Oscar Predictions and “Insight”

The Oscars has been nothing but a complete dumpster fire this year. Frantically scrambling for an identity in the face of plummeting ratings, the once proud award show has no idea what the hell it wants to be. Nevertheless, my fandom’s still all in this year, and if you’re still interested too here’s my list of predicted winners, deserved winners, and snubs. The complete list of nominations and my reaction/rantings to them can be found in the previous post. Read up before the awards and enjoy!



Best Picture:

The best picture of the year?

What Will Win: Roma

At the moment this guess is mostly theoretical in nature: Roma has shown some promise on the awards trail, but it is yet to bring in any of the major awards that normally precipitate a best picture win. Instead, Bohemian Rhapsody (golden globe winner for best drama), Green Book (Golden Globe winner for best comedy, screenplay, and Producers Guild best picture winner), and even Black Panther (best ensemble at the SAGs) would be the proven frontrunners in any other year. But in the most wide-open Oscar race to date, all bets are off. A strikingly ambitious personal project that is beautifully told without being overly opaque, my guess is that Roma pulls ahead. Of course, there’s a fairly large change I’m wrong and a good chunk of my reasoning may very well be rooted in my preference for the film, but, at least from the outside, Roma appears to have what it takes to win. The film earned raves upon its release and has only gained in momentum since–finding itself showered in accolades and award show love as of late. Additionally, Alfonso Curran, the film’s director, is no stranger himself to Oscar voters (having won best director for Gravity) and will be a much more appealing option than the likes of Bryan Singer and Peter Farley. And finally, while Roma’s socio-political themes are timely, they are comfortably subdued compared to films like BlacKKKlansman and Black Panther. Much like presidential elections, winning Oscars is as much about building voting coalitions as anything else. Thus the film’s blend of artsy melancholy, moderate political-commentary, and auter directing I think will beat out whatever its crowd-pleasing competition can throw at it.

(Edit: The night after I posted this the Directors Guild handed Roma their top award which officially put it at the front of the best picture race.)


What Should Win: Roma: A black and white foreign film without much of a story does not sound like a recipe for success considering my admittedly basic film tastes (I know I’m sorry but it’s true). But for Roma it was. Everything from the long, unbroken shots, the first time actors, the lack of a score bread an authenticity that couldn’t be faked. But instead of just presenting a simplistic self-portrait of Curran’s childhood, this authenticity captured more: the ambivalence of life, the pain of our shackles, and the beauty that seeps into it all no matter what.


What Should Win (But Wasn’t Nominated): Blindspotting: Forgotten upon its release because of a perfect storm of misguided marketing and critical misunderstanding, Blindspotting nevertheless remains head and shoulders above any other movie this year in my eyes. An epic and urgent mix of hilarious buddy comedy and evocative racial and economic critiques, the odyssey of one black man’s (an enthralling Daveed Digs) attempt to keep his head above water for just long enough to complete his parole is a heart-breaking look inside the fractured reality of gentrification, urban America, and the horrors of an unjust police state. It will leave you angry. It will leave you in tears. But it will also leave you with something more. Blindspotting’s ability to balance this darkness with the glimmering lights of downtown Oakland elevates it beyond belief. Tragedy and joy and confusion and fury and romance all come in equal measures, and the reality of life in urban America will never be shown so honestly again.


Complete rankings (Best to worst):


  1. Roma: Enchanting and unforgettable, Roma is a touchingly personal look into memories of youth and is a well-deserving front-runner.
  2. BlacKKKLansman: A righteously furious condemnation of the sickening infestation of systemic and radicalized racism, BlacKKKlansman is a mesmerizing showcase for Spike Lee. It smartly rejects the moderate platitudes of all too common “both sides” appeasement and will leave your eyes glued to the screen into well after the credits have rolled.
  3. The Favourite: Sharp-tongued and quick-witted, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) finally gets a chance to shine by using a script (by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara) that’s not his own and the payoff is immense. A hilarious and intelligent British period piece elevated by its star cast (Emma Stone, Olivia Coleman, and Rachel Weisz are all nominated), The Favourite deserves every one of its Oscar-leading 10 nominations.
  4. A Star is Born: An inevitably sad tragedy, I had a great deal of trouble even forcing my way through the movie. If you can handle it though, fantastic original songs and affectingly dynamic direction from Bradley Cooper makes the film a “star”* in its own right.
  5. Green Book: A thoroughly entertaining film that carries painfully simplistic views on race, Green Book will remain an incomprehensible contradiction to me until the day I die. All I’m certain of though is my hope it doesn’t win Best Picture.
  6. Black Panther: A poorly conceived first half and surprisingly lackluster direction are nevertheless surpassed by ambitious political arguments and a historically great Michael B. Jordan as Kilmonger. Is it the best superhero film ever? No. But as a monumentally important cultural touchstone and a mostly successful film in its own right, Black Panther deserves to be here.
  7. Vice: The single biggest disappointment of the year for me, while I respect any film that dares to dunk on Cheney and W., Vice was nevertheless a lazy, disappointing, and ultimately pointless mess.
  8. Bohemian Rhapsody: The depths of human ignorance know no bounds.


* I can’t be sued for making bad puns.


Best Actor:

How can Christina Bale not win for this?

What Will Win: Christian Bale (Vice): Rami Malek’s best drama victory at the Golden Globes and his win at the SAG’s are indicative of the unfailing love people have for Freddie Mercury and that love may just be too much to overcome for Bale (especially considering the lackluster critical response to Vice). But Bale didn’t gain 40 pounds for nothing. Where’s his Oscar!? Shown love by the Critic’s award circuit and the Golden Globes so far, I think he’s gonna get it. His performance is quite literally the entire movie, and I think (as seen by Gary Oldman’s fat Churchill impersonation last year) it’s difficult to see Oscar voters rejecting that when push comes to shove.


What Should Win (That Got Nominated): Christian Bale (Vice): Not only does Bale look like Cheney (which is probably deserving of an Oscar on its own) but he really does become him. Oozing bureaucratic evil with each gutterly mumble and wet smack of his lips, Cheney is by far one of the best parts of this movie and his sinister depiction of Cheney should be kept alive for all eternity (or until the Oscar’s telecast ratings hit 0).


