Best Picture Countdown #2: BlackKklansman

“I just want to leave you, sisters and brothers, with these last words. If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am for myself alone, who am I? If not now, when? And if not you, who? We need an undying love for black people, wherever we may be. All power to all the people.”Corey Hawkins as Kwame Ture in BlackKklansman (2018)

Based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, Spike Lee’s comedy-drama BlackKklansman follows an African-American police officer who infiltrates and exposes the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK in the 1970’s. Though some artistic liberties are taken with the true story – timelines skewed, characters created, and events swapped around to enhance drama – this film provides valuable insight into race relations in the 1970’s and ties it in with social and political issues that continue to this day.

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The writing – which won the BAFTA for Adapted Screenplay – features witty, cutting dialogue, moments of genuine humor and arm-gripping terror, relevant real-world situations, and excellent rapport between the two leads, John David Washington as Stallworth and Adam Driver as his partner, Flip. Though Driver is the sole acting nominee for the film, and faces the likely insurmountable task of toppling Mahershala Ali for the Best Supporting Actor award, the entire cast turns in exceptional performances. Even Topher Grace, as KKK leader David Duke, is thrilling to watch. BlackKklansmen kept me engaged and invested from the first minute to the last, and it helps that every character has clear motivations and personalities that clash and meld in compelling ways.

It is undeniable that Spike Lee, as a director, never shies away from making a point, no matter how many feathers it will ruffle – AND he always does it with his signature fearless style. BlackKklansman is the only film this year that left me in utter shock and in tears at the end, jaw hanging open and mind reeling. This film packs an emotional wallop and is bound to stir some discomfort from those who do not like admitting to negativity and problematic issues in America’s history, and it affected me more than any other film this year, particularly because it is interspersed with themes, elements, and scenes that apply to society as it is today. Lee is my personal favorite in the Best Director race for his masterful and engrossing vision, but Alfonso Cuarón is a formidable opponent who is most likely to continue his hot streak come Oscar night. Film Editing is a toss-up, and though my personal favorite is Vice, I wouldn’t be surprised if BlackKklansman overtakes it.

A big triumph for this film is found in Terence Blanchard’s score, which is also nominated. Though I was also a big fan of fellow nominee Alexandre Desplat’s Isle of Dogs score, my favorite from this past year is easily Blanchard’s. It lends itself to the film’s overall tone and assists in creating that distinct 70’s vibe. Plus, it’s the only score among all the nominees that I can recall from memory without having to look it up for a refresher, as it stuck in my mind long after the film was over. Considering Golden Globe-winner Justin Hurwitz was somehow NOT EVEN NOMINATED for his stellar First Man score, a victory for Blanchard would be phenomenal to see.

Though BlackKlansman impressed critics and audiences with its “all the power to all the people” message and themes that fit seamlessly into the current state of the world, it’s a bit of an underdog for the Best Picture race and unlikely to take home the ultimate prize. But if this film somehow slipped past your notice when it hit the big screen this past summer, I highly recommend you see it – even if you’re unfamiliar with Spike Lee’s work or the true events behind this “crazy, outrageous, incredible” story. Overall, I am predicting that BlackKlansman will go 2 for 6 on the night.

Oscar Nominations: 6
Best Picture
Best Supporting Actor (Driver)
Best Director
Best Original Score
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Film Editing

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Best Picture Countdown #3: Roma

“We are alone. No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.”Marina de Tavira as Sofía in Roma (2018)

Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical drama Roma has become the Awards season darling over the last few months, racking up heaps of praise from critics and audiences alike – though many viewers never had the chance to see it on the big screen. Despite a limited theatrical run, Roma, currently streaming on Netflix, has dominated the awards circuit and steamrolled over films once considered favorites for Oscar night. Though, as someone who had to watch it in her living room, perhaps a film that is so personal and evocative is best seen in a more intimate setting.

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Roma is a film that looks simple on the surface – following the life of a housekeeper and her interactions with the family she works for in Mexico from 1970 to 1971 – but, as it unfurls onscreen, develops into a deeply nuanced film with a multi-tiered message that audiences are free to interpret how they see fit. Some might relate to Cleo’s struggles, some to Sofía and her troubled marriage, some to Teresa as a concerned spectator in the lives of loved ones, some as the children who are unaware, yet so intrinsically involved in events they have no control over.

The only reason this film doesn’t rank higher for me personally is that I found parts of the narrative to be aimless – naked hotel-room martial arts included. I mean, I’m all for films that don’t follow a standard story structure, as it allows for a more thorough exploration for the viewer, but this film didn’t hit quite as hard for me as other Best Picture nominees. Still, after the credits rolled, I fund my mind dissecting and rolling over the events of the film, trying to piece together moments I might have missed, and lining up motivations that perhaps evaded my notice, so, even if it wasn’t my favorite, Roma lingered in my mind in a profound manner. So much of this film is revealed through subtleties and in what is left unsaid. The screenplay’s universality, crafted with love and precision by Cuarón drawing on events from his own childhood, makes it a front-runner for the Best Original Screenplay award.

Newcomer Yalitza Aparicio’s performance as Cleo is a triumph, as she exudes an earnestness that makes the character both sympathetic and relatable. Keeping the character grounded gives her an honest quality, one that makes her compelling to watch, and invests the viewer in her journey. However, facing Gaga, Colman, and Close will be a tough battle to win, though Aparicio, if she walks away with the gold on Oscar night, is 100% deserving. Same goes for de Tavira, who gives an understated performance as the suffering matriarch who aims to keep her family together as she feels her life falling apart.

However, since I interpreted the writing as one of the strongest facets of this film, I also found myself connecting more with the “behind the scenes” efforts. The cinematography is excellent, as is the production design, and I won’t be surprised if it nabs trophies for both. It might sound superficial, but a film that is already beautiful in its writing and performances is often buoyed even more when it looks beautiful, too, and Roma is no exception to that. And Cuarón, the favorite for Best Director, wholly deserves to take home that honor for the extensive work he put in to make this project what it is.

Whether or not it takes home the Best Picture gold – and I’m pretty sure it will – Roma is basically a shoo-in for Best Foreign Language Film, and is virtually guaranteed to score multiple awards on Oscar night. Seeing a project that Cuarón put so much effort into earn so many accolades is rewarding in itself, especially because he is a filmmaker who comes across as someone who connects deeply with, and is steadfastly dedicated to his craft. And the fact that this film was made for Netflix count have a big impact on the way films made for streaming are treated by the Academy. As it currently stands, I believe this stunning film will go 5 for 10, but I won’t be surprised if it takes home even more.

Oscar Nominations: 10
Best Picture
Best Director (Cuarón)
Best Actress (Aparicio)
Best Supporting Actress (de Tavira)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Foreign Language Film
Best Cinematography
Best Production Design
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing

Best Picture Countdown #4: A Star is Born

“Music is essentially twelve notes between any octave. Twelve notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over. All the artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes.”Sam Elliott as Bobby Maine in A Star is Born (2018)

Early into awards-speculation season, Bradley Cooper’s highly-anticipated directorial debut A Star is Born seemed a clear front-runner for some big trophies, but as awards season reaches its peak, the film has become more of an underdog. The latest in a string of four remakes, A Star is Born chronicles the turbulent love story of rock star Jackson Maine and aspiring songstress Ally – played by vocal powerhouse Lady Gaga – as they struggle to balance the pressures of fame and their personal demons while preserving their relationship and passion for music.

220px-A_Star_is_BornThis film manages a monumental achievement in telling a story that has been told before, yet still making it emotionally engrossing for the viewer. I personally had some issues with the ideas presented in the film – such as the message the last song (as beautiful as Gaga sings it) seems to be giving – which spurred some disappointment. But disregarding my little quibbles, the narrative strikes familiar beats and treads well-known ground, and yet, feels fresh and new, in large part thanks to sizzling chemistry between Cooper and Gaga. Their mesmerizing performances make this film.

Despite what might be a career-best performance by Cooper and a thrilling big-screen debut by Gaga, the competition in both Best Actor and Actress categories is fierce – probably a little too fierce. Jackson Maine has to battle both Dick Cheney and Freddie Mercury, and Ally must take down a wife and a queen. But even if there are 99 other nominees in the room that night, I’m sure B-Coop and Gaga would pick one another to win.

