Oscar Blitz 5: Stories

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For my final Oscar Blitz post of 2018, I concentrate on those artists most responsible for shaping the stories we see on screen: writers, directors, and editors. Then I turn to the biggest feature film award of all, Best Picture.

Before I do that, I wanted to note that this year I’ve decided not to go into the specialized feature film categories in any detail, mostly because I haven’t managed to see any of the animated or foreign language nominees, and I have only seen one of the documentaries (Faces Places). However, I wanted to report the odds in each of these categories for those people preparing to fill out their Oscar Pool ballots. In the Animated Feature category, the odds overwhelmingly favor Coco. The other two categories each have two relatively close top contenders, with A Fantastic Women leading The Square for Best Foreign Language Film, and Faces Places with a slight edge over Icarus in the Documentary Feature category.

I fell totally in love with [Chile’s] A Fantastic Woman. I didn’t know anything about it going in. This will make me sound completely daft, but I didn’t know it was about a transgender guy [actually, a transgender woman] until very far into that film. It helped me, a straight guy who’s pretty open-minded, to really understand what it must be like in the LGBTQ world. It was honest. I loved it. To me, that was one of the most powerful movies I saw all year.

—Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot #1

With that said, let’s look at some of the best storytellers of 2017.

The nominees are…

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Call Me By Your Name
The Disaster Artist
Logan
Molly’s Game
Mudbound

This is one of those “lock” categories, with Call Me By Your Name an almost certain win. In addition to being considered an “unadaptable” novel, the screenwriter is longtime Oscar favorite James Ivory. Its chances are also increased by the fact that there is just not much competition in this category because it was an incredibly weak year for adaptations. Since I’ve read Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, I can say that it is a very good adaptation of the novel and they made interesting, personal choices with the material, but that film just isn’t getting much Oscar love. Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game might have had more of a chance if it had relied less on voiceover—I feel that this writing category favors poetic or snappy dialogue, not interior monologues.

Will Win: Call Me By Your Name

Should Win: Call Me By Your Name

Should Have Been Nominated: Lady MacBeth instead of Logan

Best Original Screenplay:
The Big Sick
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The Original Screenplay category is the opposite of the Adapted Screenplay category. There are probably at least ten scripts that deserve to be here. In fact, this is one of the closest races in terms of the odds, with Get Out having a slight edge over Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and then Lady Bird not far behind. This award is often given to a writer-director who is most likely not going to win Best Director, in which case, I think the odds are dead on.

Will Win: Get Out

Should Win: Get Out

Should Have Been Nominated: Ingrid Goes West instead of The Shape of Water

Best Film Editing:
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
I, Tonya
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This is one of the most interesting lists, and shows that the Film Editors branch is not much swayed by what is in the air. Of course, I’m not sure how the politics of who is actually editing these films works either, so maybe this is simply a question of career longevity or reputation. In any case, the odds favor Dunkirk, but Baby Driver isn’t too far behind, and I’m pretty much fine with that. However, I think that I, Tonya probably had the most difficult beyond-the-script editing job. I also thought that Lady Bird had superior editing to either The Shape of Water or Three Billboards so I’m sorry it is not on this list.

Will Win: Dunkirk

Should Win: I, Tonya

Should Have Been Nominated: Lady Bird instead of The Shape of Water

This was a hard category. Dunkirk was my least favorite — the editing was confusing, maybe because there were too many stories going on and everyone but Harry Styles looked the fucking same to me. Three Billboards wasn’t edited badly, it just wasn’t my movie. I loved The Shape of Water, but there was nothing extraordinary about its editing. There was complexity to the editing of Baby Driver and I, Tonya, and I just liked I, Tonya more—they took a lot of risks, like cutting in people speaking to the camera and breaking other rules, and it fucking worked.

—Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot #1

Best Director:
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

This is another category which is apparently a lock, with Guillermo del Toro the favorite by a mile, which is bullshit. The Shape of Water is perfectly fine and I don’t begrudge him winning per se, but this race should be much closer than it is (Nolan is a distant second in the odds and Greta Gerwig is a dark horse with a better chance than either Peele or Anderson). At least the fact that anyone here would be a first-time winner is nice.

Will Win: Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water

Should Win: Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird

Should Have Been Nominated: Sean Baker for The Florida Project and David Lowery for A Ghost Story instead of Jordan Peele for Get Out and Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread

Christopher Nolan got involved with a huge undertaking [Dunkirk], but he made a confusing film, so he failed. [Jordan Peele’s] Get Out is well done, but let’s not get carried away. Paul Thomas Anderson made a really good movie [Phantom Thread], but the story is limited in scope. [Lady Bird’s] Greta Gerwig is a great writer and director, and I can’t wait to see what she does next. But Guillermo del Toro just ruled by making a genre film into a movie that speaks on every fucking level—and he did it with a limited amount of words, which is the most impressive kind of filmmaking.

—Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot #2

Best Picture:
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This is another incredibly tight race. I have absolutely no idea who is going to win this one. Unfortunately for those Get Out fans out there, the race is really between Three Billboards and The Shape of Water. Get Out and Lady Bird are neck-and-neck for dark horse status. The latter two should not be counted out, however, since preferential voting in this category can mean that second and third choices that are uniformly liked can sneak into the running quite easily. The voters rank their top five and my ranking would probably put Lady Bird at the top, followed by Phantom Thread, Three Billboards, Get Out, and Dunkirk.

Will Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Win: Lady Bird

Should Have Been Nominated: A Ghost Story and The Florida Project instead of Call Me By Your Name and The Post.

Which of these stories would you like to see take home one of these golden boys tomorrow? Come on, people, I know you have opinions!

2018 Oscar Series
Oscar Nominations: 90 Degree Angle
Oscar Nominations: Breakfast of Champions
Oscar Blitz 1: Sound
Oscar Blitz 2: Sight
Oscar Blitz 3: Stars
Oscar Blitz 4: Shorts

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Women 101—From A to Z for Realz

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Abigail Adams, second First Lady of the United States

Abigail Adams, second First Lady of the United States

Last year, I decided to create a series for Women’s History Month, highlighting lesser-known women from all walks of life—abolitionists and activists, adventurers and explorers, soldiers and spies, and professional pioneers. My posting plans were very ambitious and I didn’t quite manage the twice-a-week schedule I laid out for myself. What’s worse, I didn’t manage to cover either Abigail Adams or Zenobia anywhere.

This year, I will be aiming for a more modest schedule of once a week, starting next week after the Oscars are over and done with. To make sure I don’t repeat my error from last year, my first post will be on politicians and political wives and my final post of the month will be on warrior queens.

So, tune in next week for Strange Bedfellows!

In the meantime, check out my previous posts in this Women 101 series:
From Abigail Adams to Zenobia
Birds of the Air
Wasps and Witches
Soldiers and Spies in the Civil War
Soldiers and Spies in World War II
Adventurers and Explorers

Queen Zenobia Addressing Her Soldiers (1725) by Giambattista Tiepolo

Queen Zenobia Addressing Her Soldiers (1725) by Giambattista Tiepolo

Oscar Blitz 4: Shorts

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In this penultimate post before the big event, we look at the nominated shorts. I usually see these with La Maratonista, but since she has left me for the wilds of Atlanta, I was all on my own this year. I miss you, Maratonista!

The nominees are…

Best Animated Short Film
Dear Basketball
Garden Party
Lou
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

I have to say, I didn’t look at the odds before I saw these films and I was stunned to realize that Dear Basketball is the clear favorite. I guess because it’s Kobe Bryant and lots of people have seen it and L.A. voters love him? I don’t know, it’s just not that good. And it seems like such a vanity project. Lou, this year’s Pixar entry, is second in the running. It’s a typical Pixar short—sweet and charming with a bit of nostalgia. My favorite of the five is probably Garden Party; it’s very clever and the animation is stunning. Negative Space is simple and poetic, but I didn’t love the animation style. Revolting Rhymes is this year’s Gruffalo, but, you know, good. After all, it’s Roald Dahl.

Will Win: Dear Basketball (I think this depends on whether voters still have to see all five films to be able to vote in this category.)

Should Win: Garden Party

Best Live Action Short Film
DeKalb Elementary
The Eleven O’Clock
My Nephew Emmett
The Silent Child
Watu Wote/All of Us

This was a very heavy program with multiple guns in the mix. The only levity to be found was in the Australian nominee, The Eleven O’Clock, which is about a psychiatrist whose patient thinks he is a psychiatrist—a real delight. Three of the dramas were based on true stories and, while I liked all three, I feel like that is cheating somehow. The only one that has a chance, and is in fact the front-runner, is Dekalb Elementary. It is very tense and emotionally affecting. If academy members saw these collections in the last few days of voting, this will most definitely win. My favorite was The Silent Child, which somehow managed to be heartwarming and rage-making at the same time. And the little girl, played by deaf newcomer Maisie Sly (pictured above), was absolutely adorable.

Will Win: DeKalb Elementary

Should Win: The Silent Child

Best Documentary Short Subject
Edith+Eddie
Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Heroin(e)
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

I haven’t seen any of the documentary shorts. I don’t usually see that program because it runs very long and, in any case, this year it didn’t seem to be playing near me. In the odds, there are three front-runners (Edith+Eddie, Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405, Heroin[e]) and two long shots (Knife Skills, Traffic Stop). I’m not sure anyone in L.A. thinks heaven actually is a traffic jam on the 405, so I’d stick with the front-runner by a nose, Edith+Eddie.

Will Win: Edith+Eddie

Should Win: ?

Have you seen any of the nominated shorts? Which ones would you like to see take home one of these golden boys?

2018 Oscar Series
Oscar Nominations: 90 Degree Angle
Oscar Nominations: Breakfast of Champions
Oscar Blitz 1: Sound
Oscar Blitz 2: Sight
Oscar Blitz 3: Stars

Oscar Blitz 3: Stars

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What would the Oscars be without stars? Pretty darn dull.

In a year with amazing performances, the acting nominees draw almost exclusively from the Best Picture nominees and I think that’s a shame. While these Best Actor and Actress lists are very good, and there is almost no one I’m rooting against, it turns out that I would have liked to see many other names on these lists.

The nominees are…

Actor in a Leading Role
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq

This is a better collection of nominees than I recall from recent years, but it’s too bad that the pool of great performances that seem to get considered for Best Actor continues to be so much smaller than for Best Actress. Usually we just get the leads from the Best Picture films with maybe one nominee from left field à la Denzel here. That said, I did think the other four nominees were standout performances in their respective films. I didn’t love Call Me By Your Name, but Timothée Chalamet’s work there really lifted it—though I suppose I might have thought he was “just being himself” if I hadn’t recently seen Lady Bird. Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastically precise in Phantom Thread in a role that requires walking a fine line between sympathetic and sociopath. As for Daniel Kaluuya, I still don’t know if I loved his performance in Get Out. For me, the strength of that movie is the script, not the acting. In any case, the odds are overwhelmingly in Gary Oldman’s favor here: It’s a good performance, he’s been around forever doing compelling work, and there is no real Darkest Hour backlash.

Will Win: Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour

Should Win: Timothée Chalamet for Call Me By Your Name

Should Have Been Nominated: Kyle Mooney for Brigsby Bear, Robert Pattinson for Good Time, Will Poulter for Detroit, and Jeremy Renner for Wind River. As much as I thought the nominated performances were good, I could easily see replacing any and all of the nominees (except maybe Chalamet) with any of these four strong performances.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I don’t love this list. As much as I liked Three Billboards, I’m not sure it merits taking up two spots here. And, while I’m thrilled that The Florida Project received anything, Willem Dafoe would probably be my third or fourth choice for a nomination from that film. Richard Jenkins? Most definitely one of those sweep-effect nominations. And we all know why Christopher Plummer was nominated. For the moment, Sam Rockwell is leading in the odds, with Willem Dafoe close behind and on the rise. This may be wishful thinking, but as more people see The Florida Project and realize it was somewhat robbed this year, this shift might lead to a surprise win on the big night.

Will Win: Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Win: Willem Dafoe for The Florida Project

Should Have Been Nominated: Gil Birmingham for Wind River, Tracy Letts for Lady Bird, Benny Safdie for Good Time, and Algee Smith for Detroit. That’s right, I’m replacing almost the whole damn list again. I’ll keep Dafoe.

Actress in a Leading Role
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post

This is a pretty good list. Two of these performances—Frances McDormand and Saoirse Ronan—were on my personal Top Five list as well. Sally Hawkins was the best thing about The Shape of Water by far and a horribly miscast Margot Robbie somehow managed to nail the role of Tonya Harding. Meryl Streep was predictably great as Katherine Graham but was the role really that notable? I’m not so sure, and there were plenty of incredible lead performances by women this year. Still McDormand seems almost as much of a sure thing as Gary Oldman, with Ronan a distant second.

