Cannes 2019 Preview

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It’s time for Cannes! Even if it’s unlikely that I’ll ever travel to the Croisette to attend the most prestigious film festival in the world, I cannot wait to hear about all the movies that play there. Hearing what’s coming down the pike from some of cinema’s most respected auteurs is one of the delights of the cinematic year. These are all the movies I get to look forward to for the rest of the year! This year I’ve decided to do something a little different, and list the movies in order of how excited I am to see them (with the caveat that the order will probably change after the movies premiere and we have actual reviews to guide my interest).

Overall, the line-up seems pretty much in line with the kind of movies (and directors) that premiere at Cannes. The biggest surprise was the absence of Once Upon a Time in Hollywoodthe latest from Quentin Tarantino, which was expected to premiere at Cannes on May 21 (the day that Pulp Fiction premiered twenty-five years ago before winning the Palme D’Or). The movie is still in post-production, and although it wasn’t part of the announcement today, will probably be added to the competition in the weeks to come. With four films, this is the line-up with the most female-directed movies in the history of the festival, thought I’ll let you decide if 4 out of 19 is a number to be excited about. 

The 2019 Cannes Competition (in order of Personal Excitement): 

Pain & Glory (directed by Pedro Almodóvar)
Focusing on a director who reflects on his life at a critical point in his career, this movie sounds like Almodóvar is making his version of 8 1/2 and All That Jazz. I absolutely love Almodóvar, and would watch any movie he directs, but what makes me extra excited is that this one has already opened in Spain, and the reviews have been fantastic. Some are starting to think this could be the movie that finally wins the Palme D’Or for Pedro. The movie stars Antonio Banderas, and features Almodóvar veterans Penélope Cruz, Cecilia Roth, as well as the acting debut of pop singer Rosalía.

The Dead Don’t Die (directed by Jim Jarmusch)
The festival’s opener is the latest from offbeat director Jim Jarmusch. Advertised as “the greatest zombie cast ever dissasembled,” the movie stars Bill Murray and Adam Driver as a sheriff and deputy who must protect their small town from a zombie outbreak. They are joined, among others, by Chloë Sevigny, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez and Tilda Swinton. Jarmusch is a Cannes veteran, but has never won the Palme D’Or. This movie, which looks very comedic from the trailer, might not look like the one that finally gives him the win, but it does look quite delightful. I will follow Jarmusch anywhere after the wonderful Paterson, so I’m glad this one has a U.S. release set for June 14.  

Bacurau (directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles)
Mendonça’s Aquarius was one of the ver best movies of 2016, and featured a powerhouse performance by Brazilian legend Sonia Braga. His new movie, translated as Nighthawk on IMDb, sees the director reuniting with Braga. I don’t know much about the plot, but honestly, I don’t need to. I would be incredibly excited for Mendonça’s latest no matter the subject or star.

Parasite (directed by Bong Joon-ho)
After Mother, Snowpiercerand Okjathere is no doubting Bong as a master of genre cinema from me. No one can balance forward momentum, extreme violence, and dark comedy the way he can, often jumping from one to the other in the very same scene. Re-teaming with leading man Kang-ho Song, his latest movie focuses on a family in hardship whose illegal activities take them down a very dark road. I expect a top-notch, unique mystery.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (directed by Celine Sciamma)
Celine Sciamma is the director of Girlhooda fabulous movie that, if nothing else, features one of the very best scenes I’ve seen in a movie this decade. Sciamma has had success in Cannes sidebars in the past, but this is her debut in the competition. It’s a 18th Century period piece about a young female painter being forced to paint a wedding portrait for another young woman. I’ve been waiting for a while for Sciamma’s follow-up to Girlhood, so color me very excited.

It Must Be Heaven (directed by Elia Suleiman)
I must admit I’m not familiar with Suleiman’s previous Cannes entry –The Time That Remains– but everything I’ve heard about the director makes this sound like a fascinating project. Apparently, Suleiman’s style combines silent slapstick with melancholic introspection (already up my alley). This is the story of a man who escapes from Palestine to discover that the country follows his wherever he goes. I am very intrigued.

Atlantique (directed by Mati Diop)
If you are me, then you will recognize Mati Diop as the young girl from 35 Shots of Rum, or one of the foreign artists in the wonderful Hermia & HelenaThis is her first feature-length film as a director, which makes Diop the first black female director to have a film in the Main Competition. This seems to be a story about African migration to Europe, focusing on one woman who is left behind in Senegal. Despite being a debut, the buzz around this movie is really strong. Many outlets and insiders are claiming this is will go down as the emergence of a new major filmmaker. I’m really excited.

Frankie (directed by Ira Sachs)
Director Ira Sachs, who’s directed lovely American indies such as Love is Strange and Little Men, makes his Cannes debut with this story about three generations of a family working out their personal conflicts while on vacation in Portugal. When Isabelle Huppert and Marisa Tomei headline the cast, one simply cannot ask for more.

Little Joe (directed by Jessica Hausner)
Hausner’s last movie, Amour Fouis a very unconventional period piece. The Austrian director makes her English-language debut with this science fiction story about a group of scientist trying to figure out a mysterious plant that seems to change the personalities of those who come in contact with it. The lovely Ben Whishaw plays one of the lead roles.

The Whistlers (directed by Corneliu Porumboiu)
This movie sees Porumboiu revisit a character from his ten year-old Police, Adjective, as Romanian mainstay Vlad Ivanov plays a police officer who tries to use a secret whistling language in order to pull off a heist. I expect a slow and dryly funny movie in the style of most Romanian New Wave films, which when done right, can do wonders for me.

