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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.

 

 

 

Oscar Predictions 2017

Oscar is fickle, and famously difficult to predict. But that will not stop me from trying, anyway. mv5bmzuzndm2nzm2mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwntm3ntg4ote-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_


Best Picture

The nominees are Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures, Hell or High Water, La La Land, Lion, Manchester By The Sea, and Moonlight.

I would like for Arrival, Lion, Hacksaw Ridge, or Hidden Figures to win. I don’t think any of them will. Manchester By The Sea and Moonlight are the arthousish favorites, but I don’t think those will win either. Hollywood loves itself more than anything else, and that is why La La Land will win. I am four of the last five on this, with the only recent year I was wrong being the dreaded Birdman year. I am still angry that Birdman won.  For a complete summary of my take on all the best picture nominees, click here.

Lead Actor

The nominees are Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea), Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic), and Denzel Washington (Fences).

Let’s narrow this down. Gosling can’t win because Emma Stone upstaged him in every scene they were in. Casey Affleck can’t win because his character was not that complicated. Viggo Mortensen–just no. No.  So that leaves Garfield and Washington (sounds like a Presidential election, doesn’t it?) to consider. I think Garfield has a punchers chance, but Denzel Washington wins this one.

Lead Actress

The nominees are Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Ruth Negga (Loving), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Emma Stone (La La Land), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins).

Disclaimer–I didn’t seen Elle. I can’t find it anywhere. That doesn’t keep me from saying Ruth Negga should win this award, hands down. Her work in Loving was beyond superlatives. Portman and Streep were great in their movies, but not even in the same universe as Negga. Emma Stone could win, because La La Land is so beloved and Emma Stone did a great job in that movie, but I think it should go to Negga because of the beautiful way she played such a complicated character.

Supporting Actor

The nominees are Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea), Dev Patel (Lion), and Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals).

Disclaimer: I didn’t see Nocturnal Animals.

I’d like Jeff Bridges to win, just because he plays a Texas Ranger so well, but I don’t think he will. I think this award goes to Mahershala Ali, and that is okay with me because he did a fantastic job in Moonlight.

Supporting Actress

The nominees are Viola Davis (Fences), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Nicole Kidman (Lion), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), and Michelle Williams (Manchester By The Sea).

First, Nicole Kidman doesn’t belong on this list. Second, Oscar got the wrong woman from Hidden Figures. It should have been Taraji P. Henson who got the nomination. Third, Viola Davis should be nominated for lead actress, not supporting actress.

The winner should be Viola Davis, without any other discussion.

Director

Dennis Villeneuve (Arrival), Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge), Damien Chazelle (La La Land) Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By The Sea) and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight).

The big story here is Mel Gibson. It seems like his time in exile might be over. He will not win, though. I would give the award to Villeneuve for Arrival, but the winner will be Chazelle for La La Land.


Okay, those are my picks for the big categories. You know I’ll have the popcorn popped and the red Kool-Aid a plenty Sunday night.

 

 

2016 OSCAR BEST PICTURE OVERVIEW

88-Academy-Awards-2016-Oscars-ListThe 2016 Academy Awards are this weekend. As is my custom I have watched all of the best picture nominations. I will predict winners in a following blog, as well as make some other comments, but for now, here are my brief thoughts on each film. NO SPOILERS.

Bridge of Spies–Loved this film. I can’t believe Tom Hanks is not nominated for best actor and that Spielberg is not on the list for best director. A movie like this can bog down in its pacing, and the acting can become stiff. Neither of these are problems. The best part of the movie, though, is Mark Rylance as the Russian spy Rudolf Abel.

Mad Max: Fury Road–For a film in this genre, Fury Road is a great movie. The only way it can win best picture is if all the voting members of the academy are seventeen-year-old boys. The movie is essentially one giant car chase.

The Revenant–Leonardo DiCaprio did a fantastic job in this movie, and the cinematography is fantastic. I especially enjoyed the camera work on some of the action sequences. The “Bear Scene” is among the best 10 minutes of any movie you’ll ever see.  Sadly, the movie’s whole is not as good as its parts. It bogs down at times, and the characters, though interesting, are flat. In addition, I didn’t care for the ‘weirdness’ elements of the film that try to give it a spiritual punch. Bonus Information–Revenant is a word that means “ghost” or “revived”. Its a good title.

Spotlight–This movie is about heroes. The journalist showcased in the film are heroes because they dug and dug and dug until they uncovered the travesty taking place in the Roman Catholic Church.  I know from personal experience that there are sexual predators that find their way into churches (and schools, civic organizations, etc…), but the cover-up is what this story is mostly about. This movie does a fantastic job of dealing with a difficult subject in an outstanding way. I believe, in a certain way, it is the kind of film that all church-going people should watch.

The Martian–A fun movie, but not as good as the book. Particularly, it is not as funny as the book. The MC, Mark Watney, was much funnier in print than on film. The movie is a great science fiction film, but I don’t know if it rises to the quality of great film. Two bonus items on this movie: Bonus one–Matt Damon keeps getting stuck somewhere and Hollywood has spent a lot of money bringing him home (click here for proof) Bonus two–It really irked me how much of the story they gave away in the trailer for this film. Hollywood, please try not to tell the whole story in the thirty minute trailer.

The Big Short–Unless you are an unscrupulous banker or financial adviser, this film will make you angry. This movie takes the job of exposing the excesses of Wall Street with zeal. The acting is brilliant–particularly Steve Carell and Christian Bale–and the script is crisp enough to keep people engaged in what could otherwise be glassy-eyed mumbo jumbo. A special part of this movie is the way it intentionally breaks the fourth wall in order to take a moment to explain something. It is a clever method of exposition.

Room–Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are fantastic. The movie is gut wrenching, the plot is horrifying, and the characters are authentically tragic. It comes at you in two acts–and without giving anything away, the second act, though less tense, is the best and bravest part.

Brooklyn–This movie has everything. It is an immigrants tale, but it is the story of all of us insofar as it follows a young woman who works through a changing cultural environment, falls in love, matures, and then must face her past and choose.  This is the kind of movie you want to watch with someone you love. Religion, ethnicity, soci0-economic, immigration, and coming-of-age are all deliciously treated through very complex characters.

Summary–None of these movies are duds (unlike several of the previous years) and all of them are interesting. I am not certain all of them are worthy of their nomination, but none of them are a complete waste of time. Each movie is for mature audiences, and none, in my opinion, are appropriate for children under fifteen.

2015 OSCAR PREDICTIONS AKA “AND THE WINNER IS . . . “

Best Picture?
Best Picture?

As promised, here are my predictions for the winners in the major categories of the 2015 Academy Awards.  I should humbly remind you that I have correctly picked the best picture for the past three years–The Artist, Argo, and 12 Years A Slave.  I am right more often than wrong in the other categories as well.  In case you want to skip straight to best picture first, it is at the end of the post.

Actress in a Supporting Role

The nominees are Patricia Arquette, Laura Dern, Keira Knightley, Emma Stone, and Meryl Streep.

The only major movie I’ve not seen is Wild, so I didn’t see Dern’s performance.  That doesn’t keep me from making an educated prediction, though.  I didn’t think much of either Stone or Streep’s performance, so that leaves it to Knightley and Arquette.  Knightley did a great job in The Imitation Game, but I think it is Arquette who will win.  Oscar will pretend to identify with the single mother trying to raise two kids.

Actor in a Supporting Role

The nominees are Robert Duvall, Ethan Hawke, Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo, and J. K. Simmons.

All of these guys put out amazing performances, even Norton who was stuck in a terrible movie.  Robert Duvall could win.  His portrayal in The Judge was just about perfect.  Mark Ruffalo was the best actor in Foxcatcher, but he will not win.  J. K. Simmons will win.  His performance in Whiplash is iconic.  It’s the kind of role people will still be talking about in a decade.

Actress in a Leading Role

The nominees are Marion Cotillard, Felicity Jones, Julianne Moore, Rosamund Pike, and Reese Witherspoon.

Okay, this is my weakest category in selecting.  As I said earlier I have not seen Wild (Witherspoon) nor have I seen Two Days, One Night or Still Alice because those just arrived this week in our area.  It is very frustrating for Oscar to nominate movies that can’t be seen!   However, this will not stop me from making a prediction.

I did not like Gone Girl, and did not understand why Rosamund Pike was nominated.  Felicity Jones was really good in The Theory of Everything, but she will not win for a role that reminds me a lot of Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind.  I think Julianne Moore will win.  I base this simply on the buzz of her movie and the powerful topic.

Actor in a Leading Role

The nominees are Steve Carrell, Bradley Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Keaton, and Eddie Redmayne.

All of these, with the exception of Michael Keaton, are worthy candidates.  I could see either Cumberbatch or Cooper winning in an upset.  However, Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking is the winner.  There just doesn’t seem to be any other way.  It is a shame that the competition has to be so fierce because I really loved Cooper and Cumberbatch.

Director

The nominees are Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Richard Linklater, Bennette Miller, Wes Anderson, and Morten Tyldum.

It is curious that Clint Eastwood was left off this list for American Sniper.  Certainly his direction of that film was far superior to either Anderson or the miserable slop Iñárritu gave us.  It wouldn’t matter though.  The clear winner here is Linklater.  Making that film over a twelve year period of time, plus the style in which it was filmed, put him head and shoulders above everyone else.

Best Picture

The nominees are American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash.

Birdman, Budapest,and Selma have no chance.  The only gemstone in Selma is David Oyelowo.  Aside form that it is only sentiment.  Whiplash has a punchers chance, but it is carried by the acting and I don’t think it will win.  Theory has plot holes and dialogue problems.

It really comes down to Sniper, Boyhood, and ImitationBoyhood is the favorite, having won so many previous awards.  However, I don’t think Boyhood will win.  It is a great groundbreaking film, but the story doesn’t compel the way the others do.  Sniper should win.  You heard me right, it should win.  Put the politics aside and you will see a great movie about a heroically flawed man attempting to do the best he knew how to do.

However, because of the politics, Sniper will not win.  I just don’t think Oscar will do that.

Therefore, my selection is The Imitation Game.  Oscar loves a good story about a social injustice.  By selecting The Imitation Game The Academy can feel good about itself, and that is exactly what they will do.

image from movy.com.au