Category: 5 Favorites Redux

5 Favorites Redux #75: Oscars: Male Actors

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

We only have three weeks left to go before the 93rd Academy Awards and so my series of favorite Oscar nominees and winners is slowly coming to a close. This week, I look at male actors in both leading and supporting categories. Some of these choices were difficult and I may have ultimately put more in than I should have, but there have been a lot of favorite performances nominated (and myriad other favorites that weren’t).

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5 Favorites Redux #74: Oscars: Directing

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

The penultimate award of almost every year of the Oscars, Best Directing is often the crowning achievement of a cinematic career, with the winner being able to crow about their victory even if they aren’t on the list of the film’s producers who could win the year’s top prize.

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5 Favorites Redux #73: Oscars: Animated Feature

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

Having matured during the 1990s Disney renaissance, I became a quick study of animated pictures, largely those in the Walt Disney canon, but eventually branching out into various studio works. I gained appreciation for a number of studios and directors as animation entered a revitalized period in the late 1990s and 2000s with the advent of computer animation, pioneered by Pixar, a studio that eventually became a part of Walt Disney. During this period, I came to revere the works of Hayao Miyazaki, the burgeoning DreamWorks Animation, and, eventually, into the stellar works of Aardman Animation and Laika. This knowledge and familiarity hasn’t diminished in the resultant years and the emergence of the Best Animated Feature category in 2001 forever linked two of my great passions.

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5 Favorites Redux #72: Oscars: Screenplays

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

I move along this week in the post-nominations landscape with a continuation of my favorite nominees and winners in several Oscar categories.

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5 Favorites Redux #71: Oscars: Score & Song

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

This week, we get a bit musical with the two categories that fall under the purview of the Music Branch of the Academy. Below are my impressions on the Music and Song categories along with just a bit of history.

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5 Favorites Redux #70: Oscars: Film Editing

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

As I continue on in my review of the best winners and losers in each category in Oscar history, we come to a category that some don’t realize just how crucial it is to the filmmaking experience. I’ll also highlight a handful of films that didn’t make my list and even a few that didn’t make the Academy’s either.

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5 Favorites Redux #69: Oscars: Cinematography

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

As we move up the list of categories in my special event series of Best Oscar selections, we come to a category which seems to impress people in myriad different ways. In Cinematography, a word given to the art of a film’s director of photography (DP), some feel that beautiful exteriors well captured on film are deserving of recognition in this category while others feel that the technical aspects, of which lighting is only a small portion, are more worthy of inclusion. For me, I prefer a combination of the both. Having a great sense of framing is an essential part of cinematography, but so too is capturing exterior environments with aplomb.

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5 Favorites Redux #68: Oscars: Production & Costume Designs

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

This week, we’re pairing a couple of categories that had linked up for years in terms of winners. While that tendency has faded a bit in recent years, there’s no question that they are part-and-parcel similar categories, both tending to recognize splashy period pieces, but also having a fascinatination with fantasy films. It wasn’t always that way. Once upon a time, during the era of costume designer Edith Head, the category often saw nominees that were set in the present, but with gorgeous frocks for the female characters. Head won eight Oscars for her work and remains the most honored woman in Oscar history. While they have been a little less likely to recognize such films today, there’s no question that a lot of dresses means a lot of attention.

I will proceed as I did last week and separate the categories with five favorites in each along with a highlight of some of my other favorite films.

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5 Favorites Redux #67: Oscars: Makeup, VFX & Sound

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

While this weekend has a number of films releasing with fascinating actors, I thought I would start a series in honor of the impending Academy Awards. Shortlists for the 93rd Oscars were announced on Tuesday. The Nominations are announced on Monday, March 15, 2021 and the ceremony itself will be held on Sunday, April 25, 2021. That gives me 11 Thursdays until the Oscars to take a look at my five favorites in 18 of the main categories. To do this, I’ll have to batch together a number of categories. Pulling in music, screenplays, actors, and actresses together makes it 14 while combining the typically tandem categories of Production Design and Costume Design brings it down to 13. I can then merge Visual Effects, Makeup, and Sound categories together to bring it down to eleven.

