Tag Archives: craft

Side by Side

[4 stars]

It is the rare documentary that manages to keep me utterly intrigued. And Side by Side, while not the most perfect docu, pulls together such a wealth of top voices in the industry to discuss the advent of digital film vs. celluloid emulsion that it held my attention throughout. OK, it did drag a bit on the wrap up, but it was still fascinating.

Christopher Kenneally put this film together over a couple years, releasing it in 2012 and then extended versions of it a couple years later. He chose as his narrator Keanu Reeves (Replicas). One amusing effect of the time span is watching Reeves’s hair and beard change from scene to scene. Where most docus these days avoid having the interviewer present or visible on screen to help focus purely on the subject, Reeves is very much a part of the conversation.

While digital film has improved in the intervening years, the arguments haven’t really changed. However, the trends they interviewees have spun out are all coming to roost in pretty much the way they all agreed it would happen, with one unforseen notable exception: COVID-19. In a world currently locked down by a pandemic, cinemas closed everywhere, and 8K TVs already available on shelves, timing has changed. Not only will this event help accelerate digital filming, but it is changing the intended and predominant delivery venue from large screen to small. Dozens of major releases shifted to stream early or stream-only in the last few weeks and that genie isn’t going back in the bottle. The greatest governor to the advent of digital film has been quality on the big screen… and while that gap has narrowed, the issue is much less noticeable on the small screen.

In many ways, this movie is like a Nova episode on steroids. There is some very basic science and history surrounded by luminaries discussing their views and the implications. But it is the very quality of those views, put forth by those who have set the bar for decades, as well as the floor for the next generation of filmmakers, that makes it so interesting. Even if you’re not a fanatic about cinema, this is an engaging and intriguing conversation to listen in on for 90 or so minutes. Make the time for it.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu)

[4 stars]

A quiet but intense love story that is (dare I say it?) a slow burn. I was worried that, despite all its awards, director/writer Céline Sciamma’s (Tomboy) two hour story of a portraitist and her subject would drag. It doesn’t.

The silences between Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel are tense with unspoken thoughts. Their verbal sparring is equally charged, though spare with words. And Merlant’s relationship with her supplies and canvas is just as intriguing. Watching these women discover each other and themselves never let’s you relax.

Around the main story are smaller tales supported by Luàna Bajrami and Valeria Golino. Both women bring a lot of story with very little explained.

One of Sciamma’s achievements with this film is that it is, essentially, all women. And all strong women, in their way. Men are not only incidental, they are a hindrance to their worlds. It is also visually a stunning piece of cinematography; as painterly as the story it tells. And the final moments of the story are a collection of joyously heartbreaking scenes. It reminded me of the end of Gloria in its ability to deliver a resolution.

Portrait is an unexpectedly moving story and one worth seeing. On big screen it must have been breathtaking, but even on a smaller screen it is a feast for all your movie senses.

Memory: The Origins of Alien

[3 stars]

In case it wasn’t obvious, this has a really targeted audience…if you weren’t/aren’t a fan of the original Alien or its sequels on a deep level it won’t likely resonate. Unlike Alexandre O. Philippe’s previous 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene, there isn’t as much context setting and obvious industry shift caused by the movie’s subject. That said, after a slightly overwrought opening and set up, it’s an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the creative process that led to the iconic movie. In addition, you can see where many of the choices that appear in the later movies grew from.

This isn’t a brilliant documentary, but it is solid and, for the intrigued, interesting. Despite knowing a lot about the production, it certainly ferreted out a lot that I didn’t. I don’t know if it increased my appreciation of the movie any more (still one of the best horror films ever), but it provided a framework and some interesting background on writer Dan O’Bannon, who is the primary subject. If you appreciated the original that made Ridley Scott (Alien: Covenant) a household name and set a whole new bar for such films, give it the 90 minutes it deserves.

Memory: The Origins of Alien

Frankie

[3 stars]

A rumination on the nature of love, life, and family against the beautiful backdrop of Sintra, Portugal. In many ways, Frankie is After the Wedding’s less overwrought cousin. There are several common themes and dynamics, though the stories are driven by different stakes and pressures.

