Best Picture Countdown #7: Vice

“I can feel your recriminations and your judgment, and I am fine with that. You want to be loved, go be a movie star. The world is as you find it. You got to deal with that reality, and there are monsters in this world.”Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Vice (2018)

 Of all the films nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, Vice, directed by Adam McKay, might be the most divisive. Depicting the rise to power of former Vice President Dick Cheney and his involvement in several critical moments in American political history, this film is at parts an illuminating look into the elusive “perhaps this happened” and also a bleak, almost nihilistic approach to exposing corruption of power when it is placed in the hands of a “monster.”

Vice_(2018_film_poster).png I personally went into Vice not expecting to see “true events” depicted verbatim, especially considering the film is classified as a “dramedy,” not a straight-up biopic. Treading the line between fiction and reality is precarious for filmmakers, and that seems to be what much of the criticism of this film is based on. Obviously, since Cheney himself was not involved in the making of the film, the audience needs to take it with a grain of salt and an open mind, regardless of political affiliation. But watching it, I found parts of it eerily compelling in the same vein as a car wreck – because, although we may never know exactly what went on behind closed doors, the very possibility is terrifying. I might dare to suggest many elements came across as plausible, though that might just be a testament to McKay’s writing, which is deservedly nominated. Films do not need to be “accurate” to be “true.” And maybe, some folks don’t like exploring the mere possibility that our elected officials have hidden agendas. But, I don’t want this to turn into a political tirade, so…

Much like Bohemian Rhapsody, this film is buoyed by a transformative performance by leading man Christian Bale, who is at times utterly unrecognizable as Cheney, with no small thanks to the makeup and hairstyling team, which are a front-runner for the Oscar. It looks to be a two-horse race between Malek and Bale for the Best Actor gold, with Bradley Cooper a semi-distant dark horse, but I won’t be disappointed by either result. Amy Adams turns in a sharp performance as Lynne Cheney, but, as much as I’d love to see her take home a victory for Supporting Actress, I think the odds are stacked against her this year. Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush is riveting (and almost cartoonish) to watch, but it is not likely enough to elevate him above the fierce competition in the supporting actor category.

Now, the real strength of Vice shines in the editing. Some critics may not agree, but Hank Corwin masterfully maneuvers this film through rapid switches in tone (there’s a Shakespearean exchange between the Cheneys, a marvelous scene where political officials are ordering “dinner,” and important conversations inter-cut with scenes of Cheney fishing) in order to keep the film from flying off the rails. Precise editing also prevents the film from losing the messages it’s trying to deliver, and when placed in conjunction with McKay’s writing, the combination makes the editing a standout. It’s already gotten a BAFTA for editing, so that momentum might carry over to the big night.

As much as I personally enjoyed Vice, as a critique, an exploration, and an artistic approach to uncovering “truth,” I won’t deny that it is problematic for valid reasons, and, as a result, I doubt it will take home the ultimate prize come Oscar night. However, I am predicting Vice will take home two awards, and end up going 2/8.

Oscar Nominations: 8
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor (Bale)
Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell)
Best Supporting Actress (Adams)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Film Editing
Best Makeup and Hairstyling

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Best Picture Countdown #8: Bohemian Rhapsody

This is when the operatic section comes in.” – Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

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Bringing up the rear in my Best Picture countdown is the Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, directed by *redacted* and Dexter Fletcher. It’s earned a boatload of money all over the world and is both a visual and auditory spectacle, but when stacked against the other nominees in this category, this film strikes a bit of a sour note.

Of course, the major highlight of this film is Rami Malek’s eclectic and electric performance as Mercury. It’s clear in every nuanced look, flamboyant movement, and subtle – or not so subtle – gesture that Malek poured his heart and soul into this role, and his Oscar nomination is no great surprise. At this point, it seems to be a two-horse race between Malek and Christian Bale, with dark horse Bradley Cooper not far behind. It’s only a shame that the overall film – despite excellent supporting performances and brilliant editing, and, I’m sure, no thanks to production issues – does not quite elevate itself to the same level.

Bohemian Rhapsody is not a bad film – but, it’s not what I’d call great. While Queen’s music and Freddie Mercury’s legacy have endured for decades, this film is, by contrast, almost forgettable. It doesn’t even play like a biopic because it glosses over and adds a saccharine, almost stereotypical sheen to several of the depicted events, which makes it feel fictional and disingenuous. There are times where the film feels raw, and intense – the Live Aid performance in particular, which is also an astounding accomplishment in editing – but at other points, it feels… fake. Fudging dates and swapping facts might come across to some as taking creative license, but, it can also read more as an attempt to revise history, and inject needless drama into what is already a compelling story.

