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Sunday the Academy Awards are on and even though some think they're less than relevant these days, I'll be watching. They're still the main accolades for the movies and that's been made more so this year with a number of changes. More members to take part in voting, for one thing. A preferential ballot in some categories, like the system some people want to bring into our political voting. And a fan vote, so that the popular films get some honor too.

As it is, I think the race among the 10 best picture nominees this year is really among three: The Power of the Dog, the long-time front runner, CODA, the spunky challenger, and Licorice Pizza, the most clever of the bunch. DUNE will likely win a lot of the craft categories and possibly come out on top in number of awards alone.

Most of the candidates are available on the streaming services now. The site just-watch-Canada can tell you which service has any title you're looking for. CRAVE has just added King Richard, which could get Will Smith an Oscar.

And the new films this week are also a quality bunch.

The Lost City: 3 stars

Ahed's Knee: 3 ½

Ashgrove: 3

Learn to Swim: 4

Dawn, Her Dad & the Tractor: 3

THE LOST CITY: If you're looking for a fun movie that'll remind you of what Hollywood used to bring fairly regularly, try this. It not only reminds, but echoes. It's easy to recognize several films it draws on, particularly Romancing the Stone in which a romance novelist is off into a jungle adventure. Same here. Sandra Bullock is the writer, The Lost City of D is her latest book and Daniel Radcliffe is a spoiled rich boy who kidnaps her. Because of a detail in the book, he thinks she can lead him to the location of a legendary diamond headdress known as The Crown of Fire. Absurd? Sure but adventure films forever have worked with less. So off we go to a tiny island in the Atlantic that could be out of a Jules Verne novel.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Also along is the Fabio-like model for all the novelist's book covers. Channing Tatum plays him with lots of chest-baring (and more) but gradually reveals he's more than a dumb hunk. That comes out in the comic banter he and Bullock act out which is probably the best element of the film. There's one more: a cameo by Brad Pitt as an ex-Navy seal that boosts the energy but is far too short. The rest of the film is a standard yarn that the writers and the two directors, Aaron Nee and Adam Nee, try too hard to bring alive. It feels forced and needs more humor. It does have star power though and is unlike most everything else out there right now. (In theaters everywhere) 3 out of 5

AHED'S KNEE: An Israeli director mounts a vitriolic verbal attack about his country's leaders and even its people in this drama that rises to a peak of pure outrage with words like “nationalistic and racist state.” And worse. Eventually we find out why but until then it's a straightforward critique that Nadav Lapid has written and dramatized.

Courtesy of Kino Lorber

Before it becomes a rant, it's very calm. A filmmaker much like himself, simply named Y and played by Avshalom Pollak, has been invited to a small desert community to show his latest film. The Ministry of Culture's library board is the sponsor but as its representative, a young woman played by Nur Fibak, explains there are caveats. He can't talk about controversial topics and must choose from a list the ministry has authorized. He's outraged and later defies the order. That will betray the woman who he has also been flirting with.

When a farmer tells him how the local pepper growing industry has died, he realizes this: “rotting bell peppers. A metaphor for this country.” There's more. His memories of his military service are particularly harsh accusing the leaders of lying and fraud. The film is riveting, but it's interesting that even with the censorship he rails against he was able to make it. The title refers to a real incident that went viral after a young woman slapped a soldier. The fictional filmmaker plans that story next. (VIFF center Vancouver now, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal April 1) 3 ½ out of 5

ASHGROVE: Now and then the movies do approach the big problems hovering over us. Pandemics and even climate change figure in this fictional drama and prompt one character to raise that common question: is it right to bring children into a world in this much trouble? Still, as real as those thoughts are, this is not a documentary, but an imaginary tale about an environmental crisis. A virus has gotten into the water. It's toxic; drink too much of it and it'll kill you. We learn all about it through several people having to live with it.

Courtesy of Northern Banner

Dr. Jennifer Ashgrove is a virologist trying to figure out the water problem. She overworks herself in that search to the point of suffering occasional blackouts. She (Amanda Brugel) is told to rest and, with her husband, heads to a farm her family owns. It's also called Ashgrove. He (Jonas Chernick) does the cooking so that she can take it easy. Incidentally, both actors helped write the film along with Jeremy LaLonde, who directed it. The story they've concocted is fairly soap opera-ish as she finds him making mysterious phone calls and secrets are revealed when her boss and his wife come to dinner. The acting is good, Brugel's especially in some potent angry outbursts in arguments with her husband. But back to the main story: Jennifer has an epiphany; figures out what poisoned the water but suffers a blackout and can't remember. How to get the information out of her. A memory specialist, a clever montage of repeated scenes and some personal truths help. It's quite engrossing. (Filmed in Kitchener, Ont. and showing as part of The Canadian Film Festival on Superchannel) 3 out of 5

LEARN TO SWIM: This film is a real treat, once you adjust yourself to its structure. It flips around, back and forth in time and I had trouble at times figuring out if I was watching the present or a memory. Or even an imaginary scene. You're on your toes and that fits the melieu, the world of jazz music. Shifts and improvisation are built in, expected even.

Courtesy of Mongrel Media

We've got two interconnected stories here going on in Toronto. Dezi (played by Vancouver actor Thomas Antony Olajide) is a saxophone player in a small band who is also an aspiring record producer. He connects with Selma who sings in the band and has a deal with a record company to record a few Latin flavored tunes. Emma Ferreira plays her with charm and determination and in good voice. Naturally, Dezi offers to produce her songs and a romance develops. Two problems though. Dezi is headstrong; willing to walk out if challenged. He's also damaged which the film states by having him suffer an abscessed tooth which brings pain and dentist appointments. There's a tragedy and because of the freeflowing structure its not always clear when things happen, or have happened. But it's a story you'll follow willingly because the acting is strong, the direction by Thyrone Tommy is smooth and the music is fine. And plentiful. The first four minutes is nothing but music. (Toronto: Bell Lightbox; Vancouver: International Village) 4 out of 5

DAWN, HER DAD & THE TRACTOR: It seems like a goofy combination but this story works. It's emotional, well-meaning and truthful. Imagine the elements: A Nova Scotia farmer answers his door and his son is standing there, only he's now a girl, Dawn, not Don. She's come home to help mourn the loss of her mother. If that's not strange enough, the dad is played by Robb Wells, who you'll remember from The Trailer Park Boys, that low-rent series. That transgender theme doesn't seem to fit, at first glance. Actually it evolves perfectly well under in the script and direction of Shelley Thompson, who also acted in that TV series and has become a champion of LGBTQ issues.

Courtesy of CRAVE

The film promotes acceptance with Maya V. Henry giving a moving performance as Dawn as she reconciles with dad. The tractor? The mother used to drive it and to honor her Dawn restores it and then proudly drives it in the Highland Heart Tractor Trial. That seems far fetched, and the restoration from a rusty machine to a bright, shiny tractor, goes awfully fast. But the film works. It's heartfelt and communicates its message. (After a short theatrical run, it's now streaming on CRAVE) 3 out of 5