BEYOND THE BALLOT: Best Actress 1987 – The Nominated Five

I wasn’t planning on doing this year, but they I was able to rewatch Moonstruck. After that, I was inspired to watch Broadcast News and Anna.

So here we are, discussing the five performances nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress of 1987. And what a year this is! Not only there is variety in this lineup in the films and performances, but the quality of this line-up is off-the-charts.

We have:

Cher, from the romantic comedy Moonstruck.
Glenn Close, from the erotic thriller Fatal Attraction.
Holly Hunter, from the satire Broadcast News.
Sally Kirkland, from the independent drama Anna.
And Meryl Streep, from the period drama Ironweed.

Here is my personal ranking of the five performances:

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1 – Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (as Alex Forrest)

Take away the iconic status of this performance and what we have is a surprisingly vulnerable take on a character that the film so insistently tries to villainize. The film may have aged a bit in terms of its representation of infidelity, but Glenn Close’s work remains to be a potent examination of emotional fragility and instability. She manages to escape all shortcuts and broad strokes of this character. Career-best work for sure.

2 – Meryl Streep in Ironweed (as Helen Archer)

An unfairly underrated performance from her revered repertoire, Meryl Streep surprised me with a performance that is both haunting and devastating. It’s a performance that distills despair and hopelessness in such an effective way. Streep plays not a whole human being, but the remains of a once-alive person that is slowly disintegrating. She comes in late and leaves early, but the power of this performance stays.

3 – Holly Hunter in Broadcast News (as Jane Craig)

I’m on the side that thinks Broadcast News is more of a satire than a romantic comedy. Either way, Holly Hunter nails the steely, determined nature of this character that must have been and IS a powerful image of career woman. She benefits from strong writing and wonderful dynamic with her fellow actors. And when the film turns dark, she expertly navigates the grey areas of the story. She is in command and commanding in every scene effortlessly.

4 – Sally Kirkland in Anna (as Anna)Unlike the rest of the nominees, she does not benefit from her film AT ALL. It’s a confused film that made one perplexing choice after the other. So there is Sally Kirkland, giving it all in a freaking tour-de-force that doesn’t necessarily try to salvage the film that’s around her but defies all odds and creates an unforgettable portrayal of defeat and loss.

5 – Cher in Moonstruck (as Loretta Castorini)

Cher just radiates in a performance that is vanity-free and lived in. She benefits from witty writing that possesses a very specific tone of humor, and Cher gets the spirit of the material. It is deceptively low-key, but it is a performance that never coasts merely on charm. There is delicate maneuvering here, and Cher is the reliable core of this film.

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And here are the probable runners-up of this race:

Lillian Gish – The Whales of August
Faye Dunaway – Barfly
Barbra Streisand – Nuts
Bette Davis – The Whales of August
Rachel Levin – Gaby: A True Story
Diane Keaton – Baby Boom

And here is the rest of the field (please tell me if I missed anyone):

Anne Bancroft – 84 Charing Cross Road
Ellen Barkin – The Big Easy
Cher – The Witches of Eastwick
Cher – Suspect
Lindsay Crouse – House of Games
Jennifer Grey – Dirty Dancing
Daryl Hannah – Roxanne
Barbara Hershey – Shy People
Holly Hunter – Raising Arizona
Anjelica Huston – The Dead
Christine Lahti – Housekeeping
Emily Lloyd – Wish You Were Here
Carmen Maura – Law of Desire
Sheila McCarthy – I’ve Heard the Mermaids Sing
Bette Midler – Outrageous Fortune
Sarah Miles – Hope and Glory
Vanessa Redgrave – Prick up Your Ears
Theresa Russell – Black Widow
Debra Sandlund – Tough Guys Don’t Dance
Louise Smith – Working Girls
Maggie Smith – The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
Julie Walters – Personal Services
Debra Winger – Black Widow
Joanne Woodward – The Glass Menagerie
Robin Wright – The Princess Bride

BEYOND THE BALLOT: 1994 and Women in Film

As you may know, the purpose of this Beyond the Ballot series is to study the female leading performances in film in relation to the representation in film as well as its reflection to the Academy Awards.

Here is a quote from an older post:

And I would want to see: are those “weak years” a result of lack of good performances of women in film? Or perhaps good roles for women? Or perhaps it’s the laziness of the Academy to look for outside-the-box choices to fill the final five? Or perhaps the laziness of Hollywood to even make films with women at the center? Or maybe the critical reception at time affected it (remember: majority of film critics are white male) Part of me thinks there is a smidge of sexism in these claims, but we’ll see.

I’ve decided that I want to discuss a particularly interesting year in women in film: 1994. Commonly tagged as one of the weakest years of Best Actress as the Academy Awards, it is safe to say that it interests me endlessly how that year got the tag weakest.

As a matter of fact, I have always been interested in this Best Actress year. Perhaps a post from The Film Experience triggered it again.

It must be immediately said that Toni Collette in Muriel’s Wedding is not included in this discussion due to her film being eligible the following year.

However, we must talk about Linda Fiorentino’s performance in The Last Seduction. Only ineligible due to a technicality, this performance is still talked about today as one of the contenders disappointingly ruled out due to a (fair) eligibility rule.

To see the complete Reminder List of Eligible Productions released by the Academy on 1994, click HERE.

First, we must take a look at the performances recognized by the Academy:

Jodie Foster – Nell

Jessica Lange – Blue Sky (WINNER)

Miranda Richardson – Tom & Viv

Winona Ryder – Little Women

Susan Sarandon – The Client

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Now, here are the performances who got key nominations (though this doesn’t necessarily mean they had closer chances of getting nominated than the rest):

Meryl Streep – The River Wild (Globe Drama nom, SAG nom)
Jamie Lee Curtis – True Lies (Globe Comedy win, SAG Supporting nom)
Robin Wright – Forrest Gump (Globe Supporting nom, SAG Supporting nom)
Meg Ryan – When a Man Loves a Woman (SAG nom)
Jennifer Jason Leigh – Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (Globe Drama nom)
Geena Davis – Speechless (Globe Comedy nom)
Andie MacDowell – Four Weddings and a Funeral (Globe Comedy nom)
Shirley Maclaine – Guarding Tess (Globe Comedy nom)
Emma Thompson – Junior (Globe Comedy nom)

The next batch of performance were not cited in other major awards, but whose films have been nominated for an Academy Award in other categories, implying that the film was indeed seen by Academy members:

Helen Mirren – The Madness of King George (nominated for Supporting Actress)
Irène Jacob – Three Colors: Red (Best Director + 2 other noms)
Jessica Tandy – Nobody’s Fool (Best Actor nom)
Melanie Lynskey – Heavenly Creatures (Best Original Screenplay nom)
Kate Winslet – Heavenly Creatures (Best Original Screenplay nom)
Sandra Bullock – Speed (Best Sound Effects Editing win + 1 other nom)
Julia Ormond – Legends of the Fall (Best Cinematography win + 2 other noms)
Isabelle Adjani – Queen Margot (Best Costume Design nom)
Jodie Foster – Maverick (Best Costume Design nom)
Chien-Lien Wu (Best Foreign Language Film nom)
Glenn Close – The Paper (Best Original Song nom)
Cameron Diaz – The Mask (Best Visual Effects nom)

These are the performances from past winners and nominees that may have been in the conversation:

Alfre Woodard – Crooklyn
Annette Bening – Love Affair
Geena Davis – Angie
Jessica Tandy – Camilla
Judy Davis – The New Age
Judy Davis – The Ref
Julie Walters – Just Like a Woman
Juliette Lewis – Natural Born Killers
Kathleen Turner – Serial Mom
Lena Olin – Romeo is Bleeding
Marisa Tomei – Only You
Meg Tilly – Sleep with Me
Meryl Streep – The House of the Spirits
Michelle Pfeiffer – Wolf
Sigourney Weaver – Death and the Maiden
Susan Sarandon – Safe Passage
Whoopi Goldberg – Corrina, Corrina
Winona Ryder – Reality Bites

Here are the rest of the performances eligible that year. I’m sure this is incomplete because I haven’t gone through all the films eligible that year:

