Matches for: “oscars” …

Mank-ing The Oscars Work

Holy crow, it’s finally here: the 93rd Academy Award nominations are out. For the longest time, I questioned whether we were even going to have an Academy Awards ceremony this year due to, you know, a global pandemic going on. And even though the ceremony was delayed by two months, the nominations still came out a few weeks shy of when the actual ceremony is normally held. Hey, if we get through this pandemic and host the Oscars during its regular schedule year after year, I will never complain about the Academy Awards ever again. Except for its snubs: those will never be overlooked even if we’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. 

The first Best Picture nominee leading the pack with 10 nominations is David Fincher’s drama Mank, which tells the true story of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his writing of the 1941 classic Citizen Kane. No surprise there as not only has Mank been the leading contender for the Golden Globes, the Satellite Awards, and the Critics Choice Awards, but it’s also related to Citizen-freaking-Kane. If David Fincher directed a drama about the toilet scrubber working on set of The Godfather, the Academy would give it 12 nominations just for the association alone. But I am happy for David Fincher as this is the first year where one of his movies has received the most nominations at the Academy Awards. Will it lead to a gold statuette? Possibly, but it really could go either way on Oscar night. There have been ceremonies where the most-nominated picture swept at the Oscars (The Shape of Water and Birdman in 2018 and 2015) to winning literally nothing (American Hustle in 2014). 

What follows is a very interesting predicament, and something I personally have not seen at the Academy Awards since… well, ever. The next six Best Picture nominees all have six nominations each. Yes, dear reader: six Best Picture nominees with six nominations each. That’s been unheard of at the Academy Awards for quite some time. Usually there’s one or two other favorites that has seven or eight nominations apiece, then the other three or four nominees share the rest of the nominations. This year, most of the Best Picture nominees are on unusually equal footing, which makes this year’s Oscars more difficult to predict compared to previous ceremonies. 

One of the early leaders in contention at the moment is Nomadland, an Indie drama darling directed by Chloe Zhao and starring Frances McDormand as a widow traveling the land after her husband died. I recently reviewed the movie on my buddy Andy Branca’s show “The Critics Corner,” and we both felt a bit underwhelmed by the movie’s slow, groggy, and overbearing pace. However, I do feel like the movie’s subject of grief and isolation resonates well with many people, especially in a year as terrible as 2020. Plus, the camerawork by Joshua Richards is gorgeous and for sure a contender in the Oscar’s cinematography category. Everything else, from director to actress to film editing to adapted screenplay, is up in the air. But personally, I’m shocked the movie wasn’t nominated for a best sound editing Oscar for those vivid sound effects of McDormand pooping in her van. Those sounds were very convincing. 

Another contender is the Aaron Sorkin-directed historical drama Trial of the Chicago 7, which tells the true story of seven anti-Vietnam War protestors charged with incitement to riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention. The movie is a brilliant, funny, affectionate, and eerily relevant movie for the times we live in and a great look back at one of our most contentious moments in American history. But I’ll be honest: I was expecting it to get nominated in several more categories than what it was nominated for here. Besides Best Picture, Trial of the Chicago 7 was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Song with Celeste Waite’s “Hear My Voice,” and Best Supporting Actor for Sacha Baron Cohen. Personally I think it could have also gone for Best Production and Costume Design, and Sorkin was definitely snubbed in the Best Director category, especially with Another Round’s Thomas Vinterberg nominated despite not also being nominated for Best Picture. 

Funny enough, Trial of the Chicago 7 isn’t the only Best Picture nominee to feature Black Panther leader Fred Hampton: he’s also the subject of Shaka King’s shocking biographical epic Judas and the Black Messiah. What’s surprising about this movie isn’t the fact that it it has six nominations, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Original Song for H.E.R.’s “Fight For You.” What’s surprising is two of its nominations come in the same category, with leads Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield both being nominated in the supporting actor category. Why does the Academy keep doing this? Five years ago, Dev Patel was given a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Lion despite playing the freaking lead. Now Judas and the Black Messiah is given the same treatment for not one, but two of its leads. Is that just the Academy’s prerogative during a pandemic: to screw with the audience? Either way, Kaluuya and Stanfield’s chances for winning probably stand better here than in the Best Actor category, where they would have had to gone up against the likes of Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, and the late Chadwick Boseman. Still, it’s frustrating to see the Academy shortchange actor’s performances and label them as “supporting” roles when they’re literally the heart and soul of a movie. 

Other indie darlings recognized with six nominations apiece include the amnesiac The Father, the tender and sweet Minari, and the progressive banger Sound of Metal. I’m happy to see Riz Ahmed get a much-deserved Best Actor nomination for Sound of Metal, as well as his supporting co-star Paul Raci, and am even happier to see it even elevated for Best Picture consideration. I also love seeing the Korean cast and crew of Minari recognized in these same categories and not in the Best International Film category, something the Golden Globes famously screwed up in its past ceremony. It’s also nice to see The Father nominated in so many categories despite being such an under-the-radar sleeper hit. 

The other surprise comes in Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman, not because it’s nominated, but because of how many times it is nominated. Besides Best Picture, Promising Young Woman is also nominated for Best Actress with Carey Mulligan, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Screenplay and Director for Emerald Fennell. That last nomination is especially exciting, because the Academy Awards has been historically biased towards female nominees in the director category. Greta Gerwin wasn’t even nominated for Best Director last year for Little Women, and the last time a woman won Best Director was 2010 with Kathryn Bigelow and The Hurt Locker. Alongside Chloe Zhao, this is the first year where two women are being considered in the Best Director category. Even if neither of them win, congratulations are owed to them both, and we can only hope the preverbal glass ceiling will continue to break from here. 

Unsurprisingly, the Oscars still managed to squeeze out a few snubs despite how few films they had to consider thanks to the pandemic. Da 5 Bloods, for instance, was overlooked in all of the acting categories, and even the technical categories too like cinematography and editing. The Outpost was equally overlooked at this year’s ceremony, and Caleb Landry Jones was straight up robbed for supporting actor. So too was Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson in The Devil All The Time, though with how gritty and queasy that film is, I’m not too surprised that Academy voters decided to distance themselves from it. The most maddening snub, to me, is Leigh Whannell’s remake of the horror icon The Invisible Man. Visuals effects, cinematography, production design, Elisabeth Moss’ horrified performance: you couldn’t find room for The Invisible Man in any of its categories? Really? 

Regardless, I’m excited that the Oscars aren’t just happening this year, but they’re happening with a (mostly) stacked pool of nominees. It says something about the film industry that it endures a financially devastating event as massive as the coronavirus pandemic, yet it’s able to  continue to produce amazing storytelling and performances despite all of the adversities it faced in 2020. Here’s to the Academy Awards finally arriving in 2021, and here’s to me continuing to bag on them. 

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

All The Oscars Are Closer

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Finally. After several years of senseless snuffing, snubbing, and robbing of several deserving nominees, the Academy is finally starting to listen to its audiences.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released their nominees for the 91st Academy Awards Tuesday morning with the help of comedians Kumail Nanjiani and Tracee Ellis Ross. In previous years, I’ve had an undying cynicism towards the Academy and their pretentious grandstanding, with their nominations being so under-the-radar that it wasn’t even worth having a radar. This year, however, I find myself pleasantly surprised with the Academy not just for nominating more mainstream movies, but for also reaching outside of the box with genres that they usually don’t recognize during awards season.

Don’t get me wrong; the Academy is still very much focused on the Indie side of cinema. Its two Best Picture frontrunners, for instance, are also the ceremony’s least recognizable – The Favourite and Roma, both of which have 10 nominations apiece. The Favorite is an English drama about two cousins aiming to be the court favorite to Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman), while Roma is a Spanish drama about a housekeeper’s relationship to the children of a middle-class family. Not only are both of these movies the least underscored out of the Best Picture nominees – they are also the least seen. The Favourite has grossed a little over $43 million at the box office, while Roma has grossed slightly over $3 million (although to be fair to Roma, it is difficult to know its exact totals given Netflix hasn’t publicly released its viewership figures). Either way, The Favourite and Roma are the underdogs in their fight towards Best Picture. If they beat all the odds and somehow end up winning the night’s most coveted award, viewers’ first question is very likely to be “What movie?”

But unlike previous years where the Academy just waterboards the audience with obscure movies nobody has ever heard of, the Academy has actually made significant strides in nominating more mainstream pictures this time around. For instance, the runner-up for Best Picture is Bradley Cooper’s remake for A Star Is Born, which is essentially a live-action Lady Gaga concert that is well worth the price of admission. A Star Is Born has eight nominations and deserves every single one of them, though how many Oscars it will win on awards night remains to be seen.

Also nominated for eight Oscars is the political nail-biter Vice, which is basically an ego trip for either Christian Bale or Dick Cheney depending on whether you ask a Republican or a Democrat. I’m just sitting here wondering when Bale will be cast as Donald Trump for the inevitable biopic that will eventually be done about him.

The biggest surprise to come out of this year’s Best Picture nominees is Black Panther, which is nominated for seven Oscars in this year’s ceremony. Not only is it the first Marvel movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture, but it is also the first superhero movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture, period. It’s great to see Black Panther get the much-needed recognition that it so desperately deserves, though you have to wonder where the heck the Academy was when they were sleeping on the likes of Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight or Captain America: Civil War? To say it was long overdue to put superhero movies in the running with other high-profile Oscar frontrunners is a substantial understatement.

Also nominated is the in-cheek satirical comedy-crime-drama BlacKkKlansman, which tells the true story of a black police detective successfully infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970’s. You might be frustrated to hear that despite writer-director Spike Lee’s long and successful career, this is only his first nominations for both Best Picture and Director. He was famously snubbed several years ago when his masterpiece Do the Right Thing was robbed of a nomination in virtually every category in the 1989 ceremony. The Academy did the right thing this year by giving BlacKkKlansman six nominations, including three for Lee himself for directing, writing, and producing.

Finally, the last two Best Picture nominees are both biopics about real-life musicians – Bohemian Rhapsody for Queen singer Freddie Mercury and Green Book for jazz pianist Don Shirley. Both are widely controversial movies that got several details wrong from both of their respective true stories. So obviously that makes them both deserving of their five nominations, including in the Best Acting categories.

This year’s ceremony didn’t get away completely unscathed from its usual snubs. A Quiet Place, for instance, got only one nomination for Best Sound Editing, even though you could have nominated it in just about every technical category and it would have been no less deserving. The sci-fi action-thriller Upgrade, the spy sequel Mission Impossible: Fallout, and the surprisingly endearing Crazy Rich Asians all got away with a collective zero nominations. And perhaps the most maddening, the compassionate Mister Rogers’ documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? wasn’t nominated for Best Documentary, with its snub matched only by the absence of Roger Ebert’s documentary Life Itself in 2015.

But overall, I feel better about this year’s nominations than I do in previous years. It shows that the Academy is trying to diversify its tastes when it comes to the nominations process, and they’re at least trying to reach out to other genres they usually don’t consider for their bigger awards. At the very least, let’s be grateful that this year isn’t a repeat of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.

Now if only they could find someone to host the Oscars. I heard Jimmy Kimmel was free this year.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Indie Spirit Oscars

SOURCE: MovieWeb

Have you heard about any of the Academy Award nominees? Yeah, me neither.

Like clockwork, the Academy Awards recently released their nominations for this year’s ceremonies. Unlike previous years where I wake up at my own leisure and read the nominees at my earliest convenience, I actually got up earlier the morning of the announcements and listened to the livestream on my way to work. Good gravy, are these people pretentious. The live-action shorts that played before the category announcements were so high-quality that they were better produced than many of the nominees themselves were. Can we recruit these people to make better films for these categories in future award ceremonies?

But never mind that, you’re not here to hear me gripe about the Hollywood elites. You’re wanting the breakdown on this year’s nominees. Let’s hop into it.

Leading the pack of best picture nominees this year is Guillermo Del Toro’s science-fiction romance The Shape of Water, a weird and uncomfortable movie about a fish creature falling in love with a woman. In hindsight, I passively admit that the film is mostly deserving of its 13 nominations. It is, after all, visually and aesthetically pleasing, and the creature himself has some of the most convincing effects I’ve seen in the past year. But I didn’t like the movie itself, feeling that it was too preachy and on-the-nose to be taken seriously. I do think Del Toro is very deserving of an Academy Award in general. His films Hellboy and Pacific Rim both pushed the boundaries in what could be achieved through visual storytelling, while Pan’s Labyrinth was a beautifully dark fantasy that put adult tragedies through the innocent eyes of a child (it’s actually one of my frustrations that film didn’t win best foreign language film at the 2007 Oscar ceremony). Will The Shape of Water be the film to break Del Toro’s losing streak? Possibly, but I can’t help but feel that parts of his earlier filmography are more deserving for an Oscar than The Shape of Water is.

The runner-up best picture nominee with the most nominations is Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, a World War II drama depicting the battles for French beaches, seas, and skies. Again, Christopher Nolan is a fantastic filmmaker: one of our generations best. But his earlier films are astronomically better compared to the sloppy, confused timeline that Dunkirk gave us. His first nominated film Memento was a mind-boggling and fascinating study of a decomposing mind, while The Dark Knight broke the boundaries between what we consider superhero movies and art. Inception is one of the greatest films this decade. Any one of these masterpieces could and should have been major contenders for best picture in previous ceremonies. Why is it suddenly that the lapsed, removed experience of Dunkirk is the one picture to suddenly give him a serious chance at the Oscars? Dunkirk is nominated for eight Academy Awards. It deserves five of them.

Side-note: In addition to Dunkirk’s best picture nomination, this is also the first time Nolan has been nominated for best director, merely getting only screenplay nominations in previous ceremonies. Regardless of what your opinion is on Dunkirk, can we at least agree that it is blatantly outrageous that this is Nolans’ first best director nomination?

Next is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which places in this year’s ceremony with seven Oscar nominations. This is one picture you gotta look out for here, folks. It swept at both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actor Guild Awards, winning the highest prizes at both ceremonies. Its stars Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell are both serious contenders for this year’s acting categories. Writer-director Martin McDonagh has a strong chance at the best original screenplay award. I haven’t watched the film yet, but it’s been racking up wins this awards season like a Star Wars movie stealing the holiday box office. Keep your eyes focused on this one.

Two surprise nominees here that I wasn’t expecting: the biopics Darkest Hour and Phantom Thread, both starring Hollywood heavyweights Gary Oldman and Daniel Day Lewis. The surprise here isn’t that they’re nominated for best picture, but that they’re nominated for five other Academy Awards besides it. I figured those two pictures were shoo-ins in the acting categories due to the reputation of its leads. I didn’t expect them to also slip in to the production design, costume, makeup, and cinematography categories as well. If anything, this shows that this year’s ceremonies are not as predictable as they usually are, and they’ll really contain their own twists and turns that none of us were expecting. I’m genuinely excited to see how these two films will impact the best picture race on Oscar night.

SOURCE: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Also nominated for best picture is the coming-of-age drama Lady Bird, the gay romance film Call Me By Your Name, and the satire-comedy-horror picture Get Out. Out of all of the movies to be nominated for best picture this year, my favorite is easily Get Out. If you haven’t seen it yet, you absolutely need too. It’s one of the most creative films I’ve seen in years, making a provocative race commentary that is equal parts violent, scary, entertaining, and relevant to its intended audience. The fact that it’s nominated here not only for best picture, but also best director, actor, and screenplay makes my heart happy for writer-director Jordan Peele, who basically exploded onto the film scene with this directorial debut. One could only dream to have a year as successful as Peele did.

There’s one best picture nominee here that doesn’t belong. Not because it isn’t deserving, but because it isn’t fairly backed up by its other nominations: The Post. Don’t get me wrong, it absolutely deserves to be nominated for best picture. The journalism-drama tells the story of the Washington Post reporting team that broke the story on U.S. Government’s obscured involvement with the Vietnam War, which eventually developed into the Pentagon Papers expose. It very much is Oscar-worthy material. The issue is that it’s only nominated for one other award besides best picture, and that is best actress for Meryl Streep’s role in the film.

This isn’t the first time that this has happened in recent Oscar history. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was only nominated for best picture and best supporting actor for Max Von Sydow in 2012, while the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma was only nominated for best picture and best original song in 2015. The worst of these offenses was Spotlight in 2016, which only won best original screenplay in addition to its best picture win. It is the only best picture winner in Oscar history to receive only two awards from the night.

This pity-nomination party has to stop in the Academy Awards. A film is not considered the best of the year for one actress alone, but for an assortment of cohesive elements that work together for the film. The director Steven Spielberg. The writer Josh Singer. The editor Michael Kahn. The cinematographer Janusz Kamiński. Streep’s co-star Tom Hanks. There was a lot of talent associated with this film, all of them equally deserving for attention as Streep was. Either give the film more nominations to support its best picture nomination, or don’t nominate it at all. There were plenty of other hard-hitting contenders that could have been nominated instead of The Post that have the nominations to back it up. Blade Runner 2049 with five nominations. Mudbound with four nominations. Baby Driver with three. You can make a case for any of these films and more to be nominated in the place of The Post due to its acting and technical nominees. Why on Earth are we giving out pity nominations for movies that can’t get more than two nominations from Academy board voters?

Overall, how do I feel about these nominations? Meh. They’re fine. I’m not really excited or maddened by their recognition here. They’re just kind of a passing mention of under-the-radar films to be aware of before you get to awards night.

I will say that, just like every year, there is obvious snubbing in categories where films did not deserve the disservice they received. You will notice, for instance, that Wonder Woman got zero nominations, despite being one of the biggest critical and commercial successes of the year. Detroit got zero nominations, despite its attention to detail and authentic depiction of such despicable events. The Stephen King horror film It got zero nominations, not even for makeup or supporting actor for its brilliant performance by Pennywise actor Bill Skarsgard. Good grief, even Logan got snubbed with Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s mesmerizing performances as old heroes reflecting on their broken selves (although it did impressively nab a best adapted screenplay nomination, the first superhero movie in Oscar history to ever receive such an honor).

But Academy Awards ratings have been consistently dropping, ever since its changes to the best picture category first proposed in 2010. Continuing to skip over mainstream films such as these is exactly why. Critics love the indie flicks that continue to surprise us in new ways, while moviegoing audiences love the occasional blockbusters that give them the escapism and entertainment that they need. It’s entirely possible to love and appreciate both of these kinds of films. Somebody please send the Academy the memo.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Oscars Strike Back

You spoke, Academy Award voters listened. Well, mostly.

After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy last year regarding the obvious lack of diversity in their nominations (all 20 acting nominees were Caucasian), the Academy wisened up with their pool of nominees this year. While there are still a healthy amount of snubs (there are every year), most of the nominees are at least well-deserved, and the nominees don’t seem to be lacking diversity-wise in many areas.

For best picture, we have the eerie science-fiction mystery Arrival, the Denzel Washington-directed Fences, the incredible and emotional war epic Hacksaw Ridge, the western-heist film Hell or High Water, the behind-the-scenes story of the moon landing Hidden Figures, the uplifting tap-dancing musical La La Land, the true story that spans technology and time in Lion, the personal family drama Manchester By The Sea, and the pivotal and passionate Moonlight. From the look of these nominees at first glance, it seems clear that the Academy is trying to make up for their relentless snubbing of Creed and Straight Outta Compton last year, as the inclusion of Fences, Hidden Figures, and Moonlight shows they’re trying to atone for past mistakes that they’ve made.

Still, they’re lacking in some areas. Captain America: Civil War is no where to be found, as well as its profane cousin Deadpool. Both of Peter Berg’s films Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day were skipped over by the Academy, despite them both being biopics and for featuring outstanding talent from its cast and crew. Perhaps most surprising to me is that they decided to snub A Monster Calls, a fantasy drama that has been getting Oscar talk for a long time now. I guess it goes to show that buzz doesn’t equal results, and with how many Christmas releases are included in the lineup, it especially shows how close to the chest Academy voters play with the nominations process.

For best director we have Denis Villenueve for Arrival, Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge, Damien Chazelle for La La Land, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea, and Barry Jenkins for Moonlight. My immediate reaction is that Gibson and Jenkins are most deserving. After all, it’s hard to take the subject matter they’ve had to deal with and translate it into film so well. Myself personally hopes that Gibson will win it, because he’s had a hard few years and made a comeback as powerful and groundbreaking as Hacksaw Ridge. But he already won best director a few years ago with Braveheart, so it’s unlikely the Academy will strongly consider him again, especially with all of the outstanding talent that he’s up against.

For best actor we have Casey Affleck in Manchester By The Sea, Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling in La La Land, Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic, and Denzel Washington in Fences. Not much to complain about here. All of the nominees are well-deserved in one way or another, and there’s no obvious snubs like Johnny Depp’s absence last year for Black Mass. I’m sure others will raise arguments about one actor or another, but for the most part, this category is well-rounded. No complaints here.

For best actress we have Isabelle Huppert in Elle, Ruth Negga in Loving, Natalie Portman in Jackie, Emma Stone in La La Land, and Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins. First thing’s first: Meryl Streep again? Really, Academy? This is literally her 20th nomination. I agree that she’s an outstanding talent, but you don’t need to nominate her every time she makes a movie. Amy Adams was subtle yet masterful in her role as a linguist in Arrival. But no, Meryl Streep needs another nomination, for a movie as clunky, awkward and uncomfortable as Florence Foster Jenkins.

Keep in mind I’m not criticizing Meryl Streep, I’m criticizing the Academy. There are outstanding artists every year yearning for recognition, yet the attention the Academy keeps giving her is taking away from those same performers. At this point, I’m expecting her to get a nomination if she portrays a wood table and chair. She could even win it too.

Back to the nominations. I like that Huppert is nominated for Elle, as French actors usually go unnoticed by the Academy unless it’s in the Foreign Language film categories. But I am also pleased to see Stone under the nominations as well. She’s always been a stand-out talent, from The Help all the way to Birdman. I don’t know whether she’ll win this year or not, but I’m excited to see what the race will be like. This is a category to look forward to.

For best supporting actor, we have Mahershala Ali for Moonlight, Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water, Lucas Hedges for Manchester By The Sea, Dev Patel for Lion, and Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals. An oddity I found in this category was Dev being nominated for Lion. Isn’t he the main character? I haven’t seen the film myself, but I know its about a young boy who uses Google Earth to find his birth parents after years of separation, which is the role that Patel plays. Even if the film uses flashbacks, he’s still portraying the elder version of the main character. Why is he nominated in a supporting role?

For best supporting actress we have Viola Davis for Fences, Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Nicole Kidman for Lion, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, and Michelle Williams for Manchester By The Sea. Again, nothing really lacking in this category, although I would have liked to have seen Felicity Jones nominated for A Monster Calls. I’m personally pining for Harris to win for her outstanding work on Moonlight, but this category can really go any way. Cross your fingers on this one.

The most obvious snubs come from films that are frequently ignored by the Academy, although they shouldn’t be. Suicide Squad got a nomination in makeup, although it should have also gotten nominated for best original song for Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens.” Deadpool also had outstanding makeup and costume work and is nominated for a Writer’s Guild award for best adapted screenplay. Of course, it isn’t nominated for that same award here.

The biggest snub came from Captain America: Civil War, a movie which really deserved to be nominated for anything. Best Picture. Best Director. Best Adapted Screenplay. Best Sound Editing and Mixing. Best Visual Effects. It got nominated for nothing. Yep, that’s right: it got The Dark Knight Rises treatment in 2012.

To me, this really speaks to how disconnected the Academy voters are to moviegoing audiences. Captain America: Civil War is simultaneously the highest-grossing and one of the highest-reviewed pictures of the year. With its complex story, mind-blowing action scenes, as well as its blurred sense of morality, this is a movie that is more resemblant of our politically-polarized society than it is as an action blockbuster. To look at its depth of layers hidden inside a superhero epic and ignore them is just a plain sham. The Academy Award voters should know better than this.

You can check out the full list of nominees here. In the meantime, I’m sharpening my pencil and checking off on my ballot. I’ll see you on Oscar night.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

2021 Oscar Predictions

I don’t know about you guys, but this year’s Academy Awards feels a lot stranger than usual. Doesn’t it for everybody? Even though the nightmare that is 2020 is behind us, I feel like a lot of what happened carried over into 2021 and changed how we approach pop culture and public events as a whole. 

Case in point is the 93rd Academy Awards. In any other year, the winners would have already been announced and we would have been well on our way to talking about the newest cinematic release, like Godzilla vs. Kong or Black Widow. This year the nominees came out several weeks after the awards ceremony would normally take place, and this year’s ceremony isn’t even until two weeks away. It feels weird to still be talking about awards season this late in the spring, let alone in April. 

Either way, the Academy Awards are right around the corner, and I’m excited for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s the first taste of normalcy many of us have had since, well, March of last year, so it’s nice to get back into the swing of things when many of us didn’t even know what the state of the Academy Awards would be this year. Several of my favorite films are nominated, including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Sound of Metal, and of course, The Trial of the Chicago 7. And the best part: no Oscar host again this year. After all of the coronavirus and political crap we dealt with in 2020, the one thing I did not need was yet another forgettable Oscar host. Thank God the Academy listened to viewers on that one. 

But there are several other things I’m less pleased with in this year’s ceremony. For one thing, Mank, one of David Fincher’s most boring and forgettable films ever put on life support, got a whopping 10 nominations at this year’s ceremony. I don’t know how it even got five nominations, let alone 10. Other amazing movies like The Invisible Man, The Devil All The Time, and Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods all got zero nominations at this year’s ceremony. And for the select few that are nominated, it looks like my favorites are mostly going home empty this year, which is always disappointing. 

Regardless, it’s nice to be back trying to outguess the Oscars this year. Without further adieu, here are my predictions for the 93rd Academy Awards. 

SOURCE: Searchlight Pictures

Best Picture: Ah, Best Picture. We meet again. You’ve gotten the better of me these past few ceremonies. The first half of the decade, I predicted all of your winners correctly, from The King’s Speech to Birdman. Then came 2015, and you just screwed with me in every way imaginable. 

First Spotlight won Best Picture while winning only one other Oscar from the night, the first time a Best Picture winner has done so since The Greatest Show On Earth in 1952. Then Moonlight beat La La Land for Best Picture during its embarrassing announcement mixup (but hey, I’m not complaining much). Then The Shape of Water became the first science-fiction film to win Best Picture, followed by Green Book stupidly winning over Roma, BlacKkKlansman, and Black Panther. Finally, Parasite became the first Foreign-language film to win Best Picture… ever. Again, I’m not complaining, but it definitely should not be the first… or last. 

