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The Groffscars ("Oscars") of 2019

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It's time for my annual picks for Best Picture. This year (unlike in previous years), two of my picks are nominated, but my top one is not:


The Farewell was in my view the best film of the year. The story was riveting, touching on human relations with a complexity that goes beyond words. It was provocative, sad, even funny at times, but what I think some may miss is that the camerawork was gorgeous too. (The beautifully-composed closing shot, above, is far from the most remarkable. Staircases, even medical machines receive a visually poetic treatment throughout.)

My next-two favorites are, luckily, apparently top Best Picture contenders. First is 1917. Some people thought the (illusory) one-shot visuals were a gimmick, but for my money they fit the story very well and captured the unrelenting intensity of trench warfare.  The actors and script did a solid job sustaining attention over that length of time. That's basically tied in my mind with Parasite, which had an out-of-this …

Rewatching West Side Story: Four Things I Noticed

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I watched West Side Story this weekend for the first time in years, and I'd really forgotten what a gem it is. I'd always liked the movie, but I'd mostly seen it as a top-notch adaptation of an already excellent musical and not a unique work of art in its own right. In this viewing, I realized what a special piece it is, and there were four things that stuck out to me:

1) Visual Storytelling



It seems paradoxical, but musicals can in some way rely more on visuals to tell their stories than non-musicals can. Because music exists on its own, untethered from specific visuals, musical sequences in some ways resemble silent film more than sound film. I was struck by the use of gestures, dance, and camera techniques to tell a story without dialogue, particularly in the opening sequence.

2) The Interplay of Camera and Dance



Cinematography and choreography are challenging art forms; combining them is even more difficult. I was struck by how the camera deftly moves with the motion witho…

The Groffscars ("Oscars") of 2017

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Thanks to the advent of MoviePass, I've decided to return to my high school cinephile days, and with them, a round up of the best of the year. But before I get into this, I must say, if you have not seen Black Panther yet, see it. It would rank toward the top of my list had it come out in 2017 (and surely will be one of the tops in 2018).

Without further ado, then, here are my top choices for 2017 in film:

8. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
I love Star Wars movies, and I'm not ashamed to say that the current round are worthy of recognition for their craftsmanship. This one in particular was a work of art in ways most Star Wars movies are not. The plot was complex and ever-changing, and the visuals were brilliant. I'm happy to see major Hollywood franchises–Marvel, Star Wars, etc.–start putting solid directors behind the camera to make pop entertainment into pop art. (Warner Brothers, could we fire Zack Snyder and get a real director for the Justice League movies?) Let's have mor…

What I've Been Reading/Watching/Listening To

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Here are some recent things I've been following and would recommend:

Books:
1984 – It had been a while since I read this. In light of my experiences last year–the personal and the political–I dusted this off, and I am newly impressed by Orwell's world.
Infinite Jest – Apparently one of the best novels of the 21st century, this book has been enjoyable to read so far (I'm about half-way through). It's the first book I've read in a while that's an intellectual puzzle with obscure references and a counter-intuitive structure that one has to piece together.
Superforecasting – Social scientist Philip Tetlock discusses his forecasting tournaments, which set out to figure out how to predict the future–and do just that. It's both fascinating and important.

Films:
Call Me By Your Name – I loved this movie. From the music to the photography to the actors' playful banter, it's a beauty to behold.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – You've all seen this by now so why say an…

Not Everybody Feels the Same Way as Chewbacca

On Monday I commented that Star Wars: The Last Jedi may do more for animal rights than Chewbacca.

Apparently my canine companion has yet to get the message. It's a reminder that change comes in fits and spurts, not all at once:


Or maybe it's just jealousy.


Could Star Wars Do More for Animal Rights Than Cowspiracy?

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If you live on the planet Crait and haven't seen The Last Jedi yet, don't read this.The new Star Wars movie contains two moments with unsubtle animal rights messages. The first is what my fiancé Lucas is now calling the "Chewbacca goes vegan" scene. Chewbacca cannot bring himself to eat one of the adorable porgs, who strangely share an unfortunate but useful characteristic of most domestic animals: they look like babies. The second is when children liberate a bunch of horselike creatures from a cruel capitalist casino after we see the horses abused with the Star Wars version of a bull hook.

Those scenes mark Star Wars doing something Pixar is good at: giving animals both personalities and personhood, and making the audience root for them. While vegans cheer at documentaries like What the Health? and Cowspiracy, it may be the Last Jedis and Finding Dorys of the world that really carry the day for animal rights. Fiction, in fact, is a powerful way to increase empathy ac…