Tag Archives: oscar predictions

Days of Thunder and Reckoning

“It’s deeply humbling. This is something that I started out of necessity and something that I thought that my community needed and it’s grown over the years, but I never could’ve envisioned it growing like this. But this moment is so powerful because we’re seeing a collaboration between these two worlds that people don’t usually put together and would most likely have us pitted against each other. So it’s really powerful to be on the red carpet tonight.”  –“Me Too” movement founder Tarana Burke at the Golden Globes

“Being brave doesn’t mean you’re not afraid; it just means you do it anyway. … My life has taken me from one cult to another: Hollywood. … It’s been really, really hard having the mind of an artist and being in a town that sells you as just a commodity. … I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I’ve lived in a mother-fucking fun house; and the sad part is, I’m just trying to get people to stop raping and killing us.” –Rose McGowan in the first episode of her docuseries Citizen Rose

“The American Republic stands before the world as the extreme expression of masculine force.” –Illinois Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage (1910)

“The man, for instance, who describes himself as original, as beyond stereotypes, as having a personal, worked-out philosophy of masculinity or indeed as just ordinary and average has not escaped the familiar tropes of gender. He is precisely enmeshed by convention; subjectified, ordered and disciplined at the very moment he rehearses the language of personal taste, unconventionality and autonomy, or ordinariness and normality.”
Margaret Wetherell and Nigel Edley, “Negotiating Hegemonic Masculinity: Imaginary Positions and Psycho-Discursive PracticesFeminism and Psychology 9, no. 3 (1999): 335-56

“The American idea of masculinity: There are few things under heaven more difficult to understand or, when I was younger, to forgive…. But we are all androgynous…because each of us, helplessly and forever, contains the other—male in female, female in male, white in black and black in white. We are a part of each other. Many of my countrymen appear to find this fact exceedingly inconvenient and even unfair, and so, very often do I. But none of us can do anything about it.” –James Baldwin, “Here Be Dragons” in The Price of the Ticket (1985)

“The #MeToo movement is accomplishing what sexual harassment law to date has not. This mass mobilization against sexual abuse, through an unprecedented wave of speaking out in conventional and social media, is eroding the two biggest barriers to ending sexual harassment in law and in life: the disbelief and trivializing dehumanization of its victims. Sexual harassment law — the first law to conceive sexual violation in inequality terms — created the preconditions for this moment. Yet denial by abusers and devaluing of accusers could still be reasonably counted on by perpetrators to shield their actions. … This logjam, which has long paralyzed effective legal recourse for sexual harassment, is finally being broken. Structural misogyny, along with sexualized racism and class inequalities, is being publicly and pervasively challenged by women’s voices. The difference is, power is paying attention. … The only legal change that matches the scale of this moment is an Equal Rights Amendment, expanding the congressional power to legislate against sexual abuse and judicial interpretations of existing law, guaranteeing equality under the Constitution for all. But it is #MeToo, this uprising of the formerly disregarded, that has made untenable the assumption that the one who reports sexual abuse is a lying slut, and that is changing everything already. Sexual harassment law prepared the ground, but it is today’s movement that is shifting gender hierarchy’s tectonic plates.”  Catharine A. MacKinnon, “#MeToo Has Done What the Law Could NotNew York Times, 2-4-18

Rose McGowan and Tarana Burke in Detroit

 

Spoilers ahead!

 

Supportive Women in Cinema
5. Octavia Spencer
She has a great scene with her character, the character’s husband, and Michael Shannon’s character, where she tries to stem the tide and dismisses the husband when he sells out.
4. Laurie Metcalf
I may be overcorrecting here for not liking Metcalf’s character, whom I disliked for 1) being unsupportive of, and emotionally distant from, Sarise Ronan’s character and then 2) trying to blame her for it. There’s something to be said for provoking a strong reaction though. I like Metcalf as an actor and I wanted her to have more, and more interesting, things to do. I am looking forward to that Roseanne reboot.
3. Lesley Manville
“Don’t pick a fight with me, you certainly won’t come out alive. I’ll go right through you and it’d be you who winds up on the floor. Understood?” Understood!
2. Mary J. Blige
Quite the depiction of quiet strength.
Ought to win: Allison Janney
There’s been some criticism that she didn’t have a lot to do, and yeah, she doesn’t have a ton of screentime, but she hits those high notes of cold motherhood so well, which is difficult and crucial to the whole film.
Will win: Janney

Emma Stone, Meryl Streep, Octavia Spencer, and More of Hollywood’s Biggest Stars Demand Equal Pay

Make the Case: Lesley Manville Is the Real Genius of ‘Phantom Thread’

Deleted food-fight scene between Manville’s Cyril Woodcock and Daniel Day-Lewis’s Reynolds Woodcock

Most Supportive Man
5. Richard Jenkins
The film is very much foregrounding (views of) masculinities and Jenkins does well to shufflingly communicate the injustice and hypocrisy of the denial of his character’s.
4. Christopher Plummer
In large part a masculinity character study about trying to become a real boy in all the wrong ways.
3. Woody Harrelson
Really good use of relatively limited screentime to position himself as a fulcrum for the ethical and plot seesaw of the film.
2. Sam Rockwell
Rockwell’s character emerges as the fulcrum within the fulcrum of Harrelson’s character, with Rockwell using his “offbeat verve with gusto” to great effect. Some people–no more than enough to make up a minor and reactionary whisper campaign?–had anti-rememption feelings in response, but I think redemption is almost or totally besides the point for his or any other character in the film.
Ought to win: Willem Dafoe
Dafoe provides such beautiful ballast for the whole film, as a kind of lil’ capitalist shepherd, overseer, and observer. He’s no saint, but the coarseness and casual cruelty of the times almost make him look like one. His face at the end reads as pure subjectivity amidst greater forces, maybe getting swept away in a river of time.
Will win: Rockwell

Willem Dafoe: And great fun, because I still like to do all the action stuff.
Hugh Jackman: I do too!
Willem: I love it because it’s the kind of simplest kind of performing. You have an action and you apply yourself to it and something happens. I like it a lot.
Jackman: That’s interesting. I see it as dance. Very much like dance.
Willem: Me too. Me too. I see performing as dance.
Jackman: Yeah, right. Really?
[Willem points at him, Jackman points back, they both rev-up laugh]
Willem: What’s next, Hugh?!
[Both laugh]
Jackman, overlapping: That’s interesting though. We’re doin’ a musical man, c’mon.
[Bro shake]
Jackman: What do you think?
Willem: You didn’t know I could sing, right?
Jackman: You wanna play Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly? [unintelligible]
Willem: I’m more Gene Kelly.
Jackman: You’re more Gene Kelly? Okay. I’ll try and do Fred.
Willem: I could be Ginger, too. [laughs]
Jackman: Alright! Now we’re talking! [claps]

Queen of the Castle!
5. Sally Hawkins
I’ve liked the tweeness-with-an-edge nature of her previous characters, and one could argue that’s very much the nature of her character here, but embedding it in fabulism might’ve diluted it for me.
4. Meryl Streep
She’s particularly good in the scene where Katharine Graham decides to publish.
3. Saoirse Ronan
Right there with Neve Campbell’s work in Party of Five for convincing and compelling portraits of teenage female angst. We’ll surely see Ronan in this category again, probably soon.
2. Margot Robbie
A great blend of actor and character in one of the best sports movies of all time, and which should’ve been nominated for Best Picture.
Ought to win: Frances McDormand
Rockwell on McDormand: “She came in, just [makes explosion sound], you know, like Charles Laughton. It was just like, an explosion.”
Will win: McDormand

Sufjan Stevens, “Tonya Harding (In Eb major)

Tonya Harding is having her moment of redemption. Now Nancy Kerrigan deserves hers.

“The love that flowed to Frances McDormand this year was partly because we are so unused to seeing a woman that age be complicated, difficult and angry – as seen in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – to not be defined by what is considered ‘sexy’. The actual process by which women age remains largely taboo, which is why I Got Life is a breath of fresh air. The onscreen invisibility of the menopause is a form of denial. Women often feel very isolated at this time, for where can they look to see their experience represented? Is the menopause something only to be dreaded, hidden, medicated away and denied? How, in 2018, is it still embarrassing to speak of it? … This is an awful lot of women suffering in silence, then: physically uncomfortable and feeling unsupported. As long as we don’t have any kind of representation of menopause, in all its glory, then it will continue to be seen as a sign that a woman is somehow redundant because she can no longer reproduce. If we were to talk more openly, we would find instead that many women feel liberated, full of energy, able to take on the world, and finally free from the demands of a society that values only youth. As the heroine of this movie kicks off her shoes, dances, gardens, makes love, becomes a grandmother and hangs out with her friends, life in its messy way continues. The idea that women may indeed be less concerned about how others see them and eventually become more of themselves remains a story rarely told.”  Suzanne Moore, “Let’s see menopausal women on screen – in all their gloryThe Guardian, 3-15-18

Best Baby Boy
5. Daniel Kaluuya
Nothing wrong with the performance, but it’s lost to a fatally-flawed film.
4. Gary Oldman
I don’t like Oldman’s voice and have struggled to care for his theatrics, which seems churlish of me, considering, if nothing else, his technical proficiency. Oldman has been accused in the past of hamming it up and there are some thick slices here, but it’s the historical inaccuracies of his Churchill that really costs him points.
3. Timothée Chalamet
If we adjust for age, he wins. Really delivered the yearning down the stretch. Like Ronan, we expect him back in the noms down the road.
2. Daniel Day-Lewis
Hard exterior, soft interior.
Ought to win: Denzel Washington
Almost making it look too easy with these fatally-flawed characters he’s been playing. This one is like one part his Philadelphia character (the law), one part John Q (Principles, goddammit!), and one part his Flight character (smart and occupationally excellent, but fatally flawed).
Will win: Oldman

‘My dream is to move to Paris in my 60s and eat like this all the time,’ she says. ‘My kids say, “Jeez, Mom, just eat like that now.”‘ Dern’s face contorts into an expression of adolescent sarcasm. Her emotive elasticity is one of the pleasures of watching her onscreen; her ‘cherished cry-face,’ as Entertainment Weekly once deemed it, reminiscent of Lucille Ball’s, has spawned a meme. ‘When I was 23,’ says Dern, ‘right before a close-up on Jurassic Park, Spielberg said to me, “People will tell you what you could do to your face years from now. Don’t you ever touch your face.” He was saying, “Your face is perfect, it’s female, it’s emotional.”‘ Age has been her friend, thanks in part to, as Spielberg advised, avoiding plastic surgery. ‘I am determined to be human in my acting, and when you own your power and your womanhood, you grow into your beauty. Your face finds you.’ She raises her glass. ‘So here’s to telling the whole story.'”  Mary Kaye Schilling, “Fierce at Heart” Vulture, 12-27-17

Sound Editing
5. The Shape of Water, Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira
4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood
3. Blade Runner 2049, Mark Mangini, Theo Green
2. Baby Driver, Julian Slater
Ought to win: Dunkirk, Alex Gibson, Richard King
Will win: Dunkirk

Sound Mixing
5. The Shape of Water, Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
4. Blade Runner 2049, Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick
2. Baby Driver, Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin
Ough to win: Dunkirk, Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo
Will win: Dunkirk

Visual Effects
5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick
4. Kong: Skull Island, Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus
3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlan
2. Blade Runner 2049, John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer
Ought to win: War for the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist
Will win: Apes

Film Editing
5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Jon Gregory
4. The Shape of Water, Sidney Wolinsky
3. I, Tonya, Tatiana S. Riegel
2. Baby Driver, Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
Ought to win: Dunkirk, Lee Smith
Will win: Dunkirk

Writing Newly Born, Already Superlative
5. Get Out
4. The Big Sick
3. The Shape of Water
2. Lady Bird
Ought to win: Three Billboards
Will win: Get Out

Topmost Writing That Now Has a Second (Lease On) Life, Which You May or May Not Have Seen Coming
5. The Disaster Artist
4. Call Me by Your Name
3. Logan
2. Molly’s Game
A soaring, disturbing portrait of a woman trying to make it in a man’s world. Would’ve easily nominated the film over Darkest Hour and Get Out.
Ought to win: Mudbound
My second favorite-best film of the year, after Hostiles–which, inexplicably, wasn’t nominated for anything. Its tale of interracial cooperation speaks searingly to Eleanor Roosevelt’s observation that “Unless we make the country worth fighting for by Negroes, we will have nothing to offer the world at the end of the war.”
Will win: Call Me By Your Name

Cinematography
5. Darkest Hour, Bruno Delbonnel
Use of light and shadow felt like cheap hagiography.
4. Mudbound, Rachel Morrison
Morrison is the first woman ever to be Oscar-nominated for cinematography! Cinematography is an oppressively male field (85-91% male according to FiveThirtyEight).
3. The Shape of Water, Dan Laustsen
2. Dunkirk, Hoyte van Hoytema
Ought to win: Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins
Will win: Blade Runner

Original Song
5. “Remember Me” from Coco, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
4. “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall, Diane Warren, Andra Day, Common
3. “Mighty River” from Mudbound, Mary J. Blige
2. “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul
Ought to win: “Mystery of Love” from Call Me by Your Name, Sufjan Stevens
Will win: “Remember Me”

Original Score
As in a number of the categories this year, all these entries are quite worthy of winning.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi, John Williams
The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Carter Burwell
Phantom Thread, Jonny Greenwood
Ought to win: Dunkirk, Hans Zimmer
Will win: Desplat

Directing
5. Jordan Peele
4. Guillermo del Toro
3. Christopher Nolan
2. Paul Thomas Anderson
Ought to win: Greta Gerwig
Will win: del Toro, for his body of work.

How Mexican Directors Conquered Hollywood

 

Finest Picture, for All Mankind

9. Get Out
This is the same kind of racial fatalism and polarization slop that’s been served up for years now, by Hollywood and others, with Peele conveniently positioning himself as a “stirrings in the jug” racial interlocutor. It’s a particular shame and waste here, since the film otherwise sports solid performances and compelling (visual) metaphors for the exploitation and holding back of black Americans. Condensing white supremacy and racial inequality to a cult creates too easy, reductive, and essentialist a narrative, a literally-and-figuratively-black-and-white one. If only they were just a cult: they’d be a lot easier to deal with.

8. Darkest Hour
Classic Oscar prestige fare that doesn’t quite have the sharpness, freshness, and originality of the other nominees, though it does accomplish its main mission: making you think about leadership, readiness, resourcefulness, and making tough decisions. Loses major points for the historical inaccuracies.

The Real Winston Churchill
In Winston Churchill, Hollywood rewards a mass murderer
Contemplating Churchill

7. Call Me By Your Name
Was it too straight? Probably.

What Should We Make of Call Me by Your Name’s Age-Gap Relationship?
Luca Guadagnino Plans to Address the AIDS Epidemic in Call Me by Your Name Sequel

6. The Shape of Water
(Cold War) Agendas interrupted! Let the chips fall where they may, including into the sea! Women-having-sex-with-creatures-and/or-aliens is a trope that draws attention to the lack of a few good (regular) men. The Fishman love fable highlights/counterpoints the mythos and imperatives of ’50s conformity, hierarchy, and hypermasculine beliefs about social, scientific, and technological progress. Masculinity types featured include: Our Man Michael Shan’s hypermasculine hollow man/Organization Man/Cold Warrior, who, in the name of progress, will literally kill you if he has to; Michael Stuhlbarg’s admirably-in-over-his head nebbish assistman; Jenkins’s discriminated-against gay artist trying to swim in the mainstream; Spencer’s sell-out lump of a husband; the Fishman, who appreciates you and your boiled eggs for you, with a heart of healing to boot.

5. Dunkirk
Visually spectacular and you feel like you’re right there. Checks to make sure that we’re all in this together.

4. Phantom Thread
It’s freshly febrile about fevers both literal and symbolic. It’s a manse danse macabre. A screwball comedy core draped in the fineries of: concerns with mortality; the limits of perfectionism as a response to trauma; co-dependency; relationships as works of art; the dead-end of objectification.

“But the film is also, in its way, an argument for the enduring power of fantasy in fashion. ‘I find these superstitions and traditions to be very exciting,’ Anderson says of the different couturiers (and their quirks) he researched for the film. ‘They can make for great stories, great fairy tales.’ And indeed, fairy tales are one of the primary reasons haute couture still exists today — wedding dresses are the most frequently ordered items in the industry, fit for a make-believe princess (or a real-life one). Now, these gowns are sewn in almost the same way they were in the 1950s, the 1850s, and even the 1750s — which makes wearing couture a bit like carrying a beautiful piece of history on one’s back. And that’s the reason couture and Hollywood meld so well together — both are dream factories, spinning yarns, selling fantasies. It is also why, in the age of Netflix and fast fashion, long after either’s golden age, both couture and cinema continue to endure.” Alexander Fury, “A Film That Pays Homage to the Bygone Era of London CoutureNew York Times Style Magazine, 11-28-17

‘Santa Thread’ Trailer
The Dark Optimism of Paul Thomas Anderson

What Is the Health and Nutritional Value of Mushrooms?

3. Lady Bird
My dislike for the mom weighed it down for me, but such a Lady Bird still takes flight. Also, Sacramento.

2. The Post
Real and robust (news). The film makes it seem as though things almost physically revolve around Graham, thus effectively setting up her decision to publish. Need I comment on the timeliness? Democracy dies in darkness.

Ought to Win: Three Billboards
The system has profoundly failed you. Begin. Continue. Warp and weave. People are getting hung up on redemption, but 1) I didn’t read it as anyone being redeemed, at least fully; this is a story about muddling through. 2) Why be dead set against redemption? Sure, we can talk about earned, unearned, partially earned, etc., but being reactionary about it feels like a disturbing sign of the stasis and polarization of our times. Redemption is one of the primary themes driving the very existence of stories and movies. Conversions like Rockwell’s might be rare, but they do happen. As far as the plausibility of the billboards, McDonagh got the idea when he saw someone had done similarly with billboards in a state in the South; also, Rose McGowan contemplated buying a shaming billboard for Harvey Weinstein after her encounter with him.

Will win: Three Billboards

 

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And How Can This Be? For it IS the 90th Academy Awards; or, We Demand Better Hallucinations

I don’t know about you, world, but sometimes I just want to turn my brain on.  You know, snap on the old Videodrome Youtube Word Processor, take a load on, think about the future.  Let the mind just drift.  And so I bestow upon you, once again, that rare and most elusive treasure: ranked lists from the internet.

 

Image result for jack torrance typing

 I think, maybe, the thethirdrevelation should be taken to a doctor.

As always, the following lists are pretty gauche, mostly unintelligible, and potentially most relevant to the sort of degenerate cinephile who makes life choices such as seeing most, if not all of the films nominated for major Academy Awards in a given year.  They’re also a boon companion if you want to know who’s going to win.  Chiefly for that reason, spoilers await, sweet ones.  All nominees are loved unconditionally, and have been pre-approved for five bags of popcorn.

 

Deployed in a Support Role: All Female Edition?!

5. Octavia Spencer– The Shape of Water

Back again after last year’s nomination for Hidden Figures, Spencer is given somewhat less to do here as our straight woman and primary source of bemused incredulity among sexy, fishy zaniness.

Image result for cute fish

4. Allison Janney — I, Tonya

One of the two prickly mom roles expected to duke it out for the win (I asked you to keep the children quiet today, and for Christ’s sake get them out of the garden!). It’s a fun role. And while one always ought to keep one’s perspective on what constitutes true madness, I like that she never goes softy in the end.

Image result for tonya harding mother

3. Mary J. Blige — Mudbound

One of many strong performances in a picture with a huge cast delivering all around.  A Netflix original, for what it’s worth.

Image result for mudbound mary j blige

2. Leslie Manville — Phantom Thread

To kick off our non-stop gushing for Phantom Thread and everyone associated, Manville expertly renders a chilly and calculated business sentinel sprinkled with notes of subdued compassion and humor.  She is not to be crossed, but as with the English Channel (DunkirkDarkest Hour) we must do so by hook or by crook.

 

1. Laurie Metcalf — Lady Bird

Where Janney’s mean mom is a bold stroke in a project that exults in larger-than-life characterizations, Metcalf here is an expertly tuned high-fidelity every-day person.  She’s a working class creature grasping at the bygone dream of the middle class, not struggling in any hugely cinematic way, but pathologically fixated on means and status to a tragic degree.  Of all the roles in all the categories this year, she’s the person that I meet each day.

Shall win: Laurie Metcalf

 

Most Supportive Man

5. Woody Harrelson — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

Harrelson is always a pleasure to watch, but in a film which caused me to raise an eyebrow in consternation more than once*, his inclusion here (on top of Sam Rockwell!) is a little bewildering.  The latest site of writer/director Martin McDonagh’s ongoing fixation with exploding heads, it feels like Harrelson ought to be perfect in the role of a law man wringing some dark humor and humanity from multiple hopeless tragic situations.

But something about many of the film’s attempts to wring humor out of hopelessness didn’t register for me, and while McDormand manages some sort of transcendence, Harrelson and Rockwell are left in awkward positions that don’t seem to quite cohere.  Well, comedy is subjective: in my showing of Billboards, his character’s folksy suicide note musings got the biggest laughs by far.

*I grew up playing in the woods unattended and was in no way under-supervised, but in a film where the central premise is “homicidal rapist is at large,” is parking your little girls at the river for an hour while you have a bottle of wine with the wife the game plan?   Or is that the joke?

4. Christopher Plummer — All the Money in the World

Not a bad avatar of pure fiduciary ethical insolvency, but not exactly John Huston in Chinatown high holy malevolence.  I would love to see Charles Dance in a role like this, where he’s the main character.

 

3. Richard Jenkins — The Shape of Water

Jenkins is sweet but undeserved by a somewhat thinly sketched role, especially when one can easily imagine a version of this story where he has a more primary viewpoint.  He could do more with his wry delivery a lá Cabin In the Woods, another genre-mashup creature feature.

Image result for jenkins shape of water

2. Samuel Rockwell — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

Rockwell, too, is always an asset, and, exactly as with Harrelson, this is a role that kept me at some distance for just seeming to add up to less than the sum of the scenarios at play.  Rockwell brings his signature fun, offbeat verve with gusto, but without a good bead on his head space, I’m left with a bit of a shrug.

Image result for sam rockwell moon

1. Willem Dafoe — The Florida Project

Your winner by a mile, and truly a “Supportive Man” role/category synergy champion.  From the sense one gets of hearing him speak in interviews, Dafoe may not be far from playing himself here, apparently with experience hanging out among some rough and colorful communities.  He can nearly decapitate me with a paint can any day, before scintillatingly dispatching pedophiles to the soda machine and off the premises (sorry I can’t find the scene online).  I wish I, too, had the power to sweet talk large, roaming birds from driveways.

Shall win:  Samuel Rockwell

 

Queen of the Castle

5. Margot Robbie — I, Tonya

As with Allison Janney, a fun role with some big broad strokes.

Image result for harding and margot robbie

4. Sally Hawkins — The Shape of Water

Hawkins is underrated, particularly in Blue Jasmine, where she’s touching as a woman who’s on terms with a relatively happy if less than perfect life.  Here she gets a character whose dreams and fantasies can and do come true.  She does a convincing job with the ASL, and no knock, but one wonders if any deaf or mute actors were seriously considered.

Image result for shape of water

3. Meryl Streep — Sweet Sheep Chronicles: What’s News is Real

The S. S. is perhaps on *auto-pilot* here, but when you’re this good, why wouldn’t you be?  She’s like the Sully Sullenberger of actors, landing planes on Hudson rivers, wondering what all the fuss is about.  Speaking of, pour a chilly one out for Tom Hanks, who is a tasty side of ham here, but alas is not invited to the party.

Image result for the post

2. Frances McDormand — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

For all the misgivings I have with the screenplay, McDormand is an unstoppable force, and I would imagine the single biggest driver for Billboards’s acclaim.  When you’re primarily with her and her perspective, the tone really clicks.  I feel like the best version of the film would focus even more on her character’s background.

Image result for mcdormand three billboards

1. Saoirse Ronan — Lady Bird

As with Metcalf, just a high-fidelity life rendering, among the best one could ever hope to see from a “coming of age” film.  She brings such an eclectic mix of emotes and reactions that most of her performance feels candidly captured, improvised, and, along with really solid editing, she delivers a film that manages to mix the funny, real, and difficult in a way that (mostly) avoids the clunky, writerly notes that so often crop up in similar fare.

Shall win: Frances McDormand

 

Leading Children of Men

5. Gary Oldman

Listen, I love Gary Oldman.  He’s practically the oldest.  But let’s bestow career awards on top career achievements.

That achievement is Tiptoes.

Tiptoes (2003)

Otherwise it’s just awkward for everyone.

4. Denzel Washington — Roman J. Israel, Esquire

“You know, there’s a job by the ocean makes maple glazed turkey bacon donuts people sit under palm trees and eat them while the breeze is a-blowing and dolphins are playing I’m gonna go there.”

–Roman J. Israel, Esquire

If sentences like this make you smile, you are going to enjoy Roman J. Israel, Esquire.  It is a joy. This is an abundant film.

3. Timotheé Chalamet

The spotlight burns bright on the young man in a role with a pretty high degree of difficulty as he’s on screen for most of the film and in varying states of undress.  He’s charged with performing an act or two that could potentially be construed as a bit silly in less sophisticated corners.

Image result for peach facts

2. Daniel Kaluuya

I would say this is also a role with a high degree of difficulty, where Kaluuya has to convey a lot without saying anything, in a way that really dovetails with Get Out‘s themes of intractable situations where you’re dammed if you do say something and damned if you don’t say something.

Image result for kaluuya get out

1. Daniel Day-Lewis

Stop bullying me, Daniel!  Seriously though, a lovely genteel shade from the world’s best that we haven’t seen in a while.  If there’s anything to be said, it’s that he isn’t given quite enough time to charm us.  But I’ll argue that’s a feature, not a bug.  The tea’s going out, but the interruption is staying right there with him.

Image result for day lewis phantom thread

Shall win: Gary Oldman — Tiptoes

 

Direction, in a Filmic Sense

5. Guillermo Del Toro

As I was saying to some writer on this very blog, Del Toro is at this point a dude I really like, but whose reputation has maybe gotten a touch inflated, to the point where this nomination has the narrative of being a career award.  To be sure, there probably aren’t many who would count The Shape of Water as Del Toro’s best, where set design and cinematography—his calling cards to be sure—are ahead of plot and character.

Image result for shape of water

 

4. Jordan Peele

Really impressive, and I agree that he brings a unique affinity for capturing the look and feel of genres and other projects to the film.  A next level pastiche-man extraordinaire, cleverer and cleverer.  I’ll be the wet blanket who didn’t need the incredulous friend comedy side-plot.

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3. Chris Nolan

Kind of thrilling to see the Prestige-man play on his proclivities and style without the signature ostentatious plot twists (though I suppose we did throw in a time passage conceit).  His actors are well served, especially Mark Rylance.

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2. Greta Gerwig

We’ve said it before, great director’s film, with that pace and specificity one always craves.

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1. Paul Thomas Anderson

Who also writes and directs photography.  What more can one say about cinema’s most involved, meticulous and singularly humorous director since Kubrick?  One has to say, this is a pretty impressive category overall, with all of the directors nominated being deeply involved in all aspects, and bringing an intensely and wonderfully signature style and voice to their projects. Many years only one or two nominees can say that.

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Shall win: Chris Nolan

 

Finest of All Motion Pictures

1. Tiptoes

Tiptoes is a film where Peter Dinklage portrays a communist, and Matthew McConaughey is very mean to Kate Beckinsale.  I believe he is Jewish.  Aaaand a fireman.  Matthew is upset because he’s afraid the baby he made with her might be born with dwarfism.  So he abandons her and the child, but then almost comes back, but in the end, nope.

But: guess who doesn’t abandon her.  Did you guess Willem Dafoe?

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That’s a good guess, but nope, it’s actually Old Gary Oldman.  Who is a little person and happens to be Matthew McConaughey’s brother.  And he shares a pretty romantic kiss with her, after she’s had the baby :).   Hey, what’s more attractive: Matthew McConaughey, who doesn’t even support you, or the most supportive AND best actor, sweet Gary of Old’?

And the thing is: it’s all real. None of that CGI bullcrap Hollywood is always trying to shove down the throats of real Americans.  Hey, you Hollywood liberal dumbos: America has spoken: we don’t like movies with a bunch of fake computer graphics.  We like practical effects, the real magic of tinseltown, and Gary Oldman: always real, always a classic.

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[Editorial: at this point let us take care to point out we really do love Gary Oldman, and Darkest Hour wasn’t that bad.  It wasn’t The Theory of Everything.    But someone has to come in last.  So the rest of us can survive.]

8. The Shape of Water

The premise, reductively: E.T., but it’s the fish guy from Del Toro’s Hellboy, and also his liberator is Ariel, but she doesn’t even know she’s actually a mermaid.  And darling it is better, down where it’s wetter.

It just doesn’t have anything to do with its villain, for all the screen time it gives him.  Our man Shan is oddly wasted as an avatar of 50’s American toxic masculinity, stinky rotten fingers not being a sufficiently engaging quirk.  He’s good per se, I mean it’s Shannon, but it takes too much focus away from a deeper dive into Hawkins’ protagonist (ahem), and/or even Tim Fishman.  (Am I the only one who thought he’d be more fetching?)   To contrast with E.T., one has to appreciate Steve Spielberg’s G-men of the ’80s, who were always truly menacing in their eerie blankness and unrelenting ubiquity, even if they were pretty bloodless.  Here we’re waltzing in and out of top-secret labs with relative ease.

This is also an example of the more rote way to be “a love letter” to older films (which is likely the biggest factor propelling this Oscar campaign): here we just have actual silver screen footage that comes up with little context beyond that the protagonists seem to enjoy it.  There are evocative routines (the tap dancing, the tossed in black and white dancing sequence), but the film’s not as deeply invested in them as with something like last year’s La La Land, or even this year’s Phantom Thread.

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Ding!

7. Call Me By Your Name

Who among us hasn’t frolicked through a summer in the Italian Riviera, lounging at the southern Palazzo, sun dappling our rippling nubile forms?  Danced the night away in a moonlit Piazza, drunk on a love that dare not speak its name, sweat flush with mostaccioli primavera?

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Who among us hasn’t huffed the short shorts of a beloved, lungs inflaming with musky intoxicant?  Hasn’t ejaculated in a peach, or even a blueberry?  Ah yes, the maid was always cross. But kind.

In the end, you said it Michael Stuhlbarg: eventually, no one wants to look at you, much less even be near you.  But at least we’ll have the cinema.

 

6. Three Billboards Over Ebbing, Missouri

From playwright as well as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths writer Martin McDonaugh comes a project that’s about as ostentatious as its name would suggest.  It gets as far as it does on gumption, and an admirably heady theme: that really bad things happen for no good reason, and there’s no catharsis or cosmic justice in store.  The Coen Bros. have made a career in part out of exploring that, often with scintillating dark humor (perhaps even with a certain Frances McDormand), and the screenplay seems to be reaching for that tone.

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That this seems to be a potential front-runner despite no directing nomination may point to the sense that this feels a bit like a best picture sort of feature, but something didn’t line up in the end.

  • The scene with a CG deer, was it not supposed to be humorously surreal? When I hallucinate deer, I hallucinate deer.  Gary Oldman does not use digital deer.
  • Sam Rockwell, not detained after throwing a dude out of a window in broad daylight to the witness of many? Just turn in your badge? I feel like the movie’s trying to say something about systemic police brutality, but I’m just nonplussed here from a basic plot level.  What year is this taking place?  If this has something to say about America, why does the setting feel not particularly American?
  • Why are we so viciously mean to John Hawkes’ young girlfriend off the bat? At least let her demonstrate that she’s an idiot before we assume it.
  • Literally, the last thing the daughter says to her mom is to the effect of “I hope I get raped”?

If the film worked for you, most if not all of the above didn’t register as off.  Which is great!  I think this would be a pretty cool stage play.

 

5. The Post

It’s Spielberg by-the-books, but as with Sweet Sheep, it’s a warm comfort.  Soul food, one might say.  The machinery of the Press, rumbling to life, cigar chomping cowards, money-grubbers and naysayers deposed.  I was even a bit more engaged with this than Bridge of Spies, and, free of the crushing expectations that came with Lincoln, left a Spielberg film with more pleasant surprise than I can remember since War of the Worlds, which is based on a true story that Tom Cruise read to me in a dream before throwing a half-made peanut butter sandwich at a window.  I told him, hey, you should put that in the film.

Washington Post

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4. Dunkirk

Again, nice to see Nolan apply his sensibilities and signature toolbox to a project that isn’t all twisty or Batman, or the twisty Batman where Marion Cotillard turns out to actually be Liam Neeson’s daughter.  Whom I wouldn’t take liberties with.  And you might say I’m quite taken, with this film.

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Anyhow, sorry good buddy, you’ve been scooped of your own best speech.

3. Get Out

You’ve got your treachery: check.  Imprisonment: check.  Gaslighting: check.  Murder: check.  Now we’re getting somewhere.  Timely.

Pretty exciting project to come from one of the creators of Key and Peele, which deconstructed the Valley of the Unreal with the best of them.  While I can’t access the themes of specific cultural and identity appropriation as directly as black viewers, I think we can all relate to a sense of warped reality at times. I mean, a little bit.  The occasional inkling that powers mean to steal your brain, so they can put their brain in your brain pan, and control you like a doll that’s aware, but not fully aware.

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2. Lady Bird 

Very much of the slice of life genre, sub folder coming-of-age, this manages to be a lot funnier and lighter than the vast majority.  But I do think you should really keep to your given name (the name you give yourself).

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Tim Roundman

1. Phantom Thread 

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Look guys, it’s not for everyone.  At my theater showing, I felt from the audience a general sense of mild disappointment as credits rolled to a lovely Jonny Greenwood score: one man remarked he wished they had seen The Post, another lady remarked in exasperation, “I don’t want to have mushrooms for dinner!”

So. Is it anti-romance or something?  This is a reasonable and probably not uncommon response: a big feature is a heavy dose of “why the hell does she put up with this guy, what exactly am I watching?”  But this is, among other things, a true throwback, and I’d argue that sentiment can be levied at quite a few if not most classic cinematic romances (we could again bring up last year’s throwback La La Land.)  I’ll admit, Anderson may have slightly overestimated the sheer charm of a dapper Daniel Day-Lewis, and could have afforded him another exhibit or two to put in the likable column.

I don’t think it’s anti-romance. Rather, it’s very skeptical of marriage as, in one respect, a sort of formal declaration of co-dependence.  One person’s takeaway: it’s about the institution’s more ludicrous, morbid presumptions, about one’s expectations and responsibilities towards one’s partner and their immortal soul, in sickness (and Woodcock is a sickly boy) and in health.   He says he will never marry because marriage would make him deceitful (sincerity also being a prime excuse for being insufferable).  Some would say a little deceit is necessary to grease the rails in a relationship.  Alma, defying our expectations by copping to the mushroom routine–both to Woodcock and some doctor, a cipher for the audience–is not deceitful. Little, if any compromise is made. And from that everlasting pause on his proposal, it’s fair to imagine she quite understands the severity of the transaction she’s entered into.

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In most romances about difficult couples, one person changes the other, breaking down some barrier to them being together.  One makes the other find something “true” they didn’t know was there, or couldn’t admit, and then they can be together.  Here, marriage changes nothing, nor does either character change to suit the other.  Romantic?  Not in any way we’re conditioned to root for!  It’s a crazy sort of co-dependence, which, in an unvarnished way, is kind of what marriage is–spoken through the traditional vows, anyway.

If this is a bit fuzzy, I for one am still working through all of what’s going on here: curses, ghosts, mothers.  The most disappointing thing for me is that we’re set up to imagine this is going to have more to say about art and artists, where that turns out to be more a medium for other messages.  Maybe.  And a lot here may have been covered before, but rarely this intricately in the same film, paying off in surprisingly strange ways. For example: eccentric, successful men being obsessed with their mothers is a topic that’s common enough, but here we get a singularly spooky scene where Woodcock hallucinates his dead mother is standing by the wall. Deftly set up earlier in the film, it’s electrifying when it dawns on you that the phantom is being portrayed by a real human. Horror films, take note.

This is all to say: mushrooms are a solid choice as far as dinners go.  And if they should cause you should see a phantom standing by the wall, well, at least it’s your brain conjuring it and not The Man’s.  Right?

I hope you can trip this Sunday Oscars night with someone you love, and if not, thanks for tripping with me.

Should Win: 

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Shall Win: Better be…
Dunkirk!

La La Land is Many Places

bill-paxton-films

by James Davies

[Spoilers ahead]

 

Finest Picture, for All Mankind

9. Arrival
Starts off promisingly, with a nice establishing of the story and visual appeal. Continues its success slowly-but-surely up through Amy Adams’s character, super-refreshingly, declaring it is/has to be a “non-zero-sum-game.” Then the ending destroys the whole film. A child-focused part is initially used respectfully, groundedly, and connectedly, but then is turned into a Terrible Thing Fulcrum (TTF) on top of a magical-mystical deus ex machina containing the false core of “reproduction is what (most) makes us human–what gives us our fullest realization as individuals and a species.” (Related to its POV)

8. Moonlight
Too much of a hyperconstructed, inorganic-organic, leaden work. It’s a critic’s darling like Boyhood was in that way. Maybe they feel that kind of construction flatters criticism and thus them? There seems to be a class convergence between professional film critics and these kinds of films. The characters never much feel like fresh-and-blood people, and at worse are walking stereotypes.

7. Hidden Figures
The story is compelling enough, but something is lost from the page to the screen. It might be too slick and (inadvertently) rendering things more inevitable than they were.

6. Lion
“You kept telling me how little I am, but look how clever I am.” … “It’s magic.” … “I can lift anything.” … “You’ve come very far, haven’t you? And one day you’ll tell me all about it.” Establishes at the outset that it’s about going through dark tunnels, yelling in them, and coming out on the other side. Much of it is sheer set-up for the ending and the ending is powerful. The scenes with the young Brierley do draw you in, but the adult-Brierley scenes are rather flat until the end.

5. Hacksaw Ridge
I can see some of what thethirdrevelation is saying and think some of those criticisms can be answered by the historical and biographical accuracy. I might describe the first part as kind of hokey–but even in that vein, Vince Vaughan works well as a caricature of a military sergeant who’s then softened-up/epiphanied by Doss. I think it makes a nice leap to the last 2/3. The war scenes alone gave it a high floor for me. The film actually under-depicts the abuse Doss took from his unit. They do compress the saving of lives he does from a span of like three weeks to two days, but still, I was moved. It automatically gets several bags of popcorn for the “principles” message and for how graphic, realistic, and sobering-stirring the war scenes are.

4. Manchester by the Sea
Didn’t like it as much as I wanted to, nor near its level of critical reception, but maintains a pretty high floor. It’s not like I can think of many better portraits of grief. Ultimately, though, it relies too much on the TTF to bear its (emotional) weight. Upstream Color is an example of a film that uses its TTF probably just right, namely, doesn’t overuse it and has color and shape and life outside of the fulcrum, even if the fulcrum can be said to always be there. Manchester doesn’t really do anything else wrong though, and does contain several powerful scenes. Those and the very good acting throughout help it maintain that high floor. Good use of region and locations.

3. Fences
I was somewhat pleasantly surprised by Fences, which now sits alongside Doubt as a quality play-to-screen adaptation. Denzel does a lot of taut lifting of hegemonic hypermasculinity and Viola Davis is solid as long-suffering sounding board, then bell. They develop a believable push-pull chemistry.

2. Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water grew on me a fair amount as I compared it to the other Best Picture nominees. It’s a good genre film (neo-Western chase / cops n’ robbers), but also transcends it. It’s message and lessons about economic dislocation, pride, and justice are timely and reverberate loudly. Good casting, including Ben Foster at his manic best.

Ought to win: La La Land
Easily my favorite-best of the year, so I’m glad it’s the odds-on favorite for the big win. A lot of it is sheer set-up for the ending–about the same ratio Lion has–but boy what an ending. When you deliver one on par with Casablanca’s, your work is done here, with credit to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. My initial thought about it coming out of the theater was that Chazelle knew he had made a good enough film–had enough quality and craft laid down–to merit and support that ending. He slots it in there with confidence and panache; he is clear-eyed and full-hearted. That being said, I probably would’ve given it Best Picture right off as a riposte to the snobs criticizing the dancing and singing. Save your plastic pantomime, junkies. It’s been criticized for supposed nostalgia, but I think it’s more subversive than not on that front, and I agree with Charles Turner that “The making of modernity has sought to provide a defence of nostalgia as a critical tool of analysis. In this respect the nostalgic imagination may be a defensible, and at least an intelligent response to the end of the social.”* Relatedly, it exists rather independently of its Hollywood trappings and jazz parts, and is more universal than some critics are acknowledging. For one, New Englander Chazelle almost set in in Boston (he borrowed heavily from his own Boston-set film Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench). It’s very explicit and knowing about this, like with the use of the on-lot coffee shop–going from “reality” to “dreamland” just so; the movers moving the picture of California orange groves; the cartoon depiction of Mia’s audition. This is all explicit attention to and a deconstruction of the artificiality, symbolism, and tropes here. It’s a meta-commentary. Maybe that’s an annoying self-innoculating move by Chazelle, but I think it works overall and I appreciated it. Other criticisms also seem rather misplaced, shading into the over-cynical. Gosling and Stone’s characters have been criticized as a Manic Pixie Dream Boy and a Manic Pixie Dream Girl and as “narcissists who sacrifice love for self-interest.” Saying they’re both Manic Pixie Dreamers for each other seems to negate itself, and I’m pretty sure that criticism is incompatible with the second one. There may be some (Manic) Pixie Dream dust, but not a lot I don’t think–their characters are too independent. Also, I’m with the coiner of the term, Nathan Rabin, who has since renounced it in saying that “nuanced characters cannot be classified in such a restricted nature.”** I still think it can be a useful term in a narrow sense, but maybe at its sloppiest goes to Zoe Kazan’s charges of it being “reductive, diminutive, and misogynistic.” I also believe there can be manic pixie dream aspects alongside an equality between characters, and that seems to be the case here. Regarding the supposed narcissism and self-interest, I think that would have to overlook what is arguably the plot fulcrum of the whole movie, where Sebastian misunderstands/misinterprets a conversation Mia is having with her mother. From that overhear, he thinks she wants him to go the John Legend & Co. route. He thinks he’s pleasing her, which is the opposite of narcissism. That being said, the scene where they argue about it is frustrating. It seems artificially strained and too much of a shortcut. Finally, Seb is not some white savior of jazz. He doesn’t like the Legend Tour, but his purism and stubbornness is directly corrected by John Legend’s character, and I think the ultimate dream suggested, shared by Mia, is to have his own club that, if anything, is fusion and pluralist or whatever. It’s part of his evolution. I mean, his look at the end? That’s pure subjectivity.

Will win: La La Land

Bill Paxton in Terminator

Bill Paxton in The Terminator

Supportive Women in Cinema
5. Nicole Kidman
4. Octavia Spencer
3. Michelle Williams
2. Viola Davis
“Anything he can’t understand he wanna call it the devil.”
Ought to win: Naomie Harris
Does a lot with what little she’s given. Really hits those emotional high notes. “I just thought at the start of my career, I’m gonna make it my mission—or the criteria in which I choose roles—is gonna ensure that I’m representing positive images of women. So initially I had huge reservations about taking on the role, and it wasn’t until [director] Barry [Jenkins] explained to me that this was based on his own mother, you know, and that’s what really touched me, and I thought ‘Here is somebody who has a vested interest in ensuring that this character doesn’t become reduced to being a stereotype.”  “No Small Parts
Will win: Davis

Natalie Portman: Yeah, ‘cause there are, like, particular cultures in different towns and—
Michelle Williams: There were [?] and they were so particular about that. When I went up to this area there’s these towns that all abut each other…but they’re so distinct, you know, and like you go to Beverly and they’re like “Don’t you dare make it sound like Gloucester,” and you go to Gloucester and they’re like “We are nothing like Manchester-by-the-Sea’ and you’re like “Oh, God, I hope that you guys—I hope that it’s okay!”  “Natalie Portman & Michelle Williams — Actors on Actors” (Variety)

“The first time I saw Moonlight, the character of Paula felt like a misstep. In such a personal movie, to find what felt like an overburdened stock trope of black poverty was a disappointment. Then I saw the movie again. And I kept my eye on Harris: how she closes her eyes, warily, after a strange man brings her son home; how she barrels, spindly and unpredictably, toward Chiron when she’s locked out of the house; how her hand shakes while lighting a cigarette after years of being sober. As much as Moonlight is a movie about a time in a boy’s life, it’s also about the same time in his mother’s life. It’s advertised as a triptych tracing three distinct moments in Chiron’s journey. Telling that story means becoming a three-part series of snapshots of all the characters, including Chiron’s mother, whose life plays out as a nascent struggle with crack that becomes a full-blown addiction before finally evening out on the road to recovery. Paula is a supporting role, but a primary force, so much so that Harris is the only actor to appear in all three parts of the movie. The movie is very much like Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014) in that sense: shifts in the mother’s life loom so large in the story that she at times feels like a colead.”  “Naomie Harris’s Voice Is a Secret Weapon in ‘Moonlight’

Bill Paxton, Near Dark

Bill Paxton, Near Dark

Most Supportive Man
5. Dev Patel
4. Mahershala Ali
3. Michael Shannon
2. Jeff Bridges
Ought to win: Lucas Hedges
Will win: M.Ali

Our Man Michael Shan: I read that Christmas monologue, about that guy who hates Christmas. … I got the script in the mail, I read it, I thought, “Wow this is really bleak, I don’t know if this is for me.” … We [Shannon and Tom Ford] talked for a little while, I was like “This guy’s super smart. I bet he’ll make a good movie,” so I said yes; but I like the character Bobby because I’m really into those Jim Thompson books…so for me Bobby…could’ve been a character out of that genre. You know, playin’ a detective is fun, and all that.
Adam Driver: You ever seen Fishing with John?
Shannon: No, I haven’t seen that show.
Driver: They’re really funny.
Shannon: People love that.
Driver: Yeah.
Shannon: Let me ask you somethin’: TV, stage, film–what do you prefer?
Driver: I don’t have a preference, do you?
Shannon: Theater.
Driver: Really?
Shannon: Yeah.
Driver: Why?
Shannon: There’s just less interference. There’s less people in your business, you know? You just get to go out there and nobody walks up and starts, like, touchin’ your face. [Driver laughs] You just go out there and say your lines and when you’re done, you’re done–you know?; and you can really–I just feel like it’s easier to get momentum on stage.
Shannon: I don’t want to get in a litigious situation here, but it wasn’t safe.”

Queen of the Castle!
5. Meryl Streep
4. Ruth Negga
3. Isabelle Huppert
2. Natalie Portman
“A woman should be allowed to be whole range of things, and just a complete human being on screen—the way men are portrayed.”  “Natalie Portman argues that ‘Jackie’ goes beyond ‘strong woman’ stereotypes
Ought to win: Emma Stone
Will win: Stone

“In an aptly exhaustive examination of the actor’s approach, Alex Abad-Santos over at Vox breaks down the historical significance of Jackie’s accent with the help of several linguistic experts. Not quite transatlantic and not quite New York, Kennedy’s accent was a product of her wealthy upbringing along with a childhood split between Southampton and Long Island. The driving force of her accent, though, came from her years in school in Manhattan. At this time, well-to-do students, much like Kennedy herself, were taught a mixture of American English with British English in order to encourage a seemingly posh dialect. Usually this was seen in the dropping of “r”s, referred to as non-rhotic affectation. Natalie Portman’s portrayal is rooted in a historical context, which is what makes aspects of her performance feel so unfamiliar. Jackie’s accent is not only an odd mixture of varied sources, inconsistent in the way only humans can be, but her accent exists in a time completely foreign to most people of a younger generation.”  “Natalie Portman’s ‘Jackie’ Accent May Sound Strange, But History Backs It Up

“Before the Oscars ceremony kicked off, Emma Stone had already cemented her place on the evening’s best dressed lists in an Oscar-gold old Hollywood gown. But her most noteworthy accessory was in service of a cause: a small golden pin in the shape of Planned Parenthood’s logo. Stone was not the only star who made a subtle political statement on the red carpet. Dakota Johnson sported Planned Parenthood’s logo on her clutch, and several stars —including nominees Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ruth Negga—wore blue ribbons in support of the American Civil Liberties Union.”  “Emma Stone Made a Political Statement With Her Accessories Before the Oscars Even Began

Bill Paxton and Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies

Bill Paxton and Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies

Best Baby Boy
5. Ryan Gosling
4. Andrew Garfield
3. Casey Affleck
2. Denzel Washington
“Death ain’t nothin’ but a fastball on the outside of the plate.”
Ought to win: Viggo Mortensen
“Are they sick? Everyone’s so fat!” Mortensen is the Reluctant-but-Happy Warrior-Driver of an alternative schoolbus of a film that is propelled by supreme feeling and heart. As he usually does in roles, I love how he delivers such feeling, impact, and high stakes so quietly. He’s an actor’s actor.
Will win: Denzel

Bill Paxton in Aliens

Bill Paxton in Aliens

Finest Direction, in a Filmic Sense
5. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
4. Dennis Villeneuve, Arrival
3. Melly Gibs, Hacksaw Ridge
2. Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Ought to win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Will win: Chazelle

“The longevity and relevance of Gibson’s career up until 2006 was almost unparalleled. From his beginnings in 1979’s ‘Mad Max’ to the ‘Lethal Weapon’ franchise to his five ‘Braveheart’ Oscars that included best picture and director, the Australian-raised, devout Roman Catholic seemed to defy the career slumps that rendered many of his peers obsolete over the years. He has a particular gift for themes of redemption through violence and suffering; ‘Hacksaw Ridge,’ which has already been described as an ‘inspirational’ comeback and a ‘miracle’ for his career, follows that template. In the World War II drama about an army medic who also happened to be a Seventh Day Adventist and pacifist, a man’s faith is tested, he’s nearly destroyed, he repents, he’s exonerated. … When asked what he might tell his younger self if given the opportunity, Gibson answered: ‘Don’t be so caught up in the little things; take advantage of all the gifts the world has to offer; and live every day to the fullest.’ Then he added: ‘I’d also tell my younger self to shut the f— up.”  “Mel Gibson goes from most hated man in Hollywood to receiving a standing ovation

Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Kurt Russell, and Bill Paxton in Tombstone

Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Kurt Russell, and Bill Paxton in Tombstone

Topmost Writing That Now Has a Second (Lease On) Life, Which You May or May Not Have Seen Coming
5. Arrival
4. Moonlight
3. Lion
2. Hidden Figures
Should win: Fences
Will win: Moonlight

Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Bacon in Apollo 13

Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Bacon in Apollo 13

Writing Newly Born, Already Superlative
5. Hell or High Water
4. La La Land
3. Manchester by the Sea
2. 20th Century Women
Ought to win: The Lobster
Will win: Manchester

Bill Paxton in Weird Science

Bill Paxton in Weird Science

Film Editing
5. Hell or High Water
4. Moonlight
3. Arrival
2. Hacksaw Ridge
Ought to win: La La Land
Will win: La La Land

“After suggesting that a civil war would be the only way to prevent Trump from assuming the highest office in the land, Shannon asserts that if you feel okay about supporting his presidency, it’s probably time for you to just die already. ‘There’s a lot of old people who need to realize they’ve had a nice life, and it’s time for them to move on,’ Shannon said. ‘Because they’re the ones who go out and vote for these assholes. If you look at the young people, between 18 and 25, if it was up to them, Hillary would have been president. No offense to the seniors out there. My mom’s a senior citizen. But if you’re voting for Trump, it’s time for the urn.’ And if your parents voted for Trump? ‘Fuck ’em. You’re an orphan now. Don’t go home. Don’t go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Don’t talk to them at all. Silence speaks volumes.’ Despite being from the red state of Kentucky, Shannon says that no one in his immediate family ‘would ever remotely consider voting for Trump.’ So, it sounds like no one around his holiday hearth will have to sit frozen in terror as he stares them down with his severely threatening gaze.” Jordan Crucchiola, “Michael Shannon Tells Trump Supporters It’s Their Time to Die Now” Vulture, 11-17-16

*Charles Turner, “Sacred sociology: the life and times of Phillip Rieff” Theory, Culture and Society, 28(3): 80-105 (2011), as cited in Sociological Noir: Irruptions and the Darkness of Modernity (2016)

**From TV Tropes: “Unfortunately, the term ended up being misused to describe simply quirky female characters, with many who are actually well-rounded being given this label. Rabin would later disown the term, because instead of creating awareness of the ‘lack of independent goals in female characters’, the concept instead accidentally ended up suggesting that ALL quirky and fun women automatically merited this trope, whether they actually fit in or not. Despite all that (or because of all that), there are ways of utilizing this trope without falling into that pitfall.”

michael-shannon-hair

vs.

jccalhoun_400x400

Yale’s smart choice in renaming Calhoun College


Oh Dear: The 89th Academy Awards; or, We All Pee the Same Color

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The Oscars come but once a year.  Who shall, shalln’t, and shouldn’t win that sweet, sweet Oscar gold?   It’s time to put some shrimp on ice, grab a crisp porter ale, and watch the thrills, shills, probably a La La Land medley, and big Jim Kimmel tell us a consoling thing or two about Dan Trimp!  Buckle up your britches, sweet ones!

To the lists!!

(Some spoilers ahead)

Finest Direction, in a Filmic Sense

5. Melly Gibbons

From Metacritic:

TrevorsView  Jan 13, 2017

This is what Spider-Man should have been all this time. Here is what Ben Affleck should have done with Batman. Here is a true hero that outshines anyone wearing a colorful, shiny million dollar suit. In fact, all he has to suit him up and protect him from death is the holy word of God. He won’t even dream of laying either an eye or a finger on a rifle. If today’s superheroes can’t help us through gun control, then this real-life hero of Hacksaw Ridge can.

Gib.  You’ve won the game.  You’re a gibbon now.

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4. Denis Villeneuve

Other than the noisome dead girl plot device there’s nothing too unethical going on here, and I applaud anyone trying out something like a cool sci-fi that thinks about how your language informs your thought processes.  It’s just such a fumble on the narrative logic and character interaction fronts.  Not much feels intuitive.

3. Damien Chazelle

Some good production design and cinematography.  I’m just in the camp that would have preferred some more song and dance. Either that or a more layered story.  And perhaps it was a fool’s errand to expect the pace and specificity that made Whiplash what it was to have been in La La’s DNA.  Still, Simmons’ presence in both films underpins my theory that they take place in the same universe, wherein Simmons is some sort of Two-Face like villain that alternately goes around dumbing down and heightening jazz to its furthest extremes.

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2. Kenneth Lonergan

I agree with everyone who liked the subtle black comedy elements and clever little touches that make Manchester breathe with authenticity.  I also agree that there’s something of a built in ceiling with how closely it hews to its one terrible event informing just about everything with regards to Affleck’s lead role.  But that’s more of a feature than a bug in a project that works at a high level at what it wants to do.

1. Barry Jenkins

There’s always something of a pendulum push-back effect when a critical darling like Moonlight is so characterized by the prominence of its cinematography (that critic’s delight) and a camp decries it as critic bait.  Sometimes they’re right.  When they’re right, it’s often because the film lacks clarity or panders to a fault.  I don’t think either is the case here, this is potent human stuff.  One note: the chair that broke the bully’s back really shatters pro-wrestling style.  We need better chairs, DeVos.

Shall Prevail: Barry Jenkins(!)

The idea seems to be that Moonlight is the only real dark horse to the La La Land Juggernaut, so let’s go out on a limb and say this year they split Director and Picture honors, thus spreading the wealth.  But yeah, probably Chazelle.

 

Most Supportive Man

5. Dev Patel

Very standard role in a very typical awards season biopic, Patel is an ol’ hunk emoting a great deal, just what the doctor ordered.  It’s just a tough film to love.  As with Viola Davis, hard to tell how this ends up in the supporting category.  He’s on screen for almost all of his half of the two hour running time.  And that…probably means they should’ve branched out a little.

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4. Lucas Hedges

I don’t know if the film sets up the role to be all that dynamic, with a lot filmed over his or Affleck’s shoulders, or outside the car as they bicker in the car.  Definitely convinces as a young man right at the center of mourning and puberty, leaves nothing wanted.  Would like to know what position he plays on the hockey team. He seems like a defenceman.

3. Mahershala Ali

Very memorable in a small role, and in a very dialogue-light film, delivers the best lines.  Would like to have seen some more of him, but his absence after the first act is deliberate, any more and Moonlight is a very different film.

2. Jeff Bridges

He’s somewhere on the spectrum of witty disaffection he’s been playing over and over now, and that mode may be wearing a little thin, but I for one am still having fun.  It’s a shame his half of High Water’s narrative is the more rote, but he does sell the pivot from comedian to revenge seeker well.  It’s a shame his story doesn’t seem to quite contribute to the film’s more interesting takeaways at first glance, but then again, the politics of revenge is not a bad way of putting what the film seems to be thinking about.

1. Michael Shannon

A Juggernautish favorite and a true champion in general, Shannon brings his effortless charisma and a Cohen Bros.-ian jolt of dark humor to the project.  He starts off seemingly untrustworthy, dismissive and antagonistic, only to inevitably reveal himself as a fierce knight of pulpy justice.  He’s exceedingly well-cast.  It’s a real shame Nocturnal Animals ends on an ill-advised, reductive twist.

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Shall Prevail: Mahershala Ali

 

Supportive Women in Cinema

5. Nicole Kidman

No complaints, she’s just not given much to do.

4. Octavia Spencer

Hidden Figures has as charismatic a cast as you could ask for.  Taraji Henderson, Janelle Monae and Kevin Costner are all pretty good too. I think this nomination kind of works as one for the entire team.  Teamwork is what it’s about.

3. Michelle Williams

Strong work in a small role, very effectively simulates the process of crying while trying to communicate in words that just want to jumble out at random; the panic and despair as an inevitable parting inevitably arrives.  I think it’s shrewd that we see her so little throughout the film before, makes that moment more powerful.

2. Naomie Harris

Delivers in a big way on the volatility front, including a scene that seems to want to evoke a panic attack on the part of the protagonist, and boy does she make a catalyst.  As Moonlight is set up as to depict the protagonist’s mindspace, she’s not allowed to reveal a ton of unexpected layers.  She’s remote, but she’s supposed to be because that’s how her son feels about her.

1. Viola Davis

Where the film is mostly shot in a minimal way evocative of the stage, which can sometimes leave actors to struggle when they’re not speaking or directly engaged by who is, does a really impressive job communicating without words.  And when she is speaking, look out.  Classically done.

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Shall Prevail: Viola Davis

 

Best Baby Boy

*Viggo Mortensen

Role unseen as of today.  The light of thethirdrevelation’s life reports, however, that’s he’s fine, just doesn’t have much material worth elevating to Oscar gold realms.

4. Ryan Gosling

Not to knock, but one wonders with both him and Stone how the whole project may have resonated differently with lesser known actors as Hollywood unknowns.  Narratively, I never got what turned Stone’s Mia on to Seb given the Debbie Downer routine she receives, short fusing the whole romance.  Whether that’s on the director or the actor is anyone’s guess.

3. Andrew Garfield

For what it’s worth, I did appreciate Garfield in Hacksaw, he certainly exudes what he’s asked to.  Not kidding, Spider-man had to be a good experience to be able to draw from for the hero’s tale.  I would say let’s hope Hollywood gets its ‘based on true events’ obsession out of its system, but that’s probably a pipe dream.

2. Denzel Washington

You can tell he’s spent time playing the character, I can only imagine seeing him live.  Perhaps the biggest feat is his ability to leave you any sympathy for the character despite allowing himself so little in the performance to elicit it.

1. Casey Affleck

He’s seems a little one note but that’s exactly the idea: he’s a man left hiding in a note. He’s a tough onion to peel, yet peel he does.  Tears ensue.  For those new to the actor, do yourself a favor and check out the excellent and little seen The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  Take a wild guess who Affleck plays.

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Shall Prevail: Denzel Washington

Which is also a great choice.

 

Queen of the Castle!

5. Natalie Portman

For someone perhaps under-educated as to the Kennedy family and the finer details surrounding the assassination, Jackie came off at times a touch hollow, perhaps geared toward the expert?  Portman’s shock, seething bitterness and despair register impressively, but I found myself regularly wondering if I was lacking context knowledge to understand layers of meaning behind why she emphasizes or chooses certain turns of phrase just so, leaving the screenplay feeling scattered as often as arch, especially when ruminating on legacy.  As far as simulation, which seems to be our raison d’être, the remake of the 1962 White House tour and production design generally is fairly captivating, though Portman’s approximation of Jackie’s accent and manner feels a little over-played.

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4. Emma Stone

Stone has one of the most expressive faces in Hollywood and it’s certainly on display here.  She’s deceptively great with the audition line readings, easily my favorite part of the film: some seem perfectly fine, some are a just little flat so you can see why casting would pass, and some are delightfully clunky.

3. Meryl Streep Sweet Sheep

I went into Florence Foster Jenkins with little knowledge of the woman or her singing.  The key bit of Streep’s performance is spent caterwauling incredibly badly, and for the uninitiated, it sounds impossibly over the top, and not as singularly hilarious as her audiences seem to find it (she couldn’t have been that bad).  Then, the film ends with a brief snippet of the real Jenkins’ singing and… we really would have been well served with that as a prologue because it turns out she was exactly that bad, and Streep is basically nailing it.

If one can ignore that the film portrays Jenkins as more oblivious than she may have been for effect, I actually enjoyed it.  Before things end with an inevitable melodramatic cudgeling, there’s a lot of razor sharp comic timing, along with a good balance of silly and sweet.  It mostly earns its warmness, and Streep is a treat.  Hugh Grant is also very good, resembling thirdrevelation favorite Patrick McGoohan in feature, regal posture and clipped intonation.

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2. Ruth Negga

Loving may be one of the most underappreciated films of the year, at least, coming from a fan of Juggernautish favorite director Jeff Nichols.  It’s fascinating how motifs from earlier Nichols films–here the paranoia is finally 100% clearly justified–naturally fit this story.  Negga is working with a high degree of difficulty, hitting home completely without the benefit of anything in the way of showcase moments.  She doesn’t need them.

1. Isabelle Huppert

I don’t speak a lick of French and this is a dialogue-heavy film so I’m limited in my appraisal, but even so, Huppert  is mesmerizing while owning the strange core of a Verhoeven project that seems to want to subvert every trope it can imagine and then double back again (maybe fecklessly at times).  None of it works if Huppert doesn’t command both such authentic and variously affected beats.  I’m not sure if any specific light bulb went on for me as far as agency, sex, aging, role playing, or any of the myriad themes at play in Elle, but that seems to be by design, for worse or better.  While I’m not sure how I feel about the film at the end of the day, Huppert is damn engaging.

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Shall Prevail: Emma Stone

 

Finest Picture, for All Mankind

For this section, we’re employing the first annual On Cinema At the Cinema style rating system, for your enjoyment and an enriched context, and so you know what to watch and what to skip.  All are champions of Oscar glory, they were nominated for Best Picture were they not?  It’s a 1 to 5 scale.

9. Lion — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe an Oscar, I think that’s the idea

The less known about it going in the better, as Weinstein co.’s true-story biopic comes with a ceiling on its dramatic stakes to begin with. Half Calcutta tourist flick about a lost little boy in an incredibly dangerous situation that seems hellbent on always pivoting away from implying real peril as quickly as possible, half gauzy award performance showcase, it at least benefits from not dealing with a major figure and the associated mangling of history (see The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, The King’s Speech, etc).

Like with so many biopics, it’s a shame there isn’t time to characterize anyone much beyond their immediate relation to Brierley’s central conflict. His girlfriend and adoptive family never suggest much of a life beyond, so their incredibly steadfast support feels neither here nor there.  The same lack of context goes for Bierley’s specific conflict—what’s he like when he’s not Googling his birthplace, nuzzling post coitus, or brooding (“We swan about in our privileged lives!!”)?  Does he have a dog?  A little…chow or something?

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8. Hacksaw; or, Dip and a Ridged Chip — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe a Bible–you forgot yours

Hacksaw Ridge just scans as too silly to gain any dramatic traction, coming off as propaganda, at least to the uninitiated.  I always appreciate a reluctant warrior story and a man sticking to his guns, so to speak.  Desmond Doss’ is a story worth knowing.  But this is rote and perfunctory to a surreal degree, kind of a time capsule from the conservative 50’s.  The stalker romance, the way he forgets his bible (of course he did!) just so.  Such a wonderful backlit boy.  The squad members who really terrorized Dodd reduced to lovable scamps.  The battles are well done in a sense, and the gore is appreciated insofar as, if you’re going to depict war, the more realism the better.  But this is consistently staged as a heart-pumping action flick: the two week campaign condensed into two days, the stormtrooper enemies that can’t hit our hero as he’s portrayed leaping from man to man just yards away, always at the nick of time, the force-fielded edge of the ridge where he keeps doing his pulley thing.  We seem to be closer to playing army guys than a Saving Private Ryan, which earned its melodrama more convincingly through the unflinching-take-on-war idea.  Garfield gives a strong performance for what it’s worth, he certainly exudes what was asked.

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7. Arrival — Five Bags of Popcorn, and maybe a Copy of David Bowie’s 1969 Album David Bowie, Featuring “Space Oddity”

Arrival is definitely to be applauded for the macro message on cooperation, and it tries to get there with some slick sci-fi imagery and the concept of linguistic relativity: the idea that language and thought processes influence one another, which is beautiful and true.  It’s gotten a lot of praise for being smart, and it is in a sense, but a disinterest in character building, along with multiple ticking-time-bomb scenarios there just to inject a sense of stakes that never feel credible, dulls things down.  Like Interstellar, another notably ‘smart’ sci-fi, it seems to want to turn you on to science (great!) but doesn’t trust the audience to follow along without an emotional gut wrenching it doesn’t really need.  If the dead little girl for the sake of pathos doesn’t ruffle you, fair enough, but at least a set up where the alien language grants Adams, maybe, keen foresight, or a new perspective on the situation, rather than full on reverse total recall would be welcome.  Arrival was adapted from a short story “Story of Your Life” and everything likely comes across more smoothly on the page, where I understand the action movie aspects are absent.  Hey,  at least now we know why McConaughey’s hero is himself five years in the future.

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6. Hidden Figures — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe enough fuel for the delta-V we need for re-entry burn

Four(!) years after Alfonso Cauron’s Gravity taught us to keep our heads down, we have a pro-space movie!  We could have trimmed a scene or two, but a solid ensemble cast and enough attention-capturing lines–“At NASA we all pee the same color”—leaves us in a stable orbit.  At $145m domestic, Hidden Figures was the top grossing film of 2016 that wasn’t a tentpole/franchise or animated sing-fest designed to become one.  Not incidentally, it’s also a standard-bearer for a year that saw a record number of top 100 films with female leads.

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5. La La Land — Five bags of Popcorn, and a big ol’ dumptruck, for all that Oscar gold

One narrative on La La Land is that it’s largely a setup to quite a payoff of an emotional punch at the end, and where you stand will depend on whether that punch gets through to you.  Well, it didn’t, but I’m not a hater.  From production stills and Chazelle’s excellent Whiplash I came in figuring that if nothing else this would have a very specific voice to it, one that may or may not strike a personal chord (and please, no cheap nostalgia) but something clear.  It turns out any nostalgia going on is nicely embedded in the production design and the story’s nothing if not direct.  Any really harsh criticism of Stone and Gosling’s song and dance routines is off base—what do you expect, Danny Kaye?—but for a musical that’s in part a love letter to musicals (right?) it’s a little short on songs.  So we just don’t have many opportunities for “wow” moments, say, on the level of Anne Hathaway’s show stopper from Les Mis or even Channing Tatum’s elaborate dance sequence in Hail, Ceasar! this year.  The romance didn’t do much for me, largely as we’re never really shown why Mia responds to Seb’s rude Debbie Downer in the first place, but I do appreciate the theme of keeping alive the spirit of worthwhile things, and how difficult that is.

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4. Fences– Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe a copy of Blue Oyster Cult’s Agents of Fortune album, featuring “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”

I’m no great student of the stage, but made comment while watching Fences that I hate how critics seem to knock stage to screen adaptations for leaving things stagey, as if it’s a sin in and of itself.  That can be a tool too, guys.  A less inside-out approach could have made some of the monologues sound a bit less like, well, monologues, but a monologue once in a while isn’t so bad. Washington and Davis are both superlative.  The depiction of the disabled brother comes off as a product of the 50’s in more ways than one, though, kind of dated at best and a clunky narrative contrivance at worst.  The arc with the football-playing son is surprisingly moving.

Broadway Opening Night Celebration For "Fences"

 

3. Moonlight — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe a chrome grill, because I’m honestly still not sure how they work

Probably the best cinematography and command of texture and mood of the set, sometimes bringing Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) to mind without the freaky-cosmic.  Moonlight is effectively restrained in its storytelling, and if the surreal and minimalist tendencies are a little showy, I still found it pretty sumptuous, especially with it’s knack for being quiet.  This is a story about a quiet soul.   It may be limited by the thee part structure, especially where a hell of a lot happens unseen between the second and third act.  Just a bit more connective tissue there may have gone a way toward helping the emotional payoff land, but, then again, the lack of it lends the last sequence a unique sort of mysteriousness.

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2. Manchester by the Sea — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe a funeral pyre like they used in Medieval times

Putting a ton of pressure on Affleck, Manchester comes off even more singularly about its particular damaged protagonist than Moonlight, which feels like it speaks to more universal feelings and experiences.  Idiosyncrasy is the name of the game here, and Affleck comes through quite impressively, even if the persona he creates is so interior as to be perhaps not as indelible as some of the classic depictions of damaged people.  Your mileage may vary.  As abashfulharvestman pointed out to me, Manchester may be limited by hewing so closely to its “terrible thing fulcrum”; at the least, I’d like to have seen the characters explored from some more inconspicuous life events.  Still, excellent screenplay in its way, and I was torn between Affleck and Washington for best baby boy.

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1. Hell or High Water  — Five bags of Popcorn, and maybe a ticket to Westworld, because I keep having this dream I can’t wake up from and I’m not sure if I did something wrong

OK, in the end, I don’t quite know where to put Hell or High Water.  I’ll say this: it’s always nice to put something at the end of your list that strikes a personal chord, presenting something you noticed that maybe not everyone did.  Since we’ve been making these should-wins, Her struck that chord for me in 2013;  Whiplash, and even Amour almost did, Argo maybe not so much.

The revenge on the Banks angle is admittedly blunt as far as allegory, to start.  And I don’t know if the characters come to life perfectly: Pine is empathetic if not entirely convincing; Foster is exciting but maybe overacting; Bridges is very charming, but that particular mode of his is getting a bit predictable.  But the visceral takeaway for me, and I think it’s entirely purposeful, is the local civilians’ (who I think we’re to understand are also bank victims) universal and immediate eagerness to engage in high-holy ballistics.  To discharge their holy weapons, dispensing justice.  In this otherwise almost oppressively sparse, deserted, sleepy environment, they’ve been itching for it, for that posse. To be sure, this is in response to a bank robbery, with the pointing of loaded guns at people, so there’s a measure of balance here, some justification.  We’re not exactly demonizing.

Who’s being robbed?  Everybody?  So, some are robbing, and some are shooting robbers.  And even the robbers, for all we know, OK, probably, are voting for their banks, and their station, because at the end of the day, violence and mayhem is what we respond to and use.  I need to do a rewatch, but I believe the civilian shoots first in the botched bank job, not the cop or the robber.  The story of the cop partners may not tie into that theme as well as it could, but on the other end, it also ends up being a story about where and why you ought to point your gun.

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Shall Prevail: La La Land


2016 Oscars / Mad Oscar: Fury Carpet; or “The world’s always changing brightness, and hotness.”

[Spoilers ahead]

“This is not only for the survivors of this horrific situation. But for me personally, and [I’ll] only speak for me, this is really for the disenfranchised everywhere. This is for every Flint, Michigan in the world. This is for the powerless. This is for the powerful who take advantage of the powerless.”  —Michael Keaton

George Clooney: “I would also make the argument, I don’t think it’s a problem of who you’re picking as much as it is: How many options are available to minorities in film, particularly in quality films?”

 

Best of All Pictures

8. Brooklyn
Never rises much above your standard immigrant’s tale. I never cared whether she picked Ireland or the U.S., to the extent both places are depicted as boring and not a little bit stupid. Too much maudlin yearning for domesticity. America was never innocent, as the film often seems to suggest.

7. The Martian
A lot of the film is an extended commercial for NASA, which consulted heavily on it. Snugly slots into the recent series of space-catastrophe movies. Like the others, it’s rather well-done overall, but stays shrouded in its own next-frontierism fog.

6. Spotlight
Important story that’s hard to translate to the screen–the gravity and impact of the issue is difficult to fully capture. I love investigative journalism and appreciate the focus on it here, but the moves and discoveries lack the pop and sizzle they probably had in real life. Thethirdrevelation correctly predicted it to be a high-floor, good-but-limited-ceiling procedural. Tom McCarthy said he fought to keep in the two to three minutes of Excel spreadsheets shots and the like, and I love that for its accuracy and its implicit endorsement of putting the work in even if it’s mind-numbing at times. It all feels relatively bloodless though, with victims more peppered in than followed. There are a couple of scenes Michael Keaton has that are emblematic of the film’s high-floor, good-but-limited-ceiling character: you want them to be great, but they’re boxed into being good only. I did like him winning the New York Film Critics award for Best Actor. Good use of Boston as a filming location.

5. Bridge of Spies
Liked this more than I thought I would, after getting the impression that it was simply Spielberg moving his terrorized action-child theme to a protecting & principled-patriarch one. Whole chunks of it are rather cookie cutter–though not uninteresting or without heart–until the end, when the last few moments brought it home for me. It’s about doing things despite not knowing the payoff, i.e. going on principles. It’s also about the enormity of social and political issues and systems, and the idea that the individual can do something in the face of them. Has several well-constructed and well-placed taut scenes rife with symbolism. An arguably instant classic entry in the “Everyman Rises to the Occasion and Accomplishes Something Great” category (Reluctant Warrior supracategory), and raises the question of whether or not we have a thinner stable of quality leaders today than in the past. Depicts the high stakes well. T.Hanks delivers classic tenacity in classic T.Hanks style. Smooth performance by Mark Rylance. His character’s “Would it help?” is rather good as far as black-humor lines go. Leaves you with one special docket for your passport so you can do all the special negotiating you need to.

4. Room
The film isn’t much more than the performances of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, but that’s plenty. Larson meets the big challenge of having to do the character in both the character’s captured and freed states. Tremblay’s character has some choice “out of the mouths of babes” quotes, including the following after he escapes: “The world’s like all TV planets on at the same time, so I don’t know which way to look and listen. There’s doors and…more doors. And behind all the doors, there’s another inside, and another outside. And things happen, happen, HAPPENING. It never stops. Plus, the world’s always changing brightness, and hotness.” Yeah, you’re telling me kid.

3. The Revenant
I continue to be leery of Iñárritu, and the film was certainly a little much–as thethirdrevelation pointed out–on the symbolic, the magic–including the magic Indians–and the narrative incoherence. Yet I might not deduct a lot on those, if for no other reason than I don’t expect much else from the guy. I didn’t mind the hyperreal. The whole thing is beautiful to look at and something to contemplate and meditate on, and that’s probably worth at least one bag of popcorn. A strong, and pretty well-depticted ravenousness theme runs through it; it may have actually lifted shots and scenes directly from Ravenous. I also liked Fitzgerald’s Nitschean squirrel speech–probably the best part of the whole film. The film does get a little too ponderous and is limited by its revenge theme. Leo vs. the Hardy Boy proves a solid foundation though, plus we get a serviceable Domnhall Gleeson who will think twice about mercy-killing you. From Wes Morris: “Melena, have you seen the Instagram photos of a Revenant screening/sleepover that Oprah Winfrey hosted? The people who love this movie *love* it. Apparently, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association had an ecstatic sleepover, too. I’m milder about it, but Mr. DiCaprio’s best actor speech, in which, at the end, he makes seemingly sincere acknowledgement of American Indians who play a larger more contemplative role in that movie and asserts that they deserve more from this country. Bravo. Still, this is a movie about the suffering of a man played by Mr. DiCaprio.”

2. The Big Short
The first third or so is shaky, marked by unsuccessful attempts at humor, but it builds up steam pretty well as it goes, namely as it gets more serious. The last third to half is solid, at least insofar as it’s getting at civilizational edifices, and the warp and weave of societal rot and the economic collapse. It uses (acquisitive) masculinities to criticize (rapacious) hypermasculinities to show the extremes to which we’ve been pulled; here it’s akin to Rust Cole telling Marty Hart that “The world needs bad men. We keep other bad men from the door.” We also get a tonic of Christian Bale doing Rain Man Light with an infusion of Patrick Bateman. The film is a good addition to a series that includes Inside Job and Margin Call. I liked it better than Wolf of Wall Street, which I didn’t think was critical enough. It leaves you with a dream of Wall St. regulations with teeth. As it tells us at the end, and as Bernie Sanders is pointing out on the campaign trail, this extraordinarily destructive, wanton gambling with other people’s lives through financial speculation is ongoing.

Michael Burry at work

Michael Burry at work

Goldman to Pay Up to $5 Billion to Settle Claims of Faulty Mortgages

Ought to win: Mad Max: Fury Road
A great, almost seamless blend of action, ideas, issues, and the meditative. Its feminism is in its depiction of men and women working together for mutual liberation. When Imperator Furiosa kneels in the sand, we acutely feel her pain.

Will win: The Revenant

 

Number One Better Half
5. Rooney Mara
4. Rachel McAdams
3. Alicia Vikander
2. Jennifer Jason Leigh
Ought to win: Kate Winslet
Will win: Vikander

Most Supportive Man
5. Mark Ruffalo
4. Sylvester Stallone
3. Mark Rylance
2. Christian Bale
Ought to win: Tom Hardy
Will win: Stallone

Queen of the Castle
5. Charlotte Rampling
4. Jennifer Lawrence
3. Saorise Ronan
2. Cate Blanchett
Ought to win: Brie Larson
Will win: Larson

Superlative Actor in a Leadership Role
5. Bryan Cranston
4. Eddie Redmayne
3. Matt Damon
2. Leonardo DiCaprio
Ought to win: Michael Fassbender
Will win: DiCaprio

Best of All Directors
5. Tom McCarthy
4. Alejandro Iñárritu
3. Adam McKay
2. Lenny Abrahamson
Ought to win: George Miller
Will win: Iñárritu

Best Adapted Screenplay
5. Brooklyn
4. The Martian
3. Carol
2. Room
Ought to win: The Big Short
Will win: The Big Short

Cinematography
5. The Hateful Eight
4. Carol
3. Sicario
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
Ought to win: The Revenant
Will win: The Revenant

Visual Effects
5. The Martian
4. The Revenant
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
Ought to win: Ex Machina
Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Film Editing
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
4. Spotlight
3. The Big Short
2. The Revenant
Ought to win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Production Design
5. The Danish Girl
4. The Martian
3. Bridge of Spies
2. The Revenant
Ought to win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Score
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
4. Bridge of Spies
3. The Hateful Eight
2. Carol
Ought to win: Sicario
Will win: The Hateful Eight

Sound Editing
5. The Martian
4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
3. Sicario
2. The Revenant
Ought to win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Sound Mixing
5. Bridge of Spies
4. The Martian
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
2. The Revenant
Ought to win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Sometimes you have to ride off a cliff and be reborn from a dead horse to win an Oscar.

Sometimes you have to ride off a cliff and be reborn from a dead horse to win an Oscar.


2015 Oscars: If I Get All the Way Out There and I Find that You’ve Been Lying to Me…I’m Going to Find You, and I’m Going to Take More than My Money Back. Is that Alright With You?

Best of all pictures:

  1. The Theory of Everything

What a real sweet treat, and a feat. Science: what a treat. What a timeless story of love, and a privilege to know. Sweet? Check. A treat? Check. This is a film you want to watch with the finest shrimp available to your community. One for the annals, and for the children as well. It made me look at the sky and think, “wow.” The ending kind of reminded me of, if you can remember, how on a VHS tape you would have to rewind it to watch it again, and you could actually watch the film in reverse if you left the TV on–kind of like going back in time. It’s like you were going through time. And sometimes you would pause it in the middle and it would kind of stop flickering between frames and you’d get a picture of a character about to blink and it would almost look like they were winking at you, like they knew you were there; like you were peeling back the veil of the universe to see the unthinkable machinery. It was really scary, kind of like a horror that nobody else would ever see.

  1. American Sniper

Brad the dad Cooper has been on the awards circuit explaining that American Sniper is about the neglect returning vets face. “We looked at hopefully igniting attention about the lack of care that goes to vets. Discussion that has nothing to do with vets or what we did or did not do, every conversation in those terms is moving farther and farther from what our soldiers go through, and the fact that 22 veterans commit suicide each day.” (NYT)

We’ve been swindled, Coop. We’ve been swindled. Swindled like babes left out on the driveway. Left out in the fallow field, for ‘coons to inspect. It was a wholesale job.

Such a film may have depicted:

  • A trip to a VA that has been constantly in a state of outright scandal due to mismanagement, resulting in thousands of veterans being wrongly denied benefits, having benefits delayed unduly, or being put through inordinate amounts of duress to claim them.
  • A spousal or parenting relationship that was affected more deeply and lastingly by tours of duty abroad than Kyle’s, wherein his wife–who is allowed to do nothing, nothing expect nag him for his absence the entire film–resolves the thread with the transcendental showstopper gush, “you are a wonderful husband, and you are a wonderful father.” Full stop.
  • A treatment of Kyle’s murder at the hand of Eddie Routh, a fellow PTSD sufferer and veteran featuring something more than a random demonic glare from said wife towards the actor portraying him, a hasty title card, and a congratulatory funeral montage.
  • A vet having difficulty finding his or her feet on returning to the U.S. in large part due to a lack of an internal or external training program that by and large provides veterans decent odds at gainful, stable employment after their service.

For a more fine-toothed look at the lack of care that goes to vets, see… Starship TroopersVideodrome? Eastwood is credited as director, and is not nominated for best directing ostensibly because the film was developed by Steve Spielberg with Cooper cast in the main role and over six months of principal photography having been shot before Spielberg bowed out due to creative differences. It shows in the tonal oddities. I have to imagine a significant set of spouses and families of veterans cringe at the depiction of Kyle’s wife as a creature whose seemingly only function in the world is to badger? The full reintegration into the family, especially for soldiers seeing extensive combat, deserving of so little screen time? Does Kyle himself depict things so simply in his book? The scene where Kyle successfully flirts with the wife by pointing a gun at her in front of toddlers? Is it possible Eastwood isn’t throwing us a curveball here? At any rate, two coworkers have, to date–unsolicited–imparted to me that American Sniper is in no uncertain terms the best film ever. But where was Tom Cruise? Get Tom Cruise in there.

  1. The Imitation Game

Biopic three: engage. Prestige piece B, 2015. Yet another biopic that would have been exponentially more interesting had it aimed for a remotely balanced portrait of the subject’s life. I was actually somewhat surprised they spared even a single scene directly addressing Turing’s subjection to chemical castration. Instead we focus on the faux romance and a delightful genius complex. “Sometimes it’s the people no one expects anything from who do the things no one expects”.

So. I continue to be a net fan of Cumberbatch, and the genius shtick is perfect for the solid BBC Sherlock series, but here without the implied campiness afforded by the TV format it just comes off as perfunctory. Threads of Turing’s landmark work on computers, minds and identity (do check out Turing’s work, it’s well written and impressively accessible given the ideas he’s working with) are suggested, but never really picked up. There is a much better film to be made of Turing’s work and legacy, too bad it’s not allowed to live here. Weinstein’s “Honor the Man.  Honor the film.” plea for awards recognition is the definition of beyond the pale.

  1. Boyhood

Was initially skeptical of the 12-year timespan, expecting it to be leaned upon overmuch so as to come off as a melodramatic gimmick.  Instead, I was surprised to see the film actually holds out against that pitfall until the last half hour or so. Mostly, things spool out organically, allowing the viewer to supply a lot of subtext; if anything, the passage of time is oddly unremarkable. I found myself appreciating the scene where the protagonist gets his head shaved, as the film had theretofore been using drastic hairstyle changes to accentuate the passage of time to the point where they started to become characters in and of themselves. The film is at its best when it’s comfortable being about ‘familyhood’ beyond ‘boyhood’, with some entertaining moments on that front especially in the early to middle stages. Finally succumbs to needing to explain/justify itself more and more towards the end as later teenage hangout scenes begin to feel wooden; boy begins to ask father “what’s the point of everything”; we begin to see the conversations I suspect parents have with their children in their heads and wish their children would solicit, rather than interactions that really happen. The last scene is a real thud as we’re offered a fuzzy glorification of “moments”: ah, yes, that’s what you’ve been providing us, you miracle of film you; thank you for that, thank you. The best film here tells the story of this boy’s boyhood, instead of flailing at a universal boyhood, particularly the implication that it is a suburban one.

  1. Birdman

Abashfulharvestman and I discussed Birdman at length. 

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

I’m not generally a big Anderson fan—his films too often consist of weak or excessively twee stories that seemingly exist as vehicles for the signature, highly specific to the point of high comedy motifs and aesthetics. I haven’t been fully into one since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums, which was early enough in the catalog that the fashion was fresh. This is a different film than Tenenbaums, attempting more to evoke universal sentiments of guilt, the putting on of airs, and the elasticity of memories, whereas Tenenbaums dove into idiosyncratic characters with very rich and specific inner lives.  The latter may be a more fertile ground for Anderson’s sensibilities, generally, but Fienes as our comedic lead and Tony Revolori as his straight man foil make a very strong central pair, seemingly agents in Anderson’s world rather than affectations of it. The wide supporting cast is hit or miss–Adrien Brody is miscast and Bill Murray’s appearance along with other Anderson-regulars’ cameos are tedious boxes checked. Jude Law, Tilda Swinton and Jeff Goldblum fare much better.

  1. Selma

The only film of the set that got me emotionally choked up. The one biopic that perhaps was jostled from the flaming wreckage of the Doomed Biopic Mothership on atmospheric re-entry. Remarkably little history revision done for the sake of convenience or entertainment (there is some), and the flourishes there tend to constructively elucidate patterns and situations. I’m largely in agreement with Mark Harris’ good piece on it, and with respect to the lack of attention it’s receiving would emphasize simply that 12 Years’ deserving accolades last year have sapped the industry’s puny reserves of focus with respect to ugly pasts, black disenfranchisement especially. This is a year for propaganda, for revision.

I like that Selma tries to bring in lesser-publicized factions of various, often competing, civil rights groups of the time, but the actual logistics of things are rendered a little bit unclear for those of us who aren’t experts. Oyelowo deserved a Best Actor nom over any of Cooper, Cumberbatch, or Redmayne.

  1. Whiplash

This is a real throwback, replete with physical performances, scenery chewing, and the old *setting the table/working hard, hitting adversity hard, redemption* three-act arc. Does an exemplary job at conveying with efficiency, such as showing the protagonists’ background and giving a good sense of his dating life without a single note beyond what’s needed. I think it does at the end of the day traffic in the myth that education through negative reinforcement is effective, especially at mastery levels—or at least that it’s acceptable in the “big leagues”. But there’s so much going on here within the characters that I’m willing to look past that and focus on this as the story of these particular two people. There is some room for the idea that our virtuoso could have flourished without the abuse, the question’s tugged. The one fly in the ointment is that the last scene’s tone is a bit too broadly suggestive of reconciliation–it probably would have been best left more ambiguous, or, to somehow imply the boy’s fulfillment of his own agency transcending the demon teacher. As is, things end on a bit of a shrug. Music itself absolutely a plus. Very strong editing throughout, heightening not just the most dramatic tussles but the lighter moments, too.

Shall win: Birdman

Should win: The Homesman

—————————————-

Best of all Directors:

5. Morten Tyldum — The Imitation Game

Where’s Tom Hooper?  Get Tom Hooper in there!

4. Alejandro Innaritu — Birdman

3. Bennett Miller — Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher‘s tunneled focus and near complete lack of external context to the events depicted at the Foxcatcher farm lend it a lot of its claustrophobic, intense feel. It also becomes a major narrative handicap given how things are framed around the climactic tragedy. The script is actually pretty good and the acting’s there…it’s just glaring how the film seems not to quite capitalize on a great thread about wealth and isolation and megalomania, and how it throttles the world at large.

2. Richard Linklater — Boyhood

A mixed bag. While Foxcatcher needed to widen the scope a bit and speak more to broader things, Boyhood struggles a bit with the opposite problem. Strong work early on gives way more and more to stultifying waves at universal themes that aren’t there and didn’t need to be.

1. Wes Anderson — The Grand Budapest Hotel

We’ll interpret “best directing” this year as the one leading a project that best maximized its potential. Grand Budapest Hotel, despite a relatively complicated plot, displays the most effective control of tone and drama here.

Shall win: Richard Linklater

 

Superlative Actor in a Leadership Role:

5. Benedict Cumberbatch — The Imitation Game

Sometimes you feel like a treat.

4. Eddie Redmayne — The Theory of Everything

Sometimes a treat feels like you.

3. Brad the Swindled — American Treat

Coop really nails the ending of scenes by staring at a point about two o’clock high from the camera. What is he lookin’ at? A tango? A goat? Moral fabric? Patrick Duffy, he could have sworn? Regardless, keep working those baby blues. Practice better gun safety.

2. Steve Carell — Foxcatcher

Wins the Tom Hardy annual Most Fun to Try and Impersonate in Random Situations award. Seriously, though, if you’ve spent any amount of time around a wealth baby that’s been raised in an at least partially self-imposed valley of unreality and witnessed the mysteries that they present, Carell is really doing some good simulation here.

1. Micheal Keaton — Birdman

Last year, on the subject of Actor in a Leadership Role, this blog wrote, “With Daniel Day-Lewis out becoming a stone mason for the next five years, I think folks like Bale, DiCaprio, and Michael Keaton have a real chance to break through.”

Ethics 101.

Shall win: Eddie Redmayne

 

Most Supportive Man:

N/A — Robert Duvall — The Judge (role unseen)

4. Ethan Hawke — Boyhood

3. Edward Norton — Birdman

Kind of disturbing now that I know his role was in many ways, and self-avowedly, Innaritu himself.

2. Mark Ruffalo — Foxcatcher

Really brings into the communication posture lexicon the little t-rex thing wrestlers apparently develop. Exudes brotherly concern at hypercritical levels.

1. J. K. Simmons — Whiplash

The obvious hook is his ability to go over the top, but as with all the great roles it’s the little off-beats and pauses that really bring things to life. Draws out and gives room to a strong performance from co-lead and relative newcomer Miles Teller.

Shall win: J.K. Simmons

 

Queen of the Castle:

5. Felicity Jones — The Theory of Everything

This makes Ms. Jones the first actress to receive a nomination for a role in a Horror film since Ellen Page in Juno (2007). Good show!

4. Reese Witherspoon — Wild

3. Marion Cotillard — Two Days, One Night

2. Julianne Moore — Still Alice

1. Rosamund Pike — Gone Girl

One of the things that doesn’t seem to get discussed about Gone Girl is just the degree to which it really is a vehicle for her performance. Everything else is furniture.

Shall win: Julianne Moore

 

Number 1 Better Half:

N/A Meryl Streep (role unseen)

4. Keira Knightley — The Imitation Game

Pip pip, old boy!

3. Emma Stone — Birdman

I often tell friends they should start making films with the title and simple concept of “Actor A vs. Actor B”. For example, “Michael Shannon vs. Willem Dafoe” or “Tom Cruise vs. Tom Hanks”. We almost got “Nic Cage vs. John Travolta” with Face/Off, but even that strayed a bit from the core man vs. man dialectic. “Emma Stone vs. Jennifer Lawrence” could be good.

2. Patricia Arquette — Boyhood

Such unhappiness!

1. Laura Dern — Wild

Continues to be the most effectively alarming presence in unexpected jump cuts in film today.

Shall win: Patricia Arquette


It Doesn’t End Like This: The 86th Academy Awards

If things fall out as many are predicting, there’ll be much ado about suffering amongst the winners this year. To the lists!

Best Picture:

9. Philomena

Without a Tom Hooper offering, this crop’s prestige (most British, most agreeably middlebrow) film is apparently Philomena. It’s not as irredeemably sappy or disposable as Coogan’s character (a watered down incarnation of his usual dry-witted lout) describes human interest stories…but you still kind of get some of what he’s driving at here.

8. The Wolf of Wall Street

Wolf is very much a drug/drug taking film, smothering any real attempt to delve into real-world unethics, or America, or really any idea in a sustained way.  As far as drug movie black comedies go, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is perhaps a spiritual forebear, a tough act to follow and also adapted from a sort of memoir.  But where Fear and Loathing captures something of movements and eras, this feels more purely snuff.   I have to believe the debauchery is meant to be stimulating or disgusting but it quickly gets tedious, too caricatured and stylized to evoke life, and too unfocused to crystallize as any clear metaphor.

7. Gravity

Holy anti-space exploration, regressive Fundamentalist bents!  Where Her takes a nuanced look at a humanity struggling to find its place in a technological world, Gravity sticks with the standard prescribed apocalypse scenario, with choice Space Odyssey rip-offs for good measure.

Hyep: outer space makes you a star baby.  Really, I was expecting the heart-pounding action, but not all the apocalyptic overtones with the sudden mysterious destruction of seemingly all man-made satellites, including an inexplicably deserted ISS.  If the space apocalypse wasn’t enough to put us in our proper place, we also have our leaky wayward woman rescued and redeemed by the literal patron saint of masculinity (I must admit, a very likable George Clooney as himself).  Yes, let’s do keep our hopes and dreams in the mud, the afterlife, and our better halves.

6. Captain Phillips

I seem to remember from the trailers that this seemed like it was going to be about Captain Phillips bargaining for the crews’ lives with his employers and insurers?  How much money is an American worth: the cargo, that is?  A good documentary about the real life incident exploring the contexts and causes of Somali piracy and maritime commerce law would have been more worthwhile.  Something deeper is hinted at with the opening conversation between Phillips and his wife about how tough kids have it today (ostensibly due to baby boomers such as himself) juxtaposed with Somalis being forced into piracy.  There’s an analogy!  But we get a straight up and somewhat belabored hostage story. I enjoyed Hanks’ Boston accent, and his surveying.   Somehow I kept imagining what Tom Brady would have done in Phillips’ situation.

5. Nebraska

Here’s a deliberate little story that’s meant to transcend the journey depicted, though it seems to work best when it just focuses on what’s unique about its quest, rather than what’s universal.  For any who take offense to what may seem like a gross simplification of Midwesterners, I can say coming from such a family that the television-watching scenes at least are pretty spot on.  Would this film be nearly as talked about if it wasn’t in black and white?  Will Forte is really in his Forte portraying an epic and universally trampled soul, so it’s sweet to see him save the day in the end.

4. Dallas Buyers Club

McConaughey and Leto drive the bus here in a by-the-numbers activism film that gets a bit more right than wrong–theatrically, anyway.  A scene where McConaughey’s character says that he feels like his all-consuming quest to live has ‘gotten in the way of him living’ is apropos wherein a stronger film would have delved a little more into aspects of his personal life.  In reality Woodroof had a daughter and sister who were written out in favor of the Garner and Leto characters, each of which play as cinematic types: Garner as the well-meaning square who won’t commit at first but is eventually won over to the cause, Leto as the charismatic, tragic hard case.  I can also see that writing out Woodroof’s bisexuality is on some spectrum of being like “making Solomon Northup white in order to reach a bigger audience”.  Honestly, my gripe is that the film’s depiction of policy doctors and their FDA masters paints them almost too sympathetically; the prescription writing pill-bot from Elysium still gets the 2013 ‘most accurate portrayal of a medical experience’ award.  While DBC stumbles in oversimplifying and tidying LBGT issues around both Woodroof and the ‘buyer’s clubs’ of the 80s by making Leto’s character a symbol for all, it also resonates in a time where more people than ever are being denied basic medical services under increasingly fatuous rationales.  Any film on the U.S.’s wholly unchecked, monopoly-based medical industry is picking a worthy fish to fry.

3. 12 Years a Slave

Along with Her, 12 Years stands out for transporting cinematography, and gets bonus points for a memorable score, too rare these days.  Above all, I was impressed by how the film portrays its ultra-heavy subject matter with some surprising range.  There’s a sort of lyricism to the best scenes which reminded me of something out of Paul Thomas Anderson’s recent films, where things seem almost overtly scripted, yet somehow all the more true-to-life because of it.  Given the source material there isn’t a problem with keeping this a very micro, personal story, but it’s frustrating how Solomon’s rescue–more or less by happenstance–comes off as incidental: just Brad Pitt happenin’ through.  True, the story is about the utter circumscription of agency, but I have to imagine the resolution could have been framed to resonate more with Solomon’s unique suffering and situation.

2. American Hustle

A film where you can’t help but root for almost everyone at once, benefiting from a trove of talent and recent Academy Award stand-bys.   Bale, Cooper, Adams, and Lawrence have 10 major Oscar noms between them in the last 4 years, a whopping seven as co-stars in Russell films.  They should play off each other quite well by now, and do.  The only thing holding things back a bit is a slight lack of impact… we might expect that in a film about how “everything’s a con” there are going to be big twists along the way, more surprise affiliations, heavy consequences.  If you haven’t seen it yet, go in expecting a high-end comedy with a great cast, not a crime epic.  Best con of all: Louis CK’s interminable ice fishing story.

1. Her

Her is about identity, and how we ascribe it: the personas of people we build in our minds, never the same as how they know themselves. Her. How love happens in the will to navigate the difference.  It’s about the voices we perceive: from people, from letters, from computers, from corporations.  It’s about depression, and unrequited desires to be touched and known, when technology makes so much accessible, anonymous, and long-distance.  It’s about a world where a man makes a living as a writer of poignant, heartfelt letters of love, regret, and sorrow for people who can’t find the words within themselves, yet are ready and willing to purchase them.

Any film attempting a premise like Her‘s runs a dangerous risk of feeling flatly satirical, and it’s possible that for some, a note here or there may feel contrived (does everyone in the future live in a NYC penthouse?)  For me, the clever sets, another irreplaceable performance by Joaquin Phoenix –Jonze supposedly wrote his script with him expressly in mind–and a pretty inspired screenplay overall keep any major plot-point objections at bay.   Things could be said to peter just a bit in the third act, but the resolution to the journey is a satisfying and a fitting one.  After all, no relationship culminates in unequivocal bliss, blessedly few in lasting apocalypse.

Should Win: Her

Much is made on this blog about much being made and fetishized about the apocalyptic lately.  In hopes of jinxing the film by picking it (worked last year when I picked Zero Dark Thirty) let’s again take this exercise to it’s most cynical possible conclusion.

Will win: Gravity

Best Director:

5. Martin Scorsese

I’m generally a fan of Scorsese, but where otherwise strong films sometimes bloat on him (see Gangs of New York, The Departed) this one totally gets away.  I think the at least somewhat warranted outcry that Wolf not only fails to criticize white collar crime but glorifies it comes through in part because excess for its own sake is so valued in our society.  In discerning the excesses depicted as glorifying we’re in part expressing a more general outcry that such behaviors are so valued at all.  See The Hangover and any number of recent films, songs and advertisements pushing the idea that it’s through excess and great irresponsibility that we truly find ourselves, that we truly live.  YOLO.

4. Alfonso Cauron

See above re: aversion to Gravity’s message.

3. Alexander Payne

Nebraska is, in a year of black comedies, a black and white comedy.  Payne serves Nebraska well in telling a story about earlier times and older people without being either pettily dismissive or merely nostalgic.  

2. David O. Russell

Probably his best film in what has become a career worth of very-solid to amazing stuff.  Why aren’t more people talking about him as an all-time great?  My only quibble is that American Hustle finds itself in an odd place where you are expecting something a little more heavy-hitting to go down… it’s at once a credit to the strong drama in what’s otherwise a comedy, and perhaps a bit of a tonal issue.

1. Steve McQueen

McQueen delivers almost all one could hope for out of a film adaptation of 12 Years A Slave and probably then some, though my reservations about the resolution stand.  I give him the slight nod over Russell because I feel Hustle succeeded so much based on the talent of its actors rather than editing, script or cinematography, while 12 Years is more of an all-around project.  We seem to live in a place where actors are given the vast majority of credit for their performances rather than those who direct them; if Hustle wasn’t so packed with sure stars, I’d be more inclined to give credit for putting them in position to shine.

Should win: Spike Jonze

What, Cauron for the fetus shot?!  Let’s rather give Kubrick a posthumous award.  McQueen and Russell both would be worthy picks.

Will win: Steve McQueen

Best Actor:

5. Bruce Dern

Dern renders his addled, Alzheimer’s afflicted man so compellingly it can feel almost impossible to imagine he’s not simply being himself.  All the nominations this year are well deserved, though I think this spot could likely have been filled by Joaquin Phoenix or Robert Redford for All is Lost.

4. Leonardo DiCaprio

DiCaprio is for my money on a very short list of our best and most entertaining actors.  He’s good here, maybe excellent.  He wrings out some memorable sequences, especially in the “Bond villain” yacht scene, which gives him a straight man to play off.  But in most of the film he’s rendered strangely inert, where while he’s usually so effective as the source of electricity in a scene (see last year’s Django Unchained), here he’s more of a conduit in something that’s trying to be the biggest thunderstorm ever recorded.

3. Chiwetel Ejiofor

Don’t think he has much of a chance due to relative anonymity: where McConaughey gets lots of acting points for breaking expectations not only in the type of character he portrays but frankly how far he’s come from vehicles like Sahara, Ejiofor’s equally difficult performance doesn’t afford the same “wow I can’t believe he came and did that” factor.

2. Christian Bale

So fun, and such a delicate performance!  Such a delicate boy that he presents.  With Daniel Day-Lewis out becoming a stone mason for the next five years, I think folks like Bale, DiCaprio, and Michael Keaton have a real chance to break through.

1. Matthew McConaughey

Here’s your prototypical impressive physical transformation, and McConaughey gets lots of points for being a known quantity transformed, someone we’ve seen many times before and can paint as finally reaching his apex and potential.  Of all the nominees, this feels the most like a Best Actor performance, with all the requisite seriousness.

Should and shall win: Matthew McConaughey

 

Best Actress:

5. Judi Dench

Pretty soft-serve stuff.  Philomena lacks anything approaching a real “Oscar scene” through no fault of Dench’s.

4. Sandra Bullock

Given the chauvinistic bent of the film I can’t be impressed by the terror, fragility displayed given the message it’s going toward.  You want a woman fighting existential battles in space?

Redeem that, George.

3. Meryl Streep

If some ding August: Osage County for being merely a ring wherein Streep and Roberts spew baggage at each other, color me very impressed and entertained by Streep here.

2. Amy Adams

Oh, that subtle greatness.  I must point out that American Hustle does not pass the Bechdel Test, as the scene where Lawrence makes out with her has them fighting over Christian Bale.

1. Cate Blanchett

Seemingly a role she’s been playing awhile: rich and eccentric, sometimes with a southern accent.  Overacting?  Of course!  How else does one play a character defined by her overacting?

Should and shall win: Cate Blanchett

If Adams does take it, consider that it may not just be due to anti-Allen sentiment: Blanchett’s Jasmine really shares similarity with her Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator, the role for which she deservedly took Best Actress.  Jasmine features a larger, more demanding, and even more impressive performance, but the similarity between it and an already recognized role only heightens Adam’s case for being “owed.”

 

Best Supporting Actor:

5. Jonah Hill

Hill has the property of somehow making any film or scene he’s in feel like a raunchy comedy, and Wolf is a raunchy comedy.  Somehow I feel I have to qualify that as just a raunchy comedy.

4. Barkhad Abdi

Not allowed nearly as much depth as he should have been.  Really can’t give Captain Phillips credit for any intended audience takeaway other than “Thank Jesus America rescued Tom Hanks from those scary black men.”

3. Bradley Cooper

Keeps getting better, this is his best performance yet.  Does anyone feel sorry for him in the end?  Is he not still Bradley Cooper?

2. Michael Fassbender

Fassbender does an amazing job portraying such rage and hesitancy at once.  His is such a commanding presence that it’s getting to a point where I just don’t buy him in roles where he’s not integrally an authority figure, such as this year’s The Counselor.

1. Jared Leto

It’s ironic that the most typic character of the list here is still arguably the most memorably and most impressively rendered.  Leto’s performance fits too perfectly into what we traditionally consider gold-standard as far as Oscars and acting performances go to lose this.

Should and shall win: Jared Leto

If anything, Leto’s a lock because his role is so much more Important than Cooper’s, and I think the voters have to be aware of a potential trend of giving awards to white actors in films about black issues after Christoff Waltz’s much deserved and surprise win last year.

 

Best Supporting Actress:

5. June Squibb

What a cute button nose!

4. Sally Hawkins

If we give an award to the most likable character, I might give mine to Hawkins, who is sneaky good and very much fits the term ‘supporting’.  Where Blanchett’s character is a modern update of Blanche DuBois in a world where class difference has become even more dizzyingly wide, Hawkins’ Ginger represents a more hopeful update of Stella.   Where Stella is a woman who is true to herself and suffers for it in the end, Ginger is a creature who may not really know where she belongs, but can find it in herself to be happy.

3. Jennifer Lawrence

Fierce again and undeniably commanding, Lawrence takes the award for most acting done, if not best.  She sets a very interesting dynamic in American Hustle where while all the con-artists are so coolly and subtly convincing, Lawrence as the what-you-see-is-what-you-get hellcat is the only one who comes off like she’s consciously putting on a performance.

2. Julia Roberts

Lawrence rules as Hollywood’s female id, imbued with all that carpe diem immediacy it needs now more than ever since we only live once and the apocalypse is so nigh, wrapped in that particularly all-American down-home body America responds to so much (all that is all-american and down-home being so embattled).  Yea, we hearken back to the reign of Julia Roberts, who reflected perhaps simpler needs: the courage to be ourselves, to be heard, to transgress gender roles just a little, as to ever more clearly define them.  Interesting that even still, Roberts continues to play the underdog, the ugly duckling, the misfit.  I seem to have enjoyed August: Osage County more than most, and thought Roberts was spot on.

1.Lupita Nyong’o

Another powerful portrayal of suffering, after Anne Hathaway’s in Les Mis last year.   Nyong’o doesn’t get that much screen time, but very few ladies do.

Should and shall win: Lupita Nyong’o