Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Foreign Film


The competition: A Fantastic Woman (Chile), On Body and Soul (Hungary), The Insult (Lebanon), Loveless (Russia), The Square (Sweden)

Previous winners: 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: “Loveless” director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s previous film, “Leviathan,” was nominated in 2014, while “A Fantastic Woman” director Sebastián Lelio and “The Square” director Ruben Östlund had previous features, “Gloria” and “Force Majeure,” that came close to being nominated in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Sweden has won three times out of fifteen nominations, Hungary has won twice out of nine, and Russia has won once out of six. This is the second nomination for Chile, following “No” in 2012, and the first for Lebanon. “In the Fade,” from Germany, won the Golden Globe and the Critics’ Choice Award but didn’t make this list.

Who should win: The one film on this list that truly astounded was “The Insult,” which takes what should be a simple disagreement and turns it into something much more representative of clashing cultures. “A Fantastic Woman” and “On Body and Soul” were both very strong, while I felt the same way about “Loveless” and “The Square” as I did about their directors’ previous films: some decent features but less than effective and well-rounded overall.

Who will win: I’m going to go ahead and predict The Insult even though that’s probably not smart and “The Square” or “A Fantastic Woman” will win.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary Feature


The competition: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Faces Places, Icarus, Last Men in Aleppo, Strong Island

Previous winners: OJ: Made in America, Amy, Citizenfour, Twenty Feet from Stardom, Searching for Sugar Man, Undefeated
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: There aren’t many helpful statistics here aside from two important notes: “Last Men in Aleppo” spotlights the White Helmets, who were the subject of last year’s Oscar-winning documentary short, and “Strong Island” director Yance Ford is the first openly transgender Oscar nominee. Three of these films are available on Netflix which means they may have been more wildly seen, but there isn’t one hot-button frontrunner the same way there has been each of the past five years. This is the first time since 2013 that not a single one of these films was nominated for the PGA documentary prize, which went to “Jane.”

Who should win: I really loved “Faces Places.” Of the rest, “Icarus” was very interesting also, but none of them really compare. Fortunately, this is a very good list, and I think I might have been more engaged by “Last Men in Aleppo” if I hadn’t already seen last year’s “The White Helmets.” Though it was much more narrative-focused, “Strong Island” was strong, and “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” was the weakest of the bunch but still decent and worthwhile.

Who will win: I think that Faces Places is different from the rest and optimistic enough to take this prize, but it could be any of these.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Animated Feature


The competition: The Boss Baby, The Breadwinner, Coco, Ferdinand, Loving Vincent

Previous winners: 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: “Coco” co-director Lee Unkrich won this award for “Toy Story 3” in 2010. “Coco” is from Pixar, which has won eight out of ten nominations. “The Boss Baby” is from Dreamworks, which has won two out of eleven nominations. “Ferdinand” is from 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky, which have earned several nominations apiece but no wins. “The Breadwinner” joins “Song of the Sea” and “The Secret of Kells” as the third nominee from the Irish Cartoon Saloon. “Loving Vincent” isn’t affiliated with any previously-nominated distributor or production company. “Coco” won the Golden Globe, the Critics’ Choice Award, the PGA Award, and the Annie Award. The only film ever to win all four and then lose the Oscar was “Cars,” and there’s no “Happy Feet” this year with a serious shot of upsetting.

Who should win: Two of these films were the last two I watched in any category. “The Boss Baby” does not belong here, and I think there are very few people who would argue that. “Ferdinand” is a perfectly good movie, though it’s not the best of this bunch. Both “The Breadwinner” and “Loving Vincent” address adult themes in creative and compelling ways, but nothing compares to the wondrous, seemingly universally-adored “Coco.”

Who will win: There are some years where this category isn’t locked, but we have a film in the vein of “Inside Out” and “Frozen.” There’s no way that Coco doesn’t take home the award.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Movie with Abe: Ferdinand

Ferdinand
Directed by Carlos Saldanha
Released December 15, 2017

Most people just want to fit in, and some are lucky enough to be born into a life that suits them well. Gender, socioeconomic status, geographical location, and many more factors can make or break people if the pressures put upon them to conform to some familial or societal expectation are too strong. A number of great films tell the stories of protagonists who overcome the odds and persevere despite being constantly told that they can’t accomplish what they want or be who they want to be. Animated films usually find creative ways to depict the world, and exploring how animals, like humans, might not always be born into the right roles.

Ferdinand is a young bull who grows up watching his father train to be a bullfighter on a ranch in Spain. Though he admires his father, he is constantly teased for his aversion to any sort of violence and his sweeter side. When his father is picked for a match and does not return, Ferdinand runs away and is taken in by Nina and her father, a florist, who treat him as a beloved household family pet along with their dog. When Ferdinand grows to be huge, his innocent desire to attend a flower festival leads to the public perception that he is a menace, sending him straight back to the same ranch he grew up on, where he is now the largest bull and the one who, with the help of a talkative goat named Lupe, must figure out a way to save everyone from certain doom once they are either chosen for a fight or deemed worthless.

There’s the same kind of wonderful message in this film that exists in so many animated films, and this one is actually based on a 1936 children’s book by Munro Leaf. Some lines indicate more depth, like “Where do you think the word bully comes from? It ain’t from chickens!” while others are played much more for laughs, like Ferdinand, traipsing carefully around a store packed with fragile dishes, telling himself, “Think thin, you’re a two-thousand-pound feather.” All the animals on the ranch have talents, which does lead to unnecessary musical numbers, but it also represents a multicultural cast representing a number of different countries.

