Film Review: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Dir: Rob Letterman
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy, and more.
Runtime: 1hr 44min
Spoiler Level: Light!

As someone who was around back in the late nineties, when the Pokemon sensation swept the globe, I remember the craze when it was at full glory. Not only that, but I actively participated in it. I had a poster of the original 151 Pokemon over my bed, so I could look at them all every night before I went to sleep. I wore my favorite shirt, emblazoned with a Pikachu, until it was too ratty to wear. I’ve played every game since the Blue and Red era, and I forced my poor mother (love you, Mom!) to take me to see Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back! back in 1999. Needless to say, she did not take me to see Pokemon The Movie 2000 – which I still contend is a great movie, but that’s beside the point…

Pokémon_Detective_Pikachu_teaser_poster.jpgDetective Pikachu follows 21-year-old Tim Goodman (Smith) as he attempts to solve the circumstances behind his father’s disappearance with assistance from a caffeine-addicted, wisecracking, deerstalker-hat-wearing Pikachu. But the search for clues leads the unlikely duo into a mystery more intricate than either could have anticipated, and finding answers could save or condemn all of Ryme City.

Honestly, the biggest surprise in this film is that it’s good. And I don’t mean that it’s just a good Pokemon movie – it is a legitimately good movie overall. It works on a level that many other video-game or anime or cartoon adaptations have failed to achieve… because it doesn’t rely solely on nostalgia or fan-service to make a quick buck, nor does it neglect the source material so not to alienate new viewers. Instead, Detective Pikachu balances well-placed nods to the fans (both old and new) while presenting a film with believable characters and motivations, a story that is intriguing to follow, and it takes great care in bringing everyone’s favorite pocket monsters to life onscreen in a way that fans have been yearning for since 1999, or even earlier.

Despite the fact that Pikachu himself is CGI, the chemistry between the leads is superb, especially their banter and the evolution of their relationship as the story develops. Justice Smith is easy to root for, Pikachu/Reynolds offers steady doses of both heart and humor, Kathryn Newton (and her Psyduck) is a charming reporter eager for the truth, and both Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy, known for their decidedly more “serious” work, give solid performances.

I haven’t played the Detective Pikachu game – I’ve stuck to the main games – so I knew basically nothing about the plot going into the film. The story flows well, and there are parts of it that are predictable and familiar – it is a “kids” movie, after all – but I was genuinely surprised and impressed by a couple of twists. As in, my jaw dropped and I said, “Oh my GOD” to my friend at one point. It’s not Sherlockian-level sleuthing taking place, but it’s also not Blue’s Clues level, if you catch my drift. The dialogue isn’t dumbed down, it’s sharp and won’t give adults a headache. And it feels like the people who made this film actually know Pokemon. As a longtime fan, it is awesome to see Charizard’s flamethrower come to life, Pidgeotto soaring in the air, Loudred beat-boxing in a club, and Magikarp flapping uselessly on the ground. The Pokemon aren’t crammed into the film to try and appease fans, thrown in wherever for throwback or nostalgia reasons; they have purpose, are immersed in the world, the effects are impressive, and their design does true justice to the originals. No, that’s not a dig at Sonic… or maybe it is

Now, does this mean this film will be able to lure non-Pokemon fans into seats? Maybe not – though a few might make the venture based on the adorable titular character, voiced expertly and hilariously by Reynolds. However, it’s definitely the sort of film that won’t bore parents being dragged to the theater by their Poke-crazed kids. If this had come out when I was ten, my mom would have taken me to see the sequel. It has a cohesive narrative, a snappy script, and doesn’t delve so deeply into fan-service that the uninitiated can’t follow what’s going on. It’s one of the first films of this nature that feels like it can make the cross-medium jump without crashing and burning. It’s a solid mystery film for Pokefans young, old, and new, and though it hits familiar beats, it doesn’t feel tired or overdone, and might even generate interest for a new era of fans. 

Sure, non-fans might not be able to pick out their favorite Pokemon puttering about in the background – I got treated to Gengar and Blastoise, two of my favorites, though I missed my beloved Alakazam – but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the film. References may fly over the heads of Poke-novices, but will warm the hearts of wannabe champions from Kanto to Unova. Let’s face it folks – we all live in a Pokemon world. And it terms of video-game film adaptations, Detective Pikachu might just be the greatest master of them all.

Overall rating: 8/10

Film Review: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Dir: Russo Bros
Starring: Everyone, really.
Runtime: 3hr1min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Light (ANY MAJOR SPOILERS WILL BE BELOW A CUT)

20190425_172726_HDR.jpgAt last, the moment Marvel fans have been waiting for is finally upon us – the hotly-anticipated sequel to 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War and the culmination of a 22-film saga that began with 2008’s Iron Man has been released for eager audiences to devour. Avengers: Endgame is an epic three-hour adventure that offers an explosive, entertaining, and emotional ending to  the first major chapter of a steadily expanding film universe.

Avengers: Endgame follows the remaining non-dusty Avengers in the post-Snap world as they come to terms with Thanos’s actions and seek to inject hope into their seemingly-dismal circumstances.

There were several things that Endgame needed to accomplish on the heels of the dramatic Infinity War, and hundreds of dangling threads to tie together from multiple movies in the franchise. I don’t know how the Russo brothers, the writers, and everyone who works on these films does it, but somehow, some way, they managed to balance out fan-service, humor, heart, action, a balanced narrative, and a multitude of characters and their interactions in a huge film universe to create a thrilling and satisfying conclusion. Sure, some folks can probably nitpick and find a stone or two left un-turned, but of all the factors fans expected this film the deliver, the most important is probably closure. And though certain fans may disagree with how certain events played out, this film felt complete when the credits began to roll.

Of course, the core of the Avengers are the original squad, with RDJ as Iron Man / Tony Stark, Chris Evans as Captain America / Steve Rogers, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Mark Ruffalo as Hulk / Bruce Banner, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow / Natasha Romanoff, and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye / Clint Barton. They’ve been with us the longest, have fought the most battles, and have established themselves as characters who are important to fans, and have had a lasting impact on audiences. Appropriately, much of the spotlight centers on them this time around – not entirely on them, because there are a lot of characters to give screen-time to, but primarily on them – and it gives each a chance to show how far their characters have come since their initial appearances. And by the end, each of their journeys feels finished, their arcs complete, their characters fully-developed.

Endgame delivers the usual Marvel staples – witty banter and memorable quotes, bombastic fight scenes and action sequences, stunning visuals, and throwbacks to prior films and other Marvel lore. It’s all too easy for MCU films to rely on hallmarks and a successful formula – I mean, if it works, it works – but even 22 films deep, this installment offers up twists and surprises. Some familiar, but perhaps unexpected faces show up. Some plot points seem predictable, but take jarring detours. Even the expected events are engrossing. It didn’t feel like I was sitting in a movie theater seat for three hours, and not once did I think, “Is it over yet?” I laughed, I sat in open-mouthed shock, and yes… there were tears. And when it was over, the fan in me was so happy to have been along for the entire ride, and I’m excited to see where the MCU goes next.

For a film series that has been churning out successful film after successful film, barreling forward and building momentum since 2008, Endgame offers a finale that is sure to keep audiences engaged from start to finish. The MCU has experienced some bumps in the road and has battled through fatigue in order to keep viewers in their seats, but they have also proven the merit of superhero films time and time again, and when it matters most, they deliver the closure that the Infinity Saga needs.

Overall rating: 10/10

***********UNDER THIS ARE THE SPOILERS, BEWARE, STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS!!!!! THERE IS A READ MORE THING UNDER THIS BUT I KNOW IT SOMETIMES DOESN’T WORK, SO HERE IS YOUR WARNING!!!!!*************

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Film Review: Dumbo (2019)

Dir: Tim Burton
Starring: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, etc.
Runtime: 1hr52min
Rating: PG
Spoiler level: Light

When I first heard that Disney planned to put out a live-action version of the 1941 animated film Dumbo, I – and many others – had reservations. The original Dumbo is a classic, revered for the emotional impact it had on audiences, even though it tells a simple story. However, the addition of Tim Burton as director boosted my hopes, and when I saw the first trailer, featuring Aurora’s haunting rendition of “Baby Mine,” I knew I was going to see it.

In the 2019 remake of Disney’s classic, visionary director Tim Burton re-imagines the beloved big-eared flying pachyderm in his distinct, signature style while retaining the charm of the original and expanding upon powerful themes, though an occasionally wooden screenplay does diminish the film’s “mystique.”

Dumbo_(2019_film)Per usual for Burton’s work, a major strength of the film is the visuals. Brilliant color schemes and gorgeous, intricate sets help create an atmosphere of magic and awe for the circus scenes, and Dumbo himself – though he shares the spotlight with a variety of new characters created for the film – is adorable, with his massive ears and happy squeaks. Though he never speaks, his emotions are clear in his eyes and his expressions and he carries the heart of the film as he soars to the furthest reaches of a star-speckled tent. Frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman also offers up an incredible score that helps generate a sense of wonder and play homage to themes from the original.

If you’ve never seen the original Dumbo, you were spared the trauma of particularly heartbreaking scenes – which are recreated in this film, and are similarly wrenching. The inclusion of the classic “Baby Mine,” sung by Miss Atlantis (Sharon Rooney,) certainly tugs on the ol’ heartstrings, and Dumbo’s sorrow radiates off the screen in a way that will probably scar a whole new generation of children.

The cast is spectacular – Farrell as veteran Holt Farrier, a widowed, one-armed father of two bright children and Green’s acrobatic Colette, “Goddess of the Heavens”, are standouts, as are the supporting circus acts and DeVito’s Max Medici, owner of the circus. Keaton is excellent as the smarmy, deviously debonair villain, V.A. Vandemere, and the kids, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) shine as they support Dumbo, teaching him that his ears can be a blessing rather than a hindrance.

The narrative strives to expand upon the simplicity of the original by introducing new ideas into a basic and straightforward story – and, at times, it shines. Messages about being true to yourself, not letting fear stop you from flying after your dreams, accepting your flaws, etc, are conveyed in a meaningful manner that will hopefully resonate with young audiences. Milly is a logically-minded young heroine who provides a scientific approach to Dumbo’s abilities, and the supporting circus characters all band together to create a compelling idea of a family that is “made,” two ideas that were not present in the original. But, at the core, it’s still a film about an elephant that can fly, which doesn’t get lost in the flurry of new plot-lines. In fact, in the original, Dumbo doesn’t fly until near the end of the film – but viewers don’t have to wait that long this time around.

Also – for those wondering – Burton’s version (obviously) omits the controversial crow characters, “Song of the Roustabouts,” and takes a firmer stance on the treatment of circus animals – all elements of the original film that are, in retrospect, uncomfortable to watch. So, if nothing else, 2019’s Dumbo does offer some much-needed, modern updates.

Obviously, the original Dumbo, with a paltry run-time of 64 minutes, told a story without frills and superfluity. But the 2019 version manages to maintain the core message while introducing new characters and ideas, and Burton achieves a balance that, for the most part, is solid. It doesn’t try to outshine the original, and distances itself enough to avoid unflattering comparisons about which version did what better. However, the dialogue is occasionally clunky, with unnecessary explanations that bog down the film. Many obvious lines could have easily been removed, as they were inferred by a previous thought, or expressed clearly in the character’s visible emotions. With a cleaner, sharper script, the film would have run much smoother – but regardless, it’s still a charming and whimsical ride, and a pleasure to watch.

Of all the Disney films Tim Burton could have re-imagined, the tale of Dumbo, the flying elephant, was a perfect fit for his skills and his vision. It might not have the same simple magic of the 1941 classic, but instead creates it’s own spectacle, with a patchwork crew of misfit characters that all band together around an adorable, beloved, big-eared hero.

 

 Overall rating: 8/10

One Shot #4: Babe (1995)

There is nothing like a good, wholesome film; the kind you can pop in and watch at anytime, but are perhaps best on a rainy afternoon, when you can curl up on the couch with a warm blanket and a cup of coffee, or tea, or hot cocoa. A film that warms the heart and touches the soul. And one such film is a 1995 Best Picture nominee, Babe – the wonderful tale of a sheep-herding pig who defies the incredible odds stacked against him.

The single shot that encompasses the film happens in the final sequence, shortly before the iconic “That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do,” line:

babe

As much as this film is about a sweet-natured pig who just wants to belong, it’s also about his owner – a taciturn man named Arthur Hoggett, played by James Cromwell. The relationship between the two evolves over the course of the narrative, from a standard man/pig dynamic of “owner” and “owned” to an unlikely team working together for a common goal. This shot is the epitome of their bond – after a rousing success at a competition, silencing their naysayers, man and pig stand side by side, basking in the applause. But who garners the most credit? Babe, of course; which is why the shot is centered mainly on him, and only Hoggett’s legs are shown. Babe is our unlikely, curly-tailed hero, the one who deserves the focus. Yet, the framing of the shot still gives the impression that they are a steadfast team.

I mean… just look at that face. Babe is iconic. An absolute legend. If he were a morning, he’d be golden and new. This is one of the few movies I can watch over, and over, and over again and still get emotional. It is just a classic, well-done, and well-made movie, and if you haven’t seen it, you absolutely should.

 

Film Review: Captain Marvel (2019)

Dir: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Ben Mendelsohn, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, Gemma Chan, etc.
Runtime: 2hr4min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Anything major will be marked under a ‘Read more’!

Captain Marvel, the latest origin story in the extensive Marvel Cinematic Universe, follows the titular heroine (Larson) in the pre-Thanos snap world as she confronts her mysterious past and attempts to save countless lives from a danger that threatens more than one world.

Captain_Marvel_poster.jpg

The last few Marvel films we’ve gotten – Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp – have all subverted genre tropes in an effort to stave off fatigue and prevent audiences from getting bored. Following these films, while also being the prelude to the hotly-anticipated Avengers: Endgame, is no easy feat, and makes it difficult to impress the folks who expect these films to keep getting bigger and better. Captain Marvel treads familiar ground and largely sticks to a known formula, but offers up a couple of surprises and manages to give a fresh, 90’s-infused twist to the standard superhero origin story as we are introduced to the fearless heroine who might hold the future of the Avengers in her fire-shootin’ hands.

This film starts off a little slow, in large part thanks to some info-dumping that drags the opening out a bit – but it levels out once the focus is centered on “Vers,” as our butt-kicking former pilot and current badass is known. It might be tough for some audience members to connect with Captain Marvel at first, since her introduction comes a few weeks before the most anticipated film in the MCU’s history, and this installment takes us back to an era before Nick Fury’s eyepatch instead of moving the overall narrative ahead. It does reference other Marvel films, but thankfully avoids obnoxious fan-service levels of pandering. The frequent 90’s references, nods to a bygone era that fans my age know so well from our own childhoods, do start to feel a little tired at times. Blockbuster and slow loading screens were a nice touch and hit some comedic notes, but once I saw Troll dolls and a Koosh ball, it got old.

Larson plays the role of Carol with an affable charm, tossing out jokes in the heat of battle one moment, then slamming enemies into walls with her photon rays the next. But there’s also a softness to her, especially when it comes to her lost past; she may be a great fighter, but she has demons to face, though she manages to avoid drowning in the same angst that many an Avenger has succumbed to. Her personality slides easily into a rapport with a young Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, as the two team up to keep power from falling into the hands of a dangerous foe. The de-aging used on the actors (both Jackson and Clark Gregg) in order to make them fit into the timeline isn’t a major distraction except for a couple of dodgy moments, which is a credit to both the makeup and special effects teams. The cast overall is great, both lead and supporting – and a couple of familiar faces pop up, who viewers might not have expected to see.

