Oscars

Five Decades of Nominees – 1994 – ‘The Remains of the Day’

Snooze

Alright. We’ve come to the end of the 1994 nominees for Best Picture. And what a snoozy doozy way to end them. I’ve been sitting on how to approach writing about this movie for a couple days, and I just…well, let’s give it a shot.

I’ll start with the acting. Anthony Hopkins, the most recent, and controversial winner of the Best Actor award, is so Anthony Hopkins in this. He’s a butler of a giant estate owned by a nazi sympathizer in pre-World War II England, and he rules every scene, as he always does. When I say Hopkins is so Hopkins, you know what I mean: he’s got those signature tics, the witty little reactions, the head-held-high snootiness that he’s best known for.

As always, he’s great, and I really think this movie would have been in a lot of trouble without him. Emma Thompson, like Hopkins, is who she always is – not bad, just incredibly British and sad, and honestly, it took me three sittings to finish this movie because Thompson films put me to sleep.

Something strange to see is Christopher Reeve, just a couple years before his debilitating accident that ultimately led to his death, as the American ambassador that attempts to convince the owner of the manor not to work with the Germans. The acting is here, the problem is, there’s not much else.

There are also a couple of Game of Thrones alums in this, not surprising since it’s probably the most British movie ever made. We’ve got a really young Lena Headey as a housekeeper, and that old blind dude from the wall as Hopkins’ dad.

This movie drags. Hard. I haven’t read the book, of course, but I came away from the film wondering what the hell just didn’t happen. I won’t ruin it for you, but when the credits rolled, I was really surprised. It’s one of the dullest endings to a movie I’ve ever seen, and I’m guessing it’s explained better in the novelization.

The strangest part of the film for me, is that there is this clique of butlers and housekeepers, and they’ve all crossed paths at some point. And there is also this hierarchy in which these people are fighting over, and the top spot is butler. Like, I’m sorry, but what the fuck? Is this a strictly British thing that I’ve never heard of or read about? Or was this made up for dramatic effect? What the hell is going on in this movie?

Sorry. I will say, the movie is pretty. It’s shot so well, and though it doesn’t really take many risks, each shot feels like a painting you’d find in a gallery. There’s a scene toward the end, where Hopkins and Thompson are sitting on a pier and the lights come on, and the contrast of the lights’ colors are absolutely mesmerizing. There is also a sunset scene with Hopkins driving that really is amazing. Trouble is, a lot of these shots make you feel like you’re watching something on PBS. I know there’s a market for that (probably bigger than I think), but woof, not my bag, man.

This is the sort of movie that’s playing at your grandma’s house on her tiny TV on a summer afternoon. It’s a costume designer’s blueprint, a Masterpiece Theater special stretched long, the film that appeases your groaning grandparents so they’ll watch the Oscars. It’s undeniably, the worst of the five ’94 nominees: not necessarily bad, but without the substance of the other four.

Where is ‘Philadelphia,’ by the way? How did that movie not get nominated? It’s cool that Hanks won Best Actor, but that movie carries so much more emotional depth and focuses on a much bigger worldwide issue than The Remains of the Day attempts to. Perhaps AIDS was still much too taboo for the Academy, but Philadelphia absolutely crushes me every time I see it.

Well, that’s the end of the 1994 nominees. Overall, the right movie won, and it really wasn’t close. I feel like four of these should have been nominated, but that seems to be the case every year. Next up for this month, we’ve got the 1985 nominees. I’ll try to squeeze them all in this month, but life has a way of making that tough, so we’ll see.

Have you seen The Remains of the Day and want to tell me I’m absolutely wrong? Think some other movies from 1993 should have been nominated for the ’94 Oscars that weren’t? Let me know in the comments or on Instagram, and it’ll probably help me write these in the future.

Five Decades of Nominees – 1994 – ‘Schindler’s List’

Yikes

Oh, Schindler’s List. My god, what a movie. Possibly the most visceral film ever made, and Spielberg’s emotional masterwork, there is no way any other 1993 movie had a chance at winning Best Picture. And in case you haven’t seen this (you must, do it now!), let’s get into why it’s so damn good.

I’m assuming most have seen Schindler’s List, but for those that haven’t, be forewarned that there will be some minor spoilers following. Let’s start with the cinematography. Janusz Kaminski, a frequent Spielberg collaborator, crafted this film as a series of old photographs. Every piece of Holocaust video or photography that we’ve been witness to over the years comes to almost nauseating life in the movie, and brings you right in – whether you want to, or not – to the horrors and crimes against humanity that the nazis brought to Europe and beyond.

Another Spielberg teammate, John Williams, crushes your soul repeatedly for over three hours. The violin entries are almost too much at times, making your skin crawl in anticipation of another relentless act of violence from those in the Third Reich.

Speaking of horrible people, the always villainous Ralph Fiennes makes Voldemort look like a harmless gecko in his turn as Amon Goeth, the nightmarish SS lieutenant in charge of overseeing the construction of a new concentration camp in Poland. From the get-go, he’s a slippery ghoul, straight from the bowels of an unthinkable hell. I won’t get into the details of what he does to the incarcerated Jews, but holy shit, did it have me sinking to unimaginable depths of my couch.

Another thing to note, is how this violence is portrayed in the movie. Not letting up in the slightest, Spielberg chooses to show every bit of the hyper-realistic executions of men, women, and children inside the camp. It’s a bold choice – one that I’m sure had the MPAA arguing for months – but I think it’s necessary to show this, to really drive the point home, and induce some of the trauma endured by the victims of the German fascists. I will also note, that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie with more headshots. Not even in a Rambo or John Wick flick.

Some more notable performances include that of the always wonderful, Sir Ben Kingsley, and action star, Liam Neeson as the titular Schindler. The first (and only other) time I saw this film, I thought Neeson was pretty dull. I was also probably around 15, and didn’t really have an appreciation for Neeson at all. Now that we’ve seen him in countless revenge-action flicks that rerun on TBS every weekend, it’s almost breathtakingly impressive just how good he is. Wait until the end. God damn.

Now, I will admit that a few scenes got me that hadn’t on my first run through more than 20 years ago. Perhaps, it’s the recent rise of White Christian Nationalism in our country (and world), or I’m just a weaker soul, but the first scene to note is where the children are leaving the camp in truckloads to be gassed (while singing gleefully, as if they’re about to go on a field trip), and the mothers run after them screaming in horror, helpless.

Another is a scene where women and children that are meant to join their fathers and husbands at Schindler’s new camp, are accidentally sent to Auschwitz. Earlier in the film, rumors spread through the camp that Auschwitz has been gassing Jews en masse in the showers, and as they arrive in Auschwitz, sure enough, they’re shipped into the showers as a group, naked. It’s a deeply unsettling scene, with more tension than any horror film I can name.

So, the big question is, ‘Did Schindler’s List deserve to win Best Picture in 1994.’ Yes. Unequivocally, yes. Rarely have I seen a film so enveloping and purposely discomforting as Schindler’s List. It will remain for the foreseeable future as a masterpiece in filmmaking. It’s necessary, it’s permanently relevant, and it will go down as Spielberg’s greatest work, guaranteed. If you haven’t seen it, carve yourself out 3 hours, turn down the lights, and get ready to bawl. This is essential film.

To end 1994, I have The Remains of the Day, starring recent Best Actor winner, Anthony Hopkins. It’s another on this list that I haven’t seen, and I can’t say I’m very excited about it. But, we’ll see. See you in a few days, before we get going with a new year of Nominees in May!

Five Decades of Nominees – 1994 – ‘In the Name of the Father’

abACABadoo!

Another film on this enormous list that I have not yet seen was this Irish drama that stars the greatest actor of our generation, Mr. Daniel Day-Lewis, in an absolutely amazing performance, that probably comes as expected at this point.

The movie begins almost just like ‘Children of Men,’ with a cafe bombing in London. The story kicks off with an incarcerated Day-Lewis as Gerry Conlon, who’s been falsely imprisoned by the English government. Conlon, an Irishman, is in London to dodge a minor charge in his home of Belfast, but the classic wrong place-wrong time puts him, his friends, and family into an embroiled mess with the IRA.

Long story short, Conlon is imprisoned along with his father and friends for 15 years, before Emma Thompson takes his case. It’s peak-90’s Drama, almost too PBS for its own good with a score that screams ‘your grandma’s going to love this movie,’ but overall, it’s a really damn good flick.

Day-Lewis steals every scene, his usual physical transformations throughout the film, which would be a marvel if it had been any other actor. Pete Postlethwaite is refreshingly kind and warm-hearted throughout the movie as Conlon’s father, Giuseppe, and some scenes between the two are undeniably heartbreaking.

Of the films on this list (the only one left I haven’t ever seen, ‘Remains of the Day’), this one feels the most dated. Perhaps it’s the score, or the rather pedestrian cinematography, but it just didn’t bring too much excitement to the table when compared to its honorary counterparts. I did appreciate the theme throughout regarding cops’ mistakes and lack of care, which ultimately brings down the system as a whole, and how relevant this is today, especially since I watched this the day before a certain murdering cop was surprisingly found guilty of all charges in Minnesota.

Overall, I’d definitely suggest checking this movie out. It totally drags at times, but I think it’s a mistake to ever pass up a chance at watching a Day-Lewis romp. He’s unbelievable at times in this one, and makes the whole 2+ hours absolutely worth the ticket price.

Up next, we have the soul-stomper, ‘Schindler’s List,’ the movie that ultimately took home the little gold dude in ’94. I’ll see you in a few days with my thoughts on my second time through that chest ripper.

Five Decades of Nominees – 1994 – ‘The Fugitive’

SPECIAL EFFECTS!

What can be said about The Fugitive that hasn’t already been said? It’s one of the ultimate “Flipping through the hotel cable and it doesn’t matter how far into the movie it is, I’m fucking finishing it,” movies.

I guess I’ll try anyway. For those that haven’t seen it, The Fugitive stars Harrison Ford as Dr. Richard Kimble, a man framed for his wife’s murder, convicted, and on the run from the US Marshals led by a ridiculously good Tommy Lee Jones. It’s got a ton of people you’ve seen in almost everything over the years, like Jane Lynch as a non-comedic doctor, Rose from Lost as a cop, and that dude that totally Judased Neo and crew in The Matrix.

The movie is surprisingly gorgeous, given Ford is on the run on the outskirts of Chicago. It’s shot masterfully, both incredibly exciting and intentionally slow at times, and the James Newton Howard score keeps everything calibrated perfectly – John Williams frantic when it needs to be, and a slow-burning Jazz fusion when the tension needs to build.

What am I saying? You’ve seen this movie. It fucking rocks, right?! It’s the perfect blend of a Ramboesque tale filled with Robocop style flashbacks. Tommy Lee Jones is driven by what feels like must be mountains of coke, and Ford seems to hurt himself more than Tom Hanks in Cast Away.

One thing I did notice on this thousandth or so rewatch (which I’m sure many have noted before), is that David Lynch lifted some names for Twin Peaks from the extensive Fugitive lore (it was a TV show in the ’60s), as Lee Jones’ name is Gerard, and the villain (who has one arm) is named Freddie Sykes (the dude with the strange green fist in ‘The Return’). Why is that important? Because I’m a fucking nerd, that’s why.

Anyway, this movie rules. You know it, I know it, the world knows it. No one dislikes this film – it’s one of those. Why didn’t it win in ’94? Well, a little film called Schindler’s Fucking List came out the same year and pretty much obliterated any other movie’s chances of going anywhere near the little gold guy. However, I do want to ask you one question before I leave you:

How many times have you stopped flipping channels in the hotel room to watch Schindler’s List again? Thought so.

Up next, we’ve got ‘In the Name of the Father,’ another one I haven’t seen, starring the unrivaled cinematic god, Daniel Day-Lewis. Until then, be safe, and drink some water if you haven’t yet today.

Five Decades of Nominees – 1994 – ‘The Piano’

What the Fuck

It struck me a couple of months ago that I haven’t seen that many Best Picture nominees, and I should probably be better about it. I realize that being nominated doesn’t necessarily make a movie great – especially in the Academy – but, the films nominated are also often recognized because of their impact and reflection of society at the time.

I got it in my head that I could go back 50 years to 1971, put all the years individually into a hat, and randomly choose a year’s nominees for each month. Now, it’s going to take me about 5 years to do this, and I don’t really know what the end goal is – maybe I’ll write a book, or maybe it’s just nothing more than cinematic enlightenment – but anyway, 1994 is up first this month. I’ll do a small review of each movie I watch on here, along with some opinions and comparisons to their running mates.

I started this little journey by randomly picking 1994 first. I’ve never seen a few of these, so I decided to go with The Piano to start, a movie I actually knew nothing about and confused with ‘The Pianist’ a few too many times. I didn’t know who starred in it, and assumed it was some sort of Jane Austenesque comedy. Hot damn, was I wrong.

The movie stars Holly Hunter, Sam Neill, and Harvey Keitel in one of his weirdest performances since Bad Lieutenant. I’ll spare you the fat, and just tell you that this is one strangely fucked up story concerning mutes that love the piano, Sam Neill peeping on his wife cheating, white men taking advantage of Natives, and Harvey Keitel’s gratuitous donger.

Ok, I’ll tell you a bit more. Holly Hunter’s character is a widow with a young daughter (True Blood’s Anna Paquin) that is married unwittingly to a man on an island by her father. Hunter is mute, due to some sort of an accident, and is obsessed with this piano that she refuses to let out of her sight. As the movie progresses, there are even more obsessions that come to light, and the ending was a bit more astounding than I ever would have guessed going into this film.

A few things about this movie that I noticed, included its cinematography, the beautiful music, and some incredible shots from the beaches of New Zealand. A lot of the scenes were awash in a heavy blue filter, that really built a somber mood. The piano-soaked Michael Nyman score matched it beautifully, and those beach shots couldn’t be prettier.

What wasn’t pretty? Man, I totally get that there is more female nudity than male in film, especially the mainstream ones, but wow, Keitel is not historically shy about his package on screen. And you get quite an extended take in this flick. Hunter isn’t too shy either, in one of those scenes where you start to question whether or not they’re really getting down. Hey, if they decide to, more power to ya, I guess.

Anyway, I think this movie was set up pretty harshly with competition like Schindler’s List and the classically awesome, The Fugitive. It’s one of those films that you’d totally expect to show up in the running and not win. You know what I’m talking about – the period piece costumes, the story catered toward bored, post-menopausal housewives – but I did end up enjoying it a bit more than I thought. It wraps up nicely and pays off in the end.

I’ll be back in a few days with a review for The Fugitive. Until then, let me know if you’d like these to look a little different, or if there are other aspects I should focus on!

‘CinemAbysmal: The Podcast’ – Episode Four

Alright, here’s our brand spanking new episode! In Episode Four, Holly leads Eric and Nick, with our very first special guest, Brian Nils Johnson, in a discussion about this year’s Best Picture Nominees, as well as the 1990 Denzel Washington/Bob Hoskins dud, ‘Heart Condition’ – which was internationally titled, ‘Black Ghost'(!).

You can find the episode on iTunes, Spreaker, and Stitcher, but we’ve included all three links below! Nick definitely had some audio issues, so apologies for the static. If you enjoy, please Rate Us on iTunes, and be sure to SHARE with your friends! 

2007: Film’s Greatest Year

I’ve always enjoyed film. It’s a temporarily beautiful escape into worlds that are visions and dreams of artists and innovators. It’s why I started this website. So when I think about which years brought us the best movies, 2007 has to be at the top. The 26 films below average out to an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, and would actually be at an 84% if it were not for a couple of critical disappointments I happen to enjoy (they’re at 20% and 40%). The following list comprises my argument for why I feel 2007 is film’s greatest year.

January

Pan’s Labyrinth, Children of Men

Pan’s Labyrinth

When it comes down to it, this will be forever hailed as Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece. It’s haunting and gorgeous, and will tear your soul to shreds if you let it.

Children of Men

There is probably not a movie I have watched more in the last decade than this. Clive Owen is wonderful as Theo, but the real credit goes to director Alfonso Cuaron, the master of the ridiculously long takes as seen in Gravity.

March

Zodiac

Zodiac

David Fincher has made some really great movies, including Fight Club and Seven, but in my opinion, this is him at the top of his game. It’s an epic undertaking and one of the best true-crime films I’ve ever seen.

April

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Grindhouse, Hot Fuzz

Grindhouse

While one half of this fun double-feature isn’t exactly the greatest, Death Proof makes up for Planet Terror‘s faults. Kurt Russell is excellently campy and it’s a welcome addition to the Tarantino canon.

Hot Fuzz

I have a hard time deciding which of the Simon Pegg – Nick Frost films are my favorite, but Hot Fuzz is usually right up there at the top. The cast is excellent and the direction is razor sharp.

May

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28 Weeks Later

28 Weeks Later

This certainly is not as good as Danny Boyle’s original 28 Days Later, but it’s still an excellent zombie flick and Robert Carlyle is amazing in the heartbreaking starring role.

June

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Knocked Up, 1408, Live Free or Die Hard, Ratatouille

Knocked Up

I didn’t really like this movie when it first came out. With time, though, I’ve grown to appreciate it. I still find Heigl a bit insufferable, but the rest of the cast is funny as hell.

1408

Again, it took a while for me to appreciate this movie, but as far as Stephen King adaptations go, this one rises up toward the top. Cusack is pretty great, as well as Samuel L. Jackson.

Live Free or Die Hard

The theatrical cut of this was great, but if you can find the Unrated Cut, go for it. It’s violent and lives up to the R-Rated expectations of the first three classics.

Ratatouille

I’ve always been into the Toy Story movies, but Pixar failed to do much to pique my interest up until Ratatouille came out. It’s not only that Patton Oswalt is in it, but I loved the story so much. I watch this one pretty often.

July

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Rescue Dawn, Sunshine

Rescue Dawn

As familiar as we all are with Werner Herzog’s documentaries steeped in nihilism, he’s actually a damn good dramatic director as well. Bale’s physical decimation is horrifying to watch and Jeremy Davies is incredible as well.

Sunshine

Part 2001: A Space Odyssey, part Event Horizon, Danny Boyle’s sci-fi thriller is one of the better of the genre of the new century. Cillian Murphy is great and it’s written by Alex Garland, writer/director of 2015’s excellent Ex Machina.

August

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Hot Rod, Superbad, Death Sentence, Inland Empire

Hot Rod

While the critics hated this movie, the memorable lines and outlandish weirdness of The Lonely Island fellas shines through in this. Probably one of the funniest SNL films.

Superbad

This movie is funny every time I watch it. Cera and Hill’s relationship is absolutely heartwarming and the guest spots are pretty amazing.

Death Sentence

Sitting at a dismal 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, I feel the critics were sorely mistaken on this almost perfect revenge flick in which Kevin Bacon beats the living shit out of some gang members.

Inland Empire

While I still don’t know what the hell this movie is about, it’s an absolute nightmare put on film and one of the strangest trips I’ve ever taken. Laura Dern is wondrous and David Lynch has not made a stranger movie.

September

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3:10 to Yuma, Eastern Promises, The Darjeeling Limited

3:10 to Yuma

Yes, this is a remake. What we have here, though, is one of the best westerns of our new century. Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, and Ben Foster shine brightly and the cinematography is at times breathtaking.

Eastern Promises

If you saw A History of Violence, you probably had a lot to expect from Viggo Mortensen in Cronenberg’s follow-up. This movie is gritty as hell and probably one of the better gangster flicks I’ve ever seen.

The Darjeeling Limited

While this is not exactly my favorite Wes Anderson film, it’s grown more endearing with age. The way he presents India is like a painter’s palette, and the performances from Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman are mightily impressive.

October

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Michael Clayton, 30 Days of Night, Gone Baby Gone

Michael Clayton

Corporate espionage films are not normally one of my favorite genres. This one is a twisting thriller that is shot beautifully and features a great performance from Tom Wilkinson.

30 Days of Night

Not since The Thing has there been a more impressively violent and frightening horror film set against the inescapable backdrop of an arctic tundra. One of my favorite vampire films done just right.

Gone Baby Gone

With time, this depressing crime drama has become one of my favorite films ever. Ben Affleck directed his brother, this year’s expected Best Actor winner, Casey Affleck and it really is one the greatest Boston-area films.

November

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No Country for Old Men, The Mist

No Country for Old Men

Let’s not beat around the bush here. This one won Best Picture and for very good reason. It’s hard to say there is a better Coen Brothers film, but perhaps the most impressive part is taking Cormac McCarthy’s difficult source material and translating it to film.

The Mist

Another great film based on a Stephen King story. I didn’t like this movie until I watched it for the second time, but I have a few more times since. Check out the excellent black and white cut if you get a chance. It’s really fun.

December

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The Orphanage, There Will Be Blood

The Orphanage

Though Guillermo del Toro’s name is plastered all over releases of this film, J.A. Bayona actually directed this gorgeously depressing ghost story. Unless you’re terribly inhuman, the end will rip you apart.

There Will Be Blood

No film, in my opinion, is more important than this one. I really feel that this might be the Citizen Kane of this generation. Daniel Day Lewis is incredible, but it’s the story and the way that this movie is filmed that I think is most important.

Do you think a year in film was better than 2007? Let us know in the comments!

Nick Spanjer, Editor of CinemAbysmal

La La Land

lalaland2

La La Land (2016) – Musical | Comedy | Drama

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Starring: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

How I Watched: Theatres

Best Line: “Alright, I was an asshole. I can admit that! But requesting “I Ran” from a serious musician? Too far!”

Anyone that has truly spent time with me probably knows my lifelong disdain for filmed musicals. When it comes down to it, I don’t even really have a concrete reason for this. My usual explanation involves the practicality of a group of people suddenly smiling like a bunch of stoned clowns and dancing like they’re thrashing in the middle of a choreographed fire, all while attempting to outdo each other so they can beat out the opposing blonde to be an extra in the next run of an off-Broadway Rent. “THAT ISN’T A REAL THING! NO ONE DOES THAT!”

OK, Nick. Let’s get real. Flash Mobs are a thing now, as much as you hate it. And you love horror and sci-fi films, so why can’t you just sit back and appreciate the eccentricities of musicals? Am I softening on musicals? Or was this just a good movie, in spite of the musical elements? Well, after giving it some time, I think my opinion is that this was just a pretty damn good movie.

Anyone that saw director Damien Chazelle’s absolutely spectacular Whiplash knows that they’re probably in for some sort of cinematic treat with La La Land. JK Simmons received an Oscar and Miles Teller damn well should have for the 2014 film. The thrashing of drums and human emotions throughout, while the camera rushes around like a sprinkler that’s lost control, highlight one of the most exciting and in my opinion, underrated films of this decade. Naturally, I was excited for Chazelle’s follow-up. When I learned it was a musical though, I was a bit let down.

Chazelle obviously digs on jazz. Pretty hard. Teller’s character in Whiplash is an aspiring jazz drummer and is dead-set on becoming the next Buddy Rich. For those that have not seen it, the film is a love letter to the mechanics and intricate work it takes to become good enough to play real jazz. Simmons plays his teacher way too excellently and the movie is just too perfect. Well, in La La Land, jazz is back in a big way (so is Simmons, for a bit). In fact, if the movie was not filmed in and about Hollywood, I’d say this whole film is a love letter to, as well as a confirmation that the golden age of jazz is dead. Gosling plays a struggling pianist whose biggest goal in life is to open a jazz club in L.A. to keep even a trace of that age of jazz alive.

Stone plays an aspiring actress that works on a Hollywood lot as a barista, happening accidentally upon Gosling playing a piano in a nearby bar one night. What follows is an often-complicated relationship over the next year, much that we’re privy to as the couple individually navigates their career paths. I won’t give any more than that away as far as the story is concerned, but I personally felt like I do at the end of any mid-70’s Woody Allen movie, in which the characters are presented with adult choices and must make real life decisions. This portion of the film was real and heartfelt, and I appreciated that, even among the smattering of musical bits in which they smiled and danced around like morons.

OK, Nick, calm down. Get back on track.

Listen, my mind has not really changed on musicals. I just don’t appreciate the big numbers or the choreography, and quite often, not even the intricate sets. I know how much work goes into this (Mandy Moore did the choreography for this, by the way – what?), but it just can’t really keep my interest. This movie is pretty cool, though. The “uninterrupted-cut” cinematography is excellent, Stone and Gosling are pretty great, and the storyline is relatable, even when discounting the outlandish musical bits. Will it win Best Picture? I don’t know yet, I haven’t seen enough of the potential contenders; but yeah, probably. It’s about Hollywood and it’s a musical – a deadly Oscar combination.

Final Score: 3/4