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The 91st Academy Awards
Gold Standard: The Oscars 2018
By Jeffrey M. Anderson
Here are my reviews, notes, predictions, and thoughts about this year's Academy Awards. This year's nominees were announced the morning of January 22. Roma and The Favourite led with 10 nominations each, followed by A Star Is Born and Vice with eight each, and Black Panther with seven. The awards will be held on February 24. Keep checking back... this page will be updated throughout awards season!
February 21 -- Adding in my final predictions, though I'm not 100% on some of these... it's one of the most wide-open fields in years.
Notes: Most of these movies are fine, but five of the eight feel as if they were specifically made to be nominated for Best Picture. (And, of those, Bohemian Rhapsody isn't even a good movie.) The remaining three, Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, and Roma, belong here. They tried to find and break new ground, tried to be more personal. I love all three of them, but Roma is my clear choice. It's the kind of movie that comes along only a few times in a lifetime, a movie that transcends what film art can actually be. As for a prediction? No one seems to agree, but it's down to three possibles: Roma, Green Book, and BlacKkKlansman... it's probably not wise to put any money on the other five.
If I Had a Vote: Roma
Notes: Lee and Cuarón are the only real choices here, and they both have a shot at winning. I'll get back to this one, but so far most pundits seem to favor Cuarón. Some other, perhaps better choices could have been: Paul Schrader, Orson Welles, Ryan Coogler, Claire Denis, Lynne Ramsay, Joel and Ethan Coen, Barry Jenkins, Lee Chang-dong, Debra Granik, or Andrew Bujalski.
If I Had a Vote: Alfonso Cuarón
Notes: For me, Ethan Hawke in First Reformed was so far ahead of this batch. It's a major snub. Four of these are biopics, of course. Bale disappears into the role of Dick Cheney, and for some disappearing is a good thing, but as for me, I like to see something of the actor; it's more interesting and riskier. Dafoe does a fine job with yet another Van Gogh. As enjoyable as Green Book is, many have claimed that Mortensen's performance is too large and close to caricature. Cooper is very impressive, learning to sing, altering his speaking voice, etc., but his real achievement was in doing that while directing. The performance is only half of it. Weirdly, though Bohemian Rhapsody is the worst of these movies, Malek gives the most dynamic performance as a monumental star, and captures some of that essence. He also seems to be the frontrunner at the moment.
If I Had a Vote: Rami Malek
Notes: There were so many great leading performances this year by women, including Toni Collette (Hereditary), Regina Hall (Support the Girls), Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In), and Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade) among them. These five I would place a little further down the list. McCarthy and Aparicio are my favorites. McCarthy's performance manages to be funny and yet full of pain. Aparicio is a newcomer, and superb in Roma, quiet and holding a great deal inside. Close is great, but The Wife is a mixed bag of a movie. Lady Gaga is magnetic in A Star Is Born, but I'm not sure she'd ever be able to do anything else quite as good. Finally, Colman, whose performance is a supporting one, was somehow elevated to leading status, which makes no sense. Close is the frontrunner here, given that she has seven nominations, and no wins, going back to The World According to Garp (1982). It's the "it's time" award (think Scent of a Woman).
If I Had a Vote: Melissa McCarthy
Notes: Love all these guys. Ali's role in Green Book is quite a bit sofer than in Moonlight, but I'm glad he's here. Rockwell is a very funny George W. Bush in Vice. Elliott is getting something of a career-capper this year; he probably should have been honored for the previous year's The Hero instead. Driver is a great pick; he's a great actor with his first nomination (he should have had a few by now), but it's a little disconcerting that, as a white man, he's the only acting nominee from BlacKkKlansman. Even though he does the majority of the heavy lifting in the film, it feels a little odd to root for him this time. That leaves Grant, a great character actor, also with his first nomination, who brings surprising depth to what is essentially a comedy relief character. Ali seems to be the frontrunner at this point, and it would be his second Oscar.
If I Had a Vote: Richard E. Grant
Notes: I wish Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place) and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie (Leave No Trace) were here. Stone and Weisz are actually co-leads in The Favourite; they drive the story, and Colman is the supporter. Either way, these two cancel each other out (and they've both won previously anyway). Adams is one of my favorites, but she seems under-served by Vice; Adams's greatest power is her sweetness, and Lynne Cheney is reportedly even more evil and opportunistic than the movie painted her. Marina de Tavira, as with her co-star Yalitza Aparicio, is part of a great film, an essential part of it, though I'm not sure whether her performance elevates the film, or whether the film elevates her performance. (Perhaps I need to see it again, and I do want to see it again.) That leaves King, my choice, for a performance of great power in an under-represented movie. She seems to have the best shot at winning, although this is Adams's sixth nomination without winning, so she could also have an edge.
If I Had a Vote: Regina King
Notes: Despite cries of racism (it's actually more of an example of "cultural appropriation," perhaps clueless, but certainly heartfelt and respectful), I do love Isle of Dogs, but my favorite this year is Spider-Man, which was just such a happy surprise, an astonishment. I'm fond of the other three as well; the "Disney princess" scene in Ralph Breaks the Internet may be the best single moment in this entire category. For the winner? Experts across the board are predicting Spider-Man.
If I Had a Vote: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Notes: This is a rough one. First, I don't think the greatest strength of A Star Is Born is its screenplay, so we can eliminate that. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is beautifully-constructed, but rather lightweight in comparison to the others. The top two picks would be either Spike Lee's film or Barry Jenkins's film, and those two screenplays, one ramshackle and reckless, the other polished and highly intelligent, couldn't be more different. I enjoyed the former more, but I find myself thinking more about the latter one in hindsight. While I ponder, I have to laugh at how much the Coen brothers have messed with the Academy over the years; this wonderful screenplay has five original tales and one short adaptation, so of course, it had to be shoehorned in here. Keep it up, guys! As for a prediction, experts seem to be leaning towards BlacKkKlansman.
If I Had a Vote: If Beale Street Could Talk
Notes: Only two rise to the top for me here, Roma and First Reformed, and I'm giving the edge to Schrader, since his screenplay is so achingly personal, and a remarkable full circle to his career. As for the winner, pundits are predicting the funny and spiky, but ultimately too long and rather pointless The Favourite.
If I Had a Vote: First Reformed
Notes: I love black-and-white films, and Cold War is gorgeous, even if it doesn't entirely work for me. I like the fishbowl look of The Favourite, and the roving, objective camerawork in A Star Is Born. I'm not at all sure why Never Look Away is even here, except for a shot of its hero walking through field of tall, waving foxtails. But for sure, the winner for me is Roma, an absolutely astonishing, game-changing use of cinematography. Experts seem to agree. Mark it down.
If I Had a Vote: Roma
Notes: I'm rather shocked that Won't You Be My Neighbor? didn't turn up here. It may not be the most revealing doc ever, but it's certainly the doc that we need the most right now. Of the rest, Minding the Gap is my favorite, for its innovative camerawork and editing, and for how ultimately moving it is. RBG is solid, and Hale County This Morning, This Evening is terrific. I'm a little cooler on the other two. Pundits think that either RBG or Free Solo are likely to win. More soon...
If I Had a Vote: Minding the Gap
Notes: I rather loved Lee Chang-dong's Burning, Claire Denis's Let the Sunshine In, and Gustav Möller's The Guilty, and it's too bad they're not here. (Capernaum and Never Look Away in particular probably should not have been here.) But I have written extensively in the past about the obnoxious way this category is handled, and how it has contributed to the downfall of imported cinema, rather than its celebration. Thankfully one great film is here, Roma, and it has a shot at winning.
If I Had a Vote: Roma
Notes: My personal guideline is that any film that runs over two hours doesn't qualify for this award. But four of these nominees do just that, and The Favourite pushes the envelope at a whopping 119 minutes (and it feels too long). So... I'm going for the most innovative editing here, the collage-like work in BlacKkKlansman that incorporates film history as well as actual history. The experts I consulted each chose a different prediction, so I will get back to this one. [Addendum: at this late date, experts are mostly leaning toward Vice, for an example of the most editing, with the music-video stylings of Bohemian Rhapsody a close possible second.]
If I Had a Vote: BlacKkKlansman
Notes: OK, according to the New York Times, "In layman’s terms, sound editing is about collecting the sounds needed for a film. Sound mixing refers to what is done after they are collected." So for me, I'd choose a film that is all about sound, or a lack of sound, A Quiet Place. Experts, however, seem to think that (sigh) First Man is the likely winner.
If I Had a Vote: A Quiet Place
Notes: If Sound Mixing is what is done after sounds are collected, then there's only one best here. Seeing Roma in a theater is a truly dazzling experience when you realize how the sounds are directed and how they form their own ambiance. It's a masterwork. But experts do not agree on a prediction, so I will return. [Addendum: experts seem to have settled on Bohemian Rhapsody as the most likely winner.]
If I Had a Vote: Roma
Notes: My critics' group gave this to Black Panther and I still agree with that. Some Oscar experts think it will win, though others are predicting The Favourite, which (sigh) is the kind of thing that usually wins.
If I Had a Vote: Black Panther
Notes: These are all pretty good scores, with BlacKkKlansman and If Beale Street Could Talk being my favorites. Beale Street is more listenable as a separate score, and it's gorgeous... Oscar experts think it's going to be the winner, and I think I'll concur. [Addendum: after some awards-season momentum, the excellent Black Panther score has edged into a possible first place.]
If I Had a Vote: If Beale Street Could Talk
Notes: Just a mournful note about the non-inclusion of the delightful "Sunflower" from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but for the most part, some of these songs aren't too bad. ("I'll Fight" is kind of bad, but it's hard to be angry at it... it's for a good cause.) "All the Stars" is probably the best song here, but "Shallow" is actually important to its movie's story, and is really quite moving in context, and it's the expected winner by a long shot.
If I Had a Vote: "All the Stars"
Notes: In the first few minutes of Border, I was genuinely shocked... wondered if what I was seeing was real. That's good makeup. Vice is the for-sure winner, though, even though I kept looking for Christian Bale underneath it all. (Also... what about those little bumps on Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther? Surely that was pretty difficult and deserves some kind of shout-out.)
If I Had a Vote: Border
Notes: This is far from my area of expertise, folks. Usually this award goes to flowy gowns and waistcoats in period pieces, so clearly my choices would either be Black Panther or Buster Scruggs (both of which were among my top ten films of the year). But, yeah, expect The Favourite to win. Sigh.
If I Had a Vote: Black Panther
Notes: I really like three of these films (Ready Player One and Solo: A Star Wars Story would be the other two), but my vote would go to the movie I like best from this list, Avengers: Infinity War, which also has the most moving parts. Experts agree.
If I Had a Vote: Avengers: Infinity War
Notes: I'll post reviews soon, but I've now (Jan. 31) seen all five of these. Four of them seem largely the same, about the melancholy, bittersweet passage of life from one generation to another, and Animal Behavior is the only comedy. But that one has basically one joke and runs a very long 15 minutes. Pixar's Bao seems to be the favorite, and I liked it too, even though it has a creepy Freudian thing going on. By a small margin, I think I like One Small Step, about a young girl who dreams of being an astronaut, the best.
If I Had a Vote: One Small Step
Best Documentary Short Subject:
Notes: Just a disclaimer here that I went to grade school (and am pretty sure I was in Cub Scouts) with Skye Fitzgerald, the director of Lifeboat. I'm checking that one out soon and will get back to you. Update: Saw Lifeboat and it's excellent! Will be posting a review soon. Not sure if I'll be able to get to the other four...
If I Had a Vote: Lifeboat
Best Live Action Short Film:
Notes: Seen all five of these now... four of them are about death and children, so not a lot of laughs this year. My favorite by far is Mother, with its brilliant long takes and slow building of suspense, achieving a visual quality with largely dialogue. Skin is also pretty satisfying, but I don't think I'd ever want to look at it again...
If I Had a Vote: Mother