Friday, February 28, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases in theaters, on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Whistlers

The Whistlers
Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu
Released February 28, 2020

Following the law may be the right choice, but it’s not always the easy one. There are many reasons that corruption emerges, because making money where no one gets hurts and no one is likely to notice can be extremely appealing. It’s rare that such schemes remain hidden forever, and once something illegal has been exposed, it’s not usually possible for restitution to be made. Exploring the process of a person debating whether or not to do the right thing can make for an enlightening and often entertaining experience.

Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) works as a police officer in Bucharest. Following the arrest of his informant Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea), Cristi is approached by Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), who says she is Zsolt’s girlfriend and leaves Cristi a ticket to go to La Gomera in the Canary Islands. When Cristi arrives, he begins to learn a local language using only whistling so that he can help free Zsolt and communicate with Gilda and the Spanish mobsters with a vested interest in obtaining what he stole from them. Cristi shares his international activities with his commanding officer (Rodica Lazar), though his true allegiances remain less clear.

This film marks a return to a complicated focus on policework after director Corneliu Porumboiu’s 2009 film “Police, Adjective,” also starring Ivanov. There is little that is glamorous about Cristi’s work or personal life, and the actions of his partner and supervisor are often less than ethical. Cristi shares an affinity for Zsolt that in part prompts him to help Gilda, though the attraction he feels for her, developed as a result of the sex they must simulate for the cameras planted in his apartment, is definitely a strong motivating factor as well. It’s hard to imagine Cristi not yearning for something more when he knows that he is being monitored and doesn’t anticipate a career move upwards at any point.

Ivanov is a dependable actor whose work in Romanian and other international cinema has always been strong, and here he’s a good fit for the character of Cristi, who is hard to read and rarely indicates what he’s feeling about any given situation. Marlon and Lazar enhance the two worlds in which he lives, both infusing plenty of personality to make up for his lack of enthusiasm. The portrayal of the whistling language is framed comically, serving to make this light film, Romania's Oscar submission this past year for Best International Feature, that occasionally turns violent and serious an entertaining off-kilter journey.


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Movie with Abe: Greed

Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Released February 28, 2020

There exists a clear disparity in the world between the richest and the poorest, with an incredible amount of wealth held by those with means that, distributed among those most in need, could do a whole lot of good. Many billionaires make sure that the great profits they take in lead to generous charitable donations, which work to offset their lavish living by giving back a portion of their earnings to those less fortunate. That’s not always the case, however, as some making a killing seek only to become richer, unconcerned with those they see as lesser and irrelevant in their pursuit of success.

Sir Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan) lives a life of excess. He has spent years building clothing companies, constantly bartering for a better deal by countering a reasonable offer made by an associate or potential partner with a demeaning low price. Though not everyone is intimidated into submission, Richard’s efforts usually work, though, predictably, keeping costs down has led to a number of failed businesses and bankruptcy filings that make Richard the target of an investigation into his financial practices. Undeterred, Richard forges ahead with a wholly over-the-top sixtieth birthday party, ordering his minions to construct an arena in the style of “Gladiator” in Greece for the ultimate celebration of his lifestyle.

This is a fictionalized story meant to be taken as a satire about the super-rich. It’s easy to draw parallels to real-life people who seem to present their occasional donation as something to be commended rather than ethical and expected, and Richard is certainly as self-involved and as oblivious to the fact that he works with actual human beings as possible. Several supporting characters in the film, including Richard’s biographer (David Mitchell), have the chance to reflect on what kind of person he is, further highlighting the immense gap between what he spends and the minimal good he does. It’s infuriating to watch, and the film’s status as a satire doesn’t make the kind of behavior it portrays any less believable.

Coogan has starred recently in biopics like the underappreciated “The Look of Love,” as pornography publisher Paul Raymond, and “Stan and Ollie,” as comedian Stan Laurel. He’s more than equipped to play this part, reteaming with director Michael Winterbottom after numerous collaborations. The rest of the cast is strong, including Isla Fisher as the ex-wife who blissfully enjoys his many gifts and her tax-free yacht in Monaco. This film indulges in its absurdity in a way that’s entertaining but not always as poignant, offering an astonishing portrait of excess that leaves plenty to be pondered.


Friday, February 21, 2020

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases in theaters, on DVD, and on streaming services. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Movie with Abe: Premature

Directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green
Released February 21, 2020

Every relationship begins in a different way, and where it goes from there depends on a variety of factors. A couple might meet with an intention to find a partner, via a dating app or set up by friends, and build a dynamic with the endgame of creating a life together. Other relationships stem from chance encounters, based on looks exchanged and an initial impression of the way someone carries themselves or treats others. A path from that sort of beginning is less certain, since possibilities are limitless but also uncharted and undiscussed.

Ayanna (Zora Howard) is a seventeen-year-old young woman living in Harlem preparing to go to college. As she spends her days hanging out in parks with her friends, she is introduced to Isaiah (Joshua Boone), a music producer who has just moved to the city. They are clearly attracted to each other after that first meeting, and Isaiah actively pursues the chance to get to know Ayanna. They quickly become close as they get to know each other, astounding their friends with the connection they have made. Jealousy, unexpected developments, and incongruous perceptions of what the future holds threaten to derail their passionate romance.

This is a sweet, simple film that features a good amount of dialogue from its supporting characters, who do most of the talking as Ayanna and Isaiah only seem to have eyes for each other. When the two of them are alone together, a beautiful musical score by Patrick Cannell and Stefan Swanson plays, emphasizing the way that these two feel about each other and their ability to disconnect from the rest of the world to be with each other. Isaiah’s work in the music industry and Ayanna’s talent for poetry play into their musical movement through the world, dancing into each other’s lives and communicating in profound and wondrous ways.

This is the second feature film from director Rashaad Ernesto Green, whose impressive debut, “Gun Hill Road,” looked at a father returning home from prison and encountering his transgender child. Howard, who wrote poetry for that film, serves as co-writer here and delivers a marvelous turn as Ayanna, who, when she chooses to be as loud as the friends and family around her, has plenty to say. As Isaiah, Boone is also reserved but emphatic, channeling all his energy into his music and his affection for Ayanna. This film feels real and unafraid to showcase the imperfections of even the grandest love stories. It deservedly earned Green the Someone to Watch Award from the Independent Spirit Awards, and is indeed very much worth watching for its magnificent blend of rich characters, vivid technical elements, and excellent storytelling.


Friday, February 14, 2020

Weekend Movies Recommendations with Abe

Every Friday, I'll be uploading a Minute with Abe: Weekend Movie Recommendations Edition, surveying new releases in theaters, on DVD, and on streaming services.. Check it out, and subscribe to the movieswithabe channel!

Monday, February 10, 2020

AFT Awards: Top 15 Scenes of the Year

This is a special category of the 13th Annual AFT Film Awards, 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. These are my fifteen favorite scenes of the year, listed in alphabetical order by film title. Click here to see previous years of this category. Beware spoilers for these films.

The self-destructive tendencies Laura and Tyler have were simultaneously enthralling and frightening, and there was nothing more inherently wild than their eagerness to collect and combine all leftover wine at any event.

Hope returns at an important moment when the team members seem defeated, but that all changes when Thor’s hammer comes flying at Thanos, only to be caught not by Thor but by Captain America. Thor’s excitement at having predicted this show of superhuman strength is shared by anyone watching.

For franchise devotees, the opening of the portals is an absolutely fulfilling and fabulous way to bring together the many movies that feed into this one. But for even a casual viewer, the sheer scale and impact of this mega-scene and the ensuing battle is matched by nothing else, delivering a payoff that a lengthy nostalgia trip certainly merits.

Rudy’s bewilderment at his movie finally getting its big premiere is wondrous enough, but it’s what he decides to do when he sees the lengthy line of people around the block waiting for the midnight showing that’s truly marvelous. Opting to entertain them as they wait shows the good nature that drove him to make all this happen.

The direction of this film’s plot isn’t clear until this moment, when the pizza delivery guy who’s terrible at his job finds an unexpected connection to the woman on the other side of the buzzer after he shows up late with a ruined pizza.

Early on in this film, its offbeat tone is best summarized by this still that has defined much of its promotional material, showcasing its title character trying to rid himself of his new nickname and flailing miserably in the process, embodying the truly bizarre and comical nature of this film.

Mont’s vision of the world is fascinating, and that’s best expressed when he goes over to a group of people talking and tells them that they’re doing it wrong, giving them stage notes as if they’re in a play that he’s directing. The actual play he later stages is also riveting.

It’s not always apparent that this film is framed within just one shot, but it’s impossible to escape the intensity of Schofield running across a battlefield, dodging those who nearly hit him and rolling through it each time that he’s knocked over, determined against all odds to reach his destination.

The early return of the Park family results in quick thinking from the Kims, stranding Ki-taek and his children under the table as Dong-ik and Yeon-gyo sit to watch their son camp outside. The fear of them being discovered quickly turns to a different type of horror as Dong-ik comments on Ki-taek’s smell being present, judging him as a member of a lower class of society.

After that tense extended scene, Ki-taek and his children stumble home to find that the rain which will inspire Yeon-gyo to host a festive party has completely devastated their entire livelihood, flooding their semi-basement apartment. It’s a haunting callback to the first scene in which the family opened their windows to score some free asbestos.

It’s the central point that kicks this film into gear and thrusts its title character into the spotlight: Richard sees something that doesn’t look right and does exactly what he should, calling in the appropriate authorities and calmly urging anyone in the vicinity to follow protocol and get as far away as possible.

There’s an important shift that happens when Richard becomes the prime suspect in the attack whose impact he helped to reduce, and it’s felt most when Richard finally realizes it. His eager participation in the charade set up by the FBI finds him blatantly pretending to sign a waiver, and when he’s told to do it for real, that’s when he knows he really needs to talk to a lawyer.

