“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

 

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“Won’t Back Down”: Well-Intentioned, Nicely Acted, Simplistic (review)

Stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Oscar Isaac, Holly Hunter, Rosie Perez, Emily Alyn Lind, Dante Brown. Directed by Daniel Barnz from his script, co-written by Brin Hill. Rated PG. 121 minutes. Critic’s grade: C+

(also published in print and online at Folio Weekly)

At first blush, “Won’t Back Down” comes off as something of a shocker: Here’s a drama, with a cast led by Maggie Gyllenhaal, well known for her progressive liberal views, that for all intents and purposes slams down hard on teachers unions. A glossy Hollywood product built on a plot pitting a high-minded educator (Viola Davis) conspiring to transform an inner city public school into a charter school, over the objections of some fellow teachers and their villainous local union head (Ned Eisenberg), all hellbent on maintaining the status quo? Seriously?

That’s the way the storyline shakes out in the film, which shares a title with the Tom Petty rocker (it finally blares on the soundtrack during the end credits, while his “Learning to Fly” lights up one giddy sequence). Once pushing past that seeming contradiction, though, the film, directed and co-written by Daniel Barnz (the youth-oriented “Beastly” and “Phoebe in Wonderland”), settles into something less surprising. Sentimental and simplistic if occasionally inspirational, “Won’t Back Down” often resembles one of those feelgood made-for-TV movies that routinely pop up on women’s-oriented cable networks. It’s a nice, well-intentioned little movie, marked by moments of authenticity if ultimately manipulative and rather forgettable.

Barnz’s film lands a few notches above standard Lifetime Network fare, largely thanks to the humane, sympathetic performances of its lead actors. Gyllenhaal is alternately vulnerable and brittle as Jamie Fitzpatrick, a working-class Pittsburgh woman who holds two jobs — pouring drinks at the local bar, and answering phones at a used-cars lot — in an effort to provide for herself and her daughter, Malia (Emily Alyn Lind); the third-grader is afflicted with dyslexia and stuck with a living nightmare of a teacher (Nancy Bach) at the subpar John Adams Elementary School. That bad apple, who during the opening sequence blithely lets Malia be mocked by her schoolmates, for seven years has been the school’s most highly paid teacher, according to a fellow teacher (an underused Rosie Perez). But the principal (Bill Nunn), fearing blowback from the union, can’t fire her, or won’t try. The stage is set for a showdown.

The film’s producers, who should see their film benefit from a Chicago teachers strike that pushed education issues back onto the evening news, deserve credit for using a Hollywood drama to shine the light on a serious social issue, even if the execution is imperfect. And, while the film isn’t based on any single series of real-life events, it certainly reflects the crises and choices that many students and their parents have been forced to face.

In the wake of the stonewalling treatment she receives at her daughter’s school, Jamie participates in a bingo-style lottery, conducted by a straight-shooting principle (Ving Rhames), for a place in a local high-performing school. The sequence, one of the film’s most moving and realistic, will remind some of “Waiting for Superman,” the Davis Guggenheim documentary following five students hoping for spots in charter schools across the country. That film, the most widely seen documentary of 2010, would make a good double-bill with Barnz’s movie at any gathering of teachers, students and parents seeking to engage in a serious dialogue about improving public education.

After learning of a law that essentially allows parents great leeway in allying with interested educators to drive a makeover of an underperforming school, Jamie begins an all-out campaign to enlist other parents and the school’s teachers. Her first recruit is Nona Alberts (Davis), a longtime teacher who began her career with great promise, but has seen her enthusiasm for the work evaporate; she has personal struggles to deal with, too, including marital issues and a son (Dante Brown) facing learning challenges. Jamie takes a blunt approach with Nona, asking “You want to start a school with me?”

Davis’s performance is the rangiest in the movie, and the actor effectively brings viewers along as she cycles through a variety of emotional states. Some may wonder why, yet again, as in “The Help” (featuring Davis’s breakout role), the lead white character is the one who saves the day, rather than the lead black character, in this case the education-savvy Nona, who happens to be the smartest one in the room. Just asking.