This film, which is one of the nominees for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, is a decently entertaining flick that, while enjoyable enough for adults, is definitely geared much more towards kids, unlike the film that’s sure to win the Oscar, “Coco.” The voice cast is great, led by John Cena as the affable, excitable Ferdinand and featuring a number of comedians, including Kate McKinnon as Lupe. This is, more than anything, a sweet film that imagines animals as being especially human, looking around and determining for themselves what they want to make of their time in the world.

B+

Movie with Abe: Coco

Coco
Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
Released November 21, 2017

Death is a difficult idea for children to process, one that often has to be addressed in cinema. This reviewer remembers vividly the sight of a cast member from “South Pacific” returning to the stage to take his bow at the end of the performance long after his character had died, offering an opportunity to see him again that doesn’t usually come in movies. Exploring a culture-specific tradition that honors those who are no longer with the living is an exceptional and creative way to approach this concept for audiences of all ages, not diminishing what it means for someone to be gone but addressing it in a way that celebrates the power of being remembered.

In Mexico, twelve-year-old Miguel wants nothing more than to be a musician. His grandmother strictly forbids music, a policy dictated initially by his great-grandmother Coco, who is now ninety-nine years old, because her father was a musician who abandoned her mother. When Miguel discovers that his great-great-grandfather was actually famed musician Ernesto de la Cruz, he sets out to steal the legendary rock star’s guitar to compete in a talent show for the Day of the Dead. When he tries to take it, he is transported to the Land of the Dead, where he must reverse the curse he has put upon himself for stealing from the dead by receiving a blessing from his deceased family members, one he will not accept if it forbids him from playing music. As he searches for his idol of an ancestor, he is assisted by Hector, a skeleton at risk of fading away completely since he cannot cross the bridge on the Day of the Dead because no one has put his picture up to remember him.

The notion of a passport control center where skeletons are scanned and matched to the ancient photos that adorn their descendants’ mantelpieces is a sweet, creative one that serves the double purpose of helping to visually explain what could happen on the other side on the Day of the Dead and attributing some value to what being in heaven looks like on this one day each year. Its inclusion helps to heighten what is otherwise a standard animated adventure, with Miguel racing against the clock to meet his ancestor, earn back his family’s love, and help a new friend be remembered.

Everything about this spectacular works well, and the fact that it incorporates a culture not often spotlighted in Disney and Pixar films amplifies its effectiveness. Its use of music and its signature Oscar-nominated song, “Remember Me,” enhance the whole experience and make it all the more memorable. Young voice actor Anthony Gonzalez is joined by the likes of Gael Garcina Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, and Jaime Camil for an entertaining ride with a serious side that functions as a heartwarming film that transforms itself into a terrific tearjerker. This film is a lock to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar this year and would surely and deservedly be at the head of the pack any year.

B+

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Visual Effects


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

Previous winners: The Jungle Book, Ex Machina, Interstellar, Gravity, Life of Pi, Hugo, Inception
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: On the technical side of things: Nelson won previously for "Gladiator," and both he and Hoover have two previous nominations. Sudick has five previous nominations, while the other three have all been recognized for other Marvel films. Rosenbaum has won both times he was previously nominated, for "Forrest Gump" and "Avatar." White and Benza have been nominated before. Morris won for "The Golden Compass," Scanlan won for "Babe," and Corbould won for "Inception." Letteri has four wins out of nine previous nominations, Lemmon won last year for "The Jungle Book," and Barrett has two previous bids. At the Visual Effects Society Awards, “War for the Planet of the Apes” and “Blade Runner 2049” split most of the prizes. At BAFTA, “Blade Runner 2049” beat “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “War for the Planet of the Apes,” and two other films not nominated here.

All five of this year’s nominees are part of series or franchises that have previously been nominated here. Every “Star Wars” movie except for “Revenge of the Sith,” including the two entries released in the past two years, has been honored, with only the original three films winning the award. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” were cited in 2014 and 2011, and the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” was also nominated in 2014. Though this year’s entry isn’t a continuation but a reboot, “King Kong” did win this prize in 2005, and the 1976 version also won a special achievement award. Lastly, the original “Blade Runner” was a nominee in 1982 but lost to “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”

What does that mean for this year? Last year’s win for the live-action “The Jungle Book” suggests that something like “War of the Planet of the Apes,” which seems to be pretty popular, will prevail, though theoretically “Kong: Skull Island” could too. There’s no reason to think that either “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” or “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” would break through now when recent installments of both haven’t won. And then there’s “Blade Runner 2049,” which is also nominated in four other categories and is truly an astounding visual effort.

Who should win: I get that animating a whole lot of apes is impressive, but there wasn’t much else about “War of the Planet of the Apes” that astounded me, especially in comparison to the previous films in the series. “Kong: Skull Island” was actually cooler, with so many different creatures brought to life. The same goes for “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” which I’d be more than happy to see win but can’t imagine would happen. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a great choice as most films in its series are, but I’d give this to “Blade Runner 2049” for truly wowing my eyes with its depiction of its dystopian future.

Who will win: Per my above analysis, this should be a race between two films. “War for the Planet of the Apes” has a lot of buzz and could well overtake Blade Runner 2049, which is nominated in four other categories and I think should be able to maintain its lead here.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Makeup and Hairstyling


The competition: Darkest Hour (Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick), Victoria and Abdul (Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard), Wonder (Arjen Tuiten)

Previous winners: Suicide Squad, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Dallas Buyers Club, Les Miserables, The Iron Lady, The Wolfman
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: Only Tsuji has been nominated before, for “Click” and “Norbit.” Both “Darkest Hour” and “Wonder” contended for all three Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Awards – hair styling, makeup, and special makeup effects. “Darkest Hour” won two prizes, and “Victoria and Abdul” wasn't nominated there at all. All three of these films were nominated along with two others at BAFTA, where “Darkest Hour” prevailed. The last film to win for primarily one central character’s makeup was “The Iron Lady” in 2011, with “Hitchcock,” “Foxcatcher,” “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared,” and “A Man Called Ove” losing to bigger-scale operations “Les Miserables,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and “Suicide Squad.”

