Friday, January 17, 2020

My Favourite Films of 2019

Finally, here are my choices for the best in cinema of the past year.

1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - I suppose anyone who knows me, and my obsession with everything Tarantino, saw this one coming the proverbial mile away. In my opinion, QT has never made anything less than great, but this one, the auteur's ninth film (and possibly penultimate film as well) may well be his best yet. Less action fueled than typical Tarantino, Once Upon A Time is a languid look at a lost world. A world that Tarantino (and myself) grew up admiring. The old Hollywood system had fallen apart, but the remnants of the old were still around in the 198 and 1969 of this film's setting. A gorgeous film and a wonderful look back on the bygone world of old Hollywood.

2. Midsommar - With allusions to The Wicker Man and an obvious feel for Kubrickian storytelling, Ari Aster's batshitcrazy sophomore tale of female empowerment slowly but surely climbs and climbs to a crescendo of insanity that needs to be seen to be believed. Anchored by the best female performance of 2019, Florence Pugh, ascends to figurative and maybe even literal Goddess by the time everything is said and done.

3. Parasite - I went into Bong Joon Ho's film not knowing anything about it, and was floored with every twist and turn. Much like Midsommar, and I suppose Once Upon A Time too, this Korean film climbs and climbs and gets crazier and crazier and batshitcrazier with each developing scene. A brilliant take on the class system that permeates most of society.

4. Joker - Pushing aside the typical amusement park sensibility that Martin Scorsese  recently attributed to the superhero/comic book genre, Todd Phillips, previously best known for stupid frat pack comedies like Old School and The Hangover Trilogy, makes his Joker a take on just how fucked up society has gotten. Structuring it after the films of the aforementioned Scorsese, the film is his twisted take on The King of Comedy, so much so that he even casts Robert De Niro in the Jerry Lewis role of that film. Joaquin Phoenix, in the best goddamn performance of the year, and perhaps channeling Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, and perhaps of his career (at least equal to that of The Master), embodies his anti-hero with such pathos that we are actually rooting for the so-called villain here.

5. Pain and Glory - Although Pedro Almadovar's latest doesn't quite reach the top here, this is still easily the most beautiful looking film of last year. Of course this was probably a forgone conclusion, with the Spanish auteur's usual flare for production design, but even by Almadovar standards, this is a succulent work of art. Oh, and star Antonio Banderas, in his seventh film with Almadovar, and basically playing Almadovar himself, gives a career best performance in the lead.

6. The Lighthouse - Director Robert Eggers takes a creepy lighthouse in the remotest of remote locations, tosses in Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as a young fresh wickie and his seasoned, and quite difficult boss, respectively, and then shoots it in the starkest of  blacks & whites, and hands us a harrowing Greek tragedy of madness and possible spiritual awakening.

7. Uncut Gems - The Safdie Brothers have created a story of obsession and addiction, as well as a tale of redemption...and then pull the rug out from beneath it all time and time again. They have also created something else...a film where one can honestly say Adam Sandler is freaking fantastic! Get a load of that.

8. The Irishman - A three plus hour masterwork that acts as Scorsese's farewell to the Gangster genre. Much the way John Ford said goodbye to the Western in 1964's Cheyenne Autumn, Scorsese takes a long hard look at what really becomes of a mobster after his glory days are gone, and he is left a lonely bitter old man. Who knows if he will ever make another gangster picture, but if this is his swan song of that genre, pitting Scorsese stalwarts De Niro, Pesci, Pacino, and even Harvey Keitel, up against each other again, the auteur closes the book on the gangster film with both class and a whole lot of sadness.

9. Us - Jordan Peele's follow-up to the brilliant satire that was Get Out, is an even more twisted take on society and the idea of self. Lupita Nyong'o, in a dual role, is both incandescent and scary as Hell. Peele's take on the modern horror film, as he twists everything we thought we knew about the genre around to an almost indescribable place, does it once again with Us.

10. 1917 - I honestly was not expecting to like this film as much as I did. I was sure that the enduring one shot pulled of my director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins was going to be a technical marvel, but I was taken aback at how emotional and what a thrill ride this anti-war movie ended up being. Bravo.

A few Runners-up (in no particular order): The Farewell (Lulu Wang); The Dead Don't Die (Jim Jarmusch); Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach); Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi); Booksmart (Olivia Wilde); Dolemite is My Name (Craig Brewer); Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry); Fighting With My Family (Stephen Merchant); The Beach Bum (Harmony Korine); The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Joe Talbot); & The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (Terry Gilliam).

That's it Gang. See Ya 'round the Web.


Monday, January 13, 2020

Oscar Nomination Reaction...or What The Academy Did Right and What They Did Oh So Wrong

So, the Academy has announced its nominations for the Oscars, and here are my (rambling) thoughts on the subject.

  • Once again, five men have been nominated for Best Director. Now I do not necessarily think Greta Gerwig (the frontrunner among women director possibilities this year) should have been nominated for Little Women, but not because she is a woman...but because hers wasn't one of the five best directed films of the year. I can think of three women directors who made better films last year. Lulu Wang for The Farewell, Mati Diop for Atlantics, & Jennifer Kent for The Nightingale. But alas...that is not the point of the outrage. That is just my opinion on the film. I think Gerwig is a talented filmmaker (her Lady Bird was one of the finest films of the last decade) but I was not that big of a fan of her latest work. That being said...there is still a problem with equality in Hollywood. Duh. In 92 years, there have been just five female directors nominated for the Oscar (the most recent being Gerwig in 2016). Just five!? For those keeping score at home...that is five female director nominees vs 447 male nominees in the same period. But, the Oscars are not the problem. The Oscars are merely a symptom showing the problem of Hollywood itself. Last year, only 4% of movies coming out of Hollywood were directed by women. No wonder there are so few female nominees. But hey...I could go on about the lack of diversity in Hollywood for a long time, so I am going to stop there, and move onto some other thoughts on the nominations.
  • The fact that Joker received more nominations (11 of 'em) than any other film is wonderfully crazy. A very divisive film, either hating it or loving it, I am a bit surprised that the voters looked so fondly upon it. The film is on my top ten for the year (which by the by, will be posted in a few days), but whoulda thunk Hollywood would embrace it so.
  • No J-Lo!? Personally I thought Hustlers was a boring film, and Lopez, though the best thing about said film, was merely slightly less than boring, and hence does not deserve a nomination. But, she had been nominated in nearly every other awards show of the season, so it is quite the shocker...probably the biggest one of the morning.
  • Frozen II was snubbed in Animated Feature. Granted, Missing Link won the Golden Globe last week (shocking the crowd) but even after that we all assumed the Oscar was still probably going to go to either Toy Story 4 or Frozen II. Maybe Missing Link will pull it off after all.
  • I went 84 for 109 in my predictions. That comes to a 77% success rate. That rate moves up to 85% if you just count the big eight categories. Acing Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, & Adapted Screenplay. My weakest spot was Supporting Actress, with just three right. Yes, some of my picks were more like wishful thinking. Zhao Shuzhen as the wistful grandmother in The Farewell. Song Kang Ho as the bumbling father in Parasite. Lupita Nyong'o as the tortured protagonist of Jordan Peele's Us. But I still did well in spite of them.
  • Best Supporting Actor is full of a buncha no-names. Um...yeah. Between Brad Pitt, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Tom Hanks, & Tony Hopkins, you can count two dozen previous nominations, and six Oscars!! Show offs.
  • Congrats to ScarJo, aka Scarlett Johansson, who received both her first AND her second nominations ever, for her roles in Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit.
  • The three biggest snubs (no...not J-Lo) of the day were Adam Sandler not getting recognition for his brilliant turn in Uncut Gems. Yeah, I said brilliant and Adam Sandler in the same sentence. Song Kang Ho's omission from Supporting Actor. As great as Parasite was...and it was pretty fucking great...it was Song's performance that took it to another level. And...Willem Dafoe as the gnarly wickie in the shamefully under-appreciated The Lighthouse. At least that film got nominated in Cinematography...though it is destined to lose to Roger Deakins stunning work in 1917.
  • It is a bit strange that I agree with so many of the Academy's choices this year. Five of the nine nominees are in my own top ten...that never happens. Oh well..I suppose The Academy is finally getting a bit of taste.
So that's my take on the Oscar nominations. I'll be back in a few weeks with my take on the Oscars themselves ...and some more predictions. Also, as I mentioned earlier, my Best of 2019 list shall be gracing these pages a just a few days.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.



Sunday, January 12, 2020

My Oscar Nomination Predictions

Hey gang! It's that time of year again. The Oscar Nominations are due to be announced in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. So, here are my predictions for said nominations. Here we go!

BEST PICTURE

1. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
2. Parasite
3. 1917
4. The Irishman
5. Jojo Rabbit
6. Marriage Story
7. Joker
8. Little Women
9. Ford v Ferrari
10. Knives Out

Possible Spoilers: Uncut Gems or The Two Popes

Wishful Thinking: Midsommar or The Lighthouse

So, with the Oscar rules currently allowing anywhere between 5 and 10 nominees, we have been getting 8 or 9 each time around. I think this year we may actually get 10 of 'em. Whatever the case, I have the films listed here in order of likeliness...with the top 7 being virtual locks. Little Women, a favourite for many categories early on, has pretty much been locked out of the awards season so far, but I think it will still make the grade here, as will the surprise hit of the season, Knives Out...if we get ten nominees. Tarantino's Once Upon a Time is still the one to beat for the Oscar, with Parasite and 1917 close on it's heels.

BEST DIRECTOR

1. Bong Joon Ho for Parasite
2. Martin Scorsese for The Irishman
3. Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
4. Sam Mendes for 1917
5. Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit

Possible Spoilers: Todd Phillips for Joker or Greta Gerwig for Little Women

Wishful Thinking: Safdie Brothers for Uncut Gems

The top four here are locks...with Bong very possibly taking home the Oscar (6 of the last 7 Best Director winners have been foreign born), which leaves us with that fifth spot. I am going with Waititi mostly due to his DGA nod the other day (almost exact same voting demographic)...but let's not count out Gerwig for Little Women. She deserved a nod for Lady Bird a few years back, but her new film is not near up to that level...still, with the Academy being more diverse now, we could see a woman get nominated here. Making it look like Hollywood is more diverse than it actually. We could also see Todd Phillips sneak in here...or maybe even Gerwig's hubby, Noah Baumbach for Marriage Story...though he has been absent from most of awards season, even though his film keeps getting nominated. More of an actor driven film, than a director driven work?

BEST ACTRESS

1. Renee Zellweger for Judy
2. Scarlett Johansson for Marriage Story
3. Charlize Theron for Bombshell
4. Lupita Nyong'o for Us
5. Cynthia Erivo for Harriet

Possible Spoiler: Saoirse Ronan for Little Women or Awkwafina for The Farewell

Wishful Thinking: Florence Pugh for Midsommar (my pick for Best Actress of 2019!)

Basically, this is a seven woman race, with only five spots open. I think the top three are locks, leaving two spots being fought over by four women. Ronan was a frontrunner before Little Women started being ignored in awards season, leaving a once seeming locked spot open for someone else. I like to think that with the much more diverse Academy membership these days, that the two women of color, both giving brilliant performances, will get those two open spots. We could see Awkwafina slip in there too...but it would be at the expense of either Erivo or Nyong'o.

BEST ACTOR

1. Joaquin Phoenix in Joker
2. Adam Driver in Marriage Story
3. Antonio Banderas in Pain & Glory
4. Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
5. Taron Egerton in Rocketman

Possible Spoiler: Robert De Niro in The Irishman or Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems

Wishful Thinking: Eddie Murphy in Dolemite is my Name

This is another of those races that has four locks and one open spot. After his Golden Globe victory, Egerton is on a roll. De Niro had been a frontrunner, but after snubs by both the Globes and SAG, his chances are not looking great. A surprise nod for Sandler, in a career best performance, would be great though. WE could also possibly see Jonathan Pryce for The Two Popes too. No matter what though, this is Joaquin's Oscar to win or lose. But if there is any category with an Oscar night surprise (a la Olivia Colman beating Glenn Close last year) it could be Banderas, also with a career best performance (which is a much bolder statement than when one says it about Sandler) swooping in for the win. To be fair, unlike Colman last year, Banderas has won a lot more of the precursor awards than Phoenix has. But that is a tale for February.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

1. Laura Dern in Marriage Story
2. Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers
3. Margot Robbie in Bombshell
4. Florence Pugh in Little Women
5. Zhao Shuzhen in The Farewell

Very Possible Spoiler: Scarlett Johansson in Jojo Rabbit

Wishful Thinking: I already said Zhao Shuzhen, right?

