Latest posts by makeitsnowondem (see all)
- Commentist Beer Barrel: Spoilers for Beer and Television – April 28, 2019
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- Oscars 2019 Preview: I Have Eaten The Polar Bears That Were In Your Ice Cap – February 23, 2019
Welcome to Oscars Evening, Commentists! I’m back, and I’ve got some more capital-T Takes on these awards, specifically the prestige categories, the short films, and the feature films that well-adjusted people probably care even less about than they do the short films. But first, I want to yell about something near and dear to my heart: THEY ALMOST CUT THE CINEMATOGRAPHY AND EDITING AWARDS FROM THE LIVE SHOW. In the interest of saving time (something that no one who watches this whole awards show actually cares about), the Academy decided to cut the awards for taking videos of things with a camera, and deciding which parts of the videos that you took with the camera you actually want to use, which sounds to me a whole lot like they wanted to show all the awards for movies except the awards for actually making the movies. Fortunately, the Academy got yelled at by every celebrity you’ve ever heard of and hastily rescinded their decision, saving the live presentations of the Live Action Short Film and Makeup & Hairstyling categories in the process. Things work out, you know, in the end. You just have to get really mad about them first.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Never Look Away
Finishing is winning. I very nearly blew my shot at Oscar completion this year just because I couldn’t get off my ass to see Capernaum during the entire week it was running at the Mayan, but I still managed to catch it by other means, right at the wire. It’s not the best in its category, but I don’t do this every year just to see the best, and I think I came close to missing out on something special. Capernaum starts with one hell of a bang—an imprisoned 12-year-old boy taking his own parents to court for bringing him into the world—and spends the rest of its runtime working up to that climactic point.
I touched on this before, in my last post, but: I’ve never seen such stellar photography from a foreign language group as a whole; three of these films were nominated for the cinematography Oscar, and Capernaum, with its fluid, naturalistic camera work, could easily have joined them.
The category is also home to this year’s Most Picture, the sprawling Never Look Away. At three hours and nine minutes long, it’s the longest Oscar nominee of the year, and beyond its impressive runtime it’s thematically dense and emotionally heavy. It is not, however, going to deliver for you in your Oscars pool if you’re following the always-pick-the-Holocaust-film rule.
Will Win: Roma‘s Best Picture nomination, an honor given to no other nominated foreign language movies, makes its win here essentially a foregone conclusion. The trouble with this movie, to me, is the reduction of its main character to the sum of her suffering. She bears it all heroically, and Yalitza Aparacio’s fragile stoicism makes her something more than a two-dimensional type, and of course a big point of the movie is that the things she can do are tightly constrained by the society she lives in, but I never got a strong sense of internal motivation or agency from her. What would Cleo have done if she could have done anything? It’s not a question Roma seems eager to answer, and I think that’s a serious problem.
Should Win: Cold War, with its additional nominations for Best Director and Cinematography, would have been universally considered the class of this category in most years, and in my opinion, it still is. The film press mostly treated Paweł Pawlikowski’s direction nomination as a shock, but a Best Picture nomination would absolutely not have been out of order. Never Look Away deserves a lot of credit for telling a decades-spanning story about art and what it means to people; Cold War deserves much, much more for telling a similar but more personal story, without any of the detachment or arthouse pretension, in an unbelievably tight, beautifully shot, and never, ever hurried 88 minutes. I could go on about the editing—this movie should be taught in film school just to show students when not to cut—and the badly underappreciated actors, and the music, but I couldn’t describe Cold War satisfactorily even if I listed all the individual elements that make it great. It’s a tragic story that I felt like I had a stake in all the way down to its devastating and thoroughly earned conclusion.
Upset Special: Not a chance.
Isle of Dogs
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
I’m not by any means a hater when it comes to modern CG animation, but it feels like predominantly hand-drawn and hand-painted films like Mirai are disappearing from this competition, and I think that’s a shame. Likewise stop-motion, though I have to admit that this year’s representative for that art form, Isle of Dogs, left me a little cold. It’s breathtakingly animated, with a smart script, the best voice cast of any animated film this year, and a standout musical score, but throughout the movie I felt as though director Wes Anderson didn’t even want me to connect with any of the characters.
Will Win/Should Win: I’m willing to throw aside my cynicism, just this once, and call Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse the winner. This isn’t especially brave of me; Spider-Man did just win the Annies’ top prize. It’s also one of the best movies of the year in any category, exactly the sort of movie that should have been nominated for, and then won, the Best Editing award over an otherwise pretty anemic field. The animation itself is like nothing I’ve ever seen, starting with expressive CGI characters lovingly filtered through comic book-style texturing and framing, and progressing into chaotic action sequences that are impossible to describe to anyone who hasn’t seen them. The script also makes great use of second-generation Spider-Man Miles Morales, dodging (but nodding to) the endless string of Spider-Man reboots that have had us watching Uncle Ben die over and over again.
Upset Special: Ralph Breaks the Internet shouldn’t be on your Oscar pool sheet, but I genuinely believe it’s the better of the two Disney/Pixar nominees. Incredibles 2 to me is fundamentally unwieldy, with most of a message about the dangers of too much screentime (can’t relate, obviously!) and maybe half of another message about family dynamics, none of which it really manages to bring together. Ralph, on the other hand, delivers a (reasonably) focused and gently bittersweet parable about how friendships evolve, and sets it in a richly realized vision of the Internet that offers at least as much large-scale action as the real-ish world of the Incredible family.
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
I’ll say this as briefly as possible: I did not really care for RBG or Of Fathers and Sons. RBG leaned too heavily into the weird hip-hop persona that liberals have created, unbidden, for our greatest living Supreme Court justice, wasting time that could have been spent either on her achievements or on her actual personality. Of Fathers and Sons was jarring, as it should have been, and director Talal Derki displayed no small amount of bravery in getting such close access to Al Qaeda on the battlefield, in training, and even in members’ homes. I just don’t know what it was all for. I left with the impression that the thing I always thought was fucked up—terror group members teaching their children to carry out terrorism—was, in fact, as fucked up as I thought it was. For a primer on religious radicalization, give me Jesus Camp instead.
Will Win/Should Win: Free Solo checks almost all the boxes for a winner here: Tight, traditional documentary form, dramatic footage, and relatable interpersonal conflict. It does rate fairly low on the Importance scale compared to most of its competitors, but after watching this award closely the last few years, I’m no longer sold on the importance of Importance. Regardless, Free Solo is absolutely riveting. You’ll be frustrated with its principal players, but only because Free Solo will make you want so badly to root for the goddamned lunatics.
Upset Special: Hale County This Morning, This Evening. The Academy is really, really not into documentaries that deviate from the established interview-and-observe form, and lately there are a whole bunch of absolutely incredible Oscar losers that prove it: Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence in 2013 and 2015; Faces Places in 2017; and most relevant here, Fire at Sea in 2016. Fire at Sea was an impressionistic, narratorless, narrativeless look at the effect of the migrant crisis on the Italian island of Lampedusa, and Hale County is an impressionistic, narratorless, narrativeless look at everyday black lives in Central Alabama. It’s captivating and quietly thought-provoking and timely and humanizing, even though a movie like this shouldn’t need to be humanizing. It’s also a huge favorite of film critics, maybe even enough to overcome the voters’ demonstrated traditionalist bias in this category.
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
Marguerite and Skin are the trendy choices here, but I don’t believe in either of them. Skin is satisfying on a very basic level, and you can’t fault the technical aspects, but it’s shallow and arguably too padded-out for what’s basically a setup-punchline drama. Marguerite wants to be bittersweet and ultimately uplifting, but its final scene first edges into creepiness, and then goes ahead and blows right past that line. If you’re like me, you’ll want to give it the benefit of the doubt, but you shouldn’t.
Mother is another thing for me; the meat of it is a single long take of thirteen and a half minutes, and I think the reviews I’ve seen of it have largely missed how well-staged that one shot is. There’s usually something going on upstage of the camera’s focus, the camera moves slowly (when it moves at all) and yet always seems to get where it’s going at the moment when it’s most important to be up close. The timing, at the very least, is a thing to be admired. Mother is not a satisfying film, but it’s not supposed to be; the steadily building tension is all the more effective because it’s left unresolved.
Will Win/Should Win: Fauve. After the stunning Mindenki (Sing) pulled off an upset win two years ago, against my expectations and a bunch of other people’s, I decided that from now on, at least in this category, I would back the film I thought was the best, posted odds and critical opinions be damned, come hell or high water. That principled stand has served me well for exactly one year so far, with The Silent Child beating the smart-money (and highly topical) DeKalb Elementary last year. Fauve is, in every single facet, the best-made film in this category, but even if it were less artfully shot, less carefully edited, we’d still be left with its unavoidably brutal accounting of the casual cruelty built into so many platonic relationships between boys (and often, eventually, between men). The entire story takes place in the present day, but up until nearly the end, its two main characters seem to exist in some post-apocalyptic pocket dimension where the only thing in the world that matters is one’s victory—through means that are ill-defined and always shifting—over the other.
Upset Special: If you’re watching the short films primarily for great acting in small, concentrated doses (Sally Hawkins in 2013’s The Phone Call is a great example), it doesn’t get any better this year than Detainment. Let’s deal with the backlash first: This is a highly controversial film about the infamous killing of James Bulger, on which the two-year-old victim’s mother has loudly protested that she was not consulted. She’s started a fairly popular online petition to have it withdrawn from Oscar consideration, and while I’m sympathetic to her feelings about the film, I absolutely do not believe she’s entitled to veto its existence or its recognition. There’s a matter of public concern here that runs deeper than any one case, and that’s the widespread acceptance of the trial of two ten-year-olds as adults, in a court for adults, for the crime of murder. Director Vincent Lambe hangs tight to the publicly available transcripts of the killers’ police interviews; if there’s any dialogue at all not taken directly from them, I think it’s very little. Young actors Ely Solan and Leon Hughes bring those transcripts to life with such heart-rending conviction that it feels like watching the real thing, and the final product absolutely casts doubt on whether these children had even the barest understanding of what they were doing. This is the roughest watch in this year’s field—rougher than the three short films about end-of-life care, or the three short films about violent racism, or anything else unless you’re an acrophobe trying to watch Free Solo—and I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking a hard pass. I don’t think the Academy has the stomach to give Detainment a statue either, but… they gave it a nomination, right? I’ve failed at gauging the voters’ mood before, and if I’m wrong here, Detainment is absolutely good enough to win.
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
One Small Step
The lighter animated shorts, Bao and Animal Behaviour, didn’t quite hit with me. Animal Behaviour is funny enough, sure, but I think for a comedy short to really succeed it’s got to deliver either one really thought-provoking joke or at least one big belly laugh. Not quite. Bao is the Pixar entry, the short that screened before the blockbuster Incredibles 2, and it’s sweet and cute and touching and the CG animation is top-notch but I can’t imagine it would be the presumed frontrunner if it didn’t have Pixar’s name on it.
Will Win: Weekends. The Annie Award in the analogous category, and in my opinion, it’s a beauty. Wonderful layered animation that, at least to my untrained eye, appears to be all hand-drawn or painted, in the service of a poignant story about a child coping with his parents’ divorce.
Should Win: Late Afternoon, the first short I’ve seen from the studio that produced feature-length masterpieces Song of the Sea and The Breadwinner. Absolutely the cheeriest film you’ll ever see about a woman suffering from dementia. Nothing’s truly comparable to Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow, but Late Afternoon comes closer than I’ve seen in a while with its focus on memory and its dives into beautiful, colorful surrealism.
Upset Special: One Small Step is way, way too charming to count out, and at points in the process of writing this post was either my predicted winner or my personal choice or both.
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
A Night at the Garden
Period. End of Sentence.
Right off the bat, two of these are facing an uphill climb on account of their fairly well-worn subject matter. End Game, a documentary about end-of-life care, follows on the heels of 2016’s Extremis, while Lifeboat‘s focus on the rescue of migrants on the Mediterranean will call to mind, for documentary buffs at least, the feature-length Fire at Sea and the 2016 short 4.1 Miles. I didn’t really connect with End Game, but Lifeboat is terrifying and infuriating and should be seen by as many people as possible regardless of the outcome of this contest.
