Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Cafe Pasta - Wine Dinner / Art Gallery Stroll

I am so excited for tomorrow night's wine dinner and art gallery stroll at Cafe Pasta! This is going to be a unique event, kicking off at Tyler White Gallery (307 State Street) and finishing up at the restaurant. Greensboro has a plethora of art galleries and I'm looking forward to exploring this one, followed by some delicious food and wine at Cafe Pasta!
Check out this cool graphic from the event's Facebook page!

I hope you'll shake up your weeknight routine and join me tomorrow night, Wednesday, May 2 at 6:30! The evening will cost you just $55, but my friends and family can come for a discounted price - let me know if you're interested and I'll get you the deets! OR you can get more info here.

Hope to see you all there!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

GUEST POST: 2018 Oscar Predictions

I've never featured a guest writer on my blog before, until now. I'm excited to announce that a frequent movie-going companion of mine (I also happen to date him) has written his predictions for this Sunday's Oscars, and he included every category! He is into the technical awards way more than I am, so I figured some of my readers might be interested in hearing what he has to say. I thoroughly enjoyed being his "Managing Editor" for this piece, and I hope this becomes a trend for future years. I know you'll enjoy reading his thoughtfully-written predictions - and let me know if you do!

Hello Cuisine & Screen readers! Amanda and I have had a great year of watching movies and I’m sure y’all have as well. While I’m not a big E! Red Carpet fan like she is, I do very much appreciate the art of filmmaking. Amanda asked that I pen a guest post going through the more technical categories. As I was going through the list, I figured I might as well go ahead and do the whole thing! I should note, there are some movies nominated in the less prestigious categories that I have not seen, so I have marked those with a pound sign (#). I will list my predictions in presentation order. Without any further ado, here are my predictions for the 2018 Oscars!

Actor in a Supporting Role
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Should Win: Ok, I’ll get this out of the way at the start. “The Florida Project” blindsided me, and now stands as one of my absolute favorite films of all time. That this is its only nomination is a true slight for which the Academy should be ashamed. Willem Dafoe is a phenomenal actor that would rightfully deserve this win.

Will Win: While “The Florida Project” and Willem Dafoe may be critical darlings, the Academy voters are not critics. They appear poised to hand this to Sam Rockwell, a long underappreciated actor that deserves time in the spotlight. Well done, Sam.

**Biggest Snub: Many note Armie Hammer’s absence despite his wonderful turn in “Call Me by Your Name,” but I thought the more glaring omission was Michael Stuhlbarg. Stuhlbarg had quite a year, with notable roles in three different Best-Picture-nominated films. His performance in “The Shape of Water” could very well have merited a Supporting Actor nod. But it was his movie-stealing, beautiful, understated and heartfelt scene in “Call Me by Your Name,” widely termed The Monologue, that I believe justifies his position on this list.

Makeup and Hair Styling
“Darkest Hour,” Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick
#“Victoria and Abdul,” Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard
#“Wonder,” Arjen Tuiten

Should Win: I’ve only seen a single film in this category, but Gary Oldman’s getup was pretty impressive. “Darkest Hour.”

Will Win: “Darkest Hour”

**Biggest Snub: I haven’t read the exact criteria for nominations in this category, so I’m unsure why there are only three nominees. I thought the hair and makeup in I, Tonya, extremely evocative of the time period, merited nomination here.

Costume Design
#“Beauty and the Beast,” Jacqueline Durran
“Darkest Hour,” Jacqueline Durran
“Phantom Thread,” Mark Bridges
“The Shape of Water,” Luis Sequeira
#“Victoria and Abdul,” Consolata Boyle

Should Win: Again, I haven’t seen a few of these, but the main character of “Phantom Thread” was a friggin’ dressmaker. Talk about pressure. Mark Bridges executed to perfection.

Will Win: “Phantom Thread”

**Biggest Snubs: The clothing in “Call Me by Your Name,” for Armie Hammer’s character in particular, was perfect. “Hostiles,” a late entry this awards season, could also have earned a nomination here.

