Oscars 2019

My favorite time of year movie-wise again. Actually, that’s debatable because I do love summer blockbuster season as well. But it’s time to obsess over meaningless awards that somehow mean everything. Part of me felt like skipping this post because the uncertainty in some categories has me feeling like I don’t even wanna try. That’s how I am when it comes to competition (even if it’s competition with myself). If I think I can win, I am highly competitive. If I don’t think I can, then I don’t really care at all. Still, there’s no way I really could let myself drop the ball on this one, so here we go, looking at the nominees in each category. You may find me slightly more non-committal than usual this year.

Best Picture:
I usually rank these in my order of preference, but what’s weird is that my favorites aren’t necessarily the ones I think should win. And the race is so unpredictable this year, I honestly have no idea how it’s gonna fall. I’m just gonna leave them here in alpha order.


Black Panther – I love that this got a nomination. The common criticism I’m hearing is that it isn’t even the best superhero movie of the year and that it’s formulaic, but I am behind it getting this spot. I find that while these films do follow a formula, it’s about how you dress them up. And dressing it up with some beautiful culture and layered subtext makes it stand out.


BlacKkKlansman – If I had a vote, I’m pretty sure this is where I’d put it. Well, it’d be a cointoss between this and another we’ll get to. Every element of this is perfection: acting, screenplay, directing, etc. Plus it’s an important film with a timely and urgent message. It’s the total package.

Bohemian Rhapsody – This is the film I’m most conflicted about being here. It’s my favorite on the list, the one I enjoyed most. But I don’t feel it’s Best Picture worthy. Best Actor on the other hand…

The Favourite – There’s one every year. The film that I just didn’t care for. I can get behind it. It’s technically well done and it’s unique, I just got bored halfway thru. It is the one I’m most looking forward to rewatching at the Oscar marathon because I would like to give it a second chance.

Green Book – 20 years ago, this would have been the easy winner. Even today, it’s a potential frontrunner. It’s feelgood and checks off all the boxes. I just don’t think it has as much bite as some of its competition.

Roma – The artsy film snob choice. A foreign film has never won, plus a lot of people are against the Netflix distribution. Still, it’s the most artistically beautiful option, I just think it’s gonna take enough hardware home elsewhere.

A Star is Born – This is the other flip of the coin where my theoretical vote would go. It’s also perfection on all points, and it’s one of the most emotional films on here with a strong and relate-able message. It’s also the most approachable film, and has mass appeal. I feel it’s the people’s choice. Time was when it was the front runner, but it’s lost momentum over time.

Vice – I think this pales in the shadow of The Big Short. The buzz is completely mixed for it. While I liked it, I frankly don’t think it’s as strong as most of the rest of the list.

Lead Actor:
My bday is the day after the Oscars, and the one present I want is for Rami Malek to win this race. I’ve been a huge fan of his for a while, but watching this film, he truly became Freddie Mercury. I was blown away each time I saw it. With each precursor award he picks up, he’s increasing his chances. His biggest competition is Christian Bale. Vice got more nominations but both films aren’t universally loved. The Academy may feel bad about snubbing Bradley Cooper for director and reward him here for his best ever performance. But I think the tie breaker between Bale and Malek is going to come down to the fact that Rami has been so graciously accepting awards and putting the spotlight back on Freddie Mercury. I think people would be quicker to indirectly honor him than Dick Cheney. At least, that’s what I hope.

Lead Actress:
I enjoyed McCarthy’s performance most because she made such an unlikeable character sympathetic. Colman had the most technically difficult with such a dense and specific screenplay. Gaga impressed me most by creating this incredibly strong and emotional performance for her debut. Close had the most masterful performance that defined the film. Aparicio’s nomination is her victory. I mostly lean towards Close but would be happy with Gaga or a McCarthy upset.

Supporting Actor:
I’m torn between recognizing the long illustrious career of Sam Elliott or the scene stealing, film defining role of Richard E Grant. But Mahersala Ali’s got the momentum. I’d be more in favor if he hadn’t just won two years ago. And I adore Adam Driver, but he’ll get it one day.

Supporting Actress:
I really want Amy Adams to win. She’s been nominated so many times and always gone home empty handed, that I hoped the next time she got on the list, she’d finally take it. But it’s looking like Regina King is the favorite, which is fair. She does give a powerhouse performance. I’m also bummed that Emily Blunt didn’t make the cut, yet again. Some day, Em, some day.

Director:
I would absolutely love for Spike Lee to win this one. Not just because BlacKkKlansman is my favorite on this list, but because he is a legend and deserves to have won. It’s a travesty that his first nod took him so long. This will likely go to Roma, which I’m okay with on the merits of the film, but generally speaking, I prefer to spread out the awards love over repeat winners. I do also love that Yorgos is nominated for The Favourite. Even if it’s not my favorite of his films, I’m happy he’s gotten the honor.

Animated Feature:
Pixar owns this category with originals, but sequels don’t fare as well. Isle of Dogs has some charm, but I truly hope and believe this will go to Spider-Man into the Spider-verse. The stunning animation is reason enough for it to win. It looks unlike anything we’ve seen in theaters before, and is the first comic book film that truly feels like a comic book. Then there’s the significance of a mixed raced minority superhero in the lead. Add in the hilarious screenplay to seal the deal.

Animated Short:
I’m pretty sure Bao is the only one of these that I’ve seen, but I do like it for a win. The cultural significance plus the emotional impact is a pretty winning combination. Even if one of my coworkers once described it as “A chubby guy eats a marshmallow and cries about it” Yes, I realize there are multiple errors in that statement.

Adapted Screenplay:
BlacKkKlansman was one of my favorite screenplays of the year, based on how it’s funny and dramatic and poignant and important all at once. It’d get my vote. Although I do remember predicting this nod for Can You Ever Forgive me right after I saw it. This could also go to Beale Street since it’s very tricky material to work with, and people may be bummed it didn’t get a Best Picture nod.

Original Screenplay:
This should be Blindspotting. No question that was my fave screenplay of the year, but since it wasn’t nominated, ugh I don’t know. None of these really scream out to me. The Favourite is unique, Green Book is a wonderful story, Vice is creative. I really dont know what to expect on this one.

Cinematography:
As beautiful as Roma and Cold War are, I like The Favourite for this, primarily because of the fisheye shots. Who does that? It adds to the quirkiness of the film, and reenforces the fly-on-the-wall-of-the-palace vibe of the film.

Best Documentary Feature:
I saw Won’t You Be My Neighbor and Three Identical Strangers midway thru 2018, and Free Solo soon before nominations were announced. I figured those three plus RBG and something else would be the nominees, and I was determined to make this the first year I saw this category. Then they were announced and it turns out that I’d have four to watch, so um nevermind that. I do think Free Solo is the likely winner (with Minding the Gap as a potential spoiler). It plays out like an action movie and the cinematography is gorgeous, plus it’s super inspiring. I think it transcends the genre in a way that few docs ever manage to do.

Best Documentary Short Subject:
I got nothing here.

Best Live Action Short Film:
I saw one! A friend who is very in the know with this category told me to watch Fauvre, which was beautifully shot and very intense.

Best Foreign Language Film:
This is one of the easiest to call. Roma. No question. I wish Cold War had come out in a different year because that one is equally deserving.

Film Editing:
I don’t know that one particularly sticks out to me here, but I saw Spike Lee on Jimmy Fallon praising his longtime collaborator Barry Alexander Brown. Lee credited Brown for finding that balance in tone between dramatic and comedic, which is probably what I love most about the film. I’m sold. I guess Vice is also pretty good in this category too, huh.

Sound Editing:
First Man is the type of film that does really well here, but I kinda like the idea of A Quiet Place since sound is such a cornerstone of the film.

Sound Mixing:
Music heavy films tend to do well here, so that’d be either Bohemian Rhapsody or A Star is Born. Then again, sciency things do well too, which would be First Man.

Production Design:
I’m gonna become a broken record by the time we’re doing with the more artistic technical categories, but Black Panther’s got the edge because it’s so unlike anything that’s been nominated before. The way they blend African culture into the superhero world and contemporary society is stunning. I also kinda like Roma here for nailing the 1970s Mexico.

