Tag Archives: craft

Tom of Finland

[3.5 stars]

Many things can define a culture or a group. It can be music, food, fashion…or in this case: art. You may not know his nome de pencil,  Tom of Finland, but you can’t have escaped the images that Touko Valio Laaksonen produced. He defined a great deal of gay culture starting in the 40s up through the 80s, evolving his art from providing a voice to the fantasies of forbidden desire to, ultimately, celebrations of life in the face of illness. Whether or not you were part of the leather culture, his images captured raw sexuality in a heightened way that was an equal response to, and a statement about, how repressed culture was pretty much everywhere.

Beyond his art, Laaksonen himself, had a fascinating life that we pick up during WWII. Yes, he struggled with a repressive culture and horrifying laws and bias, but he also struggled with simply being a veteran of war. His wish to avoid confrontation, to not have to fight anymore, is something universal to soldiers returned from the front. Seeing that play out in his life was an unexpected aspect of the history.

Director Dome Karukoski also told the story in an interesting way, without explanation flipping around the chronologies at times, but always with a purpose that would pay off. He maintains a respectable distance from his subjects, but allows us to invest in them and hope for them. There is an odd clinical feeling to many of the exchanges that is reflective of Finland and Germany, but it never leaves you feeling closed out. In some ways the lack of warmth heightens the brief moments of connection for Touko and contrasts nicely with his later life.

This movie works equally well as a story and as a documentary/biopic. Primarily in Finnish, it also has plenty of German and English dialogue and nothing is so rapid fire as to cause subtitle strain. In fact, a lot of the film is without dialogue, allowing the story to play out with looks and action alone. It is well done and, ultimately, educating. It will also provide you a new appreciation for Tom of Finland, his work and his purpose, not to mention his place in history.

Tom of Finland

 

Gloria (2013)

[4 stars]

Even when a movie like this one earns your attention and trust you aren’t always sure it’s working until the final moments. By the end, however, it most definitely pays off; in fact, the final moments are transcendent for the character and the audience.

The success of the final scene is worth the entire movie to get to…and wouldn’t work without what comes before. Paulina García’s (Narcos) subtle performance holds you and endears you to her over time. And, it must be said, she is certainly helped along in the finale by the 80s hit that shares the same title. (As a side-note, there is a fascinating history to the song and its lyrics and why you may not recognize the translation.) Without question, this is García’s film. While Sergio Hernández certainly gives her something to work off of, she controls the story and screen from start to finish.

Gloria is a quiet film of discovery and life for its main character. The tale is interesting, but not provocative. Like Finding Your Feet, it allows the information to seep out and inform over time. We travel with Gloria through a critical period of her life, starting 12 years after her divorce. It is clear that, up till now, she had drifted through life’s events, shifting directions as they sent her. We aren’t really sure where she’ll end up nor whether anything is going to change as we see her wake up to that reality; the tension of that question and the accessibility of her character pull you along to the end.

Director and co-writer Sebastián Lelio’s (A Fantastic Woman) love of the character and his trust in the material and in the audience is wonderful. He is expert at showing us what we need, and nothing more, while helping us celebrate his characters, flaws and all. You would be excused for not seeing how well its working till the end; but the final scene makes it clear how undeniably good his craft is and why, even with a small opus, he has so many awards nominations and wins. Make time to celebrate Gloria at some point, and keep an eye on Lelio. He is clearly a talent to watch with many more tales to tell.

Gloria

MCU: From the Beginning and Before the Ending

In prep for Avengers: Infinity War, I decided to rewatch the entire sequence from its 2008 beginnings. Why? Well, first: Why not? This audacious sequence of films has pulled off something no one has even come close to producing, except Lord of the Rings. During the course of 18 films over 10 years Marvel has woven a story together with the goal of paying it off in film 19. They found great actors to tell great stories about flawed heroes; heroes we recognized ourselves in.

And with the exception of one of those films, they were all solid and well done. And the one that wasn’t so great, well, it still has my respect because unlike Sony’s flailing at the Spidey universe, it woke them up to the fact that they had to produce quality if they wanted to succeed. They never stumbled again, though certainly the movies had differing impacts and approaches. And the clues and nods are just incredible to see when you know everything that is to come. As we get ready to leave the Joss Whedon era, who really set the template for this cycle, you have to wonder if anyone would have the guts and talent to try this again.

If you want to rewatch it all yourself, do it over at least three weeks. I squeezed this into less than two weeks at two or three films a day. Fun, but exhausting.

So here we go, in brief, through the dots that brought us here.

Phase One (though we didn’t know that for sure until Thor)

Iron Man is still a surprisingly effective movie. My original write-up is lost, but I still am amazed at how it subverted the comic genre on screen by being a real movie. We got to know and care about Tony Stark, despite his ego, or perhaps because of it. He was flawed but engaging. The world was believable and intriguing. It had humor and action and, above all, a really good script and acting. This wasn’t done with a nod and a wink, it was done to do it well and it showed, launching the huge franchise we are celebrating this year. Sure, the ending was a bit overblown and the villain a bit too teeth-gnashy, but the series would learn as it went along.

