2020 Best Picture Nominees

The pressure has been real this year. The Oscars are two weeks earlier than normal, which means I had two fewer weeks to watch them all. But I did it. I watched all the best picture nominees. Here is my rundown of the nominees and a brief review and then I’ll give you my picks for the major categories.

1917

This is great film, but not for the feint of heart. As a historian, I found it captured much of the idiocy of World War I. Troops fighting endless offensives and defensives to secure eighteen inches of territory all the while starving to death as their feet rot off. The only thing missing was nerve gas. It was a stupid war fought in a stupid way, and the movie captures that desperate senselessness. There are a lot of symbolic moments, but what will stay with you is the editing — the long uncut scenes — which give you a powerful sense of being in the middle of the action.

When I left the theater I wanted to drink a glass of milk and cry.

Ford v Ferrari

The sound of this movie is still in my ears. I’m not a car person, and car racing is even more of a foreign concept, but this movie made me want to buy a new fast car and then watch racing nonstop. The performances were spectacular, and the second greatest travesty of the Oscar season was Christian Bale did not get nominated for best actor.

Joker

I didn’t like this movie as much as most people. In its effort to be fresh and original, I think it muddied the waters on a familiar narrative. For example, If I’m seeing it right, The Joker is way older than Batman, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. There are other problems for me, including one that seems cliche but to mention it would be a great spoiler so I’ll leave it there.

As an aside, I think this movie does harm to the view of mental illness. Mentally ill people are not homicidal or violent. Yes, there are violent people in this world who do horrible, terrible things but this movie draws too thick of a line between violent rages and mental illness. The best thing this film does, however, is capture the icky feeling of the late 70s and early 80s.

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

This movie should not have been nominated and it is not worthy of mentioning along with these other outstanding films. Is it funny? At times. Is it interesting? At times. Is the acting good? At times. The only reason, though, this film has any mentions is because Quentin Tarantino made it AND Leo and Brad are in it AND it is about Hollywood. Hollywood is completely infatuated with itself.

When I left the theater back in the summer when it came out, I was mumbling to myself, “You can do that once, QT, but you can’t do it again.”

Parasite

My baseline review of this movie: It starts out as Korean Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Finishes as Helter Skelter. The performances were outstanding and the story was well told. There are some editing issues and pacing problems, but the brilliance of the way the story uses issues like smell and social expectations make up for those problems.

This movie is social commentary through and through and by the end you will ask yourself who is the parasite and who is really violent. I also asked myself what was real in the movie. It is this year’s “Get Out”.

The Irishman

I hated this movie. It is three hours of self-indulgent cliche. It is a crime against storytelling this movie was nominated.

Little Women

The best scene in this movie is when the old rich neighbor (Chris Cooper) sits on the stairs and listens to Beth play the piano. That scene alone earns this movie a spot on the nominees list, and if it doesn’t melt your heart then you need to check and make sure you have one. The acting, with the exception of Emma Watson, is so very good. Saoirse Ronan is quite simply one of the finest actresses of all time.

Jojo Rabbit

I was not expecting to like this movie because the premise sounded absurd. However, I was wrong. This movie was at times delightful and laugh-out-loud funny and then it turns and kicks you in the gut. The plot is not really great, but it is a stunning character piece. And Sam Rockwell. Sam Rockwell is a national treasure.

Marriage Story

There are times when I loved this movie and times when I hated it. It does a great job of eliciting emotions, and the acting is impeccable. What I wish was something less formulaic and less done than a divorce and custody battle for Scarlett and Adam (notice how I feel like I know them so well I can just use their first names) to work with. Those two make the movie, and I don’t begrudge them their nominations in acting categories. However, overall I think the movie is uneven and, as I said, the theme is overdone. I liked this movie the first time I saw it when it as called Kramer vs Kramer.


Predictions

Best picture: The most likely winner is 1917. From start to finish it is the best movie with the highest overall quality. However, I think Ford v Ferrari has a punchers chance. The outside long shot is Jojo Rabbit.

