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Noah Baumbach with Greta Gerwig at Telluride 2017.

Mumblecore No More, Greta Gerwig’s Debut Directing Film LADY BIRD Is Picture Perfect

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

Raise your hand if you think Soairse Ronan should have won Best Actress for BROOKLYN. Anyone?  Yes, it’s an exercise in futility since Ronan was only a nominee in 2016. Lucky for her, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut LADY BIRD, from A24 films and just shown at the Telluride Film Festival, is where Soairse gets redeemed.

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Or, you could say given a second chance to make a first impression as an emerging woman trapped inside the body of a high school girl. LADY BIRD looks to be the Oscar moon shot for both lead and director, plus a likely script nomination since Gerwig wrote the film based on (but not verbatim) her own life history.

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Growing up in Sacramento, Geriwg ended up at Barnard College and into acting. A kind of low-budget, not even indie acting turn with some non-actors, also known as genre “Mumblecore”  in the trade. Yet, she’s been Mumblecore-no-more for quite some time.
This movie, with its piercing portrait of mash-up mother/daughter/friend roles is why Gerwig can now be forgiven for that awful remake of ARTHUR (2011), the Dudley Moore classic, that she and Russell Brand trounced to death in their sequel. Sorry, Hobson, Helen Mirren was the only actor to survive that remake with her dignity intact, and only because she dies in the movie, sneaking out before its cloying crescendo.

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But back to LADY BIRD. What an exciting way to enter the Big Arena — that being the stomping ground of coveted Writer/Director credit holders. LADY BIRD features roles by Lois Smith, the darling mastermind of MINORITY REPORT whose plants snap Tom Cruise in her poisoned garden, and Laurie Metcalf as the Mom. Metcalf has just gotten better and better since her “Roseanne” TV days.
Gerwig, who just turned 34 on Aug.4, will also be known by many people as the star of FRANCES HA, directed by Noah Baumbach. Baumbach is the skilled director of SQUID AND THE WHALE, also a personal favorite film starring ex-wife Jennifer Jason Leigh, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING.
Why mention Baumbach? Because he and Gerwig have been a couple *since* his split from Leigh, which looks to have started with the making of GREENBERG, where Greta had a role.
Short story is, they’ve been a couple since 2011, and Gerwig has definitely blossomed into a director during this time.

Noah Baumbach with Greta Gerwig at Telluride 2017.

Noah Baumbach with Greta Gerwig at Telluride 2017.

LADY BIRD is being billed as a “coming-of-age” story, but it’s really a coming out story for Greta Gerwig, leaving the shadow of Baumbach. Even the language in the script, how the dialogue is structured, sounds like real-life, her real voice.
So watch for this film to make its Oscar run during Award Season coming up. (And don’t feel sorry for Daisy Domergue, she lives on as a huge talent on screen.)

Here’s a Quick Telluride Look Into LADY BIRD from A24

How A24 Describes Their New Film Is Like So…

Greta Gerwig makes her directing debut with a touching mother-daughter tale for the ages.

In Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig reveals herself to be a bold new cinematic voice with her directorial debut, excavating both the humor and pathos in the turbulent bond between a mother and her teenage daughter. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) fights against but is exactly like her wildly loving, deeply opinionated and strong-willed mom (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse working tirelessly to keep her family afloat after Lady Bird’s father (Tracy Letts) loses his job. Set in Sacramento, California in 2002, amidst a rapidly shifting American economic landscape, Lady Bird is an affecting look at the relationships that shape us, the beliefs that define us, and the unmatched beauty of a place called home.

Written and Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Lois Smith

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Find out more here, from A24 (https://a24films.com/) and @LadyBirdMovie. Coming sometime in November, catch LADY BIRD.

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Why You & Oscar Voters Have to See WIND RIVER, Renner & Gil Birmingham

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

Jeremy Renner so far, except for his turn in Affleck’s THE TOWN where he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 2011, has not been known for switching up his game. Until WIND RIVER, co-starring Elizabeth Olsen with Graham Greene, that is.

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Even as Renner received a Best Actor Oscar nom for HURT LOCKER in 2010, there was almost a built-in plausibility to that character. In WIND RIVER, there’s a built-in implausibility to his hunter-tracker character that separates this performance from anything Renner has done to date. He’s ‘not that guy,’ in other words, but he plays this guy so well that Jeremy Renner deserves some recognition for this one.
What’s the movie about? An unsolved murder of a Native American woman, whose brutal end echoes a loss for Renner’s character and his First Nations wife. But that is just a starting point. Olsen is the FBI agent called in to investigate, and she’s perfectly cast. And this isn’t just a snowy whodunit, ps, not at all.
The director is Taylor Sheridan, actor from FX TV series “Sons of Anarchy,” who sharpened his storytelling skills as the writer of SICARIO (2015). He had a role in HELL OR HIGH WATER, which he also wrote, and leads us to the next actor to break out in WIND RIVER.

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Gil Birmingham, yes, that guy we’ve seen for years in movies — most notably as the affable wolf-pack father Billy Black in the mawkish TWILIGHT series. Now he gets his game upped too. In fact, Birmingham’s performance is almost a personal essay on Native American portrayal in Hollywood movies, with a performance piece aspect. Imagine, going from camp “Indian Chief” on TV series “Charmed” to serviceable in HELL OR HIGH WATER to superb in WIND RIVER. Gil Birmingham has been Everyman of First Nations’ roles on screen; in WIND RIVER, he plays out the hidden conflicted emotions of being Native and American.
Truth be told, this movie wasn’t even on the radar of must-see’s, just a recommend from a screenwriter friend. And then? Remember how WINTER’S BONE catapulted Jennifer Lawrence into prominence? Well, WIND RIVER has that feeling with the brutality of silence, bitter cold, but with First Nations people enduring the white cold and the deafening winter. It is a must-see.

Here’s Your Quick Look at WIND RIVER

The Weinstein Company (TWC) released this film Aug. 4, after a showing at Sundance earlier in the year. TWC is not even throwing it late in the year to hype their Oscar chances. But if you want to know why WIND RIVER is more compelling in many ways than a front-runner like DUNKIRK? With DUNKIRK, you’re watching a filmmaker, Chris Nolan. In WIND RIVER, you’re watching a film. Storyteller versus storytelling.

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WIND RIVER is why movies are so important, because we can share an experience and go into a story with some remarkable performances, not to mention a look into lives we don’t often see on screen with such balance and counterbalance. It’s that experience of being in the dark to see moments on screen that shed light on who we are as people, native or not, American or not, but moviegoers all.

Find the movie here on Facebook. Then go see it. Seriously.

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Screenmancer’s Annotated 89th OSCAR Nominee Scorecard

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

If you didn’t wake up at 5:18 am Pacific Time, or 8:18 Eastern Time, to see the first live-streamed Oscar Nominations Announcement, we’ve got you covered.

By now, every major news outlet has run down the minutiae on the implication of the noms. But have they told you the whole story? And who can keep track without a scorecard. Below you can watch the actual footage courtesy of AMPAS, and then follow along with the annotations we’ve added on where the excitement looms for this Awards Season. Oscars2017If you print this out, you even have your own Oscar Scorecard for beer pong on Sunday, Feb. 26, for the live broadcast of the 89th Academy Awards presentation from The Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts & Sciences as hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. We’ve included every possible way to connect with the Academy too, as part of the Oscar Fan Experience, now you can comment in real-time during the show.

89th Oscar Nominees & Sneak Peek at 2017

Performance by an actor in a leading role

•Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea” <—— Do the Affleck Bros have a direct line to the Globes and the Academy, or what? Cogito Argo Sum, Ergo…

•Andrew Garfield in “Hacksaw Ridge” <——The redemption of Spiderman gone AWOL. Nice to see him back.

•Ryan Gosling in “La La Land” <——Should have nommed and won for DRIVE. Academy might just make it up to you, Ryan.

•Viggo Mortensen in “Captain Fantastic” <——Real actors get noms, enough said, or sorry to the pretenders.

•Denzel Washington in “Fences”<——OMG, yes they did, and of course they should have.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

•Mahershala Ali in “Moonlight” <——Also awesome in HIDDEN FIGURES, thus he may just pull it off here.

•Jeff Bridges in “Hell or High Water”<——When do we not want to see The Dude nominated? Crazyheart was not a fluke!

•Lucas Hedges in “Manchester by the Sea”<——For the fans of anything Affleck.

•Dev Patel in “Lion”<——Yes, this is an important and poignant nomination, well-deserved, Dev.

•Michael Shannon in “Nocturnal Animals”<——See Viggo note, real actors get Oscar noms.

French language poster had the most awesome look at Cannes.

French language poster had the most awesome look at Cannes.

Performance by an actress in a leading role

•Isabelle Huppert in “Elle”<—-France wants this in a big way, after all, they’re pro women and just ousted Roman Polanski off the Cesar committee as President (French Oscars).

•Ruth Negga in “Loving”<—-Shot across the bow nomination, cements Ruth as a real force to be reckoned with, well done.

•Natalie Portman in “Jackie”<—- Two legged race with Emma Stone, ouch.

•Emma Stone in “La La Land”<——Wins the two legged race with Natalie?

•Meryl Streep in “Florence Foster Jenkins”<—-Spoiler Alert, she doesn’t win this time, but black eye for President Trump, as her not-overrated 20th nom sets records, so there. And she won the Golden Globe for this, anyway.

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Performance by an actress in a supporting role

•Viola Davis in “Fences”<—-Winner, just has to be, everybody loves you, Viola!

•Naomie Harris in “Moonlight”<—Don’t make me choose, excellent chance.