This film’s pivotal scene is the one that finally explains the disappearance of one of its main characters at the beginning of the film, beautifully and painfully bringing the audience in to an entirely different world whose important revelations will change everything.

This may well be the best community response to bullying ever represented on film, as the inability of one member of the troop to control when she has to go to the bathroom results in her entire team boldly following suit, eager to show their support for their embarrassed troopmate.

It’s a moment that serves as the crux of the film and is mentioned earlier, but it’s still captivating to watch Rudolf pace back and forth as he knows that he’s about to leave this idyllic life behind, with Clara there to work her magic and help him take a daring step that’s presented magnificently and enthrallingly in this suspenseful scene.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Oscar Reactions

Well, that’s quite a note on which to end. It seemed ready to happen once Bong Joon Ho won the Oscar for Best Director, but the same thing happened last year with Alfonso Cuaron and it didn’t lead to this history-making feat. It’s so nice to see everyone in the audience so incredibly overjoyed for this achievement. I’m particularly excited because this is the first time since 2006 that my top movie of the year also won Best Picture.

I enjoyed the show overall. I don’t think a host was needed, even if some moments of the broadcast lagged a bit. I liked that the nominees in all the acting categories were introduced with a montage of clips of all the performances, and that, even though the show was running pretty late at the end, they didn’t cut any of that. It did feel a bit extraneous to list the nominees after that, but I guess it’s worthwhile to showcase who’s in the audience.

Some of the presenters were better than others, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell pretending they didn’t know what cinematographers did and then angrily chewing out film editors for cutting them out of the year’s top movies as a highlight. Though it wasn’t so clear at first, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig’s bit was funny, and Sandra Oh and Ray Romano joking about what their makeup was really covering up was pretty great as well. Nothing was too cringe-worthy other than Chris Rock hammering Jeff Bezos about his divorce.

The Best Original Song performances were appreciated, particularly the international version of “Into the Unknown,” but it’s a real mystery why the most shocking victor ever to win the category, Eminem, performed “Lose Yourself” eighteen years after taking home the award. He’s 48, which is even more surprising than the fact that he was included.

Eight of the nine Best Picture nominees took home at least one Oscar with, as predicted, “The Irishman” left empty-handed. It’s a nice spread though not too crazy given the high nomination counts for so many of the films. We were spared any real surprises aside from the swell of support for “Parasite” in the top two categories, which was truly wonderful.

I scored 16/24, up one from last year. The film with the most awards was “Parasite,” with four, followed by “1917” with 3, and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Ford v Ferrari,” and “Joker” with 2. I had all those films listed as the multiple win-getters, but not exactly with those numbers. I’m disappointed that Best Animated Feature couldn’t be more creative, but overall I’m okay with the winners.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my final ode to the films of 2019, my top fifteen scenes of the year. After that, you can expect regular coverage of new films and Oscar retrospective articles on this site, and frequent TV coverage over at Thanks for reading!

Your Guide to the Oscars

For the third year in a row, I managed to see every single film nominated in every category. It seems like most of tonight is relatively set, with Best Animated Feature as the only real mystery, with “Parasite” still hoping for a major breakthrough with a Best Picture win.

The past four years have seen unpredictable ceremonies with uncertain Best Picture victors, and this year is actually less objectively competitive based on statistics. This could be a big sweep for “1917” with expected acting wins and nothing too shocking in other races. Let’s hope it’s not boring at least! I’m predicting just three wins for both “1917” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” with “Parasite,” “Ford v Ferrari,” and “Joker” next in line with two each, and a shut-out for “The Irishman.”

I’ve detailed the nominees and their chances in each of the categories below, 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
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Director
Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)
Todd Phillips (Joker)
Sam Mendes (1917)
Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
Bong Joon Ho (Parasite)

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)
Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
Saoirse Ronan (Little Women)
Charlize Theron (Bombshell)
Renee Zellweger (Judy)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)
Al Pacino (The Irishman)
Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell)
Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit)
Florence Pugh Little Women
Margot Robbie (Bombshell)

Best Original Screenplay
Knives Out
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Little Women
The Two Popes

Best Cinematography
The Irishman
The Lighthouse
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Production Design
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Costume Design
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Little Women
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Film Editing
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit

Best Original Score
Little Women
Marriage Story
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Best Original Song
“I’m Standing with You” (Breakthrough)
“Into the Unknown” (Frozen II)
“Stand Up” (Harriet)
“I’m Gonna Love Me Again” (Rocketman)
“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” (Toy Story 4)

Best Sound
Ad Astra
Ford v Ferrari
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Sound Editing
Ford v Ferrari
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Best Visual Effects
Avengers: Endgame
The Irishman
The Lion King
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Best Animated Feature
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I Lost My Body
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

Best Documentary Short Film
In the Absence
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
Life Overtakes Me
St. Louis Superman
Walk Run Cha-Cha

Best Animated Short Film
Hair Love

Best Live Action Short Film
Nefta Footfall Club
The Neighbor’s Window
A Sister

Best Documentary
American Factory
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama

Best International Feature
Corpus Christi
Les Miserables
Pain and Glory

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Picture

The competition: Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite

Previous winners: Green Book, The Shape of Water, Moonlight, Spotlight, Birdman, 12 Years a Slave, Argo
My winner: Parasite
The facts: Last year, I was able to break down the reasons that every contender couldn’t win this prize, but that isn’t quite true this year. For the first time in history, four films have double-digit nominations, though, interestingly, only one of them is among the three films expected to win. “Joker” leads with eleven nominations. “1917,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and “The Irishman” are next with ten. “Jojo Rabbit,” “Little Women,” “Marriage Story,” and “Parasite” all got six, and “Ford v Ferrari” earned four. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical and the Critics’ Choice Award. “1917” won the Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama, the PGA, the DGA, and the BAFTA. “Parasite” won the SAG, where “1917” wasn’t nominated. It’s still true that no foreign film has ever won this award, while last year marked only the fifth time in history that a film without a Best Director nomination prevailed. That statistic is useful for “Jojo Rabbit,” which some believe may upset if “1917” and “Parasite” split the votes. Eleven films have won Best Picture without any acting nominations, most recently “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2008, which applies to “Ford v Ferrari,” “1917,” and “Parasite” this year.

Who should win: “Parasite” is the best movie of the year, so I’m on board with that. I thought every other film except for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” was good too, so there’s not a bad choice in my mind except for that. The excitement of a South Korean film winning this award would be thrilling.
Who will win: I’d love to say that “Parasite” can win, and it’s definitely possible, but I don’t see enough of a reason that 1917 doesn’t prevail. And that film is quite the cinematic experience, so I’m okay with it winning even if I’m rooting for my actual favorite.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Director

The competition: Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Todd Phillips (Joker), Sam Mendes (1917), Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Bong Joon Ho (Parasite)

Previous winners: Alfonso Cuaron (Roma), 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)
My winner: Bong Joon Ho (Parasite)
The facts: All but one of these directors have contended for Oscars before, but only three have been nominated in this category. Scorsese won in 2006 for “The Departed,” and was also nominated in 1980 for “Raging Bull,” in 1988 for “The Last Temptation of Christ,” in 1990 for “Goodfellas,” in 2002 for “Gangs of New York,” in 2004 for “The Aviator,” in 2011 for “Hugo,” and in 2013 for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” with two additional screenplay bids. Tarantino was nominated in this race in 1994 for “Pulp Fiction” and in 2009 for “Inglourious Basterds,” and he won screenplay awards for “Pulp Fiction” and “Django Unchained” in 2012. Phillips was nominated in 2006 for co-writing the screenplay for “Borat.” Mendes won this award twenty years ago for “American Beauty.” Everyone but Scorsese is also nominated for writing their films this year. Mendes has won most precursors, including the Globe, the DGA, and the BAFTA, tying with Bong for the Critics’ Choice Award. 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: Bong is my clear pick here, though Phillips also did a great job, as did Mendes and Scorsese.
Who will win: There’s a distinct possibility that Bong upsets here, but Mendes seems like a sure thing at this point.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best International Feature

The competition: Corpus Christi (Poland), Honeyland (North Macedonia), Les Miserables (France), Pain and Glory (Spain), Parasite (South Korea)

Previous winners: Roma (Mexico), A Fantastic Woman (Chile), The Salesman (Iran), Son of Saul (Hungary), Ida (Poland), The Great Beauty (Italy), Amour (Austria), A Separation (Iran)
My winner: Parasite
The facts: This is the second consecutive year that a nominee here also contends for Best Picture, with “Parasite” up for six total awards, including Best Director. The only returning nominee here is Pedro Almodovar, who won this category in 1999 for “All About My Mother,” was nominated in 1988 for “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” and won a screenplay prize along with a directing nomination in 2002 for “Talk to Her.” “Honeyland” is also nominated for Best Documentary this year. This is the second consecutive nomination for Poland, which won once out of eleven nominations, for “Ida” in 2014. This is the fortieth nomination for France, which has won twelve times, most recently in 1992 for “Indochine.” This is the twentieth nomination for Spain, which won four times, most recently in 2004 for “The Sea Inside.” North Macedonia was nominated once before, on its first try in 1994 for “Before the Rain.” This is the first nomination for South Korea. “Parasite” has won most foreign film prizes handed out by any organization, and also became the first non-English film to win the SAG Award for its ensemble.