What Got Snubbed: Per usual there are too many to count, but while the easy (and correct) choice is Ethan Hawke for First Reformed, John Cho’s broken and panicky mess is a remarkable feat considering his film, Searching, essentially forces him into a one-man show. I mean how hard should it be to make an entertaining full-length movie take place almost exclusively over facetime? Cho makes it look easy.


Best Actress:

Melissa McCarthy shines as infamous author Lee Israel in her Oscar-nominated in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Who Will Win: Glenn Close (The Wife): If you had asked me a month ago my predictions Close probably wouldn’t have even been on my radar. Such is the nature of movie awards. A mixture of a lifetime achievement award (Close had been held winless in her first 6 Oscar nominations) and a product of her being allowed to take over a relatively weaker movie, Close sees nothing but clear skies ahead. And after sweeping through the Globes, Critics Choice, and SAGs, this win is as good as locked.


Who Should Win (That Got Nominated): Mellisa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?): The daunting task of making an unlikeable protagonist watchable has confounded countless actors before and has killed many movies. But, finally breaking out of bargain-bin comedy and thriving in a dramatic role, the immensely talented McCarthy was able to manage just this. Her character’s (Lee Israel) swings from snarky to angry to categorically depressed are made palatable solely because of her witty and lively performance.


Who Got Snubbed: Thomasine McKenzie (Leave No Trace): A remarkably confident and mature performance by a child actor that doesn’t lose sight of her characters more innocent silliness, Thomasine McKenzie deserved more than for her award chances to be left for dead without the support of her film’s producers. Regardless, the future looks bright for this brilliantly talented actress.


Best Supporting Actor:

Who Will Win: Mahershsala Ali (Green Book): The surest winner out of any of these races, Ali gave a complex yet strong showcase in whole-lotta screen time. And, playing an oppressed black historical figure, there’s no reason to doubt that Ali’s award show dominance is subject to a spoiler on Oscar night.


Who Should Win (That Got Nominated): Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?): Charismatic and emotionally compromised, Grants free-wheeling companion to McCarthy’s character perfectly depicts the hopelessness and hope that awaits us all in life. And though I liked Ali, he wasn’t exactly a supporting character…


Who Got Snubbed: Josh Hamilton (Eighth Grade): Upbeat and slightly out of touch like any good dad should be, Hamilton didn’t get nearly enough recognition for the mixture of un-killable pride and consternation he brought to the role of his single-parent character.

Josh Hamilton’s fatherly comfort in Eight Grade should not have gone so unnoticed.


Best Supporting Actress:

Who Will Win: Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk): A definite make-up prize for Beale Street’s rejection, King has, for whatever reason, been chosen by award’s voters as Beale Street’s acting representative (there are good performances across the board though, so it’s not really clear to me why). Leading at most awards shows so far (although the lack of a SAG nomination is a little disconcerting), the gold is probably hers to lose on Oscar day.


Who Should Win (That Was Nominated): Amy Adams (Vice): Adams played by far the most interesting and fleshed out character in Vice (Cheney’s wife Lynne) and her work was of tantamount importance in making Vice as competent as it was. And as someone who’s been repeatedly snubbed before (I mean she wasn’t even nominated for her role in Arrival) this win would be a hard-earned apology. 


Who Got Snubbed: Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place): Deserving of a win for the bathtub scene alone, Blunt’s character’s vulnerable yet admirably strong nature is an impressive showcase for an impressive actress. The film’s genre (horror) shouldn’t change that, although the Oscars still struggles to comprehend this. 


Best Director:

Can Spike Lee win his first ever Oscar for BlacKKKlansman?

Who Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron (Roma): This is Cuaron’s film–every bit of it. Personal, ambitious, and expertly crafted, Oscar voters recognize Cuaron’s insane undertaking and will reward him for it. As evidenced by Bradley Cooper’s directing snub and Roma’s dominance in all awards categories so far, it’s not even gonna be close. 


Who Should Win (That Was Nominated): Spike Lee (BlacKKKlansman): With all due respect to Cuaron, who is 100% deserving of the award he’s about to win, but Lee’s hilarious and searing vision of race in America should be recognized and Lee should win his first every directing Oscar. Watching BlacKKKlansman is like watching jet fuel being dumped on a bonfire in all the best ways possible; that explosive energy is a necessity in today’s society. 


Who Got Snubbed: The Cohen Brothers (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs): An anthology movie that would only work with macabre wit of these directors, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a minor masterpiece that manages to wrangle together seven disparate stories into one coherent picture. As much as they’ve been rewarded by the Oscars before, their admission this year is a regretful snub.


Best Adapted Screenplay:

What Will Win: BlacKKKlansman: This year’s Get Out, while films like BlacKKKlansman traditionally struggle in the best picture category, the best screenplay category is ripe for the better, more ambitious films. And with timely racial themes and an intense and occasionally very funny script, I think BlacKKKlansman will get the voters’ attention.


What Should Win (That Was Nominated): If Beale Street Could Talk: Another too close to call category for me, Beale Street takes the edge because, as you can read in my review of the film, its revolutionary depiction of black love is too important to pass on. And after missing out on a best picture nom, this film should not go completely ignored

Love like you’ve never seen it before.

What Got Snubbed: Probably something! Sorry, but looking at the adapted screenplay movies this year I realized that: a) nothing stood out to me and b) a large part of this is because I haven’t seen enough of these movies.


Best Original Screenplay:

What Will Win: The Favourite: The Favourite’s ten Oscar nominations hint ever so slightly that voters really like this movie. And with a dialogue-centric script that is consistently funny and devious throughout, The Favourite’s top prize is gonna be this.


What Should Win (That Got Nominated): First Reformed: A pleasure just to get nominated for writer/director Paul Schraeder (Taxi Driver), the biggest (happy) surprise when nominations were released was this movie getting what it’s owed: a best screenplay nomination. A profound take on the tug-of-war between hope and despair and between extremism and inaction, the script for First Reformed was audacious in all the best ways possible and will be remembered for years to come.

For First Reformed, it’s an honor just to be nominated (although I bet Ethan Hawke would have liked to receive the same honor.

What Got Snubbed: Blindspotting: I couldn’t rave enough about this movie, maybe my favorite in years, but I’ll try to keep it brief: WATCH THIS FILM!


Best Score:

Justin Hurwitz and First Man getting snubbed for best score is one of the biggest Oscar surprises in years.

What Will Win: Nicholas Brittel (If Beale Street Could Talk) There’s every chance for an upset in this category as the not-nominated First Man looks set to win many of the best score awards that could otherwise be semi-predicative. That being said, I believe Beale Street wins this as a consolation prize not being nominated; composer Ludwig Goranson and Black Panther may still give Brittel a run for his money, but ultimately Beale Street’s flowery melody will be the more traditional, and mature, choice.


What Should Win (That Was Nominated): Nicholas Brittel (If Beale Street Could Talk): By creating the only good score a Marvel movie has ever had, Ludwig Gorranson showed in Black Panther that his work on Creed was no fluke and he’s a film composer to be reckoned with. But it’s not quite enough to win. Bittel’s score for Beale Street is poetic and seductive in a way only the best music can be, and it enhances the melancholic emotions of Beale Street in a substantial way. That being said I’ve listened to the scores for Beale Street, Black Panther, and First Man on endless repeat so whatever wins is gonna be fully deserving. 


What Got Snubbed: Justin Hurwitz (First Man): What got snubbed? What got snubbed? In one of the biggest Oscar shocks in years, Hurwitz somber yet larger-than-life lullaby was ignored as the Oscar’s gleefully spit on First Man. One of the best scores in years, the score for First Man had dominated the award circuit and was considered a near lock to win the Oscar for best score. But alas…


Best Song:

Kendrick Lamar did career work for his Black Panther album, but will it be enough to win him an Oscar?

What Will Win: “Shallow “(A Star is Born): A glorious triumph of a song from Lady Gaga that plays just as well on the radio (where it’s currently soaring over the charts) as it does in the pivotal scene it builds, Shallow has proven dominant on the awards path so far and I don’t think “All The Stars” hip-hop roots will ever be able to overcome it with Oscar voters.


What Should Win: “All the Stars” (Black Panther): This is truthfully not an easy choice for me, but I just can’t shake the hypnotic warmth of “All the Stars” flowing from my speakers while I drive home–dreams and hope filling my heart and head as I stare into the tired night sky ahead. It means more to me, and that’s all there is to it.  


What Got Snubbed: Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse: A compelling and well-suited mix of timely hip-hop songs, the soundtrack for Spider-Man was a surprising admission by the awards shows this year. “Sunflower” by Post Malone, which was a big-time hit outside of the movie, was probably the representative to pick here, but any of the unapologetically upbeat bunch would have been good to see.


2019 Oscar Nominations Review

There comes a time in the latter half of winter where the walls start closing around you. After the long, festive holiday hangover that follows the Nirvana of the Holidays, a realization sinks in. Trapped in the bitter grasp of no-man’s lands, the increasingly frigid reaches of winter stretch out before you with no end in sight. Summer, sprinklers, sunshine, not having to watch the Patriots play in another Super-Bowl, there are memories and pictures of these things but little else. Sure, the first week or two may go alright– still riding high on the warm bliss of huddling around the fireplace with family (and a good number of strong eggnogs), but then the weeks of work and tedious boredom still in front envelop you, slamming you into the icy pavement below your feet.


Of course, I go to Berkeley now so what’s it to me? It’s gonna be 65 and partly cloudy here until the tectonic plates decide to swap things up.


But for the rest of you who care, I can offer one brief ray of hope: the Oscar nominees came out today! (well last night technically I think). A batch of results that had primarily been predicted by the hordes of Oscar bloggers day 1, per usual there was nonetheless a host of surprises, snubs, and, well, shit to be discussed. I’ll give a more in-depth ranking and prediction for all the major categories in a few days once I’ve finished watching everything (I’m close I really am!) but just for now I wanted to do a quick review of the stuff that really stood out to me.


First the good! While Ethan Hawke was (expectedly) snubbed for his powerful performance in First Reformed, the screenplay by writer/director Paul Shrader nabbed a surprising nomination for best original screenplay. The best original screenplay category has always been a sort of alternate version of the best picture award, wherein the better films that actually carried with them a spark of originality could thrive (for example Get Out was able to win this last year). While the bleak, art-house vibes from First Reformed threatened to push the film away from Oscar voters, however, that fact that the film was able to pull off the nomination I think was a product of both its political leanings and how damn good it was.


Similar praise can go to the nomination of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by the Cohen brothers, which while not as successful a film as First Reformed was still a welcome upgrade over the piss-poor Oscar choices that over-ran the rest of the awards. And while they were not revolutionary by any means, it was nice to see deserving films like Roma and The Favourite (leading with 10 nominations each), A Star is Born (8 nominations), and Black KKKLansman (6 nominations) not getting overly snubbed (although I’m sure Bradley Cooper is not going to be particularly happy about missing out on best director). And for the acting nominations, the two nods for Will You Ever Forgive Me (Mellisa Mcarthy for best actress and Richard E. Grant for best-supporting actor) will go along way towards filling the hole left without the film’s nomination for best picture. On the flip side, while it’s nominations in most of the major categories were unto not deserved, Vice garnered 3 acting nominations with deserving nods to Amy Adams (best supporting actress) and Christian Bale (the front-runner for best actor). Sam Rockwell got nominated too I guess; he must have been a blast at the 2018 Oscar’s after party.


Depending on where you go on the internet, it’s extremely possible in the coming weeks you’re gonna hear and a lot of criticism for Black Panther’s, count them, 7 nominations! I wanted to write a little on why this film was picked and why I think it’s a fitting choice, even though I agree with some of the criticisms. It’s true to say that the film was somewhat overrated. Tortuously bad dialogue and a plodding, even occasionally politically troubling first half crippled the film from the greatness it should have attained under a fantastic filmmaker like Ryan Coogler. But overall the film carried with it (especially for a Marvel film) an unprecedented ambition. In essence, it wasn’t just a super-hero movie starring black people; it was a super-hero movie about black people. Especially in the 2nd half, Black Panther dared to make weighty but well reasoned political and social arguments on everything from extremism and colonialism to black oppression and foreign intervention. Largely this was done through the antagonist Kilmonger (played in an all-time great performance by Michael B. Jordan). While he was snubbed at the Oscars for his role in the movie, his character will live on as one of the greatest and most important villains in movie history — whether you liked the movie or not. Additionally, strong acting all around, one of the best scores this year (by the composer for Creed Ludwig Goranson), and some truly memorable moments sprinkled throughout the movie, all way more than outweigh the film’s initial flaws. And for so many black Americans around the country (as evidenced by the film’s record box-office haul and cultural impact), this film is more than just a plain-old Marvel movie.


The snubs and disappointments this year are, on the other hand, far too many to count of course. I’ll preface this part with a message I have to tell myself every year: Oscar nominations are not indicative or often even largely correlated with the quality of a movie; so much goes on behind the scenes on the campaigning and pr side that the goal of these nominations isn’t even to display quality. I know, if you care about movies that’s not really gonna help but there it is.


I already railed against Bohemian Rhapsody in my last post so I’ll leave its, checks cards, 5 nominations including best picture and editing, shudders and dies inside, alone. Likewise, I’ve mentioned some of the bigger snubs already so I’ll leave those alone here. And I’m sure there are a million lists online detailing every minuscule flaw in the Oscars choices, so I’ll just go over the choices that really popped out to me. First off, while it generally cleaned up pretty nice overall, it’s the few misses for A Star is Born that may spell its doom for the best picture race. After losing to Green Book at the PGA (a highly predictive award) and struggling mightily at the Golden Globes, missing out on the best director nomination (for Bradley Cooper) and the best editing nomination may sound the death knell for the once promising movie (Roma it’s up to you to stop Green Book now).


And in perhaps the biggest shocker this year, the smashing success and write-in-pen lock for best documentary, the Fred Rogers biopic Won’t You be My Neighbor wasn’t even nominated. The highest grossing biopic ever made, Won’t You be My Neighbor had everything: sentimentality, a heart-warming message, and quality craftsmanship. The best documentary has always been a notoriously difficult award to predict, but I’m just stumped on this one. I guess, admittedly, I didn’t particularly enjoy it myself as the film rarely dared to dig particularly deep into its subject, but if anything that should make the movie more enticing for the average Oscar voter. It doesn’t make sense. This category doesn’t make sense. The two most successful and critically acclaimed documentaries this year, 3 Identical Strangers and Won’t You be My Neighbor, didn’t get nominated. Why even have the category?


No, David, stop. Remember what you said earlier. These nominations are complicated. They aren’t based on reason. Why do you even have expectations?


I know, I know I’m sorry. I don’t want to care but I do. I expect to be disappointed, and I still am. I mean look at First Man. The writing had been on the wall for quite some time now so I knew in my heart it was coming, but to see one of my, supposedly Oscar flavored, favorite films this year get shut out of every single major category (including, in a blood-draining shocker for best score and Claire Foy missing out for best-supporting actress) it was somewhat expected. A mix of prestige-character study and space-travel suspense, the film, directed by previously on fire Oscar Winner Damian Chazzelle (the creator of Whiplash and La La Land) First Man started off the year at the front of the awards race. But, I think a much more complicated and tragic portrayal of shiny American Legend Neil Armstrong may have soured Oscar voters and audiences who were expecting a much more celebratory jaunt (I mean where were the exploding fireworks and flying Chevy trucks over the moon’s surface).

If you’ve read some of my more recent reviews and you’ve seen the list of nominees you can guess the last film I want to talk about. I guess some of the other award shows have shown an inkling of what was to come, but on its surface level, I think the snub of If Beale Street Could Talk is one of the biggest in years. A deeply moving portrayal of black love and life in America, If Beale Street Could Talk is not only one of the best films in a year starved of good films, it is a revolutionary and monumentally important statement. So don’t let anyone fool you, yes, there is stuff going on behind the signs, but Annapurna, the film’s producer, was 100% behind this film in its Oscar campaign. This snub is entirely about race. Now sure, you might argue, this year is not exactly #Oscars so white. Black Panther, Black KKKlansman, and Green Book are all to a large extent about race. And while this is true, it does not come close to telling the full story.



The Oscars has long struggled with its infamously white moderate-liberalism that parades around its “race” movies like prize horses –celebrating films about slavery and colonial abuse while turning its head at the sight of films that genuinely portray the realities for black Americans in this country. Black Panther, Black KKKlansman, and Green Book are these movies this year. Get Out, ironically considering the film was blasting these type of people, was it last year. The Oscars are fine showing oppressed black people. Slavery, the struggle for civil rights, racist white people: these films succeed at the Oscars and the voters pat themselves on the back. But any films that strive for more, any film that strives to portray black people in a positive, human light?




And this snub is all the more disappointing considering the context of today; after years of struggling with race, thousands of new voters, and a conservative political atmosphere that more and more seeks to take us back to “the good old days”, now is the time when the Oscars should be embracing black films and black actors. And to so coldly reject a black director like Oscar winner Barry Jenkins and such a well-made film is depressing, to say the least.


I can repeat what I said before here. How the Oscars don’t matter. How they aren’t indicative of anything. But of course, that’s not really true. They may be political. They may not be based on merit. But for both movie fans and non-movie fans alike, they are indicative of everything.


Happy awards season!


