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Oscar Reflections

2019oscars

I know, I know, the awards were ages ago. I’ve been busy, whaddya want? Despite the various changes that took place, I enjoyed the Oscars ceremony. The absence of a host did not adversely affect things, although the opening speech from Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler suggested that any or all of these comedians would make excellent hosts in the future.

Opening ladies

Other presenters were also entertaining, and it was especially pleasing to see the acting winners of last year presenting the awards for this year in pairs, Gary Oldman and Alison Janney presenting Leading Actor to Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody while Francis McDormand and Sam Rockwell presented Leading Actress to Olivia Colman for The Favourite, whose acceptance speech was one of the most moving.

Colman Malek

Alfonso Cuarón spent a lot of time on the stage, winning three awards personally for Roma, Foreign Language Film, Cinematography and Directing, the last of which was affectionately presented to him by his friend and last year’s winner, Guillermo Del Toro.

Amigos

Performance highlights included the various nominees for Original Song, especially the eventual winner of this award, ‘Shallow’ (from A Star Is Born) performed by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry appeared in hilarious costumes that incorporated elements of all the nominees for Costume Design, was another highlight.

Some of the most significant speeches came from the newcomers, especially those in the Short Film categories. For their winning Documentary (Short), Period. End of Sentence, Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton gave an impassioned and empowering speech about women’s rights and the need for films like theirs to get this kind of attention. Similarly, Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb were inspiring as they received the award for Short Film (Animated) for their charming Bao. And with his first competitive Oscar win, Spike Lee gave a jubilant celebration alongside his co-winners Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott, seeming to climb up the much longer form of his friend Samuel L. Jackson to receive a congratulatory embrace.

As is often the case, however, the Oscars are dogged with as much controversy as glamour. The most heated debate has been around Best Picture, and with good reason. In a year when such unusual fare as Roma and The Favourite and such provocative offerings as BlacKkKlansman were in contention, for the Academy to reward Green Book feels like a conservative cop-out. I don’t think Green Book is a bad film, but it seems remarkably unremarkable. Little in its subject matter or film style stood out, especially in comparison to the distinctive style and unusual content of the films mentioned above.

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As is so often the case, the suspected politics of the Oscars are illuminating. Green Book presents a very simplistic view of US race relations, and it has been described disparagingly as Driving Miss Daisy with the racist in the front. Green Book charts the resolution of racism through a tale of one white man shaking off his prejudices, and in doing so saves a black man with companionship. It’s a white saviour story, where the journey of the white saviour is more prominent than that of the black man who is ‘saved’. It is therefore easy to see why Green Book’s victory annoyed Spike Lee as well as others. I won’t say I’m angry, but I am disappointed that after radical and surprising choices in recent years, Green Book feels like a Best Picture winner from earlier, safer times. Wackier choices next time, I hope.

Green Book Oscar

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91st Annual Academy Awards: Part Three – Acting Out

2019oscars

Leading Actress

Yalitza Aparicio for Roma

Glenn Close for The Wife

Olivia Colman for The Favourite

Lady Gaga for A Star is Born

Melissa McCarthy for Can You Ever Forgive Me?

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She’s won it all so far – Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA – and there’s no reason not to expect Olivia Colman to continue her winning ways. I love Colman in The Favourite, but Yalitza Aparicio’s performance in Roma does something even more special, conveying so much with little gestures and body language. Plus it would be nice for an indigenous performer to win an award. I suspect we will see Queen Anne getting an Oscar though.

Prediction – Olivia Colman

Preferred winner – Yalitza Aparicio

olivia-colman-the-favourite

Leading Actor

Christian Bale for Vice

Bradley Cooper for A Star Is Born

Willem Defoe for At Eternity’s Gate

Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody

Viggo Mortensen for Green Book

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Bohemian Rhapsody had two elements that impressed me. One was the music, for which I will credit Queen. The other is Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury, which is pretty brilliant. After his victories at the Golden Globes and BAFTA, I see no reason not to expect Malek to add to his collection. But if it were me, I would vote for Christian Bale’s transformation into the devious, manipulative slug of Dick Cheney in Vice.

Prediction – Rami Malek

Preferred winner – Christian Bale

Malek

Supporting Actress

Amy Adams for Vice

Marina de Tavira for Roma

Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk

Emma Stone for The Favourite

Rachel Weisz for The Favourite

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Prediction – Regina King

Preferred winner – Rachel Weisz

The smart money appears to be on Regina King, and I am yet to see If Beale Street Could Talk (I suspect it can). Having seen the others, Rachel Weisz did do something special in The Favourite, and I’d be OK with her becoming a two-time winner.

regina2

Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali for Green Book

Adam Driver for BlacKkKlansman

Sam Elliott for A Star is Born

Richard E. Grant for Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Sam Rockwell for Vice

Supporting Actor

Having not seen Green Book (yet), I predict that Mahershala Ali will add to his collection. But personally, I was touched by San Elliott’s quiet gruffness in A Star Is Born, and of those I have seen, probably vote for him.

Prediction – Mahershala Ali

Preferred winner – Sam Elliott

Film Review - Green Book

Vice

Vice-Movie-PosterAdam McKay’s Vice is based on, or at least inspired by actual events. The majority of its narrative, however, is speculation, and the film never lets the viewer forget this. Accusations of taking liberties with the truth are spurious because the film uses various devices to emphasise its own fictionality. Voiceover, direct address to camera, supertext, a weird Shakespearean interchange, and even, halfway through the film, premature credits highlight again and again that the filmmakers ARE MAKING THIS UP. Unfortunately, McKay is so focused on proclaiming the artifice of the film that he neglects to tell a coherent story. The career of Dick Cheney (played by an unrecognisable Christian Bale) is a remarkable one of political manipulation, Cheney’s apparent lack of regard for anyone outside his immediate circle something that is ripe for satire. McKay’s repeated interruptions to his own narrative blunt this satire, resulting in an incoherent mishmash where the events themselves are both hilarious and horrifying, but the presentation of these events is jarring to the point of being gimmicky. The film is a far less satisfying whole than the writer-director’s previous effort, The Big Short, which dealt with the presentation of similarly bizarre events. The first half of Vice, covering Cheney’s early political career, especially suffers from McKay’s approach, although the second half, focused on Cheney’s time as Vice-President of the United States under George W. Bush (an excellent Sam Rockwell), is more focused and succeeds in expressing the scale of Cheney’s Machiavellian manoeuvring that twists the US Constitution and other laws to his advantage. But considering the film’s overtly critical stance, the likely audience for Vice are unlikely to be bowled over by Cheney’s lack of ethics. The end result is a missed opportunity, that could have been an insightful dissection of a grim turn in US politics, but instead ends up a flashy but messy portrait of an unashamedly nasty piece of work.

90th Oscar Predictions Part Three: Sterling Support

best-supporting-actor-nominees-plummer-jenkins-dafoe-harrelson-rockwellActor in a Supporting Role 

This is a really strong category, and true to form, I’ve only seen four of them (The Florida Project passed me by). Christopher Plummer’s highly nuanced performance of greed with money yet generosity of spirit is all the more impressive for being put together so quickly; Richard Jenkins brings pathos and humour to his marginalised figure in The Shape of Water. There is a possibility that two nominees from the same film will split the vote for Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, but after his success at the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild and the BAFTAs, I predict Sam Rockwell will go from being that guy who was in the thing, to the guy who won an Oscar for playing the racist moron in that thing. And I would like that too.

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  (predicted and preferred winner)

billboards1

Actress in a Supporting Role 

oscar-supporting-actressI have broken my own pattern! I have seen neither Mudbound nor I, Tonya, so I have no opinion on their quality. But it seems likely that the same pattern will occur as in Supporting Actor. After winning the Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG awards, I predict Alison Janney will add to her collection. Of the three I have seen, I was especially impressed by the remarkable display of repression combined with steely resolve displayed by Lesley Manville. Her co-stars in that film have showier roles, but Manville offers something that rewards close scrutiny. Therefore, she would be my pick.

Mary J. Blige, Mudbound

Allison Janney, I, Tonya (predicted winner)

Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread (preferred winner)

Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water 

Get Me (the) Darkest Post Phantom Water Bird Outside Dunkirk

In case you’ve been living in a cave, it’s awards season, a time when films are rewarded for being excellent or at least because they tick some subjective boxes about what counts as ‘quality’. Some film fans proclaim their absolute certainty of what should be rewarded, but I prefer to discuss the nominees without the assumption of superiority, although I certainly have my own views. dunkirk-2017-large-pictureI’ve written previously about radical and conservative choices of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This year’s Best Picture nominees are a varied bunch, including typical and not so typical Oscar bait. Two topics that AMPAS loves are World War II and twentieth century American history (which obviously overlap). Darkest Hour and Dunkirk are both concerned with World War II, making them interesting companion pieces if rather obvious award choices. The same is true of The Post, which recounts a battle over freedom of the press. In previous years, the Best Picture gong would most likely go to one of these three, but times are a-changing.

Recent Oscar years have been less predictable and more radical, with mainstream genre fare and provocative subject matter getting a look in. The most radical entries in this year’s race are Get Out, a horror film about American racial politics, and The Shape of Water, a fantasy film mixed with Cold War tensions. Mixed in with these are two coming of age tales, Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird. Each of these has a distinct selling point: Lady Bird is about American girlhood, a rare enough topic in cinema let alone Oscar hopefuls; Call Me By Your Name is a love story between two men, suggesting that Moonlight’s surprise win last year may have been trailblazing.

Personally, I am torn over what I would like to win. Dunkirk was my favourite film last year, but it is such a safe choice I want something more radical to be named Best Picture. In the current climate of the Me Too and Time’s Up campaigns, fine films honouring women warrant attention. Lady Bird would be a remarkable winner, but it seems like a fairly safe film that offers no particular challenge. Pleasing though it is to see a film about racial tensions, and indeed a horror film, up for Best Picture, Get Out failed to wow me. The Shape of Water is an exquisite piece of work that tells a story of alienation largely filtered through the figure of a woman, whose sexuality and independence are foregrounded without overemphasis. For these reasons, as well as its supernatural elements, I would like The Shape of Water to pick up Best Picture.

However, there are two more nominees. Phantom Thread’s presence is hard to understand politically – the film is historical which the Academy often likes, but its focus is on a rather abrasive relationship. Perhaps, shock horror, its nomination is because a majority of the Academy membership simply think Phantom Thread is a very well made film. This view could carry it to Best Picture, but I doubt it because, after its success at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri appears to be the lead contender to walk away with Best Picture.

Three Billboards is a somewhat typical contender, as it is a story about ‘America’. However, it is a far from rose-tinted portrait of modern America, as grief, resentment, racism, domestic abuse and terminal illness all jockey for position of primary misery. But, as is so often the case with award magnets, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a film of its time. Some pundits argue that a key element to the election of Donald Trump was his regular reference to the ‘forgotten’ people of America. Whether Mr Trump’s concerns are genuine or not, his rhetoric in favour of these supposed ‘forgotten’ people was certainly prominent, and such people are the focus of Three Billboards. With its focus upon blue collar people, largely neglected by advances in technology and infrastructure, living in communities fractured by class and racial tensions, Three Billboards is very much a film about America at its current moment (despite being a largely British production). Furthermore, the film resonates with current debates over gender relations in the film industry and beyond, with Frances McDormand’s Mildred an inspiring and unconventional protagonist. For its insightful and unflinching, yet heartfelt and never mean-spirited capturing of the zeitgeist, it is my prediction that the Oscar for Best Picture will go to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Mildred

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Martin McDonagh’s third feature is touching, moving, darkly humorous and deeply tragic. This seemingly contradictory concoction is expressed through a beautifully measured and exquisitely designed portrait of small town America. Ebbing, Missouri is a town where everyone knows everyone and the major advertising agency, police station and popular bar are within walking distance of each other. Yet it is also a deeply troubled and fractured town. These fractures are foreshadowed in the opening shots, where DOP Ben Davis captures the dilapidated titular billboards, the frame sliced with the supporting struts much as the town is sliced through with mistrust and resentment. For the most part, the direction follows this unobtrusive approach, until a long take expresses the eruption of previously contained violence. This violence is key to its perpetrator, who like all the characters is superbly realised both by McDonagh’s merciless yet tender script, and an array of mighty performances from the entire cast. From incidental figures such as the pretty but oblivious Penelope (Samara Weaving) to supporting characters like James (Peter Dinklage) who cynically embraces the label of ‘town midget’, to the three leads of Mildred (Frances McDormand), Police Chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), all the people in this tale are rounded, engaging and brilliantly flawed figures. Mistakes are made, judgements held and everyone is wracked with anger, pain and loss. Yet there is also compassion, care and love, both between characters and for the film’s world as a whole. For all its harshness and tragedy, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a wonderfully human story, offering emotional peaks and troughs as well as a subtle socio-political commentary as it gives voice to a largely neglected part of America.