Thursday, February 21, 2019

Oscar Nominees, Short Films—Live Action and Animation

Mini-Reviews by Ken Burke

 I’ve finally been able to get well enough to leave my local neighborhood (not that Hayward, CA’s such a bad place to be, but you don’t get much of the cinematic world here beyond mainstream movies) to see 2 of the Oscar-nominated categories for short films. If you go to this site, then scroll down a bit you can find brief trailers for each of these 10 Oscar nominees noted in the cluster of mini-reviews below (along with the Documentary ones which I haven't seen).  These films are only available now in theaters but will likely be added at some point to offerings on ShortsTV which can be accessed through many on-demand-cable-providers in countries worldwide, while hundreds of short films are also available via download through such services as iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Verizon, and Frontier.  As for my Oscar predictions (in our February 6, 2019 posting), I’ve now amended those prognostications to include these Shorts categories discussed below* (I’ve also made a minor switch in Best Cinematography); tune in to the live—and long, of course—awards broadcast (ABC TV, 5pm PT, Sunday Feb. 24, 2019) to see just how insightful (or not) I was.

*Although it may be anybody’s guess as to which nominees in these contests will win because for the Documentary Feature, Foreign Language Film, and all 3 Shorts categories the only members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who can vote in any of those specific races must watch all 5 nominees for a given category so the frequent bandwagon effect for other awards isn’t as likely to be a consideration for these prizes.  If you have a lot to time to kill you can go here  to see the entire lengthy set of Oscar eligibility rules (explaining why some Shorts below are valid for 2018 consideration despite being released in their home countries in 2017), submission, and voting.