The Wild Goose Lake (directed by Yinan Diao)
There almost no information about this movie, but Diao’s last, Black Coal, Thin Icewon the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. There was a bit of controversy earlier this year regarding the Chinese government not allowing certain titles to compete at Cannes this year. This seems to have been the one exception. I am not familiar with Diao’s work, so I’m placing it near the middle expectations-wise.

A Hidden Life (directed by Terrence Malick)
Oh, Terrence Malick, the suddenly prolific American auteur returns with a three hour epic set during World War II. It’s supposed to be the story of a conscientious objector who refuses to fight for the Nazis, but knowing Malick, there will probably a lot of philosophical detours taken along the way. Malick isn’t usually my cup of tea, but I do love The New Worldso while I wouldn’t count on it, here’s hoping I can connect with this one in the same way.

The Traitor (directed by Marco Bellocchio)
I’ve never seen a movie by Bellocchio before, though I’ve heard quite good things about his Mussollini biopic VincereThis one is also a biopic, albeit of the less well-known Tommaso Buscetta, known as the “boss of the two worlds”, who apparently became the first mafia informant in 1980s Sicily. The trailer below is just a teaser, so it’s hard to know what’s going on, though I expected the typical darkness, violence, and excess of a gangster/mafia movie.

Oh Mercy! (directed by Arnaud Desplechin)
Despelchin is another Cannes favorite. This is about a detective trying to solve the brutal murder of a young woman. The wonderful Lea Seydoux is the top billed actress, though I’m not sure if she is the detective or the victim… or neither. Murder mysteries are not my favorite genre, and I’m constantly disappointed by contemporary French cinema, so I’m waiting for reviews to see if I gather any excitement.

Sybil (directed by Justine Triet)
The final female-directed film in the competition is a story about a “jaded therapist who returns to her first love of writing” and obsesses over a young actress. Female obsession is always an interesting genre, though my spotty history with contemporary French cinema keeps me from getting excited about this one.

Matthias & Maxime (directed by Xavier Dolan)
The prolific and opinionated Xavier Dolan has a particularly thorny history with Cannes. His last movie to play in Competition, It’s Only the End of the World, won the Grand Prix in 2016 despite being totally eviscerated by critics (a situation so hostile that Dolan claims he got eczema from it). But now he’s back with his latest movie, apparently an ensemble drama about relationships. I’ve only seen a couple of his movies, and haven’t been truly into them. Reviews for his latest stuff has been mostly bad. So my excitement is definitely low.

Les Miserables (directed by Ladj Ly)
This is Ly’s directorial debut, and it’s always exciting to see a filmmaker debut in Cannes Competition, but watching the clip that is available on IMDb lowered my expectations quite a bit. This movie seems “gritty” and “masculine” in a way that is always unappealing to me. The descriptions says it’s about a group of anti-crime brigade operating in a poor French neighborhood.

Sorry We Missed You (directed by Ken Loach)
Loach is one of those people who are extremely prolific and well liked at Cannes, which means that his movies are always in the competition. I personally don’t tend to connect with his particular brand of social realism. Not even his Palme D’Or-winning work can get me very excited, so unless reviews are truly ecstatic, I will probably skip this one.

Young Ahmed (directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)
I am not the biggest fan of the Dardenne brothers’ hyper-realist miserablism to begin with, so this would be a tough sell for me no matter what. But the log-line “A Belgian teenager hatches a plot to kill his teacher after embracing an extremist interpretation of the Quran” sounds like exactly the kind of movie that I have zero interesting in seeing, especially coming from two white Europeans. They are Cannes favorites, though, so their movies are always in the line-up. 

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Podcast: The Best Movies of 2009

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It’s become a tradition. Every year, I go on my friend Rachel’s podcast and we talk about our favorite movies form ten (and sometimes twenty) years ago. This time around, it’s 2009, so give a listen to the podcast below (which is also available on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts). Conversation topics include my distaste for Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, Rachel’s unexpected experience with Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, and the wonderful surprise I had when I revisited Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Other Podcasts on this Series: 2007, 2008, 1998

Other “Best of…” Retrospectives: 1992, 1995, 2005, 2006

Dumbo, or Fear of the Big D

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The new version of Dumbo, based on the 1941 animated classic, is an anti-capitalist story. In this live action update, director Tim Burton presents Dumbo -the flying elephant!- as a uniquely talented creature, one that boosts the ticket sales at a crumbling circus and ends up attracting the attention of V. A. Vandevere (Michale Keaton), the biggest entertainment magnate in the country. Vandevere, believe it or not, turns out to be evil. In order to get Dumbo into his fold, he buys the raggedy old circus, not caring about all the circus workers who will lose their jobs in the process. Even worse, he doesn’t care about Dumbo reuniting with his long-lost mother (she’s an inconvenience he’d rather shoot dead). But this being a children’s movie, the ragtag group of now unemployed circus performers (led by Colin Farrell) comes up with a plan to get Dumbo and his mom reunited, and give Vandevere a taste of his own medicine.

How ridiculous is it for a company like Disney to make such a movie? Disney, a company that last week finalized its purchase of 20th Century Fox -one of the “big six” Hollywood studios- creating massive layoffs as it inches slowly into total domination of the entertainment industry. Isn’t this some sort of deep hypocrisy- a giant corporation warning us about the dangers of giant corporations? Vandevere, who owns an amusement park called Dreamland full with massive parades and a “world of tomorrow” exhibit, couldn’t be a more obvious parallel for uncle Walt himself. How can this be a coincidence? Is this some sort of sick joke? In the time of Late Capitalism, Disney is here to sell our ideals back to us, as long as investors get rich. And we’re buying it. It’s hard not to when the same company owns Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, ESPN, the Muppets, Avatar, Titanic, The Simpsons, Disneyland, ABC, FX, and holds a majority stake in Hulu. How could you possibly escape that? 

