Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Live Action Short

The nominees:
 
Feeling Through (B+)
A man struggling to figure out where he will sleep that night is compelled to help another man he sees on a street corner who is both deaf and blind, forging an unexpected relationship between the two of them. This short is endearing and enjoyable with two rich characters at its center. Watch it now on YouTube via Omeleto.

Two Distant Strangers (B+)
A Black man gets shot and killed over and over by a white police officer on his way home as he experiences a time loop. Similar in premise to the feature film “The Obituary of Tunde Johnson,” this short explores identity, connection, and conflict in a stark and unforgettable way. Content warning: this film does not censor its scenes, which is powerful but disturbing. Watch it on Netflix.

The Letter Room (B+)
Oscar Isaac stars as a prison guard put in charge of reading letters to inmates who takes a special interest in one correspondent. Its protagonist is lonely and isolated, and the connection he makes with someone through the words that she writes feels dynamic and energizing. Watch it on Topic.

The Present (B+)
A Palestinian man crosses into Israel with his young daughter to purchase a new refrigerator as a gift for his wife, a simple task that becomes a much more complicated and difficult ordeal. Its main characters are sympathetic, and though this story is strongly tied to its geopolitical setting, there is something universal and relatable to it. Watch it now on Netflix.

White Eye (B+)
An Israeli man finds his stolen bike outside of a restaurant and tries to get the police to intervene, which threatens the livelihood of the undocumented immigrant he believes has stolen it. This story is involving and complex, not set on portraying the situation as black-and-white but exploring it on a deeper level. Watch a trailer on YouTube.

Previous winners: The Neighbor’s Window, Skin, The Silent Child, Sing, Stutterer, The Phone Call, Helium

For your information: This is the first Oscar nomination for all filmmakers. “The Present” won the BAFTA for Best Short Film, though none of the other films here were in contention.

Who should win: Unlike last year’s list, I liked this one a lot. I’m not sure I have a clear preference and would probably be fine with any of them winning since they’re all impressive and worthwhile.
Who will win: I suspect that Two Distant Strangers in the frontrunner, but it could honestly be any of them.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Animated Short

The nominees:
 
Burrow (B+)
A rabbit has big plans for what her home will be like, and finds that reality is going to present obstacles and opportunities. This dialogue-free short is inventive and heartwarming, running just six minutes. Watch it now on Disney Plus.

If Anything Happens I Love You (B+)
Two parents mourning the loss of their child struggle to reconnect and come to terms with what they have suffered. This emotional film is definitely for adults, though it utilizes powerful imagery to convey the lingering spirit of their child’s presence. Watch it now on Netflix.

Genius Loci (B)
This striking French film uses its animation to tell its story in a particularly memorable way, interpreting the city and its characters through the ways in which they blend together. It’s certainly not easy to follow as a narrative, but there is an artistry to the movement of shapes that is powerful and enduring. Watch a teaser on Vimeo.

Opera (B+)
There’s so much going on in this very intricate and mesmerizing film, one that explores civilization and conflict, representing the way people interact with one another and how they function. It’s almost impossible to catch everything that is going on in this visual portrait of history through a constantly-operating pyramid, but what comes across is tremendous effort and immense thought. Watch a trailer on YouTube .

Yes-People (B+)
This Icelandic delight is indeed peculiar but also rather entertaining, almost wordlessly spending time with a group of people as they go about their day. Its character connections and minimal plot are clever, while its animation is particularly remarkable. Watch it on YouTube via The New Yorker .

Previous winners: Hair Love, Bao, Dear Basketball, Piper, Bear Story, Feast, Mr. Hublot

For your information: This is the first Oscar nomination for all filmmakers in this category. “Burrow” comes from Pixar, a major historical player in this category last nominated in 2018, for “Bao,” which won.

Who should win: I think I’d choose “If Anything Happens I Love You” or “Opera.”
Who will win: I think this will be If Anything Happens I Love You but it could also go to “Opera.”

Monday, April 12, 2021

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary Short

The nominees:
Colette (B+)
A ninety-year-old French woman decides to visit a Nazi concentration camp for the first time in tribute to her brother, a member of the French resistance, who was killed there. The bond she forms with a young student and museum docent is powerful and affecting, and its lessons of resilience continue to be relevant. Watch it now on the Guardian.

A Concerto Is a Conversation (B+)
A musician talks to his grandfather about the many experiences he had in his life that contributed to his love of music and to his need to express what he encountered and went through in an artistic manner. It’s a very sweet and touching film that feels incredibly intimate, a simple conversation between a grandfather and his grandson shared warmly with an audience. Watch it now via The New York Times.

Do Not Split (B+)
In a year filled with news-making protests all around the world, this short focuses on Hong Kong and the rights of protesters to gather and have their voices heard. Its classification of masks as a way to hide one’s identity rather than to protect others due to coronavirus is intriguing in our current moment, but it only adds to the effectiveness of this harrowing and urgent film. Watch it now on Field of Vision.

Hunger Ward (B+)
This spotlight on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is certainly one of the most difficult and disturbing watches in this category, showing young children who weigh troublingly little. Its portrayal of the brave, hard work of the staff and the somehow-existent optimism of the literally starving patients is a forceful call to action. Watch it now on Pluto TV.

A Love Song for Latasha (B)
This tribute to a Black girl killed at the age of fifteen in 1992, shortly before the Los Angeles riots, is poetic and heartfelt, honoring her memory and challenging the system that could allow a teenager to be killed over a bottle of orange juice. It’s less structured overall than the rest, but still very moving. Watch it now on Netflix.

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: This is the first Oscar nomination for all filmmakers here except “Hunger Ward” director Skye Fitzgerald, who contended two years ago for his previous short “Lifeboat.” Only “Hunger Ward” was in the running for the Critics Choice Documentary Award prize, where it lost to a nominee in this category last year, “St. Louis Superman.”

Who should win: These are all strong. I think for me the most memorable were “A Concerto is a Conversation” and “Do Not Split.”
Who will win: In general, this category doesn’t always reward positivity, and therefore I think “Hunger Ward” could win, but I’ll choose A Concerto is a Conversation instead.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best International Feature

The competition: Another Round (Denmark), Better Days (Hong Kong), Collective (Romania), The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia), Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Previous winners: Parasite (South Korea), Roma (Mexico), A Fantastic Woman (Chile), The Salesman (Iran), Son of Saul (Hungary), Ida (Poland), The Great Beauty (Italy), Amour (Austria)
My winner: Coming soon!
The facts: This is the third consecutive year that a nominee here also contends for Best Director, with Thomas Vinterberg (who I interviewed here) up for the honor for “Another Round.” Two of the past three directors to attain that honor won both this and that prize, though both “Roma” and “Parasite” were also nominated for Best Picture. Vinterberg is back after helming “The Hunt” in 2013, and this marks the thirteenth nomination for Denmark, which has been victorious three times: in 1987 for “Babette’s Feast,” in 1988 for “Pelle the Conqueror,” and in 2010 for “In a Better World.” Hong Kong has two previous nominations, both from the early 1990s. This is Romania’s first-ever nomination, and the second consecutive year that a film in this category has also been recognized as a nominee for Best Documentary. “Collective” is the fourth-ever documentary nominated in this category (thanks to Juan Carlos over at The Film Experience for a thorough historical analysis of this). This is also the first-ever nomination for Tunisia. Bosnia and Herzegovina returns with its second nomination after one previous bid, in 2001 for “No Man’s Land,” which also earned it a win. As far as I can tell, this is the first time since 2006 that two female directors are nominated, Kaouther Ben Hania for “The Man Who Sold His Skin” and Jasmila Žbanić for “Quo Vadis, Aida?” As tends to be the case, this slate is largely untested in regards to competing with each other. Only “Another Round” was nominated at the Golden Globes, while it beat “Quo Vadis, Aida?” at BAFTA.
Who should win: This is a very good list. I personally liked “The Man Who Sold His Skin” quite a bit, but I would be fine with “Another Round” or “Quo Vadis, Aida?” winning too. “Collective” is also a very good choice, and though it wouldn’t be my pick, “Better Days” is also a strong film.
Who will win: I’m tempted to predict that “Quo Vadis, Aida?” triumphs, but I think Another Round will have little trouble winning this.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary Feature

The competition: Collective, Crip Camp, The Moly Agent, My Octopus Teacher, Time

Previous winners: American Factory, Free Solo, Icarus, OJ: Made in America, Amy, Citizenfour, Twenty Feet from Stardom
My winner: Coming soon
The facts: This is the first nomination for all filmmakers in this category. After “Honeyland” last year, “Collective” becomes the second film nominated in this category to also be up for Best International Feature. Two 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.” There are a handful of precursors relevant to this category. “Crip Camp” and “Time” scored at the International Documentary Association, while “Dick Johnson Is Dead,” which isn’t nominated, won the Critics’ Choice Documentary Award, which also gave a cinematography prize to “My Octopus Teacher,” the PGA winner. The only film nominated for all those prizes was “Time.”
Who should win: I was very impressed with “Collective,” “Time,” and “Crip Camp,” and would be happy to see any of those win.
Who will win: This is a very competitive category this year, and I’m really not sure what will win. I’ll bet on Collective with “Crip Camp” also very possible.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Animated Feature

The competition: Onward, Over the Moon, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, Soul, Wolfwalkers

Previous winners: Toy Story 4, 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: Coming soon
The facts: Only one sequel is nominated this year, and the original “Shaun the Sheep Movie” contended in 2015. That’s the fourth nomination for Aardman, which won in 2005 for “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.” The only sequels that have every won were “Toy Story 3” and “Toy Story 4” (last year). Representing Pixar, which has won ten times out of thirteen nominations, are both “Onward” and “Soul.” From Cartoon Saloon, which has three previous nominations, comes “Wolfwalkers,” and “Over the Moon” is the second consecutive bid for Netflix, which was nominated last year for “Klaus.” Whereas last year, numerous films won precursors, “Soul” has been relatively dominant, and is expected to win the Annie Award later this week, where all but “Over the Moon” contend for top awards. The only film with a nomination in any other category is “Soul,” which contends for its score and sound.
Who should win: I’m totally fine with “Soul” winning, though I’d be thrilled if it was either “Wolfwalkers” or “Over the Moon.”
Who will win: This award is going to Soul.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Movie with Abe: Moffie

Out this weekend in theaters and VOD is “Moffie.” I had the chance to look at this well-made, disturbing South African queer war drama for The Film Experience. Head over there to read my review.

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

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


New to Theaters: Voyagers
New to Theaters and VOD: Moffie
New to DVD: Shadow in the Cloud
New to Netflix: Thunder Force, Coded Bias
New to Amazon Prime Video: High-Rise

Friday, April 9, 2021

Movie with Abe: Voyagers

Voyagers
Directed by Neil Burger
Released April 9, 2021 (Theaters)

It isn’t easy to think beyond oneself and to consider the positive implications of actions that can only benefit future generations. Philanthropy for already existent causes to assist those who are in need is common, and repairing a broken system is meant to lead to the eventual creation of something that works in its place. The concept that people are far more willing to engage in efforts that they can tangibly see through to their ends is one of the reasons that something like climate change has been put off for so long, since it will be felt and experienced more by those who aren’t born yet. Considering the future of humanity and the planet, however, is not an endeavor confined to any one person’s lifetime, as compellingly probed in this intriguing if not entirely fulfilling sci-fi meditation.