What’s the topic you might ask? My favorite nominees and winners. We start things off this week with the Makeup & Hairstyling, Sound, and Visual Effects categories. Since this will result in some weeks getting ten or fifteen favorites, I’ll try to keep my commentary limited to save some space, but knowing me, it won’t work out that way.

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5 Favorites Redux #66: Lance Henriksen

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

At 80, actor Lance Henriksen continues to churn out film after film hoping to leave behind an impressive legacy. While a lot of his films are forgettable flops and direct-to-video disasters, his early career was characterized by appearances in a handful of prominent film while his television career ultimately led him to headline a semi-popular sci-fi drama that lasted three seasons.

This weekend, he stars opposite Viggo Mortensen in a family drama where Henriksen plays an aged bigot who doesn’t respect his gay son (Mortensen). The film looks like a lot of similar family dramas and boasts a solid cast. Whether Henriksen is better here than he has been in the past remains to be seen, but he certainly has one of his juiciest roles in some time.

Henriksen began his big screen career in an uncredited role in the 1961 film The Outsider. It took him eleven years to get his next role in It Ain’t Easy. Another uncredited role followed, but in 1975 he landed his fifth role as an FBI agent in the Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon. It was a minor role, especially after he lost the role of Pacino’s boyfriend (which went to Chris Sarandon instead), but it was also one of the best movies he’s been in. From there, he picked up steam, landing small roles in several films with Aliens in 1986 as the picture most audiences will be familiar with him in.

Staring in the 1990s, as he landed the leading role in a hit Fox television series, he started appearing in numerous direct-to-video films, which would characterize the latter two-thirds of his career. When choosing between Dog Day Afternoon, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Network to fill in the final two spots on my list, I ultimately went with the roles that had named characters even though none of the roles were particular memorable.

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5 Favorites Redux #65: Firth, McDormand, Strathairn, Tucci, Washington

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

While last week was a rather weak week in terms of potential topics for this article. This week has a rather bountiful array of potential actors to highlight. From Oscar winners Denzel Washington, Colin Firth, and Frances McDormand to Oscar nominee David Strathairn and non-nominated Stanley Tucci. Heck, even Jared Leto makes an appearance this week and while I wouldn’t recommend much that he’s been in, he has at least one title I would celebrate in a heartbeat. So, I had two options: cover one film from each of five actors or cover five of one particular actor.

For McDormand, starring in the widening release of major Oscar contender Nomadland, I don’t adore her like a lot of people. I think she’s a wonderful actress and respect her work in Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but her filmography just isn’t as filled with titles I would want to highlight in detail. For Strathairn, he has a small role in Nomadland as well, but he faces a similar problem, however with more titles on his list I wouldn’t mind talking about. That said, like McDormand, there aren’t enough to discuss five.

Firth and Tucci star this week in gay love story Supernova. Both actors are straight, but have each played gay characters before. Each have a handful of titles to acknowledge, but again not five I would feel excited about putting on my weekly list. That leaves Washington and Leto in The Little Things, the weekend’s only major wide release. As I mentioned before, Leto has a single title I would talk about, but that’s not enough to make a list. Washington, on the other hand, has earned a lot of acclaim for a lot of films. Sadly, I have seen fewer than I would like to admit.

Ultimately, this lack of clear leader, makes my decision easier. I’ll highlight five of these actors and then pick one major one from each. I’m ultimately going to leave Leto out because his filmography is mediocre at best and the others, while having some soft films in their pasts, are considerably better actors than Leto will ever be.

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5 Favorites Redux #64: Favorite Political Films

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

It’s been a busy week and with my other obligations taking up a lot of extra time, I found myself struggling to come up with a topic for this week. My original idea for this list was to populate it with Oscar-nominated films released in January. However, the more I dug into the list, the more flaws and inconsistencies I found. Unfortunately, release date information is less bountiful in decades past, so some of the films I had put on my list were showing dates contrary to my original research. As such, I had to abandon the list because of the absolute nightmare it would be to verify the release windows of over 100 films.

