#Oscar Predictions 2019

I used to be much better at predicting these, but then Birdman and The Shape of Water happened and now my confidence is shaken. Will I let that stop me from making predictions. No way!

Here are my picks. Keep in mind, I don’t pick all the categories, just the ones I’m interested in. For example, costume design and sound mixing are irrelevant to me.

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Best Picture–I predict Green Book. It is the best ‘total package’ movie. It is not a great movie, like Spotlight, The Artist, Or 12 Years A Slave, but it is probably the best this year. I would not be surprised if BlacKkKlansman or Roma won, but I don’t think so. If The Favourite wins, I’ll be mad for a year or two. For more thoughts on best picture, click here.

Actress In a Supporting Role–Regina King. There is a chance Marina de Tavira might pluck this as an early upset, and if she did, I wouldn’t be mad. My actual choice for this was snubbed for nominations–and that is Awkwafina from Crazy Rich Asians.

Actor In a Supporting Role–Sam Elliot. I called this one the day I walked out of the theater, and I’m sticking to it.

Foreign Language FilmRoma

Documentary FeatureMinding the Gap. The biggest travesty of the Oscars is Mr. Rogers Won’t You Be My Neighbor was snubbed. If RBG wins it is a political choice, because in terms of documentary skillset, it wasn’t that great.

Original Song–Shallow

Animated FilmIncredibles 2

Actor In a Leading Role–Christian Bale. By the end of Vice, I thought it was Dick Cheney on the screen.

Actress In a Leading Role–Glenn Close. Hands down. no contest.

Director–This is a tough one. It is a two person race between Cuaron and Spike Lee. I’m picking Spike Lee on body of work.

 

2019 Oscar Best Picture Nominees Rundown (NO SPOILERS)

Last night Kim and I saw the last of the eight best picture nominees. This is the earliest we’ve ever completed the task, and, it is also the first time we’ve been able to see them all without traveling into the big city. Nifty, huh?

Here are some preliminaries. First, there are NO SPOILERS here. These are my thoughts on the quality of these films. Second, I will have a second post on the Oscars later which predicts winners. Third, none of these films are great, but as a group (with an exception) this is a pretty solid class of movies–definitely something for everyone. Fourth, after I’ve given brief reviews for each film, stay tuned for the next section where I discuss trends and themes. Each year has its own themes, and this year is no different.

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Let’s take them in alphabetical order.

A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born is so wonderfully directed and shot that I am in shock, and a little confused, as to why Bradley Cooper was not nominated for best director. It is a beautiful movie. The acting is solid, although I think Lady Gaga’s performance is a little overrated, but her music is not. This movie easily has the best soundtrack of the Oscars in a long time. Watch Sam Elliot, and watch Andrew Dice Clay in a role he seems to have been born to play.

Chances? This is a remake, of a remake, of a remake. Three earlier versions of this movie exist, and the gold standard will always be Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. I think there is no chance this wins best picture, although it may earn a lot of other awards.

Black Panther

I am so happy this movie is nominated. It is the one family film (the only family film) on the best picture list. You can watch this with your children and have great conversations about overcoming adversity, failure, friendship, trust, and so many other noble virtues. It is a superhero movie, so it has that against it, but it stands alone as a very good movie.

I think it has very slim odds of winning, but for Black Panther, the nomination is the prize. For the record, I’m still steamed that Coco and Inside Out were both snubbed in previous years. If Black Panther were to win, it would signal a paradigm shift for Oscar. Movies that make as much money as Black Panther and are as universally loved never, ever, win.

BlacKkKlansman

I expected to not like this movie. I don’t know why, but I went into it with a bad attitude. That didn’t last long. This is a wonderful film, superbly directed and the acting was outstanding. Watch out, though, because the language is very strong, and there are times when the hatred and evil things being said are so uncomfortable it made me cringe, but the way in which Lee unfolds the story is captivating.

BlacKkKlansman has a punchers chance of winning best picture.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Rami Malek nails the egotistical capricious maniac that was Freddie Mercury. The film is worth seeing for his performance alone. The best lines go to the boys in the band, though. Their involvement in the story keeps this from being a one-man show. The music is outstanding, the costumes are flamboyant (of course) but the storytelling is choppy and at times it feels like an extended cut MTV special.

Bohemian Rhapsody has zero chance of winning best picture. If I could give it less than zero, I would.

The Favourite

I hate this movie. It is filthy, crude, and everyone vomits at least once. I’m not kidding. I think vomit and rabbits are the only identifiable themes, except for deception, violence, and seduction. There was not a single character in this movie I liked. If that was the point I was supposed to get, then it succeeded.

Okay, let me back down a bit. The first hour of the movie was okay–I could see where things were heading and it had potential for some nice ‘gotcha’ drama or even a little absurdist humor. There are nuggets of a great story here, but the director bores us to death with tedious attempts to show us how clever and smart he is.

