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

22 February 2019

Oscar Nominations 2019: Part 11 of 11 & Final Predictions


A Quiet Place
1 Nomination
  • Sound Editing
Director: John Krasinski
Cast: Emily Blunt, Krasinksi, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cade Woodward, Evil Aliens

This is harmless and tight, but it is certainly not a reinvention of the genre. In fact, A Quiet Place is quite the opposite of a reinvention, referencing numerous films as it goes along. This film would not have been possible without the genre it supposedly reinvents. I found this to be more of a set of quotations than a real movie, if I'm honest, and it contains some really serious plot holes and clunky exposition. Still, I love monsters in movies, and this one has a really cool-looking bunch of monsters. I was into that, and rather enjoyed myself.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #41 out of 71

Gräns (Border)
1 Nomination
  • Makeup & Hairstyling
Director: Ali Abbasi
Cast: Eva Melander, Eero Milonoff, Jörgen Thorsson, Ann Petrén, Stan Ljunggren, Kjell Wilhelmsen, Rakel Wärmländer, Andreas Kundler, Matti Boustedt, Tomas Åhnstrand, Josefin Neldén, Henrik Johansson, Ibrahim Faal

This is an audacious, exciting movie that I completely loved. It was Sweden's submission for the Foreign Language Picture Oscar, but it didn't make the shortlist, and it was not nominated in that category. There are lots of reasons for this, one of them being the explicit sexuality of this film and the true discomfort that this film has the ability to generate. I cannot wait to talk about this film with other people who have seen it. It's a weird, weird movie, and you would do well to go into it completely blind, knowing nothing more than that I'm telling you I loved it. (Of course, me telling you that it is super weird and that I loved it should mean for many of you that you ought to stay away.) This is a really, really smart film, despite its ostensible generic trappings. Oh, did I mention that this movie is also really sexy? It's really sexy, although after you see it you'll probably think I'm very strange for saying so.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #10 out of 71

RBG
1 Nomination
  • Song – "I'll Fight": Diane Warren (Marshall, The Hunting Ground, Beyond the Lights, Pearl Harbor, Music of the Heart, Armageddon, Con Air, Up Close & Personal, Mannequin)

This was a sweet little piece of hagiography, and I am inclined to believe in Ginsburg's sainthood. As a film this isn't really interesting, but it was nice to learn more about Ginsburg's early years of marriage and the way she put her husband through law school while he was battling cancer while also doing her own work in law school. What an impressive human being! As for Diane Warren, she had about 15 years where she was not nominated all, after being nominated year after year in the 1990s. Well, now she's back and she gets nominated almost every year. She will have to lose yet again (her 10th nomination without a win) this year because her old writing partner from The Hunting Ground, Lady Gaga, is going to win. Maybe next year, Diane.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: Not Ranked

Final Predictions:
Actor in a Leading Role: Christian Bale, Vice
Actor in a Supporting Role: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Actress in a Leading Role: Glenn Close, The Wife
Actress in a Supporting Role: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Animated Feature Film: Spider-man: into the Spider-verse
Animated Short Film: Bao
Cinematography: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Costume Design: Sandy Powell, The Favourite
Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma 
Documentary Feature Film: Minding the Gap
Documentary Short Subject: End Game
Film Editing: Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman
Foreign Language Film: Mexico, Roma
Live-action Short Film: Detainment
Makeup & Hairstyling: Vice
Music - Original Song: Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando & Andrew Wyatt, A Star Is Born
Music - Original Score: Marc Shaiman, Mary Poppins Returns
Production Design: Eugenio Caballero & Bárbara Enríquez, Roma
Sound Editing: Black Panther
Sound Mixing: A Star Is Born
Visual Effects: First Man
Writing - Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Writing - Original Screenplay: Deborah David, Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Picture: Roma

21 February 2019

Oscar Nominations 2019: Part 10 of 11


Avengers: Infinity War
1 Nomination
  • Visual Effects
Cast: Josh Brolin, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Chris Pratt, Tom Holland, Bradley Cooper, Karen Gillan, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Peter Dinklage, Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Letitia Wright, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio Del Toro, William Hurt, Winston Duke


There are a million people in this movie. Ok. So, honestly, I started watching this movie, got five minutes in, and realized I had no idea what was going on. In order to understand this film, one needs to have seen three movies that I had not seen – Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. I've seen tons of these Marvel movies, and had seen the most recent one – Black Panther – but apparently this was not enough. This was a behemoth of a thing. There were way too many plots, and most of the time I felt myself wondering why I was supposed to care about what the filmmakers were asking me to care about. One of the central problems with this universe is that the characters in these films all have magic powers, but it is not really clear how much power the, you know, beams of light that come out of their hands or whatever are actually worth. Is Hulk and his muscles more powerful than Captain America's shield? Why are the evil zombies who work for Thanos apparently stronger than Dr. Strange who literally has one of these infinity stones around his neck? This just doesn't work for me. Someone needs to explain to me why so many superheroes are so weak and can't defeat 2 or 3 bad guys, but that same number of people can put up a series fight against Thanos and his 4 magic stones. I don't get it. A bright spot in this movie, though, is Tom Holland. His Spider-man is really wonderful. He has tons of great lines and he delivers them brilliantly. His last scene in the film is the most heartfelt sincere moment in the entirety of this monstrosity.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Visual Effects
My Rating: #62 out of 70

Solo: a Star Wars Story
1 Nomination
  • Visual Effects
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany, Joonas Suotamo, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Linda Hunt, Erin Kellyman

I honestly thought this was cute. I love Alden Ehrenreich, and he's great here. There is not too much to complain about with this. It's honestly identical to the rest of these Star Wars movies, and I don't think I have any objection to this. No one liked this movie, apparently? Or maybe that's just, like, crazy Star Wars fans (whom I do not understand). I think everyone's dislike for this film, though, is really just because Solo foolishly was released in summer instead of in December, which is when Star Wars films are usually released. Audiences just weren't ready for a summer Star Wars picture.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #41 out of 70

Ready Player One
1 Nomination
  • Visual Effects
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Mark Rylance, T.J, Miller, Simon Pegg, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen, Ralph Ineson, Susan Lynch


Oh jeez. Well, I want to say that I still love Tye Sheridan, but this movie is really, really bad. The script is just terrible. I think Lena Waithe is also pretty awful here. Her performance is strangely flat, and all of her scenes have a lot of trouble. But mostly it's just the writing. The visual effects look cool, but the world-building kind of sucks (I expect that's better in the book...?), and I was super bored.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #65 out of 70

Christopher Robin
1 Nomination
  • Visual Effects
Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Marg Gatiss, Oliver Ford Davies, Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Nick Mohammed, Peter Capaldi, Toby Jones, Sophie Okonedo, Sara Sheen

I mean, honestly. Why does this film exist? In case you're wondering, the moral of the story is that you shouldn't lose sight of the magical being that you are when you are a child. Adulthood isn't all its cracked up to be, and your relationship with your imaginary friend is actually much more important than your life as a grown up. Adulting is hard, this movie seems to say, and who can argue with such a statement? The ham-fisted clunker of a lesson here is that the "important things in life" are actually family, fun, and a childhood sense of wonder. And you shouldn't become a stodgy old person who only cares about "success" and "work". No one needs to learn this lesson, so I can't imagine why anyone thought this dumb film was a good idea. I will say that I really love the voice of Pooh. There's something about it that is comforting and sweet. Not sweet enough for me to enjoy this stupid film, but sweet nonetheless.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #61 out of 70

20 February 2019

Western (2018)

Western is a slow burn, but its analysis is fascinating, and it brims with menace for its entirety. I really liked it.

19 February 2019

Oscar Nominations 2019: Part 9 of 11


Bao
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: Domee Shi

This is very cute and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. I really love the strange – even slightly creepy – comparison of children to dumplings. I really enjoyed this in its entirety. It's sort of the perfect thematic pairing to Incredibles 2, with which it screened in cinemas, but its also smarter than that film in many ways, and I think smart in general about parenthood and its discontents. I was really into this. Also it made me want dim sum. Actually, I always want dim sum.
Will Win: Animated Short Film
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #3 of 5

Animal Behaviour
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Cast: Ryan Beil, Taz Van Rassell, Leah Juel, Andrea Libman, Toby Berner, James Kirk, Snowden

Ugh. This one had a few good jokes, but this has nothing new to say about animals, about group therapy, or anything else. It's just a set of inane jokes (half of them about assholes (seriously) or overeating, for some reason). Also, the animation is not very attractive. If I laughed occasionally through this, I also just felt icky afterward. I dunno... people's psychological problems just kind of aren't that funny to me at the moment. This is silly, and I should probably just have let myself go and enjoyed it, but this really isn't my kind of humor.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Animated Short Film
My Rating: #4 of 5

One Small Step
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film

Ok. This one is the most boring of the five, but it's also probably the most heartwarming of the five, as well. This is about a girl and her father. He repairs her shoes (one small step) and she wants to go to the moon (one small step, indeed). Her name is Luna, so I really feel like it was probably this young woman's destiny to go to the moon; don't know why she ever doubted herself. In any case, One Small Step is the kind of do-it-for-dad sweet little bit of emotional fluff that feels totally predictable at this point in history. You will see every single plot point coming a mile away.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #5 of 5

Late Afternoon
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: Louise Bagnall
Cast: Fionnula Flanagan, Bagnall, Niamh Moyles, Aislin Konings Ferrari

So, so good. This movie is absolutely lovely. It's beautifully animated and beautifully acted. The animation is honestly just gorgeous. I loved it. This is a story of a woman with Alzheimer's as she tries to remember some events in her past. This inability/ability to remember is animated with beautiful large colored blobs as our main character soars amid the colors and snatches of memory come to her as she floats. It's a beautiful little film.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #2 of 5

Weekends
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: Trevor Jimenez

This was my favorite of the five. It's a deeply personal film – or at least feels deeply personal. A boy goes back and forth between his father and his mother, and we see his experiences in both locations. The film is about space and how spaces become homes, but it's also about growing up with parents who don't quite pay attention to you as much as you'd like them to, and it's about figuring out how to carve space for yourself within their self-absorbed worlds. Weekends is a lonely, occasionally very sad film that is run through with a lovely, innocent, and wonderful sense of humor. It is purely Chekhovian in the way that it couples laughter and sadness together. The animation is done in gorgeous watercolors, and every single piece of this feels beautifully considered and carefully constructed. I absolutely loved it.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #1 of 5

17 February 2019

Oscar Nominations 2019: Part 8 of 11


Spider-man: into the Spider-verse
1 Nomination
  • Animated Feature
Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Zoë Kravitz, Lily Tomlin, Kathryn Hahn, Liev Schreiber, Chris Pine, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn

I loved this film so much. I wasn't expecting even to like it – an animated Spider-man film? Don't we get enough Marvel on our screens these days? – but Into the Spider-verse is no ordinary Marvel movie. It's a moving comic-book with clear references to the style of comic books themselves and an ability to use that style to generate quality humor. Spider-verse has fresh, funny jokes and an irreverent approach to the save-the-world obsessions of these types of films. This is a great movie. It's in my top 5 for the year.
Will Win: Animated Feature
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #4 out of 68

Incredibles 2
1 Nomination
  • Animated Feature
Director: Brad Bird
Cast: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk, Samuel L. Jackson, Huck Milner, Eli Fucile, Brad Bird, Sophia Bush, Phil LaMarr, Isabella Rossellini

Eh. This is totally forgettable. I think because it's basically a re-tread of The Incredibles. There are a couple of really great sequences – one with the little baby and a racoon that is cute and a great montage in which Mr. Incredible begins to succeed at being a stay-at-home dad – but... this is just not very inventive. The big plot-twists (and Incredibles 2 is for some reason invested in plot-twists) is obvious from the very beginning of the movie, and the action sequences aren't nearly as fun as they ought to be. This is harmless, but definitely a let-down of a sequel.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Animated Feature
My Rating: #35 out of 67

Mirai (未来のミライ)
1 Nomination
  • Animated Feature
Director: Hosoda Mamoru
Cast: John Cho, Rebecca Hall, Jaden Waldman, Victoria Grace, Crispin Freeman, Stephanie Sheh, Daniel Dae Kim, Yakusho Kōji

This movie is perfection. If Spider-verse weren't as great as it was this would easily be my favorite animated movie of the year. As it is, it is in my top ten for this year. It is worth saying, too, that I tend to be biased against animated features. I consistently resist ranking them really high for some reason, but this year, we have Mirai and Spider-verse and I am in love. This is a gorgeously drawn and beautifully made film about family and history and learning new ways of being in the world. I know it's tough for most people to see right now – I got really lucky and was able to see a screening – but as soon as it is on DVD you're all going to see it and love it. I promise.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #6 out of 68

Ralph Breaks the Internet
1 Nomination
  • Animated Feature
Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O'Neill, Sean Giambrone, Flula Borg, Timothy Simons, Ali Wong, Hamish Blake

Honestly I don't understand why stuff like this exists. Why people give things like this awards is even more unfathomable to me. This film is not funny at all, and it seems entirely designed not to make its audience laugh but to make us nod our heads in knowledgeable ways about how the world works. But who is this even for? In this film, Ralph, if you don't know, goes into a materialized version of the internet. Unbelievably, this image of the internet is not the least bit visually interesting. It's like these filmmakers didn't even try. There is more to say about Sarah Silverman's saccharine performance, about the stupid emotional lessons about friendship and betrayal that this film thinks it's "teaching" us, and about the ridiculous plot. But this is a phoned-in sequel that isn't worth anyone's time. Ralph is at the absolute bottom of my list.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #68 out of 68

16 February 2019

Oscar Nominations 2019: Part 7 of 11

Part 7:

At Eternity's Gate
1 Nomination
  • Actor: Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project, Shadow of the Vampire, Platoon)
Director: Julian Schnabel
Cast: Dafoe, Oscar Isaac, Rupert Friend, Emmanuelle Seigner, Mads Mikkelsen, Mathieu Amalric, Niels Arestrup, Anne Consigny

This is really uneven. There are some extraordinary sequences when Van Gogh goes off into the woods or into the fields and the music swells and we just sort of experience nature with Van Gogh – these sequences work great. The rest of the movie is less successful. Schnabel tries to give us the experience of a kind of descent into madness. This works ok, or it would work ok except that for Schnabel, madness means repeating all of the dialogue we've just heard in the previous sequence and then overlaying that on a sequence where we watch Van Gogh crumble. It's just that the written dialogue in this movie is really bad! Every single line spoken by any one of these great actors actually landed for me with a thud. It's a stilted, clunky script, and we have to hear a lot of it more than once. This nomination was a big surprise on January 22nd, and while I am perhaps less surprised now that I've seen the movie, I certainly wouldn't have nominated this performance. Dafoe is a great actor, but he's miscast as Van Gogh. He's much too old for the character, and this means that the queer nuances that Schnabel tries to explore in the film with Vincent and Théo (his brother) and with Vincent and Paul Gauguin don't work for this reason. Language in this movie is also really strange. At Eternity's Gate is, like Mary Queen of Scots, quite a theatrical film in the way it just assumes the audience will go with whatever is onscreen. But listening to characters who are speaking French simply switch into English was jarring to me. I needed the film to help me with this. Similarly, people pronounced Vincent's name numerous ways depending on which language they were speaking. This all struck me as directorial inexactitude.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #50 out of 68

First Reformed
1 Nomination
  • Original Screenplay: Paul Schrader
Director: Schrader
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Cedric the Entertainer, Amanda Seyfried, Philip Ettinger, Victoria Hill

I was into this movie for a while... and then I wasn't. It's just a little too ponderous and too self important for my taste, I think. It works for a while and then it stops working. It seems likely that Ethan Hawke just missed a best actor nomination for First Reformed, and if Paul Schrader keeps directing things like this, I think we'll see him in this category again soon. I don't think there's much else to say about this movie. This was on many, many critics' top ten lists for the year, and it references lots of film history, but I didn't love it.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #36 out of 68

Shoplifters (万引き家族)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Japan (Departures, The Twilight Samurai, Muddy River, Kagemusha: the Shadow Warrior, Sandakan No. 8, Dodes'ka-den, Portrait of Chieko, Woman in the Dunes, Kwaidan, Koto, Immortal Love, The Burmese Harp, Samurai 1: Musashi Miyamoto, Gate of Hell, Rashomon)
Cast: Lily Franky, Andō Sakura, Kairi Jyo, Matsuoka Mayu, Kiki Kirin, Sasaki Miyu, Ikematsu Sōsuke

My favorite movie of the year. I cannot say enough good things about it. As always, Kore-eda is excellent at getting beautiful performances out of children, but Andō Sakura, who plays the mother, is just incredible in this film. I loved everything about this. It's a perfectly calibrated story with surprises and twists, as well as a moving film about poverty in Japan. As with many of Kore-eda's films, this is also a movie about family, about what makes a family, and about how to keep a family together. I loved this movie. It isn't going to win the Oscar, and that's ok. It's already won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and a great movie is its own award.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #1 out of 68

Capernaum (کفرناحوم‎)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Lebanon (The Insult)
Director: Nadine Labaki
Cast: Zain Al Rafeea, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, Yordanos Shiferaw, Kawsar Al Haddad, Fadi Yousef, Haita Cedra Izzam, Alaa Chouchnieh, Nadine Labaki, Elias Khoury

I really liked this movie. I don't really think it has a chance of winning, though. The foreign language category this year is filled with powerhouses, including one film that's nominated for best picture and two films that are nominated for best director. This is as it should be. I have been complaining for years that the Academy is way too Anglophone in its scope. It has skewed toward films made in the U.S. and the U.K. for as long as I can remember. To my mind, the Academy needs to expand its way of thinking. We need more foreign films in all categories. I took my older sister to see Capernaum in the theatre. She doesn't watch foreign films very often. She loved this movie, and her response when it was over was "I forgot they weren't speaking English. I didn't even notice." She is exactly right. I've never understood people who say that they don't want to read a movie. It's not at all like reading. Your brain keeps up! The new Academy, which has enlarged its ranks by inviting a larger, more diverse group of people to be a part of its numbers, is much more international, so I think perhaps this is why we are seeing the foreign language films doing better in other categories. As far as I'm concerned this is all to the good. P.S. I love Nadine Labaki, and I'm glad she's finally getting some Academy recognition: her film Caramel is wonderful.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #24 out of 68

Lean on Pete

The description of this movie makes it seem like it's gonna be some kind of Hallmark nonsense. But no. Lean on Pete is one of the best movies of the year. Andrew Haigh has done it again. This is an excellent film. It is a movie about care and lack of care in today's society, and it is an odyssey film about a homeless teenager and an old, lame horse. And it is deeply, deeply moving. I loved it.

14 February 2019

Oscar Nominations 2019: Part 6 of 11


Detainment
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Vincent Lambe
Cast: Ely Solan, Leon Hughes, Will O'Connell, David Ryan, Tara Breathnach, Killian Sheridan, Morgan C. Jones, Brian Fortune, Kathy Monahan, Caleb Mason

There are no comedies in this crop of short films. There are also no uplifting stories about the triumph of the human spirit. Even more surprising, there are no films about cross-cultural communication or about white saviors making life better for small brown children. It is, in fact, rather a surprising group of films, and I (even more surprisingly) liked most of these movies. The one that I think will win, however, is based on a true story and also features an absolutely stunning performance by child-actor Ely Solan. Detainment is about two ten-year old boys who possibly were responsible for the death of a much younger boy – he looks about 2 or 3 to me – which means that this is a pretty horrifying little film. It's a hard (short) movie to watch, but I have a feeling that among this group, Detainment is going to come out on top.
Will Win: Live-action Short Film
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #4 of 5

Marguerite
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Marianne Farley
Cast: Béatrice Picard, Sandrine Bisson

Marguerite is the exception this year. This is a sad, lovely little tale about a very old woman and her caretaker, who washes her, puts lotion on her legs and feet, and reminds her to take her medicine. I really liked this little movie, and I wouldn't be surprised if it won on Oscar night. It is the only of the year's films that doesn't involve violent or violated children, which is sort of stunning.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Live-action Short Film
My Rating: #3 of 5

Skin
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Guy Nattiv
Cast: Jonathan Tucker, Jackson Robert Scott, Danielle Macdonald, Lonnie Chavis, Shelley Francisco

Fuck this movie. I hated this film so much. In the first place, it's one of those movies that pretends it's about race or interracial relationships but actually only focuses on white people. Worse yet, Skin also holds the white people who are the subject of its gaze in utter contempt. They behave in perfectly stereotypical hateful ways, and they are completely lacking in humanity, so that one cannot at all sympathize with them or taken them seriously. They become cartoon villains in a preposterous universe. The final "twist" of the film is an unbelievably stupid reversal that makes absolutely no sense according either to American culture or to the laws of physics. It's something a film student would dream up and think is clever before someone came along to tell him how absurd it is. But the really hateful thing about Skin is how much it celebrates violence. The final (purportedly tragic) violent sequence got appreciative laughs from the audience with which I saw the movie. As if violence is hilarious. And the film's climax involves a bunch of racist white thugs beating up an unarmed black man, kicking him in the face and body and almost killing him. It's a very difficult sequence to watch, but not one that is really interested in black anguish. Instead the film is busy paying attention to the white men committing the violence while we watch the man's wife cry out in anguish. It's a kind of disgusting spectacularization of black pain that is really troubling. The whole thing made me really angry. Which means, of course, that it has a real shot at winning.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Live-action short film
My Rating: #5 of 5

Madre (Mother)
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Cast: Marta Nieto, Blanca Apilánez, Álvaro Balas

So good! This short film takes place almost entirely in an apartment, but the movie is shot so well that it ends up being dynamic, visually interesting, and filled with energy. The plot of this movie is straightforward and gripping. It's superb storytelling without an easy ending, storytelling that explores a character very deeply simply by putting her into an extreme situation. We come to know this central character very, very well. It's just an excellent film.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #2 of 5

Fauve
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Jérémy Comte
Cast: Félix Grenier, Alexandre Perreault, Louise Bombardier

This was my favorite of the year's live-action shorts. It's gorgeously shot, it's story is really compelling, and the themes with which it deals have stayed with me long after the film. It's a fascinating portrait, and it's very, very bleak. Just my style! This is – as are most of the movies this year – a film about a child who is in danger, but the care and empathy with which Jérémy Comte has made this movie place Fauve into a class all by itself. This is excellent movie making.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #1 of 5

10 February 2019

Oscar Nominations 2019: Part 5 of 11


Werke ohne Autor (Never Look Away)
2 Nominations
  • Cinematography: Caleb Deschanel (The Passion of the Christ, The Patriot, Fly Away Home, The Natural, The Right Stuff)
  • Foreign Language Film: Germany (Toni Erdmann, The White Ribbon, The Baader Meinhof Complex, The Lives of Others, Sophie Scholl: the Final Days, Downfall, Nowhere in Africa, Beyond Silence, Schtonk, The Nasty Girl)
Cast: Tom Schilling, Sebastian Koch, Paula Beer, Saskia Rosendahl, Oliver Masucci, Cai Cohrs, Ina Weisse, Evgeniy Sidikhin, Mark Zak, Ulrike C. Tscharre, David Schütter

This is one of two films that I'm not going to be able to see this year. I'm very sad about it because, in the first place, I loved Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others and in the second place I love Max Richter's beautiful score for Never Look Away. And then there's the brilliant Sebastian Koch, who gives excellent performances every time he is onscreen! I truly do not understand why this film isn't playing everywhere right now. Sony Pictures Classics scored two Oscar nominations with this movie, and yet no one has seen it and no one can see it because it is only playing in a few theatres in the country. This makes no sense to me, honestly. In any case, I don't think Never Look Away will be winning any little gold men, but it sure would have been nice to be able to see this movie before Oscar Sunday.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: TBA

Mary Queen of Scots
2 Nominations
  • Costume Design: Alexandra Byrne (Elizabeth: the Golden Age, Finding Neverland, Elizabeth, Hamlet)
  • Makeup & Hairstyling
Director: Josie Rourke
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, Guy Pearce, Martin Compston, David Tennant, Adrian Lester, James McArdle, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Brendan Coyle, Gemma Chan, Georgia Burnell

I believe I've already said my piece about this movie and its absurdities. It was pointed out to me since I wrote my review that the movie operates with a certain theatricality, that it is operating using many conventions of the theatre – the cross-racial casting, the lack of attention to accuracy with regard to accents, the self-conscious artistic quality of some of the sequences – and I truly do buy this as one of the film's goals. The problem here is that Mary Queen of Scots does not actually lean into these devices. Why is this film theatrical? might be my question here. What is this film trying to say about theatrical pageantry or English history or the lives of kings and queens? And if this film is about theatricality, and I am beginning to think it was trying to be just that, why not really take that idea to its maximum? Why not show us the sets as sets? Why not let us see the process of makeup or costuming? Why not show us behind the theatricality rather than simply showing us the face of it? In any case, I am glad that Alexandra Byrne got this nomination. She definitely deserved this.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Costume Design
My Rating: #61 out of 67

Isle of Dogs (犬の島)
2 Nominations
  • Score: Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water, The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Philomena, Argo, The King's Speech, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Queen)
  • Animated Feature
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Rankin Koyu, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Nomura Kunichi, Takayama Akira, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Ito Akira, Scarlett Johanssen, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono

This is cute and I really liked it. I am, however, annoyed with Alexandre Desplat's current domination of the best original score category at the Oscars. It's started to really bug me. He has two statues already and Isle of Dogs marks his tenth nomination. The score to this movie is fine, and Desplat has been good at doing scores with drums in them since Birth all those years ago, but I am impatient with his work at the moment. As I said when I first saw this movie, I am also getting impatient with Wes Anderson's twee brand. I am looking for something a little more serious from him. The insistent irony of his movies is wearing thin with me. Still, Isle of Dogs is better than four of last year's best animated feature nominees, and although it is my third choice for this year, it definitely deserves its nomination. This is a very good, if minor, film.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #25 out of 67

The Wife
1 Nomination
  • Actress: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs, Dangerous Liaisons, Fatal Attraction, The Natural, The Big Chill, The World According to Garp)
Director: Björn Runge
Cast: Close, Jonathan Pryce, Max Irons, Christian Slater, Annie Starke, Harry Lloyd, Elizabeth McGovern, Johan Widerberg, Karin Franz Körlof

It's the Glennaissance (as one of my graduate students keeps calling it)! It is looking like Glenn Close is finally going to win an Oscar, and we should all be delighted that this is happening. The movie that she is starring in does not deserve any awards at all, but Close is fabulous in the movie, and everyone loves her, and I am excited to see her win. This is Close's seventh nomination since The World According to Garp in 1982, and she has never won, despite turning in extraordinary performances for decades. It's worth saying that these seven nominations don't even count the ones she just barely missed, like say, Jagged Edge in 1985 or Reversal of Fortune or Hamlet in 1990 or her brilliant comedic turn in 101 Dalmations in 1996. It's her time, and I can't wait for her speech.
Will Win: Actress
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #48 out of 67

Tully (2018)


Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman's Tully is funny and poignant, and I was having a good time for two acts of the film.

Charlize Theron is just great. She's the kind of actress who is excellent in a comedy film, an action film, a serious drama film, and she often be the single most compellingly watchable thing in a fantasy film.

But then in act three the movie does this dumb thing that I won't explain other than to say it's the kind of thing a first-time screenwriter would tell you about over drinks while saying something like Isn't that clever?? Well, no. It actually isn't. It's unnecessary and gets in the way of all of the smart, funny, intriguing themes you were exploring.

Diablo Cody's screenplay takes this dumb turn at the film's end that just spoils the movie so much that it almost invalidates all of the interesting things that Tully had to say. It settles for easy solutions, and it makes the film about the writer instead of about the characters. It's too bad, too, because Tully was really good before the last 15 minutes or so.

07 February 2019

Oscar Nominations 2019: Part 4 of 11


Can You Ever Forgive Me?
3 Nominations
  • Actress: Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
  • Adapted Screenplay: Nicole Holofcener & Jeff Whitty
  • Supporting Actor: Richard E. Grant
Director: Marielle Heller
Cast: McCarthy, Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin, Stephen Spinella, Ben Falcone, Christian Navarro, Gregory Korostishevsky, Anna Deavere Smith, Erik LaRay Harvey, Pun Bandhu, Brandon Scott Jones, Marc Evan Jackson

This movie is so good! I thought from the trailer that this movie had no idea what it wanted to be – is it a comedy? A serious drama? A true story? What's kind of amazing is that it is all of these things and that it is still so balanced, so lovely. Marielle Heller has done superb work here, and she probably ought to have been nominated in the director category this year. It's rather a shame she wasn't. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is just such a good movie. I hope more people see this movie now that it has three Oscar nominations. I have to say, also, that I have long been skeptical of Melissa McCarthy. I thought she was hilarious in Funny People, but I think that's because Funny People is so unfunny, so she was a bright spot. But in this movie she is both hilarious and also really, really beautifully moving. She's excellent, and she was one of my top 5 performances of the year. This nomination is completely deserved. Shout out, too, to Nicole Holofcener, who, for some reason has never been nominated for best original screenplay but got her first writing nomination for a) a movie she didn't direct and b) an adapted screenplay! So strange. Oh! last note: this is a film about two queer people in New York in the 1980s. Queerness is not a problematic in the film, but the film's perspective is very queer. It's delightful.

Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #17 out of 67

If Beale Street Could Talk
3 Nominations
  • Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
  • Supporting Actress: Regina King
  • Score: Nicholas Britell (Moonlight)
Director: Jenkins
Cast: KiKi Layne, King, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Michael Beach, Teyonah Parris, Finn Wittrock, Bryan Tyree Henry, Aunjanue Ellis, Ebony Obsidian, Dominique Thorne, Dave Franco, Diego Luna, Ed Skrein, Emily Rios, Pietro Pascal, Marcia Jean Kurtz

This is the best ensemble work of the year. Every actor is fabulous in it. Every single one. Stephan James is incredible in this movie, and Regina King will deserve her Oscar when she wins it. I loved this movie. It isn't quite the book (a book I love), but it's doing its own rather magical thing instead of trying to do the book. I felt near tears through most of it. Now... I have heard talk that some people think this movie got robbed when the nominations came out. I can't say I agree. It was released way too late, and the studio really didn't do the work it needed to do to get the nominations happening. Regina King's omission from the SAG awards is a good example of this. The SAGs skew heavily toward stuff that's been released in theatres – thus the popularity of movies like A Quiet Place and even Mary Queen of Scots. If a poetic movie like Beale Street is going to land with the Screen Actors Guild, it simply needs to be released earlier. In any case, three nominations is nothing to sneeze at. And this is pretty much exactly what happened with Call Me by Your Name last year. It was a movie popular with critics that everyone thought would get more nominations than it did, and it ended up with only three. Still, I think Beale Street could win two Oscars on Feb. 24th. It will definitely win supporting actress, but it may also win Jenkins his second writing Oscar, as well. (It is worth saying that Beale Street also is not perfect. Because Jenkins' style is so insistently poetic, the film's treatment of the appalling incarceration rates for black men in the U.S. don't quite work. Jenkins' film doesn't really take place in the real world, so if you're whole film is going to be a kind of poetic meditation, you can't also attempt to address real world consequences and issues, well maybe you can do this, but Jenkins' film doesn't quite manage it.)

Will Win: Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress
Could Win: Score
My Rating: #11 out of 67

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
3 Nominations
  • Adapted Screenplay: Ethan Coen (Bridge of Spies, True Grit, A Serious Man, No Country for Old Men, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Fargo) & Joel Coen (Bridge of Spies, True Grit, A Serious Man, No Country for Old Men, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Fargo)
  • Costume Design: Mary Zophres (La La Land, True Grit)
  • Song - "When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings": David Rawlings & Gillian Welch
Director: Coen Brothers
Cast: Tim Blake Nelson, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, Bill Heck, Grainger Hines, Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson, James Franco, Harry Melling, Jonjo O'Neill, Saul Rubinek, Sam Dillon, Stephen Root, Chelcie Ross, Jefferson Mays, Paul Rae, Prudence Wright Holmes, David Krumholtz, Willie Watson,

This feels like a sort of minor Coen Brothers movie, but it's so funny, and it's such a pleasure to watch all of these little stories. Each one is excellent. Each works very well on its own terms, but as a group, these stories are pretty wonderful. And they're so well made that this film is completely enjoyable. Also it's on Netflix, so that just makes everything easier. For me, Bill Heck, who played the intended husband in the "girl who got rattled" segment, was truly the best in the film, His portrayal is so sensitive and vulnerable. I found him quite moving. I also loved Tyne Daly in the final segment. She's perfect. And the score. It's nice that the cute Gillian Welch song got nominated; that's really fun. But Carter Burwell's score is memorable and haunting, and I love it so much. I am very sad that it didn't get nominated.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #29 out of 67

03 February 2019

Oscar Nominations 2019: Part 3 of 11


Mary Poppins Returns
4 Nominations
  • Production Design: John Myhre (Nine, Dreamgirls, Memoirs of a Geisha, Chicago, Elizabeth) & Gordon Sim (Nine, Chicago)
  • Costume Design: Sandy Powell (The Favourite, Cinderella, Carol, Hugo, The Tempest, The Young Victoria, Mrs Henderson Presents, The Aviator, Gangs of New York, Shakespeare in Love, Velvet Goldmine, The Wings of the Dove, Orlando)
  • Score: Marc Shaiman (South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut, Patch Adams, The First Wives Club, The American President, Sleepless in Seattle)
  • Song - "The Place Where Lost Things Go": Marc Shaiman (South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut, Patch Adams, The First Wives Club, The American President, Sleepless in Seattle) & Scott Wittman
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Meryl Streep, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Jeremy Swift, David Warner

This is a charming little film. It does feel just a tad off – Emily Blunt is cute, but she doesn't quite feel like Mary Poppins. She isn't, after all, Julie Andrews. How could she be? Mary Poppins Returns is less stagey than his other films. I found that to be quite appealing. I find myself so frustrated with the sound-stage look of most of his films, and so I was delighted that this movie was underneath the lovely London sky, so to speak. But then... the biggest musical number in the movie is, of course, on a sound stage. I really cannot understand why Marshall does this. You're making a movie, sir. Go outside for Heaven's sake. Still, I was delighted that Marshall actually cast two theatre actors in his film. It's always nice when actors in Hollywood movies can actually sing. Emily Blunt doesn't have a great voice (again, she's not Dame Julie), but her voice is pretty when she uses her full voice and lets go of breathy sound. Speaking of Blunt, she just missed a best actress nomination here, and I think it speaks volume for the imagination of the Academy here that she did. Blunt was only ever going to be a also-ran kind of nominee. The Academy, in fact, consistently shows imagination and principle when voting for best actress nominees (except when it comes to Meryl Streep), and they deserve credit for that. I think this movie will win score, since Justin Hurwitz's gorgeous First Man score somehow got snubbed. And it will deserve it. Marc Shaiman's score is lovely, and the songs are mostly lovely, and this movie was pretty damn cute.
Will Win: Score
Could Win: Song
My Rating: #31 out of 66

First Man
4 Nominations
  • Production Design: Nathan Crowley (Dunkirk, Interstellar, The Dark Knight, The Prestige) & Kathy Lucas
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
  • Visual Effects
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Ryan Gosling,Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Patrick Fugit, Christopher Abbott, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds, Pablo Schreiber, Shea Wigham, Lukas Haas, Ethan Embry, Olivia Hamilton, Brian d'Arcy James, Cory Michael Smith

This movie was not for me, despite Ryan Gosling's brilliant performance at this film's center. I wrote a lot about what I liked and didn't like and why I didn't think it worked, so I won't rehash that here. What I want to say about these nominations is that Justin Hurwitz's score for First Man was literally the best thing about the film, and the fact that the music branch did not nominate him is actually crazy. To have nominated Alexandre Desplat (last year's winner and now 10-time nominee) is just insanely conservative. I do not understand. The music branch tried some new things this year with its nomination process – they always seem to be doing that – and that is fine, but they need to figure out a way to become less insular. The music branch is small, and they seem to nominate the same people over and over. It's very frustrating. Hurwitz's work this year was superb. I will complain more about the music branch when we get to The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, I'm sure, so I'll stop now, but I've listen to the score for First Man more than any other score this year, and I can't imagine anyone sitting down to listen to the Isle of Dogs score more than a couple of times.
Will Win: Visual Effects
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #43 out of 66

Zimna Wojna (Cold War)
3 Nominations
  • Director: Paweł Pawlikowski
  • Cinematography: Łukasz Żal (Ida)
  • Foreign Language Picture: Poland (Ida, In Darkness, Katyń, Man of Iron, The Young Girls of Wilko, Nights Days, The Deluge, Promised Land, Pharaoh, Knife in the Water)
Director: Pawlikowski
Cast: Malek

For me, Cold War isn't quite as great as Ida, but I think this is mostly because of the subject matter and not because of the work the director is doing. Pawlikowski is obviously a superb filmmaker. This is an epic story, and it is told economically and beautifully. All of the actors are absolutely excellent, and Joanna Kulig probably should have been in the running for best actress. Yalitza Aparicio is great, but Kulig's performance in this is really searing. Pawlikowski's best director nomination was perhaps a surprise to some folks; it wasn't to me. The directing branch frequently does things right and selects excellent filmmakers from around the globe. Occasionally a stinker gets in, but usually they do things well. It's great to see Łukasz Żal here again too. His work is just so good. In short, the fact that this has 3 nominations speaks very highly of the Academy's choices this year. These are discerning, excellent nominations. I don't think Cold War can win any awards on Oscar night, but good for Pawlikowski. I can't wait to see what he'll make next.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Actor, Film Editing
My Rating: #28 out of 66