Documentary Feature
#“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” Steve James, Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman
#“Faces Places,” JR, Agnès Varda, Rosalie Varda
“Icarus,” Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan
“Last Men in Aleppo,” Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed, Soren Steen Jepersen
#“Strong Island,” Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes

Should Win: What starts as a somewhat spontaneous foray into the world of performance-enhancing drugs quickly turns into a taut international expose of state-sponsored doping with all the drama of a Cold War spy story. “Icarus” was quite the story.

Will Win: The legacy of the events documented by, and possibly even caused by, “Icarus” will echo on for decades.

Sound Editing
“Baby Driver,” Julian Slater
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mark Mangini, Theo Green
“Dunkirk,” Alex Gibson, Richard King
“The Shape of Water,” Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood

Should Win: Some may be unclear as to the distinction between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, so I’ll try to explain; I should note, though, that the distinction between these two roles has been muddied as the transition to digital recording technology has finalized. It may help to know that in former years, the Sound Editing category was known as “Sound Effects” or “Sound Effects Editing.” In modern filmmaking, the visual recording often arrives at the sound editor’s desk with virtually no sound except for dialogue. It is up to the sound editor to select, assemble, and often create the very sounds that make it into the final cut. The vrooom of the engine in “Baby Driver,” the whoosh of the wind on the beach in “Dunkirk,” the ffffkrrrrshhzzzwooooom of a lightsaber in “Star Wars” - all these individual sound elements were created and selected by the sound editing team. This is a very strong group of films in this category, but the sounds of “Blade Runner 2049” impressed me the most.

Will Win: A good rule of thumb for the technical sound categories is to always pick the war movie. Expect “Dunkirk” to get the win here.

Sound Mixing
“Baby Driver,” Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
“Dunkirk,” Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo
“The Shape of Water,” Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick

Should Win: Once the sound editor has compiled all of the various sound elements (dialogue, effects, music) that will be present in the film, it is then up to the sound mixers to weave those sounds together to create the final mix that the audience will actually hear. If we analogize this to an orchestra, you can think of the sound editor as the composer, making the initial decision on what exact sounds need to be present during the film. The sound mixer is more like a conductor, taking the elements provided by the editor (composer) and working them into a final, cohesive work (think of a conductor saying “More strings here!” or “Let’s take it a little quieter in this section.”) The Academy has shown a willingness in the past to be more adventurous with their pick for this award than Sound Editing, and I think they should reward “Baby Driver” for its fascinating use of music and sound.

Will Win: If “The Shape of Water” is going to steal a sound category from “Dunkirk”, this will be the one. But it will actually be “Baby Driver” that plays spoiler.

**Biggest Snub: “Hostiles” flew under the radar; Westerns do not get much love from the Academy in the modern era. It deserved a nomination.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

Should Win: Laurie Metcalf. She was the stronger half of one of the best portrayals of a troubled, complicated, but loving mother-daughter relationship in recent film history. The subtlety and nuance of her performance was something to behold.

Will Win: Performances need not always be subtle, and Allison Janney delivered a knockout portrayal of a devoted, complicated, and not-quite-loving mother. While I preferred Metcalf’s character, Janney will  be a deserving winner.

Foreign-Language Film
#“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
#“The Insult” (Lebanon)
#“Loveless” (Russia)
#“On Body and Soul (Hungary)
#“The Square” (Sweden)

Should Win: By all accounts, this is one of the most competitive categories of the year. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t know since I haven’t had the opportunity to see any of the nominees.

Will Win: “A Fantastic Woman”

Animated Short Film
“Dear Basketball,” Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant
“Garden Party,” Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon
“Lou,” Dave Mullins, Dana Murray
“Negative Space,” Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata
“Revolting Rhymes,” Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer

Should Win: As usual, the most interesting and innovative uses of animation are to be found in the films of the Animated Shorts category rather than their blockbuster cousins in Animated Feature Film. If this award was for best animation, “Garden Party” would win easily. “Negative Space” and “Revolting Rhymes” were both excellent in their own ways, but I have to give this one to “Negative Space” for pushing the realm of what an animated short can accomplish. It was a simple, beautiful work of art.

