Are the Grammys that Bad? Let’s Look at All the “Record of the Year” Winners

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The Grammys are the black sheep of award shows. The televised broadcast is usually kind of fun because you get a lot of musical performances, but as far as the awards are concern, we only really hear about the Grammys when people are upset about the results (like when Macklemore beat Kendrick Lamar for Best Rap Album). So, yes, there is no doubt the Grammys do not award the most sophisticated or avant-garde musical acts, but are they really that bad?

I am one of those people who finds a lot of pleasure in a lot of “silly” pop music. I am the kind of monster who prefers to listen to Taylor Swift than Radiohead, so if anyone is going to able to defend the Grammys, it’s me. But can I defend them? The only logical way in which that question can be answered is if I go through all the winners for the “Record of the Year” Grammy (arguably the most important Grammy other than Album of the Year) and see how good they are. And that’s exactly what I’ve done below.

1959 – Domenico Modugno for “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)
I have a special soft-spot for this song because of a parody song a high school friend of mine used to sing in which he would replace the word “volare” with a ridiculous nickname he had given me. It was incredibly stupid, but also very endearing, especially because nobody ever called me by that nickname except him.
Was it a good choice though? Nobody can say this song hasn’t endured since it won the Grammy, because it plays every time a t.v. or movie character rides a Vespa through the streets of Rome.

1960 – Bobby Darin for “Mack the Knife
Originally written for Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, this song has had a long life as a jazz standard and it’s easy to see why. It’s a fucking good song. And if you haven’t, I recommend you check out the Ruben Blades’ “Pedro Navaja”, a salsa song inspired by “Mack the Knife”.
Was it a good choice though? I mean, it’s not the Ella Fitzgerald version, but the Grammys have always been milk-toast. It’s a pretty good choice if you ask me, especially when you take a listen to the songs nominated against it.

1961 – Percy Faith for “Theme from A Summer Place
As you can probably tell already this is a song written for the movie A Summer Place, which is about two teenage lovers from different class backgrounds who meet years later and must deal with the love affair of their own teenage children from a previous marriage. If that sounds like it came from a Wikipedia plot description is because it did.
Was it a good choice though? It’s understandable that this won given it was a huge hit at the time (and you definitely recognize the tune, no?), but the songs that lost to it include Ella’s version of “Mack the Knife” and Ray Charles’s “Georgia on My Mind”, so not really the best choice historically speaking.

1962 – Henry Mancini for “Moon River
Another song written for a movie, which is a common occurrence for most of Grammy history (as you’ll learn by reading this). This is, of course, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s an iconic movie that hasn’t aged that well thanks to its racism. It’s a really good movie if you can look past Mickey Rooney’s offensive Japanese character, but I won’t lie, it’s tough.
Was it a good choice though? Come on, who doesn’t love “Moon River”? This is totally deserving.

1963 – Tony Bennett for “I Left My Heart in San Francisco
Tony Bennett must have won a million Grammys. I’m pretty sure he wins one every time he puts out a new album singing his old classic, or every time he collaborates with Lady Gaga. 
Was it a good choice though? 
I love Tony Bennett as much as the next guy, but this is not my favorite of his.

1964 – Henry Mancini for “Days of Wine and Roses
From the movie Days of WIne and Roses. Like I said, it happens a lot.
Was it a good choice though? This is is no “Moon River”, Mancini.

1965 – Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz for “The Girl from Ipanema
I have a love-hate relationship with the Brazilian genre of bossa-nova, of which this is the most famous song. It’s the English version of the song that won the Grammy (even though Gilberto is Brazilian), but everyone will (rightly) tell you that any Portuguese version is vastly superior (there’s even a couple good Spanish versions of the song). 
Was it a good choice though? 
I mean, the first time you hear “The Girl from Ipanema”, you like it. It’s only after you hear it in twenty different hotel elevators and every time you are on hold with your cable company that you can’t stand it. It’s not he song’s fault. If anything, it’s become that ubiquitous because it is good. It did win this category by beating “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, so it’s questionable whether the win was deserved.