Who is Dumbo in this analogy? The cute little elephant could be standing for an artist like Tim Burton, who has had his talent and originality drained by the franchise machine (and in no small part by Disney, who makes millions off of Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise). Although at this point in the game, he might as well be standing for any talented young person trying to break into a creative field. Directors, writers, actors spend years trying to get a low budget off the ground, and if that movie breaks through in any noticeable way, the reward is being hired by a big corporation to write/star/direct their latest franchise entry. Independent voices such as Ryan Coogler, Chloe Zhao, Alex Ross Perry, even Argentinian arthouse staple Lucrecia Martel have gone through this process in one way or another. Is Disney’s plan to soak every talented person into its orbit? Is the ability to spend as much money as they can to attract talent what will allow to build a monopoly on culture. Here’s a once ridiculous question that now seems only appropriate: What would pop culture look like in a world where everybody works for Disney?

What makes this real life scenario different from the movie is that there is no ragtag group of circus performers that can save us. There is no Colin Farrell here to lead the charge. How could there be, when we don’t have to take on one bad individual, but an enormous conglomerate who nobody can escape. Because nobody can resits Disney. Not the artist who is presented with a massive, once-in-a-lifetime paycheck. Not the children who are advertised to from the minute they are born. Not the adults who grew up with Disney movies and have a visceral reaction when they hear the opening notes of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”, or “Circle of Life”, or the Star Wars theme. How do you fight that?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for a while. Earlier this year I took inspiration from Alternate Ending editor Tim Brayton and decided that, like him, I will no longer go to see any Disney movie on its opening weekend. But what will that measly moral stance do other than make me feel a little better about my choices? Why does cutting Disney from my media diet feel as if I was becoming a Vegan (something I would never do)? How has a company been so effective at commodifying our pleasure, at owning our childhood, at selling it back to us? Why, if I understand that Dumbo’s anti-capitalist message is absolutely hollow, do I still find the little elephant so damn cute? Why do I get excited when I hear “Casey Junior” and “Baby Mine” on the soundtrack?

I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing to do. I will continue with my “no opening weekend” rule, but Disney cannot be stopped. I do not know what a world in which culture is monopolized by one company will look like, but I am now convinced we’ll find out sooner rather than later.

On Endings, Expectations, and ‘Us’

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This weekend Us opened to an outstanding 70 million dollars at the North American box office. Those numbers make it the biggest opening ever for an original horror movie. And yet, despite its commercial success, the movie seems to be regarded -by critics and audiences- mostly as a step down for writer-director Jordan Peele, whose previous movie was Get Out. Walking out of the movie theatre this weekend, I overheard quite a few variations on “I didn’t get it”, “I’m confused” and “What was that?” The cultural impact of Get Out would be impossibly hard to follow-up no matter what -expectation are just too damn high. However, the response to Us –which I think is a great movie- has me wondering about what we consider to be a good movie. Or rather, about the conventions that we have accepted to be the signifiers of a good movie.

The biggest difference between Get Out and Us comes at the end. For most of its running time, Us works beautifully as a horror movie. It focuses on a family (led by the incredible Lupita Nyong’o) whose beach vacation is ruined when they find themselves haunted by mysterious monsters that look just like them. It’s an intriguing set-up made all the more enjoyable by Peele’s abilities as an artist. He proves in just two movies, that he has a talent for balancing nerve-racking suspense with hilarious satire. Us moves from one horrifying set-piece to another with an ease that recalls the masters of horror filmmaking. It isn’t until the third act of the movie, when we start to get a sense of what the hell is going on with these “clones” that the audience starts to get disappointed.

Exactly the opposite was the case in Get Out, which deliberately uses its third act to explain the intricacies of its plot in detail. The answers at the end of that movie make everything clearer, validating the main character’s suspicions that he shouldn’t trust his white girlfriend’s family. In Us, however, things don’t become clearer. It’s not that the movie doesn’t make sense (if you’ve seen the movie and want some analysis of its themes, I recommend this article), but rather that the final minutes of the movie totally re-contextualize the previous two hours. Some might think of it as a cheap last-minute twist, but it is so much more than that. It confronts us with the way we were reading the movie, so much so that my initial reaction was of absolute rejection. “No, this movie was supposed to be this one thing, it can’t all of a sudden be this other thing.” But I thought about what I had just seen, and not long after my wife and I were exchanging theories of what it all meant.

I think of my immediate guttural reaction, and the comments I heard coming from the audience around me and I wonder if those people will have similar conversations as the one I had with my wife after the movie. Worrying about how other people will react to a piece of art -let alone a piece of art you are not directly involved with- is a futile exercise. There’s just no way of knowing. But one of the things that I loved so much about Us was how open it was to interpretation, how it forced me to consider the way I felt watching the movie and try to understand first, why I felt that way, and second, what those feelings mean in the context of the movie. However, in order to do that, I had to trust that Jordan Peele knew what he was doing, that me feeling uncomfortable wasn’t a failure of filmmaking, but part of the experience. I had to give him the benefit of the doubt… And that’s what I worry about.

* * *

Not long ago, after a performance of the play Noura, a man complained that what he had just seen “wasn’t a real play.” What was this man trying to say? A little context: Noura is a play written by Iraqi-American playwright Heather Raffo, and loosely based on Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. In case you weren’t a theatre major, Ibsen was a pioneer of naturalist theatre in the nineteenth century. A Doll’s House was a particularly controversial work because it ended with a woman -Nora- deciding to leave her husband and children. Noura recasts the main role of Ibsen’s play as a woman caught between her Iraqi past and her American present, and it also ends in a somewhat controversial note. Not because it goes against any norms of decorum, but against narrative norms.

As it is nearing what we would usually understand as its dramatic climax, Noura ends abruptly. I think you know where I’m going with this. It’s a purposely frustrating ending, one that -to me- emphasizes the fact that the author’s priorities are not in the plot, that what Raffo wants to communicate with her play is not tied up to a resolution. What exactly she is interested in -character, ideas, theme- could be debated, but categorizing the ending as a mistake rather than a deliberate choice is an incredibly narrow-minded decision. I wonder what the man who thinks the lack of resolution makes Noura “not a real play” would think of Us. 

Is that all we want out of our stories? A satisfying ending? If you’ve ever taken a writing class or read a screenwriting book you’ll know what I’m talking about. There’s the inciting incident, then the twists and turns, and finally you pay it all off in the big finale. It’s a formula that has been developed over centuries and found its ubiquity thanks to the enormous influence of Hollywood. Film technology, which allows for movies to be exported without major alterations, made Hollywood movies into a world-wide phenomenon. The influence was immense. Practically all of the renowned international auteurs either take their cues from Hollywood, or purposefully try to go against its conventions. Akira Kurosawa, the French New Wave, Spaghetti Westerns… they all exist in relationship to Hollywood.

But just because we have this is the most popular way of telling stories does it mean it is the right way. We have accepted the dramatic structure presented to us by Hollywood (and its predecessors) as a gospel truth when maybe it isn’t. The idea of inciting incident, rising action and climax is most closely associated with 19th-Century theorist Gustav Freytag, who explained the structure of Greek and Shakespearean theatre by illustrating it as a pyramid:

Freytags_pyramid

Now here’s a caveat: this illustration isn’t perfect, since it makes it seem as if the “Climax” came in the middle of the structure, which is not true of most dramatic arts, and certainly not true in Hollywood storytelling, where the climax comes pretty close to the end. In any case, Freytag’s pyramid has been extremely influential in the way we have developed play- and screenwriting; so much so that a lot of us forget that this structure is not a requirement. In fact, this structure has its limitations. For example, playwright Sarah Ruhl observed that the trajectory of Freytag’s pyramid closely resembles that of the male orgasm.

This pyramid was created in a specific context, accepting it as the only viable dramatic structure is limiting our view of dramatic storytelling tremendously. Sure, it’s nice when the latest superhero blockbuster stars a person of color, or a woman, but there is a difference between playing ball within the parameters that have been established, and to truly subvert expectations. Let’s remember, movies will evolve. They’re only been around for about a hundred years (a minuscule amount of time compared to plays, music, poetry). What we are living through is not the logical end of filmmaking, it is barely its “classical period.” Youtube, Snapchat and whatever comes after them will shape the future of filmmaking. Nobody knows what a movie will look like in a hundred years, but how disappointing would it be if they looked just like they do today? I hope that as more people (with backgrounds and identities) get to make more movies, they will bring new ideas of what a movie can be.

Considering where this conversation has gone, the twist at the end of Us seems incredibly traditional. But if this is how we react to something that differs even slightly from the norm, then what hope is there for the future? The possibilities are endless, so why temper them with a restrictive pyramid?

2019 Movie Preview

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Awards season is finally done. There is a lot to celebrate (Spike! Olivia! Regina!), but it was one of the most punishing seasons I can remember, culminating in an embarrassing Best Picture win for Green Book. What better time, then, to look toward the new year, full of new movies and endless possibilities! I know the cycle will repeat itself, and I will be tired of the conversation that will develop around all these movies by the time we hit 2020, but for now, these represent the promise of stimulating, exciting cinema to be enjoyed in 2019.

The Movies I’m Most Excited For:

Us (opens March 22) – How could you not be excited for Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out, one of the most exciting studio releases of the last ten years? This one finds Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke facing off against evil copies of themselves, or something like that. The trailer was almost identical to the Get Out trailer, but I trust that’s just the marketing machine and Oscar-winning Peele has the clout and vision to do something wholly unique with his second movie.

Her Smell (opens April 12) – I find Alex Ross Perry to be a very exciting director, and I absolutely love Elisabeth Moss. Word out of last year’s New York Film Festival (where the movie premiered) is that this movie is a career height for both of them. Moss plays an unravelling rockstar, which sounds right up my alley.

John Wick: Chapter 3 (opens May 17) – The John Wick trilogy comes to a close? If you remember, the second movie ended with John Wick on the run from literally every assassin in the world, so expect this to be a action-packed extravaganza. We are here for legend Keanu Reeves, of course, but check out this cast: Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Jason Mantzoukas, Laurence Fishburne, Anjelica Huston, and Mark Dacascos a.k.a. the Chairman from Iron Chef America!

Ad Astra (opens May 24) – The movie I’m most looking forward to was supposed to open at the end of last year before being pushed to May. James Gray, one of my favorite directors, follows up The Lost City of Z with a science fiction epic. If that weren’t enough, it stars three of our best actors: Brad Pitt, Ruth Negga, and Tommy Lee Jones.

Little Women (opens December 25) – Greta Gerwig follows the success of her delightful Lady Bird with an adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott classic. I’ll be very interested to see Gerwig work in a period setting -and with a literary adaptation to boot. The cast includes Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pough, Timothee Chalamet, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep.

Dolor y Gloria (release date TBD) – It’s been a while since Pedro Almodóvar made a true masterpiece. We are hoping this movie, which reunites the director with Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas -both of whom became big stars thanks to their roles in Almodovar movies- will prove to be one of his best. The Spanish release of the movie is set for March, so I expect it to play Cannes in the spring and open in the U.S. sometime in the Fall.

Uncut Gems (release date TBD) – The Safdie brothers, responsible for Good Time, follow up that incredible movie with a story set in New York’s diamond district. Adam Sandler plays the lead character, a jeweler with a gambling addictions, and is joined by Pom Klementiff, Lakeith Stanfield and The Weeknd. This will probably debut at Cannes, so I’m hoping for a late summer release, just like Good Time got.

Untitled Noah Baumbach Project (release date TBD) – This one is about a family dealing with divorce, which sounds about right for a Noah Baumbach project. I love Baumbach, however, and will see whatever he does next. The cast, which includes Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, and Laura Dern only makes me more excited.

The Lighthouse (release date TBD) – Robert Eggers, who debuted a couple years ago with The Witch, returns with a horror story starring Willem Dafoe as a lighthouse keeper. I don’t know about you, but that description is enough to sell me on the movie.

The French Dispatch – Wes Anderson started filming his latest movie in the fall of last year. The plot of the movie is unknown, but it’s supposedly set in France after World War II. As usual, Anderson has assembled a cast full of stars, including Saoirse Ronan, Natalie Portman, Timothee Chalamet, Benicio Del Toro, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Lea Seydoux and, of course, Bill Murray. I love Anderson, but remains to be seen if the movie will be done in time to be released in 2019.

Deadwood (release date TBD) – Technically television, but Deadwood is one of the best tv series I have ever seen and it sadly got cancelled before created David Milch could properly put a bow on his masterpiece. More than ten years later, however, he will be able to tie loose ends in a television movie that will air on HBO sometime in the Spring. So if you’ve never seen this show, now is the time to catch up.

Detective Pikachu (opens May 10) – I’m not totally sure why Pikachu sounds like Ryan Reynolds, but I would be lying if I didn’t say the trailer to this movie speaks to my soul. Is my excitement the result of being relentlessly advertised to? A side-effect of being eight years old at the height of Pokemon fever? Or is it simply that Pikachu looks so damn cute? I don’t know the answer, I only know I’m going to watch the hell out of this.

Predicting the Oscar Winners 2018

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Best Picture

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

I’m choosing to believe this exhausting awards season can be redeemed. I am choosing to believe that Roma can become the first ever non English-language movie to win Best Picture. Because that would be awesome, and because that would move the Academy -and the conversation about film- forward instead of backward. That being said, I have this sinking feeling that that musical biopic directed by a sex offender might end up getting the award because people seem to love it for a bizarre reason I cannot comprehend. I am also hearing rumblings that Black Panther is getting a lot of love from voters. If Roma were to lose, I’d much rather it be to the one comic book movie whose win would actually mean something.
Will Win: Roma

Director

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

This one seems like a done deal for Cuarón. That the people running the campaign for Spike Lee, a legend in his own right, couldn’t make him the front-runner when no black director has ever won before is a little baffling, giving how much love there is for BlacKkKlansman. 
Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón

Actress in a Leading Role

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

Glenn Close has been nominated seven times and has never won, looks like it’s her time. Traditionally, I would wonder if anyone has even seen The Wife, but with a legend like Close, I don’t think it matters. People will vote for her even if they haven’t seen the movie. Now, I wonder, if people actually watch the thing and discover the movie’s a big pile of nothing… who would they vote for then? Maybe Olivia Colman has a shot?
Will Win: Glenn Close

Actor in a Leading Role

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

After five or so years of underwhelming choices, this has easily become my least favorite category. I wrote extensively about why. Let’s just say I don’t love any of these performances, and am shocked that Rami Malek’s toothy impression has been sweeping the circuit the way it has. 
Will Win: 
Rami Malek

Supporting Actress

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

This race has been wild. Regina King won the Globe, Emily Blunt (who obviously didn’t even get nominated) took the SAG, and Rachel Weisz took the BAFTA. It feels like it could go any which way, with King and Weisz the most likely winners and Marina de Tavira as a wild card. Weisz already has an Oscar, so I’m giving Regina the edge. Besides, who doesn’t want to give Regina King an Oscar? She’s just awesome.  
Will Win: 
Regina King

Supporting Actor

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

Ok, this is the category in which I’ve decided to go wild this year. Mahershala Ali has won practically every major award show, and a win for him seems like the least controversial way to reward Green Book, but he already won an Oscar a mere two years ago. It is incredibly hard to win two Oscars, especially in such close succession. That stat, and the sheer number of comments I’ve seen from industry people loving on Richard E. Grant makes me feel like an upset could be in the works. All signs point to Mahershala, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say Grant.
Will Win: Richard E. Grant

Original Screenplay

  • The Favourite (Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara)
  • First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
  • Green Book (Nick Vallelonga, Pater Farrelly)
  • Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)
  • Vice (Adam McKay)

This looks like a battle royale between Green Book and The Favourite. Given the controversy surrounding Green Book‘s Nick Vallenlonga’s islamophobic tweets that broke about a month ago, and just the general amount of (rightful) controversy that’s surrounded the movie since its release, I’m giving the edge to The Favourite –not to dismiss the fact that it is a far better screenplay.
Will Win: The Favourite

Adapted Screenplay

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel Coen, 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)

This looks like Spike Lee’s consolation prize when BlacKkKlansman doesn’t win either Director or Best Picture and I’m going to be very happy if that’s the case. Spike is a legend, he should have an Oscar on his mantle.
Will Win: BlacKkKlansman

Animated Film

  • Incredibles 2
  • Isle of Dogs
  • Mirai
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet
  • Spider-Man: into the Spider-Verse

This looks pretty much like a done deal, and I’m quite happy about it. That yet another Spider-Man movie could bring something truly fresh and exciting to the world of animation is a very deserving accomplishment.
Will Win: Spider-Man: into the Spider-Verse

Foreign Film

  • Capernaum (Lebanon)
  • Cold War (Poland)
  • Never Look Away (Germany)
  • Roma (Mexico)
  • Shoplifters (Japan)

Roma might win Best Picture, so it surely will win this in a cakewalk, right? I mean, the last three times a movie has been nominated in both categories, it has always won. I don’t see a reason for that trend to stop now.
Will Win: Roma

Documentary Feature

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

Here is where I stump for Minding the Gap, one of my favorite movies of last year, about a group of skater kids trying to break free from the cycle of abuse in their family history. It’s a wonderful movie, that you can see right now on Hulu, but the kind of thing that rarely wins over flashier documentaries. Speaking of which, you don’t get much flashier than a dude climbing a mountain with no protection whatsoever. No, not Tom Cruise. It’s the real-life subject of Free Solo, your likely winner.
Will Win: Free Solo

Cinematography

  • Cold War (Lukasz Zal)
  • The Favourite (Robbie Ryan)
  • Never Look Away (Caleb Deschanel)
  • Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)
  • A Star is Born (Matthew Libatique)

Two black and white foreign language movies duking out an Oscar win in 2019? Not that unlikely when you realize the Cinematography branch loves to throw a bone to almost any movie that uses black and white (who could forget the ground-breaking Oscar-nominated cinematography of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska?). Cold War won the Cinematographer’s Guild award, but Roma is an obvious titanic achievement. I think the Best Picture nominee gets the edge.
Will Win: Roma

Costume Design

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Mary Zophres)
  • Black Panther (Ruth E. Carter)
  • The Favourite (Sandy Powell)
  • Mary Poppins Returns (Sandy Powell)
  • Mary Queen of Scots (Alexandra Byrne)

There is no one I’m rooting for more strongly than for Ruth Carter. The Black Panther costumes are absolutely incredible, and she is particularly deserving after such a long and excellent career. But then you have Sandy Powell, who is a powerhouse in this category -and one of the most influential living costume designers- doing great period work -which the Academy loves- in The Favourite. Sandy is a legend, but I’m pulling for Ruth. I just don’t want to jinx it.
Will Win: The Favourite

Film Editing

  • BlacKkKlansman (Barry Alexander Brown)
  • Bohemian Rhapsody (John Ottman)
  • The Favourite
  • Green Book 
  • Vice (Hank Corwin)

This category has been a mess all season. With no clear front-runner in sight, it could really go to any of the nominees. This could be a win for BlacKkKlansman, which is definitely a beloved movie. Vice strikes me as the most “flashy” editing in the category, and a very possible winnerAt the end of the day, though, I have the feeling that Bohemian Rhapsody‘s troubled production history and commercial success could be seen as a feat of editing, as if John Ottman had stitched a severed corpse back together. The result was a horrendous Frankenstein monster, but I guess it’s the thought that counts.
Will Win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Makeup and Hair

  • Border
  • Mary Queen of Scots
  • Vice

Probably the easiest category to call this year. Being the only of the three nominees to be nominated for Best Picture gives Vice the immediate edge. And while we’re in the topic: why is this still the only category to not have five nominees? It’s not like makeup isn’t a part of every single movie ever made.
Will Win: Vice

Original Score

  • BlacKkKlansman (Terence Blanchard)
  • Black Panther (Ludwig Göransson)
  • If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)
  • Isle of Dogs (Alexandre Desplat)
  • Mary Poppins Returns (Marc Shaiman)

My logic here is that anyone who actually watched If Beale Street Could Talk will require less than three minutes to determine that it deserves to win this award. The question is how many people will have seen it. Black Panther could get this one. As could BlacKkKlansman, which would be great since it would mean a win for the great Terence Blanchard on his first nomination after decades of great work.
Will Win: If Beale Street Could Talk

Original Song

  • “All the Stars” (Black Panther)
  • “I’ll Fight” (RBG)
  • “The Place Where Lost Things Go” (Mary Poppins Returns)
  • “Shallow” (A Star is Born)
  • “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs)

“Shallow” is the obvious win, although A Star is Born has underperformed so consistently this season that I’ve heard some people suggest the Black Panther song might win instead. But that just seems a little too rude to actually happen.
Will Win: “Shallow”

Production Design

  • Black Panther (Hannah Beachler)
  • The Favourite (Fiona Crombie)
  • First Man (Nathan Crowley)
  • Mary Poppins Returns (John Myhre)
  • Roma (Eugenio Caballero)

I don’t know what the hell is going on in this category. The Favourite is period costumes which tend to to do well, Hannah Beachler could become the first African American to win in this category if Black Panther has enough support, and I’m thinking I’m just going to go with Roma on the hunch that Cinematography and Production Design often go together at the Oscars.
Will Win: Roma

Sound Mixing

  • Black Panther 
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • First Man
  • Roma 
  • A Star is Born

Traditionally, this category loves musicals. Yes, La La Land mysteriously didn’t win this category a couple years ago, and you have two musicals competing against each other. But the way in which Bohemian Rhapsody has been embraced while A Star is Born has pretty much bit the dust at every awards show presents a clear front-runner here. Besides, the reason people like Bohemian Rhapsody is because they like Queen’s music, so…
Will Win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Sound Editing

  • Black Panther
  • Bohemian Rhapsody 
  • First Man
  • A Quiet Place
  • Roma 

This is another category that could go any which way. First Man is the most obvious “sound effects” achievement, in the way the rattling and cracking of the spaceships are used to create tension, but this award is voted for by the whole Academy not just sound people, and First Man isn’t particularly beloved. That’s why I’m leaning toward Black Panther, because it has to win something, doesn’t it?
Will Win: Black Panther

Visual Effects

  • Avengers: Infinity War 
  • Christopher Robin
  • First Man
  • Ready Player One 
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story 

Now this is the category that I expected to be Black Panther’s consolation prize, and it wasn’t even nominated. Had it win, it would’ve won this in a cakewalk, since movies nominated for Best Picture have a big advantage here. They benefit from having a little more prestige than your standard effects-heavy fair. That’s why I’m thinking the Avengers, despite having the most effects, will probably lose to First Man, on account that the latter was probably closer to a Best Picture nomination than the former. 
Will Win: 
First Man

Animated Short

  • Animal Behavior
  • Bao
  • Late Afternoon
  • One Small Step
  • Weekends

Ever since this category opened up the voting to the Academy as a whole and not just a selected group, Pixar and Disney shorts have done much better than they used to. Bao screened in front of Incredibles 2, and generated a lot of talk. Not everyone was into it, but it had people talking, and it will definitely be the short most people will have seen. Watch out for Late Afternoon, though, the most emotional of the shorts whose soft and clean aesthetic might stand out in this crop.
Will Win: Bao

Documentary Short

  • Black Sheep
  • End Game
  • Lifeboat
  • A Night in the Garden
  • Period. End of Sentence. 

A Night at the Garden is a very short chilling documentary made up of footage of a Nazi rally that took place at Madison Square Garden in 1939The topicality of Nazis in America might be enough to give it the win, but it being so short (only 7 minutes) might be a disadvantage ( (you can watch it right now on Vimeo). I think the most likely winner is, then, Period. End of Sentence, about an Indian village in which women empower themselves by making their own sanitary pads, which is the one I’ve heard most people talk about (perhaps because Netflix is behind it, and you can watch it there right now as well).
Will Win: Period. End of Sentence. 

Live Action Short

  • Detainment
  • Fauve
  • Marguerite
  • Mother
  • Skin

I was thinking this was going to be the year I finally watch the live action shorts, and then I learned they were all about dead children. I’m going with the one that seems to have the least amount of dead children.
Will Win: Marguerite 

Predicting the Oscar Nominations, 2018

roma oscar predix

There is little for me to say other than here are my predictions. In many ways this feels like an unpredictable year, so here’s hoping that results in good choices and not in a horrible mess.

Best Picture

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

God help me with this ridiculous list of nominees. The fact that Black Panther seems like the most likely of these movies to be left out while Bohemian Rhapsody looks pretty much locked up should tell you everything about how unpredictable and disappointing this Awards Season has been. There can be anywhere from five to ten nominees, I’m predicting the eight above, although I sense If Beale Street Could Talk lingering as a possible ninth.

Director

  • Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born)
  • Alfonso Caurón (Roma)
  • Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
  • Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
  • Adam McKay (Vice)

Most awards-giving bodies have included Peter Farrelly, director of Green Book. The one thing keeping me from surrendering to that cruel reality is the fact that the Academy’s Directors Branch tends to be more high-brow than other groups. I am counting on them seeing through the unremarkable direction of that movie (or on thinking about Farrelly’s past exposures) and favor something a little more idiosyncratic. Last year, for example, they ignored Martin McDonagh’s messy work in Three Billboards in favor of Paul Thomas Anderson’s immaculate Phantom Thread. Of all the arthouse alternatives, I think the most likely is Lanthimos’s unusual period take for The Favourite. 

Actress in a Leading Role

  • Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
  • Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns)
  • Glenn Close (The Wife)
  • Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
  • Lady Gaga (A Star is Born)

This is s tight category. Close, Colman, and Gaga are the locks. Yalitza Aparicio was campaigning really hard, appearing on the magazine covers and taking pictures with all the celebrities right as Roma was solidifying front-runner status, so I think she’s going to make it in. My big gamble here is suggesting that Emily Blunt can get in for a deflated Mary Poppins over Melissa McCarthy, who’s been nominated everywhere for Can You Ever Forgive Me? I’m just taking a chance.

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Christian Bale (Vice)
  • Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born)
  • Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)
  • Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
  • Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

I am thinking the overwhelming amount of critics awards won by Ethan Hawke will be enough to help him squeak into this category, which would sadly leave John David Washington from BlacKkKlansman out of the picture.

Supporting Actress

  • Amy Adams (Vice)
  • Claire Foy (First Man)
  • Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
  • Emma Stone (The Favourite)
  • Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Regina King has had a wild season. Perceived as the front-runner, she won practically all critics awards before not even being nominated at either the SAG Awards or the BAFTAs. She did manage to win that Golden Globe, which gives me hope that she’ll be able to make the finalists list (and possibly) go on to a win. We shall see.

Supporting Actor

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

The one notable omission from my predictions is Timothee Chalamet, who received Golden Globe, SAG, and BAFTA nominations for his work on Beautiful Boy. That being said, who the hell is talking about Beautiful Boy? Actors can get nominated for movies that are unlikely to show up in any other categories, but those people are usually big movie stars like Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep. Chalamet is a rising talent, but is he famous enough to pull this off?

Original Screenplay

  • Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham)
  • The Favourite (Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara)
  • First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
  • Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)
  • Vice (Adam McKay)

I’m taking a gamble here, probably foolishly, by keeping Green Book out of my predictions. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, perhaps it’s the sense that the writers branch is one of the more high-brow constituents in the Academy, and the kind of people who might take into account past anti-Muslim tweets from one of the movie’s screenwriters.

Adapted Screenplay

  • BlacKkKlansman (Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee)
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty)
  • The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin, David Schneider)
  • If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)
  • A Star is Born (Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters)

The only bold thing about this prediction is The Death of Stalin, which lest you remember was co-written and directed by Armando Iannucci, creator of the very popular Veep, who got a surprise nomination in this category for In the Loop ten years ago. I think if he could make it then, he can make it now.

Animated Film

  • Incredibles 2
  • Isle of Dogs
  • Mirai
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet
  • Spider-Man: into the Spider-Verse

I know it’s the front-runner at this point, but I wouldn’t be totally surprised if the incredible Spider-Man is left out. This category is notoriously resistant to pre-existing material. The Simpsons Movie and The LEGO Movie both didn’t get in. Still, Spider-Man has been winning so many awards that I think it will get in, and I’m crossing my fingers it’ll make it to finish line as a winner.

Foreign Film

  • Birds of Passage (Colombia)
  • Capernaum (Lebanon)
  • Cold War (Poland)
  • Roma (Mexico)
  • Shoplifters (Japan)

The Academy has released its shortlist of nine movies which are still in this race. Roma seems like the obvious front-runner here, since it’s a rare foreign-language Best Picture contender. Cold War and Shoplifters have been talked a lot about this season, so I think they’re save. The other two spots… it could be anyone’s game.

Documentary Feature

  • Free Solo
  • Minding the Gap
  • Shirkers
  • Three Identical Strangers 
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor? 

Again, the Academy released a shortlist, this is just a list of that I believe strikes a balance between documentaries that were critically acclaimed, and documentaries that were popular this year.

Cinematography

  • Cold War (Lukasz Zal)
  • The Favourite (Robbie Ryan)
  • First Man (Linus Sandgren)
  • Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)
  • A Star is Born (Matthew Libatique)

This is the exact same line-up as the American Society of Cinematography Awards, and seems quite likely for the Oscars. If anything was going to surprise, I think it would be If Beale Street Could Talk with its unique and bold use of color, but that movie hasn’t gotten the warmest response from award-giving bodies.

Costume Design

  • Black Panther (Ruth E. Carter)
  • Bohemian Rhapsody (Julian Day)
  • The Favourite (Sandy Powell)
  • Mary Poppins Returns (Sandy Powell)
  • Mary Queen of Scots (Alexandra Byrne)

Flashy costumes tend to do well in this category. Sandy Powell has been nominated twice in the same year before, and with stellar work in The Favourite and Mary Poppins Returns, is likely to double-dip again.

Film Editing

  • BlacKkKlansman (Barry Alexander Brown)
  • First Man (Tom Cross)
  • Roma (Alfonso Cuarón & Adam Gough)
  • A Star is Born (Jay Cassidy)
  • Vice (Hank Corwin)

I don’t feel at all confident with this category. I get the sneaking suspicion that Bohemian Rhapsody could sneak into this group, I just don’t know at the expense of which movie it would make its dire entrance.

Makeup and Hair

  • Border
  • Suspiria
  • Vice

This category was also narrowed down to a shortlist of only seven nominees. I just have to say it’s frustrating we only get three nominees this category while we get five in everything else. Every single movie in the world uses makeup and hairstyling. There is absolutely no reason why only three movies should get nominated! That being said, I went with my gut here, since the Academny’s Makeup branch is notorious for throwing out crazy nominations (remember, Suicide Squad won this award a couple years ago).

Original Score

  • BlacKkKlansman (Terence Blanchard)
  • Black Panther (Ludwig Göransson)
  • First Man (Justin Hurwitz)
  • If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)
  • Isle of Dogs (Alexandre Desplat)

The big gamble here is leaving Mary Poppins Returns out of the nominees. It’s not a prediction I feel incredibly confident about, but the movies listed above all have great scores and I’m thinking voters might leave Mary to compete in the Original Song category instead.

Original Song

  • “All the Stars” (Black Panther)
  • “I’ll Fight” (RBG)
  • “The Place Where Lost Things Go” (Mary Poppins Returns)
  • “Shallow” (A Star is Born)
  • “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” (Mary Poppins Returns)

Mary Poppins Returns has lost quite a bit of steam in the last couple weeks, but it should still be able to get a couple of songs nominated the way Disney musicals tend to do. There tends to be a documentary song nominated every year, and the RBG one seems like the most likely candidate.

Production Design

  • Black Panther (Hannah Beachler)
  • The Favourite (Fiona Crombie)
  • First Man (Nathan Crowley)
  • Mary Poppins Returns (John Myhre)
  • Roma (Eugenio Caballero)

Roma might seem like the most unusual of the nominees here, until you realize that the movie’s production required the building of sets that replicated Mexico City in the early seventies and spanned multiple blocks.

Sound Mixing

  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • First Man
  • A Quiet Place
  • Roma 
  • A Star is Born

This seems like a pretty safe list to me. A couple weeks ago I started to think two musicals would make this line-up, but was thinking they would be A Star is Born and Mary Poppins Returns. Since then, Bohemian Rhapsody started its reign of terror, and it now seems like an inevitability -especially since what people seem to like most about this movie is its musical sequences.

Sound Editing

  • Black Panther
  • First Man
  • A Quiet Place
  • Ready Player One 
  • Roma 

Usually this category overlaps four out of five with Sound Mixing. Musicals don’t tend to do as well here as they do in the Sound Mixing, so I’m thinking the Academy will replace Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born with effects-heavy blockbusters, which are the bread and butter of this category.

Visual Effects

  • Avengers: Infinity War 
  • Black Panther
  • First Man
  • Ready Player One 
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story 

This is the last category in which the Academy narrowed things down to a shortlist of ten candidates. The five I predicted just seem like the most “respectable” mix of movies with the most visual effects in them.