Saturday, January 11, 2020

OSCAR WATCH: Critics Choice Predictions


Tomorrow, the last major awards before the Oscar nominations will be handed out by the Critics Choice Association. And as they love to remind us, they are one of the more reliable precursors to the Academy Awards. Will they serve up a preview of this year's Oscar nods? Here's how I see it playing out at the Taye Diggs-hosted 25th annual Critics Choice Awards:

BEST PICTURE
1917

BEST DIRECTOR
Sam Mendes – 1917

BEST ACTOR
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker

BEST ACTRESS
Renée Zellweger – Judy

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Laura Dern – Marriage Story

OSCAR WATCH: Golden Globe Awards


With the Oscar nominations fast approaching, the Golden Globes last weekend gave a strong hint of who the frontrunners will be come Monday morning. And in a rather surprising outcome it was Sam Mendes' "1917" which took the big wins of Best Picture (Drama) and Best Director. Could this ambitious war effort lead the Oscar noms, or will it be Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", winner of the Best Picture prize in the Comedy/Musical category? The stage is set for an interesting final phase of this Oscar season indeed. Here are this year's Golden Globe winners:

Best Picture, Drama
1917

Best Picture, Musical or Comedy
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Director
Sam Mendes, 1917

Best Actress, Drama
Renee Zellweger, Judy

Best Actress, Musical or Comedy
Awkwafina, The Farewell

Best Actor, Drama
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Best Actor, Musical or Comedy

Taron Egerton, Rocketman

Best Supporting Actor
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress
Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

OSCAR WATCH: Little Women


Given the debate surrounding the value (or lack thereof) of yet another "Little Women" adaptation hitting theaters, let me preface this review by saying that I have never read Louisa May Alcott's classic novel. Furthermore, my memories of the 1994 film adaptation have long faded. With that being said, I approached Greta Gerwig's latest work with great anticipation. And what I discovered was a cinematic tour de force that is fully worthy of praise and a place in the Best Picture conversation.

In this classic tale of sisterhood set around the time of the American Civil War, we are first introduced to our main protagonist Jo (played by Saoirse Ronan), an aspiring writer hoping to sell her latest work. As the story progresses, we soon learn that she is just one of several sisters with artistic inclinations, including an avid pianist (Beth, played by Eliza Scanlen), an ambitious painter (Amy, played by Florence Pugh) and a talented actress (Meg, played by Emma Watson). These interests will evolve and change over the years, however, as they come of age in a time of hardship which will test their family and other relationships.

Indeed, romance, humor and tragedy are the order of the day, as Greta Gerwig delivers a bold interpretation of classic costume drama tropes. Making a strong case for a second Best Director nod, she perfectly balances the contrasting tones through smart visual and storytelling choices. At once delicate and exuberant, the cinematography is equally adept at capturing the restless optimism of youth and the stillness of disillusioned adulthood. Similarly, the color palette reflects the contrast between the glow of nostalgia and the more solemn pragmatism of the present and future, further emphasized by non-linear storytelling which enriches rather than obfuscates the narrative.

As that narrative follows the diverging lives of the titular sisters, Gerwig's screenplay - worthy of consideration for Best Adapted Screenplay - compellingly explores feminist themes which continue to resonate today. And in conveying the perspectives of the richly defined characters, the audience is treated to a plethora of sensational performances. Among the sisters, Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh are standouts, deservingly garnering attention for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress kudos respectively. As the headstrong and fiercely independent Jo, Ronan anchors the film with vulnerability and charisma. Meanwhile Pugh is truly inspired in her take on the petulant Amy, brilliantly charting her character's arc with almost vaudevillian expressiveness in her youth and stoic poise as she finds her way in the world.

Simply put, "Little Women" is one of the most entertaining, emotionally affecting and downright gorgeous films of the year. Several of its painterly shot compositions (nominations for Best Production Design, Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design deserve to be foregone conclusions) are seared into my memory, and Alexandre Desplat is on track for another Best Original Score nomination for his typically wonderful music. It may tell a familiar story, but Greta Gerwig's "Little Women" is unforgettable.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

OSCAR WATCH: Golden Globe Predictions


The 2020 phase of the awards season kicks off in fine style tomorrow with the Golden Globe Awards and anticipation is high as several films are looking strong to dominate the night. Will it be nominations leader "Marriage Story", foreign language breakout "Parasite" or the throwback masterworks from two of Hollywood's most respected auteurs (Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese). Tune in to NBC at 8pm EST to find out if my predictions below are correct.

Best Picture, Drama
The Irishman

Best Picture, Musical or Comedy
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Director
Bong Joon Ho, Parasite

Best Actress, Drama
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

Best Actress, Musical or Comedy
Awkwafina, The Farewell

Best Actor, Drama
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Best Actor, Musical or Comedy

Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Supporting Actor
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress
Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: Can A24 Make a Best Picture Comeback?

Is it time to say goodbye to 'The Farewell' in the Best Picture race?
With just two weeks to go before nomination voting closes on January 7 for the next Academy Awards, the clock is ticking for this year's contenders. In the aftermath of Harvey Weinstein's downfall, upstart distributors have been jostling to fill that void and establish themselves as the new "Oscar whisperers." And so far, Netflix seems to have laid claim to that title with at least 4 viable contenders for Best Picture. But what about the smaller distributors like A24? After a steady climb in the world of Oscar campaigning which included a momentous victory for "Moonlight", the New York-based company had an uncharacteristic down year in 2018, garnering only a single nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Depending on who you ask, there is much cause for concern regarding A24's 2019 lineup. Though their slate includes several acclaimed films, they seem to have been beaten at their own game - edgy but accessible fare - by upstarts Neon, who are flying high on the success of "Parasite" among others. In contrast, A24's prized pony is less clear. Is it "Waves," which has crashed and burned since its buzzy Telluride launch? Is it the challenging but rewarding "Uncut Gems" from the inimitable Safdie Brothers? Or is it Sundance darling "The Farewell," with its strong awards potential in the acting and screenplay categories?

In my estimation, there are 7 films looking like safe bets in Best Picture, which leaves room for A24 to stage a comeback. Here's how I see current state of the Best Picture race:

  1. The Irishman
  2. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
  3. Jojo Rabbit
  4. Parasite
  5. Marriage Story
  6. 1917  
  7. Joker
  8. The Farewell
  9. Dolemite is My Name
  10. Uncut Gems

OSCAR WATCH: Uncut Gems


Ever since the Safdie brothers exploded unto the independent film scene with their breakthrough feature "Heaven Knows What", they have established themselves as one of American cinema's foremost purveyors of propulsive filmmaking. Utilizing the full potential of the medium, they deliver visually and aurally stimulating storytelling like no other. That trend continues with "Uncut Gems", a typically New York-set thriller hoping to send an electric jolt to this year's Best Picture race.

"Uncut Gems" takes place in New York City's Diamond District, where jeweller Howard Ratner (played by Adam Sandler), runs a store catering to a wide range of moneyed clientele. Always looking to score his next big deal with an eye to pay off his debts, Ratner gets his hands on an uncut Opal from Ethiopia, purported to be worth $1 million. As he plans to auction this precious stone, basketball star Kevin Garnett takes an interest. Seeing a golden opportunity, Ratner loans him the gem for good luck in exchange for a valuable commemorative ring. When Ratner subsequently pawns the ring to place a bet, however, he quickly becomes entangled in a high stakes web which involves a dangerous gang of tough guys who are determined to collect what he owns them.

As with any Safdie brothers film, it takes some time for audiences to get on their wavelength. Indeed, their blaring synth score and frantic pacing can feel belligerent at first. Furthermore, his characters aren't instantly likable.

But like Arielle Holmes and Robert Pattinson before him, Adam Sandler's performance is so attuned to Safdie's purposeful storytelling that you end becoming fully invested in his plight. In one of his finest performances to date Sandler's role is essentially the male counterpart to the "women on the verge of a nervous breakdown" trope. But whereas actresses often lean in to the vulnerability, Sandler's Ratner is a man so high on his drug of choice - i.e. greed - that he rarely has time to be overcome by his underlying anxiety.

The result is a thrilling ride as we witness his navigation through the dangerous world through the dog-eat-dog world of Manhattan society. It's as if the Safdies reinvisioned Scorcese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" as the story of a street-level hustler set in the New York City of "Taxi Driver". But those references fail to do justice to the originality the Safdie brothers bring to their work. As their narratives typically surround desperate characters, so too does their filmmaking pulsate with the vibrancy and determination of people doing everything they can to make their mark. And once again, they've succeeded.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: AAFCA Awards


Jordan Peele’s “Us” was named the year’s Best Film today by the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), the world’s largest group of black film critics comprised of leading film critics from across the country and world. “Us” (which earned over $255 million globally) received three total wins including Peele for Best Director and Lupita Nyong’o for Best Actress. The complete list of AAFCA Awards recipients is as follows:

Best Film: “Us” (Universal Pictures)
Best Director: Jordan Peele (“Us,” Universal Pictures)
Best Actor: Eddie Murphy (“Dolemite Is My Name,” Netflix)
Best Actress: Lupita Nyong’o (“Us,” Universal Pictures)
Best Supporting Actor: Jamie Foxx (“Just Mercy,” Warner Bros. Pictures)
Best Supporting Actress: Da’Vine Joy Randolph (“Dolemite Is My Name,” Netflix)
Best Breakout Performance: Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (“Waves,” A24)
Best Animated Film: “Abominable” (Universal Pictures)
Best Documentary: “The Black Godfather” (Netflix)
Best Foreign Film: “Parasite” (Neon)
Best Independent Film: “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” (A24)
Best Screenplay Presented with The Black List: Bong Joon-ho, “Parasite” (Neon)
Impact Award: “Queen & Slim” (Universal Pictures)
We See You Award: Taylor Russell (“Waves,” A24)

The AAFCA 2019 Top Ten Films
1.“Us” (Universal Pictures)
2. “Dolemite Is My Name” (Netflix)
3.“Just Mercy” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
4.“Clemency” (Neon)
5.“The Irishman” (Netflix)
6.“Queen & Slim” (Universal Pictures)
7.“Waves” (A24)
8.TIE “Parasite” (Neon) and “Atlantics” (Netflix)
9.The Farewell (A24)
10. “Harriet” (Focus Features)

OSCAR WATCH: SAG Nominations


Best Cast in a Motion Picture
Bombshell
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Parasite

Best Male Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale (“Ford v Ferrari”)
Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”)
Taron Egerton (“Rocketman”)
Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”)

Best Female Actor in a Leading Role
Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”)
Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story”)
Lupita Nyong’o (“Us”)
Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”)
Renée Zellweger (“Judy”)

Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Jamie Foxx (“Just Mercy”)
Tom Hanks (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”)
Al Pacino (“The Irishman”)
Joe Pesci (“The Irishman”)
Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)

Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”)
Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Nicole Kidman (“Bombshell”)
Jennifer Lopez (“Hustlers”)
Margot Robbie (“Bombshell”)

OSCAR WATCH: Golden Globe Nominations


Best Picture, Drama
1917
The Irishman
Joker
Marriage Story
The Two Popes

Best Picture, Musical or Comedy
Dolemite is My Name
Jojo Rabbit
Knives Out
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Rocketman

Best Director
Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Sam Mendes, 1917
Todd Philips, Joker
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Actress, Drama
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renée Zellweger, Judy

Best Actress, Musical or Comedy
Awkwafina, The Farewell
Cate Blanchett, Where'd You Go Bernadette?
Ana de Armas, Knives Out
Beanie Feldstein, Booksmart
Emma Thompson, Late Night

Best Actor, Drama
Christian Bale, Ford V Ferrari
Antonio Banderas, Pain & Glory
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

Best Actor, Musical or Comedy

Daniel Craig, Knives Out
Roman Griffith Davis, Jojo Rabbit
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once UPon a Time
Taron Egerton, Rocketman
Eddie Murphy, Dolemite is My Name

Best Supporting Actor
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
Al Pacino, The Irishman
Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time

Best Supporting Actress
Annette Bening, The Report
Margot Robbie, Bombshell
Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Laura Dern, Marriage Story

OSCAR WATCH: Critics Choice Nominations


BEST PICTURE
1917
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite
Uncut Gems

BEST DIRECTOR
Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story
Greta Gerwig – Little Women
Bong Joon Ho – Parasite
Sam Mendes – 1917
Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie – Uncut Gems
Martin Scorsese – The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

BEST ACTOR
Antonio Banderas – Pain and Glory
Robert De Niro – The Irishman
Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Adam Driver – Marriage Story
Eddie Murphy – Dolemite Is My Name
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
Adam Sandler – Uncut Gems

BEST ACTRESS
Awkwafina – The Farewell
Cynthia Erivo – Harriet
Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story
Lupita Nyong’o – Us
Saoirse Ronan – Little Women
Charlize Theron – Bombshell
Renée Zellweger – Judy

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Willem Dafoe – The Lighthouse
Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins – The Two Popes
Al Pacino – The Irishman
Joe Pesci – The Irishman
Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Laura Dern – Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit
Jennifer Lopez – Hustlers
Florence Pugh – Little Women
Margot Robbie – Bombshell
Zhao Shuzhen – The Farewell