The narrative hits familiar beats – a hero struggling with her identity, a villain who seeks retribution, intergalactic battles, blue people, you know, the usual standard fare – but just when it seems that it’s going to be the same-old, same-old, a wrench gets thrown into the mix that makes the story veer off onto a new track. The fight scenes are cool, the drama compelling, and the pacing smooths out after the first half hour or so. So while there might be some turbulence at the start of the film, it doesn’t last long, and Captain Marvel transforms into a thrilling ride that aims to add another vital piece to the puzzle that is the MCU.

As a female who has seen just about every Marvel film on premiere night since 2010, and who wrote one of her film class final papers on Black Widow in The Avengers – I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing a strong woman kick ass on the silver screen. And Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel can duke it out with the best of them. All that remains is to see what part she plays in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame – and I’m confident she will be a shining torch of hope for the future of the MCU.

Overall rating: 8/10

SPOILERS BELOW, BEWARE!

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Best Picture Countdown #1: The Favourite

“I have sent for some lobsters. I thought we could race them and then eat them.”Olivia Colman as Queen Anne in The Favourite (2018)

Of all eight films nominated for Best Picture at the 91st Academy Awards, Yorgos Lanthimos’s semi-ridiculous period dramedy The Favourite impressed me the most. A thrilling combination of absurd comedy, stellar dialogue, and engaging, unique characters, The Favorite “re-imagines” authentic historical figures and events from the early 18th century, exploring the complex relationship between lifelong friends Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill and the unexpected arrival of a distant cousin who challenges Churchill’s place as the queen’s “favourite.”

MV5BOTA1MTY0MDYxMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzY5MTk2NjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_The Favourite also features a dramatic duck race and a group of men hurling oranges at a naked dude. So, that’s the type of film it is. Yorgos Lanthimos’s visionary directorial style and the wry black humor of Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s script is certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea – or, in this case, their cup of bowel-inflaming hot cocoa – but I found this enchantingly-bizarre film utterly riveting from start to finish. The dialogue in particular is a highlight, with historical speech patterns and trends interspersed with and influenced by current, more modern humor. It’s a jarring combination at first, but gives the film a comedic edge and a unique flair that sets it apart from the other nominees, especially because The Favourite also digs into the emotional, giving depth and motivation to the individual characters, and making their interactions all the more compelling, especially as the rivalry between Sarah and Abigail builds and tensions ignite to life-ruining proportions.

The film’s cast is led by a trio of prolific actresses – Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz as Sarah Churchill, Lady of Marlborough, and Emma Stone as Abigail Hill – and their performances are a roaring success, considering each earned an acting nomination. Regina King seems to be the one to beat in the Supporting Actress category for her turn in If Beale Street Could Talk, but my personal choice is Weisz. Her sharp performance as Lady Marlborough, rife with cutting wit, simmering rage, and festering envy mixed with careful aloofness to mask buried pain blazes against Stone’s desperate, calculated Abigail Hill who seeks to do whatever it takes to reclaim her lost status. Stone is excellent as well, in a role very unlike her usual fare, but I think cast-mate Weisz just edges her out.

Colman dominates the screen as the often-hysterical, but oddly-lovable Queen Anne. Her performance as the troubled monarch, who led a life “stalked by tragedy,” is defined by a scene where she sits on the cusp of a party, all dressed up in finery yet confined to a wheelchair, and watches as her guests and courtesans dance and engage without her as the music swells through the room. That scene alone made her my favorite for the Best Actress race, as well as the scene of her explaining her “children” to Abigail. Nicholas Hoult also deserves a shout-out for his performance as Harley, where he is nearly unrecognizable in a powdered wig and full makeup. His interactions with Weisz and Stone are a major comedic plus.

This film, like many fellow Best Picture nominees, is “based on true events,” and much of it cannot be proven as accurate. However, The Favourite does not present itself as a “blow-by-blow” representation of history, nor does it market itself as a faithful representation. I don’t even think it says “based on true events” on any of the posters or taglines I’ve seen for the film, so I doubt it’s part of the marketing strategy. The people depicted in the film are real, as are several of the events surrounding it, but it never tries to convince the audience that any of it is true. And that is the best kind of historical adaptation. One that tells its own narrative influenced by reality without carelessly inserting potential defamation or pushing any sort of underlying agenda, and it makes the audience more interested in what the “truth” really is. Despite his masterful vision, director Yorgos Lanthimos is a bit of a dark horse in the Oscar race, but when it comes to a film this weird, anything can happen.

On the surface – which does matter when it comes to film – The Favourite is an all-around outstanding production. It’s gorgeous to look at; beautifully shot. The set design, the costumes, the lighting… in a scene where Stone’s character is covered in mud, I felt as though I could smell the stinking sludge on her clothes, or the beef slab being slapped onto Queen Anne’s ailing leg, or the scent of smoke when Weisz is practicing her aim. The footsteps tapping through the halls as the characters move about create both a sense of foreboding and anticipation. And the music is great, including several famous baroque and classical composers and what I believe to be a snippet from one of my favorite Camille Saint-Saëns symphonies, also prominently featured in Babe (1995). You know – the talking pig movie. Anyway…

The Favourite has earned glowing praise from critics and audiences, but when it comes to the ultimate battle on Oscar night, it faces brutal competition. Roma certainly seems poised to win, which would be a much-deserved victory. But for this viewer, The Favourite has emerged as top film for the Best Picture race, and even if it does not take home that treasured honor, I am predicting it will go 4 for 10 on the night, though I won’t protest to a couple more.

 

Oscar Nominations: 10
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actress (Colman)
Best Supporting Actress (Stone & Weisz)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Cinematography
Best Production Design
Best Costume Design
Best Film Editing 

 

 

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.

BlacKkKlansman

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

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 #6: Green Book

“You never win with violence. You only win when you maintain your dignity.”Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley in Green Book (2018)

Several of this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees have endured significant scrutiny and controversy, and the Peter Farrelly helmed Green Book, which depicts the relationship between African American pianist Don Shirley and his driver Tony Vallelonga as they tour the deep south in 1962, is not exempt. But while critics clash over just how accurate the “based on true events” tagline is – resulting in valid criticism being levied at the film- this comedy-drama has been racking up a fair amount of awards this season.

Green_Book_(2018_poster).png

Much like Vice, this film, while it might not depict 100% true-as-they-happened events, contains elements of truth that shine through to deliver a valuable message. Green Book is carried by the powerful chemistry between the leading actors, Viggo Mortensen as crude, but affable Tony Vallelonga and Mahershala Ali as poised yet conflicted Don Shirley. As I’ve said many times before, I could watch Viggo Mortenson spew obscenities and eat fried chicken for two hours and not be bored, and Mahershala Ali is utterly entrancing in every role he’s in. Two actors with boundless talent placed opposite one another in the same movie is basically a recipe for success, but while Ali is clear-cut favorite for the Best Supporting Actor award, my man Viggo, as much as I adore him, will likely have to wait a bit longer for Best Actor Gold. Still, the duo is so effective it makes me wonder if this film would have garnered so much praise without them on the cast. I remember seeing the trailer for the first time, and, as soon as I saw their names attached to it, my reaction was, “SIGN ME UP,” and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

The screenplay – which is more or less a letter of admiration from a son to his father – is a strong contender for Best Original Screenplay, though the category is a tough one this year, and Film Editing is up in the air. But really, Green Book‘s strength is in the relationship depicted between Ali and and Mortensen’s characters. Watching their connection to one another evolve from begrudging partnership to genuine, if unlikely friendship in an era of tenuous race relations is the heart of this film, and likely the reason it has resonated with so many people. At times both humorous and heartwarming, there’s plenty of drama to combat the levity, and an earnestness to the film that keeps it from straying into “sappy” territory.

As much as I personally enjoyed this film, the controversy swarming it’s validity and the overwhelming competition will almost certainly keep it from securing the ultimate prize on Oscar night. Regardless, I am predicting that Green Book will go 2/5 on the night, and do recommend that skeptics at least see the film before forming opinions about it.

Oscar Nominations: 5
Best Picture
Best Actor (Mortensen)
Best Supporting Actor (Ali)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Film Editing