•Nicole Kidman in “Lion”<—We love Nicole, and now the press can stop beating up on her for alleged pro-Trump sentiments taken out of context, ps.

•Octavia Spencer in “Hidden Figures”<—-Can there be a TIE with Viola, please?

•Michelle Williams in “Manchester by the Sea”<—-Your turn will come, not now.

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Best animated feature film of the year

•”Kubo and the Two Strings” Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner<—-Surprise winner?

•”Moana” John Musker, Ron Clements and Osnat Shurer

•”My Life as a Zucchini” Claude Barras and Max Karli

•”The Red Turtle” Michael Dudok de Wit and Toshio Suzuki

•”Zootopia” Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer

Achievement in cinematography

•”Arrival” Bradford Young

•”La La Land” Linus Sandgren<——Needs this for sweep to beat TITANIC with 11.

•”Lion” Greig Fraser

•”Moonlight” James Laxton

•”Silence” Rodrigo Prieto<—- Could clock a win because what else can it show for noms?

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Achievement in costume design

•”Allied” Joanna Johnston

•”Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” Colleen Atwood

•”Florence Foster Jenkins” Consolata Boyle

•”Jackie” Madeline Fontaine

•”La La Land” Mary Zophres<—-Mary now needs to ask more money from the Coen Bros her frequent collaborators for decades, because, drum roll, she will win?

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Achievement in directing

•”Arrival” Denis Villeneuve

•”Hacksaw Ridge” Mel Gibson<—-Welcome back Mel, and please remain silent!

•”La La Land” Damien Chazelle<—-Don’t say we didn’t tell you how exceptional you are, Damien, and congrats on your win (we hope).

•”Manchester by the Sea” Kenneth Lonergan<—-Insiders love this guy, but…

•”Moonlight” Barry Jenkins<—-This would be a shock upset win, if it happened.

 

Best documentary feature

•”Fire at Sea” Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo

•”I Am Not Your Negro” Raoul Peck, Rémi Grellety and Hébert Peck

•”Life, Animated” Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman

•”O.J.: Made in America” Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow<—-Could happen.

•”13th” Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick and Howard Barish<—-Yes, she should have been nominated for SELMA, and now she wins for Documentary. That’s called wishful thinking, but watch!

 

Best documentary short subject no idea what will happen in this category, truth be told.

•”Extremis” Dan Krauss

•”4.1 Miles” Daphne Matziaraki

•”Joe’s Violin” Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen

•”Watani: My Homeland” Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis

•”The White Helmets” Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

 

Achievement in film editing

•”Arrival”Joe Walker

•”Hacksaw Ridge” John Gilbert

•”Hell or High Water” Jake Roberts

•”La La Land” Tom Cross<——Needs this for sweep, and deserves it, too.

•”Moonlight” Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon

 

Best foreign language film of the year

•”Land of Mine” Denmark

•”A Man Called Ove” Sweden

•”The Salesman” Iran<—-There are many reasons this should win.

•”Tanna” Australia

•”Toni Erdmann” Germany

 

Achievement in makeup and hairstyling

•”A Man Called Ove” Eva von Bahr and Love Larson

•”Star Trek Beyond” Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo

•”Suicide Squad” Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson<—-Just a guess, for the win?

 

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)

•”Jackie” Mica Levi

•”La La Land” Justin Hurwitz<——Keep those wins coming for a sweep?

•”Lion” Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka

•”Moonlight” Nicholas Britell

•”Passengers” Thomas Newman<—Is there ever a year when Newman isn’t here?

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)

•”Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from “La La Land” – Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul<—-Heart and soul of why Emma Stone wins the Oscar!

•”Can’t Stop The Feeling” from “Trolls” – Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster<—-Everybody just wants to see Justin Timberlake do a number with Ryan Gosling, from their Disney Channel kids days together.

•”City Of Stars” from “La La Land” – Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul<—- If this doesn’t win, a lot of hat-eating in this Town.

•”The Empty Chair” from “Jim: The James Foley Story” – Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting

•”How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana” – Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda<—-Hamilton’s Broadway Whiz Kid Lin-Manuel officially on the map in Hollywood, make note of it.

 

Best motion picture of the year

•”Arrival” Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder and David Linde, Producers

•”Fences” Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington and Todd Black, Producers

•”Hacksaw Ridge” Bill Mechanic and David Permut, Producers

•”Hell or High Water” Carla Hacken and Julie Yorn, Producers

•”Hidden Figures” Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams and Theodore Melfi, Producers<—-Total shock upset win possible!

•”La La Land” Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz and Marc Platt, Producers<—-A lot of money is changing hands on this one with bookmakers no doubt.