Next, I thought about shifting that focus to Oscar nominees born in January. However, with 351 names on the list, narrowing down to 5 was an impossible task. So, that left me with only one idea…

On January 20, 2021, Joseph R. Biden took office as the 46th President of the United States of America. On this historic occasion, and the sheer joy the end of a four-year experiment in ego and selfishness has brought, I thought I would look at my favorite films about the political process. Politics have been a common theme for filmmakers since the early days of cinema, most notably biopics. Abraham Lincoln himself has been portrayed on the big screen numerous times with the earliest being a 1908 moving picture called The Reprieve: An Episode in the Life of Abraham Lincoln. Walter Huston, Henry Fonda, Raymond Massey, F. Murray Abraham, and Daniel Day-Lewis are but a handful of the names of those who’ve portrayed him.

With the momentous events of yesterday being felt for some time, my five favorite political films have also been a defining part of our cultural heritage. Of course, there will be films left off the list. All the President’s Men is all about the scandal surrounding the break-in at the Watergate Hotel, but follows the newspapermen who exposed it rather than the political act itself. The same is true of films like JFK, The Post, and myriad others.

I also eliminated films dealing with politics in other nations such as The Queen, In the Loop, and Gandhi. Narrowing to just five was still very difficult and a lot of great movies got left by the wayside. I also decided not to go with obvious choices like Citizen Kane, Lincoln, or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

What is most interesting about my final five is that all of these films were released in 1962 or 1964. Maybe there’s a simple reason for why that decade was one of the best for films about politics or perhaps it’s because it happened to be a politically tumultuous period made all the more alarming by the 1963 assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Whatever the reason, I’d like to highlight the three films I almost included before digging into the ones I finally decided on.

Two of the three films were about Richard Millhouse Nixon, the disgraced former president who resigned his office out of fear that he would be impeached and removed from office by congress. There are many factors of that particular event that bear some striking resemblance to the presidency that is just expiring, but it’s best not to dwell on that for now. The two films were very different. Nixon was one of the last great films Oliver Stone ever directed with superb performances from Anthony Hopkins as Nixon, Joan Allen as his beleaguered wife Pat (who should have won an Oscar for her performance), and Paul Sorvino as Henry Kissinger (who should have at least been nominated). The other is Frost/Nixon, one of Ron Howard’s absolute best films with Frank Langella in a towering and unparalleled performance as Nixon as he’s interviewed by celebrated British interviewer David Frost, a near-equal performance by Michael Sheen. If I had to choose between these two, Howard’s film would probably win because it was more riveting while being little more than a two-man conversation.

The other film I nearly placed on this list was Gus Van Sant’s brilliant narrative drama about the rise to prominence of gay icon Harvey Milk, a pioneer in California politics, who was the first openly gay man elected to a political office. It also details his later assassination. Sean Penn is terrific, but Josh Brolin and Diego Luna steal the show.

With all of that said, here are my five favorites, a combination of traditional dramas, thrillers, and a palate cleanser of a satire.

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5 Favorites Redux #63: Actors Turned Directors

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

With nothing coming out this weekend that I can grasp onto as a theme for this week’s article, I thought I would look to last weekend for inspiration. I know I said last week that there was none forthcoming, but I had an epiphany while inadvertently looking at last week’s content for this week’s consideration. Last weekend, Regina King’s directorial debut, One Night in Miami, released on its march towards Oscar consideration. The film is terrific. That brought to my mind a rather interesting question: actors-turned-directors.

While some actors balanced acting and directing (Kevin Costner), some never returned to the performance realm and kept directing as their primary source of output (Sofia Coppola). King has too exceptional a career to only direct, so I imagine she will keep going with that while pursuing small directorial projects when the mood hits her. Of course, she could also turn into a Charles Laughton and never direct again, but she’s young and will no doubt be empowered by this release. Of course, Laughton was 7 years away from death and who knows if he would have tried his hand again if he had lived longer than the relatively young 63 years of age at which he died. King is on a little younger that that (she turns 50 tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 15) and Laughton was 56.

It doesn’t matter, though. Whether they kept directing or went back to acting, there are some great movies directed by actors out there. There are also a lot of bad ones (here’s looking at you, Mel Gibson), but we look at my favorites each week, not my least favorite, so let’s get started. My first priority was narrowing down the list. The big problem was narrowing the list to only five. There were a lot of good and great films that have come out in the last few decades helmed by actors, especially compared to years prior to that, the question is how do you make the list shorter. As always, let’s dive into some of the selections I had on my list and didn’t ultimately pick.

Finding a way to pare down the list was incredibly difficult. I even made exceptions to some of my exceptions. There were a lot of great actors who were also directors. One of the things I did was take out some people who are now far better known as directors than as actors. This would include Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, Somewhere), Sydney Pollack (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?), Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent), Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon), and the most impressive of them all, Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil). The exception that made the list: Penny Marshall.

The next category I pulled people from included Terry Gilliam (Brazil), Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Bullets Over Broadway, Hannah and Her Sisters), and Charles Chaplin (The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times). That category is directors whose directorial work was comparative to their acting work and who cannot be entirely removed from one without removing them from the other, though Gilliam is debatable on that point. Exception: Greta Gerwig.

Actors who began their careers as comedians and then shifted primarily into comedy directing. They still acted occasionally, but their careers were almost entirely diverted into the directing space. Harold Ramis (National Lampoon’s Vacation) and Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2). The same is also true of dramatic actors moving into the dramatic directing space: Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby) and John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre). And there are even comedic actors who went primarily into dramatic direction: Rob Reiner (Misery), though you could really say he directed a mixture of film types. Exception: Jordan Peele.

Like Laughton before them, several actors directed a little, but were still primarily actors. Examples included John Krasinski (A Quiet Place), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), and Paul Newman (I sadly haven’t seen any of his five directorial efforts yet). This category also includes actors who seemingly directed themselves far more often than others. Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet), Laurence Olivier (Hamlet), Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves), Warren Beatty (Reds, Dick Tracy), George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck.), and Robert Redford (Ordinary People) are on the list. Exceptions: Laughton and Ben Affleck.

That isn’t to say any one of these directors or their films couldn’t have made my list, because there’s no question that Affleck’s career (as an example) hasn’t been as great as say Redford’s or several others on this list, but this isn’t a quintessential list, a definitive list, or whatever you want to call it. It’s also a list of favorite films, not necessarily best. I also chose to do a bit of diversity in the ranks, trying to make sure that there’s a mixture of titles from directors with different styles, backgrounds, genders, and periods. It’s all in good fun, so don’t assume any one of these five selections is any better than the above. They are just examples that I think I’ll enjoy talking about.

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5 Favorites Redux #62: Snowy Movies

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

New Year’s morning (Friday), we had a small ice storm roll through. Then on Saturday we got more snow. While it wasn’t enough to do more than a light covering, it got me thinking about all the snowy adventures we’ve had on the big screen. Some stirring, others hilarious, but always such a rarity that we celebrate when we see them. Or so that’s what we’re supposed to say. There’s nothing more bleak than a snowy landscape. Nature buried beneath flaky whiteness. Danger at every turn. There’s something both peaceful and ominous about snow and its hoary visage. With nothing coming out this weekend that sounds even remotely interesting or with anyone I’ve seen more than a smattering of productions from, I thought I would companion this week’s five favorites with the more hopeful, joyous Christmas list I put together three weeks ago.

Of course, putting those same films on this list would be cheating and unlikely considering there are a lot of films that aren’t about Christmas that take place in the snow. Of course, I’m also interested in looking at specific scenes in films that aren’t entirely about snow, but have scenes set in a wintry landscape. Hence, how I came up with the films on my list, a strange array of genres and from a variety of filmmakers. There are even a few that came briefly to mind, but before I could write them down, I had forgotten them.

Before digging into the top five, let’s look at some of the films I chose to pass over, but not without due consideration. For big screen action adventures and blockbusters, there are no more impressive works than The Empire Strikes Back, The Day After Tomorrow, and Titanic. Each of these films, for different reasons, conjure up strong memories of the snowy environs in which they are set. From the frozen desolation of Hoth in the second Star Wars film, to the dangerous and preventable hellscape of The Day After Tomorrow, to the deadly and heartbreaking frigid climes that ended 1,500 lives in the true story of Titanic. All three films engaged audiences in different ways, but all of them were clear overperformers at the box office.

Moving away from the death and mayhem of the prior five films, we turn our attention to four family-friendly features that are set around or have central storylines involving snowfall or cold climates. Little Women, with either Katharine Hepburn or Saoirse Ronan in the lead, are a great set of films that most closely tie back to the warm familial spirits of the Christmas list I did previously. Two are animated films set either in the run up to Christmas, 101 Dalmatians, or have cold settings crucial to their plots, Frozen. Then there’s Edward Scissorhands, which like most Tim Burton films, defies classification, but is unlimited in its snowy themes.

That leaves three films, two comedies and one horror. None of them fit easily into a category of their own, but they are each standouts. I, Tonya is a semi-biographical exploration of the life and career of Tonya Harding, the most notorious ice skater in history. It’s a hilarious film that both takes itself seriously and has a lot of fun with its narrative. Fargo is the opposite. A black comedy in the truest sense of the word, this Joel & Ethan Coen title isn’t among my favorites they’ve ever done, but it’s hard to argue with the importance the snowy landscape of Fargo, North Dakota has on the film’s themes. And finally, one of two Stephen King adaptations I considered for this list. While Rob Reiner’s Misery gives Kathy Bates one of her greatest screen roles to date not to mention one of the screen’s best performances ever, its snow-bound setting certainly ups the ante of the material, but holds no candle to what was done with the other title that does make my final five.

With that, let’s get to it.
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5 Favorites Redux #61: Favorite Young Actors

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

This weekend, Chloe Grace Moretz has a new film coming out called Shadow in the Cloud. It’s a period monster actioner that has an atrocious trailer. That said, Moretz is one of the better working young actors today. While she doesn’t make my list of five favorite former child actors working right now, I thought I’d take a look at my favorites anyway.

This list will cover actors who began working before the age of 18 and who’ve grown into some of the finest working actors of their generation. There are a lot of these actors from history that I could highlight, but my list will be more recent, child actors who were born in the last thirty years, as in young actors under the age of thirty.

This is only because trying to equate child actors who had lengthy Hollywood careers like Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland to the younger generation like Saoirse Ronan and Elle Fanning would be unfair considering we don’t have the full range of their careers to examine, only what they’ve done up to this point. This would also exclude the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale since both are only a few years away from their AARP cards right now (both will be 47 in 2021).

Before digging into the best, I thought I’d highlight a handful of names that I had considered for inclusion along with brief explanations of why they weren’t included. Actresses Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Keke Palmer, Amandla Stenberg, and Zendaya are all young actors with tremendous potential who I haven’t quite seen enough of to make a judgment, but who have delivered strong performances that might merit inclusion once they make it farther into their respective careers.

Then there are child actors who had promising starts (Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine and AnnaSophia Robb in Bridge to Terabithia) who’ve not found much success subsequently. While I did include one actor who’s done predominantly television work, other actors like Taissa Farmiga haven’t quite had the opportunity to show what they can do on the big screen, although they’ve been somewhat accessible.

Then there are young actors like Jennifer Lawrence, Nick Robinson, Kristen Stewart, Alex Wolff, and Shailene Woodley who got their big breaks on the cusp of 18 and who may have done work as children, but whose best work has been predominantly achieved well into adulthood. An actor who fit into this category, but who fell just outside my 1990 birth year cut-off, is Brie Larson and she’s just so immensely talented that I had to bring her up as part of this particular generation of actors.

One name that came into my head while writing up one of the actors below is Ezra Miller. He has shown a lot of promise even if his work as the Flash in the Justice League films has been unimpressive. His work in We Need to Talk About Kevin and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them shows just enough promise to put him in a close sixth place among my favorite young actors.

Now, it’s on to the final five.

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