2019 Oscar Reviews

So, every year for the past few years I have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to see as many of the Oscar nominees as possible before Oscar night. I never really do anything practical or constructive with this experience; it’s just a personal challenge for myself. And while I wish I could say it informs my ability to predict winners, I admit that I never come out any wiser. Still, I try. This year I’ve decided to pen my thoughts on the nominees, comment on the merit of the films along with my personal enjoyment of the films (two very different subjects), and offer my thoughts on who should win versus who I predict will win (again, very different thoughts).

 

First I’ll list the eight Best Picture nominees,roughly  in order of my personal enjoyment. I’ll follow that up with nominees for other categories, also roughly in order of my personal enjoyment. Note that the only major player (3+ nominations) that I haven’t yet seen is If Beale Street Could Talk, so there’s a chance my picks might change when I get to that one. Unfortunately I have not yet watched most films in the shorts, documentary, foreign, and/or animated categories, so very few of those will be listed here. And I frankly have no clue about original score or either of the sound categories, so I won’t bother with predictions and commentary on those categories. At the end I’ll quickly mention a couple snubbed non-nominees. But before we get to all of that, I present…

 

The Helga Without the H 2019 Oscar Awards

 

BIG WINNER: Death!

Hey, if you’re ever unsure of how to end your movie, or if your plot needs a good infusion of… something, anything… just kill off a character! By my rough count, a whopping FIFTEEN out of the nineteen nominated films I reviewed killed someone off, and all four remaining films feature near-death experiences (though one may consider Mary Poppins Returns a stretch here given the fantastic nature of the story). Nine nominees ended on death (either as the big twist ending, or as the post-script). And at least four killed off an animal. If you want to seem psychic to your friends, sit down with any of this year’s nominees, point to a random character, and say “this person will die,” and chances are you will be correct. Talk about lazy.

 

BIG LOSER: Women!

Duh oh, women didn’t fare so well in this year’s nominated films! We’ll start with the ever-popular Bechdel test- Are there two or more named female characters who talk to one another about something other than men? Only a handful of this year’s nominees pass the test with flying colors: The Favourite, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Incredibles 2, and Mary Poppins Returns. Every other movie either fails miserably, passes by the skin of its teeth (there is a single brief scene tucked in somewhere), or is debatable, as evidenced by the debates on this website. In ten out of nineteen reviewed nominees, the only women we get to know are a leading male character’s love interest or family member. Only seven feature a female lead. Fourteen feature a woman upset about being abused, objectified, or abandoned  by a man (“abandoned in this count includes “mourning the loss of”), and just to make sure they aren’t feeling too good about escaping the abusive male trope, both of our leading lesbians are abandoned by their lovers and mourning the deaths of their dependents. The brave undercover student reporter from Isle of Dogs was doing fine until the filmmakers decided you can’t have a teenage girl character without making her have a crush on our (creepily younger, right?) male hero. Mary Poppins somehow emerges unmolested and free from any familial or romantic entanglements, but she’s also saddled with one of the most stereotypical female occupations of all time (childcare). It’s worth noting that the only nominees where the main women all escape abuse and stereotypes, Black Panther and Incredibles 2, also feature strong masculine men who are not at all threatened. It’s also worth noting that both of these movies are fantasies. Grr…

 

Best Picture Nominees

 

Green Book

(picture, actor- Viggo Mortensen, supporting actor- Mahershala Ali, original screenplay, editing)

Okay, I admit there are problematic elements to this movie, and they’re substantive enough that it would be a bad idea to crown this the big winner. But it still remains my favorite for the year. The biggest issue, in my opinion, is that this film jumps confidently into the White Savior trope. Plenty of white savior movies are still fantastic movies, but do we really need yet another one of them, when there are so many potential stories to be told by and about people of color? Another way of looking at it is a movie about racism by white people, for white people. There is plenty of merit in this concept; as long as we have racism, we should talk about racism, and who better to target than the white people who are likely to be racist? Before seeing this movie I had assumed that the two prominent characters were co-leads, so when I realized the white character was the lead in a movie about racism, I was surprised. Why the fuck wouldn’t the significantly more interesting musical superstar be the lead over the joe-shmoe-could-be-anybody white guy? The answer comes in the form of one of the writers- the son of Viggo’s character who decided to turn his father’s stories into a screenplay. And what could be wrong with that? Still, I was given pause when I heard that Ali’s character’s family were angered at the film, calling for a blacklist, claiming it was highly inaccurate and that nobody had consulted them. This is an ideal time to bring up the fact that I read the Hollywood versus History page for every true-story-based nominee for the year, and in doing so I learned to trust the screenwriter, who personally knew both of his main subjects and had directly consulted with, interviewed, and obtained permission from them both, over the estranged distant relatives now throwing a fit.