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters thusly: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
            Detainment (Vincent Lambe)  Ireland, 30 min.
  Detainment's about an actual crime in 1993 Merseyside county, UK (events near or in Liverpool) against 2-year-old toddler James Bulger, based on transcripts of police interrogation of the 2 10-year-old boys arrested for killing him (putting this story into the realm of docudramas, but that doesn’t make it a documentary film by Oscar rules, given it’s more than a “partial reenactment”).  Based on surveillance footage from a shopping mall authorities had good reason to detain Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, seeing them steal some items, then leaving the mall with James during a brief moment when his mother was distracted; testimony from people in the neighborhood confirmed the older boys walked around the area with Bulger but they did nothing about it because the kids claimed he was a lost child they were taking to a local police station.  While we see scenes of all this, most of the film’s occupied with separate interrogations of Venables and Thompson, in which they each blame the other for anything that may have happened to the child, each claiming innocence of any crime (to learn more about the realities of this situation, go here) ⇒Jon’s mother’s alternatively protective of or angry with him; if I correctly understood who’s in these frames I’d say Robert’s accompanied by an almost-silent-father when questioned by the cops.  Based on what I’ve read about the murder, James was horribly abused, likely died from skull fractures, but at least we’re not shown any of that in this film.  Thompson remained defiant throughout, yet gives us the sense he led Venables in this crime because Jon’s the one who eventually admits his role in the killing, crying desperately to Mom (although an older Jon’s the one returned to jail a couple of times for parole violation but not noted in the film, as pre-credits-text only says the boys were tried, convicted as adults).⇐  Despite all its horrific content, Detainment's a relatively quiet experience, focused on implications rather than graphic results, giving us a brutal sense of how meaningless a human life can be to those with no sense of moral decency.  It could easily take the Oscar (it’s won several awards already), but I’ve another candidate to discuss farther below in this nominees-tally.
                    Fauve (Jeremy Comte)  Canada, 16 min.
  You’ll have to deal with French subtitles here (maybe even if you speak French, as I understand the Canadian dialect centered in Quebec is often unintelligible to native European speakers) in another tale of 2 boys—also about 10, I’d say—out for an afternoon of fun and exploration.  We first see them in an abandoned train playing some sort of game where you get a point (toward a winning score of 6) for something you either do or don’t do (I didn’t really catch it; wasn’t that important in the overall plot), then they wander through the countryside to what appears to be an abandoned surface mine, but as they move away from the buildings to a small lake one of them (Tyler, I think his name is) gets caught up a bit in quicksand, frightening him somewhat even as his companion laughs at the difficulties.  Finally, the boy pulls himself loose, but when his friend wanders over close to him Tyler flips the other one into this muck as well, although he’s further toward the center of it, finding himself incapable of pulling loose.  Tyler (the shirtless one in the photo accompanying this paragraph) fails to find any solution to his buddy’s crisis as he’s being sucked further into the quicksand.  ⇒From here, the story moves in a simple-but-terrifying-direction as the trapped boy is pulled fully under the surface mud with his frantic friend running all over the place, unsuccessfully looking for help.  Later, he’s walking along a road when a woman drives by, picks him up, tries to get him to tell her who he is, what he’s doing out in this open countryside, where he’s going.  Tyler tries to say something about the sure death of his friend but can hardly get any words out.⇐  This one’s piled up an enormous number of awards already, certainly effective as an unexpected, heartbreaking situation, although a bit more impactful for setup rather than final result.  A standard translation of the title would be “wild, uninhibited” (as with the early 20th century painters—most famously Henri Matisse—called Fauvists [“Wild Beasts”] because of their bold use of color), which could refer to the attitude these boys wanted to have toward themselves or how the unexpected “wildness” of nature proves to be something these boisterous kids ultimately cannot take control of.
        Madre (Rodrigo Sorogoyen, 2017)  Spain, 19 min.
 Here’s another tale of a child in trouble, which just adds to the gloom of watching this program of Shorts, all well-made, all emotionally-impactful, but increasingly bitter to see in context of their content.  Despite being roughly as long as the others (except for Detainment, notably the maximum of this group even though its half-hour-running-time never seems unnecessarily stretched out), Madre feels like it’s much shorter than it is because the premise is so direct, the tension’s built so quickly and sustained, the ending’s such a shock.  We begin with a young woman somewhere in Spain coming into to her mother’s flat as they mildly argue about something, leaving the initial impression (at least to me) the focus will be on the older woman as the “madre” of the story.  That assumption quickly changes, though, when the daughter gets a call from her 7-year-old-son, on vacation with his father (her ex-husband) at a beach in the French Basque country.  The initially-pleasant-call quickly changes tone, though, when the boy tells her he doesn’t know where Dad is or where they are (we’ve seen a long, wide-screen pan of a deserted beach under the opening credits; that sense of audience observation-turned-to-voyeurism continues with the interior setting where the camera dollies around the comfortable, open spaces, belying such tranquility with the quickly-rising-tension of the situation).  ⇒With the mother on one phone, the grandmother on another the horror for both these parents intensifies as the boy can’t find Dad anywhere, his phone battery’s weakening, a strange man appears calling to the boy, Mom tells him to run and hide, yet when she attempts to contact the local police for help (despite not knowing exactly where her son is in the neighboring country) she’s told she must file a report before they can do anything on her behalf.  As this escalating situation comes to an abrupt halt, the boy tells Mom the man has discovered him, the boy’s phone goes dead, frantic Mom runs out the front door to drive to where she thinks she might know the location of the beach (forcing us to finish this off with a repeat of that lonely opening shot).⇐  Madre’s won many dozens of awards thus far, more than any of the other nominees, with its unexpected ending either leaving you impressed with its sudden surprise or frustrated about whatever else might need to be known about these ambiguous plot elements (that's my response).
      Marguerite (Mariane Farley, 2017)  Canada, 19 min.

 While this short film continues the wide range of sadness explored by the others in this category, at least it’s not violent (directly or implied), as the rest of them are.  Basically, it’s a simple story of a nurse doing home care (bathing, leg massages, checking of vital signs) for an elderly woman who lives alone (approaching death we’re led to assume, given the nurse’s concern about her patient’s low blood sugar level, what it could mean for the kidneys and liver).  Content-wise, this narrative is the most simple (simplistic, if you want to be harsh, but there’s no need for that given the sincere intentions of the filmmakers), straightforward of the 10 I’m commenting on here, presenting a situation more than a plot, so I can’t really say much about what happens without getting into my upcoming spoiler territory.  ⇒One day the old woman hears the nurse on a phone conversation with her lover; we learn it’s a woman as the caregiver reveals a bit about herself to her patient.  Later, we see the old woman looking through a book of equally-old-photos, all of which (as best I saw them as the pages turned) were of women (maybe just one woman; I can’t say, given the quick screen time they occupied), except the last, which was of a wedding, presumably our protagonist and her late husband.  At another time, Marguerite (I assume that’s the name of our primary character; if it was made clear, I missed it) asks the nurse what’s it’s like to make love to a woman, to which she replies “wonderful” (or something like that), leading to Marguerite revealing she was once attracted to a woman but couldn’t act on it because of the times.  As she’s lying in bed resting the nurse gets in on the other side, sort of spooning her in a caring manner, not implying there’s going to be any sexual exchange.⇐  This is a touching story addressing a sincrerely-sorrowful-loss likely shared by many LGBTQ people never able to reveal their true selves (the film actively rewarded as such with dozens of prizes) which esteemed film critic Mick LaSalle of my local San Francisco Chronicle says will win the Oscar, but I’m just not as moved by it (hard-hearted-bastard that I am) as by the others in this category, maybe because it’s a quiet, melancholy, sadly-honest statement whereas the others are seeped in variations of more cinematically-dynamic-horror so it doesn’t rattle me as much as its fellow-contenders do.  Still, it’s an authentic expression of loss and compassion, easily understood by anyone (gay or straight) whose life couldn’t follow the path it hoped to have sought.
                             Skin (Guy Nattiv)  USA, 20 min.
 What LaSalle prefers here—as do I—is the harshest one of all, not because I like such cruelty but because of what it hopes to teach about grotesque human behavior, put into some of the bluntest, most powerful terms I’ve seen on screen (press notes say a feature-length-version of Skin, starring Jamie Bell and Vera Farmiga, arrives in late 2019 [after premiering at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, winning the Fipresci Critic’s Prize], following its European debut this year at the Berlin International Film Festival).  Possibly what hit me so hard was a sense of recognition about people I knew growing up in Texas in the 1950’s-‘60s, but my 3 viewing companions had the same gut-punch-reaction even though they were all born in Oakland, CA, grew up and continue to live in the ultra-liberal SF Bay Area (which doesn’t mean there aren’t hardcore racists here too, but at least they don’t manifest themselves as publically—or as often—as others who make more disturbing headlines)Skin occurs in some small, unidentified, blue-collar town where a White, skinhead-attitude-father (even though he sports closely-cropped-hair) is at a supermarket with his 10-year-old son when he notices the boy’s made eye-contact with a Black man at another counter.   Dangerous Dad follows the man out of the store, attacks him joined by several of his thuggish friends so the victim has no chance of defense, even as his frantic wife’s trying to call 911 where help seems to be a slim option.  Later we see the hatemonger, his wife, son, and some friends at target practice on a shooting range, the kid even encouraged to use a semi-automatic assault weapon.  ⇒From here the story takes increasingly violent turns as the guy and his son find their way home one night blocked by a van; Dad gets out to take action, he’s suddenly grabbed, thrown into the van, drugged, taken to a home-laboratory of sorts.  At first, through closeups, it seems his tattoos are being modified but when the transformation’s complete we see his skin's now about as dark as any human’s can be.  He’s tossed out on a road, comes to, walks home, but the glimpses his wife gets through a window causes her to confront him with a pistol until he stumbles inside at which point she recognizes him even though she can hardly believe her eyes.  Just as she lowers her gun, we hear a shot, he drops dead, revealing the boy behind him with the military-grade-weapon.⇐  Given this father’s attitudes and actions, maybe it’s not unreasonable to see this ending as justifiable revenge as his wicked chickens come home to roost, but overall this depiction of the worst aspects of human nature is a haunting exposé of ignorant racism,* a shocking twist on a bigot’s worst nightmare.  This is my favorite of this group, as well as what I think will take the Oscar.

*A tragedy which continues to thrive, illustrated by the recent report of Alabama newspaper editor/publisher Goodloe Suttonon calling for a resurgence of the KKK and its atrocious lynchings.

 Regular readers of this blog (about the dozen of you I know from “Likes” on my weekly Facebook posts along with a few other sources, although somehow there are many 1,000s more who keep coming back here on a weekly basis according to Google—see the tallies in the image at the very end of this posting) know I prefer to end my reviews with a Musical Metaphor using the aural arts for some final commentary on whatever it is I’ve just been talking about.  Well, I'll admit I’m not creative nor energetic enough to come up with 10 of those for this posting so in the case of the Live Action cluster I’ll gladly offer you a marvelous Simon and Garfunkel song from their Bookends album (1968), called “Save the Life of My Child” at, which is certainly metaphorical where a couple of these films are concerned (especially Marguerite, more about a woman approaching death mourning the “child” of her younger self, never being able to be honest about her true sexual longings) but more direct regarding the others, not about a child jumping off a tall building (as in the song) but about children actually gone (Fauve), probably lost for good (Madre), or whose souls are dead in either a wicked environment (Skin) or the uncaring moment of spontaneous cruelty (Detainment), in all cases resulting in “desperate mother[s] onscreen or off crying “Save the life of my child!”  (I’ll also note before moving on that while I’ve arranged these nominees by their alphabetical listing the theatrical program of Animation deviates from that a little to put Animal Behavior as the third one shown to inject some humor into the flow of sentiment/melancholy of the other entries; the screened Live Action program’s more diverse, starting with Madre, followed by Fauve, relaxing a bit in tension with Marguerite, then flows into a climax with Detainment and Skin.)
           Animal Behavior (Alison Snowden, David Fine)
           Canada, 14 min.
 Imagine a group therapy session conducted by a dog (Dr. Clement [who admits he's worked to overcome his addiction to sniffing other dogs' butts]) where the members are all other animals—a slug (I think) upset with her mate, a female praying mantis annoyed with her lack of a love life (due to eating her mates), a disturbed bird (whose problems stem from disgust at having to eat worms as a baby [I think; where I saw this one the sound was noticeably lower]), a cat with hairball problems (sympathetically-noted as obsessive-compulsive disorder), a pig with an eating disorder who keeps visiting the snack table but tries to hide his plate when anyone comments on his nibbling—whose already-fragile-decorum’s upset by the arrival of angry ape Victor, in complete denial of his temper ⇒until he goes on a rampage triggering an attack from Dr. Clement, resulting in Victor throwing a stick-like piece of destroyed furniture out the window chased by the dog seemingly to disaster.  This calms Victor down, Dr. Clement climbs back through the window, Victors cries as he admits he’s tired of being assumed to be an aggressive bully because of his size, but just as he’s finding relief in opening up time expires on the session so they all have to leave.  Out in the hallway the praying (or is it “preying”?) mantis asks Victor if he’s got any plans tonight.⇐  The animation’s effectively simple here, there’re some effective comic interchanges among the group, with the temporarily-scary-hostility from Victor quickly restored to order, although the entire situation’s based on a cluster of expected-stereotype-situations which does get a bit long even for a short film.  It’s cute but quickly forgotten as others roll by; so far it’s won about a dozen awards at various festivals.
                               Bao (Domee Shi)  USA, 8 min.
 This is set in a Chinese immigrant community in Canada (I learned this from the press materials in that first site I noted above; I wouldn’t say it’s information clear from or essential to a viewing)—home for most of her life for Shi, the first female writer-director of a Pixar short—where an aging woman longing for a child suddenly has a magical encounter with a little dumpling who pops to life, grateful for her affection.  She shares all aspects of her days with him, where’s he’s sometimes energetically-distracted but essentially a good son although he quickly grows into adolescence, becomes withdrawn from her, spends too much time with his rowdy friends, then comes home one day with a blonde woman whom he’s just married.  ⇒As he attempts to grab his suitcase, then leave home for good, broken-hearted Mom eats him in a fit of anger, then sobs uncontrollably.  At this point, the situation shifts into a more-realistic-mode as Dad sees her sorrow, encourages their actual young adult son to come visit Mom so they reconnect with the last scene being the 3 of them together with the blonde wife where the new bride succeeds in making dumplings.⇐  Bao offers a cute idea which transforms into melancholy, shock, then easy resolution, moving me a bit less in the end than how it starts out (this is the only Short Film Oscar finalist I’d previously seen until last week, running before The Incredibles 2 [Brad Bird, 2018; review in our June 21, 2018 posting] last summer, where I liked it a bit better then because it’s hard to respond to it in the same manner when the fundamental surprise is known).  Animation style is of the usual superb Pixar standard (although more cartoony than some of their work), holding a solid probability of winning this Oscar.
                      Late Afternoon (Louise Bagnall, 2017)  
                      Ireland, 10 min
 An elderly woman, Emiy, gets a cup of tea from her caretaker, Kate, as the much younger woman goes about packing up things in the house.  Emily, inspired by a chunk of biscuit floating in her teacup, then later paging through a book or looking at a photo of herself and (presumably) her deceased-husband has various memory-swirls of herself as a girl on the beach with her father and other times from her past ⇒ending with her now the mother of her own little daughter who uses a stick to carve her name, Kate, in the sand, which, back in the present helps Emily push through the fog of her intermittent dementia to realize this helpful caretaker is that joyous daughter now grown up.⇐  The animation style’s purposely simple here to more easily blend the actual present with the remembered past, producing a sweet, sentimental statement easily appreciated by anyone with an aging, facilities-declining spouse, relative, or friend, a message always appreciated but possibly done more effectively, with a different focus, in the opening montage of Pixar’s feature Up (Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson, 2009) as elderly widower Carl Fredricksen remembers the joy he shared with his late wife, prior to setting out on a final adventure in her memory.  Late Afternoon presents us with an reaffirmation that never falls out of style, but, for me, it evaporates after one viewing in the same way as often does Emily’s awareness of herself and her surroundings.  Many other viewers find it more lasting than that, though, as it’s already won several festival awards worldwide.
 One Small Step (Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas) 
 USA and China, 8 min.
 Sentiment’s at the heart of One Small Step too as a Chinese-American father, Chu (although his appearance reminds me more of Geppetto from Disney’s Pinocchio [too many directors to cite, 1940]), a cobbler, and his young daughter, Luna, live in San Francisco where the child’s fascinated by space travel, longs to one day be an astronaut..  The animation style’s a bit more refined here (more evoking Disney and Pixar than the others so far in this program of contenders), with quick scene changes to indicate Luna’s growth into adolescence as her father quietly repairs the various shoes his daughter wears out in her energetic approach to life.  However, once she gets to an astrophysics college she doesn’t devote enough time to her studies, makes poor grades, is turned down in her application for astronaut training⇒Luna mopes around, doesn’t pay much attention to Dad until one day she returns home from her classes to find her father’s not at the kitchen table where he always sits, doing his work; again, through quick cuts we realize he’s dead which inspires Luna (after she finds a box of her old repaired shoes) to buckle down in her studies, leading to academic success, acceptance for astronaut training upon another application, eventually becoming part of the program where she joins a voyage to the moon, thinking back lovingly on Chu.⇐  Despite my ambivalent attitude toward the parent-child-bonding here (I see it as a nice experience but highly-predictable, not even sure if Luna’s discovery of the box of shoes is a surprise to her [if so, why hadn’t Chu given them back to her earlier?] or just the needed inspiration to push her out of her doldrums), an enormous number of festivals have given this Short some sort of “Best” award or at least accepted it for screening, so maybe I’m becoming just as much of an old codger as Carl is in Up (see my Marguerite review).  Anyway, it’s pleasant, just nothing all that great.
                   Weekends (Trevor Jimenez) USA, 15 min.
  In contrast, Weekends is considerably more challenging in its subject matter, exploration of that content, animation style, and overall impact, making it the one I prefer (just a bit more than Bao) of this group of nominees.  Set in 1980 Toronto (Jimenez is originally from Canada)—again, the era only clear to me from press notes, although skyline shots of the city clearly indicate the location—we follow the dialogue-less life of a young boy sharing his weekends with his wealthy father, who lives in an upscale, high-rise apartment, while his weekdays are spent with Mom in decidedly less-luxurious-surroundings as she struggles as a single parent, studying for an accounting degree (she also has something wrong with her neck as she wears a brace on it throughout this story).  Dad’s kind to the boy as they eat takeout food surrounded by his collection of Japanese armor and swords, with the additional luxury of what seems to be a carousel horse in the kid's bedroom looking out over the city’s night lights, a place which inspires him into swirling dreams or flights of surreal fantasy as objects float all over the place, just as he flows from home to home.  ⇒Over time, both parents take on new lovers but with different results as Dad marries his lady while Mom’s guy turns abusive until she’s rid of him.  By the end of our hauntingly-constructed-story, Dad’s moving out of his place to be with the new wife somewhere else, giving us the sense the son won’t be visiting such a site of material luxury of his own in the future, although Mom’s now got her degree with her small environment becoming more accommodating (or maybe just finished, as earlier scenes showed a bare room where the kid decorates the walls with his multi-colored-paint-handprints).⇐  This style’s more abstracted than Bao but less cartoony than Animal Behavior or Late Afternoon, kept constantly in motion by the swift change of scenery and the boy’s imaginings of his never-stable-world.  I found both content and approach to be fascinating, as have the award-givers at many festivals.  It’s my choice for the Oscar, although I assume the statuette goes to Bao.

 (Now you have my predictions for the 2 categories above you might be interested in thoughts on Best Picture from The New York Times and the whole Oscar enchilada from Variety, neither offering much support for many of my predictions in that link I noted up there in the first paragraph.)
 The entire running time of this program is just about 1 hour so the ShortsTV folks have pushed it up for the theatrical showings to about 90 min. by adding 2 more they call Highly Recommended, the first one being Wishing Box (USA, didn’t catch the director, can’t find any further info about it) set on a pirate ship with only 1 pirate (and his monkey), a guy disappointed to open a treasure box yet finding it empty, but then the monkey reaches in, gets a banana.  The pirate tries again to no avail, even as the monkey keeps coming up with a variety of fruits.  ⇒Greed increasing, the pirate draws pictures of what he’d like the monkey to retrieve, yet none of it’s what he wants until he yanks a gold tooth out of his mouth to show his pet.  This treasure the monkey can get, then starts shoveling up mounds of gold teeth to the pirate’s delight until their weight sinks the ship.  At the end, they’re floating on a piece of driftwood when the fruit pops to the water’s surface so they both enjoy a bite.⇐  The real treasure for me, though, is Tweet Tweet (Russia) where the animation’s realistic but the storyline’s abstracted as the constant presence on screen is a line running from left to right, starting as a clothesline a little bird perches on, soon to be joined by a baby (all we see are the legs), turning into a girl, then a young woman, joined by a young man (the bird’s always there too) whose bare feet are suddenly in boots as a PA speaker says something about war (the clothesline turns into barbed wire but the effect’s one continuous shot, not edits), ⇒followed by a telegram to her about his death, then—after a quick montage indicating the passage of decades—her elderly legs finally reaching the end of the (snow-covered) rope (a bit of a visual pun).  The bird initially succeeds in keeping her from jumping to whatever comes next, but then she does, leaving him alone to work his way back to an initial clothespin until a little snow’s thrown at him from screen right, so he flies off in that direction.⇐  I was really moved by this one (would give it 4 stars in an actual review), sad to see it’s not in the Oscar finals (where it could easily replace One Small Step).

 Paul Simon helps me find an almost-inclusive-Musical Metaphor for this group of short films as well (except for Animal Behavior, although some might prefer to trace all therapy discussions back to foundational-Freudian-concerns about children’s traumatic relationships to Mama) with “Mother and Child Reunion” (from his 1972 Paul Simon album) found at sDf0dxY, given the direct applications to Bao, Late Afternoon, and One Small Step, along with how the kid we see in Weekends finds greater peace with his Mom than his Dad, despite all those material comforts he indulged in with his father.  You might also enjoy watching a live version of this melodic Simon song, taken from the relatively-recent-conclusion of his energetic farewell tour last year (which I was so happy to see in Oakland, CA); then it flows into another song about parents and children but this content’s not-so-joyful in “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” (from the same album; be advised the whistling on this video sounded better when you were at the concert) which might get us back to some of the underlying parental problems (especially for that frantic, neurotic birdie) in Animal Behavior after all.

 In closing I’ll note I have recommendations from my long-time contributor in Texas, Richard Parker, and one of my usual weekend viewing companions here in northern CA, Jim Graham (the former knows battlefields first hand, the latter's a history major back in college) to see They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson’s extraordinary project of using century-old, black & white, silent footage of WW I British soldiers which he enhanced, colorized, and added dialogue to either from recordings of the time or current actors speaking the words being mouthed on-screen (verified by lip-readers) to bring these people alive for us contemporary viewers.  Apparently, it’s an amazing experience that shouldn’t be missed (99% positive RT reviews, 91% average RT score) so I’ll encourage you to see it as soon as you can (if you can; after being in release for 9 weeks it’s now in only 626 domestic [U.S.-Canada] theaters), which may be before I get to it given other events soon scheduled for me (it’s available on DVD, though; maybe also through other video options).  If They Shall Not Grow Old is as great as it seems to be you’d think it’d be an Oscar contender but for documentary features the application has to be in by October 1 of the current release year (which it missed), yet it’s still a 2018 film so it can’t be considered next winter along with actual 2019 releases (as the old saying reminds us: “No good deed goes unpunished.”).  For now I can offer you the trailer and a short clip (4:17) from this unique, probably extraordinary cinematic experience (Jim tells me about 30 of the roughly 90 min. features Jackson explaining his production methods).
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AND … at least until the Oscars for 2018’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 24, 2019 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2018 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards 
and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the current Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2018 along with the Oscar nominees for 2018 films.

Here’s more information about 2019 Oscar-Nominated Short Films:

(a very short [1:07] promo for all 3 categories: Animation, Documentary, Live Action)

(a review of the Live Action Shorts) (I didn’t make any commentary above on the Oscar-nominated Documentary 
Shorts because I haven’t seen any of them, but here’s one opinion for your edification
although 2 other predictions I've seen claim Black Sheep will win this prize.)

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 55,288 (as always, we thank all of you for your support with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:

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