2019 Oscar Preview: Best Picture

Award season is almost at a close, and we’re only two weeks out from the 2019 Oscars.

Let’s start our preview with Best Picture.

Black Panther (Directed by Ryan Coogler)

The conventional wisdom was that Black Panther would get a nomination, but nothing else.  Hollywood would pat itself on the back for honoring a tentpole superhero flick, and then promptly return to awarding films about fish “love.”  That was, of course, before Black Panther took top honors at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.  The SAG awards are the best predictive award show for the Oscars for a reason – the actors are by far the largest voting block in the Academy.  Additionally, the abandoned proposal for a “popular film” category means that the Academy is getting nervous about the lack of awards for true blockbusters over the last few years (Best Picture hasn’t gone to a move that’s made over $100 million domestically since 2012).  Conclusion: Black Panther is a contender.

Blackkklansman (Directed by Spike Lee)

The late career makeup award is a time-honored Oscar tradition.  Just think about Al Pacino winning Best Actor for 1992’s lackluster Scent of Woman instead of any role he had in the 1970’s.  Great directors are more likely to be snubbed than great actors, with heavyweights like Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, and Stanley Kubrick never winning Best Director honors.  Blackkklansman is Spike Lee’s most commercially successful movie in a few years, and it has the added bonus of being some of his best work.  It feels like Lee could finally get that Best Director Oscar, but given the competition, Best Picture might be a stretch.  Conclusion: Blackkklansman is a borderline contender.

Bohemian Rhapsody (Directed by Bryan Singer, so says the credit)

An entertaining, yet ultimately paint-by-numbers rock and roll biopic, I’m surprised this one got nominated. The Golden Globes were overly generous to it, but the Globes mean exactly squat when predicting the Oscars. It’s simply not an Oscar caliber movie, and this is coming from someone who gave it a positive write up. Conclusion: Bohemian Rhapsody is a pretender.

The Favourite (Directed by Yorgos Lathimos)

This feels like the “actor’s movie” of the Best Picture selections. I mostly say that because it’s a period piece, and because it’s been winning a lot of individual acting hardware. That said, it didn’t win best ensemble at the SAG Awards, so I question whether it has enough umph to win the top prize. Besides, the Academy is rarely kind to comedies.  In the last fifty years, only six comedies have taken top honors (The Sting (1973), Annie Hall (1977), Forrest Gump (1994), Shakespeare in Love (1998), The Artist (2011), and Birdman (2014)).  Conclusion: The Favourite is a borderline contender.

Green Book (Directed by Peter Farrelly)

Green Book was an early favorite and checks most of the Oscar boxes. It’s a period piece, it has a strong cast, and it contains themes dealing with race relations in America. It’s also been a lightning rod for controversy. That, and it didn’t really resonate with critics or audiences. I think the voters end up putting the green book back on the shelf. Conclusion: Green Book is a pretender.

Roma (Directed by Alfonso Cuarón)

Roma is a heavyweight. Cuarón has created a neo-realist film that is comparable to the films of Vittorio de Sica, Roberto Rossellini, and Fredrico Fellini.  It’s beautifully shot, achingly sad, and not entirely without humor. Cuarón has been honored by the Academy for Best Director for Gravity (2013), a film that would have won Best Picture in almost any other year it was nominated.   All that being said, the Academy has never, not once, given Best Picture to a foreign language film.  Then again, there’s a first time for everything.  Conclusion: Roma is a contender.

A Star is Born (Directed by Bradley Cooper)

A Star is Born got a lot of early buzz, but that buzz has faded.  For award show purposes, A Star is Born is Bradley Cooper’s character.  The other nominees are Lady Gaga’s character.  I just don’t see this movie turning things around, and it’s telling that Cooper wasn’t nominated for Best Director.  A Star is Born was well received by critics and audiences, but not by award show voters.  Conclusion: A Star is Born is a pretender.

Vice (Directed by Adam McKay)

Critics didn’t like Vice, and neither did audiences.  That said, the movie is getting some love for Christian Bale’s transformation into Dick Cheney.  However, every year there’s a movie nominated for Best Picture on the strength of the lead actor’s performance and not much else.  A good example of this phenomenon is Phantom Thread (2017), from last year’s show.  Daniel Day-Lewis was great in it, but the movie was kind of dumb.  Vice is this year’s Phantom Thread.  Conclusion: Vice is a pretender.

Conclusion & Prediction

There you have it.  If this were back when only five movies could be nominated for Best Picture, you would have Black Panther, Blackkklansman, the Favourite, Roma, and probably A Star is Born.  I think it’s going to come down to Roma or Black Panther.

So, what is Hollywood more nervous about?  The Oscars losing value because of too many fish “love” movies winning, or not giving foreign language films enough support over the years?  All the gold in Fort Knox couldn’t rectify decades of awards for Hollywood movies over superior foreign films, especially during the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s when the some of the greatest masterpieces of world cinema were coming out of France, Italy, Japan, and Sweden.  I don’t think this is a big concern for the folks in Hollywood.  Remember, with the exception of a dozen or so British movies and The Artist (2011), the Best Picture Oscar is best understood as the award for best American film as viewed with a short term evaluation.

Therefore, I predict that Black Panther will win Best Picture.  Wakanda Forever!

(c) 2019 D.G. McCabe

 

 

Oscar Preview Week – Best Picture Reviews

It’s that time of year again – Oscar Preview Week!  I realize it’s already Thursday, but to make up for it I’m putting three posts in one today.

I’ve already reviewed five of the Best Picture Nominees, but I’ve seen all eight.  Here are the links to my previous reviews:

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Spotlight

All set?  Good.  Here are the other three in alphabetical order:

The Big Short

Directed by Adam McKay, US, 2015

Up in the Air (2009) may be a more visceral “this is how it feels right now” reaction to the 2008 Global Financial Meltdown, but The Big Short is far more cerebral.  It is less of a narrative film and more of a docudrama.  It is complete with humorous asides to help the audience grasp some of the meatier financial concepts required to understand what is in essence a disaster movie.

The crisis is established as an unstoppable force, foreseen by only a handful of investors.  Its worst excesses are made clear to the viewer, from the smug mortgage bros (one of which is New Girl’s Max Greenfield at his most bro-ish), to regulators asleep at the switch, to greedy bankers laughing behind a wall of money and lies.  And like the forces of nature in films like the Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974), and Earthquake (1974), the perpetrators of the disaster are left unpunished.

Who does Director Adam McKay get to help him tell this story?  A parade of Hollywood’s finest actors giving fantastic performances.  Brad Pitt, Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Melissa Leo, and Marisa Tomei lead a fine cast.  McKay remains the real creative star here, however, using the same tools that he used to make comedy classics like Anchorman (2004) to tell one of the most important stories of our time.

You might like The Big Short if: You have an interest in what the hell happened in 2008.

You might not like The Big Short if: You are one of the perpetrators of what the hell happened in 2008.

The Martian

Directed by Ridley Scott, US, 2015

Two of this year’s Best Picture nominees are man versus nature tales.  With all due respect to getting partially eaten by a bear, The Martian is the more impressive victory over the elements.  Say what you want about a frozen forest in North America, the Earth is teeming with life, water, and air.  Mars is hostile to all three.

Mars is named after the Roman god of war.  The ancients named her that due to her red hue, but for astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon at his most Matt Damon-y), it is a fitting name for more personal reasons.  Left for dead by his crew members, every day is a fight for survival against a world that has no use for organisms of any kind, much less human beings.

Fortunately for Watney, he is blessed with some resources, the gift of a brilliant mind, and a great sense of humor.  While he could despair, he instead takes the opposite attitude and finds the whole situation a bit of a joke.  Those who are trying to rescue him, from mission control to his shipmates (led by Jessica Chastain’s Captain Lewis), are less amused, but no less competent.

Overall, The Martian is probably the most uplifting of the eight movies nominated for Best Picture (Brooklyn is a close second).  It’s a triumph of scientific competence and good humor.

You might like The Martian if: You want to see a movie that will restore your faith in science and humanity.

You might not like The Martian if: You saw Gravity (2013) and you never want to see another “marooned in space” movie ever again.

Room

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Canada/Ireland, 2015

Room presents to us a situation of monstrous horror, humanity at its very worst.  A young girl is kidnapped, raped, and locked in a shed for seven years.  Her tormentor leaves her with a child to care for, and neither is allowed to leave the shed.  The horror and evil isn’t the focal point of our story, however, instead it is the perspective of the little boy, Jack (Jacob Tremblay).

Jack isn’t traumatized by “Room.”  He was born there, and that’s all he’s ever known.  His mother, Joy (Brie Larson) creates a fiction for him that allows him to process his situation in a manner that keeps him not only sane, but happy.  His mother is tormented night and day, but she makes sure that her son is not.

The trailers and promotional materials make it clear that they get away from their tormentor, so I’m not spoiling anything by saying that, I hope.  Indeed, they are only in “Room” for the first twenty minutes or so of the movie.  Once they escape, we continue the story through Jack’s perspective.  We see a well-adjusted, happy child, but we also see that seven years of captivity and torture have driven his mother into insanity.

Brie Larson deserves the awards she’s been getting for her role here.  The perspective of the film is from her happy and creative child, and she does her best to keep him well-adjusted by hiding her growing anxiety, anger, and depression.  We only see glimpses of it through most of the film, so Larson has to be subtle.  It’s a difficult task, but one that’s well executed.

If Room were told from Joy’s perspective, it would be a horror movie.  From Jack’s perspective it’s a coming of age film, albeit a traumatic and difficult one for the audience to process.  As strong as Larson and Tremblay’s performances are, this is the most interesting aspect of the film.

You might like Room if: You are interested in how shifting perspectives can change the nature of a story.

You might not like Room if: You are expecting a more conventional horror movie.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe