Saturday, March 26, 2022

2022 Oscars predix

It's Oscars time! In other words, time for the usual tiresome lobs of "irrelevant" and "who cares about movies no one's seen?"

We're also faced with the annoying though not completely off-base question of whether it makes sense to devote energy to something as frivolous as movie industry awards given everything awful that's going on in the world right now; this year we even get the extra treat of an international war and a bona fide nuclear threat! The only answer is that if we spent all of our waking hours doomscrolling or even actually trying to do something to avert or alleviate said horrors, all but the strongest of us would probably lose our damn minds. We need comfort and distraction where we can get it, whether it's movies and Oscars, March madness, or cats and travel pictures on Instagram. As long as we don't retreat permanently into our happy bubbles, I think they do us good. At least that's my justification for diving back into the weird micro-universe of Oscars handicapping!

But before I get into that, I must add my voice to the chorus of outrage at the Academy's boneheaded decision to cut EIGHT of the awards from the Oscars telecast this year: film editing, makeup and hairstyling, original score, production design, sound, and the three short film categories. Seriously, AMPAS? Cutting craft awards from the telecast is utter horseshit, and cutting shorts isn't much better if you're just going to fill that time with more comedy bits or musical numbers (which no one wants) or truly asinine ideas like recognizing Twitter "fan favorite" films. In fairness, this ire is more properly directed at ABC, who apparently freaked out at last year's ratings nose-dive and put heavy pressure on the Academy to cut even more awards. Regardless of who's primarily to blame, I'd like to remind all involved that YOU'RE NEVER GOING TO GET THE RATINGS YOU GOT 30 YEARS AGO, STOP TRYING, YOU'RE ONLY PISSING OFF THE PEOPLE WHO STILL ACTUALLY WATCH YOUR DAMN SHOW. Not that anyone's listening to me, or that plenty of others with more influence haven't made the same argument, to no avail. And I can't kid myself I won't end up watching despite my frustration.

Anyway, with all that off my chest, time to get predictin'...although this year's races are particularly uncertain. Good thing I'm not participating in a pool this year because I would have no confidence in anything other than losing my stake. But here are my picks, for what they're worth.

BEST PICTURE
Will win: CODA, though The Power of the Dog still definitely has a strong chance.
Should win: Either Drive My Car or The Power of the Dog
Dark horse: Belfast (once the frontrunner, then it swapped with CODA)

BEST DIRECTOR
Will win: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
Should win: Campion
Dark horse: No one – this is one of the few locks, notwithstanding Campion's recent cringetastic attempt at a joke with the Williams sisters.

BEST ACTOR
Will win: Will Smith, King Richard)
Should win: I can't believe I'm saying this in a year when both of my longtime loves Andrew Garfield and Benedict Cumberbatch have been nominated, but none of them. This should go to either Oscar Isaac for The Card Counter or Nicolas Cage for Pig, and the fact that neither was nominated is a frickin' disgrace. That said, I'd be happy if either BC or AG won, not that that's happening.
Dark horse: No one. Smith is a lock.

BEST ACTRESS
Will win: Jessica Chastain, I guess? She seems to have the momentum, she's overdue for an Oscar, and no one can deny her commitment to the role of Tammy Faye. But unlike the other acting categories, this one is still very much a toss-up.
Should win: Olivia Colman for The Lost Daughter, though Penélope Cruz would also be worthy.
Dark horse: Honestly, any of them could win.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Will win: Troy Kotsur, CODA
Should win: Kotsur
Dark horse: No one, especially with the two Power of the Dog guys likely splitting votes

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Will win: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
Should win: Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
Dark horse: No one. DeBose has been steamrolling the precursor awards.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Will win: I honestly have no idea. Smart money says either Belfast or Licorice Pizza, but the former is bland while the latter is baggy and problematic. Don't Look Up had a moment that seems mostly to have passed, but who knows.
Should win: The Worst Person in the World by a country mile.
Dark horse: The Worst Person in the World

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Will win: Another tight race. But CODA is peaking at just the right time, despite the fact that its writing is by far its weakest feature.
Should win: Drive My Car. What it does with the Murakami short story and its expansion of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya is brilliant.
Dark horse: Really any of them could win, though I'd be surprised if Dune did.

And the rest (I'm putting the snubbed-for-primetime categories first):

Best Film Editing: Most folks seem to be saying Dune, but I feel like it's going to get amply rewarded elsewhere so voters might want to give this to another nominee. No idea which one, though I hope it's Power of the Dog and not Don't Look Up.

Best Production Design: Dune (dark horse: Nightmare Alley)

Best Makeup and Hair: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Best Score: Dune

Best Sound: Dune

Short films (animated, documentary and live action): Didn't see any of them this year, but based on what others are saying I'll guess Robin Robin for animated, The Queen of Basketball for doc and The Long Goodbye for live action.

Best Cinematography: Either Dune or The Power of the Dog

Best Costumes: Cruella

Best Visual Effects: Dune, unless the Academy feels like throwing Spider-Man a bone

Best International Film: Drive My Car

Best Documentary Feature: Summer of Soul

Best Animated Feature: Encanto (dark horse: Flee)

Best Song: The song from Encanto, even if Disney didn't submit the one that ended up becoming really popular

Again, I make no promises any of the above are correct - except for makeup, costumes, international film, and doc feature, where I feel pretty confident. But I could still be wrong! That's the fun of the Oscars, telecast or no telecast.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Top Movies of 2021

As we approach the two-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to feel discouraged and wonder when or even whether it will be over. It’s especially hard to stay optimistic after that brief post-vaccination moment last summer when we thought we might be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Turns out we were just seeing the headlights of the oncoming variant train, driven by all the humans who couldn’t or wouldn’t get vaccinated.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that we are still so much better off than we were this time last year. Thanks to the vaccines, those of us who’d previously been in lockdown have been able to see our family and friends in person and move about with more if not perfect freedom. And for movie lovers, vaccines allowed us to look forward to a bumper crop of new movies and to venture to theaters again. This might seem trivial in the grand scheme of things, but it isn’t. At their best, movies aren’t just a distraction, they’re balm for the soul. Without being an actual religion, they can feel like one – and theaters are our places of, if not worship, then spiritual renewal, catharsis, and communion. I still remember the joy I felt last March returning to a movie theater for the first time in over a year, and have savored every trip I’ve made since.

Admittedly, with first delta and more recently omicron casting new doubts on the safety of going to the movies, I’ve been cutting back on those trips. As a result, I have not yet seen Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, Jockey, A Hero, or Spider-Man: No Way Home, and as of this post, The Worst Person in the World, Compartment No. 6, Petite Maman, and Cyrano have not yet opened in theaters near me, even though I do want to see all of them at some point. I also missed Mass and Red Rocket in theaters (and King Richard in its initial HBO Max window) and am waiting for them to come to one of my streaming services or Netflix’s DVD program. Additionally, I have not seen (and frankly have very little interest in seeing) Annette, Titane, or House of Gucci. And – my usual failings – I have seen relatively few documentaries, foreign films, or animated films from 2021. With those many caveats, here are my top 15 films of 2021. It is probably not a coincidence that nine of them (and seven of the top ten) were films I saw in theaters rather than at home, though whether that was causal or correlative is difficult to say.

1. Tie:

THE POWER OF THE DOG
Jane Campion’s latest, based on the Thomas Savage novel about a 1920s rancher in Montana (Benedict Cumberbatch) who reacts...poorly when his brother and ranch co-owner (Jesse Plemons) brings home a wife (Kirsten Dunst) with a teenage son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), is a tense psychological drama in the handsome trappings of a Western. This is an “iceberg” film, in which everything is in the subtext, the gazes, the body language, and the words left unsaid. While Cumberbatch is superb as the anti-hero at war with himself, his three co-stars also play superbly off him and each other.
DRIVE MY CAR
More of an expansion than an adaptation of a short story by Haruki Murakami, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Cannes hit is an achingly poignant, empathetic film about people burdened with memories of complicated and fraught past relationships. Despite the three-hour run time, I found it completely engrossing from beginning to end. It helps that it’s centered both literally and thematically on one of my favorite plays, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, which the evolution of the film’s protagonist (Hidetoshi Nishijima) echoes in ways both obvious and not. Nishijima delivers an impressive, moving performance as Kafuku, the actor who suppresses as much as he projects, but I was equally struck by Park Yoo-rim, who’s luminous as the mute Sonia to Kafuku’s Vanya.
3. WEST SIDE STORY
No, it isn’t better than the 1961 version but it's right up there, striking just the right balance between respectful homage and thoughtful, well-conceived update. Commercial flop or no, it deserves to become a classic. And I say this as someone who ranks the 1961 WSS among my favorite movies of all time.
4. THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH
Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand are very good as older, wearier versions of the murderous Scottish thane and his wife, but what really stands out about Joel Coen’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy is its spare, minimalist, yet appropriately eerie staging, accentuated by the heavily chiaroscuro-ed B&W cinematography and 4:3 aspect ratio and the brilliantly spooky performance by Kathryn Hunter as the three witches-in-one. The film leans both into and away from its own theatricality, feeling less like a play and more like a Bergman dream.
5. SUMMER OF SOUL (OR WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED),
Questlove hits documentary gold with the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, aka “Black Woodstock,” which was filmed but astoundingly never picked up by any studios or TV stations at the time despite featuring a powerhouse lineup ranging from blues legend B.B. King and gospel queen Mahalia Jackson to then up-and-coming Mavis Staples, Gladys Knight, and 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to Nina Simone and Sly & the Family Stone at their peak. Their loss is our gain, as the performances are electric even half a century later. Questlove smartly edits and cross-cuts them with archival news footage of the period and present-day interviews with attendees, performers, and other commentators to underscore the historical significance of the event. But ultimately the concert footage speaks for itself, showcasing American history and black culture at an important inflection point via awesome live music.
6. PIG
One of the year’s best surprises, this offbeat, unexpectedly tender film about a recluse (Nicolas Cage) who’s forced to return to the city – and his past – when his beloved truffle-hunting pig is stolen rarely goes where you expect it to go and is ultimately all the better for it. It's also a welcome reminder that despite his, um, checkered filmography, Cage is a terrific actor – one of our best when he wants to be.
7. PASSING
A slow-burn, delicately crafted film directed by Rebecca Hall and based on the 1929 novel by Nella Larsen about two black women in the 1920s (played by Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga), playmates as children, who reconnect later in life when one of them (Negga) is now “passing” for white. Thompson and Negga are both excellent, and the film is brilliantly shot in black and white, underscoring how many shades there are between black and white and how many ways to see both oneself and others.
8. DUNE: PART 1
World-building at its most mesmerizing. A capital-M movie with the kind of epic sweep and scale that epitomizes why we go to the movies in the first place.
9. C’MON C’MON
Mike Mills’ latest film, about a radio journalist (Joaquin Phoenix) who finds himself temporarily looking after his 9-year-old nephew (Woody Norman) is a characteristically low-key, quietly perceptive character study that derives most of its power from the wonderful performances. Its portrayal of how frustrating, bewildering, yet rapturous the experience of parenting can be will resonate most with parents, but I still found it affecting as a non-parent. Equally effective is its nuanced treatment of the complicated but loving sibling dynamic between Phoenix’s character and his sister (an excellent Gaby Hoffman). There aren’t enough movies about brother-sister relationships, and luckily this is a good one.
10. PARALLEL MOTHERS
Ostensibly a twisty melodrama about two mothers who give birth at the same time and how their lives become unexpectedly intertwined, Pedro Almodóvar’s latest is really about confronting history and heredity in a much broader sense. It’s a lot to take in – the time jumps are dizzying, and the narrative and emotional jumps even more so! – but it’s a gorgeous, absorbing film, and Penélope Cruz delivers a knockout performance.
11. SPENCER
A beautifully shot, oddly dreamy psychological horror show that I initially wasn’t quite sure how I felt about yet grew on me the more time passed. It’s too heavy-handed with the symbolism and is so ensconced in its fictionalized Diana’s perspective it doesn’t even try to humanize anyone in the royal family other than her two princeling sons. Nor was I ever really able to see Kristen Stewart as Diana so much as a Kristen Stewart riff on a Diana-like character. Still, it’s a strangely compelling watch so long as you’re not looking for mimicry or historical accuracy, and earns bonus points for the exquisite costumes and art direction and for Timothy Spall’s dryly hilarious supporting turn as the palace watchdog.
12. THE CARD COUNTER
Oscar Isaac is the reason to see Paul Schrader’s latest Dark Odyssey of a Morally Tormented Man. He delivers what is still, in my opinion, the best performance of the year in a powerful if flawed and overly schematic study of moral guilt, as I’ve detailed previously.
13. I’M YOUR MAN
This German rom com (really more of a rom-dramedy) about a woman (Maren Eggert) asked to try out a humanoid robot (Dan Stevens) who’s been programmed to be her perfect love match, is funny, sharp, more poignant and less predictable than it initially seems. It’s essentially a harder-eyed but still warm-hearted German version of Spike Jonze’s Her that explores thought-provoking questions about living in a society where you can have everything designed to fit your tastes and preferences. Stevens is perfect as a kind of Gigolo Joe 2.0 who evolves (or does he?) into something more complex, while Eggert is even better as his test-pilot, almost too cerebral and skeptical for her own good, who can’t help warming up to him even as she remains keenly attuned to the dangers of doing so.
14. ZOLA
Last year’s indie film sensation brings to life a viral Twitter thread about two strippers who took a, let’s call it road trip to Florida that went super-sideways. Its discomforting brilliance lies in how deftly it shifts between WTF, hilarious, horrific, and sometimes all three at once, without once losing its deadpan tone. Much of the credit goes to the perfectly calibrated performances by Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, and Colman Domingo.
15. THE LAST DUEL
I liked Ridley Scott’s “Rashomon in 14th century France” a lot more than I thought I would, despite the grim, somber visuals (medieval muddiness) and even grimmer subject matter (rape and medieval justice). Scott knows how to direct battles and other scenes of violence with unnerving effectiveness, and the ongoing relevance of the rape storyline is highlighted by the tripartite script by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener, based on a historical incident and book by the same name. Damon and Adam Driver are fine as the two duelists, but the real MVPs of the cast are Jodie Comer as the accuser and Affleck as the higher-ranking lord who plays a key role in setting up the conflict.

Honorable mentions: Black Widow; The French Dispatch; Tick, Tick…BOOM!; The Green Knight; The Lost Daughter; The Hand of God; Bergman Island; Belfast; CODA; Don’t Look Up; In the Heights

Special commendation for documentaries (basically, all the docs I saw this year – admittedly not many – were excellent): in addition to Summer of Soul, cited above, I highly recommend Procession; The Rescue; Flee; and Gunda.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Movie-watching in Pandemia, 2021 edition: The "how had I never" list

Another year of staying mostly at home meant another year of catching up on more movies I should have seen ages ago. All – well, almost all – were worth watching, but this year I want to highlight five that especially impressed me. I don’t mean they were objectively the best five or that the others were disappointments – just that these five exceeded my expectations and really stuck with me.

Z (1969)
Hands down the best movie I saw in 2021. The Costa-Gavras classic begins with a tense lead-up to the assassination of a Greek opposition hero of the left (Yves Montand) before shifting focus to the efforts of a lone straight-arrow magistrate (a young Jean-Louis Trintignant) to unravel the right-wing military and police conspiracy behind the murder and its cover-up. Why did I wait so long to see this? Z is every bit as gripping and infuriating today as it was in 1969 and also still far too politically relevant, even half a century later.
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Still working my way through his filmography, but Stanley Kubrick’s range and precision of vision never cease to impress me. Keeping an ironic distance that’s 100% Kubrick but would have done Thackeray proud, the film somehow makes its titular hero (Ryan O’Neal, in an underrated performance) compelling even as he becomes increasingly unsympathetic in his actions. It’s also absolutely gorgeous to look at, calling to mind a series of Watteau paintings. While it may not have had the cultural impact of some of Kubrick’s other films, it’s still a masterpiece.
The Color of Money (1986)
Sharp, well-crafted, and highly engaging, Scorsese’s take on the sequel to The Hustler has the structure and vibe of a caper film, filled out with the substance of a character study. I’d always thought of Paul Newman’s Oscar win for this movie as an “it’s his time” award. Boy, was I wrong! He’s magnificent as an older, not necessarily wiser hustler who still has a few tricks up his sleeve.
Beetlejuice (1988)
Would Hollywood greenlight a movie like this today? Pure OG Tim Burton in all its glorious weirdness, Beetlejuice is a vivid reminder that a bigger budget and more advanced F/X technology do not a better film make. If nothing else, it will live in my mind forever for its inspired use of Harry Belafonte, Jr’s calypso hits – from the astonished expression on Catherine O’Hara’s face as she finds herself irresistibly compelled to belt out “Day-O” at her own dinner party to the ecstatic one on Winona Ryder’s face as she levitates and dances to “Shake, Señora” in what is now one of my favorite film endings ever.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Before there was No Way Home, there was Into the Spider-Verse. The MCU might be all about the multiverse now, but Sony got there first and set a ridiculously high bar with this wonderfully inventive and brilliantly animated adventure linking multiple alternate-universe Spideys, each one more delightful and surprising than the last. Easily the best of the Spider-Man movies I’ve seen.


And here are the rest – in order of the year they were released, not preference or the order I saw them:

Now, Voyager (1942)
Didn’t get as swept up in the romance as I wanted to be (maybe because I’m not really a romantic), but did love Bette Davis’ transformation from beaten down ugly duckling to attractive, glamorous, independent woman. Also, who knew lighting two cigarettes in one mouth could be so seductive?
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
A nuanced and perceptive look at the difficulties of adjusting to post-war life, William Wyler’s multiple Oscar winner is a classic for good reason. A strong three-hander by the three leads, though it’s Frederic March as the oldest veteran whose melancholy demeanor lingers longest in my memory.
The Heiress (1949)
Another Wyler winner. Talk about actress transformations – Olivia de Havilland’s is even more impressive than Bette’s in Now Voyager, if also more devastating. An incisive adaptation of Henry James’ leanest and least forgiving novel.
The Searchers (1956)
A more shaded and ambivalent Western than I was expecting even if some aspects obviously haven’t aged all that well, including most of the attempts at humor and romance. That final shot, though – whew. Also interesting to see one of the myriad influences on Star Wars.
Imitation of Life (1959)
A hell of a weepie – in a good way. Juanita Moore is unforgettable in a role that verges on thankless; in her hands, though, it’s transfigured.
The Hustler (1961)
Watched this in conjunction with The Color of Money, to which it provided an intriguing contrast in both style and moral tone, although the final moral takeaway ultimately isn’t all that different. Still, maybe it’s just the more modern sensibility, but I preferred the later film and Newman’s more mature performance in it.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)
Well made, and Richard Burton’s world-weary air is a good fit for the character of burned-out, disaffected Alec Leamas. However, it didn’t have quite the impact of the book, which is a knockout in how cleverly it’s constructed and deconstructed.
Two for the Road (1967)
Style to burn, in both fashions and automobiles, and Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney have an appealing, if prickly chemistry. Was this the first film to do a non-linear depiction of a relationship gone sour?
The Lion in Winter (1968)
Rides hard on the powerhouse performances of its powerhouse cast. They’re good enough to make you forget the film is less historical drama than family melodrama (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Easy Rider (1969)
A fascinating (counter)cultural snapshot and frankly a more compelling movie than I was expecting. I also wasn’t expecting it to be a Western. Yes, it’s totally a Western.
Klute (1971)
Pakula paranoia at its finest. Ostensibly about a serial killer, the film doesn’t seem all that interested in sustaining the mystery of the killer’s identity, yet remarkably manages to sustain its atmosphere of fear and suspense. Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland make a hot odd couple.
Cries and Whispers (1972)
Oof, this was a punishing watch, even for Bergman. Can’t quarrel with the acting or the visuals, though. His use of the color red will haunt my dreams.
Taxi Driver (1976)
Yeah, yeah, I know. One of many giant holes in my cineaste credentials (I’m especially spotty when it comes to Scorsese). Liked it more than I was expecting to – or maybe “liked” isn’t quite the right word. It succeeded in getting under my skin, as it’s supposed to. The seediness of 1970s New York is effectively deployed, as is De Niro’s legendary turn as the troubled Travis Bickle. The film’s treatment of women, though, is squirmy, even if intentionally so.
Rocky (1976)
More ’70s seediness, this time in Philly rather than New York, and more squicky gender dynamics, although here they’re smoothed into a scrappy, irony-free underdog romance. It still holds up pretty well.
Killer of Sheep (1978)
Poetically filmed impressionistic sketch of black working class life in L.A. (Watts). Unfortunately I had a hard time focusing on it because I had a hard time hearing any of the admittedly sparse dialogue even with the volume turned way up.
The Elephant Man (1980)
One of the less weird entries in David Lynch’s filmography, though still keenly attuned to the grotesque and cruel side of human nature. I didn’t love John Hurt’s vocal affectations; Anthony Hopkins, on the other hand, is excellent.
Crimes of the Heart (1986)
The less said about this movie, the better. A few thoughts here.
Children of a Lesser God (1986)
A sensitively drawn romance with great performances by Marlee Matlin and William Hurt. Also surprisingly cinematic for being based on a play.
Dekalog (1988)
A justly acclaimed testament to the human condition, if a rather heavy watch. My favorites were One (idolization of science) and Eight (false witness).
Bull Durham (1988)
Of the two Kevin Costner baseball films I saw this year, this was the superior one. A genuinely sexy grown-up romance, which has become a sadly rare species. I may not care for Susan Sarandon’s politics, but she’s damn good in this.
Field of Dreams (1989)
It’s like mainlining nostalgia, which isn’t without its charms, though I’m not really the target audience for this one.
Mississippi Masala (1991)
Young Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury are very appealing in this under-the-radar Mira Nair gem about the kind of interracial romance and setting we don’t often get to see on screen.
Dead Man (1995)
A bit too meandering for my taste, even for Jim Jarmusch, though elevated by the evocative black and white cinematography and a dryly funny turn by Gary Farmer as Nobody, the unlikely spiritual guide for Johnny Depp’s doomed William Blake.
Bring it On (2000)
Not sure how I never saw this one before. A bit dated and rather slight, but still fun, with Kirsten Dunst at her most charming.
Pollock (2000)
A fairly meh biopic, notwithstanding strong performances by Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Hayden.
The Secret of Kells (2009)
The film that put Cartoon Saloon on the map, and for a reason: the hand-drawn animation is exquisite and its uniquely Celtic accents felt – still feel – like a breath of fresh air in a CGI-dominated era. It only pales in comparison to Cartoon Saloon’s subsequent films, especially Wolfwalkers.
Uncle Boonmie Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)
This one was a little too arcane? Abstruse? Impenetrable? for me. Think it might have played better in a theater.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
A thought-provoking meditation on the implications of devoting one’s entire life to perfection of a single pursuit or calling. Very, very Japanese.

Monday, December 27, 2021

West Side Story: 1961 vs. 2021

Just saw the new WEST SIDE STORY, and before I say anything else, you need to know these three things:

1. In my opinion, West Side Story is the greatest Broadway musical ever made.

2. Robert Wise's 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story is one of my all-time favorite movies. I know every beat and scene of it almost better than I know myself, and I think it's superior to the stage version. I also acknowledge it has its share of issues that are mostly products of the time it was made (hello, brownface?) Still, I was highly skeptical, to say the least, that we needed a new movie version, even from as great a director as Spielberg and as great a (play) writer as Tony Kushner.

3. I saw Spielberg's version. And I absolutely loved it.

No, it isn't better than the 1961 version. But it's right up there going toe-to-toe with it, delicately balancing between respectful homage and thoughtful update. Sadly, it's underperforming severely at the box office, though I imagine the pandemic may be a factor there. (And before you say SPIDER-MAN, I'll note the target audiences for these two movies are quite a bit different, with WSS's more likely to be COVID-cautious and, to the extent they're older, more vulnerable.) If there's any justice, though, in time it will become a classic, just like its predecessor. In the meantime, here are some thoughts and reactions I had in comparing the two.

What I liked about the Spielberg version:

-It really evokes a graphic, tactile, specific (though still highly stylized) sense of place, i.e., that this is taking place in 1950s New York. Even if it's still mostly sets, they feel both grittier and more vivid than the backdrops of the 1961 version, which I wouldn't call generic so much as...minimalist, mostly just there to highlight the choreography. Whereas the way the camera here transitions from semi-realistic urban spaces to set pieces for singing and dancing is impressive in its seamlessness.

-This movie also does a better job making the hoodlums, especially the Jets, look dirty and desperate, and accentuating just how pitiful and ephemeral the Jets' ambitions are.

-Casting actual Latinos/Latinas as the Puerto Rican characters, duh!

-Tony's character arc, as rewritten by Kushner: Makes him more believable as a former Jet leader trying to go the straight and narrow.

-Making Chino (Maria's "intended") not a Shark but kind of a dork, with aspirations to better himself. This gives his fate an extra layer of poignancy that it didn't have in the 1961 version.

-Giving Doc's role to Rita Moreno and giving her "Somewhere" - adds a whole new poignant gloss to that character and that song.

What I still prefer about the 1961 version:

-The choreography overall. Justin Peck is a gifted choreographer, but let's face it, it's hard if not impossible to top Jerome Robbins. I often think of the 1961 WSS as a filmed ballet with songs, rather than a musical. Although that has its limitations cinematically, the film really works on that level.

-The filming of the choreography, especially in the dance at the gym. While Spielberg's version goes more for close-ups, I missed the long shots that show not only the differences between how the two sides dance, but also how they treat the dance floor like another extension of their turf war. Same goes for the moment Tony and Maria first lock eyes across the room and come together, as if in a dream, to dance the cha cha.

-The sequencing of the songs. Getting really into the weeds here, in the original stage version of WSS, "Cool" is performed before the rumble, while both "I Feel Pretty" and "Gee, Officer Krupke" are after. Tonally, it's a jarring shift having these light-hearted songs (although admittedly "Gee, Officer Krupke" has a pretty angry edge) follow the deaths of Riff and Bernardo; so much so that for the 1961 movie, Sondheim had them moved up to the first half (before the rumble) and moved "Cool" to post-rumble. In my opinion, this works much better. In Spielberg's version, for some reason, they put both "Gee, Officer Krupke" and "Cool" before the rumble but "I Feel Pretty" after, a decision I'm still scratching my head over.

-Differentiating the Jets (other than Riff and Tony): In the new version, they're all excellent at the singing, dancing, and acrobatics, but the only ones I was able to identify as characters were Baby John and Anybodys. Whereas, in the 1961 version, Ice, A-Rab, and Action all emerge as distinct personalities. (Alas, in both versions, most of the Sharks, other than Bernardo, are barely defined at all.)

-Bernardo and Anita: Don't get me wrong, David Alvarez and Ariana DeBose are excellent as the leader of the Sharks and his lady. They're just not a patch on George Chakiris (brownface and all) and Moreno for sheer charm. Not for me, anyway.

-"Gee, Officer Krupke": This is subjective, since it depends on whether you want a funnier version or a darker/angrier version. You get the former in 1961, the latter in 2021. Either way, it still resonates; I prefer the former.

It's a draw:

-Tony and Maria: Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler get automatic bonus points for doing all their own singing (and doing it beautifully), and they are both quite good when they're not singing, too. Kushner's script also tries - maybe a little too obviously - to make the 2021 Maria a more independent, self-sufficient character than the docile, demure 1961 version. But, well, Natalie Wood. That says it all. (I'm also one of the few defenders of Richard Beymer as Tony, though I wouldn't say he's better than Elgort, who seems - somewhat unfairly, in my opinion - to be getting cooler reviews than his castmates. I can't help wondering if part of that is due to the sexual assault allegations against him.)

-Riff: Mike Faist is phenomenal as Riff with a death wish. However, as with my comment on "Gee, Officer Krupke," what you gain in dark edge you lose a little in the comic goofiness that made Russ Tamblyn's Riff so engaging. Totally legit to prefer Faist's take as more realistic...but I have a soft spot for Tamblyn.

-Costumes: Both movies effectively draw a stark color contrast between the Jets and the Sharks, although they allow a few more flouncy skirts to the Jets' ladies in the new version. Maria's iconic white dress with the red belt (which I coveted as a kid) remains pretty much the same. But I miss Anita's purple dress.

All in all, while my loyal heart still belongs to 1961 WSS, I fully acknowledge that Spielberg has accomplished something truly extraordinary with his version. He's made a West Side Story that both fans of the prior version and newcomers can enjoy. Here's hoping more people will discover and embrace it as time goes on.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Fall 2021 Movie Preview

With the arrival of fall and the persistence of COVID, we movie lovers find ourselves in a weirdly discombobulated, in-between state. Theaters are open, the big film festivals have already jump-started lively conversations among cineastes, and the fall movie season is packed with exciting releases – some of which are opening only in theaters, others on streaming, and still others in some combination of both. This leaves those of us who prefer to see movies in theaters constantly calibrating our COVID comfort levels and trying to decide which movies we “need” to see on the big screen and which we can be content with seeing at home. I’m still working out that calculus myself. It’s complicated by the fact that so many of the films I want to see are from Netflix – whose MO for awards contenders is a short, limited theatrical run before releasing the film on streaming. But regardless of how or when I see them, these are the movies I’m most looking forward to over the next few months:

THE CARD COUNTER – in theaters now
I actually saw this one the other day, but am keeping it on the list because it’s definitely worth your attention. Oscar Isaac plays a low-stakes card shark with a very dark past who unexpectedly finds himself torn between a potential uptick in both his romantic and professional prospects (represented by Tiffany Haddish – a curious match that somehow works) and the ghost of his crimes, embodied in a troubled youth (Tye Sheridan) he takes under his wing. Don’t be fooled by the trailer, which makes the film look like an updated The Color of Money - this is very much a Paul Schrader Journey into the Soul of a Morally Tormented Man. To be frank I did not find the writing to be as convincing as the acting – but, my god, the acting! Isaac is fan-fucking-tastic in what may be the best performance of his career to date, and the film’s worth seeing for him alone.

I’M YOUR MAN – in limited theaters September 24
This German sci-fi romantic comedy directed by Maria Schrader (Unorthodox) stars Dan Stevens (I almost wrote “Matthew Crawley,” even though he’s actually had a pretty interesting film career since Downton Abbey) as a robot programmed to be a perfect romantic partner for whoever buys him and Marin Eggert as the skeptical woman who’s asked to give him a trial run. Yes, apparently Dan Stevens speaks fluent German. Early reviews have been very good, and Germany’s already selected the film as its Oscar submission for Best International Feature.

MY NAME IS PAULI MURRAY – in theaters now, begins streaming on Amazon Prime October 1
From the folks behind “R.B.G.,” a documentary about another truly remarkable woman who should have as much recognition as – well, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A civil rights lawyer cited by both RBG and Thurgood Marshall, Murray laid the groundwork for both Brown vs. Board of Education and Reed vs. Reed, the case (argued by RBG) that extended the Fourteenth Amendment to cover discrimination by sex. Always extraordinarily ahead of her time, Murray also sat at the front of the bus 15 years before Rosa Parks did, was the first African American to earn a DJS from Yale Law School, and the first African American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. Did I mention she was also gay and possibly/probably transgender? Like I said – a remarkable woman whose story deserves to be amplified.

DUNE – in theaters and on HBO Max October 22
No, I’ve never read the book(s) or seen the previous gonzo adaptation by David Lynch. But I really liked Denis Villeneuve’s last venture into iconic sci-fi (Blade Runner 2049) and early word is his take on the first part (half? Third?) of the Frank Herbert classic is just as visually stunning and immersive. Even though it’ll be on HBO Max, this is one movie I can’t imagine seeing on anything but the biggest screen I can find. Timothée Chalamet leads a stacked cast that includes Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgaard, Zendaya, and many more.

THE FRENCH DISPATCH – in theaters October 22
Wes Anderson’s latest confection, set in (1960s?) France, is a love letter to the New Yorker and, more generally, foreign-correspondent journalism of a bygone era. Will it be overly stylized and precious bordering on twee? Almost certainly. But even at their most artificial, WA’s films still have a certain wistful, escapist charm that’s agreeable in the right doses. As usual, this one boasts an impressive array of A-list character actors (Tilda, Frances, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright, Benicio del Toro, many others) plus current arthouse heartthrob du jour Timothée Chalamet.

PASSING – in limited theaters October 27, begins streaming on Netflix November 10
Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut adapts Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel about two mixed-race women (Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga) and childhood friends whose paths diverge when one of them (Negga) chooses to “pass” for white – only to cross again later in life. Shot in black and white, which seems almost too apropos, and was well received at Sundance.

SPENCER – in theaters November 5
While I’ve never really understood the world’s (ok, mostly Anglo-American) fascination with the British royals, color me intrigued both by the casting of Kristen Stewart as Princess Di and by her pairing with Chilean director Pablo Larraín. As you’ll recall, Larraín guided Natalie Portman to an Oscar nomination for embodying the closest thing America ever had to its own female royalty in Jackie. All early signs point to him bottling lightning a second time with Stewart. The film focuses on a (fictional) weekend at the Queen’s winter holiday estate during which Diana decides to end her marriage.

BELFAST (theaters) – in theaters November 12
Kenneth Branagh goes personal with this semi-autobiographical coming-of-age B&W film about a young boy growing up in – you guessed it – Belfast in the 1960s. Winner of the People’s Choice Award (basically, the audience favorite award) at TIFF [Toronto International Film Festival], it features a strong cast that includes Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench as Branagh-surrogate’s grandparents and Jamie Dornan and Caitríona Balfe as his (remarkably good-looking) parents. Shades of an Irish Hope and Glory with the Troubles standing in for WWII? We should be so lucky.

TICK, TICK...BOOM! – in limited theaters November 12, begins streaming on Netflix November 19
Based on a semi-autobiographical musical by the late Jonathan Larson (better known for Rent) that chronicles his early-career angst and fear of failure, its poignancy is underscored retrospectively by his tragically premature death just before Rent’s wildly successful Broadway premiere. I’m taking a bit of a flyer with this one since I’ve never seen the musical on stage. However, given that it’s by Larson and that the film is directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and stars Andrew Garfield, I feel pretty bullish about its quality.

THE POWER OF THE DOG – in limited theaters November 17, begins streaming on Netflix December 1
Fans of Jane Campion have been salivating over this one – her first film in over a decade – since its announcement. Based on the novel by Thomas Savage, it’s a modern (20th century) Western about a psychologically fucked-up rancher (Benedict Cumberbatch) who, following the unexpected marriage of his brother (Jesse Plemons) to a woman (Kirsten Dunst) with a teenage son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), proceeds to harass and torment both mother and son…and perhaps also himself? Not a spoiler since I genuinely don’t know more about the story, but I smell suppressed homoerotic vibes here. Won the Silver Lion for best direction at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

C’MON C’MON – in theaters November 19
Mike Mills (Beginners, 20th Century Women) delivers what looks like another tender exploration of complicated, not-quite-conventional, but loving family dynamics. This one’s in black and white, for some reason, and stars Joaquin Phoenix.

THE HAND OF GOD – in limited theaters November 24, begins streaming on Netflix December 15
Another semiautobiographical coming-of-age tale – this one from Paolo Sorrentino, director of the La Grande Belleza and Youth, as well as the HBO series The Young Pope. If you, like me, are a fan of Sorrentino’s sumptuous, plangently melancholic style, it sounds like we won’t be disappointed by his latest effort. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize (the runner-up award) at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

THE LOST DAUGHTER – in limited theaters December 17, begins streaming on Netflix December 31
Maggie Gyllenhaal makes her directorial debut with an adaptation of an Elena Ferrante novel starring Olivia Colman? Yes, please. Winner of best screenplay at Venice. Maybe last year’s success of female directors and/or actresses making their directorial debuts wasn’t a fluke – here’s hoping, anyway.

PARALLEL MOTHERS – in theaters December 24
Pedro Almodóvar. Penelope Cruz. Mothers. SOLD. No, really – have you seen Volver? Pain and Glory? All About My Mother? Broken Embraces? Ok, that last one isn’t really about mothers, but it’s still one of my favorite and most underrated ’Modo films, and Cruz is great in it.

THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH – in theaters December 25, begins streaming on AppleTV+ January 14
Joel Coen (sans Ethan) directs this B&W adaptation of the Scottish play, which stars Denzel Washington as Macbeth and Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth. I’d be more excited about this one if I didn’t remember being excited and then let down by the Justin Kurzel Macbeth (2015) starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. But then Kurzel has a very different style from Coen – or at least the Coens - so I will keep my hopes up for now. It’s scheduled to premiere at the New York Film Festival this week.

A couple more I’ll probably be too curious not to see, though I’m definitely waiting for streaming:

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE - in theaters now
The makeup and prosthetics look a little much - although you could argue that is true to Tammy Faye, who was always more than a little much - but Jessica Chastain is supposed to be terrific despite them. And my honey Andrew Garfield is also reportedly spot-on as Jim Bakker.

DEAR EVAN HANSEN - in theaters September 24
Yes, yes, I know all the issues with this one: panned by the critics, problematic story, problematic casting of a 27-year-old Ben Platt who can no longer pass plausibly for a high school student (at least not on the big screen). However, the fact is that Platt, who by the way has a stunningly beautiful voice, originated the role on stage and won a Tony for it, and I’m still bitter I missed the chance to see him in the musical's pre-Broadway run in D.C. back in 2015 - I tried but was too slow to get tickets. So if this is the only way I can see Platt as Evan Hansen, so be it. Plus the film’s directed by Stephen Chbosky, who still has some residual goodwill points with me for The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

And finally, a few more films I’m keeping an eye out for – or at least for the reviews:

THE LAST DUEL – in theaters October 15
A Rashomon-like take on a 15th century French tale of a knight (Matt Damon) who challenges his friend (Adam Driver) to a duel after his wife (Jodie Comer) accuses the latter of raping her. Directed by Ridley Scott, but the screenplay’s by the unusual combo of Damon, Ben Affleck (who’s also in the film), and Nicole Holofcener (Lovely and Amazing, Enough Said, screenplay for Can You Ever Forgive Me?). Alas, most of the early buzz has been less about the film’s merits than about the unfortunate hairstyles sported by Damon and Affleck.

LAST NIGHT IN SOHO – in theaters October 29
I’m not a big Edgar Wright fan, and early reactions to his latest – a psychological thriller about a young woman (Thomasin McKenzie) who comes to London to be a fashion designer and finds herself channeling the spirit of a glamorous swinging-’60s night club singer (Anya Taylor-Joy) – have been decidedly mixed. Still, there’s no denying it looks divinely cool. Then again, so did Baby Driver, which started out promisingly only to turn into a tedious slog.

ETERNALS – in theaters November 5
Knowing nothing of the comics or the characters, I have no strong feelings about the next chapter in Phase Four of Marvel’s world dominance. I do, however, have strong (positive) feelings about director Chloé Zhao. We’ll see what imprint, if any, she leaves on the Marvel machine.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY – in theaters December 17
Guillermo del Toro takes on a 1946 novel – previously adapted in a classic film starring Tyrone Power – about a con man who hooks up first with a circus and then with a psychopathic psychiatrist. Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett star in this version, along with Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, David Strathairn, and more. The question is will this be more Crimson Peak or Pan’s Labyrinth / Shape of Water?

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS – in theaters and on HBO Max December 22
Loved the first Matrix, found the second deeply disappointing, and didn’t bother seeing the third after a friend told me it was literally the worst movie he’d ever seen. So, nearly two decades later, where does that leave me for Matrix 4? Stay tuned…

9/28/21: Edited to add LICORICE PIZZA - in limited theaters November 26, nationwide by Christmas
I go hot and cold with Paul Thomas Anderson, but in returning to the (San Fernando) Valley he looks to be returning to his roots, which brings back fond memories of BOOGIE NIGHTS, his warmest and most appealing film. One reservation: the story seems centered on two screen newcomers, Alana Haim (better known as a member of the band Haim) and Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour. However, I love Haim and there's no denying Hoffman has great acting genes. So we'll see.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

A shout-out to BLINDSPOTTING

If you know anything about 21st century American pop culture, then you know there isn't any one centralized, universally acknowledged "mainstream American" culture anymore (if there ever was). That's not necessarily a bad thing. There's a lot of high quality entertainment - or "content," as we now call it - out there for all dispositions and predilections. (There's also a lot of dreck, but that's always been the case.) The flip side is we're not all watching or listening to, or even aware of, the same content, a trend that's only intensified with the seemingly endless proliferation of social media and streaming platforms. Hell, with rare exception - maybe Marvel movies, "Game of Thrones," Beyoncé, or maybe not even any of those - there aren't really entertainers or products that a cross-demographic majority of Americans have even heard of, let alone mark with any interest.

So it goes. It may be enough for most people that some subset of their friends, associates, and go-to cultural arbiters are excited about the same movies, shows, books, and/or musical artists that they are. Most of the time it's enough for me, even if it does reinforce the sense that each of us lives in a cultural bubble, contiguous if not perfectly coterminous with every other kind of social or political bubble we occupy. Occasionally, however, I come across something that I think is truly special and original, and that I suspect isn't on the radar of anyone else I know. And that makes me want to trumpet it to the world, even though I realize I'm just broadcasting to my own bubble.

Blindspotting is one of those things - both the 2018 film and the TV series that recently concluded its first (possibly only) season on Starz. I'm already on record singing the praises of the movie, which tracks the close but problematic friendship between two Oakland natives, one black (Daveed Diggs) and one white (Rafael Casal). The movie ended with Diggs' Collin and Casal's Miles parting ways, at least for the time being. The series, created and co-produced by Diggs and Casal, picks up with Miles getting arrested for possession and his long-term girlfriend Ashley (Jasmine Cephas-Jones) and their 5-ish year-old son Sean moving in with Miles' mother Rainey (Helen Hunt) and half-sister Trish (Jaylen Barron). Frictions both comic and serious quickly arise between Ashley and her in-laws (Rainey's a hippie, Trish a stripper who aspires to run her own strip club from their house), and in Ashley's own internal conflicts between her loyalty to Miles, concern for little Sean's psychological well-being, and desire to keep her job as concierge at a high-end hotel even as she rages at the injustice of a system that cossets the Haves while throwing the Have-Nots to the curb. Similar themes of social (in)justice wrapped in wry humor underpin the companion storyline of nextdoor neighbor Earl (Benjamin Earl Turner), gentlest, chillest parolee ever and new tenant of Collin's mom, and Collin's sister (and Ashley's BFF) Janelle (Candace Nicholas-Lippman), who just moved back to the neighborhood as well for mysterious reasons. (Diggs doesn't appear in person, at least not in season 1, though there's reason to hope he may make an appearance in season 2...if there is a season 2.)

That description may make the show sound heavier than it is. Rest assured it's also quite funny; for every sobering, thought-provoking moment there's a gag that provokes a belly-laugh, and the tonal shifts never feel awkward. Similarly, the quirkiness of the characters is tempered by the well-tuned performances and chemistry of the actors, with Cephas-Jones, Turner, and Hunt the standouts of an excellent cast. (Casal, too, is very good as the incarcerated Miles and imaginary companion/projection in Ashley's solo musings, and much less aggravating than he was in the movie, suggesting Miles has learned something since then.) The show isn't afraid to take its time developing the characters and letting their narratives breathe, or to incorporate artistically risky devices like fourth-wall-breaking freestyle rapping and outbreaks of slow-motion dancing, which some viewers might find off-putting but which I found a novel and effective way of expressing the characters' emotional states. And while much of the series was shot in L.A., it still evokes a loving and lovely, but not idealized, portrait of Oakland and the Bay area.

As of this post, it's unclear whether Blindspotting is getting a second season. The first concludes with one of the main narrative lines ending on a hopeful note, while the other just about broke my heart. Neither, however, provided any real closure. I truly hope the series gets renewed, though I'm not optimistic given how low-profile and unconventional it is. But if it does end here, that in a way is an all too appropriate reflection of our current social and cultural reality. We haven't earned a satisfying ending, or indeed any ending at all, as long as stories like these get buried under our collective radar. May we all learn to pay better attention, and to deserve more movies and series like Blindspotting.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

2021 Oscars predix

What a long, strange year it’s been, for the Oscars as much as for everything else. Delayed by the pandemic, the awards are finally being given out tonight. I’ve no doubt the ceremony’s ratings will be in the toilet and that whatever the outcome of any specific races, the media will pontificate on how irrelevant the Oscars are in this age of Disney/Marvel-ization on the one hand and cultural hyperfragmentation on the other, and how “no one” has even heard of, let alone seen or been talking about, any of the nominees. (Hell, they’ve already been nattering about that.)

But you know what? That’s what they say every year, and yet the Oscars continue to hold relevance for those of us outside Hollywood who care about movies—and we still exist in significant, if declining numbers. For a long time now, the Oscars have never been about honoring movies that everyone already knows about; their main value is highlighting films that are less publicly visible, even if the Academy’s final selections regularly elicit their fair share of sighs and eyerolls. And the fact is that this year’s slate of nominees, despite or perhaps because of the absence of high-profile, big box office contenders, is one of the best in recent memory, as well as one of the most diverse. That 2020* was such a strong year for film, notwithstanding COVID and its decimating impact on theaters, is definitely worth celebrating, even with reduced pomp and general public attention.

(*into early 2021, per extended Oscar eligibility period)

For those of you who will be watching tonight or at least tracking the results, here are my predictions for the winners. They’re tough this year!

BEST PICTURE (You can find my rundown of all the BP nominees here)
Will win: Nomadland, though The Trial of the Chicago 7 definitely has a strong chance
Should win: Nomadland
Dark horse: Minari

BEST DIRECTOR
Will win: Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Should win: Zhao
Dark horse: No one – this award has Zhao’s name all over it

BEST ACTOR
Will win: Chadwick Boseman, posthumously, for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (though I wouldn’t count out Anthony Hopkins, who’s tremendous in The Father)
Should win: Hopkins
Dark horse: Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal

BEST ACTRESS
Will win: ???????? Wildest and most unpredictable race - I genuinely have no idea. I think it will end up being either Viola Davis (for Ma Rainey) or Carey Mulligan for Promising Young Woman, but it really could be any of them. Andra Day has the classic Oscar biopic vehicle as Billie Holliday (and she sings, too!), but the movie is not well regarded and she’s a total acting newbie (though it’s a fantastic debut). Frances McDormand is wonderful in Nomadland but it’s a very quiet, understated performance and she already has two Oscars. Still, if the votes are closely divided, as I expect they are, it’s anyone’s game.
Should win: Mulligan
Dark horse: Again, I wouldn’t be fazed by any result, though Vanessa Kirby would be the biggest surprise. (Not based on merit – she’s great in Pieces of a Woman.)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Will win: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Should win: Paul Raci, Sound of Metal - first, it’s a beautiful performance, but second and almost as importantly, it’s the only truly supporting performance of this bunch. All the rest are leads or co-leads (a very common Oscar “cheat,” but especially egregious this year in this category).
Dark horse: No one – Kaluuya has this locked up.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Will win: Youn Yuh-jung, Minari
Should win: Youn. My thoughts on why this performance was so good, and so personal for me here
Dark horse: Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy - if enough voters feel like Close is overdue (especially after her heartbreaking 2019 loss as the frontrunner for The Wife)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Will win: Another tight race. Since this is the one category where the “edgiest” nominee actually can win, I’ll go with Promising Young Woman. I could also see Trial of the Chicago 7 winning because Sorkin.
Should win: Sound of Metal
Dark horse: Again, literally any of the nominees could win and I wouldn’t be shocked.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Will win: It’s going to come down to Nomadland or The Father. I’m going with The Father because it really does an amazingly effective stage-to-screen transfer of director/playwright Florian Zeller’s play.
Should win: The Father
Dark horse: There isn’t really one, though in a less competitive year One Night in Miami would be a strong contender – it’s another excellent stage-to-screen adaptation by playwright Kemp Powers.

Also, in honor of my loyalty to the Oscars, this year I’m extending my predix beyond the eight majors to the rest of the awards.

Best Film Editing: Sound of Metal (though I could see any of the nominees winning)

Best Cinematography: Nomadland

Best Production Design: Mank

Best Costumes: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Emma also has a shot)

Best Makeup and Hair: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Visual Effects: Tenet

Best Sound: Sound of Metal

Best Score: Soul

Best Song: “Speak Now” from One Night in Miami

Best International Film (formerly Foreign Language Film): Another Round (dark horse: Quo Vadis, Aida?)

Best Documentary Feature: My Octopus Teacher

Best Animated Feature: Soul - this one’s a lock

Best Animated Short Film: If Anything Happens, I Love You (dark horse: Opera)

Other shorts (documentary and live action): No idea and haven't seen any of them, but based on what other folks are saying I'll guess A Concerto is a Conversation for doc and Two Distant Strangers for live action.

Happy 93rd Oscars, everyone!