Earth is dying and will no longer be able to sustain human life, but there’s good news: another planet has been found that will prove habitable. Since the journey to get there will take eighty-six years, no astronauts aboard will live to be able to create a new civilization. Rather than find willing candidates who are willing to die in transit aboard a spaceship, recruits are specifically bred so that they can blindly follow orders and procreate to enable their grandchildren to take on the important task of colonization. Richard (Colin Farrell), a lead scientist on the project, goes with the group and supervises their journey as they slowly begin to awaken to the fact that their free will has been stifled for the sake of preserving the human race.

This film’s premise is remarkably interesting, and it almost seems that a movie with a runtime under two hours isn’t nearly enough time to explore all that could come with it. It finds its most startling and fascinating observations in how unexpected behavior plays out when knowledge starts to be discovered, like in the interchangeability of pain and pleasure since both are sensory experiences that these young people have never known. As rebellion foments and chaos ensues, this film becomes a perfectly ordinary and familiar instance of science fiction, one whose plot trajectory and denouement don’t deliver anything extraordinary. Given more time – like as a TV series – there might have been more opportunity for a deeper and more substantial focus on the ethical questions involve rather than merely a stark transition to violence and a thriller format.

Aside from Farrell, who is a fine choice for his relatively dry role, this cast includes a number of recognizable young stars who have been turning in impressive work over the last few years. Fionn Whitehead gets the juiciest role as the key instigator on board, while Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Isaac Hempstead Wright, and others contribute mostly subdued performances designed to mimic the almost robotic lives they have been trained to lead. Though it does feature several scenes in space and outside the ship, this is a mostly insular journey, one that is reminiscent of more memorable and emphatic explorations of this subject, like “High Life” and “Equals.” The debates it raises and grapples with are more lasting and worthwhile than this average cinematic space movie itself.

B-

Movie with Abe: Thunder Force

Thunder Force
Directed by Ben Falcone
Released April 9, 2021 (Netflix)

The expression “With great power comes great responsibility” will forever be linked with its usage as an early warning to Spider-Man about the weight his uncanny abilities carried. It’s applicable to so many situations in which a person is granted authority or might of some kind and must then be held accountable for what they do with it and the others they must manage and interact with in the process. There isn’t typically a way for those who are inherently more good and worthy to be bestowed with talent – or in the case of science fiction, superpowers – and if anything, the universe is far more random and malicious in its selection. This action comedy looks at how things might shape up if it was in fact the wrong people who hit the power lottery and needed to be kept in check by some force for good.

As teenagers, Lydia and Emily were unlikely friends, but ultimately had a falling out after Lydia’s desire to constantly have a good time nearly cost Emily her academic future. Years later, on the eve of their class reunion, Lydia (Melissa McCarthy), who now works construction, reaches out to Emily (Octavia Spencer), who has become the head of a tech organization advancing research to combat the Miscreants, superpowered sociopaths who regularly terrorize Chicago. Through a series of mishaps, Lydia becomes one of the first participants in Emily’s experiment designed to give good people powers of their own so that they can fight to protect Chicago from those who seek to destroy it.

It’s a busy time for comic book content, and while this film, from an original script by director Ben Falcone, isn’t based on any preexisting source material, it feels like it very much could be. The notion that those with an inclination towards problematic personality disorders are more likely to have powers presents an obvious setup for heroes to come to the rescue, and in the case of this certainly comedic film, Lydia doesn’t fit that bill at all. This kind of content blends well with humor, and therefore much of it works, though it’s not clear what audience this film is intended for, since a good chunk of its plotting feels cartoonish and designed for a much younger viewership than this film’s PG-13 rating would suggest.

McCarthy, who did receive an Oscar nomination recently for a more toned-down performance in “Can You Ever Forgive Me,” isn’t typically known for her subtlety, and very little of that is on display here. Instead, it’s a loud turn that’s impossible to ignore, but that’s also part of the appeal, since McCarthy is gifted with extraordinary comic timing and eagerly approaches every slapstick moment with all the energy she can muster. Spencer, who has many times provided humor in her supporting performances in dramatic films, is her more serious foil, and the two make a competent duo. The ensemble includes Melissa Leo, Bobby Cannavale, Pom Klementieff, Taylor Mosby, Falcone, and Jason Bateman having fun, and that’s the general spirit of this film. It’s hardly covering new ground or excelling at it, but it’s a decent enough and an amusing ride.

B-

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay

The competition: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman, Lee Kern, and Nina Pedrad),The Father (Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller), Nomadland (Chloé Zhao), One Night in Miami (Kemp Powers), The White Tiger (Ramin Bahrani)

Previous winners: Jojo Rabbit, BlacKkKlansman, Call Me By Your Name, Moonlight, The Big Short, The Imitation Game, 12 Years a Slave
My winner: Coming soon!
The facts: Baron Cohen, Hines, Baynham, and Mazer were all nominated in this race in 2006 for the first “Borat” film, and Cohen is nominated this year for his performance in “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Hampton won this prize in 1988 for “Dangerous Liaisons” and was nominated again in 2007 for “Atonement.” This is Zhao’s first time being nominated, and she contends also for directing, producing, and editing her film. Only “The Father” and “Nomadland” are up for Best Picture. “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” defeated “One Night in Miami” and “The White Tiger” at the WGA Awards, where the other two nominees here weren’t eligible, and “Nomadland” won the USC Scripter Award, besting “One Night in Miami.”
Who should win: I’d give this to “One Night in Miami” without much hesitation.
Who will win: This feels like a safe win for Nomadland given that what might have been its closest competitor, “One Night in Miami,” didn’t perform all that well. It would be startling to see “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” win given that the first film didn’t.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Screenplay

The competition: Judas and the Black Messiah (Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenneth Lucas, and Keith Lucas), Minari (Lee Isaac Chung), Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell), Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, Abraham Marder, and Derek Cianfrance), and The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin)

Previous winners: Parasite, Green Book, Get Out, Manchester by the Sea, Spotlight, Birdman, Her
My winner: Coming soon!
The facts: Amazingly, this is Sorkin’s first nomination in this category, though he’s contended three times for his adapted screenplays, in 2017 for “Molly’s Game,” in 2011 for “Moneyball,” and in 2010 for “The Social Network,” which earned him a win. This is the first nomination for all other writers in this category, though some picked up additional bids this year. King contends as a producer, Chung as a director, and Fennell as both. “Minari” was ineligible at the WGA Awards, where the other four films were nominated and “Promising Young Woman” won. The latter film lost to “The Trial of the Chicago 7” in the Golden Globes catch-all screenplay category.

Who should win: I would be happy with either “Promising Young Woman” or “The Trial of the Chicago 7” – they’re both terrific and very clever scripts.
Who will win: While it’s possible that “The Trial of the Chicago 7” will score its representative win here, I think that Promising Young Woman has enough momentum to pull off that feat.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Supporting Role

The competition: Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm), Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy), Olivia Colman (The Father), Amanda Seyfried (Mank), Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari)

Previous winners: Laura Dern, Regina King, Allison Janney, Viola Davis, Alicia Vikander, Patricia Arquette, Lupita N’yongo
My winner: Coming soon!
The facts: Colman won an Oscar in 2018 for “The Favourite,” famously beating Close, who lost, on her seventh try, for “The Wife.” Her first three career nominations came in this category three years in a row in 1982, 1983, and 1984 for “The World According to Garp,” “The Big Chill,” and “The Natural.” This is the first nomination for Bakalova, Seyfried, and Youn. Colman, Seyfried, and Youn all have their films nominated for Best Picture. The Golden Globe winner in this race, Jodie Foster, isn’t cited here. Bakalova won the Critics Choice Award and Youn won the SAG Award.
Who should win: Seyfried or Bakalova
Who will win: It could very well be Bakalova, but I suspect Youn will repeat her SAG victory.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Supporting Role

The competition: Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah), Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami), Paul Raci (Sound of Metal), Lakeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah)

Previous winners: Brad Pitt, Mahershala Ali, Sam Rockwell, Mahershala Ali, Mark Rylance, J.K. Simmons, Jared Leto
My winner: Coming soon!
The facts: Only one of these men has been nominated for an acting Oscar before, and that’s Kaluuya, who contended in 2017 for “Get Out.” Cohen was nominated in 2006 for writing the screenplay to “Borat” and is up again this year for the script for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” Odom is also nominated this year for the song “Speak Now” from his film. Both Raci and Stanfield are here after missing out on many and all, respectively, precursors. All but Odom have their films nominated for Best Picture. Multiple nominees from one film happen occasionally, including last year for “The Irishman,” and the second most recent case – 2017 – resulted in a win for one of them. Kaluuya has won the Golden Globe, SAG, and Critics Choice Award. The only actor to win those three prizes and then lose this award was Eddie Murphy in 2006 for “Dreamgirls,” who ultimately lost to Alan Arkin for “Little Miss Sunshine.”
Who should win: This is a great list even if Stanfield really doesn’t belong in this category. I’d choose Kaluuya, Cohen, or Odom.
Who will win: Even with his unexpected internal competition, Kaluuya shouldn’t have any trouble winning.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Movie with Abe: The Forbidden Wish

The Forbidden Wish
Directed by Michael Carnick
Released April 6, 2021 (VOD)

Religion is something that can bring a great deal of comfort and can cause a great deal of pain. Those who find meaning in it will likely incorporate it into the moments that make them happiest and saddest, using it as a source of explanation and assigning a higher power to guide the seemingly random events that occur in the universe. Others will remember a difficult time in which it caused them nothing but anguish and associate it with misery and alienation. Yet even for those who have turned away from religion, a momentous development or tremendous struggle may send them searching in a space they never expected to return to, as in the case of this intriguing and thought-provoking two-person drama.

It is the night before Yom Kippur, and Nate (Sammi Rotibi), an Ethiopian-born rabbi, practices his sermon in an empty sanctuary. The quiet of the large room is interrupted when Isaac (John Berchtold) arrives, having just walked from the airport after returning from Israel, where he has just buried his father. Isaac recounts how he attended Hebrew school at the synagogue and how he now wishes to end his life. Before he can do so, however, he wants Nate to bestow upon him the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer said for the dead. Resistant to the idea of saying it for someone who is living, Nate engages Isaac in conversation, which in turn leads to Nate also sharing that which haunts him.

This film is a captivating portrait of two men who seem impossibly alone, one who is indeed that way, with no real family or friends to care for him, and the other who will soon be surrounded by a congregation that will find his carefully-prepared words informative and educational. In many ways, it could be a play, given that the scenery barely changes and the two speak directly to each other for the entirety of the film, anchoring the story around their growing relationship. Its role as a film enables the camera to extract further emotion from close-up shots of its characters’ faces and how they respond to the statements made and questions asked by the other.

In this film is an interesting engagement with Judaism, one that requires a substantial knowledge of rituals and customs in the construction of its plot and puts a peculiar emphasis on a prayer that might be well known to many but certainly not as a requirement – or endorsement – for ending one’s life. Identity is another key theme, one that the script by writer-director Michael Carnick richly probes. Rotibi and Berchtold bring a relatable humanity to their fractured characters, and this exploration of purpose and connection proves memorable and lingering.

B

Monday, April 5, 2021

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Leading Role

The competition: Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday), Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman), Frances McDormand (Nomadland), Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman)

Previous winners: Renee Zellweger, Olivia Colman, Frances McDormand, Emma Stone, Brie Larson, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence
My winner: Coming soon!
The facts: McDormand has won this award twice, in 2017 for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and in 1996 for “Fargo.” She has three additional previous nominations, all in the supporting category, for “North Country,” “Almost Famous,” and “Mississippi Burning.” She is also nominated as a producer on her film this year. Davis won an Oscar in 2016 for “Fences” and was nominated before that for “The Help” and “Doubt.” Mulligan has contended once before, for “An Education” in 2009. This is the first nomination for both Day and Kirby. Only McDormand and Mulligan’s films are nominated for Best Picture.

This may well be the most interesting and unpredictable category of the year. Day won the Golden Globe, beating the other four nominees, but wasn’t even nominated by SAG. Mulligan won the Critics Choice prize, and Davis triumphed at SAG. Only McDormand and Kirby are nominated at BAFTA, which hands out its awards this weekend. I can’t find another historical instance of such discord between groups. When Sharon Stone and Isabelle Huppert won Globes and then weren’t nominated by SAG, they ended up losing the Oscar. This category is anyone’s guess!

Who should win: Mulligan
Who will win: I would be genuinely shocked if it was Kirby given the lack of other support for her film, but any of the other four could easily win. Though I’d love to see Mulligan, I think Day is going to win this.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Leading Role

The competition: Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Anthony Hopkins (The Father), Gary Oldman (Mank), Steven Yeun (Minari)

Previous winners: Joaquin Phoenix, Rami Malek, Gary Oldman, Casey Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Eddie Redmayne, Matthew McConaughey
My winner: Coming soon!
The facts: This category includes two previous winners and three first-time nominees. Hopkins was nominated last year for “The Two Popes” and previously for “Amistad,” “Nixon,” and “The Remains of the Day.” He won on his first nomination in 1991 for “The Silence of the Lambs.” Oldman won in 2017 for “Darkest Hour” and was also nominated in 2011 for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” All five of these films are up for Best Picture, and this exact list contended at SAG, while Yeun was the only one not nominated for a Golden Globe. Five men have contended posthumously for this award, and only one – Peter Finch in 1976 – won. That’s likely to change this year since Chadwick Boseman, who died in August at the age of forty-three, was already awarded the Golden Globe, SAG, and Critics Choice Award. Only one actor in this category has won both the Globe and the SAG and then lost this prize, and that was Russell Crowe in 2001 for “A Beautiful Mind,” and he hardly had the same reputation as Boseman did.
Who should win: Boseman or Ahmed
Who will win: This is going to Boseman.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Movie with Abe: A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
Directed by Will Becher and Richard Phelan
Released February 14, 2020 (Netflix)

There are two common reactions to something that cannot initially be understood: fear and excitement. Those who worry that whatever new phenomenon has arrived or begun may upset the delicate balance of their lives may protest against its very existence and seek to root it out and destroy it. Others may express curiosity and be drawn to see or examine it up close, like the traffic that ensues after a car crash on the highway because so many have slowed down to get a look at what happened. When it comes to people or aliens showing up in an unfamiliar place and becoming the subject of both conversation and action, it’s a good bet that they’re just as eager to learn about their new neighbors and surroundings.

Shaun and his fellow sheep spend their time on the farm pushing boundaries and trying dangerous activities, only to be stopped each time by the watchful and serious dog Bitzer. They discover something much more new and exciting when an alien known as Lu-La comes to the farm. As Shaun and Lu-La bond and get into hijinks together, Farmer John sees an opportunity with the recent UFO sighting and plans to convert the farm into a theme park called Farmageddon. Agent Red of the Ministry of Alien Detection is in hot pursuit of this rogue alien, and sets her sights on Farmer John and his new UFO-centric operation.

This film is a follow-up to “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” a 2015 Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature that I found unexpectedly entertaining, itself an offshoot of “Wallace and Gromit.” It requires absolutely no context for those who have completely forgotten the events of the original film, and manages to convey its characters and their relationships exceptionally well without a single line of discernable dialogue. The grunts and murmurs its human, alien, and animal characters do utter are more than sufficient to make clear that their interactions are simple and comprehensible from their body language and facial expressions.

The story here is one of persecution and acceptance, with Shaun’s inability to goof off without constant dampening oversight transformed into Lu-La being unable to merely exist without the threat of capture and extermination. Its G rating ensures that all audiences will be able to enjoy it, with adults picking up on layered themes and marveling along with children at the quality of the stop-motion animation. This film is charming and a pleasure to watch, and while there may not be another installment in the works yet, Shaun should definitely return for another round of memorable mischief.

B+

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Movie with Abe: Love and Monsters

Love and Monsters
Directed by Michael Matthews
Released October 16, 2020

With the state of the world today, it’s no surprise that many have imagined post-apocalyptic scenarios. Initially perceived as purely science fiction, there are now many plausible theories for how humanity might be decimated not by nature or some unpredictable event, but instead undone by the response to a perceived disaster with truly unfortunate and irreversible consequences. Those who do manage to live will be left to fend for themselves, and their chances of survival depend on their ability to outsmart others and to work together for a common good, which is far from a widely-accepted notion. All that serves as the structure of this fairly expected but moderately enjoyable monster movie.

After radiation from bombs shot to destroy an approaching asteroid turn the animal kingdom into giant monsters, the human race is not doing very well. Pockets of people live underground, and Joel (Dylan O’Brien) is among them. He is not what anyone would describe as battle-ready, but learning that his girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick) is only eighty-five miles away prompts him to brave the surface and try to find him. Along the way, he meets a dog, a handful of large and terrifying mutated animals, and other humans that are either trustworthy and helpful or devious and ready to sacrifice him so that they can continue to prosper in post-apocalyptic times.

This film is Oscar-nominated for its visual effects, which serve mostly to transform its cold-blooded animals into something much more threatening. While those are indeed impressive and part of the more memorable scenes in this film, they actually play a surprisingly small role in a film that isn’t actually about nonhuman monsters at all. What Joel discovers most in the course of his brave journey on land is that it’s the people he meets and who talk to him in language he can understand that may be much more dangerous than the animals that can’t communicate what they think and feel.

In an overwhelming landscape of films and television shows that check in with humanity long past its expiration date, this one doesn’t particularly stand out. It feels as if it has been inspired by and assembled from a number of familiar projects featuring zombies or other villains, and what remains is mildly appealing but certainly not fresh. O’Brien is a competent lead, and Henwick, a recognizable face from “Iron Fist” and other media, makes Aimee a compelling character, while Michael Rooker, Arianna Greenblatt, and Dan Ewing provide adequate support as fellow survivors. This film is nothing extraordinary but does manage to fulfill its title’s promise, offering some humor and action mixed with romance and giant reptiles.

B-

Interview with Abe: The Trial of the Chicago 7

I had the pleasure of chatting with producer Ryan Donnell Smith about one of the best films I saw last year, the Oscar-nominated “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Check out my great conversation with him at Awards Radar. Read my rave review of the film here!

Friday, April 2, 2021

Weekend Movie Recommendations with Abe

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


New to Theaters: The Man Who Sold His Skin
New to Theaters and VOD: Shiva Baby
New to DVD: Another Round, Our Friend
New to Netflix: Concrete Cowboy, Legally Blonde, The Pianist
New to Amazon Prime Video: The Ghost Writer, Anna Karenina, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Inception, Minority Report
New to Hulu: Die Hard, Friends with Benefits, Garden State, Star Trek: Generations

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Movie with Abe: Concrete Cowboy

Out tomorrow on Netflix is the new film “Concrete Cowboy,” which I had the chance to write up for Cinema Daily US. Head over there to read my review of this intriguing spotlight of an urban riding community starring Caleb McLaughlin.