Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Rhythm Section: A Review

THE RHYTHM SECTION

The Rhythm Section is not just 2020's first certifiable bomb. It's probably one of the decade's biggest bombs, a film that flopped so hard and so fast that it essentially was pulled from theaters a week after it premiered and pulled a week after hitting second-run theaters. The Rhythm Section is almost indescribably bad, a bungled fiasco that if not for it being deadly dull would make for stunned viewing.

Three years after a plane crash killed her parents and siblings, the trauma has turned Stephanie (Blake Lively) into a heroin-addicted hooker.

I guess psychological therapy wasn't available, but there it is.

After learning from reporter Keith Proctor (Raza Jeffrey) that the crash was really a terrorist attack, Stephanie, our drug-addicted hooker, is going to take down the terrorists masterminds who killed her family.

OK then...

After Proctor's murder, she uses the only clue she has from him and finds Ian Boyd, known as B (Jude Law), an-ex MI6 agent who reluctantly trains her to be an assassin. Travelling to exotic locales from Madrid to Tangiers to New York, Stephanie (under the pseudonym Petra) hunts down those involved with varying degrees of success. With information trader Mark Serra (Sterling K. Brown) feeding her tidbits on the cell, Stephanie/Petra gets her vengeance. However, as Boyd now finds himself in MI6's good graces, he warns her that "Petra" has to disappear, but will she?


Image result for the rhythm sectionWhile I have yet to see it, I theorized that one reason Doctor Sleep bombed was because the title was so opaque that audiences could make no sense of it. Moreover, "Doctor Sleep" sounded boring. Likewise, The Rhythm Section sounds odd to perplexing, having little to do with the actual tale of revenge. For clarification, "the rhythm section" has nothing to do with music, but with the heart rate of our generally inept assassin.

I think The Rhythm Section will be studied by future film students in the course "Don't Let This Happen To You". It isn't that Mark Burnell's adaptation of his novel does not have possibilities, however oddball or irrational they may be. It's that every time the film comes close to being interesting, a poor decision be it in editing, score, cinematography or directing undercuts it.

For example, when meeting with the parents of another victim to finance her vengeance, the camera not only loved spinning around but the scene was so overwhelmed with light it all but washes everyone out. The Rhythm Section is filled with such visually and script-wise incomprehensible moments. What is meant as a climatic chase ends up looking like a bad amusement park ride, one of those where the projection screen shows the roller coaster while your seat moves.

Director Reed Morano for reasons known only to her opted to try and make The Rhythm Section more erratically stylized than coherent, making a story already somewhat dumb more loopy. At said climatic chase we see shots of Stephanie ineptly driving, then the camera turns to see what she sees through the car windshield, then turns back to Stephanie, and repeat. For what was meant to be "exciting", it looks almost comical.

At least twice Joan Sobel's editing made things if not confusing at least idiotically jumbled. Morano and Sobel opted to cut sequences in such a way as to make the viewer unsure if things were actually happening or were more Stephanie's imagination.

When attempting to kill Giler (Max Casella), the financier of the terrorist cell, we jump from her "call girl" near-assassination to her preparing herself in the bathroom and back to her and Giler then returning to her preparing herself and back and forth to where one gets whiplash. The almost lush visuals drowning in dark red which makes things almost hard to see adds to the general confusion.
Image result for the rhythm section

Even worse, The Rhythm Section has a sequence where Stephanie and Mark apparently become lovers, but as filmed with their voiceovers it looks like a fantasy sequence. The viewer is left almost perpetually puzzled as to whether events are real or not, and after the film, I figure Serra is the mastermind U-17, though exactly how anyone reached that conclusion is also a muddled mystery.

Granted, perhaps that was explained, but The Rhythm Section is hopelessly sleep-inducing, probably in large part to those fantasy-like sequences where it would have been better if we found out the whole thing was Stephanie's imagination in an asylum or a Dallas-like "it was all a dream". It would have made more sense that way at least. 

The film, in those moments where we can stay awake, also wants us to believe simply laugh-out-loud hilarious moments. We already have this wild notion that this skinny, heroin-smoking whore is somehow an elite assassin. However, Stephanie is amazingly inept at every hit-job she tasks herself at. One scene has her nearly killed by a guy in a wheelchair, and the only reason he dies is because he didn't get to his oxygen tank in time. She also couldn't kill Giler, and the only reason he dies is because Boyd put a bomb in his car.

That bomb, we're told, killed his two children too, but as acted by Lively and Law there isn't any hint of genuine emotion.

The performances are all so dead, as if they were told to speak whatever lines they were given but expressly told not to show emotion. Lively, to her credit, really did try and managed a respectable British accent, but there was nothing she could do. Law looked bored, as if keeping one eye for the check to clear. Casella was unrecognizable, but that's not a compliment, and my guess is that Brown
was just happy to get a trip to Madrid out of it.

It's absolutely astonishing that experienced producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, the step-siblings behind the James Bond franchise, could have sat through The Rhythm Section and thought it was anywhere near releasable. More astonishing is the suggestion, ever so vague, that this could possibly be a franchise.

A film that is simultaneously sleep-inducing and hilariously bad, The Rhythm Section is an embarrassment to everyone involved. It's such an embarrassment that I genuinely feel almost sorry for them.

DECISION: F

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Night Clerk (2020): A Review


THE NIGHT CLERK (2020)

Asperger's and murder mix in The Night Clerk, a good but not great crime drama that is elevated by some strong acting.

Bart Bromley (Tye Sheridan) is our title character, a nice enough young man if not for his pronounced Asperger's and his penchant for watching hotel patrons in their rooms via hidden cameras. His viewings is not necessarily prurient so much as they are anthropological, using the hotel guests as models of behavior with others.

One of those guests is Karen Paretti (Jacque Grey), whom he observes has a secret guest. Surprised early by his desk clerk relief, it isn't until he's in his basement bedroom that he sees Karen is in danger. When he gets there, he finds that in his words, she might be dead.

Now he finds himself as the prime suspect in Karen's murder, with Detective Espada (John Leguizamo) believing Bart is hiding something. As the investigation goes on, Bart is transferred to another hotel, where a new guest comes. She's  Andrea Rivera (Ana de Armas), an alluring woman whom Bart is attracted to, enough to try and behave more like a non-Asperger's person.

She takes to his kindness and he offers to "be your lifeguard", but there are wicked games being played, with Bart potentially being the patsy to nefarious acts. Even with his mother Karen (Helen Hunt) attempting to protect him, Bart finds himself in great danger from all sides. Will he be seduced? Will Detective Espada find that Bart had a hand in Karen's killing?

To be honest, the mystery within The Night Clerk is not that big of a mystery given we have a very small cast. It would have almost been a bigger twist if Bart had committed the murder, and part of me came close to thinking he was the killer. I'm not sure though that writer/director Michael Cristofer was seeking a complex murder mystery as he was exploring such a scenario with our main character. What would someone with limited social skills, one who struggled with basic interactions and expressing things like sexual desires behave when confronted with wickedness?

The Night Clerk may not be a big mystery (if you can't figure who is involved in the murder you aren't paying attention) but it has as a major plus a strong group of actors. Tye Sheridan is one of our best young actors, someone who can elevate just about everything he is in just by his presence (Dark Phoenix being beyond even his considerable skills). In The Night Clerk, he gets to push himself as an actor with his Bart, simultaneously ill at ease and aware that he is ill at ease. Sheridan's voice and tightly-wound facial and body movements are strong enough to convey Bart's Asperger's without becoming cartoonish or laughable.