And as much as I would LOVE for Sam Elliott – who is egregiously underrated, despite having one of the best narrator-voices out there – to take home the gold for Supporting Actor, Mahershala Ali’s performance in Green Book has been stomping over the competition all season, and that train doesn’t seem to be stopping. If Elliott had a bit more screen time it might be a different story, but despite it all, he gives an excellent performance as the growly-voiced brother of Cooper’s troubled crooner.

Obviously, at least one award is essentially guaranteed for this film, and that is Best Original Song for “Shallow.” I had chills the first time I heard a snippet of it in the trailer. It’s a great song and fully deserves the victory, end of. Cinematography also has a fair chance – it’s a gorgeous film, which makes it all the more shameful that Cooper is not nominated for his brilliant directing – but Adapted Screenplay has become a bit of a long-shot as the season rolls ahead. The other awards are all more or less toss-ups, too.

Even if it has become an underdog, and the blazing praise it received upon release has petered out to a respectable glimmer, A Star is Born cannot be fully counted out – not when it has resonated so deeply with audiences, through both the music and the story. It is a film born of passion, and that shines through onscreen – but I have my doubts it will take home the ultimate prize. Still, I am predicting that the film will go 2 for 8 on the night, though I’m hoping it will get 3.

 

Oscar Nominations: 8
Best Picture
Best Actor (Cooper)
Best Actress (Gaga)
Best Supporting Actor (Elliott)
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Sound Mixing
Best Cinematography
Best Original Song

Best Picture Countdown #5: Black Panther

“In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”Chadwick Boseman as T’Challah in Black Panther (2018)

In a world where audiences are growing weary of superhero movies in spite of their box office dominance, it is difficult for comic book films to break free from formulaic constraints and genre tropes. But Marvel’s Black Panther defied the odds by subverting expectations and earning the first ever Best Picture nomination for a superhero film.

Black_Panther_film_posterBlack Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler, chronicles the rise of T’Challah as the titular hero as he seeks to protect the ones he loves and the country of Wakanda from a foe who threatens to expose their secrets to the world. It is one of the first Marvel movies to think “beyond the cape,” as it features a unique world and culture, a fully three-dimensional villain with motives that mark him more man than monster, and gorgeous effects, costumes, and music that combine to weave a powerful story while maintaining Marvel’s trademark spectacle, heart, and humor. It is also probably one of the Marvel films that audiences can connect with the most, and helped to reinvigorate weary audiences and amp them up for future films.

Though Black Panther did not garner any acting nods, I will not be surprised if it scores wins for both Production Design and Costume Design; particularly the latter. The costumes are all fantastic and gorgeously designed, though The Favourite will be a tough contender to beat.

Ludwig Göransson’s score is also up, but it will be a challenge to take down the likes of returning champion Alexandre Desplat and Terence Blanchard, but it could be anyone’s game, especially since Göransson’s efforts helped set the tone of the film and gave it a distinct, rich sound. Less likely is a Best Original Song victory for “All the Stars,” simply because ASiB is almost guaranteed to win.

At first, I understood the opinion of those who believe this film is unworthy of such distinction, even though I didn’t agree. After all, I don’t think Black Panther is the best superhero film ever, and many deserving films (*cough* The Dark Knight*cough*) have been unjustly ignored by the Academy in the past. But Black Panther‘s nomination isn’t about those snubbed films. The Academy has changed over the years, and the fact that it is finally acknowledging the profound effect of superhero movies on the world of cinema is a monumental step forward for “popular” films. In what seems to be an endless stream of films featuring masked crusaders, multi-hero team-ups, and high-stakes battles to the death, Black Panther is commendable for producing a fresh, engrossing story featuring relevant real-world issues and introducing characters that have already become some of Marvel’s most fully-realized and compelling.

Regardless of its massive and well-deserved success, I don’t think Black Panther will be able to topple the other favorites in the race for Best Picture this year. It is a great film – and a phenomenal superhero film – but T’Challah and co. will be facing the fight of their lives on Oscar night. But I sincerely hope it does not go home empty handed, and am predicting it will go 2/7 on the night. I am also looking forward to seeing the stunning cast on the red carpet, representing this fantastic film!

Oscar Nominations: 7
Best Picture
Best Original Score
Best Original Song
Best Costume Design
Best Production Design
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing 

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

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.

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