Inside Llewyn Davis – seriously, WTF?!)

But if history is any guide, it will climb. Check back in a year or two when I’ve taken another ride on Llewyn Davis’ peculiar journey and I might just tell you it was the greatest film of 2013.

mr kennedy

Hey, isn’t that the dude from Girls?

Well, Pal, it’s become a cliché to say that 2013 was a great year for movies, but clichés often happen because they are true, and this one certainly is true. 2013 was an unbelievable year for movies (I haven’t even mentioned 12 Years a Slave, also brilliant, but I’m still processing it). Whichever film walks away with Best Picture, I can’t really complain. Unless, of course, it’s Dallas Buyers Club.

Later, Pal.