It's a difficult thing for an actor to play someone with a development disorder without looking like a bad Rain Man impersonation. Fortunately, Sheridan is skilled enough an actor to make Bart almost sympathetic. I say "almost" because regardless of his motives, placing hidden cameras in hotel rooms where he is able to essentially spy on people is at the very least creepy, and frankly that in itself is criminal. It's to the film's credit that this variation on Rear Window doesn't come across as thoroughly seedy.

De Armas too stretches, especially given that she played the innocent and wholesome murder suspect in Knives Out. Here, she is something of a femme fatale, though The Night Clerk does seem to waver if it wants to make her a willing or unwilling accomplice in the hijinks. Though not a major part of the film, it is always a welcome sight to see Helen Hunt in film. Only Leguizamo seemed to a bit off here, as if he was not quite convinced his detective was intelligent. Espada sees Andrea leave Bart's basement home but does not appear to wonder why his Number One suspect had a lady caller.

The Night Clerk also had one odd moment in a montage where Bart cleans himself up in a vague hope to woo his damsel in distress. This montage, complete with the music and editing, made the film almost play like a romantic comedy.

Minus that and that the mystery is not much of a mystery, The Night Clerk has enough atmosphere and strong acting performances to be of interest. Tye Sheridan continues to impress and build himself up a resume of strong performances that show him to be one of our finest young actors, one who makes almost anything he is if not great at least watchable.

Except for Dark Phoenix, but that's not his fault.

DECISION: B-

Saturday, February 15, 2020

2019: Some Odds and Bitter Ends

As we close out 2019, I take this brief moment to look at four categories that fall outside the Best & Worst of the Year. I hope you find them of some interest.


BIGGEST SURPRISE: Overcomer

It's another year where a Christian film surprises me by being good. I've had many but many issues with the cinematic output of the Kendrick Brothers both in terms of film and theological outreach. They also have a very poor record on actually tackling social issues through Christianity, and their record on race leaves much to be desired. By no means should anyone think that I think or believe Alex and/or Stephen Kendrick are racists. They are just dumb and clumsy, living within their very hermetically-sealed bubble of a WASP worldview.

Having said that, Overcomer, for them, is another step forward both storywise and in the actual art of the motion picture. I've heard a good case about how Overcomer falls into a 'white savior' narrative, and I can see how someone could reach that conclusion. However, the film also has positive African-American portrayals and centers around a black family. Moreover, Overcomer, if ever so gently, shows a more complex view of marital struggles. It may not be perfect, but I give credit for making strides in a positive direction. I no longer cringe when I see a Kendrick Brothers Production.



BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Tolkien

I would have thought the biopic of J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of one of the greatest fantasy sagas in literature, would be more interested in the man himself than in endless shout-outs to his epic The Lord of the Rings. Sadly, Tolkien squandered a great opportunity to explore the man by drowning him in a film where we kept getting winks about his books but almost nothing about the man behind the hobbits. Despite the best efforts of Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins as Tolkien and Edith, the love of his life, Tolkien was a dead affair, slugging and respectable in a very dull manner.

Worse, Tolkien had almost no interest in touching or even giving cursory recognition to Tolkien's fervent and devout Catholic faith. His religious outlook shaped everything about the man both professionally and privately, but Tolkien seemed to want to run away from it or at best pretend it was a trifle versus a central part of Tolkien. We didn't need sermons in an Overcomer-like manner, but it would have helped the viewer get a better, stronger sense of Tolkien the man, which a biopic should at least try to do.


MOST OVERRATED: Blinded By the Light

There are quite a few films that would qualify for "Most Overrated": The Peanut Butter Falcon, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Hustlers. Especially Far From Home, but it's almost a given most Marvel Cinematic Universe films get praise that would make one think each one were a turning point in cinematic history. However, I don't think there was a bigger disconnect between what I heard about a film and what I actually saw in the film than Blinded by the Light.

It's not as if I didn't get what they were aiming for: an "inspirational" story of a young son of Pakistani immigrants who finds inspiration and liberation in the music of Bruce Springsteen. I know many fellow reviewers adored Blinded By the Light (the phrase "feel-good" almost being invented for it) and are puzzled as to why it essentially bombed. My answer is quite simple: it's not very good. I found the main character essentially a jerk: dismissive of anyone's views other than his own, arrogant, a bit smug, almost unbearable. It's a credit to actor Viviek Kalra that I found Javed remotely tolerable. More than once I wanted to smack Javed upside the head! As much as Blinded By the Light wanted me to think well of Javed, I kept siding with everyone else. That Javed is based on a real person only alarms me more.


MOST UNDERRATED: Ma

As with most if not all of my Most Underrated selections, I make no case for the artistic or cinematic brilliance of Ma. It's a bit tawdry in its tale of revenge delayed, but even its detractors thought Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer elevated the material. She embraced its looniness and went all-in on the cray-cray. Moreover, I suppose it's a positive step to have an African-American woman in the lead role of a bonkers horror thriller like Ma.

Sure, the premise was insane. Sure, the younger cast gave almost universally bad performances, cast more for their perfect bodies than ability to create characters. However, Ma never cheated its audience that this was anything other than a somewhat trashy good time, and I can't fault a film for being true to itself. I unapologetically enjoyed Ma to where I wouldn't mind a sequel (she escapes the raging inferno!).  Truth be told, I thought Ma was a better "feel-good film" than the overtly cutesy Blinded By the Light.

I hope that this year of 2020, we have good films and that the bad ones die a quick and merciful death.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Worst of 2019 So Far

Having already covered my Ten Best of 2019 (sorry, Jacob Airey, but despite it being a turning point in cinematic history Avengers: Endgame somehow missed the cut), it is time to look at what I think are the worst films of this past year. Curiously, 2019 had three films that I so thoroughly detested I gave an F- to.

With that, let us begin.



NUMBER 10: Isn't It Romantic

Rebel Wilson makes her first appearance on our dishonorable list with this faux-female empowerment film that allegedly is a spoof of romantic comedy tropes. Isn't It Romantic is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. It mistakes stupidity for wit, is poorly acted and gives us a horrid lead character that it insist we love. One can make a satire of rom-coms but Isn't It Romantic has such a nasty streak and endless leaps of logic that you want her to fail.


NUMBER 09: Serenity

Anne Hathaway makes her first appearance on our dishonorable list with this nonsensical pseudo-noir. Serenity is poorly acted, as if the cast had some kind of secret bet as to who could embarrass him/herself more. After achieving something of a cinematic redemption, Matthew McConaughey decided to revert to form and emphasize his physical beauty over his acting skills. Hathaway decided to do a parody of a femme fatale, and I think I'm being generous. Serenity is already terrible due to its thoroughly illogical plot, but by opting to use serious issues to mask its stupidity it makes an already terrible film even worse.



NUMBER 08: The Hustle

Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway make their second appearance on our dishonorable list, joining forces in an unholy, almost Satanic alliance of inflicting human misery on the unfortunate soul who stumbles onto The Hustle. Another faux-female empowerment film, The Hustle is a gender-swapped remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Unfortunately, its emphasis on "girl power" ended up making the females look stupid in the end. It was a competition as to who could be less funny in what I figure was intended to be a comedy, but the clear winner is Hathaway. Her "British" accent was so obviously fake that I'm genuinely amazed that no one involved in the production, not even the catering company, told her to stop even trying. Another film that is neither empowering or funny, The Hustle is proof that misandry is just as awful as misogyny.


