DVD/Stream of the Week: UNDEFEATED – an Oscar winner you haven’t seen

UNDEFEATED

With football season (finally) approaching, it’s time for a Feel Good, Oscar-winning story set on the gridiron. The extraordinary documentary Undefeated begins with a high school football coach addressing his team:

Let’s see now. Starting right guard shot and no longer in school. Starting middle linebacker shot and no longer in school. Two players fighting right in front of the coach. Starting center arrested. Most coaches – that would be pretty much a career’s worth of crap to deal with. Well, I think that sums up the last two weeks for me.

Undefeated is the story of this coach, Bill Courtney, leading his team through a season. The kids live in crushing poverty and attend a haplessly under-resourced high school in North Memphis.

Undefeated may be about a football team, but isn’t that much about football. Instead of the Xs and Os, it shows the emotional energy required of Courtney to keep each kid coming to school, coming to practice and on task. He gets many of the kids to think about goals for the first time in their lives. He is tireless, dogged and often frustrated and emotionally spent.

The film wisely focuses on three players, and we get to know them. Like the rest of the team, all three are from extremely disadvantaged homes. One is an overachiever both on the field and in the classroom, but surprisingly emotionally vulnerable. Another has college-level football talent but very little academic preparation. The third, recently back from youth prison, is impulsive, immature, selfish and extremely volatile.

Undefeated won the 2012 Oscar for Best Documentary for filmmakers Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin – but it didn’t get a wide theatrical release. It’s available now on DVD and streaming from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

The Movie Gourmet’s 2017 Oscar Dinner

HELL OR HIGH WATER
HELL OR HIGH WATER

Every year, we watch the Oscars while enjoying a meal inspired by the Best Picture nominees. For example, we had sushi for Lost in Translation, cowboy campfire beans for Brokeback Mountain and Grandma Ethel’s Brisket for A Serious Man – you get the idea. You can see some of our past Oscar Dinners on this page (including our Severed Hands Ice Sculpture in 2011 for 127 Hours and Winter’s Bone).

Here’s the menu for tonight’s Oscar Dinner.  It’s centered around a scene in Hell or High Water which rates as one of the all-time great Diner Scenes in movie history (along with Jack Nicholson ordering the chicken sandwich in Five Easy Pieces and Meg Ryan’s faked orgasm in When Harry Met Sally).

Candles and flowers from La La Land: It’s not clear what food Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is serving Mia (Emma Stone) in his apartment, but he had gone to great lengths create a romantic setting. (That dinner doesn’t go well.)

T-bone Steak, baked potato and green beans from the ancient cafe waitress (Margaret Bowman) in Hell or High Water. She asks what the boys are NOT having because they ARE having T-bone steak and baked potato. We’re NOT having the corn.

Cornbread muffins from Hidden Figures: Those are on the family dinner table when Colonel Johnson (Mahershala Ali) proposes to Katherine (Taraji P. Henson).

Palak Paneer from Lion:  This is not actually consumed by any characters in the movie, but, hey, it’s Indian and we needed another veggie dish.

Rations from Hacksaw Ridge: Smitty Ryker (Luke Bracey) gobbles down a mid-battle meal while sharing foxhole with Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield).

Gin from Fences: Troy (Denzel Washington) is always pulling from a pint of rotgut gin.

Frozen chicken from Manchester by the Sea: Patrick (Lucas Hedges) is very upset that his father can’t be buried until the New England soil defrosts, and he has a melt down at the fridge when the frozen chicken reminds him of Dad on ice.

Ketchup and hot sauce from Moonlight: they are on the diner table where Black (Travante Rhodes) meets up again with Kevin (Andre Holland).

Edible alien art from Arrival (photo below):  The Wife worked in the medium of black beans to re-create one of the messages communicated by the aliens.

edible alien art from ARRIVAL
edible alien art from ARRIVAL

A plea from The Movie Gourmet for Critics’ Awards and the Oscars

Lily Gladstone in CERTAIN WOMEN
Lily Gladstone in CERTAIN WOMEN

I’m always worried that the work of deserving filmmakers will get overlooked by the Academy Awards. It’s time for the critic’s awards, which can prompt Oscar nominations. And I have some opinions about some nuggets that should be recognized.

BEST PICTURE

I’m glad to see the San Francisco Film Critics Circle at least shortlisted Hell or High Water as a finalist for Best Picture. It’s getting overlooked among all the Holiday Prestige Movies, but it’s my pick for the best film of the year.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Lily Gladstone’s heartrending performance is the most indelible in Certain Women, a movie co-starring much more recognizable actresses (Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart).
  • You can imagine the entire back story of Katy Mixon’s waitress in Hell or High Water, a gal who is fiercely determined to hang on to her tip, no matter what.
  • The absolutely irreplaceable Margo Martindale is the heart of The Hollars.
  • Michelle Williams doesn’t need any help from me to be nominated for her six or seven heartbreaking minutes in Manchester by the Sea.
Alan Rickman in EYE IN THE SKY
Alan Rickman in EYE IN THE SKY

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • The late Alan Rickman is more than a sentimental choice for a posthumous award for Eye in the Sky; it’s one of the best performances by any actor this year.
  • Simon Helberg’s hilarious non-verbal reactions are actually the funniest part of Florence Foster Jenkins.
  • I would also recognize Devin Druid in Louder Than Bombs;  it’s easy to overlook even the most brilliant portrayals of teenage boys who don’t talk much and sure don’t show their feelings (like Miles Teller in Rabbit Hole or James Frecheville in Animal Kingdom).
  • Michael Shannon is the best thing about Nocturnal Animals.
  • Jeff Bridges should get another nomination for his superb performance in Hell or High Water.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Isabelle Huppert’s performance in Elle is so astonishingly sui generis, it is so essential to the movie’s success and she has such an amazing body of work, that I can’t imagine her not winning this Oscar. It doesn’t help that, as usual, there’s shortage of other excellent roles for women.
  • I loved Imogen Poot in Frank & Lola. The entire movie hinges on whether she is a Bad Girl or a Troubled Girl, and she plays it credibly both ways.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Like Huppert, Casey Affleck is a deserving lock to win the Oscar for Manchester by the Sea.
  • But, in Hell or High WaterChris Pine finally got to act in a complex, textured role and he really delivered.  Deserves a nod.

BEST WRITING, ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Kenneth Lonergan will certainly snag a nomination for Manchester by the Sea.
  • So I am campaigning for Taylor Sheridan and his masterpiece screenplay for Hell or High Water.
Jeff Bridges and Katy Mixon in HELL OR HIGH WATER
Jeff Bridges and Katy Mixon in HELL OR HIGH WATER

 

Richard Jenkins and Margo Martindale in THE HOLLARS
Richard Jenkins and Margo Martindale in THE HOLLARS

AQUARIUS: spirit, thy name is Sonia Braga

Sonia Braga in AQUARIUS
Sonia Braga in AQUARIUS

In the Brazilian character-driven drama Aquarius, Sonia Braga plays Clara, the last owner of a beachfront condo who hasn’t sold out to a developer who owns the rest of the condos.  The conflict is between Clara, who refuses to sell and those her want her to.  But Aquarius is really about Clara, and it takes its time setting up her character; it’s 26 minutes before we even see the developers.   We must understand her to understand her motivation – and her will.

Aquarius moves through scenes with a lifeguard at the beach, with girlfriends at club, at family parties,  not to move the plot, but to invest in revealing aspects of Clara’s character.  Having conquered cancer, lost her husband, raised children and built an artistic career, Clara has some mileage on her – enough to know what she wants and needs. Having earned the authority to live her life as she pleases, Clara is a wilful free spirit.  And, as everyone finds out, she is absolutely fearless.

It’s a career-capping performance for Sonia Braga, still luminous 40 years after Donna Flor and Her Two Husbands.  Mid movie, there’s a scene when Clara’s adult children try to have an awkward conversation about the financial benefits of selling the apartment.  She doesn’t make it easy for them, and their long-submerged feelings about their father and their mother surface.  With piercing observations and cold-eyed disappointment, Clara is as masterful over her children as when they were infants.  It’s hard to imagine a better movie scene this year.  Braga is brilliant.

The young Brazilian television actor Humberto Carrão is exceptional as Clara’s ever smiling foil Diego, whose youth and punctilious civility mask a capacity to engage in any tactic, even very dirty tricks.

I viewed Aquarius at the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Aquarius is critical of the political status quo, and the Brazilian government’s refusal to submit it for the Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar has created a controversy detailed in this New York Times article.

LOOKS LIKE AN AMAZING FALL SEASON FOR MOVIES

ARRIVAL
ARRIVAL

Every October through New Year, Hollywood rolls out its most cinematically aspirational movies to compete with indie and foreign Oscar bait. This shaping up to be a killer Prestige Season – the depth of the upcoming offerings is especially promising.  We know about them because they’ve been screened at major film festivals earlier this year, and the buzz has leaked out.  These movies start rolling out into theaters on October 7 and 14 (Birth of a Nation and Certain Women) and continue opening through January 20 in the Bay Area (Toni Erdmann).

The top candidates for the Best Picture Oscar are looking to be:

  • Arrival stars Amy Adams as a linguist dispatched to communicate with alien lifeforms Directed by Denis Villaneuve (Incendies – my top movie of 2011, Prisoners, Sicario).
  • La La Land is a big studio musical a la Singing in the Rain with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.
  • Loving tells the story of the Virginia couple whose 1967 US Supreme Court case overturned state laws banning inter-racial marriage. Stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga. Directed by Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud, all three of which made my Best of the Year lists).
  • Manchester By the Sea, a family drama from writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, the genius behind the little-seen Margaret. Stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler.  Big hit at Sundance.

Other major releases that could break through:

  • Lion stars Dev Patel as an Australian adoptee returning to India to search for his biological parents; costarring Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara.
  • Birth of a Nation – Nate Parker writes, directs and stars in this depiction of Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion.  This was an awards favorite after Sundance in January, but the buzz has been sinking after the publicizing of director Parker’s own involvement in a 1999 campus rape case; (he was tried and acquitted).
  • Jackie – Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy.
  • Hacksaw Ridge is the true story of the WWII conscientious objector who served as a battlefield medic and earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. Being a Mel Gibson movie, the battle scenes are realistic and vivid.
  • And the big family hit of the Holiday season may turn out to be, of all things a documentary about a Mongolian girl – The Eagle Huntress; reportedly it’s both a crowd pleaser and spectacular eye candy.
LOVING Credit: Ben Rothstein/Focus Features
LOVING Credit: Ben Rothstein/Focus Features

Then there is an entire herd of foreign and indie films that will grace the art houses.  Some will break through as popular hits and, undoubtedly, some will spawn Oscar nominations for acting, directing and writing awards.

  • Toni Erdmann is writer-director Maren Ade’s perspective of a father-daughter relationship, creating a totally original and unforgettable father who takes prankstering into performance art.  You might not expect an almost three-hour German comedy to break through, but I’ve seen it, and I think that it’s a lock to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture.
  • Nocturnal Animals is a violent thriller with Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon.
  • The Handmaiden is a mystery romance set in Japan, from Chan-wook Park of Oldboy.
  • Julieta is Pedro Almodovar’s latest.  That’s enough for some of us.
  • Aquarius, stars Sonia Braga as a woman battling developers to protect her home; Braga is still luminous 40 years after Donna Flor and Her Two Husbands.
  • Certain Women comes from Kelly Reichardt of Wendy and Lucy, starring Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern.
  • The Salesman is another personal drama from Asghar Farhadi of A Separation.
  • Personal Shopper is a Parisian ghost story that stars Kristen Stewart.  From director Olivier Assayas.
  • Elle, from director Paul Verhoeven, stars Isabelle Huppert in, what else?, a psychological thriller with disturbing sex.
  • Paterson Adam Driver stars in this drama from Jim Jarmusch.

Keep coming back to The Movie Gourmet. and I’ll keep you current on this year’s Big Movies.

LA LA LAND
LA LA LAND

An Oscar Dinner after all, thanks to The Wife and Trader Joes

oscar dinner

OK, so I just posted that we would skip our annual Oscar Dinner because we were returning from an away weekend, but The Wife insisted on meeting the challenge of catering it from Trader Joes. So here we are:

Water, rushing so extravagantly from Immortan Joe’s cliff-side fortress in Mad Max: Fury Road;

Pint of Ale from one of the Boston bars in Spotlight;

Bison Jerky from  The Revenant (no raw bison liver available at TJs);

Spaghetti, which Ellis mastered eating, after much practice, in Brooklyn;

Peas and carrots from the Donovan family dinner in Bridge of Spies (served in vintage Corning ware – also on the Donovans’ table);

Potatoes (but not cultivated in our own waste) from The Martian; and

Cake as an homage both to Jake’s birthday cake (sans candles) in Room and to the Las Vegas convention dessert that Mark Baum disgustedly consumes in The Big Short.

No Oscar dinner this year

Oscar dinner from 2015
Oscar dinner from 2015

Every year, we have watched the Oscars while enjoying a meal inspired by the Best Picture nominees. We’ve had sushi for Lost in Translation, cowboy beans for Brokeback Mountain, Somali chicken suqaar for Captain Phillips, etc.  The photo above shows last year’s Oscar dinner, finished with the courtesan au chocolate, the elaborate filled pastry smuggled to Gustave (Ray Fiennes) in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

But this year, The Wife and I are spending an away weekend with our daughter and son-in-law, so we just can’t pull it off.

But, if we were going to stage our dinner, we would have considered:

  • spaghetti from Brooklyn;
  • potatoes (but not cultivated in our own waste) from The Martian;
  • pub pints from one of the Boston bars in Spotlight;
  • Steve Carell’s Las Vegas convention dessert in The Big Short;
  • and I like the idea of raw bison liver from The Revenant, but The Wife was never going to agree to that.

Below is our 2011 pièce de résistance, our Severed Hand Ice Sculpture for 127 Hours and Winter’s Bone.

The Movie Gourmet's culinary tribute to 127 HOURS and WINTER'S BONE
The Movie Gourmet’s culinary tribute to 127 HOURS and WINTER’S BONE

Mill Valley Film Fest – see it here first

John Tururro in MY MOTHER
Margherita Buy and John Turturro in MY MOTHER

The Mill Valley Film Festival always showcases many of the most promising prestige films that are scheduled for release during Award Season. It’s the best opportunity for Bay Area film goers to catch an early look at the Big Movies. Last year’s fest featured an array of Oscar winners and Oscar-nominated films: The Imitation Game, Whiplash, Wild, Foxcatcher, Mr. Turner and Two Days, One Night, along with Force Majeure, which made it on my Best Movies of 2014 list.

Again this year, the film fest is especially rich with Oscar bait:

  • Bridge of Spies – Steven Spielberg’s espionage thriller with Tom Hanks;
  • Carol – fest favorite about lesbian awakening with Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett;
  • Dheepan – the French immigration thriller that won the Palm d’Or at Cannes;
  • The Danish Girl – Eddie Redmayne portrays one of the recipients of gender reassignment surgery;
  • Son of Saul – the Hungarian movie about Auschwitz that stunned critics, both for its intense brilliance and for the discomfort in watching it;
  • Suffragette – Carey Mulligan wins women the vote; and
  • The Assassin – an especially epic Chinese costume epic.

