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Sunday, February 24, 2019

2019 Oscars

OSCARS statuettes
Photo: Credit: Prayitno from Flickr
The Academy Award ceremonies are tonight and my spouse and I have again been spending a good portion of our leisure time viewing nominated films and acting performances. Regular readers may recall that we managed to see three of the films nominated for Best Picture during the 2018 calendar year. That was partly because one nominee was out in the summer and another was a Netflix release.

Even though I have seen a fairly large number of the films and performances, I will as usual update this post as we watch more of these films. Note for future readers: Films and performances shaded in yellow below will indicate additions/edits after the Oscars are awarded (and the original blog posting).

Moreover, as I do each year, I'm going to rank-order the films and acting performances. Obviously, this is my completely subjective perspective -- and hardly an ideal way to think about art. Plus, obviously, I can only rank the performances I watched.

Keep in mind that these are not my predictions about winners in each category. I looked at the Hollywood Stock Exchange and other sites for predictions from odds-makers and betting markets.

Spoiler Alert: Roma is a slight favorite for Best Picture and its director (Alfonso Cuarón) seems to be one of the biggest favorites in a major category.  In other categories, Bohemian Rhapsody star Rami Malek and The Wife star Glenn Close are strongly favored to pick up best acting awards. Mahershala Ali (Green Book) and Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) are also now highly favored in the supporting roles.

Here is the full list of 2019 Oscar nominations in the major categories I follow most closely:

Best Picture:

“Roma”
“BlacKkKlansman” **
“Vice” **
“Green Book”
“The Favourite” **
“A Star Is Born”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“Black Panther”

I want to see Green Book soon and it is the second favorite according to the betters and odds-makers.

We selected films to watch based on (a) availability streaming, on DVD, or at the local theater that is within walking distance of our homes in Ottawa or Louisville; (b) how much we wanted to see a critically-acclaimed film (Green Book's Metacritic rating is "only" 69; same as What We Had, for example); and (c)  in the end, as free time grew short, how many Oscar nominations a film received.

I don't think Green Book was still showing at our theater when we returned to Louisville from Canada and started targeting the highest profile films. Before the awards were announced, we saw a number of other well-regarded films that did not receive nominations -- based on critical ratings and availability.

At times, Roma (the slight favorite in this category) seems like a really well-done home movie from the 1970s. This isn't a negative comment -- the film seems authentic.

I really liked both BlacKkKlansman and Vice and would not be disappointed or especially surprised if either of them won the highest honor. The Favourite was also very interesting, but I would be surprised if it or any of the other films I saw received the award.

March 2019 update: Green Book was an entertaining and interesting film, but I agree with the critics that it probably was not the best picture of the year. In fact, it is probably not as good even as some excellent films that were not nominated for the award it received.

Eighth Grade deserved to be among these films. Also, Can You Ever Forgive me. And First Reformed. I would have cut the bottom three.

Lead Actor:

Christian Bale, “Vice” **
Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”
Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”

Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”

Bale is lost in the role as Vice President Dick Cheney. He becomes Cheney, as critics often say, and it's truly an impressive performance. Malek is also terrific as Freddie Mercury, but a good deal of the acting involves him lip-syncing. So I favor Bale over Malek.

I felt like Cooper was channeling Kris Kristofferson and I've never seen the 1970s version of the film. I have seen plenty of Robert DeNiro films and it often felt like Viggo Mortensen was channeling some of his work. He sounded like 1970s DeNiro and looked like puffy Jake La Motta.

I saw the ads for At Eternity's Gate many times in Ottawa, but have not yet seen the film.

Note: I am very surprised Ethan Hawke was not nominated in this category. Actually, I might have placed him at the top of the list.

I also liked Robert Redford in The Old Man & the Gun. See it.

Lead Actress:

Glenn Close, “The Wife”
Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Olivia Colman, “The Favourite” **
Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”

Close has long been fantastic -- can we give her a Nobel for acting? If you haven't seen it, Close plays "the wife" of a Nobel prize-winning writer in this nominated performance.

McCarthy is really good too and I found the movie to be far more entertaining than I expected.

My spouse and I watched the first season of Broadchurch this fall, which was my previous biggest exposure to Olivia Colman's work. She's talented, but her role in The Favourite seemed to be about the same as the two women nominated in the supporting category. I'd like to see a screen-time breakdown.

Aparicio's performance was also very good.  Indeed, Aparicio is a key reason why Roma is such a great movie. But I doubt she'll win given that non-Spanish speakers (like me) must rely on subtitles and cannot evaluate her performance in the same way we can the English speakers. Gaga was good, but I'd be very surprised if she won. She is apparently in line to win an Oscar for Best Song.

I hope members of the Academy considered Elsie Fisher from Eighth Grade. And Emily Blunt for A Quiet Place. See those films if you have not.

Supporting Actor:

Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman” **
Sam Rockwell, “Vice” **

Ali is the favorite, but some of those screen-time articles I linked above mention that he probably should have been contending in the best actor category.

Grant is also a prominent part of his film, but is clearly a supporting character. Grant steals many scenes, which isn't easy because McCarthy is also excellent. Grant has a few brief scenes when she is not on-screen.

It seems like Elliott plays the same gruff character you've seen before, but he does a good job adding some balance and depth in this role. Driver is fine, but I think he's been as good if not better in other films. See Paterson or even Logan Lucky. Or While We're Young.

I would have nominated Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld in Vice, over Rockwell (who plays George W. Bush).

Supporting Actress:

Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Amy Adams, “Vice” **
Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite” **
Emma Stone, “The Favourite” **
Marina de Tavira, “Roma”

I also want to see Beale Street soon. The movie disappeared from our local theater too quickly, had only this one major category nomination, and is not yet available on DVD.

April 2019 Update: Beale Street proved to be an excellent film -- one of the year's best -- and Regina King provides an excellent performance. She did not have nearly the screen time as Weisz or Stone have in their film, so it must have been difficult for voters to parse this.

Adams was great, but Weisz or Stone would also be deserving choices if there is an upset.

Director:

Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”
Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman” **
Adam McKay, “Vice” **
Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War” **
Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite” **

This is a strong category and I would not be completely surprised by any outcome. But Cuarón is a pretty heavy favorite. Spike Lee is apparently set to win a share of an adapted screenplay Oscar.

I really enjoyed all five of these films, but I'm not sure I would have made the exact same choices for nominations in the category. Who's missing? How about Marielle Heller, director of Can You Ever Forgive Me? People who write about the Oscars often focus on its lack of diversity, especially in this category as only 5 women have ever been nominated for directing. This year, five men are again nominated.

This is the 91st Academy Awards. In this century, only three women have been nominated. It's not because there are not viable possibilities. Women directed many critically acclaimed films in 2018, including Leave No Trace, The Rider, and You Were Never Really Here, in addition to Can You Ever Forgive Me? I mention Heller because of the film's two acting and one writing nominations. All of those named films were on par with at least a couple of films in this category.

Best Documentary Feature:

“Free Solo,” Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
“RBG,” Betsy West, Julie Cohen
“Minding the Gap,” Bing Liu

“Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” RaMell Ross
“Of Fathers and Sons,” Talal Derki

RBG is in a tight competition with Free Solo, which looked somewhat frightening in the many previews we saw in Ottawa on the big screen. RBG is an informative documentary about the oldest current Supreme Court Justice.

Minding the Gap seems more like a narrative film, with multiple complex characters and themes. This is praise. The story was very personal for the filmmaker Bing Liu, obviously, so it will be interesting to follow his career and see what he does in the future.

I recorded Hale County on my DVR when PBS recently broadcast it and Of Fathers and Sons is streaming on Kanopy. Because we have been watching other films, we have not yet seen those films, despite availability.

Update: I saw the incredible Free Solo on demand from the National Geographic channel. It's an intense film, but it was interrupted repeatedly by commercial breaks. Frankly, those breaks diminished the need to look away. Frightening, but awe-inspiring.

Best Foreign Language Film:

“Roma” (Mexico)
“Cold War” (Poland) **

“Capernaum” (Lebanon)
“Never Look Away” (Germany)
“Shoplifters” (Japan)

Roma will sweep, most likely. Cold War was a very good film, but probably not as good as Ida -- an  excellent film by the same director that won this category a few years ago.

Shoplifters appeared on many lists as one of the top films of 2018, so I'm eager to see it when it is available either streaming or on DVD.

Animated Feature:

“Isle of Dogs,” Wes Anderson
“Incredibles 2,” Brad Bird

“Mirai,” Mamoru Hosoda
“Ralph Breaks the Internet,” Rich Moore, Phil Johnston
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

** We saw these films or performances in a theater on a big screen.

This is a category that my spouse and I often ignore, especially since our daughters have gone away to college and beyond. I've listed it because I actually saw two of the films this year, one intentionally because of the Oscar nomination (and because I liked the first Incredibles).

The Spider-Man movie is the favorite and I'll probably see it eventually. I probably will not see the others in this category.

Wes Anderson has made some great movies -- Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, and Rushmore were genuinely terrific and I recommend you see them if you have not. They are better than many if not most of the films listed above that are nominated for Best Picture in 2018. The Royal Tenenbaums was good and I even liked Bottle Rockets, which has some obvious flaws and used to be difficult to find.

Isle of Dogs does not reach those peaks, but it is a pretty good movie, especially for an animated feature where the competition is often family films. It was so good that I went back and watched The Fantastic Mr. Fox this year, convincing my spouse (who does not generally like "cartoon" films) that anything with George Clooney cannot be that bad. Anderson has created an impressive collection of films and it will be interesting if he finally wins an Oscar for an animated film. He's previously been nominated in the Best Picture and Best Animated Feature categories, as well as for writing and directing.

Incredibles 2 suffered the same flaw as many superhero sequels. The stories are not all that interesting and they are all-too-familiar.

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