Who should win: In another year, I’d be championing the superb “Corpus Christi” to win, and I also was very impressed by both “Les Miserables” and “Pain and Glory.” But nothing compares to the best film of the year, “Parasite.”
Who will win: It would be the biggest shock of the century if anything but Parasite won here.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Animated Feature

The competition: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, I Lost My Body, Klaus, Missing Link, Toy Story 4

Previous winners: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, 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: I Lost My Body
The facts: Both “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” and “Toy Story 4” are sequels to previous nominees in this category. “Toy Story 3” won in 2010. “Toy Story 4” comes from Pixar, which has won nine out of twelve nominations, including two years ago for “Coco.” “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” comes from DreamWorks Animation, which has produced twelve contenders and one winner, “Shrek.” Laika, which produced “Missing Link,” has great success with past nominees “Corpse Bride,” “Coraline,” “ParaNorman,” “The Boxtrolls,” and “Kubo and the Two Strings.” Netflix earns its first two nominations in this race for “I Lost My Body” and “Klaus.” This year’s precursors represent a very interesting spread of winners after four years in a row of undisputed frontrunners. “Missing Link” won the Golden Globe. “Toy Story 4” won the PGA and the Critics’ Choice Award. “Klaus” won the top Annie Award and the BAFTA. “I Lost My Body” won the Annie Award for independent film. The only film with a nomination in any other category is “Toy Story 4,” which contends for its original song.

Who should win: My favorite on this list is “I Lost My Body,” and I’m also fond of “Klaus” and “Missing Link.”
Who will win: I’m playing it safe in a lot of other races. Here, I’m going to predict an exciting win for I Lost My Body, though I’m worried that the expected conclusion of “Toy Story 4” might happen instead.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Animated Short

The nominees:
Daughter (B+)
This fifteen-minute Czech film features no dialogue as it explores the relationship between a daughter and her dying father. The animation is raw and stunning, and the film is powerful.

Hair Love (B+)
This six-minute delight finds an African-American girl struggling to contain her hair and longing for more. It’s a sweet and simple film that is sure to win over voters. Watch it for yourself on YouTube.

Kitbull (B)
Maybe it’s become I’m not a pet person, but this nine-minute story of a cat and dog in San Francisco is perfectly fine but far from memorable, especially considering its Pixar ties. Watch it for yourself on YouTube.

Memorable (A-)
This twelve-minute French short brilliantly explores fading memory in its portrait of a painter and his wife, using its animation style to enhance the effectiveness of its deeply moving and heartbreaking storytelling.

Sister (B)
This eight-minute Chinese stop-motion film explores the effects of a sibling in childhood, packing an emotional punch but taking a while to get there.

Previous winners: Bao, Dear Basketball, Piper, Bear Story, Feast, Mr. Hublot, Paperman
For your information: This is the first Oscar nomination for all filmmakers in this category. “Hair Love” was funded by Kickstarter but picked up by Sony Pictures Animation and shown before “The Angry Birds Movie 2.” “Kitbull” comes from Pixar, a fifteen-time nominee with five wins, including last year for “Bao.”

Who should win: I would be fine with “Hair Love” or “Daughter” winning, but “Memorable” is my definite favorite.
Who will win: With three different movies about memory and loss competing, I think Hair Love prevails.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Live Action Short

The nominees:
Brotherhood (B-)
This twenty-five-minute downer, from director Meryam Joobeur, finds the son of a Tunisian family returning home with a new bride after heading over to Syria to fight. It’s an involving story with strong performances all around, but one that can’t escape its miserable nature.

Nefta Football Club (B)
This seventeen-minute French film, from director Yves Fiat, tells an entertaining story of two kids in Tunisia who find a donkey with bags of white powder strapped to its back and have competing ideas about what to do next. Watch it for yourself on Vimeo.

The Neighbor’s Window (B)
The only English-language film on this list comes from director Marshall Curry. This twenty-minute short is a sentimental look at a marriage and how it changes when two young people move in across the way where they can be seen through the window. Watch it for yourself on the film’s website.

Saria (B)
This twenty-three-minute Spanish-language short, from director Bryan Buckley, follows two Guatemalan sisters dreaming of better lives in America in the run-up to a devastating true-life fire in which 41 orphans perished in 2017. It’s more stirring as a call to investigation about this horrific occurrence than as a film in its own right.

A Sister (B)
This sixteen-minute French short, from director Delphine Girard, finds a 911 operator answering a call from a woman in a car who is pretending to talk to her sister. It doesn’t unfold like a thriller but instead stays firmly focused on the two women on either end of the line. It’s decent if not entirely innovative.

Previous winners: Skin, The Silent Child, Sing, Stutterer, The Phone Call, Helium, Curfew
For your information: Curry has three previous Oscar nominations, for feature documentaries “Street Fight” in 2005 and “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” in 2011,” and for documentary short “A Night at the Garden” in 2017. Buckley was nominated in this category in 2012 for “Asad.”

Who should win: I wasn’t blown away by any of these, which were mostly depressing as usual. I suppose “Nefta Football Club” or “The Neighbor’s Window” would be my choice if I had to pick.
Who will win: I think this goes to A Sister, though it could be any of them.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary Feature

The competition: American Factory, The Cave, The Edge of Democracy, For Sama, Honeyland

Previous winners: Free Solo, Icarus, OJ: Made in America, Amy, Citizenfour, Twenty Feet from Stardom, Searching for Sugar Man
My winner: The Silence of Others
The facts: “American Factory” co-director Julia Reichert was previously nominated in 1977 for “Union Maids” and in 1983 for “Seeing Red.” “The Cave” director Feras Fayyad was nominated two years ago for “Last Men in Aleppo.” “The Edge of Democracy” co-producer Joanna Natasegara was nominated in 2012 for “Virunga.” “Honeyland” becomes the first film nominated in this category to also be up for Best International Feature. Four of these films are foreign-language productions, which have won this category ten times since its inception, most recently in 2005 for “March of the Penguins.” “For Sama” won the International Documentary Association Award and the BAFTA, while “Apollo 11,” which isn’t nominated, won both the PGA and the Critics’ Choice Documentary Award.

