Monday, December 10, 2018

Boy Erased

Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Joel Edgerton, Russell Crowe
Director: Joel Edgerton
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Rating: R

This film is a heartbreaking story, unveiling some pretty shocking material. Lucas Hedges stars as Jared in "Boy Erased", a film based on a memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley. In the movie, Jared is a young man coming to terms with his homosexuality in a very rural and conservative Arkansas, under the roof of his very straight-laced, fundamentalist parents. When confronted by them after a startling accusation, Jared agrees to attend a gay conversion therapy camp. He honestly seems like he wants to change for his parents and for society, to make his life a little easier down the road. After a grueling few days with camp director Victor Sykes (played scarily well by screenplay writer and director Joel Edgerton), Jared learns that this place is not helping anybody. In fact, it's doing just the opposite. At the end of the film, the audiences learns that 36 states still allow gay conversion therapy.

We learn about Jared and his homosexuality through flashbacks. He turns down his girlfriend's advances, he looks longingly at other men, and while he portrays a spirit of athleticism and masculinity, he is sensitive, thoughtful and introspective. He has a great relationship with his mom, played by Nicole Kidman (who is having the best years of her career) and a seemingly good relationship with his pastor father, played by Russell Crowe in a very convincing performance (a 180 from his turn as Javert in Les Mis, thankfully!) When Jared admits his truth, his parents react in the only way they know how: we must help him change.

Arriving at gay conversion therapy camp, for Jared, is like walking into a prison: young men and women are wearing uniforms, personal belongings are confiscated and staff are like security guards, monitoring your every move - including bathroom breaks. Several camp participants offer Jared advice like "play the part" and "fake it 'til you make it" - whether or not you believe you can change, do what it takes to survive and get out of there. It's up to camp director Victor Sykes as to when you can leave, and at one point, he tells Jared that staying another year at camp would be a better choice for him, as opposed to returning to college. Jared also witnesses Sykes physically and verbally abusing a young man who refuses to participate in a group exercise. Over time, Jared wises up to the truth about Sykes and this program, and chooses to leave, regardless of what that means for his relationship with his family.

This film handles such delicate subject matter very well. All lead actors were believable and while Hedges is indeed the star, his supporting cast of camp mates deliver empathetic performances. This film made me angry, but also more informed. Don't see it unless you're prepared to stomach some disturbing ideas about our society.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Aidan Gillen, Allen Leech
Director: Bryan Singer

Running Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes
Rating: PG-13

I have been singing Queen songs nonstop since I saw "Bohemian Rhapsody". Did I have some issues with this film? Yes. But was I also thoroughly entertained? Indeed. The film does a really great job at reminding you of how charismatic a performer Freddie Mercury was, the enormous number of hits Queen had, and how the AIDS epidemic shook our society upon its discovery. The film does a not-so-great job of portraying their rise to fame in a realistic way, and it doesn't shine much light on Mercury's relationships with band manager Paul Prenter (played by Allen Leech, NOT his doppleganger Kevin Connolly) and longtime partner Jim Hutton. Rami Malek though, is a tour de force as Mercury, and while it wasn't perfect, it was very enjoyable.

The film opens as Mercury takes the stage for Queen's well-known Live Aid Concert performance - a stunning visual that we see more of later in the film. But we're quickly transported back to the early 1970s, where Mercury works as a humble baggage claim attendant at the airport. Much to his parents' chagrin, he goes out to the clubs - late and often - and finally approaches a band about joining them. They laugh at his appearance - dark skin, buck teeth and all - until they realize the dude has got some pipes.

What most bands experience - a slow rise to the top, difficulty finding representation, struggle releasing a hit single - Queen seems to find with ease. It's not long before performing in bars becomes a record deal, and famed manager John Reid takes them under his wing (I would have liked more screen time with this character - or maybe I'm just partial to Aidan Gillen from "The Wire" and "Peaky Blinders" fame). Shortly afterwards, hits like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Killer Queen" start pouring out of the band and rising to the top of the charts. It's almost crazy, how fast the hits came to Mercury. He really was a musical genius. Malek does a fabulous job of capturing the essence and flamboyance of the performer - it's difficult to take your eyes off him. The fake teeth were a bit of a distraction and a little overkill, but it was fun to recognize the infamous looks throughout the years - from the shadowy "Bohemian Rhapsody" photo showcasing the 4 bandmates, to Mercury's plunging neckline jumpsuits, all the way to his mustache and tight white tanks.

We're given a peek into Mercury's personal life, dealing mostly with Mary Austin (played by Lucy Boynton), but I think they could have delved more into his relationship struggles. He was clearly very much in love with Mary, but he was also clearly gay. This is complicated, and they just kind of skimmed the surface without really digging in. It also would have been interesting to see Mercury in his final years after the Live Aid concert, while grappling with AIDS. I suppose those conflicts are for another movie. This one is more light-hearted and about Mercury, the entertainer, not Mercury, the man.

Friday, October 12, 2018

A Star is Born

Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle
Director: Bradley Cooper
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Rating: R

I knew I would love this movie from the moment I heard it was in production. I'm very partial to Gaga; anything she touches is gold in my eyes. I wasn't familiar with the 3 previous film versions of "A Star is Born", so I knew very little about the plot going in. I could have watched Bradley Cooper and Gaga for hours. Their chemistry is palpable, and while I wasn't surprised that she was amazing, this was the best I've ever seen Cooper. He completely became his character; he was not the blue-eyed Cooper we all know and love. And for his directorial debut? This film was heartbreakingly beautiful. From the very first scene, it was easy to buy in to this world they created for us. I won't spoil anything, in case there's anyone else out there in the world who didn't know the story. I'll just urge you to see this magical film as soon as you can.

This is a remarkable story of being in the right place at the right time, and how one artist helped jump start the career of another, while also falling in love. We meet Jackson Maine onstage, ripping into a bottle of booze as fast as he rips into the next song. He is weathered, with bloodshot eyes and sunburned skin. It's remarkable that he can remember the notes and words of the song for how loaded he is. Ally is a waitress, and aspiring singer/songwriter in her free time. She struggles with self-esteem and lacks the confidence it takes to pursue a career in music. Ally regularly performs at a drag bar, and one night, famed musician Jack Maine hears her sing, and practically falls in love with her in that moment. They talk all night about life, music, fears and dreams, and he arranges for her to go on tour with him, much to her surprise. We're entranced by Jack's charisma, and fall in love with him at the same time Ally does. We share in her misery when he drinks too much, wasting what talent he has left.

This film has an interesting commentary on the media and public image of an artist. Ally initially finds success being herself, performing singer-songwriter tunes, with little makeup and zero intention behind her every move. When she links up with producer Rez, nearly everything about her changes - her clothes, her appearance, her music, her art - it's a shocking transformation, and Jack isn't shy about letting her know that. While she reaches super-stardom, Jack fears she has totally lost touch with who she is. It's hard for her to hear this from a man who is rarely sober.

Supporting characters Lorenzo (Ally's father, played wonderfully by Andrew Dice Clay) and Bobby (Jack's brother, played by the always amazing Sam Elliott) add to the film, though it's really Ally and Jack's world we're interested in. We get backstory from both characters, but the present is more captivating.

I can't stop singing "Shallow", the lead song of the film. If anyone had doubts that Gaga had amazing pipes, shame on you; but if anyone was unsure of Cooper's vocal and musical abilities, you'll be pleasantly surprised. He even took vocal lessons to lower his voice an entire octave - something noticeable which definitely added to the authenticity of his character. I'm eager to check out the previous 3 versions of this film, though I can't imagine they'll be able to top this one.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018


Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace
Director: Spike Lee

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Rating: R

Spike Lee is one of our most powerful, and depending on how you look at it, polarizing voices in Hollywood. Love him or hate him, he is a brilliant storyteller and puts the truth in your face, no matter how hard it is to watch. BlacKkKlansman is his latest masterpiece, and it couldn't be more timely. Several scenes and phrases were a direct correlation with what's happening in the world right now. His frightening tale of an African American cop who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan is a both an entertaining and enlightening story, and while things have improved dramatically since the 1970s, events like last year in Charlottesville remind us that sadly, racism is alive and well in our country.

John David Washington (Denzel's son!) plays Ron Stallworth, a soft-spoken, intelligent, African American cop. He gets a lot of grief from the guys on the squad, but he's willing to take it for the job. An ad for the KKK catches his eye, and gives them a call, asking for more information. His "white sounding" voice over the phone fools the KKK leader into wanting to meet with him. Enter Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, whose star continues to be on the rise) who agrees to play Ron for the meeting. This is the undercover operation of a lifetime, but these guys are pros - cool and calm.

Laura Harrier stars as Patrice, Ron's passionate black advocate love interest, who knows nothing about this undercover operation. When the KKK decides to take action against Patrice and her Black Civil Union student group, Ron's feelings get in the way of work, and things start to get ugly.

The language in this film is striking, and it was difficult to watch some scenes. Topher Grace played Grand Wizard David Duke with such ease, and it was absolutely terrifying to see him justify every cruel thought and action. The casting in this film was superb, and I have high expectations for John David Washington's next picture.

Lee closes his film with scenes from the mess in Charlottesville, just one year ago. It is utterly insane to see the progress our society has made in the past 50 years, and then to see so many people stuck in the past. I have chills as I write this post, and can only hope for a more positive and progressive next 50 years.

Lao Restaurant + Bar

Lao Restaurant + Bar is my new favorite restaurant in Greensboro. It's quickly becoming like another favorite, Bandito Bodega, where everything is just amazing. The atmosphere is upscale and modern, service is prompt and the food is absolutely incredible. But let me back up. Lao Restaurant + Bar took over Crafted's old space on Elm Street in downtown Greensboro. The dining room is still in the back, the bar is still on the side, but the cuisine is Laotian. A country neighboring Thailand, Laos' cuisine is very similar to Thai food. It's all the expected flavors - cilantro, curry, mango - but it's just different enough that you might not recognize any of the dishes. (Instead of Pad Thai, you'll find Laab.) Greensboro has been needing a place like this, and I can't wait to eat my way through the menu.

I was impressed with the extensive cocktail list, and even more impressed that the heat in the Spicy Thai Collins was prevalent. "How well do you handle spice?" asked my server after I ordered the drink, featuring muddled jalapenos, cucumber, Thai basil, lime juice, gin, simple syrup and soda. The heat was exactly the level I was hoping for - and not for the faint of heart. The Sake Sour is also a delightfully light cocktail, with sake (most likely unfiltered/cloudy), lemon juice, egg white, simple syrup, bitters and pineapple juice. Gotta love a cocktail that features egg white, to give it that frothy look and texture.
Loving these cocktails - off to a great start!
I've had Laotian food one time before, at Bida Manda in Raleigh, but I wasn't familiar enough with the cuisine to quite know what I was ordering. Laab is one of the more well-known Laotian dishes, so I started there. It's a cold, chopped meat salad - and tastes way better than that description. I chose chicken for my protein, and it was seasoned with a spicy lime sauce and fresh herbs. I wasn't prepared for the number of red and green onions in the dish, and was pleasantly surprised to find no offensive, overpowering onion flavor. It was absolutely delicious. The dish was light and refreshing, and the mint and cilantro brightened it up. Lime juice provided great acidity, and if you request romaine leaves, you can make your own little Laab burritos. I am also obsessed with the little rice cart that my sticky rice came in!
Chicken Laab
Kua Mee is a sweet and savory stir-fry noodle dish, topped with an egg omelette, your choice of protein, bean sprouts and all the cilantro in the world. For a cilantro lover like myself, I grinned ear to ear when I saw the big bunch of green to brighten up the dish. I chose Pork Belly as my protein, and was happy that it wasn't too fatty. It was like a thick-cut bacon, and added a nice salty bite to the caramelized flavor of the noodles. What's an omelette doing in there, you ask? The same thing it's doing on sushi menus - just try it, you'll like it.
Kua Mee with egg omelette and loads of cilantro!
I thought the Kua Mee was the best thing ever, until I tasted the Mee Katti, a red coconut curry with rice noodles, peanuts, whipped egg, cabbage, bean sprouts, cilantro and your choice of protein. The heat was noticeable but not overpowering, as was the coconut flavor. I chose chicken as my protein, and it was so tender, I couldn't tell whether I was eating the chicken or the egg. The peanuts added a lovely nutty crunch, and the cilantro again...I was a happy girl.
Mee Katti, aka red coconut curry goodness and a side of cilantro
Kua Prabang features tender flank steak, with green beans, green onions, red bell peppers and mushrooms in a wildly flavorful sauce. This is not your average stir-fry. Add in rice, which gets coated in that delicious sauce, and you've got a hearty, familiar, yet new dish.
Kua Prabang
My third favorite dessert in the world is Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango (behind Bananas Foster and cake from Maxie B's). If you like Rice Pudding, you'll love this dish. If you don't like Rice Pudding, you'll probably still adore it. I squealed when I saw this traditional Thai dish on the menu. There's almost a buttery popcorn flavor in the sauce that gets drizzled over the sticky rice, and the sweet acidity of the mango gives this dish a really amazing balance of flavor. Sesame seeds are more for aesthetic and a teeny crunch, but no sweet sticky rice is complete without it.
I am elated that this restaurant is in downtown Greensboro, and they're open for lunch! If you haven't been, or are nervous about trying a new cuisine, get outside your box! Support local businesses! I love introducing my palate to new flavors, and hope this post has inspired you to do the same.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Wife