Full List of Nominations Below:


Best Picture

  • BlacKkKlansman

  • Black Panther

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

  • The Favourite

  • Green Book

  • Roma

  • A Star Is Born

  • Vice

Best Director

  • Alfonso Cuaron (Roma)

  • Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)

  • Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)

  • Adam McKay (Vice)

  • Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)

Best Actress

  • Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)

  • Glenn Close (The Wife)

  • Olivia Colman (The Favourite)

  • Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)

  • Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Best Actor

  • Christian Bale (Vice)

  • Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)

  • Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)

  • Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)

  • Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Amy Adams (Vice)

  • Marina de Tavira (Roma)

  • Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)

  • Emma Stone (The Favourite)

  • Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Mahershala Ali (Green Book)

  • Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)

  • Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)

  • Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

  • Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Best Costume Design

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Mary Zophres)

  • Black Panther (Ruth E. Carter)

  • The Favourite (Sandy Powell)

  • Mary Poppins Returns (Sandy Powell)

  • Mary Queen of Scots (Alexandra Byrne)

Best Sound Editing

  • Black Panther

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

  • First Man

  • A Quiet Place

  • Roma

Best Sound Mixing

  • Black Panther

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

  • First Man

  • Roma

  • A Star Is Born

Best Animated Short

  • Animal Behaviour

  • Bao

  • Late Afternoon

  • One Small Step

  • Weekends

Best Live-Action Short

  • Detainment

  • Fauve

  • Marguerite

  • Mother

  • Skin

Best Film Editing

  • BlacKkKlansman (Barry Alexander Brown)

  • Bohemian Rhapsody (John Ottman)

  • The Favourite (Yorgos Mavropsaridis)

  • Green Book (Patrick J. Don Vito)

  • Vice (Hank Corwin)

Best Original Score

  • Black Panther (Ludwig Goransson)

  • BlacKkKlansman (Terence Blanchard)

  • If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)

  • Isle of Dogs (Alexandre Desplat)

  • Mary Poppins Returns (Marc Shaiman)

Best Documentary Feature

  • Free Solo

  • Hale County This Morning, This Evening

  • Minding the Gap

  • Of Fathers and Sons

  • RBG

Best Documentary Short Subject

  • Black Sheep

  • End Game

  • Lifeboat

  • A Night at the Garden

  • Period. End of Sentence.

Best Foreign-Language Film

  • Capernaum (Lebanon)

  • Cold War (Poland)

  • Never Look Away (Germany)

  • Roma (Mexico)

  • Shoplifters (Japan)

Best Production Design

  • Black Panther (Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart)

  • The Favourite (Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton)

  • First Man (Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas)

  • Mary Poppins Returns (John Myhre and Gordon Sim)

  • Roma (Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez)

Best Visual Effects

  • Avengers: Infinity War

  • Christopher Robin

  • First Man

  • Ready Player One

  • Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Cinematography

  • The Favourite (Robbie Ryan)

  • Never Look Away (Caleb Deschanel)

  • Roma (Alfonso Cuaron)

  • A Star Is Born (Matty Libatique)

  • Cold War (Lukasz Zal)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Border

  • Mary Queen of Scots

  • Vice

Best Animated Feature

  • Incredibles 2

  • Isle of Dogs

  • Mirai

  • Ralph Breaks the Internet

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters and Eric Roth)

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)

  • BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott)

  • If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)

  • Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty)

Best Original Screenplay

  • The Favourite (Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara)

  • First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

  • Green Book (Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly and Nick Vallelonga)

  • Roma (Alfonso Cuaron)

  • Vice (Adam McKay)

Best Original Song

  • “All the Stars” (Black Panther, written by Kendrick Lamar, Al Shux, Sounwave, SZA and Anthony Tiffith) Performed by Kendrick Lamar and SZA

  • “I’ll Fight” (RBG, written by Diane Warren) Performed by Jennifer Hudson

  • “The Place Where Lost Things Go” (Mary Poppins Returns, written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) Performed by Emily Blunt

  • “Shallow” (A Star Is Born, written by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt) Performed by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga

  • “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, written by Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch) Performed by Tim Blake Nelson and Willie Watson

Disappointingly Dry, “The Commuter” isn’t Even Fun Enough to go a Little Off the Rails

A gun-toting Liam Neeson is normally great fun. It’s a bad sign when he isn’t.

A taut Agatha Christie-esq thriller fronted by prime Liam Neeson, this delightfully intelligent yet wonderfully freakish baby of Speed and The Orient Express provides for one hell of a Friday-night blast. It goes without saying how to difficult it is to balance stupid fun with insightful themes in a movie, and any movie that does so is a truly remarkable feat –even more so considering the entire film takes place in the cramped confines of a commuter train. But with a twisty yet conscientious script and masterful direction, this movie proves the exception. At once it is both a rapturously over-the-top splurge of adrenaline and a deceptively damning critique of the failure of a rigged American rat-race; there is nothing here that will soon be forgotten.  


This is the review I would have loved to write for The Commuter. It is not, sadly, the one I can write.


While obviously extraordinarily positive in its description of a singularly perfect blockbuster, it is not even so ridiculous to imagine The Commuter earning those raves. There are numerous moments dotted throughout the picture that suggest the possibility of a uniquely brilliant bit of pulp mystery, and an excess of some of my favorite talents behind and in front of the camera made the film a must-watch for me before the trailer had even dropped. The action/mystery genre is criminally neglected in Hollywood, but star Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra have proved apt at achieving success before in this type of film. The creators of the similar albeit exponentially better movie Non-Stop a couple years back, Neeson and Collet-Serra showed their ability to produce a heart-racing story of claustrophobic deception and danger in an effortlessly watchable who-dun-it.


So what changed here?


Besides a swap in scenery (literally just exchanging a plain for a train) absolutely nothing.  It’s the same damn story. But hampered by the film’s child-like inception and a dour portrayal of pure adrenaline, everything changed. Ranging all the way from boring to super-boring and (when it really digs deap) to downright atrocious, The Commuter is –dare I say it– an occasional train-wreck, really only worth checking out after you’ve reached the Taken sequels level in the Neeson catalog.


Although the choppy dialogue is an unnerving sign of things to come, the opening does start off quite promising. A montage chronicles the monotonous prison of the 9-5 American dream, with Michael (Neeson) a New York Insurance salesman (and ex-cop although that only matters for the plot) rising with the crack of dawn every day to fall into the familiar routine before trudging off to take the train to work. Shimmering with just enough hope and family to rise above the far darker hell the film merely alludes to, the beginning nonetheless faintly resembles the off-kilter allegory of an old Twilight Zone episode.


