Best Picture Winners by Year – Part One

It was just two weeks ago that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced the 2017 films, film stars, and filmmakers that were nominated for Academy Awards. There weren’t many surprises, certainly not among the nine films nominated for Best Picture, among them “The Shape of Water,” which leads the race with a not-quite-record-setting 13 nominations, followed by “Dunkirk” with eight and “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” with seven.

You can watch for my predicting-the-winners post closer to Oscar night, which this year isn’t until Sunday, March 4th. I will wax poetic at that time about who I think will win, as well as who I think should win. For now, I’m still trying to catch up on some of the nominees, particularly in the categories of Best Documentary Feature and Best Foreign Film.

In the meantime, I’ve had a chance to write up a summary review of the previous 89 winners of the Best Picture Oscar. If this seems like a lot of work, know that I first had the idea last year, but it literally took me 12 months to gather my thoughts, and to rewatch some of the winners in question.

Continue reading “Best Picture Winners by Year – Part One”

Top Ten Films of 2017

2017 was a rather unusual year for movies. For one thing, there were more good movies released than in most other years; I almost made my top ten list a top *twenty* list. (I still did, sort of. Read on.) For another thing, half of the top ten list could easily have been filled by comic book movies; no fewer than three did make the final list. For another thing still, there were many good movies but not many great ones.

The much anticipated “Blade Runner” sequel was every bit as good as I hoped it would be and in some ways better, but then again, it clocked in at almost three hours and I know it didn’t need to be that long. “The Last Jedi,” the eighth film in the “Star Wars” saga – ninth if you include the stand-alone sorta-prequel “Rogue One,” featured more action and more characters than 2015’s disappointing “The Force Awakens,” but it also had sequences that went nowhere and plot holes that didn’t make much sense. “Dunkirk,” that sure-to-sweep-the-Oscars WWII epic from “The Dark Knight” and “Inception” director Christopher Nolan, had several moments of cinematic brilliance, but also bombastic sound mixing, bland casting, and unmemorable characters.

GringoPotpourri’s Top Ten Films of 2017:

Continue reading “Top Ten Films of 2017”

Still Another Ten Great Horror Movies (#31-40)

I love movies from all decades, and the fact that a movie was filmed in black-and-white is not enough to prevent me from seeing it. Those old Universal monster movies, starring Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, and others, are especially re-watchable. Favorites include “Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Mummy,” the latter of which is leagues better than this past summer’s Tom Cruise misfire of the same name. It wasn’t long ago that TCM aired the original “The Invisible Man,” starring Claude Rains as the title character. The special effects during the moments when Rains removes the bandages over his now-transparent face are phenomenal, and I can only imagine how horrifying that must have been to see on the big screen in 1933.

Of course, “The Invisible Man” is tame by today’s standards. Few horror films made before 1970 hold up today as viable scary movies, which makes it interesting that, when I published my first top ten list on this subject four years ago, I declared Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” released in 1960, to be the genre’s all-time best. I did make sure to include a couple of old movies in my latest top ten list, although the oldest one, 1973’s “The Wicker Man,” is still four decades newer than “The Invisible Man.” On a more contemporary note, one of the entries, “Get Out,” was released just seven months ago!

Enough explaining! Below is my latest list – the fourth in a series – of great horror movies, ten at a time:

Continue reading “Still Another Ten Great Horror Movies (#31-40)”

The “It” Movie Event of the Season Falls Short of Greatness

This past Friday I did something that I haven’t done in far too long: I saw a movie in the theater on opening day. The movie: “It: Chapter One.”

When the first YouTube trailer was released, download records were broken and a buzz formed around the movie, a buzz that has never really died down. This fact, coupled with my being a fan of the 1990 ABC-TV miniseries and the 1986 novel, which I’ve read three times, had me go in to Andy Muschietti’s (“Mama”) film with high hopes (and an 18-inch gourmet pretzel to snack on).

My full review follows, but in a word: meh. Continue reading “The “It” Movie Event of the Season Falls Short of Greatness”

Comparing the “Alien” Films

I sometimes pepper the travel content of this blog with movie critiques. See, I was a movie geek long before I became a travel geek, and both activities appeal to the dreamer inside me. (I have even penned a few screenplays – of varying degrees of ineptitude.)

The “Alien” films, which began with 1979’s simply-titled “Alien,” comprise one of my favorite movie universes. Not only do they generally have above-average writing and acting, but their art direction and creature design are state of the art. And what kind of traveling journeyman hasn’t dreamed of spending months or years in peaceful cryo-sleep, en route to a new world?!

This past weekend marked the release of “Alien: Covenant,” the sixth film in the franchise. So far, it has all the hallmarks of a box office disaster, although it will still turn an eventual profit following its overseas release. I don’t consider the cheeky “AVP” (“Alien vs. Predator”) movies part of the immediately family, but I will share my thoughts about the six core “Alien” films in the following paragraphs.

Yes, there will be SPOILERS.

Continue reading “Comparing the “Alien” Films”

Oscar 2016-17 – predicting the winners

Behold, it is Oscar time again. Jimmy Kimmel will be hosting the 89th annual Academy Awards, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brie Larson, Mark Rylance, and Alicia Vikander – last year’s winners in the acting categories – will be among the presenters.

The nominated films this year run quite the gamut. “Arrival,” which finds linguists decoding an alien language, is out of this world – literally! “Fences,” about the literal and figurative fences we erect in our lives, is a powerhouse of emotions. “Hacksaw Ridge” inspires and mortifies with its gory depictions of Pacific Theater heroics in World War II. “Hell or High Water,” a western disguised as a heist movie, sets the film’s stakes by the title alone. “Hidden Figures,” revolving around a trio of African-American female NASA scientists, makes math cool again. “La La Land,” an old-fashioned musical set in modern day Los Angeles, aims for the stars…of the Griffith Park Observatory, if nothing else. “Lion,” about an Indian boy who has lost his way, hearkens back to 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire”…which won eight Oscars. “Manchester by the Sea” sounds British but is as American as movies get, detailing the five stage of grief. Finally, “Moonlight” shows what it must be like to grow up poor, black, fatherless, and gay.

Which movies will Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters choose to honor? Continue reading for my predictions…and enjoy the show!

Best Picture

Nominees:
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Continue reading “Oscar 2016-17 – predicting the winners”

Top Ten Films of 2016

Last year wasn’t a good year for movies. It seemed that every other weekend saw the release of a second-rate animated film, or of yet another superhero sequel. I still haven’t seen “Moana” (which, as it happens, garnered strong reviews) or “X-Men: Apocalypse” (which did not).

There were several bright spots, however. Most of them came late in the year, and by the usual troupe of go-to writers, actors, and directors. Robert Zemeckis teamed up with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard for “Allied,” a throwback to classics like “Casablanca.” (If only it was shot in black-and-white.) Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks worked together for the first time on “Sully,” one of the shorter – and better – movies of the year. Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Amy Adams, Jeff Bridges, Emma Stone, and Michael Keaton all showed up…some of them (the five-times-nominated Ms. Adams, for one) more than once!

Two trends revealed themselves as the nominations were announced: films starring minorities, and films based on actual events. “Hidden Figures” introduced us to the black women who worked, unheralded for many years, on NASA’s computing team, while “Loving” showed us what went down when a white man married to a black woman was told that he and his wife could not live in Virginia. Both movies took place in the same state, and around the same decade, and the events depicted in them really happened. Stylistically, however, they couldn’t be more different.

“Hidden Figures” and “Loving” each earned slots on my top ten list for the year. They are joined by eight other worthy films…three of which, like the two mentioned above, are based on actual events!

GringoPotpourri’s Top Ten Films of 2016:

Continue reading “Top Ten Films of 2016”

Onward and Upward: Four Years of Blogging

November has, thus far, been rife with disappointment. On a personal level, I have slowly been making peace with my mother’s passing, less than two months ago, while weathering a relationship break-up that felt like a sucker punch. Regarding the former, it took several weeks to even register the fact that my mom was gone. As for the latter, I’ve been trying to assess what I must have done wrong, but am slowly coming to the conclusion that I will never know for sure. All I can say is that I haven’t been sleeping well.

On the world stage – and for the second occurrence in my lifetime – the better candidate for the United States Presidency won the popular vote but lost the election. And the other day, I logged onto social media to learn that one of my favorite mood poets, Leonard Cohen, had passed away at age 82.

At times like these, I tend towards the melancholy. I spent much of yesterday doing some archiving and came across a few blog posts from 2013. I realized that it was Election Day, 2012, when I moved to Mexico City and established gringopotpourri.com. My blog has changed a lot over the years. For one thing, the writing is better now than it was then. Darker, perhaps, but also better. The regionality of the content has also shifted from being mostly Mexico-focused to being largely Tennessee-focused.

To “celebrate” my blog’s four-year anniversary, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite posts for you, along with comments on how those posts either came to be or how they hold up today. And as always: Thanks for reading!

Continue reading “Onward and Upward: Four Years of Blogging”

Even More Great Horror Movies (#21-30)

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I love top ten lists! I have, in fact, already published two top ten lists related to scary movies. “Psycho,” “Halloween,” “The Shining,” “Friday the 13th,” and “The Sixth Sense” are just five of my favorites, and they each appeared somewhere in the (thus far) Top 20. My original lists are here and here.

It is a funny thing about horror movies, though. They seem rife not just for sequels but for remakes as well. Four of the five films mentioned above have been remade (with the original remaining superior in each instance). As I continued the list for this Halloween season with ten more scary movies, I noticed that four of those films have also been, or are currently being, remade. Additionally, one of them is the sequel to a film that was remade, while another one is a remake!

What else can be said, except to remark about the genre’s durability and profitability…and for me to share my list of ten more great scary movies:

Continue reading “Even More Great Horror Movies (#21-30)”

Ten More Great Screen Biopics (11-20)

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I recently watched an interesting pair of biopics that make for companion pieces of sorts. The first, “Unbroken,” a 2014 WWII drama directed by Angelina Jolie and taken from the book by Lauren Hillenbrand, reintroduces the world to Louis “Louie” Zamperini, the Torrance, CA-born long distance runner who made a splash at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 before joining the war effort, crashing into the Pacific, and spending two years in a Japanese POW camp. The second film, 2016’s “Race,” details the struggles of Ohio State graduate and African American track-and-field athlete Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at those same Berlin Olympics – a new world record that made one Adolf Hitler none too pleased.

The two films complement each other in several ways. First, in “Unbroken,” we see a brief glance at the face of a black athlete in Berlin, and are supposed to assume that this is Owens. Second, both films depict, in that timeless sports drama tradition, the triumph over adversity and the struggle against impossible odds. Third – and a detriment to both films – they “whitewash” later aspects of their characters’ lives. The takeaway from Hillenbrand’s book was that Zamperini dedicated his post-WWII life to God. This fact earns barely a mention at the end of Jolie’s film. As for Owens, he battled the IRS for much of his post-Olympics life, but that subplot didn’t make the final cut of “Race.” If that small detail doesn’t make for the most exciting of dramas, it at least grounds the athlete in Everyman reality. Zamperini and Owens were just people, same as the rest of us.

A good sports drama will show us what made its subject such a remarkable athlete. A great sports drama will complement – or at least counter – the character’s physical accomplishments with humanizing (or, in the case of “Raging Bull,” the best sports biography, dehumanizing) subplots. Only boxing films seem to get it right.

My work was cut out for me last month when I came up with a top ten list of biopics – movies about the lives of real people. How do you depict a life on screen? And who is to say what makes a life worthy of having a movie made about it? Several of the films I came up were larger-than-life epics. Adventure films like “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Patton” earned a few places on the list. Others, like “Frida” and “The Imitation Game,” revolved around artists and inventors. One, the aforementioned “Raging Bull,” focused on a truly gifted – but truly monstrous – human being.

But there are more than just ten good stories out there. Here are ten more great screen biopics:

Continue reading “Ten More Great Screen Biopics (11-20)”