Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Oscar Narrative: Pre-Festival Predictions - Best Supporting Actor

Pre-Festival Predictions
Timothee Chalamet "Little Women"
Al Pacino "The Irishman"
Joe Pesci "The Irishman"
Brad Pitt "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"
Jeffrey Wright "The Goldfinch"

Other Contenders - Gary Oldman "The Laundromat", Willem Dafoe "The Lighthouse", Jim Carter "Downton Abbey", Jamie Bell "Rocketman", Richard Madden "Rocketman", Brendan Coyle "Downton Abbey", Christian Bale "Ford v. Ferrari", Anthony Hopkins "The Two Popes", Matthew Rhys "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood", Taiki Wahiti "Jojo Rabbit", Leslie Odom Jr. "Harriet", John Lithgow "Untitled Jay Roach Project", Chris Evans "Knives Out", Clarke Peters "Harriet", Tracy Letts "Ford v. Ferrari", Jonathan Majors "The Black Man in San Francisco", Bruce Willis "Motherless Brooklyn", Aldis Hodge "Clemency", Wesley Snipes "Dolemite is My Name", George MacKay "1917", Tommy Lee Jones "Ad Astra", Sam Rockwell "Jojo Rabbit", James Corden "Cats", Idris Elba "Cats", Matt Damon "Ford v. Ferrari", Ben Mendelsohn "The King", Ian McKellen Cats", Corey Stoll "The Report", Jon Hamm "The Report", Michael Kenneth Williams "Motherless Brooklyn", Alec Baldwin "Motherless Brooklyn", Mark Strong "1917", Dean-Charles Chapman "1917", Colin Firth "1917", Benedict Cumberbatch "1917", Andrew Scott "1917"

Commentary -  A deep roster with too many contenders, it will be interesting to see how it all shakes down. Brad Pitt is in the default position right now as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood does well with critics and at the box office. The Irishman trailer put Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in perfect positions to crack this category, which has been known to have multiple co-stars make the cut. Finally, the initial trailers for Little Women and The Goldfinch showcase Timothee Chalamet and Jeffrey Wright, both of whom I think will be big players. Beyond those five, it is a wide open race. Willem Dafoe could make it three in a row if voters like The Lighthouse. Gary Oldman will have a prominent role in The Laundromat, as will Anthony Hopkins and Matthew Rhys. Then there are the larger casts like Motherless Brooklyn, 1917, Cats, Jojo Rabbit, The Report, Ford v Ferrari, and Downton Abbey where one of the guys could rise above the other, or get lost in the crowd. Also look out for Snipes, Bell, Odom, Lithgow, Evans, Majors, Peters, Hodge, Jones, and Mendelsohn.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Oscar Narrative: Pre-Festival Predictions - Best Supporting Actress

Pre-Festival Predictions
Annette Bening "The Report"
Nicole Kidman "The Goldfinch"
Margot Robbie "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"
Maggie Smith "Downton Abbey"
Emma Watson "Little Women"

Other Contenders - Meryl Streep "Little Woman", Laura Dern "Little Women", Eliza Scanlen "Little Woman", Florence Pugh "Little Women", Laura Dern "Marriage Story", Janelle Monae "Harriet", Sarah Paulson "The Goldfinch", Shuzhen Zhou "The Farewell", Scarlett Johansson "Jojo Rabbit", Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie "Jojo Rabbit" Anna Paquin "The Irishman", Jennifer Hudson "Cats", Judi Dench "Cats", Rebel Wilson "Cats", Anne Hathaway "Untitled Todd Haynes Project", Catherine Deneuve "The Truth", Joanna Froggatt "Downton Abbey", Tichina Arnold "The Last Black Man in San Francisco", Emma Thompson "Late Night", Ruth Negga "Ad Astra", Kristin Wiig "Where'd You Go Bernadette?", Elisabeth Moss "Us", Catriona Balfe "Ford v. Ferrari", Imelda Staunton "Downton Abbey", Connie Britton "Untitled Roger Ailes Project", Zazie Beetz "Lucy in the Sky", Ellen Burstyn "Lucy in the Sky", Elizabeth McGovern "Downton Abbey", Carrie Fisher "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"

Commentary - The only change I have made since my first predictions is switching out Emma Watson for Meryl Streep. I know that sounds crazy, but I feel like Watson will have more material, and that Streep has a better shot in Actress for Soderbergh's The Laundromat. The other four, Robbie, Kidman, Bening, and Smith remain. Beyond that I think the other Little Women cast members have a great shot. The trailer was promising, but it will take a viewing to determine which of the cast members rises to the top. My money is on Watson, but it could be Streep, Dern, Pugh, or Scanlen. I think Sarah Paulson could join Kidman, breakout Shuzhen Zhou could charm, Anna Paquin could rise in a male-heavy cast, the Jojo Rabbit duo could rise, as could the Cats ensemble, although the trailer has moved them further down my list. I also think the Downton folks, besides Smith could breakthrough, particularly Joanna Froggatt, who always did well with Emmy voters. Add to the list Thompson, Negga, Wiig, Balfe, Moss, Britton, Burstyn, Beetz, Deneuve, Arnold, and the late great Carrie Fisher will be on voters' minds.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Celebrating a Decade of The Awards Psychic: Top 100 Films of 2009-2019, Part V

60. Ex Machina (2014) - Alex Garland's Ex Machina was the surprise of awards season a couple of years ago. It only ended up getting two Oscar nominations, although it dethroned Star Wars for Best Visual Effects in a stunning upset. But throughout the season, it was the surprise film that kept popping up in the conversation. That is because Alex Garland and his team created an amazingly emotional, finely tuned, and understated science fiction adventure whose darkness, commentary, and tense nature kept audiences glued to the screen to see what was going to happen next. Not only were Garland's direction and screenplay smart, taut, and brilliant, but at he also brought out three incredible performances from Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Issac, and Alicia Vikander. It is Vikander's role that was the most mesmerizing, as it took incredible skill to pull off the delicate balance of her character. She ended up winning her Oscar for The Danish Girl (another great performance), but many, including me, attributed Ex Machina to helping her cross the finish line. Ex Machina may not have the pop, flash, or action sequences of most science fiction films, but it has all the heart and the message, and it is a beautiful example of how to elevate a genre.

59. Take Shelter (2011) - I have to admit that I am a Jeff Nichols junkie. Even his lesser efforts showcase a talented director with a brilliant eye for human stories. Of his films, one of my top favorites is Take Shelter, which while not his debut, it was his breakthrough hit. Part horror movie, part suspenseful thriller, part family drama, Take Shelter is a slow-building crescendo to an impeccable story climax that leaves the audience breathless. At its center is the fine work of Nichols, who truly has an impeccable eye, and the jaw-dropping performance of Michael Shannon, one of the finest actors working today. The character's slow descent into madness is incredibly frightening, because it feels all too real. That because it is done out of love for his family. While there is a dose of supernatural elements in the storytelling, at its center, it is the human story that still resonates almost a decade later.

58. The Post (2017) - Steven Spielberg has become a machine at pushing out quality historical films. He has, top to bottom, one of the best rosters of crew members of any director working today. Each film they turn out has amazing cinematography, an amazing score, beautiful sets and costumes, and amazing effects. He also has the pleasure of being able to attract some of the best working actors around. The Post is a great story, with a solid script, and beautifully edited tension that keeps you engaged. But The Post was completely elevated by its amazing cast, who capture the heart of this sad, important, and unfortunately still relevant story. Of course there is Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, who consistently prove why they are two of the best actors working today, and true American treasures. But the depth of the roster is jaw-dropping, and even the smallest role is played by a hard-working character, stage, or television actor who breaths life into just a few lines. Names like Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Matthew Rhys, Jessie Mueller, Jessie Plemmons, Alison Brie, Zach Woods, and Carrie Coon populate this deep list, and they bring so much to the ensemble. Spielberg is always going to make good films, he is just the best. But it is rare to see this high level of perfect ensemble work, and the final result shows it.

56. Sicario (2015) - Before Denis Villenueve was the next great science fiction director, he tackled several crime thrillers with gusto. Of his earlier work, Sicario stands out. It is a timely, taut thriller about a government task force attempting to stop the drug war at the border. It opens with a bang, and then slowly builds its tension around action-packed, emotional, and horrifying set pieces, all leading up to a violent, shocking, and unfortunately true finale. The cast of Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin are all magnificent as they weave this tale of money, drugs, violence, and betrayal. This is yet another in a long string of amazing performances from Emily Blunt, which constantly serve as a glaring reminder that she has still yet to receive an Oscar nomination. This is stain on the current Academy, and I hope they correct it soon. But this is Villenueve and Taylor Sheridan's film. That combination of a quiet, yet effective script, a trademark of Sheridan's short, but awesome screenwriting career (now directing), and Villeneuve's assured, taut, emotionally effective direction, made Sicario one of the best thrillers, and best films of the last decade.

55. Wonder Woman (2017) - DC has had its rough spots. Its Justice League, Suicide Squad, Batman, and Aquaman movies have all been gigantic messes (although they made a lot of money). The one shining gem in that otherwise trash heap of films is Patty Jenkin's Wonder Woman. DC knew that Wonder Woman had to be a film that had female empowerment at its core, if it was going to do justice to the beloved heroine. Hiring Patty Jenkins was their best move since hiring Christopher Nolan. Her indie sensibilities brought a renewed lens to the DC world , which was chocked full of too many die hard male fanboys with a lack of style, substance, or ability. Her control of this film is absolutely amazing, and her insistence of crafting a superhero story that puts the characters at the center lets the film connect with audiences. Of course, the film still has amazing costumes, visual effects, sound design, and action set pieces that superhero fans love. It also has historical context, great mythology, a great cast, led by breakout star Gal Gadot, who truly commands the screen and takes this character by storm, and a screenplay and direction that are above and beyond the expectations for this genre. It is those things that make Wonder Woman one of the best.

54. Avatar (2009) - Avatar has sure taken its beatings over the years. Even recently, as Avengers: Endgame surpassed its box office record, it dredged up this feeling of hatred and ire of a film that doesn't deserve it. Yes, people complain that its an old story Cameron is telling. Its Fern Gully or Pocahontas with blue people. They act like this is the first time that Hollywood has taken an old story or a classic concept and reinvented it. They don't mind the thousand Marvel sequels, but this was too much. Do you know why people have decided to make Avatar the bad guy? Because it was so damn successful. Avatar is far from a perfect movie, but it is first and foremost a game-changing one. The technological advances used in Avatar have revolutionized production design and visual effects for the film industry, and the look of films will never be the same. Avatar is also a unabashedly big, old school, action-packed Hollywood blockbuster. James Cameron, whether you love him or hate him, is the master of these types of films, and he is the master of creating memorable, amazing cinematic experiences. Avatar was one of those experiences. It had me hooked from the first frame, and three hours later, I was still mesmerized by what I saw. Be a cynic if you want to, that's fine, but stop denying the power of this film.

53. Whiplash (2014) - It is a rarity for a young director to knock it out of the park so many times in a row. From his early indie Guy and Madeline On a Park Bench to First Man, the underappreciated gem of 2018, Chazelle has proven to be one of the most talented directors working today, and he (deservedly) became the youngest director in history to ever win an Academy Award for Best Director. The big breakout film for Chazelle was the surprise of the 2014 Oscar season, Whiplash. Featuring amazing performances from Miles Teller, and particularly the incredible J.K. Simmons, who finally got the awards recognition he has deserved for decades of excellent work, Whiplash is an actor's shwocase. Their adversarial, abusive, and intriguing relationship at the center of this film is horrifying, yet mesmerizing to watch. Yet it is Damien Chazelle's whip smart direction, and the best film editing I have seen in a while from Tom Cross, which earned him a well-deserved Oscar, that keep this electrifying tale sharp, engaging, and pulse-pounding. I can safely say that no matter what Cross and Chazelle do in their careers, their work will always be a must-see for me.