I’m especially looking forward to My Mother from Italy, about a film director who is simultaneously dealing with her dying mother, challenging teenager and hilariously pompous leading man (John Turturro). I’m also eager to see I Smile Back – Sarah Silverman has been getting buzz for a reportedly searing performance as an alcoholic.

Those are the Big Movies, but there’s also a promising assortment of the indies, foreign flicks and documentaries that I usually cover. Here’s the schedule.

The fest runs October 8-18 in Mill Valley, San Rafael and Corte Madera.  Tickets are now available to members and will go on sale to the public on September 19.

Sarah Silverman in I SMILE BACK
Sarah Silverman and Josh Charles in I SMILE BACK

DVD/Stream of the Week: FORCE MAJEURE – some things you just can’t get past

FORCE MAJEURE
FORCE MAJEURE

In the droll Swedish dramedy Force Majeure, a smugly affluent family of four vacations at an upscale ski resort in the French Alps. The wife explains to a friend that they take the vacation because otherwise the husband never sees the family. But, while the wife is blissed out, the kids fidget and complain, and the hubby sneaks peeks at his phone.

Then there’s a sudden moment of apparent life-and-death peril; the husband has a chance to protect the wife and kids, but instead – after first securing his iPhone – runs for his life. How do they all go on from that revealing moment? The extent that one incident can bring relationships into focus is the core of Force Majeure.

Clearly, the family has a serious issue to resolve, but there’s plenty of dry humor. In the most cringe worthy moments, the wife tries to contain her disgust, but can’t keep it bottled up when she’s in the most social situations. The couple repeatedly huddle outside their room in their underwear to talk things out, only to find themselves observed by the same impassive French hotel worker. The most tense moments are interrupted by an insistent cell phone vibration, another guest’s birthday party and a child’s remotely out-of-control flying toy.

Force Majeure is exceptionally well-written by writer-director Ruben Ostlund. It’s just his fourth feature and the first widely seen outside Scandinavia. He transitions between scenes by showing the machinery of the ski resort accompanied by Baroque organ music – a singular and very effective directorial choice.

Force Majeure was Sweden’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. It is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu and Xbox Video.

[I’ve included the trailer as always, but I recommend that you see the movie WITHOUT watching this trailer – mild spoilers]

FORCE MAJEURE: some things you just can’t get past

FORCE MAJEURE
FORCE MAJEURE

In the droll Swedish dramedy Force Majeure, a smugly affluent family of four vacations at an upscale ski resort in the French Alps. The wife explains to a friend that they take the vacation because otherwise the husband never sees the family. But, while the wife is blissed out,  the kids fidget and complain, and the hubby sneaks peeks at his phone.

Then there’s a sudden moment of apparent life-and-death peril; the husband has a chance to protect the wife and kids, but instead – after first securing his iPhone – runs for his life. How do they all go on from that revealing moment? The extent that one incident can bring relationships into focus is the core of Force Majeure.

Clearly, the family has a serious issue to resolve, but there’s plenty of dry humor. In the most cringe worthy moments, the wife tries to contain her disgust, but can’t keep it bottled up when she’s in the most social situations.  The couple repeatedly huddle outside their room in their underwear to talk things out, only to find themselves observed by the same impassive French hotel worker. The most tense moments are interrupted by an insistent cell phone vibration, another guest’s birthday party and a child’s remotely out-of-control flying toy.

Force Majeure is exceptionally well-written by writer-director Ruben Ostland. It’s just his fourth feature and the first widely seen outside Scandinavia. He transitions between scenes by showing the machinery of the ski resort accompanied by
Baroque organ music – a singular and very effective directorial choice.

Force Majeure is Sweden’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. I think it deserves an Oscar nomination, although I can’t see it beating out Two Days, One Night, Ida or Leviafan.

[I’ve included the trailer as always, but I recommend that you see the movie WITHOUT watching this trailer – mild spoilers]