Thursday, February 21, 2019

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Animated Short

The nominees:
Animal Behaviour (B)
This clever short launches right away into the obvious proclivities of its animal characters, using them as subjects they need to discuss in therapy. The notion of working through issues that are defining characteristics of certain species is indeed funny, though this short dives a bit too deep and fully into its premise, covering sexual cannibalism and other wonderful topics in just fourteen short minutes. This feels more like a trailer for a TV series that could better handle this idea.

Bao (B+)
Pixar’s contribution to this field, which played before “Incredibles 2,” is an extremely endearing story about an empty-nester who conjures up a new child when a dumpling she makes comes to life. There’s never been a better argument for doing away completely with dialogue, as this heartwarming tale, clocking in at just seven minutes, manages to convey the power of relationships and spending time together through inventive humor.

Late Afternoon (B)
This Irish short featuring the voice of Fionnula Flanagan as an elderly woman recalling memories from her past comes from Cartoon Saloon, which has produced Best Animated Feature nominees “The Secret of Kells,” “The Song of the Sea,” and “The Breadwinner.” This exploration of its protagonist’s life through the disjointed events she recalls and can’t quite place feels very much like those, using its plot as a canvas on which to travel. That journey is captivating if not terribly structured.

One Small Step (B)
It’s easy to be inspired by this simple story of a young Chinese-American girl who wants nothing more than to become an astronaut. Formative moments in which she finds a space helmet and then ultimately applies for an actual training moment are conveyed without conversation and with straightforward imagery that represents the power of what being able to explore space means to her. There’s not much more to it, but it’s sweet.

Weekends (B)
This film is a powerful representation of the effects of divorce, as a young boy goes back and forth between his parents’ two homes. Animation proves enormously useful as a tool here as his imagination runs wild and colors his experiences, illustrated on screen with very little dialogue to detract from the feeling of being trapped in this cycle of nonstop moving. It’s decent and worthwhile, but ultimately a bit unfocused.

Previous winners: Dear Basketball, Piper, Bear Story, Feast, Mr. Hublot, Paperman, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

For your information: “Animal Behaviour” co-directors David Fine and Alison Snowden won this award in 1994 for “Bob’s Birthday,” and Fine was also nominated in 1985 for “Second Class Mail.” “Animal Behaviour” is produced by the National Film Board of Canada, which has won six prizes out of thirty-five nominations. “Bao” comes from Pixar, a fourteen-time nominee with four wins. The other three are all either from companies never nominated or independent distributors.

Who should win: This list is much, much more palatable than the live action field. All five were perfectly good, though “Bao” came off as much more fully rounded to me than the rest.
Who will win: I feel like either “Animal Behaviour” or “Weekends” could earn enough votes, but I think Bao is far enough out front.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Live Action Short

The nominees:
Detainment (B-)
This thirty-minute recreation of the interrogation of two young boys suspected in the disappearance and murder of a three-year-old is immensely disturbing, and becomes even more so as their secrets unfold. While the performances of young actors Ely Solan and Leon Hughes are excellent, the film feels disjointed thanks to its editing, and the subject matter is remarkably unpleasant. It also appears that both the victim’s mother and the detective who investigated the case aren’t happy that these horrifying true events were dramatized and now contending for an award.

Fauve (C-)
Historically, films about friends nominated in this category never turn out too well for those involved. This Canadian tale of two boys playing around in an empty mine turns bleak quickly when one of them makes clear that he’s not joking and is actually drowning in quicksand. This is a miserable film without too many redeeming qualities, begging the question of why it is that such serious, depressing films always seem to make up the majority of the nominees in this category each year.

Madre (C+)
This film’s own summary describes it as “every parent’s nightmare,” as a Spanish woman receives a phone call from her six-year-old son telling her that he has been abandoned alone on a beach somewhere in France by his father. It’s difficult not to be drawn in and captivated by the plight of this mother desperate to find and comfort her son, but, like most of these films, it’s an experience that feels needlessly dark, and a bit too prone to fanciful visual editing.

Marguerite (B)
This is the only moderately pleasant or optimistic film in the bunch, meeting a French woman and her nurse during their daily interactions. Marguerite’s curiosity about her nurse Rachel’s romantic relationship helps her think back about events in her own life. Not too much happens here, but it’s nice to see a relationship built on true equality and respect in contrast to everything else in this field.

Skin (C)
The only American entry in this bunch is actually the most horrific, following a ten-year-old white boy whose friendly exchange with a black man in a supermarket leads to a slew of hateful violence. As a commentary on sentiments fueling the nation at this moment in time, this film might be effective, but its presentation is so off-putting and brutal that it’s hard to digest. The presence of recognizable actors like Jonathan Tucker from “Justified,” Danielle Macdonald from “Paradise Hills,” and Lonnie Chavis from “This Is Us” only adds to the discomfort.

Previous winners: The Silent Child, Sing, Stutterer, The Phone Call, Helium, Curfew, The Shore

For your information: This is the first nomination for all directors and produced involved on these five projects.

Who should win: I had heard that these films were all so dark, and it’s completely true. The lone ray of moderate sunshine – “Marguerite” – is my clear choice.
Who will win: Optimism has to prevail somehow here, even if there are powerful elements in the other options. I could sort of see “Detainment” or “Fauve” winning, but I’m betting on Marguerite.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary Short

The nominees:
Black Sheep (B)
This intimate and harrowing conversation with Cornelius Walker, a British teenager from a Nigerian family who, at a young age, decided to confront racism from those in the new neighborhood he moved to by trying to fit in with and befriend his tormentors. This is hardly an affirming story of peaceful coexistence, but rather a cautionary tale about the engaging power and infectious nature of hate. Though it runs twenty-six minutes, it feels like there is more to this story that would have been worth including. Watch it for yourself on The Guardian.

End Game (B)
I was already familiar with Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco because my wife works in that field, and it’s certainly affirming to see a representation of a more positive end to life that represents a wide range of options offered to patients without stigmas attached. That said, this film doesn’t have the same emotional power as “Extremis,” a nominee here two years ago, did, presenting its narrative and its highlighted subjects with care but without truly enabling viewers to be with them. Watch it for yourself on Netflix.

Lifeboat (B)
This isn’t the first film to look at the people who try to help migrants hopelessly unprepared for their journeys fleeing persecution via the Mediterranean Sea. “Fire at Sea” and “4.1 Miles” were both nominees two years ago, in the feature and short categories, respectively, and this thirty-four-minute spotlight on the German group Sea-Watch that searches out and rescues North African migrants definitely showcases the dangers of those who attempt to cross the waters and the bravery of those who do everything possible to save them. Though its subject matter is undeniably important, the film doesn’t feel urgent or truly personal. Watch it for yourself on The New Yorker.

A Night at the Garden (B+)
The shortest of all these – clocking in at just seven minutes – is also the most chilling, contained only of archival footage of an American Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden in 1939. It’s evidently meant to evoke images of Trump and nationalism, particularly when a Jewish protester jumps on stage, and it’s effective in that way and in a sheer representation of something that looks and feels distinctly un-American, far too recognizable in today’s society even if the Nazi salute isn’t being proudly flashed in such a public venue in New York City. Watch it for yourself on YouTube.

Period. End of Sentence. (B+)
This film’s clever title is just one indicator of its value. This buoyant trip to India shows how a community that formerly had no access to pads is transformed by the installation of a sanitary pad machine, which also leads to an entirely new workforce and general changing attitude towards and empowerment of women. It’s an energetic and heartfelt look at an unexpected influencer with an enormous impact on a rural village halfway around the world which any viewer, male or female, should be able to find endearing. Watch it for yourself on Netflix.

Previous winners: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, The White Helmets, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, The Lady in Number 6, Inocente, Saving Face
For your information: “End Game” co-director Rob Epstein has won the feature documentary Oscar twice, for “The Times of Harvey Milk” in 1984 and “Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt” in 1989. “Lifeboat” co-producer Bryn Mooser was previously nominated in this category in 2015 for “Body Team 12.” “A Night at the Garden” director Marshall Curry has two previous nominations in the feature documentary Oscar category, for “Street Fight” in 2005 and “If a Tree Falls” in 2011.

Who should win: These all have worthwhile focuses. While “A Night at the Garden” makes tremendous use of film shot decades ago, “Period. End of Sentence.” is the most well-rounded and strongly-made of the five.
Who will win: While I’ve done terribly in the other short races, I’ve correctly predicted this category for the past five years. Therefore, I’m inclined to endorse Period. End of Sentence. even though all these films are sure to garner votes and could easily win.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary Feature

The competition: Free Solo, Hale County This Morning, This Evening, Minding the Gap, Of Fathers and Sons, RBG

Previous winners: Icarus, OJ: Made in America, Amy, Citizenfour, Twenty Feet from Stardom, Searching for Sugar Man
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Only one nominee has been here before, and that’s “Hale County This Morning, This Evening” co-producer Joslyn Barnes, who was nominated last year for “Strong Island.” It’s likely easier for people to watch “Minding the Gap” and “RBG” since they’re available on Hulu. “Minding the Gap” won the International Documentary Awards’ feature prize, while “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and “Three Identical Strangers,” both of which missed out on a place on this list, took top honors from the PGA, DGA, and Critics Choice Documentary Awards. The only film nominated for all those prizes was “Free Solo.”

Who should win: I wasn’t fond of “Hale County This Morning, This Evening.” Both “Of Fathers and Sons” and “Minding the Gap” shone a light on interesting subjects with a focused viewpoint. “RBG” was extremely entertaining, but nothing wowed me as much as the intense “Free Solo.”
Who will win: It’s far from guaranteed, but Free Solo should be able to beat out “RBG” barring an upset from one of the two less mainstream selections here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Foreign Film

The competition: Capernaum (Lebanon), Cold War (Poland), Never Look Away (Germany), Roma (Mexico), Shoplifters (Japan)

Previous winners: A Fantastic Woman (Chile), The Salesman (Iran), Son of Saul (Hungary), Ida (Poland), The Great Beauty (Italy), Amour (Austria), A Separation (Iran), In a Better World (Denmark)
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: “Roma” is the first nominee in this category to contend both for Best Picture and for any acting award since “Amour” in 2012, and the first-ever nominee here to be up for two acting prizes, competing in ten categories overall. “Roma” director Alfonso Cuaron is himself nominated for producing, directing, writing, and shooting his film, and previously won for directing and editing “Gravity” in 2013. “Cold War” director Pawel Pawlikowski, who is also nominated for Best Director, won this award in 2014 for “Ida.” “Never Look Away” director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck won this award in 2006 for “The Lives of Others.” This is the first time since 1976 that two films here are also nominated for directing and only the second time ever that three of these films are cited for cinematography. Japan has four wins in this category out of fifteen nominations. Germany has two wins out of ten nominations. Poland has one win out of ten nominations. Mexico has yet to win after eight nominations, and this is the second consecutive bid for Lebanon and its second overall. “Roma” has taken home prizes in this category from the Critics’ Choice Awards, BAFTA, and the Golden Globes.

Who should win: I didn’t love the very long “Never Look Away” despite some positive elements, and had similar issues with “Cold War.” “Shoplifters” is certainly good, but both “Capernaum” and “Roma” are near the top of my list of overall favorites this past year, and both would be equally deserving of a win.
Who will win: It could be “Cold War” in an upset, but I think Roma takes it easily.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Animated Feature

The competition: Incredibles 2, Isle of Dogs, Mirai, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Previous winners: Coco, Zootopia, Inside Out, Big Hero 6, Frozen, Brave, Rango, Toy Story 3, Up, Wall-E, Ratatouille, Happy Feet, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Spirited Away, Shrek
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Both “Incredibles 2” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet” are sequels to previous nominees in this category – “The Incredibles” won in 2004, and “Wreck-It Ralph” contended in 2012. “Incredibles 2” comes from Pixar, which has won nine out of eleven nominations, including last year for “Coco.” “Ralph Breaks the Internet” is from Disney, which boasts three wins out of then nominations, most recently for “Zootopia” in 2016. “Isle of Dogs,” directed by six-time nominee Wes Anderson, is the second nominee from American Empirical Pictures after Anderson’s 2009 film “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is Sony’s second nominee after “Surf’s Up” back in 2007. “Mirai” is the first film to contend from Studio Chizu. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” took the top prize at the Annie Awards (and all six other categories in which it was nominated), while “Mirai” claimed the best independent feature award. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” also won the Golden Globe, the Critics’ Choice Award, and the PGA Award. The only film ever to win all three and then lose the Oscar was “Cars,” but it’s unlikely that a “Happy Feet” would upset this year. The only film with a nomination in any other category is “Isle of Dogs,” which contends for Best Original Score.