Original Score:
My metric for score is, which one did I notice during the movie and think “oh that sounds good”. The week before nominations were announced I was watching BlacKkKlansman and had that thought. I do also like Blank Panther here for doing something different, but personal preference is Klansman.

Original Song:
Does anyone not expect this to go to the very deserving Shallow? Although Ashes from Deadpool 2 shoulda been nominated too.

Makeup and Hair:
I’d initially called this for Mary Queen of Scots because of the hair primarily. I was so impressed with it. But Vice really does make its cast look like their IRL counterparts. And I expect since Vice has some more weight behind it in terms of nominations, it should take it.“

Costume Design:
Time was when The Favourite would be duking it out with Mary Queen of Scots, since periods pieces tend to reign supreme, but I actually think it’ll go to Black Panther. It’s a good spot to reward the best picture nominee, and I think the blend of culture and fantasy elements make these outfits truly unique and memorable in the long run.

Visual Effects:
I really wanna say Ready Player One, since it was my fave movie of the year and The OASIS did look amazing. It’s got a pretty solid shot too, but I think that this might be the Academy’s chance to recognize Avengers Infinity War, not necessarily for the effects (although the snap effects did become instantly iconic) but more to recognize the magnitude of the film overall.

The Wife

Last bit of Oscar homework. All through awards season, I was hoping this wouldn’t get nominated, because I didn’t wanna see. But Close started to win precursor after precursor, and her nomination seemed a lock. Now her win seems likely. Now I was obligated.

Close plays Joan, the wife to a celebrated author. Her husband has just been informed that he has won the Nobel Prize in literature, and we follow their trip to the ceremony in Stockholm. As we watch this faithful partner holding her husband coat and generally keeping his life in order, we start seeing some resentment coming thru and hints of a longheld secret she’s hiding.

My expectations going in had been tempered. I was told that Close was phenomenal, but the film wasn’t anything too great otherwise. I strongly disagree with that assessment; I was completely floored by it. I walked out of the theater stunned and had to immediately text a friend I’ve been discussing Oscar movies with at length. I think a big reason for the disconnect in opinions is simply because I feel this is a film that will resonate with the ladies more than the men-folk. I picked up on subtleties in her mannerisms and actions that told me where the story was going to go and just hit me so hard. I don’t know that I can really expand on it without giving away major plot points, but simply put I was seething.

And the reason why I felt those emotions so strongly was Close. She said so much with each pointed look she gave, but what really struck me was the way she’d switch emotions on a dime. There were several scenes where she’d shift from screaming to laughing or crying or something completely different but completely believable. And I felt every last one of them.

I do get some of the criticisms about the film as a whole, but Close’s performance was enough to elevate it beyond that. And it just might get her that elusive Oscar

The Wife – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Cold War

More Oscar homework! And I was even more reluctant to see this. An artsy and romantic foreign film? Ugh, do I have to? The foreign and cinematography nods aren’t enough to get me to go, but the director bid is. As much as I complain about these required homework movies, sometimes they’re actually very worth it

Zula and Wiktor meet in post-war Poland, working in a cultural performing group. The two fall madly in love and make a plot to escape the country’s turmoil together. From there, we jump ahead every few years to check in with the couple and where they’re at.

It doesn’t sound like something I’d be into, right? Yet I was. I think it was the performing arts aspect that first drew me in. We begin with lots of rehearsal and auditions putting together the tour that brought them together. I loved watching the dance sequences. As it went on, I was loving the music that played. There’s this one song that keeps coming back throughout the film, slightly different each time, that served as an illustration of their story. It was incredibly effective at heightening the emotional impact.

The story was fast paced and quick. Didn’t linger on anything it didn’t need to, not even on exposition. My movie buddy that saw it with me said that the filmmakers didn’t assume the audience was stupid. They acted as though we’re smart enough to pick up on the small queues of the scenes to fill in the blanks with every jump. It almost became like watching a mystery, trying to piece together what happened in those gaps, but was ultimately so satisfying.

The ending (no spoilers) messed me up so bad. I had a suspicions of what general direction their story would go, but the unexpected execution of it knocked the air out of me.