Will Win: Normally, a cynic would say the perennial favorite Pixar has this in the bag with “Lou.” But there is an even more cynical option available this year with Kobe Bryant’s “Dear Basketball.” He did spend his entire NBA career in LA, after all. Even the Academy is susceptible to being starstruck.

Animated Feature Film
#“The Boss Baby,” Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito
“The Breadwinner,” Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo
“Coco,” Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
#“Ferdinand,” Carlos Saldanha
#“Loving Vincent,” Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman

Should Win: “The Breadwinner” is a clear standout. It brilliantly uses animation to help a Western audience empathize and engage with Afghanis in a way that would be difficult via live action. The Academy should signal that they respect animation as a serious medium for filmmaking.

Will Win: But they won’t. “Coco” will, somewhat deservedly, get the Oscar.

**Biggest Snubs: It has long been rumored that Academy members simply ask their children what their favorite movies of the year were, and let the answer determine their vote for Best Animated Feature. The nomination of “Boss Baby” and “Ferdinand” instead of the likes of “Tehran Taboo” and “The Lego Batman Movie” betray that there may actually be some truth to this tongue-in-cheek rumor.

Production Design
#“Beauty and the Beast,” Sarah Greenwood; Katie Spencer
“Blade Runner 2049,” Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola
“Darkest Hour,” Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
“Dunkirk,” Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
“The Shape of Water,” Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau

Should Win: For those less familiar with some of these more obscure categories, it may help to remember that the Award for Best Production Design was, before 2012, named Best Art Direction. The art director is generally responsible for the overall visual appearance of the film, ensuring that the desired mood and feel is visually communicated to the audience. This award also incorporates the set design team. That being said, this is a batch of wonderfully visual movies with, to me, a stand-out production in “Blade Runner 2049.” Dozens of visually impactful scenes immediately come to mind as I think back on this movie, many of them during transition scenes where I think an art director (along with the cinematographer), can best exert her influence. The film also had many extraordinarily creative sets that helped deliver the unique vision of a dystopian future. “2049” is a visual masterpiece.

Will Win: “The Shape of Water.” “Blade Runner 2049” was too ambitious for its own good, and “The Shape of Water” will win here as it carries its well-deserved momentum to other category wins.

Visual Effects
“Blade Runner 2049,” John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer
#“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick
#“Kong: Skull Island,” Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,”  Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlan
#“War for the Planet of the Apes,” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist

Should Win: I haven’t seen enough of these movies to make a truly fair judgment, but the love scene between Joi and K in “Blade Runner 2049” has to be one of the most innovative uses of visual effects in movie history. It was beautiful, mesmerizing, and effectively advanced a critical character arc for the film. I feel safe saying it should win.

Will Win: Sometimes heavy visual effects movies like “Guardians” or “Star Wars” can steal a win here (as happened to the first two films in the “Planet of the Apes” trilogy), but I think “2049” will bump the apes off the podium this time. Sorry, Andy Serkis.

Film Editing
“Baby Driver,” Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
“Dunkirk,” Lee Smith
“I, Tonya,” Tatiana S. Riegel
“The Shape of Water,” Sidney Wolinsky
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Jon Gregory

Should Win: Like Sound Editing and Mixing, this is a close contest between “Baby Driver” and “Dunkirk.” I think the former had some of the most interesting sequences of the year. The Academy should agree with the BAFTA voters and give Best Film Editing to Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss.

Will Win: This is another one of those categories where the momentum behind “The Shape of Water” could deliver it another win. But as with the sound categories, when in doubt, pick the war movie. “Dunkirk” will take the Oscar.

Documentary Short Subject
#“Edith+Eddie,” Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright
#“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” Frank Stiefel
#“Heroin(e),” Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon
#“Knife Skills,” Thomas Lennon
#“Traffic Stop,” Kate Davis, David Heilbroner

Should Win: Again, I have not seen any of the nominees, so cannot pass judgment.

Will Win: “Heroin(e)” is relevant and timely.

Live-Action Short Film
“DeKalb Elementary,” Reed Van Dyk
“The Eleven O’Clock,” Derin Seale, Josh Lawson
“My Nephew Emmett,” Kevin Wilson, Jr.
“The Silent Child,” Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
“Watu Wote/All of Us,” Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen

Should Win: This was one of the strongest years in recent memory for Live-Action Shorts, with excellent showings from “My Nephew Emmett” and “The Silent Child,” in particular. But “DeKalb Elementary” was a tense, well-acted work that has remained on my mind since I watched it. I never imagined I might empathize with a potential school shooter, but the writing and acting elicited exactly that response.

Will Win: It is unfortunate that “DeKalb Elementary” was timely when it was first conceived, and again as it was released, and yet again just as Oscar voting took place. But timely it was.

“Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins
“Darkest Hour,” Bruno Delbonnel
“Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema
“Mudbound,” Rachel Morrison
“The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen

Should Win: Cinematography is probably my favorite category of the night. “Mudbound” was one of my surprise movies of the year (if you have a Netflix subscription and haven’t seen it, stop what you are doing and watch it right now). Rachel Morrison would be a deserving first-time winner. But Roger Deakins, one of the great cinematographers of all time, has appeared on this list fourteen times before without securing a win. Even more amazing than the length of that streak is that every single loss was a fair one. But this year, his work in “Blade Runner 2049” should finally earn him the Oscar.

Will Win: Deakins. Hollywood’s greatest losing streak will finally come to an end.

**Biggest Snub: Alexis Zabe’s work in “The Florida Project” was stunning.

Original Score
“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer
“Phantom Thread,” Jonny Greenwood
“The Shape of Water,” Alexandre Desplat
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” John Williams
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Carter Burwell

Should Win: This is a very competitive category. Music is much more centerstage when two of the primary characters cannot talk; Alexandre Desplat constructed a beautiful, often ethereal mood in “The Shape of Water.” I have to give this one to Jonny Greenwood, however. “Phantom Thread” was the only film in the category that I turned to Amanda to exclaim, “This music is perfect!”

Will Win: A tough call, but I think Alexandre Desplat ekes out a win. Another for “The Shape of Water.”

**Biggest Snub: Max Richter’s understated score for “Hostiles” should have merited an Oscar nod.

Original Song
“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
#“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” Diane Warren, Common
#“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Should Win: I just listened to all of the songs and I was struck by two feelings. First, complete regret that I have not seen “Marshall.” How did I miss a biopic about one of our country’s most distinguished jurists?! Second, complete nostalgia for “Call Me by Your Name.” None of the other songs even came close to eliciting the feeling of watching their respective movies. Beautiful work from Sufjan Stevens, who could have very well been nominated for the equally excellent “Visions of Gideon” that closed out the film in its haunting and evocative final scene. Sufjan deserves the Oscar.

Will Win: Unimaginative lyricism, simplistic song structure, drab group harmonies, lazy songwriting, predictable dynamics, overflourished solo vocal runs, “This Is Me” exhibits just about everything I dislike about many modern pop arrangements. It’s a sure winner.

Original Screenplay
#“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh

Should Win: I would argue this is the single most important award at the Oscars, because it shows that there remains a place in film for truly original works that can stand on their own merits. No need for sequels, adaptations, or reprisals here, these nominees are great works of creativity. It is nearly unimaginable to me that this award go to any screenplay besides Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” Subversive, hilarious, horrifying, thought-provoking, unflinching, daring, and smart, this is screenwriting at its absolute best.

Will Win: Jordan Peele, “Get Out.”

**Biggest Snub: For its unflinching examination of the darker recesses of the American experience, Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch’s “The Florida Project” was robbed of a deserved nomination.

Adapted Screenplay
“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory
#“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
#“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
#“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Should Win: Oh boy, this is a tough call for me. “Call Me by Your Name” and “Mudbound” were each excellent in their own way. I’ll give it to “Mudbound” by a hair.

Will Win: James Ivory will top off a storied career with his first Oscar at age 89.

“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro

Should Win: I’ve always found it hard to judge best director, because there is no way to separate the work of the director from the final picture itself; they are one and the same. For me, the best director is the one who crafted the year’s best picture, which makes this category fairly redundant. That 63 of the 89 Best Picture winners also won Directing only reinforces my opinion. Of the nominees, this year’s winner should be Guillermo del Toro.

Will Win: In recent years, the Directing award seems to have become a sort of consolation prize. Given that Best-Picture-favorite “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” did not even get a nomination here, I expect Guillermo del Toro to win. Fun fact: del Toro’s win will mean a Mexican director has won the Oscar 4 out of the last 5 years.

Biggest Snubs: Given the excitement around “Three Billboards,” Martin McDonagh’s absence is noteworthy. But I thought the snubs of Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”) and Denis Villeneuve (“Blade Runner 2049”) were even more egregious.

Actor in a Leading Role
Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
#Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

Should Win: Gary Oldman.

Will Win: Gary Oldman. Finally.

**Biggest Snub: Christian Bale’s turn in “Hostiles” was once of the best performances of his illustrious career.

Actress in a Leading Role
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”

Should Win: Saoirse Ronan was splendid; her Oscar will come in time. Frances McDormand was a tour de force. But I found Sally Hawkins’ nuanced, silent performance to be most impactful. She is my pick.

Will Win: McDormand appears unstoppable.

**Biggest Snub: Brooklyn Prince absolutely floored me with her performance as Moonee in “The Florida Project.” Not once did I question the authenticity of her experience. This perhaps may be a testament to Sean Baker’s directing as much as anything (he often let the six-year-old improvise lines), but I felt Prince’s performance was strong enough to make her not just the youngest Oscar nominee of all time, but the youngest winner as well.

Best Picture
“Call Me by Your Name”
“Darkest Hour”
“Get Out”
“Lady Bird”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Post”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Should Win: I’ve managed to avoid saying this so far, but I can’t put it off any longer. I was not a big fan of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” It was a fine movie to be sure, but I don’t buy it as the best picture of 2018. I don’t even think it’s Martin McDonagh’s best film (that honor goes to “In Bruges”). Unfortunately, my two favorite movies of the year were not even nominated (see the snubs below). Of the nominees, I thought “The Shape of Water” was the most heartfelt, “Call Me by Your Name” the most captivating, and “Get Out” the most entertaining. For brilliantly blending fantasy and reality and telling a most human story (with a monster at the heart of it!), “The Shape of Water” should get the win.

Will Win: Many people forget that Best Picture voting is unlike any other category. The Academy uses a ranked-choice system, also known as instant runoff. This means that it can be just as important for a movie to have lots of second, or even third-place votes, as it is to place first for voters. This system can punish movies that may divide the Academy. I have a sneaking suspicion that “Three Billboards” may be such a movie (much like last year’s favorite, and loser, “La La Land”). I predict that “Get Out” will surprise with a well-earned Best Picture win.

**Biggest Snubs: “Blade Runner 2049” was one of the most ambitious films I have ever seen. It was a brilliant work of imagination that delivered the audience to a strange, yet familiar future. Like its prequel, which also was not appreciated in its time, I believe “2049” will come to be recognized as one of the great science fiction works of a generation. Bravo, Denis. And if I haven’t made it clear by now, let me say with no ambiguity that “The Florida Project” was far and away the greatest film of the year. Excellently written, beautifully shot, brilliantly acted, no movie has better examined the American experience in recent times. While its approach was unconventional, eschewing a typical narrative arc in favor of a series of vignettes, it pulled back the curtain on an area of modern American society that many refuse to recognize. A flawed ending to “The Florida Project” notwithstanding, society, and film, is better for the work of Sean Baker.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

2018 Oscar Predictions

I cannot believe another movie season is upon us (it's practically come and gone) and I have yet to write a single post about a single film I've seen. This has not been intentional! Time flies when you're renovating a kitchen and moving, so I thought I'd take a few minutes to capture my thoughts on the major nominees like I do every year. Get ready for the E! Red Carpet, open up your favorite champagne or red and get cozy - it's going to be a long but memorable show!

Best Picture
“Call Me by Your Name”
“Darkest Hour”
“Get Out”
“Lady Bird”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Post”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Should Win: This is really hard because there have been so many enjoyable films this year. It's really difficult to pick a favorite, but when you look at the entirety of a film like "Three Billboards" - the screenplay, direction, acting, cinematography, music - it really doesn't get much better. "Get Out" and "Call Me By Your Name" are tied for my #2 spot, though both are too progressive for traditional academy voters and sadly don't stand a chance.

Will Win: "Three Billboards".

**Biggest Snub - "The Florida Project". Seriously, you're going to nominate 9 films when you CAN nominate 10 and omit this one? Not ok.

Best Actor:
Timothée "out of nowhere" Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel "bout to be retired" Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

Should Win: Gary Oldman. This man has been in everything from A to Z and you don't even realize it. This was a tour de force by Oldman - the film kind of blows without him.

Will Win: Oldman, without question.

Best Actress:
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl "#1" Streep, “The Post”

Should Win: I thought Sally Hawkins was phenomenal in "The Shape of Water". Incredible emotion conveyed without speaking a word. Frances McDormand though, was born to play this role. Tough as nails, it's as if she's not even acting. That's a clear indication that they're crushing the role.

Will Win: Frances McDormand. I have a real problem with the fact that she already won for "Fargo" and wasn't that spectacular in it (CALM DOWN - the film was spectacular, she was just kind of funny, but not Oscar-worthy!) but for "Three Billboards", she deserves it.

Best Supporting Actor:
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody "can do no wrong" Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Christopher "still rockin'" Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Should Win: If I can answer the question "whose performance did I enjoy the most?" it would be Woody Harrelson's, followed closely by Willem Dafoe. I'm afraid Harrelson's wasn't pivotal enough in "Three Billboards" for this to constitute him winning an Oscar, and Dafoe wasn't the best part of "The Florida Project" but I'd like for that film to see a little love this year.

Will Win: Sam Rockwell. Fans of his adored his performance, but I thought performances by McDormand, Harrelson and let's not forget Peter Dinklage(!) were better.

Best Supporting Actress:
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison "CJ" Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley "who?" Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

Should Win: It's a clear and tight race for Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf. Janney's performance as an abusive mother was over the top, and it felt like she wasn't even acting - the casting was spot-on. Similarly, Metcalf didn't feel like she was acting, and found a really nuanced performance with her scenes with Saoirse Ronan in "Lady Bird". I joked at the Lesley "who?" Manville because she hadn't received any awards buzz until now, but her scene-stealing moments in "Phantom Thread" got me on board with her nod.

Will Win: If the awards already given this season are any indication, Janney has it in the bag.

**Biggest Snub - Holly Hunter in "The Big Sick". This was the most I've ever liked her! She did such a fantastic job with this character.

“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro

Should Win: Peele's masterpiece blew me away. I cannot wait for him to write and direct more, though the bar is ridiculously high. Similarly, Gerwig's writing and directing of such a touching script was exactly the opposite of "Get Out" but done in such a delicate and effective way. I was surprised that Martin McDonagh was snubbed, though his film is being rewarded enough.

Will Win: If I had to guess, they'll give it to Guillermo del Toro for directing such a different and unique film. The Academy seems more ready to nominate and acknowledge diverse artists, but we still have a very long way to go.

Monday, December 11, 2017

NOLA Seafood and Steakhouse

Readers of my blog know my infatuation with all things New Orleans. Blue Denim in Greensboro is a fantastic taste of The Big Easy, but I had never ventured to New Orleans Bar & Grill, off Wendover Road. When they announced a sister restaurant would be opening on New Garden Road, much closer to my house, I jumped at the opportunity to dine at NOLA Seafood and Steakhouse. While it's difficult to make a direct comparison between the flavors of authentic New Orleans cuisine with any restaurant in Greensboro, this feels like NOLA at heart, and it definitely reminds me of my amazing trips to the city.

Bread with an herbed olive oil coating is presented, and a nice complimentary munchie while you enjoy a Hurricane or an Electric Lemonade.

Fried Oysters are hand-breaded and fried to a golden hue. The crunchy, salty coating is perfectly crisp, and balances nicely with the salinity of the oyster. It's fried lightly, too, so you can really taste the oyster. The homemade tartar sauce is money.

In keeping with traditional NOLA-style cuisine, portions are LARGE. The Snapper Duo is fresh, grilled snapper, topped with buttery shrimp scampi, studded with tomatoes and topped with parmesan cheese. It's fantastic! As if it couldn't get better, the dish is served alongside a crab cake - mostly crab, not breading! - and more of that delicious tartar sauce. To make sure you get your $29.95 worth, this comes with your choice of 2 sides, so it would easily feed 2 people. My favorite side was the dirty rice with mushrooms, red peppers and sausage, but the house salad offers fresh greens with tasty, herby croutons, made from their bread.
Snapper Duo with Crab Cake

My favorite New Orleans dish (besides Bananas Foster) is Crawfish Etouffee, and I was impressed with their rendition. The bowl was loaded with crawfish, smothered in a buttery sauce enhanced with onion, green pepper, celery atop a mound of rice. I would be lying if I said this tasted like the Crawfish Etouffee I had in New Orleans, but it delicious and large enough to serve 3 people!
Crawfish Etouffee
Simply grilled shrimp is plump and not overcooked. A serving of 12 comes with 2 sides and is only $16. This is a bargain.
Glorious shrimp with dirty rice

Their Bananas Foster Cheesecake is a fun play on the classic dessert. Plain cheesecake gets dressed up with real bananas, banana liquour and rum. It's pretty delicious. I thought caramel sauce would be a more appropriate plate drizzle than chocolate, but cheesecake is usually enhanced with any sort of sauce.
Bananas Foster Cheesecake

Key Lime Pie lovers will enjoy the real lime filling, not too tart - just the right amount of tang - that rests atop a housemade graham cracker crust. Again, I thought chocolate sauce was an odd choice to serve with the fruity pie, but it surprisingly worked.

I'm excited to have another New Orleans restaurant in town; you can't have too many. It's such a nice departure from the usual dining out experiences, and it brings back excellent memories of my time in the Big Easy. I'll be back, and if you haven't gone here, or to Blue Denim, check them out!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Turning 30 in New Orleans

During my last trip to New Orleans, it became clear to me as to why I love this city so much. In New Orleans, eating and drinking in (reasonably responsible) excess is the norm. It's a no-judgment city. You want a dirty martini after a bottle of red wine? Sure! You want 2 orders of bananas foster? Why not? You want a shot of brandy in your milk with breakfast? Let's do it. NoLa reminds me of Vegas in the sense that it can indeed be Sin City - the bars are open 24 hours and they'll serve you anytime you're willing to buy it. But it's much more than that - it's a beautiful merging of cultures. You can see French, Spanish and African influences in the food, architecture, accents and music, which is playing on every other street corner. NoLa indulged my inner glutton for my 30th birthday celebration, and it's now my happy place. I'll be returning for every major birthday, half-birthday, and my friends' and family's major birthdays, too. Really as often as I possibly can.
At Restaurant R'evolution, an old fave!
Planing the restaurant/meal itinerary for my mom and me was an utterly exhilarating challenge - how could we possibly eat everywhere we wanted to?! There are literally not enough hours in the day! If we had an early enough breakfast, we would have time for an early lunch, a late lunch, day drinking, dinner and night time drinking! It's difficult not to fill up on breakfast at Cafe Fleur de Lis, where I enjoyed the best omelette of my entire life - a CRAWFISH ETOUFFEE omelette. Are they trying to ruin all other food for me? The buttery, peppery sauce was studded with pink, tender crawfish, and gooey provolone cheese only enhanced the dish. Pair this with their Sweet Cream Pancakes and wash it down with a Strawberry Mimosa, and you've got a great start to a great day.

If you find yourself in the Garden District for some strolling and shopping, you might want to check out the American Horror Story: Coven house and snap a few pics (optional) but you'll definitely want to dine at Commander's Palace (mandatory). They have 25 cent martinis at lunch during the weekday. Are you kidding me? SIN CITY!!! We opted for a 3-course brunch with the highlight being the Pecan Crusted Fish with corn cream, spiced pecans and prosecco-poached blue crab. It was a life-altering food moment (my first life-altering fish moment was the Brioche-crusted fish at Restaurant August in New Orleans, for those of you taking notes). The sauce was out of this world. This was a no-judgment day for sure, because we were there for the Bananas Foster, but our 3-course brunch came with a dessert included. So we opted for the Praline Parfait (with ice cream, spiced pralines, gooey praline sauce and chantilly cream), and the Caramel Roasted Apple Cobbler (with pecan streusel topping, Creole cream cheese icing and brown butter ice cream) as dessert appetizers while we waited for the main event. Finally, the bananas foster cart wheeled around, and before long, the scent of butter and brown sugar filled the air. Rum and banana liquour was added, and the syrupy sauce topped vanilla ice cream alongside slices of that syrup-poached banana. It's my favorite dessert ever. (Watch Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table on Netflix for a really great documentary about the family that started Commander's Palace, Brennan's and several other restaurants in NoLa).
All teal everything!
Coven house!
Never too early for a cocktail here.
Praline Parfait!
Bananas Foster!
Continue exploring the city and you'll find that you are indeed hungry again and could go for a bite. Willa Jean is a nice change from the rich Creole/Cajun fare, and it's one of Chef John Besh's babies. The prettiest, most picturesque meal we had was the Braised Lamb Pasta with mint pesto, tomatoes, peas and feta, adorned with edible flowers! The lamb was so tender, almost unctuous, and the pop of pea and tang from tomato cut right through the savoriness. I loved the color in this dish. But my favorite morsel from Willa Jean was the Cookies + Milk dessert. Cookie Dough on a beater, studded with chocolate CHUNKS, is served with 3 warm, freshly-baked, chocolate chunk cookies, sprinkled with sea salt. If that isn't enough, there's some vanilla-infused milk for your dunking/gulping pleasure. It's as amazing as it sounds.
Beautiful lamb pasta!
This is what I came for.
If you're getting hungry, please, go make yourself a snack. We're not quite done here.

My mom ate at Brennan's nearly 30 years ago, so we were super stoked to return and find it as fabulous as she remembered. The restaurant is gorgeous - everything is light pink and light green - and they even brought me a birthday treat! But first, order a Watermelon Mimosa to stick with the light pink theme. Then, opt for the Rock Shrimp Risotto with asparagus and truffled parmesan butter (WOW) or the Eggs Cardinal with crispy shrimp boudin (sausage), spinach, lobster sauce and black truffled hollandaise. Seriously, this is decadence at its finest. As Tony Bourdain once described while dining at the famed French Laundry, this dish was like driving a Rolls Royce while wearing fur underwear. Pure extravagance. You should order the Bananas Foster here too, because it was actually created here (and dare I say it's a little better than Commander's?) and if it's your birthday, you'll get a Cotton Candy ice cream sundae with a cherry nectar ice cream and pink whipped cream to boot. So whimsical and tasty!
Cotton Candy birthday delight!
Antoine's is the first (and therefore oldest) family-owned restaurant in the US. My mom and I had always heard of this classic New Orleans dining spot, but we weren't sure if it was still as good as it once was. I'm so pleased to tell you that it is. This place knows how to do a Wedge Salad. They've got a kickass Filet Mignon. And the Pompano Ponchartrain - topped with lump crabmeat and sauteed in butter - is out of this world. We had to save room for one of their old school desserts, and we were just about to order the Cherries Jubilee, when we switched to the Baked Alaska. Pound cake is topped with real vanilla ice cream, and covered with a sweet meringue that's like a marshmallow. It's torched to a beautiful tan hue and more decorative meringue is piped on. We devoured the entire thing. I can't imagine splitting it with more than one other person. It was too good to share!!
Baked Alaska heaven.
If you've made it to the bottom of this post, you can clearly sense my passion for this city - more specifically, the food and drink of this city. (And you'll also notice that I ignored the allotted number of exclamation points for a blog post, which further expresses my enthusiasm for this city). There's just something in the air in New Orleans. You feel right at home, and like the people can't wait for you to come back and visit. It was a very big birthday to celebrate, and it's a very special place to do it in.