Will Win: Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Win: Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird

Should Have Been Nominated: Melanie Lynskey for I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, Florence Pugh for Lady Macbeth, and Kristen Stewart for Personal Shopper, in place of Hawkins, Robbie, and Streep. If it were in my power, I would award mini honorary Oscars to Dafne Keen for Logan and Brooklynn Prince for The Florida Project.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

This is another list that managed to include some of my own choices for best performances of 2017, notably Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf. Mary J. Blige was also fantastic in Mudbound, an excellent film with a superb ensemble that more people should see. (And you can on Netflix!) Of course, it probably comes as no surprise that I also thoroughly enjoyed Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread. Octavia Spencer was perfectly fine in The Shape of Water, but, like Richard Jenkins, I don’t see the role as particularly interesting or challenging. In terms of your Oscar Pool, much like the Supporting Actor category, there is a clear favorite (Janney) with a solid number two (Metcalf).

Will Win: Allison Janney for I, Tonya

Should Win: Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird

Should Have Been Nominated: Holly Hunter for The Big Sick, instead of Octavia Spencer.

May the best man/woman win!

Which stars would you like to see take home one of these golden boys?

2018 Oscar Series
Oscar Nominations: 90 Degree Angle
Oscar Nominations: Breakfast of Champions
Oscar Blitz 1: Sound
Oscar Blitz 2: Sight

Oscar Blitz 2: Sight

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Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

—William Butler Yeats

Previously on the Oscar Blitz, I looked at what we hear at the movies. For Valentine’s Day, I take on what we see.

Of the nominees below, the only films I haven’t seen are Kong: Skull Island and Wonder. I don’t really have an interest in either one and don’t think they are likely to win, but please feel free to indicate what you think of their look and/or their chances in the comments.

With that said, let’s examine the technical categories involved in making a movie look and feel “right”—of its time and place, accurate for its context, or simply really, really cool.

The nominees are…

Best Cinematography
Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049
Bruno Delbonnel for Darkest Hour
Hoyte van Hoytema for Dunkirk
Rachel Morrison for Mudbound
Dan Laustsen for The Shape of Water

As I said in my Oscar nominations post, this is one category that the Oscars got right. This is a great list and I could make an argument for any of these films winning. To start with, the cinematography of Blade Runner 2049 was absolutely stunning. Even critics that didn’t like the movie pretty much agree with that assessment. The Darkest Hour had me wondering how much they storyboarded it because there were so many interesting and creative framing choices throughout. I found the “air” scenes in Dunkirk to be extraordinary in IMAX and I applaud the technical ambition of it, but I actually would have preferred a wider image for the rest. The entirety of Mudbound looked like a living, breathing Wyeth painting. Gorgeous light. This is the type of movie that would have been a shoe-in in this category fifteen or twenty years ago. The Shape of Water is probably the least impressive to me. I saw someone on Twitter call the movie mediocre Jean-Pierre Jeunet and, yeah, that’s about right.

One quirk of this particular list of cinematographers is that no matter who wins it will be for the first time—love that. Roger Deakins is a long-time favorite and fourteen-time nominee who is basically known for never winning. Bruno Delbonnel has been nominated five times in this category including for Amélie and Inside Llewyn Davis. Hoyte van Hoytema, Dan Laustsen, and Rachel Morrison are first-time nominees (except for Morrison, whose win would be the first win by a woman in this category, that probably works against them). The bookmakers heavily favor Blade Runner 2049, with Dunkirk next in line.

Will Win: Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049

Should Win: Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049

Should Have Been Nominated: Andrew Droz Palermo for A Ghost Story. From a story perspective, this was a hard movie to make work visually—and to further complicate things, it is shot in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. But it works beautifully. This is one of the few categories I even see one of my favorite movies of 2017 fitting in. And since, per my own rules, I have to replace something on this list to do so, I’d replace The Shape of Water.

Best Production Design
Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer, Beauty and the Beast
Dennis Gassner and Alessandra Querzola, Blade Runner 2049
Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer, Darkest Hour
Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis, Dunkirk
Paul Denham Austerberry, Jeff Melvin, and Shane Vieau, The Shape of Water

Production design rewards the art direction and set decoration, which is why there are usually at least two people for each film nominated. In general, this category rewards films with stunning interiors, often period dramas, or sometimes fantasy films with elaborate sets. However, the last two winners have been Mad Max: Fury Road and La La Land, so who the hell knows anymore.