Top three are virtual locks. After that, anything goes. Pugh could go the way of Ronan, and fall prey to the lackluster support of Little Women. Zhao is kind of a pipe dream nomination. We could easily see Scarlett get a double nod here...especially with the late upswing in support for Jojo Rabbit. We could also see either Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell) or Annette Bening (The Report) sneak in as well. This is definitely the most open acting category of the year.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

1. Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
2. Joe Pesci in The Irishman
3. Al Pacino in The Irishman
4. Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
5. Song Kang Ho in Parasite

Possible Spoiler: Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes

Wishful Thinking: Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse

This seems like a five way lock here, though Song is kind of a wild card, but the juggernaut that is Parasite should put him here...and deservedly so. Though I would love to see Dafoe sneak in (instead of that sappy Hanks performance) but that is highly unlikely...which is sad, as The Lighthouse was a fantastic film, and will probably only garnewr one nomination tomorrow morning, for Cinematography.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

1. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
2. Marriage Story
3. Parasite
4. The Farewell
5. Knives Out

Possible Spoiler: Booksmart...which I would love to see!!

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

1. The Irishman
2. Jojo Rabbit
3. Little Women
4. Joker
5. The Two Popes

Possible Spoiler: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM

1. Parasite (South Korea)
2. Pain & Glory (Spain)
3. Les Miserables (France)
4. Atlantics (Senegal)
5. Those Who Remained (Hungary)

Possible Spoiler: Honeyland (North Macedonia)

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

1. Frozen II
2. Toy Story 4
3. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
4. Missing Link
5. I Lost My Body

Possible Spoiler: Klaus or Abominable

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

1. Apollo 11
2. American Factory
3. Honeyland
4. One Child Nation
5. For Sama

Possible Spoiler: The Cave or The Biggest Little Farm

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

1. 1917
2. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
3. The Irishman
4. The Lighthouse
5. Joker

Possible Spoiler: Hidden Life or Parasite or Ford v Ferrari

BEST FILM EDITING

1. The Irishman
2. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
3. Parasite
4. Marriage Story
5. Jojo Rabbit

Possible Spoiler: Joker or Ford v Ferrari or 1917

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

1. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
2. The Irishman
3. 1917
4. Jojo Rabbit
5. Joker

Possible Spoiler: Parasite

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

1. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
2. Little Women
3. Rocketman
4. Dolemite is My Name
5. Jojo Rabbit

Possible Spoiler: The Irishman or Downton Abby or Judy or Joker

BEST MAKE-UP & HAIRSTYLING

1. Bombshell
2. Judy
3. Joker
4. Rocketman
5. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood

Possible Spoiler: Dolemite is My Name

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

1. Joker
2. 1917
3. Marriage Story
4. Little Women
5. Pain & Glory

Possible Spoiler: Jojo Rabbit or Us or even Star Wars

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

1. I'm Gonna Love Me Again from Rocketman
2. Into the Unknown from Frozen II
3. Stand Up from Harriet
4. I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away from Toy Story 4
5. Spirit from Lion King

Possible Spoiler: Speechless from Aladdin or A Glass of Soju from Parasite

BEST SOUND EDITING

1. 1917
2. Ford v Ferrari
3. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
4. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
5. Avengers: Endgame

Possible Spoiler: Joker or Ad Astra

BEST SOUND MIXING

1. 1917
2. Ford v Ferrari
3. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
4. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
5. Rocketman

Possible Spoiler: Parasite or Joker

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

1. Avengers: Endgame
2. The Lion King
3. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
4. Alita: Battle Angel
5. The Irishman

Possible Spoiler: 1917

There ya go! Since I really know nothing much about the short subjects, I'll abstain from predicting Best Animated, Live Action, or Documentary Shorts. Huzzah! I'll be back tomorrow with a summary of all the nominations...and letchya all know how well I did with my predictions.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.