Actor In A Leading Role: I would like for it to be Tom Hanks, but he wasn’t nominated. My second pick wold be Christian Bale, but he wasn’t nominated either. My third pick would be Jonathan Pryce because The Two Popes was soooooo gooooooood. However, the winner will be Joaquin Phoenix.

Actor In A Supporting Role: The winner is Tom Hanks. I would have liked for Chris Cooper to have gotten a nomination and maybe even Alan Alda but all the slots had to go to mobsters and Hollywood.

Actress In A Leading Role: Renee Zellwegger will win for her outstanding performance in Judy. However, we all know the wrong person won this last year so you never know. If Cynthia Erivo wins that will be fine with me. Harriet was a great movie.

Actress In A Supporting Role: This is a toss up for me. I have not seen Bombshell or Richard Jewell, and apparently neither have many other people, so my pick here is limited. I feel like Scarlett fatigue might keep her from winning, so I lean toward Laura Dern. Yeah, I’m picking Laura Dern. But the winner should be Ana de Armas from Knives Out. Her snubbing is a tragedy.

Animated Feature Film: I never pick the right one, but How To Train Your Dragon made me and Mrs. Greenbean both cry. So there.

Directing: Sam Mendes is a lock.

Original Score: I’ve listened to them all and . . no bias here . . . the best music is Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. It should win.

Original Song: Stand Up from Harriet.

Original Screenplay: I’d like for Knives Out to win, but it will be Parasite.


Before I leave, a word about Mr. Rogers. Oscar must hate Mr. Rogers. Last year it snubbed the outstanding documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and this year the film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” should have been nominated for best picture and director (Marielle Heller) and Hanks should have gotten a best actor nod. But no. Oscar hates Mr. Rogers.

Frozen Ferrari Fred Whodunit

Other than the fact “Ferrari Fred” sounds like the name of a character in a bad Stephen King novel, what am I talking about with this crazy blog title? I WENT TO THE MOVIES, that is what I’m talking about.

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend we saw the four hot movies out right now, and they were all wonderful in their own way. No, they are not all for everyone, but they are all wonderful. I will take them in the order I saw them.

Ford v Ferrari

Everything about this movie was near perfection. The story was tight, the dialogue was crisp and memorable, the imagery was iconic, and the sound and sights of those beautiful cars was spectacular. Even if you don’t like cars, you’ll like the movie and if you like cars, you’ll love the movie. Christian Bale will get a best actor nomination and the movie will get a best picture nomination. It has some language in it, so you might want to keep the kiddos away, but there is no violence or pornographic material.

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Movies usually entertain. Sometimes they inspire. Sometimes they mesmerize. This movie affirms humanity and the possibilities for making the world a better place. Shot in the same style as the old Mr. Rogers Neighborhood television show, it usher you into a different world from the very beginning. Yet this movie is not really about Mr. Rogers as much as it is the journalist covering him, but at the same time it really is. The main character, Lloyd, is changed by Mr. Rogers. Tom Hanks will get a nod for best actor and the movie should be a top contender for best picture.

As an aside, I also recommend you watch the outstanding documentary about Mr. Rogers. Click here to read what I wrote about that.

Frozen II

All four of us enjoyed it and so can your entire family. The music is very good, but the emotions are what steal the show. There is one particular moment when Anna is everyone of us — fighting to keep up hope in a lonely and dark world. I liked this movie more than the first one, probably because of the heavy Tolkien influence on the story. I’m serious. If Olaf is viewed as a happy shiny Gollum, Elsa as Gandalf, Anna as Frodo/Aragorn, Sven and Kristoff become hobbits then the journey parallels nicely.

Aside from this, it is easy to see the motif of the movie — a needed restoration and reconciliation between indigenous peoples and those who exploited and took from them. It’s a good message.

Knives Out

This one surprised me. I didn’t expect to like it so much, but man was it fun. Nothing will be nominated from this movie, and there will be no awards for it but it is fun. Here was my take away on this movie: Knives Out is the Thanksgiving movie America needed but didn’t know it needed. Besides, it’s got Captain America, James Bond, half of Miami Vice, and Captain Von Trapp, and Halloween! There is a lot of star power here, but Ana de Armas steals the show as Marta.

There is a lot of language and one particular violent moment, but no nudie bits. Perfect for adults who want to slurp soda and enjoy themselves.

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.

WHAT IS OSCAR (2014) THINKING WITH THESE 9 NOMINATIONS?

Back when I was a local church pastor one of the things I had to do was get inside of people’s heads.  This was true of the weekly work of preaching but also true of individual one on ones.  It was my job to figure out not what people were saying, but what they meant.  For example, if someone said in a private conversation, “There sure are a lot of new faces around here,” what they probably meant was, “I don’t feel as comfortable as I used to in this faith community,” or they might mean, “I don’t know if I like it here anymore.”  People almost always never say what is really going on inside their heart and mind and this is not duplicity because they often are unaware of it.  It’s just the way we are.

I’ve now seen all 9 of the Best Picture nominees (Click here to read my brief review of each of them and click here to see my predictions) and I’ve got some observations about what might be going on inside the collective head of Oscar (He strokes his beard and begins to speak in an Austrian affectation, ‘Und tell me about zure mudder’).

1.  Oscar is afraid of decency.  How in the world is Frozen not on this list.  This may be the worst snub ever.  Foul language, nudity, and violence entertain Oscar while something I could show to children doesn’t.  Let me quote Kevin Fallon from the Daily Beast:

Six of the nine Best Picture nominees are rated R. The rest are PG-13. This is sad if you’re not an adult. Or have a family. Or are even slightly wholesome.

TOO DECENT FOR OSCAR, BUT GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME
SNUBBED BY OSCAR, LOVED BY MOST DECENT PEOPLE

2.  Oscar is uncomfortable with new people.  Did anyone else seem to notice that so many of the best picture nominees are repeats.  Could Amy Adams and Matthew McConaughey please let other actors into the limelight for a moment?  Does Tom Hanks have to be in every movie this year?  Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, and Sandra Bullock seem to always get the benefit of the doubt, don’t they?

3.  Oscar is probably racist.  Aside from 12 Years a Slave, most of the movies are so completely pasty white that it is jarring, even to a pasty middle-aged white man like me.  Trying to find a person of color in American Hustle, Philomena, Her, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street, and the Dallas Buyers Club is like playing Where’s Waldo?  Sure there are people of color in Captain Phillips but just like 12 Years A Slave their hand is kind of forced on that one, huh?

4.  Oscar is nostalgic.  Dallas, Hustle, and Wolf are all period pieces which harken back to the 70s and 80s as times of great debauchery and drugs.  I think Oscar misses those heady days of irresponsibility and questionable fashion.

5.  Aging is a major topic on Oscar’s mind.  Philomena tells us the story of a woman who, in her old age, tries to reconcile her past and wrong that was done to her.  Nebraska is one of the best films on aging ever made.    Add the nostalgia bit from Number 3 above and we get the feeling that Oscar is nervous about life and death.

6.  Oscar loves true stories.  Of the 9 nominees, 6 are based on true stories and biographies.  The only exceptions are the two futuristic movies Her and Gravity along with the road trip movie Nebraska.  This has always been so.  The best movies are great books whether it is The Godfather or Hunt for Red October.  What is curious is that Hollywood seems to be out of truly fresh ideas.  The heavy dependence upon the written word couple with the enormous amount of both 80’s remakes (Yeah I’m talking to you, Robocop, Endless Love, About Last Night, Total Recall and all the rest) paralleled with comic book movies which have their own literary history tell us that Hollywood is intellectually bankrupt.

7.  Oscar doesn’t like money makers.  This is odd when someone thinks about how Hollywood loves money and how it adores stories about powerful people.  However, it is true.  Gravity is the only movie on the list that breaks the top 10 box office earnings.  Nebraska has earned a total of $16.5 million dollars as of last weekend.  Compare that to The LEGO Movie which in three weeks has made $184 million.

So those are some of my thoughts about what is going on inside Oscars collective mind.  You can click here and here to read similar ruminations about previous years.  The next post will be my predictions for winners in major categories.

Frozen picture from disney.wikia.com