52. The Help (2011) -Before you start, I am immune to the deserved criticisms of The Help. Even Viola Davis, an artist I admire more than any other, has said that there is a part of her that regrets taking on the role of Aibileen, because at the end of the day, it is Emma Stone's character that probably gets too much credit, and not enough is given to her or Minny or any of the maids, for truly exposing the hypocrisy and horrible nature of racism. The white savior complex is prominent in Skeeter's character, and in Celia and Johnny's. I understand where Viola is coming from. I also understand criticisms of the film from a directing and screenplay standpoint. It was released in the dumping ground of August, and the only reason it became such a huge Oscar contender was because it was the surprise hit of the 2011 season, and it played well with older, white Academy voters. Despite all of that, I still love The Help. I credit it with the upward rise of the careers of Viola Davis, and of Octavia Spencer, two women I think are essential artists in our time. I also credit it for being something unique in Hollywood. How often do you see a story led by women in Hollywood? How often do you see a cast with such talent, and with such amazing performances, supporting each other on screen, creating amazing roles, truly building an amazing ensemble? How many films can you see Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Emma Stone, and Cicely Tyson all working together? The answer is not many. These women have created life-long friendships, and you can see it every time their together just how much they fell in love with each other during the course of creating this film. Despite its flaws, you can feel that love, that talent, that synergy in each and every frame of The Help. It proves Hollywood still has a long way to go, but it also proves that stories with women at their center can be powerful experiences that reach a wide, and diverse audience. That alone, deserves recognition.

51. Toy Story 3 and 4 (2010/2019) - I was a kid of the 90's. The resurrection of Disney animation and the birth of Pixar define my childhood. I was five when the original Toy Story came out, and I was nine, when the sequel hit theaters. I fell in love with these stories, and these characters, and to this day, I am still a Pixar junkie, because, to put it simply, they make jaw-dropping masterpieces of film. So as a college student, and then as an adult, almost thirty years old, I got the pleasure of revisiting my old friends. There was no need to continue the story of Andy and his toys. The perfect finale of Toy Story 2 could have been the end. Yet, the creators, writers, and animators at Pixar, saw an opportunity to find new depths, new laughs, and new thrills for our beloved characters. 2010's Toy Story 3 had me literally crying at the end, with one of the most impactful scenes in recent memory. Toy Story 4 made me believe that there are always second, third, or even fourth chances to relive and rediscover something you thought was lost. These two films are amazing entries into the Pixar canon. They are beautifully animated, nostalgic, fun, and embarrassingly emotional films. They also prove that sometimes its worth revisiting your old friends, and find new adventures for you to take together.

Little Women Trailer

I'll be honest, I was only putting Little Women in my predictions because of Gerwig and the cast. I was not that excited about seeing yet another adaptation. But I will say, there is an energy, with humor and veracity, with Saoirse Ronan in what is sure to be an amazing lead role, that makes me excited to see the final product.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Oscar Narrative: Pre-Festival Predictions: Best Animated Feature and Techs

Best Animated Feature
Frozen II
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Missing Link
Okko's Inn
Toy Story 4

Other Contenders - The Addams Family, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, Call of the Wild, Abominable, Spies in Disguise, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmaggedon, The Angry Birds Movie 2, Funan, Wish Dragon, The Secret Life of Pets 2

Best Cinematography
Rodrigo Prieto "The Irishman"
Bobby Bukowski "The Last Thing He Wanted"
Steven Soderbergh "The Laundromat"
Roger Deakins "1917"
Robert Richardson "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"

Other Contenders - John Toll "Harriet", Roger Deakins "The Goldfinch", Dion Beebe "Gemini Man", Hoyte Van Hoytema "Ad Astra", Caleb Deschanel "The Lion King", Phedon Papamichael "Ford v Ferrari", Sean Bobbitt "The Rhythm Section", Dan Mindel "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker", Steven Yedlin "Knives Out", Christopher Ross "Cats", Dick Pope "Motherless Brooklyn", Ben Smithard "Downton Abbey", Dick Pope "Peterloo"

Best Costume Design
Aladdin
Downton Abbey
Little Women
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Rocketman

Other Contenders - 1917, The Irishman, Dumbo, Dolemite is My Name, Harriet, Cats, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Captain Marvel, The Last Thing He Wanted, The King, The Goldfinch, Judy, The King

Best Film Editing
The Goldfinch
The Irishman
The Laundromat
1917
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Other Contenders - A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Wendy, Ad Astra, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Ford v. Ferrari, Harriet, Downton Abbey, Little Women, Avengers: Endgame, Knives Out, The King, Queen & Slim, The Report, Marriage Story, The Farewell, Judy, The Lion King, Aladdin

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Aladdin
Downton Abbey
Dumbo
Joker
Rocketman

Other Contenders -  Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Cats, Little Women, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, The Goldfinch, The Report, The King, Judy, Us, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Best Original Score
Nate Heller "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"
Marco Beltrami "Ford v Ferrari"
Terence Blanchard "Harriet"
Thomas Newman "1917"
John Williams "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"

Other Contenders - Randy Newman "Toy Story 4", Trevor Gureckis "The Goldfinch", Carter Burwell "The Good Liar", Max Richter "Ad Astra", Alan Silvestri "Avengers: Endgame", Matthew Margeson "Rocketman", Jeff Russo "Lucy in the Sky", Marco Beltrami "Gemini Man", Hans Zimmer "The Lion King", Alan Menkin "Aladdin"

Best Original Song
TBA

Best Production Design
Aladdin
Downton Abbey
The Irishman
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Other Contenders - 1917, Little Women, Rocketman, The Lion King, Gemini Man, Dumbo, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Ford v. Ferrari, Cats, Ad Astra, The King, The Last Thing He Wanted, Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, The Goldfinch, Lucy in the Sky, Judy

Best Sound Mixing
Ford v. Ferrari
1917
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Rocketman
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Other Contenders - The Irishman, Ad Astra, Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, The Lion King, Aladdin, Dumbo, Gemini Man, The Goldfinch, Harriet, Cats, The King, Us, Shazam, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Knives Out, The Rhythm Section, Godzilla: King of Monsters, Motherless Brooklyn

Best Sound Editing
Ford v. Ferrari
The Irishman
1917
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Other Contenders - Rocketman, Ad Astra, Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, The Lion King, Aladdin, Dumbo, Gemini Man, The Goldfinch, Harriet, Cats, The King, Us, Shazam, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Knives Out, The Rhythm Section, Godzilla: King of Monsters, Motherless Brooklyn

Best Visual Effects
Ad Astra
Avengers: Endgame
The Irishman
The Lion King
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Other Contenders - Aladdin, Dumbo, Gemini Home, Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Godzilla: King of Monsters, X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Celebrating a Decade of The Awards Psychic: Top 100 Films of 2009-2019, Part IV

70. Mary Poppins Returns (2018) - I am not a film critic, I am an amateur blogger. But I respect film critics, love their writing, and love their passion for something that I too feel so strongly about. But sometimes, film critics can be a cynical bunch. Sometimes they forget that one of the most important aspects of film is joy. While we all love the darker films, the ones that tell stories of our world, tackle challenging subjects, etc., we also like to go to the movies to escape. Mary Poppins Returns is one of those movies that lets you escape. It is pure joy start to finish. No, it will never be fondly remembered by most film critics, and even some cynical audiences immediately dismissed it as Disney fluff. They are wrong. Rob Marshall and his team knew that they were tackling a film classic, and they worked overtime to ensure that the spirit, feel, and joy of the original were felt throughout. It felt like a beautiful homage to a bygone period. Emily Blunt, absolutely perfect in her role as Mary Poppins, never tried to be Julie Andrews. She was always Emily Blunt's version, but we still felt the same way about Mary now as we did back then. Also Julie Andrews gave her her blessing. Let's just say this. There have been very few times that I have left a theater filled with so much joy that it lingered for days. Mary Poppins Returns was one of those films, and while the rest of the world may not appreciate it, I believe that should be recognized.

69. The Descendants (2011) - Alexander Payne is one of the modern masters of comedy, by truly finding humor in dark situations. I love his other films, but for me The Descendants was somewhat of a departure for Payne. Of course there were plenty of his hallmarks. There was a brilliant script, adapted from Kaui Hart Hemmings wonderful novel. It was filled with humor and beautifully constructed characters. There was a pitch-perfect cast, led by a fantastically emotional role from George Clooney, and a breakthrough performance from Shailene Woodley. But The Descendants was not as cynical as some of Payne's other work. It was the first of his films that really had a heart at its center.  For all the humor, and the smart comments, The Descendants is about loss, grief, family, heritage. It is a story about a father trying to pick up the pieces of his wife's death, trying to help his daughters with the loss of their mother, and trying to help his family decide the best for their history and their ancestors. That warmth, love, and emotion, brought a new level to Payne's filmmaking, and proved that he is one of the best at connecting audiences to truly incredible human stories.

68. Nightcrawler (2014) - There's a statistic that they state in Nightcrawler about the amount of crime reporting in local news. I cannot at this moment remember the exact number, but it is exorbitantly high. Local news stations have figured out that reporting on crimes brings in big numbers, and money to their stations. That is the premise of Dan Gilroy's stunning directorial debut Nightcrawler. Jake Gyllehaal gives an impeccably screwed up performance as a cameraman who decides upon himself to help create crime news. It is a brilliantly disturbing performance, and it is bolstered by two great supporting turns from Riz Ahmed and Rene Russo. It is Gilroy's darkly honest script, which earned him an Oscar nod, that really buoys this film. It seems ridiculous, but in our world of cutthroat journalism and ratings obsessed television, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to think that an underpaid, eager employee would go above and beyond to do his part for the ratings. That is what made Nightcrawler so resonant, and so haunting. It could happen. With pulse pounding suspense and solid direction, that fear is realized beautifully onscreen.

67. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) - At three hours long, and with a whopping 569 f-words said on screen during that time, The Wolf of Wall Street is something that tests an audience ability to finish a story. Luckily, Martin Scorsese's always incredible direction, a wicked-smart script from Terence Winter, and an amazing cast, take this three hours and make it a hilarious, drug-fueled trip through white collar crime. Whatever people think of The Wolf of Wall Street, it is entertaining as hell. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill embrace the zany, and honestly, with most of his films being so dark, it was nice to see DiCaprio let loose a little. But Scorsese was never going to make just a regular raunchy comedy. There is a lot of darkness at the core of this film. It is brutal look at a world that with one comment, one deal, one handshake, can wreck so many people. It is an honest film in a way that is almost too honest. It shows us this incredible world that Jordan Belfort lived and worked in, its warts and all. Even the most unbelievable parts of the film ring true, because you know that the unbelievable will eventually turn into the disappointing believable. It was Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio in top form, and the final product was one hell of a ride.

66. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) - I actually preferred Moonrise Kingdom better (which you will find out), but I completely understand why The Grand Budapest Hotel was such a favorite among Academy voters. It is trademark Wes Anderson. It is quirky to a fault, chocked full of incredibly fun characters played by his rotating favorite cast members, and it has a wild, zany adventurous story that takes it characters to incredibly fun conclusions. But what sets The Grand Budapest Hotel apart was the incredible production value, and its Oscar wins for Costume Design, Makeup, Score, and Production Design are proof. It takes Wes Anderson's quirky sensibility and it puts it on a grand scale. That scale makes Grand Budapest Hotel not only experience for the funny bone, but for the eyes and ears too. It was a quirky comedy hidden in a great cinematic achievement, and it worked.

65. A Most Violent Year (2014) - With Margin Call, All is Lost, and this film, J.C. Chandor has built an eclectic and incredibly deep filmography, with such a bright future ahead. I think his best film yet is A Most Violent Year. Most folks going into this film thought they were going to see constant violence, like a classic gangster film. Instead, Chandor slowly builds with pointed pops of violence that contribute to the story line. Amazing performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, particularly Chastain, elevate, give heart, and provide amazing tension throughout. At its heart, it is a story of family, of a man trying to make it in a world that was not designed for that, and it is that struggle, which yes, sometimes involves violence, that makes this crime thriller a unique and impeccable film experience.

64. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) - This is a film that has grown on me the last six months. I think the first time I saw it, I respected what Barry Jenkins and his team were able to accomplish. But it took two more viewings for me to really love and become encompassed by this beautiful, haunting, and mesmerizing film. If Beale Street Could Talk is a small story about a family trying to prove the innocence of one of their own. But, while set many years ago, the intensity, the haunting nature, the vivacity of the story make it feel like, unfortunately, this is a story that could still happen today. Jenkins deserves a lot of credit for his script and his direction, as does the amazing cast, particularly the impeccable Regina King, who rightfully earned an Oscar for her jaw-dropping performance. But at its core, this film is a success because of James Baldwin. His beautiful work translated to the screen with ease, and still resonates four decades later.