This year seems, SEEMS, more straightforward than in previous years, and I’m knocking on wood when I say that. Nomadland has been racking up so many Best Picture wins this awards season that you’d think it was Meryl Streep. I have no idea why it has the momentum that it does. After all, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Judas and the Black Messiah, and Sound of Metal are all far more invigorating and powerful than that movie was — and amazingly enough, none of those movies are nominated for Best Director. But we’ll get to that later. 

Still, I think Nomadland is going to nab the top prize. The only other real competition it has is The Trial of the Chicago 7 because of its SAG Award win for Best Ensemble Cast. Even then, it isn’t looking to get a lot of love in many other categories, which is a shame because it is such an outstanding film. All the same, Nomadland does have its wholehearted moments and it deserves to be commended for that, if not saturated in praise already. 

Best Director: First of all, shame on the Academy for snubbing Aaron Sorkin in the Best Director category for The Trial of the Chicago 7. In a year where America was slammed by multiple epidemics, both social, political, and racial, The Trial of the Chicago 7 presented those same issues under a new light with heart and humor. It’s rare that a film feels as simultaneously as important as it does entertaining, yet Sorkin finds the right balance both as director and writer. Sorkin has every reason to be included on this list, while Another Round’s Thomas Vinterberg has zero reasons. I don’t care how good that movie is: Another Round has zero chances of winning, while The Trial of the Chicago 7 is more than deserving of a seventh nomination. Heck, you could even trade David Fincher’s nomination for Sorkin as well. God knows Mank doesn’t deserve to be recognized here. 

Regarding the rest of the nominees, Chloe Zhao has been racking up Best Director awards left and right this awards season, including the Director’s Guild, so it makes sense that she’d win Best Director at the Oscars as well. Again, I don’t know why she’s the favorite over the likes of Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari or Emerald Fennel’s Promising Young Woman. Both of those films clearly have the director’s fingerprints on them, while Zhao’s direction on Nomadland is more nuanced than anything else. But hey, it’ll at least be nice that an Asian woman has finally won a best directing Oscar. Plus, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will finally have an Oscar-winning director under its belt when Chloe releases Eternals later this year. 

At the very least, let’s be grateful David Fincher won’t be winning his first Oscar from Mank. Hang in there Dave: your time will come soon, and with a better movie. 

Best Actor: This one is pretty much a done deal: Chadwick Boseman will win Best Actor for his final performance as a cocky and overconfident trumpet player in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Besides the obvious tragedy regarding Chadwick’s sudden passing last year, the Academy has a slight preference towards awarding posthumous performances in the acting categories, with the last posthumous award going to Heath Ledger in 2008 for The Dark Knight. If Chadwick does win, he will have more than earned it, as his performance as Levee Green was smart, crass, witty, passionate, and filled with life, just like all of his performances were. I won’t be emotionally ready for this award when it comes around. 

Best Actress: Okay I gotta be honest here: I have absolutely no idea who is winning Best Actress this year. I seriously don’t. That’s because awards season has been completely bonkers with handing out its actress statuettes this year, and there’s no clear-cut winner thanks to everybody working on a different page. 

It’s easier to pick who won’t win than it is to pick who will win Best Actress this year, which is why you can cross Vanessa Kirby off of the list right now considering she hasn’t won diddly-squat all season for Pieces of a Woman. And despite her BAFTA win, you can also cross Frances McDormand off of the list since she already won Best Actress two years ago for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

That leaves Viola Davis for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Carey Mulligan for Promising Young Woman, and Andra Day for The United States vs. Billie Holliday. Andra won the Golden Globe for her performance in that film, but unfortunately so did Glenn Close for The Wife and she still lost the Oscar to Olivia Coleman for The Favorite. That leaves Viola and Carey to duke it out for the Best Actress Oscar. 

And here’s the thing about that: neither of these actresses are solidly in the lead. Davis recently won the SAG Award, which would normally makes her the best bet, but every year the Oscar deviates from at least one SAG Award winner at its ceremony (see Idris Elba in 2016, Denzel Washington in 2017, Emily Blunt in 2019). Carey Mulligan, meanwhile, has won the Critics’ Choice Award, but that’s even more inconsistent when it comes to trying to pick the Oscar winner. What to do? 

Screw it. I’m going against the grain here and picking Carey Mulligan for Promising Young Woman. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom already has one win secured with Chadwick Boseman anyway. It doesn’t need to get greedy with the Oscars now. 

Best Supporting Actor: Again, why is Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield nominated for supporting actor with Judas and the Black Messiah? Obviously they deserve to be nominated somewhere because they were both just so outstanding in that movie, but these two leads literally got top billing for that project. Their faces were on the dang poster, for crying out loud. First the Academy snubbed Dev Patel of a Best Actor nomination for Lion five years ago, now they’ve gone and done the same thing again to the leads for Judas and the Black Messiah. What exactly is the Academy’s criteria for actor and supporting actor anyway? Do any of their rules make sense to anybody anymore? 

That being said, Daniel Kaluuya probably stands the best chance for winning Best Supporting Actor here. Not that Sacha Baron Cohen, Paul Raci, and Leslie Odom Jr. weren’t equally as amazing in The Trial of the Chicago 7, Sound of Metal, and One Night In Miami…, but Kaluuya was just so prominent and powerful a presence as Black Panther leader Fred Hampton that it would frankly be disrespectful to him if anyone else won. Good luck explaining to me why he’s nominated for supporting actor over Best Actor though. Maybe the Academy wanted to equally recognize Chadwick Boseman and Daniel Kaluuya in the same ceremony? If that’s true, then that’s the best reasoning why he’s nominated in this category. 

Best Supporting Actress: First thing’s first, why on God’s Green Earth is Maria Bakalova nominated for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm? Was the year really so desperate that this movie needed to be nominated for acting? No doubt she was brilliant in it, but I’ve always been under the presumption that mockumentary films never got nominated at the Academy Awards. If we’re suddenly allowing them for consideration now, then where was This Is Spinal Tap’s nomination in 1984? 

Outside of that strange nomination, this is an unusually competitive category this year, with nominees including Hillbilly Elegy’s Glenn Close and The Father’s Olivia Colman. My pick for Best Supporting Actress, however, is Youn Yuh-jung, who plays Jacob’s grandmother Soon-ja in Lee Isaac Chung’s tender and sweet childhood drama Minari. Besides her being just as adorable and precious as any caring grandma could be, Yuh-jung carries international star power none of the other nominees possess, credited with over a hundred roles in her 50-year career. If all of that wasn’t enough on its own, she’s also been called the Meryl Streep of South Korea — and we all know how much the Academy loves Meryl Streep. 

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Best Animated Feature: Can we just start calling the Best Animated Feature Oscar the Best Pixar Feature already? Pixar has won so many of these Oscars that it’s just getting ridiculous at this point. This year their chances of winning are doubled with not only the larger-than-life Soul getting nominated, but also the endearing and touching brotherhood fantasy Onward. 

While Onward is my personal favorite out of the nominees, Soul has a more dedicated following and explores more profound themes of life and purpose in its seemingly simple story. Even though both of Pixar’s nominees are equally worthy of the award, I think Soul will end up winning Best Animated Feature.

Best Documentary Feature: Again, no idea who will win Best Documentary. At first glance I thought Collective would stand the best chance at winning since it’s also nominated for Best International Feature. But then I remembered that was the same case for Honeyland last year, and look at how that turned out. My next thought went to Time for touching on issues such as incarceration, the prison system, and poverty, but that film has a very mixed reaction amongst audiences, and I don’t think the Academy would go with it given its divisive reception. 

The next best bet then is My Octopus Teacher, and admittedly it is a unique premise about a filmmaker befriending an octopus in the ocean for a year. In recent years, interesting documentary subjects have won over the Academy more than interpersonal ones have (see Icarus, Free Solo). For that reason, I’m going with My Octopus Teacher. 

Best International Feature: All of the nominated films for Best International Feature seem to be on equal footing here with one key exception: Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round. Besides Best International Feature, Vinterberg is also nominated for Best Director and is the only other Best International Feature nominee to secure two nominations at this year’s ceremony. That pretty much assures Another Round’s win in this category, as it is historically unusual for a filmmaker to be nominated for Best Picture or Director and not end up winning Best International Feature. At least Minari isn’t foolishly nominated in this category like it was at the Golden Globes. I guess the Academy learned from the Hollywood Foreign Press’ mistake. 

Best Original Screenplay: This category could go to to one of two nominees on Oscar night: Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 or Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman. Between the two nominees, I adore The Trial of the Chicago 7 more not just for its subject matter, but for its brilliant handling of it. It emotion and gravitas, smart and electrifying dialogue, witty sense of humor, and stark parallels to modern society give power and purpose to this politically-charged drama, and all of that is thanks to Sorkin.

Emerald Fennell, however, has also crafted an ingenious and well-thought-out narrative behind the black comedy thriller Promising Young Woman. Handling a subject matter as serious as rape and sexual assault is always a difficult and delicate matter, but Fennell handles it well with grit, intelligence and striking commentary. It’s a close call between the two nominees, but if we’re going off of who has the better chances, it’s probably Promising Young Woman since Aaron Sorkin already won a writing Oscar in 2011 for The Social Network. If Fennell does win, it will be well-earned, although I kind of hope Sorkin would win his second Oscar for The Trial of the Chicago 7. But hey, maybe it’s better this way. At least the Academy gets to avoid the wrath of the feminists for another year. 

Best Adapted Screenplay: Again, can someone please explain to me how the hell Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is nominated for best screenplay? No, better yet, why is it nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay? While the rest of the nominees were based off of books or plays, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is based on the character of Borat, which is just as dumb as when Toy Story 3 was nominated for being based on its characters, or when Whiplash was nominated for being based on its own short film. Don’t even get me started on the Writer’s Guild of America, who unbelievably had the gall to name the Borat sequel the winner for Best Adapted Screenplay. I don’t care whether or not it can be considered a contender at the Oscars: the movie doesn’t deserve a nomination, let alone a freakin’ win. For that reason I’m knocking it off from my list of contenders. It doesn’t even warrant a nomination, and I’m not about to give it what it doesn’t deserve. 

Now then, looking at the four other nominees, there’s only one real other contender I see from the pack: Nomadland. While it’s questionable how Chloe Zhao chose to adapt Jessica Bruder’s nonfiction novel into a fictional narrative, the story she does weave is just as earnest as its source material, and she does a great job integrating the real-life nomads featured in the book and casting them as themselves in the movie. There are quite a few moments in the film where these nomads are talking, and you’re wondering if they’re actually acting or if they’re reliving their life experiences that brought them here. That level of authenticity is rare in the movies, and for that reason I think Nomadland is most primed to win Best Adapted Screenplay. 

SOURCE: Amazon Studios

Best Film Editing: Of all of the categories the Academy Awards recognizes on Oscar night, Best Film Editing has the least respect. Not because film editors aren’t artists of their own craft, but because for the past few years, the Academy Awards has chosen the literal worst winner they could among its pack of nominees. Dunkirk was a choppy and incomprehensible mess of a movie that couldn’t assemble a concise narrative if it wanted to, while it’s a straight-up crime that Ford v. Ferrari won the editing Oscar when Rush wasn’t even nominated. Don’t even get me started on Bohemian Rhapsody winning the bloody Oscar over the likes of The Favourite, Vice, and BlacKkKlansman. Spike Lee is upset that he lost Best Picture to Green Book, while I’m more upset that BlacKkKlansman lost to John Ottman literally ripping up the celluloid for Bohemian Rhapsody

The good news is this year’s pack of nominees doesn’t have anyone that’s as outwardly bad as the aforementioned winners are, just nobody that really sticks out like Whiplash, Argo, or The Social Network did. My personal favorite is Alan Baumgarten for The Trial of the Chicago 7, not just because of his smart assembly of events playing out throughout the picture, but also because of his great intercutting between characters’ dialogues alongside each other. Plus he’s been nominated before for 2013’s American Hustle. If I had to pick the most worthy winner out of these nominees, it’d be The Trial of the Chicago 7 hands down. 

However editing isn’t just fast-paced intercutting between action and dialogue — it’s also knowing when not to cut and letting events play out naturally to understand what our characters are going through. Sound of Metal does a brilliant job with the latter, as whenever Ruben Stone begins to lose his hearing, the loss of sound plus his facial expressions makes for painting a beautiful yet tragic picture of what he is experiencing. 

It’s a tough one, but I’m personally going to go with Sound of Metal. The quick editing techniques really haven’t sold itself in recent years with nominees The Big Short and Vice going home empty, plus I kind of like the idea of an indie favorite like Sound of Metal beating out the big production company-prowess of The Trial of the Chicago 7. Either way, let’s be grateful Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t taking home the award this year. I would probably lose my mind if it got a lifetime achievement award in editing or something like that. 

Best Cinematography: It’s amazing to see how quickly the Oscars can elevate someone to the level of their well-established peers. Take Best Cinematography nominees Sean Bobbitt, Dariusz Wolski, and Phedon Papamichael. In any other year, they would be considered the biggest contenders in this category, with their credits including not only the recently released Judas and the Black Messiah, News of the World, and The Trial of the Chicago 7, but also The Martian, Prometheus, Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice In Wonderland, 3:10 To Yuma, Ford v Ferrari, and 12 Years A Slave. At the Oscars, artists’ careers speak for themselves, and these nominees definitely carry very impressive ones. 

As loaded as these cinematographer’s filmographies are, they are amazingly enough the underdogs this year next to Nomadland’s Joshua James Richards, who has worked alongside collaborator Chloe Zhao since her director debut Songs My Brother Taught Me in 2015. And his work on Nomadland is stunning, eloquently capturing both the beauty and isolation of life on the road as a nomad. I don’t advocate for Nomadland for several awards this Oscar season, but I happily will for cinematography because it’s just that lush and gorgeous. Again, another filmmaker might be able to pull an upset, but considering all of the love and adoration behind Nomadland it isn’t likely. 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Here’s a rarity for the Academy Awards: the makeup category once again has five nominees under consideration. Normally Best Makeup only has three nominees, but this is the second time the Academy has filled all five makeup slots, right after Bombshell won this Oscar last year. That’s great for the Academy and even better for the nominees. Still, it doesn’t make my predictions any easier. 

As far as this year’s nominees go, I quite like the makeup work turning Federico lelapi into a wooden puppet in Matteo Garrone’s Pinocchio, as well as Hillbilly Elegy for turning Amy Adams and Glenn Close into some convincing-looking southern hicks. But if I have to look at the most striking makeup work, it has to be Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Its transformation of Viola Davis into the Mother of Blues herself Ma Rainey is just too impressive to miss, whether you’re looking at her blush makeup or her several exotic hairstyles. Sometimes it’s the transformation of one key character that sets the winner over the edge (see Vice, Darkest Hour and The Wolfman’s Best Makeup wins). If we’ve gotta bet on one leading lady, it’s got to be Ma Rainey. 

Best Costume Design: Another tough category, and man am I sick of saying that. The matchup for Best Costume Design comes down to the snazzy and stylish jazz suits and dresses of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and the elegant and enchanting wardrobe of Emma. Looking at the nominees themselves doesn’t make the matchup any easier, because not only has Ann Roth and Alexandra Byrne both been nominated five times: they’ve also both won Oscars already, Ann for The English Patient in 1996 and Alexandra for Elizabeth: The Golden Age in 2007. So who the heck is going to win the award this year? 

It could be my bias speaking again, but I think Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has just the slightest edge over Emma. One, the costumes are just as striking and spectacular as the film’s titular character is. Second, from a numbers perspective, Ma Rainey’s is just more loved by the Academy than Emma. is. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is nominated five times at the Academy Awards, while Emma. only has two nominations. Ma Rainey’s is literally the only film tied in nominations with Best Picture nominee Promising Young Woman, and it isn’t even nominated for Best Picture. Films nominated in more categories is usually bound to get more accolades, which is why Ma Rainey’s is the safest choice for costume design.  

Best Production Design: With an unbelievable 10 nominations under its belt, Mank was bound to win in one category or another, and production design is Mank’s moment to shine. Not only do the sets evoke the feel and sensation of 1930s Hollywood, but it also does a brilliant job recreating the era through the black-and-white lens of Citizen Kane. Still, as far as positives go that’s one of the few the film can fairly claim, and I have no idea why the film is also nominated for Best Picture or Director since it’s more dull than an E.L. James novel. Either way, its production is outstanding, and if Mank does win the Oscar, it will be the only one it has rightfully earned. 

SOURCE: Netflix

Best Musical Score: Shoutout to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for being nominated not once, but twice in this category. Not only did they score the snazzy and sensational ‘40s jazz soundtrack of Mank, but they also provided a lo-fi vibe to the heavenly and uplifting sounds of Soul. Either one could win on Oscar night, but my money is on Soul. Not only does its mesmerizing score go perfectly with the movie’s heavenly premise, but it’s also simply so beautiful and euphoric to listen to on its own. Mank might be able to pull an upset, but considering all of the love and adoration behind Soul, it isn’t likely. Whichever film wins the Oscar, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have already won. 

Best Original Song: It’s interesting to see how many songs in this year’s Oscars are dedicated to social causes compared to previous ceremonies. H.E.R. offers a beautiful and soulful R&B single with Judas and the Black Messiah’s “Fight For You,” while Celeste gives an emotional plea for help in The Trial of the Chicago 7’s “Hear My Voice.” But the most powerful track comes from Leslie Odom Jr.’s “Speak Now” for One Night In Miami…, where he offers simple spoken word on listening and unifying against injustice before crescendoing into a monumentally moving chorus. 

The Oscar could go to any one of these amazing nominees on awards night, but my pick is Leslie Odom Jr. Not only is “Speak Now” my favorite song nominated, but his star power also elevates him slightly above his fellow nominees. Be honest now: do you really think the Academy Awards will pass up on the chance to recognize a Hamilton star? Then again though he does play Aaron Burr, so if the Academy does decide to snub him, they’re somewhat justified for doing so. 

Best Sound: First of all, props to the Academy Awards for finally wising up and condensing the sound editing and mixing Oscars into one category. I know many sound editors may understandably be frustrated by the decision, but come on. Several elements go into all of the technical categories. You don’t see separate categories for Best Cinematography, Best Framing, Best Panning, Best Lighting, and Best Focusing. The Academy Awards are meant to recognize outstanding efforts overall, not pander to every single department of a production. 

That said, let’s plunge into the newly-named Best Sound category. It’s easy to predict who will win this year, and frankly, it isn’t even close: Sound of Metal. Given that the premise of the film revolves entirely on the sounds Ruben Stone does and doesn’t hear, it makes sense that so much effort goes into this film’s sound production. Still, I can’t overstate how masterful the editing and mixing of this film is. Not only are the sounds crisp and clear when they need to be, but they’re also equally distorted, messy, and compressurized, giving us a clear understanding of what Ruben is experiencing when he’s going deaf. It’s brilliant work from Sound of Metal’s sound engineering team, and frankly, no other nominee in this category is anywhere near as deserving. 

Best Visual Effects: Tenet. While not the most refined Christopher Nolan film, it does offer some dizzying visual effects, with objects and people moving forward and backwards through time like a clock’s two hands moving in opposite directions. In another year, maybe Tenet would be considered the dark horse compared to the rest of the nominees. But 2020 was a dismal year, and its competition is monsters, CGI animals, and a bad live-action Disney remake. Wor a in raey driht a rof debbuns eb t’now soidutS levraM tsael tA. 

And at last, we arrive at the dreaded short categories, the films I’ve never seen but am nonetheless asked to predict anyway. For documentary and animated short, I’m picking “A Concerto Is A Conversation” and “If Anything Happens I Love You” only because those are stimulating titles and nothing else. And “The Letter Room” has the only actor I recognize out of all of the short nominees thanks to Oscar Isaac, so that’s the one I’m going with for Best Live Action Short. Easiest shorts predictions ever. 

Well that’s it for now folks. I’ll see you on Oscar night. Remember to wear your mask.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , , ,

(Some Of) The Best Films Of 2020

A friend of mine shared a mantra with me recently that 2020 shouldn’t be the year where we dwell on what we’ve lost, but rather appreciate what we may have taken for granted. I feel that way about my year-end lists. Year after year, I offer a handful of sarcastic remarks about Top 10 lists and how trivial they are in summarizing the year in review. I will never ever ever say another bad thing about Top 10 lists ever again, because in addition to my social life, peace of mind, and general sanity, my Top 10 movies was yet another thing I had to say goodbye to in 2020 because I legitimately did not have enough movies to fill my Top 10.

I know, shocker. Hundreds of canceled premieres and rescheduled movie releases, you’d think something would pop up from all of the Netflix and chilling I’ve been doing this year. Sure, I could populate my list with the few blockbuster movies I caught earlier in the year, including The Call Of The Wild, Sonic The Hedgehog, and Bad Boys For Life (which actually wasn’t that bad for a threequel that nobody asked for). Unfortunately, I am a stickler when it comes to my lists, and I don’t rank a movie unless it truly deserves it, even if it’s during a pandemic.

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

Although many films were shelved this year due to theaters closing and movie releases being postponed, 2020 wasn’t completely barren. The remake of the horror classic The Invisible Man, for instance, ingeniously updated its material for the 21st-century with a feminist message that felt neither preachy nor on-the-nose, and Leigh Whannell offered some genuine scares through his brilliant use of framing and sleight-of-hand. Elizabeth Moss, likewise, offered a very impassioned performance that felt like she was experiencing a nightmare scenario from “The Handmaiden’s Tale.” Hell, even off-camera she still might have been.

Another film that was released in theaters before they were shut down was Pixar’s first fantasy adventure Onward, which tells the story of a pair of elven brothers venturing out to revive their father to share one last day with him. If Soul didn’t come out in December, I would have said Onward was the best animated film of 2020 and still think it’s a serious contender for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards next year (whenever that’s supposed to take place). It was nice to see Tom Holland and Chris Pratt share the screen again, especially after their triumphant return in last year’s Avengers Endgame.

But that wouldn’t be the last time I would see dear ol’ Tom as he would later return to my living room in the grim and eerie crime thriller The Devil All The Time. This phenomenal film directed by Antonio Campos featured Tom Holland in an all-star cast including Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgard, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Mia Wasikowska and several others as its characters pursue their versions of peace and enlightenment through extremely harrowing and violent methods. The film is based on a 2011 novel by Donald Ray Pollock, but the film is so haunting and deeply disturbing that it feels like it was penned by Stephen King.

Christopher Nolan’s much-anticipated science-fiction thriller Tenet released in theaters that same month to positive response but with sadly dismal box office numbers (again, thanks a lot coronavirus). And sure, while Tenet’s upside-down premise is literally and figuratively backwards and more confusing than a Darren Aronofsky picture, the visual effects were dazzling and had my jaw dropping more than a few times throughout the picture. I enjoyed getting to experience the fun of summer moviegoing again with Tenet, even though it was well into September and it wasn’t so much summer as it was a suffocating, masked-up fall.

Two war movies especially impressed me this year for very different reasons. The Outpost was a gritty and teeth-grinding retelling of the Battle of Kamdesh in 2009, and this pulse-pounding war epic was so high-octane and heart-racing that no other action thriller this year could match it (partially because the movie was so brilliant, partially because there were no action thrillers released this year). Special praise goes to filmmaker Rod Lurie, who hasn’t directed a high-profile production like this since 2011’s Straw Dogs remake, and Caleb Landry Jones for his heartfelt and soul-bearing performance as real-life specialist Ty Carter. If he doesn’t get nominated for Best Supporting Actor, next year’s already-delayed Oscars deserve to be boycotted.

SOURCE: Netflix

The other war drama released this year was Spike Lee’s thought-provoking and moving war epic Da 5 Bloods, which shows its five black soldiers fighting two wars both in Vietnam and back in America. Spike Lee once again delivers a stylish and visually dazzling picture filled with emotion and gravitas, while Delroy Lindo provides a career-best performance as a veteran struggling with grief, regret, and PTSD. This movie is especially notable because it features Chadwick Boseman in one of his last film appearances before his tragic passing in August. He’ll be known to many as Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and King T’Challa, a.k.a. the Black Panther. But for me, Stormin’ Norman will be one of his last great performances that I will admire deeply right alongside the others.

And amazingly enough, this year was also a great year for documentaries as well. Not only did The Social Dilemma give a brilliant breakdown on the many detriments of social media and Good Trouble gave an affectionate tribute to the late John Lewis’ civil rights history, but “Tiger King” gave us all a hilariously bizarre inside look at the life of tiger conservation and the very strange people and conspiracies surrounding that industry. I gotta say, when I heard the name “Joe Exotic” in 2016 before he announced his run for Oklahoma governor, I thought I would never hear his name again. 2020 showed me otherwise.

But of all of the movies streaming this year, my favorite undoubtedly goes to the historical courtroom drama The Trial of the Chicago 7, which shows Academy Award-winning writer Aaron Sorkin take a stab at the director’s chair in a brilliant and mesmerizing fashion. Sorkin directs an amazing all-star cast that includes Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, John Carroll Lynch, Jeremy Strong, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Mark Rylance, Frank Langella, Michael Keaton, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as an assortment of real-life figures that emerged during the Vietnam War protests in 1968. The movie isn’t just brilliant because of its smart writing, witty dialogue, modern parallels to current events, and great exercise of character development: the movie is also just plain entertaining. The fact that the movie can juggle so many tones of humorous, serious, and historical all at once and pull them all off so magnificently shows Sorkin’s potential as a director in his own right. If I were doing a formal Top 10 list as usual this year, The Trial of the Chicago 7 would be my number one hands down.

Other movies, of course, are trickling in through the streaming services this holiday season, whether it’s Soul with Disney+ or Wonder Woman 1984 with HBO Max. But really, the movies are changing in drastic ways right now to adjust to the time we’re living in, just like the rest of the world is. Hopefully next year will deliver some resemblance of normalcy and return to movie theaters, miles away from my couch and refrigerator.

– David Dunn

Top 10 Oscar Snubs Of The Decade

For every great moment that happens at the Academy Awards, there are 15 terrible moments that follow them. That’s why when Argo won Best Picture in 2013, Ben Affleck was still snubbed a Best Director nomination. That’s why when Moonlight won Best Picture in 2017, it was robbed of its Oscar-winning moment when La La Land was accidentally announced the winner. And while Spotlight, The Revenant, and Mad Max: Fury Road were all racking up Oscars left and right in 2016, black talent was still missing from all four of the best acting categories regardless. There were several awful moments the Academy Awards have brought us over the past several years. Here are 10 of the worst that happened this decade.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Top 10 Oscar Wins Of The Decade

There aren’t many good moments to pick from Academy Awards history. Whether it’s Seth McFarlane hosting the ceremony or Faye Dunaway flubbing up the Best Picture winner, the Oscars are filled with one maddening, cringe-worthy moment after another. That’s part of why the good moments are so endearing and memorable, despite also being so far and few in between. With the 93rd Academy Awards postponed to April 2021 (potentially even further with how the rest of 2020 is going), now is a great time to reflect on the 2010s and go over the 10 best Oscar wins of the decade. Spoiler alert: I’m not wearing pants while I’m making the list.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

May The Fourth Be With You.

SOURCE: Lucasfilm

This video was a hard one to do. Not just because of all the filming, editing, and effort that usually goes into long-form content like this, but more of the emotional story behind it that kept pushing this video out weeks after weeks after weeks.

I was originally supposed to publish this video ranking all of the Star Wars movies at the tail end of 2019, around the same time when Rise of Skywalker came out. But for those that know me, I was dealing with a lot at the time that prevented this video’s release. For one thing, I lost my Grandmother, or “Ducky Schwartz,” to respiratory complications. I still miss her dearly, though I am glad she doesn’t have to go through this pandemic at the very least. I lost my best friend. And to top it all off, I got into a car accident that wrecked me financially.

The holiday season passed (quite possibly the worst one I’ve ever experienced). January rolled around and I just got back on my feet. I was ready to film this video albeit a month later, but at least I was making progress. Then at the end of my recording session, all of the video footage got corrupted and wasn’t usable. So I had to reset and film the whole thing all over again.

A string of health problems prevented filming until March, and then I finally had all of my video clips and was ready to import the footage. Only problem was, for some inexplicable reason, my computer wouldn’t download all of the video clips. I have no idea why. But I had to pull out my other computer and download the rest of the footage from there. Halfway through downloading, my computer crashed and wouldn’t turn back on. I was so emotionally exhausted and frustrated that I couldn’t contain myself. I had a meltdown and completely broke down in my living room. I just felt so powerless. After dealing with one traumatic incident after another, all I wanted to do was shoot and edit a damn video, just to get my mind off of things. But I couldn’t even do that.

I was eventually able to restart my computer and download the rest of the footage several days later, but by then I couldn’t care less. I was so emotionally drained from the experience that I just shut out my computer and put the project on the back burner, focusing instead on my work and mental and emotional health. These videos haven’t done a damn thing for me, I thought. Why would I waste any more of my time and effort on them?

Fast forward to April, where we’re in the heat of dealing with this pandemic. Finally locked into my room with my own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and videos, I finally found the strength to return to my project and finish what I started. Video editing is not easy, and for those that are unfamiliar, it typically takes an average of one hour to edit one minute of footage. So I decided to take my time and just bite off one piece at a time. Two weeks later, I finally realized my vision for my ranking of the Star Wars series.

And yet, technical mishaps would strike yet again and try to stop me one last time. I finalized my remaining graphics and was ready to export my video. Only one problem: my computer wouldn’t boot up. I tried everything that Apple support suggested, but despite exhausting all options, the computer remained inaccessible, making a weekend’s worth of editing completely pointless.

So I pivoted, fired up my other computer, edited the video from a backup, implemented the graphics, and finally published my video against all odds. Suck it, Apple. Your shoddy hardware couldn’t stop me from sharing my love of Star Wars. 

Why am I sharing all of this? Because out of all the videos I’ve produced, this is the one I’m most proud of by far. Every conceivable obstacle was thrown into my path for this video, from personal to physical to technical. And despite all of those roadblocks, I was able to persevere and do what I love most: talk about movies.

I don’t know how much more I’ll resume video work after this. The experience has been so emotionally taxing on me that I question how much longer I want to do this, if I even want to keep doing this at all. I still want to publish roundups for the decade as well as the Oscars, though now I’m questioning whether I want to do those in alternative formats to avoid further stress and frustration.

But I’ll leave those questions for tomorrow. For now, I’m proud of what I’ve produced, and I’m proud I got to share my love of Star Wars and the movies with you once again.

Thank you all for continuing to support me and watch my videos. I genuinely appreciate it, and it has kept me going in these very difficult past few months.

Anyhow, enjoy my ranking of the Star Wars movies. Happy Star Wars Day, and of course, May The Fourth Be With You.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

‘Parasite’ Creeps Into Top Honors At 92nd Academy Awards

I gotta say, I’ve covered the Academy Awards for a long time now. Year after year, I watch as they award their Oscars to winners both old and new. I see them give their statuettes sometimes to those that are most deserving, other times to nominees that couldn’t be less deserving. And with each passing ceremony, there isn’t one where the Academy doesn’t spring at least one surprise on its unsuspecting viewers.

Take this year’s awards, for example. Not only is this the first year where a comic-book film was nominated the most (Joker with 11 nominations), but this is also the second year where the Academy led its ceremony without a host. Last year it was to the ceremony’s benefit, as the awards carried out at a brisk pace while simultaneously being quick-witted and funny. This year, however, the awards seem airy and directionless, like they were scrambling to get through all the categories and find some loose way of connecting them together.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the presenters were very funny, like Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus when they confused the cinematographers and film editor’s jobs, and James Corden and Rebel Wilson, who came out in these awful-looking Cats costumes and stressed the importance of good visual effects. Other times presenters seemed random and pointless, like when Kelly Marie Tran and Anthony Ramos came out to present… another presenter. 1917 actor George Mackay illustrated the monotony of the presentation brilliantly, saying he was a “presenter to present another presenter who was going to present… another presenter.”

But the Hollywood elites who read from the envelopes this year were the least of the night’s surprises. In fact, the biggest surprises of all came from a film that I wasn’t even expecting to win the night’s top prizes:

SOURCE: CJ Entertainment

Best Picture: The Academy’s top honor didn’t go to 1917, a beautifully-filmed war epic that captured the essence of its tragedy in one seemingly endless shot. It didn’t go to the witty and wild love letter to 60’s cinema Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. And it also didn’t go to a movie about the mental descent of one man that would grow to become Batman’s greatest nemesis in Joker. No, the Academy instead chose to give the night’s highest recognition to a film you probably haven’t even heard of: South Korea’s harrowing yet hilarious commentary on classism and economics, Parasite. 

This is significant for a few reasons. One: Parasite is so out of the box and so unusual for the Academy that you wonder if their tastes are changing for the new generation. It’s strange that the Academy has gone a whole decade without recognizing at least one war film like 1917, or that it wouldn’t take up the chance to be self-absorbed in their own culture with Once Upon A Time In Hollywood like they were with The Artist or Birdman. But Parasite is just such an unusual choice for the Academy. Take away the fact that it’s a Korean film for one second: the fact they would even consider an exercise in minimalism and implication like this is so out of left field for Academy voters. If it wasn’t, then why wasn’t Get Out awarded Best Picture in 2018? Or The Revenant in 2016?

Two: Parasite is the first foreign-language film to have won Best Picture… ever. That is a stunning title for it to own, especially when you consider the fact that the Academy has overlooked nominees such as Roma, Amour, Babel, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Life Is Beautiful, The Postman, and several other films dating all the way back to 1938. This also does not consider outstanding foreign-language films that weren’t even nominated for Best Picture, including A Separation, Pan’s Labirynth, The Sea Inside, Joyeaux Noel, Amelie, Ikiru, and several others.

Is Parasite undeserving of the Oscar? Absolutely not. It was cunning, captivating, poignant, thoughtful, and like all great movies, had something powerful to say about our culture. Should it have been the first foreign-language film to have earned the Best Picture honor? Probably not. It makes you wonder where the Academy has been in all years previous to Parasite, as well as what they’re going to do moving forward now that the gates are open for all foreign-language films at the Oscars?

Speaking of Parasite

Best Director: The bigger surprise isn’t even the fact that Parasite won Best Picture, which it might have been able to nab anyway since it also won Best International Feature and Best Original Screenplay (more on that later). The biggest surprise is that director Bong Joon-Ho won Best Director, beating out DGA winner Sam Mendes for 1917

Again, Bong Joon-Ho is not undeserving of this honor in the least. The way he mirrored the two worlds of the rich and the poor was stunning and captivating and showed the true genius of a brilliant director at work. But what’s so surprising is that his win supersedes Sam Mendes’ win at the DGA Awards, which have been used to predict Best Director Oscar winners for decades now. Are the DGAs slowly moving towards irrelevance in regards to the Academy? Only a few more ceremonies will confirm that for sure.

Either way, congratulations to Bong Joon-Ho and his well-deserved win. I’ll admit 1917 was my favorite to win both Best Picture and Best Director, but I can’t fault Parasite by any means. Joon-Ho made a brilliant film, and nobody can take that honor away from him.

Best Actor: The Academy was right to award Joaquin Phoenix his first Oscar in his 30-year career for playing a meek clown gone mad in Todd Phillips’ Joker. He completely earned the Oscar for giving one of the most haunting and darkly comedic performances of the decade. Congratulations to Joaquin for his well-deserved win, although his acceptance speech where he complained about the evils of milking cows was a little strange.

Best Actress: Judy Garland may have never won an Oscar, but Renee Zellweger did for portraying the actress in her dramatic biopic Judy. It still blows my mind that this home-grown Texan could portray the late actress’s final years in show business and pull it off with the conviction and appeal that made Garland a household name in the first place. Congrats to Renee for winning her second Oscar. Here’s to never forgetting an unforgettable performance.

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt rightfully won his first acting Oscar for playing a quietly disturbing stunt double in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Having recently revisited Pitt’s psychotic portrayal of a man’s splintered persona in David Fincher’s 1999 hit Fight Club, I was surprised to find out that he’s only been nominated for three acting Oscars prior to his first win, including 12 Monkeys, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Moneyball. Pitt’s nominations don’t do justice to his commitment in the roles that he plays. Either way, congratulations to Pitt for his well-earned win. He taught me a lesson about never paying an uninvited visit to Cliff Booth at night.

Best Supporting Actress: As expected, Laura Dern won Best Supporting Actress for playing a sensitive yet savage divorce lawyer in Marriage Story. Having re-watched Dern and her co-star Scarlett Johannson in both Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit, I’m still baffled as to how Dern could have the edge over Johannson, especially when you see her passioned and sensitive performances in both of the movies she’s nominated for. If you want to talk about talent that wasn’t even nominated, Jennifer Lopez gave a commanding performance as a stripper with attitude and swagger in Hustlers. Either of those women could have walked away with the Oscar and it would have made perfect sense. But Dern has a couple of scenes in her office and in the courtroom and suddenly she’s an Oscar frontrunner? Why? What did she do that was so special compared to her fellow nominees, or even her fellow co-stars?

Either way, congrats to Dern for winning Best Supporting Actress. I could think of five other movies she deserved to win the Oscar for more so than this one, but I guess the path doesn’t matter as much as the destination does.

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Best Animated Feature: Like clockwork, Toy Story 4 won Best Animated Feature, despite the fact that How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and Klaus were both better films. If the Academy keeps this up, they should save the viewers some time and simply rename this category to the Disney-Pixar award. At least then they’d be honest.

Best Documentary Feature: Okay, I got this one wrong, but to be fair this category was already a toss-up in the first place. I figured the Academy would go with a film as unique and creative as the one that followed one of Bekirlija’s last beekeepers in Honeyland. I should have known the Academy would have gone political and given the Oscar to the Obama’s first documentary produced under their new production company, American Factory. Earning an Academy Award is officially the newest thing that the former President can claim that the current President cannot.

Best International Feature: Of course since Parasite won Best Picture, Best International Feature was obviously going to be a shoo-in. I do find it odd that it technically has won two best film Oscars on one night, but either way, it isn’t undeserving. If you haven’t gotten the memo by now, you need to watch Parasite at your earliest convenience if you haven’t done so already.

Best Original Screenplay: Again, Parasite upsets in the original writing category after securing its win at the WGA’s. When I predicted Quentin Tarantino would win for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, I did so only knowing that the Academy almost never awards writing Oscars to foreign-language films. In fact, the last time a foreign-language film even won the original writing Oscar was Spain’s Talk To Her in 2002, and after that eight other films were overlooked in this category before Parasite finally won last night. Again though, it deserves the win as Bong Joon-Ho’s writing is just as clever and captivating as his directing is for the film. I just hope Bong Joon-Ho doesn’t go too crazy with celebrating. I would like him to not die of alcohol poisoning and keep making more movies as wonderful as Parasite.

Best Adapted Screenplay: In another stunning upset, Taika Waititi wins the Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Jojo Rabbit and shuts Greta Gerwig out for Little Women. If Academy voters are smart, they’ll hide out in their bunkers and wait for rage Twitter to blow over. Little Women fans are going to be upset about this one for a while.

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

Best Film Editing: Yet another category I got wrong. I thought Yang Jin-Mo was going to win for seamlessly assembling various perspectives into one cohesive and tragic narrative in Parasite, but I neglected how exciting and dizzying Ford v Ferrari was while simultaneously being coherent enough to follow all of the fast-paced racing action. Michael McCusker (Walk The Line, 3:10 To Yuma) is not undeserving by any means, and I’m happy he can finally call himself an Oscar-winner. At the very least, Ford v Ferrari’s best editing win makes more sense than Bohemian Rhapsody’s win did last year.

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins rightfully earned his second Oscar for his masterful one-shot technique in Sam Mendes’ emotionally stirring war epic 1917. If any other nominee won, rioting from the cinematographer’s branch would have been the only appropriate reaction.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Bombshell won best makeup, as expected. Thank you, next.

Best Costume Design: I thought Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’s timely wardrobe would appeal to the Academy as it does to its colorful and charismatic characters. I figured since Jacquelin Durran already won once for Anna Karenina that the period piece play wouldn’t work as well on the Academy this time around. I should have just went with the period piece, because Little Women won as predictably as Anna Karenina did in 2012. Jenny Eagan was also not nominated for Knives Out, which means that in a way, I lost twice in this category.

Best Production Design: In a happy upside, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood won the Oscar for Best Production Design. Nancy Haigh deserves her win for accurately recreating 60’s signage and movie sets. That is, before Quentin Tarantino covered it all with blood and splattered brains.

SOURCE: WARNER BROS. PICTURES

Best Musical Score: As predicted, Hildur Guonadottir won for providing the haunting, eerie string themes for Joker’s descent into madness. I’m just frustrated Thomas Newman has to go through his 15th nomination for 1917 and still not win a blasted Oscar. But in either case, congratulations to Guonadottir for making a beautiful yet unsettling theme for the Joker’s mental and moral decay. Meanwhile, let’s hope the 16th time is a charm for Newman during a future ceremony.

Best Original Song: Elton John won his second Oscar for his uplifting and empowering theme “I’m Gonna Love Me Again” for Rocketman. Thankfully so, because I don’t know how fans might have reacted if Bohemian Rhapsody won four Oscars and Rocketman didn’t win at least one. Either way, congrats to him for his well-deserved win. He made everyone feel the love tonight.

Best Sound Editing: Ford v Ferrari beat out the rest of the nominees for Best Sound Editing. I personally made the case for 1917, but Ford v Ferrari admittedly did have some exemplary sound editing in it. I’m not as frustrated by the loss like I was last year when Bohemian Rhapsody unbelievably won this award over A Quiet Place. I doubt any nominee winning this year could top my shock any more than that win did last year.

Best Sound Mixing: If that “Wayfaring Stranger” scene in 1917 didn’t convince you that it deserved to win for sound mixing, then nothing ever will. Thankfully, Academy voters saw that scene and was as moved as I was and rightfully awarded the film with the Oscar anyway.

Best Visual Effects: What did I tell you? What did I bloody tell you? The Academy can’t support outstanding visual effects to save its dang life if it means awarding it to a superhero movie. They did just that this year by giving the best visual effects Oscar to 1917 instead of the vastly more grand-scale Avengers: Endgame. Granted, I do not feel 1917 is a better film than Endgame is, but that’s like comparing apples to oranges. After all, 1917 is a grounded war eulogy while Endgame is the epic conclusion to a superhero saga that was several years in the making. Still, recognize the better work when you see it. 1917 may be the more moving film, but you’re bonkers if you think that film compares visually to the sensation and spectacle of Avengers: Endgame. At this rate, Disney should just buy out the Academy and give themselves the visual effects Oscar every time they’re nominated just to get a fair chance in this category.

Disclaimer: I’m kidding, of course. I don’t want Disney to get even more power-hungry than it already is. But still, I hope you understand how hot-blooded I am about this snub, especially since this is hot off of the heels of Avengers: Infinity War losing to First Man in 2019.

And finally, the shorts. I don’t know what is going on with me, but I’ve been on a roll with these categories as of late. Last year, I unbelievably got all of them right as opposed to most ceremonies where I get most of them wrong. This year I’m continuing the good streak as The Neighbor’s Window, Hair Love, and Learning To Skateboard In A Warzone (If You’re A Girl) all won Best Live Action, Best Animated and Best Documentary Short respectively. That helped boost me in predicting 16 out of 24 of the categories correctly this year. Not my best Oscar performance, but definitely not my worst.

Thank you all for tuning in yet again this year, fellow Oscar lovers. Now go and see Parasite. You obviously need to.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , , ,