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Podcast: Alternative Oscars 1952

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Hi Everybody,

We’re back after a slightly long hiatus. Here’s our 3rd Alternative Oscars Podcast. In each episode, we discuss the Best Picture nominees of a single Oscars year, and then we give our way better choices, other films eligible for an Oscar in the same given year. They usually comprise of a mix between films that are now heralded as classics, underrated gems, and international films. This year is no different.

You can check out our previous two episodes, Tawfik Zone’s Alternative Oscars Podcast 1950 and Tawfik Zone’s Alternative Oscars Podcast 1951 on this website or on The Tawfik Zone’s Alternative Oscars Itunes Feed.

The setting is a newer brighter relish green room. We hope that the consistency is the same, if not better. Again, I am fortunate to be joined by friends and fellow film buffs, Tawfik Zone contributor Candace Wiggins and Tia Nikolopulas. As always, musical credit goes to Kevin MacLeod of Incompitech.com.

Without further ado, here is The Tawfik Zone’s Alternative Oscars for 1952. Please let us know what you thought of the nominated films or our picks. Did we overlook any films?

Courtesy of jazztimes.com

Take 5: Ernestine Anderson

Courtesy of jazztimes.com

Courtesy of jazztimes.com

There is a bad tendency to fully appreciate and talk about one’s artistry only after the person dies. I have been guilty of this many times, most recently with Ernestine Anderson, an underrated jazz and blues singer who died March 10th at 87 years old of natural causes.

I suppose I took Anderson’s mortality for granted because even as an octogenarian, her vocal prowess was still in full command and she looked like she was fifty. Her second to last album, A Song for You, is a must for jazz lovers. She tackles standards like Day by Day and Make Someone Happy and pop songs like A Song for You and Candy with freshness and ease and nary a bum note.

While her career spanned for more than 60 years, it was never an easy one with a large share of major ups and downs. Even as a child, Anderson gravitated towards singing. However, her father, who wanted her to focus on school, relocated the family the family to Seattle, where supposedly there wasn’t much of a music scene. This proved to be dead wrong. There, she pursued her career harder than ever. Eventually, her parents came around and took care of her children while she went out on the road with various bands.

While she worked fairly steadily, including singing at Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1953, she wasn’t having the success of many of her peers. Wanting to stretch herself, she went to Europe, where she was warmly received. In Sweden, she recorded her debut album as headliner, what would become known as Hot Cargo. When influential jazz critic Ralph Gleason heard it and loved it, he put it on the map in the States. In the midst of being the toast of the town, she secured a contract with Mercury records.

The handful of her albums she made with Mercury in the late 50s and early 60s are very highly regarded by critics and fans then and now. I am not personally a fan of Anderson’s early work, feeling that she sounded like a generic girl singer with very little feeling in her voice.

Courtesy of www.eljefe.net

Courtesy of www.eljefe.net

I think she came into her own in the late 1970s, when she returned to the spotlight after an approx. 15-year hiatus due to a legal dispute with Mercury blocking her from recording for five years, the loss of gigs as a result, the lack of popularity of jazz in the 60s, and her own guilt from being separated from her children. Her voice beautifully matured into a soulful contralto with a sassy, crisp phrasing.

While Anderson’s voice could take on a harder edge possibly as a result of the hard knocks, there was also a smooth, warmness too that developed around the time she converted to Buddhism. Her discography reveals her versatility and consistency as she sang ballads, the blues, and bebop with equal authority.

Even though she recorded over 30 albums and received 4 Grammy nominations, money was still an issue. In 2008 Anderson made news when her house was at risk for foreclosure (thankfully friends and colleagues Quincy Jones and Diane Schuur raised the funds to save the house.)

For more interesting details on her life, I recommend listening to an NPR documentary as well as reading obits from the Seattle Times and The Guardian. Here are five songs that display the beauty of Ernestine Anderson.

Time After Time

From the first drawled out note, she creates a hypnotic trance out of this lovely ballad. BTW, it’s a different “Time After Time” from the Cyndi Lauper song of the same name.