Beneath the flashy costumes, legendary music, and Malek’s incredible performance, this tale of a band’s turbulent rise to stardom fails to dig as deep as it should. Historical inaccuracies and director controversy aside, I will be stunned if it takes home the gold on the 24th. A win for Malek, though, would be well-deserved. All in all, I’m predicting Bohemian Rhapsody won’t go home empty-handed, and will go 1/5 on the night.

Oscar Nominations:
Best Picture
Best Actor (Malek)
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing
Best Film Editing

Biggest Oscar Snubs

1.) Toni Collette / Ari Aster / Hereditary
This film got rave reviews, yet was forgotten when awards season finally rolled around. Toni Collette’s performance in this film is half the reason it’s so terrifying; she is able to encompass the mood of the film and project it in such an effective manner it resonates off the screen. Her not getting a nomination is an injustice to her work on this film. Ari Aster’s directing is nothing to scoff at, either – and though it might have been a long shot, I would have loved to see him get a directing nod. I also think it should have been nominated for Best Picture, FIGHT ME.

2.) Mission Impossible: Fallout
I’m not even a fan of the series (this is the only one I’ve seen) but even I know it should have gotten a nod for something. It was an all-around great, popular film that earned a positive critical reception, and yet, nada.

3.) Annihilation
This film was not only condemned to a depressing February release date last year, dooming it to be forgotten when awards season rolled around, but it had a lackluster release, was tragically overlooked for being too “intellectual” and, thus, led to many movie-goers missing out on what was the best sci-fi (and one of the best horror) films of 2018. Yes, it’s got one of those endings – where you’re initial reaction is “…huh?” and then, as it settles and you unpack it, you’re forced to think and interpret what the meaning could be – but that’s to the film’s credit, not a detriment. It deserved some kind of recognition, especially in the special effects, sound, or cinematography department.

4.) Eighth Grade / Bo Burnham
I adored this film, yet it somehow slipped past the Oscar noms this year. It captured the awkwardness of adolescence in such a poignant way, making audiences both cringe at the palpable awkwardness while also relating to the struggles of a teenage girl searching for acceptance. The writing was sharp and the directing was stellar for Bo Burnham’s debut, and I would have loved to see him get at least a writing nod. Fortunately, actress Elsie Fisher, though she didn’t get a nod, looks to have a long career ahead of her.

5.) Justin Hurwitz / Linus Sandgren / First Man
Justin Hurwitz won a Golden Globe and a Critic’s Choice award, among others, for his incredible score for First Man, but didn’t even get a nod from the Academy. I mean, come on… he used a THEREMIN. A THEREMIN, PEOPLE. And Linus Sandgren’s incredible cinematography should have gotten a nod too; the cinematography in this film was absolutely stunning, especially the scenes in space. Basically, this film somehow flew under the radar this awards season, and it’s a real shame it isn’t getting as much buzz as some other titles that shall not be named…

Also, arguably…

6.) Bradley Cooper
I mean, he got the acting nod, which is great…but I actually think he should have gotten a directing nod, too. In fact (CONTROVERSIAL OPINION INCOMING) I think his directorial prowess on this film surpassed his acting. And that’s saying a lot, because his acting was remarkable in the film. It takes a lot to make an overdone story feel new, and his directorial skills are a large part of why ASiB felt fresh and evocative, despite having been made thrice before. And it was his debut, to boot! Granted, everyone nominated for the category is entirely deserving, and I’m betting on my man Alfonso to take it home, but still… I was stunned Cooper’s name was not on the list.

7.) Timothée Chalamet
I’m putting him for two reasons, even though I have yet to see Beautiful Boy. The first is that I’ve heard his performance was stellar, and the second is that I still think he got robbed for last year’s Lead Actor award. Also, he’s great.

And, in an UNEXPECTED TWIST, here’s one film that SHOULD* have been snubbed!

*in my opinion

1.) Bohemian Rhapsody
Aside from Rami Malek’s brilliant turn as eccentric front man Freddie Mercury, which is 1000% worthy of a Best Actor nod, this film, though purported as “accurate” in it’s portrayal of true events, is little more than a formulaic presentation of a band’s rise to triumph. I was shocked that it won the Golden Globe, as I don’t even think it should have been nominated for that, either. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not a bad movie. It’s entertaining, the performances are great, and the soundtrack is – of course – amazing. The director is shit, but that’s besides the point. I personally think there were more deserving films of the prestigious Best Picture nod, that’s all I’m saying.

Film Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Dir: Ol Parker
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Dominic Cooper, Stellan Skarsgård, Colin Firth, Andy Garcia, Cher, Meryl Streep, etc.
Runtime: 1hr54min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Some small tidbits, but nothing major.

Ten years ago, Mamma Mia! hit theaters. I went to see it with a high school friend and my mom, and was blown away by how fun it was. Now, the theater we saw it in has been remodeled, and our lives have changed significantly over the last decade – but on Sunday, that same friend, my mother, and I all met up for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. And, yet again, I emerged from the theater humming an ABBA tune and quelling the urge to dance all the way to my car.

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Acting as both a sequel and a prequel to 2008’s Mamma Mia!, Here We Go Again is a rom/com musical that follows Sophie (Seyfried) as she attempts to embark on a new chapter in her life, which somewhat mirrors her mother Donna’s (James) journey to Greece back in 1979.

Following in the first film’s joyful, if occasionally silly footsteps, Mamma Mia! Here We Go again is a charming summer romp with plenty of heart and laughter. Amidst the jaunty song and dance numbers, it also offers a surprisingly meaningful message about love and family. Sure, it’s a sequel no one asked for – but let’s be real, here. This film has Cher, and ABBA music. What more could you want?

First, you can’t talk about this film without mentioning the music. Particular highlights for me include “Waterloo,” “Andante, Andante,” “Angeleyes,” “Fernando,” “My Love, My Life,” and, of course, the staples from the original film, “Mamma Mia!” “Dancing Queen,” and “Super Trouper.” I shall forever maintain that there are two types of people in this world – those who love ABBA, and liars. Each number in this film is performed with tangible enthusiasm, and the actors/singers/dancers seem like they’re having a blast and putting their all into it. “Dancing Queen” is a notable mention just for Firth, Brosnan, and Skarsgård. And for those of you wondering… no, Brosnan doesn’t get a solo number this time around, per se. But he does sing a small, acapella reprise of “S.O.S,” and I’m pleased to say it is genuinely touching.

It’s impressive how well ABBA’s music naturally weaves into the situations of the characters… with the minor infraction of Cher and Garcia singing “Fernando” near the end. It’s a wee bit shoehorned in, though there are some clues leading up to it, so it isn’t entirely unexpected. But it’s forgivable because Cher. It’s also worth noting that a lot of the instrumental motifs in the film are throwbacks and tributes to the original film/musical and other ABBA songs, like “Slipping Through My Fingers.”

Told through both the lens of present day and flashbacks to ’79, each part of the film receives the appropriate amount of attention, and focus shifts seamlessly between the timelines. The transitions in this film are immaculate, which aids the film’s intention to “mirror” Sophie’s experiences and feelings with those of her mother, and keeps the plot at a respectable pace. Viewers get to see Donna’s initial meetings with Bill, Harry, and Sam, and how she ended up staying in Greece, giving a visual history to the premise of the first film, and also how Sophie is trying to honor her mother by making the grand opening of the Hotel Bella Donna a success while also juggling her relationship with Sky. The scenery is gorgeous, the costumes are perfect, and there’s a satisfying amount of laughs to complement what turns out to be an earnest and heartfelt message about the relationship between mother and daughter, and finding one’s way in the world when a storm threatens your path.

And, brief spoiler alert, Meryl has very little screen time in this. I was initially disappointed with the fate of her character – but when she does appear onscreen, it’s worth it. As in, I teared up. I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this and getting emotional again!

The cast must have had a ton of fun filming this – especially the returning faces. Everyone seems to be having a great time, no one phones it in, and the onscreen chemistry is like actual friends reuniting after a long time apart. The finale performance of “Super Trouper,” is the perfect example of this, and I couldn’t stop smiling through the whole thing. The new faces also do an excellent job of channeling their older counterparts – especially Hugh Skinner as young Harry, Jessica Keenan Wynn as young Tanya, and, of course, Lily James as young Donna. James is both sweet and sassy as Young Donna, and her stellar performance carries the ’79 timeline. Basically, everyone in this film is a delight, plain and simple – and fun pretty much oozes off the screen.

The plot may get a little silly at times, and the film timeline is seriously wack, but this isn’t a movie aiming to garner a shelf full of top-tier awards. For what it is, and what it’s trying to do, it’s a total and absolute jam, and well worth the price of admission. Here We Go Again might not have been a necessary sequel, but it’s also not a shameless cash grab – it’s a great time, with a great cast, and great music, the perfect recipe for an entertaining summer flick.

Overall rating: 8/10

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