The Incredible Hulk is already a second bite at the apple at this character (third if you include Bixby’s series), but it does an interesting job of not disavowing Ang Lee and Eric Bana’s take by bridging from it to the this new version during the credits. It is substantially more comic book style than Iron Man and still struggles with its villains and finale. However, it is an important piece in the Avengers puzzle. It introduces the Super Soldier program, something lost on me till now, and it provides an important pivot for David Banner. This more morose and pouty Hulk has to leave his past behind and accept who he is to become the Ruffalo version.  Sure that comment is a bit revisionist, but you get to do that when you see it after knowing where it will go. It isn’t a great film, but it continued the character-driven approach Marvel wanted and gave us hope they had some real sense of what they had…the tag with Tony and the General sealed the deal on it.

We all would like to forget that Iron Man 2 existed. It was rushed to screen and just doesn’t have the same polish as what had come before. But it is easy to forget that it also introduced Black Widow, got Pepper and Tony together, shifted Tony’s attitude, queued up Captain America with a couple nods, and continued Phil Coulson’s involvement. Having watched this the day after Rampage, however, I can confidently point out that while it may be just an action flick, it is still better than most of the similar tripe being produced even if it isn’t up to the MCU standards by any stretch. However, it also put the fear of god into Disney/Marvel/Kevin Feige. They never tried for a pure money grab again, knowing that they had to meet the expectations of their audience or risk losing it all. Here we are almost 19 films later because they learned their lesson.

Thor is where the MCU really started to hit its stride, understanding what they had and where they intended to go. It is the first 3D. It is the first to push the comedy throughout. It introduced the first Infinity Stone. And it tagged the end with a mention of The Avengers. Thor was always the one hero that worried me because it was off-realm gods and magic. How do you make that mainstream and believable next to human heroes (even if they’ve been mutated huge and green)? But they did it, and managed to launch Brannagh’s career as a director of huge films to boot. They also took an existing god and gave him an origin story by making him mortal-ish for a good part of the film. Its one misstep, though it worked for the story, was Portman’s Jane, who they had to disappear to keep things going in subsequent films.

Captain America: The First Avenger. Hail Hydra! Where Thor had nailed the stride of the humor, Cap nailed the format of the MCU journey. The movie had its own style, reflective of its time period,ss and set up everything that was to come through Civil War (and a couple of TV spin offs as well). Despite the CG of Rogers never looking quite right at the beginning, it was still an effective and smart choice. And the ending manages to give us both action and pathos in a way that made it a great story as well as a solid action flick.

Marvel’s The Avengers redefined the term “big” when it came to films. Its non-stop action and coalescing storyline still amaze. It is full of character and some of the best moments yet to grace the series (then and now: Puny God!). It is the first taste of what Joss and Feige had planned for a much bigger feast and it certainly whet the appetite and proved they could pull off something no one else had even tried. And damn if they didn’t get you to feel the passing(ish) of a minor character with a great scene. Oh, and of course our first glimpse of Thanos.

Phase Two

Pivoting into Phase Two, Iron Man 3 kicked off a sequence that could best be termed: Consequences. Unexpectedly, if sometimes ham-handedly, it took on some serious matters like PTSD. It did so with humor and action, though it went a little off the rails in its blithe quippiness, Christmas theme, and kids. We know this world now, and with IR3 and Phase 2 , we’re getting a new sense of the characters, watching necessary doubt creep in this middle stretch of the sequence. It wasn’t what a lot of folks wanted, but it was fascinating and, again, necessary to build the platform that eventually becomes Ultron and Civil War. And, despite any of its weaknesses, it still is incredibly entertaining and rewatchable.

Thor: The Dark World has an odd flavor of political intrigue, but intrigue that has been in motion for quite a while. It also introduces the next Infinity Stone, but you could blink and miss that aspect if you didn’t know what you were looking for. In retrospect it is clear and sets up the Collector as well, who has his own role to play. It is full of humor and action, and it does advance some of the characters, but it feels a bit outside the Phase in some ways.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes a huge and brave leap for such a big sequence. It irrevocably changes the face and structure of the world, setting up Phase Three as well as impacting the spin-off series. Certainly there is a lot of character work here shimmed in between the action, and new characters who will continue forward. And, if you needed any other sense of how far ahead the crew plan, we also get our first mention of Doctor Strange in a throwaway interrogation…a hint that wouldn’t pay off for another five movies.

And now for something completely different; Guardians of the Galaxy. This romp, while still very much in the MCU, was a welcome break from what we knew and a huge expansion of characters to play with. Yes, it is a bit silly at times, especially how quickly the Guardians all bond, but the humor is fun and the action is great. There really is something for everyone in this branch of the universe, as well as laying out the mysteries to grow on and our first real interaction with an Infinity Stone.