Sunny

Anderson takes this one to great heights, seamlessly transitioning from a pensive beginning to an exuberant, improv-filled finale.

All Blues

In this cool, funky mid-tempo arrangement, Anderson combines her rhythmic jazz and soulful bluesy sensibilities to convey the good and bad blues present in everything and everyone

Please Send Me Somebody to Love

Anderson perfectly captures the desperation and longing of the love-starved narrator in this uber soulful and bluesy rendition of what she rightly notes is a timely and timeless torch song.

Honeysuckle Rose

She swings the hell out of this one, in a rollicking rocking arrangement of a song most associated with an easy listening version by Lena Horne

Courtesy of www.uica.org

Review: Oscar Short Films 2015

Let’s give it up for the little guys!

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Courtesy of www.uica.org

Courtesy of www.uica.org

So the Oscars have come and gone. For all the controversy there was a still a silver lining to it all. Mad Max: Fury Road taking away multiple honors shows that a film can be acclaimed both critically and commercially. Leo finally got his Oscar so the internet can be at peace as far as that goes though I’m sure that they’ll still rampage about Stallone and Gaga being robbed- at least that’s what half the headlines on Buzzfeed read. Personally I’m just ready to completely tear down the Oscars and create something new in its place. The spirit of the Oscars should be about celebrating all things film.

Okay, I admit I caught one small segment while I was brewing my tea last night; Jason Segel showed some footage from an award ceremony dedicated to just the technical side of film and something like that is really refreshing to me. It was also brought to my attention online that voice actors do have their own award show, but it’s not widely known or even broadcast, but still we’re getting there.

So my local theater did a neat thing. The Oscar nominated short films (live action and animated, documentary was omitted) were screened the Friday before Oscar Sunday. This was a 4 hour session with a brief intermission between live action and animated, but still totally worth it to see some overwhelmingly under noticed master works of film. From my understanding some of these are available on Netflix so I hope you get the chance to enjoy them for yourselves. There might be some spoilers due to the nature of short film so just a heads up before you read on.

Courtesy of Youtube.com

Courtesy of Youtube.com

We started off with Ave Maria, probably the lightest offering in the live action shorts. The premise is that a Jewish family’s car crashes into the statue of the Virgin Mary outside of a convent of nuns on Sabbath. There’s mild conflict due to the different religious practices but ultimately the nuns help the family get on their way. And conveniently one of the sisters is a mechanic. Honestly this one just didn’t do much for me so I don’t have much to say. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be comedic but I had trouble with the whole sister being able to fix up the car with a pair of pantyhose, it was just bizarre. If they were going to go that far they should have pushed it further and revealed the nun to be a religious messiah or an android masquerading as a nun, just something more interesting so it didn’t feel so flat.

Things got dark quickly with the next offering, Shoke. Imagine the film Stand by Me but with one of the boys getting involved with a terrorist group and ending with some of the kids getting shot. That is pretty much it in a nutshell. I felt more engaged during this film, the editing was tight and the overall look of the film was just better. Props to the cinematography department, I really enjoyed the look of this film.

Everything Will Be Alright should be viewed as an excellent example of tight editing and storytelling. The pacing was great, making it my second favorite of the live action selections.  Also a really good example of “show, don’t tell.” We open with a man picking up his daughter from his ex-wife’s house. In the car they have a conversation about how she’s playing the role of the queen in the school play and all seems normal. Then they get to the toy store, he lets her pick out two really expensive building kits which to me just gave away where this was going. Even so I sat at the edge of my seat until the conclusion. Now is the story a bit cliché perhaps, but as I said in terms of a finished product this one was quite excellent. Also would like to point out that Simon Schwarz who plays the father looks like an Austrian Simon Pegg.

Courtesy of atodmagazine.com

Courtesy of atodmagazine.com

Now after a couple of pretty heavy films the eventual winner came on, Stutterer. This one was quite enjoyable and my favorite of the night. A simple premise: a couple of linguaphiles are engaged in an online relationship, the film is presented through the eyes of the male in the relationship and it is revealed that he has a stammer. The girl ends up in his town and wants to meet him for the first time. Self-conscious of his stammer, he contemplates whether or not he will meet her. I don’t want to give away the conclusion but I found this film to be really sweet and endearing. Overall I felt the message was to not let our disabilities no matter how great or small get in the way of opportunity.

I must confess I missed half of Day One. You see normally I’m in bed by 9 and at this point I was starting to nod off so I needed a coffee break. I came back in at the climax of the film. From my understanding this was based off of a true story. The subject matter was handled well and I couldn’t see them making an entire feature length film out of the story. Really I can’t say much about it, like I said I missed half but the ending was very sad so it felt like that might be the only reason it was even nominated given the fact the Academy seems to love misery.

I will start off by saying I’m glad the Pixar film, Sanjay’s Super Team, did not walk away with the win. More often than not I feel Disney and Pixar take away a win by default because the other animations aren’t as widespread which is really a pity. Of the animations this was probably the weakest and I don’t mean it was a bad film, it just was very surface level in terms of meaning and presentation.

Courtesy of www.awn.com

Courtesy of www.awn.com

The next film we viewed was World of Tomorrow. If you want to feel the mental strain of running a full marathon, this 17 minute film is perfect for you. In fact it’s been so long since I’ve seen an animated film with this much depth to it tackling deep philosophical thoughts and questioning humanity’s morals. Interesting note, this was the only film with spoken dialogue. The visuals were simplistic in nature, but I feel that really allowed you to focus on the story and the messages therein.

After that emotional drain I was delighted by the opening visuals of Bear Story, a unique 3D animation that blended techniques to make some sequences reminiscent of stop frame animation. The story does quickly turn sad in that it holds a similar theme to Blackfish, where animals being separated from their natural habitat in order to provide entertainment for people. The bear is personified and shown to have a wife and child so I think that drives it home even further. This was a good one and I’m glad it received the victory.

Courtesy of festival.dcshorts.com

Courtesy of festival.dcshorts.com

If you like the Dilbert comic strips, We Can’t Live without Cosmos, a Russian import, is a very similar visually. No spoken dialogue, it’s all action driven. I really enjoyed the score on this one too, they kept it engaging by adding sound effects as well. This one even had a bit of humor to it throughout which was refreshing considering the heavy load that the other nominees provided.

Before we began Prologue we were treated to three other shorts that didn’t quite make the cut. One is the story of a traffic light that is narrated by Patton Oswalt, who you may remember as the voice of Remy from Ratatouille. It was enjoyable but I can see why it just missed the mark, the visuals were a little underwhelming and the story itself too simplistic. Another short was the story of a family of Meerkats fighting a bird of prey over a piece of fruit. It was cute, reminiscent of a silly symphonies cartoon. The Story of a Fox and Mouse was visually gorgeous and had a beautiful score to accompany the piece. But again I think this one fell short because it didn’t have much going on beyond the surface level.

Courtesy of www.bristol247.com

Courtesy of www.bristol247.com

So Prologue, I didn’t like this one. Visually, absolutely stunning. Created by one of the brilliant minds behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it literally brings a drawing to life. Now I didn’t like this on two fronts. As the name implies this is the Prologue, it feels like a very small piece of a much larger picture. And I mean not even a slice of the cake, more like the frosting or decoration on top small. The other reason comes down to personal preference, I just didn’t like the violence, fighting with spears is rather nasty business. Though again that’s just a personal preference.

Before I conclude I should take a moment to talk about best animated feature length. Now for me last night it came down to Inside Out and When Marnie was There– I know Pixar versus Ghibli. Both are stunning films, both moved me to tears and either deserving. I would have loved to see Ghibli’s final studio film clench the victory. I missed Inside Out during its original theatrical run, when I did get around to renting it I have to say it caught me off guard.

