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

One last glance at the Oscars

Best Foreign Language Picture IDA
Best Foreign Language Picture IDA

The Academy has just gotta do something because this show is becoming more and more unwatchable every year.  The three hours and 9 minutes of this year’s extravanagnza had only seven memorable “Oscar moments” and six of them were not in the script – the heartfelt acceptance speeches of winners J.K. Simmons, Patricia Arquette, Pawel Pawlikowski, Common, Graham Moore and Alejandro G. Iñárritu.  The ONLY brilliant moment in the telecast that had been planned by the producers was John Legend’s performance of the song Glory from the movie Selma.

But, generally, the Best Song category chews up way too much time and is often a buzz kill. Except for Legend, it was bad this year, too – and the Everything Is Awesome number was hallucinogenicly bad.

In the last two years, the Academy has even ruined the Memorium montage – usually one of the most moving and evocative moments.  This year, the producers didn’t even show any stills or clips from the artist’s cinematic work, and they bracketed it with an acting school emoting lesson by Meryl Streep and an irrelevant song by Jennifer Hudson.

The worst of the broadcast, of course, was the serious of forced gags like the one about Octavia Spencer guarding the Neil Patrick Harris’ Oscar predictions; unfunny the first time, it wore and wore until Harris’ and Spencer’s dignity were completely eroded.  Horrible.

As to the awards themselves?  I was deliriously happy that Ida got its due as Best Foreign Language Picture, a choice that proved that some taste and decency lingers in the Academy.  I was sorry that Boyhood – the best movie of the decade, let alone the year – didn’t win Best Picture, but Birdman is pretty special, too.

Coincidentally, I was recording the 2006 Children of Men during the Oscar broadcast, so afterwards I could revisit the amazing 8-minute battle scene shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (deserving winner for Birdman).  One of the greatest single shots in cinema.  Felicidades, Chivo.

planning the annual Oscar dinner

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 and cowboy campfire beans for Brokeback Mountain –  you get the idea.

On my Oscar Dinner page, you can see past menus and some photos. In 2009, Frost/Nixon and Milk were stumping me until I realized that they were all set in the 1970s.  So we had celery sticks stuffed with pimento spread, pigs in a blanket and Tequila Sunrises.  And we’ll never top the Severed Hand Ice Sculpture for 127 Hours and Winter’s Bone (above).

Anyway, here’s our menu for 2015:

 Table decorations

Lilacs – In Birdman, Riggan asks for camellias for his dressing room and wants anything except roses;  his daughter later brings him lilacs.  (We could have also gone with the theater critic’s martinis or the sliced lunch meat in Riggan’s dressing room.)

Beverages

Pub pints of beer – Frequently consumed in pub scenes in The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything.  (I drink Ballast Point Sculpin, but we’re going to pretend that it’s Newcastle.)

Starter

Pizza – from the pizza date in Whiplash.

Hummus – Chris Kyle and his buddies share a family meal at the Iraqi home of the guy hiding a cache of arms in American Sniper.  (With so many excellent recent movies set in the Middle East, we’ve had Hummus before along with Kabob Koubideh, Khoresh Ghormeh and Fatayer bi Sabanekh.)

Graduation party appetizers – from Boyhood , a movie with MANY unforgettable scenes (lots of family dining, snacks and the diner scene), but with pretty unmemorable food choices.

Main Course

Fried chicken and fixins – requested by the appreciative Southern Christian Leadership Conference team upon their arrival at their hostess’ home in Selma.

Dessert

Courtesan au chocolate – the elaborate filled pastry smuggled to the Ray Fiennes character in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Mill Valley Film Festival: see it here first

Timothy Spall in MR. TURNER
Timothy Spall in MR. TURNER

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. This year, the film fest is especially rich with Oscar bait:

  • Mr. Turner: A period biopic by Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake, Another Year).  Lots of Oscar buzz for lead actor Timothy Spall.  Most of us won’t be able to see this in theaters until January.
  • Foxcatcher: Ripped from the headlines psychological drama with possible acting Oscar nods for Steve Carell AND Channing Tatum AND Mark Ruffalo.
  • The Homesman: Writer/director/star Tommy Lee Jones takes Hilary Swank on a pioneer road trip.
  • Whiplash:  J.K. Simmons (Juno) plays the tough love music instructor for drummer Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now).  Huge hit at Sundance promises to be one of the Fall’s top audience-pleasers.
  • Wild:  Reese Witherspoon backpacks solo across the Pacific coast for emotional closure.
  • Force Majeure: This Swedish satirical disaster thriller won the Un Certain Regard jury prize at Cannes.
  • The Imitation Game:  Lots of buzz for Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as gay WWII code-breaking genius Kenneth Turing.
  • St. Vincent:  Big crowd pleaser here:  Single mom (Melissa McCarthy) leave young son with boozy, lecherous babysitter (Bill Murray).  The kid actor is getting raves, too.
  • Two Days, One Night: The latest urgent drama from the Dardennes brothers (The Kid with a Bike, The Son).  Their movies always make my annual top ten list – and this one features Marion Cotillard.
  • The Judge: Mixed reviews so far at Toronto for courtroom drama with Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall.

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 2-11 in Mill Valley, San Rafael and Corte Madera. Tickets are now available to members and will go on sale to the public on September 14.

Steve Carell (yes - that's really him) and Channing Tatum in FOXCATCHER
Steve Carell (yes – that’s really him) and Channing Tatum in FOXCATCHER