The really odd entry is A Night at the Garden, which consists essentially of seven minutes of archival footage of a Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden, with no narration, no editorializing, not even any context until a card at the very end. It’s exactly the right presentation, in my opinion, allowing the free and easy intermingling of American patriotic slogans and symbolism with Nazi salutes and exterminationist rhetoric to speak for itself.
Will Win/Should Win: Without a particularly strong opinion on which of these are better than others, I’m willing to concede this one to Period. End of Sentence., despite the weird punctuation thing it just forced me to do. Period‘s core story of women taking a measure of control over both their reproductive and their economic health by working for an organization that manufactures low-cost sanitary napkins is inspiring, even if in some respects it sounds a little too good to be true.
Upset Special: Black Sheep definitely doesn’t fit the traditional documentary form, but that’s a little less important for a short doc. It’s a single interview cut together with acted dramatizations of the subject’s experience, and it’s one of the most powerful and accessible depictions of internalized racism I’ve seen. If nothing else, it’ll make for an interesting test of the preferences of the Academy’s new, larger voting body.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice
I just don’t have anything to say about Sam Elliott. He’s fine, but he’s not doing the heavy lifting that most of these other actors are. And speaking of not doing heavy lifting, Sam Rockwell is in Vice for maybe twelve minutes. He does a pitch-perfect George W. Bush impersonation, but take away the makeup, and we’ve already seen that, more or less, in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This is a spot that, if it had to go to Vice, should have gone to Steve Carell instead.
Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Green Book. By the accounts of Don Shirley’s family, Green Book‘s script leaves Ali playing a caricature of the real, complex person who ought to have been the star of the movie. Ali nevertheless gives it everything he’s got, layering a quiet dignity over a simmering, omnipresent outrage.
Should Win: Adam Driver. It’s a shame that BlacKkKlansman‘s only acting nomination is for a white guy, because as far as I’m concerned John David Washington should have easily earned a spot in a fairly weak lead actor field. But Driver does it all in this movie, equally compelling in its funnier parts and its tenser ones. Driver has so many great moments in Klansman that I don’t even know what we’ll see when the Academy runs his highlights, but I think it’s going to jump right off the screen compared to the other four.
Upset Special: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?. The prospects for anyone trying to derail Mahershala Ali seem slim, and as someone who called Mark Rylance’s semi-surprise win three years ago, I think this year’s comparisons of Grant to Rylance are a bit much. That said, Forgive Me simply doesn’t work without Grant; Melissa McCarthy is undoubtedly a person, but she’s playing a person in Lee Israel who, at least as written, is utterly without charm. It’s on Grant’s shoulders to keep the film from turning into a depressing slog, and he absolutely delivers.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
I believe, in earnest, that there’s probably a very good reason Marina de Tavira is here. In two viewings of Roma, I wasn’t able to work it out.
Will Win/Should Win: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk. I don’t think she’s as clear a favorite as some seem to; Rachel Weisz has scored some big wins this award season, and in my opinion King didn’t have the single “wow” moment in Beale Street that you expect to see from an acting winner, even though her overall work was the best of the bunch. Any Oscars pool advice I might give is probably too late at this point, but if it weren’t I’d urge taking a very, very close look at this category, which could be make-or-break for you.
Upset Special: Real talk: We’d all be like, “Fuck, finally,” right? She’s damned good as Lynne Cheney, the most important driver of the plot in Adam McKay’s telling of the Dick Cheney story. And this would go a long way toward making up for her unconscionable snub for Arrival.
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book
Will Win/Should Win: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody. I have very little to say about this entire category. Mortensen and Cooper are fine, but not better than fine; Bale is characteristically excellent, and Dafoe’s portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh has to be the most powerful to date. But Malek’s on another level, embodying all the confusing and extraordinary facets of Freddie Mercury like he was born to play the role.
Yalitza Aparicio in Roma
Glenn Close in The Wife
Olivia Colman in The Favourite
Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Aparacio, I think, is just happy to be here, a nonprofessional actress who’s asked to play a very stoic part, often at considerable distance from the camera. Put a pin in her name for sure, because I think she’s got a lot more to offer than what she was able to show in Roma. We all know Lady Gaga can belt with the best of them, and she can absolutely act too. She’ll go home with a trophy for Best Song, but I expect A Star Is Born will get absolutely nothing else, through no fault of Gaga’s, but just because it’s completely overshadowed in every other category.
Will Win/Should Win: Glenn Close, The Wife. Unless you have a very good memory, I think you have to watch this movie twice to appreciate everything Close is doing, because almost all of it takes on a completely new meaning in light of The Wife‘s big revelation, which I won’t spoil.
Upset Special: The awards landscape to date suggests that only Olivia Colman (The Favourite) is close, and she’s not that close. Her Queen Anne, at once extremely fragile and extremely dangerous, is the key to every piece of intrigue in a movie that’s all about intrigue for intrigue’s sake, and Colman holds absolutely nothing back.
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Paweł Pawlikowski, Cold War
Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma. There may not be anyone in Hollywood who’s better at crafting an entire visual and auditory experience, from sound to sets to shots to costumes to music, than Cuarón.
Should Win: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman. My misgivings about Klansman‘s story are already on record, but in every other respect, this film came together perfectly. You’re never not hearing something impressive, seeing something impressive, watching an actor who commands your full attention, and the whole thing flows like a dream.
Upset Special: Paweł Pawlikowski, Cold War. Why the hell not? You only live once. Pawlikowski is a master craftsman, widely respected by other filmmakers, who’s created an extraordinary movie, and wouldn’t it be some kind of thing if the Academy’s greatly expanded international membership delivered a stunner like this? If you’re looking for a safer pick, Vice has already defied expectations to a remarkable degree considering its lukewarm critical reception. Until they count the votes, who’s to say how deep the Academy’s love for Adam McKay really goes?
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
If Beale Street Could Talk
Sorry to Bother You
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Will Win/Should Win: Sorry to Bother You. Writer-director Boots Riley is fully in control of an ever-expanding metaphor that—
Ah, fuck. These are the Best Picture nominees we should have gotten. Never mind. Sorry about that.
BEST PICTURE, ACTUALLY
A Star Is Born
Will Win: Roma. There’s a process of elimination at work here; Black Panther and The Favourite are too niche, Green Book too tainted by (justified) backlash, and Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star Is Born, and Vice are just not good enough. I believe (Upset Special) BlacKkKlansman might have a genuine shot, but my overriding suspicion is that Academy opinion has already coalesced around Roma, which is both a well-built film and a thoroughly agreeable one.
Had Better Not Win: It’s time to unload on Green Book. The entire production is eminently competent from a technical standpoint, and that just makes the content even harder to stomach. Green Book is a movie about Black musical legend Don Shirley’s tour through the Deep South at the height of American racial tensions, but it’s not a movie about Don Shirley. It’s about his white driver and bodyguard, Tony Vallelonga, whom we watch save him from various highly predictable perils when he’s not, bafflingly, teaching Shirley (a friend of Martin Luther King Jr. who marched at Selma) how to be more black. The problem’s simple enough to pinpoint: Tony’s son, Nick Vallelonga, wrote the script, and was apparently only interested in his father’s impressions of Shirley, impressions that turned out to be utterly unrecognizable to members of Shirley’s family. The result’s exactly what you’d expect from a film crafted around the recollections of a self-proclaimed world-class bullshitter: A white savior movie that could never have been anything else, because that’s the only way its subject was capable of imagining himself. Look: I don’t think this movie is ill-intentioned, but it represents such an absolute vaccuum of curiosity about its most important subject that I can’t do anything but root against it.
Should Win: The Favourite is a maddeningly flawed movie, even if you recognize that it’s mostly grotesque on purpose, but there are no perfect choices on this list. I struggled between it and BlacKkKlansman, which really is a joy to watch, but ultimately I just can’t live with the pro-status quo deception at the core of the movie. Better an imperfect but inarguably hilarious, unnerving, and consistently riveting send-up of the ruling class, as far as I’m concerned.
make it snow is an alot of beer who’s ready and waiting to boo some bad choices. He’d like to thank lady snow, and no one else, for tolerating his annual descent into movie-induced madness with the patience of a goddamn saint. Get some snacks, boys, it’s going to be a long night.