In regards to what I said before I have no problems with Pixar, it just seems like no matter what they always win and lately their films have been alright, nothing spectacular. Inside Out blew it out of the park. We also have to take into account the larger social impact this film has had, making it more comfortable for children and parents to discuss their feelings which is so important in this technological age. Really it’s a great film and it makes me look forward to 2016’s offerings in animation.

Courtesy of www.nydailynews.com

News & Views: Oscars So Vanilla…AGAIN

Courtesy of www.nydailynews.com

Courtesy of www.nydailynews.com

As some of you may have noticed in 2015, I haven’t written many reviews about new movies (only one to be exact, for the incredibly mediocre Mr. Holmes.) My contributors Heather Nichols and Candace Wiggins have been more diligent about getting their thoughts about current cinema in written form. I only ventured out to the movie theater about seven times; other than the new Star Wars, which I liked but didn’t love, I was disappointed with the films I saw. (Krampus, a stale hipster revamp of the 80s family movies with a punitively mean-spirited streak, was the worst of the sorry lot.)

I am probably not the most qualified to comment on the Oscars as I haven’t seen any of the films that scored any of the major nominations because they struck me as stale, more of the unoriginal middle-of-the-road fare with which we’ve been overloaded.

Courtesy of www.usatoday.com

Courtesy of www.usatoday.com

Some pundits were optimistic that there wouldn’t be a repeat of the #OscarsSoWhite fiasco that put a damper on last year’s Oscars. However, many realized that this would occur again. In a particularly funny and sad segment on The Nightly Show, they previewed the inevitable Black snubs, noting that Will Smith is out because “only white actors can win an Oscar for a movie nobody saw” and that voters will overlook Michael B. Jordan because punching people isn’t seen as acting when done by a black man.

The anger is understandable. When the critically acclaimed and financially profitable Straight Outta Compton and Creed only yield nominations for four white screenwriters and a white actor respectively and that in both of Cheryl Boone Isaac’s terms as Academy President the nominees were lily-white, it feels like an outright conspiracy.

As Viola Davis noted, the Oscars are symptomatic, but not the real problem lies with the lack of distribution of films with black actors, writers, directors, and/or producers. While I think this assessment is closer to the truth, I believe there are other factors contributing to the problem.

Courtesy of www.cinemablend.com

Courtesy of www.cinemablend.com

It is a bit of a misnomer to put the blame squarely on Hollywood as a whole. Many commentators talk about the top 100 grossing films in a year and the Oscars in the same breath. They are slightly separate issues because the blockbusters are rarely awards magnets (except for maybe the technical categories). Mainstream Hollywood movies certainly have a long way to go, but have been more cognizant to include people in color in prominent acting roles (their track record on writers, directors, and producers still leaves something to be desired.) John Boyega, excellent as Fin the Stormtrooper apostate turned hero in the multi-billion dollar smash Star Wars reboot, proved that people of color do not disrupt the movie world. As superhero fatigued as I am, the upside does seem that they sometimes lead for more diverse casting.

The ones who have really dropped the ball are the Mid-sized Indie productions and the big film festivals such as Sundance, TIFF, and the New York Film Festival. This is the community who produce Oscar bait; good luck finding a person of color in any of the whitey tighty films. An art-house cinema owner in a liberal artsy city told me that movies with black protagonists are a really hard sell; he would either get co-sponsorship from an outside organization or knowingly take a hit on the few occasions he could afford to.

The person widely credited for turning the Oscars into a race that rivals the presidential elections in terms of cost and time is Harvey Weinstein who usurped major Oscar wins for ho hum masterpieces like Shakespeare in Love, The King’s Speech, and The English Patient. In approximately 300 producing credits, about 50 feature a person of color in a prominent acting role (out of this list, non-whites as protagonists is significantly smaller, maybe 15).

Courtesy of www.standbyformindcontrol.com

Courtesy of www.standbyformindcontrol.com

If that seems like a troubling statistic, the other top producers of awards friendly fare such as Scott Rudin, Steven Spielberg, and Tim Bevan & Eric Fellner have a more significantly dismal track record. It is interesting to note that films produced by Spielberg (Memoirs of a Geisha) and Rudin (Aloha) have been associated with major PR snafus. Geisha alienated huge swaths of Asian audiences when the Japanese characters were played by more Western aesthetically pleasing Chinese and Korean actors.

Casting freckly ginger Emma Stone as a Hawaiian was only one of the myriad of miscalculations of Aloha, a film that represents Hollywood at its worst. Like so many studio films, Aloha was helmed by Cameron Crowe, an out-of-touch middle-aged man coasting off the acclaim of his earlier works (namely Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Almost Famous). According to the Sony leak, Amy Pascal and other execs knew the movie was doomed for failure (it flopped miserably), yet they acted as if everything was fine until post-production where they barraged him with criticism.

The producing duo Bevan and Fellner who are the British equivalent of Harvey Weinstein, have been major U.S. industry players since Four Weddings and a Funeral was a surprise smash in the States. While Britain has become more progressive since their colonial days and has a historical reputation for laxer censorship and tackling franker and grittier material, like so much of Europe, the entertainment industry like its society is still racially homogenized. Colorful character actress Miriam Margolyes caught Will.i.am and Graham Norton’s audience with a surprisingly remark, “I’m fascinated by you [because] unfortunately I don’t know many black people.”

Courtesy of www.theguardian.com

Courtesy of www.theguardian.com

Unfortunately, in more recent years some white European stars have made statements about race relations in less comical and self-aware ways than Margolyes ranging from absurd- Julie Delpy wishing she was a black man because they have more privileges than white lady feminists- to hostile- Charlotte Rampling claiming that boycotting the Oscars was racist to whites (though she kept mum when the interviewer followed up by repeating grievances by black people in the industry).

My big beef with the Oscars these days is that they are not only homogenously white, but the white movies and performances they recognize are generally nauseatingly mediocre. I depart from most Oscar critics as I wasn’t on the Selma bandwagon and I didn’t feel that Ava Duvernay or David Oyelewo were snubbed. (I believe that its Best Pic nomination was shameless ass-covering). That said I liked Selma’s white arch-nemesis American Sniper marginally better, though I’m not sure it deserved a BP nom either.

Courtesy of rippleeffects.wordpress.com

Courtesy of rippleeffects.wordpress.com

I loved Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel, both of which were one-of-a-kind masterworks, though they are part of the uber white indie structure.

One of my favorite films in recent years (that of course had no Oscar traction) was an unpretentious BET-produced showbiz drama, Beyond the Lights, beautifully directed by underrated writer-filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood and acted by Gugu Mbatha-Raw (who cannily captured the soulnessness of pop stardom) and Nate Parker. It made $14.6 million, double its budget, yet it is considered to be a huge flop. For some reason, BET pushed it into a wide release without any promotion, so I think the box office return was not too bad all things considered.

Courtesy of www.forbes.com

Courtesy of www.forbes.com

I suspect that movies like Tangerine and Beasts of No Nation were overlooked by the Oscars because of their untraditional shooting methods/distribution as much as for their subject matters and casting. The most (maybe only) interesting awards moment was when Idris Elba scored two surprising SAG victories for his work in Beasts and Luther, almost as if to give the Oscars the finger. Since Alejandro Inatru, the mind behind the mind-numbingly awful Birdman, has it in the bag again with The Revenant, I think I’ll be skipping the Oscars this year.

I will continue to follow this story with a vested interest, and I hope that other commentators will do the same, because although the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag will be temporarily retired, the lack of diversity remains as a lingering problem.

Courtesy of www.comingsoon.net

Review: Deadpool (2016)

Courtesy of www.comingsoon.net

Courtesy of www.comingsoon.net

Hello everyone and welcome to the first 2016 review from yours truly. I’ve been on a bit of a break to work on a research project that I was hoping I’d be sharing with you, but it turns out what interested me was the tip of a much larger iceberg. So stay tuned. Here’s a hint, it has to do with my love of animation.

I never thought I’d be saying this but Deadpool is a 10 out of 10. I honestly thought that Captain America: Winter Solider was the best Marvel movie ever and never thought they could ever top it. Well this movie delivered. But I should preface this by saying Deadpool might not be for everyone, if crude jokes are not your thing or you really just can’t dive into this superhero craze. I say might because Deadpool isn’t exactly a hero, but to explain why might raise the spoiler flag so I will wait to get into that.

Courtesy of www.foxmovies.com

Courtesy of www.foxmovies.com

You also don’t have to understand Deadpool before walking into this one. In fact if you don’t understand the tone from the 3 minute introduction where director Tim Miller has replaced the starring cast’s names with “God’s perfect creation,” “A moody teenager,” “A CGI character,” and “A gracious celebrity cameo-” then I really don’t think you’ll be able to get into this one and you should probably leave. Again this movie is not for the easily offended, but I had a ton of fun.

You might only know of Deadpool because it’s starring Ryan Renolds and you might have seen this image around the internet…

Deadpool Infographic

This is where we’re going to have to put up the mild spoiler warning. If you’re going to go see it do so now, just leave the kiddies at home. I feel sorry for the four elementary aged kids I saw walk into my screening and I’m not trying to be sexist here but all of them were with their fathers who probably thought, “Oh it’s a superhero movie, that means it must be child friendly.” I have a feeling mommy is going to be seriously pissed off this Valentine’s Day. Even if you haven’t read anything about Deadpool you can see this is an R-rated movie on the poster. “Well if they really didn’t want children to see it then make it NC-17” you argue. But you may not realize most major movie chains will not even show a film if it earns that infamous rating so they really don’t want to do that.

Ok so it’s an R-rated movie it’s got some violence and strong language. You right, but like my passion project you’re only touching the tip of the iceberg. As I said before Deadpool isn’t exactly a hero, he is whatever he feels like being in that moment. If you want his full life before becoming Deadpool you may want to consult the Marvel wiki online but if you just want the short end, he’s a sarcastic asshole who gets cancer and thinking that he has no other option goes to a sketchy medical facility that claims they can cure him. He finds out they’re using people who are at the end of their rope as guinea pigs to try and bring out mutant powers through acts of torture. This is shown in the film and honestly the torture scenes were hard to watch for me as an adult, so heads up.

Courtesy of moviepilot.com

Courtesy of moviepilot.com

So this mutation does stop the effects of cancer but leaves Wade horribly disfigured hence the costume and assuming the identity of Deadpool. He wears the color red so you can’t see him bleed because he’s also somewhat immortal now because of how quickly he can heal as a result of the mutation. In fact he can even regrow limbs.

Okay so there are some scary images. What else isn’t child friendly? If your children are highly influential you might not like the language in the film. An example would be when Wade is hitting on a lady by basically trying to outdo her with upsetting childhood stories. He claims he was molested by an uncle, the woman replies with my uncles took turns which will then lead you into one of the funniest sex montages I’ve ever seen, sorry Team America: World Police. Oh and while we’re on the subject part of that sex montage involves the woman wearing a strap on so I mean you might be a progressive parent but even so, I don’t think even you will want to answer an elementary school aged child’s questions about masturbation and pleasuring the prostate gland. And yes, Deadpool masturbates with a stuffed unicorn so I mean really know what you’ve getting into before you expose your children.

Courtesy of www.slashfilm.com

Courtesy of www.slashfilm.com

When I say children I’m thinking pre-teen and younger. I think a high school age kid can go with their parents because let’s face it, we don’t like this statistic but kids are becoming sexually active between the averages of 15-17 so as a parent you should be answering those kind of questions because I mean you really don’t want the internet to be their teacher. So I would give a yellow light for teens seeing the movie, but if you’re a very conservative family I just would say all of you would be much happier at Kung Fu Panda 3.