Starring: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater
Director: Björn Runge
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Rating: R

"How many people could possibly be going to see 'The Wife' starring Glenn Close?" I joked to my mom, after she suggested we go purchase our tickets early to avoid the crowd. I was stunned to walk into a packed theatre - mostly older women - but packed, nonetheless. I'd been hearing buzz about Close's performance in this film, how it could finally win her her first Oscar after 6 nominations. Is this my favorite Glenn Close role? No. Will it earn her an Oscar? Possibly, but probably not. But was her portrayal of a resentful wife, that quietly built throughout the 1 hour and 40 minutes a privilege to watch? Yes. Close is one of our best today, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how strong of a performance Jonathan Pryce delivered. In fact, he may have shown her up.

Close plays Joan Castleman, wife and backbone to Joe, a novelist who has just learned that he won the Nobel Prize in literature. We share in their celebration, but can't help but notice a slight coldness develop in Joan. Their son David is an aspiring writer, and quite troubled. He seeks approval and acknowledgement from his father, but his requests fall on deaf ears. The three of them bicker their way to Stockholm for the Nobel ceremony, where we learn that Joe and Joan's seemingly perfect marriage is not quite what it seems.

We learn even more about the characters in flashbacks, where young Joan is played by Close's daughter in real life. This helps us understand how a lifetime of resentment was built up. I must acknowledge my love of Jonathan Pryce, whom I have adored since I saw him in the film "Evita". He has the juicier role here, and his character is more polarizing, which is why it was easy for him to almost steal the show from Close. But the Academy loves Glenn Close (not enough, apparently) and her emotional, wordless stare that indicates something more is happening below the surface will be enough to seal her a nomination. An Oscar though? I'm just not sure.

The reveal of the main conflict took me by surprise, and I hesitate to divulge much more information, so as to not ruin it for you readers! The less you know about this film going in, the better. I encourage you to not watch the trailer, to avoid any spoilers. I knew nothing about the story line, and every twist and turn kept me fully engaged. I loved this film.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Eighth Grade

Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan
Director: Bo Burnham
Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Rating: R

I could tell this movie would be special in just the first 3 minutes of the film. Written and directed by comedian Bo Burnham, you're immediately transported to a typical eighth grade class. We see students sniffing permanent markers, playing with the rubber bands on their braces, stacking crayola markers to make sticks - yep, been there! Such nuanced moments really spoke to the time period of the film and the world these pre-teens live in. I wondered if older generations would enjoy this film as much as I did, since eighth grade doesn't seem that terribly long ago to me. As the film's conflicts and themes unfolded, I realized that anyone can relate to this film, regardless of age, race or gender. Even though the main character is a 13-year-old white girl, it's a universal story, crafted into a brilliant film.

Elsie Fisher portrays Kayla with such ease - you can hardly tell she's acting at all. The pimples on her face, the smudged make-up, the slouched posture - she's just trying to figure it all out. She doesn't have any friends and barely says a word at school, yet is addicted to social media and films her own self-help vlogs (video blogs). We feel sorry for her, and root for her to break out of this neurotic, isolated shell.

Perhaps Kayla's first major social interaction comes when she attends a birthday party for Kennedy, the cool girl at school, whose mom guilt-tripped her into inviting Kayla. We suffer right alongside Kayla, who practically panics the entire time until she meets Kennedy's cousin Gabe, who is very self-unaware and is as awkward as she is. It nearly broke my heart when Kennedy "ooh-ed" and "aah-ed" over everyone's "cool" gifts, and dismissed Kayla's card game gift with disgust. Everyone can relate to the mean, cool girl that you want so badly to impress, but just can't.

The soundtrack is very much in your face. Several scenes had me laughing out loud, when the music would reflect her pulse racing as she sees the class hottie. Her mouth would be agape as she stared at this prepubescent 13-year-old boy with lust and wonder. She even kisses her hand at one point, pretending it's him - what teenage girl hasn't done this?! How did Bo Burnham know?!

Kayla's relationship with her single dad is complicated. The two clearly have a bond, but she often reprimands him for being corny and ignores his efforts to reach out to her. Kayla nearly dies from embarrassment when he catches her in a compromising position with a banana. His monologue toward the end of the film reminded me of the infamous Dad monologue in "Call Me By Your Name". Regardless of this caring father, I was left wondering if her lack of self-confidence had anything to do with not having a mother figure in her life.

Her class goes to a high school "training day", where she meets Olivia, a senior who takes Kayla under her wing, giving her the boost of confidence she so badly needs. She also turns out to be Kayla's first friend. A touching scene with Gabe toward the end of the film leaves you with hope that Kayla will find her self-esteem and be able to move on from this difficult phase of her life.

Several scenes in this film are so viscerally awkward that everyone in the audience reacted differently. Some people slouched down and could hardly look at the screen, while others laughed out loud with a nervous giggle. It's remarkable how well this feeling of discomfort was translated through the screen. I absolutely loved this movie and believe that anyone will be able to connect with it.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Veritas Vineyard & Winery: Wine Dinner

I had no idea how beautiful the Shenandoah Wine Region in central Virginia is. The next time I want a scenic wine fix, I won't need to fly out to Napa, I'll just drive 3 hours North and enjoy myself. We're fortunate to have several wineries right outside of Winston-Salem, in the Yadkin Valley, but the wines in the Shenandoah Valley blew me away. Afton Mountain Vineyards was a favorite, and if you visit King Family Vineyards on Sunday, they have Polo - quite the spectacle. If you decide to go for north for a special occasion, check out Veritas Vineyard & Winery to see if they're offering a wine dinner. My beau and I recently attended one, and adored every course. I'm already checking the schedule to see when we can return.

Upon your arrival, you're greeted with a flute of bubbly - what's not to love? The property is gorgeous. It's exactly what you think of when you picture a lush vineyard, surrounded by mountains. The servers were gracious and the evening was paced appropriately. After the bubbly settled, we were poured a glass of Saddleback Chardonnay to accompany Rye and Mustard Spaetzle with Chicken Sausage and sauteed greens. We're both spaetzle lovers (they're basically just German noodles or tiny dumplings) and the rye and mustard turned up the flavor. We agreed that every wine pairing was lovely, and I appreciated that this Chardonnay was perfectly balanced between dry and buttery. 

The second course was our favorite, hands down. We were both very excited about this dish - Goat Cheese and Corn Bisque, with charred corn and shrimp throughout, which provided a great pop of flavor and texture. It's as if they scraped the corn off the husk, then squeezed every drop of the corn milk into the pot, and married it with the flavor of the goat cheese. It was thick, luscious and amazing! The best dish of the night. The Not Your Grandma's Rosé alongside was perfectly fine, but the bisque stole the show entirely.

You really can't go wrong when you pair a perfectly cooked medium rare steak with a big, bold red. I loved the Vintner's Reserve, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. ...but the filet. It was absolutely to die for, and the Tomato Jam alongside was an unexpected, yet delightful flavor combination. The acid from the jam really cut through the unctuousness of the beef. And to cook filets perfectly for 20 people? Not easy to do. If we weren't already thoroughly impressed with the chef, we were now.

Dessert seemed like it was made specifically for us. We're not chocolate people (I know, pick your jaw up off the keyboard!) so the idea of Watermelon Sorbet with Apple Consommé (like a broth) was both a beautiful palate cleanser and a dessert right out of my dreams. I've grown to appreciate a good dessert wine, and the Petit Manseng brought out the warm notes of the apple, and was a beautiful golden color. It reminded me of drinking mead, which is wine made from fermenting honey and water. A stellar way to end the dinner.

A nip of Port later, and we were calling the Uber. The port was an even tastier digestif, that needed nothing more than a mouth to drink it.

It's difficult to put into words how special of an evening this was. When you like all the food, all the wine, and the company, it really doesn't get much better - unless you can spend the night on the premises, which will happen next time.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Alma Mexicana

Readers! I'm back with a new favorite Winston-Salem restaurant. I had been hearing rave reviews of Alma Mexicana, located in downtown's trendy Bailey Park, and now I can finally add my praises to the mix. This place is awesome. The menu is varied and unique - it's not your average Mexican restaurant. This type of restaurant is a welcomed addition to the Triad. The drink menu is abundant, service is timely, and while there are just high-top tables with bar stools inside, the covered patio and outdoor seating is quite inviting. And you know I was partial to the Dia de los Muertos-themed decor. The menu changes frequently, so you may not be able to find these favorites, but I can say with certainty that what you have will be delicious.
Love the decor!
I enjoyed the Alma Blanca Margarita, which brought together some of my favorite flavors - Domaine de Canton (ginger liqueur), pineapple and nice heat from habanero syrup. My group ordered several tapas to try off the dinner menu, and they came out at an appropriate pace. Among our favorites were the Chicken and Cheese Flautas, quite similar to Taquitos. These were thicker than I expected, giving me a lot of the yummy, cheesy filling. They reminded me of Mexican egg rolls, and it's obvious these babies are rolled and fried in-house - they're nothing like the frozen roll-ups you used to eat (or maybe still do - no shame there.)

If you don't think you like duck, try the El Pato Perfecto. The savory, dark meat is shredded and is not unlike dark meat chicken or turkey. It's topped with queso fresco and pumpkin seeds and served with greens and corn tortillas, so you can make your own duck tacos. You get yummy guac with this dish and a spicy tomatillo verde salsa that added nice acid and heat.

My favorite dish of the night was served in a mini cast iron skillet, earning mad points for presentation. Roasted Poblano Peppers are stuffed with lamb, and smothered with a tomato cream sauce. I could not get enough. I love lamb on its own, but the sauce might have been the star of the show. We ate it with a spoon when we ran out of the buttery, grilled bread that came with it.
Roasted Poblanos stuffed with Lamb
I love a good Ceviche, and that's what the Scallop Ceviche was - good. While it was refreshing and the texture of the scallop was lovely, it was so laden with lime and chile amarillo, that it almost over-powered the fish. I got a little too much acid in this dish, and I would have preferred to taste more of the fresh fish flavor. The fresh tortilla chips and guacamole served alongside were heaven, though.

I am so excited that a place like Alma has found a home in Winston! I would be even more thrilled if they eventually made their way over to Greensboro, so that more people could get a taste of this upscale Mexican cuisine. It's not to be missed.

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.