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A.O. Scott talks criticism; the NYT’s chief film critic holds forth at Bryant Park

What’s a critic’s job? What kind of mindset is required? Who needs critics, anyway?

A.O. Scott, since 2004 the New York Times’ chief film critic (a title he now shares with L.A.-based Manohla Dargis), held forth on the art of criticism during a lunchtime talk Tuesday.

AO SCOTT

On a surprisingly un-steamy day, when the midtown park was filled with office workers and tourists enjoying the mild sun and gentle breezes, Scott carried on a lively dialogue with Scott Adlerberg, Brooklyn novelist and resident film expert for the park’s “Reel Talks” series.

Tuesday’s program was titled “Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth,” also the title of Scott’s 2016 book.

“You have to leave yourself open to the possibility of being surprised,” Scott said, regarding the frame of mind he tries to adopt when reviewing, regardless of a film’s genre or budget, or his own expectations.

The two covered a lot of ground, including:

  • The omnipresence of superhero movies. “They’re a big part of any film critic’s job now,” Scott said. “They could be better, they could be more ambitious, and they could be more fun.”
  • Related: The strain of authoritarianism that seems to run through the various superhero universes, and how it may (or may not) reflect society at large.
  • The “blockbuster imperative,” which serves to keep superhero movies and other big-budget tentpole productions from taking chances, instead often sticking to tried-and-true Hollywood formulas.
  • The extreme defensiveness some readers express in response to negative reviews of any given movie. Scott recounted a 2012 Twitter war with Samuel L. Jackson, sparked by a review of “The Avengers.” “Why does it make people feel so mad … personally insulted and wounded?”
  • Related: The “Twitter mob” — “fans who see themselves as victims, not bullies.”
  • Critics’ usefulness as scapegoats, for those looking to engage — even if never in real, live conversation — with someone on the opposite side of the fence regarding a movie.
  • The critical gunfight over Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde,” released in 1969. The Times’ Bosley Crowther, who had reviewed movies for the paper since the 1940’s, served the role of “the designated square” by shooting down the controversial, antiheroic crime film. Pauline Kael, a verbose and later celebrated critic, wrote a 9,000-word response to Crowther’s review. “She kind of made it a cause,” Scott said.
  • Related: The critic’s role, often unwanted, as a defender of “standards,” or accepted conventions of filmmaking.
  • The Times’ Vincent Canby’s dismissive review of George Romero’s now-classic b/w zombie shocker “Night of the Living Dead,” also released in 1969, as “made by some people in Pittsburgh.”
  • The seemingly short leap made by film critics — the New Wave’s Godard, Truffaut, and Rohmer, Americans Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Schrader — from reviewing to making movies.
  • Related: Quentin Tarantino’s similar obsessiveness and analytical bent (although he never worked as a film critic), which served as a springboard for making movies.
  • Scott’s antipathy toward “the rule of the algorithm” — the tendency of apps and other digital tools to keep viewers from straying beyond their genre safe space.
  • The “death of cinema” paranoia, which dates at least as far back as the introduction of sound.
  • Movie review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. “It can be useful as a snapshot of collective opinion,” Scott said.

The free-admission “Reel Talks” series at Bryant Park continues Monday, Aug. 6 at 12:30 pm, with “Lucy at the Movies: The Complete Films of Lucille Ball,” with Adlerberg interviewing film historian Cindy De La Hoz.

Film Fests x 5: Venice program, TIFF slate, diversity issues, Russian interference, Fall favorites

Movie Love, Italian Style: Films by the Coen Brothers, Alfonso Cuaron, Paul Greengrass, Mike Leigh, and Damien Chazelle are among those slated for the 75th annual Venice Film Festival, opening Aug. 29. (New York Times); related coverage via Deadline, The Guardian, Variety, Hollywood.com, Reuters, and The Jerusalem Post.

venice film

Diversity? What Diversity? Only 1 of 21 entries in competition at Venice Film Fest was directed by a woman (Hollywood Reporter).

TIFF Ahead: The 43rd Toronto International Film Fest program, Sept. 6-16, will include Bradley Cooper‘s directorial debut, “A Star is Born,” Barry Jenkins‘ “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Steve McQueen‘s “Widows,” Claire Denis’ “High Life,” Dan Fogelman’s “Life Itself,” Damien Chazelle‘s “First Man,” and Jason Reitman‘s “The Front Runner.” (L.A. Times); related coverage via Hollywood Reporter.

Just say Nyet: New Russian regulations may force festival shutdowns in the former Soviet Union (Moscow Times).

Fall Film Fest Circuit: Some highlights (Film School Rejects).

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Eighth Grade”: Mean people suck, lost girl breaks our hearts (FILM REVIEW)

EIGHTH GRADE: Stars Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton; written and directed by Bo Burnham; 93 minutes; R. Critic’s rating: A-.

As singer Edie Brickell once asked, not terribly long ago, “What I am is what I am. Are you what you are or what?” Silly wordplay in a too-catchy pop tune, maybe. But certainly the type of question that a young teen, experiencing what once was called an identity crisis, might ask her reflection when looking into the mirror, obsessing over perceived imperfections and social-media traumas: “What you see is what you get. But who am I, really?”

Personal identity, as might be recalled about those days of acne wars, puppy love, and self confidence that waxed and waned with the bell schedule, could be entirely wrapped up in what others saw in you. Or what you imagined they saw in you.

So for the sake of emotional self-defense, you locked yourself into your bedroom and used a journal – paper? on a laptop? on an audio device? — to create the façade of a more confident you. And it all vanished, of course, the moment you walked into the birthday party of the nominally best looking and most popular kid in school.

So it goes in “Eighth Grade” with Kayla, the middle-schooler brought to life via Elsie Fisher‘s remarkably lived-in performance. All imperfect skin, blue fingernail polish, introversion, moods that are sometimes silly and sometimes pouty, and unpolished social skills, she’s forever wrapped in a digital cocoon. Her earbuds are plugged into an iPhone blaring teenypop, and she’s forever scrolling through Instagram and firing up snapchat.

Kayla’s always making YouTube-bound videos of confessional-style inspirational talks, spiked with plenty of “likes” and shot in not always flattering close-ups, that belie her own insecurities. “The topic of today’s video is being yourself,” she says during the movie’s opening sequence, staring straight into the lens as the camera gradually pulls back to reveal her butterfly-decorated shirt, dark sweater, and makeshift bedroom TV studio. Later, she titles another clip “How To Be Confident.”

At home, Kayla suffers through life with loving single dad Mark (Josh Hamilton) who, you know, just doesn’t understand, asks too many annoying questions, and further bugs his daughter by encouraging her to “put yourself out there.” It’s a message that she later co-opts for one of her video chats.

In one of the film’s most affecting sequences, set in the backyard of the family’s modest home, Mark quietly offers his own glowing assessment of Kayla’s personality and talents. It’s just the right antidote, at the right time, to her frequently misguided if overwhelming feelings of worthlessness. And, as directed and written by remarkably assured 27-year-old filmmaker Bo Burnham, these scenes are not overly saccharine or drenched in sentimentality.

At school, Kayla suffers the indignities of sitting through a your-body-is-changing video featuring an instructor who says things like “it’s gonna be lit.” She’s also stuck taking on cymbal-crashing duties in the meagerly talented school band, navigating mean girls in the hallways, and melting in the presence of Aiden (Luke Prael), a handsome, trim boy with smoky eyes and, as it turns out, a dullard’s personality.

Outside of school, there are bright spots, including the attentions of a nerdy but attentive nice kid (Jake Ryan) and a friendly high-school girl (Emily Robinson). And, in a harrowing if sensitively shot sequence, there’s an older guy who attempts to take advantage of Kayla, and, when rejected, tacks on some gaslighting for extra measure.

Burnham, who sparked his own career as an actor and filmmaker via a series of comic YouTube videos, takes an approach to his young characters that’s neither dumbed down nor overhyped. It’s a bit reminiscent of the young heroines of last year’s “Lady Bird” or 1995’s “Welcome to the Dollhouse.”

