Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

28 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 12 of 12


Wonder
1 Nomination
  • Makeup & Hairstyling
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Cast: Julia Roberts, Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson, Noah Jupe, Izabela Vidovic, Danielle Rose Russell, Sonia Braga, Nadji Jeter, Daveed Diggs, Millie Davis, Mandy Patinkin, Bryce Gheisar, Elle McKinnon

I love Julia Roberts. I think we should start with that. I am just happy to see her, and I am mostly willing to watch her do absolutely anything. She's just. So. Lovable. I love me some Owen Wilson, too, and the two of them are delightful in this. Wonder is about a kid with facial scarring who is about to start the fifth grade. Roberts and Wilson are the little boy's parents, and the little boy himself is played by Room's breakout star, Jacob Tremblay. As you might imagine, this is a very sentimental film with a lot of heart and a lot of hugs. It's also the kind of movie that is obviously based on a novel. It tries to give us a bunch of different perspectives as a way to disrupt standard narrative structures. All in all, Wonder is fine. You will probably like it if you are a mom. And I am not trying to be dismissive or derisive, but this film is a hug-your-kids-tighter, Hallmark-card, we're-all-beautiful-on-the-inside, if-we-could-only-just-all-be-a-little-nicer-to-one-another kind of thing. It's very well made; it's just not designed with me in mind as its ideal audience member.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #66 out of 84

The Greatest Showman
1 Nomination
  • Song – "This Is Me": Benj Pasek (La La Land) & Justin Paul (La La Land)
Director: Michael Gracey
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seely, Keala Settle, Sam Humphrey, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Byron Jennings, Eric Anderson

Sigh. This is almost impossible to take seriously. It's a musical version of the story of P.T. Barnum (not to be confused with the musical Barnum by Cy Coleman), but it is so different from the actual story of P.T. Barnum and so far removed from the realities of the 19th century that it consistently feels absurd. The movie conveniently leaves out the story of Joice Heth (I was waiting for her!), but it also seems not to take place in the real world at all. Nothing in the film feels the least bit realistic. A central storyline of The Greatest Showman, for example, is that Barnum imports a world-famous opera soprano to the United States. But when she performs for the audience in the U.S., she sings a pop song. The crowd goes wild. It's very strange. I know it's pretend and all, but  I just couldn't get my brain to let go and start pretending along with everyone else. Maybe it's because The Greatest Showman is just a parade of clichés. Barnum has a dream, he leaves behind his wife and children to pursue his dream, he (of course) is focusing too much on work and forgetting the important things in life like "family" and "love" and "friendship" and, like, being a dad. But Barnum learns his lesson, and once he decides to be a family man, the show is (miraculously) better than ever. Still, in terms of music, The Greatest Showman's is fun, and everyone in my theatre department is obsessed with this cover of "Never Enough" by John Pinto Jr.. I am also delighted that Keala Settle will be performing "This Is Me" at the Oscars. It's sure to be a rousing number, and maybe this song will even win.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Song
My Rating: #65 out of 84

Marshall
1 Nomination
  • Song – "Stand Up for Something": Common (Selma) & Diane Warren (The Hunting Ground, Beyond the Lights, Pearl Harbor, Music of the Heart, Armageddon, Con Air, Up Close & Personal, Mannequin)
Director: Reginald Hudlin
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Kate Hudson, Dan Stevens, James Cromwell, Keesha Sharp, Roger Guenveur Smith, Barrett Doss, Derrick Baskin, John Magaro, Jussie Smollett

I quite like Common and Diane Warren's tune "Stand Up for Something". Warren is seemingly nominated every year these days. It is a return to her 1990s glory days when she penned songs that were made into worldwide hits by Céline Dion and Gloria Estefan and LeAnn Rimes and Aerosmith. Overall, this crop of original song nominees is pretty good, to be honest. But Marshall is not. This movie is yet another Hollywood cartoon version of history. This time it's Thurgood Marshall arguing a particular case in Massachusetts as a lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1940. Almost no one in this movie behaves like a real person. We, instead, get caricatures of Thurgood Marshall, Walter Francis White, and Langston Hughes. Thurgood Marshall is basically a superhero in this movie: the coolest person you've ever met, slicker than a movie star, smarter than a Rhodes scholar, with the ability to fight villains like Iron Man. We also get equally silly cartoon versions of white racists in a Northern state, men who can be destroyed easily by a witty comment or the well-timed turn of a fedora. I have become very tired of these glossy, cartoon versions of U.S. American history, particularly stories happening during Jim Crow. I feel beat over the head with them, mostly because they never seem to take history seriously, glossing over the real violence of Jim Crow with an anodyne, rose-colored, PG-13 gaze.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #77 out of 84


Final Predictions:
Best Picture The Shape of Water
Best Director – Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water
Best Actor – Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Best Actress – Frances McDormand, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Adapted Screenplay – James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name
Best Original Screenplay – Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Supporting Actor – Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Supporting Actress – Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Best Film Editing – Lee Smith, Dunkirk
Best Cinematography – Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049
Best Production Design – Paul Denham Austerberry, Jeff Melvin, Shane Vieau, The Shape of Water
Best Original Score – Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread
Best Costume Design – Mark Bridges, Phantom Thread
Best Foreign Language Film – Lebanon, The Insult
Best Visual EffectsWar for the Planet of the Apes
Best Sound Mixing  Dunkirk

