Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Oscar Look Back - 2008

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting lookbacks at the Oscar years for 2008, 1998, 1988, 1978, 1968, 1958, 1948 and 1938. I haven’t seen everything nominated those years, but rank the ones I have for Picture, Director and all four Acting Categories. We’ll start with 2008.

2008 Oscars Nominations
  1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  2. Milk
  3. Slumdog Millionaire - WINNER
  4. The Reader
  5. Frost/Nixon
Why This Ranking: This was the year that broke the Oscars – when they decided to expand the Best Picture Lineup specifically in response to this lineup. It’s not a particularly strong one, even if I like all of the films Frost/Nixon is the weakest link, but it’s still a conventionally satisfying, old school biopic. I quite like The Reader – while still realizing it has its share of flaws, although Kate Winslet’s great performance helps a lot of them. The hugely entertaining Slumdog Millionaire has had its detractors over the years, but if you completely hate it, you don’t have a heart – so while it isn’t my choice, it’s a fine winner. I do prefer the films of Gus Van Sant’s he made right before Milk (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days, Paranoid Park) – but Milk – is kind of the mainstream version of those films, and a conventional biopic, that it is also hugely rewarding. Finally, yes, I’m the one who still defends the wonderful The Curious Case of Benjamin Button  - David Fincher’s slow, three hour meditation on death, for which my appreciation of has only grown in the past decade. It should have won.
What Was Overlooked: One of my absolute favorite films of the decade was Synecdoche, New York which was always going to be too weird, but I would still love if it got in. They also really should have nominated Wall-E and The Dark Knight – which were huge critical and commercial hits.
  1. David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  2. Gus Van Sant, Milk
  3. Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire - WINNER
  4. Stephen Daldry, The Reader
  5. Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Why This Ranking: This is one of those boring year when Picture/Director matched complexly, so yawn, I don’t have much to say on this – as it’s exactly the same. I will say the one thing I hate about the expanded best picture lineup is that we no longer have the Lone Director nominees anymore.
Who Was Overlooked: I really wish they would have nominated Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight for two reasons – one, he really did deserve it, and the second so his fanboys would shut the hell up about it.
  1. Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
  2. Sean Penn, Milk - WINNER
  3. Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
  4. Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  5. Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Why This Ranking: I really do like Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon – but there have been a lot of great Nixons in movie history, and Langella isn’t in the top spot (or even top 3 -Anthony Hopkins, Philip Baker Hall, Dan Hedaya would get my votes, but hey he’s better than John Cusack) – so perhaps a nomination was a bit much. I love Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – but the point of the performance is that he blends in, so it’s not exactly a performance of great range. Richard Jenkins in The Visitor is terrific – and it’s great to see a performance in a small movie like this just soldier through and pick up a nomination. Winner Sean Penn in Milk really is one of his best performances – and one of the only ones where he completely disappears into the role, so it’s a good winner to be sure. But Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler completely wrecked me – and is one of the great performances of the decade. I thought it was the start of a great comeback for Rourke – it wasn’t – but even as a one off, it’s great.
Who Was Overlooked: I liked Josh Brolin in W. more than most did in 2008, and that’s still true a decade later – but it really is the definitive George W. Bush for me (WAY better than Sam Rockwell’s in Vice) and would have loved to see him get in. I really loved Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road – and the film itself – and I’ll never understand why it didn’t connect with audiences or critics more than it did.
  1. Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
  2. Meryl Streep, Doubt
  3. Kate Winslet, The Reader – WINNER
  4. Melissa Leo, Frozen River
  5. Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Why This Ranking: I do kind of think that Clint Eastwood’s Changeling is underrated – but I still think Angelina Jolie isn’t the element that needed to be singled out. Melissa Leo was great in Frozen River – and I have no problem with this nomination, but it’s the kind of quiet indie that has mainly been forgotten in the last decade. Had Kate Winslet been nominated for Revolutionary Road, she would have been my easy choice for the win – but her work in The Reader is excellent, and it was time she won, so okay. Meryl Streep’s work in Doubt is my favorite performance of her this century, and is truly brilliant. And yet, Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married delivered her best work ever, and I love the fact that this strange film got in here – if only she had won.
Who Was Overlooked: The best work of the year was Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road – so I would have swapped her in for her work in The Reader. I think Michelle Williams is brilliant in Wendy & Lucy – and would have been a great choice for the Indie spot. I also would have loved to see a foreign legend in Catherine Denueve get nominated for her great work in A Christmas Tale.
Supporting Actor
  1. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight - WINNER
  2. Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
  3. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
  4. Josh Brolin, Milk
  5. Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
Why This Ranking: I love Michael Shannon – it’s ridiculous he only has two nominations to this point in his career – and his small performance in Revolutionary Road is very good, but it’s a very old fashioned type of role (the guy people think is crazy is really the truth teller). Josh Brolin in Milk got the nomination over some of his co-stars in part because he really is quite good as the man who kills the hero, and also because they’re more comfortable with that type of role than some of the others. It’s always tough to take a hugely acclaimed play and transform it to screen – and I think Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt – does a brilliant job playing the priest that no one can quite pin down. It was an inspired nomination for Robert Downey Jr. to get in for Tropic Thunder – as the white method acting who turns himself black for a role, and a reminder that he used to be one of the most risk taking actors in the world, before all he played was Tony Stark. But the winner was the right choice – Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight is the ultimate comic book villain, and the definitive interpretation of The Joker. All comic book villains before and since pale in comparison.
Who Was Overlooked: There was an even more inspired comic performance than Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder – of course I mean Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading who is absolutely hilarious in the Coen classic – which I loved more than most in 2008 – and people have started to come around to my point of view considering who is now the President. I thought at the time that Burn After Reading would age poorly – being it a product of its time and place, but it’s even more relevant now than ever.
Supporting Actress
  1. Viola Davis, Doubt
  2. Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
  3. Amy Adams, Doubt
  4. Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona - WINNER
  5. Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Why This Ranking: I love Taraji P. Henson and she’s good in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – but it’s hard to get past the idea that it’s another role for a black actor that is there to simple serve the white protagonist. Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a true firecracker in Woody Allen’s film (the second last of 7 winning performance directed by Allen) – but I prefer other performances, perhaps even in the same movie (Rebecca Hall). Amy Adams in Doubt kind of flew under the radar a little bit – because her performance is quieter than anyone else’s in the film – but it is every bit as deserving. Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler really takes what could be a nothing role – the love interest of the protagonist – and turns it into a truly remarkable performance, and was part of a run of great work she was doing at that time (In the Bedroom, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead). But I think the correct winner would have been Viola Davis in Doubt who has one scene, but completely owns it – not only keeping up with Meryl Streep but burying her.
Who Was Overlooked: There was a time when Samantha Morton was an Oscar favorite – and I wish that had extended to Synecdoche, New York – which was the best of a lot of great supporting performances in that movie. And I do think that Kate Winslet in The Reader actually belonged in this category – the film is called The Reader after all, not The Read To.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Movie Review: Capernaum

Capernaum ** / *****
Directed by: Nadine Labaki   
Written by: Nadine Labaki & Jihad Hojeily & Michelle Keserwany and Georges Khabbaz & Khaled Mouzanar.
Starring: Zain Al Rafeea (Zain), Yordanos Shiferaw (Rahil), Boluwatife Treasure Bankole (Yonas), Kawsar Al Haddad (Souad, the Mother), Fadi Yousef (Selim, the Father), Haita 'Cedra' Izzam (Sahar, the Sister), Alaa Chouchnieh (Aspro), Nadine Labaki (Nadine), Elias Khoury (The Judge), Nour El Husseini (Assaad), Joseph Jimbazian (Cockroach Man / Harout), Samira Chalhoub (Daad), Farah Hasno (Maysoun), Michele Sedad (Michele Sedad), Bahia Jaber (Tante Bahia), Tamer Ibrahim (Abou Assaad), Mohamad Chabouri (Raouf).
It is very easy to make an audience feel pity and sympathy for a child onscreen when you basically put him through a tour of misery for two straight hours. You would have to be a monster to not feel something for Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) in Capernaum, who basically has to ensure one horrible thing after another after another (after another) for two straight hours, before arriving at a conclusion that somehow wants to make you feel, better, I guess? There is undeniable skill in the making of Capernaum – director Nadine Labaki trying for some sort of neo-realist feel here, akin to the Dardenne brothers or Vittorio De Sica – and visually, there are times when she achieves that. And her heart is in the right place – many of the actors in the film are real people, whose own experiences are not much better than those in the movie – but she takes such a sledgehammer approach to depicting all the misery on display here that’s it’s impossible not feel manipulated as you watch. It doesn’t take that much skill to evoke an emotional response by basically tormenting a 12-year-old for two hours – and even less, when you give that twelve-year-old a one-year-old to look after, also in a horrible situation.
The film is set in Lebanon and has the very awkward framing device of having Zain – already serving a five-year prison sentence for a violent crime (he admits, enthusically, to stabbing the “son-of-a-bitch” – but in one of the many phony dramatics, the movie doesn’t reveal who until right near the end of the movie – and gives us a few suspects along the way) – who is now suing his parents. Why? For being born. His parents are dirt poor, have any number of children (seriously, I have no idea, it felt like every time we flashed into their apartment, there were more children) – and never had the money to get any of the kids their “papers” (there is a lot of talk about papers in Capernaum – so much so that it’s odd that the film never really explains anything about them). Needing money, they don’t mind selling Zain’s beloved 11-year-old sister Sahar (Haita Cedra Izzam) to a middle aged store owner to be a bride. For Zain – who has already endured so much – this is the final straw (the long stair away fight sequence, where he tries to prevent it from happening, is the best scene in the film) – and boards a us to run away. He ends up at an amusement park, and is taken in by Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) – an illegal immigrant from Ethiopian – both the character and actress. She is trying to find a way to stay in Lebanon so she can care for her son, Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole – a one-year old girl, who gives far and away the best performance in the movie). But when she disappears to – sucked into a system that doesn’t care – Zain is forced to care for Yonas all by himself.
Capernaum is essentially just a series of manipulative scenes that place Zain – and later Zain and Yonas – into danger, and then pulls them back from the brink, just to thrust them right back into danger again. The device of the court room trail is confused and confusing – it’s a ridiculous lawsuit, meant for rhetorical purposes only I’m sure – but it puts the audience into the awkward situation of either agreeing that Zain – the character we actually like – never should have been born (and hence, not here) or agreeing with his horrible parents. Labaki’s moral outlook on everyone is completely black-and-white – there are no shades of grey on any character, who is either basically a Saint, or one of the worst people in the world. And she just keeps on hammering and hammering you with this miserablism is scene after scene.
Capernaum has been a popular film since its debut at Cannes in May – where it won a Special Jury Prize – and it’s been winning prizes ever since, including being nominated for the best Foreign Language film Oscar this year. In a way, it’s not surprising – the film values creating an emotional response out of the audience more than anything else, and that it does. But it does so in such a cheap and fraudulent way that even as you worry about what is going to happen to Zain and Yonas, you feel angry at Labaki for placing them in this sort of danger to begin with.

Movie Review: Blaze

Blaze *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Ethan Hawke.
Written by: Ethan Hawke & Sybil Rosen based on the memoir by Sybil Rosen.
Starring: Ben Dickey (Blaze Foley), Alia Shawkat (Sybil), Charlie Sexton (Townes Van Zandt), Josh Hamilton (Zee), Kris Kristofferson (Edwin Fuller), Richard Linklater (Oilman), Sam Rockwell (Oilman), Steve Zahn (Oilman), Gurf Morlix (Himself), Ethan Hawke (Radio DJ), Alynda Lee Segarra (Marsha), Sybil Rosen (Mrs. Rosen), Jonathan Marc Sherman (Sam), Jean Carlot (Jeannette).
Ethan Hawke’s Blaze deliberately rambles and ambles through it’s just over two-hour runtime – often feeling deliberately aimless. It isn’t aimless though – and the film actually has a fairly intricate construction, with not one, but two framing devices and a flashback structure. All of this is deliberate – a way to capture the shaggy life of its subject – Blaze Foley, a country/folk singer/songwriter who never really became a star (which he didn’t want to be), but perhaps did become a legend (which he did). He died in 1989 – when he was only 40 – and this film tries to get at what made love Blaze (or, you know, not love him) through the eyes of other people.
The structure of the film flashes back and forth in time. The two framing devices are a radio interview with Townes Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton) – friend and mentor Blaze’s, and Zee (Josh Hamilton) - a long time bandmate of Blaze’s – who tell long, winding stories about Blaze (well, mainly Townes does – Zee gets increasingly frustrated with the whole exercise). The second framing device is the last night of Blaze’s life, where he plays a long show at an Austin dive bar – recorded as a double album – and gives the film an opportunity to pretty much run through whatever Blaze song they need at that time to match up with the flashbacks. The flashbacks do proceed in more or less chronological order detailing Blaze’s strange life. The first hour of the film is stronger than the second. In it’s in that hour that the film concentrates on the relationship between Blaze (Ben Dickey) and Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat) – which was a relationship filled with love, as Sybil was Blaze’s muse and wife. Once their relationship sours – and essentially ends - the second hour is more adrift, without something to anchor it.
As a director, Ethan Hawke has grown from his earlier efforts (Chelsea Walls, The Hottest State) – films like seemed like Hawke a lot to say, and was working really hard to say it, even if it all basically added up to nothing. Here, he seems to have taken a more relaxed style – he’s just going with the flow much like Blaze did. There is also, perhaps, more maturity here than in the past – as Hawke sees that youthful idealism in the love story between Blaze and Sybil as just that – youthful idealism. As the film progressed Sybil grows and changes in ways that Blaze just cannot. Drifting from place to place with no rea, plan, no real money, spending your days and nights getting drunk and playing music is fun, right up until its not.
Both Dickey and Shawkat give wonderful performances here. This is the acting debut of musician Dickey, who does the music himself, and unsurprisingly, do it well. More surprisingly though, he’s even better at the dramatic work here – first as the young man in love, and then as the man who doesn’t really know what he wants. Hawke relies too heavily on montages set to Blaze’s music – which as pretty as they are – do grow repetitive. It perhaps would have helped to have something different up his sleeve for the second half of the film.
Still, Blaze is a fine film from Hawke – and for the performers. It’s a good antidote to musical biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody, which tells the story of a band we already know in the most boring way imaginable. Blaze’s story is different – and told in a way that makes it interesting.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Movie Review: Brexit

Brexit *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Toby Haynes.
Written by: James Graham.
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch (Dominic Cummings), Rory Kinnear (Craig Oliver), John Heffernan (Matthew Elliott), Gavin Spokes (Andrew Cooper), Liz White (Mary Wakefield), Kyle Soller (Zack Massingham), Simon Paisley Day (Douglas Carswell), Paul Ryan (Nigel Farage), Lee Boardman (Arron Banks), Nicholas Day (John Mills), Tim McMullan (Bernard Jenkin), Richard Durden (Bill Cash), Oliver Maltman (Michael Gove), Richard Goulding (Boris Johnson), Aden Gillett (Robert Mercer), Lucy Russell (Elizabeth Denham), Kate O'Flynn (Victoria Woodcock), Tim Steed (Daniel Hannan), Henrietta Clemett (Lucy Thomas). 
Watching Brexit, a HBO film, in the same week that British PM Theresa May had her Brexit plan roundly defeated in Parliament, and yet also didn’t lose the confidence of the House, is an odd experience. This story isn’t over yet – and yet an examination of just how the UK got to where it is now is still an interesting experience. It’s just that this story doesn’t have an ending yet.
The film does have the figures that most associate with Brexit – Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage – but it paints them mainly as idiots off getting the headlines, and doing the speeches, but not the real reason why people voted to leave. Instead, the film concentrates on Dominic Cummings (Benedict Cumberbatch) who was hired to lead the “Leave” campaign, and found just the right messaging to turn people to their side, and more importantly, how to get that messaging to the right people. The mistake the “Remain” campaign made – here represented by Craig Olivier (Rory Kinnear), then PM David Cameron’s Communications director – made was running this like a typical campaign, and not realizing until it was too late that Cummings was doing things different. He was using data mining and targeted social media to reach the disaffected – those who are already miserable, and therefore would most likely be convinced that change is a good thing. When you already have nothing, what could change possibly do to you?
Interestingly, Cummings is hardly painted as a true believer in the movie – rather someone who is just tired of the status quo, tired of no one listening, and everything staying the same, so he decides to cause chaos and see what happens. Cumberbatch is the right person to play a role like this – he has somewhat specialized in playing socially awkward geniuses/assholes who don’t give a shit about how anyone else sees things, because they are convinced that they are always right. And in this case, Cummings was right. The biggest decision is probably the one that seems simplest – the slogan “Take Back Control” – which doesn’t really indicate just what a massive change is coming, but rather evokes feelings of nostalgia for the ways things use to be (like, say, Make America Great Again).
The film was directed by Toby Haynes, who is perhaps trying to be too smart and clever and stylish than he needs to be here, with a bunch of flash cuts and talking directly to the camera, etc. The film is at its best when it plays fewer of those games. You are unlikely to forget a Focus Group meeting, that devolves into yelling when the different sides cannot agree on anything – and a white woman freaks out when she is accused of be racist. Her tantrum feels real – and she has a point – even if those accusing her of racist thoughts also have a point. Still, by doing so, she becomes further cemented in her position than ever before.
We don’t really know where Brexit will lead at this point. Right now, it seems all options are still on the table, and no one knows how it will play out. People already seem to have regrets about voting for it, but is the train too far down the tracks to do anything about it? The truth though is no matter the outcome, how they got there is an important story. I think calling the movie Brexit is perhaps a mistake – it implies something bigger about this story, that it will be all encompassing, and it is not. But it tells an important part of how the UK got there – and, like reality, offers no solution for how to get out.

Movie Review: The Captain

The Captain *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Robert Schwentke.
Written by: Robert Schwentke.
Starring: Max Hubacher (Willi Herold), Milan Peschel (Freytag), Frederick Lau (Kipinski), Bernd Hölscher (Schütte), Waldemar Kobus (Hansen), Alexander Fehling (Junker), Samuel Finzi (Roger), Wolfram Koch (Schneider). 
It can be interesting to watch a director return to their home country after a time in Hollywood. Robert Schwentke directed several films in America – The Time Traveler’s Wife, Flightplan, Red, R.I. P.D, and two of the Divergent sequels (Insurgent and Allegiant) and never really made the case for why he was a filmmaker you needed to pay any special attention to. All of those films (of the ones I’ve seen) are mediocre studio time wasters that you would likely forget soon after watching them with a real sense of the filmmaker who made it. With The Captain, he returns to his native Germany for the first time in more than a decade – and whatever else you can say about The Captain, you could not call it forgettable.
The film is set in the last few weeks of WWII, and centers of Willi Herold (Max Hubacher), a Private in the German army who deserts his unit. As he’s walking across Germany, he comes across an abandoned military car – and inside is the luggage of German Captain. He puts on the uniform – presumably more for warmth than anything else – but is quickly mistaken for the Captain himself. Instead of correcting the mistake, he runs with it. He becomes worse than those he was running away from – overseeing massacres of German prisoners – being held for the same crime he committed (desertion) on a mass scale – and pushing everyone around to do worse and worse things.
In a way, the film tells a story not unlike The Milligram experiment or the Stanfield Prison Experiment (the latter of which has kind of debunked, but whatever). How far can you push people when you have a little authority. How will you respond when you are given a little bit of authority? Is everyone just waiting to be given permission to become horrible, violent people?
The film is shot in stark black and white – which is the appropriate choice for this material – and the look of the film is the best thing about it. The second best thing is the performance by Hubacher as Herold – who goes from a scared kid, to someone playacting as a Captain, to somehow who truly becomes the evil he was just playing at before, and he has to do all that without really communicating it to anyone, since no one knows his secret.
If there is a problem with the movie, it’s that it does grow repetitive over its nearly two hour runtime. Herold does the same thing again and again, and sees what the reaction is, and it’s the same. Things keep getting worse, and he keeps on pushing to see how long he keeps getting away this for. He doesn’t seem to have any long term plans – and when he’s caught, he doesn’t really try to deny anything. What plays out over the end credits brings Herold and his crew into modern day Germany – and it’s both fascinating to watch, and also somewhat confusing. We don’t hear anything but the music being played, and whatever point Schwentke is making here is confused at best. And yet, for all the issues with The Captain – (I didn’t even really mention the smug cynicism of the whole thing) it’s not a film that will easily leave your mind, and it’s not something we’ve really seen much of out of Germany in terms of dealing with its past – and how easily so many people did the horrible things that they did, and how easy it could be for it happen again – anywhere.

Movie Review: The Image Book

The Image Book *** / *****
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard.
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard.
The last feature film that the legendary Jean-Luc Godard made – Goodbye to Language 3-D – was my favorite from the ornery master in years. That was because Godard seemed to be in a more a playful mood that usual with that film, and was experimenting with 3-D imagery, in a way that so few directors have done since the technology re-emerged a decade or so back. In that film, even if you didn’t understand all of Godard’s intellectual rhetoric, you could at least sit back and see some genuine experimentation and originality – something in short supply in many films these days. So it’s with more than a little disappointment that I report that his latest film, The Image Book, sees Godard going back to being the old crank he’s been for years (decades?) now, except this time, everything is more tinged with sadness and despair. It seems like Godard thinks that humanity is beyond saving – and we don’t really deserve to be saved anyway.
The Image Book is basically an 85-minute montage of degraded images from other films or news reel footage, or whatever other images have struck Godard’s fancy when assembling the film. He has digitally degraded the images, so they appear not as they did originally in whatever context they were in, but as copies of copies of copies of images. The sound is more often than not deliberately out-of-sync, or altered so we aren’t hearing what we originally would. What we hear most often is Godard’s own voice as he chides the audiences, condescends to us, challenges us, or just cries out in silent despair. Seeing the film in a movie theater is the best way to see it, perhaps more for the sound mix than the images, as Godard is certainly playing with that as well – the surround sound is put to good use here, as the sound could be coming from anywhere – sometimes it confronts us head on, and sometimes from the back, as if Godard were behind you, whispering into your ear.
Godard’s main point – if there is one here, and it’s always tough to tell with Godard, because however much a great thinker he may be, he has never had much interest is expressing those thoughts in a clear manner for those in the audience to get – is that we don’t care – or at least, we don’t care enough. The last third of the film focuses on the Middle East – and how it has been portrayed in films, and how the Western world has exploited it – all while those same forces have never attempted to even understand it.
This, in the end, seems to be what Godard is saying – that the power of films and images have been misused over the years, and we don’t seem to care. Or maybe I’m misreading the whole thing, because as with everything he has done since his Magnum Opus Historie(s) of Film series, Godard’s overarching goal seems to be to provoke, chide and annoy his audience. Godard wants to let everyone else know what he thinks of them, while at the same time, remaining his fascinating enigma status as a reclusive genius. Mission accomplished, I guess.
As with most of the films of this latest, and last, period of Godard’s films, I find it best to let the images and sounds in The Image Book to simply wash over you. Pick up snippets here and there, piece together some thoughts on what is being seen, and discard the rest. This was hard for me for years – I tried to figure out just what Godard was trying to say, and when I failed, I resisted the films. But perhaps the best way to look at it is that Godard himself doesn’t always seem to know what he’s saying – like the rest of us, he struggles to figure out his own films – and it’s the process of trying, more than the destination, that matters.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Oscar Nomination Reactions

Oddly, I find I don’t have all that much to say about today’s nominations – but I’ll give it a go. First things first, I got 81 out of 106 nominations correct this morning – which is better than I normally do by about 5 nominations or so, so I guess I should dash off these predictions quicker in the future since I do better if I don’t overthink them.
Biggest Pleasant Surprises
Uh, nothing really. That’s not precisely true – I do like that they found room for not one foreign language film in director like everyone expected (Roma) – but two (Pawilkowski for Cold War) – even if I would have loved to see a different director get that spot (Lee Chang-dong for Burning for instance). I also liked that the nominated both Yalitiza Aparicio and Marina de Taviria for Roma – even if again, I would have loved to see different people get those slots even more. I cannot even jump in with the critics who loved to see Minding the Gap and Hale County This Morning This Evening get in to the documentary lineup – because as I’ve mentioned before, neither were really released in Canada (it looks like both will play on PBS in February – so fingers crossed). But for the most part, the nominations were either expected or unpleasant surprises – or at least surprises I’m not over the moon about (I loved Dafoe in At Eternity’s Gate – and like that he got in. I don’t like that it came at the expense of Ethan Hawke in First Reformed or John David Washington in Blackkklansman).
Biggest Unpleasant Surprise
I could have done without the love for Bohemian Rhapsody and Vice – both of whom did better than I expected them to do today, and neither film is one I really like (the further away I get from Bohemian Rhapsody the more utterly forgettable it seems – the further away I get from Vice, the smugger and annoying it seems). I had resigned myself to some nominations – but 8 nominations for Vice is absurd, as is five for Bohemian Rhapsody. Thrown the mediocre and old fashioned Green Book in if you want to as well (I didn’t mind that film that much – but all the slings and arrows being thrown at it are more than fair). There’s just a lot of mediocre rising to the top of the nominations this year.
They aren’t really surprises – since they were never locked in – but I’m sad that Ethan Hawke and Toni Collette didn’t sneak into the lead acting races this year – both should have won, and the fact they didn’t get nominated is sad. Same with the complete shutout of Eighth Grade – I was hoping for a screenplay nod, and really crossing my fingers for an Actress nod as well – and they didn’t happen. I really don’t like how Burning didn’t get nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. In short, there weren’t too much nominations that made me stand up and cheer this year.
Biggest Surprises Overall – There were three WTF moments for me reading the nominees this morning – two of them were snubs (it’s not the right term, but it’s one we use) and one was a surprise. Won’t You By My Neighbor not getting nominated for Documentary was really surprising, although hindsight being 20/20, this branch often does not like to reward people who have already won – like director Morgan Neville has. The second was Bradley Cooper not getting nominated for Best Director. It used to be routine that actors turned directors would get nominated – and even win (Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, etc.) – but with Cooper being the biggest surprising omission in this lineup since Ben Affleck getting snubbed for Argo, perhaps the directors branch wants to protect its own a little more. The biggest shock of a nomination was Caleb Deschanel’s nomination for the three hour German film Never Looking Back in cinematography – something no one saw coming. I wonder if the nomination there – and for Foreign Language film – will spur a real release for the film – or if they’ll push it out to VOD before the ceremony. Seems like a waste to have a surprise nominee that no one can watch.
Who I Am Rooting for Going Forward: If you want to put me on a team for this year Oscars, then I’m on team Blackkklansman – which I don’t think is going to win anything outside Adapted Screenplay – but I would love to see Spike Lee win an Oscar for Best Director, and one of his films win Best Picture (it’s also the best film nominated in my opinion, so add that to the mix) – and I think it’s great that he FINALLY got nominated for Best Director. For Best Actor, I guess I’m rooting for Bradley Cooper, for Actress, I’m team Olivia Colman, Supporting Actor Adam Driver, and Supporting Actress Regina King. I think perhaps two of those will actually win. I am NOT rooting for Green Book – again, I don’t hate like some do, but I certainly do not want to see all the think pieces that will be written if it wins. It will make the reaction to Crash’s win in 2005 seem tame by comparison.
Other Observations: With her nomination this morning, Glenn Close joins Richard Burton in a tie for second place in terms of actors with the most nominations who have never won (that’s 7) – Close has a good chance to win for The Wife, but it’s not a lock, so who knows. Amy Adams got her sixth nomination – and she’s still never won – so she’s likely joining them soon as well (I don’t think she’s winning this year either). Willem Dafoe and Bradley Cooper both picked up their fourth acting nominations – and neither has won either – and Viggo Mortenson picked up his third, again with no wins. If first time nominee Rami Malek pulls off the Best Actor win, it will be disappointing for the vets. Sam Rockwell could become the first back-to-back Supporting Actor winner since Jason Robards for All the Presidents Men and Julia in 1976-1977 (Hanks won back to back in the 1990s – for Best Actor) – but I doubt it will happen. Mahershala Ali seems poised to win his second Oscar on just his second nomination – if nothing else winning Oscars for Moonlight and Green Book would be the exact opposite of Christoph Waltz winning for Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained – as Ali’s two films and performances could not be any more different if they tried. Regina King seems poised to win Best Supporting Actress, despite the weak support for If Beale Street Could Talk overall. Stone and Weisz have both won before, and kind of cancel each other out, the role for Adams just isn’t good enough, and Tavira will be happy with the nomination.
While The Favourite tied Roma for most nominations with 10 – outside of Best Original Screenplay, does it have a real shot to win anything major? I cannot see it prevailing on the ranked ballot Best Picture – or beating out Cuaron or Lee for Director, or Colman beating out Close or Gaga or Stone/Weisz beating out King. I don’t think we’ll get to Gangs of New York/The Color Purple/The Turning Point like shutout – it will probably win for Costumes or Production Design – but it could happen.
Black Panther is in the strange spot of being the first real superhero movie nominated for Best Picture – and still being overlooked in all the other major categories – as Coogler couldn’t break through for Director, Jordan got left out of the Supporting Actor lineup, and the screenplay didn’t break through either. The Academy is willing to go so far, but not farther.
Alfonso Cuaron did break through in the Cinematography category – becoming (I believe) the first director to be nominated for a film he directed. The Editors weren’t so kind though, and didn’t nominate him there. It could be strange though – as Cuaron could win Oscars for Foreign Language Film (technically, that belongs to Mexico – but he gets to keep the Oscar), Cinematography, Director and Picture (and yes screenplay – but I don’t think he’s winning Screenplay). I cannot help but wonder how much Netflix becomes a thing to work against the film in this round – it helped in the nominating round (as it did for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – that picked up three surprise nominations) – but what will they think when it comes down for the win.
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
A Star Is Born
Spike Lee - BlacKkKlansman
Pawel Pawilkowski - Cold War
Yorgos Lanthimos - The Favourite
Alfonso Cuarón - Roma
Adam McKay - Vice
Christian Bale - Vice
Bradley Cooper - A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe - At Eternity's Gate
Rami Malek - Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen - Green Book
Yalitza Aparicio - Roma
Glenn Close - The Wife
Olivia Colman - The Favourite
Lady Gaga - A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy - Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Mahershala Ali - Green Book
Adam Driver - BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott - A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant - Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell - Vice
Amy Adams - Vice
Marina de Tavira - Roma
Regina King - If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone - The Favourite
Rachel Weisz - The Favourite
The Favourite
First Reformed
Green Book
The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star Is Born
Incredibles 2
Isle Of Dogs
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers & Sons
Cold War
Never Look Away
The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
Black Panther
The Favourite
Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Queen of Scots
Cold War
The Favourite
Never Look Away
A Star Is Born
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book

Mary Queen of Scots
Black Panther
If Beale Street Could Talk
Isle Of Dogs
Mary Poppins Returns
Black Panther - All the Stars
RBG - I’ll Fight
Mary Poppins Returns - The Place Where Lost Things Go
A Star Is Born - Shallow
The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs - When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings
Black Panther
The Favourite
First Man
Mary Poppins Returns
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Star Is Born
Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story