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by Sam Juliano

Presidents Week 2019 as always results in a full week off for area schools as a kind of winter recess.  The Oscar party at the Tiger Hose Firehouse will be staged starting at 6:00 P.M., though the show itself never gets underway before 8:20 P.M.  Lucille and I are greatly looking forward to seeing many friends including some site blogging regulars for this cherished annual gathering dating back 38 years.  A revolt by the film community resulted in a reversal this week of the tentative plans to consign the Cinematography, Editing and two other categories to commercial breaks, which in essence was another preposterous plan in a year when AMPAS has bungled numerous decisions.  Yet in each case they were overturned.  J.D. Lafrance penned a terrific essay this week on The Warriors.

We saw two new releases on Thursday and Friday evenings at premium Manhattan art houses. Ciro Guerra’s Birds of Passage is a violent drug cartel drama which focuses on an indigenous community (Wayuu and Spanish language) governed by stringent traditions and spiritual beliefs. Tensions over business and family insults lead to an epic assault on a practically surreal while fortress in desert terrain in a film with gangland repercussions. Brilliantly filmed and scored, if a bit slow getting out of the gate. Christopher Honore’s deeply personal and melancholic trans-formative if doomed gay romance Sorry Angel, set in 1990’s Paris amidst the AIDS crisis brings a rare authenticity into searing relationships among bohemians who click on chance encounters and no-holds-barred physicality that ensues. This is the uneven Honore’s finest film to date. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The Grammys were staged on Sunday night, but I don’t yet have a full report.  R.I.P. Albert Finny, one of the greatest of all film actors.  Our annual Oscar party will be held at the Tiger Hose Firehouse on Sedore Avenue in Fairview on Sunday, February 24th.  The BAFTAs were also held on Sunday night with Roma scoring yet again for Best Picture and The Favorite racking up the most overall wins.  James Clark’s latest mega-essay in his ongoing Ingmar Bergman series, Smiles of a Summer Night was posted this past week.  In addition, J.D. Lafrance published his weekly film review on Keith Gordon’s 2000 Waking the Dead.  Another superlative essay from J.D.

Lucille, Sammy, Danny and I took in the three-hour-plus latest masterwork, The Wild Pear Tree,  from the brilliant Turkish writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan Wednesday at the Film Forum. This fascinating barrage of extended dialogues, examining complex musings on philosophy, theology, politics, and ethnics all transcribed through a cynical haze includes the usual ravishing visual tapestries of seasonal resplendence that showcase again why Ceylan is one of the world’s most singular talents. 2019 now has its set-the-bar cinematic work, one that begs for repeat viewings. The Wild Pear Tree is stunning.

The final of the five films nominated for the Foreign Film Oscar, the German Never Look Away was watched last night at the Angelica Film center with film and TV writer/blogger and friend Adam Ferenz, who is in from Michigan for a few weeks. The epic film about art, love and politics set over three decades in Germany spanning the Nazi era was set in Dresden, Dusseldorf and Berlin was loosely based in part on the life of painter Gerard Richter. Both Adam and I were stunned and surprised at how extraordinary this often powerful and emotional film panned out to be, though we were all most familiar with director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s previous Oscar masterwork “The Lives of Others.” As “Never Look Away” did not open in 2018 in USA theaters as did the other four nominees, the film which rates a strong 4.5 of 5.0 (perhaps I’ll go the limit as I ponder further) will count for 2019. Great score and Oscar nominated cinematography from Caleb Deschanel. 

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by Sam Juliano

From an arctic vortex to 60 degree temperatures we’ve experienced winter-to-summer over the last week, what with Mother Nature sending on a markedly bi-polar message.  In any event the big event of the week was staged in the Deep South and the comfortable numbers were evident at halftime when the lead singer of Maroon 5 was bare-chested.  In any event those of us who have had our full of Tom Brady, Bill Belachick and those hated New England Patriots could only watch incredulously as one of the most boring Super Bowls on record.  The Patriots won their sixth NFL title, tying them with the Pittsburgh Steelers for most ever.  I’m not the biggest football fan in the world (baseball is my main sports fix) but like most I follow the playoffs and have a favorite team leading up to the annual playoffs.

On the film scene Alfonso Cuaron won the Director’s Guild Award en route to a seemingly unstoppable win from AMPAS as the capper on all he’s won so far from nearly every critics’ group.  ROMA is a masterpiece for sure and my own #5 film of the year.  Our annual Oscar party will be held on Sunday, February 24th at the Tiger Hose Firehouse in Fairview, New Jersey.

Over the past week, Lucille, Sammy, Jeremy and I took in “Arctic,” a tense, quietly enveloping survival drama set in the punishing tundra near the North Pole, where a man manages to stay alive despite numerous obstacles. Anyone who has read Brian Paulsen’s Newbery Honor book “Hatchet” will understand the mighty odds faced by the non-speaking Mads Mikkelson, who turns in his best performance ever.. (more…)

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Caldecott Medal Winner

 

by Sam Juliano

Caldecott Medal Winners Announced!

In the end it was the ravishing masterpiece Hello Lighthouse by the remarkably gifted Sophie Blackall which was named the Caldecott Medal winner in Seattle on Monday morning. This is the lovely Ms. Blackall’s second Caldecott Gold over the past few years.  Caldecott Honors went to Alma and How She Got Her Name (Juana Martinez-Neal); A Big Mooncake for Little Star (Grace Lin);  The Rough Patch (Brian Lies) and Thank You Omu (Oge Mora), all fabulous and deserving books.  My review of Hello Lighthouse appeared at Wonders in the Dark a few days ago.  My series ended after twenty-nine (29) essays.

R.I.P Michel Legrand, one of the greatest film composers of all-time.

Lucille and I attended a fabulous classical concert on Sunday afternoon titled “Shakespeare in Song” at the United Methodist Church in New Providence, New Jersey.  I will be penning a full review on it this coming week. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

My name is Paikea Apirana, and I come from a long line of chiefs stretching all the way back to the Whale Rider. I’m not a prophet, but I know that our people will keep going forward, all together, with all of our strength.”   -Whale Rider (2002)

Two of the past year’s most distinguished and critically-acclaimed movies chronicle the incalculable bond between a young man and a horse.  The stirring British-made independent drama Lean on Pete,  features a motherless 15-year-old boy living in Portland, Oregon, who lands a part-time job caring for horses for a hardened and callous jockey trainer at the local racetrack.  He develops a soulful connection with a five-year-old quarter horse named Pete, but after the stallion begins losing and faces extermination, young Charley takes off with Pete and in tandem they set out on a treacherous cross-country journey together. The film’s center is the extraordinary connection between Pete and the silent Charley—who, in his emotional outlook,  and on screen voice-over conversations with the stallion evoke a profound spirituality.  In the American made The Rider a troubled and physically maligned former rising star on the rodeo circuit stages a comeback while falling hard for a new horse, but must endure the same heartbreak as the young boy in Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s children’s literary classic The Yearling.  Yet, the breathtaking 2018 picture book jewel If I Had a Horse by Gianna Marino bears the most metaphysical and epic connection with an older classic film, 1979’s The Black Stallion, directed by Caroll Ballard, a film of horse-to-human camaraderie like no other especially an underwater montage showing the legs of the two as they splash in the turf, but perhaps most unforgettably an extended sequence, an uninterrupted shot depicting the boy’s snail-paced approach and the horse’s skittish movements forward and in retreat, which film fans young and old might recall looking at one of Marino’s first double page tapestries of the young girl holding out an apple for her imagined equestrian companion.  He might be shy like me.  In fact, Marino’s magnificent burnished red opening widescreen canvas parallels The Black Stallion’s celebrated shot of boy and horse on the extreme opposite edges of the image. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Martin Luther King Day 2019. Here’s invoking this great American on his annual day of tribute.  The majority of schools in the nation are closed.  A promised snowstorm in the Metropolitan area turned out to be a bust

For the first time since I began crafting “Best of the Year” film lists four decades ago I have declared a Number 1 tie.  Though I initially resolved to resist this temptation I finally concluded there is a natural kinship between my co-champions.  First off, both films are wholly extraordinary, stirring human dramas, beautifully acted, filmed and written and united by an amazing thematic similarity, one my blogging friend Bill Kamberger thought beyond remarkable in that both films can in one sense be defined as “horse” movies.  Both films, one British and the other American focus in strong measure on the relationship of a young man and a horse amidst domestic turbulence.  There are numerous differences in these films, which I plan of discuss in a follow-up post when I provide capsule reviews for all my selections, but at their hear, they share a vital connection.  My original attempt to divide them in the numerical listing just didn’t seem fair as I really don’t like one over the other, and I’d love to honor this fantastic if bizarre occurrence.  One of my two choices, the American made independent has won major awards, while the other has still been recipient of superlative reviews.  I’ve watched both films six times now, and I am comfortable with posting this first ever tie.  As a result my Top 25 Best Films of 2018 with now include twenty-six (26) films, as I prefer to list the film that follows this tie starting with Number 2, (rather than Number 3 as some would prefer).  After my Top 25 (really 26)  I have posted thirty-three (33) films I do like quite a bit, but just not enough to include in the numerical listing.  One film from the Tribeca Film Festival (which I attend in full force each year) made the Top 25 in the final position and five (5) others from that festival made the runners-up scroll. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

My school time-consuming Mock Caldecott voting prevented me from posting the Monday Morning Diary early but here it is later in the evening.   194 ballots were cast by Fairview’s first and second graders at the Number 3 School Annex on Monday and the result was the biggest landslide by the gold medal winner in the six years the voting has been staged. Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s wildly popular “Blue” scored a whopping 191 points via regular weighted tabulation of each student getting three choices in order to outdistance the second place finisher “The Wall in the Middle of the Book” by better than a two-to-one margin (191 to 94) but in emulating a Caldecott committee of four years ago we decided to award six (6) books the Caldecott Honor silver medal. The results are as follows:

Blue (Laura Vaccaro Seeger) 191 (Medal)
The Wall in the Middle of the Book (Jon Agee) 94 (Honor)
Big Bunny (Rowboat Watkins) 75 (Honor)
Ocean Meets Sky (Eric and Terry Fan) 59 (Honor)
We Are Grateful (Traci Sorell/Frane Lessac) 58 (Honor)
Dreamers (Yuyi Morales) 55 (Honor)
Imagine (Raul Colon) 49 (Honor)

Though we began this five month venture with over 200 picture books, the final batch numbered 70. Of those we have the seven (7) final winners above and nine (9) other books that finished with 30 points or above:

Dude! (Aaron Reynolds, Dan Santat) 44
Wild Orca (Brenda Peterson/Wendell Minor) 41
The Unwanted (Don Brown) 37
A Parade of Elephants (Kevin Henkes) 36
Nanny Paws (Wendy Wahman) 35
Bub (Elizabeth Stanton) 34
In the Past (David Elliott/Matthew Truman) 34
A Big Mooncake For Little Star (Grace Lin) 34
Thank you, Omu! (Oge Mora) 30

Hence we have sixteen (16) books that really impressed the 194 students and teachers of the Number Three School Annex to the tune of Top 16 out of around 200!!! Still there were many other books that received point and kudos to all the wonderful books and their creators. It has been quite a ride since September! Thanks to all the teachers and classroom aides for their assistance in today’s event! (A fair number of books I consider absolute masterpieces like “The House That Once Was” by Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith; “Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse” (Marci Campbell, Corina Luyken) “Nothing Stopped Sophie” by Cheryl Bardoe and Barbara McClintock and Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall probably were more complex and intricate for the mainly first grade voters)

Fairview’s student body is now 82% Hispanic, and 6% Arabic. The other 12% is a mix, African-American, Italian, Croatian, etc.

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