Who should win: I’m still puzzled by the omission of “I, Tonya” here in favor of “Victoria and Abdul,” which didn’t seem all that impressive. “Wonder,” a delightful film, was surely a daily endeavor, and a productive one at that. I don’t think anything can compare to “Darkest Hour,” however, for completely transforming Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill and making the rest of its cast look right too.

Who will win: I suppose “Wonder” could take it, but I would be pretty shocked if Darkest Hour wasn’t rewarded here.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Sound Editing


The competition: Baby Driver (Julian Slater), Blade Runner 2049 (Mark Mangini and Theo Green), Dunkirk (Richard King and Alex Gibson), The Shape of Water (Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce)

Previous winners: Arrival, Mad Max: Fury Road, American Sniper, Gravity, Skyfall/Zero Dark Thirty, Hugo, Inception
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: Mangini has five previous nominations, winning on his most recent try for “Mad Max: Fury Road.” King is tied for the most wins in this category, with three, for “Master and Commander,” “The Dark Knight,” and “Inception,” and an additional three nominations. Wood has three previous nominations and Klyce has two. At the Motion Picture Sound Editors Awards, “Blade Runner 2049” defeated every other film nominated here in one category, while “Dunkirk” took another prize.

Who should win: Obviously there’s overlap with the Best Sound category, which boasts the same nominees, so I’ll do my best to make the proper distinctions. “The Shape of Water” and “Blade Runner 2049” were great but wouldn’t top my list. “Baby Driver” made the most of its visual cues and matched them with aural responses, while “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” simulated the sound of space battles exceptionally well. Ultimately, the gunfire and grandeur of “Dunkirk” wins out for me.

Who will win: Many people think that “Baby Driver” could triumph here, as could “Blade Runner 2049,” but I’ll stick pick Dunkirk.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Sound


The competition: Baby Driver (Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin and Mary H. Ellis), Blade Runner 2049 (Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill and Mac Ruth), Dunkirk (Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker and Gary A. Rizzo), The Shape of Water (Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern and Glen Gauthier), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Stuart Wilson)

Previous winners: Hacksaw Ridge, Mad Max: Fury Road, Whiplash, Gravity, Les Miserables, Hugo, Inception
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: Hemphill has eight previous nominations, with one win for “The Last of the Mohicans.” Barlett has one previous bid and Ruth has two. Landaker has eight previous nominations, with three wins, for “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “Speed.” Weingarten has three previous nominations and Rizzo has one. Parker has eight previous nominations, with wins for “The English Patient” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Semanick has ten previous nominations, with wins for “The Return of the King” and “King Kong.” Wilson has four previous nominations and Klyce has three. “Dunkirk” defeated all these other nominees aside from “Blade Runner 2049,” which wasn’t cited, at the Cinema Audio Society Awards.

Who should win: These are all superb choices. “The Shape of Water” would probably be my last choice only because so many other elements that overwhelm the sound. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was cool but my basic understanding of these categories should put the emphasis on sound editing there instead. “Baby Driver” smoothly incorporated music into its chase scenes and nearly every other scene as well, which is a feat. “Dunkirk” was an aural achievement which would be perfectly deserving of this win, though I’d probably opt for “Blade Runner 2049,” which used its sound as an optimal, critical part of its dark experience.

Who will win: I’m torn between “Blade Runner 2049” and Dunkirk, but I think it’s safer to choose the latter.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Song


The competition: “Mystery of Love” – Call Me By Your Name (Sufjan Stevens), “Remember Me” – Coco (Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez), “This Is Me” – The Greatest Showman (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), “Stand Up for Something” – Marshall (Diane Warren and Lonnie R. Lynn), “Mighty River” – Mudbound (Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson)

Previous winners: 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), We Belong Together (Toy Story 3)
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: Two songwriting duos are recent winners in this category. Pasek and Paul won for “City of Stars” last year and were up for another song from the film. Anderson-Lopez and Lopez won in 2013 for “Let It Go.” Lynn won in 2014 for “Glory” and Warren has been nominated eight times before. Blige is also nominated for starring in her film this year. While there was a five-year stretch where the Golden Globe winner didn’t even go on to be nominated for an Oscar, the last three years have seen the same song take both home. “This Is Me” won the Golden Globe and “Remember Me” won for the Critics’ Choice Award, which has been about as predictive as the Globes since its inception in 1998.

Who should win: I’ve tried to pay attention this year to how the songs, all of which are great and would be worthy winners, are used in each film. The nominated songs from “Marshall” and “Mudbound” both relate strongly to the themes in their films as they play over the end credits, punctuating the power of what’s been presented. “Call Me By Your Name” features its tune playing while its two protagonists experience euphoria far from their normal lives and assists some incredible visuals. The song in “Coco” plays a vital part in its storyline, and its words are poignant even if its melody isn’t as superb. And even though it’s not my favorite song from the movie, the nominated song from “The Greatest Showman” gets my vote for how it helps to define the individuality of circus performers and their underappreciated value in society, not to mention that it’s memorable and catchy.

Who will win: It’s natural that the two songs which are relevant to their film’s plots and are sung by characters would be the frontrunners. It’s really a battle of the two recent songwriting duos. “Coco” gets a slight bump from its animated feature nomination, which it’s guaranteed to win, while this is the only bid for “The Greatest Showman,” which has its song playing everywhere. After hearing “Remember Me” and seeing how it’s used in the film, I can understand its case but it's no “Let It Go.” I do think that This Is Me will be the one to triumph and give “The Greatest Showman” an Oscar win.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Score


The competition: Dunkirk (Hans Zimmer), Phantom Thread (Jonny Greenwood), The Shape of Water (Alexandre Desplat), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (John Williams), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Carter Burwell)

Previous winners: La La Land, The Hateful Eight, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Gravity, Life of Pi, The Artist, The Social Network
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: This category contains three bigwigs and two composers who have been doing great things for the past few years. Williams has a momentous fifty previous nominations, with five wins, including for the original “Star Wars” and most recently for “Schindler’s List” in 1993. This is his fifth nomination for a “Star Wars” film, after the original trilogy and “The Force Awakens.” Zimmer has eleven nominations and one win, for “The Lion King.” Desplat has eight previous nominations and one win, for “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” This is Burwell’s second bid, after “Carol” in 2015, and Greenwood’s first, though his “There Will Be Blood” score would likely have been nominated in 2007 if it had been deemed eligible. In the past two decades, this award has gone to a film not nominated for Best Picture only three times. At the International Film Music Critics Association Awards this year, “Phantom Thread” beat “The Shape of Water” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” for Score of the Year. “The Shape of Water” has won the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, and the Critics’ Choice Award,

Who should win: I can’t quite understand why Williams is able to be nominated for what is essentially an adapted score in “The Last Jedi,” though upon listening to it, I did find it to be quite compelling and exciting, especially since, unlike so many reboots, the music doesn’t stray too far from the classic melodies and sounds like it with enough new cues to make it a bit different. The other four truly capture and define their films’ spirits. “Dunkirk” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” all both deliberately paced and stylized for their stories. “Phantom Thread” is melodic and in keeping with its film’s slow-paced beauty. “The Shape of Water” sounds like the fairy tale that it is, and therefore that’s my pick.

Who will win: While I’m sure that “Dunkirk” and “Phantom Thread” have their fans, there seems to be enough of a consensus that The Shape of Water should take this without too much trouble.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Film Editing


The competition: Baby Driver (Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos), Dunkirk (Lee Smith), I, Tonya (Tatiana S. Riegel), The Shape of Water (Sidney Wolinsky), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Jon Gregory)

Previous winners: Hacksaw Ridge, Mad Max: Fury Road, Whiplash, Gravity, Argo, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: Only one of these nominees has been cited before, and that’s Smith, who contended for “Master and Commander” and “The Dark Knight.” Only five times since the 1960s have films not nominated for Best Picture taken this award, which doesn’t bode well for “Baby Driver” and “I, Tonya,” which are each up for just two other prizes. The winner of this award, however, 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. At the ACE Eddie Awards, “Dunkirk” bested “The Shape of Water” in the drama category and “I, Tonya” beat the other two in the comedy race. Four of the last ten Oscars winners, including last year’s, didn’t win either ACE Eddie. At BAFTA, where “I, Tonya” wasn’t nominated, “Baby Driver” took this prize.

Who should win: The construction of “I, Tonya” is clever and fast-paced but also irritating at times. Fans of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” might advocate for it, but I found its narrative to be uneven and less than compelling in the way that it was assembled. “Baby Driver” is a fun inclusion, and though I don’t think it’s worthy of a win, it would be cool. “The Shape of Water” flows very well and remains furiously interesting throughout, but I’d probably vote for the very careful and deliberate structure employed to great effect in “Dunkirk.”

Who will win: With two top Best Picture contenders – “Get Out” and “Lady Bird” – not in this race and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” weakened by the snub of its director, this is a race between “The Shape of Water” and Dunkirk, and I’ll put my money firmly on the latter. If “I, Tonya” or “Baby Driver” won, I’d be truly surprised.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Costume Design


The competition: Beauty and the Beast (Jacqueline Durran), Darkest Hour (Jacqueline Durran), Phantom Thread (Mark Bridges), The Shape of Water (Luis Sequeira), Victoria and Abdul (Consolata Boyle)

Previous winners: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina, The Artist, Alice in Wonderland
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: Double nominee Durran has been nominated four times before, winning in 2012 for “Anna Karenina.” Bridges has been nominated twice, winning for “The Artist” in 2011. Boyle has been nominated twice, including last year for “Florence Foster Jenkins.” This is the first nomination for Sequeira. “Darkest Hour” and “Victoria and Abdul” were not nominated for the Costume Designers Guild Awards, where “The Shape of Water” surprisingly defeated “Phantom Thread” and “Beauty and the Beast” lost to a film not recognized here, “Wonder Woman.” All but “Victoria and Abdul” competed at BAFTA, where “Phantom Thread” prevailed. Eight times in the past decade, this award went to a Best Picture nominee.

Who should win: “Victoria and Abdul” is the least impressive of this list, outfitting Brits and Indians in period garb. “Darkest Hour” does the same for its British government officials, while “The Shape of Water” also clothes its period characters in exceptional outfits. “Beauty and the Beast” is all about gorgeous costumes, and therefore would probably be my vote over the very relevant and central dresses and suits featured and created in “Phantom Thread.”

Who will win: Unless “The Shape of Water” sweeps the technical categories, this is a battle between Beauty and the Beast and “Phantom Thread.” Though the latter is probably the favorite, I think history favors female-centric period pieces, which will lead to the animation adaptation winning. But the surprise CDG win suggests anything is possible.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Production Design


The competition: Beauty and the Beast (Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer), Blade Runner 2049 (Dennis Gassner and Alessandra Querzola), Darkest Hour (Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer), Dunkirk (Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis), The Shape of Water (Paul D. Austerberry, Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin)

Previous winners: La La Land, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Great Gatsby, Lincoln, Hugo, Alice in Wonderland
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: Greenwood and Spencer have been nominated four times together before, most recently for “Anna Karenina” in 2012. Gassner has five previous nominations and a win for “Bugsy.” Crowley and Fettis have each been nominated three times previously, most recently together in 2014 for “Interstellar.” At the ADG Awards, “The Shape of Water” bested “Darkest Hour” and “Dunkirk” in the period race, while “Blade Runner 2049” beat “Beauty and the Beast” in the fantasy category. Only twice in the past decade did a film that didn’t win any of the three ADG prizes go on to win this award: “Lincoln” in 2012 and “Alice in Wonderland” in 2010 (though both were nominated). This exact list led to “The Shape of Water” winning the BAFTA. Eight times in the past decade, this award went to a Best Picture nominee.

Who should win: These are some good-looking films, and I’d be fine with any of them winning. I think I’d prefer “Dunkirk” over “Darkest Hour” though both are similar in content, with the latter emphasizing government meetings and the former finding the men on the ground in the heat of battle. “Beauty and the Beast” pops with color and does a strong job of bringing an animated story to life. “Blade Runner 2049” has a distinct and emphatic look, but it doesn’t quite compare to the beauty and uniqueness of “The Shape of Water,” which would be my choice.

Who will win: Remembering that another Guillermo Del Toro film, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” won this award eleven years ago, I’m picking The Shape of Water, with the understanding that any of these films aside from “Darkest Hour” could realistically win. I’d bet on “Beauty and the Beast” as the next in line to take it.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Cinematography


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

Previous winners: La La Land, The Revenant, Birdman, Gravity, Life of Pi, Hugo, Inception
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Deakins is the most-nominated cinematographer not to have won, with thirteen previous bids, most recently in 2015 for “Sicario.” Delbonnel has four previous nominations, last up for “Inside Llewyn Davis” in 2013. The other three are all first-time nominees, and Morrison makes history as the first woman ever nominated in this category. Deakins took home his fourth ASC Award either this month, though his past three ASC wins have all translated to Oscar losses. Since the ASC has existed, its winner has only gone on to win the Oscar thirteen out of thirty-two times, and five times in the past decade. “Blade Runner 2049” took the BAFTA, where all but “Mudbound” were nominated. A Best Picture nominee has won this award every year over the past decade, which doesn’t bode well for “Blade Runner 2049” and “Mudbound.”
Who should win: I’m not sure why exactly “Mudbound” is here since its aesthetics weren’t all that memorable to me. “Darkest Hour” amplified its story – and its lead character – with the way that it was filmed. “Dunkirk” jumped between three equally dazzling settings and would certainly be an unobjectionable choice. “The Shape of Water” was gorgeous and stylized in the way that it was presented, but I would go with “Blade Runner 2049” for its astonishing visual portrait of the future.
Who will win: “Dunkirk” and “The Shape of Water” will likely be rewarded in other technical categories, but that strengthens rather than weakens their chances here. I think “Darkest Hour” can be safely counted out, but watch out for Morrison to become the first woman nominated and the first woman to be win for “Mudbound.” I’d say that “The Shape of Water” has the best chance of knocking out what I hope and believe will be the winner, Blade Runner 2049.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay


The competition: Call Me By Your Name (James Ivory), The Disaster Artist (Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber), Logan (Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green), Molly’s Game (Aaron Sorkin), Mudbound (Virgil Williams and Dee Rees)

Previous winners: Moonlight, The Big Short, The Imitation Game, 12 Years a Slave, Argo, The Descendants, The Social Network
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: Ivory, who at 89 is the second-oldest Oscar nominee ever, has been nominated three times before as a director. Green was nominated in this category in 1998 for “Out of Sight.” Sorkin was nominated in this race in 2011 for “Moneyball” and won the year before for “The Social Network.” “Logan” is officially the first live-action superhero film nominated for screenwriting. Just one of these films – “Call Me By Your Name” – contends for Best Picture for the first time since 2006, when the lone Best Picture nominee, “The Departed,” won. “Call Me By Your Name” won the WGA Award, the Critics’ Choice Award, the BAFTA, and the Scripter.

Who should win: “Call Me By Your Name” is an impressive story with some very memorable scenes, and “Mudbound” works well as a narrative but doesn’t astound with its screenwriting. “Molly’s Game” is far from Sorkin’s best, and “Logan” represents an intriguing and creative adaptation of a franchise character into an R-rated format. “The Disaster Artist” eclipses them all with an engaging script that tells an unbelievable tale in a way that seems perfectly realistic despite its outrageousness and manages to be extremely entertaining.

Who will win: I can’t see a reason why Call Me By Your Name wouldn’t win.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Screenplay


The competition: The Big Sick (Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani), Get Out (Jordan Peele), Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig), The Shape of Water (Guillermo Del Toro and Vanessa Taylor), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)

Previous winners: Manchester by the Sea, Spotlight, Birdman, Her, Django Unchained, Midnight in Paris, The King’s Speech
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: Del Toro was nominated in this category a decade ago for “Pan’s Labyrinth.” McDonagh was nominated in this race for “In Bruges” in 2008 and won the live action short film prize for “Six Shooter” in 2005. Peele and Del Toro are also nominated as producers and directors of their films, McDonagh contends as a producer, and Gerwig is up for her directing. Only “The Big Sick” is not nominated for Best Picture. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which wasn’t eligible for WGA, won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA, while “Get Out,” which wasn’t cited by Globe voters at all, took the WGA and the Critics’ Choice Award.

Who should win: I wasn’t too fond of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” though I’d admit that its dialogue was sharp. “Get Out” is a clever concept, but I’d argue that the actual script isn’t worthy of nearly as much praise as it’s getting. “The Shape of Water” is a lovely story and the writing is wonderful, and the same is true of “Lady Bird.” My favorite, however, is “The Big Sick,” a winning comedic drama that succeeds on so many levels starting with the screenplay penned by the real-life couple that inspired it.

Who will win: I can only hope for a vote-split scenario that results in a victory for “Lady Bird,” but at this point I think that Get Out is bolstered by momentum and will eclipse “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Supporting Role


The competition: Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), Allison Janney (I, Tonya), Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread), Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird), and Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)

Previous winners: Viola Davis, Alicia Vikander, Patricia Arquette, Lupita N’yongo, Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Melissa Leo
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: Spencer, who won in 2011 for “The Help” and was nominated again last year for “Hidden Figures,” is the only returning nominee. Blige is also recognized for writing the nominated song from her film. Manville, Metcalf, and Spencer have their films nominated for Best Picture, though that’s hardly relevant to the outcome of this race. Janney has taken the Golden Globe, the SAG, the BAFTA, and the Critics’ Choice Award.

Who should win: I think there were other much more deserving performances in Blige’s film than hers, and so her inclusion here and throughout awards season is a mystery to me. Manville was a terrific part of her film, though I would have rather seen her nominated back in 2010 for her film-stealing performance in “Another Year.” Janney was extremely funny, and so was Metcalf, so I’d be fine with either of them as well as Spencer, who manages to play a similar role in so many movies yet make every character stand apart in a great way.

Who will win: While Metcalf might have more nominations for her film, Janney has been charging through awards season on the merits of her performance alone, so I can’t imagine what would stop her now.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Supporting Role


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

Previous winners: Mahershala Ali, Mark Rylance, J.K. Simmons, Jared Leto, Christoph Waltz, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: Plummer won this award in 2011 for “Beginners” and was also nominated in 2009 for “The Last Station,” and he becomes the oldest acting nominee ever at 88 this year. Dafoe was nominated in 2000 for “Shadow of the Vampire” and in 1986 for “Platoon.” Harrelson was nominated in 2009 for “The Messenger” and in 1996 for “The People vs. Larry Flynt.” Jenkins was nominated in 2008 for “The Visitor.” This is Rockwell’s first Oscar nomination, though he has won the Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA, and Critics’ Choice Award this awards season. This is the first time since 1991 that two actors from the same film have been nominated in this category, though the supporting actress race has boasted double nominees from the same film nine times since then, four of which led to a win for one of them. Harrelson, Jenkins, and Rockwell all star in Best Picture nominees, though that’s irrelevant to their chances.

Who should win: Plummer is good, especially since he joined the cast of his film just a month before it was released. Jenkins is wonderful, though I wish that his costar Michael Shannon had been here too for a far less likeable performance. I’d be more than happy to see Dafoe win even though I think so many other elements of his film should have accompanied him. Rockwell was very good, to be sure, but my vote would actually go to Harrelson, my favorite actor from the film who I remember liking a lot before an Oscar nomination for him was looking likely.

Who will win: Early prognosticators favored Dafoe, and there was some thought that Plummer could achieve enough momentum thanks to the impressive nature of his quick work taking on Kevin Spacey’s role following his firing form the film. But Rockwell has won everything so far and there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping him, especially given his film’s impressive nominations total.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Leading Role


The competition: Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Meryl Streep (The Post)

Previous winners: Emma Stone, Brie Larson, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: Streep makes history with her twenty-first Oscar nomination this year. She won in 2011 for “The Iron Lady,” in 1982 for “Sophie’s Choice,” and “Kramer vs. Kramer” in 1979. McDormand won this award in 1996 for “Fargo” and was also nominated in 1988 for “Mississippi Burning,” in 2000 for “Almost Famous,” and in 2005 for “North Country.” Ronan was nominated in 2015 for “Brooklyn” and in 2007 for “Atonement. “Hawkins was nominated in 2013 for “Blue Jasmine,” though I still wish she had been recognized in 2008 for “Happy-Go-Lucky.” Robbie is a first-time Oscar nominee. McDormand has taken home a Golden Globe, the SAG, the BAFTA, and the Critics’ Choice Award, and Ronan took the comedy Globe. All but Robbie have their films nominated for Best Picture, a statistic that’s notable only since the winner of this award hasn’t had their film win Best Picture since 2004.

Who should win: Streep will always be good but this isn’t her strongest performance, and the fact that she’s the only nominee for her film aside from her Best Picture bid would seem to indicate a default placement of her on this list. Robbie is committed and funny and would be a fine choice even if she’s not my first pick. McDormand is very good, but the performance and film aren’t as strong as her previous win for “Fargo.” Hawkins is lovely and so deserving, but I’d probably give it to Ronan, who perfectly captures director Greta Gerwig’s acting style and delivers a fantastic lead performance in her film.

Who will win: Streep and Robbie don’t have a shot. Hawkins needed to win more this awards season to be truly in the running. I don’t see much weakening McDormand’s domination, but Ronan is an easy choice that might be a great way to reward a film that seems destined to go home empty-handed.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Leading Role


The competition: Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)

Previous winners: Casey Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Eddie Redmayne, Matthew McConaughey, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jean Dujardin, Colin Firth
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!

The facts: Day-Lewis won three times: in 2012 for “Lincoln,” 2007 for “There Will Be Blood” and in 1989 for “My Left Foot.” He was also nominated in 2002 for “Gangs of New York” and in 1993 for “In the Name of the Father.” Washington won twice: in 2001 for “Training Day” and in 1989 for “Glory.” He was nominated last year for “Fences,” in 2012 for “Flight,” in 1999 for “The Hurricane,” in 1992 for “Malcolm X,” and in 1987 for “Cry Freedom.” Oldman was previously nominated in 2011 for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” This is the first nomination for both Chalamet and Kaluuya. Oldman has won the Globe, the SAG, the BAFTA, and the Critics’ Choice Award so far this season. James Franco, who isn’t nominated, won the comedy Globe for “The Disaster Artist.” All but Washington have their films nominated for Best Picture. The last time the star of a film not nominated for Best Picture won this prize was Jeff Bridges for “Crazy Heart” in 2009.

Who should win: I can’t understand why Washington is here given how much better his work and his films usually are. Kaluuya was the best part of his movie, though I don’t know that he should win from among this field. Chalamet has a bright future ahead of him, and he was certainly good in his film too. Day-Lewis purports that this is his last performance, and though he is strong as usual, he’s not as good as some of his previous turns, like my favorite, “Gangs of New York.” None of these four compare to Oldman, who was completely unrecognizable and fully commanding in his portrayal of Winston Churchill.

Who will win: Washington doesn’t stand a chance, and I’d be pretty shocked in Kaluuya or Day-Lewis won also. The incredible nature of Oldman’s performance is likely to propel him to a win, and his primary challenger, Chalamet, doesn’t have significant wins or enough buzz for his film to overtake him at this point.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Movie with Abe: The Boss Baby

The Boss Baby
Directed by Tom McGrath
Released March 31, 2017

Beginning in 1937 with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” Disney produced a number of classic animated films, with a handful of particularly well-received entries produced in the 1990s. “Beauty and the Beast,” released in 1991, was the first film to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, losing to a movie not at all of the same genre, “The Silence of the Lambs.” A decade later, an individual category was created to honor animated films for what they are, achievements that do not involve live action but instead feature any number of methods to create landscapes, characters, and stories. I can’t imagine that anyone had “The Boss Baby” in mind when they came up with that idea.

Tim (Miles Bakshi) is a seven-year-old kid living happily with his parents (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow). Everything changes when a new baby brother arrives in the form of the Boss Baby (Alec Baldwin), who takes all of their attention. When Tim becomes jealous, he discovers that the Boss Baby can talk and is on a secret mission from Baby Corp to make sure that babies remain cuter than anything else, which is being threatened by the unleashing of a new product by the rival Puppy Co, where Tim’s parents work. Initially at odds, Tim and the Boss Baby must work together to make sure that babykind is forever protected, all the while pretending that the Boss Baby is nothing more like an adorable toddler.

If this summary sounds unsophisticated, that’s because it is. This is hardly the stupidest film ever released, but it’s also far from the cleverest. This reviewer only watched it because of its relatively surprising Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. The eligibility of twenty-six features somehow resulted in this film being chosen, despite the fact that there is nothing innovative or special about its animation and its story is far from original, though it has received far better notices than the universally-reviled “Baby Geniuses,” which this reviewer actually enjoyed back when it was released in 1999.

It’s possible that kids will enjoy this film, though a lot of the humor is aimed more at adults, who will surely be spending the entirety of their viewing experience rolling their eyes at the film’s jokes. Alec Baldwin is the very recognizable voice of the title character, trying on a very different role from the type that he usually plays, with Kimmel and Kudrow obviously having fun and Steve Buscemi adding his signature energy to voice the main villain. This film isn’t insufferable, but it’s also far from funny and definitely one of the lowest quality films to be nominated for an Oscar.

C

Movie with Abe: Marshall

Marshall
Directed by Reginald Hudlin
Released October 13, 2017

Great people deserve to be profiled, and when films come out about them, it’s a chance for the world to get to know someone that may not be familiar to the latest generation. In the case of Thurgood Marshall, travel enthusiasts may recognize his name from its association with BWI Airport in Washington, and others will know that he was the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. To tell his story, this film zeroes in one influential case early in his career with the NAACP, a landmark instance in which he was forced to confront rampant racism that threatened to convict his client based on the color of his skin alone.

Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) arrives in Bridgeport, Connecticut to defend Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a black chauffeur who has been accused of raping and trying to kill his white employer Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson). The unsympathetic judge (James Cromwell) refuses to allow Marshall to speak in court, forcing him to stand silently behind a white insurance lawyer, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), who works to dispute the evidence alleged by the prosecutor (Dan Stevens) and show that the deck has been unfairly stacked against his client.

So many moments during this case are upsetting for the blatant way in which white witnesses are presumed to be telling the truth while the word of a black man is questioned at every turn. The evident bias of the judge is particularly problematic, and his denial of Marshall’s request to represent Spell means that Marshall must deliver compelling speeches through the initially unwilling Friedman, who can’t possibly relate to Spell’s life experience, though his own encounters with anti-Semitism as a Jew in America right before World War II are featured throughout the film. The notion, posited by Marshall early on in the film, that Spell and Strubing might have had sex but that it was consensual, is one that goes over particularly poorly, promptly angry responses from both the prosecution and the judge for daring to suggest such a horror aloud.

It’s never easy to watch a film that depicts a time in history where these discriminatory opinions were not just held by people throughout America but presented in legal arguments, and this film manages to tell its story in a compelling way that’s assisted by humor thanks mostly to the dynamic that Marshall and Friedman have. Bozeman, who stars as the title character in the recently released “Black Panther,” portrays Marshall as a determined, immutable advocate, while Gad turns in a relatively serious performance that comes off well. Emmy winner Brown is also well-cast, and Cromwell, Hudson, and Stevens are certainly convincing in their depiction of unapologetic racists of the time. This film isn’t a sweeping biography of Marshall and all of his achievements, which would surely be interesting, but it does select a worthwhile excerpt from his incredible life and do a great job conveying a piece of his legacy.

B+

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Movie with Abe: Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
Directed by Bill Condon
Released March 17, 2017

Disney’s original “Beauty and the Beast,” the company’s thirtieth animated feature and the first of its format ever to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, was a huge hit when it was released back in 1991. The themes of inner beauty and emphasis on acting kindly and treating everyone with respect were amplified by a delightful and creative house full of former servers transformers into animated objects singing songs. It should probably come as a surprise that it took nearly three decades to adapt it into a live-action musical, one that was a predictable success even if its existence isn’t entirely necessary.

A cruel and egotistical prince (Dan Stevens) is turned into a beast by a witch to teach him a lesson about his behavior and isolated from the world until a man named Maurice (Kevin Kline) happens upon his castle and tries to steal a rose. Alarmed at her father’s disappearance, the unique, educated Belle (Emma Watson) comes to find him and takes his place as the beast’s prisoner. When Belle’s overzealous suitor Gaston (Luke Evans) learns of this beast, he sets out to kill the creature and once and for all compel the uninterested recipient of his affection to marry him.

This is merely the latest translation of a classic animated Disney film to a live-action format, following “The Jungle Book” last year, and considering the incredible box office take, it’s sure not to be the last. This colorful movie does its best to mimic the magic of the original film and its boundless showcase of its scenery, using landscapes, set decoration, and visual effects to create a stunning environment. Its Oscar nominations for Best Production Design and Best Costume Design are well-deserved, and all the aesthetics of this adaptation are commendable and contribute to a cohesive graphic experience.

Watson, who gained fame for her role as a smart bookworm in the “Harry Potter” film series, is an extremely logical choice to play Belle, who is considered odd by all she encounters and stands out from the rest of the people in her village due to her love of reading and desire to see the world. The relationship she forms with the Beast, played by Dan Stevens, who established himself as a heartthrob on “Downton Abbey,” feels genuine, aided by Stevens’ layered performance. Supporting turns from Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts are delightful and extremely entertaining. As a whole, the film takes some time to get started, but ultimately it proves to be an enjoyable experience pleasing both the eyes and the ears.

B

Movie with Abe: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Directed by James Gunn
Released May 5, 2017

Sequels are everywhere these days, and when they follow an astronomical hit, expectations are high and audiences are usually disappointed. The key to a successful sequel is to include all the elements that made people enjoy the first film so much and to expand upon the characters and their adventures in a way that mimics the excitement of the original endeavor. Marvel is churning out movie over movie, producing so many sequels each year that it’s almost impossible to keep count. The second chapter in what might best be described as its lightest franchise is quite the production, and fortunately it’s even better than the first effort.

Fresh off their exploits from the first film, the team of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are hired to protect batteries for Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) and the Sovereigns, resulting in their acquisition of Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). When Rocket decides to steal a few batteries after they complete their mission, they must flee to a nearby planet, where Peter meets his powerful father, Ego (Kurt Russell), who encourages him to embrace his true potential while the team is pursued by Yondu (Michael Rooker) on behalf of the very angry Sovereigns.

This is a film that knows exactly what it is, a science fiction epic which emphasizes humor over everything else. Baby Groot opens the film dancing to the song “Mr. Blue Sky” to properly set the tone for this adventure, which includes many jokes and all of the characters giving each other a hard time, even in the heat of a potentially fatal battle. These personalities have now been well-established, and getting to see them for a second time shows how great they truly are.

The plot of this film provides a fitting setting and setup for its characters to go about their latest shenanigans, demonstrating how well they can work together when they actually get along and how rarely they try to get along. All of the actors are superb, with Debicki, Russell, and Chris Sullivan from “This Is Us” as the humorously-named Taserface proving to be worthwhile additions. The Oscar-nominated visual effects certainly deserve praise for their creation of so many different creatures and places in the galaxy. The glimpse of this team at the end in the trailer for “Avengers: Infinity War” shows just how anticipated another outing with them is, and for good reason. This installment proves that this franchise is definitely one that earn its sequels.

B+

Monday, February 19, 2018

Movie with Abe: Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Released March 10, 2017

Not all movies are created equally. Many films are considered failures because they try to be something that they’re not and don’t meet expectations. A monster movie is never going to win Best Picture at the Oscars, and therefore the secret to success is a film knowing what it wants to be and aiming to be exactly that. This franchise reboot, which is only on this reviewer’s radar because of the Oscar nomination it received for Best Visual Effects, is very good at just that: being a mindless monster movie and nothing more.

In 1973, Bill Randa (John Goodman) uses the considerable resources his government organization Monarch has to enlist British military veteran James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and American Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) to head to the mysterious Skull Island. Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who describes herself as an anti-war photographer, joins them to capture what she sees, which turns out to be an incredible array of enormous animals, some of which are friendly but most of which see the human arrival as an invasion against which they have to defend, including what one stranded lieutenant (John C. Reilly) who has been on the island for decades describes as the king of the island, better known as Kong.

There is a lot of talent here that one wouldn’t normally expect to star in a film like this. Recent Oscar winner Brie Larson is the most glaring example, though her role is also amplified beyond that of just a throwaway character all but guaranteed to die a violent death under Kong’s giant foot or at the hands of some other creature. Hiddleston expands beyond his Marvel enterprise to anchor a new franchise, and Jackson and Goodman are both veterans who are clearly just having fun here. A handful of supporting players, including Corey Hawkins from “24: Legacy,” Jason Mitchell from “Mudbound,” and Shea Whigham from just about everything these days, contribute as needed as those likely doomed to forgettable fates.

I remember seeing a moving poster for this film at bus stops around New York City a year ago and thinking how incredible the visuals looked, and it’s true that the effects are hard at work creating so many different monsters and mesmerizing creatures to astound and destroy the human explorers. Apparently this film is part of an epic series also involving Godzilla, set to culminate in a film that has the two giant monsters facing off against each other. That might appeal to some, but this truly is mindless entertainment at its best, just as easily avoidable because it’s marketed to be just what it is.

B-