•”Lion” Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Angie Fielder, Producers

•”Manchester by the Sea” Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck and Kevin J. Walsh, Producers

•”Moonlight” Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers

HF-228 - Octavia Spencer stars as Dorothy Vaughan in HIDDEN FIGURES. Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

HF-228 – Octavia Spencer stars as Dorothy Vaughan in HIDDEN FIGURES. Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

Achievement in production design

•”Arrival” Production Design: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Paul Hotte

•”Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock

•”Hail, Caesar!” Production Design: Jess Gonchor; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh<—-Yes, this should be the winner, but will it?

•”La La Land” Production Design: David Wasco; Set Decoration: Sandy Reynolds-Wasco<—-It was set in LA, about LA, and looks like LA, even though it needs this to KO Cameron’s TITANIC.

•”Passengers” Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena<—Don’t say you didn’t get a second nomination, okay?

 

Best animated short filmabsolutely no idea in this category, yikes.

•”Blind Vaysha” Theodore Ushev

•”Borrowed Time” Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj

•”Pear Cider and Cigarettes” Robert Valley and Cara Speller

•”Pearl” Patrick Osborne

•”Piper” Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer

 

Best live action short film

•”Ennemis Intérieurs” Sélim Azzazi

•”La Femme et le TGV” Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff

•”Silent Nights” Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson

•”Sing” Kristof Deák and Anna Udvardy

•”Timecode” Juanjo Giménez<—-Rooting for TIMECODE, but who knows?

 

Achievement in sound editing

•”Arrival” Sylvain Bellemare<—-They overlook Amy Adams, but like the sound editing, sigh…

•”Deepwater Horizon” Wylie Stateman and Renée Tondelli<—-You’re welcome, there’s your nomination Mark Wahlberg.

•”Hacksaw Ridge” Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright

•”La La Land” Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan<—-Sound is a huge factor, c’mon sweep.

•”Sully” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman<—-Because this movie, and beloved star Tom Hanks, deserve some recognition, whether they win or not, and or not in this case?

 

Achievement in sound mixing

•”Arrival” Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye

•”Hacksaw Ridge” Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace

•”La La Land” Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow<—-Sweep-stakes!

•”Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson<—-This is not the nomination you were searching for, and we miss you Princess Carrie Fisher. (Debbie Reynolds, too, ps.)

•”13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth<—-Trump voters in Academy, you bet!

 

Achievement in visual effects

•”Deepwater Horizon” Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton<—-Yeah, well, now it’s two noms for Marky Mark’s movie.

•”Doctor Strange” Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould<—-Benedict, you can stop worrying, it really is a great (and now nominated) film.

•”The Jungle Book” Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon<—-Sweet, but sour chance to win.

•”Kubo and the Two Strings” Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff<—-Great animation, but is it great enough?

•”Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould<—-This may be the best shot, at the Oscar.

 

Adapted screenplay

•”Arrival” Screenplay by Eric Heisserer

•”Fences” Screenplay by August Wilson<—Even Wilson knew playwriting is not the same as written for the screen, but amazing to see the honor.

•”Hidden Figures” Screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi<—-Call us crazy, but this is where the magic is.

•”Lion” Screenplay by Luke Davies

•”Moonlight” Screenplay by Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney

 

Original screenplay

•”Hell or High Water” Written by Taylor Sheridan

•”La La Land” Written by Damien Chazelle<——Do you need to ask?

•”The Lobster” Written by Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou<—-Nice job on one of the strangest and most unsettling movies made recently, seriously.

•”Manchester by the Sea” Written by Kenneth Lonergan<—-Veteran writer/director honored with a nom here.

•”20th Century Women” Written by Mike Mills<—-The only one that could unseat Chazelle’s sweep stakes?

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 ABOUT THAT ACADEMY…

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a global community of more than 7,000 of the most accomplished artists, filmmakers and executives working in film. In addition to celebrating and recognizing excellence in filmmaking through the Oscars, the Academy supports a wide range of initiatives to promote the art and science of the movies, including public programming, educational outreach and the upcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which is under construction in Los Angeles. (A Museum, from the Academy, did you catch that? You can join now. And help donate too.)

FOLLOW THE ACADEMY, AND YOUR DREAMS

www.oscars.org

www.facebook.com/TheAcademy

www.youtube.com/Oscars

www.twitter.com/TheAcademy

SCREENMANCER is a gathering place for people who make movies and mistakes predicting the Oscars, but hey, that’s Show Biz.

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The Year Nobody Was a Pundit: Hollywood’s Shock, All Governments Lie, But Zero Days & Sparrow Shortlisted

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent [FilmFestivals.com]

Cui Bono? That’s the famous Latin line that means “who benefits,” and in the realm of conspiracy theories, this blunt tool ranks right up there with “Historian’s Fallacy” as a go-to. The term historian’s fallacy was minted by Brandeis Professor David Hackett Fischer in 1970, who pointed out the bright idea that even when someone is going through a historic event, or having experienced a historic event, said eyewitness may not have a historical perspective because they have no idea what might hit them next. So since 2016 is The Year Nobody Was a Pundit, as far as the US Presidential Election, and while most of Hollywood is still in shock at the shadow conservative vote in their midst, you’ll forgive a meandering but meaningful segue here into the Oscar Documentary Shortlist and why two films, Zero Days and Hooligan Sparrow, had special resonance. But first, Oliver Stone who executive produced a documentary on investigative journalist, I.F. Stone, directed by Fred Peabody. Unlike Zero Days and Sparrow, this is one that didn’t make the Oscar shortlist, but it’s extremely relevant this year.

unnamed-6Titled ALL GOVERNMENTS LIE: TRUTH, DECEPTION, AND THE SPIRIT OF I.F. STONE, it’s based on the book that examines the influential life of investigative journalist, I.F. Stone “whose long one-man crusade against government deception lives on in the work of such contemporary filmmakers and journalists such as  Amy Goodman, Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, Cenk Uygur, Jeremy Scahill, David Corn, and Matt Taibbi.”

Amy Goodman, as you may know, is the figurehead of Democracy Now, a radio program and media beacon of the American Left that recently stood by the stand-down at the Dakota Access Pipeline. Goodman was even arrested there, but released with charges dropped. Laura Poitras is the filmmaker who brought us CitizenFour, the real-life encounter with Edward Snowden that brought government security to its knees, if only for a moment, while the American Public had their digital eyes peeled open. Glenn Greenwald is her cohort in this endeavor, formerly of the Guardian UK, now of his own media hotspot known as The Intercept. The other names are important, but Matt Taibbi is one journalist who stood firm in dissent as the Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” waves crashed onto voter beachheads. Taibbi is very respected because he stayed up to his ankles in the quick sand of changing poll numbers that made this American US Presidential Election the most highly rated quasi-fiasco in the history of US politics. Election 2016 is the ticket-seller that even Hollywood couldn’t come up with as a plot line: Hamburger Hillary vs The Donald. Initially this match-up looked, as one award-worthy internet troll put it, as “don’t bring a Cheeto to a knife fight” in favor of Hillary Clinton as far as the debates. But a strange thing happened on the way to the ballot box, a swirl of fake news, government reveals, and general discontent took over.

And this is why, although ALL GOVERNMENTS LIE didn’t make anybody’s shortlist, it’s an important film to watch. I.F. Stone’s legacy is the history of dissent in its modern form that we know it. He made his reputation as a journalist by flipping over the hallowed cobblestones of the American Democracy so we could get a view under the sheen of tradition. In fact, in 2015, I.F. Stone’s son Jeremy Stone was behind the release of a Knight Foundation documentary “The Legacy of I.F. Stone” produced out of Canada. According to Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept, (Greenwald also has a role in this doc) I.F. Stone is known as “The Patron Saint of Bloggers,” and the first known journalist to tap “unofficial sources.”

And here’s where we went collectively, as a voter nation with the rest of the watching-world dragged with us, down a very, very, very long rabbit hole in the 2016 General Election. It was supposed to be a simple contest to determine who would become the next President of the United States, or POTUS in the shorthand. Yet the whole campaign turned into He Said, She Said, fueled by unnamed sources, hacked documents, and purported criminal activity on display.

I.F. Stone’s pioneering “unofficial sources” gambit in the Digital Age became a hellride into inter-party Spy vs Spy, a weltering clash of Anonymous vs Anonymous Global, and a final FBI Director James Comey showdown vs the CIA “counter coup.” Comey is the one whose October Surprise was a November game-changer for the Clinton campaign as it hinted at a 33,000 email-deletion related indictment imminent for her.  Oh wait, he recanted within days. Next, there was even a former US State Department operative, now a sci-fi writer, named Steve Pieczenik who began to leak YouTube videos about the “FBI soft coup” to stop Hillary Clinton, who apparently they’d been tracking for Clinton Foundation fraud, from becoming POTUS. Finally elusive global-hacktivist entity Anonymous really got into the act by flooding YouTube with “Wake Up America” type calls to action to halt the current questions over alleged “Russian” hacking into the US electoral process… exhausting, isn’t it? It’s like everyone on earth and in the media lost the plot in 2016. Even genius poll predictor Nate Silver, who called elections within percentage points in the past, had Donald Trump losing by a 67% chance even as the vote count began.

Again, 2016 is The Year Nobody Was A Pundit. But “unnamed sources” and unsubstantiated allegations, as well as hit videos ruled the day. Although it’s not what was intended by I. F. Stone (no relation to Oliver), this election year is in many ways the slap in the face that Hollywood needed too. When a real life election is more fascinating than any feature film releases on their slate, the Studios can no longer grind out the same rebooted content, folks. People still went to the movie theaters and downloaded filmed content in 2016, but the US Election was beyond gripping – and not in a good way. We’re supposed to be the nation that sets the stage for the much-touted “fair and free elections.” We’re the country that points out the polling stations cheaters in so-called “banana republics,” restores justice when rogue countries go awry and thumbs our nose at humans rights violators with harsh sanctions.

Those very attributes the United States prides itself on came into question in 2016, even the idea that we could shake a fist at corruption in other countries when we ourselves seemed pretty porous as far as scandals from within.

This political preamble is why, in my humble opinion as a critic, two documentaries – Hooligan Sparrow and Zero Days – really mattered on a world-events scale this year. Lynda Weinman and Bruce Heavin, the tech couple behind Lynda.com, an online tutorial empire they have since sold, hosted a very crucial screening of Hooligan Sparrow, a documentary about women’s rights in China that becomes a visual essay on the struggle for human rights and freedoms on a visceral level. Hooligan1sht16

Here’s the official description of the film:

“The danger is palpable as intrepid young filmmaker Nanfu Wang follows maverick activist Ye Haiyan (a.k.a Hooligan Sparrow) and her band of colleagues to Hainan Province in southern China to protest the case of six elementary school girls who were sexually abused by their principal. Marked as enemies of the state, the activists are under constant government surveillance and face interrogation, harassment, and imprisonment. Sparrow, who gained notoriety with her advocacy work for sex workers’ rights, continues to champion girls’ and women’s rights and arms herself with the power and reach of social media.

Filmmaker Wang risks her own life and becomes a target along with Sparrow, as she faces destroyed cameras and intimidation. Yet she bravely and tenaciously keeps shooting, guerrilla-style, with secret recording devices and hidden-camera glasses, and in the process, she exposes a startling number of undercover security agents on the streets. Eventually, through smuggling footage out of the country, Wang is able tell the story of her journey with the extraordinary revolutionary Sparrow, her fellow activists, and their seemingly impossible battle for human rights.”

In covering it earlier this year, I’d asked Nanfu Wang “What is the history of protests in China? And do you think the West influenced this?” Nanfu takes a short breath, she is remarkably composed for someone who literally had to smuggle her footage out of China. “Protests are taboo in China,” she begins. Then she detailed the barriers for giving a proverbial “voice to the voiceless” in her home country. In a modest floral theme red dress, and Nanfu Wang safe in the West, it’s a disconnect to imagine the gritty street fights she’s had to face, even under the pressure of a second language here. Nanfu Wang is definitely someone to watch for more powerful visual essays on film, with Hooligan Sparrow just a first salvo, hopefully.

The connector to the next hugely impactful documentary, Zero Days, is that ripple effect, when an issue for someone like Sparrow’s activist Ye Haiyan ignites a global reaction. In Zero Days, a few watchers on the wall of technology saw something odd, shared it amongst themselves, and didn’t realize they’d discovered the tail of international espionage-made virus that could literally crash the world.

Zero Days is my personal pic for Best Documentary because it reveals the inner workings and internecine fighting going on within the highly insulated and highly secure secret world of CyberSec, including cybersecurity operatives and the divisions between “three letter agencies” which later becomes writ large in the so-called “soft coup” shoot-out between the FBI and the CIA firing back with hacking allegations even you read this. It’s a very dangerous game of Spy Agency vs Spy Agency that has shaken some truly home-grown crazy out of the American woodwork. YouTube is replete with claims and counter-claims of hacking, spying, even purporting to reveal a laundry list of conspiracy theories. Some of these “theories” – from Clinton unspeakable evil-doing to Trump’s Jesus-like magic – make David Aaronvitch’s book “Voodoo Histories, The Role of Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History” look tame. Aaronvitch makes compelling arguments that conspiracy theories actually serve a purpose in the pattern of history as it unfolds… but the 2016 Presidential Election crazy, especially where high-level official discussions and briefings included the possibility of “foreign actors” (read: Russia) hacking Democractic emails, the Election, and the polling machines, well it just went beyond rational human understanding.

Which makes Alex Gibney’s documentary on the events leading to the detection of a computer virus designed to destroy Iran’s nuclear centrifuges in order to sabotage their entire nuclear program, that much more important as an object lesson.

Zero Days stars a range of officials and high-level tech players who unravel the Stuxnet story. Starring Colonel Gary D. Brown, Eric Chien, Richard A. Clarke, General Michael Hayden, Olli Heinonen, Chris Inglis, Vitaly Kamluk, Eugene Kaspersky, Gibney’s “ZERO DAYS is a documentary thriller about the world of cyberwar.” ZeroDaysPoster16

Here’s the official description: “For the first time, the film tells the complete story of Stuxnet, a piece of self-replicating computer malware (known as a “worm” for its ability to burrow from computer to computer on its own) that the U.S. and Israel unleashed to destroy a key part of an Iranian nuclear facility, and which ultimately spread beyond its intended target. ZERO DAYS is the most comprehensive accounting to date of how a clandestine mission hatched by two allies with clashing agendas opened forever the Pandora’s Box of cyber warfare. Beyond the technical aspects of the story, ZERO DAYS reveals a web of intrigue involving the CIA, the US Military’s new cyber command, Israel’s Mossad and Operations that include both espionage and covert assassinations but also a new generation of cyber weapons whose destructive power is matched only by Nuclear War.”

Some of this is a recap from my earlier coverage and interview with Eric Chien this year, but there’s a lot of implied geopolitics embedded here, and again, along with the hacking component, really cements it as my Best Doc pic for 2016. Before seeing ZERO DAYS, it’s critical to understand the US’s former relationship to the Shah of Iran. Before he was deposed, the Shah of Iran received a key first piece of their nuclear program from the US. It was supposed to be used for energy generation, power plants. The Christian Science Monitor did a round-up once that put dates on the whole mess. “In 1967, under the ‘Atoms for Peace’ program launched by President Eisenhower, the US sold the Shah of Iran’s government a 5-megawatt, light-water type reactor… the foundation of Iran’s nuclear power program.” The Shah reigned from Sept. 16, 1941 until Feb. 11, 1979, when he was toppled by the Iranian Revolution. However questionable the Shah’s regime was, it’s axiomatic that something would go wrong once the largely secular world of his rule fell into theological hands as the 1980’s began.

Next things go from theological to zealot by US estimations. And then there’s 9/11. Allegations are Iran is inching its way toward the “bomb,” because it’s not a huge stretch from power-reactor fuel to weapons grade material. You can see why the US government would consider cyber war in the wake of 9/11, especially since the hardware and software for their nuclear program comes mostly from the West (read: a way in via upgrades to the tech). Plus, would anyone ever find out? Someone high up likely gambled on the wrong side of “No.” So malware was secretly engineered, somewhere, to attack the centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz facility.

Alex Gibney’s take on it is, “I started out making a small film investigating ‘Stuxnet…’ What I discovered was a massive clandestine operation involving the CIA, the NSA, the US military and Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad to build and launch secret cyber ‘bombs’ that could plunge the world into a devastating series of… attacks on critical infrastructure, shutting down electricity… this science fiction scenario…”

That’s Alex Gibney for you, outing the whole gamut of international players from “three-letter agencies” to nation states. But then you talk to someone like Eric Chien, Technical Director of Symantec’s Security Technology and Response division, who was among the first handful to discover and name the Stuxnet virus, and it becomes clear that the message of ZERO DAYS is not rehashing old news about the perils of technology. (As in the current alleged Russian election hacking fracas, and the role of governments in controlling infighting among agencies tasked with cyber security.)

Although it is public record that Belorussian engineer Sergey Ulasen was the first responder to the then-unnamed Stuxnet virus as a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) reboot over there in the Iranian nuke-related nest of computers; the message of this film is really about the knowledge gap between policy makers and digital purveyors, who, at the speed of technology, will reshape the world for us if we don’t watch out.

In person, Eric Chien is incredibly personable, a youthful exemplar of next-generation digital professionals. “We make Norton Anti-Virus,” he begins, to kind of define Symantec. He also apologies that colleague Liam O’Murchu couldn’t make it. “He had his hands on it first,” Chien adds, meaning Stuxnet. “Normally what we do, day-to-day, is we look at the latest (cyber) attacks. About one million a day. A lot of it is handled through automation, which automatically create fixes for them.”

“When we come across some big attacks, we share (with stakeholders)” pieces of the code for others to monitor or give feedback on. “Recently someone tried to transfer $1 BN from the Bank of Bangladesh,” he said, and this discovery brought back some similarities to the adrenaline of the Stuxnet discovery.

Chien mentions the possible government or shadowy players that he’s encountered in untangling the virus. “When you have black motorcycles, wearing all black following you, behind you, you start to wonder.”

On why Stuxnet wasn’t part of the Snowden leak, he casually mentions, “Edward Snowden didn’t leak this because those files are stored on a different server.” Then, ironically, Chien says he is not under an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), because “we don’t have a two-tiered system. We share this information with our clients… we would never work for hostile nations.” Chien reveals that ‘zero-day’ is a term that basically means the virus is discovered at the same time the vulnerability is revealed that makes the exploit even possible. (Think of it as a hole-in-one golf shot, but nobody knew there was a hole there until the ball hit. Now you’ve got two problems.)

“Stuxnet had not one, but four zero-days in it,” he emphasizes, “even one zero day is rare, but four?” This is how “we knew nation states must be involved.” But breaking the code, finding out what this virus was supposed to do “was the needle in the haystack. I mean it had a (kill) date in it, but it was not easy to figure out.” Tying into the election theme, Stuxnet’s “kill date” mysteriously coincided with the 2012 election.

With all the current election brouhaha, the focus on Russia, Chien made a shocking remark that puts Moscow’s capabilities in perspective. “There’s something to be said for obsolesce,” he revealed. “Because when Russia tried to shut down (the gird) in the Ukraine, their technology was so old, they could actually go to each site and crank it back on by hand.” That’s not in Zero Days, but insider terms like Nitro Zeus are, and maybe what’s most important about this film is that it details the bones of contention, the lines of power, and the factions opposed to one another behind the scenes in our government agencies.

And this comes full circle to the opening focus on the current contested election results… agencies are infighting and all we can do is find our own way back up the rabbit hole, back into the reasonable margin of error that Democracy lives by.

A complete list of the Academy’s Best Documentary shortlist for the 89th Academy Award Presentation to be held  February 26, 2017, can be found on www.oscars.org

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Oscar Whiplash Likely for Damien Chazelle’s LA LA Land & Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

Oh, to ruin Award Season… but isn’t that what we’re on earth for? To have our dreams shattered but then our lives uplifted, if only in the movies? Enter LA LA LAND, a singing, dancing act of pure wish fulfillment starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Wait, a musical? Don’t be fooled. This is classic cinema updated with today’s angst. Stone says “the idea of this really modern story of two artists and dreamers” hooked her immediately. Ryan Gosling admits it was “a secret wish of mine” to make classic musicals.

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LA LA LAND is the latest gift from Harvard-alum Damien Chazelle who brought us that inimitable gem, WHIPLASH. He’s the one who played drums in high school, which inspired the driven core character played by Miles Teller. In 2014, the then newcomer-director made the award show rounds for WHIPLASH. He even found himself seated on stage for AFI Fest with Tilda Swinton, Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Marion Cotillard, plus other famous names. Chazelle seemed already tipped as someone who would make a mark in the movies. This may be the Rhode Island native’s Oscar year as a Best Director contender. This new movie also makes you forget he wrote 10 Cloverfield Lane, the horror thriller, but it’s just gliding on the Oscar that he is a viable screenwriter-for-hire in Hollywood too. (The connective tissue is Chazelle’s interest in demons, one’s own creative demons that drive great performances or in supernatural ones in his love of horror movies.)

AFI Fest 2014, and they already know Chazelle is a star talent.

AFI Fest 2014, and they already know Chazelle is a star talent. Far right, seated beside Marion Cotillard.

Fittingly Chazelle studied Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard, and LA LA LAND is truly a visual and environmental tableaux as far as eye candy. And of course the casting is stellar. (Does everybody know Ryan Gosling was a Disney Channel kid star with Justin Timberlake? He was.) Chazelle says he considers Gosling and Stone to be like “Bogie and Bacall” and other great screen couples. Consider it Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay – if in nominations only, if not an outright sweep of the major categories. (Except for Viola Davis, who will take the category, and absolutely dominate, as Best Supporting Actress for FENCES, hopefully.)

LA LA LAND, yes that’s three words not a compound noun as in the pejorative for Los Angeles. Think Everyone Says I Love You by Woody Allen meets Your Favorite Behind the Scenes Classic 30’s Musical. Wait. Think Hamilton-like reboot of a slick, often goofy, cloying even when iconic, genre that just found its authentic swing. That’s what LA LA LAND becomes. Chazelle has a huge advantage because his background is so deep in the nuances and heartbreaking ability of music (i.e.; WHIPLASH) that he tugs the audience along by the ear as well as the eye in this pastel colored “real-life” twinged singing, dancing triumph.

LALA1sht16Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are both “triple threats,” according to J.K. Simmons, who plays Ryan’s boss in this one and also starred with Teller in WHIPLASH (where Simmons picked up a Best Supporting Actor Oscar). Triple threat, for those of you under the age of 40, is Hollywood Golden Age lingo for the rare actors with the triple skills of singing, dancing, and acting. Remember the Dirty Dancing scene in Crazy, Stupid, Love? These two are giving new life to the idea of Silver Screen Super Couple Chemistry where Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper – who promised so much in Silver Linings Playbook – let us down hard lately, ouch in Serena, even in JOY.

Since Gosling and Stone killed it as a love pair in Crazy, Stupid, Love, they are matched like dancing shoes in LA LA LAND… now for the featurette courtesy of Lionsgate.

Here’s the insider story…

Find out more at http://www.lalaland.movie, but see WHIPLASH again in the meantime for the first jazz-musician themed Chazelle movie. LA LA LAND is his second excursion with a strong jazz focused storyline as Ryan Gosling plays a struggling jazz man who keeps running into Emma Stone’s struggling actor character. Coming off her career high in BIRDMAN (Michael Keaton), Emma Stone just keeps getting better and better. And this film makes you believe there is a place for dreaming, even in these cynical times.

LA LA LAND had a limited roll out on Dec. 9 and will no doubt go wider soon as it just received seven Golden Globe nominations, 8 Critics Choice Award nominations, after winning National Board of Review’s Top 10 Films of the Year, and Best Film from New York Film Critics Circle Awards.

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