For all the people who complain that the Academy Awards are total bull and not worth their time, I find it’s worth it to draw attention to films like these. I would have never seen this if it wasn’t for that director nomination. And I’m oh so very glad that I did.

Cold War – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

At Eternity’s Gate

Happens every year. The film that comes out that I really don’t wanna see, and will only go to if it gets a major Oscar nomination. Actually, there’s two of those this year, but today we’re talking about At Eternity’s Gate, which scored a Best Actor nod for Willem Dafoe.

Dafoe plays painter Vincent van Gogh. Today, van Gogh is a highly respected and beloved artist, but that wasn’t the case while he was alive. We look at some of the last days of his life and the struggles he endured to create his work.

Here’s the thing. I really do love a good art musuem (Art Institute in Chicago is my favorite). However, I tend to go thru them pretty quickly. I want to take it all in, and it doesn’t take too long to figure out if I like a painting, and then move on. With few exceptions, I can’t really stare at a painting for hours. I get that’s how some people enjoy their art, but it’s just not my thing.

I say all that, because that’s sort of how this movie felt, like I was staring at a painting for a couple of hours. I could appreciate the beauty of it and the artistic quality, but it’s not really a world I wanted to inhabit for too long. I got bored right away, in need of more narrative action.

Dafoe’s performance was fantastic, and while he wouldn’t have been my choice for that last spot on the shortlist, he’s still a deserving actor. It just wasn’t enough to get me into this film.

At Eternity’s Gate – \m/ \m

Serenity

Ah yes, the January slump. The posts may slow down a bit for the next week or two. Doesn’t mean they’re any less interesting.

By the time this post reaches you, you should have already picked up on the reputation this film has. Everything you’re hearing is true, even though presumably everything you’re hearing is wildly different. It’s kinda terrible, but I kinda really enjoyed it. Some people can’t get thru it, some find it hilarious. I found it suspenseful. I’ve heard comparisons to The Room. It’s def something to experience.

Matthew Mcconaughey is a fisherman on a small island. He takes whatever work he can with his boat that also allows him to chase his Moby Dick–a giant tuna that always eludes him. A mysterious woman from his past, Anne Hathaway in a blonde wig, arrives on his boat and offers him an exorbitant sum if he’ll kill her abusive husband. The film plays out as a sexy modern day film noir, until…

There’s a big twist halfway thru. I won’t say what it is, but it’s common knowledge by now that there is one. That twist is the source of most derision this film is receiving. It sounds dumb when you hear it. It especially sounds dumb out of context. For me, it didn’t fit the tone of the film and completely pulled me out of it. However, I get what they were trying to do. And I think it’s ultimately a cool concept, esp how it plays out, it just didn’t work. The execution was poor, and I’m not sure what they needed to do to fix it. I found that frustrating. Others have found it hilarious.

I’m big into thrillers, so personally I was held in by the suspense. That’s what eventually pulled me back into the film. I wanted to know how it was gonna end and what choices Matthew was gonna make. I was certainly more forgiving of the crazy than others were, at least in the moment. I think this film is gonna be some bizarre Rorschach test because every one I’ve talked to has a completely different reaction to it. Again, it’s just something you gotta experience

Serenity – \m/ \m/ \m/

Glass

Note: No direct spoilers for Glass, but I’ll be freely talking about Split and Unbreakable.

First, there was Unbreakable. We were introduced to Bruce Willis as David Dunn, the sole survivor of a train crash who discovers he has superhuman strength and an aversion to water. The birth of this identity is orchestrated by Samuel L Jackson’s Mr Glass, a supergenius with abnormally brittle bones who believes he has to have a counterpart out there somewhere.

Then came Split. James McAvoy plays the 24 personalities living inside of Kevin Wendell Crumb, including the malevolent Horde, determined to bring victims to The Beast, the being inside Kevin with inhuman abilities.

Now, it all comes together in Glass.

This is a daunting write up to approach. M Night Shyamalan’s work is always so dense, I don’t even know where to start. When you consider that this movie is 19 years in the making, it’s even more epic. I think it was worth the wait.

Dunn has been tracking Crumb, and is closing in on him. But Sarah Paulson’s newcomer psychiatrist isn’t too far behind. She’s already got Glass, and she’s hoping to complete her collection of these extraordinary beings.