Already struggling with getting the money to send their son to Syracuse, Michael’s future is suddenly shaken when he is fired from his job. Little more than a stitch in a much larger quilt, the sickening reality of Michael’s world –the world of the 21st-century middle class– is not simply implied, with some heavy-handed dialogue fiercely condemning a post-2008 society of spare parts and egregious abuse by the upper classes. The painfully overt dialogue lacks any nuance whatsoever, and it quickly became clear that in the hands of a more suited director there was a deeply meta and existential commentary to be made, but it is an agreeably ambitious touch and I was pleasantly surprised. Ultimately, though, any political angle was flushed and forgotten just as soon as the “real” movie started.


Of course, this would be forgivable if we could at least be treated to an entertaining couple hours of suspense (plot twist: this doesn’t happen). As soon as he sits down for the long train ride home, a woman (Vera Farminger) approaches him with a “hypothetical” challenge. If he identifies a mysterious passenger on the train, he will be given 100,000 dollars. Desperate for cash, Michael decides to play along and is soon pulled head-first into a torturous mystery with severely violent unintended consequences. Lacking the suffocating urgency and tight writing that made Non-Stop so thrilling to watch though, we are helplessly dragged along for a rather tedious story without the delicious twists and biting dialogue needed to make it any fun. It’s not abysmal, not for the most part at least and a Liam Neeson film is always gonna be some fun, but it’s all severely under-baked. There are attempts to stuff in more enthralling themes of corruption and anonymous valor, but even Neeson’s muffled growl can’t help much stick on the wall. And similarly, any heartfelt moments are so devoid of humanity they are left hanging in an almost uncanny-valley depiction, with a predictable ending so clearly (and badly) stolen from the Non-Stop it left me with a sour taste in my mouth for the 20 minutes before I forgot completely about the film.


Maybe that’s for the better I guess. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe I was just expecting too much. But I just feel that, short of starting a class revolution, a B action movie could at least provide enough fun to cover the cost of admission for us cash-strapped folks in the drowning middle class.


The Icy Nature of Literary Analysis, and the Loss of Unfettered Dreams

I have always found there to be something undeniably cold about literary analysis. An effective tool for gleaning a deeper understanding of a work of art, it nevertheless will constantly drain that work of, well, whatever makes it art in the first place. When you’re a kid, drooped over the sofa watching an over-produced Disney movie or drifting away under a warm blanket while wondrous tales of adventure calmly brush by, there is no need for thoughts of motifs and political commentary. No need for the murkiness of an intricately mundane and over-thought reality. Details are sparse, and big ideas are beside the point. And yet never again will you get so much out of a story. Never again will a movie or book simultaneously build the world you see around you while providing such a transfixing sense of awe.

I guess it’s only natural for us to move past this phase–to grow up. Like it or not there is a world outside the coziness of a childhood home; a world that must be reckoned with and dealt with accordingly, because it is different than the shimmering fantasies of half-remembered picture books. The real world needs art with motifs and political commentary because it needs people to think. So when you show up for middle school and the teacher asks you to look deeper into To Kill a Mockingbird, to live and breathe Scout’s tragic awakening, relax: that’s natural.

Everyone is Scout eventually. Everyone must be. But then they ask you to break out the post-it-notes. The highlighters. Why is Atticus? What is the Mockingbird? And maybe you’ll get it. You’ll get the sickening core of American society.

Then you’ll read some more. Fwoop, snap, krrrr. Atticus kills the dog. Highlight it. You get the nobility in bravery. The nobility in morality.

Fwoop, snap krrrr. Flip the page and bang! Shot in the back, there’s Tom lying dead–unable to escape his cage. You get it. The Mockingbird. The innocence.

And that’s all important because those are basic principles to carry with you into society. You have to be moral, thoughtful, dignified if you intend to be a functioning adult.

Then, one day, you’re lounging on the couch, book in hand, as you gaze off at the clock slowly ticking blankly on the wall above and suddenly your dad asks if you like the book. Like? Now, what’s that supposed to mean? You understand it. All of it. It’s a commentary on America; a commentary on humanity; a look inside the duality of innocence and tragedy that float hand-in-hand over dirt roads and marble staircases alike. It’s invaluable. It’s incredibly well written. By god, it’s an American classic. But suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you glance it. The case to the movie Finding Nemo. And in an instant the sound of misty waves crashing onto a lonely Sydney Beach echoes around the room.

It’s not that literary analysis is inherently misguided. I want to make that clear. Truly understanding a piece of art often means looking underneath the glaring reflection of the wrapping on the outside. Yet I have found over my time in school (and increasingly so running this website over the past year), that when you take a work of art–a work meant to incite tears and laughs and fears and subdued introspection–and you chop it up like a frog in a high school lab, analyzing its parts like a meticulous biologist, something dies. I would say the heart, but of course the heart lives on, bathing in ammonia next to the scalpel to your right. No, what dies is your ability to connect to the art beyond anything other than a diagnostic standpoint, and that kills because books, movies, songs, paintings–these resonate with humans on an emotional level. That is their purpose. When we take in art we don’t do it as a scientist or a paralegal. We take it in because when it captivates our imagination, art can matter more than anything.

I know this is a weird sentiment to express on a film review website, but of course that’s precisely why I’m writing now. Over the last six months especially, but even for a much longer while now, I have at times felt prisoner to my own instinct of looking at the movies I watch exclusively through the lens of a critic. Shifting and twisting in my seat like a neurotic puppy dog, images and words fly at my face before slicing through my retinas and bouncing around my ears. I hear and see everything. I make note. I adjust my grade accordingly. Up down, up down. A snappy line of dialogue here. An underdeveloped theme there.

And then I make my decision. A film was good.



A disappointment.

A revelation.

