WAFCA Nominations 2019

Posted on December 7, 2019 at 10:33 pm

The Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association nominations for 2019 are in!  Winners will be announced Monday morning, so stay tuned.


Best Film:
The Irishman
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Best Director:
Greta Gerwig (Little Women)
Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)
Sam Mendes (1917)
Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)
Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)

Best Actor:
Robert De Niro (The Irishman)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)
Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems)

Best Actress:
Awkwafina (The Farewell)
Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
Lupita Nyong’o (Us)
Saoirse Ronan (Little Women)
Renée Zellweger (Judy)

Best Supporting Actor:
Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
Jonathan Majors (The Last Black Man in San Francisco)
Al Pacino (The Irishman)
Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)

Best Supporting Actress:
Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit)
Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers)
Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Zhao Shuzhen (The Farewell)

Best Acting Ensemble:
The Irishman
Knives Out
Little Women
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Best Youth Performance:
Julia Butters (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)
Roman Griffin Davis (Jojo Rabbit)
Shahadi Wright Joseph (Us)
Noah Jupe (Honey Boy)
Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit)

Best Voice Performance:
Kristen Bell (Frozen II)
Billy Eichner (The Lion King)
Tony Hale (Toy Story 4)
Tom Hanks (Toy Story 4)
Annie Potts (Toy Story 4)

Best Motion Capture Performance:
Josh Brolin (Avengers: Endgame)
Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel)

Best Original Screenplay:
Rian Johnson (Knives Out)
Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story)
Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)
Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won (Parasite)
Jordan Peele (Us)

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster; Inspired by the Article “Can You Say … Hero?” by Tom Junod (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
Taika Waititi; Based on the Book “Caging Skies” by Christine Leunens (Jojo Rabbit)
Todd Phillips & Scott Silver (Joker)
Greta Gerwig; Based on the Novel by Louisa May Alcott (Little Women)
Steven Zaillian (The Irishman)

Best Animated Feature:
Frozen II
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

Best Documentary:
American Factory
Apollo 11
For Sama
One Child Nation

Best Foreign Language Film:
Pain and Glory
Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Best Production Design:
Production Designer: Dennis Gassner; Set Decorator: Lee Sandales (1917)
Production Designer: Ra Vincent; Set Decorator: Nora Sopková (Jojo Rabbit)
Production Designer: Jess Gonchor; Set Decorator: Claire Kaufman (Little Women)
Production Designer: Barbara Ling; Set Decorator: Nancy Haigh (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)
Production Designer: Lee Ha-jun (Parasite)

Best Cinematography:
Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC (1917)
Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC (The Irishman)
Jarin Blaschke (The Lighthouse)
Robert Richardson, ASC (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)
Drew Daniels (Waves)

Best Editing:
Lee Smith, ACE (1917)
Michael McCusker, ACE and Andrew Buckland (Ford v Ferrari)
Thelma Schoonmaker, ACE (The Irishman)
Fred Raskin, ACE (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)
Yang Jin-mo (Parasite)

Best Original Score:
Thomas Newman (1917)
Hildur Guðnadóttir (Joker)
Alexandre Desplat (Little Women)
Randy Newman (Marriage Story)
Michael Abels (Us)

The Joe Barber Award for Best Portrayal of Washington, DC:
Long Shot
The Report

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The Aeronauts

Posted on December 5, 2019 at 5:30 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some peril and thematic elements
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril, character sacrifices himself to save another
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie (though the real-life character played by Felicity Jones was male)
Date Released to Theaters: December 6, 2019
Copyright 2019 Amazon Studios

Science fiction giant Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” “The Aeronauts,” based on the true story of early adventurers in meteorology and flight, exists at exactly that point in the middle. The “Theory of Everything” stars Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne play balloon pilot Amelia Wren and scientist James Glaisher, and for most of the movie they are up in the sky, marveling at sights and atmospheric conditions no humans have ever experienced before — or trying to survive them.

When they are in the air, it is gorgeous, exciting, and great fun. The visuals are spectacular, and sound designer Andy Kennedy and his team get a special shout-out for the superb audio effects, the exquisite silence, the creaking of the balloon basket, the clinks of the instrumentation. The never-ending series of life-or-death challenges are staged with such urgent vitality we almost feel that we are in the basket with them.

For most of the scenes on the ground, including a number of flashbacks, well, the screenplay never quite slips the surly bonds of earth. It is much better when they are up in the sky, battling the elements.

Wren and her husband piloted balloons until he was killed on one of their flights. Glaisher was a scientist who insisted that weather could be predicted with the help of meteorological data, despite the scorn of the scientific community and lack of support from his father, who is struggling with dementia. Glaisher is finally able to get the money for the balloon and persuades Wren to be the pilot.

Wren is highly theatrical, and Jones is utterly captivating in an early scene as she plays to the crowd, as savvy about showmanship as she is about flying. It is a lot of fun to see the actress who has often been given more subdued or internal characters do everything  — even cartwheels — to charm the crowd. She may appear to be light-hearted and flamboyant, but it is all precisely orchestrated and calculated. She knows what it takes to get the balloon in the air is not just the equipment and fuel but the other fuel, money.

Redmayne’s character is more like the shy, bookish type we’ve seen him play before. But it is fun to see his growing appreciation for both Wren and the adventure.

Those of us who pull down the shade on our airplane windows so we can watch movies on our laptops should take a moment to look outside and imagine what it was like to be the first human beings who saw — and heard — the inside of a cloud. “The Aeronauts” is best at conveying the thrill of that discovery, or, rather, series of discoveries, and the courage and ingenuity that went into getting up there and getting back down as close to safely as possible. It should inspire the audience not just to look out at the clouds but to dream of their own adventures.

NOTE: Rolling Stone did a fact-check to compare the movie to the real story.

Parents should know that this movie includes extended peril with a lot of suspense and some disturbing images. A character sacrifices his life to save someone else.

Family discussion: Why did Amelia change her mind about taking James up in the balloon? Who is most like James and Amelia today?

If you like this, try: “The Theory of Everything” also starring Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne, “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” and read the book that inspired the film, Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air

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Dark Waters

Posted on December 5, 2019 at 5:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic content, some disturbing images and strong language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Theme of toxic poisoning of a community with some grisly and graphic images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 6, 2019
Date Released to DVD: March 2, 2020

Mark Ruffalo stars as “Robert Bilott” in director Todd Haynes’ DARK WATERS, a Focus Features release. Credit : Mary Cybulski / Focus Features Copyright 2019
Imagine “Erin Brockovich” without the sizzle of the outspoken, miniskirted single mom with the biker boyfriend, and you’ve got “Dark Waters,” with Mark Ruffalo (who also produced) as real-life lawyer Rob Bilott, a lawyer who represented corporate polluters until a West Virginia farmer showed him what the chemicals were doing to his community. The movie is based on a New York Times article called The Lawyer Who Became Dupont’s Worst Nightmare by Nathanial Rich.

Bilott is pretty much the opposite of Erin Brockovich, a quiet, dedicated family man, so stable he is almost inert, who is comfortable representing corporations and thinks — not entirely wrongly — that he is one of the good guys because he is representing them in negotiations with EPA to use taxpayer-funded Superfund money to clean up toxic chemicals that are leeching into the ground and water.

After eight years of working on those cases, he gets a surprise visit from his grandmother’s neighbor, a farmer named Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), who speaks with a near-indecipherable West Virginia accent but who is very upset because his animals have weirdly mutated organs and keep dying early. Oh, and his brother died, too, Bilott turns him down, but then, because of his grandmother, he agrees to look into it. He thinks it will be one and done. He’ll write a letter, work his contacts, and get some money to compensate Tennant, then go back to his nice partners and his nice office and his nice life, including Anne Hathaway as his wife who has the usual thankless task for a wife in these films of telling him he is working too hard and neglecting his family and his health.

I love movies about courageous lawyers fighting The Man; movies like that are part of the reason I became a lawyer in the first place. But it is no secret that while fiery courtroom battles are wonderfully dramatic, especially if there are many opportunities to yell “I object!” and even more especially if the cross-examination is so devastating that the bad guy actually confesses. But law — even in court — is not actually like that, and in translating this story to the screen, they made a few mistakes.

First, the legal issues themselves are complicated and arcane. Unless you are a lawyer you don’t want to and don’t need to know why Bilott ends up representing different clients about halfway through, but for the purposes of dramatic storytelling it is confusing and distracting. The same goes for why the chemical in question, used in the creation of the wildly popular no-stick Teflon cookware, was not covered by EPA regulations concerning its production and disposal.

Most significantly, though, Ruffalo and director Todd Haynes have stripped away a significant proportion of what makes their work distinctive in what looks like a mistaken opinion that style is not serious. Haynes, whose early film “Safe” was a provocative, stylish, and very serious drama about chemical exposure, should know that what he can bring to a film like this will only make it more compelling. The same goes for Ruffalo, who has turned the pilot light down low on his considerable charm as a performer. That may work in court; it is not effective on screen.

This is an important story and worth seeing. Its most powerful moment comes near the end, not in the courtroom but in a gas station (check the credits for that actor’s name.) More of that and the movie could have and should have been better.

Parents should know that this film has some very disturbing images showing the consequences of exposure to toxic chemicals, including mutations of humans and animals and some strong language.

Family discussion: What made Bilott change his mind about helping Tennant? Whose job is it to prevent this kind of damage and why wasn’t it done?

If you like this, try: “Erin Brockovich,” “A Civil Action,” and “Promised Land”

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NY Film Critics Circle Awards: The Irishman, Nyong’o, Banderas

Posted on December 5, 2019 at 9:13 am

Copyright Sony Pictures Classics 2019

Best Film: The Irishman
Best Director: Benny and Josh Safdie – Uncut Gems
Best Actor: Antonio Banderas – Pain and Glory
Best Actress: Lupita Nyong’o – Us
Best Supporting Actor: Joe Pesci – The Irishman
Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern – Marriage Story and Little Women

Copyright Columbia Pictures 2019

Best Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood
Best Cinematography: Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Best Foreign Language Film: Parasite
Best Documentary: Honeyland
Best Animated Film: I Lost My Body
Best First Film: Atlantics
Special Awards: Randy Newman, Indie Collect

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