Isabelle Huppert (Greta) is the lynchpin at the center of a blended family that spans multiple marriages. Her sense of entitlement as well as her own sense of self keeps bumping up against her recognition of the realities of that complexity, but all in very quiet and introspective ways. There are few histrionics despite the tensions between people and the situation in which they are mired. It is all about the reactions and silences, which director and co-writer Ira Sachs (Love is Strange) orchestrates with great confidence.

Along with Huppert, Brendan Gleeson (Assassin’s Creed), Marisa Tomei (Only You), Jérémie Renier (Double Lover), Vinette Robinson (A Christmas Carol), Sennia Nanua (The Girl With All the Gifts), and Greg Kinnear (Same Kind of Different as Me) fill out the other main roles. Their paths are all separate, but also all reflect and intersect on Huppert’s journey and life.

This isn’t a fast movie, but it is gripping in a very quiet way. And, ultimately, it brings together its point and moments in a wonderful bit of visual metaphor that is simply presented for us to absorb and enjoy. Frankie is about life and legacy and the meaning and complications of love. It is certainly bittersweet, but manages to avoid being maudlin or at all self-righteous. It’s simply a view and point of view of a collection of lives bound by blood and circumstance. And, like Sachs other works, emotionally hypnotic through to the end.

 

Frankie

Uncut Gems

[1.5 stars]

Sometimes you’re just not the audience for a film, whether due to timing or timbre. This latest Safdie brothers (GoodTime) offering is clearly done with ability and Adam Sandler (Murder Mystery) delivers an amazing performance, but I just couldn’t watch it.

Sandler’s character is on a collision course with disaster from the opening moments, not because of circumstance, but entirely because of his own self-destructive nature. Honestly, at the best of times I find that hard to stomach or invest in, but at this particular moment, I found it impossible.

So, if you like the Safdies’ work, you’ll likely love it. If you can handle a dark rumination on the nature of addiction and wonders of the universe in the microcosm, you’ll probably find it engrossing. If you’re looking for something just a bit more positive or less self-inflicted…look elsewhere.

Uncut Gems

Faraway, So Close! (In weiter Ferne, so nah!)

[3 stars]

In 1987 Wim Wenders hit the international consciousness as a writer/director with Wings of Desire… a tale of isolation and revelation with the backdrop of the Berlin Wall as metaphor. And then, in 1989, the wall fell and the world changed. In 1993 Wenders revisited his characters in this new reality with this award-winning, if not as successful, sequel.

Wings was a wonderful film…after the first 20 minutes of philosophical setup. You can argue that the extended prologue was necessary, but it honestly kept the film from taking flight, which it did once we really got to Earth and let the story go. Faraway is structured much the same, but with even more philosophical musing and exposition (45 minutes). This time, however, the discussion is set amongst the world and it sets up a lot of the movie’s ultimate action. Of course, that isn’t clear for a long time and is, perhaps, one of the more surprising aspects of the film. A lot of very disparate threads and seemingly tangential moments all come together for the final sequences in some very unexpected and, in one case, hysterical ways.

All of the main characters from Wings return: Otto Sander (from a personal favorite: Killer Condom), Bruno Ganz (The House that Jack Built), Peter Falk, and Solveig Dommartin (Until the End of the World) to bridge the stories. However, other than Sander, they are all secondary to the new plot. Part of what makes this film so clever is that it really is a new story, even though we get to see what happened to those who were the focus of the first.

The new people in this tale are rather surprising…Willem Dafoe (Motherless Brooklyn) and Nastassja Kinski (Cat People) join the story, and there are even small roles for Mikhail Gorbachev and Lou Reed. Which brings up the soundtrack…loaded with Reed and other period greats. It doesn’t have the staying power of Until the End of the World’s soundtrack, but there are some interesting surprises in it.

Though Faraway is a direct sequel in many ways, I’m not sure you need have seen Wings of Desire first. I think the relationships and returning characters get explained enough. However, you’ll definitely have a different experience if you see them in the intended order. But Faraway is, ultimately, a better crafted film, if a little overwrought at times. It is a worthy sequel and cleverly crafted. But it is, in every sense, a very European film of its time. It is slow to build momentum, highly intellectual, full of poetry and grand gesture, and not quite reality, though very down to Earth (literally) in its grounding. If you enjoy Wenders’ work or just want to see something with very different pacing and approach than today’s hyper-kinetic fare, this is an excellent, if long, choice.

A Classic Resurgence

We are at an inflection point in story-telling, both in sensibility and technology. No one is sure where and how it will wash out and what will be left in its wake…but, think about the last 10 years and what has changed about what you watch (forgetting about where  you watch it, which is another long discussion). Frankly, the trend toward bigger and more complex stories is something I’m celebrating, even as other issues like “good enough” culture of quality and fractured landscapes are causing other challenges. The return of classics in more complete forms is definitely one of positives in this trend.

Classics (of all cultures) have long been a source of material for writers and entertainers. They’re “classics” for a good reason after all: they found a truth that resonates with their public that transcends time periods; this is what allows them to live on. Of course, language and society change over time, so while the truth may still apply, the provided journey tends to become ever more challenging to contemporary audiences as years, decades, and millennia go by.

This is why writers constantly reinvent (or steal) them, to keep them fresh for current audiences. Shakespeare, in particular, is reinterpreted constantly to this end (think LearThe Donmar Warehouse, Richard III, 10 Things I Hate About You, and so many more). And “updating” the stories, either in place or language, allows relevant themes, storylines, or even aspects of character to be more accessible to an audience to whom it applies but is otherwise unable to receive the message from the original.

The BBC has been known to not only not be afraid of classical literature as source material, but often to embrace it. This has produced some amazing series and movies… but also a sort of genre of its own that tends to be rather staid period pieces. Hollywood has, likewise, plumbed this vein, but often produced short-cutted stories that lose so much of the original that they are mere sketches of the breadth and depth of those tales.

The streaming world has changed this. The current approach now is to create multiple episode productions that drag the material onto screen in both a more complete way, and by updating them to contemporary sensibilities to keep them accessible and fresh.

While this has been going on for a while (see Sherlock), there were three in quick succession recently that suggest to me it’s accelerating. The first to drop was War of the Worlds late last year. But Dracula and A Christmas Carol both came available about the same time and raise interesting specters. I’m going to leave Little Women out of this because it is such a wholly different genre than these three and was a single movie, but the discussion still applies, just not quite as directly.

OK, top line is that all three are great stories that were considered very dark in their day. But, as tales of horror, they pale in today’s light and genre offerings. One of the first aspects of these reboots is just how violent they can be, and just how horrid to their main characters they are. When they were originally published, they were received relatively the same as the new versions are now….that is, disturbing and scary. To pierce the modern skin, inference and subtlety had to be replaced with direct example to achieve the same effect.

The second aspect that is common is that they are all given the room they need to address the book-length ideas in an amount of time that can contain them. We aren’t forced into a 90 minute or 2 hour stripped-down rendering of the large psychological and sociological ideas the original authors intended. The stories are expansive and contemplative on these points. Paired with good writing and broken into a serial, they sustain these aspects and open the old stories back up for a new audience.

For all of the concerns about the streaming invasion, one of the main positives is the room they are making for bigger and more niche ideas. Remakes of classics is just a small piece of that, it reaches well beyond classics in terms of material. But, since classics return and return and return, there is a history to compare it to, whereas adaptations like Watchmen or American Gods, also provided room to breathe (and arguably modern classics), have no previous incarnations to celebrate.

Today’s Strand is Netflix, Prime, and HBO. And, in many ways, and despite the current streaming wars, it is bringing about a Renaissance in story telling that is even affecting theatrical releases (think It: Chapter 1, It: Chapter 2). And then there is the Marvel Phases, which are less direct, but still taking advantage of the desire for expansive stories.

So, while we may also be encountering mountains of mediocre and empty material (as we always have), the new Hollywood (wherever that is in a distributed, global sense) is also creating some top notch entertainment from the bones of its ancestors. And that is something to celebrate and support. We’re even seeing it start to expand in cultures as these companies reach for new markets, bringing Western stories to them, but also their stories to us…something that is already accelerating as well on global streamers like Netflix in particular.

Oscars 2020 (results)

So another host-less Oscars (making a long, often boring ceremony even less intriguing and without personality) is behind us. OK, there were moments (like the Steve Martin and Chris Rock riffs).

Here are my results.

Majors: 4 out of 10 (40%)
Minors: 3 out of 9 (30%)
Technical: 2 out of 5 (40%)
Overall: 9 out of 24 (37%)

These are the worst I’ve done in years (I’m usually near 90%)…I’m not sure how I feel about that! In some cases the Academy overcame long standing prejudices (look at Best Pic), but in others they showed extremely narrow thinking (e.g., Netflix hate). In most cases I was pretty sure of the potential upset, but in others I was as surprised as anyone. This year could have been a turning point in many ways, but I don’t think that’s happened quite yet in either diversity or in accepted platforms. At least there a number of really great films to see or catch up with down the road.

So it is what it is…. and here is the recap…

MAJORS

Actress in a Leading Role

Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)
Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
Siorse Ronan (Little Women)
Charlize Theron (Bombshell)
Renee Zellwegger (Judy)

My prediction: Renee Zellwegger (Judy)
Winner: Renee Zellwegger (Judy)

This is pretty much a slam-dunk based on the previous ceremonies this year. And it is an amazing performance.

Actor in a Leading Role

Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)

My prediction: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Winner: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

Actress in a Supporting Role

Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell)
Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Scarlett Johannson (Jojo Rabbit)
Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Margot Robbie (Bombshell)

My prediction: Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Winner: Laura Dern (Marriage Story)

Actor in a Supporting Role

Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)
Al Pacino (The Irishman)
Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

My prediction: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Winner: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

Adapted Screenplay

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
The Two Popes

My prediction: Little Women
Winner: Jojo Rabbit

Not a huge surprise given WGA, and a solid choice.

Original Screenplay

Knives Out
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My prediction: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Winner: Parasite

Oh so happy to be wrong on this one. I really thought the self-referential drivel would win, not because it deserved to but because it was self-referential.

Directing

Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)
Todd Phillips (Joker)
Sam Mendes (1917)
Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)

My prediction: Sam Mendes (1917)
Winner: Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)

Not a mistake and not a disappointment, though a bit of a surprise.

Animated Feature Film

How To Train Your Dragon
I Lost My Body
Klaus
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

My prediction: Klaus
Winner: Toy Story 4

Netflix hate and name recognition wins again. For the record, it isn’t that I didn’t like Toy Story 4, but it is not better than Klaus or I Lost My Body. Originally I did think it would take the statuette, but it really shouldn’t have. Do yourself a favor, watch Klaus and see what you’re missing.

Best Picture

Ford V Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My prediction: 1917
Winner: Parasite

Holy guacamole!I’m not disappointed here, but I am shocked, despite the stated possibilities. That preferential ballot is a bugger to predict. Welcome to history (first international film to win best pic).

International Feature

Corpus Christi
Honeyland
Les Miserables
Pain And Glory
Parasite

My prediction: Parasite
Winner: Parasite

MINORS

Documentary Feature

American Factory
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama
Honeyland

My choice: The Cave
Likely winner: American Factory

Documentary Short Subject

In The Absence
Learning To Skateboard
Life Overtakes Me
St Louis Superman
Walk, Run, Cha-Cha

My prediction: St Louis Superman
Winner:
Learning To Skateboard

Live Action Short Film

Brotherhood
Nefta Football Club
The Neighbors’ Window
Saria
A Sister

My prediction: A Sister
Winner: The Neighbors’ Window

Animated Short Film

Dcera (Daughter)
Hair Love
Kitbull
Memorable
Sister

My prediction: Kitbull
Winner: Hair Love

Original Song

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” – Toy Story 4
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman
“I’m Standing With You” – Breakthrough
“Into the Uknown” – Frozen 2
“Stand Up” – Harriet

My prediction:  “Stand Up” – Harriet
Winner: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman

Probably should have updated this before the freeze, but this isn’t a surprise.

Original Score

Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)
Little Women (Alexandre Desplat)
Marriage Story (Randy Newman)
1917 (Thomas Newman)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (John Williams)

My prediction: Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)
Winner: Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)

Production Design

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My prediction:1917
Winner: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Sure, why not.

Costume Design

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My prediction: Little Women
Winner: Little Women

Makeup and Hairstyling

Bombshell
Joker
Judy
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
1917

My prediction: Bombshell
Winner: Bombshell

TECHNICAL

Cinematography

The Irishman
Joker
The Lighthouse
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My prediction: 1917
Winner: 1917

Film Editing

Ford V Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Parasite

My prediction: Jojo Rabbit
Winner: Ford V Ferrari

Was always a possibility (especially after the BAFTAs). They wanted to show the film some love…this was their chance.

Visual Effects

Avengers: Endgame
The Irishman
The Lion King
1917
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

My prediction: The Irishman
Winner:  1917

It isn’t that I didn’t say 1917 was the biggest threat to Irishman in this category…but I am a little disappointed in the voters.

Sound Mixing

Ad Astra
Ford V Ferrari
Joker
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My prediction: 1917
Winner: 1917

Sound Editing

Ford V Ferrari
Joker
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

My prediction: 1917
Winner: Ford V Ferrari

OK, I admit to be a bit of a surprise here, considering the field.

Oscars 2020 (final call)

Another awards season is nearly complete. And with all of the other ceremonies out of the way from SAG to BAFTA, DGA, WGA, Annies, Eddies, PGA, done, there is data and trends and confusions to add just a bit of drama and uncertainty to the mother of them all: Oscars.

So, with the nominations, conversations, and voting  period over, here are my final predictions of the night of glitz and glitter…

Actress in a Leading Role

Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)
Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
Siorse Ronan (Little Women)
Charlize Theron (Bombshell)
Renee Zellwegger (Judy)

My choice: Renee Zellwegger (Judy)
Likely winner: Renee Zellwegger (Judy)

This is pretty much a slam-dunk based on the previous ceremonies this year. And it is an amazing performance.

Actor in a Leading Role

Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)

My choice: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Likely winner: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

To my great joy, this is also a slam-dunk. The movie floored me, Phoenix in particular. But I never expected it to grab the attention of the industry this way since it is, at its heart, genre. It’s nice to be surprised sometimes.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell)
Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Scarlett Johannson (Jojo Rabbit)
Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Margot Robbie (Bombshell)

My choice: Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Likely winner: Laura Dern (Marriage Story)

I’ve never doubted Dern would take this statuette, but I’m not sure she’s the best choice. I think Pugh did more in her role. But Dern is a powerhouse in Marriage Story and she’s had everyone’s attention since the awards began rolling out.

Actor in a Supporting Role

Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)
Al Pacino (The Irishman)
Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

My choice: Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
Likely winner: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

Again, this was a category dominated from the top by a single person: Pitt. And it is a good performance in an otherwise awful movie (to my mind). But in terms of impact, Pesci and Hanks were the standouts for me. And while Pesci really is amazing (and has a slim chance of taking this) I feel like Hanks has been overlooked this year, as was his movie. Perhaps it was just too close to Rogers in reality to feel like a performance for most? Both he and Pesci hold their movies together, so really, either would be fine with me…but neither is going to beat Pitt.

Adapted Screenplay

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
The Two Popes

My choice: Jojo Rabbit
Likely winner: Little Women

My thinking on this has changed a lot in terms of who will win. The industry is definitely looking at this category differently than I expected… but also the previous awards hadn’t really grouped all of these together, so its a bit of a guess as to what happens. With Gerwig otherwise shut out, I think she’s got a chance for a consolation prize here. But Jojo has been showing momentum coming into the stretch (including winning the WGA) and it is the most inventive and unique of the tales overall (and Irishman is getting ignored).

Original Screenplay

Knives Out
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My choice: Parasite
Likely winner: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

I still don’t understand the critical love of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. It is a mess of a story and script that falls apart at the end. But it has overwhelming love from the Academy due to its subject matter and it has few other chances to win. But Parasite is likewise surging, so there could be a surprise of conscience and/or quality that tips the balance.

Directing

Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)
Todd Phillips (Joker)
Sam Mendes (1917)
Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)

My choice: Todd Phillips (Joker)
Likely winner: Sam Mendes (1917)

I’ve been back and forth on this category all season. Parasite is a brilliant and unexpected film, but it is also forced in some ways. The Irishman is a brilliant example of classic film-making, and manages to create a tiny, focused story out of an epic that flies along, even at 3.5 hours. It is a master-class in directing. But Joker pulls off the seeming impossible and, out of genre cloth, peels back the human condition in a way I’ve never seen before, and guided a performance that is devastating and utterly believable.

However, all that said, Mendes is going to take this for the audacity and technical execution of a story that, like Gravity before it, redefines what a movie can be. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t the best story, it is the scope and control he, as a director, had to manage in order to deliver his illusion. And it is bloody impressive.

Animated Feature Film

How To Train Your Dragon
I Lost My Body
Klaus
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

My choice: Klaus
Likely winner: Klaus

OK, this is actually more of an open race this year than I originally thought. No one outside the guild expected Missing Link and Klaus to dominate the Annies this year. Frankly, though Missing Link pushed the tech, it wasn’t that great a movie. And I skipped Klaus till recently because, well, Klaus…just isn’t my thing. And while I loved I Lost My Body (and it picked up the top independent animation honor at the Annies), Klaus won me over as the best film overall.

That said, there is still a strong possibility that name recognition and Pixar are likely to dominate the Academy votes here (despite BAFTA agreeing with the Annies). But I’d be wonderfully happy and surprised to be wrong about that.

Best Picture

Ford V Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My choice: The Irishman
Likely winner: 1917

Because of the preferential ballot, this is really still wide open. Anyone’s second or third choices could rise to the top if everyone’s second or third choice aligned.

In the end, I think Parasite gets International rather than making history as the first foreign language film to take Best Pic. I think Irishman gets snubbed because of Netflix, and I’m praying Once Upon a Time… just doesn’t get the votes as it doesn’t deserve it. But, more importantly, 1917 has been gaining momentum as the season wound down and it’s an impressive epic of a film that pushes the technology and the boundaries of expectation in a way that will likely get it over the top.

International Feature

Corpus Christi
Honeyland
Les Miserables
Pain And Glory
Parasite

My choice: Parasite
Likely winner: Parasite

I don’t think there is any doubt at this point here, despite the excellent field of options.

Original Song

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” – Toy Story 4
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman
“I’m Standing With You” – Breakthrough
“Into the Uknown” – Frozen 2
“Stand Up” – Harriet

My choice:  “Stand Up” – Harriet
Likely winner: “Stand Up” – Harriet

Y’know, I really just don’t care out of this grouping. Nothing stood out for me or in the popular culture. Given the lack of diversity in the Oscars this year (and with no dispersions on her abilities or song), I think Erivo takes it.

Original Score

Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)
Little Women (Alexandre Desplat)
Marriage Story (Randy Newman)
1917 (Thomas Newman)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (John Williams)

My choice: Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)
Likely winner: Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)

Documentary Feature

American Factory
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama
Honeyland

My choice: The Cave
Likely winner: The Cave

I have good reason for my pick other than the controversy surrounding the director’s fight with 45 getting her visa to attend the Oscars. You can’t buy that kind of publicity. But it is also getting a lot of positive attention as a film. But it could well lose to Honeyland, which has had some great recognition as well.

Documentary Short Subject

In The Absence
Learning To Skateboard
Life Overtakes Me
St Louis Superman
Walk, Run, Cha-Cha

My choice: ?????
Likely winner: St Louis Superman

Live Action Short Film

Brotherhood
Nefta Football Club
The Neighbors’ Window
Saria
A Sister

My choice: ?????
Likely winner: A Sister

No good reason for this choice as compared to The Neighbors’ Window, both of which have some nice buzz. Given the subjects of both, I’m just flipping the coin to A Sister.

Animated Short Film

Dcera (Daughter)
Hair Love
Kitbull
Memorable
Sister

My choice: ?????
Likely winner: Kitbull

Why Kitbull? Pixar.

Cinematography

The Irishman
Joker
The Lighthouse
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My choice: 1917
Likely winner: 1917

Film Editing

Ford V Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Parasite

My choice: The Irishman
Likely winner: Jojo Rabbit

After the Eddies this became a battle between Parasite and Jojo. Ultimately, I think Jojo had more complex challenges achieved more at an editing level. Then again Ford v Ferrari took the BAFTA, so they might pick this up as their only win for the evening.

Production Design

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My choice: Parasite
Likely winner: 1917

Honestly, I’m not sure what way this is going to break. Parasite has the most inventive design of the field (Jojo is fun, but not quite as sharply done), but 1917 recreates WWI down to such a level of detail it’s almost distracting.

Costume Design

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My choice: Little Women
Likely winner: Little Women

This is one of the few places Little Women can take an award and the costumes are wonderful period pieces across a huge range of the era. That is usually what takes the prize.

Visual Effects

Avengers: Endgame
The Irishman
The Lion King
1917
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

My choice: The Irishman
Likely winner: The Irishman

To recap my original argument, the invisibleness of The Irishmen’s f/x is what makes it stand out in this field. It’s biggest threat is 1917, which deserves it as well. It’s a small enough award that Netflix hate may not overwhelm sense.

Makeup and Hairstyling

Bombshell
Joker
Judy
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
1917

My choice: Bombshell
Likely winner: Bombshell

Bombshell managed transformations the others didn’t, though Judy was certainly a magnificent effort.

Sound Mixing

Ad Astra
Ford V Ferrari
Joker
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My choice: 1917
Likely winner: 1917

Sound Editing

Ford V Ferrari
Joker
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

My choice: 1917
Likely winner: 1917

NOMINATIONS BY FILM

Provided just for reference, but certainly interesting to consider when considering who has the attention of the voters.

Joker (Warner Bros.) – 11
The Irishman (Netflix) – 10
1917 (Universal/Amblin Partners) – 10
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Sony Pictures Releasing) – 10
Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight) – 6
Little Women (Sony Pictures Releasing) – 6
Marriage Story (Netflix) – 6
Parasite (Neon) – 6
Ford v Ferrari (Disney) – 4
Bombshell (Lionsgate) – 3
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney) – 3
The Two Popes (Netflix) – 3
Harriet (Focus Features) – 2
Honeyland (Neon) 2
Judy (LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions) – 2
Pain and Glory (Sony Pictures Classics) – 2
Toy Story 4 (Disney) – 2

Angel Has Fallen

[2.5 stars]

Before 300, who would have ever pegged Gerard Butler (Hunter Killer) as the leader of action franchises? Since then he’s done a string of entertaining, but not particularly good, films. And this particular series is as uneven as they come. Olympus Has Fallen was surprising…but its sequel was just awful. However, it made enough to bring us this threquel, which is somewhere between the two in quality.

There are some things going for this story. First, embracing its aging lead and recognizing that a job that involves as many explosions and physical contact as Butler’s has a deteriorating effect on the body. Also, there are some great moments peppered throughout and, perhaps best, the relationship and by-play with Nick Nolte (A Walk in the Woods).

Unfortunately, these tidbits of good are bound together by some of the weakest mysteries, worst logic, and bad writing I’ve seen in a major in quite a while. Poor Jada Pinkett Smith (Magic Mike XXL) is saddled with a character that put the “feeble” in FBI. And Tim Blake Nelson (Just Mercy) is about as credible as a hedghog as the vice president.

Part of what worked against the movie is that its effects and stunts are top notch, making the B-grade script and story show its warts all the more. So, whether you see this one has to be up to you. I’ve seen worse, but I’ve certainly seen so much better. The script is so insulting to the audience that you need to disengage, yell at the screen till you’re too tired to continue doing that, or turn it into a drinking game. Choose your approach carefully.

Angel Has Fallen