2021 Oscar Nominations

It was a weird year for movies. When the world shut down, so did production, so far fewer movies were being shot because when they did keep filming, Robert Pattinson got Covid, and nobody wants that.

When movie theaters shut down, movies went directly to streaming, so Oscar made the unprecedented (and correct) decision to include films without theatrical releases in their body of contenders. That turned out to be a good idea since no one went to the theaters even when they opened back up.

They also widened the window of eligibility, which means that 14 months’ worth of movies were in the running. What does that mean for 2021? Will the 2021 eligibility calendar be just 10 months long? Will we forever push the eligibility deadline back to March to keep it at 12? That choice will have a bigger impact on what comes out when than you think. What it means for 2020 is that small films that you hoped would get notice—First Cow and Shirley, for example—still got swamped in the larger pool, and recency bias potentially helped voters forget about films that came out early in 2020. Let’s be honest, early 2020 feels like 1976 by this point.

It was just so long ago.

On the whole, though, we don’t have too many complaints about the Academy’s 2020 Oscar choices. Independent films just kicked all manner of ass this year.

Best Film

  • The Father
  • Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Mank
  • Minari
  • Nomadland
  • Promising Young Woman
  • Sound of Metal
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

Thoughts:

Again, the Academy can potentially include 10 candidates. A film has to reach a low-end threshold of votes to be included, which is why those last couple of slots are usually left vacant. If we could fill them, Soul and First Cow would certainly have made this list.

Lead Actress

  • Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Andra Day, The United States Versus Billie Holiday
  • Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
  • Frances McDormand, Nomadland
  • Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Thoughts:

Killer lineup. It’s painful to see another year go by without acknowledging the sublime Elizabeth Moss, but honestly, this group is hard to complain about.

Lead Actor

  • Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
  • Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Anthony Hopkins, The Father
  • Gary Oldman, Mank
  • Steven Yeun, Minari

Thoughts:

These five performances are undoubtedly award worthy. But where is Delroy Lindo for Spike Lee’s almost completely overlooked Da Five Bloods? We probably would give him the Hopkins or Yeun spot, but we would definitely have made room for him.

Supporting Actress

  • Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Movie Film
  • Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
  • Olivia Colman, The Father
  • Amanda Seyfried, Mank,
  • Youn Yun-jung, Minari

Thoughts:

How great is it to see Youn Yun-jung on this list?! Close is the sentimental favorite because she has inexplicably never won an Oscar regardless of her 8 nominations and mind blowing talent, but please God please don’t let her win for the abomination that was Hillbilly Elegy.

Supporting Actor

  • Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7
  • Leslie Odom Junior, One Night in Miami
  • Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
  • LaKeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah

Thoughts:

It’s impossible not to note that there are three Black actors on this list—a historic moment and one worth celebrating. Most people assumed Chadwick Boseman would be on this list for his role in Da 5 Bloods. We’re wondering, though: if LaKeith Stanfield is a supporting actor, who was the lead in Judas and the Black Messiah?

We’d also loved to have seen Michael Stuhlbarg squeezed in here for his brilliant turn in Shirley, but to be totally honest, we loved all these performances and have no serious complaints. Just questions.

If Kaluuya doesn’t win, the Academy is wrong.

Director

  • Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round
  • David Fincher, Mank
  • Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
  • Chloe Zhao, Nomadland
  • Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

Thoughts:

Regina King (One Night in Miami) and Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7) are notable absences, and Vinterberg is the obvious surprise here. We’d have loved to see Kelly Reichardt get some love for First Cow, but that’s asking too much, we know.  

Adapted Screenplay

  • Borat Subsequent Movie Film
  • The Father
  • Nomadland
  • One Night in Miami
  • The White Tiger

Thoughts:

The White Tiger is a pleasant surprise. When you think of Borat Subsequent Movie Film, you don’t think of writing. You think of one guy riffing, and you’re so surprised that he isn’t murdered in front of you that you ignore the incredible amount of planning and, yes, writing that must go into it. Good for the writing pool of the Academy for seeing past that potential murder to take note.

Original Screenplay

  • Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Minari
  • Promising Young Woman
  • Sound of Metal
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

Thoughts:

Not a ton of surprises here. We’d love to see Soul in this bunch, but we don’t know where we’d put it. 2020 was a bad year all around, but it was a great year for original films.

