And the winners are…

On January 16, the Denver Film Critics Society — 16 writers and broadcasters working in and around the Mile High City, of which I am one — announced their picks for the year’s best. Leading the way was Lady Bird with two wins (Best Picture and Lead Actress) and six nominations. Call Me By Your Name received the most nominations overall, seven, but winners were spread evenly across the field with three films taking receiving two wins apiece.

Below are DFCS’s 2017 nominees with the winners in bold:

Best Film

  • Call Me By Your Name
  • Dunkirk
  • Lady Bird
  • The Shape of Water
  • Get Out

Best Director

  • Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
  • Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
  • Jordan Peele, Get Out
  • Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water
  • Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name

Best Actor

  • Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
  • Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
  • James Franco, The Disaster Artist
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
  • Harry Dean Stanton, Lucky

Best Actress

  • Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
  • Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
  • Meryl Streep, The Post
  • Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Best Supporting Actor

  • Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name
  • Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
  • Ray Romano, The Big Sick

Best Supporting Actress

  • Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
  • Allison Janney, I, Tonya
  • Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
  • Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
  • Bria Vinaite, The Florida Project

Best Sci-Fi/Horror Film

  • The Last Jedi
  • Get Out
  • It
  • Logan
  • Blade Runner 2049

Best Animated Film

  • Coco
  • Loving Vincent
  • The LEGO Batman Movie
  • Despicable Me 3
  • The Breadwinner

Best Comedy

  • The Big Sick
  • Thor: Ragnarok
  • The Disaster Artist
  • Lady Bird
  • I, Tonya

Best Original Screenplay

  • The Big Sick
  • Lady Bird
  • Get Out
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • I, Tonya

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Last Jedi
  • Molly’s Game
  • Call Me By Your Name
  • The Disaster Artist
  • Logan

Best Special Effects

  • The Last Jedi
  • Dunkirk
  • The Shape of Water
  • War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Blade Runner 2049

Best Original Song

  • “Remember Me,” Coco
  • “This Is Me,” The Greatest Showman
  • “Evermore,” Beauty and the Beast
  • “Visions of Gideon,” Call Me By Your Name
  • “Mystery of Love,” Call Me By Your Name

Best Score

  • Dunkirk
  • Darkest Hour
  • Phantom Thread
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • The Shape of Water

Best Documentary

  • Jane
  • The Work
  • Chasing Coral
  • Faces Places
  • Dawson City: Frozen Time

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Thelma
  • Foxtrot
  • First They Killed My Father
  • Graduation
  • A Fantastic Woman
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Midge Kelly is the champion. How do we know he’s the champion? Because a ring announcer calls him such a half-dozen times before we even see his face. He is played by Kirk Douglas after all, and with that million-watt smile, those broad shoulders, and that perfectly coifed hair; who else could the champion?

Champion, directed by Mark Robson and written by Carl Forman, then flashes back to Kelly’s humble beginnings, showing how the champion came to be. From riding the rails from Chicago to L.A. with his brother, Connie (Arthur Kennedy), then as a waiter for an oceanside diner where he meets and is forced to marry the owner’s daughter, Emma (Ruth Roman). Kelly ditches Emma the second the sham ceremony is over and looks up Tommy Haley (Paul Stewart, always a treat), a fight manager whose path he crossed in Kansas City while boxing for dollars. Considering his stunning physique and hot-headed attitude, it’s little wonder why Haley decides to take on the young fighter with no experience. He must have sensed Kelly would do anything to make it to the top.

And Kelly will do everything. He’ll leave his wife, his manager, his brother; he’ll defy the gangsters who run the boxing world; he’ll bite the hand that feeds him and spit in the face of the establishment. In another movie, maybe a Hollywood melodrama, Kelly’s defiance and individualism would be celebrated, maybe even lauded; treating his rise from rags to riches as something distinctly American and noble.

But this isn’t a Hollywood melodrama, this is 1949 film noir and Kelly’s go-getter attitude has a snake-like cruelty to it. As Dimitri Tiomkin’s score transitions from saccharine to sinister, Franz Planer’s stark black and white photography moves from observational to expressive. In a sense, we have hitched our wagon to Kelly — not Connie, Emma, or Haley — and we’re along for whatever ride he wants to take us on.

And this ride goes the way to the top, to hell with what it takes to get there. Midge Kelly wants to be the champion, and he’ll get there on paper and in his mind, but from where everyone else is standing, this beaten-up piece of leather sure doesn’t look like one.

Kirk Douglas as Midge Kelly in United Artists’ Champion

Directed by Mark Robson
Written by Carl Foreman
Based on the story by Ring Lardner
Produced by Stanley Kramer
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Paul Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Ruth Roman, Marilyn Maxwell
United Artist, Not Rated, Running time 99 minutes, Opened May 20, 1949
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Weekly Round-Up (12.7.17 – 12.28.17)

Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothée Chalamet, and Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

As 2017 comes to a close, the movie prestige season kicks into high gear with three of the year’s best finally making their way to movie theaters. Reviews of Call Me By Your NameThe Shape of Water, and Darkest Hour.

White Labs’ tasting room associate Shawn Donahue Photo courtesy of Susan France

Over at Drink, I reviewed four of Odell‘s latest, dove into some Christmas ales, broke down the history of New England IPAs, and spoke with JoAnne Carilli-Stevenson and Shawn Donahue of White Labs Pure Yeast & Fermentation about beer’s magic ingredient.

“Shoes on the Danube Bank” Photo courtesy of Nikodem Nijaki via Wikimedia Commons

And to close out every year, Boulder Weekly asks their writers to pen a personal essay about the past year. I wrote about about “Shoes on the Danube Bank” which can be found on the Pest side of the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary.

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The average viewer may not know who J. Paul Getty was. If they do recognize the name, it’s most likely from his extensive collection of art, housed in Santa Monica’s Getty Center or the Getty Villa, located just up the coast in the Pacific Palisade. They might even recognize him as the answer to a trivia question: Who was the world’s first billionaire? But in a world of thousands of billionaires, first no longer holds currency.

Yes, according to the 1966 Guinness Book of Records, J.P. Getty was the world’s richest private citizen, worth approximately $1.2 billion. Getty made his money in oil, the first to mine the Middle East for its vast seas of black gold in the late 1940s. Where others saw sand, Getty saw money, and where others would spend vast fortunes, Getty saved his.

Who was this mysterious billionaire? What made him tick? And why didn’t he pay the $17 million dollar ransom when his 16-year-old grandson was kidnapped? Well, if they didn’t know then, they certainly don’t know now.

Based on the book, Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty by John Pearson, and directed by Ridley Scott with workmanlike adequacy, All the Money in the World recounts the 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) by the underground syndicate, ‘Ndràngheta.

Ransoming the grandson of the world’s richest man should have been a slam-dunk, but old man Getty (Christopher Plummer, more on him later) refuses to part with a penny of his fortune. Young Getty’s mother, Gail (Michelle Willimas), has divorced herself from the family and hasn’t a dime to offer. Not to be embarrassed, Getty brings in his personal fixer, Fletcher (Mark Wahlberg, painfully miscast), to try and negotiate with the kidnappers. One of them, Cinquanta (Roman Duress) takes a liking to the young Getty and does everything he can to protect the boy.

Jumping back and forth between the three stories — the kidnappers trying to get the money, Gail trying to raise the money, and Getty refusing to part with any — All the Money moves without any real urgency or drive. The race to free the young Getty becomes the engine that moves the movie along, but Scott and screenwriter David Scarpa seem much more interested in what makes wealthy men tick.

Plummer is good as Getty  (isn’t he always?) but there isn’t much more to Getty than a pastiche of Ebenezer Scrooge, Charles Foster Kane, Noah Cross, and Shylock — one edit connects Getty haggling over a million dollar painting to a butcher chopping off one pound of beef. There aren’t any grand revelations to be mined in here, just another portrait of a rich old man who seemingly has everything yet owns nothing.

Yet, what makes All the Money in the World a curiosity is not the subject of the story, but how the story made its way to the screen. The first All the Money go-round cast Kevin Spacey in the role of Getty, but mere days before the movie’s premiere at November’s AFI Fest, stories of severe sexual misconduct involving Spacey hit the press and Sony pulled the film The solution: recast Christopher Plummer in the role, reshoot, and hope for the best. And, with the exception of a few unfortunate looking CGI mattes and some obvious stand-ins, Plummer fits into this movie as if he were intended to be there the whole time. Not too shabby from a technical point of view, but the successful substitution of Plummer for Spacey shows just how hollow All the Money in the World is. It’s a half-hearted indictment of capitalism wrapped up in a thriller based on incidents from real life. Nothing more, nothing less.

Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg in All the Money in the World

Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by David Scarpa
Based on the book Painfully Rich by John Pearson
Produced by Chris Clark, Quentin Curtis, Dan Friedkin, Mark Huffam, Ridley Scott, Bradley Thomas, Kevin J. Walsh
Starring: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Charlie Plummer
TriStar Pictures, Rated R, Running time 132 minutes, Opens December 25, 2017
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Hemingway had a phrase: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” If Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) ever needed a mantra, I’d offer her that.

Diagnosed with early onset scoliosis, Bloom blew out her back at the age of thirteen. Less than a year later, she was competing in downhill skiing. A decade later, a one-in-a-million frozen tree branch dislodged her ski during an Olympic qualifying event, spraying Bloom all over the slope and ending her competitive career.

A year later, Bloom landed in Los Angeles penniless but quickly found work as a cocktail waitress. Then as a personal assistant, then as the organizer of his weekly high-stakes poker game. When he (Jeremy Strong) felt Bloom was earning too much money, he fired her from her job and the game.

Never one to rest on her laurels, Bloom partnered with an A-list celebrity, Player X (Michael Cera, most likely standing in for Tobey Maguire), and started her own high-stakes game. When that game got too big, Player X pulled his connections. Bloom moved east to New York City and started another game, this time for more money and with more success.

But every time Bloom got too good, made too much money, or flaunted her success, men, powerful men, pulled the plug and Bloom had to start from scratch. The world broke Bloom, but Bloom found a way to strengthen those broken places.

In an unfortunately obvious way, Molly’s Game — based on Bloom’s memoir, Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World — explores the gender gap of power while telling a salacious story of powerful men with dirty little secrets and the women who keep them.

The majority of Molly’s Game is told with the energy and punch of a pulp novel, deliciously recounted by Chastain in detailed voice-over narration; the kind Molly’s lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), reads while preparing his defense.

Jaffey is a good lawyer, a good man, possibly the last one left, and, most importantly to Bloom, a good father. Jaffey has no delusions, he knows what he’s up against; he’s just trying to dig his way to the rotten core of the case. While he does, writer/director Aaron Sorkin plays Freud and digs into Bloom’s.

Sorkin, known for his punch, edge, and grand speeches, values style over naturalism, and with the many speeches and exchanges, he gets it. However, in Molly’s Game, Sorkin steps behind the camera to direct and shows the limitations of style over substance. Nothing looks overtly bad but the camera placement is haphazard and the edits are either too fast or too slow.

But these technical issues don’t come close to derailing Molly’s Game like the movie’s third act deus ex machina does. In roughly three minutes, a long forgotten character explains the movie in painful detail and offers an unconvincing explanation, essentially letting the air out of the balloon with one deflating whoosh. Well, at least it was fun while it lasted.

Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in Molly’s Game Courtesty of STX Entertainment

Written for the screen and directed by Aaron Sorkin
Based on the book by Molly Bloom
Produced by Mark Gordon, Matt Jackson, Amy Pascal
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, Brian d’Arcy James, Graham Greene
STX Entertainment, Rated R, Running time 140 minutes, Opens December 25, 2017
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It’s doubtful anyone watching Pitch Perfect 3 won’t have seen at least one of the previous installments, hence why little time is spent catching the audience up to The Barden Bellas. The movie begins as a spy caper, set to an a cappella performance of Britney Spear’s “Toxic” aboard a yacht that explodes in a fury of flames just as Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Patricia, a.k.a. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), narrowly jump to safety.

Flashback a few weeks and Beca is working with Pimp-Lo (Moises Arias) to put the finishing touches on his new rap single. The cut Beca produces is sleek and smooth, but painfully generic and boring. When Pimp-Lo wildly and comically insists his cut is better, Beca plays it with a condescending sneer. Though it’s not exactly a radio hit, Pimp-Lo’s version has personality, originality, and creativity, even if it is ridiculous. After the screening, my wife informed me this conflict between generic and personal was the overall message of Pitch Perfect 2, but in that sequel, the message will stay; Beca quits her job citing artistic differences.

The overall message of Pitch Perfect 3 is to let go. Let go of the glory days of college and let go of dreaming dreams and start living them. Naturally, that won’t come until the movie’s final five minutes, but at least getting there isn’t a straight path.

The plot: with little else to do, other than throw a pity party, the Bellas reunite to join a traveling USO show competition. The prize: the chance to open for DJ Khaled (playing himself). The competitors: a southern fried rock band, Saddle Up; a lesbian alt-rock group, Evermoist; and hip-hop duo, DJ Dragon Nutz.

As the groups tour through Italy and France, Beca sparks something with DJ Khaled’s producer, Theo (Guy Burnet), Chloe (Brittany Snow) fawns over hunky serviceman, Chicago (Matt Lanter), Aubrey (Anna Camp) continually tries to reunite with her father while Patricia tries to figure out why her long-absent father (John Lithgow) has suddenly re-appeared.

None of these stories are sufficiently fleshed-out, and no one really cares. Pitch Perfect 3 is about seeing the Bellas once more, riff-offs and musical numbers, and just a few aca-puns. A lot of the jokes fall flat, particularly the ones from running commentator John Michael Higgins. Curiously, those jokes seem targeted at my father-in-law, who wouldn’t see the movie if you paid him. Why the hell are they wasting time trying to make him laugh? At least the writers crank out the humor as fast, giving the audience little time to sit and mull over the duds.

Matching that breakneck pace, director Trish Sie gives the audience nothing but fan service, not to mention an inordinate amount of whip-pans and “whoosh” sound effects. There’s an awful lot of silliness, hijinks, and shenanigans but Pitch Perfect 3 is fun in an effervescent sort of way. Like a cheap bottle of champagne, it may not be your favorite, but it’ll do the trick.

Directed by Trish Sie
Written by Kay Cannon and Mike White
Story by Kay Cannon
Based on the book by Mickey Rapkin
Produced by Elizabeth Banks, Paul Brooks, Max Handelman
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Hailee Steinfeld, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, John Lithgow, Matt Lanter, Guy Burnet
Universal Pictures, Rated PG-13, Running time 93 minutes, Opens December 22, 2017
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There is humor to be mined from the direst of situations and Finish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki has been doing just that for nearly 35 years. His latest, The Other Side of Hope (Toivon tuolla puolen), takes his well-honed, delightfully peculiar style and applies it to Europe’s refugee crisis.

Though The Other Side of Hope is set in modern-day Helsinki, nothing in the movie feels modern. Everyone smokes constantly, drinks heavily, and sits in garishly painted sets that look like leftovers cobbled together from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s days in Germany. Toss in Kaurismäki’s flat framing and the actor’s deadpan reactions to the world around them, and you’ll begin to see The Other Side of Hope as a fairy-tale for a cruel and indifferent world; indifferent toward Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a displaced Syrian seeking asylum, and indifferent toward Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), a salesman who dreams of owning a restaurant.

Khaled and Wikström’s paths cross twice, first at the crossroads of their respective lives, second when Khaled needs a helping hand. Later on, we’ll learn about Khaled’s harrowing journey to freedom in detail but Wikström’s backstory is a touch more oblique. Only a quick interaction with his ex-wife betrays the burden Wickström once carried.

These moments are what make The Other Side of Hope such a lovely and humane film, but it is Kaurismaki’s idiosyncratic framing and structure that make it hilarious at the same time. It’s not always easy to laugh at the bleakness of life, but there comes a moment when either we must or we will break into a thousand pieces, never to be assembled once again. Thank goodness we still have some clowns that help light the way.

The Other Side of Hope is in limited release.

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