Some Oscar Predictions

I’ve seen most of the Best Picture nominees this year (no Nightmare Alley, Drive My Car or West Side Story) and wanted to drop a quick post on who I think should win this Sunday.

Best Picture

Power of the Dog

There’s a point early in the movie, where Montana simply swallows you as a viewer, and I thought how much I had missed Jane Campion’s directorial eye. Add in the great performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Kodi Smit-McPhee (Kirsten Dunst is fine, Jess Plemmons is a placeholder) and the patience of the second half of the film, and its understated conclusion, and it was very satisfying. I get those kidding about Power of the Nap, but in pandemic times, I had time to savor the unfolding. To that point, I saw this in my family room, but this would have worked so much better in a movie theater, where it would have been projected 50 feet across and I would have given it uninterrupted time. It felt like a movie movie, whereas many of the others felt like TV movies, if that makes sense.

As there’s ranked choice voting, my ballot would go:

  1. Power of the Dog
  2. West Side Story – Spielberg still has it. (I didn’t see it all, but saw enough when Virginia was watching to think it fits here.)
  3. King Richard – Will Smith was great. One disconnect was the movie portrayed the sisters as just regular ol’ girls who somehow won tennis matches when they were like Marvel characters. Serena (power) and Venus (power plus her long-limbed, rangy speed) were obvious superheroes from the first time we saw them. That isn’t to say they didn’t put in the work — obviously, they did. But the movie really downplays their physical gifts. And as executive producers, they made sure the movie took it very easy on their dad.
  4. Dune – So ambitious, really well-done, but it was one of those movies where every important utterance is done in a hushed voice with a sandstorm of noise rising around it. The point of movies is not to hide the point of the movie. And it took nearly three hours to get through half of the book.
  5. Licorice Pizza – More of a collection of scenes than a plot, and Gary was, hands-down, the most annoying character of 2021. His charm had largely dried up and blown away about 20 minutes into the movie. Bradley Cooper had a great turn. We’ll be seeing more of Alana Haim. This may sound nuts, but I think she deserves a better movie.
  6. Belfast – The movie did its best to rehabilitate Van Morrison. The little boy (Jude Hill) was a treasure, as were Judy Dench and Ciaran Hinds.
  7. Coda – I get folks loved this movie, but it felt very Lifetime-esque in how it resolved. That said, what parent could watch the last third without a lump in their throat? Troy Kotsur (Ruby’s dad) is a serious runner-up in Supporting Actor. I see sentimentally how he might win, but Smit-McPhee was better, in a better movie.
  8. Don’t Look Up – Funny opener, but it mostly lost me when it shifted into serious territory — or maybe I’m just in denial on some of its most dire implications. On the great side, Cate Blanchette did a dead-on Mika Brzezinski. Adam McKay (The Big Short, Vice) has done this kinda movie better before.

Didn’t see:

  1. Drive My Car
  2. Nightmare Alley

I understand that Drive My Car is a sleeper. I hope to see it soon.

Some other categories:

Best Actor

Will Smith has to win, right? He was great as Richard Williams, and he’s due a lifetime achievement award. Cumberbatch has an argument for the Oscar, too.

Best Actress

I saw everyone but Penelope Cruz, and I’m hearing that Jessica Chastain might squeak in for Eyes of Tammy Fay, but I think Olivia Colman deserves it for The Lost Daughter, which I didn’t like much. She’s simply at the top of her game and shouldn’t be penalized because she has been there for a while. Shades of Giannis Antetokounmpo …

A final note on Best Actor/Actress. Being the Ricardos wasn’t a bad movie, but Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem actually held it back. Kidman was not funny even once in 2 hours, while playing the funniest woman on TV, and Bardem very much felt like a throw-away performance.

Supporting Actor

Kodi Smit-McPhee, see above.

Supporting Actress

Judy Dench. Belfast has to get something.

Director

Jane Campion. She has such a great eye and trusts the audience. The first third of Dog had me wanting to go re-watch The Piano.

Some last thoughts

Dune should get all the technical awards. Campion should win best adapted screenplay for Dog and Zach Baylin should win original screenplay for King Richard. I could see Paul Thomas Anderson winning for Licorice Pizza, because some of the scenes are wonderful, but it barely holds together as a movie.

My Favorite Movies of 2017

My friend John Gilpatrick was recently asking me about my favorite movies of last year. Thankfully, I had given it some thought. And I’ve caught a few contenders in the past few weeks.

So here goes:

1. Shape of Water. “Lyrical” is the best word I can use for director Guillermo del Torro’s creation. This film captivated me with its magic-realism ethos and faithful-to-the-‘50s frame. Throughout it all, you could feel del Torro’s assured hand. Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon were great, so was Richard Jenkins. And it’s cool they found a use for that old wetsuit from Creature from the Black Lagoon.

2. Lady Bird. From first scene till the end—which had my wife and a friend sniffling in the dark—this movie walked a fine line with humor and grace. Saoirse Ronan was so winning, and Laurie Metcalf so channeled a mom that I could understand and appreciate, if not always endorse. I kept waiting for the spell to break, and it never did.

3. Phantom Thread. Daniel Day Lewis was mesmerizing, but Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville were unflinching in taking up the challenge of acting opposite him. Paul Thomas Anderson took care of all the details—the music is gorgeous—and maintained this cool remove that managed to hold my attention. Still not sure what exactly the “Phantom Thread” of the title was—we discussed over drinks with friends afterward—but it was very, very good.

4. Get Out. I have read a lot of Ta-Nehisi Coates over the past two years, so the idea that white people put black people’s bodies to use as they see fit isn’t foreign, and yet Jordan Peele’s film lands like a gut punch on  my white male privilege. Daniel Kaluuya and Catherine Keener were very good, and Lil Rev Howery was funny, brave, and gave me a new faith in the TSA. I saw this movie recently and it’s been haunting me a bit, like it should in 2018, I think.

5. The Post. Yeah, it is the movie we need right now, and yeah, it had Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. But I liked Bob Odenkirk’s Bob Bagdikian the best. And maybe it’s because I knew how it ends, I didn’t find all the tension all that tense. Lastly, I had to fight the urge to conflate the Pentagon Papers with Watergate. Yeah, I know they’re related only by time and place. Anyway, put it all together and I liked it, but didn’t love it.

ebbing-mo

6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This film, written and directed by Martin McDonough, was a lot to sort through. Frances McDormand was fearless and great. Woody Harrelson was sympathetic. Sam Rockwell was scary and apparently redeemable. But all in all, I just didn’t believe in much anything the movie did or said. It seemed to use the characters it created as tropes for dark jokes, lessons learned too late, or bad consequences, and didn’t seem to care a whole lot for the people hurt or the audience having to watch it. It’s worth a watch, but a day after making it through this dark tale, its redemptions (and the presence of Peter Dinklage) rang false.

7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It starts fast and ends fast, but the interminable chase in the middle was hard to watch—and even the action that occurs matters little if anything to the plot. Daisy Ridley is pretty bad-ass, and Adam Driver does well as Kylo Ren, but by the end I wasn’t sad to see Mark Hamill go and Carrie Fisher’s real-life passing (and Disney’s insistence it will not digitally re-create her for Episode IX) means we can hand off the franchise to the young’uns. I think that’s for the better. Now a movie that didn’t trip over itself to track back to earlier Star Wars canon would be most welcome of all.

8. Darkest Hour. Gary Oldman has fun playing Churchill, but at this point, who hasn’t or wouldn’t? Sitting through the credits, I ended up fantasizing other actors taking their shot at Winston—Liam Neeson, who hunts Hitler across three continents after he makes a menacing gesture at Churchill’s daughter, before gruesomely killing him with his own hands, for instance. Or Dame Judy Dench, casting cold, blustery shade. The movie was fine, Oldman was terrific, and it took me a while to figure out that Churchill’s nemesis (Stephen Dillane) was indeed Stannis Baratheon in “Game of Thrones.”

9. Loving Vincent. A really creative, animated approach to learning more about Van Gogh and his death. Hard to believe he died without ever selling a painting. That has hung with me more than the who-did-it plotline.

10. Molly’s Game. Mostly her because my son the casino player development exec loved it, but it was also a sexy, pretty-fun watch (if long). And props to Jessica Chastain, who manages to chew through giant piles of Aaron Sorkin dialogue without any signs of indigestion.

I didn’t see Dunkirk, The Big Sick or Call Me By Your Name. I doubt either would have cracked my Top 10, but Call Me stood a better chance.

Worst of 2017. DetroitThis interminable movie from Kathryn Bigalow was so earnest in its rightful, righteous wrath against members of the Detroit police for a truly horrible event during the riots of the ’60s that it completely loses its storytelling bearings. At the end, it does one of those what-happened-to-the-principals montages and I realized those characters were supposed to be the center of the film—except they weren’t, because Bigalow got so caught up in the horrible event that she did more development of the monsters and less of the supposed main characters. It was so hard to watch that my wife got up and left to do some shopping at Target, and I would have joined her except we were there with a friend who wasn’t about to leave, and it would have been rude to leave her there alone. So this movie wins my Stockholm Syndrome Award for 2017.

 

Oscar Picks 2016, in About 2 Minutes

Putting them down here, so I can’t claim to have been right if I was wrong.

Best Actor: Leo DiCaprio. Overdue and deserved.

Best Actress: Saoirse Ronan. Looking for an upset over Brie Larson here.

Best Picture: The Revenant. I’d like to see Spotlight win, but I think the momentum of Leo and director will pull this overlong, over-somber film along.

Best Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Supporting Actor: Sly Stallone, because it’s an uplifting story. The others were all good, too. Especially liked Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies.

Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara. She was wonderful in Carol.

Animated Feature: Inside Out. The return of Pixar.

Cinematography: The Revenant.

Costume Design: Mad Max.

Documentary: Amy.

Film Editing: Mad Max.

Foreign Language: Mustang. No idea, trusting others here.

Original Score: Carol.

Original Song: Till It Happens to You.

Production Design: Mad Max.

Sound: The Revenant.

Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short.

Original Screenplay: Spotlight, with Inside Out close behind.

 

My Oscar Predictions

I’ll be brief.

Best Picture: Argo

I originally thought Lincoln, but I’m coming around that the whole Argo thing is really going to happen, even though Ben Affleck didn’t get a director nomination.

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis

Book it. A lock.

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence

I think this is one way Silver Linings Playbook gets some love (see the next entry fo the other). Lawrence had a great year. She’s deserving.

Supporting Actor: Robert De Niro

It’s been a while for Bobby D, and this is a worthy role. Otherwise, it’s Django’s Christoph Waltz. I thought that performance petered out after a great start.

Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway

I’m not a big fan, but I get it. It’s hers this year. Saw everything but The Master.

Animated Feature: Brave

Could be Wreck It, Ralph. But I have a Pixar fetish, and I think they lost last year. Bet they’re back this year.

Cinematography: Anna Karenina

I really enjoyed this film and I think the filmwork was marvelous.

Costume: Anna Karenina

See above.

Makeup: The Hobbit

Peter Jackson has to get something, right?

Directing: Ang Lee (Life of Pi)

Didn’t see it, but he’s great, I don’t think the others are all that deserving (Lincoln was good but it had some hokey parts—including the beginning, Silver Linings Playbook was well-done but not a tour de force), and it sounds like a winner. I bet it wins a lot of technical awards.

Documentary: Searching for Sugar Man

Doc Short: Redemption

Film Editing: Zero Dark Thirty

What a final hour!

Foreign Language Film: Amour

Makeup: Les Mis

Music: Skyfall

Visual Effects: Life of Pi

Writing, Adapted: Lincoln

Toss-up between this and Argo.

Writing, Original: Django

I think Tarantino is way indulgent in this script, and I liked Moonrise Kingdom’s more, but it’s not me voting.

UPDATE: I finished 12 of 19 on these, which wasn’t great but was good enough to tie for the win in the pool at my friend’s annual Oscar party. If only I had listened to that voice in my head that said, “Robert De Niro didn’t even fake a little bit of a Philly accent.”

Surprising Oscar Nominees

I am not a big film watcher, but I like them when I see them, so the nominations this morning were interesting. You can see the full list here, and there are plenty more engaged fans than me (see @johngilpatrick, among others) , but here are my initial thoughts.

Best Film

With 12 nominations, I get that Lincoln is now the heavy favorite. And I might go that way when I have to fill out my ballot for my friend Carol’s Oscar night pool. But … but … I really want to go for Beasts of the Southern WildAnd I say this all having not seen Zero Dark Thirty. But it is hard to imagine it winning when Kathryn Bigelow didn’t get a best director nod (hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves). Happiest moment: When I realized The Impossible, which I really didn’t like, didn’t make the list. Saddest moment: When I realized Moonrise Kingdom, which I adored, hadn’t, as well.

Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis. Next.

Best Actress

Jennifer Lawrence or Jessica Chastain? Like I said, I haven’t seen ZD30, but I’m going that way regardless. I loved Hushpuppy, but you don’t get an Oscar when you’re 6 years old.

Best Director

Haven’t seen Life of Pi, but I usually think that seeing the movies only screws up my picks. So I’m going Ang Lee. He’s an Academy favorite, the movie is generally well-received (with 11 nominations) and this is the place to honor it. Sorry, Steven Spielberg. Kinda shocked Bigelow didn’t make this list, and Wes Anderson, too. Michael Haneke, David O. Russell, and Benh Zeitlin surprised me. I really liked Silver Linings Playbook, but it was not directorially amazing, I didn’t think.

I’ll offer up some thoughts on the rest of the list when we get closer to the big night, and we’ll see where I land on Best Picture, so that’s it for now. I guess I need to see ZD30 and Life of Pi, pronto.

Daniel Day-Lewis Was Lincoln

Lincoln was ungodly long and not a whole hell of a lot happened through the middle portion, but, gosh, Daniel Day-Lewis sure was good and, honestly, who besides a Stephen Spielberg makes a movie about passing a Constitutional amendment anyways. Put DD-L in the best actor mix for his portrait of the 16th president, which he nailed—right down to Abe’s shambling gait. And don’t forget Sally Field, who gave a great performance as Mary Todd Lincoln.

The movie certainly appeared to want to speak to us about our bitterly divided government, but I guess I found it cartoonish. And the Democrat congressman who joined the cause of emancipation, by and large, were moved by pretty base reasons. Maybe that’s how it was, but it certainly felt like a grubby path to a noble goal. And perhaps that’s the lesson here, as we approach our Fiscal Cliff.

Winter’s Bone Was Good

 

Good movie, the lead actress Jennifer Lawrence was great. Kind of movie that makes you wonder about whether addiction hollows out men, or hollowed-out men are waiting to be filled in by an addiction—be it drugs, alcohol, porn, or adrenaline (see The Hurt Locker).

Also, it was interesting that it was the women who held things together, even when the things being held together were bad.

Really riveting stuff. The audience in our showing stayed put as the credits rolled, all the way to the end. I think it helps that it was just 100 minutes long. I appreciate a movie that tells its story and ends when it should.

See it if you don’t mind a non-feel-good movie. You’ll be hearing about it again come Oscar time, especially with the expanded fields.