Documentary

  • Collective
  • Crip Camp
  • The Mole Agent
  • Octopus Teacher
  • Time

Thoughts:

Year after year, documentary feature gets to be a tighter and tighter race. In recent years there are more documentaries worthy of true consideration than there are features. We’d loved to have seen Boys State and/or Capital in the 21st Century on this list, but this is a smart group and its content and style run a big gamut. Smart money is probably on Collective because it’s also nominated for International Picture, but we’d give it to Time all day.

Animated

  • Onward
  • Over the Moon
  • A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
  • Soul
  • Wolfwalkers

Thoughts:

It was an incredibly weak year in big screen animation, although Wolfwalkers was an incredible film that you should find and watch immediately. And Soul was quite possibly the best movie to come out in 2020, so at least it will get its due here.

Catch the 93rd annual Academy Awards Sunday, April 25th on ABC.

Nom Nom Nom 2019: Let’s Argue Again About the Oscars

Just eight best picture nominations this year and a list of contenders that clarifies what a kickass year 2018 was for female roles. Well done, chicas!

Do we have gripes? Well, honestly, not too many. Here’s the rundown.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
This is a good list. Strong. Not a lot of bones to pick here. Our heart goes out to anyone trying to narrow this field down to a single winner. Wouldn’t have minded seeing Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased) or Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace) get in, but how to make the room?

Amy Adams (Vice)
Marina de Tavira (Roma)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

SUPPORTING ACTOR
We love Sam Elliott. Honestly, who doesn’t? Driver and Rockwell, too, and all were amazing in their respective films. But we would have had to leave them off in favor of Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther) and Lucas Hedges (Boy Erased). But no Timothee Chalamet for Beautiful Boy? That might be the biggest snub this year.

Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
Sam Elliott (A Star is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Sam Rockwell (Vice)

LEAD ACTOR
Another solid list, although how the entire world ignored three insane performances from Joaquin Phoenix this year—You Were Never Really Here, Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot, The Sisters Brothers—is beyond us. Please, please do yourself the favor and watch You Were Never Really Here. We’d have given him Mortensen’s slot, but we and the Academy disagree about that one particular film this year.

We would also have made room for Ben Foster (Leave No Trace) with a Malek/Dafoe coin flip.

Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born)
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

LEAD ACTRESS
We would have applauded nods for Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade and Toni Collette for Hereditary, but holy cow, people, this is acting. This is the art and the craft, right here. No bones. No complaints. Just awe.

Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Olivia Coleman (The Favourite)
Lady Gaga (A Star is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Had hoped for Black Panther and Leave No Trace (in a whiplashed swing from “everybody saw” to “nobody saw”). Buster Scruggs was a surprise, but when is it ever a bad idea to nominate the Coens?

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel and Ethan Coen)
BlacKkKlansman (Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty)
If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)
A Star is Born (Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper Will Fetters)

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
What we would have given to see Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade get some love here. Where would we have put it? Honestly, only The Favourite and Roma are better written, but in our book, it certainly deserved the slot designated to the self-congratulatory Green Book.

The Favourite (Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara)
First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
Green Book (Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly)
Roma (Alfonso Cuaron)
Vice (Adam McKay)

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Don’t mind the overrated Shirkers not making it, but shocked not to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? here.

Free Solo
Hale County: This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FEATURE
Um…Burning? Really, did you just forget?

Capernaum
Cold War
Never Looks Away
Roma
Shoplifters

CINEMATOGRPHY
We’re a little surprised not to see If Beale Street Could Talk or First Man included, but none of these are weak.

Cold War
The Favourite
Never look away
Roma
A Star is Born

ANIMATED
This is just a fight for second place after Spider-Verse.

Incredibles 2
Isle of dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

DIRECTOR
Would have cheered for Lynne Ramsay (YWNRH), surprised not to see Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born) and disappointed not to see Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), but how great is it to see Pawel Pawlikowski make this list for his groundbreaking love story Cold War? Pretty great. (Also, Oscar likes black and white movies.)

Lee, Lanthimos and Cuaron, though, that is a trifecta we applaud until our hands ache.

Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Alfonso Cuaron (Roma)
Adam McKay (Vice)

FILM
Only eight this year, which means we can wish for two without having to bump any. We wish for Eighth Grade and Hereditary. Then we’d bump Bohemian Rhapsody and admitted frontrunner Green Book in favor of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and You Were Never Really Here. There you go. We’ve dreamed up a nice list.

Black Panther
BlacKkKansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star is Born
Vice

The 91st annual Academy Awards will air Feb. 24th on ABC.





The Screening Room: Endurance Tests

We air some minor grievances with the Oscar nominations as we talk through the merits of this week’s new releases: Hostiles and Maze Runner: The Death Cure. We also run through new releases in home entertainment and preview next week’s flicks.

Listen to the full podcast HERE.





Should Win/Will Win 2017

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Oscar cometh, and with him the possibility of drawing attention to some of the best films from 2016 that many people didn’t see. By all means, check out Hell or High Water and Moonlight. Watch Natalie Portman’s brilliant turn in Jackie, or Viola Davis’s blistering performance in Fences. And for the love of God, watch Manchester by the Sea already. It won’t kill you.

And while you’re at it, pull out your Oscar score card and compare it with ours.

Best Picture
There are a lot of solid contenders and one possible winner. Such is the case every year, but the best thing about the real race this year is that it’s the movie you enjoyed most versus clearly the best film you saw this year. For us, it’s La La Land versus Moonlight, and however it turns out, we all win. This is how it will turn out:

Should: Moonlight
Will: La La Land

 

Best Director
We would love to say David Mackenzie, beautiful visionary behind Hell or High Water, should win but will lose to someone else. But, Mel Gibson got that nomination for Hacksaw Ridge. So Mackenzie can’t lose, at least he has that. The winner, then?

Should: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Will: Chazelle

 

Best Actress
This is a stacked category (including Streep, Portman, and Loving‘s Ruth Negga)– one of the strongest pack of contenders for Best Female Lead we’ve seen in years. Congratulations to us that it will be so tough to choose. But here’s the way it’ll likely go:

Should: Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Will: Emma Stone, La La Land

 

Best Actor
Tightest race this year, and only getting tighter. Even Denzel Washington was surprised to see the Screen Actors Guild award come his way for Fences, and with all the overlap in the voting pool between that organization and the Academy, Denzel’s chances have only gotten better. But we still give Casey Affleck the slightest of leads.

Should: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Will: Affleck

 

Best Supporting Actress
Regardless of her limited screen time in Manchester by the Sea, Michelle Williams has every right to this award, only because the great Viola Davis should be nominated in the best actress category. But since she’s not…

Should: Viola Davis, Fences
Will: Davis

 

Best Supporting Actor
This is another group of impressive performances. Nice to see Lucas Hedges included for his great work in Manchester by the Sea. Still, this ranks as the second strongest lock on the ballot (after Viola’s certain win).

Should: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Will: Ali

 

Best Original Screenplay
Wow, the brilliance off all this work could blind you. The Lobster, 20th Century Woman, La La Land and more, some of the most original, most provocative and most moving screenplays we’ve seen in years. There are no losers here.

Should: Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water
Will: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

 

Best Adapted Screenplay
Matching the originals in style and substance is this group of adapted screenplays (including Lion, Arrival, and Fences). Breathtaking.

Should: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Will: Moonlight

 

Best Animated Film
Oscar liked some obscure cartoons this year – and good for all of us that they drew attention to such gems as The Red Turtle and My Life as a Zucchini. Still, it’s the big boys who delivered. No, not Pixar. For once, the ultimate behemoth in ‘toon-tainment, Disney, put out the most relevant and gorgeous piece of animation, and will be rewarded for it.

Should: Zootopia
Will: Zootopia

 

Best Documentary
Three films here, including Ava DuVernay’s gripping 13th, are almost equally deserving of this award, each of them speaking to the nation’s racial tensions in a way that illustrates both the history and currency of the topic. We’ll be happy however it turns out, but if it were up to us…

Should: I Am Not Your Negro
Will: OJ: Made In America

Catch the show Sunday night on ABC. Coverage begins at 7pm.





Oscar Nominated Shorts – Documentaries

by George Wolf

Of this year’s five nominated short subject documentaries, four are anchored in the horrors of war and the fifth details the inevitability of death. There are precious few smiles to be had, but as five talented directors seek cracks of light amid waves of despair, a current of unyielding hope begins to unite the films.

 

4.1 Miles
Director:  Daphne Matziaraki
Running time: 26 minutes

For a coast guard captain on a small Greek Island, “Life used to be under control.”

Now?

“Chaos.”

4.1 Miles is often reminiscent of the acclaimed 2012 documentary Leviathan, as Matziaraki immerses us in a day on a Greek coast guard vessel during the biggest refugee crises since WWII. Terror, frustration and exhaustion are all palpable during a breathless 26 minute ride.

 

Extremis
Director: Dan Krauss
Running time: 24 minutes

The debut documentary short from Netflix, Extremis examines the tough choices – and often “murky ethics” – in play as doctors and patients face end-of-life decisions in a hospital ICU.

With minimal time for backstory in a short subject, Krauss instead focuses on how different individuals approach these intensely personal decisions. Families huddle to determine, and then honor, the wishes of their loved ones, while doctors struggle with questions no amount of training can prepare them for.

Raw, thought-provoking and often heartbreaking, Extremis unveils the search for comfort in an uncomfortable truth.

 

Joe’s Violin
Director: Kahane Cooperman
Running time: 24 minutes

Have some tissues handy for this one, as you’ll meet a 91 year-old Holocaust survivor who donates his violin to a school instrument drive in New York, asking, “How long can you live with memories?”

The donation changes two lives, and Cooperman delicately balances Joe’s story with that of Brianna, the 12 year-old Bronx schoolgirl chosen to next play the prized instrument.

Their meeting rings with an emotional chord of destiny that never feels forced, leaving Joe’s Violin as the frontrunner in a stellar field of nominees.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SBZVYyDQOg

 

Watani: My Homeland
Director: Marcel Mettelsiefen
Running time: 40 minutes

“We love you, Syria. Forgive us.”

As a father admits to sacrificing his children’s futures for the benefit of revolution, his family is left to survive without him.

The Syrian War rages, the father’s fate is unknown, and his wife makes the painful decision to leave their homeland in search of a better life.

Filmed over the course of three years, Watani illustrates one family’s struggle to accept a horrific past while embracing the promise of a new way of life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZeMVo9JYsY

 

The White Helmets
Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
Running time: 41 minutes

Technically, the are the Syrian Civil Defense, a group of volunteers committed to helping any victim of the Syrian War, regardless of which side they may be on.

But as we meet individual members of the “White Helmets,” we find men fiercely committed to a job they hold sacred, and the belief that it is “better to rescue one soul than to take one.”

Peppered with breathtaking rescue footage, The White Helmets is a hopeful reminder that mercy exists in even the most hellish of places.

Rating for full program:

Verdict-4-0-Stars





Fright Club: Skeletons in the Closet – Oscar Edition

It is that time again – the time of year where the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honors the best of the best, and we honor the worst of those best.

Yes, Skeletons in the Closet: Oscar Edition is back. It’s the day we dig around in Oscar nominee closets to find those low budget, horror bones hiding behind the fancier schmancier stuff.

And we can always find them. The great Viola Davis wasted her talent in the Rear Window/Fright Night knock-off Disturbia. The also-great Michael Shannon spent some time early in his career in the actually quite decent Dead Birds, while Ryan Gosling co-starred in the intriguingly titled Frankenstein and Me. Meanwhile, Octavia Spencer slummed it up in Pulse.

But there’s worse – and yet, somehow better – material to discuss. Here are our favorite not-good horror hiding in these A-listers’ closets.

5. Denzel Washington: The Bone Collector (1999)

Denzel! Just a year after the serial Oscar nominee and winner made the dark action thriller Fallen – not good, but not bad – he returned to the land of CSI with The Bone Collector. Must’ve had an itch to scratch.

In Phillip Noyce’s grim police procedural, Washington plays a quadriplegic homicide detective helping beat cop Angelina Jolie track down a serial killer who’s leaving grisly victims and frustrating clues.

Plus, Queen Latifah!

The film is bland, Noyce never able to focus on a physically immobile hero and still create an exciting pace. And yet, Washington commands your attention no matter how listless the scene or unlikely the rest of the casting.

4. Michelle Williams, Halloween 20: H20 (1998)

It’s been 20 years since Michael Myers escaped his confines and slaughtered all those people in Haddonfield. Thousands of miles away in a private school in Northern California, Laurie Strode and her brother come face to face again.

Who was excited? Back in 1998, we were. Jamie Lee Curtis was back, and we were allowed to forget Halloweens 3 – 6 ever happened. Plus – though he’s no John Carpenter – director Steve Minor does have a history with horror, and Curtis’s iconic mom Janet Leigh popped by.

The result was slick, and boasted a great deal more talent than the others: Alan Arkin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and 2017 Oscar nom Michelle Williams. The 4-time Oscar nominee was saddled with the one-dimensional sweetheart role, and though you’d never have known she’d one day be among the most talented performers in film, you knew she was too good for this movie.

3. Jeff Bridges: The Vanishing (1993)

In 1988, co-writer/director George Sluizer unleashed a daring, meticulous and devastating film on an unsuspecting world. Spoorloos asked you to follow a grieving boyfriend down a rabbit hole – one with no escape.

Five years later, Sluizer returned to the scene of the crime, current Oscar-nominee Jeff Bridges in tow. Bridges plays just an ordinary guy indulging a particular fantasy. Unfortunately, Bernrd-Pierre Donnadieu played the same ordinary guy to far, far more believable and therefore chilling effect back in ’88.

Worse still, the fantasy itself is gutted with an “America’s not ready for the real thing” ending that just makes you want to kick a guy. Infuriating!

2. Viggo Mortensen: The Prophecy (1995)

This is one of those bad movies that is fun to watch. Somehow the unusually talent-stacked cast doesn’t feel wasted as much as it does weirdly placed.

There is no question this film belongs to Christopher Walken – as do all films in which he graces the screen. His natural weirdness and uncanny comic timing make the film more memorable than it deserves to be, but when it comes to sinister, Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen cuts quite a figure as Lucifer.

Unseemly, gorgeous and evil, he seethes through his few scenes and leaves the celluloid scorched.

1. Casey affleck: Soul Survivors (2001)

Good God, this one’s bad.

Writer/director Steve Carpenter – auteur behind such classics as The Dorm that Dripped Blood – somehow convinced talent to join this cast. Who? A post-American Beauty Wes Bentley, an established Luke Wilson, and pre-Oscar nominee Casey Affleck.

Affleck stars as the tragically dead (or is he?) boyfriend of Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller) an awkward runner. (Yes, it’s tangential to any reasonable conversation about the film, but she runs in nearly every scene and I have never seen a more awkward runner.)

Who’s alive? Who’s dead? What’s happening? Well, in case you’ve been lobotomized and can’t keep up, luckily Father Jude (Wilson) will literally explain everything.

Still, Affleck is somehow not terrible.





Let’s Talk Oscar Nominations…

By Hope Madden and George Wolf

2016 was a fairly weak, fairly bland year at the movies, but it still has surprises in store for us. Look at this…Suicide Squad is nominated for an Oscar! Okay, it’s for makeup and hairstyling – who knew that rolling around Hot Topic could translate to an Oscar nomination?

The official Academy Award nominations had few other surprises in store. La La Land racked up quite a haul of noms, most of which are likely to translate to statuettes. What’s the lowdown? Who should have made the list? Who shouldn’t have? Let us walk you through it.

 

Best Film

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

Snubs: Zootopia, Jungle Book, The Witch, The Lobster, Jackie, Loving – there’s a bunch we’d have included instead of Lion, Hidden Figures or Hacksaw Ridge. Not that those are bad films – they are quite good. Just not as deserving.

 

Best Director

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Snubs: No question Mel Gibson is out of his league here. While Hacksaw Ridge was a fine piece of filmmaking, it almost works in spite of Gibson’s direction. He begins with a Hallmark card then descends into carnage few other filmmakers care to capture. But the performances and the genuine merit of the story keep the film interesting. It’s not the direction, which is why we’d have honored David Mackenzie and his glorious direction for Hell or High Water instead.

 

Best Actress

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Ruth Negga, Loving

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Snubs: It’s hard to even form this sentence, but Meryl Streep should not be on this list. We know! Blasphemy! But the pool for Best Actress is rarely this deep, and Annette Bening (20th Century Women) Rebecca Hall (Christine), or Amy Adams (Arrival) would have been better choices.

 

Best Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen,  Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

Snubs: Not much to complain about here. The race is basically Affleck V Washington, with Affleck coming out on top, but we could have accepted Tom Hanks (Sully) or Nate Parker (The Birth of a Nation) in Garfield’s spot.

 

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman,  Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams,  Manchester by the Sea

Snubs: Here’s a weird yet valid complaint: the smart money’s on Viola Davis to win, but how in the hell is this a supporting role? Not only is Davis the only female on the screen for 9/10 of Fences, she has more screen time than Denzel. It’s her story. She’s not just the lead actress, she’s the lead. And her performance is more than strong enough to take home the best actress Oscar.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali,  Moonlight

Jeff Bridges,  Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel, Lion

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Snubs: First of all, amen to Michael Shannon. We could not be more pleased to see him hit this list. And halleluiah to Mahershala Ali – the likely front runner in the category.

We’d have given Dev Patel’s slot to Shannon’s Nocturnal Animals co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Ben Foster outshined his full slate of talented co-stars in Hell or High Water. He deserves Jeff Bridges’s spot.

 

Original Screenplay

Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, The Lobster

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Mike Mills, 20th Century Women

Snub: This is a very solid and admirable list. Mike Mills’s 20th Century Women is brilliantly written and performed. We might swap him out, though, and give his spot to Robert Eggers’s The Witch.

 

Adapted Screenplay

Eric Heisserer, Arrival

August Wilson, Fences

Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures

Luke Davies, Lion

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Snubs: Hidden Figures and Lion were well put-together, lovely films. But in this year of searing, searching, brilliant writing, they have no place in this list. In their stead? Whit Stillman’s wicked and wonderful Love & Friendship and Tom Ford’s story within a story Nocturnal Animals.

 

Cinematography

Arrival

La La Land

Lion

Moonlight

Silence

Snubs: Chan-wook Park’s gloriously wrong The Handmaiden looked better than anything else that came out this year. It shouldn’t just be nominated, it should win. But it certainly should be perched in this category in Lion’s spot.

 

Foreign Language

Land of Mine

A Man Called Ove

The Salesman

Tanna

Toni Erdmann

Snubs: Again, where is the love for The Handmaiden? And the bigger surprise may be Elle, which nabbed a Best Actress nomination.

 

Documentary Feature

Fire at Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life, Animated

OJ: Made in America

13th

Snubs: Nope. Not a one. Every single one of these is required viewing. We’re hoping for some ties.

 

Animated Feature

Kubo and the Two Strings

Moana

The Red Turtle

Zootopia

My Life as a Zucchini

Snubs: No Finding Dory? We’re not sure that’s a snub, but it means no Pixar in this category, and we’ll call that a surprise.

We’ll have our official predictions a little closer to the Feb. 26th Oscar ceremony.





Fright Club: Oscar Nominee Skeletons in the Closet

The Oscar nominations are out, and – as is the case every year – the nominees with horror movie skeletons in their closets are fully accounted for. We’ve discussed the great Mark Ruffalo’s not-so-great The Dentist in previous podcasts, so we’ll leave that one in the closet this week. Rooney Mara just missed the cut, as well, with only a cameo in her sister Kate’s Urban Legends: Bloody Mary. The only problem with Tom Hardy was basically determining which bad horror movie to choose (which basically means Tom Hardy is filling in for George “Oh So Many” Clooney this year.)

Who made the grade? Who might take home an Oscar regardless of this horrific offense in their background? Provocative!

Listen to the whole podcast HERE.

5. House at the End of the Street (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence starred in three films released in 2012 – The Hunger Games (maybe you’ve heard of it?), Silver Linings Playbook (winning her first Oscar), and House at the End of the Street. One of these is not like the others.

Lawrence plays Elissa, high school badass who moves into a secluded new house with her single, doctor mother (Elisabeth Shue). Legend has it, out in the woods behind the house roams the crazy-ass, murdering sister of the cute if damaged neighbor boy, Ryan (Max Thieriot).

House at the End of the Street is a smorgasbord of ideas stolen from better films and filmmakers, although it is not a god-awful mess. Whatever success it has is thanks to Lawrence, whose talent knows no bad screenplay, no clichéd character, and cannot be overshadowed by a tight, white tank top.

4. Blood Creek (2009)

What would be more compelling viewing than Superman Meets Batman? Henry Cavill’s run-in with a Nazi zombie played by Michael Fassbender. Clearly.

A Nazi scientist finds a Viking runestone on a West Virginia farm, where blood sacrifice turns him into an ageless monster, and a weird, runestoney ritual keeps him bound in the farmer’s basement. That guy – that Nazi zombie – is played by Michael Fassbender. Whose mind is blown?

Cavill comes into the picture when his character Evan reunites with long lost and presumed dead brother Victor (Dominic Purcell). Some crazy farmers have had him locked up all this time, taking his blood for god knows what purpose.

Truth be told, Cavill offers a fine turn full of longing and regret, and Fassbender is mesmerizing. The guy cannot turn in a bad performance. He’s completely feral, totally unhinged. It’s like he has no idea that the movie he’s in is so, so, so very bad.

The effects are terrible, the medieval Viking hocus pocus is beyond ludicrous, Purcell cannot act, and the script’s lack of logic actually makes you long for director Joel Schumacher’s better efforts, like Batman and Robin or 8MM.

Seriously, that’s how bad this is.

3. Critters 3 (1991)

Long before Django Unchained, Titanic, or even What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, a barely pubescent Leo DiCaprio donned a day-glow t-shirt and a pre-teen scowl to battle Gremlin rip-offs in Critters 3.

They are furry, toothy, ravenous beasts from outer space and, until episode 3, they were content to terrify rural folk. But now they’re in the big city, and (in a clear rip off of the not-quite-as-terrible film Troll), they are pillaging a single apartment building and terrifying all those trapped inside. It’s a comedy, really, the kind with farting furballs and dunderheaded people. Which is to say, one that’s not particularly funny.

Serving up the same derivative comedy/horror pap you can find in one out of every three films made that decade, Critters 3 has a lot of hair in scrunchies, oversized blouses belted over colorful leggings, stereotypes, and actors on their careers’ last legs. And Leonardo DiCaprio, which will forever be the only reason this movie was released to DVD.

2. Minotaur (2006)

Oscar nominee Tom Hardy is truly one of the most talented actors working today, and I’m sure he’s proud of all his films. Except maybe this one.

The film plays like Jabba the Hutt’s palace set in Middle Earth, except in place of Jabba we have Candyman (Tony Todd, whose actual character name is Deucalion, but he’ll always be Candyman to us). Todd is king of the realm, and beneath his castle lives a Minotaur who requires a blood sacrifice. Periodically he rounds up youngsters from Theo’s (Hardy) village and drops them down below.

Hey – just like the Rancor!

Theo secretly takes the place of one of the sacrificial lambs and hits the underground to slay the Minotaur and reclaim his (probably long dead) love. Hallucinations, danger, and stilted medieval dialog await below the castle, while up above, Deucalion wants to get it on with his sister, who wants to get it on with Theo.

The sets are pretty terrible, as are the accents, props, costumes. Oh, and the Minotaur! He’s like an angry Muppet. But Hardy acquits himself reasonably then quickly goes on to better things.

You will, too, but why not indulge?

1. Dead Space (1991)

A distress signal from a research lab on the planet Fabon draws in maverick space cowboy Steve Krieger (Marc Singer, from such superior films as Beastmaster 3) and his cyborg shipmate Tinpan. Oscar nominee and billion-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston plays an infected scientist more sympathetic to the creature he’s created than to the crew this merciless muppet feeds upon.

Jesus God this movie is bad.

The story is utterly nonsensical. No, not that scientists removed from earth have unwittingly created a monster. But why do they feel obligated to share all their secrets with some rando space ranger, why does he take charge of the vessel, why does everyone wear blue unitards underneath their lab coats, who on earth thought Laura Mae Tate could act – well the unanswerable conundrums are legion.

But Cranston tries. He tries to create a character, tries to generate chemistry with other actors, tries to be both villain and victim, tries not to look like a mannequin when the giant mutant tears his head clean off. He totally fails, don’t get us wrong, but damnit, he tries.





