Oscars 2015: Winners!

It's Oscar Sunday! Lucky recipients of the 87th Oscars will be honored today at the Dolby in Hollywood! Come back often for updates on the winners. Check my predictions in the 8 major categories here: MY OSCARS 2015 PREDICTIONS

And the winners are...

Performance by an actor in a leading role
Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Robert Duvall in “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”
Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”
Laura Dern in “Wild”
Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”
Emma Stone in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”

Best animated feature film of the year
“Big Hero 6” Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli
“The Boxtrolls” Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold
“Song of the Sea” Tomm Moore and Paul Young
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura

Achievement in cinematography
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Emmanuel Lubezki
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Robert Yeoman
“Ida” Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
“Mr. Turner” Dick Pope
“Unbroken” Roger Deakins

Achievement in costume design
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Milena Canonero
“Inherent Vice” Mark Bridges
“Into the Woods” Colleen Atwood
“Maleficent” Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive
“Mr. Turner” Jacqueline Durran

Achievement in directing
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu
“Boyhood” Richard Linklater
“Foxcatcher” Bennett Miller
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson
“The Imitation Game” Morten Tyldum

Best documentary feature
“CitizenFour” Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky
“Finding Vivian Maier” John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
“Last Days in Vietnam” Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester
“The Salt of the Earth” Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier
“Virunga” Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

Best documentary short subject
“Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry
“Joanna” Aneta Kopacz
“Our Curse” Tomasz Sliwinski and Maciej Slesicki
“The Reaper (La Parka)” Gabriel Serra Arguello
“White Earth” J. Christian Jensen

Achievement in film editing
“American Sniper” Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach
“Boyhood” Sandra Adair
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Barney Pilling
“The Imitation Game” William Goldenberg
“Whiplash” Tom Cross

Best foreign language film of the year
“Ida” Poland
“Leviathan” Russia
“Tangerines” Estonia
“Timbuktu” Mauritania
“Wild Tales” Argentina

Achievement in makeup and hairstyling
“Foxcatcher” Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier
“Guardians of the Galaxy” Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Alexandre Desplat
“The Imitation Game” Alexandre Desplat
“Interstellar” Hans Zimmer
“Mr. Turner” Gary Yershon
“The Theory of Everything” Jóhann Jóhannsson

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
“Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”, Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson
“Glory” from “Selma”, Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
“Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights”, Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me”, Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
“Lost Stars” from “Begin Again”, Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

Best motion picture of the year
“American Sniper” Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan, Producers
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers
“Boyhood” Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers
“The Imitation Game” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers
“Selma” Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers
“The Theory of Everything” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers
“Whiplash” Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers

Achievement in production design
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
“The Imitation Game” Production Design: Maria Djurkovic; Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald
“Interstellar” Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
“Into the Woods” Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
“Mr. Turner” Production Design: Suzie Davies; Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts

Best animated short film
“The Bigger Picture” Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees
“The Dam Keeper” Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
“Feast” Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed
“Me and My Moulton” Torill Kove
“A Single Life” Joris Oprins

Best live action short film
“Aya” Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis
“Boogaloo and Graham” Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
“Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak)” Hu Wei and Julien Féret
“Parvaneh” Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger
“The Phone Call” Mat Kirkby and James Lucas

Achievement in sound editing
“American Sniper” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” Brent Burge and Jason Canovas
“Interstellar” Richard King
“Unbroken” Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

Achievement in sound mixing
“American Sniper” John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga
“Interstellar” Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten
“Unbroken” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee
“Whiplash” Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Achievement in visual effects
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist
“Guardians of the Galaxy” Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould
“Interstellar” Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

Adapted screenplay
“American Sniper” Written by Jason Hall
“The Imitation Game” Written by Graham Moore
“Inherent Vice” Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Theory of Everything” Screenplay by Anthony McCarten
“Whiplash” Written by Damien Chazelle

Original screenplay
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
“Boyhood” Written by Richard Linklater
“Foxcatcher” Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
“Nightcrawler” Written by Dan Gilroy

See you at the Oscars!

Raymond Lo

Awards: 2015 Film Independent Spirit Awards Winners!

Top honors went to Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)BoyhoodWhiplash and Nightcrawler

Film Independent, the nonprofit arts organization that produces the Spirit Awards, Los Angeles Film Festival and Film Independent at LACMA, handed out top honors to Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Boyhood, Whiplash and Nightcrawler at yesterday afternoon’s 30th Film Independent Spirit Awards. Still Alice, Dear White People, Ida, Land Ho! and CITIZENFOUR also received awards at the ceremony, which was held in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica. Inherent Vice received the Robert Altman Award and Foxcatcher received a Special Distinction Award. In addition to being the celebration that honors artist-driven films made with an economy of means by filmmakers whose films embody independence and originality, the Spirit Awards is the primary fundraiser for Film Independent’s year-round programs.

Over the past 30 years, the Film Independent Spirit Awards has made a name for itself as the premiere awards show for the independent film community. Artists who have received industry recognition first at the Spirit Awards include Joel and Ethan Coen, Spike Lee, Oliver Stone, Ashley Judd, Robert Rodriguez, David O. Russell, Edward Burns, Aaron Eckhart, Neil LaBute, Darren Aronofsky, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Hilary Swank, Marc Forster, Todd Field, Christopher Nolan, Zach Braff, Amy Adams, Lena Dunham and many more.

This year’s major category winners were Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance); which won Best Feature, Best Male Lead and Best Cinematography, Boyhood; which won Best Director and Best Supporting Female, Nightcrawler; which won Best First Feature and Best Screenplay and Whiplash; which won Best Supporting Male and Best Editing; Still Alice, which won Best Female Lead;Dear White People, which won Best First Screenplay; Land Ho!, which won the John Cassavetes Award; Ida, which won Best International Film and CITIZENFOUR, which won Best Documentary.

The 8th annual Robert Altman Award was given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice received this award, along with casting director Cassandra Kulukundis and ensemble cast members Josh Brolin, Hong Chau, Martin Donovan, Jena Malone, Joanna Newsom, Joaquin Phoenix, Sasha Pieterse, Eric Roberts, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Serena Scott Thomas, Benicio del Toro, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon and Michael Kenneth Williams.

The Special Distinction Award, given to a film for its uniqueness of vision, honesty of direction and screenwriting, superb acting and overall filmmaking achievement, was given to Foxcatcher. The award was given to director/producer Bennett Miller, producers Anthony Bregman, Megan Ellison, Jon Kilik, writers E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman, actors Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum.

The 2015 Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation Fellowship which includes a cash grant of $10,000 was awarded to Christina Choe. This annual award is given to a filmmaker currently participating in a Film Independent Artist Development program with the mission of diversity in mind. Choe, a participant in the 2015 Directing Lab, is currently in active pre-production on her first narrative feature film, Nancy.

The Film Independent Spirit Awards are sponsored by Premier Sponsors Piaget, The Lincoln Motor Company, Bank of America, Heineken, American Airlines and IFC. T-Mobile® is the Official Arrivals Show Sponsor, Sauza 901 Tequila is the Official Spirit and FIJI Water is the Official Water of the 2015 Spirit Awards. WireImage is the Official Photographer of Film Independent.

The production team for this year’s Spirit Awards includes executive producer and director Joel Gallen, producers Shawn Davis and Rick Austin.

The following is a complete list of the winners:

Best Feature: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Producers: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan, James W. Skotchdopole

Best Director: Richard Linklater (IFC Films)

Best Screenplay: Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler (Open Road Films)

Best First Feature: Nightcrawler (Open Road Films)
Director: Dan Gilroy, Producers: Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Jake Gyllenhaal, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak

Best First Screenplay: Justin Simien, Dear White People (Roadside Attractions/ Lionsgate)

John Cassavetes Award (For best feature made under $500,000): Land Ho! (Sony Pictures Classics)
Writers/Directors: Aaron Katz, Martha Stephens, Producers: Christina Jennings, Mynette Louie, Sara Murphy

Best Supporting Female: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood (IFC Films)

Best Supporting Male: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash (Sony Pictures Classics)

Best Female Lead: Julianne Moore, Still Alice (Sony Pictures Classics)

Best Male Lead: Michael Keaton, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Robert Altman Award: Inherent Vice (Warner Bros.)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, Casting Director: Cassandra Kulukundis, Ensemble Cast: Josh Brolin, Hong Chau, Martin Donovan, Jena Malone, Joanna Newsom, Joaquin Phoenix, Sasha Pieterse, Eric Roberts, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Serena Scott Thomas, Benicio del Toro, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Kenneth Williams.

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Best Editing: Tom Cross, Whiplash (Sony Pictures Classics)

Best International Film: Ida (Poland – Music Box Films)
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

Best Documentary: CITIZENFOUR (RADiUS-TWC / HBO Documentary Films / Participant Media)
Director: Laura Poitras; Producers: Mathilde Bonnefoy, Dirk Wilutzky

Special Distinction Award: Foxcatcher (Sony Pictures Classics)
Director/Producer: Bennett Miller, Producers: Anthony Bregman, Megan Ellison, Jon Kilik, Writers: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman, Actors: Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum

For more information or to become a member, visit filmindependent.org.

PSIFF15: My Interview with "Wild Tales" director Damian Szifron

Raymond with Damian Szifron
I have a confession to make. I am a terrible journalist! True, I no longer get starstruck with movie stars but introduce me to a film director and I will instantly whip out my camera phone and take a selfie before I could even exchange pleasantries with them. Two weeks ago, at the 26th Palm Springs International Film Festival, I was waiting for my next movie inside the press lounge when in came someone whose face looked familiar but whose name I couldn’t remember. He looked boyishly handsome (in the way directors are, you know) and he was having a hard time getting into the lounge because he didn’t have a badge with him.

I overheard him telling the doorkeeper that he just flew in from Argentina and that he was supposed to meet someone inside the lounge. When I heard Argentina, that’s when it clicked! He was Damian Szifron, one of World Cinema’s biggest sensations in 2014! And I lost it! I was not literally and outwardly hysterical but inside I was just screaming so loud! I composed myself, I breathed and waited for a chance to approach him.

Eventually, I caught the eye of his festival handler and I walked over to him and whispered if I could perhaps have at least 10 minutes with Damian. Another journalist from L.A. Weekly also approached the handler so I offered to just do a shared interview with her. She agreed. We were both happy.

Who is Damian Szifron? You might ask. Well, Damian directed “Wild Tales” or “Relatos Salvajes”, one of the best-reviewed films of the year and this writer’s #2 pick for my ten favorite films of 2014! “Wild Tales” is an anthology of six short films united by a common theme of violence and vengeance. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May last year to universal acclaim and the buzz continued to grow with incredible word of mouth. If you are a film buff, it is the kind of movie that is on the top of your must-see list. (Perhaps the Argentine embassy could arrange a special screening of this film in Manila soon?)

Damian is 39 and “Wild Tales” is his sixth film. Like every great director I’ve met, he was very kind and pleasant in person and he has this certain charm about him specially when he ends some of his sentences with “et cetera, et cetera, et cetera”

Here’s the full interview I had with him.

What was the inspiration for the movie?
I would say reality was the inspiration and as a filmmaker you can do something with the things that bothers you – with the anger and frustration but then I took those conflicts into the world of fantasy and I used the freedom of imagination and I think that I created something that is more similar to the “Amazing Stories” or “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” than something that’s a description of our society so you have some fantastic bite in it.

I read somewhere that the idea came while you where in a bathtub?
That’s kind of a myth. I work on a bathtub. I write in a paper, that’s true, and I like to write while I am in a bathtub but also in other places, in regular places, of course. I have a studio but yeah I like the connection with the water.

The general theme of the movie is revenge, vengeance and you take it to such extreme level but we are enjoying it. How did you do it?
Absolutely. I think the joy is the main issue in this film. For me, it’s about the pleasure of losing control, not just about revenge but it’s that particular moment when you just let your instincts go out and you stop repressing yourself and so you enjoy that. We have to repress ourselves on a daily basis and everybody is telling you what to do, when to talk… We, as human beings, have the ability of repression. Animals can’t do that; they only have their instinct. We have our instinct but also we have the ability to think and to remember and we know that when we do A, we go to B and if we go to B we are going to end up at C. And we don’t want to be there so we don’t do A. I think that that’s what makes you feel depressed or stressed and some people just explode and this is the film about the ones that explode.

The "Wedding" from WILD TALES
But I love how you ended the wedding. (The last wild tale, if you will, in the anthology is about a bride who discovers that her groom has been cheating her on the day of their wedding. You’d love to see how she reacts! Boy, it’s some reaction you’ll see.)
Yes and it was a total surprise for me. I made some stuff before, I made two TV series and a few feature films and usually I used to work on a structure of everything and I knew the ending when I started with the dialogue but in this opportunity I just went there without having a clue of where I was heading. It was like an exercise, I mean, the freedom was always there – I just went with the characters, you know. So, while writing the wedding, I never thought that the party could end like that. Each step was a step into the catastrophe and into chaos, into the abyss so when that happened, I said, wow!

And the actors, how did you gather such a fine ensemble of actors?
They are amazing, yes. In Argentina, they are all very well known, very important actors and you usually you don’t see the together in the same film because each one is in their own films. But the structure of this project allowed us to call them and they came on board very quickly. And also, you don’t need them for two months or three months, you just need them for a week or so.

How long did it take you to complete the movie?
The whole thing was eight weeks. (He added that the pre-production took longer)

Can you tell us the budget?
It was almost $4 Million dollars.

Is that a lot for an Argentine film?
That’s a lot. It’s not the most expensive film made in Argentina but it’s a big film for Argentina.

And your collaboration with the Almodovar brothers, can you talk about it?
I am very, very lucky. They saw a previous film of mine in 2005 and they called me from Spain to tell me, ‘We got into the theater to see this Argentine movie and we enjoyed and we want to see how you are doing, where are you, what are you going to do next?’ Afterwards, Agustin Almodovar, Pedro’s brother, came to Argentina and we went to dinner. So, as soon as I decided on this project, we sent the script to them, they read it and two days after they called.

So how long did it take from writing to completing the shoot?
The last thing I shot was in 2006 and then I started to write a science-fiction film, which grew into a trilogy. It was a very creative period in my life and I was getting tired. You know in TV, I was writing an episode while shooting another; editing the one I shoot before. So I wanted to stop with that mechanism and just dedicate myself to write. I thought it was going to be, like, two years writing and I spent seven years writing this trilogy, a romantic film named “The Perfect Couple” and then a western in English. And, at the end of this huge process, more ideas kept on coming so to stop them from becoming into more feature films – I have so many in development – I tried to compress them and as a result I got these powerful short stories. And when I had two or three, I noticed that they were all connected by the same theme and that they belong to the same universe and that they came out from the same DNA so without even trying, I had a new film in my hands. I call it an undesired child that after you have it you feel the luckiest father in the world.

And how’s life been since Cannes?
Like this. I have been traveling since Cannes. I never stopped. The film was shown there for the first time and after that it went to Telluride, Toronto, San Sebastian and more festivals.

And your thoughts on the Oscar because I know you are going to get it. (We had the interview two weeks before the Oscar nominations were announced. Yes, I am more confident than him, Wink!) 
I don’t know. There’s nothing I can do. It’s a very hard period for a director. As a football player, when you are going to the World Cup, the moment of truth is the game. But now the moment of truth is actually making the film, writing it. So, I am now just hoping but I am happy with all the things that already happened with the film.

Thank you. I feel so lucky I met you today.
No, no. I am the lucky one.

On January 15, as I predicted and hoped, “Wild Tales”, was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category alongside its Cannes contemporaries “Leviathan”, a powerful parable on corruption, faith and religion from Russia and “Timbuktu”, a harrowing dramatization of the occupation of Timbuktu by Islamic fundamentalists from Mauritania. Other nominated films were “Tangerines” from Estonia, a beautiful anti-war film and “Ida”, a film about a catholic novitiate struggling with her Jewish lineage from Poland. All films screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival this year.

The Oscars will be presented on February 22.

Raymond Lo

Oscars 2015: My Prediction!

The OSCARS in 3 Days!

Yesterday, i posted in my Twitter and Instagram accounts my predictions in the 8 major categories. In that, I had "Birdman" winning Best Picture and "Boyhood" director Richard Linklater for Best Director. Today, I am reversing that and calling the race again for "Boyhood" to take Best Picture and "Birdman's" Alejandro Innaritu for Best Director.

Now, if the opposite happens or if "Boyhood" takes both, i will be most happy. But if "Birdman" wins both and Michael Keaton upsets Eddie Redmayne, i will probably be bitching about the results all day Monday. LOL!

My predictions below! Clear your Sunday sked. Watch the Oscars!!

Below article originally appeared on print via The Philippine Star and online at http://www.philstar.com/entertainment/2015/02/20/1425576/guide-87th-oscars

Guide to the 87th Oscars
By Raymond Lo, L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 20, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - It’s that time of year again! On Sunday, Feb. 22 (Monday, Feb. 23, Manila time), the Oscars will once again bring movie lovers together for three hours of sheer movie fun. The 87th Oscars will be telecast live to over 100 countries and is expected to attract over a billion viewers!

And those billion viewers are probably still as perplexed as this writer is right now on which one movie will be rewarded by the Academy this year. 2014 was not a particularly strong year for Hollywood movies. Only a handful made an impression and that has been reflected by the wildly diverse selections of several Oscar precursors. Traditionally, about this time, we should have had a clear frontrunner leading to the show already but not this year. The Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild and the Producers Guild all picked Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) as the year’s Best Film. However, the BAFTAS, the very influential British bloc of the Academy, selected Boyhood as their Best Film. The critics were not of much help either. The BFCA, which for years has been considered as the most accurate predictor of the Oscars, selected Boyhood as their Best Film. The New York and Los Angeles Film Critics also named Boyhood as the year’s best.

So with no clear frontrunner for the all-important Best Picture prize, this writer will pick what he believes is the better movie between the two. Expect Boyhood to win the top Oscar but the Best Director trophy could go to Birdman director Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu. The picture/director awards will be split between the two films again similar to last year. It would be interesting to see two Mexican filmmakers win Hollywood’s top directing prizes two years in a row. Alfonso Cuaron won last year for Gravity.

On a personal note, this writer would love to see Boyhood’s Richard Linklater rewarded with a win for his 12-year labor of love. I hope the Academy shares my sentiments.

The nominees for Best Picture are: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash.

The nominated directors are: Innaritu for Birdman, Linklater for Boyhood, Bennet Miller for Foxcatcher, Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel and Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game.

While the Top 2 categories are pretty difficult to call, the acting categories will likely just end up as a coronation night for the four actors who have virtually swept all the awards haul this Oscar season.

Acclaimed actress Julianne Moore will win Best Actress for Still Alice. The beautiful star has been overdue for an Oscar and this year is going to be hers. Her performance as a mother and wife trying to cope with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease has been widely acclaimed since its debut in September. Her main competition in the category are previous Oscar-winners Reese Witherspoon for the very moving film Wild and French superstar Marion Cotillard for the brilliant film Two Days, One Night. Two Brits complete the nominees: Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl and Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything.

In the Best Actor category, Felicity’s co-star and fellow Brit Eddie Redmayne is tipped to win the category for his excellent portrayal of wheelchair-bound astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. His performance has drawn comparison to Daniel Day-Lewis’ Oscar-winning turn in My Left Foot. Veteran Hollywood player Michael Keaton is the dark horse in this category. The former Batman star whose performance as an over-the-hill actor trying to stage a comeback in Birdman has resonated with Hollywood insiders and he could just earn the trophy and stage his own career comeback. The three other nominated actors are Steve Carell for Foxcatcher, Bradley Cooper in American Sniper and Benedict Cumberbatch in the heartbreaking film The Imitation Game.

In the supporting categories, two veteran actors, who rightfully deserve all the honors and accolades for their compelling performances and for their impressive body of work as well, have staked their respective claims in their categories very early on in the race.

Patricia Arquette, who aged 12 years on screen for her role in Boyhood, has racked up virtually every trophy available this season. Her performance has inspired so many that perhaps the other actresses nominated alongside her end up voting for her, too! The other actresses nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category include Laura Dern for Wild, Keira Knightley for The Imitation Game, Emma Stone for Birdman and the acting goddess Meryl Streep, who is nominated for an unbelievable 19th time this year for her performance as a wicked witch in Disney’s Into the Woods.

For Best Supporting Actor, J.K. Simmons is expected to receive his Oscar on his first nomination as a stern teacher who expects nothing but greatness from his students in Whiplash. Other actors nominated in the category include Robert Duvall for The Judge, Ethan Hawke for Boyhood, Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher and Edward Norton whose performance in Birdman poses the biggest competition to Simmons.

This year, the one category that this writer is most excited about is the Best Foreign Language Film category. All the five nominated films are excellent works and each one deserves to win. But my heart was captured by the Argentine film Wild Tales when I saw it last December. It’s one of those rare films that combine all the elements of a commercial film and the quality of an art film. Its biggest competitions are the films from Russia, Leviathan, a tale of Russian corruption based on the parable of Job and the Polish entry Ida, the story of novitiate nun who discovers that she was Jewish on the eve of her dedication. Ida has been the frontrunner since day one and is likely to win. The other nominated films are the harrowing Timbuktu from Mauritania and the powerful anti-war film Tangerines from Estonia.

But Wild Tales will win. Fingers crossed.

With no particular film leading the Oscar race this year, the trophies will most likely be spread among five movies. The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is nominated for nine Oscars will likely end up with the most trophy with four. Birdman and The Theory of Everything will likely net three trophies each. Interstellar, the disappointing sci-fi from Christopher Nolan, will sweep the technical categories and will likely win three Oscars. Boyhood will likely end up with just two Oscars.

Among the announced performers this year are pop superstars Lady Gaga and John Legend. Neil Patrick Harris, known to many Filipinos as the Doogie Howser M.D., will be hosting the Oscars for the first time this year.

See you at the Oscars!

Film Review: "Fifty Shades of Grey"

First, let me start by addressing one important question: Does the movie give justice to the source material? The answer is absolutely yes.

Saw Sam Taylor’s adaptation of the first book of the best-selling series created by E.L. James, a professed “Twilight” fan who created the seed for the series while chatting with fellow fans in a fan forum dedicated to the hit Vampire romance. What started as a short story erotic fan fiction blossomed into a full-blown series that now ironically rivals the popularity of the “Twilight” novels! No thanks to the adult women who savored the wicked idea of having their ideal men take them to the extreme with promises of passionate romance and sadomasochistic lovemaking. Men also dug the porn-like quality of the novels! It was not a pop culture phenomenon for nothing.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” tells the story of a virginal college student named Anastasia Steel who on one fortuitous day gets to meet the world’s most eligible bachelor, the handsome, mysterious and elusive Christian Grey. The attraction is mutually instant: She is love-struck while he finds a new woman to satisfy his strange sexual fetish. Or he could also be in love. That’s one reason why women find the character so irresistible. Christian represents the composite of men that’s been idealized by most women all throughout time. They can’t express their true feelings articulately but they are powerful, sexy. They are also mysterious as they are handsome. And they are rich, very rich!

This first book in the trilogy is all about the courtship – or the seduction of Anastasia into the strange erotic world of Christian. The movie pretty much stays faithful to the book although there’s fewer sex scenes in the movie and the ending, though very clever, is somewhat abrupt compared to the book but it was just the right conclusion to this first chapter in the story given the amount of time the movie spent building the romance. This movie is like a sexual foreplay, it teases you for just slightly over two hours only to surprise you with a safe word just when you are ready to climax. If that last sentence confuses you, then you better head to the movie now or read the book.

This movie is not going to land in my best of year list later in the year but I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed reading the books. It’s titillating and offers just the right amount of kink and romance to satisfy the requisites of the genre. The book is more graphic in its depiction of the bondage and S&M encounters between Anastasia and Christian compared to the relatively tame scenes that made the final cut. I am assuming the DVD version will contain more extended scenes.

Many critics of the trilogy cite the poor quality of the writing. In this movie adaptation, the writing is also one of its weakest elements that many critics cite but it makes sense! I cannot find fault in the writing because “Fifty Shades of Grey” is not a literary masterpiece. It’s not by Dostoevsky or by Jane Austen or Shakespeare so one cannot be so unfair to expect an Oscar-worthy screenplay in the league of Aaron Sorkin. The film is an erotica based on a fan fiction – and that’s what one gets from the movie. It’s fun, enjoyable for the core fans. This adaptation is not attempting to make new fans. The movie is catered for its fan base and it works.

On the technical aspect of the film, two things stood out for me. The sleek photography and the sexy score by Danny Elfman. The newly-arranged versions of popular pop songs also helped in upping the seduction scenes.

I wish I could say the same to the two lead actors. Dakota Johnson is very effective as Anastasia Steel. She inhabits the character with the right balance of naiveté and curiosity. She makes one believe that Anastasia can really induce such passionate attention from a man just by biting her lips and rolling her eyes. Jamie Dornan, on the other hand, appears too tame for the character. Christian Grey is supposed to be intimidating and hardly shows any emotion but Jamie’s take on the character is the complete opposite. He makes Christian so meek that for one instant I thought he was the submissive and Anastasia was the real dominant. I believe Sam Taylor may have constructed his performance to sell the romance aspect more of the story. It’s not a biggie but in the sequels, Jamie Dornan should show more fierceness in his performance and let the warm, love-struck Christian Grey he performed in this chapter come out in the final book’s denouement when the character has already transformed. That’s not a spoiler because it’s what’s written in the trilogy.

Note. This is not a defense of the movie or the book but if you view it that way, be my guest. I would like to consider myself a true movie buff. I enjoy “bad” movies too as long as they stay loyal to their genre and they never give in to pretensions that befall many other movies.

Rating: 4 Stars

Raymond Lo

Valentine's Day Musings: How i spent the day with Natalie Wood, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro

So i was feeling lazy (again) this morning and decided to lounge (again) on the couch in front of my TV and decided i'd check what's on before i start with my day. It was about 11 already. I start my day late for the past couple of weeks (am in-between day jobs right now and am enjoying late nights and lazy mornings in bed) and my routine consists mainly of two things: food and TV. So i grabbed the remote, switched on the TV and changed the channel to the "MOVIE" network. I don't have cable. Don't ask. It's a matter of principle and also more like a protest against the poor quality of programming and service i experienced when i was still dazed by the idea of "having cable."

I forgot it was Valentine's Day today but with Facebook, i was reminded the instant i turned my iPhone on. Hey, I don't need to tell you i am single and happy. (Really, i am happy and contented. Really! Am sure! --- Now, am starting to sound desperate) so i approached the day like another ordinary day. Last night, i went to a neighborhood bar and overheard the bartender telling someone that today was just another SAD-turday for him. I couldn't agree more. But, really, i am happy! Hmmm.

I had to-go food from a Filipino wake I attended last night, so i had that for brunch. Nothing beats leftover Filipino food. I paired it with brown rice, a glass of room temperature water and some TV. My day is set.

I woke up thinking I would spend the morning to myself again but, no, it was not what my movie gods planned for me. The minute i settled myself on the couch and focused my attention on my oldish 40-inch TV, I was immediately struck by the sight of a very young (and handsome!) Robert Redford berating a very young (and very beautiful Natalie Wood) for something that she committed. Some dialogues had Mr. Redford's character accusing Ms. Wood's character of being a whore. Wow! That was powerful. I clicked on the INFO button on my remote and discovered that what was on was this 1966 Sydney Pollack film "This Property is Condemned" based on a Tennesse Williams play. I was instantly hooked. I may have missed the first hour or so of the movie but i felt it was going to be good --- and i was not disappointed.

The film is styled in classic melodrama with hysterical performances that's seemingly typical in every Tennesse Williams play. I could be wrong. Apparently, Ms. Wood's character was in love with Mr. Redford's character but her mom is trying to set her up with an old guy for the sake of some fortune. But then the mom's lover is secretly trying to seduce Ms. Wood's character. There's a crucial and tense scene inside a restaurant where Ms. Wood's character, her mother, her mother's lover and the old guy that's she's being setup are having some casual fun but what begun with cautious flirtations ended with an explosive revelation resulting to a haphazard wedding between Ms. Wood's character and her mom's lover who was portrayed by a very young (and surprisingly good looking) Charles Bronson.

The next morning, Ms Wood's character decides that marriage is not for her. She runs off with the money she stole from Mr. Bronson's character and their wedding certificate to go after Mr. Redford's character who is now based in New Orleans. When they met, they reconciled, professed their undying love for each other and planned on getting married. For an extended amount of time, we get to see the lovers enjoying each other but you know that there are still unresolved issues that need to be addressed. 

So the mother reappears and she forces Ms. Wood's character to reveal to Mr. Redford's character that she could not possibly get married again. That she's already married and that she has to return to her husband. This news catches Mr. Redford by surprise. She looks accusingly at Ms. Wood's character who couldn't help but be sorry for herself and the sad circumstance life has put her in. She explodes, runs away under heavy rain and disappears into the dark. 

The movie ended with a couple of teenaged children recalling the sad story of Ms. Wood's character. It's not a happy ending typical of a love story shown on TV on Valentine's Day. It was tragic, sad. And it was just perfect for me. Nope, not because i enjoy sad movies, i just like being real. Perhaps, if there's someone that i am in love with right now, I would have clung to the illusion that everyone deserves a happy ending. But, let's get real. 

Fortunately, the next movie shown on the same channel was the 1984 classic romance "Falling in Love" featuring two of my favorites, the marvelous actors Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro. You know how the movie goes. The characters end up together in the end. H-A-P-P-Y E-N-D-I-N-G, yes --- but if you consider the fate of the wife and husband their characters decided to leave, then you'd realize that in the pursuit of love, there is always some brokenhearted souls suffering unseen in the dark.

I planned on not watching it but i just couldn't help myself. Then, "Making Love", the Kate Jackson, Michael Ontkean and Harry Hamlin love triangle was also scheduled after "Falling in Love" but i decided i have enough of lovers and love for the day. So here i am blogging about how memorable my Valentine's day was. Memorable is a relative word. Hope yours was more "memorable." 

Raymond Lo

Berlin 2015: Winners!

"Taxi" (Jafar Panahi, Iran)

Iranian film "Taxi" from banned filmmaker Jafar Panahi takes both Jury and Critics top prizes!

The winners of the 65th Berlinale


GOLDEN BEAR FOR BEST FILM (awarded to the film’s producer)
Taxi by Jafar Panahi

El Club (The Club) by Pablo Larraín

SILVER BEAR ALFRED BAUER PRIZE (for a feature film that opens new perspectives)
Ixcanul (Ixcanul Volcano) by Jayro Bustamante

Radu Jude for "Aferim!"
Małgorzata Szumowska for "Body" 

Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years by Andrew Haigh

Tom Courtenay in 45 Years by Andrew Haigh

Patricio Guzmán for El botón de nácar (The Pearl Button)

(in the categories camera, editing, music score, costume or set design)
Sturla Brandth Grøvlen for the camera in Victoria (Victoria) by Sebastian Schipper
Evgeniy Privin and Sergey Mikhalchuk for the camera in Pod electricheskimi oblakami (Under Electric Clouds) by Alexey German Jr.

BEST FIRST FEATURE AWARD (endowed with € 50,000, funded by GWFF)
600 Millas (600 Miles) by Gabriel Ripstein

HOSANNA by Na Young-kil

Bad at Dancing by Joanna Arnow

Dissonance by Till Nowak

AUDI SHORT FILM AWARD (endowed with € 20,000, enabled by Audi)
PLANET Σ by Momoko Seto



CRYSTAL BEAR for the Best Film
Min lilla syster (My Skinny Sister) by Sanna Lenken

Dhanak (Rainbow) by Nagesh Kukunoor

CRYSTAL BEAR for the Best Short Film
Hadiatt Abi (Gift of My Father) by Salam Salman

The Tie by An Vrombaut

(for the best feature-length film, endowed with € 7,500 by the Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk)
Dhanak (Rainbow) by Nagesh Kukunoor

Min lilla syster (My Skinny Sister) by Sanna Lenken

(for the best short film, endowed with € 2,500 by the Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk)
Giovanni en het waterballet (Giovanni and the Water Ballet) by Astrid Bussink

Agnes by Anja Lind


CRYSTAL BEAR for the Best Film
Flocken (Flocking) by Beata Gårdeler

Prins (Prince) by Sam de Jong

CRYSTAL BEAR for the Best Short Film
A Confession by Petros Silvestros

Nelly by Chris Raiber

(for the best feature-length film, endowed with € 7,500 by the Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung | Federal Agency for Civic Education)
The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Marielle Heller

Nena by Saskia Diesing

(for the best short film, endowed with € 2,500 by the Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung | Federal Agency for Civic Education)
Coach by Ben Adler

Tuolla puolen (Reunion) by Iddo Soskolne and Janne Reinikainen


COMPETITION: El botón de nácar (The Pearl Button) by Patricio Guzmán 
PANORAMA: Ned Rifle (Ned Rifle) by Hal Hartley 
FORUM: Histoire de Judas (Story of Judas) by Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche

COMPETITION: Taxi by Jafar Panahi 
PANORAMA: Paridan az Ertefa Kam (A Minor Leap Down) by Hamed Rajabi 
FORUM: Il gesto delle mani (Hand Gestures) by Francesco Clerici

Victoria by Sebastian Schipper

PANORAMA: Que Horas Ela Volta? (The Second Mother) by Anna Muylaert 
FORUM: Zurich by Sacha Polak

Mot Naturen (Out of Nature) by Ole Giæver and Marte Vold 


Best Feature Film: Nasty Baby by Sebastián Silva
Best Documentary/Essay Film: El hombre nuevo (The New Man) by Aldo Garay
Best Short Film: San Cristóbal by Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo 
Teddy Jury Award: Stories of Our Lives by Jim Chuchu



Panorama Audience Award fiction film 
Que Horas Ela Volta? (The Second Mother) by Anna Muylaert

Panorama Audience Award documentary film 
Tell Spring Not to Come This Year by Saeed Taji Farouky and Michael McEvoy

Victoria by Sebastian Schipper 

Flotel Europa by Vladimir Tomic 

Zui Sheng Meng Si (Thanatos, Drunk) by Chang Tso-Chi


(endowed with € 15,000, funded by Glashütte Original)
Oskar Sulowski for Rosebuds

(endowed with € 5,000, funded by the French-German Youth Office | FYGO) 
Ein idealer Ort (A Perfect Place) by Anatol Schuster

Lobende Erwähnung
Im Sommer wohnt er unten (Summers Downstairs) by Tom Sommerlatte

Balikbayan #1 Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III by Kidlat Tahimik

The Look of Silence by Joshua Oppenheimer

Tell Spring Not to Come This Year by Saeed Taji Farouky and Michael McEvoy

B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin by Jörg A. Hoppe, Klaus Maeck and Heiko Lange

(funded by the Allianz Cultural Foundation)
Oskar Dawicki in The Performer by Łukasz Ronduda and Maciej Sobieszczański
Untitled (Human Mask) by Pierre Huyghe 

Lobende Erwähnung
Thamaniat wa ushrun laylan wa bayt min al-sheir (Twenty-Eight Nights and A Poem) by Akram Zaatari


(endowed with € 6,000)
Marcela Said (Chile) for Los Perros

(endowed with € 20,000)
Emily Atef (Germany) for 3 Days in Quiberon

Special Mention
Syllas Tsoumerkas (Greece) for The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea

(endowed with € 10,000)
Director Abner Benaim (Panama) and producer Gema Juarez Allen (Argentina) for Biencuidao

Warren Santiago (Thailand/ Philippines)

(endowed with € 3.000, funded by Canada Goose)
Marouan Omara (Egypt) for Dream Away

Congratulations to all the winners!!!

Berlin 2015: Kidlat Tahimik's "Balikbayan #1..." wins Caligari Film Prize!

The Caligari Film Prize for a film in the Berlinale Forum goes to Kidlat Tahimik's "BALIKBAYAN #1 MEMORIES OF OVERDEVELOPMENT REDUX III!"

Language is the key to the empire. Enrique is the slave of Ferdinand Magellan, who circumnavigated the globe. Aside from bathing Magellan every evening, Enrique also has to translate Filipino languages into Portuguese and Spanish. The film opens with a cardboard box containing film rolls being dug up from the ground. Shot in 1980 and now showing their age, the images tell the story of the circumnavigation. Magellan died shortly before the journey was completed, but had authorized that Enrique, now by default the first true circumnavigator, was to become a free man. Enrique carved his memories of the journey into wood, with the sculptures adorning his garden. Balikbayan #1 weaves together the official story with that of Enrique, as well as with the director’s cut of what Tahimik started filming 35 years ago in order to find out the truth and continued in a village in the province of Ifugao in 2013.

The actors are no longer the same, and Tahimik, who himself played Enrique in 1980, has grown older, just as children have been born. Balikbayan #1 is a home movie, a flamboyant epic, a study of colonialism, a historical corrective and an homage to what Tahimik calls ‘Indio Genius’.


Raymond Lo

News: Powerful Doc "Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine" in theaters now!

Filipina Documentary Filmmaker Michele Josue's film "Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine" opens today at AMC River East 21 in Chicago and at Laemmle NoHo 7 in Los Angeles. For screening schedules in your city, please check this link: http://mattshepardisafriendofmine.com/screenings

"Our film and the people in it all bear witness to the simple fact that Matt Shepard was a good person — an amazing person with a bright future who tragically fell victim to the ignorance and hatred that persists in our society today." - Michele Josue, Director of "Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine"

The new and award-winning documentary "Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine" explores the life and tragic death of Matthew Shepard, the gay student brutally murdered in Laramie, Wyoming in one of the most notorious hate crimes in U.S. history. Framed through the personal lens of friends and family, it’s a story of loss, love, and courage in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

Watch the trailer below...

Directors Statement

Fifteen years ago, just past midnight on October 12, 1998, my dear friend Matt Shepard died from a vicious anti-gay attack at the hands of confessed homophobe Aaron McKinney and his accomplice Russell Henderson. Matt’s death opened the world’s eyes, including my own, to the hate and inequality the LGBT community struggles against to this very day.

I was 19 when Matt died and his loss was devastating for me.  It’s a hard thing to understand, but as his story became an international news event, my heartbreak and sense of loss only grew as my friend Matt was replaced by “Matthew Shepard,” an historic figure and icon that will forever be associated with unspeakable violence and hate.  And as the media stripped my friend of his humanity, I made a promise to myself that when I was emotionally and artistically ready, I would share, with the world, who Matt really was — in the only way I knew how, through film.

So three years ago, in 2010, after close to a year of research and intense discussion, I, along with a very small team, set off to make “Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine,” a film that would recapture the Matt the world barely knew. During the course of these years, I traveled all across the U.S. as well as Switzerland and Morocco to film important people and pivotal locations from Matt’s life. We made numerous trips to Laramie, Wyoming, where we photographed evidence from Matt’s attack. We interviewed the exemplary law officials who were involved in his case, including Undersheriff Rob DeBree, who painstakingly walked us through every detail of that fateful evening’s events.  We filmed everyone from Matt’s parents, his closest friends, teachers, and mentors, to the bartender who last saw Matt and his murderers at the Fireside on October 6, 1998.

The people I chose to be featured in “Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine,” many of whom are also mutual friends of mine, all had close relationships with Matt and knew him at various points in his all-too-brief life. Collectively, they construct a truly encompassing and intimate portrait of Matt as he really was—a complex, sensitive, gay young man who worked hard to find peace and his place in the world. Through their vivid recollections of Matt, his joys and struggles, they reveal a young person, struggling to come of age, who is no different than any of us.

While Matt’s death did open my eyes to a world that could be so hostile and cruel, in many ways, the opportunity to tell Matt’s story has also showed me how incredibly good, beautiful, and just the world can be.  Matt’s story includes exemplary police work, tireless activism, and the legislative victory of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. His story shows us how love overcomes hate, and mercy surpasses cruelty and intolerance.  Finally, there is the power of “Matthew Shepard,” Matt’s legacy to inspire current and future generations to be proud of who they are and to live their lives with courage, compassion, and forgiveness.

As a filmmaker and Matt’s friend, I feel extraordinary gratitude to be able to tell his incredible story and a tremendous obligation to depict him honestly, as the flawed, yet wonderful human being he was.  For this reason, it is heartbreaking to me that the dehumanization and victimization of Matt continues to this day in the form of outrageous conspiracy theories and disgraceful character assassinations, which can only be motivated by a reckless opportunism and a blatant disregard for any sort of acceptable journalistic standards.

Now more than ever, our film stands as a witness to what actually happened the tragic night of October 6, 1998 and, more importantly, to the innately good, kind, and big-hearted person Matt was. Our film and the people in it all bear witness to the simple fact that Matt Shepard was a good person—an amazing person with a bright future who tragically fell victim to the ignorance and hatred that persists in our society today.
As a storyteller, I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to tell Matt’s story in the honest, sensitive, and dignified way it deserves to be told.  As Matt’s friend, I am forever grateful to have this opportunity to stand up for him, alongside his family and friends and countless supporters around the world, as he is not here to stand up for himself.

Film Review: "McFarland USA"

"McFarland USA" was the Closing Night film of the 30th Santa Barbara International Film Festival. I was going to watch but I decided I'd watch another movie because I would be able to watch it two nights later --- in hindsight, I should have watched it earlier and watched it again Monday night and I would have had seen it twice now. It is so good! No, it's a great film anchored by a truly uplifting and inspiring true story of a group of kids, their coach and their humble community to overcome their adversity and triumph in one field where the stakes are higher and the challenges tougher but where economic status in life do not matter at all.

Set in 1987, the film is inspired by a remarkable true story when a recently fired football coach, Jim White (Kevin Costner), was forced by necessity to accept a job in a small Central Valley California high school in the town of McFarland where the predominant population is composed of poor Latino families whose primary livelihood is picking produce. At his new school, he discovers a group of kids who are exceptional runners and he decides to form a cross-country team despite initial objections from the school and the kids' parents who would rather have their kids pick fruits and vegetables rather than waste time training for a sport that they think will not provide them any means of future livelihood anyway.

The story chronicles the forming of the team that would eventually set an unprecedented 24-year streak of making it to the State Championships. It also introduces us to each of the seven runners who pioneered the team and the coach whose initial goal was to leave McFarland as soon as an opportunity arises. The movie gives a balanced narrative combining the thrilling ascent of the team to the top of the sport in remarkably brief time and the heart-rending day-to-day challenges the boys had to face --- they get up very early each day to help pick produce before they head for school and they go back to the fields after school to resume picking produce. It melts your heart to see these young boys be so responsible for their age. Their smiles betray the backbreaking labor they have to do everyday and it makes you feel guilty for the small pleasures that we take for granted everyday. There's a very poignant scene in the movie, right after a meet, when the boys were brought to the beach by their coach to celebrate. It was their first time to see the beach and the joy in their faces is truly wonderful to behold.

Niki Caro, the acclaimed director who previously gave us "The Whale Rider" and "North Country", ably navigates the conventions of the genre and gives us occasional glimpse of artistry in several choice shots and clever exposition. This was a modestly-budgeted production but the result is quite superb. The performances by the cast are uniformly good with Costner delivering one of his most inspired performances to date aided by Maria Bello's quiet but strong supporting performance.

Rating: 5 Stars

"McFarland USA" opens in theaters February 20!

Watch the trailer below...

News: Latest Mads Mikkelsen film "The Salvation" opens February 27th!


"The Salvation"
A film by Kristian Levring

The mighty Mads Mikkelsen unleashes a maelstrom of bloodshed in theWild West in this white-knuckle tale of revenge. When he lays waste to the scoundrels who killed his wife and son, a Danish ex-soldier (Mikkelsen) incurs the wrath of a sadistic gang leader hell-bent on hunting him down. Exploding with eye-popping action, dazzlingly dramatic frontier landscapes, and a smoldering performance by Eva Green, The Salvation is a rip-roaring, blood-spattered saga of sin and redemption.

Distributor: IFC Films
Director: Kristian Levring
Screenplay By: Kristian Levring and Andrews Thomas Jensen
Starring: Mads Mikkelson, Eva Green and Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Running time: 100 minutes

Release Date: February 27, 2014 in LA and NY Watch the trailer below.

News: Theatrical release of acclaimed documentary "The Mind of Mark Defriest" announced!


**** March 1 Update *****
With the good news of Defreist's parole being granted, Gabriel added a new ending to the film!

This is one amazing news! I saw this film at last year's Los Angeles Film Festival and I was really taken aghast by the injustice committed against Mark Defriest and featured a review of the film in this blog. (You can read it here http://raymonddeasislo.blogspot.com/2014/06/los-angeles-film-festival-diary-day-6.html.) I also included this doc among my favorites movies of 2014.

And this is not even the great news yet. The greater news is that Mar Defriest was granted parole just two days ago! It is effective on March 10th! His original parole date set at 2085 will now be potentially cut by 70 years from his original release date --- this is one news that Mark has waited for three decades.

The film and the audience reactions have had a great impact in bringing awareness of the unjust incarceration of the film’s subject, Mark Defriest, which has aided this amazing possible sentence reduction. This is a testament to the power of film.  Award-winning filmmaker Gabriel London has been following Mark's story for 12 years and the possibility of Mark Defriest's freedom during his lifetime was, until a few months ago, incomprehensible.

The Mind of Mark Defriest

This documentary captures the bizarre, infuriating story of a carefree19-year-old Mark Defriest who ended up in solitary confinement for most of his adult life in a Florida prison. His crimes? Taking the tools his father, who was recently deceased, had willed to him before the will was probated.

The only home he has ever known is a prison cell, despite repeated escape attempts and doubts that he ever belonged in prison. Originally found ‘incompetent to be sentenced’ by five of six psychiatrists, he, like many mentally ill prisoners, has spent an incredible amount of time in solitary confinement – 27 of the last 34 years. After years of disciplinary write-ups – common with the mentally ill – Defriest’s parole date stood at 2085.

After the film was released, audiences responded with anger and passion to the perceived injustice in Defriest’s case. Filmmaker Gabriel London traveled to Tallahassee to share the film to the Florida Commission on Offender Review.

Dubbed as “Florida’s Houdini” and “unluckiest prisoner” by the press, Defriest recently was granted parole. His legendary escapes and stranger-than-fiction entry to the injustice system now serve as an catalyst for prison reform.

"The Mind of Mark Defriest" has won awards and critics’ praises ever since its film festival debut. Filmmaker Gabriel London successfully captures the haunting story with exclusive interviews, access to the subject, and visually-stunning animations.

Top Ten Audience Favorite- 2014 HotDocs
Winner of Audience Award, Best Documentary- 2014 Naples International Film Festival
Winner of Best Documentary Feature- 2014 Lone Star Film Festival
Official Selection- 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival
Official Selection- 2014 Doc NYC
Official Selection- 2014 Starz Denver Film Festival
Official Selection-  2014 Key West Film Festival
Official Selection-2014 Tallgrass International Film Festival

You have to watch this movie!!!

Raymond Lo

News: Acclaimed Comedy "Wild Canaries" opening soon!


Written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine and featuring a wonderful cast including Sophia Takal, Lawrence Michael Levine, Alia Shawkat, Annie Parisse, Jason Ritter and Kevin Corrigan, "Wild Canaries" tell the story of Barri and Noah, a newly engaged Brooklyn couple who are disheartened by the death of their elderly downstairs neighbor, Sylvia. 

Though Noah sees nothing unusual about the old woman's death, Barri suspects foul play and sets out to investigate, enlisting her roommate Jean to join her on a reconnaissance mission to trail a possible suspect. Tensions mount, however, when the investigation uncovers unsettling secrets throughout the building—including in their own apartment -- and suddenly everyone seems like a reasonable suspect. A freshly comedic take on classic film noir, "Wild Canaries" brings a unique sensibility to a high-stakes murder mystery.

The movie has been featured at the following film festivals:


Critics love the movie!

"A droll and whimsical wonder. The tightly wound script conjures a classic-Hollywood tone, as does the precisely timed comic direction of two local romantics who bring grand screwball fantasies to life."
-Richard Brody, The New Yorker

"Replicates the unbridled jubilance of a classic screwball comedy thanks to a sharply written script and exquisite performances...a truly great romance. The least we can hope for is a sequel."
-Calum March, The Village Voice

Watch the trailer below.

News: LA Film Fest Winner "Man From Reno" to open March 27th!

Dave Boyle's award-winning film "Man From Reno" is set for a US theatrical release starting Marc 27th! The movie is about a Japanese crime novelist and a small town sheriff who are lured into the same strange murder mystery in this idiosyncratic and engrossing neo-noir.  The film stars Ayako Fujitani, Pepe Serna and Kazuki Kitamura and it will be out in New York and Los Angeles starting March 27th and will expand to additional markets on April 10th.

About the movie:

In a small town south of San Francisco, Sheriff Paul Del Moral is driving home through the fog one night when he accidentally strikes a pedestrian, a lone Japanese man.  However, before an investigation can take place the man disappears from the hospital without a trace.

At the same time, Japanese mystery author Aki Akahori takes a trip to San Francisco in order to escape the press tour for her latest book--a potboiler in her world-famous "Inspector Takabe" series.  Feeling lonely and vulnerable, she begins a romantic affair with a mysterious Japanese traveller from Reno who is staying in the same hotel.  Her new lover, Akira Suzuki, is charismatic and charming but abruptly disappears from the hotel, leaving behind his suitcase and a trail of questions...

Producer: Ko Mori
Director: Dave Boyle
Written By: Dave Boyle, Joel Clark and Michael Lerman
Cast: Ayako Fujitani, Pepe Serna and Kazuki Kitamura

Watch the explosive trailer below.

News: Acclaimed documentary "Love & Engineering" on VOD now!

Four engineers, one problem: How to find the right woman in real life? 

In his previous documentary RULES OF SINGLE LIFE (2011), Bulgaria-born, Helsinki-based engineer-turned-director Tonislav Hristov examined his own divorce and that of four friends – wondering what had gone wrong. His latest film, the English-spoken LOVE & ENGINEERING takes this concept one step further, as it follows Atanas, a Bulgarian 3D engineer living in Finland.

Love & Engineering follows four desperate geeks around thirty looking for analog love. Disconnected from normal social life, but hard-wired to reproduce, they are willing guinea pigs in experiments by their mentor Atanas. A fellow geek and a Bulgarian 3D engineer with a PhD, Atanas wants to help others in the name of science. On the basis of his own experiences, he sets out to structure a (pseudo) scientific formula for love and dating. With Atanas’ help, Todor, Tuomas, Markus and Andon try to hack real life, as the camera tracks their expectations, hopes, disappointments and frustrations. A film about true love in times of pixelated communication.

The movie is available on VOD now. Click the official webpage for more details: http://loveengineering.vhx.tv/

Watch the trailer below.

SBIFF 2015: Third Weekend "Best of the Fest" Screenings

Hip Hop-eration, Bang Bang Baby, Happy Times will be screened for one last time!

The 30th Santa Barbara International Film Festival has come to a close and was a resounding success.  And carrying on tradition, SBIFF will present the Third Weekend at the Riviera Theatre, 2044 Alameda Padre Serra, featuring FREE screenings of many of the award-winning and more popular films of the festival!  All seating is on a first come, first serve basis.

"HIP HOP-ERATION", February 14, 7:30PM
"HAPPY TIMES" February 13, 5PM
"BANG BANG BABY", February 13, 7:30PM
Friday, February 13

5:00 PM: Happy Times (Winner, Nuevo Vision)

7:30 PM: Bang Bang Baby (Winner, Independent Cinema)

9:30 PM: Award-Winning Shorts

Saturday, February 14

11:00 AM: Children of the Arctic (Winner, Documentary)

2:00 PM: Monument to Michael Jackson (Winner, Eastern Bloc)

5:00 PM: All Cats are Grey (Winner, International)

7:30 PM: Hip Hop-eration (Winner, Audience Choice)

9:30 PM: The Truth About Lies

Sunday, February 15

11:00 AM: Margarita With A Straw

2:00 PM: A Snake Gives Birth to a Snake (Winner, Social Justice)

5:00 PM: Tangerines

7:30 PM: Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey (Winner, Santa Barbara                                      Feature)

See you at the movies!

Raymond Lo

SBIFF 2015: Winners!

Audience AwardHIP-HOPERATION (New Zealand)
Best International FilmALL CATS ARE GREY (Tous Les Chats Sont Gris) (Belgium)
Best DocumentaryCHILDREN OF THE ARCTIC (Switzerland)
Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema: BANG BANG BABY (USA)
Fund for Santa Barbara Social Justice Film: A SNAKE GIVES BIRTH TO A SNAKE
Nueva Vision AwardHAPPY TIMES (Tiempos Felices) (Mexico)
Best Eastern European FilmMONUMENT TO MICHAEL JACKSON (Spomenik Majklu Dzeksonu) (Serbia)
Best Documentary Short FilmLIFE AFTER PI
Best Animated Short FilmLOAD
Best Live-Action Short FilmTHE ANSWERS

The 30th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGGÒ Australia, announced the winners of the 2015 festival competition at a Press Conference and Brunch Saturday morning at the Fess Parker – A Doubletree by Hilton Resort.  The festival’s 30th edition proved once again that SBIFF consistently presents truly exceptional films, spanning many genres, generations and topics and even surpassed years past.  This year we welcomed more filmmakers and attendees than ever before, and provided a fare that was embraced and celebrated by cinephiles from around the globe.

Commented Executive Director Roger Durling:  “Audiences were treated to the most innovative and daring collection of films in our 30-year history, which is reflective of Santa Barbara’s eclectic and informed film-going community.  We were thrilled by the response to this year’s slate, which was further enhanced by new sidebars, such as Cinematic Overtures, which featured films dealing with performance and dance, hence the opening night film Desert Dancer and this year’s audience choice winner.”

The esteemed jury for the 2015 SBIFF included:  Director and cinematographer Will Eubank, director Peter Chelsom, producer Chaz Ebert, actors Anthony and Arnette Zerbe, composer/lyricist Adam Guettel, actor James Read, SBIFF founder Phyllis de Picciotto, director/actor Perry Lang and producer Mimi deGruy.

The 30th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGGÒ Australia, concluded with the US Premiere of Niki Caro’s "McFarland, USA", starring Kevin Costner and Maria Bello.  And as a special treat, the film was preceded by a performance of the Oscar-nominated song “Lost Stars,” performed by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois and band.

Raymond Lo