Everything up to this point has been talking about what is potentially wrong with this film, which makes it a strange choice to be my top pick. But the truth is that this film still does so, so many things right. Is it glossy? Sure. But it is also a perfect balance of glossy and gritty, funny and decimating, uplifting and terrifying. The only major historic change was shrinking the timeline for the two years of travel (here condensed to 8 weeks), and each individual story and chapter pulled back a glossy layer to reveal deep characters. Both lead actors were absolutely brilliant. It would be an absolute travesty if anyone other than Ali wins best supporting actor this year, and I would be happy to see a deserving Mortensen win best lead actor, though I believe he will be beaten out by an equally-deserving Rami Malek. This is also my personal pick for best original screenplay (the combo of the lead’s son’s first hand knowledge with Peter Farrelly’s expert guidance worked perfectly), narrowly beating out the eerie depth of First Reformed. Still, I think Ali will be the only one to take home a statue for this fine film.

 

Black Panther

(picture, original score, original song, costumes, production design, sound editing, sound mixing)

I was frankly very surprised by how much I liked this movie, despite (or perhaps because of) the hype. Action hero movies are very hit or miss (mostly miss) for me, and at the start I thought this one would be a miss. Here’s the first line from Wikipedia’s plot synopsis: “Thousands of years ago, five African tribes war over a meteorite containing vibranium. One warrior ingests a ‘heart-shaped herb’ affected by the metal and gains superhuman abilities, becoming the first ‘Black Panther’. He unites all but the Jabari Tribe to form the nation of Wakanda. Over centuries, the Wakandans use the vibranium to develop advanced technology.” How stupid is this premise?! Does that sound like the premise of an Oscar-calibur movie?! No, absolutely not. I was rolling my eyes hard, ready for a couple hours of Hateorade. But as the movie progressed, I realized that there is a lot more here than meets the eye. Black Panther of course has all the trappings of your typical big-budget Marvel movie; badass fights, wicked special effects, creative tech. But there was so much more, particularly where character development and motivation is concerned. Our hero’s navigation through his new role and its challenges make us question tradition, technology, family, isolation, identity, and expectations. Women are badasses without being sexualized (FINALLY!). Our villain is relatable. And questions of race are tackled unflinchingly head-on and on a global scale. And it’s just SO MUCH FUN to watch! So, yeah, I came away flipping a 180 and loving the movie.

All that being said, there’s no way that this movie deserves a Best Picture award. It’s good, but it’s not THAT good, and just because something is a great movie doesn’t mean it’s a great film. I point you back to that cheesy vibranium origin story that taints everything else. This shit’s just too silly to be a serious contender.

This year the Academy sloppily attempted, and then quickly rescinded, the introduction of a new category- Pop Movies maybe? I can’t remember. I suspect that this category was created specifically so that they could give the clamoring crowds the satisfaction of honoring Black Panther despite it not being deserving. I am actually for this idea as a general concept, though the execution was horribly botched. It makes sense to acknowledge that there is a huge distinction between what it takes to make a smart art piece, and to make a successful movie, and so it would be logical to acknowledge both categories as equally difficult achievements. The main problem, I think, is that any sort of categorization will never be comprehensive given the flowing original nature of film or any other art form. The Golden Globes, for example, already distinguish between dramas and comedies/musicals, which is a start I guess but results in some very weird categorizations and competitions. I pondered the idea that perhaps budget would be a decider: a billion dollar budget and a hundred dollar budget will always produce vastly different films. Or maybe, when nominating films, filmmakers themselves must select either “Art Film” or “Entertainment Film” from the start so they know what competition they are entering, and maybe even what parameters are used for judging (as far as I know, at the moment there is no guidance for voters). Wouldn’t it be nice if blockbusters didn’t have to compete with arthouse films, and arthouse films didn’t have to compete with blockbusters? But then, who knows where previous winners such as Gladiator and Return of the King would fall. And even amongst this year’s nominees I have no clue where to put Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born (I would count them as entertainment; the filmmakers probably consider their pieces art). Until we can get this sorted out, Black Panther remains a really fun movie, but, alas, not a Best Picture movie.