Working for the Weekend

Two Days, One Night

by Hope Madden

A woman wakes from a nap due to a phone call. She’s baking for the kids. It seems like a lovely way to spend your afternoon, really, drowsy and surrounded by the smell of baked goods. So why does Sandra (Oscar-nominated Marion Cotillard) sound defensive about the nap and too enthusiastic about the treats with whoever is on the phone?

Because there are layers and layers to the most ordinary of circumstances, a point Two Days, One Night explores so effectively.

Sandra’s co-workers were faced with a vote: each stands to gain a large bonus in return for eliminating one salary – Sandra’s. She has the weekend to convince them to give up their bonus and save her job.

If it sounds contrived, rest assured that writing/directing brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne embrace their characteristically naturalistic style to great effect. The films lacks any hint of melodrama, thanks in part to the brothers’ honest style and in greater part to a lead performance utterly absent of artificiality.

Cotillard is a master, and this film is no exception, it’s a highlight. Her gestures, her gaze, her posture, every syllable of dialogue simply convince you this is a woman fighting for her dignity as well as her job. She’s aided by a large, capable cast and buoyed by the Dardennes’ fly-on-the-wall camera work.

The film has larger goals, looking at ideas as concrete as corporate indifference, as amorphous as depression, and as grand as human nature. Grounding all this examination in the intimate and mundane details of one woman’s struggle keeps the film anchored in the reality so precious to the filmmakers.

Two Days, One Night is not as touching as the Dardennes’ Kid with a Bike or as gripping as L’Enfant – two of their finest efforts. It feels more contrived than those films, its craftsmanship more obvious. But Sandra’s challenge and her personal journey are so beautifully articulated that you won’t care. The film is a small, potent wonder.

Verdict-4-0-Stars





2015 Oscar Nominations and Snubs

The Academy takes some punches every January as the rest of us scratch our heads over the films and performances they deem most deserving of recognition, and even more questionable, those they believe are not. 2015 is no different. The Oscar nominations reveal much deserved love for Birdman, Boyhood, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, but where is Selma?

Yes, Ava DuVernay’s visceral and all too relevant film on Martin Luther King’s 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery earned – and we mean earned – a best picture nomination, but where was its original screenplay? It should be sitting where Foxcatcher sits.

Equally wrong-headed is the exclusion of the faultless DuVernay among the ranks of directors. Though The Imitation Game was a wonderful film and Morten Tyldum offered superb helmsmanship, that should have been DuVernay’s slot.

Best Actor is usually a loaded category, and 2015 is certainly no exception. Still, Selma’s David Oyelowo and Nightcrawler’s Jake Gyllenhaal deserved spots instead of Foxcatcher’s Steve Carell and perhaps even Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game.

Again, both performances were great and both films were great, but Oyelowo and Gyllenhaal really needed to be noticed, and quite honestly, Oyelowo may have deserved the win.

Perhaps the most baffling exclusion is The LEGO Movie from the best animated film category. How is this even possible? It’s a better animated film than absolutely anything else on the list. We’re thrilled at the inclusion of both The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Song of the Sea and wouldn’t remove those, but Big Hero 6 was one of the blandest and most derivative animated efforts in years and has no business in the same area code as an Oscar nomination.

Amy Adams and Jennifer Aniston could be miffed at being left off the best actress list, but to be honest, it wasn’t an especially strong year for that category. Either could be swapped in or out for almost anyone else on the list, with the exception of Julianne Moore. While Still Alice is not the strongest performance of her career, and it not actually an exceptional film outside of her work, she’ll finally win an Oscar this year, so thank God for that. Quite honestly, We’d have given one of the nominations to Essie Davis for her superior work in The Babadook, but that’s just dreaming on our part.

And while we’re in fantasyland, We’d have given Tilda Swinton a nom in the best supporting actress category for her turn in Snowpiercer. It may be simply tradition to offer Meryl Streep a seat at the table every year, and she certainly was fun to watch as the witch in Into the Woods, but Swinton was more fun and more deserving.

The major nominations are below.

BEST PICTURE
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

BEST ACTOR
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS
Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
JK Simmons, Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Emma Stone, Birdman
Keira Knightly, The Imitation Game
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

DIRECTOR
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher