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.

DJANGO AND LUKE SKYWALKER

First a confession.  This is not really a blog.  It is more of a thought that I am sharing.

Kim and I watch all of the films nominated for best picture.  I finally saw Django Unchained Thursday night.  I only have two more to go (Argo and Amour).  Don’t worry, I will post full blogs about the films later, after I have seen all of them just like I did last year.

Last Year’s Oscar Films Part One

Last Year’s Oscar Films Part Two

Last Year’s Oscar Films Part Three

But that is not what I am blogging about today.  I will tell you my thoughts about Django later.  But for now, I want to tell you what I have decided.  I have decided that Django Unchained has the same plot as Star Wars (Episode IV, which to me, will always be just, Star Wars).

Obi Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker?
Obi Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker?

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT

Do not read any further if you have not seen the film and want to be surprised.

Django is Luke Skywalker.  He is freed from the shackles holding him back–in Django these are real manacles, for Luke they are metaphors.

They both find a mentor–the same one who frees them–a mentor with a white beard and a funny accent (Obi Wan is English, Dr. Schultz is German).

In Django, the mentor serves as both Obi Wan and Han Solo, “Come with me kid, you’re not too bad in a fight.”

The basic plan is to break into the bad guys territory (Plantation=Death Star).

Leonardo DiCaprio is Darth Vader.

Slavery (The Old South) is identical to the evil Galactic Empire.

Princess Leia is tortured.  So is Broomhilda.

The mentor figure fights the bad guy and dies doing it.

There is a final battle.

Django blows up the plantation with dynamite.  Luke blows up the Death Star with a torpedo.

Kerry Washington even looks a little like Princess Leia at the end.

When George Lucas made the original Star Wars, he said it was like an old western set in outer space.  In Django, the outer space story has now become the western.