Unlike the blemish-free kids in Nickelodeon and Disney fare, and most network sitcoms and family dramas, these teens come with imperfections and believable challenges, and conflicts that are never resolved. That  authentic vibe is heightened by an indie production style that’s clean, direct and unshowy, and the antithesis of high-gloss Hollywood.

No, “Eighth Grade” is not remotely a documentary. But Burnham’s coming-of-age comic drama sometimes points in that direction, particularly via the videos within the movie — scout around, and you’ll see some that look and feel exactly like those in “Eighth Grade.”

It all strikes closer to middle school reality, or ordinary, middle-class, middle-America anything, than practically any other recent film or TV production. It’s a fresh and funny surprise gift, driven by Fisher’s revelatory performance. We won’t soon forget Kayla, her typical teen trials and tribulations, her evolving sense of self, or her supportive dad.

Opens Friday, Aug. 3 at Tampa Theatre, Cobb Grove 16 & Cinebistro Wesley Chapel, Goodrich Riverview 14 GDX Gibsonton, and GTC Beacon Theatres 12 Brooksville.

“The Shape of Water” Tops a Very Good Year at the Movies

As in other years, 2017 seemed to get off to a slow start at the movies. Then came the Harvey Weinstein scandal — and collateral damage — blew everything up. Off screen, at least. Would Hollywood survive?

Film fests started unleashing a long list of great flicks, including some stunning directorial debuts, by the likes of mumblecore graduate Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), one half of riotous comedy duo Key & Peele, and Matt Spicer (“Ingrid Goes West”).

Veteran directors were in the mix, too, with Ridley Scott giving us “Blade Runner 2049” and end-of-year gem “All the Money in the World,” and the revered Agnes Varda offering “Faces Places.”

And the horror genre continued to be home to some of our most gifted filmmakers, including Guillermo del Toro, with his brilliant hybrid film “The Shape of Water,”; Yorgos Lanthimos, with the decidedly odd “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”; Trey Shults‘ post-apocalyptic psychological terror drama “It Comes at Night”; and Nacho Vigalondo‘s “Colossal.”

Along the way came a boatload of worthwhile film fare. Without further ado, my Top 10 (descriptions mostly culled from my Twitter feed @screenviews):

  1. The Shape of Water — Nobody makes transportive movie magic quite like Guillermo del Toro, whose latest stunning cinematic feat is a horror/sci-fi/fantasy hybrid centered on a romance between a mute woman and a brawny sea creature. It lives, thrillingly.
  2. The Big Sick — Was there a sharper screenplay this year than the one Kumail Nanjiani co-wrote for this surprisingly affecting cross-cultural comic drama? Nanjiani is a riot as a version of himself, and Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are in peak form.
  3. Get Out — It’s a thriller, it’s a comedy, it’s a horror show. Jordan Peele’s shocker is all three, but it’s also deeply unsettling social commentary, built on Daniel Kaluuya‘s sharp turn as a black man uncovering a freaky secret about his white girlfriend’s family.
  4. Lady Bird — Remember, as a teenager, knowing everything until  you didn’t? Saoirse Ronan is dead-on as high schooler Christine, bright but bored, alive with creative energy but given to bouts of angst in Greta Gerwig’s smart, funny directorial debut.
  5. Good Time — A gritty, ’70s-flick vibe informs the Safdies’ exhilarating story of a sleazy bank robber (Robert Pattinson) and his zigzagging, dangerously misguided efforts to free his mentally handicapped brother  (Benny Safdie) from prison.
  6. The Disaster Artist — Sorry, “Room” is bad-bad (not bad-good), but James Franco‘s tale of mysterious weirdo Tommy Wiseau’s folly is the gift that keeps giving, an often riotously funny comedy that also, surprisingly, taps into a certain poignancy. James & brother Dave Franco kill.
  7. DunkirkChris Nolan goes to war, and brings home an epic movie-movie spectacle, often silent, that places the viewer deep in the heart of air, land and sea action during the titular WWII rescue operation. Brilliant companion to “The Darkest Hour.”
  8. The Florida Project — It looks and feels like a partly improvised documentary told from the POV of little kids, but Sean Baker‘s veering rhythms take hold, and the oversaturated colors contrast with a tale of poverty in the shadows of Disney World.
  9. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriFrances McDormand‘s fearless, edgy performance as the would-be avenging mom is the showpiece. But filmmaker Martin McDonagh peoples his off-kilter comic drama with fascinatingly damaged small-town characters, played by Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson, among others.
  10. Baby Driver — Summer’s biggest cineplex blast is one of the year’s highest-octane, most stylish film trips, a heist movie that really moves. In Edgar Wright‘s hands, getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) moves like a ballet dancer to incendiary pop/rock tracks.

Also notable, in no particular order: I, Tonya; Ingrid Goes West; Blade Runner 2049; All the Money in the World; It Comes at Night; The Killing of a Sacred Deer; A Ghost Story; The Post; War for the Planet of the Apes; Logan Lucky; The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected); Darkest Hour; Detroit; Colossal; Loving Vincent; The Post; and documentaries Jane and I Called Him Morgan.  

 

 

 

“Dunkirk” Takes Top Honors in 2017 FFCC Awards; “The Florida Project” Wins Golden Orange

“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan‘s dazzling and cinematically daring account of the WWII evacuation of Dunkirk beaches by Allied forces, was named best picture of the year, and Nolan best director, by the Florida Film Critics Circle. I voted.

The cast and crew of Sean Baker‘s “The Florida Project,” a low-budget, documentary-style study of life among the very poor, told largely from the point of view of children living in the shadow of the Mouse House, was honored with the FFCC’s annual Golden Orange award. The honor is generally awarded to a Florida-based movie, event, organization, or person making a significant impact on the film community, statewide or beyond. The film’s subject matter and unique vision and narrative style have drawn critical kudos and attention from around the world.

The critics group — 25 writers based in the Sunshine State — gave multiple honors to several different films and artists:

  • Jordan Peele, one-half of the Key and Peele comedy duo, won best original screenplay and best first film for controversial, widely acclaimed comic/horror/social-commentary shocker “Get Out!”
  • “Blade Runner 2049,” Ridley Scott‘s belated sequel to his 1982 sci-fi classic, won in four categories, for best cinematography, art direction/production, visual effects, and score.
  • “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy about murder and revenge, won for best ensemble, and the film’s Sam Rockwell, as a racially wounded and wounding small-town cop, for best supporting actor
  • “I, Tonya”: Margot Robbie, best actress, as troubled skating star Tonya Harding; and Allison Janey, best supporting actress, as Tonya’s mother from hell.
  • “Call Me By Your Name”: Timothee Chalamet, best actor and breakout award; and James Ivory, best adapted screenplay

(Guillermo del Toro‘s exquisitely photographed, beautifully acted, emotionally resonant and often technically dazzling “The Shape of Water,” an odd but compelling sci-fi/horror/fantasy cross between “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” and “Beauty and the Beast,” was my favorite film of the year. It received 10 FFCC nominations but, strangely, got skunked in every category. But that’s a subject for another post, one with my own Top 10+ list).

The complete list, with runners-up, and, in red, my own pick in each category:

BEST PICTURE

Dunkirk (WINNER)

Lady Bird

Call Me By Your Name

Get Out

The Shape Of Water — PHILIP’s PICK

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST DIRECTOR

Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk (WINNER)

Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird 

Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water — PHILIP’s PICK

Jordan Peele – Get Out

Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST ACTOR

Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name (WINNER)

Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour 

Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out — PHILIP’s PICK

James Franco – The Disaster Artist

Robert Pattinson – Good Time

BEST ACTRESS

Margot Robbie – I, Tonya (WINNER)

Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — Philip’s Pick

Cynthia Nixon – A Quiet Passion

Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water

Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (WINNER) — Philip’s Pick

Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project 

Armie Hammer – Call Me By Your Name

Barry Keoghan – The Killing of A Sacred Deer

Michael Stuhlbarg – Call Me By Your Name

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Allison Janney – I, Tonya (WINNER)

Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird 

Holly Hunter – The Big Sick — Philip’s Pick

Hong Chau – Downsizing

Mary J. Blige – Mudbound

BEST ENSEMBLE

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (WINNER)

Dunkirk

Get Out

I, Tonya

Lady Bird

The Big Sick — Philip’s Pick

The Shape Of Water

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Get Out (WINNER)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

Lady Bird

The Big Sick — Philip’s Pick

The Shape Of Water

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Call Me By Your Name (WINNER)

The Disaster Artist — Philip’s Pick

Marjorie Prime

Molly’s Game

The Lost City of Z

Wonderstruck

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Blade Runner 2049 (WINNER)

Dunkirk 

Personal Shopper

The Post

The Shape of Water — Philip’s Pick

Wonderstruck

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Blade Runner 2049 (WINNER)

War for the Planet of the Apes 

Dunkirk

Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Shape of Water — Philip’s Pick

BEST ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN

Blade Runner 2049 (WINNER)

Dunkirk 

Phantom Thread

The Shape of Water — Philip’s Pick

Wonderstruck

BEST SCORE

Blade Runner 2049 (WINNER)

Dunkirk 

Phantom Thread

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — Philip’s Pick

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Jane (WINNER) — Philip’s Pick

Ex Libris: New York Public Library

Dawson City: Frozen Time

Faces Places

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

Kedi

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

BPM (WINNER)

The Square 

First They Killed My Father — Philip’s Pick

Loveless

The Ornithologist

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Coco (WINNER)

Loving Vincent — Philip’s Pick

The Boss Baby

The Breadwinner

The LEGO Batman Movie

BEST FIRST FILM

Get Out (WINNER) — Philip’s Pick

God’s Own Country (Runners-Up)

Ingrid Goes West

Molly’s Game

PAULINE KAEL BREAKOUT AWARD

Timothée Chalamet (WINNER)

Jordan Peele

Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk & The Killing of a Sacred Deer) — Philip’s Pick

Greta Gerwig

Millicent Simmonds

GOLDEN ORANGE

The cast and crew of The Florida Project — Philip’s Pick

 

Last Minute Not-So-Fearless Oscars Forecast

<> on October 19, 2009 in Santa Clarita, California.

Hollywood loves movies about showbiz, and Alejandro Inarritu‘s funny, visually novel and quite original “Birdman” is justifiably lauded for its excellence in direction/tech and acting. So look to see that film win for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and possibly for Best Actor (for Michael Keaton’s brilliant performance AND his body of work).

Still, I’m thinking it’s more likely that Eddie Redmayne will win for his impressive feat as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.” Because, you know, it’s a “serious” biopic and Hawking is played by a Brit. And Brits win many of the big acting Oscars.

The cumulative effect of Richard Linklater‘s beautiful, unusual “Boyhood” — seeing a boy played by the same actor grow from child to adult, and his family members age, too, in what feels like real time over the course of a few hours — indeed was emotionally engaging, and it was the first feature film to notch that accomplishment. So it COULD take Best Picture and Best Director, but my guess is that Patricia Arquette‘s naturalistic turn as the protagonist’s long-suffering mom will result in the movie’s only major win, for Best Supporting Actress.

Best Actress: Julianne Moore, as an Alzheimer’s patient in the moving but not entirely satisfying “Still Alice,” deserves the win, and will get it, in part for a career’s worth of great work.

Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons will win for his towering performance in “Whiplash” as the scariest band director in history.

Best Original Screenplay: Wes Anderson’s quirky, wildly inventive screenplay for his “The Grand Budapest Hotel” deserves it and will win it, I think. The film will win for Production Design, too, and probably Costume Design.

Adapted Screenplay: “The Imitation Game” deserves/gets the win.

Editing: What feat could beat the artfully-stitching-together-12-years-of-footage accomplishment of “Boyhood”?

Visual Effects: “Interstellar” deserves it and, I think, will win.

Foreign film: Probably “Ida.”

Documentary: Probably “Citizenfour”

Score: Probably Johann Johannsson, for “The Theory of Everything”; AMPAS wrongly denied Antonio Sanchez a nom for “Birdman,” IMO.

Upset potential: If anything, the commercial juggernaut “American Sniper” could force a surprise or two.

Stay tuned.

The Year in Film: My Top 10

My favorite films of the year (in alphabetical order):

Birdman

Boyhood

Force Majeure

Foxcatcher

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Interstellar

Life Itself

A Most Violent Year

Snowpiercer

Whiplash

Others I liked: Still Alice, Wild, CitizenFour, Inherent Vice, Nightcrawler, The One I Love, Under the Skin, American Sniper, Unbroken, Ida, Keep On Keepin’ On, The Skeleton Twins

Florida Film Critics Circle: “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Birdman” and “Boyhood” Take Top Honors

“Birdman” was named best picture, and the theater-world satire’s star Michael Keaton was named best actor in this year’s Florida Film Critics Circle Awards.

Richard Linklater’s innovative “Boyhood,” 12 years in the making, also took top honors, winning for best director and supporting actress (Patricia Arquette).

Wes Anderson’s quirky, gorgeously composed “The Grand Budapest Hotel” grabbed the most FFCC honors, with awards for best original screenplay, best ensemble, and best art direction/production design.

More than 20 critics from around Florida voted in this year’s awards. For the complete list of winners and runners-up, visit the FFCC site, or see below:

Best Picture:

Birdman

Runner-up: Boyhood

Best Director:

Richard Linklater – Boyhood

Runner-up: Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman

Best Actress:

Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl

Runner-up: Julianne Moore – Still Alice

Best Actor:

Michael Keaton – Birdman

Runner-up: Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler

Best Supporting Actor:

J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

Runner-up: Edward Norton – Birdman

Best Supporting Actress:

Patricia Arquette – Boyhood

Runner-up: Emma Stone – Birdman

Best Ensemble:

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Runner-up: Boyhood

Best Original Screenplay:

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

Runner-up: Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo)

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)

Runner-up: Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)

Best Cinematography:

Interstellar (Hoyte Van Hoytema)

Runner-up: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Robert D. Yeoman)

Best Visual Effects:

Interstellar

Runner-up: Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Art Direction/Production Design:

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Runner-up: Interstellar

Best Score:

Under the Skin (Micah Levi, aka Micachu)

Runner-up: Gone Girl (Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross)

Best Documentary:

Life Itself

Runner-up: Citizenfour

Best Foreign-Language Film:

The Raid 2

Runner-up: Force Majeure

Best Animated Film:

The Lego Movie

Runner-up: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Pauline Kael Breakout Award:

Damien Chazelle (writer/director: Whiplash)

Runner-up: Gugu Mbatha-Raw (actress: Belle, Beyond the Lights)

Golden Orange:

The Borscht Corp.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” — Serious Popcorn Fare (review)

As a ’70s kid, once obsessed with the “Planet of the Apes” movies, I’m a sucker for anything related to that five-film series. Who could resist those films’ mix of sci-fi, adventure, and grad-school philosophizing?

I’m happy to report that Matt Reeves’ “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” a sequel to Rupert Wyatt’s excellent “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), is every bit as good as its predecessor, if not better.

As ape leader Caesar, Andy Serkis (AKA Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” movies) is terrific, using motion-capture technology to effectively reveal a wide range of emotions as the simian whose loyalties are divided between his own tribe and the humans. Is it a metaphor for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? Maybe.

The acting/CGI by the others “playing” apes is also impressive, particularly the work of Toby Kebbell as chief villain Koba, a warrior type, his psyche damaged by the pain and indignities he suffered during his early years in a medical laboratory. He’d rather fight than switch to a more peaceful strategy for getting along with the humans.

There are strong performances, too, by Jason Clarke as the human with a conscience, Gary Oldman as the unelected head of colony of human survivors (most folks on earth were wiped out by a plague), and Keri Russell, as Clarke’s love interest.

The visuals — post-disaster San Francisco, the humans’ settlement, the apes’ mountainside camp, the forest treks, the battle scene — are first rate, too.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is definitely one of the great “popcorn” flicks of the summer (along with “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Godzilla”), and the film offers some interesting messages about co-existence, resource depletion, and the fog of war.

I saw it in 3-D, and would recommend seeing it that way. I’ll add that it’s a lot more fun than movies about guys in tights and capes saving the world, and giant robots battling giant robots.