Best Sound EditingDunkirk
Best Animated Feature Coco
Best Animated Short Film Lou
Best Live-action Short Film The Eleven O'clock
Best Documentary FeatureFaces/Places
Best Documentary Short Film Heroin(e)
Best Makeup & Hairstyling Darkest Hour
Best Original Song – "Remember Me", Coco

27 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 11 of 12


The Breadwinner
1 Nomination
  • Animated Feature
Director: Nora Twomey
Cast: Saara Chaudry, Soma Bhatia, Noorin Gulamgaus, Laara Siddiq, Ali Badshah, Shaista Latif, Kanza Feris, Kawa Ada

This is a beautiful film, which is what we've come to expect from the studio behind Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells. This one, however, was relentlessly depressing. As I say, the animation is gorgeous, but The Breadwinner never lets up, and yet this movie winds up not actually having much to say about its subject matter. Worse yet, we are told – again and again – that old saw about the power of storytelling. The Breadwinner tells us repeatedly about the magical power of narrative. But saying this over and over doesn't make it any more true. I have grown very tired of this particular bit of sentimental nonsense. Storytelling does not fight the Taliban, as far as I can tell. The little girl in this movie finds courage by retelling old myths, and I think that's just fine, but if that is the takeaway here, I am afraid I need a little more. This movie has much to recommend it – its animation is lovely – but I think I'd rather rewatch Song of the Sea.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #61 out of 84

Loving Vincent
1 Nomination
  • Animated Feature
Cast: Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan, Eleanor Tomlinson, Chris O'Dowd, Bill Thomas, Jerome Flynn, Robin Hodges, John Sessions, Helen McCrory, Aidan Turner, Josh Burdett, Holly Earl

This one is beautiful too! Every frame is a painting. This is a film that was performed by actors and filmed and then has been painted over in the style of Vincent Van Gogh. The film is not a documentary but a narrative feature in which a young man tries to find out what happened to Van Gogh, how he died, and how he lived the last few weeks of his life. So far, so lovely. But the film is stilted and boring, with lots of pauses and without a real care about its mood, its information, or pacing of any kind. It also tells a story that is, by now, fairly well known: that Van Gogh probably did not commit suicide but was instead covering for someone else in order to protect him or her. I've heard this story before, and so the film did not really have any surprises in it for me. All of this led to me being rather bored. I appreciated Loving Vincent for its beauty, and that beauty sustains the picture for its first ten minutes or so, but that is all it can manage.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #62 out of 84

Ferdinand
1 Nomination
  • Animated Feature
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Cast: John Cena, Kate MacKinnon, Peyton Manning, Anthony Anderson, David Tennant, Raúl Esparza, Jeremy Sisto, Bobby Cannavale, Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias, Flula Borg, Sally Phillips, Boris Kodjoe, Juanes, Jerrod Carmichael

Dear lord, we really are scraping the bottom of the barrel, here. I mean, honestly. I get that there was a shortage of good animated films this year, but why not just nominate Coco, Loving Vincent, and The Breadwinner and be done with it? Adding this one and the next one to the mix is embarrassing. Ferdinand, as it turns out, is not a Disney movie. You are thinking of the actual Disney cartoon with a bull who smells flowers that is called Ferdinand. I am not sure how all the rights worked, but this is a 20th Century Fox movie, and it is a computer animated children's movie. As I was watching, I kept thinking how my nephew and niece would laugh at the dumb-ass jokes in Ferdinand. But I mostly did not. There is an honestly hilarious bit when the bull finds himself in a china shop. This sequence is actually inspired, but the rest of the movie is, like, actually preposterous. I don't know how to deal with a movie like this. We're in the real world, or at least we're supposed to be, but then the livestock get on a trolley in Madrid and, like, ride it to an amphitheatre. How? Why? For laughs? I don't get it. I was surprised by how willfully stupid this was. I forget that that's normal for Fox's animated movies. I guess I don't see very many of them. Little baby Ferdinand is adorable as a calf, but mostly I was shaking my head.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #68 out of 84

The Boss Baby
1 Nomination
  • Animated Feature
Director: Tom McGrath
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Miles Bakshi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Steve Buscemi, Tobey Maguire, James McGrath

This is awful, but Alec Baldwin, quite honestly, does save this movie from being a total loss. In December I was telling my father that there were basically zero options for the Animated Feature category. I told him quite seriously that even though The Boss Baby has a 52% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 50 on Metacritic, it would probably be nominated. It's just that there are almost no options this year. (Honestly, they should have nominated Birdboy: the Forgotten Children, but I cannot imagine them nominating something that experimental.) What we see here, then, is that Dreamworks gets a nomination, Fox gets one, Pixar gets one, Disney gets one (if it has a movie), and Cartoon Saloon or Studio Ghibli get one. But I think this helps us predict for the future of these five slots. Turns out, even when Dreamworks and Fox make really bad movies, they have enough folks in the animation branch to push them through. So we, embarrassingly, have The Boss Baby and Ferdinand nominated. Neither of these films will win, so I guess we should be grateful for that. But this whole thing is a mess.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #78 out of 84

25 February 2018

Song of the South

Song of the South (1946) is pretty adorable with some great songs.