NUMBER 07: Honey Boy

This is probably the one where I expect pushback, as many think highly of Honey Boy. My issues with Honey Boy, however, are myriad. First, we all know it is essentially Shia LaBeouf: His True Story, which does not appeal to me. Seeing LaBeouf act out his life to me is not liberating but slightly creepy to egocentric. It doesn't help that I think he was deliberately, overtly "actory" in his performance. Second, even its defenders I think would agree that the "present-day" setting is the weakest part. It does not help that poor Lucas Hedges is again playing "troubled young man". Seriously, somebody should hire Hedges for a romantic comedy or at least some kind of Adam Sandler-like film (not Uncut Gems). The "Hedges as Troubled Young Man" shtick is old. Apart from Noah Jupe, I was thoroughly unimpressed with Shai LaBeouf's exercise in therapy.



NUMBER 06: 21 Bridges

A last-minute entry onto my Ten Worst List, 21 Bridges is simultaneously boring and bloody, a remarkable feat indeed albeit for all the wrong reasons. The film squanders fine actors, particularly Chadwick Boseman, who looked bored throughout. 21 Bridges is dreadfully acted, indulgent in almost graphic violence and idiotically predictable one can be falling asleep while watching various police officers get blown away left right and center.



NUMBER 05: Cats

Rebel Wilson makes her third and final appearance on our dishonorable list in this oddball hairball of a film. Unlike other critics, I think well of Cats the musical, but there is no excuse for Cats the film. Attempting to ram a plot into what is essentially a revue was one of its many, many bad decisions. Casting everyone they did was another. Add to that ghastly CGI work, which to be fair had to be done in a hurry to attempt and try get Cats major award consideration. The performances are almost without exception cringe-inducing, and dear God the Dancing Cockroaches!


NUMBER 04: The Goldfinch

Ah, another film with lofty aspirations. The Goldfinch was set to be this major adaptation of a popular albeit divisive novel, a posh production that would have awards tossed in its direction. Instead, The Goldfinch ended up as one of the biggest bombs of 2019, a slow, dull, pretentious production, loaded by awful performances all around. It shouldn't be a surprise that The Goldfinch's lead, Ansel Elgort, would be terrible (his continued film career being one of the great unsolved mysteries of the age). However, The Goldfinch managed to humiliate good actors like Jeffrey Wright, Nicole Kidman, Luke Wilson and Sarah Paulson. Stilted and lethargic, The Goldfinch made you wish the lead character had been killed in the bombing. It would have spared us twenty hours of absolute misery.


Image result for phil 2019

NUMBER 03: Phil

A film so awful that I think it might not have even gotten a real release, Phil (originally titled The Philosophy of Phil) is a dead thing, a comedy that is not funny and a drama that is not dramatic. Phil, the directorial debut of its star, the likable Greg Kinnear, is painful to sit through. It plays like a failed TV pilot, with its whole plot depending on the abject stupidity of every character. What makes it worse is that it genuinely thinks it's insightful, saying something about living life. Trading in awful Greek stereotypes that even Nia Vardalos would think are over-the-top, I feel almost bad bashing Phil given I doubt anyone even knows it exists. That is as it should be, because Phil is just beyond awful.

That means that it's really sad that I found two films even worse than Phil, one a major release, one a minor one.



Terminator: Dark Fate is the worst of all worlds. It thinks, like Isn't It Romantic and The Hustle, that is is a female-empowerment film by casting two females in leading roles, with the bonus of being more progressive by casting two Hispanics. Whatever the acting abilities of Natalia Reyes, Mackenzie Davis or Gabriel Luna, Terminator: Dark Fate is a horrid, horrid film. It demolishes established Terminator canon to essentially be a remake of both The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Every performance save perhaps Linda Hamilton is as robotic as anything Skynet or Legion or whatever machine is attempting to overthrow humanity now. Terminator: Dark Fate is so wildly, almost hilariously misguided, but nothing justifies this naked cash-grab, let alone suggestions to continue a franchise long dead.


NUMBER 01: The Fanatic

Sadly, for the second year in a row, John Travolta appears on my Number One Worst Film of the Year. Travolta is a genuinely talented actor, so why does he keep agreeing to be in such rubbish as last year's Gotti and now this year's The Fanatic? This is simply the ugliest film I have ever seen, perhaps outdoing Freddy Got Fingered for being pure trash. Allegedly an exploration of toxic fandom, The Fanatic is just painful to watch or even remember. I felt genuine sorrow for Travolta and Devon Sawa in finding themselves under the watchful eye and script of Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst. Travolta's character of Moose is clearly insane, but Durst opts to make him autistic, vaguely suggesting the two are linked. Sadistic, nonsensical and cruel, not to mention stupid and repulsive, The Fanatic is more than a crime against cinema. It's a crime against humanity.

Next time, my Odds and Bitter Ends.

The Best of 2019 So Far

I have been lax in my Ten Best and Ten Worst of 2019 Lists, probably because I wanted to see more films. I'm sure many will disagree with some of my choices, but again: My List, My Rules.

As of today, I have seen 75 films of 2019, so if a film isn't on this list, I either didn't see it or didn't think it was worthy. With that, let us begin.



NUMBER 10: Judy

I figure Film Twitter will dislike this choice, but I found Judy a well-acted portrait of an artist wavering between triumphant comeback and total self-destruction. Renee Zellweger has been both lauded and trashed for her performance, some saying she "embodied" Judy Garland, others seeing it as a mere impersonation. I fall in the former category, though perhaps Zellweger should have lip-synced to Garland versus doing her own singing. I'm not going to bash a movie for enjoying it, and I enjoyed Judy. I would say Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows is a better exploration of Garland's extraordinary yet tumultuous life, but I thought Judy was good.


NUMBER 09: 1917

I might like 1917 more if so many people didn't keep pushing the idea that it was one of if not THE greatest war film ever made. To be honest, part of me is growing more disenchanted with 1917, and I think part of the reason it lost Best Picture was due to the idea that it had nothing going for it other than the "one-shot" look to it. I too feel the story was not as strong as it could have been and that too many people swooned over it due more to the overall look of it than to the characters. However, 1917 is visually impressive and a fine film on the horrors of "the war to end all wars".



Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is both a tribute and perhaps a fond farewell to a bygone era, one where the world both in cinema and outside it underwent radical changes. This reimagining of the Tate-LoBianca murders also does something I have not seen: show a surprisingly soft side to Quentin Tarantino. With excellent performances from the cast in roles large and small, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is probably the kindest and most respectful portrait made of Sharon Tate, one of film's most tragic figures.


NUMBER 07: Harriet

I think it would be nearly impossible to cover the breath and scope of Harriet Tubman's life. Harriet feels quite long, but the film is absolutely inspirational and an excellent primer for this genuine American icon and legend. An extraordinary central performance from Cynthia Erivo elevates this biopic, and one marvels at Tubman's inner strength and courage. Harriet Tubman truly is A Woman for All Seasons, and Harriet, while not perfect, is a stirring portrait of one of America's greatest figures.


NUMBER 06: Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari is not really a tale of how one car company fought another for dominance in a car race. It is about friendship, male bonding and the pursuit of excellence. The film has top-notch performances from the whole cast, and even if one does not care about racing itself, you care about these men and yes, one woman, who are determined to be at the top of their field. Ford v Ferrari really to my mind is not about racing but about living the best life one can, valuing such things as hard work, determination, skill and family.


NUMBER 05: Joker

I'm sure Film Twitter won't like me ranking Joker high or placing it anywhere near the Top Ten, but I calls them as I sees them. Joaquin Phoenix' performance as Arthur Fleck, the troubled and abused man who descended into murderous madness, is chilling and frightening. I was astonished, even shocked by the film. Joker is the first film where I left the theater shaking in a mix of horror and fear, deeply troubled by its portrait of a crumbling, cruel and chaotic world. It openly draws from early Martin Scorsese films like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, and just like Taxi Driver, I can admire the craftsmanship in Joker while simultaneously having no desire to see it again. Perhaps in the course of time I will revisit Joker, but I doubt it will be anytime soon.



NUMBER 04: Amazing Grace

The only documentary so far to make my Ten Best List, Amazing Grace is a surprisingly simple film: a visual recording of the late Aretha Franklin's performances of the eponymous live gospel album. However, Amazing Grace is more than that. It is a recording of Franklin at her finest, a portrait of the artist as Believer, in full control of Franklin's extraordinary gifts. It is impossible for even atheists not to be moved by Franklin's performance as The Queen of Soul pays homage to The King of Kings.


NUMBER 03: Richard Jewell

A film that should have done better box office-wise, Richard Jewell is more than just a biopic on the Atlanta Olympics security guard first hailed as hero then painted as villain for the Centennial Park bombing. It's also a riveting portrayal of how rumor and prejudice can create chaos and havoc on the innocent, how a hungry press can rampage through powerless individuals. Paul Walker Hauser's performance as Jewell is brilliant, making him simultaneously sympathetic and frustrating in his mixture of naivete and blind loyalty. Perhaps people were put off by the perception that Richard Jewell was a right-wing screed against the press, but I found it more a film about how quickly rumor, innuendo and flat-out falsehoods can come close to destroying people.


 NUMBER 02: Parasite

Parasite has earned a place in history as the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture. It is also a well-crafted film. I figure some of my colleagues are put off by this allegory on capitalism, but I thought Parasite was pretty even-handed on the unofficial war between the rich and the poor. In fact, I found myself sympathizing more with the wealthy Park family than the poor Kim family, though I figure Parasite wanted me to look upon the latter as if not the heroes at least the antiheroes. I think Parasite did not give the viewer an easy answer as to whom to look on as the actual "parasites", leaving it to him/her to decide. At times funny, at times crazy, Parasite is a brilliant film even if it would not be my choice for Best Picture of 2019.


NUMBER 01: The Irishman 

Forgive me, but I'm going to go on a tangent before speaking of The Irishman per se.

Jacob Airey, self-proclaimed "conservative" and "Christian" film reviewer, is a bitter, spiteful, vindictive, hateful man. I say this neither lightly or with any sense of joy. I say this because of Airey's almost pathological hatred for both The Irishman and its director, Martin Scorsese.

Airey listed The Irishman as one of his Ten Worst Films of 2019. He was delighted that The Irishman went 0-10 at the Academy Awards. He's perfectly free to do so. My issue with him, however, is that I think his disdain for The Irishman is built on emotion rather than thought. I am convinced he was going to despise The Irishman no matter what, and that his negative review is built not on the actual film itself, but on how he feels about Scorsese and what he represents to Airey: a dismissing of his own personal fandom.

Ever since Marty said he didn't think comic book films, specifically Airey's beloved Marvel Cinematic Universe, was "cinema", Airey's rage became unabated. Scorsese's views were seen by Airey and his fellow fanboys as a personal attack on them and him personally, and as such, Airey's blind rage at Scorsese's heresy merited punishment. Hence, his negative Irishman review, calling it "self-righteous, overly long, poorly edited, (with) a convoluted plot". YIKES!

In his view, The Irishman is on how "Once again, Scorsese loves to glorify men who steal, intimidate, cheat on their wives, are bad parents, and even commit the most gruesome murders, only to end on a flippant 'crime does not pay' at the climax" (emphasis mine). Though I don't think he mentioned it, I figure the "once again" refers to Goodfellas. In regards to "glorifying" these types of men, as my colleague Jacob Smith at Society Reviews (who like me was blocked by Airey on "the Twitter" for siding with Scorsese) said to me, "Talk about missing the point!"

The Irishman is nowhere near a glorification of awful men, which makes me wonder what film Jacob Airey actually saw or if he predetermined what Scorsese's oeuvre is and decided to prejudge the film regardless of the merits. In reality, The Irishman is a film about regret, a man who metaphorically gained the whole world and lost his soul. Frank Sheeran (the title character) lost his family, he lost his friend, his honor, his self-respect, he ends up alone and unloved, all for what? It's a meditation on loss and the fall of an essentially good man done in by his own actions. The Irishman has just exceptional acting from Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, and despite its three-plus hour running time (about the rare point of criticism), moves remarkably quickly.

However, since its director dared to suggest the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the equivalent of theme park rides, our Defender of True and Pure Cinema had to strike back against this "bitter, jealous, elitist" auteur.

If Airey genuinely believes the MCU is on the same level as the introduction of sound and color to cinema, that is again his right. If he wants to name Avengers: Endgame his Second Best Film of 2019 and rank it among the great turning points in cinematic history, he is free to do so. If he wants to think Endgame should have been nominated for Best Picture, again he is free to do so. I think all that is irrational, bonkers hyperbole, but to each his own.

"(Avengers: Endgame) was a bold movie. After the events of the previous film (Avengers: Infinity War), no one knew where this new entry from Marvel Studios was going. They had so many loose ends to tie and a hard road to pave ahead. Yet, they did it. They pulled off one of the greatest triumphs, not only in for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also for cinematic history. It is stunning, inspiring, amazing, spectacular, and truly great" (emphasis mine).

I suppose when you see the resurrection of a talking tree in such lofty terms and think Endgame is on the same level if not superior to such films as Citizen Kane, Casablanca, 8 & 1/2 or any of the Apu Trilogy, The Irishman would look like junk.

One last point before closing. Should Mr. Airey ever opt to unblock me, he might learn that I named Wonder Woman my Number One Film of 2017, so I'm hardly anti-comic book films.

Next time, My Ten Worst Films of 2019.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Lighthouse: A Review

THE LIGHTHOUSE

Before I watched The Lighthouse, I was informed there would be a lot of farting. I counted only four audible farts, but it does give new meaning to the phrase "arsty-fartsy". The Lighthouse has some positives but on a personal level it simply did not appeal to me.

On an isolated lighthouse come two keepers. The older man, whom we eventually learn is Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) is a salty sea-dog complete with vaguely pirate-like accent. The younger man, mostly known as Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) does the grunt work around the island, much to his displeasure. He wants to be in the lighthouse, but Thomas is very jealous of his place.

They are to be there four weeks until their relief comes, but perhaps one or both of them are slowly going bonkers. Ephraim, hiding a secret past, sees strange and ominous things: menacing seagulls, mermaids to whom he masturbates loudly to, and perhaps Thomas in an erotic situation with an octopus-like being within the lighthouse itself. Thomas warns Ephraim not to kill any seagull, since they contain the spirits of dead sailors, but Ephraim does.

It's no surprise that a storm breaks out, perhaps preventing the relief to come (it appears unclear if it was the storm itself or perhaps them oversleeping due to drunkenness where they missed the relief's arrival). The strange and spooky continue to go on, until there's a bloody end for all involved.

