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.

 

 

 

2018 Oscar Preview and Picks

I watched them all. All nine of them. Here is a brief, no spoiler review of each Best Picture nominee. Following that, I will predict some winners in the major categories. Then I will elaborate on some themes from this year’s movie selections. So, here here we go, in alphabetical order.


Best Picture Quick-Review

Call Me By Your Name

Pretentious. Snobbish. Boring. The only truly great part of this film was the acting done by Michael Stuhlbarg. I can’t get the thought out of my mind that this film is nominated solely because it is a homosexual love story. If it were a straight love story, with all the same elements, people would yawn. What is not a yawn, though, is the very disturbing ages involved–a grown man and a 17 year old boy. I’m pretty sure that is a crime.

Darkest Hour

This film has some great one liners, and the storytelling is superb. It is hard to take such a well known subject and historical figure as Winston Churchill and make it interesting, but this movie does just that. There are some bits that are ahistorical, but that doesn’t take away from the truly outstanding film this is.

Dunkirk

If like you lots of scenic panoramas, then this is your film. However, if you like a little dialogue, then maybe not so much. I bet the screenplay for this movie is no more than a page and a half.

Get Out

Of all the films, this one surprised the most in how much I enjoyed. It is equal part Rosemary’s Baby, The Village, and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.

Lady Bird

If you like Juno, you’ll love this movie. Great acting. Witty dialogue. Religious overtones, both positive and negative, as well as that great classic mother/daughter angst.

Phantom Thread

Asparagus. Mushrooms. and Loud breakfast. That is all you need to know. The acting here is superb, but the story leaves me flat. The MC is interesting, but not interesting enough to make me care.

The Post

Great historical film, but I think it misses the mark in terms of greatness. It wants to be Spotlight for the Vietnam War. This is not Spotlight.

The Shape Of Water

Of all the movies nominated, this was the one I was most excited about. Boy, was I disappointed. I know lots of people love this film, but I just couldn’t. The acting is good (again, Michael Stuhlbarg steals the show) but I hated the overall story. And what is with the Parisian arthouse soundtrack to a 1960s era movie set on the East Coast? This movie ruined some of the sweet nostalgia I have for The Creature From The Black Lagoon.

Three BillboardsOutside Ebbing, Missouri

This is a disturbing movie. Its s loud, profane, vulgar, and shocking. These elements combine in a powerful way to evoke deep emotions. It reminded me of the Coen Brothers.


Predictions

Best Picture

I predict Darkest Hour. Billboards has a punchers chance, and Get Out is a long shot.

Director

This is the toughest one for me to pick. It should probably go to Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk, with would split the best picture and best director categories. The problem is, Jordan Peele did so much with so little in the movie Get Out that I really think I want him to win.

Leading Actor

If anyone besides Gary Oldman wins it is a travesty. I love Denzel Washington, but if he wins it is because the academy feels guilty for not picking him last year for his outstanding role in Fences.

Leading Actress

Frances McDormand in a landslide. If Saoirse Ronan won, though, I wouldn’t be mad.

Supporting Actor

Woody Harrelson. He and Rockwell could split the vote, but I think Harrelson has this. The biggest question is why is Willem Dafoe even on this list. The best acting in The Florida Project was Brooklynn Prince as Moonee and Bria Vinaite as Halley, who aren’t nominated for anything anywhere, which is a real shame.

Supporting Actress

Laurie Metcalf wins.

Animated Feature

Coco

Cinematography

Blade Runner 2049, although Dunkirk might sneak in there.


Themes

It is always interesting to me how the Oscar films tend to follow themes that might reveal a lot about culture and the times in which we live. This year is no different.

  1. The historical Dunkirk as the symbol of snatching hope in the moment of despair. This is the focal point of both Dunkirk and Darkest Hour. I  feel like these are companion films that should be watched together.
  2. Elaborating on that theme, the overall feeling of ‘trapped’ comes to mind. That is true in Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, but also Get Out, The Shape Of Water, and even Call Me By Your Name if you get right down to it. One can even spot that theme in the movie Lady Bird and it shines brightly in The Florida Project and MudBound.
  3. Only two films are set in the present time–Billboards and Get Out. (Caveat, it is possible in mind that Get Out is actually set in the future, but that is a different discussion). As the world gets more complicated and technologically driven, the stories we tell go back to simpler times. This might be because telling a story in the era of technology is difficult. This is what some of the problem was with the Blade Runner reboot. Technology is not all that interesting, and it removes opportunity for narrative.
  4. Women are the future. Water, Billboards, The Post, and Lady Bird are female driven films. This is a very good thing. The next hurdle for Oscar will be women behind the camera getting serious consideration for directing.

You know I’ll be watching the Oscars Sunday night. I guess we will wait and see who wins and how right or wrong I was. I still have not forgiven Oscar for Birdman, so disappointments are possible.

 

2015 OSCAR BEST PICTURE OVERVIEW

As is my custom, I watch all of the films that are nominated for best picture.  It is a good practice for me, because I enjoy movies and sometimes I see great films that I otherwise would have never known about.  A good example is last year’s Nebraska.  This blog post is a quick review for each.  I will make some predictions for winners in the major categories in a separate blog later this week, as well as a blog about some of the themes and key concepts I noticed with Oscar’s nomination.oscars-2014-logo-slice

I’ll go ahead and say now that none of these are child safe films, but Selma, Imitation, and The Theory of Everything are safe for teens.  The Grand Budapest Hotel has a lot of crassness in it.  American Sniper is profane, violent and disturbing.  Whiplash and Birdman are vulgar.  In general, however, the movies this year are decidedly less explicit than were last year.

So here we go with the overview, in alphabetical order.

American Sniper

So much has been written about the politics of this movie that it is hard to separate it as a film, as art, apart from the politics.  I actually feeling like the director, Clint Eastwood, was making an anti-war film with this as the main character becomes less of a person and more of a machine the longer he is involved in the war.  The movie seems to me, in a very real way, to be an attempt to portray the horrible situation of the war for the soldiers we ask to serve, for the people in the countries we operate, and for the families of loved ones back home.

As a film, American Sniper is outstanding.  It stands toe to toe with the rich tradition of Hollywood war movies, and this is indeed a war movie.  Eastwood does a masterful job of telling the story through visuals, and also through what is not said.  Bradley Cooper proves with this film that he deserves to be ranked among the best actors in Hollywood.  I liked this movie, and see why it was nominated.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I hated this movie.  There is not a single character in this movie I liked.  I can’t understand why Michael Keaton is nominated for best actor, and I can’t see why Emma Stone is nominated for best supporting actress.  Just about any college sophomore could portray Emma’s entitled, self-absorbed, and loathsome daughter and Keaton looks like something from community theater.  Seriously.  Ed Norton is a good actor, but he is stuck in a horrible film.  The only reason this movie was nominated was because it is about actors, directors, Hollywood and New York, and Oscar loves movies about movies and actors. There is no way Birdman can win.  No way.  If it does, I will write a strongly worded letter to someone.

Boyhood

I have a problem with Boyhood.  I like the movie, and it tugs at my heartstrings because it was practically filmed in my backyard, but there is such a strong line of fatalism in the movie that it is hard to really get behind.  Linklater is truly one of the greatest directors this side of Spielberg, and I admire what they did with the twelve year vision for the movie.  The problem is that the movie lacks the elements necessary for a great story, in other words, there is really no plot.  The aforementioned fatalism, combined with a nearly three hour length, and I just don’t think it can, or should, win best picture.

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game is very good.  Cumberbatch is outstanding, and so is Knightley and the supporting cast.  At times the dialogue, for me, though, doesn’t match the level of the acting or the plot, yet that is not enough to ruin it.  I highly recommend the film as both a bit of history–wartime history and social history–and as a look at actors excelling in their craft.

Selma

What is great about Selma is the living history of many of those involved in the events, as well as the acting of David Oyelowo.  I cannot believe he didn’t get nominated for best actor–seriously, that was the greatest snub of the year.  By the end of the film Oyelowo had me convinced that he was Martin Luther King, Jr. There are two great flaws, though, with Selma.

One, the rest of the acting doesn’t measure up.  Whoever played Coretta Scott King needed some acting lessons.  It was sad, truly sad, to watch her alongside Oyelowo, with him in all his glory and then her lost as a goose.  Even Oprah Winfrey, as wonderful as she is in her small part, can’t keep this movie from drowning in a sea of under performers.

The other problem with Selma is the direction of the movie.  It doesn’t know if it wants to be, as its name tells us, a biopic of the events of Selma during the struggle for civil rights or if it wants to be a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Because of this, it divides its time in uneven ways that takes away from a complete picture of either. Because of these inconsistencies, I just don’t think it should win, although I understand why it was nominated.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

If Birdman is the worst movie in this list, The Grand Budapest Hotel is just a notch better. Let me rephrase that.  It is not that the Grand Budapest is a horrible film, it is that it simply doesn’t belong in the same breath with these other wonderful films.  The only saving grace of Budapest is that the acting is top notch, and the dialogue is crisply written.  The problem here is the convoluted, twisted, and contrived plot.  The movie just makes no sense, even as a satire.

The Theory of Everything

Theory is really a love story.  If you look closely in the credits you will learn it is based off the memoir of Hawking’s ex-wife, Jane.  As a love story, it falls short of reaching the heights it needs to in order to capture the viewers heart.  When the credits roll I think less of Stephen and Jane than I did when the movie began, and feel that they both behaved rather selfishly, as it pertains to love and affection.  I probably shouldn’t feel this way, but that is where the movie leaves me.

In addition to that, the movie is difficult to follow chronologically.  If one did not pay attention to the cars, hairstyles, and clothing it is easy to fall under the misconception that the entire first hour and half of the movie are supposed to happen in 1963, which they don’t, but there is no way of knowing that, really.  I don’t know if it is a side effect of the same problem, or if it is a different one, but it was also hard to follow the significance of Hawking’s academic career, ideas, theories, and such.  It very much felt like those making the movie only knew Hawking was a brilliant physicist who didn’t believe in God, but they didn’t really know what it was he actually postulated.  In fact, the most lucid explanation of his work comes not from him, but from Jane at dinner in a weird, and mocking, usage of peas and potatoes.

Now, these issues aside, the cinematography was amazing.  The uses of color in different moods produces a vivid viewing experience that is beautiful to behold.  And the acting!  Oh dear, Redmayne is unparalleled in his portrayal of Hawking, and Felicity Jones is every bit his equal as Jane Wilde.

Overall, I really liked the film and highly recommend it.

Whiplash

This is probably the best movie that has no shot at winning.  Yeah, think about that statement for a moment.  Whiplash is a very good movie, with superior acting–Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons are fantastic on screen together, and I love how the movie moves along with very little dialogue.  It is sad, but I don’t think this movie can win because of its art house feel, yet it deserves a fair hearing. The great thing about Whiplash is that everyone can relate, in someway, to the plot of the story–the kid who gets pushed really hard, and that pushing almost breaks him apart, and in the process he has to choose what kind of person he is going to become.  Whiplash captures this essence of growing up in a way most coming of age stories miss altogether.

Plus, the music is great.  If they’d had CD’s of the soundtrack in the theater lobby, I would have bought one right there.

oscar image from collider.com

2013 BEST PICTURE–THEMES AND A PREDICTION

UPDATED:  I just finished watching the Oscars.  See, I told you about Ang Lee and Argo!  Jennifer Lawrence was a real shocker but I do think she was worthy of it.  The “James Bond” material was weak, very weak.  I could have put together a much better tribute.  Seth McFarlane was terrible and very narcissistic.  When they had Mrs. Obama announce the winner, I knew it was either Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, or Lincoln that would win.  The microphone that Norah Jones and Adele used was bad and it kind of ruined two of the best voices a person could hear.

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As promised, four days from the Oscars, here are some ideas, themes, and quirks I notice about this years 9 best picture nominees (Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty)   You can read the brief reviews for each film at previous blogs (Part One, Part Two).

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO . . .
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO . . .

First, there is a definite anti-bureaucrat theme.  We find that theme most powerfully in Zero Dark Thirty were the operatives on the ground keep getting sidetracked by mid-level management.  By the way, did anyone else notice that the dad from the t.v. show Friday Night Lights played pretty much the same character in both Zero Dark Thirty and Argo?  Coincidence?  Hum.  Nevertheless, the theme is also in Les Mis, Argo, Lincoln and even Silver Linings Playbook.  In Silver, the people who should know how best to help the poor guy really do more harm than good (with the exception of his football loving therapist.)

Second, history is a theme.  Last year’s theme was primarily about movie making, but this year the theme is historical.  Six of the movies are essentially historical narratives.  Even Pi is historical in that it is political unrest in India that causes Pi’s family to take the fateful voyage with Richard Parker.  Beast’s is definitely made to remind us of Hurricane Katrina, even if it is not specifically alluded to.

Third, oppression is a theme.  Amour faces the oppression of illness and death, Argo faces the oppression of extremist, Django and Lincoln are against the back drop of slavery, Silver is the oppression of mental disorders and Zero is the oppression caused by terrorists.  I can’t determine whether the makers of Beasts are intentionally trying to play the theme of oppression against poverty and ignorance, but there is a good chance that they are.

Before I move onto predictions, let me sermonize on one more “theme” I see, and that is profanity.  Only Life of Pi is the kind of movie I would let a 10 year old see.  Les Mis is not profane, but it does have very adult themes.  Every other film, even Lincoln, relishes profanity and vile speech.  For Argo and Zero, it makes sense in historical context but the “F” word in Lincoln, Amour, and the unbelievably harsh speech in Django make me cringe because they were plot necessary.  The trend is toward increasing potty mouth and, while I’m on it, a film that has the “F” word should not be PG-13.

Now that the moralizing is over, predictions.  Lincoln is the favorite and Zero Dark Thirty is close on its heels.  However, Argo has an outside shot, and here is how.  Last year I correctly predicted that The Artist would win because Hollywood loves movies about itself.  Argo casts Hollywood as a hero in its film.  That fact alone could tip the hand toward Argo.

As far as I am concerned, anyone of those three could win and I would be happy.  If Amour, Beasts, or Django win I will be writing a strongly worded letter to someone.