It is, of course, also a minstrel show, and as always with those, Song of the South reimagines slavery as a happy affair with everyone in his happy place – or laughing place, as this film would have it.

Detroit

There was a lot that I liked about Detroit, but despite having lots of things going for it, doesn't really work after its first act. The script, by Mark Boal, has a lot of problems, but Kathryn Bigelow's direction is just stellar, and Detroit has some great performances in it, too.

The screenplay is just all over the place. It can't focus for long enough to do the work it needs to do. Then when it does focus (in its second act) it is far too focused on black suffering to get its point across. The whole thing winds up feeling exploitative after a while, as though it is attempting to take pleasure in the violence it shows. It seems to me that this was plainly not the goal of the film, and the way the film is set up, it appears to be trying to do something else, but as Detroit hones in on its second act torture-fest, it also leaves behind the very intelligent analysis it had been doing in act one. And this is a very serious flaw.

I want also to go on record that I am not sure I understand filmmakers' interest in John Boyega. He has yet to be interesting in a movie, as far as I can tell. He is incredibly boring in this movie. But Jacob Latimore, Algee Smith, and Anthony Mackie are all absolutely great. And I loved Jason Mitchell. He is superb in this.

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 10 of 12

Back to Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7, Part 8, or Part 9.

War for the Planet of the Apes
1 Nomination
  • Visual Effects
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller, Terry Notary, Ty Olsson, Michael Adamthwaite, Toby Kebbell, Gabriel Chavarria, Judy Greer

Such squandered potential. This movie looks very cool and the first two movies in the series were very cool, but this one overdoes every scene, overplays every hand, and is all around just extra. I think I would be ok with this if it weren't a melodrama, So what ends up happening is that most of what it overdoes is feelings. We have evil villains, we're shown that the alt-right is evil and racist, and every ounce of feeling is milked out of us while a tiny white girl-child looks at us with tears in her eyes. For me this fell flat. There are five options for the visual effects Oscar. The Star Wars movie seems to me the most likely winner – Shape of Water didn't get one, despite its 13 nominations – but I suppose if that one doesn't win, this one will, and last year's winner (The Jungle Book) was a lot like this one: computer-animated animals.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Visual Effects
My Rating: #62 out of 82

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
1 Nomination
  • Visual Effects
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan

I hate to criticize this film for the same thing as I criticized War for the Planet of the Apes, but I was also mostly bored with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. This is a shame. The first one was so good, that I suppose such a thing is easy to replicate. But this one felt like a great confused mess to me, and instead of Chris Pratt fucking up and getting into trouble, this is about him, like, finding himself and learning his origins or somesuch business. There are so many feelings in this movie. This is just unnecessary! Tell us some jokes, blow some things up, have baby Groot dance. Why take things so seriously? Normally I am really into father–son narratives, but I found this one silly. Vol 2. does have some cool setpieces, and whenever we were in full fight mode I was usually enjoying myself, but I think this movie mostly just returns us to the usual Marvel, it's-almost-the-end-of-the-world-if-only-we-could-save-it formula. This is better than Apes, certainly, but not by much.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #55 out of 82

Kong: Skull Island
1 Nomination
  • Visual Effects
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Toby Kebbell, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Tian Jing, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann

This is the one that deserves to win. It is so much better than the other nominees (including Star Wars and Blade Runner). I really really liked this movie, and I know, I know, it's a King Kong movie, but this one is excellent. Obviously, I love monster movies, and this one gives us monster after monster after monster, but it also does this really well, and it is has some interesting themes to boot. I can't recommend this enough, and although I know it won't win on March 4th, I'll be rooting for it.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #19 out of 82

22 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 9 of 12 (Animated Short Films)

Back to Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7, or Part 8.

Lou
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: Dave Mullins

This is cute, but doesn't really make very much sense. The gist is basically that a magical force (which the film calls Lou) collects lost things from a playground and puts them all in a lost and found box so that when the kids come back to play during a break from classes, all the toys are there. This same force teaches a bully–thief a lesson. This had one or two good jokes, and I liked those, but mostly this is sentimental and too buys teaching lessons for me to care. And I still don't really understand the physic of the film's world. It moves along with a kind of logic for a while, but then it abandons that same logic by its end. This is fine, but most of the other films are so much better. This one, however, is a Pixar film, so it will probably win.
Will Win: Live-action Short Film
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #4 out of 5

Negative Space
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: Ru KuwahataMax Porter
Cast: Albert Birney

Negative Space is a beautiful film. The stop-motion animation is extremely clever, moving back and forth between interiors and dreamworlds with imaginative ease. The film's story is very simple – a quiet, poetic remembrance of a man's father – through packing suitcases, but it moves toward a beautiful emotional ending that I found just lovely. (Incidentally, I read somewhere else that someone thought the ending moment was a laugh-line or a joke. I certainly didn't think so.) Packing a travel bag is a way of deciding what is important and making sure everything fits inside. This is a film about wasting space (and time), about filling our suitcases with as many items as possible, and filling our lives with time spent with loved ones.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Live-action Short Film
My Rating: #3 out of 5

Dear Basketball
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: Glen Keane
Cast: Kobe Bryant

This was the first film on the program, and I was not ready for it to affect me so emotionally, but it sure did. Dear Basketball is a sweet film about Kobe Bryant. He writes a love letter to basketball, thanking it for what it did for his life as a very small boy, and saying goodbye to it because his body can no longer handle the physical strain of continuing to play the sport. I found this deeply emotional, and I don't really like basketball all that much at all and really know nothing about Kobe Bryant's career except that he's been with the Lakers a long time. But this movie paints a portrait of basketball as something that can lift a life out of unhappiness and give it purpose. The film moves back and forth between an adult Bryant a little boy Kobe, who is shooting basketballs made of rolled-up socks into wastepaper baskets. It's short and beautiful and profound, and I loved it.

Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Live-action Short Film
My Rating: #2 out of 5

Revolting Rhymes: Part One
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Cast: Dominic West, Tamsin Greig, Rose Leslie, Gemma Chan, Rob Brydon, Bertie Carvel, David Walliams

This is a reimagining of a set of three fairy tales – Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, The Three Little Pigs – that is narrated by a wolf, played by Dominic West (whom I love, obviously). This is also the most substantial of the five films; it's much longer than the others and there are a good deal more actors in this one, so it feels more accomplished. But I must confess I found myself bored. These kinds of reimaginings of fairy tales seem tired to me. Wolves are good guys, pigs are thieves, girls turn out to be lesbians. Fine. But this does not strike me as surprising or imaginative. These are clever twists rather than interesting storytelling. Still, the fact that this is my least favorite of the five indicates that these five are quite good.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #5 out of 5

Garden Party
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film

This film is my favorite. It is a dark, dark comedy about frogs throwing a party (perhaps unwittingly?) in the mansion of what looked to me like some kind of Floridian mob boss or drug dealer. The animation is gorgeous, the jokes are hilarious, but even better, this is a little film about the animal and vegetable kingdoms taking over after something has happened to mankind. I appreciated its unsentimental qualities. I laughed out loud at the jokes. I loved it.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #1 out of 5

20 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 8 of 12 (Foreign Language Films)


The Insult (ضية رقم ٢٣)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Lebanon
Director: Ziad Doueiri
Cast: Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud, Rita Hayek, Julia Kassar, Talal Jurdi, Christine Choueiri

I found this movie very frustrating. It's not bad, per se, and it is totally something the Academy will like, but I had a lot of trouble with it. The movie follows the Asghar Farhadi structure, where something small happens, and then things get more and more complicated from there, spinning out of control. But in The Insult, one party is clearly in the wrong, and so what is obvious from the start is that one person is trying to be reasonable and the other one is being unreasonable, racist, and hateful. But Doueiri's film follows this hateful, unreasonable racist guy! I couldn't understand it. I was never on the protagonist's side throughout the film. The reason I think this is going to win is that The Insult traffics in a sentimentalism that the Academy tends to like; The Insult imagines everyone in Lebanon as traumatized (I don't object to this, per se), but then it imagines that political strife and material and economic problems can be solved through emotional release and psychotherapeutic airings of differences. It's the kind of thing lots of filmmakers like, because they want to believe that emotional release (which is what films have to offer) can create political action. I rather disliked this movie.
Will Win: Foreign Language Film
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #65 out of 82

The Square
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Sweden (A Man Called Ove, As It Is in Heaven, Evil, Under the Sun, All Things Fair, The Ox, The Flight of the Eagle, Fanny and Alexander, The New Land, The Emigrants, Ådalen '31, Dear John, Raven's End, Through a Glass Darkly, The Virgin Spring)
Director: Ruben Östlund
Cast: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Terry Notary, Dominic West, Christopher Læssø, Elijandro Edouard, Annica Liljeblad

Brilliant. Hilarious. One of the best movies of the year. And maybe it will even win this award. Because The Square is so funny, and because it is so critical of society, though, I think it might be a bit of a tougher sell than it should be. Last year's hilarious comedy, Toni Erdmann, ended up not taking home the trophy it deserved, and actually the Academy has not been super affectionate to Ruben Östlund in the past, failing to nominated his brilliant movie Force Majeure in 2015. I am still going to hold out hope that it will win. It certainly deserves to do so.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Foreign Language Film
My Rating: #3 out of 82

Una Mujer Fantastica (A Fantastic Woman)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Chile (No)
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Cast: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim, Nicolás Saavedra, Amparo Noguera, Sergio Hernández

Another selection I only barely liked. I liked this movie even less than The Insult, honestly. It's about a trans woman whose lover dies, but the central performance – which has been praised by every critic out there – is stiff and wooden and downright strange. I have already discussed this movie here, so I won't go into it further, but I think Sebastián Lelio should stick to comedies. The comedic sequences in A Fantastic Woman work really well; it's the serious drama that doesn't. Still, this has the potential to win, I think. Daniela Vega is going to be a presenter at the Oscars, and people are clearly taken by the actress and her film. All of this is a bit of a shame, I feel. There were two African finalists for these nominations – John Trengove's The Wound and Alain Gomis's Félicité – that are both better than A Fantastic Woman. I would have liked to see either of these films here instead of this one. Sigh.

Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Foreign Language Film
My Rating: #69 out of 82

Loveless (Нелюбовь)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Russia (Leviathan, 12, The Thief, Prisoner of the Mountains, Burnt by the Sun, Close to Eden)
Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Cast: Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rosin, Matvey Novikov, Aleksey Fateev, Marina Vasileva, Andris Keyshs, Anna Gulyarenko, Natalya Potapova, Maksim Solopov, Artyom Zhigulin

I loved this movie. It is terrifying and cold and very, very sad, so it's not like I'm going to recommend this to everyone, but this is a great movie. In fact, I haven't seen an Andrey Zvyagintsev movie in the last ten years that didn't absolutely blow me away. This is a director at the absolute top of his game. He is a brilliant cultural critic and a keen observer of modern life. I love this man's work. Anything he makes is a must-see, as far as I'm concerned. So I take it back. I said I wasn't going to recommend this, but everyone should see this. Loveless is not just a movie about Russia, either, it's about the U.S. just as much as it is about Russia. It's chilly and hard to handle at times, but it is absolutely right on, it's wickedly smart, and I loved it.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #5 out of 82

Testről és Lélekről (On Body and Soul)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Hungary (Son of Saul, Hanussen, Colonel Redl, Revolt of Job, Mephisto, Confidence, Hungarians, Catsplay, The Boys of Paul Street)
Director: Ildikó Enyedi
Cast: Géza Morcsányi, Alexandra Borbély, Zoltán Schneider, Ervin Nagy, Tamás Jordán, Zsuzsa Járó

This movie is conveniently available on Netflix now, which is quite nice of everyone involved. This is a quirky love story with a very socially awkward woman and an older man. The Academy loves movies like this, but I don't think I do. Socially awkward people make me feel strange and frustrated. There was plenty I liked in the movie, though. The dream sequences are gorgeous, and we spend time with these two beautiful deer in the middle of some amazing forest. I loved every time we were in a dream sequence (I would have spent more time there, if I had my druthers). And Ervin Nagy gives a good performance as a misunderstood worker. I also loved that the film is set in a slaughterhouse: the film's portrayal of the slaughterhouse and the detail with which it shows us what happens in the slaughterhouse are engaging and beautiful. But thematically, I am not sure how all of those things go together. The film is focused on its quirkiness more than it is on making the connections between the abattoir, the deer in the forest, the two lovers, and the psychology of it all. It just felt a bit confused to me.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: Unranked (2018 release)

18 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 7 of 12 (Live-action Short Films)

Back to Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, or Part 6.

The Eleven O'clock
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Derin Seale
Cast: Josh Lawson, Damon Herriman, Jessica Donoghue, Eliza Logan

This is cute, and it's the only comedic film in the bunch, so I don't really see how it can lose. The joke is that a psychiatrist has a patient who believes that he is a psychiatrist. Hilarity and confusion ensue. It's written like a clever little David Ives play, and its single joke works three or four times – if not the ten or twelve times that the filmmakers want it to work, but as I say, this is a successful little thing, if slight.
Will Win: Live-action Short Film
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #3 out of 5

The Silent Child
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Chris Overton
Cast: Rachel Shenton, Maisie Sly, Rachel Fielding, Anna Barry, Philip York, Sam Rees, Annie Cusselle

This is a very serious film about deaf children who are born to hearing parents and who are then left to fend for themselves at school, trained to read lips instead of learn sign language, etc. The filmmaking here is really excellent, and the acting is also quite good, but the film has something to say and so, while it promises intriguing plot developments at one point, The Silent Child ends up being a public service announcement that doesn't get under the skin and might as well be an essay or an article in the New York Times. This film has noble sentiments behind it, but as a film it's a clunker. Which obviously means, I think it is the runner up for the Oscar. It tugs at the heartstrings just enough to be the other real contender for the trophy on March 4.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Live-action Short Film
My Rating: #4 out of 5

Watu Wote: All of Us
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Katja Benrath
Cast: Adelyne Wairimu, Abdiwala Farrah, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Saada Mohammed, Mahad Ahmed, Charles Karumi

I liked this movie. This one, like The Silent Child, is trying to do a kind of public service announcement, bring-awareness-to-an-issue kind of thing. This is not good, but Watu Wote: All of Us is much more successful in doing what it's trying to do. Set on a bus between Nairobi and Somalia, the plot involves a Christian woman who hates Muslims and who learns a lesson when the bus is attacked by Al-Shabaab militiamen.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Live-action Short Film
My Rating: #2 out of 5

My Nephew Emmett
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Kevin Wilson Jr.
Cast: L.B Williams, Jasmine Guy, Dane Rhodes, Joshua Wright, Chris Steele, Ethan Leaverton, Dorian Davis

This is a movie about Emmett Till, but I wish it were also a good movie about Emmett Till. The filmmaker shoots the story beautifully, and he tries to give us a sense of the terror of life under Jim Crow, but instead My Nephew Emmett feels slow and, frankly, boring. Wilson knows we know what is about to happen, and so he spends time building up to the violent finish. This strikes me as an odd choice, especially considering the fracas surrounding the Dana Schutz painting at the Whitney Biennial this year. What many artists and other complained about, in regard to Schutz's (extraordinary) painting, is that reveling in black suffering and black pain is insensitive and perhaps unnecessary. I am not sure I agree in total with this line of thinking, but it was certainly running through my head as I watched Kathryn Bigelow's recent Detroit, and I was thinking about it again while I watched My Nephew Emmett. The main problem, however, with Wilson's film is that the lead actor, L.B. Williams, gives a decidedly odd performance, one that struck me as inept and just slightly off the entire time. Then again, this film also stars Jasmine Guy (!), and it might be worth watching just for her.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #5 out of 5

DeKalb Elementary
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Reed Van Dyk
Cast: Shinelle Azoroh, Bo Mitchell, Del Hunter-White, Cain Thomas

This is definitely my favorite of the five films. DeKalb Elementary is about an active shooter situation at an elementary school in Georgia. This film is superbly made. It builds tension perfectly, and even though the story is mostly simple, Van Dyk scares us over and over again, and we feel the terror of the situation acutely. I watched this movie in rapt attention. And Shinelle Azoroh, who plays the film's main character, is excellent. I don't think this movie will win; it's too good, really, and too serious to compete with the more audience-friendly films on the list. But this one is the best of the five.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #1 out of 5

The Untamed


Forget The Shape of Water. This is the real sex-with-sea-monsters movie. Except that La Región Salvaje (The Untamed) is creepy and troubling and also actually quite sexy. I am not sure I love the filmmaking here—it's a little flat sometimes—but this movie had lots of surprises in store for me. And I loved that. Also, this movie goes there. It waits until act three to really let us see what we've been imagining, but once we're in act three, The Untamed lets loose. Simone Bucio, the main actress in The Untamed, it should be noted, is excellent.

The Ornithologist


The Ornithologist is beautiful and creepy and strange and super gay and filled with religious imagery. (The photography that opens the movie is truly stunning.) This film is supposed to be a kind of travesty or perverse reading of the story of St. Anthony of Padua. I didn't really understand much of this St. Anthony stuff, and wikipedia was no help at all, but I still liked this. It's so fucking weird.

17 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 6 of 12

Back to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, or Part 5.

Logan
1 Nomination
  • Adapted Screenplay: Scott Frank (Out of Sight) & Michael Green & James Mangold
Director: Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook, Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal, Quincy Fouse, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Richard E. Grant

The absolute best X-men movie we've ever had. I cannot believe this got an Oscar nomination, but goddammit it deserves this. The strongest component of Logan is, of course, its script, which is smart and poignant and (actually) quite moving. But the quality that makes Logan stand out from other X-men movies specifically and other superhero movies in general is that this superhero movie is rated R. The R rating made Logan into what it is. We've never seen Wolverine's claws wreak the bloody havoc they wreak in this movie. We've never seen the pain that Logan feels, the agony he experiences as bullets rip through his flesh, before. Mangold's willingness to do this, to go there – as well as Fox's willingness to allow this – elevates the level of the film to the level of something important. This isn't a stupid action movie where no one gets hurt. In this film, people are bodies. They get wounded, they hurt, they break apart. It's not only an ethical move for a superhero movie, it also makes for great storytelling. This is one of my favorite movies of the year.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #16 out of 81

The Big Sick
1 Nomination
  • Original Screenplay: Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Cast: Nanjiani, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Zoe Kazan, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler, David Alan Grier

This is funny and romantic and I really liked it. I am really happy it got this nomination, too, because the entire enterprise is cute and very funny. Holly Hunter is also excellent in the movie. I can recommend this to everyone. I don't think there's anyone who won't like this movie. It isn't going to win the Oscar, but this nomination is great news for Nanjiani's career.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #23 out of 81

The Florida Project
1 Nomination
  • Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe (Shadow of the Vampire, Platoon)
Director: Sean Baker
Cast: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Dafoe, Christopher Rivera, Aiden Malik, Valeria Cotto, Mela Murder, Josie Olivo, Caleb Landry Jones

Ugh. I have already detailed my experience with this film, which I so wanted to be good. But The Florida Project is not good, and I have, frankly, been completely baffled by the love that so many American critics have shown this shallow, meaningless movie. Sean Baker is a filmmaker that deliberately tries to avoid saying anything, and so his movies finally provide no insight into the characters he has created. I felt this with Tangerine and it is true again with The Florida Project. I am an empathetic person, and so I find this entire enterprise incredibly frustrating. It's just all so shallow, and actually it begins to feel sort of hostile after a while. The more that I think about how The Florida Project works, the more I feel as though it is contemptuous of its intriguing characters. But I guess I am supposed to be talking about Willem Dafoe... Dafoe is excellent in this movie, and not only because he is an actor among non-actors doing excellent work (he also has a superb scene with Caleb Landry Jones, who is an actor and is also in Three Billboards). Dafoe's characterization is beautiful and humane and I would be totally pleased if he won the Oscar for this. But fuck this movie.

Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Supporting Actor
My Rating: #76 out of 81

All the Money in the World
1 Nomination
  • Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer (Beginners, The Last Station)
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Plummer, Romain Duris, Charlie Plummer, Timothy Hutton

This film is surprisingly slow, and I am not sure I understand what it is trying to do. I think that's because this movie isn't quite sure what it is trying to do. Is this a meditation on wealth and greed, and perhaps on how being totally greedy keeps one from having real feelings toward family or real relationships with those one supposedly loves? Or is this an action-movie-slash-heist-movie about a kidnapping and rescue. As it turns out, All the Money in the World does both of these things halfway, and doesn't do either of them very well. Michelle Williams spends the whole movie doing a kind of Natalie-Portman-in-Jackie accent that – even if it's accurate – sounds stilted and strange and made me doubt her sincerity. Mark Wahlberg is completely and totally miscast, like a bull in a strange china shop. And then there is the Kevin Spacey–Christopher Plummer debacle (or is it a saga?). Plummer is fine in the part, but the ghost of Kevin Spacey, who was fired while the movie was in post-production, haunts this whole enterprise. It would feel like more of a triumph if the movie were any good, but it's mostly not.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #68 out of 81

15 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 5 of 12

Back to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 4.

Coco
2 Nominations
  • Animated Feature
  • Song – "Remember Me": Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen) & Robert Lopez (Frozen)
Director: Lee Unkrich
Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Jaime Camil, Alfonso Arau, Herbert Sigüenza

This is easily the best animated feature of the year (I'll talk more about the scraping of the bottom of the barrel that this year's nominations are in another post). But, don't let the lack of competition fool you. Coco is actually brilliant. It may look like a retread of The Book of Life; it's not. This movie is breathtakingly gorgeous, vividly imagined, and the story is told beautifully. The songs are lovely, the acting is wonderful, and I cried several times. There was a moment in the middle of the movie when Miguel, the young protagonist, has his guitar taken from him by his abuela, and I reacted so strongly and violently that I realized I was completely in love with Coco, and that was before little Miguel reached the land of the dead and I realized that this was going to be the most finely realized Pixar movie yet. The animation is stunning. This is in my top ten films of the year. It's better than The Shape of Water; it's better than Three Billboards; it's better than Lady Bird; it's better than Get Out. And it deserves to win both of the Oscars for which it is nominated.
Will Win: Animated Feature, Song
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #9 out of 80

Roman J. Israel, Esq.
1 Nomination
  • Actor: Denzel Washington (Fences, Flight, Training Day, The Hurricane, Malcolm X, Glory, Cry Freedom)
Director: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Washington, Carmen Ejogo, Colin Farrell, Lynda Gravátt, Amanda Warren, Tony Plana, Hugo Armstrong, Amari Cheatom, DeRon Horton, Sam Gilroy, Ludwig Manukian

This isn't terrible, honestly. Denzel is quite excellent, and I'm glad he got nominated (especially since I pregamed this movie), but this movie has serious script problems. I rather liked it for much of its running time, and watching Washington make the acting moves he makes is very interesting. As I said in my longer review, he is constantly surprising, and the part is really different from parts he usually plays these days, but I think that is really the only selling point this movie might have. It is a clunkily told story about ethics in Los Angeles that can't quite ever seem to focus on its themes because it is too obsessed with its plot – a plot which is not as well thought-out as it might have been in the first place. Washington can't win this year, even though most people agree he was a close runner-up to last year's award. He'll need to be part of a movie more widely loved in order to win this trophy again, but this nomination is well-deserved.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #45 out of 80

Molly's Game
1 Nomination
  • Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball, The Social Network)
Director: Sorkin
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O'Dowd, Bill Camp, Angela Gots, Brian d'Arcy James, J.C. MacKenzie

I thought this worked really well and I liked it a lot. It moves quickly and with purpose, and it only gets slowed down twice. (There's a stupid sequence in which we learn about Molly using drugs and another slow sequence in which she heals from a violent attack. Both of these sequences break the contract the narrator and filmmaker have made with the audience.) But actually – and this surprised me – I thought Sorkin's direction was mostly great. This is perhaps not too surprising, and it is also true that this film might have been better with a more experienced director reining him in at certain times, but I confess that I like this snappy Sorkin dialogue, and if I wasn't completely on board with the film's ethical arguments (which quote Arthur Miller directly), I had fun at this movie. It felt like a window into something I know nothing about, and the lightness of the whole thing was amusing throughout.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #31 out of 80

The Disaster Artist
1 Nomination
  • Adapted Screenplay: Michael H. Weber & Scott Neustadter
Director: James Franco
Cast: Franco, Dave Franco, Zac Efron, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Ari Graynor, Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, Megan Mullally

I've written about this film and its drawbacks already, so I won't rehearse all that again. What I didn't say is that this film does feel like a kind of extension of Franco's work. I think Franco is building a kind of film directing oeuvre that makes sense, or at least he is making films that hang together in some way. The Disaster Artist is, in many ways, very similar to Interior. Leather Bar., for example. Mostly, though, I think The Disaster Artist falls short of what it could have been. It doesn't explore Tommy Wiseau deeply enough to be really interesting, and it is too busy laughing at him to get under his skin. Is Wiseau gay? Is Wiseau an obsessive? Is he clueless? In love? Terrified? Desperate? Who is this dude? It isn't enough to say "no one knows", but that is what this film chooses to do.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #55 out of 80

13 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 4 of 12

Back to Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.

Baby Driver
3 Nominations
  • Film Editing: Jonathan Amos & Paul Machliss
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jaime Foxx, Eiza González, CJ Jones, Jon Bernthal

This is the year's best musical – I think we can all agree on that – and it works very well and deserves all three of its nominations. Maybe it will even win one or two of them? The Academy has been much better about these categories lately, giving a very deserved film editing Oscar to Tom Cross for Whiplash just three years ago. The year after that the Oscar went to Mad Max: Fury Road, and last year it went, not to Moonlight or La La Land but to Hacksaw Ridge. So who knows. Maybe Baby Driver will win an Oscar. Somehow I don't think so, though. I don't think the movie will play well to most Academy voters (it's so young and hip and smug), and it also has the currently-anathema Kevin Spacey in a very large role.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
My Rating: #30 out of 79

The Post
2 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Actress: Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins, Into the Woods, August: Osage County, The Iron Lady, Julie & Julia, Doubt, The Devil Wears Prada, Adaptation., Music of the Heart, One True Thing, The Bridges of Madison County, Postcards from the Edge, A Cry in the Dark, Ironweed, Out of Africa, Silkwood, Sophie's Choice, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Kramer vs. Kramer, The Deer Hunter)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Sarah Paulson, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Cross

Sigh. Meryl Streep again. The Academy does this every year. This year, however, she deserves her nomination, even if she didn't deserve the last three. There is plenty to say about The Post, too. It's the Best Picture nominee with the least number of nominations, which means it was passed over in the Screenplay category, editing, other acting slots, and direction. I liked The Post a lot, but I think this is still the right decision. The film feels slightly unfinished, as though it was rushed into production and rushed (ahem) in post. It's a Spielberg picture, too, so it is mostly interested in feelings and not really invested in interrogating the material problems of the press's relationship with the U.S. government or the press's relationship to the public. Instead, Spielberg zooms in on his characters' emotional journeys, giving short shrift to intellectual exploration of any kind. And then he tacks on (as usual) an extra ending. The film can't just end once; it has to end a second time with an on-the-nose Watergate reference that anyone could see a mile away. Since this film has only two nominations, Best Picture and Best Actress, this is a good place to talk about something I noticed about this year's Best Picture nominees. Normally, commentators (correctly) note that Best Picture is generally linked very closely with Best Actor. But this year, the film's are split evenly: four films (Three Billboards, Lady Bird, Shape of Water, The Post) are nominated for both Best Picture and Best Actress, and four films (Phantom Thread, Get Out, Call Me by Your Name, Darkest Hour) are nominated for both Best Picture and Best Actor. No film shares a Best Actor and a Best Actress nominee this year. I am not sure this is a trend or anything, but I think it is worth noting.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #20 out of 79

Beauty and the Beast
2 Nominations
  • Production Design: Sarah Greenwood (Darkest Hour, Anna Karenina, Sherlock Holmes, Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) & Katie Spencer (Darkest Hour, Anna Karenina, Sherlock Holmes, Atonement, Pride & Prejudice)
  • Costume Design: Jacqueline Durran (Darkest Hour, Mr. Turner, Anna Karenina, Atonement, Pride & Prejudice)
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan MacGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nathan Mack, Hattie Morahan

I hated at least six movies this year, and we could add to that another ten or eleven that I didn't like very much. But no movie this year was as useless as this Bill Condon mess, which is easily the year's worst musical while also being a complete waste of time. In the first place, this movie is simply a rehash of a film that is, if 25 years old, very very popular and widely remembered. In the second place, Condon brings absolutely nothing new to this remake. It is, to put it quite simply the same movie, with just a few things that are different – or rather they're out of place. I remember the original film so well, that anything that doesn't copy the original feels wrong, as though I am watching a nicely done but slightly off community theatre production of a play whose every word I've had memorized for twenty years. In the third place, they've treated Emma Watson's voice, which makes her singing sound strange and artificial. (What is the point of doing a live action movie if you're not going to let your actors sing?) In the fourth place, is this film even live action? Just like last year's Jungle Book, there's so much CGI in Beauty and the Beast that I can't imagine why anyone is bothering with this at all. (The number "Be Our Guest" is animated in its entirety, as far as I can tell.) The questions abound. Why is Audra McDonald using an Italian accent? Why is Lumiere's lover some kind of bird creature? Why is Emma Watson so bad in this? Why isn't Ewan McGregor Jerry Orbach? Why isn't Emma Thompson Angela Lansbury? (Thank goodness Céline Dion is still Céline Dion.) Poor Luke Evans, who I really really want to be in a good movie sometime soon, does a very good job trying to keep this movie afloat, but Beauty and the Beast sinks all the same. What a cynical, colossal waste of time!

Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Production Design
My Rating: #79 out of 79

Victoria and Abdul
2 Nominations
  • Costume Design: Consolata Boyle (Florence Foster Jenkins, The Queen)
  • Makeup & Hairstyling
Director: Stephen Frears
Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Tim Piggot-Smith, Michael Gambon, Adeel Akhtar, Paul Higgins, Olivia Williams, Fenella Woolgar, Julian Badham, Robin Soans, Simon Callow, Ruth McCabe

The only thing I want to say about these two nominations is to brag about having successfully pregamed this movie. I don't think it can win either of these two Oscars and I don't think it should. I didn't think much of Victoria and Abdul, and I can't really figure out who likes things like this. I found the whole thing to be a kind of bizarre love letter to the British colonialism of India. But good for Consolata Boyle. I am glad she has gotten her third nomination, in any case.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #68 out of 79