Sitting in the Dolby theater with a good buddy of mine, I was eating up every second. I’ve said before that Shyamalan regained his mojo with The Visit, which continued on thru Split, and is still there for Glass. He truly is the master of suspense with the patience of a saint. Where most directors would give in to temptation to break the tension and the give the audience a taste or a jump scare, he continues building it until there really is nowhere to go. Movie buddy kept grabbing my hand and the two of us were stifling so many screams. The experience was unreal.

So were the characters. Before, we’d only had hints of Glass being a villain. His true intentions were under wraps until the big reveal. Now we got to see him go full baddie. It was enough to make me want him to be the victor.

The other incredible performance, once again, James McAvoy. There are no words to adequately express how impressive his performance is, transition from one character to the next at the drop of a hat. And you always knew which character you were seeing. They were that distinct.

For me (and movie buddy, as much as I can speak for him), this movie was incredible. Sure, I could nitpick some stuff at the end, but there was enough greatness thrown in there, that we were blown away. Even if you take off the last 15 minutes, you’ve got an amazing and suspenseful 2 hours. I think that might be one of the points people are missing. The excuse for Unbreakable was often that the world wasn’t ready for superhero movies. We’re certainly ready for them now, but I don’t see this as a superhero movie. I still see it as a horror/suspense. That’s what Night excels at, and that’s what makes this excellent

Glass – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

The Upside

Going straight into it, Bryan Cranston stars as an excentric billionaire who is left paralyzed from the neck down after a paragliding accident (yes, I acklowlege the controversy in casting him over a disabled actor, but that’s a convo for a different day). At a low point, where he feels he has nothing left to lose, he hires the ridiculously unqualified Kevin Hart to be his caretaker. The two form an unexpected and unlikely friendship, and how many times have I written that cheesy line in a write up?

I found this so delightful, as evidenced by the joyful smile on my face throughout the whole time. The pair of actors being brought together are just as unlikely a set as the characters, and they worked beautifully off each other. Cranston has been working his way up my list of fave actors, and this gave him a showcase for both his dramatic and comedic sides. Since I likely won’t be able to make the trip out to NYC to see him on Broadway, it was a a pleasant consolation prize to see him on the big screen (tho I’d still take Network over The Upside, any day)

Kevin Hart was the one who really impressed me though. He’s always been too much, too over the top for me, and I’ve said for a while that I really wanna see him take on something a bit more restrained and down to earth. This was that role! It wasn’t as impressively dramatic as I’m sure he was hoping to prove, but it was a good level of comedy that suited him well. I really do want to see him work more in that space because he excelled at it.

Not bad for a January offering. I wish it didn’t have so many clouds hanging over it (the casting controversy, the release limbo thanks to a certain subhuman producer who shall remain nameless), but it was very much worth going to. Now to get my hands on a copy of the original French film it was based on…

The Upside – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

Free Solo

After loving both Won’t You Be My Neighbor and Three Identical Strangers, I’ve decided to give documentaries a chance. I’m determined to see all of this year’s Oscar nominees in the category. Since January is slow and I’m caught up on new releases, I had to branch out a bit to find something to see. That’s when I noticed Free Solo was still playing. I’d heard some buzz for it, including some imploring to see this on a big screen. This little indie theater wasn’t that big of a screen, but it was still an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Oh man, am I glad I went for it.

So you know that opening sequence from Mission Impossible 2? Free Solo is about Alex Honnold, a professional climber who does that kinda thing for real: climbing without help or safety ropes. Despite all the climbs he’s done around the world, one has always eluded him: El Capitan at Yosemite. No matter how many times he’s climbed it with ropes, he’s never felt ready to free solo it, possibly because no one ever has before. We follow all his training and prep and get inside a head his bit examining his motivations and the way it impacts his relationships with family and friends.

Now I absolutely love that M:i-2 sequence, but it is nothing compared to the intensity of this film. Whodda thunk a doc coulda provided thrills on par with one of the greatest action franchises to date, but it absolutely did. Heart in throat, entire time. I really wish I coulda seen it in IMAX (and apparently if I waited a couple days, I woulda had a chance to), but that might’ve caused an actual heart attack.

Getting to know Alex was as interesting as the climbing. He’s a bit of an enigma. The way he processes fear and this challenge is very different from how most people would (hence why he’s one of the few who attempts these feats).

Anyways my point ultimately is that I’m glad that documentary isn’t such a dirty word to me anymore. There are some great ones out there, and now that I’ve opened up to ’em, I’m psyched to see what else they got

Free Solo – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Escape Room

This movie was inevitable. Escape Rooms are huge. I absolutely love them, even though I’ve only done two (hard to put together group events when you’re an introvert with social anxiety). This one looked like it’d be a total Saw ripoff. While “ripoff” would normally be a negative, I’m actually kinda on board with this. I effing love Saw, and there are two main reasons: I need to know why the players are playing and I love discovering the games. Escape Room promised both. And it delivered both, even if it was a lil watered down

Okay so a group of strangers are brought in to a mysterious escape room location and unleashed on the puzzles. While many escape rooms tend to have some type of “escape with your life” theme, this one appears to be taking that a little far…

About those two points I said I was waiting for? The games were great. While a lot of solving an escape room comes down to “look around and find the thing”, there is a puzzle solving aspect “what do I need to do with the thing”. With this movie, I was able to play along to some extent, at least as far as deciphering the clues and figuring out what objects were used for. That right there was fun enough to make this movie worth it. Sure, there were things I could never possibly solve without being in the (escape) room where it happens, but some of them I could. I may have figured some of them out a lil too quickly, but it was still a blast.

The other point, was why are they playing. There was that underlying mystery running throughout. The answer was a little unsatisfying, but I still liked having it there. The other thing that was unsatisfying was the kills. That was expected tho. Going for mass appeal with a PG-13 rating means that the blood is gonna be left for Jigsaw to handle. At least that was always secondary (actually more like tertiary) in my motivation for watching those.

The one big complaint I’ve been hearing across the board, I gotta agree with: the ending. No spoilers, but it went on too long. And they seem to be trying for franchise glory. That irks me to no end, because you can’t establish a franchise until you’re sure people are into it and you know why they’re into it. This could be a non-starter, and then you just look dumb (I’m looking at you Dark Universe).

Yeah this movie was far from perfect, but it was exactly what I signed up for, and more than you can typically expect from a January release

Escape Room – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

If Beale Street Could Talk

I kinda stalled on this one. I had some excuses, but the truth is I wanted to make sure it was gonna be riding high into awards season before I invested my time in it. I did not expect to like this. I thought it was gonna be pretentious and artsy and while beautifully put together, not all that interesting to me. I thought I already knew what it was gonna try and say and I didn’t need to be bored for two hours as it was all said to me. Boy, was I so wrong about all of it.

The follow up to Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight is about a young African American couple in Harlem in the 70’s. The two have been in love since childhood and are happy to finally start their lives together, or so they think. The young man, Fonny, is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, and soon after fiance Tish finds out she’s pregnant. Tish sets out to try and prove Fonny’s innocence in a world where the entire deck is stacked against them.

I guess there’s one thing I was correct on in my otherwise false assumptions I made about this film. It was absolutely beautiful. Watching it felt like walking thru an art museum for two hours, it was that gorgeous. The colors and the music and the atmosphere all blended together like a stunning painting.

But the real glue that held it together was the relationship between Fonny and Tish. It goes beyond #relationshipgoals. What they had was pure and rare and so very special. They had this trust and intimate understand of each other that I was in awe of. Surely everything had to work out perfectly for them, right?

At some point, the realization hit me that no, it couldn’t possibly work out. Not at this time, not at this place. I won’t spoil how it ends, but partway thru the movie I knew that the ending couldn’t be what I was hoping for. And I was so heartbroken at this realization, moreso than any film in recent memory. My chest felt heavy as I continued to watch it play out.

Now we know I’m more into popcorn movies than prestige ones. This isn’t the type that I’d categorize under “entertainment”. It might not be something I feel the need to see again, but seeing it once was an absolutely worthwhile experience. And the awards buzz it’s earning is warranted.

If Beale Street Could Talk – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n