Including both nominations here, Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer have been nominated six times, mostly for their work with Joe Wright, the director of Darkest Hour. Dennis Gassner also has six nominations to his credit; Alessandra Querzola is a first-time nominee. Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis have each been nominated four times, but for different films. Paul Denham Austerberry, Jeff Melvin, and Shane Vieau are all first-time nominees.

I really don’t love this list. Beauty and the Beast just looked cheesy and fake to me. Blade Runner 2049 seemed a little inconsistent in this regard. Darkest Hour was believable but a bit dull, while I don’t even see how Dunkirk gets on here, except due to the fact that Crowley and Fettis both have great reputations and have been nominated separately multiple times before. The Shape of Water does not deserve thirteen nominations, but this is one of the few awards I would give it, and it is justifiably favored here, with Blade Runner 2049 running a close-ish second.

Will Win: The Shape of Water

Should Win: The Shape of Water

Should Have Been Nominated: Their Finest. I mean, if you are going to nominate a period film about Dunkirk, why not this one, where there were actually sets within sets! To replace Dunkirk, obviously.

Best Costume Design
Jacqueline Durran, Beauty and the Beast
Jacqueline Durran, Darkest Hour
Mark Bridges, Phantom Thread
Luis Sequeira, The Shape of Water
Consolata Boyle, Victoria & Abdul

As was the case with Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer above, including both nominations here, Jacqueline Durran has been nominated six times, mostly for her work with Joe Wright. This is the third nomination for both Consolata Boyle and Mark Bridges. Luis Sequeira is a first-time nominee.

Beyond Phantom Thread, which is heavily favored to win, this is another list that I don’t love, but looking at the 2017 movies I’ve seen, there are not many other obvious choices out there. I’m surprised something like The Greatest Showman or Murder on the Orient Express isn’t here, but I haven’t seen either of them so I can’t really speak to those absences. I just didn’t watch any of these films and think “Great costumes!” Sure, the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast had incredible ball gowns, but the rest was sort of meh. [Side note: That movie did not have one scene that elevated it above the original animated version, so I’d be a bit bummed if it got any Oscar validation. Let it be content with simply earning a bajillion dollars.]

Will Win: Phantom Thread

Should Win: Phantom Thread

Should Have Been Nominated: [Insert your egregious snub here]

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Kazuhiro Tsuji, Darkest Hour
Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard, Victoria & Abdul
Arjen Tuiten, Wonder

I know there is some reason this category only ever has three nominations but I always forget what it is. Still it annoys me every year. What annoys me more is that I can never quite figure out how these films get chosen. I mean, I just watched Victoria & Abdul and I still don’t get why it’s here. [Side note: That movie was funnier than it had any right to be. It is not the staid period drama you might expect.] Of course, it doesn’t really matter because Darkest Hour is apparently a sure thing since Gary Oldman is practically unrecognizable as Churchill. Kazuhiro Tsuji is the only one of these nominees who has previously been nominated and all of them would be first-time winners. That’s about as exciting as this category gets for me.

Will Win: Darkest Hour

Should Win: Darkest Hour

Should Have Been Nominated: Two more films?

Best Visual Effects
Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Kong: Skull Island
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

I’m generally not super interested in the Visual Effects category, though for once I’ve seen almost all the films. Still, this one is hard for me to pick since I really have no idea what “best visual effects” actually means. Coolest tricks? Most seamless? I just don’t know. Even the oddsmakers are split here, with two going for Blade Runner 2049 and one going for War for the Planet of the Apes. If you’d like to try to judge for yourself, watch the video mash-up of all the nominees located above.

Will Win: Blade Runner 2049. Apes may be “together strong” but I think the momentum behind Roger Deakins in Cinematography will somehow carry over to this category.

Should Win: War for the Planet of the Apes. I would probably vote for War in order to recognize the whole trilogy as well as the fact that this one had the fewest human scenes and therefore the most motion-capture work.

Should Have Been Nominated: Thor: Ragnarok and Wonder Woman. If only because I don’t think Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 or Kong: Skull Island were very good, and if we are doomed to have this type of film fill out this category I’d rather have ones I liked more.

Which artists and films would you like to see take home one of these golden boys?

2018 Oscar Series
Oscar Nominations: 90 Degree Angle
Oscar Nominations: Breakfast of Champions
Oscar Blitz 1: Sound