Who should win: “American Factory” is my choice, though “The Edge of Democracy” was also very good.
Who will win: It’s possible double nominee “Honeyland” prevails, but I think American Factory can still win.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary Short

The nominees:
In the Absence (A-)
This is documentary filmmaking at its most stirring and authentically disturbing, chronicling the sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014 in South Korea. It’s upsetting and deeply unnerving to see footage of the passenger boat tilting into the ocean as timestamped recordings of conversations between government officials and coast guard personnel reveal their primary concern of a positive photo op over actually saving lives. It’s devastating and utterly captivating. Watch it on YouTube as part of Field of Vision.

Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl) (B+)
Liken this one to the 2010 winner in this category, “Strangers No More,” an unexpectedly positive look at a program called Skateistan that teaches young girls in Afghanistan how to skateboard. Not all is rosy, of course, since the eager athletes explain how they won’t be allowed to leave home once they turn thirteen and bombs land far too close to where they gather for school and practice. This is still a stirring and optimistic look at a forward-thinking initiative that exists within an environment that is rarely encouraging of free thinking. Watch it on A and E.

Life Overtakes Me (B)
Portraits of refugees have been commonplace in past nominees from this category, though this film tackles it from a different vantage point: that of children in Sweden who have become afflicted with resignation syndrome, where they exist in a mostly catatonic state as a result of past sustained trauma. There aren’t many answers in this film and rare opportunities for hope, but it’s definitely an epidemic that is highly peculiar and worthy of being investigated in projects like this one. Watch it on Netflix.

St. Louis Superman (B+)
This is the entry in this category that deals most with American culture through its affecting portrait of Bruce Franks Jr., a 34-year-old activist in Ferguson, Missouri who used his position as state representative to lobby for gun reform. He’s a formidable hero, and this film focuses in on his tireless efforts to change his community – and the country as a whole – for the better. This one isn’t available to stream, but check out this trailer on Vimeo.

Walk Run Cha-Cha (B)
Easily the lightest and happiest of all of these films, this is a picture of late-term love in a very sweet way, spotlighting a couple who fled Vietnam together at a young age and now spend every free moment they have ballroom dancing together. It may not have the dramatic impact of some of the other films in this race, but this one is a sincere crowd-pleaser that feels almost necessary after the depressing nature of the rest of this field. Watch and read about it via the New York Times.

Previous winners: Period. End of Sentence., 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
For your information: “Life Overtakes Me” co-director Kristine Samuelson was nominated in this category for “Arthur and Lillie” in 1975. “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)” won prizes from BAFTA and the International Documentary Association.

Who should win: “In the Absence” is the strongest of the bunch.
Who will win: This seems like a safe bet for Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl).

Movie with Abe: And Then We Danced

And Then We Danced
Directed by Levan Akin
To Be Released February 7, 2020

There are many careers and professions in this world, and what’s required is highly dependent on the type of work. Those who have a calling to work in the arts may spend almost every waking moment preparing to be the best, training and learning all they can so that, when the moment arrives, they can show the audience that matters what they can do. Those lucky enough to achieve success may feel that everything they have sacrificed on the way there was worthwhile, while those who get far but ultimately don’t meet their goals may wish they had done things differently.

Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) has always dreamed of being a famous dancer, training at the National Georgian Ensemble with his partner Mary (Ana Javakishvili). As he balances arduous preparation with a side job as a waiter, Merab must also contend with his family life, which includes his brother David (Giorgi Tsereteli), who is also a dancer but spends much more time getting into trouble. When a new dancer, Irakli (Bachi Valishvil) arrives, Merab becomes distracted, threatened by his talent but entranced by his personality and the allure of a forbidden romance.

This film, which takes place in Georgia and features multiple speeches about the cultural significance of Georgian dance, was actually the official Oscar submission from Sweden for Best International Feature this past year. The film has sparked considerable controversy and condemnation in Georgia, which makes its presentation of something that greatly defines the country particularly interesting. Merab feels a drive to contribute to something that has meant a lot to him throughout his life, and his commitment to his craft is only made greater as he attempts to find a way to express himself. His passion for whoever he desires should fuel his creative energy, though it’s never quite that simple, especially when it must be kept secret.

This film opens strongly with a swell of music guiding Merab’s movements, one that stops and starts frequently as he is pushed by his teachers to be better and to move more naturally. Gelbakhiani marks a startling and formidable film debut as Merab, imbuing him with a reserved eagerness that makes him character even more compelling. Opposite him, Valishvili exhibits a far more relaxed and perhaps even overconfident demeanor, and their chemistry is electric. While this film does lean a bit strongly into its protagonist’s downspiral, it finds its footing and remains properly tethered to its musical beat. It’s an affirming story featuring powerful performances that, if the attempts to prevent people from seeing it are any indication, truly deserves to be told.


Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Visual Effects

The competition: Avengers: Endgame (Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken, and Dan Sudick), The Irishman (Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda-Fauser, and Stephane Grabli), The Lion King (Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, and Elliot Newman), 1917 (Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler, and Dominic Tuohy), Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach, and Dominic Tuohy)

Previous winners: First Man, Blade Runner 2049, The Jungle Book, Ex Machina, Interstellar, Gravity, Life of Pi, Hugo
My winner: Avengers: Endgame
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 last year for “Avengers: Infinity War” 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. Aitken was up in 2009 for “District 9.” Helman contended for “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones” in 2002 and “War of the Worlds” in 2005. Legato, Valdez, and Jones won in 2016 for “The Jungle Book.” Legato also won in 1997 for “Titanic” and in 2011 for “Hugo,” with an additional bid for “Apollo 13.” Jones won for “Avatar” in 2009 and was nominated in 2004 for “I, Robot.” Rocheron won in 2012 for “Life of Pi.” Butler was nominated in 2011 for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.” Double nominee Tuohy was first nominated last year for “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” Guyett was nominated in 2004 for “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” in 2009 for “Star Trek,” in 2013 for “Star Trek Into Darkness,” in 2015 for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and last year for “Ready Player One.” Scanlan was nominated for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 2015, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” in 2017, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” last year, and won for “Babe” back in 1995. Tubach was nominated in 2013 for “Star Trek Into Darkness,” in 2015 for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and in 2018 for “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” At the Visual Effects Society Awards, “The Lion King” won three awards, “The Irishman” won two, and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” won one. 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 fifth consecutive nomination for the series. Nine Marvel films that lead into “Avengers: Endgame” 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: Though all of the effects here aside from “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” really impressed me, I’d love to see the deserving “Avengers: Endgame” rewarded for its incomparable technological presentation.
Who will win: I would love to see “Avengers: Endgame” win, but I’m going to predict The Lion King with a distinct possibility that “The Irishman” or “1917” wins instead.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The competition: Bombshell (Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan, and Vivian Baker), Joker (Nicki Ledermann and Kay Georgiou), Judy (Jeremy Woodhead), Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Paul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten and David White), 1917 (Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis and Rebecca Cole)

Previous winners: Vice, Darkest Hour, Suicide Squad, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Dallas Buyers Club, Les Miserables
My winner: Bombshell
The facts: Tuiten was nominated in 2017 for “Wonder.” White was nominated in 2014 for “Guardians of the Galaxy.” This is the first nomination for everyone else in this race. This marks the first time that this category has five nominees. Six winners in the last ten years in this category have been Best Picture nominees, with “Joker” and “1917” being the only ones with that distinction this year. At the Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Awards, “Bombshell” won all three of its nominated categories, and “Joker” took home one prize.

Who should win: “Bombshell” is my winner, though “Judy” and “Joker” are also good choices.
Who will win: When there’s a frontrunner in this category, that film tends to win. This year, that’s Bombshell, which could face competition from “Joker” but probably won’t.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Sound Editing

The competition: Ford v Ferrari (Donald Sylvester), Joker (Alan Robert Murray), 1917 (Oliver Tarney and Rachael Tate), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Wylie Stateman), Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Matthew Wood and David Acord)

Previous winners: Bohemian Rhapsody, Dunkirk, Arrival, Mad Max: Fury Road, American Sniper, Gravity, Skyfall/Zero Dark Thirty
My winner: 1917
The facts: Murray is the most-nominated person in this category, with nine previous bids and two wins, for “Letters from Iwo Jima” in 2006 and “American Sniper” in 2014. Tarney was nominated in 2013 for “Captain Phillips” and 2015 for “The Martian.” This is the eighth nomination for Stateman, who has yet to win. His most recent bid was for “Deepwater Horizon” in 2016. Wood was nominated for “There Will Be Blood” in 2007, “Wall-E” in 2008, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 2015, and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” in 2017. Acord was nominated previously in 2015 for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” At the Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards, “1917” and “Ford v Ferrari” took home awards. Only “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” isn’t also nominated for Best Sound.

Who should win: I’d give this to “1917,” “Ford v Ferrari,” or “Joker.”
Who will win: I’m going to pick Ford v Ferrari even though I suspect it may be “1917.”