Having said that, and realizing this is exactly the way I felt about The Shape of Water and Birdman, both of which won best picture, it is altogether likely this will win. It is a puffy and pretentious film, therefore Hollywood will love it. I give it a likely chance of winning.

Green Book

Of all the films in the list, this is the one that has the most gripping narrative, all around best acting, and cultural pop. I like this movie. Viggo is terrific, but Mahershala Ali is fantastic. The only flaw in this film, as I can find it, is the lack of significance from secondary characters, specifically Tony’s wife (played by Linda Cardellini), who is one dimensional and cliche. The film has been attacked variously on several fronts, not the least of which is historical, which may be legitimate, but this is a story. Movies might be based in history, but they are not historical education. BlacKkKlansman is based on a historical case as well, but I am not bothered if they don’t get all the details about the Colorado Springs police department right. If I only take the movie at face value, then Green Book is the best picture.

I think this has a very likely chance of winning.

Roma

The first hour and a half of this movie will leave you asking, “Will it ever end?” You may find yourself thinking it is some kind of French existential experiment. However, hang in there. The last half hour is devastating. In typical Cuaron fashion, this thing is building up to a crescendo. Now, before you watch, you need to know it is in black and white and Spanish with English subtitles. I warned you. But you won’t really need the subtitles. You will follow along perfectly just watching the action and the acting.

There are some light moments in Roma, but for the most part it is an intense movie that makes you focus. It also wins the weirdest moment at the movies–the naked shower rod karate. And that is all I will say about it.

Roma has an outsiders chance. If it won, I’d be a little surprised, but I can easily see Oscar thinking this Netflix production is worthy of the honor.

Vice

Heads up. Vice is a political movie with a political agenda. This some-what of a biography of Dick Cheney starts with him in Wyoming and finishes with him in the present day. I don’t agree with all the political angles in the movie, but it is a very well done story that is quirky at times, like breaking into Shakespearean tragedy, or the POV of the narrator. The acting is incredible. By the end of the film I thought Christian Bale was Dick Cheney. Seriously. Ultimately, though, the storytelling is uneven and large gaps in character development were left unfilled.

This has a marginal, very marginal chance of winning.


Now that I’ve given a baseline review for the eight films, let’s look at the themes. I’ll cover these briefly, but keep in mind this is always what fascinates me most. The reason is the Oscars reflect culture, and as a student of culture, it helps me see where things are going. I identify at least three themes.

Theme 1: The 1970s. Oh yeah, shag carpet and everything. Roma is set in 1970-1, BlacKkKlansman is in the 70s, most of Vice is in the 70s as is Bohemian Rhapsody. Black Panther serves almost as a corrective to the Black exploitation films of the 70s, and … and A Star Is Born, though contemporary, has the 70s version with Streisand and Kristofferson always in mind. This year’s Oscar movies are a love letter to the 1970s. The reason for this might be two-fold. One, it was a time of great decadence and pervasion which creates great fodder for storytelling. Two, it was simpler, so you can write a story without Google or cell phones. For example, the entire story of BlacKkKlansman couldn’t happen today if people had smart phones.

Theme 2: Remember a couple of years ago when #Oscarssowhite trended and became a real issue because there was so little representation of people of color? Literally, not figuratively, but literally two of the movies nominated this year have “Black” in the title, and half the films feature people of color and two of the movies have racism as the major plot device. Is this an overreaction or a necessary corrective? I think it is a corrective. However, I think Black Panther and Roma are the most hopeful here. Here is what I mean–and my view is limited because I am white man, and I admit my limitations for I will never know the particular troubles a person of color goes through in our society–but what I mean is I look forward to movies that feature minority groups just living their lives and being who they are and not defined by the racism launched at them. We are not there yet, because racism is a problem and seems to be getting worse instead of better, but someday we will.

Theme 3: Without giving away any spoilers, homosexuality is a major theme in this years Oscars. Half the movies, which is the same as for people of color, feature sexuality as a major or minor plot device. I will not spell out which, because in some of them it tries to sneak up on you. And that is what I find most interesting. Hollywood is still using homosexuality as a shocking plot device, but no one is shocked. In this, I think, the movies are a bit behind the times and behind where most families are on the issue. There is more to say on this–and I’ve deleted about four paragraphs of text already on this theme, but for now let’s leave it at what an interesting development this is.

Theme 4: Music makes a huge splash in these movies. Green Book, Bohemian Rhapsody, and A Star Is Born are all about musicians. This is a melding of the icon celebrity culture where movies are no longer about everyday people with everyday lives, but instead we not only worship the celebrity singer, we want to watch movies about them turning their music into drama. The more I think on it, Roma is the only nominated film that doesn’t have either a celebrity, a person of privilege, or a cultural touchstone (like David Duke in BlacKkKlansman) in the narrative. Hollywood might have lost its ability to tell a story about an average person, because it doesn’t value real people.

 

 

 

Bird Box: A Brief Review

I can’t tell if this review has spoilers or not. I don’t think it does. The reason I can’t tell is because I’m not sure it is possible to spoil a movie that is so predictable a blind person could see it coming. And yes, I meant that. On purpose.

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One of the sprouts cojoled Mrs. Greenbean and I into watching Bird Box Friday afternoon. It is streaming on Netflix. The language is rough and there is considerable violence and gore. Not appropriate for children or people who are sensitive to violence.

Here is your Bird Box recipe.


1 cup A Quiet Place

1 cup M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening

1/2 cup Stephen King’s The Stand

1/2 cup This Is The End (The James Franco/Jonah Hill/Seth Rogen farce)

2 tablespoons The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price (or if you prefer modern, Will Smith’s I Am Legend)

1 teaspoon The Book Of Eli starring Denzel Washington


I am only partly kidding. There is a lot of internet chatter over the similarities between this and A Quiet Place. The truth is, as best I can get at it, the novel basis for Bird Box is earlier than A Quiet Place, but they both are variations on the the other ingredients listed above. To my mind the most obvious similarity was with The Happening, although the middle part of the film could have been This Is The End in a Star Trek type mirror universe.

The cinematoraphy of the film was nicely done, and the editing was pretty good too. The acting was mostly mailed in. I never believed Sandra Bullock, and she was never believable as a late 20’s single mom with an introverted artistic touch. John Malkovich was playing the evil brother to his character in the Red movies (which I love) and most of the other characters were throw-aways. Trevante Rhodes was really the only character I could identify with, and he did a great job being human. The others were just cliches. But then, this whole movie is a cliche.

Motherhood

Societal Decay

Nature

Apocalypse

Demons

Water–don’t ever miss Hollywood’s complete fascination with water motifs.

So many metaphysical themes to this film. Pick your blindfold.birdbox-2-1-572x381

Having written all this, it actually wasn’t horrible. It is a popcorn and soda kind of movie which doesn’t require you to think. It poses some fun ‘what about’ discussion and even could pose theological debate–which is my fave. It is a full two hours, but you probably won’t hate yourself for watching it.

 

 

 

The Crimes of Grindelwald is a Crime

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NO SPOILERS! I PROMISE. NO SPOILERS


Thursday night Mrs. Greenbean and I watched the new Wizarding World flick–Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. I was looking forward to it because I love backstory, and these tales seem to me basically back story. Also, Jude Law is an amazing actor and I looked forward to him as a young Albus. Here is my review, in my usual format: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.

The Good

I liked three things about this movie. First, I liked some of the acting. Jude Law, as I said, was great. Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston were also enjoyable but they take a back seat to Zoe Kravitz, who really does a fantastic job as Leta Lestrange. I also liked the effects.  The first scene is clumsy, but after that the imagery gets much sharper and more spectacular. The “final battle” was very well done. Third, I think they did a great job with the setting in Paris.

The Bad

There  was a lot of bad. There is “continuity” bad, which has been talked about in many other places, but there is also “story” bad. The plot is confusing and the character’s actions and reactions are hard to reconcile with the way people would actually react. In fact, almost no one in this movie at any time behaves in a way that is believable. There is a particular scene and a choice at the end of the film that I liked as an idea, but the character’s journey to that choice is baffling.

Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Grindelwald is, to put it bluntly, boring. It’s just not very exciting at all. I don’t know if that is Depp or the director, but I’m sure some middle school theater student could have given more life to Grindelwald than did Depp.

There is plenty of other bad, but these are the main offenses.

The Ugly

In an ocean of bad, one ugly rises above the surf. That is the issue of focus. This movie doesn’t know what it is. They seem to have thrown a pot of spaghetti against the wall to see what will stick–and none of it really does. Because of this lack of focus, when credits are rolling, I’m thinking I don’t care about the fate of any of them because I’ve been given no compelling reason to care. It is difficult to characterize this without spoilers, but when you watch it I think you’ll understand. It’s not one story, or even three woven stories. It is more like seven different stories with five different themes and three different genres none of which are intrinsically connected while the whole thing is spiraling out of control in vastly different directions. More time should have been spent tightening up this narrative arc.

Summary

As I have written on this blog before, the Harry Potter films never match the brilliance of their literary light, and this film, which has no literary underpinning, falls even further into the realm of the mundane. This movie might be redeemed if the next one connects some dots, but as it stands now, The Crimes of Grindelwald is the Star Trek III: The Search for Spock of the Harry Potter Universe. It provides interesting filler–no one will ever really care about it–and it is only important because of the film before it and after it.