In the blink of an eye, I’m back in 9th-grade biology, back in high school English. And it’s not hell, but truthfully, starring up with dried eyes at the stuffy whiteboard crammed full of numbers and details, and observations, truthfully I’d rather be anywhere else. If life is one big balancing act, then I’m struggling to grab hold of anything as I slip over the side. Because watching movies on my laptop with the weariness of an accountant checking spreadsheets is no way to experience the beauty of a good story. I want these films to mean more to me. I want to be carried away like I was in the dreams of my childhood. Shot from a cannon into poetic oblivion where words and techniques, notions of quality and failure do not exist. Where the films I watch grab hold of my soul and never let go.

Sometimes they do. And I hope one day soon, they all will.



“If Beale Street Could Talk” is a Magically Vibrant Revelation

In a year of politics and movies often characterized by darker feelings of despair, “If Beale Street Could Talk” proves the exception.


There’s a palpitating, almost heavenly warmth to If Beale Street Could Talk that, despite its story’s tragic nature, gifts it an emotional resonance few films this year have even come close to attaining. Be it the response of a nation struggling through the murky depression of the Trump Years™, or just an irregular splotch in the cyclical world of art (it’s the former), many films this year have shared an invariably cynical and cloudy characteristic. And, naturally, you would expect a film about racial injustice in 1970’s Harlem to carry on this trend. But with a brilliant warmth that elicits the tranquil bliss of a late summer-evening stroll–in other words with the soothing glow of love–Moonlight creator Barry Jenkins is instead able to use the beauty of one couple’s star-crossed romance and the purity in their families’ support to shine a vivid ray of light through the impenetrable storm-clouds surrounding all of us.

That’s not to say If Beale Street Could Talk, the film adaption of civil-rights icon James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, is not fiercely critical of society and furious at the abject hopelessness facing so many black Americans. Cutting the story of our lovers Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephen James) up into little pieces before swirling them around in a trifle of emotional dichotomy, the scenes of graceful love dance with the smell of roses just as much as the scenes of societal abuse sting with the pain of inescapable frustration. This frustration and the grip it holds over the people of Beale Street appears everywhere, from racial oppression in the form of housing discrimination, joblessness, and police abuse, to internal gatekeeping and social strife, but is present nowhere more strongly than in the central conflict of the film.

In a sick twist of fate Fonny has been falsely accused of rape and must now do the impossible: battle through the hopeless underbelly of the New York judicial system to absolve himself of a crime everyone “knows” he commited. To make matters more complicated Tish is pregnant with his baby, and with the help of her cash-strapped family must find a way to fight to maintain her strength and save her lover and her future. Yet while this grim situation threatens to break our characters, Jenkins is careful to prevent despair from overpowering the flickering light behind the doors on Beale Street. After all, the criminal injustice is a distraction from life for our characters, not life itself. Life, Jenkins argues, is given meaning by beauty and hope and joy, and while that will never negate the omnipresent tyranny of oppression, for our characters it is nevertheless the reason to fight, and the reason to live.

Steeping his shots in the melting blush of a setting sun and flooding the film in a torrent of euphorically entrancing close-ups and slow-mos that wring every drop of humanity from a mesmerizing cast, Jenkins is able to paint this combative yet optimistic dance of vulnerability and belonging in every scene without fail. To say this is monumentally ambitious would be the understatement of the century, because to do this Jenkins refuses to play by the old rules–the easy rules. Showing civil rights protestors singing songs in the face of southern cops is one thing, but to prove this philosophical tug-of-war between hope and despair through the artistic recreation of everyday life is something else entirely.


And prove it he does.


From the passionate lovemaking and courtship between Fonny and Tish, to the crackling back and forth in the Tish household (Regina King and Colman Domingo are equally fantastic as Tish’s mom and dad, respectively), and even to arguments over the threat of racism, this emotional struggle hits home with every single beat of the film’s heart. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that overarching these scenes is the hands-down best score of the year; Marco Beltrami’s occulant, melodic whimsey flutters high and low in a bitter-sweet recreation of love and perfectly solidifies the connections between these moments.

I wrote last week about the similarly racially focused film Green Book. In my review, I acknowledged the film’s racial naivety but concluded that I nevertheless liked it. I honestly still do. But to compare it to Beal Street in general terms is almost an impossibility. It is the difference between entertainment and art. The difference between whitewash and truth. The difference between Hollywood and black America. So while I don’t find myself growing resentful at Green Book for its racial deficiencies, every second that flies by I can’t help but see Green Book as more and more hollow. It is the norm, the status quo. And Beale Street has shown another way. Ambitiously daring to paint the honest romanticism life can hold for black-Americans in a way few films have ever done before, Beale Street rejects the pedantic condescension that resides in the vast majority of the films about racism and instead showers its subjects in the same magical purity found in any work of art that looks up in awe at the impossible heights of the human condition. And while, in my opinion, an occasionally underwritten side to Tish in her relationship with Fonny (think doughy-eyed Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation) and a possibly realistic yet unsatisfyingly abrupt ending regretfully sap Beale Street of enough magic to knock it off the pedestal of “one of the best films in years”, it remains one of the most beautiful and revolutionary films in recent memory. After a year of movies wallowed in the despondent mud of cynicism, If Beale Street Could Talk serves as an emphatic reminder of the beauty of movies and humanity that supersedes all else.


Epic in its Ambitions but not its Scope, “They Shall Not Grow Old” Still Serves as a Worthy Memorial to those who Died in the War to End All Wars

Fully restored footage from WW1 makes for an unforgettable spectacle.

It’s difficult, in some ways, to review They Shall Not Grow Old like any other documentary, or for that matter film in general. Wildly popular upon its release, I’m sure it will get shown in history classes the world over as some lazy lecture fill in during the unit on World War 1. It’s unfortunate that these screenings by and large will be driven by a detached neglect rather than an intentional utilization of the what the film has to offer. Because despite what you may have read They Shall Not Grow Old is not, in the traditional sense, a documentary on World War 1. It makes no effort to put the war in context and pushes no historical arguments of its own; nor does it delve into any sort of history lesson on the politics and military campaigns that will make up the majority of any book or encyclopedia article you might read. Instead, it is a memory. A living, breathing recollection of just what this war entailed for those who fought it, brought magically to life from the graves of long dead soldier.


