Saturday, March 3, 2018

Top 10 Motion Pictures of 2017: Not Much Has Changed

Over the past year, I was fortunate enough to watch 73 feature length films with a 2017 release. Welcome to my sixth annual blogpost, where you'll get a chance to read about my top ten motion pictures of 2017. I consider these to be the strongest ones of last year because of the impact they left in me, not just right after their conclusion, but for days, months, or as I type this. These pictures made me question and wonder about my life and the life of others. There's fantasy, period pieces, and diversity (both on and off camera), but what they all share in common is a reflection of society today, that not much has changed despite the mistakes of the past. It is my hope that these pictures inspire and motivate others to seek internal and collective change for the better.

Honorable mention: Coco and Alejandro González Iñárritu's virtual reality piece, Carne y Arena. 

10. The Promise (Dir. Terry George)

This is an important movie about the Armenian genocide that changed the course of history forever. It's unfortunate that it didn't deliver in the box office and that not many people got the opportunity to see it; maybe this blogpost can change that a little. I dare to say that Oscar Isaac delivers the best performance of his career.

9. A Ghost Story (Dir. David Lowery) 

As someone who contemplates about our mortality on a daily basis, this movie haunts me to date because it makes me question my purpose on earth and whether or not I'm on the path to accomplish such purpose. I didn't love it immediately, but it's one of those movies that stick with you and you learn to love more and more as time goes by. This movie is a reminder that this physical life is fragile and temporary.

8. Okja (Dir. Joon-ho Bong) 

Global warming is very real, and this fantasy movie is a representation of that, as well as the greed and irresponsibility that corporations sometimes show towards mother earth for the sake of their interests. Okja the giant pig represents the earth, and the treatment you see her get isn't always too pretty. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an underrated, stellar performance in this film. 

7. The Post (Dir. Steven Spielberg) 

This is the reason I love Spielberg movies and why they can be so epic. It's sad that it feels like we're currently living in the same era it takes place due to the current political climate of the country. It's relevant and an important reminder of the mishaps we've experienced as a country in the past. Meryl Streep makes this film hers. 

6. Detroit (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow) 

Another unforgivable story about African Americans that I wasn't aware of and should be in school history books. Kathryn Bigelow executes another war movie, this time at home. It's upsetting to watch and it is another movie on this list that takes place in a different decade but might as well be today. 

5. Baby Driver (Dir. Edgar Wright) 

This is an example of why I go to the movies. This was the most fun movie-going experience last year. There's action, drama, suspense, romance, comedy... It's a true V8 ride. Hats off to the music supervisor and choreographers. 

4. Hostiles (Dir. Scott Cooper) 

A movie about a dog-eat-dog world during the early years of the United States. A movie about empathy, acceptance, and forgiveness. Christian Bale is incredible, and so is the score. 

3. Lady Bird (Dir. Greta Gerwig) 

A wonderful coming of age movie. Having gone to an all-guys catholic school and figuring out who I was in a small city, allowed me to fully identify myself with many of these characters. Each character is fully developed, no matter how big or small their part is, and the balance between comedy and drama is perfect. This is the feel-good movie of the year that reminds us that attention and love go hand in hand. 

2. I, Tonya (Dir. Craig Gillespie) 

Another reflection of American expectations and the things that as a society we consider important, such as looks before talent. This is a movie about being underprivileged, seeking perfection, hypocrisy, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The pace of this works, breaking the fourth wall works, having comedic relief works. Everything works. This was close to being my favorite movie of the year. 

1. The Shape of Water (Dir. Guillermo del Toro) 

The most well-rounded movie of the year from my compatriot del Toro. It covers various subjects, such as man v. nature, handicap relationships, being an outcast in a world ran by straight, white men unable to empathize. I loved the use of green and the homage to cinema and classic monster movies. This movie is basically about how we are all the same, and I hope many people got that. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Full Sail University: Hall of Fame 8

This past week I had the immense pleasure of participating as a panelist at Full Sail University's eighth Hall of Fame. This annual, week-long event consists of industry panels, job fairs, screenings, and an induction ceremony where six graduates who are doing tremendous work in their respective fields get inducted.

