Totally Gnarly Notes – Excellent!

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Wayne’s World which is actually set in my home town of Aurora, IL.  Excellent!  Party On Wayne!

These two are too cute!

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How La La Land reworks Casablanca.  Why A-List actresses avoid Rom-Coms – is it the curse of Katherine Heigl?  Speaking of Rom-Coms, here’s a list of 34 of the best Rom Coms of the past decade and where to stream them.  Move over Spielberg and Scorsese, there’s some new kids taking over the town.  Where you can stream some of the Oscar nominated films this month.  Hasidic actor conquers Sundance.  Model trains!  The history of The Black List.  Cards Against Humanity is looking for a very special new employee.

Not to get TOO political…. but Lin-Manuel Miranda has made us a Spotify Playlist.  11 Essential movies about refugees and immigrants (I need to see A Separation!) This twitter account takes me to a welcome alternate reality:

Speaking of Hidden Figures, these girls dressing up for their school project brings me such joy:

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Have you seen La La Land yet?  Those of us in Chicago have STRONG feelings about it:

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My Top 10 Hollywood Films of 2016

Tomorrow, Tuesday, January 24th, is one of my personal holidays.  Oscar nomination announcement day!  And while I’m late, I’m just under the wire before those announcements to give you my personal list of my top Hollywood films of 2016.  Apologies for getting to this later in January than I’d hoped.  My father was in the hospital for almost two full weeks.  Fortunately, he’s doing better, and I’m glad to be thinking of movies again instead of ICU and breathing tubes.

A major caveat is that I have not been able to see some of the films of 2016 that came out very late in the year for Oscar season.  Especially with my father’s illness, I have not seen Silence, Jackie, or Fences yet, just to name a few.

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1. La La Land

Did you have any doubt after this rapturous review describing my tears of joy, that La La Land would be my favorite film of the entire year?  I live and breathe movie musicals, and Damien Chazelle reviving the genre in Hollywood is my dream come true.  My love of musicals are why I love Indian Cinema so much (I’ll be posting a separate top list for Indian Cinema).  La La Land garnered a record number of Golden Globes with seven, and could make history tomorrow with a shattering 15 Oscar nominations.  With a musical, you add in song, score, etc. to all the traditional categories.  The previous record number of nominations would be 14 (All About Eve and Titanic).  Could it sweep?  Maybe….

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2. Moonlight

Moonlight is a movie that has really stayed with me.  I have been frankly amazed at how well this film has done.  I’m not sure it will resonate with the average Academy member (white, male and over 65), but it really did with me.  I’m crossing my fingers that it gets lots of nominations, especially for director Barry Jenkins and that Mahershala Ali wins Supporting Actor.  He was amazing.

manchesterbythesea_trailer3. Manchester By The Sea

I was privileged to attend the premiere of Kenneth Lonnergan’s Manchester By The Sea at Sundance last January.  I didn’t know what I was about to see, just that I had to see the latest film by the man who made You Can Count On Me.  I didn’t know that Casey Affleck was going to rip my heart out with his devastating performance.  Viewers now know that this is a sad film, but it has wonderful moments of comedy, especially with Affleck’s relationship with his nephew, played by Lucas Hedges, who I hope will get an Oscar nod tomorrow morning.

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4. Captain Fantastic 

Captain Fantastic may be a career best performance for Viggo Mortenson, as the father of six children, determined to home school them completely off the grid in the wilderness of the Northwest.  I hope and pray that Viggo gets recognition tomorrow with an Oscar nomination.  The film has kind of fallen of the radar, except that Viggo’s performance cannot be denied.  I strongly urge you to give this film a chance.  It’s available for rental on Amazon, Youtube, etc.  It was one of my favorites from Sundance last year.

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5. The Lobster

I loved every absurd moment of The Lobster.  Colin Farrell was amazing.  Highly recommend, and it’s now included with Amazon Prime.

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6. Deadpool

Oh, my goodness, I did not realize how stale the superhero movie genre had become until the fresh air of Deadpool.  Ryan Reynolds was made for this role, and aren’t we all so glad he fought so hard to win this role and get the movie made.  Second favorite thing about the movie is the snarling teenage girl X-men.  Love her!!  It’s a great film to rewatch as there is just so many little nuggets of goodness to catch.

7. Hunt For the Wilderpeople

You MUST see Hunt For the Wilderpeople.  Taika Waititi, the writer director has created a comic masterpiece about a young Maori foster kid and the ultimate curmudgeon, Sam Neill.  I feel so much better about the upcoming Thor movie, because Taika Waititi is a comic genius.   It’s included with a Hulu subscription right now, and also available to rent online.  You’ll thank me.

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8. Hell or High Water

Such a fantastic script for Hell or High Water.  Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges were particularly good.

9. Ali and Nino

I saw this sweeping historical love story epic, directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia (Amy), at Sundance.  It only got a limited release, but it’s available to rent on demand.  It has a script by  screenwriter Christopher Hampton who wrote Atonement.  I could eat this movie with a spoon, it’s just so wonderful.  Ali and Nino tells the story of a Muslim prince of Afghanistan who falls in love with a Christian young woman (her father is played by Mandy Patinkin).  It’s set in the time of World War I, and I had no idea that Afghanistan was almost at democracy.  The movie was filmed just across the border in Turkey and the scenery is just stunning.

arrival210. Arrival

Choosing a last film of a top ten feels very arbitrary because there were a couple of films that were all about equal for me.  This could also easily be Zootopia, which I really enjoyed.  But I’m picking Arrival for Amy Adams’ wonderful performance.  This is the kind of Sci-fi movie I enjoy, one that makes you think.  Amy Adams sells you on this movie, and hip hip hurray, it was so much her movie.  Jeremy Renner was very much the supporting actor.  Linguist Amy Adams led the team who tried to communicate with the aliens, although  my brother pointed out that you didn’t really see her lead her team in an active way.  I hope Amy gets an Oscar nomination for this wonderful film tomorrow morning.

 

 

La La Land – This movie is so glorious I actually cried tears of joy in the theater

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I knew I was going to love La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s new film musical, but I wasn’t really ready for how it made me feel watching it in the theater today.  Damien Chazelle blew me away with Whiplash, an intense movie about a jazz drummer which opened Sundance a few years ago, and garnered J. K. Simmons a Supporting Actor Oscar.  The success of Whiplash let him make the musical movie he’d always dreamed of.

I went to see La La Land alone today because I. Could. Not. WAIT, but I will be dragging everyone I can to go see it on the big screen.  I want to see it as many times as I possibly can.  Critics have swooned, even Manohla Dargis wrote about how swept away she was watching it the second time.

I love movie musicals.  I live and breathe them.  I fell hard for Fred Astaire, adore Gene Kelly and the list goes on.  Those films of the past had magic.  Yes, they were earnest and wore their heart on their sleeve, but can anything convey like a song that heavenly feeling of falling in love?  Musicals have fallen out of fashion in cynical Hollywood as of late.  They are rare or you have to watch a Disney animated film to see one.  I have turned to Indian films to get my musical fix.

 

Today, in the theater, Damien Chazelle gave me the most precious gift.  He gave me a Hollywood musical, steeped in the traditions and with a love for Hollywood musicals of the past, and also fresh and adult and modern.  The movie made me smile from the first frames as an LA traffic jam leads to people getting out of their cars to dance and sing.

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Then we meet Emma Stone’s Mia, a struggling actress and Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian, a struggling Jazz piano player.  They run into each other a few times and banter before this glorious spontaneous dance:

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How gorgeous is that shot?!  The sunset on the hills, her yellow dress and red hair.  How they have those matching shoes.

There are bumps along the way, but one night they go to the Griffith Observatory after seeing Rebel With A Cause.  And then they fall in love, and the music takes them up into the stars.  I seriously started crying tears of joy at this.  I didn’t just choke up.  Tears were running down my face I was so happy.

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I loved all the camera tricks that Chazelle uses.  He’s studied the masters and gone even a step further.  This is a film where Damien Chazelle takes the every day and makes it part of a musical number.  We meet Mia’s roommates and a blow dryer gives Mia a moment worthy of a Bollywood number:

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People don’t just walk down the street to a party – they do this:

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I was only hoping for a few big musical dance numbers, but this a full fledged musical film with songs and dances throughout from start to finish.  The music is all original by Justin Hurwitz who also provided the score for Whiplash.  Ryan Gosling’s character is a jazz musician who is always composing and working on his music, so it makes sense in the film for moments like this one:

 

This is hands down my favorite film of the year.  It’s about a guy and a gal falling in love and struggling to make their dreams come true.  Maybe it doesn’t have the weight of Manchester by the Sea, or the important issues of a film like Moonlight.  But I cried more than once — for joy and for the beauty of it all.  That final sequence just left me again in tears it was so perfect.  So beautiful.  So bittersweet.  This is not a saccharine sappy film.

Chazelle fought hard to get this cast.  He had to really convince Emma Stone to make the leap and she didn’t make it easy.  Ryan Gosling took piano lessons for months so that he could convincingly play the piano in the film without editing cheats.  Gosling and Stone have shown in films like Crazy, Stupid Love that they have that X factor chemistry between them.  This film was almost cast with Miles Teller and Emma Watson.   Thank God Stone and Gosling became available — Emma Stone is likely to win an Oscar nomination for this film.

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La La Land is romance at its best.  Damien Chazelle has captured magic in bottle.  I plan to partake again and again.

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David Ehrlich’s Top 25 Films of 2016

David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich) is the Rolling Stone Movie Critic. We met him briefly this last Sundance in line for a movie, but I didn’t realize he was the onscreen_shot_2012-05-26_at_12-12-33_am_400x400e who makes these videos every year that I adore. I just love the music choices and his editing.

But as to his top 25 list, I haven’t been to all the festivals that he has, or seen even half these films. I have a feeling La La Land which comes out Friday will be my number one of the year, and right now it’s the front runner for the Oscar. It has been getting ecstatic reviews from just about everyone who’s seen it — a musical with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling by the same director who did Whiplash. Ehrlich had La La Land in his top 10, but it was number 8 for him.
 
Manchester by the Sea would be my number two film (if La La Land is 1) and he has that all the way down at 18. Moonlight is his number one, and it is for many critics. It’s probably my number 3 film of the entire year. It’s absolutely incredible (review coming soon).
 
I have not seen Scorsese’s Silence or Jackie which will come out later this month. I would also put The Lobster in my top 10 of the year, possibly my top five. I loved every absurd moment of that film.
Here’s his 2015 video:

The Return of the Hollywood Musical with La La Land

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Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, wrote an article last week about La La Land and the state of the Hollywood Musical:  ‘La La Land’ Makes Musicals Matter Again

The first time I watched Damien Chazelle’s musical, La La Land, I thought a lot about how it worked, about its form, his craft and how the lickable candy-colored costumes bring to mind both M&M’s and Jacques Demy.  I thought about how Mr. Chazelle and his stars, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, fit into the history of the film musical. When I went to see La La Land again, I was in a terrible state, and this time I just fell into it, gratefully. I surrendered. Afterward, I realized that this is what it must have been like to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers during the Great Depression.

I have a passion for musicals.  Back in the day  — gather children and hear about the dark ages before DVDs – I would set my alarm to get up in the middle of the night when an old Fred Astaire movie was playing on TV.  Then we got a VCR and I’d tape them to watch over and over.  It was pure magic.  The dance becoming part of the expression of the characters that she describes in La La Land is just what I found in Astaire/Rogers numbers like ‘Night And Day’ from my favorite of their films, The Gay Divorcee.  That exquisite Cole Porter music, and their magical romance through movement.

I watched the Gene Kelly musicals, too, but Fred was my first love.  He even dances in roller skates with Ginger in ‘Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off’ in Shall We Dance.

Hollywood has done musicals in the modern era — God bless you Baz Luhrmann for your crazy wonderful movies like Moulin Rouge.

And there have been the sporadic adaptations of Broadway hits, like the dark cynical Chicago and the recent Into the Woods.  (Which gives me the perfect excuse to include my favorite song from Into the Woods, the ‘Agony’ duet of Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen.)

 

There has really only been a sporadic spotty record of musicals from Hollywood in recent years, and not the steady diet I craved.

Then, I discovered Indian Cinema, and that void in my life was finally filled.  For others, the music numbers are an excuse to visit the bathroom, but they are the main event for me.  I love the earnest love stories and the emotions, and just ….ALL of it.  I love the BIG numbers, and the intimate duets in mustard fields.

 

Contemporary American movies could use more s’wonderful, more music and dance, and way, way more surrealism. They’re too dull, too ordinary, and too straight, whether they’re mired in superhero cliches or remodeled kitchen-sink realism.  One of the transformative pleasures of musicals is at even at their most choreographed, they break from conformity, the dos and don’ts of regimented life, suggesting the possibility that everyone can move to their own beat.

Amen, sister.  Amen.

Manohla talks about Damien Chazelle’s passion for the old musicals I love, the Fred and Ginger movies, the Gene Kelly masterpieces.  Every article I’ve read about La La Land just raves and raves that “they don’t make movies like this anymore.”  Thank God someone in Hollywood finally is….again.  I. Can’t. WAIT!  December 9th can not come fast enough.