Wednesday, March 22, 2017

7:00 PM - 8:00 PM

24: Legacy has become the show that interrupts my attempts to say "wait, but..." by purring, "shhhh, shhhh, shhhh." 24 has always been ridiculous, demanding more suspension of disbelief than just about any show on television. I know this on an intellectual level. But somehow, on a gut level, this season feels to me like it's demanding more and delivering less -- a situation that might be growing with each new episode.

Why doesn't Jadalla just immediately kill Carter? He only needs Andy, and was planning to use torture instead of coercion to force cooperation anyway. Is Jadalla so stimulated by debate over the nature of religion and justice that he keeps Carter around for conversation? (I'm gonna say no.)

What exactly explains the turn for Isaac from "we gotta get the hell out of here" to "I gotta call up my crew and go in guns blazing"? Why has Mariana suddenly gone all Chloe and started sniping at Director Mullins? Is Tony going to get to do anything meaningful, or was he really just brought it to twirl the torture mustache for a couple of installments?

Can we really believe that a drone strike would be ordered on U.S. soil? And in a situation where there would be known collateral casualties? Are we really doing the "villain trade up" cliche again?

And is the fact that none of those questions have good answers forgiven by the fact that we got some fun action? This packed hour included car chases, fist fights, shoot-outs, and missile launches. Plus there was some truly awkward spousal drama between Rebecca Ingram and John Donovan. I mean, when I stopped "struggling" and just let 24 "hold me," it was oddly comforting/fun. But at the same time, so silly!

Perhaps I need to stop doing these more thoughtful write-ups of 24 and instead go back to just the parade of quippy thoughts I used to offer in response to a 24 episode. Well, actually, perhaps I need to stop watching altogether. But I've come so far already, and this is a benefit to the format: I'm that close to finding out how this crazy "day" ends. Gotta see it through to the finish, right?

Let's dispense with the grades, at least. At this point you're either trapped on this ride like me or you're not, right?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Live Game

Sunday night, I attended an unconventional concert -- Game of Thrones: The Live Concert Experience. Attending live orchestral performances of film and television soundtracks isn't out of the norm for me; that isn't what made it unconventional. No, what made it unusual was the venue: the Pepsi Center.

This touring show is playing arenas across the U.S. and Canada, a fact that made me initially hesitant to go. It simply didn't strike me as the ideal place to listen to an orchestra... the same place you watch your local hockey or basketball team? And so I was going to pass until a friend of mine caught the tour two weeks ago in his city, and gave an endorsement that made me reconsider.

It turns out that this Game of Thrones concert is sort of like a performance from an alternate universe, a reality where a TV composer can draw as big a crowd as an arena rock band. Tens of thousands packed the stadium for a concert that felt like watching an A-list rock band. Series composer Ramin Djawadi was a star, smiling for screaming fans. The whole thing unfolded on a set hundreds of feet long, involving pyrotechnics, costumes, video clips, and elaborate pop-up (and flown-in) set decorations.

Now, to be realistic, most of the people were there for love of the series itself -- cheering whenever Daenerys or Jon Snow or Tyrion appeared on the jumbo screen suspended above the screen. They probably didn't know the music itself as closely as I do. But that in and of itself would have seemed like a concert from an alternate universe just a decade ago -- that the top shows on TV would be genre shows? That any show on HBO would fill an arena with shrieking fans? Kind of crazy and awesome.

Strange conditions or no, it was a fun show. I got to see a host of less common instruments played live, from hammered dulcimer to didgeridoo to electric cello to things I can't even name. Djawadi handed over the conductor's baton for a few key songs to play a featured instrument himself. And he played "all the hits," including memorable cues he wrote for the Battle of Blackwater, the Red Wedding, the attack on Hardhome, and Cersei's vengeance in King's Landing.

I had a great time, and I'm glad my friend's recommendation got me to reconsider going. I'll pay that recommendation forward. If you're a fan of Game of Thrones and the concert is touring soon in your city, check it out.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Life in Movies

Another one of those things that gets passed around social media has been making the rounds. This one is about movies and thus, as they say, Relevant to My Interests. You're supposed to name your favorite movie from each year you've been alive.

So here goes...

1975 -- Jaws
Many of you might say One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but c'mon, it's Jaws!

1976 -- Murder by Death
This is a year of many highly regarded classics that I myself do not hold in the highest regard. (The Omen, Rocky, Taxi Driver, Carrie, All the President's Men, Network.)

1977 -- Star Wars

1978 -- Halloween

1979 -- Alien

1980 -- The Empire Strikes Back
Airplane! actually gave Empire a run for its money here. I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.

1981 -- Raiders of the Lost Ark
Though History of the World, Part I was in the running.

1982 -- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
With The Thing also making a strong showing.

1983 -- The Right Stuff
Actual space travel edged out the galaxy far, far away this year.

1984 -- Ghostbusters

1985 -- Back to the Future
Still my favorite movie ever, but Clue is another beloved favorite from the same year.

1986 -- Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Though Little Shop of Horrors and Aliens demand a recount.

1987 -- The Princess Bride

1988 -- Who Framed Roger Rabbit
But ask me closer to Christmas, and the answer might be Scrooged.

1989 -- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The Abyss is also excellent (the extended cut only, thank you).

1990 -- Edward Scissorhands

1991 -- Terminator 2: Judgment Day
But damn, it's hard picking between that and The Silence of the Lambs.

1992 -- Sneakers
I love a good heist.

1993 -- Schindler's List
Given the chances I'd actually sit down and watch Schindler's List again any time soon, I should also note that Groundhog Day and The Fugitive were this year.

1994 -- The Shawshank Redemption

1995 -- Apollo 13
This strong year for movies also included Se7en, 12 Monkeys, and The American President.

1996 -- Scream
Okay, this was a tight one, and nothing from this year made my Top 100. I maybe could have gone with Star Trek: First Contact, but the tightrope act of making Scream both a legit horror film and a bit of a satire of a horror film tips the scale for me.

1997 -- Gattaca
Good Will Hunting and The Fifth Element are also worthy choices, but Gattaca speaks directly to me.

1998 -- Rounders
Another movie that speaks directly to me. And I could offer up 5 more amazing movies before I'd get to that year's Best Picture Oscar winner (Shakespeare in Love): Pleasantville, Saving Private Ryan, Dark City, There's Something About Mary, and American History X.

1999 -- Galaxy Quest
J.J. Abrams once called Galaxy Quest the best Star Trek movie ever made, and he's kind of right. I'd also dub 1999 the strongest movie year of my lifetime. All of these are in my Top 100: American Beauty, The Sixth Sense, Office Space, Toy Story 2, Fight Club, The Cider House Rules, American Pie, and The Matrix.

2000 -- Memento
Though I'm pretty sure this wasn't actually in wide release until 2001.

2001 -- Moulin Rouge
Here's another strong year, which included Frailty, Ocean's Eleven, Monsters Inc., and The Fellowship of the Ring. (If you're saddened by the recent death of Bill Paxton and have never seen Frailty, do yourself a favor and check it out.)

2002 -- The Ring

2003 -- Love Actually

2004 -- Finding Neverland
But Team America: World Police is also great.

2005 -- Serenity
Though if Joss Whedon wasn't giving me closure here for Firefly, I would have picked Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

2006 -- The Prestige

2007 -- For the Bible Tells Me So
An incredibly powerful documentary about religious condemnation of homosexuality. But here's another year with a raft of options in my Top 100 -- Gone Baby Gone, Juno, Lars and the Real Girl, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, and The Mist.

2008 -- Doubt
WALL-E is a rather close second.

2009 -- Up
After coming close a number of times, Pixar finally gets the top spot for me.

2010 -- Toy Story 3
...and immediately goes back-to-back.

2011 -- 50/50
I know, weird choice. It disarmed me coming from people you wouldn't normally expect to nail sentiment. But I also kind of wanted to give the nod to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 for wrapping that saga up well.

2012 -- The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Cabin in the Woods is a close second.

2013 -- Bridegroom
Not that I'm the Academy or anything, but I'm not sure this documentary ever received a theatrical release. In any case, I was quite moved by it. If we're going a more "official" route, though, I'd praise Before Midnight -- though you probably have to have seen Before Sunrise and Before Sunset for it to land as powerfully as it did for me

2014 -- Whiplash
Nothing else even came close.

2015 -- Inside Out
Pixar does it again.

2016 -- 10 Cloverfield Lane

And there you have it. Tell me where I have it totally wrong... or totally right. Or better still, let's see your list.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Dangerous Talk

On a recent gaming night with friends, no board game ever made it out of the box. Instead, we spent hours playing "Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes."

This is a cooperative game involving one player on a laptop (well, any PC or Mac) and one or more partners rifling through a stack of printouts. The computer player is looking at a suitcase bomb with multiple "modules" scattered across its exterior. Each module has wires to be cut, passwords to be entered, buttons to be pressed, and more. That player must rotate the bomb on screen and describe to all the partners what it is he's seeing.

Meanwhile, it's the partners have the information on how to defuse the bomb. A printout on wires will tell you what to do based on how many wires you see, what color they are, or how they're connected. A printout on strange symbols will tell you the proper order to press buttons in, depending on which symbols are present. So on, through a dozen different possible puzzles.

The game does an excellent job of getting players to work together. The player on the computer has to have good time management and attentiveness -- some bomb modules are "needier" and can explode quickly, and different puzzle types take more "leg work" on the part of the team than others. Optimal diffusing involves keeping as many of your teammates working at all times as you can.

At the same time, all the different puzzles call on different ways of thinking. There are puzzles for people who are good at spatial orientation, people who rock at word games, people with strong memories, and more. Everyone in the team can get their moment to shine as you figure out who is best at which type of puzzle... and then you can increase the difficulty if you like by assigning different puzzles to different people.

In terms of difficulty, the game offers plenty as it is. A bomb can have 10 modules or more on it, and the range of countdown lengths factors into the challenge. The puzzles are all procedurally generated, too. Even once you progress through all the difficulty settings, the game has great replay value as different module combinations show up each time you start on a new bomb. (And even as long as we played, we didn't come close to working our way through all the difficulty settings.)

I'm not sure where the sweet spot is in terms of number of players, but I know that with 4 we had a great time for hours on end. And I'm eagerly looking forward to playing again.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes gets an A in my book. You can go download it right now for yourself from their web site. And if you have two or more puzzle-minded friends, I strongly suggest you go do just that.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

6:00 PM - 7:00 PM

Things continued to grow ever more ridiculous on 24: Legacy this week... though this time at least, there was an effort made to mine character drama from the insanity. And the episode was better than the last couple for it.

For example, setting up a situation where Andy has to hold a gun on and then tie up his ex is pretty far out there. But it did all sort of bizarrely work in the moment -- at least, once you got on board with the notion that Andy would agree to a suicide mission in the first place. Then there were the exchanges between Isaac and Nicole -- totally heightened, but a place you kind of have to go when the characters really think they might be at death's door.

But the craziest moment with an ex in the hour had to be Rebecca, who called up her ex to torture her current father-in-law. I'm not sure that you can make a past relationship between Rebecca and Tony Almeida fit in in any way -- not by the timeline, and not for how it would probably have been a suspect item on her record when applying to run CTU. Still, it made for a fairly entertaining nest of potential drama. Rebecca is choosing duty and country over her husband, and heading down a very misguided and dark road in the name of that duty. Plus, we get Tony back in the mix.

I'm going to be interested to see if the writers actually go through with the torture in next week's episode. Many elements this season seem to have been calibrated as a response to changes in perception since 24's heyday. They've been a bit ham-fisted at times, but the efforts to show "good Muslims," "coping with racism," and more diversity have been there. So will they go and puncture the big torture myth?

Maybe, maybe not. But first they've teed up a big car chase involving Isaac and Nicole, and big jeopardy for Eric (why didn't the bad guys just shoot him?) and Andy. Tune in next week! As for this week, I give it a B.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Slender Thread

HBO has premiered a new documentary film in the last few weeks: Beware the Slenderman. It's about the creepy Slenderman character of urban legend, and specifically about two pre-teen girls who attempted to murder their friend in an effort to appease him.

This documentary held tantalizing potential for me. Myths and how they grow, moody tension, true crime, a dive into a damaged psyche -- there was lots to mine here that could be quite... well, not "entertaining," to be sure, but "captivating." Unfortunately, the documentary fell short in almost every area.

Initially, Beware the Slenderman is most concerned with the horror of this particular incident. It's a slow burn chronicle of how two young girls set up their friend for sacrificial slaughter, interwoven with interviews of family members utterly at a loss to explain how this all could happen. It's the most effective section of the movie, as any preconceived notions you might have about the attack confront the accounts of the people it happened to.

The middle section of the film tries to expand on the Slenderman myth itself -- how it began and what it represents. While the former question is answered quite specifically, the film suggests that the latter question is unknowable. The "expertise" of the people interviewed seems shaky, and the analysis amounts to an unsatisfying and vague "Slenderman means different things to different people." In arguing that Slenderman is a sort of Rorschach test, the film ultimately renders this entire middle section as a superfluous waste of screen time.

The last chunk of the film turns to mental illness as the real reason behind the attack, and seeks to help the audience better understand the often misunderstood condition of schizophrenia. But not nearly enough time is devoted to this angle for a thoughtful or enlightening examination, and it all feels like an afterthought following 90 minutes of horror and ghost stories. If indeed mental health was the thesis of the film, it should have been a bigger and more consistent part of it.

Perhaps I'm the ghoul, seeking diversion in such a terrible real life tale. In any case, Beware the Slenderman was too scattershot an effort to provide it. I grade it a C-.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Costumes Out in Force

My Denver-based readers may want to think about a trip to the Denver Art Museum in the coming weeks. I went last weekend to check out the touring exhibit Star Wars and the Power of Costume, a collection of costumes, design sketches, and props from the seven episodic Star Wars movies.

I've seen a few of exhibits of movie memorabilia before, and it's always fascinating to see just how much you're being fooled by what you think you see on screen. Even in this age of high definition cameras and projection and televisions, things don't necessarily look as high quality or as realistic as you think they do. Weird tricks of lighting and camera placement complete an illusion of which the costumes and props are just one part.

I'm sort of starting at the end of the exhibit here, but nowhere was this more apparent than the Darth Vader costume used for the end of Episode III. My husband commented that if you saw someone show up to a costume party in it, you might think to yourself that it's a shame that they didn't quite get it right having gone to so much trouble.

It's not quite as tall as you'd imagine (though neither is Hayden Christensen, I suppose), the silver stripes on the shoulder piece seem off, the readouts and switches on the chest piece don't seem fully integrated... plenty of little things that a Star Wars super fan will notice. For some people, I suppose this might "ruin your childhood" or something, but I found it a quite interesting affirmation of movie magic. On screen, you believe it completely. If anything, it gave me more respect for the artists who knew exactly what the final effect of their work would be.

In any case, plenty of other costumes were just as lavish in person as you'd imagine. At least one-third of the entire collection was outfits worn by Amidala throughout the prequel trilogy. Whereas many characters would wear the same costumes for an entire movie, Amidala would have new clothes for almost every scene -- and the detailed work that went into them was staggering. Rich fabrics, insane detailing, and rare accessories were on display everywhere.

If the classic trilogy was more your speed, then you could focus on the slave Leia outfit, Boba Fett, Chewbacca with Han Solo, and even an actual Yoda puppet.

The Force Awakens was represented too, with side-by-side comparisons of stormtroopers and Rebels from the classic trilogy and Episode VII, plus the outfits of Rey and Finn (complete with Poe's jacket).

We spent over two hours carefully strolling through the collection and taking it all in. If movies in general are your thing, or Star Wars in particular (and I believe this describes most of my readers perfectly), then you should consider checking it out in the coming weeks before the exhibit rolls along to a new city. (Or look for it to come to your city in the future.)

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

5:00 PM - 6:00 PM

24 has never been a series grounded in realism or rock-solid logic, and I wasn't truly expecting 24: Legacy to be any different. Still, this week's installment seemed to strain credibility with the sheer number of unexplained (and unexplainable?) things needed to grease the plot.

How, after stealing top secret information from CTU, was Eric Carter not immediately taken into custody after the raid on Gabriel's place? (Never mind ending up on the team raiding Jadalla's place?)

Or was it Jadalla's place? I have so much confusion surrounding this raid and the terrorists' escape. With mere seconds of warning, they were able to slip away without being observed? Because of some tree cover or something? (How far do the trees go? Why wasn't a "satellite retasked" -- to use 24 lingo -- to monitor the location overhead until the team could get there?) Was that compound even the right place? I don't think I ever saw Carter or the CTU team standing in the big room where we saw all of Jadalla's men hanging out these last few hours, so did they bait-and-switch us or something?

Did I miss some explanation of how Jadalla's goons located Nicole and Isaac? I mean, that made no sense at all.

I suppose the question is, did all of this implausible nonsense at least serve to bring us fun stuff? Sort of, I guess. We've wrapped up the story line of Amira the Reluctant Terrorist, which felt stretched thin weeks ago and became positively silly when her father entered the mix. They at least sent her out with a bang (ha!), with an attack on the George Washington Bridge. But even in that there seemed like a missed opportunity. Why did they go to all the trouble explaining the volatility of the explosives, about how the contact could detonate them, if that wasn't going to be a thing. Why not supplement the pro-Muslim PSA with an anti-cell phone PSA and a testament to a father's love? Dad calls Amira to talk her down, and she listens to him... but then gets distracted and crashes the truck anyway. Boom!

I so want 24 to be bigger than just Kiefer Sutherland, because I think the real time gimmick is still great even after all these years. Unfortunately, all the other gimmicks 24 routinely traffics in haven't exactly been swapped out along with the old characters.

We're halfway through the season now, and my interest is slipping quickly. Having come this far, I might be in it to the finish at this point. Still, I'm hoping things pick up considerably here in the back half. I give this episode a C.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Escape Claws

The new movie Logan marks Hugh Jackman's final appearance as Wolverine (according to the man himself), capping a nearly 20 year run as the character. It's an interesting finale, in that it's quite dissimilar in tone from any of the movies that came before, X-Men or solo.

Instead, Logan seems to owe two films in particular for its sharply different approach. First, of course, is Deadpool. That runaway, surprise smash taught execs at 20th Century Fox that fans will flock to see an R-rated superhero film loaded with violence and cursing. Whether there was any nuance to that lesson remains to be seen, but it works out well enough to let the character of Wolverine cut loose the bonds of being PG-13. Logan is a movie about a man haunted by a violent past, and the best way to drive that home is to show in detail more graphic than ever before just how violent he is.

But the other movie to which Logan owes an even greater debt is Children of Men. For those of you who haven't yet seen Logan, I won't spoil things by going into explicit detail, but suffice it to say that the plot and many of the story beats in it are lifted wholesale from that earlier movie. If I held Children of Men in the sky-high regard that many people have for it, chances are this would really tick me off. Instead, I received it more like an homage. I was entertained generally, and glad that a superhero movie dared to bite off such serious material.

But then, Logan doesn't actually play very much like a superhero movie. The protagonists are in dire straits throughout this movie. With the focus on the violence and the relative scarcity of superpowered individuals (compared to, say, X-Men: Apocalypse), the film does start to feel more like an Eastern Promises or a John Wick than strict superhero fare. For some, this shift will be stark enough that you actually won't get what you're hoping for. For me, though, it felt like the rare superhero movie where events actually "mattered," that there were consequences and stakes that the average romp usually lacks. (And they didn't have to destroy entire cities in a failed attempt to create them.)

Hugh Jackman gives a great tough man performance here, a beaten-up-by-the-world shell who nevertheless does let down his guard and feel things more than he would like. Patrick Stewart is great in one last appearance (again, according to him) as Charles Xavier. Continuing the theme of heroes brought low, Xavier is facing old age and senility here, and its a sympathetic portrayal with or without the psionic powers upping the ante. Young Dafne Keen is solid as Laura, giving a stripped-down and feral performance that could have easily skewed comedic (see Kick-Ass, and Hit Girl), but instead stays honest and scary.

I'd give Logan a B+. With the low bar set by the first two Wolverine stand-alone films, that's high enough to easily be the best of the series. Yes, there was room where it could have been better still (perhaps by getting its own plot), but it certainly serves as a good swan song for the character.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The Way of the Panda

I had never previously seen any film in the Kung Fu Panda series, but a while back I started at the beginning to see if I'd missed out on anything great.

Though the original movie is less than a decade old (released in 2008), it already feels a touch dated for a variety of reasons. First, computer animation has progressed in leaps and bounds over the last nine years. Kung Fu Panda doesn't look "bad" by any stretch, but it's lacking in some of the subtle details, the extra polish, the enhanced capabilities of what several studios routinely deliver today. If this movie's story was up to the standards of, say, classic Pixar, this criticism might not even rate a mention. But this could be a preview of how an audience might receive some of the more recent, "average" Pixar movies a decade down the line: movies like Brave or Monsters University.

Second, and more noticeable in my mind, is that Kung Fu Panda is an artifact of the "star driven" era of animated features. Look back on the beginning of "Disney renaissance" of the 90s; they starred relative unknowns. Then came the age where major stars headlined animated features just as they would live action movies. Things seem to be pulling away from that a bit now; movies like Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and The Good Dinosaur certainly cast established actors with esteemed careers, but the movies don't hinge on you coming to see that A-lister you love rendered in pixel form.

Not Kung Fu Panda. It feels like it was either written top to bottom for this exact cast of actors, or that the script was extensively altered to fit the cast they put together. Jack Black IS Jack Black in this movie.... but he's hardly the only one hired to provide a voice exactly as it normally sounds. Dustin Hoffman, Ian McShane, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, and David Cross are all playing perfectly in type, with Angelina Jolie as the only cast member you might not have recognized simply by closing your eyes.

This doesn't make Kung Fu Panda a bad movie, but it does add to the ways in which it's awfully recognizable. It's a standard "chosen one needs to learn how to be the chosen one" story that could only be new to the children who are its target audience (and maybe not even for some of them). All the beats prescribed by Joseph Campbell and the "Save the Cat" school of screenwriting are here. It's quite rote.

But it is also funny, and more than occasionally. Po (the titular panda) has an earnest quality that fosters a lot of goodwill, and sets up for some good "fanboy" humor. There are fat jokes, but not so many to wear them out. I found myself smiling at the good naturedness of it all more than rolling my eyes at the familiarity.

I'd say the movie rates a B- overall. It doesn't send me rushing to see the sequels (which I hear aren't as good anyway), but it was fun enough on its own.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

A Lion Among Movies

The Oscars have come and gone (with the Best Picture bait-and-switch win and my friends' irreverent commentary), but I still have a little bit of bookkeeping to do. I actually saw all nine of the Best Picture contenders, but the last of those came just two nights before the ceremony and I have yet to review it here. It turned out that with Lion, I'd saved the best for last.

Lion is likely the least well-known of the Best Picture nominees; I myself knew nothing of it going in, other than that its cast included Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman. For those as much in the dark as I was, here's the summary. Lion opens in India in the year 1986. A five-year-old boy named Saroo is separated from his family and falls asleep on a train that carries him a thousand miles from home. Unable to find his way back, he's sent to an orphanage and is ultimately adopted by an Australian couple. More than 20 years later, adult Saroo then struggles with the few details he can recall to locate the family he lost so long ago.

The two actors I named above were both Oscar nominated for their roles. Dev Patel captures the complicated, tangled emotions of wanting to protect the feelings of his adoptive family while still yearning for reunion with his birth family. Nicole Kidman plays Saroo's adoptive mother, particularly earning her Oscar nod with a short but powerful scene in which she challenges her son's misconceptions surrounding his adoption.

But there are still more moving performances in the film. Rooney Mara plays Saroo's girlfriend Lucy, who first suggests that finding his original home might be possible -- and who must then deal with the fallout when he becomes obsessed. Divian Ladwa has a small but intense role as Mantosh, who though adopted like Saroo, does not adjust to it nearly as well. Priyanka Bose is potent as Saroo's biological mother, a role with both a realistic and fantastical component.

Then there's the beating heart of the movie: Sunny Pawar as the young Saroo. The perfect mix of fragile and tough, he tugs at your emotions from the first moment he appears on screen. The first third of the movie chronicles how Saroo loses his family, and Pawar's performance makes you feel every moment of it. In different scenes, it's as tense and sad and soulful as any child performance I've seen in years. Even if you know exactly where the movie is headed in the end, it's worth seeing for young Sunny Pawar and this opening act.

If I'd been voting for the Oscars from the nine contending Best Pictures, Lion would have been my pick. Its relative obscurity may make it a hard one to seek out in the theater, but I definitely recommend catching up with it when it finds its way to video. I give it an A-, and a slot on my Top Movies of 2016.