63. The Tree of Life (2011) - I'll admit, I am huge fan of early Malick. Badlands, Days of Heaven, and The Thin Red Line were all incredible. I have struggled with his work since 2000, mostly because the majority of them have been outright bad (talking to you Knight of Cups and To the Wonder). There is one major exception (actually apparently there is now a second as A Hidden Life did well at Cannes) and that is The Tree of Life. I am not as high on this film as most film buffs, critics, and bloggers are, most of whom would rank this somewhere in their top ten. I actually put this higher after the Criterion release of the film, because I think that the longer cut actually added in some much needed connection, and made the Sean Penn part of the film (the one part I really didn't like) a lot better. So after all of that, you have to wonder, do I actually like this film? The answer is a resounding yes. It is a visionary tale beautifully wrought by Malick and Lubezki, and it has soaring cinematography shots that are breathtaking. I also love the little story at the heart of the film, about the family life of Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain's characters. It is an honest and well-acted story of love, loss, and the pains of growing up. It is that human connection in the story that keeps it afloat, and makes it worth the watch.

62. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) - Benh Zeitlin is about to release his follow-up film Wendy, and it is high on my list of must-sees. That is because his micro-budget indie Beasts of the Southern Wild came out of nowhere in 2012, and took the Oscar race and the film world by storm. With no professional actors (Quvenzhane Wallis has done well in her young career since, but at the time was an unknown), an unknown director, and an incredibly small budget, Zeitlin created a slightly post-apocalyptic world where a young girl must deal with family, crisis, and find her inner strength. The unknown, non-actor cast did a fantastic job, and Wallis became the youngest nominee ever for Best Actress. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a soaring tale of a young girl finding her way, and finding her purpose in the world. It is beautifully created, impeccable executed, and is a film with a gigantic heart. Seriously, fingers crossed for Wendy.

61. District 9 (2009) - Released the same year as the mammoth Avatar, this science-fiction film will never be quite remembered as well, but it did manage to breakthrough its genre trappings, and find room next to the juggernaut in a crowded Best Picture race. Backed by Peter Jackson, with director Neil Blomkamp, who made his feature length debut, District 9 is a brilliant executed, documentary style science-fiction film, that serves as a greater metaphor for the treatment of those different than us, particularly pulling imagery from South African apartheid (which is not surprising considering that Blomkamp is South African). Combining a story of the bad guy who ends up turning on the government to helped the oppressed, with a unique vision, pulse-pounding action, and impeccably thrilling tension, District 9 is an incredibly entry into the science fiction canon, and rightfully deserves a spot on this list.

The 35th Annual Television Critics Association (TCA) Award Winners

Program of the Year
Fleabag

Outstanding New Program
Russian Doll

Outstanding Achievement in Drama 
Better Call Saul

Individual Achievement in Drama
Michelle Williams "Fosse/Verdon"

Outstanding Achievement in Comedy
Fleabag

Individual Achievement in Comedy
Phoebe Waller-Bridge "Fleabag"

Outstanding Achievement in Movie or Miniseries
Chernobyl

Outstanding Achievement in Sketch/Variety Shows
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Outstanding Achievement in Reality
Queer Eye

Outstanding Achievement in News and Information
Leaving Neverland

Outstanding Achievement in Youth Programming
Arthur

Career Achievement Award
David Milch

Heritage Award
Deadwood

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Oscar Narrative: Pre-Festival Predictions - Best Original Screenplay

Pre-Festival Predictions
Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"
Kasi Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard "Harriet"
Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns "1917"
Quentin Tarantino "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"
Scott Z. Burns "The Report"

Other Contenders -  Jordan Peele "Us", Pedro Almodovar "Pain & Glory", Anthony McCarten "The Two Popes", Lulu Wang "The Farewell", Noah Baumbach "Marriage Story", Lena Waithe and James Frey "Queen & Slim", James Gray and Ethan Gross "Ad Astra", Scott Z. Burns "The Laundromat", Chinonye Chukwu "Clemency", Joe Talbot, Jimmie Falls, and Rob Richert "The Last Black Man in San Francisco", Andrea Berloff "The Kitchen", Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski "Dolemite is My Name", Rian Johnson "Knives Out", Brian C. Brown, Elliott DiGuiseppi, and Noah Hawley "Lucy in the Sky", Charles Randolph "Untitled Charles Randolph Project",  Joanna Hogg "The Souvenir"

Commentary - Once again, I am not ready to make drastic changes to this category. I did move Jordan Peele's Us from the top five. It would be great to see him make another Academy run like he did with Get Out, but I fear that this time it is too much horror for voters. In its place, I moved in Sam Mendes WWI drama 1917. The first trailer dropped, and the buzz is high for this historical piece which could do well with the Academy's older voting block. Other than that, I am still sticking with the other four from my original predictions. We know Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is going to be a huge contender, The Report still has buzz from Sundance, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood's first trailer did not disappoint, and neither did Harriet's. I am watching for Almodovar, who has his best reviews in a long time (and has won a writing Oscar before). Lulu Wang's The Farewell is an art house hit. It will need a good campaign to keep in the awards conversation (and it deserves one). There is building buzz for indies like Queen & Slim, Marriage Story, Clemency, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, The Souvenir, and The Laundromat. I am also looking out for Knives Out, The Kitchen, Lucy in the Sky, The Two Popes, and Ad Astra. This race is shaping up to be a lot more competitive than its adaptive counterpart, and an exciting one to watch.

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Oscar Narrative: Pre-Festival Predictions - Best Adapted Screenplay

Pre-Festival Predictions
Julian Fellowes "Downton Abbey"
Peter Straughan "The Goldfinch"
Steve Zaillan "The Irishman"
Dee Rees and Marco Villalobos "The Last Thing He Wanted"
Greta Gerwig "Little Women"

Other Contenders - Benh Zeitlin and Eliza Zeitlin "Wendy", Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller and James Mangold "Ford v. Ferrari", Taika Wahiti "Jojo Rabbit", John Lassiter, Andrew Stanton, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Martin Hynes and Stephanie Folson "Toy Story 4", Lee Hall and Tom Hooper "Cats", Edward Norton "Motherless Brooklyn", Richard Linklater, Holly Grant, and Vincent Palmo Jr. "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?", Matthew Michael Carnahan and Mario Correa "Untitled Todd Haynes Project", J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio, Colin Treverrow, Derek Connolly "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker", J.C. Lee and Julius Onah "Luce", Jennifer Lee and Allison Schroeder "Frozen II", Simon Blackwell and Armando Iannucci "The Personal History of David Copperfield"

Commentary - Not much has changed in this category for me since my first predictions earlier this year. I have moved Toy Story 4 out of the race. I know it got rave reviews, and incredible box office, but if the other competition holds up, I feel like it will be left out for more Academy-esque fare. That leaves Little Women, Downton Abbey, The Irishman, and The Last Thing He Wanted in their slots. Nothing that has happened so far suggests that they won't be the contenders we thing they can be. In the fifth slot, I have moved in The Goldfinch. Peter Straughan is an Oscar nominated writer, the book is a Pulitzer Prize winner, and it its hitting the fall festivals hard, definitely looking for Oscar gold. I would still lookout for Wendy, as Zeitlin's first feature Beasts of the Southern Wild was the surprise of the 2012 Oscar season. I think that Ford v. Ferrari could be popular, and the quirky films like The Personal History of David Copperfield, Where'd You Go Bernadette?, and Jojo Rabbit could be popular with the writers branch. The new Todd Hayes Movie, Sundance favorite Luce, the musical film version of Cats (although the reaction to the trailer is really negative), Motherless Brooklyn, and the big guns like Frozen II and Star Wars are all ones to watch for.

The Irishman and 1917 Debut Trailers

Fall movie season is heating up. The Irishman opens the New York Film Festival this year! Two Academy Award winning directors, Martin Scorsese and Sam Mendes return to the race.