Thursday, February 28, 2019

AFT Awards: Best Art Direction

This is the eighth category of the 12th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

The Old Man and the Gun, American Animals, Bohemian Rhapsody, Black Panther, Annihilation, Disobedience, First Man, Roma

The winner:
If Beale Street Could Talk (Mark Friedberg and Kris Moran) illustrated a beautiful world quietly bursting with color.

Other nominees:
The Favourite (Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton)
Colette (Michael Carlin, Lisa Chugg and Nora Talmaier)
The Death of Stalin (Cristina Casali and Charlotte Dirickx)
Mary Poppins Returns (John Myhre and Gordon Sim)

AFT Awards: Best Cinematography

This is the seventh category of the 12th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

The Rider, First Man, The Old Man and the Gun, Breath, If Beale Street Could Talk, Widows, A Boy. A Girl. A Dream., Mid90s

The winner:
American Animals (Ole Bratt Birkeland) lensed a dark story within a comedic frame, entirely focused on the events at hand with sharp camerawork and a purposeful eye.

Other nominees:
Cold War (Lukasz Zal)
Disobedience (Danny Cohen)
Roma (Alfonso Cuaron)
The Favourite (Robbie Ryan)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

AFT Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay

This is the sixth category of the 12th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):
Black Panther, Breath, Burning, Shelter

If Beale Street Could Talk
The Old Man and the Gun
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Ralph Breaks the Internet

The winner:
Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz) told a delicate story that worked in extraordinary detail about its characters’ environment to frame a tale of forbidden love.

Other nominees:
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Desiree Akhavan and Cecilia Frugiuele)
The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, Peter Fellows and Fabien Nury)
Leave No Trace (Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini)
Juliet, Naked (Evgenia Peretz, Jim Taylor and Tamara Jenkins)

AFT Awards: Best Original Screenplay

This is the fifth category of the 12th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):
Colette, Eighth Grade, Flower, In a Relationship, Night Comes On

Duck Butter
Never Goin' Back
The Insult
Green Book

The winner:
American Animals (Bart Layton) made the best case possible for the documentary-narrative hybrid, smartly weaving in interviews and actual people with the actors playing them in a thrilling script.

Other nominees:
The Favourite (Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara)
All About Nina (Eva Vives)
Jonathan (Gregory Davis, Peter Nickowitz and Bill Oliver)
First Match (Olivia Newman)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

AFT Awards: Best Actress in a Supporting Role

This is the fourth category of the 12th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them and drawn from a pool of approximately 200 films. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Andrea Riseborough (The Death of Stalin), Claire Foy (First Man), Haley Lu Richardson (Support the Girls), Shayna McHale (Support the Girls)

Tessa Thompson (Sorry to Bother You)
Anna Camp (Egg)
Amy Adams (Vice)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Danai Gurira (Black Panther)

The winner:
Elizabeth Debicki (Widows) revealed a depth of character that wasn’t apparent from her appearance or even her demeanor, far more resilient and aware of her aspirations than she let anyone else know.

Other nominees:
Rachel McAdams (Disobedience) disappeared into the repressed identity of her character, playing a part but fully aware that it didn’t include her most crucial attribute. Barbara Lennie (Everybody Knows) stood out among a cast of much better-known actors for her determination to be heard and to be specific when surrounded by rumors. Letitia Wright (Black Panther) demonstrated a wondrous energy and zeal for the work she did and the intelligence she possessed, fully capturing the spirit of her film. Nina Arianda (Stan and Ollie) put on an accent but conveyed her character’s filter-less judgment through much more than just her voice.

AFT Awards: Best Actor in a Supporting Role

This is the third category of the 12th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them and drawn from a pool of approximately 200 films. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Barry Keoghan (American Animals), Fabrizio Zacharee Guido (Family), Jason Ritter (The Tale), Robert Forster (What They Had)

Brian Tyree Henry (Widows)
Christopher Plummer (Boundaries)
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Steven Yeun (Burning)
Na-kel Smith (Mid90s)

The winner:
Alessandra Nivola (Disobedience) evoked a lifetime experience of living within orthodox religion to deliver a heartfelt and extremely human performance about dealing with unexpected and unavoidable events.

Other nominees:
Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite) matched the three women at the heart of his film with his genuine glee for treachery and pettiness. Rafael Casal (Blindspotting) was incredibly vulnerable in a role that outwardly projected strength, sharing his true self even when he believed himself to be a contradiction. Daniel Kaluuya (Widows) proved that he can play bad very well, terrifying those around him with his quiet penchant for cruel violence. Simon Russell Beale (The Death of Stalin) was the master operator, so delightfully in control of everything around him until his plans evolved well beyond him.

Monday, February 25, 2019

AFT Awards: Best Actress in a Leading Role

This is the second category of the 12th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them and drawn from a pool of approximately 200 films. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Alia Shawkat (Duck Butter), Cami Morrone (Never Goin' Back), Daniela Vega (A Fantastic Woman), Elvire Emanuelle (First Match), Glenn Close (The Wife), Maia Mitchell (Never Goin' Back), Vera Farmiga (Boundaries)

Keira Knightley (Colette)
Rose Byrne (Juliet, Naked)
Lady Gaga (A Star is Born)
Jessica Barden (The New Romantic)
Kiersey Clemons (Hearts Beat Loud)

The winner:
Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace) conveyed exceptional maturity as a young girl raised by a father eager to be removed from society, negotiating natural impulses for human companionship with a loyalty to her parent.

Other nominees:
Mary Elizabeth Winstead (All About Nina) grabbed the microphone in her film and took full control, inviting audiences along to watch the incredible rollercoaster of her professional and personal life. Rachel Weisz (The Favourite), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), and Emma Stone (The Favourite) shared the spotlight as three women who all used each other for different things, fashioning the hilarious and wicked environment around them with their truly terrific turns.

AFT Awards: Best Actor in a Leading Role

This is the first category of the 12th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them and drawn from a pool of approximately 200 films. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Nick Offerman (Hearts Beat Loud), Sunny Siljic (Mid90s)

Daveed Diggs (Blindspotting)
Robert Redford (The Old Man and the Gun)
Jeffrey Wright (O.G.)
Ben Foster (Leave No Trace)
Martin Freeman (Cargo)

The winner:
Evan Peters (American Animals) created a character whose energy was infectious and completely dominated by a wild and active imagination, all the more impressive because the real-life person he played also appeared in the film.

Other nominees:
Steve Buscemi (The Death of Stalin) used his signature affect to perfectly convey an eager heir to the throne, who didn’t miss any opportunity for comedy in his many machinations (bonus points for wearing pajamas under his suit). Viggo Mortensen (Green Book) leaned into the less sophisticated aspects of his unenlightened heavyweight, crafting an endearing and hilarious figure who felt believable. Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) didn’t need fake teeth to feel like Freddie Mercury, conveying his outlook on the world and his passion for creating cutting-edge music. Ansel Elgort (Jonathan) turned in an incredible double performance as two brothers who never actually saw each other, emoting on camera and reacting to watching that same video as if he really were two separate people.

Minute with Abe: Post-Oscar Edition

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Your Guide to the Oscars

Last year, I managed to see every single film nominated in every category for the first time. This year, I did it again, only missing all fifteen shorts and two of the features when nominations were announced and then waiting until just last week to start catching up on those last seventeen films. I’m ready but I also feel like there’s a certain level of predictability going into tonight that means that any winner won’t be all that thrilling. There’s no one nominee that I feel like I’m really rooting for, and no underdog either, though I do hope that “If Beale Street Could Talk” gets something.

The last three years have produced far-from-guaranteed Best Picture winners, and this year feels a bit like last year in that “Roma” is far enough ahead of the pack but with enough doubt around its chances due to historical statistics that its victory isn’t assured. I feel like the Best Supporting Actress category could be a turning point of sorts. Regina King is the expected winner but, thanks to some snubs from other organizations, she’s not a lock. If Rachel Weisz wins, watch out for “The Favouriterite” to dominate. If Marina de Tavira wins with absolutely no precursor support, it’s going to be all about “Roma.” And then Olivia Colman, fresh off a BAFTA win, could feasibly dethrone Glenn Close too for Best Actress, though Yalitza Aparicio triumphing there for her first film role would be a true shock.

Even though it’s probably my fifth or sixth favorite among the Best Picture nominees, I’d be fine with “A Star is Born” surprising to win the top award everyone thought it might win long ago. I’d be much more excited by an upset victory by “Black Panther,” a movie that I feel most can easily support and definitely surpassed its genre expectations.

I’ve detailed the nominees and their chances in each of the categories below, with my prediction bolded, and you can click on each race heading to read my full Oscar winner predictions. Click on film titles for full reviews of each. Happy watching!

Best Picture
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
A Star is Born

Best Director
Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Alfonso Cuaron (Roma)
Adam McKay (Vice)

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born)
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Lady Gaga (A Star is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
Sam Elliott (A Star is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams (Vice)
Marina de Tavira (Roma)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Best Original Screenplay
The Favourite
First Reformed
Green Book

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star is Born

Best Cinematography
Cold War
The Favourite
Never Look Away
A Star is Born

Best Art Direction
Black Panther
The Favourite
First Man
Mary Poppins Returns

Best Costume Design
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Black Panther
The Favourite
Mary Poppins Returns
Mary, Queen of Scots

Best Film Editing
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book

Best Original Score
Black Panther
If Beale Street Could Talk
Isle of Dogs
Mary Poppins Returns

Best Original Song
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs)
“All the Stars” (Black Panther)
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” (Mary Poppins Returns)
“I’ll Fight” (RBG)
“Shallow” (A Star is Born)

Best Sound
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Star is Born

Best Sound Editing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Mary Queen of Scots

Best Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Animated Feature
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Documentary Short Film
Black Sheep
End Game
Period. End of Sentence.
A Night at the Garden

Best Animated Short Film
Animal Behaviour
Late Afternoon
One Small Step

Best Live Action Short Film

Best Documentary
Free Solo
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
Hale County This Morning, This Evening

Best Foreign Language Film
Cold War
Never Look Away

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Picture

The competition: BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star is Born, Vice

Previous winners: The Shape of Water, Moonlight, Spotlight, Birdman, 12 Years a Slave, Argo, The Artist
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: I wrote an article for The Film Experience a week or two detailing the factors preventing each film from taking home this prize – I’ll direct you to that piece for all of the background. This year is a bit complicated because, as a foreign film, “Roma” wasn’t eligible for Best Motion Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes, where the prize went to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the film that everyone had ranked dead-last in their predictions. “Green Book,” the Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical winner, also won the PGA, and now we’ve gotten to an unprecedented moment where both Globe winners aren’t nominated for Best Director. “Eighth Grade” surprised by taking home the WGA, and it’s not even contending for any Oscars, joined by “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” which was the only film not nominated for Best Picture up for Best Adapted Screenplay there. “Roma” did manage to win countless critics’ prizes as well as the Critics’ Choice Award and the DGA.

It’s possible that “The Favourite” could benefit from the boost of tying “Roma” for the most nominations – ten – though it would really have to prevail all over, which I’m not sure I see it doing. “A Star is Born,” once the frontrunner before it sort of failed of slumped out of awards season, has eight bids, as does “Vice,” a film that will win Best Makeup and Hairstyling and maybe Best Film Editing, along with an outside shot for both Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor. “Black Panther,” which has seven nominations, may not win any of them, which would be disappointing, while “BlacKkKlansman” might win just one (or none) of its six bids, with Best Adapted Screenplay looking likeliest, even though I’m not predicting it. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is actually looking decent for a few of its five nominations, and “Green Book” might also prevail in more than one of its five categories, even though it’s only really locked for Best Supporting Actor.

Who should win: “Vice” is my least favorite of these – I’ve written many times about my feelings on the film. “BlacKkKlansman” didn’t wow me, and I think its strong finish accounts for more of people’s positive feelings towards the film than anything. I’d rank “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Star is Born” pretty much equally out of all the films I saw this year, which I’m sure bothers most critics, but to me they were both engaging and energizing even if they weren’t my favorites of the year. The other four are all also essentially the same to me, just missing my top ten. I’d be thrilled if any of them won, though I’ll admit that “Black Panther” or “The Favourite” would both be particularly cool even if I liked the other two just as much.
Who will win: With all this in mind, I do see the possibility of a popular upset by “Green Book,” but not really by “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I don’t see either “BlacKkKlansman” or “The Favourite” surging enough, and I’d actually say the likeliest occurrence in the event that people don’t want to reward “Roma” because it’s not an English-language movie and it’s produced by Netflix, “A Star is Born” finally gets the due we all thought it would a while back. While there has been more of a contest than usual every year since 2013, I think Roma is even further ahead than “The Shape of Water” was at this time last year, mainly because no other film is likely enough to topple it. But who knows, it could still be possible! I’ll still be holding my breath at the end of the night.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Director

The competition: Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), Alfonso Cuaron (Roma), Adam McKay (Vice)

Previous winners: Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water), Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman), Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: All of these directors have contended for Oscars before, but only two have been nominated in this category. Cuaron won this award in 2013 for “Gravity,” and, in addition to an editing win for that film and screenwriting bids for “Children of Men” in 2006 and “Y Tu Mama Tambien” in 2002, he contends for writing, producing, and shooting his film this year. McKay was nominated three years ago for “The Big Short,” winning for his screenplay, and he is also a nominee this year for writing and producing his film. Pawlikowski won the Best Foreign Film award in 2014 for “Ida,” and Lanthimos was a nominee there in 2011 for “Dogtooth” before contending in 2016 for his screenplay for “The Lobster.” Lanthimos is also nominated as a producer this year. Lee’s previous bids include a screenwriting nod for “Do the Right Thing” in 1989, a Best Documentary mention in 1997 for “4 Little Girls,” and an honorary award in 2015. He is also nominated for writing and producing his film this year. All but “Cold War” contend for the top prize and screenwriting honors. No film without a Best Picture nomination has ever won this prize. Both “Cold War” and “Roma” are nominated for Best Foreign Film, making this the first time that two honorees in that category are contending here. In addition to numerous critics’ prizes, Cuaron has taken home the DGA Award, the Critics’ Choice prize, the Golden Globe, and the BAFTA. With the exception of when Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated for an Oscar in 2012 for “Argo,” the DGA winner has gone on to win this award every year for the past fifteen years.

Who should win: I found McKay’s structuring of “Vice” to be deeply irritating, and I blame him more than most for why that film is what it is. I can appreciate the aesthetics of “Cold War,” but that film wouldn’t make my list. The same is true of “BlacKkKlansman,” which Lee leaves his mark all over. In a competition between Lanthimos and Cuaron, I’m not set on a winner since both are enormously deserving for two very different films.
Who will win: There are rumblings that Lee could earn his due after barely being nominated for his entire career, but there’s no reason to expect that Cuaron has anything going against him. A loss here would be the biggest surprise of the night.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Movie with Abe: Paddleton

Directed by Alex Lehmann
Released February 22, 2019

Movies about best friends come in many different forms. Often, the relationship at their center evolves over time, affected by new influences and particularly new people who might come into one of both of their lives. How that friendship came to be isn’t necessarily crucial, but whether it survives the test of time depends on the ability of both people to function around others and still preserve that same connection. When the two people involved have no one else in their lives aside from each other, it’s easier for them to stay close, with the only true obstacle coming when one of them may no longer be around anymore.

Director Alex Lehmann and stars Mark Duplass and Ray Romano discuss the film at Sundance

Andy (Ray Romano) accompanies his best bud and neighbor Michael (Mark Duplass) to the doctor, where he learns of his terminal cancer diagnosis. As the two spend each night watching kung fu movies and doing puzzles over homemade pizza, Michael tells Andy that he has received a prescription for medication that will allow him to end his life, which he wants to do before his condition worsens. Unprepared to say goodbye to his friend, Andy tags along with Michael on the long drive to procure the medication, indicating his reticence to allow him to go forward with this irreversible decision at many points along the way.

Arielle and Abe with Ray Romano at Sundance before the world premiere

This was a very poignant and wonderful film for my wife Arielle, who wrote her Masters’ thesis on Medical Aid in Dying and was thrilled to see it earn a prime spotlight that involves mostly accurate representations, with this as a hopeful start of many more films dealing directly and honestly with death. This is a comedy that deals with one of the only inevitable things in life, with Andy pausing frequently to question Michael’s steadfast attitude towards taking this route, closed off to the notion of waiting it out to see if some miracle cure will buy him more time. The way that both their friendship and their path to this point are portrayed feels particularly honest and real.

Mark Duplass and Ray Romano discuss the film at Sundance

Romano and Duplass are a fantastic duo, playing exceptionally off each other as they engage in casual conversation, mostly about the random things that come into their heads and the interests that so delight them on a regular basis without much variety. Romano in particular demonstrates that he’s still a formidable comic, delivering many of the film’s best lines. The screenplay, by director Alex Lehmann and Duplass, is very funny, influenced heavily by Romano and Duplass’ improvisation. This is a winning, lovely film, mirroring the cycle of life, filled with highs and lows that often come at exactly the same time.


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.