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To a point I can if not admire at least respect elements to The Lighthouse. Director and cowriter Robert Eggers, writing with his brother Max, do create that dark, despairing atmosphere in the film visually. Jarin Blaschke's Oscar-nominated cinematography was worthy of recognition, and not just for the black-and-white nature of The Lighthouse. Its overall look captures an old-time feel, as if we were looking in on a long-lost world at the dawn of cinema.

I also found Mark Korven's score appropriately menacing and ominous, punctuated by loud foghorns that blow almost on cue.

It's in other aspects that had me slipping into slumber, however, and even at its relatively short running time I found it a hard film to sit through. I would not be amazed if people didn't burst out into howls of laughter when Thomas and Ephraim slow danced, as if Ephraim yelping at the climax of his auto-erotic exercise wasn't funny enough.

To be fair though, the surprisingly graphic killing of the seagull probably would disturb some viewers, or at least raise eyebrows.

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As this is essentially a two-man show (with Valeria Karaman popping up in brief bits as the alluring mermaid), we have two performances to look at. While I would argue Dafoe played his salty lighthouse keeper well, it does seem closer to parody of that "salty sea-dog", forever snapping at his "wickie". Thomas' irascibility and irrationality seemed to be veering towards farce: he calls out for Neptune's wrath against Ephraim (if that is his real name) because Ephraim drunkenly said he didn't like his cooking.

That seems a bit extreme.

I am constantly pushed to think Robert Pattinson is more than Edward Cullen, and I give him credit for constantly trying new things. However, I simply cannot go along with the notion that others have that he is his generation's Peter O'Toole, some unimpeachable acting giant that towers over a Cary Grant or Claude Rains.

Was it a good performance? It was fine, not exceptional but not horrendous. To my mind, both were ACTING with a Capital A, being so overt in their artistic aspirations as to be almost a spoof. Then again to be fair, you can only do so much when you're asked to keep repeating "What?" to your costar.

The Lighthouse is frankly not a film for me: too self-consciously artistic bordering on pretentious and with a surprisingly unoriginal story (it was obvious that the seagull's death would unleash all hell and that one if not both would grow to total lunacy). I found it torturous but with some good elements that I can appreciate if not actually enjoy.

DECISION: D-

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Best Picture Retrospective: The Complete Rankings 2019 Edition

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THE BEST PICTURE RETROSPECTIVE: THE COMPLETE RANKINGS

We now have 92 Best Picture Academy Award winners. Parasite becomes the first foreign-language film to win film's highest honor.

With that, I now include it among the rankings to see where it will fall from Number 1 to Number 92. Now, again let us remember the three criteria I used for my personal rankings?

Do I think the film is good?
Do I think this film will or has it stood the test of time?
Would I watch it again?

It is hard to say exactly how Parasite will ultimately end up in the annals of film history. Certainly in being the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture it has earned a place in history, but where it will stand in overall film history is still up to debate. I have done the best I could looking on the three criteria I created.

It should be no surprise that this list will be updated every year, but perhaps in a decade I will reevaluate the entire list. With that, enjoy.

  1. Casablanca (1943)
  2. All About Eve (1950)
  3. Schindler's List (1993)
  4. The Godfather Part II (1974)
  5. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
  6. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  7. Gone With the Wind (1939)
  8. It Happened One Night (1934)
  9. The Godfather (1972)
  10. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  11. Amadeus (1984)
  12. West Side Story (1961)
  13. Ben-Hur (1959)
  14. Unforgiven (1992)
  15. On the Waterfront (1954)
  16. The Sound of Music (1965)
  17. Hamlet (1948)
  18. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
  19. Rocky (1976)
  20. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  21. Rebecca (1940)
  22. The Last Emperor (1987)
  23. From Here to Eternity (1953)
  24. Wings (1928)
  25. Marty (1955)
  26. All the King's Men (1949)
  27. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
  28. Grand Hotel (1932)
  29. The French Connection (1971)
  30. Chariots of Fire (1981)
  31. Parasite (2019)
  32. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  33. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
  34. Platoon (1986)
  35. Patton (1970)
  36. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
  37. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
  38. The King's Speech (2010)
  39. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
  40. Terms of Endearment (1983)
  41. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
  42. Moonlight (2016)
  43. The Sting (1973)
  44. My Fair Lady (1964)
  45. Spotlight (2015)
  46. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
  47. Chicago (2002)
  48. The Apartment (1960)
  49. Gladiator (2000)
  50. You Can't Take it With You (1938)
  51. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
  52. Argo (2012)
  53. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
  54. Braveheart (1995)
  55. The Deer Hunter (1978)
  56. The Departed (2006)
  57. The Artist (2011)
  58. The Lost Weekend (1945)
  59. Green Book (2018)
  60. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
  61. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
  62. Going My Way (1944)
  63. Gandhi (1982)
  64. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
  65. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
  66. Dances With Wolves (1990)
  67. The Hurt Locker (2009)
  68. Annie Hall (1977)
  69. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
  70. Rain Man (1988)
  71. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  72. Gigi (1958)
  73. An American in Paris (1951)
  74. Tom Jones (1963)
  75. Titanic (1997)
  76. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
  77. Ordinary People (1980)
  78. Forrest Gump (1994)
  79. American Beauty (1999)
  80. Oliver! (1968)
  81. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
  82. The Broadway Melody (1929)
  83. Cimarron (1931)
  84. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
  85. The English Patient (1996)
  86. Birdman (2014)
  87. Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
  88. Crash (2005)
  89. No Country for Old Men (2007)
  90. The Shape of Water (2017)
  91. Out of Africa (1985)
  92. Cavalcade (1933)
I look forward to seeing where next year's winner will find itself.

Monday, February 10, 2020

92nd Academy Awards: Thoughts and Reactions

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With regards to the 92nd Academy Awards, I can take a certain satisfaction that I was 20 out of 24. Since publishing my last predictions I had changed my mind on a few categories.

First, the list of winners, with asterisks on where I missed.

BEST PICTURE: Parasite *
BEST ACTOR: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
BEST ACTRESS: Renee Zellweger (Judy)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
BEST DIRECTOR: Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) *
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Toy Story 4
BEST ANIMATED SHORT: Hair Love
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Jojo Rabbit
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Parasite
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: 1917
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: American Factory *
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl)
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM: The Neighbors' Window
BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM: Parasite (South Korea)
BEST FILM EDITING: Ford v Ferrari
BEST SOUND EDITING: Ford v Ferrari *
BEST SOUND MIXING: 1917
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Joker
BEST ORIGINAL SONG: (I'm Gonna) Love Me Again (Rocketman)
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING: Bombshell
BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Little Women
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: 1917

I had 1917 winning Best Picture, Director and Sound Editing. I also had originally thought Judy would win Makeup and Hairstyling but switched to Bombshell. Try as I might, I could not get Documentary Feature right. It really was an open category, where I thought Honeyland would get it.

For those interested in tallies of films with multiple winners, here they are:

Parasite: 4
1917: 3
Ford v Ferrari: 2
Joker: 2
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: 2

All other Best Picture nominees won one, meaning only one film was completely shut out.

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No wonder Martin Scorsese looked as if was dropping off during Eminem's performance. The Irishman's fall was not unexpected but still disappointing. One simply wonders why the film failed so spectacularly after earning raves. My own theory is that other, "hipper" films stole The Irishman's thunder.

With regards to the winners there weren't any big surprises. Actually, I'd say there were no surprises. Sure, Film Twitter is elated about Parasite, and it is a good film. Maybe not my choice but not one that causes such anxiety as did Green Book last year. Every winner was if not predicted months ago at least well within the conversation.

My theory revolving around Best Film Editing/Best Picture continues to hold. I maintain that the eventual Best Picture winner is nominated but does not win Film Editing and that the film that wins Film Editing loses Best Picture. Parasite was nominated for Film Editing but lost to a fellow Best Picture nominee, Ford v Ferrari. As such, Parasite was really the odds-on favorite, since Irishman was dead on arrival, 1917 and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood were not nominated and Jojo Rabbit, Ford v Ferrari and Joker had no chance in winning Best Picture. We should have seen it from the get-go.

The only win that I actively disliked was Best Original Song. Even after hearing Cynthia Erivo perform Stand Up from Harriet (giving her a standing ovation), they still went with the bouncy, peppy and inconsequential (I'm Gonna) Love Me Again from Rocketman. Subconsciously or not (I'm thinking not), Elton John sowed the seeds to his victory by pointing out he and his longtime writing partner Bernie Taupin had never won anything as a team. The Academy members, already enthralled by John's big Oscar bashes, voted for him regardless. I note that John did not get a standing ovation for (I'm Gonna) Love Me Again, but unlike Taron Egerton, Elton John had it in the bag.

At least Into the Unknown went unknown despite having it sung in a multitude of languages. I'm sure that five minutes after performing it, no one could actually remember Into the Unknown in any language, even whichever language former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg claims to speak fluently.

Come to think of it, I doubt anyone will be able to sing (I'm Gonna) Love Me Again without having to look it up. I still can sing Call Me By Your Name's Mystery of Love and Stand Up, as well as listen to them over and over. I can't even remember Remember Me.

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We DID get to hear Eminem perform Lose Yourself seventeen years after winning Best Original Song. It should be noted that Billie Eilish, who performed Yesterday as part of the In Memoriam section of the broadcast, was a year old if that when Lose Yourself hit the airwaves, perhaps explaining her puzzled look at his performance. The loudness of Lose Yourself, punctuated by silences due to the necessary censoring of the lyrics, does not explain Marty's forty winks.

As has been pointed out, the many people happily rapping along to Lose Yourself can be simultaneously woke and not troubled by Mr. Mathers' past homophobic lyrics while being all pearl-clutching when it comes to Kevin Hart.

As for the show itself, again the Academy struggles with that kind of editing. It went well over its allotted time, and as expected there was the usual politicking going on. Unlike my fellow reviewers Christian Toto or Jacob Smith (Society Reviews), I'm not outraged or angry or even irritated by such things.

I'm just...puzzled by it all.

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Brad Pitt's acceptance speech started out with an appraisal of the recent impeachment. Fine, he can speak on such things if he wishes. I would not think the Academy Awards is the best venue for such things, given he's accepting an award for having exceptional abs at age 56...I mean, for his performance in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I'm just puzzled as to whom he is actually speaking to.

He must be aware millions of people watch the Academy Awards, so he is not just preaching to the choir. Does he genuinely think his fellow Missourians are going to now vote for Bernie Sanders or any Democrat based on his lofty pronouncements?

Does Pitt genuinely picture some MAGA-hat wearing overweight white male, washing down his Oxycontin with Budweiser and who stumbled onto the Academy Awards confused as to why there was no football game on, calling out to his barefoot and pregnant wife in his best Defender of True & Pure Conservatism Rick Wilson imitating the "credulous rube" voice, "Well, Ma Kettle, that there pretty boy from Fight Club is just so upset about John Bolton not witnessin' in the Senate trial, so we ought to now get Trump out and bring Socialism to this here U.S. of A."?

Is that really in the back of Pitt's mind? I just want to know what the end objective is for Pitt, or Josh Gad throwing in climate change denial and healthcare advocacy while introducing Into the Unknown. What truly is their goal for all this? That they do such things during what is ostensibly an awards presentation for film and not a Democratic Party rally just strikes me as odd.

Granted, not Joaquin Phoenix/Renee Zellwegger-level odd, but odd nonetheless.

Why does he or Mark Ruffalo or anyone else paid far more than those "credulous rubes" feel obligated to lecture them on everything and anything? Best Documentary Feature cowinner Julia Reichert quoted Karl Marx while hobnobbing with people who get $78,000 cruises as part of their Oscar gift bags.

Is it me or is there just a slight disconnect?

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However, who would have thought talking about cow insemination and the evils of milk drinking would trump The Communist Manifesto? Joaquin Phoenix is a fine actor and passionate animal rights activist. All well and good, don't begrudge him his views. Yet, in his four minute speech not once did he thank or even mention anyone from Joker.

Instead, his speech for winning an award for playing a murderous psychopath was on how awful humans were for not hearing the cries of cows for taking their calves and their milk.

In his world, we are all evil for drinking milk. Louis Pasteur should be dug up and beheaded.

For some reason, I'm reminded of Timothy Treadwell, the subject of Grizzly Man. Both Treadwell and Phoenix almost romanticized animals to where they applied human emotions to non-humans. Treadwell thought of the bears as almost his friends...until one ate him and his girlfriend. I have no way of looking into a cow's soul, but I don't think cows are all that upset over Man taking their milk from their utters.

Joaquin Phoenix is free to believe as he wishes. He's free to live his life free of all animal products if he wishes. He can even take up his time and the times of his colleagues to tell us how mad the cows are. He, however, is not free to dictate how my life or anyone else's life should be. If I wish to drink milk or eat steak, Joaquin Phoenix, no matter how well-intentioned, has no say in the matter and should have no say in the matter.

Such speeches don't win hearts and minds. They harden them, and end up making the speaker sound a bit bonkers.

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Renee Zellweger decided Phoenix was a hard act to follow, so she ended up sounding more bonkers without resorting to cow insemination. To her credit, at least she mentioned Judy Garland, but what exactly was she saying? It was a list of people, but once she thanked her whole family she started sounding a bit loopy, as if she didn't know where to go after listing her "heroes" and just started rambling.

Who else thought name-dropping Dolores Huerta, Bob Dylan, Harriet Tubman and Martin Scorsese with Judy Garland somehow "unite us"?  "We agree on our teachers, and we agree on our courageous men and women in uniform who serve..." she went on and on. What exactly Fred Rogers and Judy Garland share in terms of heroics with my favorite teacher, Mrs. Hearn, I can't begin to guess.

Well, that's it for the 92nd Academy Awards. The winners save Original Song were once I thought were if not worthy at least good choices. The political nature of the show really does not bother me. It does puzzle me.

As for myself, I'll be washing down a triple-meat cheeseburger with an extra large mocha frappe, extra whipped cream, in honor of Joaquin Phoenix's courageous and powerful advocacy for bovine beauties.

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Elsie, we hardly knew you...

Saturday, February 8, 2020

92nd Academy Awards Preview: Thoughts and Predictions


This year's Academy Awards have been the most wide-open race I've seen in a while, at least with regards to Best Picture. I think there have been at least four "locks" to win: first The Irishman, then Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, followed by 1917 and now Parasite. Their rises and falls show how fluid the race has been.

One aspect though that surprises me is The Irishman's tumultuous fall. Going in with 10 nominations, The Irishman has all but collapsed into irrelevance. It hasn't picked up any major awards since flopping at the Golden Globes, and it looks like there is no sign of it coming back to life. All the other Best Picture nominees are all but assured at least one win, and there have been occasions where Best Picture nominees have been frozen out. This, however, is something I did not expect: a massive failure for one of cinema's greatest auteurs.

How to explain The Irishman's astonishing fall? I'm sure my one-sided nemesis Jacob Airey will suggest if not flat-out state it is punishment for Martin Scorsese saying that his beloved Marvel Cinematic Universe is not "real cinema". That's not just a remarkably childish and narcissistic take, though not surprising for someone as childish and narcissistic as Airey, but a thoroughly uniformed one. The Academy members are not "voting against" Scorsese or to punish him for his "blasphemy". They may dislike or not care for The Irishman. They may just favor other films more than The Irishman. However, to think that the Academy, of all organizations, is filled with squeeing fanboys who cried when a talking tree disintegrated is just so moronic.

There is still that pesky question though. How did The Irishman fall so far and so fast? My own theory is that it just didn't catch on with voters in the same way Once Upon a Time in Hollywood or 1917 or Parasite did. For better or worse, this year the voters went for "the new big thing" versus something that will, I think, stand the test of time longer than those films. By no means are any of the most likely contenders bad films (all I think will make my Top Ten List). It's just a matter of poor timing: Marty's meditation on guilt and regret just wasn't as big as the fantasy of thwarting Charles Manson, a "one-shot" take on World War One or an allegory on capitalism.

Apart from Best Picture, pretty much all the major awards are locked in. It would take an Olivia Colman like upset to overtake the four acting categories, and even that win was not as unexpected as many still think. It is theoretically possible that at least one of the acting locks falls, but by now highly unlikely.

I expect there won't be any surprises, but right now there really is no way of saying Film X is the prohibitive front-runner. Until that last envelope is opened, there is simply no way of saying which of the four films with the best chance will emerge triumphant.

With that brief overview, let's move on to my predictions. These are not the ones I want to win, just the ones I think will, with some thoughts on my reasoning. Predicted winners in bold.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

1917 
Avengers: Endgame
The Irishman
The Lion King
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Despite Airey's assertion that Avengers: Endgame truly is a turning point in cinema history, this is its sole nomination. Curiously, it's the sole nomination for The Lion King, and frankly I'm not convinced that it should be there. Part of me wants The Irishman to win here just to stick it to the fanboys, but so far it seems the ravages of war are going to take it. To be honest, I didn't notice the visual effects in the film, and with that being the case then 1917 does deserve the win.

BEST FILM EDITING

Ford v Ferrari 
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker 
Parasite

In the past ten years only once has the Best Picture winner not been nominated for Film Editing. This year all five Film Editing nominees are Best Picture nominees. This would seem to doom the chances of both Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and 1917 for Best Picture, especially the latter since the whole point of it was to look as if it were shot in one take. 1917 can take comfort that the only Best Picture winner not nominated in Film Editing was also a one-shot-type film, Birdman. The Irishman's collapse has sadly extended to Thelma Schoonmaker's brilliant work on the film. Currently, the odds look to be that Ford v Ferrari takes it for its Le Mans race. If it's any comfort to The Irishman, it's that the Best Film Editing winner has not gone on to win Best Picture 8 out of 10 times this past decade.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

The Irishman
Joker
Jojo Rabbit
Little Women
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

This year there is no royalty among the nominees. The Academy has a weakness for royal garb in this category. The Academy also has a hard time with contemporary times costuming, which is why The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and by extension Joker look unlikely. Granted, they are not truly "contemporary", but they are set within people's current lifespans. While Jojo Rabbit is making a last-minute surge here, I think the Civil War threads from Little Women will be the ones rewarded. Despite its six nominations, the most for any Little Women adaptation, I think this may be its only win.

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

1917
Bombshell
Joker
Judy
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

I would have gone with Maleficent: Mistress of Evil due to Angelina Jolie's cheeks alone, but jokes aside there seems to be a real momentum here for Judy's recreation of one of our most talented and mercurial performers. Bombshell seems to be the most likely to challenge it, but I'm thinking the winner may say, "Ju-DY! Ju-DY! Ju-DY!"

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

1917
The Irishman
Joker
The Lighthouse
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

When you think "cinematography", you think "most visually impressive". That would be 1917. Even those who disliked the film, or like me do not think it is "one of/the greatest war film ever made" admire the look of 1917. I won't say it has it in the bag, but I really don't see any of the others mounting a serious challenge.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

1917
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Parasite

There's been another last-minute rally for Parasite, mostly due to the contrasts between the homes of the wealthy Parks and the poverty-row Kims. It may end up taking the Oscar, which I think would be a mild surprise, but I think Quentin Tarantino's recreation of 1960's Hollywood will eke out a win.

BEST SOUND MIXING

1917
Ad Astra
Ford v Ferrari
Joker
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

This really is a fight between the war sounds of 1917 and the racing sounds of Ford v Ferrari. Again, I hate pinning myself down but I think the war will impress voters more than the race. It's a pity that Ad Astra, which I didn't care for, was not nominated for Cinematography.

BEST SOUND EDITING

1917
Ford v Ferrari
Joker
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Same as Sound Mixing, though again Ford v Ferrari is the only film I see that could beat it.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

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

What a fall Frozen II has had. Frozen had Let It Go, an anthem if ever there was one. Now, who really is singing Into the Unknown? I figure they thought, "Just let Adele Dazeem BELT OUT a song as monstrously loud as possible and we'll have another hit".  However, I think it's a terrible song from a terrible movie and apart from the actual phrase "Into the Unknown", I cannot remember one thing about it.

The race is between two songs: Diane Warren's eleventh nominated song I'm Standing With You and Elton John's sole contribution to his jukebox musical biopic (I'm Gonna) Love Me Again...as if he had ever stopped loving himself.

I think Taron Egerton may be bitter about not getting a Best Actor nomination despite campaigning openly for it via a charm offensive that ended up failing. I say this because he isn't performing the song, odd given he performed it in Rocketman's closing credits.

In my view, once the public hears Cynthia Erivo perform Stand Up, they will ask why the bouncy, inconsequential (I'm Gonna) Love Me Again won. I'd love for Stand Up to surprise as I think it's the best of the nominees, and Warren may herself surprise with I'm Standing With You given how often she's lost. It would be a real surprise to see a "Christian" film be an Oscar winner, but right now the temptation to give Sir Elton and Bernie Taupin a joint award seems too much to resist. (I'm Gonna) Love Me Again winning will be one of the few things to cause me to vent some rage.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

1917
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I was convinced Little Women was going to take Best Original Score, and I think it's a beautiful score. However, while there was some momentum for 1917 it looks like it has not only shifted on to Joker, but it's gotten stronger. History will be made if Joker wins: it will be the first time a woman has won Best Original Score (or third if you count Rachel Portman and Anne Dudley, who won Best Original Musical or Comedy Score for Emma and The Fully Monty respectively when the category was briefly split between 1996 and 2000). It will also mean that 1917's Thomas Newman will have lost 15 times, beating out Diane Warren's unfortunate track record.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Daughter
Hair Love
Kitbull
Memorable
Sister

All are well-crafted animated shorts, though the popularity of Memorable escapes me. With that said, I think the emotional and visual appeal of Hair Love will be too strong to deny it the Oscar.

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

Brotherhood
Nefta Football Club
The Neighbors' Window
Saria
A Sister

Again, with the possible exception of Saria I think any of these would be worthy choices. Nefta Football Club seems the most likely surprise winner and would be the first Arabic winner in this category. However, The Neighbors' Window has two advantages. One: it is also quite good. Two: it is the only English-language nominee. In the past ten years, an English-language Live-Action Short Film nominee has won 7 out of 10 times.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

In the Absence
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're A Girl)
Life Overtakes Me
St. Louis Superman
Walk Run Cha-Cha

Again, I think all of the nominees are worthy save for St. Louis Superman, which felt incomplete to me. Last year, the optimistic Period. End of Sentence won, and I point out it is "optimistic" because all the other nominees last year were almost unbearably depressing. I think the Academy will go that route again and select an optimistic, joyful nominee. While I loved Walk Run Cha-Cha, the powerful, beautiful and hopeful Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl) will be the winner.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

American Factory
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama
Honeyland

I think The Cave and For Sama, good as they are, will cancel each other out due to both being about the Syrian Revolution. My mind goes to Honeyland, which is also curiously nominated for International Film. There's no way Honeyland will win in that category, and I don't think it's a way of "rewarding" it by winning somewhere else, but I'm thinking that in a surprisingly strong category Honeyland will win.

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM (formerly Best Foreign-Language Film)

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

Last year, many predicted (or wished) that the Mexican film Roma would be the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture. If it had, it would also be the first film to win both Foreign-Language and Best Picture. That is the trouble with nominating one movie in both categories: inevitably winning Foreign-Language (now International Feature) cuts it from winning Best Picture. Many again hope (and wish) that the South Korean film Parasite break on through and wins both. At least in this category, I think Parasite has it locked up since no other film has really mounted a challenge to it.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

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

Again, lo how Frozen II has fallen. Frozen was one of the surest wins when it was nominated. Now, its cash-grab/sequel was, yes, "frozen" out, a surprising rejection. What makes this race surprisingly competitive is that all the indicators have given us a variety of winners. Various organizations that normally signal which way this category goes has selected Missing Link, Klaus and Toy Story 4. I don't see a surprise win for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World or I Lost My Body. I'm not convinced Klaus can gain that much support and I think it's a weak Missing Link. It really is an open race. As much, however, as I may have been underwhelmed by it, I think they're going to go for a safe choice and give Woody's last roundup a fond farewell.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

1917
Knives Out
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Parasite

To see just how fluid this season has been, the odds have shifted from Knives Out to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to 1917 and now Parasite. Another category where I simply cannot find a definitive certain winner. I can say that I don't think there was much of a screenplay for 1917 and I don't see any support for Marriage Story. Knives Out has faded on its sole nomination, so it's really a fight between a Hollywood story and a Korean story. Either could win, but it looks like the Academy will find some Seoul.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The Irishman
Joker
Jojo Rabbit
Little Women
The Two Popes

Things have gone wildly awry for some films. The Irishman's momentum has fallen flat and Greta Gerwig looks likely to lose in both Original and Adapted Screenplay in separate years. She was the front-runner for some time, until for reasons I cannot fathom the Hitler camp comedy came roaring to life. I simply do not understand the hold Jojo Rabbit has over Film Twitter as this unimpeachable work of brilliance. However, I have to acknowledge reality and with deepest regret, have to concede it looks like this is where it has the strongest chance to win anywhere.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Kathy Bates: Richard Jewell
Laura Dern: Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson: Jojo Rabbit
Florence Pugh: Little Women
Margot Robbie: Bombshell

I know many people are upset that Jennifer Lopez was not nominated for Hustlers. Personally, I don't get why so many think J-Lo taking her clothes off is some kind of acting miracle. Wasn't her Super Bowl performance essentially the same as her performance in the film? In the same way, I don't get the passion, the fervor for Laura Dern's performance in Marriage Story. I found it cartoonish bordering on parody, but somehow people have convinced themselves that it is something of majesty. I would have chosen Pugh's turn in Little Women, though to be honest I think the film made it a leading role. Again, however, I have to vow to reality and recognize Dern will win.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

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

It is a sad thing that Pacino and Pesci will cancel each other out. Nine times out of ten when two actors from the same film get nominated in the same category they end up losing. It is a sad thing because both Pacino and especially Pesci in my view gave better performances than the ultra-cool Pitt. He, however, has never faltered on his path to the win, and he will win.

BEST LEADING ACTRESS

Cynthia Erivo: Harriet
Scarlett Johansson: Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan: Little Women
Charlize Theron: Bombshell
Renee Zellweger: Judy

Best Leading Actress is the one place where we have racial/ethnic diversity among the nominees. If not for Cynthia Erivo's performance as Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman, we would have heard again about #OscarsSoWhite. I think of all the performances Erivo's was if not the best then close to it. I also note that Saoirse Ronan has been nominated four times and is only twenty-five years old. If that does not speak to the breath of her talent, what does? It's a curious thing that it is Best Actress, not Best Actor, that has a majority of nominations for playing real people: Erivo, Theron as Megyn Kelly and Zellweger as Judy Garland. Normally it is the men who are rewarded for playing real-life figures. In this category, Zellweger has never lost her lead. Not one of the nominees has come close to challenging her, and her win is essentially assured.

BEST LEADING ACTOR

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

Normally, an actor in a biopic who has his first nomination after a respected career would be a front-runner, but Jonathan Pryce will have to be satisfied with just the nomination. Banderas (who may or may not qualify as "diversity") is not going to win. As a side note, I know many upset that Taron Egerton was not nominated for Rocketman, but I'll be frank: I don't think his performance was worthy of a nomination. I said flatly that it was too soon to say Egerton had it in the bag and was the inevitable winner, but Film Twitter did not listen. I still think he's bitter about it. He worked the rooms furiously to keep his Oscar hopes alive as he saw himself fading to the triumvirate of DiCaprio, Driver and Phoenix. It did not help.

That triumvirate has the best odds, but DiCaprio already used his "he's overdue" card for The Revenant, which is a shame given Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a better performance. Driver is fantastic in a film I was not crazy about, but again Phoenix's turn as Arthur Fleck is too powerful to ignore.

BEST DIRECTOR

Sam Mendes: 1917
Martin Scorsese: The Irishman
Todd Phillips: Joker
Quentin Tarantino: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Bong Joon-ho: Parasite

Again, the pendulum has been spinning all around: briefly Scorsese, then Tarantino, then Mendes, and currently Bong. Surprisingly, Philips' nomination is the only one never to take, and moreover one that Film Twitter despises. It really is open for anyone save Phillips and Scorsese, who are pretty much done. I don't think there was any directing in 1917 in terms of acting performances and much more in Parasite, and while I would not be surprised if Bong won I'm thinking Mendes may squeak out a victory.

BEST PICTURE

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

This really is the hardest category to say what will win. Personally, I would love for Ford v Ferrari to win if only to shock us all. I feel terrible for The Irishman because it is a great film that will be ignored. Joker is too divisive to win and I think passionately disliked by a large enough group to keep it from winning. I think the same goes for Jojo RabbitLittle Women and Marriage Story have no chance. As much as Parasite is passionately loved by Film Twitter, the language barrier again crops up. Can the Academy embrace a foreign-language film considering how resistant it has been to adopting it. That really leaves two: the film industry centered Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and the war epic 1917. Somehow, people may talk themselves into thinking 1917 is indeed an epic, something "for the ages". With that, I think the Academy will ultimate pick 1917 for Best Picture of 2019.

Again, I am not betting on most of these vague guesses. We won't find out until tomorrow, where I hope for some surprises.