Born from the passion of its creator, Peter Jackson, and his uber-talented team, They Shall Not Grow Old achieved this magic by restoring countless hours of nearly unwatchable WW1 footage from the British War Museum before editing it down into the finished project. The results are truly a sight to behold, with shaky and grimy footage from WW1 transformed into a fully colored spectacle that looks as if it was shot in HD. Narrated exclusively by old interviews with British soldiers, the film walks us in a dream-like trance from soldiers’ enlistments in the war through their training, free-time, and life and death in the squalor of the trenches. It is not a revelation, and clocking in with a run-time of just over an hour and a half, They Shall Not Grow Old has neither the time nor the inclination to say anything revolutionary in its profundity about the most inexplicable war know to man. But this vivid ode to an all-too mis-remembered group of kids serves them better than anyone has before: it makes their stories and their plights real.


The movie that rails on the horrors of war has become an unfortunate cliche in recent times, but in an era where we move farther and farther from the brutal reality of war for most people movies like They Shall Not Grow Old that dare to remember the truth are still an absolute necessity. So while the film may not feel epic in scope and its lack of narrative and contextual details –barely more than a passing mention is given to the likes of Archduke Ferdinand or what the war is about– may render it decidedly claustrophobic, this is simply because it’s a reflection of a soldier’s reality. A reality that cares more about the lives of friends than the death of a German. A reality that cares more about day to day survival than the conflicting political motivations of a meaningless war. A reality that could be deeply tragic and funny and boring and confusing and often all of the above at the same time.


And it is because of this that I find the film so difficult to review. The video is stunning, and is worth every penny to see on the biggest screen possible. But as a film, as a documentary on WW1, it is stubbornly grounded and while that means it delivers an honest and important restoration of what life was like on the front lines of WW1, it doesn’t come close to reaching any farther. It’s useful from both a historical and cultural point of view, yes, but for those who watch it, go in with the knowledge that it is not so much a movie as it is an experience.



“Green Book” is Undeniably Entertaining, even though it Stumbles on its more Weighty Themes

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali star in the simplistic yet masterfully crafted “Green Book”.

Throughout award season and probably beyond, Green Book is going to get a lot of hate. And I’ll be honest: even after watching the movie myself and reflecting on it a whole hell of a lot over the past week I couldn’t tell you with 100% certainty what amount of that hate it does or does not deserve. Sorry, I know that’s a weird way to phrase the opening to a review of a film that I really, truly enjoyed. A film that, if it came out 20 years ago, may have been revered as a monumentally important and progressive film. But of course it’s 2019 –no longer the 20th century–and the context of the conversation over race has changed immensely.

If you aren’t familiar with the controversy at hand, after a phenomenal response when it opened at the Toronto Film Festival, Green Book has been plagued by claims of inaccuracy, and to a greater extent, a self-congratulating racism. Those criticisms stem primarily from a plot somewhat reminiscent of movies like Driving Miss Daisy. The (partially?) true story of all-time great pianist Dr. Don Shirley, an African-American, and his concert tour through the pre-civil rights south with his racist Italian-immigrant driver Tony Lip, Green Book tells the story of how the mismatched pair slowly learned to get past each other’s differences and become friends.


Just from that brief synopsis it’s natural to begin rolling your eyes and believe me I did too.


But as much as I came in expecting to dislike the film, as much as I came in with my expectations colored so greatly by the criticisms I’d read, I couldn’t get past one, undeniable fact: Green Book is a pleasure to watch.


It is.


And however simplistic and narrow sighted the screenplay (written by director Peter Farley, Brian Currie, and Lip’s own son Nick Vallelonga) may be, a magnetic chemistry between Shirley (played with an understated yet pitch-perfect intensity by Mahershala Ali) and Lip (the effortlessly charismatic Viggo Mortensen) powers the consistently funny and watchable odyssey.


A buddy comedy at heart, much of the hilarity and joy of Green Book comes from watching these two fish out of water collide and swim about in the shimmering yet perilous world of the American South. Tony Lip, as we get to know him over an extended but fun 30-minute intro, is a crafty but very street bouncer born into an immigrant family in the Bronx. A family man above all else, there’s a larger than life nature to Lip that endears him to us, seemingly outweighing his more racist tendencies. In need of money after his club is shut down for repairs, Lip decides to put aside his prejudices as he agrees to drive and serve as muscle for Dr. Sherley during his concert tour in the South. Sherley, for his part, is also far out of his element. His prodigal genius and queerness has alienated him from the rest of the black community and even his own family, and his brave foray into the South has left him dangerously exposed. Arguing and discussing everything from taste in food and music to proper etiquette and cultural identity, the hilarious dichotomy of the views of our two characters makes for a brilliantly entertaining and heartwarming period piece.


Now it’s true, despite being about racism towards black people in America, Green Book is not for them.


It is, first and foremost, a movie for white people.


While it touches on issues of race and identity, the decision to make the film a buddy comedy prevents it from going deep enough into its subject matter to make the better, more complex film that this story often suggested. I’ve grappled with this problem for days now, unsure of where to place this movie in the context of the increasingly complex ongoing discussion over race that strangles us as a society nowadays. Ultimately, I’d argue it’s not a white savior movie, I think that’s unfair to say with how powerfully Dr. Shirley is portrayed, but the movie on the hole is old fashioned and lacks the maturity that can be found in films like Moonlight (in which Ali won his first Oscar) or a movie like If Beale Street Could Talk. But whatever problems over race Green Book struggles with, in an age when the alt-right has seized power in America, it’s vital to put a disclaimer that Green Book does not represent that type of hate. Even beyond that, while its sensibilities are old fashioned and basic at times, its message of love and acceptance stands opposed to the far more dangerous ideologies that have become mainstream today.


I get that it’s not perfect or even a true work of art. But in an era where much worse, direct hatred is once again on the rise, is a crow-pleasing movie that condemns racism and celebrates what connects us as humans really the problem?