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Sound

The competition: Ad Astra (Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson and Mark Ulano), Ford v Ferrari (Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Steven A. Morrow), Joker (Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic and Tod Maitland), 1917 (Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler and Mark Ulano)

Previous winners: Bohemian Rhapsody, Dunkirk, Hacksaw Ridge, Mad Max: Fury Road, Whiplash, Gravity, Les Miserables
My winner: Avengers: Endgame
The facts: This is the tenth nomination for Rydstrom, who won in 1991 for “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” in 1993 for “Jurassic Park,” in 1997 for “Titanic,” in 1998 for “Saving Private Ryan,” winning in the sound editing race for most of those as well. Johnson, on his ninth nomination, shared in victories for “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and “Titanic.” Double nominee Ulano was part of the winning team for “Titanic” and was also nominated for “Inglourious Basterds.” Massey won on his eighth try last year for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Giammarco was previously nominated in 2007 for “3:10 to Yuma.” Morrow was nominated in 2016 for “La La Land” and in 2018 for “A Star is Born,” along with Ozanich and Zupancic. Taylor was previously nominated for “Captain Phillips” in 2013 and “The Martian” in 2015. Wilson was nominated for “War Horse” in 2011, “Skyfall” in 2012, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 2015, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” in 2016, and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” in 2017. This is the twelfth nomination for Michael Minkler, who won in 2001 for “Black Hawk Down,” in 2002 for “Chicago,” and in 2006 for “Dreamgirls.” At the Cinema Audio Society Awards, “Ford v Ferrari” eclipsed “Joker” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Only “Ad Astra” is not also nominated for Best Sound Editing.

Who should win: I’d choose “1917” or “Ford v Ferrari.”
Who will win: This seems like a place that Ford v Ferrari can prevail unless “1917” sweeps.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Song

The competition: I’m Standing with You (Breakthrough), Into the Unknown (Frozen II), Stand Up (Harriet), I’m Gonna Love Me Again (Rocketman), I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away (Toy Story 4)

Previous winners: Shallow (A Star is Born), Remember Me (Coco), City of Stars (La La Land), Writing’s on the Wall (Spectre), Glory (Selma), Let It Go (Frozen), Skyfall (Skyfall)
My winner: Glasgow (Wild Rose)
The facts: This is the eleventh nomination for Warren in this category and her third consecutive bid following songs from “Marshall” and “RBG.” She has yet to win. John won in this race back in 1994 for one of his three nominations that year for “The Lion King.” Anderson-Lopez and Lopez have a perfect Oscar track record, with wins in 2013 for the original “Frozen” and in 2017 for “Coco.” Newman won for songs from “Toy Story 3” in 2010 and “Monsters, Inc.” in 2001, earning an additional nine nominations in this category and nine in the score race, including one this year for “Marriage Story.” Erivo is also nominated this year for her leading performance in her film. “Rocketman” took home the Golden Globe and a handful of other guild and critics’ prizes. The last seven Golden Globe winners have gone on to be nominated here, with five of them triumphing.

Who should win: I chose other songs that made the fifteen-wide finalist list (and some that didn’t), and out of these, I’d say that “Stand Up” and “Into the Unknown” are my favorite.s
Who will win: While I’m Gonna Love Me Again isn’t a lock like some past tunes, I think it’s far enough ahead of the rest.

Movie with Abe: Breakthrough

Directed by Roxann Dawson
Released April 17, 2019

A film’s title can have significant meaning, and can also serve to reveal where its story is ultimately headed. Some cinematic experiences, especially those based on true events, aren’t reliant on suspense and plot twists to deliver satisfaction, but instead on the power of what’s portrayed to speak for itself and be fulfilling in its own right. Going into a movie with a sense of what you’re going to get out of it can be both appealing and irritating, since expectations being met exactly may end up being lackluster and all too predictable.

Fourteen-year-old John Smith (Marcel Ruiz) is playing with his friends on a frozen lake when he falls through the ice. His two friends emerge quickly, but it takes first responders considerably longer to find him and bring him up. A lack of pulse compels Dr. Sutterer (Sam Trammell) to call his time of death, but the arrival of his willful adoptive mother, Joyce (Chrissy Metz), produces a response in him. Joyce dedicates every moment to being there for John and maintaining a positive attitude, leaning on her husband Brian (Josh Lucas) and her new pastor, Jason (Topher Grace), who she dislikes immensely until he shows up and prays with her for a miraculous recovery.

The title here refers both to John’s fall and his incredible journey back to life, which is dramatized in this heavily Christian production. Joyce is first seen arguing with Jason about who reserved the church space she is using for a meeting, and the two are highly competitive about their approach to faith. Yet there’s never a question of not believing, just simply a clash on how to do it. When Jason remains by her side and insistent that her hope should be maintained, while doctors and friends express doubts about John’s condition, they become bonded together, both espousing an extreme devotion to prayer that they believe has the power to save this boy who should by all accounts be dead.

Ruiz, in his film debut, is unconscious for most of the film, and as a result the spotlight is much more on Metz. Best known for “This Is Us,” Metz delivers an extremely hokey performance here with a regrettable accent, and she’d be much better remembered for her powerful rendition of the Oscar-nominated song “I’m Standing with You,” which plays over the credits and serves as the only reason that this reviewer (and other ardent Oscar fans) saw this film. Grace is capable as always, properly representative of the charismatic nature of many religious figures. This film showcases a formidable survival, but does so in the most obvious and predictable way possible, unnecessarily adapted into this religion-centric production.