Sarah Knight Adamson is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and a voting member for the Critics Choice Awards for Movies.

Sarah Knight Adamson and Jessica Aymond are both Members of the Chicago Film Critics Association

Film Rating Code:

★★★★ Outstanding Film- Run, don’t walk to the nearest movie theater.

★★★½ Excellent Film- Highly recommend seeing the film in a movie theater.

★★★ Very Good Film- Recommend seeing the film in a movie theater.

★★½ Good Film- Wait for the DVD, the film is still worth viewing.

★★ Wait for the DVD and proceed with caution.

★½ Wait for the DVD the film has major problems in most areas.

★ Can’t recommend the film.

The Zookeeper’s Wife (R) ★★★

Jessica Chastain stars in ‘The ZooKeeper’s Wife’ Photo Credit: Focus Features

Click Here to listen to Sarah Knight Adamson’s Hollywood 360 Radio Podcast:

Colossal (R) ★★★ Radio Podcast

Anne Hathaway stars in Colossal
Image credit: NEON

Click Here to listen to Sarah Knight Adamson’s Hollywood 360 Radio Podcast:

Colossal (R) ★★★½

Anne Hathaway stars in Colossal
Image credit: NEON

You’ve probably never seen a movie quite like this.

I adored Colossal. It’s my favorite film of 2017 so far. I want to campaign for it at every theater across the country. I want to shake people standing in line to buy tickets for [INSERT LATEST BIG-BUDGET SEQUEL HERE] and shout, “No! Don’t give those guys your hard-earned money! Go see this unbelievable, uncategorizable indie instead—you can thank me later!”

Coming to us from new studio NEON and Spanish writer/director Nacho Vigalondo is the story of Gloria (Anne Hathaway), an aimless alcoholic mess whose boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) finally gets fed up with her hard-partying ways and lack of ambition and kicks her out of his Manhattan apartment. So Gloria heads home and reconnects with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who gives her a job at his bar.

As Gloria tries to get her life together and hold down her new waitressing gig, an otherworldly terror begins to wreak havoc halfway around the world in Seoul. A gigantic monster is trampling citizens and knocking over skyscrapers, and with each new attack, Gloria starts realizing she may somehow be connected to the beast’s actions.

Read more ›

Gifted (PG-13) ★★★½

Mckenna Grace as “Mary Adler” and Chris Evans as “Frank Adler” in the film GIFTED. Photo by Wilson Webb. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved.

Click Here to listen to Sarah Knight Adamson’s Hollywood 360 Radio Podcast:

Life (R) ★★½

Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams in Life
Photo credit: Columbia Pictures

A decent but forgettable thriller that adds nothing new to the Doomed Space Crew genre.

Are you a space scientist?

I’ll assume you’re not and proceed to ask you this: “Not being a space scientist, do you nevertheless have an opinion as to whether it would be a good idea to mess with a newly discovered life form from Mars that you’ve brought aboard your ship that’s growing at an unbelievable pace and, as one of your very smart crew members observes, is ‘all muscle, all brain, all eye?’” What’s that? You would NOT think that poking, prodding and otherwise annoying such a creature would be a good idea? OK. Then we’re on the same page.

One of the biggest flaws in Swedish director Daniel Espinosa’s (Safe House) Life, which follows what happens to the crew of the International Space Station after they discover the first evidence of extraterrestrial beings, is that lead biologist Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) seems to immediately throw all common sense out of the window and get emotionally attached to the thing they’ve brought on board, despite really REALLY glaring warning signs that the alien is highly intelligent. At least other people, such as Ryan Reynold’s wisecracking space mechanic Rory, attempt to talk some sense into Hugh. Olga Dihovichnaya’s Russian cosmonaut Katerina is another who stays level-headed when others lose it.

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Beauty and the Beast (PG) ★★★½

Emma Watson as Belle in Beauty and the Beast
Photo credit: Disney

This live-action remake may not be necessary, but it’s still a lot of fun.

I usually try to review remakes (or prequels or sequels, for that matter) on their own merit as standalone films, but it’s impossible for me to do so with Disney’s live-action remake of its 1991 animated take on Beauty and the Beast. I’ve had a 26-year love affair with that film: I’ve seen the stage version and the Disney Hollywood Studios version in Orlando, I have the DVD, I have Belle-themed dishes (that my 18-month-old daughter uses now, I swear) . . . and though I have no idea how many times I’ve actually watched the movie, it’s enough that I know every single word by heart.

You know the story, too, right? The Beast (Dan Stevens) was once a spoiled prince who was mean to an enchantress, and she got her revenge by turning him into a big hairy creature—and all of his staff into various objects. They’ll only be returned to their original forms if the Beast learns to love (and earn someone else’s love in return) before the final petal of an enchanted rose falls. Belle (Emma Watson) is from a nearby village and is eventually held prisoner in the Beast’s (Dan Stevens) castle after bargaining with him to let her father (Kevin Kline) go. The narcissistic Gaston (Luke Evans) is hell-bent on marrying Belle, and thinks if he can kill the Beast and rescue Belle, she won’t be able to refuse his proposal.

I’m happy to say that my knee-jerk reaction to this remake was positive. I loved seeing the story brought to life, I loved singing along again, and I was relieved that director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Chicago) didn’t ruin my memories of the “original” (I know the 1991 version isn’t really the original, but you get what I mean). But upon further reflection, I’m not sure how much of that reaction was due to the fact that I could still recite almost all of the film in my head (much of the dialogue is the same), that I will always love its songs (except for the new ones, which added nothing), and that Condon knows his way around a lavish musical. Beauty and the Beast looks spectacular—it’s gorgeous from beginning to end, whether Belle is belting out her desire for adventure in “the great wide somewhere” from atop a mountain, or being charmed by the many creatures in the Beast’s opulent castle.

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T2: Trainspotting (R) ★★★½

The Boys are Back!

Is revisiting the zaniness of Trainspotting (1996) 20 years later worth the trip? (Pun intended.) I guess if you’re wondering if Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, or Begbie made the decision to “choose life,” then yes− checking in with these wacky, cultish characters will totally be a rewarding experience. It’s especially worth the trip if all of the same players are back, including the esteemed British director, Danny Boyle, and in this case, yep–homerun−all are back in T2’s lively sequel. You can only imagine my elation when I discovered I’d be in London in February, a full eight weeks before the opening here in the USA. I viewed the film on my birthday, February 11, at the Empire Theater in Leicester Square, where the film opened on January 19. Yes, it was an excellent day.

Empire Theater, Leicester Square London, England

Empire Theater, Leicester Square London, England

Being a huge fan myself of the original film, I was extremely happy about the sequel. However, how does one follow a film that so creatively defined the essence of the Brit-Pop “20-somethings generation” or, in this case, the “Peter Pan 20-somethings”? Boyle’s unconventional sharp lens gave us a wild, frantic ride by using the music of the time, a script driven by rebellious ideology, and one with hardcore drug use as an underlying theme, no less. Seriously, if any film warrants a “stand alone” status, unquestionably, Trainspotting fits the bill.

The Empire Theater in London Leicester Square. Beautiful! Sarah Knight Adamson 2017

Edinburgh does remain the setting in T2 (as it should), and it should also be noted that in 2004, Trainspotting was voted the best Scottish film of all time in a public poll. The film is ranked 10th by the British Film Institute (BFI) in the Top 100 British Films of all time. An impressive legacy indeed; it even demoted the inspirational Chariots of Fire (1986), which is best known for its opening scene of Olympic hopefuls running on the Scottish coastline of St. Andrews; the conditions are arduous, with wet sand and bare feet as waves break. Vangelis’ famous Academy Award-winning score “Tides” plays in the background as the runners glide in slow motion. In contrast, Trainspotting’s opening scene includes frenzied running at hyper-speed down Princess Street in Edinburgh by Ewan McGregor (Renton) and Ewen Bremner (Spud) while being chased by security guards just after robbing John Menzies Bookstore while Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” blares on.

T2’s opening scene views Renton running again, but this time on a treadmill in Amsterdam. Evidently, he’s surrendered to “life,” as he’s chosen to run artificially. Within minutes, in a hysterical scene, he clumsily falls off. There’s a re-visit to the original chase scene by Renton, and just like that, we are off to the races again. Read more ›

Kong: Skull Island (PG-13) ★★★

All is not what it seems on Skull Island.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Kong: Skull Island is a blast.

Almost exactly a year ago, my husband and I ran around the Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando. We passed by a large barricaded area surrounded by high fences and halfway covered by tarp; signs informed us that it was the future site of the Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction. I remember thinking, “Hmm, they’re making a huuuuuge bet on a movie that doesn’t even seem like it’ll be a sure-fire hit.”

I don’t know if Kong: Skull Island will do well enough at the box office to justify its $185-million-plus production budget on top of a dedicated park attraction, but what I do know is that I went into the film pretty skeptical . . . and came out feeling like the Summer 2017 film season had just kicked off three months early. It’s directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who is THE COOLEST (especially because he’s come to the Chicago Critics Film Festival twice, first for his wonderful 2013 indie The Kings of Summer and then for his hilarious 2014 documentary Nick Offerman: American Ham), but hadn’t ever worked on something of this scale, so I hoped against hope he could pull it off. Now we can count him as part of the growing trend of celebrated indie directors making the successful leap to tentpoles, along with others like Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed (one of my all-time favorites) to Jurassic World) and Gareth Edwards (Monsters, to Godzilla, to Rogue One). Kong is the definition of a great “popcorn movie”: an A-list cast, a familiar franchise, crazy action sequences, a huge budget that supports an exotic location and top-notch effects (which include tons of explosions, of course), a rockin’ soundtrack, nothing too deep to ponder over story-wise, and a couple of excellent one-liners thrown in for good measure.

I’m tempted to stop my review right there and be like, “Just go see it, you know the plot doesn’t even matter.” But I will carry on for those of you who remain as skeptical as I was.

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Table 19 (PG-13) ★★

‘Table 19″ stars Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, June Squibb, Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant and Renzo Eckberg. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight.

Table This Film…For Good

Have you ever attended a wedding and ended up wanting to crawl into a hole because you were seated at a table with complete strangers? Despite an uncomfortable start, these situations often result in hilarious stories. Table 19, the comedy-drama written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz, banks on this situation being funny enough to sustain a movie. Although Table 19 is plated with potential, can it deliver the goods?

The film opens with Eloise (Anna Kendrick, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, 2016) receiving a wedding invitation, which sparks a variety of emotions for her. One minute Eloise is vindictive and the next she’s sobbing. After much internal debate, Eloise draws an “x” on the RSVP card for yes, then crosses it out, then starts burning it and finally sends the half burnt piece of cardstock in the mail. 

Through an entertaining montage, we’re introduced to a number of other wedding guests including: Jerry and Bina (Craig Robinson, Sausage Party, 2016; Lisa Kudrow, The Girl on the Train, 2016) a married couple that seem to have lost their passion, Tony (Rezno Eckberg, Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014) a socially awkward teenager who is unlucky in the dating world, Walter (Stephen Merchant, Logan, 2017) a distant cousin who was recently released from prison and Jo Flanagan (June Squibb, Other People, 2016) the bride’s childhood babysitter. Although they all react differently to the invite, they are all surprised to be invited and respond ‘yes.’ You’re likely to correctly predict what’s to come… Read more ›

Logan (R) ★★★½

Hugh Jackman stars as Logan/Wolverine in Logan. Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein.

Logan is the tenth X-Men movie . . . and might just be the best.

When I review a film from any franchise that has what might be described as “rabid fans”—be it Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or anything from the Marvel or DC universes—I feel the need to confess my level of fandom up front so that readers know where I’m coming from. In Logan’s case, I need to talk about where I stand on both X-Men and an entire genre: Westerns. The truth is that I’ve never been that into X-Men films. I’ve enjoyed most of them (I even liked Apocalypse more than most people, it seems), but I don’t get excited for them in the way I do about a new Star Wars installment, and I pretty much forget about them until the next one comes out. And Westerns have never been my thing. But the weird truth is that Logan could be described as director James Mangold’s attempt at an X-Men Western . . . and the even weirder thing is that it works fantastically.

The year is 2029, and Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is some sort of Uber-like limousine driver. He’s bitter, grumpy, usually drunk, and also appears to be popping pain pills as his regenerative healing ability is failing and his leaking Adamantium skeleton is now slowly killing him. But his claws still work, and we get up-close and brutal proof of that in the opening scene, which sets the tone for the rest of the film. And that tone is dark, dark, dark. To the point where I was totally stunned at certain parts, thinking, “Wow, did they really need to do that?” So in case you’re wondering: no, don’t bring your kids.

Read more ›

Oscar Blog-Part 4 Best Documentary, Best Original Screenplay, Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Original Score, Best Original Song

Sarah Knight Adamson and Jessica DeLong Oscar Night 2014

Oscar Blog Part 4-Final Oscar Blog!

Wow, Oscar weekend 2017 is here! We are very excited over here at Sarah’s Backstage Pass, as this is a huge weekend for us! We love viewing the Academy Awards Show and especially love seeing it on the ‘Big Screen’ at the annual Variety the Children’s Charity viewing party.

We are in our 9th year emceeing and the 12th year of the event at Hollywood Blvd. Cinema. Come on out and join us as in Woodridge, IL on Sunday, February 26.  We are also excited to have Carmelo Chimera from Chimera Comics hosting right along with us. He’ll be testing your movie trivia and giving away prices. As always, our Fashion Police will be out in full force, checking out the glitz and glam attire.

Wait a minute…we also have a very special guest attending the Variety Charity Viewing Party Event…our own Chicagoland film star, Hayden Rolence the voice of Nemo in “Finding Dory” will be in attendance.

Sarah-Knight-Adamson and Hayden Rolence the voice of Nemo. June 2016

* BEST DOCUMENTARY O. J.: Made in America

Nominees: Fire at Sea, I Am Not Your Negro, Life, Animated, O. J.: Made in America, 13th

*BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY Manchester by the Sea

Nominees: Hell or High Water, La La Land, The Lobster, Manchester by the Sea, 20th Century Women

*BEST VISUAL EFFECTS The Jungle Book
Nominees: Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

*BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING Suicide Squad

Nominees: A Man Called Ove, Star Trek Beyond, Suicide Squad

*BEST ORIGINAL SCORE La La Land

Nominees: Jackie, La La Land, Lion, Moonlight, Passengers

*BEST ORIGINAL SONG “City of Stars,” La La Land

Nominees: “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” La La Land, “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls, “City of Stars,” La La Land, “The Empty Chair,” Jim: The James Foley Story, “How Far I’ll Go,” Moana

Complete Prediction List Hollywood Blvd. Cinema Oscar Ballot

Sarah Knight Adamson © February 24, 2017

Oscar Blog Part 3-Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design

Oscar Blog Part 3

*BEST DIRECTOR – Damien Chazelle, La La Land, Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea (Should win)
Nominees: Denis Villeneuve, Arrival, Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge, Damien Chazelle, La La Land, Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea, Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Damien Chazelle (La La Land) has an excellent chance of winning as he directed J.K. Simmons’s Oscar-winning role in Whiplash last year for Best Supporting Actor. Whiplash also won Best Editing, which is huge in terms of the over-all quality of a film. To follow-up with La La Land a blockbuster musical set in Hollywood is no small feat.
Regarding best directing, Kenneth Lonergan’s (Manchester by the Sea) characters were spot-on. He has a long, impressive history as an award- winning writer and an exceptional director. The mixing of dark themes with wry humor is not easy, and in Manchester, he’s hit a homerun with all three performances by Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, and Michelle Phillips. In this case, I feel strongly that he is the best director, but will probably lose to La La Land.

*BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY- Manchester by the Sea

Nominees: Hell or High Water, La La Land, The Lobster, Manchester by the Sea, 20th Century Women

Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me, 2000) and (Margaret 2011) is no stranger to crafting stories that are chock full of everyday dialog that succeeds in magnifying human nature while finding humor in the smallest of nuances. Those in the film business know that Margaret was held up for five years in court costs and lawyers fees due to differences between the studio and Lonergan’s final cut length. He was in serious financial debt when John Krasinski and Matt Damon, (producer of Manchester By the Sea), went to him with the original idea for Manchester by the Sea, and asked him to write the screenplay. This outstanding script took him three years to write.

*BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY—La La Land, Arrival could be the upset.

Nominees: Arrival, La La Land, Lion, Moonlight, Silence

Arrival is a terrific science fiction thriller that has challenging themes in terms of overall filming. Aliens, spaceships and outer space are always difficult to ‘get-right.’ Arrival has met and surpassed those filming difficulties. Its look is hauntingly beautiful, mysterious, dreamy, terrifying and most importantly believable.

La La Land’s filming needed to create a tribute to old Hollywood musicals yet have a modern look. This was accomplished by having a camera that is repeatedly moving, almost swirling, as it attempts to also mirror the characters inner conflicted psyche. The over-all look of this film is stunningly gorgeous.
My prediction is that La La Land will win.

*BEST COSTUME DESIGN – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Jackie could be the upset

Nominees: Allied, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Florence Foster Jenkins, Jackie, La La Land

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, La La Land could win



Nominees: Arrival, 
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, 
Hail, Caesar!
, La La Land
, Passengers

Best Costume Design and Best Production Design are two Oscar categories where earning a nomination for both is typically critical to a film’s chances of winning either. The degree of difficulty is very important in production design and costuming. Historical films, fantasy and or science fiction films usually have a greater chance of winning.

My favorite costume design this year was for the film Jackie. I love that Chanel look! The textures of the fabric were even a stand out.

I did love La La Land’s costuming and production design. Emma Stone’s bright yellow dress, set against a midnight blue sky is stunning. Not to mention that is my personal favorite color combination.

To me though, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the more difficult film to dress as everything depends on the creativity of the production design and the costuming in terms of visually conveying a fantasy story. The images are the key components here. I’m rooting for this film to win both.

Sarah Knight Adamson© February 22, 2017

Oscar Blog Part 2, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Animated Film

Oscar Blog Part 2

Hi again, here’s the next installment; happy reading. Wow, it’s getting exciting the last week before Oscar. Hey, do you have your tickets to the best viewing party in Chicagoland? I’ll be emceeing again this year on behalf of Variety the Children’s Charity of IL and would love to see you all come out to Woodridge, IL to Hollywood Blvd. Theater.

* BEST ACTRESS- Emma Stone, La La Land, possible upset by Isabelle Huppert

Nominees: Isabelle Huppert, Elle, Ruth Negga, Loving, Natalie Portman, Jackie, Emma Stone, La La Land, Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

My favorite performance was Amy Adams as the mysterious linguist who leads the way through her bravery and intuition in communicating with aliens from another planet in Arrival; sadly she was not nominated.

I must say that I did love Natalie Portman’s ‘spot-on’ portrayal of Jackie Kennedy although the film itself focused on a very small segment of President Kennedy’s life—the worst part—his assassination. I believe by showing only this narrow piece of history we don’t see the scope of the true talents and strength of Jacqueline Kennedy. Not seeing Portman later in Jackie’s life will actually hurt her chances of winning.

Isabelle Huppert gives an incredible performance in the French film Elle. This is not an easy film to view. She portrays a single woman who’s the victim of repeated violent, sexual abuse by a neighbor. Again, the role is physically challenging, and Oscar loves those kinds of roles.

La La Land’s charm stems from its lead character played by Emma Stone who by the way sets the tone for the entire film. She sings and dances her way into our hearts while uplifting us at the same time. Visually the numerous ways in which she moves across the screen are mesmerizing. She holds our attention, and you can’t take your eyes off of her.

* BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS- Viola Davis, Fences, possible upset by Naomie Harris

Nominees: Viola Davis, Fences, Naomie Harris, Moonlight, Nicole Kidman, Lion, Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures, Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Naomie Harris, mainly known for her role of Eve Moneypenny the beautiful, alluring ‘Bond Girl’ in the recent James Bond films is almost unrecognizable as Chiron’s crack-addicted mother in Moonlight. Here’s the scoop on this role. Oscar loves to reward beautiful women who play down and dirty transforming roles! Case in point—Charlize Theron as a serial killer in Monster (2003) and Nicole Kidman wearing an unattractive nose prosthetic in The Hours (2002); both won Oscars.

Viola Davis’s performance in Fences seems more like a lead role than supporting; she’s onscreen throughout the entire film. Fences first appeared as a play on Broadway and Davis had the bonus of playing this same part in 2010. Her dramatic performance is deep, emotional and extremely convincing. I loved her in this role. She has the best crying skills in Hollywood! It’s just too bad this role wasn’t considered a Best Actress role as she’s already won Best Supporting Actress for Doubt in 2008, and yes she has a crying scene in Doubt as well as Fences.

* BEST ANIMATED FEATURE- Zootopia

Nominees: Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini
, The Red Turtle, Zootopia

Hands down, Zootopia has the lead in the category of Best Animated film. It took five years in the making with several script changes over the years. It’s a film for all ages, which is difficult to pull off; it deals with bullying, discrimination, following your dreams and not giving up. Disney is committed to teaching life lessons in their films and inspiring children to pursue their passions while making their own trail in life. As a former educator, I appreciate these themes in their children’s films, but more importantly their attention to such a high standard of quality.

Sarah Knight Adamson© February 18, 2017

Fist Fight (R) ★½

Charlie Day and Ice Cube square off in Fist Fight
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Hey comedy directors: when your end-credits blooper reel is funnier than the rest of your movie, you’ve failed.

Fist Fight should have at least been decent; its trailers gave me hope. It stars the high-strung, squirrelly Charlie Day (Horrible Bosses) as Andy Campbell, a minds-his-own-business high school English teacher who witnesses a destructive in-class meltdown by his colleague Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube). After Campbell rats on Strickland in order to save his own job, Strickland challenges him to a fight after school on the last day before summer break.

Unfortunately, I knew I was in for a painful hour and a half within the first ten minutes of this movie. The film opens with seniors playing ridiculously extreme “pranks” that are not even remotely funny, like letting a meth-fueled horse run around the school or replacing a prized baseball bat with a laptop playing pornography. Almost all jokes fell flat—there was complete silence in the screening room for nearly the entire film. Tracy Morgan’s offbeat brand of humor was squandered as Campbell’s friend Coach Coward. He served hardly any purpose except to stand around looking clueless while his students did things like shaping a crude scene onto the grassy playing field with a lawnmower. Even worse was Jillian Bell (Office Christmas Party) as Holly, a guidance counselor who was trying to help Campbell prepare for his fight but kept getting sidetracked by her attraction to teenaged students or conversations about her drug problem. Yet another misfire came from wasting Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) in a bit role as a school security officer. Morgan, Bell and Nanjiani are naturally funny people! It actually takes effort to make them UNfunny. That pretty much sums up the overarching problem with Fist Fight.

Read more ›

Oscar’s BackStage Pass Blog 2017 Part 1-Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor

Sarah Knight Adamson 2012 holding the first ever Oscar given to a James Bond film for Best Sound Effects for “Goldfinger’ (1964) given to Norman Wanstall. I met him during the Chagford Film Festival in the UK. Norman was presenting a James Bond Workshop and let me snap a photo with his Oscar. Photo Credit: Bill Adamson

It’s Oscar Time!

As an avid life-long Academy Award watcher, I’ve always enjoyed attempting to see all Oscar-worthy films, along with selecting my personal winners. The Oscars are my Super Bowl so to speak, an activity I look forward to every year. It’s no surprise to me that I ventured into the realm of film criticism, as my determination to view all of the films was typically a solo endeavor. Yes, I became very comfortable viewing films by myself, as I would urge you all to do as well. I’ve come to realize that some people feel uncomfortable going to a film by themselves; take it from me—it’s liberating!

For those of you that don’t know me here’s a bit about how I started in the film industry. Looking back I actually started thinking about some sort of career in film when I accepted my first ‘Film Extra’ job in Chicago working on the film, The Express, (2007) a true historical film centered on Ernie Davis the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy in 1961. It was a crazy first ‘Extra’ job as I wore a short wig and was placed in 1960s costuming along with hundreds of extras at Northwestern College Football Stadium in Evanston, IL. Little did I know that working on this film would lead to my first film writing column for a local magazine a few months later that same year.

(I’ll add more in future blog posts about my ‘Film Extra’ days, as they are very fond memories of mine.)

My official film journalism career began on June 8, 2008, of which I was invited by a Chicago publicist to interview three stars of the film, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl; Abigail Breslin, Joan Cusack and Chris O’Donnell for my monthly column Sarah’s Backstage Pass® in a local Naperville magazine I was writing for at the time. In the fall of 2009 I became a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association after submitting around 150 written reviews. As they say, the rest is history, with my main press outlets being radio as WINDam560 Hollywood 360’s weekly film critic and online free-lance writing.

I’ll update this blog until all of the main awards have been covered, here’s my take on Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor:

*ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE- Casey Affleck, Andrew Garfield could be the upset

Nominees: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic), Denzel Washington (Fences)

Casey Affleck has a strong chance of winning for his guilt and grief role in Manchester By the Sea. His emotions are so deep; his soul appears to have been reduced to a hollow shell. We are saddened by his situation and root for him to find some sort of happiness; whatever that may be. Truly an authentic, remarkable performance.

However, I do feel that Andrew Garfield had the more physically challenging role. Oscar tradition does tend to lean toward that attribute as in Eddie Redmayne’s performance of Stephen Hawkings in 2015 for The Theory of Everything beating out favorite Michael Keaton in Birdman.

*ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE-Mahershala Ali

Nominees: Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Dev Patel (Lion), Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

My favorite performance is Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), playing a grieving teen navigating the feelings of the loss of a parent, while also attempting to find a new normal. Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s crisp, sharp script is written perfectly for this part, which by the way will probably win Best Original Screenplay. We root for Lucas, and more importantly, we care about him. He’s heart-wrenchingly sorrowful, with bursts of comedy while entertaining−−a pure delight to watch.

Dev Patel’s performance in (Lion), is complex as he’s mainly angry and frustrated as he also deals with feelings of the loss of a parent, who’s additionally, facing the overwhelming odds of being reunited with that parent. Dev has a great chance of winning as he has the added bonus of Oscar history on his side of playing a poor orphaned teen in the Best Picture Slumdog Millionaire in 2008.

Mahershala Ali as Juan, the drug dealer in (Moonlight) to Chiron’s crack-addicted mom part has the least screentime, but is a powerful, stand-alone performance. He’s an unlikely friend to Chiron, yet takes him under his wing and shows him the goodness in this world. I predict he will win, due to the incredible, unforgettable and beautifully filmed scene in which he teaches Chiron to swim. Oscar traditionally likes memorable lines, performances or a scene.

Sarah Knight Adamson© February 15, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie (PG) ★★★

Will Arnett at Batman in The Lego Batman Movie
Photo credit: Warner Bros Pictures

The Lego Batman Movie is fun (and funny), but not quite as awesome as its predecessor.

 

The Lego Movie surprised everyone in 2014. Nobody expected it to be good, much less one of the best films of the year—animated or not. I distinctly remember walking out of its screening and looking around at other critics like, “Did that just happen?” However, the writing-directing team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are only back as producers for The Lego Batman Movie, which may be the reason why this spinoff lacks the universal relatability and appeal of its predecessor. Or it could just be that a film focused on Batman—even if he’s in Lego form—is never going to be able to conjure up emotional memories from childhood (or parenthood) for everyone in the theater. We’ve all played with Legos, but not everyone knows Batman lore (especially younger children). Nor could The Lego Batman Movie ever be as peppy and uplifting as a tale featuring Chris Pratt’s optimistic Lego everyman Emmet; Batman is somber, dark and gritty by nature. And, let’s face it, there was no way any movie was ever going to have a catchier theme song than “Everything Is Awesome.”

So that’s the bad news.

The good news is that The Lego Batman Movie isn’t trying to be its predecessor, and it’s fun, funny and memorable in its own weird way. Will you (or your kids) be able to fully appreciate all of its jokes if you’re not familiar with older incarnations of Batman or his overall mythology? No. In fact, one of the highlights of the film is a series of quick flashes to previous versions of the caped crusader that prove just how ridiculous his small-and-big-screen journey has been. Another is its treatment of the villain Bane (Doug Benson), as infamously portrayed by Tom Hardy in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.

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Silence (R) ★★★★

“Silence” stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Have Faith in Silence

For living legend Martin Scorsese, who spent nearly 30 years trying to get this film made and even contemplated joining the priesthood, it would be an understatement to call Silence a passion project. A film about religious missionaries in 1630s Japan doesn’t exactly spell huge box office hit and likely required all of Scorsese’s industry clout to even be created. Although this movie may not be for everyone, audiences will witness an utterly unique and thought-provoking look at faith, and how much one is willing to sacrifice for it.

This historic drama opens with the voice of Fr. Ferreira (Liam Neeson, A Monster Calls, 2016) narrating his own letter describing the brutal conditions for Japanese Christians. It is 1635, and Christianity has been outlawed across the country. An already difficult situation has only worsened as Christians and priests are now being tortured and executed if they do not apostatize (“deny their faith”). The story then cuts to seven years later at a Jesuit College in Macau, a Portuguese colony in Asia, where two young priests, Fr. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge, 2016) and Fr. Garupe (Adam Driver, Paterson, 2016) meet with an older colleague, Fr. Valignano (Ciarán Hinds, Bleed For This, 2016). The group gathers to discuss the letter from Fr. Ferreira, who was a mentor to the young priests and a leading figure amongst the Catholic community in Japan. After finishing the letter, Valignano says he heard more news from Dutch traders that said Fr. Ferreira has given up the faith, leaving no more priests in Japan. Upon hearing the update, Fr. Rodrigues and Garupe are in utter disbelief, and despite death threats for priests, they decide it is their mission to uncover the truth.

Silence is a very thought-provoking film that digs deep into the issues of faith and conviction like no other film of its kind. From a visual standpoint, Scorsese brilliantly balances the beauty of Japan with the struggles that the Christians must endure. Although the few torture scenes are difficult to watch, they are not gratuitously violent or excessive, but rather convey to the audience the conviction and strength of the characters that bear it. Read more ›

Julieta (R) ★★★½

Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte star in Julieta. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures.

A Mother and Child Reunion?

With the slew of super hero mega films, book to film adaptations and unoriginal American pictures that hope the star power will singlehandedly carry the film, foreign films are often refreshing, no matter the theme. This is very much the case with the Spanish drama, Julieta.

Portrayed (as an adult) by Emma Suárez (What’s a Bear For?, 2011), Julieta is a middle-aged former teacher who is preparing to move from Madrid to Portugal in the next few days with her boyfriend, an older sculptor, named Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti, Francis: Pray for Me, 2015). The reasons are unbeknownst. However, the next day on the street, Julieta randomly runs into a childhood friend of Antía, her estranged daughter. This brief conversation with Beatrix (Michelle Jenner, We Need to Talk, 2016) quickly changes everything for Julieta. Beatrix tells Julieta she recently saw Antía in Switzerland and went on about how crazy it was to find out she had three kids. Julieta, who has not seen or heard from her daughter in well over a decade, is completely stunned by the news. Without hesitation or explanation, she tells Lorenzo she’s changed her mind about moving with him. Completely overcome with the desire to reestablish communication with Antía, she abruptly decides to rent the last apartment (although under construction) that she and Antía shared in the hopes that her daughter will write to that address as neither know the other’s whereabouts. While Julieta achingly awaits for word from her Antía, she begins writing a journal for her daughter that tells the true story about her father in an effort to mend their relationship.

Although this film’s plot may sound depressing, it is truly a very poignant story about the bonds between a mother and child and how it affects the surrounding relationships. Julieta is written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, who is best known to American audiences for Volver (2005), an incredible generational love story starring Penelope Cruz that shares similar themes with Julieta. Although this film may not have the same star power as Volver (which earned Cruz an Oscar nod), it does have incredible acting from its cast, particularly the two women sharing the title role. Read more ›

Nocturnal Animals (R) ★★★½

Amy Adams stars in “Nocturnal Animals.” Photo Credit: Focus Features.

Tom Ford Designs Another Work of Art

In the build-up to Oscar season, Hollywood studios release their “best films” from Thanksgiving to Christmas to such an extent that it can be overwhelming to the public. A number of excellent films get lost in the shuffle every year, especially those that lack proper marketing. Nocturnal Animals, written and directed by the multi-talented Tom Ford, is one of those films. 

The psychological thriller-mystery-drama is essentially divided into two plots, the real-life story about a woman and her ex-husband and the book that is inspired by their relationship. The film cuts back and forth between the real-life main story, and the story told in the book. Over time, the plot of the book and its meaning begins to make sense to the audience in the context of the real life story. Although this may seem confusing, the shift from one story to the other is very clear.

The film opens with a bizarre art show at an L.A. art gallery in the “real life” story. The gallery is owned by Susan Morrow played by Amy Adams (Arrival, 2016) who is married to businessman, Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer, The Birth of a Nation, 2016). Despite what appears to be a glamorous lifestyle, Susan’s marriage is faltering as she and Hutton argue about money and she suspects him of cheating. As her husband heads out for a ‘business trip,’ Susan is surprised by a novel she receives in the mail from her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal, South Paw, 2015). Edward wrote the book and dedicated it to her. In his personal note, he mentions coming to town soon and invites her to dinner. Susan, looking for an escape from her unhappy life, immerses herself into the book and audiences are along for the ride. Read more ›

Manchester By the Sea (R) ★★★½

“Manchester By the Sea” Amazon Studios

Heartwrenching Family Drama with Excellent Performances

Manchester by the Sea is a movie wherein the more you discuss the great aspects of the film, the more it sounds like your worst nightmare. And by discussing the film, I do mean with someone that has seen it, as significant parts of the film should be left to unfold on their own. This genuine drama just may be the most realistic portrayal of full-blown paralyzing guilt to hit the big screen. Both Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams give stellar performances as they fight their personal battles with grief. Yep, sounds like a downer, doesn’t it? Well, I’m not going to candy-coat this; it is. However, here’s the great news—Manchester by the Sea is one of the best films of 2016.

SANTA MONICA, CA – DECEMBER 11: (L-R) Actor Casey Affleck, filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan, actor Lucas Hedges and actor/producer Matt Damon attend The 22nd Annual Critics’ Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on December 11, 2016 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for The Critics’ Choice Awards )

Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me, 2000) and (Margaret 2011) is no stranger to crafting stories that are chock full of everyday dialog that succeeds in magnifying human nature while finding humor in the smallest of nuances. Those in the film business know that Margaret was held up for five years in court costs and lawyers fees due to differences between the studio and Lonergan’s final cut length. He was in serious financial debt when John Krasinski and Matt Damon, producer of the film, went to him with the original idea for Manchester by the Sea, and asked him to write the screenplay. The film has received eight nominations for our Critics Choice Awards, and Casey Affleck won Best Actor in a Film, Kenneth Lonergan won Best Screenplay, and Best Young Performer, Lucas Hedges. It received five nominations from the Golden Globes, and Casey Affleck won Best Actor in a Drama Motion Picture.

SANTA MONICA, CA – DECEMBER 11: Actor Casey Affleck, winner of Best Actor for ‘Manchester by the Sea’, poses in the press room during The 22nd Annual Critics’ Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on December 11, 2016 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

The main premise of the film focuses on Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a loner apartment handyman in Boston who has violent outbursts that lead to fistfights. When we first meet Lee, we know something isn’t quite right with him, as he appears to have a chip on his shoulder, although we aren’t sure if that’s even the problem. In contrast, during a flashback, we also see Lee on a fishing boat with his nephew Patrick, enjoying an afternoon on the sea with his family.

Onstage during The 22nd Annual Critics’ Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on December 11, 2016 in Santa Monica, California.

Very shortly, we discover that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), has passed away and Lee is shocked to learn that Joe has made him sole guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Lee grudgingly returns to his boyhood hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for Patrick, a strong-willed 16-year-old, and is forced to deal with his past that separated him from his wife Randi, (Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn, 2011).

Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges Critics Choice Awards Santa Monica Hanger Dec. 11, 2016

Lee is obliged to step up to the plate and become somewhat of a father figure to his grieving nephew, Patrick. Neither is prepared for this awkward situation in which Patrick wants to continue his life as normally as possible. Lee, on the other hand, wants to move to Boston to resume his life away from Manchester where he’s still haunted by his personal tragic family memories. Read more ›

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