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And it wasn't as bad as I expected. It wasn't good necessarily, but..., no, it wasn't as bad....
So-eh, we never did get that eleventh Commandment when Moses came down the mountain that states of course, "Thou shalt not assault the comedian, for they are trying to be funny to cover up their own securities, and they know not the harm of what they say."
I don't know why I'm going with an obscure Mel Brooks-inspired Moses joke there-.... Just skip that....
Yeah, so I'll give the Academy this, they did make us forget, or not care as much about the below-the-line awards getting editing into the show periodically. Mostly it wasn't done too terribly, arguably they did it better then the Tonys, but eh, it never was that they took them out, it's the reasoning of how and why they did it, and I'm not gonna go over that again, except, if you keep reading, I'm totally going to go over that again, 'cause frankly there isn't much else to talk about, but the show itself is fine, good at parts even.
I think DJ Khalid interrupting the introductions to introduces the hosts again, was a really bad idea, but Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall all were really funny and special here. All worked towards their strengths, they separated the material out well enough, I laughed a lot; the show ran smoothly enough. I think Regina Hall's sketch where she's claiming all the hot actors that they lost their COVID results was a little long for me, but it still was pretty funny. (Also, is Tyler Perry handsome looking? I don't really know though....) I loved Wanda Sykes at the museum, and Amy's material was great all night, and I know some people hated that jab she did at real world events with that seat filler piece, but honestly I loved that. To me, that's kinda always been the issue with the Oscars; there's real stuff going on in the world and here we are celebrating movies at this elaborate black tie affair. We should bring up the hypocrisy and the outlandish a little while we're doing it? Maybe that's just me. (Shrugs)
And speaking of jabs, holy fuck! Will Smith slapped the fuck out of Chris Rock! For real!
OMG.... Yeah, pretty much everything that happened after that didn't matter. The American censors feed was on-target with this one, thankfully there wasn't a censor pissed off that the below-the-line categories got edited in on delay, glad that the Academy doesn't have a Censors' Branch, but luckily through some of the international broadcasts, we got a little bit of a sense of what happened.
So, apparently Chris Rock, made, what was admittedly a very dumb joke, about Jada Pinkett-Smith's bald head. (Like, seriously, Chris, "G.I. Jane"! I thought you said "G.I. Joe" at first, and then remember what "G.I. Jane" even was to even connect that joke. That movie is almost as old as some of the movies who's anniversaries they were randomly honoring tonight!)
And then, anyway, Will Smith, got mad, and then calmly walked up and gave him one perfect slap to the face. It was so perfect, half the people either thought it was staged or that he pulled it and slapped his hand. He was upset, and to be fair, I didn't remember this either, Jada has been suffering with alopecia for the last three years, so it wasn't exactly a choice for her, to be digging the Sinead O'Connor look... (Sigh)
I think we've all been there, where we think something is either weird, questionable, mocking-worthy and we can think of the easy jokes for it, way before we think to just look it up first. Hell, I did that recently when I found out there's an Indoor Football League team called the Tucson Sugar Skulls. (It's kind of a dumb name for a football team even after you look up what a sugar skull is, but contextually it actual makes a fair bit of sense.) Anyway, Will, was not in his best state of mind, as he mentioned during his acceptance speech afterwards that Denzel eloquently put it...,
Oh yeah, after that, he won Best Actor. That was, the most cringiest thing ever, but yes, Will Smith won Best Actor for "King Richard". He got all the time to give, a speech, and an apology, and...- boy, Will Smith, really.... Uh, you know, everybody's gonna make their own jokes, and yeah, he behaved pretty badly and he knew it, and let's move on....
Wow! Anyway, pretty much nothing mattered after that. Up until then, the show, while not great for an Oscars, was basically staying at a solid C+ TV show and stayed that way, at least with everything that they planned to have happened. It was a lovely show, but not a great Oscars. I don't know which standard is preferable to you, whichever one would probably be the standard you prefer would basically be what you would think of this show. To quote every other losing "Top Chef" contestant, "It is what it is," minus the common assault charges that are not going to be filed, this was a relatively benign show, and that's about as good as they were trying to be.
Some things never work on me, like any time people do anything other then show the montage and play somber music over it for the In Memoriam, the personal tributes were nice though. People will hound on the fact that the show still ran long despite fewer categories and awards. (Shrugs) I thought the set design was drab, especially in the beginning of the show, and the thrust were they presented the Oscars was just way too narrow and small, and just a bad design in general. And no, I didn't mention the Twitter stuff and I don't care, and I ignored all that, 'cause fan votes don't matter, period.
The fashion was great this year! Women had cool looks and styles, men wore a lot more color, that was cool. The performers were great. The speeches were mostly good, most of the winners...-
Oh dammit! Winners! GODDAMMIT THESE OSCARS! I keep forgetting about the races! WHAT THE FUCK this year!?!?!?!?!?! Somebody, please, just reincarnate the corpse of Gil Cates, and grab Billy Crystal off Broadway next year and show everybody how to do this again, please?! FUCK!
THIS! This is why the show sucks; it's because the whole Oscar season to the actual show, has been about everything, except the thing that we're supposed to be celebrating and honoring. It's not just having random cast reunions sprinkled in, it's about celebrating the medium these artists work in and using that time well to show why it's important, maybe not to everybody, everywhere, but to these people. These nominees. These people who have their careers, their jobs, their arts, celebrated by their peers on this one night. Talk about that, show that! Celebrate that, and this show did none of that!
It did a lot of other things and a lot of it was done decently well, but it wasn't exactly what the Oscars should be about, and that was the worst sin.
Anyway, after all that, we ended the night, with a lovely "CODA". Yes, "CODA" breaks, pretty much every Oscar prognosticating general rule you can imagine by winning Best Picture, and sweeping, it's total three categories, winning Picture, Supporting Actor for Troy Kotsur, who gave a wonderful speech, and Sian Heder for Adapted Screenplay. It's the first film to not have below-the-line nominations to win since 1935, it didn't have a directing nomination, it didn't have an editing nomination,... it just hit very late and won everything, that's what happens with a December release sometimes; except it was released in August.
I really don't get this year. Other then that, I actually did pretty well on my prediction, but that's also because I didn't call many upsets, and the Oscars didn't give us any. Kotsur became the second deaf performer ever, after his co-star Marlee Matlin in '86, to win an Oscar. (He also gets my vote for best speech) The aforementioned Will Smith won Best Actor for "King Richard", Ariana DeBose became the second Anita to win the Supporting Actress Oscar after Rita Moreno of course, and became one of the few outwardly queer Latino performers to win, admittedly a little specific, but you know what, we need more inclusivity, but yeah, Anita is now up there with Don Corleone and maybe the Joker, arguably, as the only characters who are double-winners for performances.
Best Actress went to Jessica Chastain for "The Eyes of Tammy Faye", as we return to the biopic performance as the winner in this category. "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" also one of the few movies to win multiple awards as it won for Makeup and Hairstyling.
"Cruella" took Costume Design, which, yeah, the film about the most famous fashion-inspired villain in the history of cinema should probably win for Costumes. BTW Ruth Carter was one of the presenters of the Award and I can't confirm this for sure right now, but I think that makes her the first Costume Designer to present an Oscar, unless you count Tom Ford, who strangely has never actually been a Costume Designer on a film, or Edna Mode, who also has never been a Costume Designer before, and is animated character from "The Incredibles" so I think she's the first. Somebody can correct me if I'm wrong on that; I was trying to find clips of Edith Head presenting an Oscar, but as far as I can tell, Carter's the first. That was pretty cool actually.
Pretty much, everything else below-the-line went to "Dune" though. "Dune" got six Oscars, winning Cinematography, Sound, Visual Effects, Production Design, Film Editing and Original Score. So, "Dune" won everything-off camera, well- cinematography was announced on the main show at least. It's director of course, Denis Villeneuve, the man who got thanked the most on the night, wasn't nominated for Director, and instead Jane Campion, became the third woman, second in two years, to win the Best Director Oscar, which curiously marked "The Power of the Dog"'s only win on the night. A very rare feat; the last film to only win Best Director since 1967, when Mike Nichols won for "The Graduate", and it's by far the movie with the most nominations to ever only win one Oscar, going 1/12! Wow! That's just odd, and I don't even have to look that one up to know that's a record.
The other big award was Best Original Song, which, despite having a couple songs from "Bruno" getting performances, (And a conspicuous lack of a performance from the "Belfast" song) Billie Eilish and Francis O'Connell won for "No Time to Die", the third James Bond theme to win the Original Song Oscar in the last decade. Weird, the franchise went fifty years without winning this category and now suddenly it's got three, something I'm sure the presenters of the 60th Anniversary montage of the James Bond franchise would know very well.
(Sigh) There were some weird fever dream pairings of presenters and reasons this year, I might add, and that one had to be the most chemically-influenced combination of the bunch.
"Belfast" also won something btw, as Kenneth Branagh, the man who's been nominated in more Oscar categories then any other person, finally won his first Oscar for Original Screenplay for the film. Whoever picked the most Shakespearean of modern Shakespeare actors to finally win his Oscar in Original Screenplay btw would be pretty damn rich right now. Remember when he once got nominated for his five hour "Hamlet" that was literally just the entire play!? I mean, there were a couple flourishes, but like, still, eh, he had weird nominations sometimes. Nice to see him finally win.
The International Feature went to "Drive My Car" as expected, Best Picture nominees in the category are still unbeaten. The Documentary feature Oscar, went to 'Summer of Soul...", which, kinda got overshadowed by the whole Will Smith/Chris Rock incident, but-eh, I betcha Jimmy Fallon's rating are gonna be up tomorrow night. Good job Questlove.
I actually did see,...- uh, my favorite tweet on this, was from Michael Kenyatta, who's actually a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania right now, and he said that, and I quote, "Will Smith smacking Chris Rock and Questlove winning an Oscar are the most back-to-back Philly things to ever happen at the Oscars," which, um, yeah, pretty much.
Honestly, the biggest surprise of the night was in Animated Short when "The Windshield Wiper" upset "Robin Robin". I'm pissed at that one 'cause I like "The Windshield Wiper" the best out of the shorts and still didn't predict it, but good win. The New York Times got the edge in Documentary Short, as "The Queen of Basketball" won Documentary Short and apparently one of the best speeches we didn't see the entirety of was from Director Ben Proudfoot for that film; see if you can find an unedited version online. (Oh yeah, Apple won the streaming service battle here, didn't it! Netflix underperformed in that regard, but I don't think anybody cares about that today.) Finally, Live-Action short went to Riz Ahmed's short "The Long Goodbye", another example of the biggest star in the project being the determining factor, although this was indeed a pretty good film.
Overall, I'm glad that there wasn't a lot of upsets or strays from the expected; I think it made a, what we'll generously call a pedestrian show. go by quicker and easier; the last thing this show needed was more surprises. But yeah, this year, more then most years I think, the Oscars really got lost itself and truly doesn't know or understand what it is anymore and that's more pitiful then it is just sad.
Things have to change, and heads to roll, and the Oscars have to dig deep and find themselves in the future. I'm not saying that it's ever gonna be as beloved as they once were, nor I do think they should completely stick to them old fuddy-duddy selves either. Movies are an art medium that's constantly changing, evolving and advancing, and the Academy should strive to do that as well, but there's ways to appreciate and celebrate the craft of the art and the products that we love without having to get bogged down in meaningless changes and quick-fixes that aren't getting replaced with anything substantive to the objective at hand or change the minds of those who don't care about the show anyway. All this felt like a pathetic attempt to get the cool kids at the lunch table to notice them, and frankly the best thing about the Academy, was that, before, for all their faults, they usually knew and understood to not give this much of a shit. They have to stop caring or worrying about what "Film Twitter" or the Neilsens Ratings or ABC, or (Finger quotes) "Movie Lovers" whoever they are, or "People who only care about Spider-Man" or for that matter, even people like me who want the most artistic foreign art films to win every year, think! The Oscars need to stop caring what we all think and just strive to be the best of what they are. As good or bad as anything else was, nothing that this show did was remotely done in the direction towards meeting that goal, and that's why this failure, feels a lot worst then other Oscar show failures in recent years.
I had a friend of mine recently offhandly mention that they had never actually sat down and watched the Oscars. I told them that, this is probably not the year to start. I've been quiet on it, but there has been just, so much baggage in regards to this year's ceremony and some of the choices they've decided to make, all under some weird guise of "pressure" from ABC to get their ratings up, that frankly it seems like they've become more of the story then the movies this year.
And this is the worst year to do this shit too, I might add. The Oscars, and movies themselves are in a transition period. No longer is Sony and Warner Bros. taking on the Miramax juggernaut, the battle is between Netflix and Apple+. Theaters showing anything other then people dressed in spider costumes are not making any money, and the films people watch are being promoted and marketing and provided to an audience that's growing narrower and narrower. Never has the appeal of the masses and the appeal of the prestige been so far apart, and frankly that has less to do with the Academy then people realize. The pressure is seemingly always on the film world to read the minds and wants of the people, but frankly, if I were a voter, I'd rebel too at that. I don't want to vote for what everybody's seen, I want to vote for what's best and for the most part, whether or not I agree with their choices, from the evidence I can tell, that's all they ever seem to be doing, or at least trying to do. Of course, not everybody looks at or understands the evidence they're looking at so intricately as I and others who pay attention ('cause I don't want to use the word Oscarologist to describe myself, so I won't) do. The issue is that, the Academy, and partially the networks, all of whom are already losing money and ratings that matter hand-over-fist on everything, so while they're tightening the Oscars noose, the Academy themselves are, I don't know, are acting a little more out of fear and panic then they should.
That's the nearest I can figure with these decisions, but let's go through them one at a time. First, the hosts. Yes, hosts. This year, Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina King will be co-hosting. It's the first time the Oscars have had more then two hosts since the '80s. I'm just happy they're having a host, 'cause these last three years without one has just been lackluster. I don't know why we tried to start that trend up again, but it wasn't a good idea. As to these three, (Shrugs) I love all three of them, Schumer and Sykes especially, they're two of the best stand-ups around and Regina King has been one of the best actresses around for years and she's apparently been a good host for the BET Awards in the past, (Sorry, I never got into them; I'm more of an NAACP Image Awards guy.) and this year's producer is Will Packer who worked with her on "Girls Trip", so she's got enough hosting experience and is well-protected. I can see an argument that any of these should or could host on their own, but I actually think this is a good idea this year. They've waited way too long to even name the hosts, so they have less time to put on the show, if you split up the hosting duties between the three of them, you get them all, hopefully at their best, and that's less work to do. You have three creative people working on their own stuff as opposed to just one having to cover the three hour show.
Ah, yes, the show. Let's get to the other big change, for the first time, not all the Oscars will be announced on the live broadcast. Eight awards, in fact, will be presented, before the broadcast begins, which means that we're only going to see 14 envelopes opened before the show starts.
Oh-kay, I'm not gonna call this the worst idea, in concept. I know, to some, this might sound like heresy, but let's take a step back for a second, and then look at this particular context, 'cause when you do that, it does become much more f'ed up. That said, pretty much every other major award shows does this, to one extent or another. The word is that this will be done in many ways similar to how the Tonys do this. I like the Tonys, and I like how they do that every year. Here's the thing though, the Tonys broadcast, isn't really about who wins every year. I love them, but that's totally secondary, the main point of the show is that they presents to the worldwide audiences, musical performances from all the major Broadway shows that are nominated every year. That's just expected, it would be stupid to have the Tonys and not have Broadway-level performances throughout the show. So, no, I don't need to see the award for who wins Best Scenic Design for a play. Same with the Grammys, which, doesn't matter remotely as an award to begin with, they're honoring music, mostly, and so, yeah, put on musical performances. Also, there's like, 90 Grammy categories, so, no, you can't fit them all one three hour show! That's fine. Hell, the Emmys have their whole secondary award show, the Creative Arts Emmys, just for many of the frankly, Creative Arts, that you know, most don't people don't and frankly, to some extent, shouldn't care about.
Do the Oscars have this excuse though? Well, like, they only give out 23 Oscars a year, and even that is a recent downgrade by combining the Sound categories a couple years ago, which I'm still not in favor of btw, but whatever.... I get it. Do we absolutely need the Short categories to still be on the show, probably not. But here's the thing, what are they replacing this with? I mean, you could argue they shouldn't replace these with anything, but according to Academy President David Rubin, who's seriously making Cheryl Boone-Isaacs and John Bailey seem competent lately, it's to provide more time for comedy, film clips and musical performances.
Okay, film clips? (Shrugs) I don't know, I know we're celebrating the movies, but I think we have enough of them in general during the show. (I know, last year was an exception, but you know, pandemic Oscars, everything gets a bigger break) That said, I've never heard anybody complain that there weren't enough movie clips during the Oscars. Musical performances, alright, I like hearing the Best Song nominees, and especially since Score is one of the categories they're moving to before the show, I assume it's the songs. I've often thought they were one of the things that constantly made the show longer to me, but I guess people want to hear Reba McEntire sing that Diane-Warren-penned song from that nobody's heard of from that one movie nobody heard or, or saw.
As to the comedy and sketch, okay, look, I do think it's fun to compare Oscar shows and hosts and whatnot, and talk about such details regarding whether or not a show or a host is good or not, but, eh, best case scenario, and all these pieces of comedy are just, great, amazing, which, is not a guarantee, are you or anybody else gonna remember them or care about them, weeks from now, much less years? Are they really gonna be worth, not honoring, the Editors Branch, you know, the people who make the stars look good?! Yeah, like we don't need more comedy or sketches, or even music necessarily. If you're gonna replace these awards with something else, how about something Oscar related that people like?! I would use the time for at least one of the Governors Awards!? Remember those?! How about they do those Lifetime Achievement tributes at the Oscars broadcast themselves instead! They still do those, but they're separated onto their own little thing?! This year, Samuel L. Jackson, Elaine May, Liv Ullmann are getting Honorary Oscars and Danny Glover's getting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, wouldn't it be cool to even just see one of those on the regular show again!? I could give up the Short categories for that! But instead, we're getting comedy sketches that, while I love the people who are doing them this year, may or may not work at all, and even if they do, frankly they don't matter at all!
Look, the thing is that, despite everything they're trying, they don't know what the actual problems are, or how to fix, or if they should be fixed, or if they should care about the ratings at all, because the Oscars don't actually need to be on ABC either, it's not like they're so beholden to Disney, right?! I get that you should be trying to listen to what the audience wants, but they often don't know what they want, and many of them wouldn't like the Oscars no matter what they did to them, so maybe trying to appease them is a bad idea.
Look, if you want to do a dissertation about how the supposed problems with the Oscars are a reflection of the greater problems with Hollywood and the Academy as a whole, and how the changing of the ways movies are viewed and promoted and how studios are struggling to keep up and how were in the beginning of going back to a vertical integration system of distribution since the overturning of U.S. vs. Paramount decision and how streaming and other theatrical avenues are changing what even is a movie, in combination and contrasting with the flawed and archaic continuing use of Neilsen ratings for television while box office numbers during a pandemic, and...- like 28 other things I can list as to reasons were in the position we're in with this show, then, I don't know, you go write it yourself, 'cause frankly I don't want the extra work or headache right now, 'cause these Oscars in particular, they way they've been acting and have been treating us, they're not worth it.
As to what I think? If you do want to watch people opening envelopes and giving acceptance speeches then there's not much you're ever gonna like about an awards show, so those people should shut up! Whatever else they do, I want the Oscars to at least, stay the Oscars, in whatever form that is, and that will never be good enough for some people, so I don't care about their opinions. I complain and criticize when the show drifts too far from that and for no good reason, and that's what's got everybody's up in arms.
I mean think of it this way, the Editors get it with the Emmys, and don't complain why their award is shifted to the Creative Arts there, but there's 90 Emmys/year and that's only counting Primetime. But when, not even two days ago as I'm writing starting to write this, and eight days before the awards, and the American Cinema of Editors are still writing about how bullshit this is, along with several other main Guilds in Hollywood, which, yes, is the most pro-Union industry town in the world, then yeah, this might be a problem. A problem, a bad decision done for questionable and unnecessary reasons.
(Deep breath, long sigh)
Anyway, um,...- I forgot what I was saying now. Oh, yeah, that's why this is probably not a good year to start watching the Oscars. This is a fluke year where everything's more concerned about the show then the movies and if you're not really into movies this year, then you don't really care too much who wins.
OH SHIT! Who wins!? That's right, this is my Predictions blog isn't! Let's get to that!...
See this is what I'm talking about, we care more about everything except the movies this year! Ugh! Let's run this down.
Remember, these are predictions, not preferences, and all the other blah-blah-blahs. So alright, let's win our Oscar pools everybody!
Producers: Laura Berwick, Kenneth Branagh, Becca Kovacik and Tamar Thomas
Producers: Philippe Rousselet Fabrice Gianfermi and Patrick Wachsberger
Don't Look Up
Producers: Adam McKay and Kevin Messic
Drive My Car
Producer: Teruhisa YAMAMOTO
Producers: Mary Parent, Denis Villeneuve and Cale Boyter
Producers: Tim White, Trevor White and Will Smith
Producers: Sara Murphy, Adam Somner and Paul Thomas Anderson
Producers: Guillermo Del Toro, J. Miles Dale and Bradley Cooper
The Power of the Dog
Producers: Jane Campion, Tanya Seghatchian, Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Roger Frappier
West Side Story
Producers: Steven Spielberg and Kristie Macosko Krieger
It's looking more and more like "CODA" is gonna pull off the upset as we inch closer to the show. I'm not entirely surprised something has come up to challenge "The Power of the Dog" but I am, a little skeptical that it's this film. CODA won at SAG and PGA, both huge upsets and to be honest, "The Power of the Dog", in particular Jane Campion herself, has not exactly helped themselves. That weird criticism from Sam Elliott about the film not seeming western enough because it was made by a New Zealand-born Aussie-based filmmaker, was just bizarre and weird, but it's kinda stuck. Also, Campion putting that shot in at the Williams sisters when she won at the Critics Choice, while not necessarily incorrect, was a bit of a wrong-headed quip from her. Still though, "CODA" is just weird. On top of it not getting a Best Director nomination, which would make it the third such winner in ten years which is startling since there was only three before and two of those were back in the earliest days of the oscars, but it didn't even get a nomination from DGA in the category. And frankly, nobody's out there saying that either of those were necessarily snubs. I mean, even Billy Crystal joked about Bruce Beresford's snub when that film won with the Director nomination. More then that though, all the other recent such winners, "Argo" and "Green Book" had more then their fair share of nominations, including in major signifier categories like Editing. "CODA" has only three nominations, total, one in Writing, Supporting Actor and Picture. You don't necessarily need a lot of nomination, but three nominations and barely in other major categories and none below the line.... Last time that happened was-eh, in 1935, when "Grand Hotel" became the only film to win Best Picture without any other nominations, and most categories had only three nominees back then. I'm reluctant still to personally to switch off "The Power of the Dog", despite those two wins, those are big upset wins, but the statistics just don't hold up for a "CODA" upset; if anything I would've thought "Belfast" would've been the spoiler. It wouldn't surprise me though if the Academy can't quite force themselves to give Director and Picture to a female director two years in a row, but I don't know, the odds don't look right.
PREDICTION: "The Power of the Dog"
Paul Thomas Anderson-"Licorice Pizza"
Jane Campion-"The Power of the Dog"
Ryusuke HAMAGUCHI-"Drive My Car"
Steven Spielberg-"West Side Story"
This is an easier category to call. Despite some pushback, I don't really see a scenario where Jane Campion loses this here. "Licorice Pizza" has underperformed everywhere, including with the Academy, Branagh's nomination is nice, and I might've thought about looking at him for spoiler if the film had firmly kept it's grip on 2nd place instead of being overtaken by "CODA" of all films, there's no real need to give Spielberg another Oscar, and Hamaguchi's nomination basically is his Oscar this year, although I'd love to see him spoil. Campion's won basically everywhere that matters, they want to give it to her, she's the first woman to be nominated in the category twice, I think no matter what she might wrong-headedly blurt out, most of Hollywood agrees it's her turn.
PREDICTION: Jane Campion-"The Power of the Dog"
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Javier Bardem-"Being the Ricardos"
Benedict Cumberbatch-"The Power of the Dog"
Andrew Garfield-"tick, tick...BOOM!"
Will Smith-"King Richard"
Denzel Washington-"The Tragedy of Macbeth"
For a minute there, it looked like "King Richard" could play spoiler in Best Picture, it basically got everything it needed except a Directing nomination, but it's pretty much fallen back in most categories except for Actor and possibly in Editing. Actor is where it's really big, Will Smith took Critics Choice, SAG and the Globes, and I think in general, everybody just agrees that it's about time for him to win. He might not be the biggest box office movie star anymore, but his reign was so long and so undisputed that I don't think it's every gonna be met/topped again. I mean, maybe if The Rock keeps it up, but let's be real for a second, Will Smith's all-around resume is still better then Dwayne's overall, who's mostly earned that title from appearing in sequels. They don't give it to every big movie star who basically keeps Hollywood afloat, Tom Cruise probably should've at least won at least one Oscar by now for instance, but I doubt that's gonna happen anytime soon now, but they do try. This'll be a bit, the male equivalent to Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock's wins for "Erin Brockovich" and "The Blind Side" respectively, but that said, eh, it's not like he doesn't deserve it either. If anyone can play spoiler here, look out for Andrew Garfield for "tick, tick...BOOM!" though, he's the one that probably could pull it off and has taken a couple awards away from Smith, but nothing huge and that movie underperformed most of the way. Maybe if "The Power of the Dog" is even stronger then previously thought, I could see Cumberbatch, but that's a longshot at this point.
PREDICTION: Will Smith-"King Richard"
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Jessica Chastain-"The Eyes of Tammy Faye"
Olivia Colman-"The Lost Daughter"
Penelope Cruz-"Parallel Mothers"
Nicole Kidman-"Being the Ricardos"
This is probably the most difficult of the major categories to predict. The award prognosticators have just been all over the map, and I'm not sure any of them are particularly useful this year, and it doesn't help that despite ten best picture nominees, not one of these films showed up in the category, so you can't use that as a tiebreaker. That said, leading off with her SAG win, has put Jessica Chastain in the lead for now. Nicole Kidman won the Globe, but it's not like that matters too much, but it's a win over Chastain. The BAFTAs were so off in their world in this category it's not even worth looking at. The Critics also went Chastain, which is not the greatest prognosticator, but it's important here 'cause it's the biggest win she has, over Kristen Stewart; she doesn't own a big win over Penelope Cruz though. "Parallel Mothers", is on the Academy's radar outside of the category too as it got in for Musical Score. Although, if we're looking at the film most likely to have gotten a Best Picture nomination of the group, that would be "The Lost Daughter" which got three and is probably doing the best of the movies among the other awards and guilds at the moment. Colman has an Oscar already, but that was a surprise win and this could be a second one, under similar circumstances. Nicole Kidman's won before and also "Being the Ricardos", while popular with the actors was shutout of everything else, only getting three acting nominations and nothing more; first film since "The Master" to pull that off, and none of those actors won for that. "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" is the most likely to win something else, as it's been winning in Makeup, even in places like BAFTA where Chastain herself was snubbed. And there's president for that combo, most notably, Meryl Streep's win for "The Iron Lady" which got little outside of Actress and Makeup acclaim elsewise. If they're not going with a previous winner then Chastain would make the most sense here as she's been beloved by the Academy for awhile now and also Kristen Stewart, I suspect they figure still has time to win in the future. (Also, I suspect that the Academy is just overloaded and tired of Princess Diana stuff, even good stuff about her. The Emmys overlooked Emma Corrin for Colman for "The Crown" despite everyone thinking she was taking it.) I do think the fact that she got the nomination despite being snubbed everywhere is a bit of an interesting sign; that's something that has occasionally happened over the years, although usually in Supporting categories, like Brenda Fricker's win for "My Left Foot" for instance, it's a little weird to see it in the Lead categories, and I'm having trouble finding a recent example where that happened in this category. Odd year for the category, and I'm just gonna go with who I suspect the Academy most wants to honor this year.
PREDICTION: Jessica Chastain-"The Eyes of Tammy Faye"
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Jesse Plemons-"The Power of the Dog"
J.K. Simmons-"Being the Ricardos"
Kodi Smit-McPhee-"The Power of the Dog"
Things are lining up way too easily here for Troy Kotsur to take this. Kodi Smit-McPhee was the heavy favorite for awhile, winning the majority of the critics awards, and the Golden Globe, but as "CODA"'s sudden risen higher and higher in every other category, it's becoming clear that Kotsur is prime to become the second deaf actor to win an Oscar, after of course, her co-star Marlee Matlin's Best Actress win in '86 for "Children of a Lesser God". I suspect Kodi, could still pull this off, but I think he had to win somewhere in the big three, of SAG, Critics or BAFTA, and they all went Kotsur, and it doesn't help that he's probably getting a little vote-split from his co-star Jesse Plemons. This is "CODA"'s safest pick for a win. And any other name would basically be a huge upset at this point.
PREDICTION: Troy Kotsur-"CODA"
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Jessie Buckley-"The Lost Daughter"
Ariana DeBose-"West Side Story"
Kirsten Dunst-"The Power of the Dog"
Aunjanue Ellis-"King Richard"
Jessie Buckley's nomination here is kinda interesting; along with Olivia Colman, it's the first time since 2001, and only the third time ever that two actors got nominated from the same film for playing the same character. The other times it happened, also both in the Lead and Supporting Actress categories, was Kate Winslet and Judi Dench for "Iris", which is interesting since that old dame is still getting nominations in these films, at age 87, which coincidentally was the same year as the other time this happened, 1997 when Gloria Stuart was nominated, also coincidentally with Kate Winslet for "Titanic". That said, eh, kinda hard to pick her over Ariana DeBose who's basically been sweeping most everything, and her main competition was usually Ruth Negga for "Passing" which got criminally overlooked here. It's also an interesting win, it'd add her character of Anita to the short, short list of characters who've won more then one Oscar. It's basically, Brando and De Niro winning for playing Don Vito Corleone and arguably, Heath Ledger and Joaquim Phoenix for playing the Joker, but that could technically be a stretch, 'cause you could argue those are two different Joker characters...- but yeah, that'd be huge. Also kinda depressing honestly; are we seriously so caught up in remakes and reboots that we're just giving Oscars to the same characters now?! God, I hope this is an anomaly. Also, since is Rita Moreno's old part, I should one make one obligatory mention that Rita Moreno is an amazing freak of nature whose ground she walks on should be kissed by everybody, just, all the time.
PREDICTION: Ariana DeBose-"West Side Story"
Drive My Car-Ryusuke HAMAGUCHI, Takamasa OE
Dune-Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth
The Lost Daughter-Maggie Gyllenhaal
The Power of the Dog-Jane Campion
As usual, the WGA Awards are less helpful then you'd think; they have strict rules about who's eligible so for instance, only "CODA" and "Dune" even got nominated, with "CODA" winning. "Drive My Car", "The Lost Daughter", which won the USC Scripter Award, were likely not eligible since "Drive My Car" is a foreign film and usually foreign writers aren't members of the WGA, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, is more known previously as an actor, so I doubt she was eligible. This makes "The Power of the Dog" was also ineligible, which I think is a bit weird, 'cause Campion actually won this award back in 1994 for "The Piano"...- there might be some other reason it was ineligible though. Anyway, "CODA" does have one notable win over "The Power of the Dog" and that's BAFTA, but everywhere else it's fallen short head-to-head. "CODA" is on the upswing that, and Campion has already won a Writing Oscar and will almost certainly win for Directing, so there isn't necessarily an incentive to give this award to her as well and "CODA" makes the most sense. "The Lost Daughter" despite winning a prize here and there didn't get into picture, and no film's won this category without a Picture nomination since-eh,... (Google search) wow, "Gods and Monsters" in '98. "Drive My Car" could win this, but I don't think it has the same "Parasite"-level of movement behind it, and "Dune" seems like a real longshot, so that leaves these two.... Interestingly, if "CODA" wins, it'll be the first time since "The Departed" that a film won in this category for being adapted, from another film. Yeah, "CODA"'s actually a remake of the French film, "La Famille Belier"; I'm not sure how many people realize that.
PREDICTION: "CODA"-Sian Heder
Don't Look Up-Adam McKay, Story by Adam McKay and David Sirota
King Richard-Zach Baylin
Licorice Pizza-Paul Thomas Anderson
The Worst Person in the World-Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier
Another example of how WGA works differently then other guilds, as "Belfast" and "The Worst Person in the World" were ineligible for that award, so "Don't Look Up" pulled off a weird upset there over "King Richard" and "Licorice Pizza". That surprised me, "Don't Look Up" is by far the most divisive of the Best Picture nominees, and especially since Adam McKay already has a writing Oscar for "The Big Short" I didn't really seriously look at him as a possibility here. BAFTA went with "Licorice Pizza" against, mostly the same field, only without "The Worst Person in the World" being replaced with "Being the Ricardos". (Boy, the Writers Branch really are hot and cold on Aaron Sorkin sometimes....) Gold Derby's odds aren't helping with this one either; no matter how you parse this category, they are in a dead split between "Belfast" and "Licorice Pizza", two films by two filmmakers who's been nominated many times for Oscars over the years, and have never won. In case you're wondering about "The Worst Person in the World"'s chances here, no film's won this category without a BP nomination since '04 and that was "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", and the last time a foreign film without a BP nomination won was-eh, I believe, "Talk to Her" and yeah, that was an upset, and Almodova was up for Directing that year as well, so they clearly liked that film a lot. I'm a bit torn here personally, I can easily see arguments to award either Branagh or P.T.A., but "Licorice Pizza" definitely underperformed across the board here; it'd be very weird for it to win Writing here, especially since it couldn't beat "Don't Look Away" at WGA. I gotta believe BAFTA is a fluke. Branagh did win at the Globes, and I think his film is less polarizing.
PREDICTION: "Belfast"-Kenneth Branagh
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Directors: Jared Bush, Byron Howard
Producers: Yvett Merino, Clark Spencer
Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Producers: Monica Hellstrom, Signe Byrge Sorensen, Charlotte Le Gournerie
Director: Enrico Casarosa
Producer: Andrea Warren
The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Director: Michael Rianda
Producers: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, Kurt Albrecht
Raya and the Last Dragon
Directors: Don Hall, Carlos Lopez Estrada
Producers: Peter Del Vecho, Osnat Shurer
I think there's a slight chance that the Academy could go rogue on this one and give it to "The Mitchells vs. the Machines", that's the one film that everybody seems to like, but I've long since stopped myself from letting anybody other then Disney/Pixar take that category, and clearly if that's the case again, then "Encanto" is the clear favorite. It's the biggest one, the most popular one, the most beloved one, and the one everybody's singing the song from. Also, TikTok is still weird.
Director/Producer: Jessica Kingdon
Producers: Kira Simon-Kennedy and Nathan Truesdell
Director/Producers: Traci Curry, Stanley Nelson
Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Producers: Monica Hellstrom, Signe Byrge Sorensen, Charlotte Le Gournerie
Summer of Soul (...Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Director: Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson
Producers: Joseph Patel, Robert Fyvolent, David Dinerstein
Writing with Fire
Director/Producers: Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh
This category is always a little susceptible to an upset or two, but this year, it seems pretty solid that the category is between "Summer of Soul..." and "Flee". I've seen both, I thought "Summer of Soul..." was the better and definitely the more fun film. "Flee" is animated and those rarely win documentary, especially documentary feature. I don't really see anything else winning, maybe "Writing with Fire" since it broke late, but I don't know, "Summer of Soul..." seems to have taken over at this point. Who knew all the late night bandleaders would be Oscar winners? (Shrugs)
PREDICTION: "Summer of Soul (...Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
Drive My Car (Japan)
The Hand of God (Italy)
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (Bhutan)
The Worst Person in the World (Norway)
I guess it's possible that something other then "Drive My Car" could win, but it'd be pretty weird and rare. No film that's ever been up for both International Language film and Best Picture in the same year has lost the category. There's some competition here with "The Worst Person in the World" and "Flee" also getting into several other categories. "Lunana..." is a wild card as it wasn't elgible for the other categories, and there's always a decent chance that the most unknown film in the group, but, eh, now that the entire Academy votes on the category and not just the International Feature Branch it's less likely then ever, and frankly I doubt it. Once a foreign film gets into Picture, Directing and Writing, it's pretty much ending up here.
PREDICTION: "Drive My Car"
Nightmare Alley-Dan Laustsen
The Power of the Dog-Ari Wegner
The Tragedy of Macbeth-Bruno Delbonnel
West Side Story-Janusz Kaminski
The ASC Award didn't used to be one of the more accurate Oscar predictor, but in the last decade, it's become one, only inaccurately calling the winner twice since then, once when they quixotically picked Greig Fraser for "Lion" over Linus Sandgren for "La La Land". and another when they took Lukasz Zal for "Cold War" over Alfonso Cuaron for "Roma", however that one, I can kinda understand. It's unusual for the Director of a film to also be the movie's cinematographer, and I suspect that got them angry a bit. And yet, I'm not crazy about the possibility of Fraser pulling off the win for once. Do people watch and think about cinematography, 'cause I'm not sure I do. Fraser has the awards though, and the narrative that he got this stolen from him before, even though I think most people counted that loss as more a fumble from the ASC. If there is a second choice, I could see Janusz Kaminski winning as he wasn't nominated for ASC and that does happen occasionally, or at least it used to. But second choice, I think the person with the most likely shot of pulling off the upset would be Ari Wegner for "The Power of the Dog" which would make her the first woman to win the Oscar in this category, which has bizarrely only had two female nominees in it's history. It's one of the few tech categories that gender-wise, director was well ahead of the them on. I'm personally torn on this one. I don't know, it's never gonna go paint with the prognosticators and I gotta pick one upset at least.
PREDICTION: "The Power of the Dog"-Ari Wegner
Cyrano-Massimo Cantini Parrini and Jacqueline Durran
Dune-Jacqueline West and Robert Morgan
Nightmare Alley-Luis Sequeira
West Side Story-Paul Tazewell
I think I thought this category would be a little more scattered, but for the most part, it's a two-person race now. with most of the awards going to "Cruella", with "Dune" getting the second choice as being the winner of the Fantasy Genre award at CDG. I guess it makes sense, if there's a film that actually deals with fashion and it has any reasonable shot at getting nominated, then it's probably going win, and I can definitely understand how difficult it must be for Costume Designers to pass on Cruella De Vil. Still, "Dune" or even "Cyrano" could pull this off. I've seen a few people predict it, and it did get nominated at CDG, unlike "Little Women" last year, but there hasn't been a winner in this category that got only one nomination since 2005's "Marie Antoinette". IDK, I think if "Cyrano" was that amazing, that it's costumes that good, then it would've won at the Guild.
PREDICTION: "Cruella"-Jenny Beavan
Don't Look Up-Hank Corwin
King Richard-Pamela Martin
The Power of the Dog-Peter Sciberras
tick, tick...BOOM!-Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum
"King Richard" and "tick, tick...BOOM!" took the Eddie Awards and it seems like those two are the favorites. "Dune" could play spoiler, in fact, Gold Derby has it pretty much ahead, and that makes a little sense since it's the only real action-based film in the category but it is up against a musical, albeit not "West Side Story" who, the Editors seemed to not care for at all, curiously enough, a sports movie, and not just any sport, tennis. Lot of editing needed to make that interesting and compelling, and I think the general consensus is that the film is good enough to get something other then just Actor. I don't think the general Oscar public would give it to "tick, tick...BOOM!" but I can definitely see more people finding "King Richard" more interesting then a confusing half of a sci-fi movie.
PREDICTION: "King Richard"-Pamela Martin
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Coming 2 America-Mike Marino, Stacey Morris and Carla Farmer
Cruella-Nadia Stacey, Naomi Donne and Julia Vernon
Dune-Donald Mowat, Love Larson and Eva von Bahr
The Eyes of Tammy Faye-Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram and Justin Raleigh
House of Gucci-Goran Lundstron, Anna Carin Lock and Frederic Aspiras
Another category where the Guilds are more skeptic. The MUAHs really went for "Coming 2 America" believe it or not, winning three of the big awards. Honestly, they probably deserve it the most, but right now I think "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" are the clear favorite here. It's one of those categories where I question whether or not the Academy Branches should vote for categories outside their Branch much, honestly, but I get it. Especially if Chastain wins actress; it would be weird if she won and the makeup didn't for that performance,... well, it wouldn't be weird. I mean, "The Hours" didn't win Makeup, but yeah, in this case, they kinda go hand-in-hand. I wouldn't mind something surprising here though, but outside of "Suicide Squad", and "The Wolfman" there hasn't been a winner in this category that was the film's only nomination, that wasn't against other films that had only one nomination, in the category since '96, when "The Nutty Professor" won. They might not pick the best movie, or the most beloved film, but they're gonna pick a movie they like before anything....
PREDICTION: "The Eyes of Tammy Faye"
Don't Look Up-Nicholas Britell
Parallel Mothers-Alberto Iglesias
The Power of the Dog-Jonny Greenwood
Another tricky category to judge the Guilds on. Most of the other awards have either gone to "Dune" or "The Power of the Dog", but the SCL went with "Encanto" and they could play spoiler. "Dune" won at BAFTO, but "Encanto" wasn't nominated there. Last year, "Soul" won the category, and Hans Zimmer's one Oscar winner, out of a bunch of previous nominations was for "The Lion King", which does song wrong when you say it out loud. Jonny Greenwood was nominated for "The Power of the Dog", but he's been splitting awards with himself for "Spencer" most of award season. I get the feeling the general consensus is that, they just want to give Hans Zimmer a second Oscar, and they don't necessarily have a strong enough reason to not give him one here.
PREDICTION: "Dune"-Hans Zimmer
"Down to Joy"-Belfast
Music/Lyrics: Van Morrison
Music/Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda
"Somehow You Do"-Four Good Days
Music/Lyrics: Diane Warren
"Be Alive"-King Richard
Music/Lyrics: DIXSON and Beyonce Knowles-Carter
"No Time to Die"-No Time to Die
Music/Lyrics: Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell
A very compelling Best Song category this year with a lot of possibilities. Lin-Manuel Miranda could win the EGOT with a win here, but "Dos Oruguitas" is arguably not the biggest song from "Encanto", and that film could win in Animated Feature, so it's not necessarily prescient to honor it here. We got a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer in Van Morrison up for "Belfast" and probably nobody wants to hear him talk right now, but he could win. There's usually an unspoken rule that the biggest music act always a chance to win this, of course he's up against Beyonce, so good luck with that. Those are two Best Picture nominees as well, although curiously that's not necessarily a signifier of a winner. Then there's the favorite, the James Bond theme from Billie Eilish and her writing partner Finneas O'Connell, another big modern pop star who's won a lot, and Bond themes have won the last two times they've been up in this category, and it looks likely that they're get three as this is the only real radio hit in this group, so it technically is the biggest song in the category. That's also how the Bond theme won last time, despite being an underdog going in against a Lady Gaga and Diane Warren-penned song from a documentary. Diane Warren's up again, and will almost definitely lose again also, I might add. Last year was one of the rare times there was a real upset in the category, but I think that was an anomaly. I mean, if the Sam Smith Bond song can win, then the better Billie Eilish song should win, even in a good field.
PREDICTION: "No Time to Die"-No Time to Die-Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell
Production Design: Patrice Vermette
Set Decoration: Zsuzsanna Sipos
Production Design: Tamara Deverell
Set Decoration: Shane Vieau
The Power of the Dog
Production Design: Grant Major
Set Decoration: Amber Richards
The Tragedy of Macbeth
Production Design: Stefan Dechant
Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh
West Side Story
Production Design: Adam Stockhausen
Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo
The two big guild winners in the category are "Dune" and "Nightmare Alley". "The Power of the Dog" didn't even get nominated at the ADGs which is also kind of a good sign for the film in general, but it's probably the least likely to win here. This is probably "Nightmare Alley"'s best shot at a win but is that enough. This film got into Picture, but the other three nominations it got were all in craft categories. It's trending upward, but "Dune" has the wins at Critics Choice and at BAFTA, both against "Nightmare Alley". I could see an upset here, and maybe they go completely rogue and give it to "West Side Story", musicals do better in this category then people realize, but eh, it seems like with the craft categories, if there's no absolute obvious winner, then they're gonna try to give "Dune" everything else.
Belfast-Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather and Niv Adiri
Dune-Mac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett
No Time to Die-Simon Hayes, Oliver Tarney, James Harrison, Paul Massey and Mark Taylor
The Power of the Dog-Richard Flynn, Robert Mackenzie, Tara Webb
West Side Story-Tod A. Maitland, Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson and Shawn Murphy
The Golden Reels were all over the map, with "Dune", "Nightmare Alley" weirdly, despite getting snubbed and "West Side Story" all winning something. The CAS Awards went to "Dune" though. BAFTA went with "Dune" too, and it's basically between them and "West Side Story". It's hard to tell with the Mixing and Editing categories combined together again, usually the Mixing going to the more musical film and the Editing going to the more action film. Even before then, the trend was going against that, so I think the safest bet is "Dune" and I don't hear about anything obvious taking it instead.
Dune-Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor and Gerd Nefzer
Free Guy-Swen Gillberg, Nikos Kalaitzidis and Dan Sudick
No Time to Die-Charlie Noble, Joel Green, Jonathan Fawkner and Chris Corbould
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings-Christopher Townsend, Joe Farrell, Sean Noel Walker and Dan Oliver
Spider-Man: No Way Home-Kelly Port, Chris Waegner, Scott Edelstein and Dan Sudick
It's the Visual Effects category and there's a Best Picture nominee in the group. They're winning. This is simple. Oh, and even if you think the VES Awards are a good predictor in the category, which, ehhh, eh, "Dune" still won big there. I guess "Spider-Man: No Way Home" is in a distant second, but-eh,... yeah, it's not winning anything unless it wins those stupid fucking Twitter Awards that I am just ignoring and pretending the Academy aren't doing them, and they don't exist.... Oh, Christ, I didn't even mention them in the beginning did I?
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Affairs of the Art-Joanna Quinn and Les Mills
Bestia-Hugo Covarrubias and Tevo Diaz
Robin Robin-Dan Ojari and Mikey Please
The Windshield Wiper-Albert Mielgo and Leo Sanchez
I still haven't been able to watch either "Bestia" or "Boxballet" unfortunately, but I did get around to watching "Affairs of the Art", and it is as zany, obsessive and exuberant as I imagined. I still think "The Windshield Wiper" is my favorite of these, but it's a pretty, eh, I don't know what the word is...-. it's a very arthouse kind of short film, and I can't imagine it's everyone's taste. Gold Derby has it second right now, and while I can see it winning, there's a noticeable popular choice in the lead. "Robin Robin" is a bit longer most of the rest of the category, and is widely available on Netflix, and is generally a really fun little short film. I can see "Bestia" or "The Windshield Wiper" pulling off the upset here, but "Robin Robin" just looks hard to bet against, especially when there is no Disney or Pixar nominee this year, this seems to be both the good spot-filler for that, as well as kind of the perfect longer animated short story that can grip people, kinda like the famous '06 short film Suzie Templeton's "Peter and the Wolf". It fits too much criteria for me to ignore it. Plus, Netflix equals availability, so they've seen it.
PREDICTION: "Robin Robin"
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Audible-Matt Ogens and Geoff McLean
Lead Me Home-Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk
The Queen of Basketball-Ben Proudfoot
Three Songs for Benazir-Elizabeth Mirzaei and Gulistan Mirzaei
When We Were Bullies-Jay Rosenblatt
I don't love going with the favorites in these short categories; I always feel like this is where you should really look out for spoilers, but "The Queen of Basketball" is the heavy favorite, and of the group I've seen, that's also the one I'd go for. It's the most fun and most uplifting of the stories. It's a better sports short then "Audible" which has Netflix and the fact that it's about the deaf on it's side, in this year where "CODA" is a major player. Also, the subject of the short, Lusia 'Lucy' Harris, passed away earlier this year quite suddenly. I am definitely worried though, about "When We Were Bullies"; HBO's doing a big push for that short film, which will debut a couple days after the Oscars on HBO Max. I'm not sure why then, as opposed to earlier, but boy does that short film, even based on the trailers looks and feels big. Netflix is split between the three shorts, "Audible", "Lead Me Home", the best of their three and "Three Songs for Benazir" which was the odds-on favorite until "The Queen of Basketball" started climbing. Also, it's a lot better then Ben Proudfoot's submission last year, "A Concerto of a Conversation" which I thought was way overrated and I would've complained about more if they didn't pick the worst of the documentary shorts that year as the winner. I wanna go with "The Queen of Basketball" but this category does not have the best history of going with the fun, biopic winner. Let's see: deaf kids, homelessness, marriage struggle, bullying or basketball? Hmmm.... I really do want to pick at least one more upset here, but HBO delaying, and Netflix splitting, and the last one left is the fun one....
PREDICTION: "The Queen of Basketball"
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
Ala Kachuu-Take and Run-Maria Brendle and Nadine Luchinger
The Dress-Tadeusz Lysiak and Maciej Slesicki
The Long Goodbye-Aneil Karia and Riz Ahmed
On My Mind-Martin Strange-Hansen and Kim Magnusson
Please Hold-K.D. Davila and Levin Menekse
I still haven't gotten to "Ala Kachuu..." but I did finally get to "Please Hold", and ooooh, this is good, real good. Evil, evil as all fuck, but good, really good, as well as "On My Mind", which was, pretty simple, but still ultimately really powerful. It doesn't seem like there's a bad pick in the mix here. I'm tempted to look for an upset here, but "The Long Goodbye" is the one made by and starring Riz Ahmed and it's a very powerful and personal short that's also quite timely. Just as a general good rule, if there is a big name involved in any of these live-action shorts, it's a good idea to just go with it, but I don't know.... It's still the favorite, but I think if people saw all the nominees in the group, then I think it might get competition. I noticed Gold Derby has "The Dress" and "Please Hold", which were my favorite two of the shorts in 3rd and 4th, but climbing in the odds the most. I think it might be too late, but I can see "Please Hold" playing spoiler here. I'm trying to convince myself, but I don't like taking three favorites in the shorts, but dammit, I'm not seeing it.
PREDICTION: "The Long Goodbye"
Well, there we go. I'll have my thoughts on the show after we suffer through it together right here. Or not, I mean, I guess you could also just no watch this year. I wouldn't blame you, this year. It's a shame, there actually is a decent bunch of films here to celebrate and honor and it seems like this is the first time I've genuinely come to believe that the Oscars, for good or for bad, were not-at-all about celebrating and honoring the films. I hope this is an anomaly year in that regard and that this is not a new normal for the show. Or at least, this disaster leads to better decisions and changes next year.
One of the big distinctions that comes with genius or intelligence is the recognition and realization that you are indeed, different. That you mind, in one manner, or in one form or another works differently then others around you. I question to say that all such unusual mental abilities equates to a person being a (finger quotes) "genius", or even that they are of above-average intelligence, and hell, I even hate using the word, (finger quotes) "gifted" in this tense. In all honesty, I feel like the term indicates too much that intelligence, or genius, is something that's god-given or ordained onto some lucky someone as oppose to something that's developed and cultured over time and practice. IQ tests don't measure intelligence, it measures potential intelligence, and you have to keep up your ability to use them to the fullest potential.
And yet, I can't help but remember those times in school, elsewise and elsewhere where I was able to easily recall obscure facts and obtuse references strikingly quicker and more elaborately than my other piers. How I would finish assignments in record time and ace them, while everyone else struggled. How, essentially, to quote "Good Will Hunting", in regards to certain skills and certain areas of general knowledge, and other certain mental tests, abilities and skills, I could just play.
I've been thinking a lot about genius and intelligence lately, especially young genius, and whatever that means, and how everybody reacts to that awareness and knowledge. I know, in my experience, I think it effected me too much. I believed too many of these claims, and I worked too hard and liked too much being the person who knew all the answers that any attempt at trying to be, "normal", just felt beneath me. Many times, I still think it is, and as a result, I probably became much more full of myself and misanthropic as a result. That's not how everybody I know reacted though, and I do know a few people who ended up, trying to spend their lives dismissing their "gift", wanting to evade it, run away from it, keep it hidden and quiet and silent. That's probably why "Good Will Hunting" has always effected me; I've always related to those who were the smartest in the room.
Once upon a time, I called "Good Will Hunting" the greatest script I ever read. I don't know if I'd go that far now; I've read a lot of scripts in my day, but it's still up there personally, although I can see some of the flaws now. Chuckie's (Ben Affleck) speech near the end of the film seems to come out of nowhere and also seems a little bit too well-spoken, perhaps, but I still think it works. In hindsight, I think it's because the character of Will Hunting (Oscar-nominee Matt Damon) is just too good of a character. When people see somebody who's really smart, they'll often ask questions like, "How did you end up that way?", or in other words "How did he get so smart", but that's really a ridiculous question, and correctly, we don't learn that, instead, we slowly learn how Will Hunting ended up the way he ended up. It's actually kinda sly how the film does this, introducing him to us, and then seeing the characters around him as they try to understand, and even help him. First, Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgaard) who's aware of just how rare and brilliant he is, and gives him the second chance after bailing him out of jail. The second, is the girlfriend, Skylar (Oscar-nominee Minnie Driver), the Harvard student who he begins dating and also cares about, and struggles to fully understand him and his demons. Both of them are outsiders to Will's Boston poverty and upbringing, and the collision of class and experience causes each of them to only get so far. While they can connect with him intellectually, they're far from connecting emotionally, not that too many people could.
This is of course, where Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) comes in. I don't think anybody who's a professional analyst would tell you that he's a great shrink, even Will mentions how he talks more then any other shrink he knows, but he's the perfect person to make Will force himself to push through his emotions instead of hiding them using his Southie, low-class, street rat upbringing. I remember being a kid and being shocked when he won an Oscar for this performance, not that I didn't love Robin Williams, like every kid in the '90s, we adored him, but for those who didn't understand entirely, we didn't think of him as this great, skilled actor. My grandmother and the rest of my family watching the show knew how big a deal it was, and thought it was about time that he won. Really, his character, and naturally his performance, isn't just the guy who comes in and saves Will; he fits that's role, but it's also a deeper character then that. One who shares and understands both Will's experiences as a troubled Boston youth, but also has the experience with incredible intellect and his and Lambeau's relationship. The more I watch the movie over the years, the more I realize how crucial that aspect of the film is. It's not just about a guy who himself is struggling to fight his own genius, but it's also about how everybody else reacts to genius as well. How they try to relate to it, how they try to achieve it themselves, how they try to understand it. There's a lot of movies about incredible achievement and intellect, some of them are even quite good, Jodie Foster's "Little Man Tate" for instance, some of them are so idiotically trivial it makes me wonder if the filmmakers have any idea what it actually means to have real intelligence and genius and know people in that position would actually think or do. (Neil Burger's "Limitless" is the one I usually think of with this; I can't believe somebody thought that movie was good enough to have an attempted TV spinoff) Few of them really strive to get it entirely right. The genius character is either so smart that nobody could get him, and for obvious reasons, main characters who are that smart, general audiences just aren't going to feel sympathy for, or they trivialize such knowledge and skills, usually for money-making endeavors. Even "Rain Man", which is one of my favorite movies and since I have an autistic brother, I'm way more empathetic towards then some might be, but yeah, the only way Tom Cruise is able to contemplate Raymond's abilities is to, go to Vegas and count cards at blackjack. It's funny, and by some accounts, apparently true, but I can tell you from experience, not everybody who knows how to count cards this well, actually count cards.
The script which famously won Matt Damon and Ben Affleck an Oscar, is the film's best aspect. It's been parodied to death at this point, including the famous two-women play "Ben and Matt" by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers, but it's still much more observant about intellect than most films that think they know. Damon himself used to live next door to Howard Zinn, who's literally written the book on modern American history, and is generally looked on as one of the great minds of our generation. But I don't think enough people give Gus Van Sant credit for directing this film so observantly. I think most people regard this film as a weird outlier in Van Sant's filmography, as most of his films seem to be about lost outsider on the fringes of society. It's looked upon as his good and even interesting rare forays into Hollywood fare, along with the other film that earned him an Oscar nomination, the biopic "Milk", but actually I kind think the movie does fit in pretty neatly with aesthetic, geniuses are people at the fringe of society, but more then that, Van Sant has always viewed his subject matter, the best of his films, his a more observant and curious perspect. His Death Trilogy of films, "Gerry", "Elephant" and "Last Days" all take quiet and casual looks at their subjects who are all going on missions/journeys that lead to their inevitable deaths. Or how the put-together families of his early films of loners like "Drugstore Cowboy", "My Own Private Idaho" and "Even Cowgirls Gets the Blues", are looked on with judgment or disdain, he's not even necessarily trying to put them on some kind of utopian pedestal, he's just observing the behavior and actions of those who he finds interesting, and yeah, outsiders who don't fit the molds of the society they're around and have to find ways to connect to them elsewise.
People forget though, that he followed up "Good Will Hunting", with his most overlooked and underappreciated film, "Finding Forrester", a film about a Salingeresque recluse writer and the young African-American high school student he's begun reluctantly mentoring, who happens to also be quite "gifted" and knowledgeable at the schoolwork, in particularly his writing, that he kept hidden from most of his piers through his more accepted skill, being a high-level basketball player. Intellectual outsider are outsiders as well, and sometimes more outsiders then others. It's also something to be curious of, but also examined and observed like all of us, and to try to observe it in all it's aspects. We hold perceived genius and intellect to such high pedestals in our society that it's actually kinda refreshing to see it looked upon with as much understanding as it is here. The fact that it is done in a touching movie that would otherwise seem fairly average narratively, shows that it is apart of the world at large and not simply something that's either shunned as mysterious or prophesized like gospel.
Sometimes genius isn't out there trying to take over the world, or otherwise show off their intelligence, sometimes, they're just good people out there, just struggling, and trying to find their way in the world.
Sorry for the delays on this batch of reviews, it's been a long week. I'm keeping track of Oscar season, but admittedly, this is a strange year. I have thoughts on some of the fan-selected stuff they're doing, none of them good, so let's not give that more then necessary.
Oh, also Putin double-down and invaded Ukraine, so, we're paying attention to that now. (Sigh)
Anyway, things have been tiring, and the extra stress of keeping up with award season can be overwhelming, but I'm getting through it.
That said, there's one movie I'm not reviewing even though it's technically a 2020 movie, which should be in my purview, and that's the Chilean film "Song Without a Name". Basically, I rewatched it without realizing it, apparently I had seen it and forgot to review it earlier, and forgot that I had seen it, so I ended up watching it again. It's complicated, but it's a good and in many ways an important film, definitely worth watching, but I've given it two tries, and because of all the mix-ups it's cause me on my lists, I'm just gonna pass on it this time around. It's a good film worth looking for, but I just want to push it aside so I can move on.
Other then that, not much going on at the moment, so let's get to the reviews, starting with some of the Oscar nominees.
THE LOST DAUGHTER (2021) Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal
I have often feared that I am somebody who is acutely aware of how memory and recall can so often be-..., well, I guess the word is, "triggered", which,- I guess is accurate but I never did like that term, but it's inaccurate, sometimes things just come to you so suddenly that emotionally you end up back at that moment, that you thought you had forgotten and all these feelings and thoughts just overwhelmed and sit right over you. I don't like the term "repressed" either, it's not always a memory you're choosing to forget or a memory that you're unaware of how it's truly effected you, it's just, sometimes you got to compartmentalize it for the time being and move on. Sometimes you're trying to push it away permanently, which, definitely will hurt, but it's not always the intent. I say I fear this, because, these memories and thoughts can come out at times when they're entirely inappropriate, or sometimes they're appropriate and you just don't want to think about them. Sometimes they're so personal that trying to explain them involve giving, whoever's around you asking why you're suddenly laughing or crying or grinning or whatever, so much background information that you know it's not really worth it, and you're hoping they don't keep pestering for more info....
You know what other people are often more acute and aware about memory like that? Usually, actors. And you don't have to be an extreme Stanislavski method perform either, that's the inventor of it, but most modern acting practices use some form of memory, most actors, even with the most minimalist of training have some minor form of use for using their own personal lives and memory for certain things. They might not all have a timeline and they might not use the practice all the time, but it's there, and they all know it's there to use if they need it.
I don't know how much Maggie Gyllenhaal has or has not used memory in her acting, but I imagine it's something that's been on her mind over the years. For the last two decades, she's been one of my favorite actresses. While it seems like her brother Jake has taken most of the acting spotlight, I've long thought that she should've won multiple acting Oscars already, one for "Secretary" and one for "Sherrybaby". Yeah, I've always been a Maggie guy when it comes to the Gyllenhaals, but I'm not surprised she's turned to behind the camera in recent years, with "The Lost Daughter", her debut feature film. Mainly because, and I rarely see this brought up with either Maggie of Jake, is that they're second generation filmmakers. Both parents; Maggie's father Stephen Gyllenhaal has been an accomplished film and television director for over fifty years, and Maggie's mother, Naomi Foner directed 2013's "Very Good Girls", and that's after a long career as a screenwriter, including an Oscar nomination for writing "Running on Empty"; the movie that earned River Phoenix his only Oscar nomination. They started out acting in their parents films and have been working ever since.
I don't know how or why she chose this adaptation for her debut, a story about a mother on vacation, but from a faraway glance, it's not hard to see why it could have some resonance for Ms. Gyllenhaal.
The movie involves an attractive older woman, a professor named Leda (Oscar-nominee Olivia Colman) on vacation in Greece during the Summer. She's 48, and her kids have long grown up. She's renting an apartment by the beach and while she wants to occasionally have fun, she's mostly interested in being on her own. Eventually though, she reluctantly befriends Nina (Dakota Johnson) a mother who's also trying to enjoy the beach with much of her family.
Then, Nina's three-year-old Elena (Athena Martin) goes missing suddenly. After fearing the worst, Leda finds her, but in the time between, we suddenly get the first of many flashbacks to a younger Leda (Oscar-nominee Jessie Buckley), around Nina's age, struggling to connect with her two young daughters who are mostly aggravating her more then helping her experience the supposed joys of motherhood. At times, she goes over the line. There's one particular sequence where her young daughter, after injuring herself trying to cut a fruit like her mother does, begs for her mother to simply, kiss her injured finger to make it better, and yet, she's so much more frustrated by having to tend to her daughter's injury that she just doesn't. It's painful and heartbreaking, and yet, a vital reminder that not everybody is a natural parent. (Now we're getting deep into subjects I've tried analyzing in my films before, and she definitely finds it slightly better.)
Another flashback explains why Leda, after finding Nina's daughter on the beach, decides to seemingly inexplicably steal Elena's beloved toy doll, a deeply harsh reflection of both her narcissistic past and her struggles as a mother. She keeps the toy hidden as she continues befriending Nina and several of her acquaintances. Nina's pregnant with another child, and yet, she herself seems to mentally struggle with motherhood, as well as struggles with her relationship, as her husband Toni (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is both on and off the vacation, escaping for work occasionally while he's out working until he arrives later on, but she also begins having an affair with Will (Paul Mescal), a local assistant at the resort their at, and someone that Nina's befriended on her own and confessed some of her painful past too.
I think more cliche scripts would go for a more natural comparisons between these stories, but "The Lost Daughter" is much more messy and troubling, and in turn feels more real. Like, Young Leda having an affair with her professor (Peter Sarsgaard) seems like it wouldn't just match with Nina's affair, but also with a flirtatious friendship Leda has with the resort's manager Lyle (Ed Harris) another older gentleman and both have pasts they're struggling to run away from, but that doesn't really go where you'd naturally think it would. Instead, we get a darker profile of a woman who desperately struggled with her kids as a young mother, who's now much older and aware of her past mistakes, aware that she might not be able to completely recover from them, and yet still very capable of being controlled and run by her worst, most vain, and selfish natural instincts. It's a very complex character shown in very small and minimal ways.
Adapted from a novel by Elena Ferrante, "The Lost Daughter" is a really strong first effort from somebody who arguably seems like she's been almost too natural a fit for writing and directing for years, but happened to excel at another craft and delayed this path until now. Gyllenhaal is a great actress, but acting, like parenthood, is a skill you, hypothetically at least, get better at the more you practice and the older you get and yet it might never be mastered. And sometimes, if you aren't a good enough actress as a young parent, when perhaps you most needed to be, you can at least become a good enough one later to help out a younger parent going through those same struggles you had. "The Lost Daughter" feels like it's so personal and touching that I can't help but imagine more going on then just the story on the surface, and I can't tell if it's the interesting story, or the interesting person behind the camera telling it. Perhaps, it's the performances too though, Buckley and Colman are really good here. Colman in particular is incredible at the little quiet scenes where she's saying nothing and struggling to keep in her emotions, as well as those more explosive moments where she either explodes, or ironically hides more behind her words. It's a damn-near great film, and hopefully a special beginning to Gyllenhaal's filmmaking career, but I hope we still see her on screen sometime again though.
SUMMER OF SOUL (...OR WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED) (2021) Director: Questlove
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair, that took place over three days in the Summer of 1969, is often noted as a cultural shorthand for the entire counterculture era of the late '60s. It was three days of peace and music, and many legendary acts performed there that weekend. Still though, from the outset, while it's mythos has become more legendary then many of the artists who performed there, it does seem kinda arbitrary that the festival is given such high credence. I've heard the term "Woodstock Generation" several times in my lifetime, the moment has become so significant to the entire era that it's literally defined that era. Yet, what gives, it was just a concert, and frankly it wasn't even that particularly unusual for the time?
Well, it was an event, and one that, kinda came about unexpectedly. 400,000 people, way more then actually anticipated went to Max Yasgar's farm in upstate New York, at around the same time, the Age of Aquarius had basically started becoming mainstream at that point, and this probably was the moment that the majority of America saw firsthand just how large and influential the movement had become. Probably the biggest thing though, even though it was a major touchstone landmark at the time it happened, is the documentary film that came out later. I have been meaning to get around to rewatching "Woodstock" in order to add it to my Canon of Film someday, but Michael Wadleigh got his crew there, and with the famous editing team of Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker, took hundreds of hours of footage and combined it into the Oscar-winning documentary, that's become as iconic as the festival itself. Hell, every-so-often, the movie gets updated as more and more footage and deleted sequences get released or put back into the film's epic product.
And yet, all that, peace and love, and hippie hullabaloo, as appealing and attractive as it is, it's not really a complete and accurate look at the zeitgeist of the modern day peoples at the time, is it? It sure doesn't always look and seem that way from the perspectives of the more modern history books. I wouldn't say that Woodstock was that, Woodstock and the entire countercultural movement that it represents, perhaps might've been a little more white and friendly-looking for the cameras and for the producers of those who decided what events to focus in on and what not to. Woodstock does feel like, one of those events that, you see in a history book, and yet, you kinda feel like it's importance and true relevance, is arbitrarily inflated.
Do I have evidence to this? Well, for starters I've never really heard of the so-called "Black Woodstock" until now, that's probably a good piece of evidence right there. And while, I wouldn't call the Woodstock generation, a purely white person's endeavor, and definitely there were several African-Americans both at the festival itself and of course performing; the show opened with Ritchie Havens, ended with Jimi Hendrix and somewhere in the middle was Sly and the Family Stone, the revolutionary changes that personify the white countercultural experience of the era, don't necessarily matchup to the African-American experiences of the same time. In fact, watching "Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)" despite me knowing that these two events took place, in some cases, literally, at the exact same time, and in the same exact state in fact, these two cultural touchstones feel like they could've existed on different planets. Hell, the aforementioned Sly and the Family Stone performed at both events, and well, yeah, that band always seemed like they came from their own separate planet sure, but no, they definitely seem different from each other even here.
Perhaps, that's because we all saw "Woodstock" and have been influenced, inspired and still watching it over fifty years later, and well, the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, for the most part, we haven't seen and wasn't televised, until now. It was filmed, all weekends of the event that took place, for many people, down the street, for others, they were at what we now call Marcus Garvey Park between 120th and 124th Street and took place over four weekend in August of 1969. It even got as many or bigger numbers then the Moon Landing. I wish we had a performance of Gil Scott Heron's "Whitey's On the Moon" in the movie for perfect irony, but we got plenty of people here. Stevie Wonder opened still caught right between his '70s breakout and his Little Stevie era, the aforementioned Sly, we had legends at the time like Mahalia Jackson and B.B. King, we had the biggest stars of their time, like Gladys Knight and the Pips, Nina Simone and The 5th Dimension. Music from many different cultures of the African-American experience as well, as the social justice movement of the day, especially in the Black communities was really a worldwide movement.
And the 300,000-attended events, was filmed by TV producer Hal Tulchin, and yet, for the most part, the events of these nights have been unseen 'til now. Why? well, it just wasn't released or put together as a film. Some of the footage got shown on a couple TV specials that were barely seen. He tried to sell the film as "Black Woodstock" in light of "Woodstock", but it just never took off. Even as word of the footage finally caught interest of some of the more high-profile documentarians of today, the film still had a bit of a rough production. Eventually, the film got directed by Amir "Questlove" Thompson, the leader and drummer of The Roots; this is his debut feature as a director. At first, admittedly, I wasn't as sold on the film, mostly treating it like I would as an album, as great background music, but eventually what he does with the storytelling got me woven into the film proper.
He's got two objectives here, one is to rewrite history and take this forgotten piece of music history back into the history books where it belongs. The second and more crucial element is to take this concert and put into context as much of the black cultural identity was up 'til that point, and show how it's influenced those who came afterwards. Like profiling the Latin and afro-Caribbean music eras like Mongo Santamaria. Profiling how much gospel and the church were apart of this movement, by showcases artists like Edwin Hawkin Singers, the The Staple Singers and Mahalia Jackson. That I single out, call while their was a religious bent in much of the hippie movement as well, it isn't generally what most people would associate with that culture at all. It's also striking to see a young Reverend Jackson acting as speaker at the festival, talking about the day Martin Luther King was killed (For those who don't know, he was actually there.) as a lead-in to a performance of "Precious Lord". Questlove splices in interviews with those who were there and the editing does an amazing job of taking this concert documentary and turning it into much more, and putting all these performances into a greater context, and putting the festival in the appropriate context.
Oh, it's also still just, a great concert documentary. I've seen some critics call it the best the music documentary of all-time. It took me a couple viewings before I could jump on that bandwagon, but, yeah, it's up there. I can think of movies that tried this kind of approach and flopped badly, they'd either put too much emphasis on the story about the concert and miss the concert or they'd just record the concert and lose all the context behind it. (Or the concert just had less context then really needed or worth a documentary) "Summer of Soul..." achieve it all it's goals and then some. It's one of the most fun films, not just documentaries, from this year, and frankly at 2 1/2 hours, it's biggest issue might be that it's too short, and that we wanted more, but I'll take what we get.
It'll be weird looking at "Woodstock" and taking in, just what it's missing in the future, but we should've been asking that for the past fifty years though. I'm only scratching the surface of the documentary myself I should add, and I suspect that there is even more that could be added, perhaps well get even more of this in the future.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH OF THE LIBERTY, KANSAS EVENING SUN (2021) Director: Wes Anderson
Is this what a Wes Anderson anthology series would look like?
That's one immediate thought I had, but no, Wes Anderson, he's not inspired by television. He takes his inspiration, very much from, literature. His movies always seem like old, strange library books you've never heard of, but pick up and borrow one day, almost randomly, hoping that whatever strange-sounding thing promised inside gives you something new or unique. Personally, I've always suspected that his best work is secretly inspired the most by classic children's lit, "Moonrise Kingdom" for instance, feels like a forgotten first book in a series that would've been rivals to "The Boxcar Children" or something of the sort, or "Isle of Dogs" seems like something that could've been a Roald Dahl fever dream had he tried to write "Lassie" on acid. Hell, he did adapt a Roald Dahl novel with "Fantastic Mr. Fox". However, that assessment is way too limiting. "The Royal Tenenbaums" literally uses the conceit that the movie is being told as though it was a book, and that book wasn't children's lit. It seemed more like a bad, sweeping family epic, something out of, J.D. Salinger's short stories of the Glass family. That might be read by the most Holden Caulfield-like kids in the class, but that's not children's lit. Certainly, "The Life Aquatic..."'s most direct inspiration is "Moby Dick". "The Darjeeling Limited" seems more like it's come from the works of European authors, something like, E.M. Forster or Karen Blixen, especially the European authors who wrote about India, or other travels to countries the Europeans tried to colonize.
"The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun", is clearly his rye little take on the New Yorker and some of their more intriguing and obtuse pieces. The titular periodical is based in the obtuse Parisian suburb Ennui-sur-Blase in the 1950s. The magazine's founder Arthur Howitzer, Jr., (Bill Murray) we're informed has passed away, and per his final wishes, his obituary will be published in what will become the final issue. Between the 3 1/2 segments that documents, presumably articles in this final magazine, we get interludes of Howitzer discussing the articles with their writers, and occasionally he may pop up in the stories themselves.
The articles are written all be ex-patriots who documents the excess and intricacies of living in France and the world in general, for their American audience. I don't know if anything like that exists anymore, but while that wasn't necessarily a New Yorker thing, that did used to be kind of a thing. I knew there are products in both France and America that only produce for each other's foreign market, clothing for instance; there's a famous meme where an American clothing company that sells exclusively to France put on their tag in French, "We're sorry our President is an idiot, we didn't vote for him." I remember seeing that meme passed around, in the early 2000s, so I don't know if that company still exists now or not, but I doubt any magazine of this sort exists now either.
After a beginning prologue from a cycling reporter, played by Owen Wilson, we got the first of three singular stories that make up the articles of this issue. The first story, retold through a museum slideshow presentation by reporter J.K.L. (Tilda Swinton) about a famous painter names Moses (Benicio Del Toro) a mad artist for whom the majority of his work he did while in jail serving a double life sentence for double murder. After he's inspired to paint from his muse and often his subject, Simone (Lea Seydoux), his work gets noticed by a fellow inmate, a tax cheat and art dealer, Julien (Adrien Brody) who begins selling his work and image when he gets out, eventually getting him to put on a major show and appearance at an event in the hobby room of the prison. It doesn't go particularly, and yet, it also does go extremely well, in some very classic Wes Anderson ways.
The second story, taking place, sometimes around the May '68 protests, revolves around the Ennui's variation on them, named the "Chessboard Revolution". This involves our narrator and journalist for this story, Lucinda (Frances McDormand) getting involved with a struggling student activist leader, Zeffirelli (Timothee Chalamet), both involved, with him, and involved in the politics as she takes it upon herself to edit and eventually rewrite his manifesto. This seems childish at first, but after the conscription sets in, and as we see later enacted in a play that Lucinda translates, after a friend of Zeffirelli commits suicide after getting drafted, the revolution begins to take strategic shape. However, the revolutionary youth also get divided into factions, between Zeffirelli's group of mostly males, and Juliette, (Lyna Khoudri) a student revolutionary who mostly represents, both women, and the general anarchistic antagonistic view of all rules and regulations, including revolutionary manifestos, even if it's dedicated to her because Zeffirelli has a crush on Juliette, and vice versa. Personally, I found this story the most difficult to get behind, and perhaps the most convoluted of the bunch.
The third and arguably best of these stories, is retold on a talk show by Roebuck (Jeffrey Wright) speaking as though James Baldwin had been a food critic for much of his career, and he retells the story of a profile on Nescaffier (Steve Park), the personal chef of a Police Commissaire (Mathieu Amalric). There's only a few words from the chef that we get in, and some brief scenes of him preparing the food, when there's a phone message informing them that the Commissaire's son, Gigi (Winston Alt Hellal) has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom at a junkie whorehouse. All this involves several different leaders of the underground, all of whom are upset of the recent capture of their bookkeeper Albert (Willem Dafoe, who suddenly seems to be in everything lately [Although everybody seems to be in this film too). This leads to several bizarre convoluted strands coming together, through live action and animated sequences that involves a car chase, a prisoner exchange and even, an exchange of dinners prepared by Nescaffier before the story ends with a sudden, strained monologue from the chef about having discovered a new taste. It's actually quite a beautiful and touching scene and in an all-star cast, and trust me, I haven't mentioned like, half the major names in this film, Wright gives the most touching and memorable performance.
"The French Dispatch..." is kinda odd, even for Wes Anderson. I get the idea, it's a collection of stories from him, all kinda done in the style of some of those magazine articles that you would read back when journalistic integrity was strived to be kept, even when it was most blatantly not in order to get a better story, but that's kinda tricky with film. There's always been these attempts at multiple narrative stories in movies like this, and when done, well, you make a movie that ends up feeling like a good collection of short stories. Doing that though, does mean that some stories are gonna be more interesting and appealing then others. Personally, I like the first story the best, with the last one close behind, and the 2nd one, squarely the least interesting for me. None of them are bad, but you do get exhausted. Wes Anderson's always added so many extra layers to his several characters in most of his movies, that is almost seems strange to see him just tell separate stories, even with this light albeit flimsy conceit behind them.
I was kidding, initially at first, but I do think I would've enjoyed this more as an anthology series, as opposed to a full movie. I get why the Academy overlooked this film, even in categories like cinematography, production design, costumes and even makeup where they really should've admired the craft going on here. Ever since Wes Anderson's had the financial ability to make his films as elaborate and detailed as he could, he's used that ability to it's fullest, and he seems to get more elaborate with each film. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" for instance, played with screen size, while "The French Dispatch..." toys with color and black & white photography to various extensive degrees. I wish I always understood exactly why he would switch; sometimes it was unclear, but I got what he was going for and why it fascinated him.
At the end of the movie, there's credits listing several of the greatest newspaper and magazine men in the old days, as well as journalists who wrote similarly-styled articles and tales shown in this film. I think he was only going for this lovely send-up and homage of this era of journalism, and lamenting much of it's end. There's been several effigies written about the end of classical journalism for a long time now, in several aspects of the news media, most of which I tend to dismiss, but honestly, there is something to it. There was a time where the best journalists were indeed the best storytellers we had and quickly those days are leaving us. Hugh Hefner used to say that he was a literary publisher that just happen to have naked women in them. Arguably the most influential writer of the last half-century could be Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote regularly for Rolling Stone. And writers like those inspired for this movies still have a major place in modern literature and many will for some time. I think the reminder is always nice, and for that, I'll glad Wes Anderson reminded us of them, even in his most delightfully quirky ways. Perhaps the real figures of his inspiration, in this case might be slightly more interested then the characters he created in this instance though, either way, by the end, I found myself caring deeply about both of them.
PASSING (2021) Director: Rebecca Hall
So far as I know, and there's a more-then-decent chance that I don't know, I only knew one person who was, "Passing", and I wouldn't even necessarily say that. It was my 9th Grade math teacher, and I can't for the life of me remember her name. She was this tiny little firecracker of a white girl, probably could've passed for 30, but was probably a decade older, maybe more, who seemed pretty powerful in her demeanor. I remember she was quiet mostly, but didn't take any shit, and yet, could surprise us occasionally; like I remember once how she shut up a group of girls talking/singing Mariah Carey songs, by going into Jay-Z's rap on "Heartbreaker" and getting every word right. When, one day, one of her students who had recently found out, coaxed her into saying that, she had several relatives, they all looked exactly like her, except they were black, I remember thinking, "Oh, that explains a lot." That thought was probably racist of me, but yeah, I can definitely say that, I got a more clearer picture of her then I had up 'til that point. Still, I don't know for sure that she was (finger quotes) "Passing", per se, but I'll say that I never once thought to ask until she brought it up, and I would've simply presumed she was white if she had not mentioned it. So if I didn't, I gotta presume that others probably didn't either. I don't think it's someone's job to say what skin color they are either, so I get why she wouldn't.
I wouldn't have asked with regard to "Passing"'s writer/director Rebecca Hall either. I've been following her career, basically since I first noticed her in Woody Allen's masterpiece "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and I've been a huge fan of her work, and I don't think she's ever explicitly played anyone of African descent. Subliminally, I can probably see some of it now, like in her character in "Frost/Nixon", I presumed she was British, which she is, she grew up in England and her father Sir Peter Hall, was the father of the Royal Shakespeare Company, but her mother, however, was Maria Ewing. She was a half-Dutch, half African-American opera who only recently btw, passed away, my condolences, but she was a force of nature on stage. There's plenty of Youtube clips on here, and apparently, she did a damn good Carmen, protraying her in several TV movies as well as on stage. I did not realize this until I looked it up. I think that's the point, just how easy it is, for some people anyway, to pass.
"Passing", based on a novel by Nella Larson, takes place in the 1920s New York, during the height of the Harlem Renaissance. That's when Irene (Tessa Thompson) runs into Clare (Ruth Negga), an old friend of hers from home. Irene doesn't recognize her at first, but soon, she realizes her, and realizes what she's been doing. She's been passing as white and has married a solumn although racist man named John (Alexandre Skarsgard, who's seemingly becoming one of those actor who can be on screen for so little and just immediately play villain so well). Her slight darkness leads him to giving her the loving nickname, "Nig", even though, he's fairly certain that she is not, a...- word you don't say.
At first, Irene wants to avoid Clare from here on in as she's got a rather comfortable life in Harlem. Her and her husband Brian (Andre Holland) seem relatively successful, with a household full of kids, and even a wisecracking maid, Zu (Ashley Ware Jenkins). She's fairly high-class and in the upper sphere of the Renaissance, often going out to some of the major clubs and parties of the scene, often along with other famous people, black and white who enjoyed the scene. Often, the clubs were visited by white people who, well, found a fascination with enjoying the African-American culture and wanted to observe them. Clare, who's rather bored and, well, segregated from her roots, finds this opening back into them, despite Irene's early insistence on the fears involve, decides to hang around Irene and the family whenever she can, and, essentially be apart of the scene, despite passing for white when she was on the other side of Manhattan with her husband.
I have no idea how often this kind of thing occurred, or how often it might still happen now, but I can tell you it was definitely more dangerous for it to be happening back then. "Passing" is shot in black and white, which seems almost like an obligatory choice, but it's not necessarily so, there's been films about people who were passing before, though, most of the examples, were played by white actors, Patricia Neal winning an Oscar for "Hud" comes to mind, or Susan Kohner in the '59 version of "Imitation of Life" I don't think I've seen too many African-Americans playing African-Americans passing as white. Part of me, wishes that "Passing" wasn't ultimately so depressing despite how it looks. The movie ends, rather frustratingly, and I don't want to get too into it, but the book it's based on was written during the Renaissance, and like a lot of stories from that time period about cultural struggles of finding one's true nature, it ends in a very sudden contrived death, one that's not well-edited in this film, and I don't know if it entirely works. I get the meaning and the symbolism of the time, and the tragedy of it all, still speaks loudly, but it also seems rather restrained, almost like a Hays Code ending where anybody that drifts into some bad habits and morally questionable behavior will automatically get punished somehow.
Still, the whole situation is heartbreaking to begin with, and seeing the contrasts of how these two light-skinned African-American women, and how separate their lives ultimately end up with the paths they take, how separate the worlds are between both the white and black worlds, even of supposedly liberal New York, and what success means in both worlds. "Passing" doesn't give us any new observations, but it asks us to consider them in this light. It's led by some wonderful performances from Thompson and Negga, and it doesn't shy away from giving us a lot to consider about our world and how much we are judged, not by our race, but by the color of our skin, and what apparent advantages that does indeed give some people. It's a strong first personal effort from writer/director Rebecca Hall; I have her no idea what her next project could be from a directing point of view, but I have a feeling that whatever she does inevitably direct next, it'll be something just as personal and effective to her. Maybe, it'll be race-related or not, but I've never realize that she would be someone who I would indubitably be fascinated with whatever she'll do next before, and now I definitely want to see more of her perspective on material, whatever that may be.
TITANE (2021) Director: Julia DuCourneau
I want to write this review of Julia DuCourneau's "Titane" without having to, explain it. I mean, I can explain it, and even conjur some, of what I suspect are meanings and metaphors of the film, but is that really how "Titane" should be discussed? I mean, I know everybody who watched this movie, whether they liked it or not will mostly be wanting an explanation for this, but.... I don't think they want an explanation, they want an understanding of how somebody could make this? They want to know how would they think of it; why would they think of doing this, what-the-fuck's wrong with this person, and answers to other questions.
See, I came in a little more prepared having seen, and loved DuCourneau's debut feature "Raw", a film about a vegan who becomes a literally bloody-thirsty cannibal. (Or, I guess flesh-thirsty is more accurate, but trust me, there's plenty of blood in it too.) Reading my old review of "Raw", I didn't explain much in that review either; I mostly ranted about how grossed out I was, and gave the film a respectable 3 1/2 STARS. Yet, I couldn't help constantly thinking about that film after, and I did pick up something about how female critics responding much more positively to the film then male critics, noting the coming-of-age aspects to it, were empowering as a parable about the struggles of a young woman striving to find their place in the world, which is something that we should remember is still a fairly new concept for most women and that kind of self-expression, especially an extreme-self possession, especially when breaking away from put-upon expectations...- I mean, yeah, the more I thought about "Raw" the more made sense to me.
Another way it made sense, in how she was expressing these thoughts, and her interpretations of them, was through, excessive body horror. Women's bodies are far more objectified of course, and they also can go through the most excessive and erratic of changes over time. Like, a pregnancy.
In these and many other ways, "Titane" makes similar sense to me. "Titane", which is just the French word for "Titanium", follows Alexia (Agatha Rousselle), we see, is in a car accident when she was young, and her survival ever since had depended on a metal plate in the side of her head. Ever since, and perhaps because of, she's had more of a connection with, well, metal, and cars, then she has with people. People she tends to kill. Cars, metaphorically for her job as a showgirl at a car show, or literally...- yes, lit-ter-all-ly, she's attracted to, and they are attracted to her. And she has sex with them.
I have no real idea why, women having, literal sex with a car, is such a thing now in movies; I'm still mostly baffled by that one scene in "The Counselor" where Cameron Diaz, just spreads herself over a convertible. There's also that weird, lesbian anime-, "Revolutionary Girl--Utena", which I haven't seen, but apparently literally turning into cars is some powerful lesbian metaphor....- Whatever that was, anyway, the movie everybody referenced with this movie, in most of the reviews I read was David Cronenberg's "Crash"; now that movie wasn't about, literally being aroused and wanting to consummate with a car; it was about people who were sexually aroused by car crashes, but yeah, I guess that might just be the closest thing most of the public would come up with, but honestly, I didn't think of that film at all with this movie. "Crash" is a weird film, and so is this one, and there is definitely some Cronenberg in her, but Cronenberg's movies are all about exploring the deepest, darkest recess of the mind, and DuCourneau's is body dysmorphia. She's even said so; this L.A. Times interview she gives, explains it well, she talks about how unsympathetic the character is, and yes, she's a serial killer who uses her body to find her victims, and yes, she's attracted to large metal objects like cars, and they're also attracted to her btw, this is a two-way relationship.... And her influences weren't Cronenberg; she said she was more intrigued by Caravaggio paintings, and when she does list a general movie that inspired the film, the first one she referenced was "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer", and yeah, I definitely see that movie more then I see "Crash", but I see some other inspirations too. Some of Francois Ozon's more absurdist works, like "Ricky" for instance, feels a bit like this film's mirror image. But yeah, this character is very Henry, she seems to keep finding herself in a position to constantly kill everyone around her. During one hilarious sequence, she keeps trying to escape from a house after killing her most recent human lover, but the house turns out to constantly have more people in it and she keeps getting annoyed every time somebody else comes in and she now has to kill them.
Inevitably, she concocts a weird plan to pose as a missing person, the long lost son of Vincent (Vincent Lindon), as she strikes a slight similarity to a ten-year computer-aged picture of his son who went missing ten years ago. Vincent is a steroid-freaked firefighter who at first seems completely ignorant of many of the obvious signs that she's not her son, not the least of which, she's hiding a severe case of pregnancy. Her body keeps getting more and more scars and she begins to leak motor oil the more and more she tries to tape her body down. Yes, motor oil.
So there's a lot here, and quite a lot of it seems ridiculous on the surface, but the movie is quite deep. There's actually quite a bit of disturbing examples out there of people being either so insular or otherwise isolated that they find more affection and attraction from inanimate objects then they do people, and if they seem particularly anti-social or sociopathic, it's not that surprising. (Hell, in Paris, some woman claims she's married the Eiffel Tower, and I don't want to see how the honeymoon went.) So, yeah, maybe this isn't as science-fiction as it seems. And if "Raw" was about young women finding themselves as they come-of-age, "Titane" is about a woman who isn't able to or allowed to break out into herself, and arguably she's constantly being pushed deeper into a hole that society and herself has pushed her through.
On Vincent's side, actually, it's not even that weird that somebody would say they're some long lost family member when they're clearly not. The documentary "The Imposter" details a rare recent incident of this a few years ago, and sometimes any kind of perceived hope can lead to a detailed delusion. Plus, he seems to just want to be able to have someone to bring up and have around and love. At one point, when it becomes too obvious for him to that she's not his son, he eventually tells her that he cares for her no matter who she is. His struggles to defy age and keep his body and mind in rigorous fighting spirit mimics her struggle to with her inability to trust her bodily instincts.
Both performances are quite strong here, and Director Julia DuCourneau's aesthetic, two films in has made her one of the most distinctive filmmakers out there. However we want to interpret her films, she's got a mysterious vision, unique muses and is full of ideas and images that make cinema quite fascinating right now to follow. "Titane" will not be for everybody, I'm barely sure this film is for me, but I'm never looking for what works for me, I'm looking for what the filmmaker and filmmaker can bring to the table and how good they are at bringing it. DuCourneau can bring so much that we don't have right now, and for somebody who's only two features into her career is one of the most assured filmmakers I've seen at this point, it's quite astonishing somebody this fresh and distinctive to be this good, this early.
THE CARD COUNTER (2021) Director: Paul Schrader
Paul Schrader seems like a very insular curmudgeons of a man. I've had some scattered observational interactions of him on Facebook, where I've seen his posts occasionally shared or re-posted by mutual Facebook friends as well as other cinephiles. He's known for saying things, that- let's generously say that, they have a tendency to see somewhat behind the times. His films and characters, the ones that we most associate with him anyway, all do in fact, seem very much like him. Coarse in their thoughts and occasionally in their language, lacking or wishing to lack much of the much traditional emotional ranges that most others around his characters seem to have. They're solitary men, world-weary in their pain, yet tunnel-visioned in their approach to the world. His characters always seemed to literally be stuck in their own heads; often we're stuck in them with only their thoughts heard in voiceover, some of which we occasionally hope comes with exposition. Their own little worlds could be a jail cell, literal, or figurate. They find ways of being alone with their thoughts, and while they may seem like the kind of men who aren't effected by the world around them, they can be extremely heavily influenced by the smallest amount of new stimuli that happens to come across them.
Honestly, I find myself having quite a few disturbing similarities to Schaeder. Similarities that, I can imagine make him quite a frustrating person to be around and struggle to get to know, but they also make him one of the greatest cinematic artists of our time. Nobody climbs into the disturbing mind of the true loners of the world then he has. He's made other movies then these, even great ones like "Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters" arguably his best film as a director, but the guy who became famous for penning "Taxi Driver" is best at keeping his films as striped down and bare as his antihero's isolated minds. Throw in the fact that this latest movie is about a card counter who's orchestrating his own plan, and I couldn't damn near sworn that this is a film that I might've written during some of my more troubled early years, although the elements might've been there, the story itself wouldn't nearly be this good.
The titular card counter goes by the name "William Tell" (Oscar Isaac). We learn that after spending years in prison, he has found the mundane solitary life of a gambler soothing and comforting. He learned to counts cards in blackjack using a basic-but-effective Hi-lo system and mostly travels from casino to casino across the country, mostly taking advantage of low stakes games. He's good enough to be a professional but dips in and out winning enough to get by and travel to the next town before the casinos would get interested enough in trying to take him out. He's also skilled at poker, being able to read people well. Actually, this is really similar to a character I wrote once, just on the surface, which is where most of the rest of the characters seem to know him, but they can all suspect that there's more underneath.
One character that can see it is La Linda (Tiffany Haddish). La Linda, is essentially a sponsor for poker players. She's not exactly the person that puts up the money for players to enter circuit tournaments, with the caveat that they split the profits and repay the funds with your winnings. Tell is not interested at first, but he soon befriends a lost soul in Cirk (Tye Sheridan). Cirk is the son of a fellow soldier that Tell was with at, Abu Ghraib, and he's trying to convince Tell to join him on a crusade to take out one of the majors who ran the prison, and help teach and execute the torcher. His old superior, now working as a digital technology presenter at weapons conferences and going by the name, "Gordo" (Willem Dafoe) didn't get any of the jail time for his crimes that Tell got, because he wasn't in the pictures. I don't know if this accurate per se offhand, but it certainly sounds realistic. And it's an interesting, contrasting take for Schrader on the antihero who's trying to save someone who doesn't necessarily want to be saved. Eventually, under strict guidelines that he constantly reiterates to La Linda, which she laughs off at first, he takes her up on the sponsorship and begins earning money playing in high stakes satellite tournaments around the country, and he brings Cirk along for the ride. At first, it seems like this'll be a mentor/mentee story. Then it seems like a savior tale, and then tragically, it turns into something darker, yet never quite how it seems. The story is told incredibly bare. There's occasional red herring characters at the edges of the screen, like a popular celebrity poker player, a Ukrainian who goes by Mr. USA (Alexander Barbera) based on his persona and outfits during tournaments, and always has a cheering entourage around him, but you barely ever even see a close-up of him. Tell's not interested in poker fame or even the winnings. He's barely interested in sex as he only inevitably acts on his flirtation with La Linda near the end.
At first, we're not even sure he's that interested in revenge. The kid's got a plan for himself, but it's clearly scatterbrained at best, and on first glance, why would Tell care if one or either of these guys cross paths and leads to violence? That's the mystery of him though. We only barely glimpse Tell's motives, although, inevitably we see and understand his method and his inevitable superobjective. Most hero's journey are about the hero, metaphorically if not literally, finding their way out of their own personal prison; Schrader's antihero's are about people literally striving to find their way into their own personal prison, and that's fine with him. It's their coping mechanism to block themselves off from the rest of the cruel world. It doesn't sound appealing on it's surface, but Schrader can damn sure make it not only seem like an appeal choice, but an ambitious, bold and perhaps the appropriate correct choice for his characters. "The Card Counter" is incredible intense and stunning in it's simplicity, almost feeling like Schrader deconstructing his own tropes into something that feels new and classic at the same time. I'm surprise he hasn't used the metaphor of a professional gambler, as a solemn symbol for the loneliness of survival before now. I'm glad he did. I can see people being turned off by how minimal it is, this is a film that probably could be more appealing to the masses if it had a bigger budget and a more elaborate and artistic cinematic approach behind the camera, but that's not Schrader's style nor is it his intent. It's his story told the way he likes it and wants to be told, and on that basis, I don't think he could've done better.
ACASA, MY HOME (2020) Director: Radu Ciorniciuc
In some ways, it's always somewhat startling to find out that in many parts of the world, civilization as we may know and recognize it, has yet to reach. Normally, I think of that though, and I think of like, obscure sections of the Amazon where cannibals reportedly still exist, not Bucharest, Romania.
Then again, we do still have people, even in America who go to lengths to reject modern society too, but that's easier to do in theory then it actually is in practice. Take the example shown in "Acasa, My Home" a documentary about the Enache family. Patriarch Gica, his wife Niculina, and their nine kids live in the Bucharest Delta, a nature park that makes up the wetlands of Lake Vacaresti. Why and how exactly they've lived there for over twenty years, I'm not entirely sure, but eventually, the swamp-filled land, in the years since the fall of Communism in Romania, has become filled with wildlife and fauna, and has now become a nature reserve and National Park. "Acasa, My Home" begins with press conferences announcing this impeding on the Enache's home, shortly after they scattered to a hidden tent where the kids have learned to hide when Children's Services were called. While their home becomes federally protective land, the family is now finally forced to conform to the modern surroundings. It's not that they weren't aware or refused all modern advancements, but clearly there was something that pushed the family to the Park.
Some of the family do well adapting to the modern environment though, many of the kids seem to thrive in school. Others struggles with understanding that laws have consequences, and the parents struggles with concepts like the rent. The movie gets pretty good footage of them as they struggle to adapt, and it's natural to take their side as they struggle, but I kinda wish we knew more about how or why they ended up in the swamps to begin with. We don't get a lot of that.
"Acasa, My Home" is very cinema verite and I can appreciate that, but I feel like this movie would've benefitted from a voiceover, or just something to help us dive deeper into the family. There's definitely some hints at mental issues regarding the parents issues, but it's not always clear or compelling. "Acasa, My Home" is more interesting in theory then in practice, but it's still worth watching and pondering over. A lot more live without basic housing then you'd think, even in America, and frankly you do constantly wonder how they end up that way. Maybe if I hadn't seen the Oscar-nominated short film "Lead Me Home" recently, I'd be more effected by this, but this is still quite a powerful and important story to tell.
THE EIGHT HUNDRED (2020) Director: Hu GUAN
I guess, in general, it's a fair statement to say that we should be paying more attention to what China's doing, but for our purposes, I think it's important to say that in China as they appear to have enter the age of blockbusters. Our influence on the country and the nation's influence on the bottom dollar of American cinema in general has been well-documented in recent years as they've opened up to more outside influences, particularly Western influences, and more particularly, American influence in media. They're still not getting everything, at least, not technically, the government still heavily censors and some films for one reason or another, just don't make it there, even big movies, which severely cut into our bottom dollar and they are currently the biggest market for Hollywood blockbusters right now, yes, even more then the superhero-obsessed Americans, and they've certainly started using our techniques and storytelling methods in recent years to tell their stories. Probably the most notable example of this is the "Wolf Warrior" franchise of films. You've probably never heard of them, but not accounting for inflation if you check boxofficemojo list of the all-time highest grossing movies, At about 74 on the list, right below "...Dawn of Justice", and above, "...Revenge of the Sith", lies, "Wolf Warrior 2", a sequel to a major blockbuster hit in China, that's- look, I've heard of them, hasn't seen either of them yet, but basically from I've heard, it's pretty much just their version of Rambo movies, including the right-wing propaganda in them.
This leads me to the example of "The Eight Hundred", one of the best looking and biggest budgeted movies in China history. it's a war movie that uses all the familiar filmmaking techniques of how to make a great classic, Hollywood war movie, but because it's Chinese, it's using all the symbolic shorthand and narrative decision that probably has, if not powerful mean, at least recognizable meaning in the Far East, but seems quite bizarre to us. "The Eight Hundred" is about a famous battle during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which..., (sigh) I think I've talked about this before, but World History in America in America doesn't really do a good job teaching China's role in the Second World War, and some historians debate whether this should even count; I tend to count it, but, basically, during the early days of this war, the Japanese Empire was attacking China and was en route to take Shanghai, and in a last prayer defense, the Chinese retreated into the city to protect a vital, though seemingly innocuous warehouse. This was essentially a suicide mission, the goal was to protect the warehouse, but they manage to hold off the surrounding and attacking Japanese Army for four days. China lost this battle, but it's apparently the major point that spurned on China's military muscle and they would slowly-but-surely start fighting the Japanese Imperial Army out over the course of the next several years, all the raging war in the Pacific catches up to them, ultimately leading of course, to their unconditional surrender, ending both side of their wars.
It's a good story, an important piece of history; it's incredibly shot and well-made. On an $80million U.S. budget, the film is the first movie in China shot entirely on IMAX cameras. The movie looks great; I can definitely see myself getting immersed in this film if I was seeing it in an IMAX theater. Is it a good movie though?
Ummmm..., honestly, that's hard to say. I saw more then a few people who compared the movie to Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down", which, yes, was the first movie I thought about as well. "Black Hawk Down" which was about the U.S.'s involvement in Somalia and documented the incident that we now call the Battle of Mogadishu, which was also a confusing labyrinthian battle between several opposing forces that spread out over multiple days. Now that is a great movie, and like "The Eight Hundred", you don't get to know a lot of the characters in the film personally; there's a brief introduction to some of the soldiers on their way for a mission that's supposed to take a few hours, and then we get right into the nonstop, confusing, and violent mess of action. Honestly, with the budget and the meandering filmmaking style, and a lot of surprising amount of what, might be real events that actually happened, but stylized in such a way to seem like obvious nationalistic propaganda, to me, the movies I was thinking of most, were stuff like Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor."
Now, don't get me wrong, this film is not that bad, and part of me knows that half the reason I'm drifting in my thoughts towards films like that, is because the techniques and storytelling are so bad in that film that even Americans who should have affection for that story, couldn't get on board with it. The style and techniques to have a bit of a Bay aesthetic to them, but it's also definitely better then films. I particularly like the game of chess scene involving a giant flag and attempts by the Chinese to cross a bridge with supplies, without getting shot, and how that played out. The strategic elements of the movie were quite interesting. Who knew for instance that mustard gas attacks can be thwarted off temporarily if you're able to urinated on a towel and breath into it.
Yet, we also know how too much strategy talk can absolutely dull a moviegoer to sleep at well, something like Aaron Schneider's recent "Greyhound" comes to mind with me for that. The balance when it comes to war movies are really difficult to pull off and if it's not a war or a battle you care about, or are even familiar with, can be tricky. I imagine even "Black Hawk Down" would play rather dismissively to younger Americans who ever don't remember or know or even care about our activities in Somalia. So, I guess I'm recommending this ultimately. I don't think it's for me, or it isn't yet anyway, maybe after I brush up on my modern Chinese historian folklore and symbols and learn more about Japan's attempted imperial takeover of Asia during WWII, maybe then I'll appreciate it a little more.
Although, I still doubt that this is a great film. The movie did win a lot of awards in China, and even got recognition elsewhere, including at some of the technical Guild Awards in America, the Visual Effects and Sound Editors liked the film, but I get the sense that wasn't necessarily the best China would have to offer, and you know, while I do love Asian filmmakers that do have western storytelling tendencies, Kurosawa for instance, or to name a Chinese example, ZHANG Yimou, I gotta be enough, it is always gonna be a little freaky to see them being, too western in approach to storytelling. Maybe that's just me and that's just, not what I want when I'm watching a movie from that part of the world or maybe it is general concern over cultural appropriation just slightly going over that invisible line that from appreciation to problematic, either way, "The Eight Hundred", it doesn't cross that line for me, necessarily, but I can't help but think that it inches close to it.... I don't know, China, do you really want to embrace so much of this part of our culture? I mean, to be honest, were not necessarily crazy about it either to begin with, but, eh, maybe there's better parts of our filmmaking mise en scene and techniques you can take then this, that's all I'm saying? Maybe, kinda...
I don't know, maybe I'm just way off. Anyway, "The Eight Hundred" is interesting enough to consider if nothing else.
MAYOR (2020) Director: David Osit
If I'm being honest, I never really got the appeal of being a mayor. I've always been a little bit skeptical of people who I think of "big fish, small pond" people, and at least in the United States, it seems like a "Mayor" is a good position for people like that, and in general, kind of a dumb one. From what I've gathered, most mayors have relatively little actual power. They have influence, sure, but actual powers, usually things have to go through city councils for approval on things, and most of their influence seems ceremonial. That doesn't mean they don't do anything, somebody needs to make sure the sidewalks are paved, and I'm glad they do it, but yeah, generally I don't think of how much they would have to do that actually matters.
That said, I'm not the "Mayor" of Ramallah.
Well, that's a tricky question to answer, but, I guess, technically, you would find it on a map of today, in Israel, but that's not a good answer. It's on the outskirts of Jerusalem, on the West Bank, and is nearly surrounded by Israel, yet, because of it's political proximity to Jerusalem, and it's cultural and political importance, it's basically, the de facto capital of what we would call, Palestine. So yeah, being a Mayor of this place, is a little more challenging. Although, they do still have to make sure the place is set up for Christmas. The documentary follows Musa Hadid and many of his staffers in the Mayoral office as they try to work around, running a city, that's constantly under the threat of , and occasionally under siege. Meanwhile, he's trying to figure out, what the best way to promote and brand the city of Ramallah. I've seen some people call it comedic, and yeah, it's comedic in the same absurd way that "Parks and Recreation" can be. Politics, in any situation is absurd. You're debating in a meeting about whether license plates should have the motto of the town that they haven't decided on yet, then you're hosting Prince William in a promotional tour of the town, in hopes of getting him to promote the inevitable peace before the Israelis and Palestineans and an inevitable deal/debate over land.... (Sigh) Yeah, that same old argument.
Musa Hadid has a job that I would not envy, and he does it surprisingly well. The movie is minor ultimately, but I do like the contrasts between the everyday politics of being a mayor and the struggles of running a city, contrasted with, you know, everything else that being the mayor of the de facto capital of Palestine has to be. Mayor, really is, more-or-less just a spokesperson job, and this city needs a spokesperson and while I don't know who's listening or what will or anybody could try to do to inevitably make this situation better, he's a good spokesperson. There's something truly perverse about having to cross a border just to get to your town's wastewater plant, and for what, because somebody named Abraham had two sons a long time ago.
It's not my favorite political documentary; there's no real conflict, political pconflict, I mean, he's not running for reelection, or having to fight off political scandal or anything. The movie ends with a wonderful performance that the town's seeing for the holidays, that the city set up. It's ironicallly more slice-of-life then other docs out there about similar politic tales, and it's enjoyable on that level. Yet, if it weren't contrast with the location I'm not sure how much I'd enjoy it. But, for giving us a rare look inside the smaller political world of the Middle East and of the WEst Bank conflict. It shows how politics, the real, day-to-day politics that helps life go on, does indeed, continue to go on, even in places where you'd think it wouldn't. I guess that's inspiring all things considered.