Picture by International Student Eduardo Notcull

I participated in five panels, three of which were recorded and you can watch below. It was so humbling to share the table with greats such as Sound Designer David Farmer (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy) or Co-Executive Producer Troy DeVolld (Hollywood Game Night, Dancing With the Stars). I'm thankful to the students who showed up to the panels I was a part of and asked great questions, which taught me new perspectives and reinforced my knowledge in what I do.

Documentary & Activist Filmmaking panel

For me, this event was a retreat. Despite the lack of sleep and my lost voice, it has recharged my batteries and inspired me to go back to Los Angeles and work even harder and more passionately.

With HOF inductees Ashish Manshada, Jack Geckler, and David Farmer

I want to thank every "Hall of Famer," fellow graduate, student, and the faculty & staff for making me feel at home and motivating me so much. Listening to your stories and experiences, and spending time with you have affected my personal and professional life significantly. From DJ Swivel's Grammy for Closer to Steven C. Miller's new movie deal to direct Escape Plan 2 with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. I am so grateful for this new group of people I now get to call family. I'm looking forward to seeing you succeed this year and I can't wait for Hall of Fame 9.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Top 10 Motion Pictures of 2016: The Perseverance of the Human Spirit

2016 was an excellent year for motion pictures. I had the fortune of watching 57 movies on the big screen and one on the small screen (Comment below if you’re curious which one it was). From those 58, the following are my top ten of the year. As I’ve written in past “Top Ten” blogposts, these are the ten that in my humble opinion are the best due to production value, technical elements, story, acting, and the impact they left on me after experiencing them; they were topic of non-stop discussion and they made me contemplate. I also want to note that I found the diversity behind the camera (in these movies) quite fascinating; three were directed by women, two by African Americans, and one by a Chilean. Also, a shout out to A24 for distributing four of my favorite ten.

Honorable Mention: The Neon Demon, Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures, and Sully

10. 13th (Dir. Ava DuVernay)

I’m usually picky about including documentaries on this list, but it was so impactful, chilling, and eye-opening that I had to include it. This is an important piece that should be shown in schools all over the country. It shows a sad but true reality in an engaging way. Hopefully Ava finally gets the Oscar she so rightfully deserves.

9. Hell or High Water (Dir. David Mackenize)

Thrilling and fun, yet an accurate portrayal of the racial and economic tensions that face the country. This was a sort of modern western that is scarce on the big screen.

8. 20th Century Women (Dir. Mike Mills)

An homage to mothers and women, this is probably the most human movie I saw this year. The use of pictures is something that stood out to me. Brought to us by one of my favorite producers, Megan Ellison.

7. Moonlight (Dir. Barry Jenkins)

A movie that breaks rules and exposes you to a rarely shown world in a raw way; growing up as a black, gay man in underprivileged America. A shoutout to my friend and casting director Yesi Ramirez, CSA for casting the best ensemble of the year.

6. Lion (Dir. Garth Davis)

Similar to last year’s Room, this two act film is a magnet and a reminder that things aren’t that bad here in the United States. It's about family and finding one's roots and purpose.

5. Nocturnal Animals (Dir. Tom Ford)

This is probably the most suspenseful movie of the year (It’s up there with Don’t Breathe). I almost wanted to walk out of the movie theatre at one point, but that’s a great thing. It’s a story within a story, which makes it interesting and engaging.

4. Into the Forest (Dir. Patricia Rozema)

Directed by a woman, Into the Forest is a pro-women, pro-life movie that is underrated and should have been more widely released. Evan Rachel Wood delivered one of my favorite female performances of the year.

3. American Honey (Dir. Andrea Arnold)

My favorite release from A24, this is another movie that exquisitely portrays the disparity among social classes in the country. Intersting use of music, credits, and aspect ratio too! A must-see.

2. Jackie (Dir. Pablo Larraín)

Where do I begin with this one. Every decision on this film was on point. The score (which is my favorite of the year), that super 16 mm, the minimal use of stock footage, the production design. Along with my favorite movie of the year, I watched this twice and enjoyed it even more the second time.

1. Silence (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

The film that finally got made! After almost 30 years, Scorsese finally brings this dream project to the big screen. This was the most thought-provoking and impactful film of the year. Garfield, Rodrigo Prieto, and Scorsese deserve accolades for their work. There’s still hope for the Academy Awards.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Why Isn't Caitlyn Jenner Tweeting About It?

Hello! I hope you’re as excited as I am for Sunday’s telecast of the 88th Academy Awards. I’ve already filled out my ballot at the production company I work at. While filling it out, I stopped for a minute when I landed on the “Best Original Song” category. It brought a smile to my face to see that two of my favorite songs from last year’s movies happened to be nominated. They are Manta Ray from the thought-provoking documentary Racing Extinction, and Simple Song #3 from my third favorite movie of the year, Youth. I would have selected one of those two, but I reminded myself that I need to win this ballot and filled out the most obvious choice. (Wonder which one it is?)

However, I was deeply saddened earlier during the week one morning on my way to work. I was listening to a segment on KPCC about ways in which producers will shorten the awards show. It was heartbreaking to hear that I won’t get to hear my two favorite songs performed live simply because they are not “commercial” enough. As opposed to having all five nominated artists perform their songs like they normally do, this Sunday you’ll only be seeing The Weeknd (Earned It from Fifty Shades of Grey), Lady Gaga (Till It Happens to You from The Hunting Ground), and Sam Smith (Writing’s on the Wall from Spectre).

I haven’t really jumped on the #OscarsSoWhite bandwagon or been vocal about the lack of diversity (I mean, it’s a good year for Mexicans. Viva México!) at this year’s awards, but I wonder if I now have observations in regards to this because these are my favorite songs, or because it is now beyond the lack of diversity in the acting category. Anohni, who would have performed Manta Ray, is the first transgendered performer to ever be nominated in the category. Why is this not making headlines? Why isn’t Caitlyn Jenner tweeting about it? Sumi Jo, who would have performed Simple Song #3 is a South Korean soprano.

            I can only imagine how these two phenomenal singers felt when the weeks passed by after they learned they were nominated and not hearing back from anyone working on the show. Anohni wrote an open essay voicing her thoughts and concerns, and explains why she decided not to attend the ceremony on Sunday.

“…Now the papers were naming me as one of two artists to have been ‘cut’ by the Academy due to ‘time constraints.’ In the next sentence it was announced that Dave Grohl, not nominated in any category, had been added to the list of performers,” Anohni wrote.  “…The deeper truth of it is impossible to ignore. Like global warming, it is not one isolated event, but a series of events that occur over years to create a system that has sought to undermine me, at first as a feminine child, and later as an androgynous transwoman. It is a system of social oppression and diminished opportunities for transpeople that has been employed by capitalism in the U.S. to crush our dreams and our collective spirit.”

             This blogpost is not a rant but an observation. I wrote this because I’m a fan of both songs (and movies) and wanted to bring it to your attention since no one really is. If you have not listened to these fantastic songs, you can listen to them below.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Producers Guild Awards: A Night for the Books

            This past Saturday I had the opportunity to be a part of one the most exciting industry events for the second time. As a Producers Guild member, I attended a nominees breakfast and discussion presented by The Hollywood Reporter. The event, which took place at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre on Vine, featured a producer from each PGA nominated picture. The discussion included topics such as the hardships of production, the casting process, and the controversial lack of diversity on and off screen. Dede Gardner (who went on to win the award later that night for The Big Short) suggested that change starts with us as Producers when it comes to the representation of minorities. Gardner is responsible for the PGA and Academy Award winning 12 Years a Slave, as well as last year’s Selma.

            The day continued later that evening at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza where nominees and guests kicked off the night with drinks, dinner, and the awards ceremony. It was really nice catching up with colleagues and friends, as well as meeting with a bunch of inspiring producers and directors. One of the highlights was an appearance by Lady Gaga, who performed her Oscar nominated song, Till It Happens To You. The song is nominated for the documentary The Hunting Ground, which was honored with the Stanley Kramer Award for the positive impact it has caused in the nation.

            January 23rd is definitely one for the books. Besides the fun (and drinks), the night served as a reminder of why I’m here and the goals I set for myself. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners.

PGA nominees discussion panel at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre

Good times with my friends Julie Park and Sue Zen Chew

Good times with my friend Sue Zen Chew

Posing with friend Daniel Dreifuss (No), dinning with former colleague Omar Linares (Los Golden Boys, Tiny & Shekinah's Weave Trip), and sharing a moment with Mary Parent (The Revenant)