 

Bohemian Rhapsody

(picture, actor – Rami Malek, editing, sound editing, sound mixing)

I’ll be blunt- I came home from Bohemian Rhapsody very happy to have just watched a good movie, but I also came home feeling that I had already seen this movie a million times before. If you’ve ever seen a musical biopic before, then you’ve seen this movie already. Now if you only choose one musical biopic to watch in your lifetime, it might as well be this one, because it is solid throughout. The story is engaging, the music is expertly interwoven, the concert scenes (particularly the shot-for-shot remake of Queen’s famous LiveAid appearance) are pumpin’. The absolute shining star of this film, of course, is Rami Malek, who absolutely slays it as history’s greatest frontman Freddie Mercury. He’s my pick as both most-deserving and most-likely winner for best leading actor. I’d also give a bonus nod to Mike Meyers for his small role as a fictional record label executive who represents the industry’s skepticism about the band’s 6 minute long operatic nonsense hit Bohemian Rhapsody.

I don’t think, however, despite how much I liked it, that this film is Best Picture material. It’s… fine. It’s fun! I very, very much enjoyed it! But like I suggested earlier, the only reason I enjoyed it any more than any other music biopic is because I personally love Queen more than other bands and musicians I’ve seen immortalized in film. But what’s actually disappointing is the fact that this film goes out of its way to remove historical accuracy and uniqueness to seem more like any other band’s story. It comes complete with cliches where we could have depth, particularly in the depiction of Mercury’s strict disapproving father who I guess maybe is proud at the end maybe? In one fleeting scene we learn that Mercury was born in Zanzibar, his family was run out of their home for religious reasons, etc. Why skip over this super interesting, unique background that’s formative to one of the most enigmatic rockstars of all time? The movie also throws in a random tense band break-up (just like every other band movie), which is confusing because this never happened to Queen in real life. The band did take a break, but it was amicable. Perhaps the biggest altering of facts was the timeline, which got twisted into a giant knot so that LiveAid could be as climactic, and coincidental, as possible. [SPOILER ALERT] It’s when Freddy learns he’s got AIDS, gets rid of his toxic manager, reunites with his estranged bandmates, finds his eventual boyfriend, makes his disapproving parents proud, reenters the public sphere as a beloved hero. I admit, in terms of filmmaking this ending works out great, so sure, go ahead and twist the timeline. But why mess with everything else? It’s especially perplexing given that the remaining members of Queen were so heavily involved with the script.

 

The Favourite

(picture, director, original screenplay, production design, costume, costume, actress – Olivia Colman, supporting actress – Rachel Weisz, supporting actress – Emma Stone, cinematography, film editing)

I was extremely excited to see this as soon as I saw the first trailer for it. There is plenty to love here, particularly for anyone who is sick of watching movies that fail the Bechdel test (how lovely to have a female writer!). Not one, not two, but three absolutely amazing actresses filling three completely different, fleshed-out strong roles with only a couple male gnats buzzing around. Olivia Colman, who I’ve loved since her hilarious supporting roles on Peep Show and Green Wing, is absolutely amazing, and my runaway favorite for best leading actress, as well as my predicted winner. Stone and Weisz are both great, and I am confident that one of the two will walk away with the prize, though just as in the film, they are both in a dead heat and I can’t decide who wins. In a perfect world they would walk away with a tie, if that’s possible. Assuming it’s not possible, I lean Weisz, I guess, if for no other reason than that her character is more refreshing to see (just straight-up strong smart no-nonsense leader, as opposed to Stone’s catty, scheming and whoring backstory). The production design, costumes, and cinematography are all top-notch and well deserving of its nominations in those categories. I’d like to see it win for production design and costumes, though I feel cinematography will likely lose out to Roma. I’m also a fan of how this obscure historical story was brought to life. With it being older than the 20th century stories in other Oscar films, one must assume a lot of imagination to flesh out a story, but even with that, it’s relatively plausible and accurate based on what we know of the time and the people involved (with two minor exceptions: costumes were wrong, but pretty so who cares, and royals didn’t keep rabbit as pets.)

With so much in its favor, why is The Favourite not My Favourite? In short: it’s weird. Like for real, this film is so weird. I heard that other films by this director (none of which I have seen) are even weirder, and the narrative script here is what brings him down to earth from Wackytown to Oscartown. That might be, but still, geeeez this thing is weird. I’m confused by many directing and editing decisions (and thus am confused to see nominations in both of these categories), with deliberate awkward cuts for no discernible reason. People just do weird shit. Scenes last several seconds too long. I straight up do not understand why. Maybe it’s just over my head. Who knows.

Final note: a lot has been made by others about the ending (which I will not spoil here). To me the weirdness of the ending just fit with the weirdness of the rest of the film. I don’t make much of it.

 

Roma

(picture, foreign language, director, cinematography, actress – Yalitza Aparicio, supporting actress – Marina de Tavira, original screenplay, production design, sound editing, sound mixing)

Roma! It’s an obvious shoo-in for best foreign film, and my prediction for both best picture and cinematography. The film is beautifully shot in black and white, and quietly tells the tale of a nanny and the family that employs her against a backdrop of political revolt in Mexico. I’m surprised to see nominations for both best lead and best supporting actress, though the acting was totally fine. Overall, the film was constructed beautifully, and brought to mind every film we had to watch in film school when learning about masterpieces. So why isn’t it closer to the top of my list? In this case it’s 100% just personal preference- the film moved slowly and I just got bored. That’s it. Maybe it’s my big-explosions American attention span. Maybe it’s the fact that I watched this one on my couch instead of the theatre and got distracted. Maybe it’s just subtitles. But yeah, it’s just me being lame. But definitely a fine film, which no doubt plenty of people will, and should, love.

 

BlacKkKlansman

(picture, director, original score, adapted screenplay, supporting actor – Justin Long, editing)

This is the only film on this entire list that I saw way before awards season, back in August when it was in theatres. The problem with that is that I can’t give it a particularly clear review because my recollections aren’t fresh enough to be detailed, and I definitely wasn’t watching the film through the lens of academy award contemplation. What I can say, though, is that I was extremely excited to see it when it came out, but walked away just kinda meh. Like it was ok. But it didn’t blow me away. I can’t really remember why not, except that I vaguely recall it seeming very uneven. I may have thought the random love story was too shoehorned in (I feel this way about a lot of superfluous love subplots), or that the klansmen were too flat. Still, the core of the story is very interesting, and as far as I recall the acting was all decent (but not award-winning). Sorry this one’s not too fleshed out- if I remember more I will update.

 

A Star is Born

(picture, actress – lady Gaga, actor – Bradley Cooper, supporting actor – Sam Elliott, song, adapted screenplay, cinematography, sound mixing)

The absolute shining star at the center of this movie is Lady Gaga. She is, as always, brimming with talent. Without her, her voice, her songs, and her charisma, this film would be a giant turd. Especially strong was a sequence showing GaGa getting chewed up by the pop star factory, spending more time in ass-shaking rehearsal with backup dancers than actually working on music, a concept starkly contrasted with her male cohort who gets to just show up trashed and play some tunes. And of course, her song Shallow (a deserving shoo-in for Best Song) is fantastic.

But while getting to watch GaGa in action made for a delightful enough movie-watching experience, I admit that I frankly thought this was a bad movie. I came away feeling more that I had watched a good impression of a good movie, than a good movie itself. What it really came down to, I think, was the film just rang, well, shallow. I saw this in a review somewhere else (Jezebel?), but Cooper’s grisly character spends a lot of time telling GaGa’s character that she has a lot to say. Well that’s just peachy, but… does she? How do we know that? She doesn’t say or do a single deep thing in the entire movie. All we know is that she can sing, likes to sing, has a dad who likes to sing… that’s about it. Cooper’s character says that everyone has talent but what matters is what you say with this talent. Sound advice, Cooper, but maybe you should have followed it yourself and actually given your lead a fucking backstory or personality. His own character gets a long detailed deep family drama (granted it all came randomly spilling out in one unnatural monologue, later stilted up as best as possible by best-supporting nominee Sam Elliot, but at least it was there), but GaGa’s got jack shit.

My unease about disliking this film came into focus two nights later as I watched First Reformed, a quiet film nominated, deservedly, in the sole category of best original screenplay. I’ll give First Reformed its own review later, but the main thing that struck me was the originality of the story. I was watching something new, and creative, and interesting, and thoughtful, and deep. Basically, everything that was missing from A Star Is Born. The fact is that, even if it were not a remake (of a remake of a remake), there’s just nothing new here. The movie says nothing, unlike almost every other nominee in the Best Picture category. And if all you want is to watch a great musical biopic, might as well hop over to one that tells the true story of a true musician (I personally go for Bohemian Rhapsody, but pick your own poison.)

 

Vice

(picture, makeup, supporting actress – Amy Adams, actor – Christian Bale, supporting actor – Sam Rockwell, director, original screenplay, editing)

This movie was hot garbage. I absolutely hated it and am thoroughly disappointed to see it taking up a spot that could have gone to any of a number of other much more deserving films. Now, the one good thing I have to say: the impressions and hair/makeup in this film were incredible, and so I’m all for Vice winning the hair/makeup award and its even my pick. Combined with this makeup, both Christian Bale and Sam Rockwell (two talented actors who I very much like in other films, for the record) pull off really amazing two-dimensional impressions. But that’s all they are. Bush is barely even in this film (I think maybe in two or three scenes? Less than five minutes of dialogue? If even?) Cheney is obviously in it quite a bit, but the terrible script doesn’t give him much to work with. He’s just a mumbling gruff dude who waddles around and acts cartoonishly evil for some reason that is never actually explained.

Now, I’m not a fan of Dick Cheney. But I also don’t know much about him or his motives. Apparently, neither does anybody else, including the filmmakers, because they open with text on screen that points out that Cheney is one of the most private politicians of all time so nobody knows much about him, so the filmmakers just guessed. To me, doing an entire hit piece on someone without actually knowing anything about them is just reckless and definitely not commendable. McKay depicts Cheney as such a cartoonishly evil idiot, with no declared motivation. The result is an immature pack of unsupported nasty nonsense designed to make snooty liberals feel more snooty, giving fodder to conservatives who dislike the supposed liberal elites. Nobody is helped (except for the filmmakers’ egos), everyone is hurt, and nobody learns a goddamn thing.

 

Films Nominated in Other Categories

 

Cold War

(foreign film, director, cinematography)

A truly solid and well-executed black and white film from Poland. I will say upfront that I have a bit of a bias for this movie because it heavily features eastern european folk dance and music, something which I relate to on a very personal level and have never seen depicted in film before. Western audiences may have difficulty relating to the themes depicted in their cold war settings- the balance of personal and national identity and survival, or quiet yearning, of trying to find oneself when removed from oneself, all against a backdrop of a rapidly changing post-war Europe. The characters get thoroughly beat up by their world, their patience is tested, their fears realized, and in the end, they get spit out by a world more black and white than it seems. The filmmakers hauntingly capture the desolation and desperation of postwar life contracted with the terrifying buzz of release into an unfamiliar but supposedly free western world. I highly recommend this one, and bonus points for being relatively short (after a couple dozen oscar movies in a row, this was a refreshing detail).

 

First Reformed

(best original screenplay)

Nominated in only one category, this quiet brooding drama stands in stark contrast to the flashy loud blockbusters hanging out up in the Best Picture category. This is fitting, as the film does a damn good job juxtaposing the lonely stripped existence of our protagonist, a sad aching priest of a long-dead historic parish, with the happy shallow commercialism of modern mega churches and corporate greed. Much like The Favourite, there are a couple aspects of this film that are straight-up weird (including the ending), and that was just enough to push this one out of contention to win the category for me, or to suggest it should have deserved a best picture nomination. But still, I highly recommend this film (though I never want to watch it again) for anyone who wants to be challenged, who wants to experience something truly intelligent and original, or who just wants to step back from the special effects and big musical numbers for a more contemplative cinematic experience.

 

Isle of Dogs

(animated feature, original score)

Visually, Isle of Dogs is an absolute masterpiece, and I’m frankly surprised at its limited recognition. It is very much a Wes Anderson movie, and however you tend to react to Wes Anderson movies, you will likely react that way to this film, too. I, personally, tend to love the first half or so of any Wes Anderson film when we get introduced to the kooky characters in their dollhouse-like sets, and then quickly lose interest when the story always seems to just drag (the exception is Royal Budapest Hotel, which was my pick for Best Picture the year it came out and is the only Wes Anderson film to hold my interest to the end). Isle of Dogs is no exception; the start was absolutely brilliant, but at some point towards the end there was just too much going on several characters could have just been chopped out completely for a more streamlined story.

But despite following the Wes Anderson formula, Isle of Dogs brings plenty of ingenuity and new elements to the table. The main factor here is the absolutely stunning animation.

Every. SIngle. Frame. Is. A. Work. Of. Art.

For real, my jaw was dropped throughout the entire film. Particularly fun were the dogfight scenes, when dogs would just disappear into a giant cotton ball of chaos. The story takes place in Japan and does not shy away from attempts to depict Japanese life and culture. As a non-Japanese person who has never been to Japan, while watching the film I had to wonder whether the depiction was as respectful as it seemed to my untrained eye, or whether there was harmful stereotyping going on that my white self was missing. Between reading the loooong list of Japanese names in the credits, and reading online commentary from Japanese audiences, it seems that Anderson may have nailed this one (but please correct me if you think I am wrong). Mana Yaeko of nippon.com writes, “Iconic aspects of Japanese culture like sumō and taiko drums appear on screen, but it is the startlingly realistic reproduction of everyday aspects of street life, like boarding houses and ramen shops, that catches the eye.” The mix of Anderson’s quirky eye, Japanese setting, and finely crafted claymation results in a truly unique and visually stunning movie experience not to be missed.

 

Mary Poppins Returns

(original score, original song, costume design, production design)

Another absolute masterpiece! I saw this one when the Golden Globes had just been announced and it had been nominated for best film, best actress, best supporting actor, and best score. Alas, when the musical/comedy category gets slashed, this gem and its actors fall by the wayside. In their stead, it picks up nominations in production design, costume design, and best song. I predict it will win nothing (though costume designer Sandy Powell will lose out to herself for her work on The Favourite), which is a shame. This movie just does so many things right: it captures the very spirit of the original, nailing the very delicate balance between modernizing the special effects without looking like they’re modernizing the special effects. Everything is absolutely beautiful. The acting is all fine (though, frankly, while Emily Blunt was fine in the role, she didn’t really have to do too much besides throw everyone stern yet loving looks and then break into song, so I agree with not nominating her for best actress). I was particularly blown away for an insanely clever and perfectly-executed sequence wherein the children are sucked into the artwork on a china bowl and go on an epic chase scene with cartoon characters. That sequence alone was, I thought, enough to win prize for special effects (I felt this same way about the bear scene in The Revenant a couple years ago). Alas, it was not even nominated, which is a shame because it would be nice to see that award to go to something a bit more creative than action movie fodder (the one holdout in that category is Christopher Robin, which I am yet to see but am nevertheless rooting for).

Still, despite being a masterpiece, it was definitely not perfect. I felt it was just a bit too long for a kids’ movie; in particular we could have chopped plenty of stuff from the beginning since it felt like a good 20 or 30 minutes before anything magical happens or we even meet Mary Poppins. Dick Van Dyke makes a cameo at the ending which is nice in theory, except that the ending is, frankly, stupid. I realize it’s a kids’ movie, but it was still a dumb enough ending that it took me out of things. Meryl Streep has an entire long scene that frankly could have just been chopped. And a friend felt that swapping the original’s chimney sweeps on the roofs to lamplighters in the sewers was a bit of a stretch (I, on the other hand, thought this was great, and the chimney sweeps were my favorite part of the original). But any of these criticisms are minor compared to the pure joy that this nostalgic fantasy world will bring you.

 

Can You Ever Forgive Me

(actress, supporting actor, adapted screenplay)

A quiet niche nominee, here’s another example of a story, much like First Reformed, that tells a unique story unlike some of our best picture nominees. Of course, in this case the story is true, so I’m not sure we can give much credit for creativity in terms of story. Here, it’s all about the details; the punches in this movie are quiet but land well as long as you’re paying attention. Personally, liked it very much. It introduced us to a literary underworld that I didn’t know existed. Melissa McCarthy continues to demonstrate her non-comedy chops, and Richard E. Grant is fantastic as always, both bringing humanity to two objectively unlikable characters (particularly touching is a scene where Grant gingerly helps McCarthy clean up her apartment). These touching details are enough for this to be my current pick for best adapted screenplay in an otherwise frankly weak field, but the big question mark is If Beale Street Could Talk, the one major multi-category nominee I am yet to see. I don’t have too much to say about this one except that if you saw the trailer and thought you might like it, you’ll probably like it, and if you saw the trailer and thought it just isn’t for you, then it likely just isn’t for you.

 

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

(original song, costume design, adapted screenplay)

Okay, we’re hitting the point in the list where I just quickly watched stuff because its on the list and I could watch it for free, but didn’t care enough about the film to pay much attention or give it much thought. So the reviews are about to get less thoughtful, and admittedly probably less fair.

This was fine. Undeserving of any of the awards for which it was nominated, but it was fine. I could take it or leave it. If you’re into short stories, westerns, and the Coen brothers, then this film is right up your alley. If you find the Coen brother’s style a bit masturbatory and don’t particulalry like westerns, well then, maybe not for you. I will say, I was a fan of both the cinematography and the acting.

 

Incredibles 2

(animated feature)

It’s fine. Exactly what you would expect from Pixar. There were some fun jokes, top notch animation, great visual gags. Good family fun. Etcetera.

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story

(visual effects)

I’ll start by saying that I’m not exactly the target audience for this one. I’ve never really liked Star Wars, and I haven’t seen any of the movies beyond the 2nd trilogy. That being said, the one thing I did love about Star Wars was Hans Solo (he’s like Indiana Jones but in space!), and I tend to like origin stories, so I figured I might actually like this one. On the plus side, just like with Mary Poppins Returns, the filmmakers did a great job capturing the feel of the original films, despite the massive jumps in the world of special effects. It for real felt like the 70’s future. They even made the actor playing Solo look like a 70’s/80’s teen heartthrob (oh, those feathered locks!). There were plenty of funny moments in the script that did actually make me chuckle. The story was self-contained and didn’t rely much on winks and nods to other films in the series (something I tend to hate in serial films). All that being said, I did not like it. I thought it was really boring. The good news is, that’s how I feel about the original trilogy that everyone else loves to death, so if you’re a Star Wars purist, and particularly if you love the original trilogy, then you’ll probably love this.

 

Avengers: Infinity Wars

(visual effects)

Oh my God, where do I even start with this giant pile of mess? I guess let’s start with the fact that it is giant. I lost count, but I believe there were 30+ characters in this film that we were expected to already recognize from previous movies. And every single one of them got a dramatic intro, along with the damn wink-and-nod to previous movies. It was probably like 2 hours down by the time we finally had met everyone and could get started with the movie, and then, oh, wait, now it’s the climactic final fight! You’ll probably say that I’m missing the point here. Yeah, yeah, I understand, don’t’ worry. I know that Infinity Wars is not meant to be a stand-alone movie. I understand it exists purely for Marvel superfans to get to, well, marvel, as all their favorite comic book characters get together into one mega movie. I understand that it’s a reward to all those loyal fans who have bothered to spend their time and money to go see every single Marvel movie as it comes out in theatres (and there are sooooo many!). And I assume that, as time goes on, there will be an even bigger compilation movie a couple years down the road, and then another one, and then another one. I am by no means a Marvel expert, but even with my limited knowledge I can see where this thing is going and who is missing (off the top of my head, Captain Marvel, Fantastic 4, Deadpool, AntMan and the Wasp, everyone from the Netflix shows, and all 8 gajillion X-Men, though somewhere in the back of my brain I think I’ve stored a spare nerdbit about how maybe X-Man is the one that is never supposed to overlap, but maybe I made that up).

The honestly impressive thing here is the fact that someone at Disney did some NASA-level marketing calculus to figure out that it is profitable to continue down this path of devoting super-budget movies to only super devoted fans. They’ve mapped out which hero will be making movies when, and are weaving the tapestries together so these 8 gajillion storylines can all overlap. That is bonkers. What’s more bonkers is that, assuming they are right, there are really than many superfans out there that it’s worth alienating average, casual moviegoers.

The reason why I say this is that I, while not a superfan, I still tend to see most major blockbusters at some point, and have seen at least one or two films from each character’s series, therefore I went into this movie thinking I’d at least have a decent idea of who everyone is and would be able to piece together the gaps. NOPE! There were several characters where I just had zero idea of who they are (including one that seemed extremely crucial), a character who I thought was a bad guy but I guess now is a good guy, a missing Avenger who I assume now must have died, irreparable beefs between characters who used to be teammates, references to backstory details that I’m pretty sure were giant spoilers for if ever went back and watched Thor 4 or Iron Man 12 or whichever sequel was being referenced, etc. Also clean-cut conservative Captain America is now a brooding hippy, and SpiderMan is on its 3rd or 4th actor and has somehow cut a couple decades off of his age.

Now the super fan is probably laughing at me, or even maybe thinks I don’t deserve to watch this precious film if I can’t even keep up with 30 individual storylines. But… I dunno, even for a superfan it seems excessive.

All that being said, after three hours of having my brain smashed into a wall by an endless stream of nonsensical character intros and confusing fights, I came away entertained. Thankfully it’s still a shitty Marvel movie, which means the plot was dumb enough that it didn’t actually matter that I couldn’t keep up with the characters. The highlight was the comic relief from the Guardians of the Galaxy, who were absolutely hilarious, particularly when interacting with Thor (a taste: he keeps calling the racoon “Rabbit.” I can’t explain why it is so funny, but it is). It made me wish they had their own movie, and then I remembered that they had their own 2 movies and that I didn’t like them because all of the awesome hilarious banter was interrupted by stupid boring action sequences a tedious plot.

Finally, to my absolute shock, I actually loved the ending. Loved it! But, of course, it’s an ending, so I can’t get too much more into it than that without spoilers.

 

First Man

(production design, visual effects, sound mixing, sound editing)

I’m disappointed by how much I disliked this movie. I’ll start with the only good thing: the film does a great job of making you feel like you’re on the spaceship. You feel claustrophobic and disoriented and everything is new and scary. Of course, the movie does this to you like 20 separate times and it always goes on for seemingly forever. Which brings me to one of my many criticisms: this movie is freakin’ boring. It is just so, so, so boring. Nothing really happens. Nothing builds. Nothing is interesting. It’s such a waste of a film and of so many talented people, and I’m left wondering, who was this movie for? If you want a space movie, we’ve got space movies a’plenty. Before seeing this movie I’d heard a similar criticism and thought it was ridiculous, but then I saw this and thought, “Huh, no, they were right, this really adds absolutely nothing to the genre.” I also read a criticism that the film was sexist because it’s about a man, which also seemed silly to me. Well… they were partially right. The film isn’t sexist for being about a man, but it sure as hell has no problem wasting the presence of the insanely, insanely talented Claire Foy by having her play “The Concerned Wife” who, from what I can tell, doesn’t do or say anything except care for children and worry about her husband. A piece of toast with a wig could have played that role. What a waste of a film. I have no clue who it is for.

 

Ready Player One

(visual effects)

Ok, I didn’t actually watch this one, but my spouse was watching it while I wandered in and out of the room, so I saw enough of it, I think, to get the gist. It’s my pick for most likely winner of visual effects, though admittedly that is based on nothing but guesswork, and I actually want Mary Poppins Returns to win (despite not being nominated). As for my take, obviously take this all with a gigantic grain of salt since I didn’t actually watch the movie. But from the bit I saw, I freakin’ hated it. But, I fully admit that I am not the target audience, so other people may still love it and that’s fine. I just don’t particularly like scifi dystopian futures, so films have to be particularly amazing in some other capacity for me to like them. What really got my goat, though, was the infuriating cliche of the protagonist’s interaction with his love interest. He falls for her when they’re just avatars in a video game, and she’s a super hot but kinda alternative video game chick. “You won’t love me when you see what I really look like!” she says sadly. Then they meet in real life, and she’s like “See?! I told you I’m hideous!” and he likes her anyway. Except… real life girl is still a super hot but kinda alternative video game chick in real life. It took me a while to even figure out what was supposed to be wrong with her (I think it was like a birthmark or a scar or something). I frankly expected more from Spielberg, who has worked with so many kids over the years and I thought had a better grasp of how to send some positive messaging to our impressionable youth. Now if the girl had actually been ugly and he still liked her? That would have been lovely. But instead we’re just reaffirming the value of attractiveness, and setting that bar pretty damn high. Grr…

 

Deserving Films with No Nominations

 

Eighth Grade

This movie was perfect and I can’t believe it wasn’t nominated in every single category, let alone any category. That pretty much sums it up.

 

On the Basis of Sex

Maybe it was too Oscar-baity? But this film just did so many things so right. There’s a solid chance, though, that the brilliant nuances of the script went right over male heads. From the very first line about “Harvard men,” to being told to practice her smile, female viewers surely cringed and moaned in their seats the whole time just like I did. It’s not often that a film gets me so fired up that I’m swearing in the cinema the whole time, but here we have it. Even without the prestige of a nomination, this is a must-watch.

 

Nominated Feature Films I Have Not Seen

If Beale Street Could Talk (supporting actress – Regina King, adapted screenplay, original score)

Mary Queen of Scotts (costumes, makeup)

At Eternity’s Gate (actor – Willem Dafoe)

The Wife (actress – Glenn Close)

Never Look Away (cinematography, foreign film)

Border (makeup)

A Quiet Place (sound editing)

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One thought on “2019 Oscar Reviews

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