Alberta Watson – Spanking the Monkey
Bridget Fonda – Camilla
Bridget Fonda – It Could Happen to You
Bridget Fonda – The Road to Welville
Crissy Rock – Ladybird, Ladybird
Debra Eisenstadt – Oleanna
Demi Moore – Disclosure
Emmanuelle Seigner – Bitter Moon
Gong Li – To Live
Guinevere Turner – Go Fish
Jada Pinkett – Jason’s Lyric
Jean Yanne – A La Mode
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hudsucker Proxy
Julianne Moore – Vanya on 42nd Street
Julie Delpy – Three Colors: White
Karen Sillas – What Happened Was…
Lara Flyn Boyle – Threesome
Lauren Velez – I Like It Like That
Madeleine Stowe – Blink
Madeleine Stowe – China Moon
Mary Stuart Masterson – Radioland Murders
Mia Farrow – Widows’ Peak
Natalie Portman – Leon: The Professional

Have I forgotten any other performances that must be included?

Is 1994 really a weak year for women in film? Or was it overhyped by critics as such? Or was eventual nominees a result of lazy voting that does not reflect the actual quality of performances that year?

I am seriously thinking of taking a look at a lot of these performances, the Oscar nominees included. We will see.

BEYOND THE BALLOT: Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep in Marvin’s Room (1996)

I wasn’t intending to do this as my first post for Beyond the Ballot, but being able to watch this film twice mad me realize it would be a nice start.

Marvin’s Room is a very 90s comedy-drama that is all about watching two acting legends act together, and it delivers. The film embodies its dramedy sensibility to extremes, and it is not always rewarding. Gwen Verdon’s character is mostly used for laughs, and I find her character to be the weakest link of the group. Here’s what I said about the film in my tweet/Letterboxd account:

Thank heavens for delicious sororal dynamics, meticulously crafted by Keaton/Streep, for pre-Titanic beauty of DiCaprio. Contains both broad heart-tugging & gritty specifics. These overcome the recurring (if unapologetic) sentimentality. Very 90s.

I am going to review Keaton and Streep individually.

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DIANE KEATON

ROLE: Bessie Wakefield, a caring daughter with leukemia
AWARDS: Academy Award (nom), SAG (nom), BFCA (nom)

Diane Keaton plays the daughter of his bedridden father (played by Hume Cronyn) and his fragile aunt (played by Gwen Verdon). As she does her best to take care of both, she comes to terms with her own disease that will force her to reconnect with her estranged sister.

On paper, Keaton gets the baitier role: the cancer-inflicted sister. However, she also has the burden of maneuvering her character through the screenplay’s broader dramedy strokes.

Take her first scene with her father and aunt. It hastily jumps between heartwarming drama and unsubtle humor. The tonal shifts are erratic and sloppy, to say the least. From her aunt’s self-admitted uselessness to the father’s malfunctioning bed, the scene roughly succeeds in fully nailing both.

But here’s an interesting thing about that scene, and this applies to most of her performance: Keaton lays out the humanity of her character so well, avoiding scenes from becoming an embarrassing tonal mess. It is her earnest character work that grounds each of her scenes with sincerity despite the film’s persistent preoccupation to push the dramedy hard (perhaps too hard on occasion).

Keaton also excels in keeping her character from being overly precious. Bessie is written as a selfless and caring martyr who has given up her life to her father and her aunt. There is even a scene where she opens up to Lee about her former lover, further demonstrating she lost her chance of romance. In these moments where the film turns the energy a bit down (the film tries to pump up emotions constantly) where Keaton lets her subtle emotional journey work.

Keaton knows the planned tearjerking moments of the film would not work if she has not laid out the completeness of her character. Her dynamic register of emotions, especially with Streep, make for the film’s more exciting character moments. She gets to portray the different shades of Bessie. Her character is no saint just because she is in an awful condition; her flaws as a sister and an aunt to Lee’s sons become more evident, causing her to be defensive.

In these moments, Keaton humanizes Bessie. She is as flawed and messy as her sister Lee, even if she maintains a composed and dignified facade. In her struggle with leukemia, her abrupt confrontations with mortality bring out her worst fears, and it is palpable. Keaton realizes the beating heart of her character and it shows her skillfulness in bringing out the best of the character who is clearly the emotional centerpiece of this film.