Who should win: This is a great list. My favorites are “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
Who will win: There doesn’t seem to be any film likely to knock out Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Visual Effects

The competition: Avengers: Infinity War (Dan DeLeeuw, Kelly Port, Russell Earl, and Dan Sudick), Christopher Robin (Christopher Lawrence, Michael Eames, Theo Jones, and Chris Corbould), First Man (Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles, and J. D. Schwalm), Ready Player One (Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer, Matthew E. Butler, and David Shirk), Solo: A Star Wars Story (Rob Bredow, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan, and Dominic Tuohy)

Previous winners: Blade Runner 2049, The Jungle Book, Ex Machina, Interstellar, Gravity, Life of Pi, Hugo, Inception
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Many of these nominees have contended together before for some of the same projects. De Leeuw, Earl, and Sudick all contended previously together in 2014 for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Earl was also nominated for “Transformers” and “Star Trek,” while Sudick was a nominee seven other times, with five of those being Marvel movies. Corbould was nominated for “The Dark Knight,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and won in 2010 for “Inception.” Lambert won last year for “Blade Runner 2049” and Hunter prevailed in 2014 for “Interstellar.” Guyett was nominated for “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Star Trek,” “Star Trek Into Darkness,” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Butler was nominated for “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” Tubach was nominated for “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Scanlan was nominated for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and won for “Babe” back in 1995. All five of these films were up for Visual Effects Society Awards, with “Avengers: Infinity War” taking home four prizes and “First Man” and “Ready Player One” each taking home one award. While last year, all five of the nominees were part of series or franchises that had been nominated here before, only two qualify this year. Every “Star Wars” movie except for “Revenge of the Sith” been honored, with only the original three films winning the award, and this marks the fourth consecutive nomination for the series. Eight Marvel films that lead into “Avengers: Infinity War” have contended in the past decade, with the franchise yet to win an award here. Despite a six-year stretch from 2008 to 2013, this award has only gone to a Best Picture nominee twenty-two times since the inception of the Oscars.

Who should win: I was not impressed with the mostly space-less visuals in “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and don’t think it belongs here at all. “Christopher Robin” did a good job with blending its talking animals into the world around them, but it didn’t wow me. The same goes for “Ready Player One,” set almost entirely in a virtual world. “First Man” made the experience of going to the moon a mesmerizing one, but how can anything compare to the incredible effort and consistent engaging sight that was everything in “Avengers: Infinity War”?
Who will win: While it’s possible that “Ready Player One” or “First Man” could get enough votes, I think Marvel gets its first big win for Avengers: Infinity War.

Movie with Abe: Christopher Robin

Christopher Robin
Directed by Marc Forster
Released August 3, 2018

Winnie the Pooh is a magical character, and there’s something about the Hundred Acre Wood that feels timeless, relevant both for children and adults. The animated ensemble, which includes Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Kango, Roo, Owl, and Rabbit, has been appearing on screen since the 1940s in a number of productions from different studios and with slightly different interpretations and modifications of the classic stories. In 2011, Disney produced “Winnie the Pooh,” another idyllic chapter that went over well, and now, the characters come to life in this live-action look at what it means to return to a childlike sense of wonder.

Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) has grown up since his days spent with his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, marrying Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and raising a daughter, Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). His work at a luggage company has forced him to adapt the adage that nothing comes free in life, which leads him to skip a weekend away with his family to focus on work, a plan that is disrupted when Pooh wanders out of the wood and reminds him of his simpler, more serene way of looking at life. A return to the place he loved throughout his childhood starts to open Christopher’s eyes to what he has lost, but not enough to derail him from the work he is so desperate to finish to maintain what he believes will be a fulfilling life.

So much of this film’s narrative and structure is predictable, and audiences can likely write the plot for themselves. Yet the point is to experience the delight of seeing these talking animals come to life, almost stuck on loop with their typical lines, not even trying to convince Christopher of what’s missing for him but merely going about their days as they would, exhibiting a range of enthusiasm from Eeyore’s misery to Tigger’s uncontainable energy. Bringing in Madeline as an example of what Christopher was and who is about to go through a withdrawal from youthful optimism due to her impending departure for boarding school is an effective reminder of the power of imagination.

This film was a surprise nominee for Best Visual Effects at the Oscars, honored for its natural incorporation of these characters into the live-action world around them. Their colors are muted and less vibrant than past versions have been, but it does feel as if these animals are indeed as alive as star McGregor, who inhabits his role with all the gradually-removed stuffiness it requires. Most of all, Pooh remains a tremendously endearing protagonist, looking at life in the least complicated and often most beneficial way, where doing nothing often leads to the greatest things. This is a perfectly worthwhile if entirely uninventive next chapter in this heartwarming saga.


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The competition: Border (Göran Lundström and Pamela Goldammer), Mary Queen of Scots (Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher, and Jessica Brooks), Vice (Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney)

Previous winners: Darkest Hour, Suicide Squad, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Dallas Buyers Club, Les Miserables, The Iron Lady
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Shircore won in 1998 for “Elizabeth” and was nominated in 2009 for “The Young Victoria.” Cannom has eight previous nominations, with wins in 1992 for “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” in 1993 for “Mrs. Doutbfire,” and in 2008 for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” The last foreign-language films to win this prize were “La Vie en Rose” in 2007 and “Pan’s Labyrinth” in 2006. Six winners in the last ten years in this category have been Best Picture nominees, with “Vice” being the only one with that distinction this year. Both “Mary Queen of Scots” and “Vice” contend for two awards from the Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Awards.

Who should win: The two leads in both “Border” and “Mary Queen of Scots” truly looked like the characters they were supposed to play, living in the worlds they inhabited, though the latter had the added benefit of purposeful hairstyling. Seeing Christian Bale look just like Dick Cheney is something else, and though there’s plenty I didn’t like about that film, out of this group, it gets my vote easily in this contest.
Who will win: It’s hard to imagine anything but Vice taking this.

Movie with Abe: Border

Directed by Ali Abbasi
Released October 26, 2018

Looking different can be one of the most significant factors in someone feeling out of place. The discrepancy between what someone sees in the mirror and what they see when they look around them will often pale in comparison to the way that others react upon first meeting them, which may be involuntary but still tends to acknowledge a classification of them as something apart. While it’s usually said that true beauty comes from within, that’s rarely how society anywhere practically functions, and therefore it can be particularly enlightening and eye-opening to meet another person with the same abnormal appearance.

Tina (Eva Melander) works as a border agent in Sweden, able to detect and stop undesirable elements from encountering the country thanks to her heightened sense of smell, which she says enables her to smell fear, guilt, and shame. Her physical facial deformity has led to a lonely life, and she has opened her home to a dog trainer named Roland (Jörgen Thorsson), who frequently takes advantage of her hospitality without taking her feelings into consideration. When she stops a man, Vore (Eero Milonoff), at the border whose face looks just like hers, Tina begins to learn about his life experiences and realize that she may have been looking at everything in a twisted, limited manner.

This film smartly begins by showing Tina at work, looked at questionably by those she surveys as they walk past her but respected by the agents that she instructs to search whatever person she flags. Her abilities are not in question because she gets results, and she knows that this is the right job for her because she’s able to do what no one else can. Vore’s arrival interrupts all that, since he truly sees her in a way that no one else ever has, and isn’t happy with the way that she lets other people treat her, forcing her to question how she has lived her entire life.

Sweden’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Film didn’t end up making the cut in that race, but it did merit an Oscar nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Both Tina and Vore are made up to look distinctly different from those around them, though the performances by Melander and Milonoff also deserve commendation for the way they make their characters interact with the world around them and with each other. More than anything, this is a peculiar film that embraces the notion of the “other,” heading off on its own path much like its two protagonists. It’s intriguing but ultimately more weird than fulfilling, still a worthwhile watch for those who find its premise interesting.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Movie with Abe: Serenity

I'm pleased to present my debut for the crime-mystery site Criminal Element, a review of the truly terrible "Serenity," released just a few weeks ago but already mostly gone from theaters. I'll link to any future reviews of mine published on Criminal Element - head over to the site to check it out!

Friday, February 15, 2019

Movie with Abe: Donnybrook

Directed by Tim Sutton
Released February 15, 2019

All parents try to provide in the way that they can for their children. For those who make six-figure salaries, that can mean offering luxuries and unparalleled comfort so that their children can achieve great things and in turn raise their own children in the same way. For those with a considerably less stable income, their dedication may be the same but their means entirely different. Molding minds and ensuring a safe environment are paramount, but not all people are able to do that in the same way depending on their skills and fortune.

Jarhead Earl (Jamie Bell) robs a local gun shop so that he can have some money to get him to a vicious fighting ring, the Donnybrook, that offers a high prize for the last to survive a brutal competition. Returning home to his family, Earl finds his wife Tammy (Dara Tiller) being tempted with drugs by local criminal Chainsaw Angus (Frank Grillo). Leaving town with his son Moses (Alexander Washburn), Earl begins his journey as Angus and his sister Delia (Margaret Qualley) remain all too close and a strung-out cop, Whalen (James Badge Dale), follows a trail of victims left by them.

This is inarguably a grim film, one that never presents much positivity for any of its characters. To try to get to this hellish competition, Earl leaves his wife and daughter in a motel room and has his son serve as an accomplice to help him stay one step ahead of the law. Angus seems to delight in the brutal killing of anyone he comes across, while the participatory Delia at times seems like an unwilling collaborator who is also a victim. Whalen is the least stable of all of them, stalking his ex-wife in the parking lot of her grocery store job and indulging in many of the criminal activities he as the law should be stopping. This is not a film for those seeking any sort of humor or even anything approaching happiness.

This is, however, a worthwhile film that shows the love that Earl has for his family yet must express in a way that involves doing whatever it takes to get to a place where he will ultimately need to fight another man to the death. Bell captures that mentality and portrays it effectively on screen, supported by Qualley as a conflicted criminal and Grillo as the cold, soulless villain. This film knows just how dark it wants to be and uses that to its advantage, engaging its audience in a foreboding, captivating thriller that proves to be inviting if far from appealing.


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Sound Editing

The competition: Black Panther (Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker), Bohemian Rhapsody (John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone), First Man (Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan), A Quiet Place (Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl), Roma (Sergio Díaz and Skip Lievsay)

Previous winners: Dunkirk, Arrival, Mad Max: Fury Road, American Sniper, Gravity, Skyfall/Zero Dark Thirty, Hugo
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Burtt has seven previous nominations, with three wins from the 1980s for “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Boeddeker was previously nominated in 2013 for “All is Lost” and also contends for sound mixing this year. Lee was nominated in 2016 for “La La Land” in this category and for sound mixing, and earned double nominations again this year. Morgan returns with her second bid after “La La Land.” Van der Ryan has five previous nominations, with wins for “The Two Towers” in 2002 and “King Kong” in 2005. Lievsay has previous nominations here for “No Country for Old Men” and “True Grit,” along with a win for “Gravity” in sound mixing and a nomination there this year too. All five of these films contend for multiple Golden Reel Awards from the Motion Picture Sound Editors, and only “A Quiet Place” is not also nominated for Best Sound.

Who should win: I distinctly remember the experiencing of hearing “Roma” just as strongly as seeing it, and “First Man” was also an incredible auditory product.
Who will win: It could be any of these, but I’m betting on First Man.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Sound

The competition: Black Panther (Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor and Peter Devlin), Bohemian Rhapsody (Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin and John Casali), First Man (Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Ai-Ling Lee and Mary H. Ellis), Roma (Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan and José Antonio Garcia), A Star is Born (Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Jason Ruder and Steve Morrow)

Previous winners: Dunkirk, Hacksaw Ridge, Mad Max: Fury Road, Whiplash, Gravity, Les Miserables, Hugo
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Boeddeker also contends for sound editing this year and was previously nominated in this category for “All is Lost” in 2013. Devlin has four previous nominations, three of which are from the “Transformers” franchise. Massey has seven previous nominations, the most recent of which was in 2015 for “The Martian.” Cavagin and Ellis were both up for “Baby Driver” last year. Taylor has three previous nominations and Montaño has eight, both last nominated together in 2015 for “The Revenant.” Lee contended for “La La Land” in 2016 in both this category and sound editing, and earned that same double nomination this year. Lievsay won this prize in 2013 for “Gravity” with three additional previous nominations in this race, along with one for sound editing this year. Garcia contended in 2012 for “Argo.” All but “Roma” are nominated at the Cinema Audio Society Awards, and “A Star is Born” is the only film here not also contending for Best Sound Editing.

Who should win: All of these films sound great. To me, the definitive beat of life and combat in “Black Panther” or the toe-tapping concert acoustics in “Bohemian Rhapsody” are the most memorable.
Who will win: I think that Bohemian Rhapsody can take this, though I would have said “A Star is Born” a while back.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Song

The competition: “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (David Rawlings and Gillian Welch), “All the Stars” – Black Panther (Kendrick Lamar, Sounwave, Anthony Tiffith, and SZA), “The Place Where Lost Things Go” – Mary Poppins Returns (Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman), “I’ll Fight” – RBG (Diane Warren), “Shallow” – A Star is Born (Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt)

Previous winners: Remember Me (Coco), City of Stars (La La Land), Writing’s on the Wall (Spectre), Glory (Selma), Let It Go (Frozen), Skyfall (Skyfall), Man or Muppet (The Muppets)
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Gaga and Warren were nominated together in 2015 for their song from “The Hunting Ground.” Warren has eight additional nominations, including one last year for her song from “Marshall.” Shaiman has two previous nominations in this category for songs from “Sleepless in Seattle” in 1993 and “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut” in 1999, in addition to three previous score bids and a mention in that category this year. The only song from a documentary ever to win was from “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006. The first “Mary Poppins” film won this prize in 1964 for “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” The last six Golden Globe winners have gone on to be nominated here, with four of them triumphing. “Shallow” won the Globe this year.

Who should win: I’ve listened to every one of these songs many, many times and remember the three that were performed during the actual films well. I’m not so into “All the Stars,” though I appreciate its value as an anthem for its film. “The Place Where Lost Things Go” was much more tolerable to me than the other song from that same film that made the finalist list, and it has a good message even if it’s not my favorite. “I’ll Fight” does a strong job representing it’s film themes. “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” was part of what made the title segment so hilarious. Nothing compares to the incredible energy of “Swallow,” my clear choice and everyone else’s.
Who will win: Whenever there’s a clear frontrunner in this category, it tends to win. There’s no reason to predict anything but Shallow.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Score

The competition: BlacKkKlansman (Terence Blanchard), Black Panther (Ludwig Göransson), If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell), Isle of Dogs (Alexandre Desplat), Mary Poppins Returns (Marc Shaiman)

Previous winners: The Shape of Water, La La Land, The Hateful Eight, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Gravity, Life of Pi, The Artist
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Britell was nominated two years ago for his last collaboration with director Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight.” This is the tenth nomination for last year’s winner Desplat, who triumphed in 2017 for “The Shape of Water” and in 2014 for “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Shaiman has three nominations from the 1990s in the now-defunct Original Musical or Comedy Score category for “The American President,” “The First Wives Club,” and “Patch Adams.” He also contends for the song from his film this year. The Golden Globe winner, “First Man,” didn’t end up getting nominated. In the past two decades, this award has gone to a film not nominated for Best Picture only three times.
Who should win: I didn’t remember the score from “Mary Poppins Returns” so fondly, but listening to it again, I can appreciate its energy. “BlacKkKlansman” was sufficiently moody, and I’m happy to see Blanchard finally earn his first nomination. I’m all for any of the other three taking this because they were both memorable and unique in their own ways.
Who will win: Without the Globe winner in the mix, I’m not so sure, but I think it might be the only win for Black Panther.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Film Editing

The competition: BlacKkKlansman (Barry Alexander Brown), Bohemian Rhapsody (John Ottman), The Favourite (Yorgos Mavropsaridis), Green Book (Patrick J. Don Vito), Vice (Hank Corwin)

Previous winners: Dunkirk, Hacksaw Ridge, Mad Max: Fury Road, Whiplash, Gravity, Argo, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Only Corwin has been nominated before, for his last collaboration with director Adam McKay, “The Big Short,” in 2015. All five of these films were nominated for the ACE Eddie Award, with “The Favourite” winning the comedy prize and “Bohemian Rhapsody” taking the dramatic honor. “Vice” won the BAFTA, defeating both ACE Eddie recipients. Four of the last ten Oscars winners didn’t win either ACE Eddie. The winner of this award hasn’t gone on to win Best Picture since “Argo” in 2012, and it’s actually much more common for the two not to match up, though all but two of the last ten winners were nominated for the top prize. All five of these films are nominated for Best Picture.

Who should win: This is a strange list in a lot of ways. “Vice” was an irritating film, and its very purposeful construction was a big reason for that. “BlacKkKlansman” is made moodier and more stylized by the imprint of its editor, which made it moderately effective for me. “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which I liked more than most critics, is long but feels energizing because of the way it’s assembled. “Green Book” features an entertaining road trip in which every scene feels vital and relevant. There’s no matching the pace of “The Favourite,” however, which weaves together its wild characters and even more outrageous story stunningly.
Who will win: This is tough. Some might say that “BlacKkKlansman” shows up to surprise, and “Vice” will also probably get votes. It’s hard to imagine “Green Book” triumphing here, especially without a Best Director bid. I’m going to go ahead and pick Bohemian Rhapsody over a film I’m predicting to triumph in other technical races, “The Favourite.”

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Costume Design

The competition: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Mary Zophres), Black Panther (Ruth E. Carter), The Favourite (Sandy Powell), Mary Poppins Returns (Sandy Powell), Mary Queen of Scots (Alexandra Byrne)

Previous winners: Phantom Thread, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina, The Artist
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Zophres was previously nominated in 2010 for “True Grit” and in 2016 for “La La Land.” Carter was nominated in 1992 for “Malcolm X” and in 1997 for “Amistad.” Byrne was nominated in 1996 for “Hamlet,” in 1998 for “Elizabeth,” in 2004 for “Finding Neverland,” and in 2007 for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” her only win. This is the third time that Powell has earned two nominations in a single year, first in 1998 when she won for “Shakespeare in Love” in addition to a bid for “Velvet Goldmine,” and then in 2015 when she contended for “Carol” and “Cinderella.” She won for “The Aviator” in 2004 and “The Young Victoria” in 2009, with eight additional nominations. All but “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” contend for the Costume Designers Guild prizes for period or sci-fi/fantasy films, which will be handed out next week. Four times in the past decade, this award went to a Best Picture nominee.

Who should win: Though I didn’t like the film, I can appreciate the top-notch costuming in all the vignettes of “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” The wardrobe in “Mary Queen of Scots” is one of its strongest and most vibrant elements. “Mary Poppins Returns” owes much of its magic to the way that its characters are outfitted. It’s a hard pick between “The Favourite” and “Black Panther,” two extraordinarily different films, and I’d be happy with either being rewarded.
Who will win: This is extremely competitive. My money is on The Favourite though it could honestly be any of them.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Production Design

The competition: Black Panther (Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart), The Favourite (Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton), First Man (Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas), Mary Poppins Returns (John Myhre and Gordon Sim), Roma (Eugene Caballero and Bárbara Enrı́quez)

Previous winners: The Shape of Water, La La Land, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Great Gatsby, Lincoln, Hugo
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Hart was nominated in 1997 for “L.A. Confidential” and 1998 for “Pleasantville.” This is the fourth nomination for Crowley and his first for a film not directed by Christopher Nolan after bids for “The Prestige,” “The Dark Knight,” “Interstellar,” and “Dunkirk.” Myhre has five previous nominations, including wins for “Chicago” in 2002 and “Memoirs of a Geisha” in 2005. Sim also shares that win for “Chicago” in addition to a nomination for “Nine.” Caballero won in 2006 for “Pan’s Labyrinth,” his only previous bid. This is the first nomination for all other nominees. All five of these films were nominated by the Art Directors Guild, where “Black Panther” triumphed in the fantasy category and “The Favourite” took the period award in addition to the BAFTA. Eight times in the past decade, this award went to a Best Picture nominee, which neither “First Man” nor “Mary Poppins Returns” are.

Who should win: These films are all visually astounding in completely different ways. “Roma” is starkly portrayed, which helps its effectiveness, while “First Man” is enhanced so that its scenery feels real. “Mary Poppins Returns” is colorful and vibrant. “The Favourite” is striking and vivid, though I’d probably choose “Black Panther” for its creation of a stunning nation.
Who will win: It might be either “Black Panther” or “Mary Poppins Returns,” but I think that the energy and enthusiasm for The Favourite will lead to its victory.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Cinematography

The competition: Cold War (Łukasz Żal), The Favourite (Robbie Ryan), Never Look Away (Caleb Deschanel), Roma (Alfonso Cuarón), A Star is Born (Matthew Libatique)

Previous winners: Blade Runner 2049, La La Land, The Revenant, Birdman, Gravity, Life of Pi, Hugo
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: This is the sixth nomination for Deschanel, who was last nominated in 2004 for “The Passion of the Christ.” This is Cuarón’s first bid in this category, but, in addition to a 2013 win for directing “Gravity,” he also contends for directing, writing, and producing his film this year. Libatique was previously nominated for “Black Swan” in 2010. This is the first nomination for Zal and Ryan. The last time three foreign-language films were honored here was in 2004, and foreign films have won this award before, with “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” being the most recent ones to do so. Only “Never Look Away” is not nominated for the ASC Award, which went to “Cold War.” Since the ASC has existed, its winner has only gone on to win the Oscar fourteen out of thirty-two times, and six times in the past decade. The BAFTA was awarded to “Roma.” A Best Picture nominee has won this award every year over the past decade except for last year, which may dilute the chances for “Cold War” and “Never Look Away.” The last black-and-white film to win this award was “Schindler’s List” in 1993, with “Cold War” and “Roma” looking to update that statistic this year.

Who should win: These are all formidable selections. Both “Cold War” and “Roma” were exceptionally-shot, seeming like they were in color despite its absence. “A Star is Born” had a look to it that made the story feel even more personal. “Never Look Away” is a fantastic choice, framing its lengthy narrative vividly. My favorite is, in fact, “The Favourite,” an enthralling tale brought even more to life thanks to its focused lensing.
Who will win: I think it’s a competition between Roma and “The Favourite” with “Cold War” coming up as a potential spoiler, and I’ll give the edge to the first one with minimal confidence.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay

The competition: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel and Ethan Coen), BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott), Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty), If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins), A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters and Eric Roth)

Previous winners: Call Me By Your Name, Moonlight, The Big Short, The Imitation Game, 12 Years a Slave, Argo, The Descendants
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: This is the sixth screenplay bid for the Coen Brothers, who won writing prizes for “Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men” in addition to a directing win for the latter. Lee was nominated for his screenplay for “Do the Right Thing” in 1989, and also contends this year for directing and producing his film. Jenkins won this award in 2016 for “Moonlight” in addition to a directing bid for that film. This is Cooper’s first writing nomination, and he’s also up for acting (his fourth time) and producing (his second) this year. Roth won this award in 1994 for “Forrest Gump” and he has been nominated here three times since. This is the first nomination for all the other writers. The last film to win this award without a Best Picture nod was “Gods and Monsters” in 1998, which may change this year since only “BlacKkKlansman,” which won the corresponding BAFTA, and “A Star is Born” are up for the top award. Only “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” isn’t nominated for a WGA Award. “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” were both nominated for the USC Scripter Award, which went to “Leave No Trace.”
Who should win: I loved the first segment of “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” but found everything after that less than impressive. “A Star is Born” was a good film, but I wouldn’t cite its screenplay as its strongest element. I wasn’t as fond of “BlacKkKlansman” as most, but I can appreciate its quality. “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” was entertaining and solid. My choice would be “If Beale Street Could Talk,” a wondrous and rich film with superb dialogue.
Who will win: I’d like to think that If Beale Street Could Talk wins this just as easily as “Call Me By Your Name” did last year without momentum in other categories. Watch out for “BlacKkKlansman” or “A Star is Born” to earn some love here and potentially knock it out.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Screenplay

The competition: The Favourite (Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara), First Reformed (Paul Schrader), Green Book (Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly, and Nick Vallelonga), Roma (Alfonso Cuaron), Vice (Adam McKay)

Previous winners: Get Out, Manchester by the Sea, Spotlight, Birdman, Her, Django Unchained, Midnight in Paris
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Cuaron has contended for screenwriting twice, for “Y Tu Mama Tambien” in 2001 and “Children of Men” in 2006, and, in addition to a 2013 directing win for “Gravity,” he is also nominated this year for directing, producing, and shooting his film. McKay won in 2015 for his screenplay for “The Big Short” and is also nominated this year for directing and producing his film. All three of the writers from “Green Book” are also nominated as producers of the film. Despite penning the screenplays for “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” this is Schrader’s first nomination, along with both writers from “The Favourite.” Only five foreign-language entries have ever won this award, the most recent of which was “Talk to Her” in 2002. Four films in the past fifteen years have triumphed without a corresponding Best Picture nomination, and the last of those was “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” That would apply only to “First Reformed” this year, with this bid serving as its only nomination.

Who should win: I had problems with “Vice” and don’t think it’s worth rewarding this obnoxious script. I didn’t love “First Reformed” nearly as much as anyone else I talked to, and a win here would not make me happy. “Roma” is good, but I don’t think the script is its strongest asset. “Green Book” is delightful and enjoyable, and the writing is indeed strong. Nothing compares, though, to “The Favourite,” an extremely witty and entertaining life brought to life in part by its fabulous screenplay.
Who will win: This could go any number of ways. I don’t see “First Reformed” having a shot, even though it won the Critics’ Choice Award. “Vice” is divisive, but obviously it was popular enough to merit every major nomination it could have. “Roma” might get swept up by love for the film and win here, but I don’t see it. “Green Book,” which took home the Golden Globe, is probably the smart pick, but I’m going with nominations co-leader The Favourite instead.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Supporting Role

The competition: Amy Adams (Vice), Marina de Tavira (Roma), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Emma Stone (The Favourite), Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Previous winners: Allison Janney, Viola Davis, Alicia Vikander, Patricia Arquette, Lupita N’yongo, Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Adams has five previous nominations, the most recent of which came in 2013 for “American Hustle.” Stone won in 2016 for “La La Land” and was nominated before that in 2014 for “Birdman.” Weisz won on her only nomination in 2005 for “The Constant Gardener.” This is the first nomination for both de Tavira and King. De Tavira would be the first performer to win this award for an entirely foreign-language performance, since Penelope Cruz’s performance in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” included plenty of English. Starring in a Best Picture nominee isn’t crucial – five of the past fifteen winners have triumphed despite that handicap, and King is the one who would benefit most this year. This category is no stranger to double nominees from the same film. In fact, it happened all four years between 2008 and 2011, with two of those cases resulting in wins for one of those two nominated women. King won the Globe and the Critics’ Choice Award but wasn’t nominated at SAG, where Emily Blunt, who isn’t on this list, won for “A Quiet Place.”

Who should win: I’m all for anyone in this category. De Tavira impressed in her film, embedding humor and humanity in her portrayal of a frazzled mother and wife. Though I didn’t like her film, Adams was completely on point, funnier than usual and totally committed to the role. King was a strong element of an underrated and underrepresented film, and even if I’d choose some of its technical aspects to reward instead, she’s definitely worthy of praise. Both Adams and Weisz were absolutely terrific, and though I’ve picked Weisz when I’ve had to, I’d be ecstatic and perfectly satisfied if either of them won.
Who will win: The expectation was that Adams would win the SAG with King out of the running, but when she didn’t, it suggested that King can overcome that problematic snub to triumph. The only thing that would be her undoing would be a surge in popularity for the three stars of the two nominations leaders, but I don’t see it happening.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Supporting Role

The competition: Mahershala Ali (Green Book), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Sam Elliott (A Star is Born), Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Previous winners: Sam Rockwell, Mahershala Ali, Mark Rylance, J.K. Simmons, Jared Leto, Christoph Waltz, Christopher Plummer
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: This is very simple: we have the past two winners in this category – Rockwell and Ali – earning their second nominations, and the other three are all first-time nominees. Both of their previous wins came from roles in Best Picture nominees (in Ali’s case, a winner), and that’s the case again. The last actor to win this award twice was Christoph Waltz, who was awarded in both 2009 and 2012. Grant is the only one whose film isn’t nominated for Best Picture, though that hasn’t been a problem for four of the past fifteen champs in this category. Ali has won the Globe, SAG, and Critics’ Choice Award.

Who should win: Rockwell was entertaining as George W. Bush, but his role doesn’t compare to last year’s, which also didn’t enthrall me as much as it did most people. I also like Driver but wasn’t wowed by this particular performance. Elliott is a superb actor, and his small part in a film dominated by other actors was indeed great. Grant was engaging and charming, and I’d be happy to see him win, even if my top choice is the very talented and endearing Ali.
Who will win: Rockwell’s repeat nomination is his reward. Driver’s film might outperform in other races, but not here. Elliott would have needed a much stronger awards season showing for his film, which it weirdly has not gotten. There’s still a chance that Grant could pull ahead and score this win, but Ali feels far enough ahead, and he’s a great, controversy-free way to award a movie that people obviously love.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Leading Role

The competition: Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Lady Gaga (A Star is Born), Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Previous winners: Frances McDormand, Emma Stone, Brie Larson, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Aparicio joins a small list of actresses who have received an Oscar nomination for their debut film performances. Only the likes of Barbra Streisand and Julie Andrews managed to win. She is also contending for a foreign-language performance, which last led to victory for Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose” in 2007. Close has six previous nominations, five in the 1980s and one in 2011 for “Albert Nobbs.” Gaga was nominated for writing a song for “The Hunting Ground” in 2016 and also contends for the very popular song “Shallow” from her film this year. McCarthy was nominated in 2011 for “Bridesmaids.” This is Colman’s first nomination. Unlike the Best Actor category, this award more frequently goes to actresses who aren’t stars of Best Picture nominees, like Julianne Moore in 2014 and Cate Blanchett in 2013. Close won the Globe and the SAG, and tied with Gaga for the Critics’ Choice Award. Colman won the comedy Globe.

Who should win: This is actually a very solid list, and I wouldn’t find any of them undeserving. McCarthy made an impressive transition to drama with this role, remaining funny and still believable. Aparicio was formidable in her film debut. Close was a tour de force who completely sold her character. Gaga embodied her ingénue’s wondrous worldview. Colman is my favorite, however, leaning into the hilarity of her manipulated monarch.
Who will win: McCarthy is really the only one without a shot. Colman might have been most poised for an upset before Aparicio joined the race without participating in most of the precursors. They’re the stars of the most-nominated films this year and will clearly have fans, and might have been able to benefit from a vote-split had Gaga fared better earlier this awards season. The fact remains that Close still hasn’t won an Oscar, and I think voters will reward her for an incredible career.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Leading Role

The competition: Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born), Christian Bale (Vice), Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Previous winners: Gary Oldman, Casey Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Eddie Redmayne, Matthew McConaughey, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jean Dujardin
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Though he missed out on a Best Director bid, Cooper, who has three previous acting nominations, also contends for producing and writing his film. Bale won on his first of three prior bids for “The Fighter” in 2010, and in this is his second time contending for an Adam McKay film after “The Big Short” in 2015. The two of them were both nominees for “American Hustle” in 2013. Dafoe was nominated last year for “The Florida Project,” marking his second consecutive go as the sole representative from his film. He was previously nominated was back in 2000 and 1986. Mortensen was nominated twice before, for “Captain Fantastic” in 2016 and “Eastern Promises” in 2007. This is Malek’s first nomination. The last time the star of a film not nominated for Best Picture won this prize was Jeff Bridges for “Crazy Heart” in 2009, which applies only to Dafoe this year. After they both won Golden Globes, Bale took home the Critics’ Choice Award and Malek won the SAG. In the two times that the split has happened the same way among the three groups, the SAG victor prevailed.

Who should win: I was rooting for Dafoe much more last year than this time around, as his portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh was indeed one of the strongest elements of his film but doesn’t compare to his performance as a hotel manager in my favorite film from 2017. I also get that Bale’s imitation is impressive, but both the role and the movie are so interlinked that I’d be frustrated with him winning. Cooper getting an accolade for his directorial debut wouldn’t upset me since it was one of his better performances. Mortensen was great in his film, and I’d be perfectly happy if he won. It’s hard to argue with Malek’s turn though, and I’d be very pleased to see the surprise Emmy winner for “Mr. Robot” from a few years ago earn an Oscar.
Who will win: Count out Mortensen and Dafoe. It’s possible that Cooper could upset given that the last director-star this happened to, Ben Affleck, didn’t have the benefit of a Best Actor bid where voters could reward him. Bale has a strong shot given his film’s performance in major categories, but Malek feels far enough ahead given the season-long embrace of his film.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Movie with Abe: Lords of Chaos

Lords of Chaos
Directed by Jonas Åkerlund
Released February 8, 2019

There are often behaviors and worldviews associated with certain types of art. That’s especially true when it comes to music, with religion, politics, and other cultural factors affecting the people who write and sing it. Not all motivators are positive, and that can be reflected in the genre of music produced and the way in which songs are broadcast out to the public. It can be difficult to separate the legacy of a type of music from the history related to it, which will always come to define it.

Euronymous (Rory Culkin) is a guitarist in Norway in the 1980s who puts together the black metal band Mayhem. Early events include the hiring of a Swedish singer named Dead (Jack Kilmer) who commits suicide not long after joining the band, forever altering their trajectory and the attitude they express. As Euronymous begins associating with a passionate fan, Varg (Emory Cohen), they start burning down churches as an expression of their liberal religious beliefs. A desire for more publicity and an acknowledgment of their uniqueness leads to a breaking point between Euronymous and Varg over who truly embodies their movement.

The kind of music portrayed in this film is described by some as hard on the ears, and that expectation is logical going in. The story, unfortunately, mirrors the aggressiveness of the audio, filled with many angry and volatile moments. Watching these two people hell-bent on popularizing their music and getting it out into the world go to war over how to best represent their countercultural notions is far from appealing, especially when this film reaches a disturbing point defined by violence, approaching the questionable categorization of this film as horror, a mildly accurate depiction of some of its events.

As with many films about international historical figures, even ones as recent and on the fringe as these ones, all the characters speak with American accents, not concerned at all with putting any effort into mimicking the way the real-life people they portray actually speak. What they say is also far from riveting, seemingly too simplistic and whiny compared with the depth of the story depicted here. Its plot takes unsettling turns, and, in addition to being horrific and off-putting, they don’t feel believable. The documented true story is indeed incredible, but this adaptation fails to create a stirring and compelling representation of both the music and the people who created it.


Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Slamdance with Arielle: History of Love

It’s my pleasure to introduce Arielle, my wife and an eager new contributor who is covering the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City this year, along with a few Sundance selections.

Director Sonja Prosenc discusses the film

History of Love
Directed by Sonja Prosenc
Breakout Features

Portraying a narrative about love and loss, “History of Love” tells the story of a family mourning the death of their wife and mother. As they uncover secrets about the life she lived, they are forced to engage with their grief and the world around them in unusual and unexpected ways. Felt by the audience as a real and raw experience of grief, director Sonja Prosenc explained that she was actually grieving a family member who was dying during the filming process, making this story all the more real, painful, and necessary for her to share with the world.

The film employs vivid imagery and sound to convey the overwhelming, sometimes drowning, effects of grief on loved ones. The director intentionally uses water to illustrate fluidity of bereavement and the sadness that often overtakes life, though the film sometimes feels as if it was moving at a trickling pace. Nonetheless, as an aspiring chaplain, I feel this film does a tremendous job of capturing the vastly different ways in which individuals grieve, even within a single family. Age, relationship to the deceased, and anxiety about loss can all be tremendous influencers in one’s grief process, and I appreciate the fact that the characters do not try to alter how the others experience their loss. Through anger, sadness, despair, and reminiscing, each character is able to find some peace within the pain, learning and showing us how to live again after loss.