All damaged characters, enter here: Avengers: Age of Ultron. This marked the end of the Joss Whedon era, and perhaps not on quite as high a note as he would have wanted. This story rewatches better than it played initially, though. It is a very psychologically complex tale with a lot of layered construction and cultural nods. It also has the trademark Whedon dialogue throughout, and the brilliant choice of Spader as Ultron. Also, this is the first direct mention of Wakanda and the tee-up for Black Panther. When you realize that this is the culmination of 10 previous films and the setup for the next eight (or 11 if you go through the full Phase Three sequence), the threads Whedon wove, and the guidance to get there, is going to be tough to match. Also, it’s worth noting that they were again willing to take the risk of pivoting to new characters and big changes, with more yet to come to keep it both fresh and, let’s face it, affordable.

Ant-Man gets a little absurd, admittedly, but maintains the connections and thread of the universe. And it’s a universe that can sustain a lot of different styles. That alone is something of note. Each movie, or perhaps better considered, each character has a particular sensibility that shapes the movies they are in. Be it the earnestness of Capt. America or the nuttiness of the Guardians or the comic book silliness of Ant-Man, each style supports the sense of the stories they are in. Ant-Man is fun and amusing, and uses its tech relatively well…at least within the confines of a PG rated film. That said, Ant-Man is the movie that feels the most out of place in the collection so far, even more than Guardians. I think that is because it is such a familiar world, but the action and dialogue are very broad in comparison.

Phase Three

Where Ultron showed the cracks in the friendships and group, in Captain America: Civil War it all goes to hell, launching the third phase through a moment of crisis and uncertainty. This installment is really more like Avengers 3 than a Captain America, but the schism formed here will surely come back to roost in a few films. For now, however, it serves more to break up the gang, redeem Bucky, and launch Black Panther. It is also the first of the films to show real fallout from the carnage that the heroes inflict upon the world trying to save it. The world’s reaction is eerily apropos current politics as well.

Forgetting that the medical scenes in Doctor Strange were just, well, absurd, the rest of it was really pretty fun visually, in action and dialogue. Where else could a cape become a character? And while it feels rather on its own in the universe for most of the tale, other than some throw-away side comments, by the end it is solidly ensconced in the larger tale leaving only a single Infinity Stone unaccounted for.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 tries a bit too hard to be bigger and better than its first iteration. The fact that is has the highest number of tags at the end of the film is symptomatic of that as well. However, some questions get answered, some necessary information was layered in, and the action is huge. Fortunately, the humor continues unabated as well. As romps go, it was a hoot, if not as unexpected now that we’ve seen these characters and have a sense of them. It does cement the Guardians as a self-selected family and has given them a purpose that will aim them squarely at Infinity War, even if some of the moments were a little forced. Also, the two Guardian movies make the best use of 3D in the MCU (at least so far). Or at least make the most conscious use of it. They do have an advantage being in space and all, but really it is more about the director thinking about the presentation from the outset and throughout the story.

Spider-Man: Homecoming was a wonderful surprise entering into the MCU. And with Marvel guiding the Sony franchise, it has been reinvigorated and morphed into something both new and closer to the original material. Whether Sony will respect that input and collaboration and stick with it remains to be seen (and rumors on the street are that they won’t). Still we’ll get at least a couple more appearances of Spidey over the next few years and we’ll get to watch him grow-up in reality and in his role as a superhero.

Meanwhile, back in Asgard… Thor: Ragnarok brings about a few necessary aspects of plot and relationship, but it is generally just a good romp. While it is mostly just a pause before the finale that is coming, it does also take make some radical changes, declared right in the title. How that will play out, other than with some additional fighters to tackle Thanos, we’ll find out soon. But as a film it is a weird, anachronistic, pastiche of Waititi’s humor and the MCU ethos. Great fun, to be sure, but definitely one of the oddest of the films in the sequence in terms of how the bits clash at times.

Black Panther surprised me by not being as good for rewatching as I’d expected. It still is fun, and a great new world to explore, but it is not the action film it feels like the first time through and had even weaker character motivations than I had recalled. And, on seeing it again, it is the political message that rings through it like a gong. Not that it was subtle the first time, but after you know the story, it is that aspect that clearly drives and shapes it all. By the end, though, all the pieces are in place for Thanos and one heck of a showdown. What will be very interesting is seeing where they take Wakanda and the very real issues raised in Panther’s launch.

And now, on to Infinity War… and then probably the longest coda and shift ever conceived (2 years and 3 movies) with Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, and what was originally Infinity War part 2 (as conceived by Whedon). Where MCU goes at that point is a matter of much conjecture and very little information, but these last films should give us a good sense of the direction.

Isle of Dogs

[4 stars]

It’s hard to believe, but it has been four years since Wes Anderson brought us the near-perfect Grand Budapest Hotel.  Since then he has been working on this piece of stop-action magic, his second effort in the art after The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Isle of Dogs, by luck or incredible insight on the part of Anderson and his various co-writers, is a mirror of today’s politics and growing xenophobia, but in a fun way. It is, to say the least, quirky, but full of heart and humor. One thing it isn’t, it isn’t for kids. These characters lead rough lives and live in a corrupted and selfish world, but they remain driven and hopeful throughout. You could say they’re dogged, but that might get you slapped.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you may have noticed that the voice talent for this movie is extraordinary. In fact, it is far too long to even try and list. But Bryan Cranston (Why Him?) leads the story with Ed Norton (Collateral Beauty), Jeff Goldblum (Thor: Ragnarok), Bill Murray (The Jungle Book), and Bob Balaban (The Monuments Men) poking him from the sidelines. All, in Anderson’s style, just let the story unfold and show itself. Scarlett Johansson (Ghost in the Shell), Greta Gerwig (Maggie’s Plan), and Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) balance them all out with quiet performances of their own. However, this is very much a male dominated story.

There is something magic about this movie. Like Budapest used music, Dogs uses Japanese stage-craft to pull you into its world and set up the approach. And it also plays with keeping you in the dog’s perspective. For instance, one of the main characters speaks only untranslated Japanese, but yet you understand him.

It is hard to explain why this film works, but it does. If you like Anderson’s work at all, this is a must-see. If you enjoy stop-action animation, it is also worth seeing, though it isn’t up to the standards of Laika studios (e.g., Kubo and the Two Strings). But it is delightful, adult, and emotionally satisfying which still providing a good story and a point. As it expands its number of screens, find a theater and go see it. If nothing else, it will be one of the  most unique films you see this year.

Isle of Dogs

We Don’t Belong Here

[3 stars]

This is definitely an unconventional narrative that plays out in intriguing, and unexpected ways. As a first script and directing delivery by Peer Pedersen, it is both what you expect and not what you anticipate. So, basically, a well-executed indie with a solid cast.

Catherine Keener (November Criminals) is the relatively patient matriarch of one heck of a messed up family. She provides a shifting center to the story as all threads come back to pass through her, though she isn’t the primary point of view.

Her four children are all damaged in different ways, and all dealing with their issues in worlds of their own devising. Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12), Riley Keough (Logan Lucky), Annie Starke (Albert Nobbs), and Anton Yelchin (Jack) work well together as sibs without losing their individual aspects. And it is Dever’s point of view that walks us through the story, though the approach is inconsistent and less than edifying, particularly near the end.

Maya Rudolph (Maggie’s Plan) and Cary Elwes (Shadow of the Vampire) bring another set of layers to the tale. Each is nicely compartmentalized and human despite their own particular struggles. It is only Molly Shannon (The Little Hours) in the cast who comes off completely wrong, though there may be reasons for that…just none I felt supported her and her choices.

You can’t watch this movie without considering the loss of Yelchin. Bizarrely, I watched this the same day Yelchin’s family settled the suit for his tragic death. Since his passing, his last films have been trickling out into the wild. With this film dropping direct-to-disc and Thoroughbreds finally out in theaters, we’ve actually (and sadly) reached the end of his recorded efforts. This movie contains a powerful performance, but all the more bittersweet given the plot and knowing it is one of his very last.

We Don’t Belong Here is a quiet film, but Pedersen kept it full of tension and intellectual challenge. He did a great job laying out his plots and editing to the final moments. It isn’t for a wide audience, but if you enjoy a true indie spirit and approach, you’ll find this one worth your time.

We Don

Wonder Wheel

[3.5 stars]

Wonder Wheel starts off like many Woody Allen (Cafe Society) films: A hapless narrator explaining the romance/farce/tragedy that is about to unfold. In this case, it is a bit of all of that, but it also quickly shifts into a new mode for Allen. With the immense help of Jim Belushi (Twin Peaks) and Kate Winslet (Collateral Beauty), we are suddenly transported into a Eugene O’Neill play with moments of Tennessee Williams, complete with claustrophobic set, heavy use of alcohol, violence, and disastrous romantic longings. Not to detract from Winslet’s more subtle performance, but Belushi is the real powerhouse behind these scenes; he is an unexpected gut punch in what you expect to be a light, period romance.

Those truly phenomenal scenes are broken up with more typical Allen moments, but without the forced, halting aspects that tend to distract in his movies. All of the scenes flow nicely, though the tenor of the dialog becomes lighter and a tad stilted. Justin Timberlake (Trolls) tends to herald these moments. To a degree, I understand the choice and it is explained at the very top of the film, but the scenes cut into a more powerful story and I think it could have been smoothed through a bit better.

Running between the two worlds along with Winslet is Juno Temple (Black Mass). She brings most of the Tennessee Williams sensibility: fragile, naive, tough, intelligent, lost, and desperate to be loved. She is a breath of Southern Gothic dropped into the Northeast Tragedy.

In many ways, while not necessarily the best Woody Allen film, it is one of his most impressive. The use of language and setting is powerful. The story is relateable and yet utterly designed. The tragedy inevitable and yet totally avoidable. If not for the recent events in the industry, Wonder Wheel would have garnered a lot more attention and nominations. That it didn’t is a complicated conversation every person will have to answer for themselves. But, from a purely artistic point of view, I can recommend the film for the performances, writing, and direction and it may suggest an entirely new direction for Allen’s oeuvre.

Wonder Wheel

A Wrinkle in Time

[3 stars]

Some books stick with you from childhood. When I discovered tesseracts at age 9 or 10, the world opened up for me and I was sold on science fiction for the rest of my life. And it is still one of the first books I give to young kids when they move up a level in their reading. What makes the book so special is that it doesn’t talk down to children. Children are, in fact, the heroes in a very real way. While there are more books like that now, there definitely weren’t when it came out in 1962. And it still has the power to enthrall today, despite any competition because it is so accessible and understandable to children on an emotional level. As the trailers were released for this movie, everyone in the audience was murmuring how they wanted to see it and how much they loved the book, to a time.

Well, first let me warn you, let go of the book. In focusing the story so it would fit into a feature-length tale, Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terebithia) decided on some large changes right off the top, especially around Charles Wallace. Most of those are acceptable, but dropping the other siblings and shortening the trials of the children (and a significant change to the ending) left me wondering about their choices.

Ava DuVernay (13th) directed the script she had well. The pace is measured, but matches the book. Despite its impact, the book is very surfacey in its way, and full of huge leaps of place and understanding, but it is true in its emotional core, which DuVernay completely understood. She also walked the line of young love beautifully. But the film is aimed purposefully at 8-15 year olds by design. That is a fair choice, but it makes it less interesting for the returning adult or the more world-aware tween.

Of course, a lot has been made of the three Misses: Reese Witherspoon (Wild), Mindy Kaling (Inside Out), and Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels’ The Butler). But this is primarily Storm Reid’s (12 Years a Slave) movie, and she carries it well. She also bounces off her screen brother Deric McCabe nicely. McCabe has his own burdens to carry in this film and is generally good. Because of the changes to his character, though, I did find accepting him a little harder to do. On the other hand, Levi Miller’s (Pan) Calvin is spot on. He too works well with Reid.

Chris Pine (Wonder Woman), does an amazing amount with very few lines and little screen time. Similarly, though with less range, does Gugu Mbatha-Raw (The Cloverfield Paradox). They make great parents in need of rescue. Sadly, Zach Galifianakis (Tulip Fever) was given one of the best roles in the film, but it was so dampened in the adaptation that he is just forgettable.

The visuals are mostly impressive, though often they feel like flash over substance. The story, well, as I said if you can let go of the book and find your inner 9 year old, it will increase your enjoyment. For me, there were moments that were captured and others that were missed. It was like seeing part of a great painting, but not quite all of it. I do understand the point of the writers and director in their approach…but, the excisions and reconceptualizations should have been left to those with a better understanding of the story who could have also looped in the intent. For instance, despite the opening and closing frames trying to impart one of the great reveals and lessons (and it failed on that), they ignored core chunks of the tale. Giving us the simplest, bare emotional core of the story ultimately diminished rather than expanded its potential audience in my opinion. They should have trusted that the book remained so popular because of its detail, not just because of its message.

This isn’t the first attempt to adapt Wrinkle in Time to screen, nor is it the best, but it makes a game try and is a solid story for children trying to find their place in the world, even if it leaves out and changes great swaths of the original book. So, if you have a young person in your life, sure take them. Skip the IMAX… it just isn’t filmed for it on the whole. And, if they haven’t read the book before the movie, make sure they read it after so they truly understand the magic and possibilities. The remaining four books in the series are totally missable in my opinion. The second is interesting, but the rest… well, make up your own mind. As for the movie…I wanted it to be so much more than it was, but it wasn’t a total fail. I don’t see a franchise coming out of this, but perhaps a Disney Channel series.

Someday, I’d love to see the book tackled again as a mini-series, bringing in the best of this and the best of the 2003 version, which had its good points too (though no widescreen version was ever released). For now, we have this attempt to hold us till someone does it the right way.

A Wrinkle in Time

Oscars 2018 (results)

It’s now time to admit to my successes and failures in prediction.

This was a tough year to predict, which made the ceremony all that more exciting even if it wasn’t the best for comedy. And lest you think I’m not being honest, here are the links to my nominations and final call to help keep me honest.

I did about 87% on the nominations for this year.

For the results:
I did 100% on the majors (8 out of 8).
I did 30% on the minors (3 out of 9; however, I didn’t see most of those. If I leave out the shorts it was a slightly better 60% (3 out of 5))
I did 75% on the technical (6 out of 8)

Overall that was 68% (17 out of 25)
Or without the shorts: %80 (17 out of 21)

THE MAJORS
(or what we all care about)

Actress in a Leading Role
Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Meryl Streep (The Post)

My Prediction: Frances McDormand
Winner: Frances McDormand

Actor in a Leading Role
Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread)
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)

My Prediction: Gary Oldman 
Winner:  Gary Oldman 

Actress in a Supporting Role
Mary J Blige (Mudbound)
Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread)
Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)

My Prediction: Allison Janney
Winner: Allison Janney

Actor in a Supporting Role
Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water)
Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World)
Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

My Prediction: Sam Rockwell
Winner: Sam Rockwell

Directing
Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread)
Guillermo del Toro (Shape of Water)

My Prediction: Guillermo del Toro
Winner: Guillermo del Toro

Best Picture
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My Prediction: The Shape of Water
Winner: The Shape of Water

Animated Feature Film
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Coco
Ferdinand
Loving Vincent

My Prediction: Coco
Winner: Coco

Foreign Language Film
A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
The Insult (Lebanon)
Loveless (Russia)
On Body And Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

My Prediction:  A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
Winner:  A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

THE MINORS
(or what the rest of us care about)

Documentary Feature
Abacus
Faces, Places
Icarus
Last Man In Aleppo
Strong Island

My Prediction: Icarus
Winner: Icarus  

Documentary Short Subject
Edith and Eddie
Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Heroin(e)
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

My Prediction: Heroin(e)  
Winner: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 

Animated Short Film
Dear Basketball
Garden Party
Lou
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

My Prediction: Negative Space
Winner: Dear Basketball

Live Action Short Film
Dekalb Elementary
The Eleven O’Clock
My Nephew Emmett
Silent Child
Watu Wote (All Of Us)

My Prediction: Dekalb Elementary  
Winner: Silent Child

Adapted Screenplay
Call Me by Your Name” James Ivory
The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

My Prediction: Call Me By Your Name
Winner: Call Me By Your Name

Original Screenplay
The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Get Out,” Jordan Peele
Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh

My Prediction: Shape of Water
Winner: Get Out
I’ll note that I did call this upset a good possibility.

Original Song
“Mighty River” (Mudbound), Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” (Call Me By Your Name), Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” (Coco), Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” (Marshall), Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” (The Greatest Showman), Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

My Prediction: This is Me
Winner:  Remember Me
This was probably my only real disappointment for the evening. I just don’t think this song was worthy of the win.

Original Score
Dunkirk
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My Prediction: Shape of Water
Winner:  Shape of Water

THE CRAFT & TECHNICAL
(or what we should all care about)

Cinematography
Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049)
Bruno Delbonnel (Darkest Hour)
Hoyte van Hoytema (Dunkirk)
Rachel Morrison (Mudbound)
Dan Laustsen (The Shape of Water)

My Prediction: Blade Runner 2049
Winner: Blade Runner 2049

Costume Design
Beauty and the Beast
The Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Victoria & Abdul

My Prediction: Phantom Thread 
Winner: Phantom Thread 

Makeup and Hairstyling
The Darkest Hour
Victoria & Abdul
Wonder

My Prediction: The Darkest Hour
Winner: The Darkest Hour

Production Design
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
The Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water

My Prediction: Shape of Water
Winner: Shape of Water

Film Editing
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
I, Tonya
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My Prediction: Dunkirk
Winner: Dunkirk

Sound Editing
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

My Prediction: Dunkirk
Winner: Dunkirk

Sound Mixing
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

My Prediction: Baby Driver
Winner: Dunkirk
Another I thought likely, but had hoped would go a different way, though in this case it was a tough field.

Visual Effects
Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Kong: Skull Island
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

My Prediction: War of the Planet of the Apes
Winner: Blade Runner 2049
This was a happy surprise to me as Blade Runner was so overlooked this year. A strong option, but still think Apes did more practical work, which should have give it the win. But I’m not complaining.

Oscars 2018 (final call)

The gap between nominations and now has afforded me some time to think and to catch up on a few films I hadn’t been able to get to. My opinions of who should win hasn’t changed much, but a few shifts in the predictions of who I think will win has in a few notable places.

I’ll say again, no matter the winners this year, I can’t say I’d be too upset with any one of the nominations. It was a strong year for entertainment.

So this is my final update, which I will follow with a report on my accuracy. I did about 87% on the nominations for this year. Politics and one (happy) surprise dropped me below the 90s, but, again, no one unworthy is in any list.

THE MAJORS
(or what we all care about)

Actress in a Leading Role
Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Meryl Streep (The Post)

My Choice:  Sally Hawkins remains my first choice, but she’s been losing to Frances McDormand consistently for the big awards leading up to Oscar. McDormand’s is an amazing performance as well, but I don’t think it is as challenging as Hawkins’ was. However, the grit and more understandable emotion appeals to many. I think if Saoirse Ronan had more momentum, she would have split the vote more, but she appears out of the running entirely at this rate. I’m an not going to weep if McDormand wins, I just thought Hawkins skills were put more to the test. 
Likely Winner: Frances McDormand

Actor in a Leading Role
Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread)
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)

My Choice: Gary Oldman has swept every award and his performance is an astounding melting of actor into a role. 
Likely Winner:  Gary Oldman

Actress in a Supporting Role
Mary J Blige (Mudbound)
Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread)
Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)

My Choice: Laurie Metcalf is still my choice in this very, very tough field of talent, but I think she lost momentum and Janney has yet to be so honored, despite years of amazing work and nominations. Her work here is stellar, even if I don’t think it tackled the same level of challenge from a craft point of view. I can see the vote going her way. 
Likely Winner: Allison Janney

Actor in a Supporting Role
Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water)
Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World)
Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

My Choice: Richard Jenkins remains my favorite performance in this batch. His role was quiet and subtle, but utterly solid and heartbreaking. But Rockwell has the momentum and his part was, for lack of a better word, louder.  
Likely Winner: Sam Rockwell

Directing
Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread)
Guillermo del Toro (Shape of Water)

My Choice: Guillermo del ToroThis is one of those times where you wish they’d divide out the category so more people could be honored. Gerwig and Peele had amazing first films. But, overall, del Toro had the biggest challenge and delivered the most nuanced movie of the three. 
Likely Winner: Guillermo del Toro

Best Picture
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My Choice: There are so many ways to argue this one. Part of the challenge is that this award is preferential ballot (looking at the top few choices for all ballots) which can allow surprises when a film is the consistent second or third choice for a huge majority.

I think it is a death match between Shape of Water, Get Out, and Three Billboards. Lady Bird could slip up between all of them if it is everyone’s second choice, but these other three have the lead going in.

Shape of Water, however, has one major advantage, beyond its 13 nominations, DGA, and other wins. Shape is about all the things that the other films are about, all rolled into one, rather than as a single, primary theme. So I’m going with The Shape of Water, but I won’t be surprised by something else taking this home, especially after Three Billboards BAFTA win.
Likely Winner: The Shape of Water

Animated Feature Film
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Coco
Ferdinand
Loving Vincent

My Choice:  Vincent has an incredible art story to tell, both in the script and in the making of it. And Breadwinner has some nice politics to buoy it’s possibilities. However Coco has more of a populist heart and some gorgeous work in it, and was able to reach a larger audience. Just looking at them as films, it was also the best.
Likely Winner: Coco 

Foreign Language Film
A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
The Insult (Lebanon)
Loveless (Russia)
On Body And Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

My Choice: No real clue, to be honest. I have somehow missed all of these so far, though I will pick them up as I am able later. The Square has the most name recognition, but there are many topical options. On a whim, I’m going with the most fringe of the films for the win…
Likely Winner: A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

THE MINORS
(or what the rest of us care about)

Documentary Feature
Abacus
Faces, Places
Icarus
Last Man In Aleppo
Strong Island

My Choice: Again, lack of access to the films makes this more about reading other’s opinions and news for me. 
Likely Winner: Icarus  

Documentary Short Subject
Edith and Eddie
Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Heroin(e)
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

My Choice: Total guess. 
Likely Winner: Heroin(e)  

Animated Short Film
Dear Basketball
Garden Party
Lou
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

My Choice: Another dice roll (and some research). 
Likely Winner: Negative Space

Live Action Short Film
Dekalb Elementary
The Eleven O’Clock
My Nephew Emmett
Silent Child
Watu Wote (All Of Us)

My Choice: The only showing for all these shorts (animated and live action) was for Fri and Sat just before Oscar Sunday. You’d think Amazon or Netflix would seal up a short license to show them off at this point, but no. So again, basing my choice on the eyes of others.  
Likely Winner: Dekalb Elementary  

Adapted Screenplay
Call Me by Your Name” James Ivory
The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

My Choice: Molly’s Game may still pull this out based on love for Sorkin and little else to gift him this year. And it was a solid directorial debut for him too. However, the Scripter Award (from USC) went to Call Me By Your Name and they’ve correlated to Oscar 7 out of 7 times over the last 7 years. That’s probably a few too many 7’s to ignore. And it picked up the WGA as well.
Likely Winner: Call Me By Your Name

Original Screenplay
The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Get Out,” Jordan Peele
Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh

My Choice: Shape of Water even though it has run into some controversial headwinds. I think it will survive those. Should it falter, Get Out may just slip up through the split votes that would ensue. Get Out’s WGA win certainly will help it. And Three Billboards’ BAFTA confused the field. However, much as my reasons for Best Picture, I think Shape covers a lot of the same ground as Get Out, Three Billboards, and then some, which may help it with a broader base. However, there has been late momentum and love for Get Out, so it could be an interesting upset.
Likely Winner: Shape of Water

Original Song
“Mighty River” (Mudbound), Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” (Call Me By Your Name), Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” (Coco), Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” (Marshall), Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” (The Greatest Showman), Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

My Choice:  This is Me though I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Remember Me slipped in here given Coco’s huge audience base and its multiple renditions during the film. Problem is, it is just a boring song to my ear. And, in today’s political climate, This is Me is right on the money for the times.
Likely Winner: This is Me

Original Score
Dunkirk
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My Choice: Dunkirk, but I’ve still no faith others will see/hear the brilliance of it against the ground swell for Shape of Water, whose score was magical in its own way and whose BAFTA win certainly could be indicative.
Likely Winner: Shape of Water

THE CRAFT & TECHNICAL
(or what we should all care about)

Cinematography
Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049)
Bruno Delbonnel (Darkest Hour)
Hoyte van Hoytema (Dunkirk)
Rachel Morrison (Mudbound)
Dan Laustsen (The Shape of Water)

My Choice: Dunkirk has a great shot here; Nolan is nothing if not a brilliant framer and Hoytema’s work and challenges were huge given the various environments he had to navigate. However, for beauty and support of the story, Shape of Water and Blade Runner beat him out. Deakins, in particular, had to both create his own language as well as match the original enough to evoke the connection, which has me picking Blade Runner 2049 as my choice. Originally, I thought Dunkirk would pull this one out, but after Blades’s BAFTA and American Society of Cinematographers top honors this year, and Deakins’ previous 13 (and no win) nominations, I’m going to switch my expectation for the Academy, even if ASC winners correlate to Oscar less than 50% of the time.
Likely Winner: Blade Runner 2049

Costume Design
Beauty and the Beast
The Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Victoria & Abdul

My Choice: Typically, this would go to a period piece (like old period). That thinking would put Victoria & Abdul in the front. But this year’s cadre are all over the place on era’s. Phantom Thread boasts some incredible 40s/50s creations by Mark Bridges. Beauty, fantastical imagination. Shape of Water, a range of clothing, much like Darkest Hour. For me, the invisibility of the costumes in Shape of Water is the most impressive of the lot. Basically, this is a crap shoot with a lot of worthy winners (with Durran up for two: Beast and Darkest Hour).
Likely Winner: Phantom Thread

Makeup and Hairstyling
The Darkest Hour
Victoria & Abdul
Wonder

My Choice: Though Wonder has some impressive make-up, Oldman’s transformation is jaw-dropping and seamless. Going with The Darkest Hour.
Likely Winner: The Darkest Hour

Production Design
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
The Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water

My Choice: Wow, you could just hit your head against a wall for ages trying to pick one here. Each film created solid, believable worlds. For complexity, Shape of Water and Darkest Hour had the most difficult challenges. While Darkest Hour brought the 40s back to life, Shape of Water did similar for the 50s but also added a hint of magic to it. And Blade Runner 2049 had to recreate a world and, as mentioned before, and still do something unique on its own. My pick on this is Shape of Water for riding both the real and fantastical lines down to the tiniest detail.
Likely Winner: Shape of Water

Film Editing
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
I, Tonya
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My Choice: I, Tonya  and Dunkirk shared the honors at the ACE awards this year. I still think I, Tonya is the better choice, if I were handing out the statue, but suspect Nolan has more wind at his back in the Academy.
Likely Winner: Dunkirk

Sound Editing
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

My Choice: Editing and mixing are often the most troublesome picks to make. Each movie here had its challenges, but Baby Driver delivered one of the most interesting results in both categories. So Baby Driver for me on this one. For the win, however, I have low confidence….suspect Dunkirk takes it after its Motion Picture Sound Editors win.
Likely Winner: Dunkirk

Sound Mixing
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

My Choice: Baby Driver again here for me, Even more so than editing, the movie had to navigate a lot of layers and not lose us at the transitions. More confident the Academy will see that in this case than the previous despite Dunkirk’s Cinema Audio Society win in this category.
Likely Winner: Baby Driver

Visual Effects
Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Kong: Skull Island
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

My Choice: Lots of choices here, but War of the Planet of the Apes, for all its accolades, has few opportunities and this is likely going to be the one folks would give it. It also picked up the VES Award. The seamless world Apes created out of our own probably beats out the broader worlds that are more obviously CGI. However, BAFTA and others have started a roll for Blade Runner 2049 that is hard to ignore (and also deserved).
Likely Winner: War of the Planet of the Apes

mother!

[2 stars]

Straight up, I am a Darren Aronofsky (Noah) fan and have been since Pi. His narratives are almost always complex and unexpected. Certainly mother! is anything but straightforward. Oddly, though, it isn’t anything new or unexpected either. And it certainly didn’t land with most audiences.

From the outset of the film, you know there is something off. First there is the apparent rollback in time from a disaster. Then there is the odd tension between Jennifer Lawrence (Passengers) and Javier Bardem (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) which just isn’t quite natural. By the time Ed Harris (Geostorm) and Michelle Pfeiffer show up, it is clear this isn’t reality, or isn’t being viewed from clear eyes. Domhnall Gleeson (The Revenant) makes a solid appearance as well to help seal the deal.

If you insist on still seeing the story as reality at any level after that point, it is no wonder that you would hate the film. Honestly, I was willing to go along for the ride, but in a year that included similar themes, like the more recent Phantom Thread, I was looking for something new, not just visually surprising.

Aronofsky has created a very personal vision and tale of his favorite themes: art, love, and religion/spirituality. But ultimately it is about a half hour too long to sustain the story and audience interest. After the first 90 minutes, you want answers, not more outrageous and infuriating situations. I appreciate he wanted to slow burn to the climax, but he asked too much from his audience; he never really fully earns our trust, providing no answers, only mystery and weirdness upon strangeness and offkey oddity. He has always been great skirting the edge of reality, as in Black Swan, to lead to a point. Here, however, the end result here is more the feeling of a surrealist play that is weird for weirdness’ sake alone rather than a cohesive movie. By the way, achieving that play-like presentation and pulling us along inexorably while staying true to the media is no small feat in itself.

I truly admire the craft and acting in the film, even if I disliked the result; it doesn’t feel satisfying in the end. After his last film, I was worried Aronofsky would try to stay more mainstream…I suspect he feared the same and veered way off the track to try and prove he wouldn’t both to audiences and, more importantly, to himself. The result is mother! Now that he’s made his point, I hope he will find his path again. He is a gifted film maker, but this isn’t his best onscreen musing.

Mother!