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MERYL STREEP

ROLE: Lee Wakefield Lacker, a strong-willed single mother
AWARDS: Golden Globe Drama (nom)

Meryl Streep plays the abrasive single mother who balances reconnecting to her estranged sister Bessie and his problematic son Hank (played by Leonardo DiCaprio).

In a way, Streep’s lack of the Oscar nomination: throughout most of the film, her character steps back from emotionality (which perhaps made Keaton a more obvious pick). Instead, her character’s maternal edginess brings the more abrasive moments in this soft-hearted film. It also just shows the embarrassment of riches of leading actresses in 1996 (more on that in the future).

Her first scene shows how her no-bullshit attitude. Lecturing another woman in the salon about how one should have a positive outlook. Streep owns the bluntness of her first scene and spins it to make it part of her character. She is an experienced woman, perhaps hardened by mistakes and heartbreak. Little she realizes that this is the springboard for her bigger problems: her son burns down the house and she must go back to help her sister with cancer.

Her trip back to her family would force Bessie to confront several issues. Streep maintains the edgy nature of her character. However, she expertly pulls back the layers to her character, the reasons why she maintains a tough exterior. She compensates her insecurities with a resilient face so as not to show others how injured her character is. This is where Streep’s deftness comes in: she smoothly shows the transition of her character vis-à-vis her relationship with her family.

I am still decoding Streep’s depiction of Lee’s affection for Bessie. They come to terms that they were never close, and the pretense is slowly peeled away and what is left is their honesty. We see Streep through her scenes with Keaton her own emotional journey as Lee reconnects with Bessie: the moments of discomfort, joy, and pain are all wonderfully crafted by Streep. What is also striking is the required restraint when she is with Keaton. Streep understands Lee’s place in relation to Bessie, and the drama is grounded in clear-eyed honesty.

And inasmuch as Streep does wonders with Keaton, she also does the same with DiCaprio. She plots the trajectory of Lee’s relationship with Hank with clarity. From cluelessness of Hank’s actions to a tough love meant to discipline him, Streep manages to clearly illustrate this emotional beat of the film, always making it clear that Lee’s love for Hank, though flawed, is sincere if not easily visible.

It is quite ironic that in two years’ time, Streep will also play a cancer patient (and get an Academy Award nomination) in 1998’s One True Thing. However, Streep cleverly manages to hand the spotlight most of the time to Keaton in service of the film. This move makes sense, and Streep manages to create emotionally honest moments without attempting to steal the attention from Keaton. It is a tough act to maintain one’s place in a story without demanding attention, and Streep achieves this balance.

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In both performances, Keaton and Streep give each other so much to create an engaging relationship dynamic that maximizes each other’s strengths as an actress. Both turn in lived-in performances which delightfully surprised me given how casting both suited and challenged each of them. It is a remarkable actress-actress work that feels emotionally resonant and honest.

For their respective performances, Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep both get:

Open Thread

Hello!

I’ve got some thoughts on who to review for Beyond the Ballot. But I’d want to read your suggestions?

What Best Actress Oscar year/s would you want me to cover? Or perhaps a non-nominated female leading performance that deserves to be reviewed?

ADD: Or perhaps, a female performance campaigned as leading despite being supporting? Or vice versa? Or a performance that really defines category confusion?

Let me see your comments below!

Nine Years of Blogging

Yep, that’s me now, nine years after I first started this blog.

Back then, I was a sophomore in high school, watching films almost every day after school. With all the films I’ve been watching, I found it necessary to look online for other cinephiles as I was not contented with writing on my own journals about the films I’ve watched.

In this search, some of the first blogs I discovered were The Film Experience (whose comprehensive discussion of the Oscar race that time really interested me), Nick’s Flick Picks (whose coverage of film and actresses is something to aspire), and Alex in Movieland (whose discussion of different Best Actress years tapped into my love for acting and actresses).

Also, something happened around that time: Meryl Streep delivered her two-punch performances that forever changed things. Her work in Doubt and Julie & Julia made me realize that wow, I think this actress is fantastic. Playing characters distinctively different from each other – one a guarded depiction of traditionalist paradigm, one a joyous celebration of life and love – Queen Meryl has opened a wide array of possibilities of what film and film acting can do. She has set the standards of excellence for me, and she still continues to do so.

Feeling the need to join the discussion, I decided to put up my own blog. With no clear vision on what to do, I just started writing random posts (reviews, predictions, etc). And with the sea of bloggers discussing Best Actress around that time period (there were a lot), I felt I wasn’t alone in my love for film.

I hosted two Smackdowns (with the idea originating from Stinkylulu), pitting Best Picture nominees per year and having different bloggers vote, and then coming up with a consensus on what was the eventual winner. I did two of those: 2008 and 1995. I was so happy being able to host two, but school caught up, and I had to do less hassle things for my blog.

Then came the Best Picture Project: a seemingly deranged attempt to watch the Best Picture nominees per year and then ranking them, in the style of Alex in Movieland‘s discussion of Best Actress. I admit originality was not by strongest suit, and since I didn’t know how to do things, I just emulated what other bloggers were doing. But while almost all did Best Actress, I was doing Best Picture. It lasted for a long time: I was able to do twelve Best Picture years (you can find the link at the sidebar).

While this is all happening in my blog, I’ve started making short films in high school, and then perhaps the biggest step in my love for film happened: I applied (and eventually got in) to a film school. I got to meet so many people, became a part of a student film organization, and was able to make ‘serious’ short films, including my thesis film that I’m still very proud of.

As the rest of this are all happening, the Best Picture project waned. I’ve become more interested in doing the TFO Awards, honoring excellence in film for a specific year. This one was the most interesting for me since it forced me to watch films that I wouldn’t have normally seen. Driven by my strong opinions of shoulda been nominated, I challenged myself saying go ahead, watch more films and then you make your own awards. I’ve been doing this now for seven years, with the recently concluded 7th TFO Awards honoring 2015 in film.

Imagine that: awarding 2015 films in 2018.

The backlog was insane. Truthfully, it’s an insane task to even try watch all the best of a specific year. There is not enough time to even watch the best of a year, let alone all the best films of all time. And look at what I said:

This one was the most interesting for me since
it forced me to watch films that I wouldn’t have normally seen.

Yes, there were moments when I do feel I’m just forced to watch films since it’s for the blog. And there aren’t even a lot of readers here. But I was doing it as personal closure for years in film. Now, I’m on to hopefully finishing 2016 in film by December. But just imagine the daunting task.

Truth be told, it’s taxing to do it anymore. I mean I love film and I always will, but I miss those younger years when I was watching films because I want to and not because I have to. And no one’s even forcing me: it’s all self-inflicted responsibilities for this blog.

Add to that the fact that I’ve fallen out of my love for filmmaking and film in general due to burnout after making my thesis film. Basically, the latter half of 2016 was confusing times for my relationship with film.

Something happened in January 2017 that reignited my love for film(making): watching La La Land on the big screen.

So for the big part of 2017, I felt recharged. I got a full-time job for the first time, and it has afforded me to watch films on the big screen when I want to. I started writing scripts again, I’ve met with my friends from film school semi-regularly. Basically, just to bring the spark back to my dream while keeping it all grounded in reality.

My thesis film got minimal film festival exposure, which was nice (and it still does). But at that point, filmmaking wasn’t the biggest dream anymore. How ironic for someone who cannot dream of anything to do except making films when I was still in high school.

However, after more than a year, something happened again. In February of 2018, I:

  • watched I, Tonya on the big screen and discovered this thing called figure skating and it just thrilled me;
  • watched the 2018 Canadian Nationals free skate of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to the soundtrack of Moulin Rouge!, and;
  • watched the 2018 US Nationals short program of Adam Rippon. You know, just owning the ice and being out and proud.

You do get to watch a lot of things when you are unemployed. I discovered something that I really love now: figure skating.

I even enrolled in figure skating lessons, and I intend to pursue doing the higher levels. It’s taking most of my time now, and I’d rather do off-ice exercises than watch a film.

I’ve even done this just for fun.

And we go back to the 7th TFO Awards: just like its previous edition, it was supposed to have video presentations, just like the Academy Awards. However, I grew tired of it. Was my love of film starting to dissipate?

I don’t think so, but now I’m starting to prioritize more.

Obviously, I think I’m over the phase of doing the Best Picture Project. Watching the pantheon of Best Picture nominees at the Oscars doesn’t interest me that much anymore (even if I memorized all the nominees just for fun).

Do I still want to watch films per year to determine my personal choices, hence the TFO Awards? Yes, although I won’t be as crazy as watching 200+ films, I hope.

I found myself asking this question: what’s something in film that still has my passion and interest?

There are two categories at the Academy Awards that has interested me the most: Best Foreign Language Film and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

The former because there is so much cinema has to offer rather than just sticking yourself to Hollywood. Representation matters, and in this world we live in right now where there is so much divisiveness and othering, it’s important to know and discover how multi-faceted the human experience is.

Human experience is not just the white American experience.

There is the European experience, the Latino experience, the Asian experience, the African experience, the Australian experience, the indigenous peoples’ experience. And cinema has the capability to do that. And while the Best Foreign Language Film category is not without its flaws, it’s a great starting point to explore what is going on around the world in relation to world cinema. Special mention also to the Best Documentary Feature category.

Now, the latter. Best Actress.

Again, representation matters. With the colossal shift caused by the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, we are having conversations about women now more than ever. Lack of (leading) roles for women, gender pay gap, sexual harassment allegations – issues of women, LGBTQ+, and minorities have been put to the center of spotlight for the first time in Hollywood, and let’s do our best to keep the conversation going and the change coming.

That leads me to what I’m about to do in this blog.

I’m tracking the Best Actress contenders per year, starting back from 2009 (the first year I blogged) all the way to 1927/28, the first year of the Academy Awards. Yes, from the supposed snubs, runners-up, long shots, up to the longer shots with eligible films.

And no, I’m not attempting to watch them all. Of course, I cannot. However, I want to take a look at how the roles of women in film have evolved. And I’m talking about the quality, quantity, and diversity of roles eligible for the Academy Awards.

From the years called the strongest (1950, 1962, 1969, 1974, 1987, 1995, 2006) to the weakest (1953, 1970, 1975, 1984, 1994, 2003, 2005), I would like to see how far we have come in terms of representation of women in film vis-à-vis the Academy Awards.

And I would want to see: are those “weak years” a result of lack of good performances of women in film? Or perhaps good roles for women? Or perhaps it’s the laziness of the Academy to look for outside-the-box choices to fill the final five? Or perhaps the laziness of Hollywood to even make films with women at the center? Or maybe the critical reception at time affected it (remember: majority of film critics are white male)?

Part of me thinks there is a smidge of sexism in these claims, but we’ll see. With that, I’ll try doing something

I’m calling this non-committal project (of sorts):

Best Actress nominees as well as contenders will be reviewed and given performance profiles. I’m still thinking whether it would be a written blog post (normal, easier) or a video essay (time and effort consuming; I haven’t tried it).

Performances will then be rated, with increments of 0.5 (if only necessary), but here’s the general grading system (with some random rambling about the rating):

5
FOR THE AGES/FANTASTIC
achieves high level of excellence in film acting
with skill and over-all emotional impact

4
GREAT
my enthusiasm isn’t as sky high as the ones above,
but distinctive and remarkable in its own right

3
VERY GOOD
there is so much to respect and even like with
the work despite noticeable flaws and/or limitations

2
OKAY
major problems exist, but okay to good OR
lacking but with shining moments

1
BAD
either squandered potential with objectionable acting choices
or not even trying to elevate awful material; despicable

I’m not really hard to please, so you may notice if I would get too generous, but I’ll do my best to keep things in perspective. (Objectivity in film criticism is almost a myth).

I’d want to watch films because I want to, not because I need to. And that is how I would roll with this endeavor. I’ve seen myself getting exhausted of the rigid per year thing (and I’ve seen other blogs struggle with that as well), and I’d just want to do something that I would like to do.

Props to the wonderful blog Oscargasms who does diligent Oscar coverage, starting from the 1920s as he works his way to the present years. I have come across his blog during my blogging drought and has truly inspired me to write again (I hope).

So I’m hoping to revive this blog. Yikes, I wouldn’t even be able to regularly post here (I’ve tried to do that several times since this blog went dormant).

And just to quote the legendary film critic Roger Ebert, another inspiring figure of film criticism:

I’ll see you at the movies.

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Juan Carlos Ojano

The Final Oscar