1966 – Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass for “A Taste of Honey
You might think you don’t know what this song is, but I guarantee you will recognize the minute you click on that Youtube link.
Was it a good choice though? I don’t know if this is one of those instrumentals that have grown quaint with time, or if it was quaint from the beginning. The most famous song nominated that year is “Yesterday” by the Beatles. I would rather listen to this song twenty times in a row than having to endure the mopey laments of “Yesterday”, so there’s that.

1967 – Frank Sinatra for “Strangers in the Night
It’s hard to believe it took Sinatra this long to win Record of the Year, but it was definitely serendipitous that the Grammys decided to honor him for this song.
Was it a good choice though? Yup. And I don’t want to hear from you if you don’t agree.

1968 – The 5th Dimension for “Up, Up & Away
The 5th Dimension is most well remembered for a different song that also won Record of the Year (more on that later). They were the first black act to win Record of the Year. Previous unsuccessful nominees included Sammy Davis Jr. as well as the aforementioned Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles, all of which would’ve made awesome winners.
Was it a good choice though? This is a song about a balloon or some shit, so no… Out of the nominees I would’v voted for Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid”, but Sinatra won the previous year, so it was probably not gonna happen.

1969 – Simon & Garfunkel for “Mrs. Robinson
Written, of course, for The Graduate.
Was it a good choice though? I love Simon & Garfunkel, so I’m probably not the most impartial person here, but I do really like this song.

1970 – The 5th Dimension for “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In
Thus, we get to the end of the sixties, and The 5th Dimension’s second (second!) win in this category… One can sum up the Grammys quite accurately by the fact that the closest thing to a rock n’ roll song to win the Grammy up to this point came from a hit Broadway show.
Was it a good choice though? Listen, the counterculture wouldn’t be the counterculture if it had been showered with golden statues. It’s probably for the best that The Velvet Underground didn’t win a Grammy. Also, this song is pretty dope.

1971 – Simon & Garfunkel for “Bridge Over Troubled Water
I already said I loved Simon & Garfunkel, right? Well, I loooove “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.
Was it a good choice though? Duh.

1972 – Carole King for “It’s Too Late
Carole King is obviously a queen, and Tapestry (which won album of the year) is one of the best albums ever recorded…
Was it a good choice though? …that being said, “It’s Too Late” is not my favorite song on the record. The James Taylor version of “Yo’ve Got a Friend” was also nominated, as well as the “Theme from Shaft“! I’m perfectly happy with Carole King winning, though I would have accepted some love for Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, which also came out that year.

1973 – Roberta Flack for “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face
About time some black people started to win the top Grammy award. It’s clear thus far that the Grammys are much more comfortable awarding tame and acceptable big hits instead of the revolutionary music that characterized much of mid-Century America and was produced, predominantly, by black musicians.
Was it a good choice though? The song was a huge hit at the time, and it fits so perfectly into the kind of ballad the Grammys love to give awards to. It’s not a bad song.

1974 – Roberta Flack for “Killing Me Softly With His Song
Roberta Flack had a number of big hits in the seventies, but she is mostly remembered for being the first musician ever to win Record of the Year two years in a row (wanna know who the other one is? Keep reading, I’m guarantee the answer will disappoint you). She is a good vocalist for sure, but I guess not quite iconic.
Was it a good choice though? This is a good song no matter how you slice it, even if I will always think of The Fugees version of the song as the definitive arrangement.

1975 – Olivia Newton-John for “I Honestly Love You
The Grammys were really into cheesy ballads during the seventies, and this is as cheesy and ballady as it gets.
Was it a good choice though? I like my Olivia Newton-John best when she’s in Xanadu mode being fun and campy, so I give this song a hard pass.

1976 – Captain & Tennille for “Love Will Keep Us Together
I was shocked to learn this song had won the Grammy for Record of the Year. It’s such a fun and bouncy song compared to the stuff they usually reward. It’s not the height of songwriting or anything, but it’s a damn fun song.
Was it a good choice though? It is if you look at the stuff it was nominated against. A much better choice than The Eagles or Barry Manilow.

1977 – George Benson for “This Masquerade
I did not know this song  until I listened to it for this blog post and let me tell you it’s giving me some major smooth seventies vibes.
Was it a good choice? Everybody knows the apex of smooth jams in the seventies is Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”, but I guess this is an o.k. replacement, especially because you can tell Benson is giving it his all.

1978 – The Eagles for “Hotel California
At this point saying you like The Eagles is most likely to lose you all your music cred. I must admit I enjoy quite a few Eagles songs, but not even I will defend “Hotel California”. As for this growing Eagles-hatred, we can debate how much it has to do with The Big Lebowski another time.
Was it a good choice though? Come on.

1979 – Billy Joel for “Just the Way Your Are
I must admit I have a soft-spot for Billy Joel, no matter how uncool that might make me sound (and no, I’m not from Long Island).
Was it a good choice though? This has never been my favorite Billy Joel song, though I like it. I do prefer Barry White’s version, which helps the song reach the sublime level of on-the-nose smoothness it needs to fully succeed.

1980 – The Doobie Brothers for “What a Fool Believes
Get out of town with this bullshit
Was it a good choice though? Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” lost to this garbage. I assume the tide had turned against disco by that point, but still. One of the best breakup songs ever recorded lost to the Doobie Brothers? That’s just criminal.

1981 – Christopher Cross for “Sailing
Christopher Cross has always struck me as a reasonably talented person whose success doesn’t make a lick of sense. How did this person ever become famous, and for singing romantic songs nonetheless? … Oh my God, Christopher Cross is the Ed Sheeran of his time!
Was it a good choice though? Soft-rock classic is nowhere near to actual classic. Out of this year’s nominees, if you wanted an awesomely cheesy ballad you could’ve gone with Bette Midler’s “The Rose”, and if you wanted something safe yet enduring you could’ve gone with Sinatra’s version of “New York, New York”.

1982 – Kim Carnes for “Bette Davis Eyes
I was surprised to learn this song actually won the Grammy. I was not aware it was as massive a hit as it actually was, though I’m certainly glad to learn that. I kind of love this song. There is something about Kim Carnes’ raspy voice and the sassy way in which she delivers the line “she’s ferocious”.
Was it a good choice though? I dig it, and it was definitely the best of the nominees.

1983 – Toto for “Rosanna
Listen, I can fuck with some Toto, but if you’re gonna go round handing out Record of the Year Grammys it better be for “Africa”.
Was it a good choice though? I cannot even begin to approach this question objectively knowing the wrong song from Toto IV won the Grammy.

1984 – Michael Jackson for “Beat It
You will not hear any trash-talking of Michael Jackson (as a musician) in this blog.
Was it a good choice though? I mean, you could make the case it should’ve been for “Billie Jean”, but there is no denying this song is a classic.

1985 – Tina Turner for “What’s Love Got to Do With It
For some reason I used to really hate this song back when I was a kid. Don’t worry, readers, time has taught me to appropriately appreciate this song.
Was it a good choice though? Sure.

1986 – USA for Africa for “We Are the World
It’s easy to understand why the Grammys would decide to award this song left and right, considering it was a way to award practically every artist working at the time and make an uncontroversial political statement.
Was it a good choice though? It’s fun to watch the video and try to pick up all the celebrities, but listen to the song on its own and you’ll probably get diabetes or something.

1987 – Steve Winwood for “Higher Love
Ok, someone who was alive in the eighties has to let me know if I’m completely crazy for kind of loving this song. What can I say? I like fun music!
Was it a good choice though? It was a good year for Record of the Year, in a very eighties kind of way. Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”, Whiney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All”, and Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” were all nominated. I still think Winwood is a fine choice.

1988 – Paul Simon for “Graceland
I know there are certain “problematic” things regarding the use of African music in Graceland, but I fucking love that album and I think it’s a masterpiece. That being said, the song “Graceland” doesn’t strike me as very unlike most of the songs that win Record of the year. I assume it was the swell of support for the album as a whole that got it the award.
Was it a good choice though? I mean, I love the album and I like the song. It’s a win in my book.

1989 – Bobby McFerrin for “Don’t Worry, Be Happy
How unlikely is it that this weird novelty song became a massive, massive hit? It’s a song that could’ve never been a hit at any other moment in the history of music. At least not a hit of this massive proportion. The sheer weirdness of the song is enough to prevent me from hating it, even though I couldn’t in good conscience put it in my ipod or anything.
Was it a good choice though? Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” was nominated that year so of course it’s a travesty that this won instead.

1990 – Bette Midler for “Wind Beneath My Wings
Yes, I am aware that Bette Midler isn’t the edgiest musician in the world. Are you aware, though, that this song rules?
Was it a good choice though? Listen, putting the appropriate amount of cheese on your ballad is not an easy thing to do, as Olivia Newton-John has proven to us already.

1991 – Phil Collins for “Another Day in Paradise
Speaking of cheesy bullshit…
Was it a good choice though? There are many instances in which I will defend Phil Collins. I’ll even defense the songs he wrote for Tarzan. But this is not one of those instances. This song fucking blows.

1992 – Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole for “Unforgettable
As far as I can tell, this is the song that kicks off a Grammy tradition of awarding artists posthumously, as Natalie remixed her late father’s recording of the song in order to be able to have a duet with him.
Was it a good choice though? “Unforgettable” is obviously a good song, but what exactly do we gain by awarding this particular version?

1993 – Eric Clapton for “Tears in Heaven
Nobody wants to be the jerk who tells Eric Clapton the song he wrote about his deceased child is too syrupy and it kinda sucks, so I won’t.
Was it a good choice though? In retrospect, it would’ve been shocking if the Grammy had resisted showering this song with awards. The other nominees weren’t particularly impressive, so I’ll allow it based purely on reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the song.

1994 – Whitney Houston for “I Will Always Love You
Of course I prefer the original Dolly Parton version, but what kind of heathen would make someone have to make such a choice. There is enough love in this world to recognize Houston’s vocal performance here is impeccable.
Was it a good choice though? People must’ve been sick of the song back then, but that key change though. Twenty years later, this win is a great choice.

1995 – Sheryl Crow for “All I Wanna Do
This was a weak year for Record of the Year, and thus, Sheryl Crow’s career was made. The woman has gotten a lot of Grammys since, and I have the feeling she wouldn’t have had the career she did without this big win so early in her career. Then again what do I know.
Was it a good choice though? It’s a fun song, but Record of the Year? I don’t know.

1996 – Seal for “Kiss from a Rose
Cheesy ballad alert! But performed by a man handsome and suave enough to remain incredibly cool despite making a career our of pretty cheesy ballads. Also, a man whose career didn’t suffer for being associated with the movie Batman Forever, which this song was written for.
Was it a good choice though? Do I like this song ironically or do I actually like it? I can never tell, which isn’t great but is better than a lot of these winners.

1997 – Eric Clapton for “Change the World
Another song written for a movie, most specifically the classic John Travolta vehicle Phenomenon. What? You’ve never heard of that movie? I wonder why…
Was it a good choice though? Hell no. This is the definition of boring dad rock.

1998 – Shawn Colvin for “Sunny Came Home
A song so synonymous with the nineties that I had never even heard of it. What even is this and why did it win Record of the Year?
Was it a good choice though? I guess we as a culture have decided to forget this song ever existed and I think it’s for the better.

1999 – Celine Dion for “My Heart Will Go On
Another song written for a movie, but not any movie. This song was written for motherfucking Titanic, which is awesome and I have no patience for anyone who will pretend otherwise so shut your faces.
Was it a good choice though? This is the type of fabulous song that makes you believe you can’t really have too much cheese.

2000 – Santana featuring Rob Thomas for “Smooth
Remember that moment in which we decided to suddenly care about Carlos Santana? I sweat it lasted a couple of years and then we forgot about him forever. At least he got a couple Grammy out of it. Who even is Rob Thomas?
Was it a good choice though? I am aware that people who lived through the time that “Smooth” was on the radio uniformly hate it. Who am I to disagree?

2001 – U2 for “Beautiful Day
The release of All That You Can’t Leave Behind has to be the moment in which U2 went from cool to uncool, right? People of the time, can you tell me if this assessment is correct? I know The Joshua Tree rules, but don’t know exactly when Bono and company got lost up their own assholes.
Was it a good choice though? Not a terrible song, especially by U2 standards.

2002 – U2 for “Walk On
Yup, U2 became the second act to win Record of the Year two years in a row. This is particularly upsetting because they won for a song that doesn’t exist.
Was it a good choice though? Didn’t you read what I just wrote? This song doesn’t even exist, how is it going to win a Grammy?

2003 – Norah Jones for “Don’t Know Why
I’m totally in the camp that doesn’t care that Norah Jones isn’t edgy or cool. I still love her, and sometimes I miss her and her music.
Was it a good choice though? The song didn’t capture the zeitgeist of 2002 in any way, but I guess Norah Jones became the zeitgeist when she won a gazillion Grammys.

2004 – Coldplay for “Clocks
I remember when this song was used in the trailer for that Peter Pan movie everyone has forgotten about but should go back and watch it because it’s actually a pretty good movie.
Was it a good choice though? This is the part of Coldplay’s career that someone could potentially defend as not being terrible, but this song beat “Hey Ya”, so it obviously did not deserve to win.

2005 – Ray Charles and Norah Jones for “Here We Go Again
This is the biggest and clearest example of the Grammys rewarding an artist posthumously. Most people weren’t even aware this song had come out when it got nominated, but considering the then recent death of Charles, the zeitgeist that built around it (including the movie Ray, which came out that same year), it became obvious fairly quickly this was gonna take home the award.
Was it a good choice though? Sentimental wins don’t always age well, and this isn’t a particularly exciting song. It’s quite pleasant, though, and nothing is particularly impressive about the other nominees either.

2006 – Green Day for “Boulevard of Broken Dreams
I was 13 at the time, so of course I was swept up by Green Day fever. I had a pair of underwear with the American Idiot logo on them. I never wore them because they were quite uncomfortable, but you get the point. This album was a huge deal for me, but by early 2006 I was completely over it and haven’t been able to fully embrace it ever since
Was it a good choice though? It’s come to the point where If I hear this song for some reason, I remember the good old days and say something like “oh right! This song!” So there’s that.

2007 – Dixie Chicks for “Not Ready to Make Nice
I love the Dixie Chicks, and I love them even more for talking shit about George W. Bush and then writing this unapologetic song about the whole fiasco that ensued.
Was it a good choice though? There are some really good songs in this line-up, but the Dixie Chicks are deserving no question

2008 – Amy Winehouse for “Rehab
It is really great that the Grammys got to celebrate Amy Winehouse in her prime, but there is something undoubtedly bittersweet about having done so for the song in which she sings about not going to rehab.
Was it a good choice though? I mean, what were we going to do? Not give her the Grammy? Amy Winehouse is the type of performer that only comes once in a generation.

2009 – Robert Plant and Alison Krauss for “Please Read the Letter
This is the moment in which the Grammys started to become truly ridiculous wanting to reward veterans in the top categories. I like Plant and Krauss as much as the next guy, but what even is this song?
Was it a good choice though? No. MIA’s “Paper Planes” was nominated that year, by the way.

2010 – Kings of Leon for “Use Somebody
The difference between Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the Grammys is Record awards the performers and producers of a song, while Song awards the songwriters. I mention this because how crazy would’ve been if Kings of Leon had won Song of the Year for a song that has basically ten words worth of lyrics? (They lost to Beyonce’s Single Ladies)
Was it a good choice though? Is it uncool to like Kings of Leon? Because I did, at least back then.

2011 – Lady Antebellum for “Need You Now
My girlfriend at the time watched the Grammy for the first time in 2011, and when Lady Antebellum won Record of the Year swore to never watch the Grammys again.
Was it a good choice though? Probably not.

2012 – Adele for “Rolling in the Deep
This is the year Adele conquered the world and took home a truckload of Grammys. It was a different time, and it was quite a moment.
Was it a good choice though? Absolutely.

2013 – Gotye featuring Kimbra for “Somebody That I Used to Know
I don’t know if I have the wrong impression, but this strikes me as a time in which the fact that a song was featured on Glee could turn the song into a big hit. I am also under the impression that is what happened to this song. I might be completely wrong. Still, isn’t it weird that this strange song became a huge hit?
Was it a good choice though? It definitely is if you think of the Grammys as a time capsule meant to capture a particular moment in music.

2014 – Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams for “Get Lucky
Talking about particular moments in music, in the future, whenever a t.v. show or movie is going to try to convey the year 2013, this is the song they’ll play.
Was it a good choice though? I get the feeling Daft Punk wishes they had known The Weeknd back then, but still, this is a brilliant song.

2015 – Sam Smith for “Stay With Me
Remember when that song “Latch” came out and we were all like watch out for this Sam Smith guy and then he released his own music and we realized how aggressively ok he was.
Was it a good choice though? Might as well have given this award to Blandy McBland.

2016 – Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars for “Uptown Funk
I understand that this song is derivative and kind of basic in many ways, but if you’ve ever danced to this song at a party you must’ve realized that it’s pretty damn effective at doing what it’s supposed to do.
Was it a good choice though? I’m fine with it, though I understand if you disagree.

2016 – ???
Who will win? My money’s on Adele’s “Hello”, and that would be fine. My personal favorite in the category is Rihanna’s “Work”. And while I appreciate and admire Beyonce’s “Formation”, I don’t think I fully *get* it as much as other songs on Lemonade, but that’s a story for a different time.

Something to Look Forward to: 2017 Movie Preview

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Not unlike the Chinese New Year, which does not start on January 1st but follows its own calendar, everyone knows that the Cinematic New Year does not start until after the Oscars (this year: Feb. 26). Still, the date is approaching, and thus, we begin to look forward to the wonderful movies that will keep our spirits up and help us gain strength to resist while America slowly drifts into a fascistic dystopia. So let’s forget about orange-tinged dictators for a second, and focus instead on the possible bright spots of our future.

The Five Movies I’m Most Excited For:

Wonderstruck If there is anything that is going to make me fight as hard as I can to outlive the apocalypse, it’s the reunion of Julianne Moore and director Todd Haynes. Haynes seems to be changing gears compared to his previous movies, choosing to tell a more family-friendly story from the point of view of two children. But lest you forget, this is the collaboration that gave us such classics as Safe and Far From Heaven. And I assume you don’t need a reminder that Haynes’s last movie suggests he might have reached miraculous levels as a filmmaker.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties – This movie was in my “most anticipated” list last year, but didn’t actually get released. It’s still undetermined when we will get to see this movie, but the release of the first official production photo (pictured above) gives me hope it will be sooner rather than later. I can’t wait to see what director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) does with source material written by Neil Gaiman, especially with a cast that includes Nicole Kidman and the ever-more-impressive Elle Fanning

The Killing of a Sacred Deer – I named The Lobster as my favorite movie of last year, so it only makes sense I’d be looking forward to whatever director Yorgos Lanthimos does next. He continues his collaboration with Colin Farrell, in a movie that includes personal favorites such as Nicole Kidman, Raffey Cassidy (who was great in Tomorrowland) and wait for it… Alicia Silverstone! I’m so ready for the Aliciassance. Not sure when this will make its way to U.S. cinemas, but a premiere at the Cannes Film Festival is very likely.

The Trip to Spain – What do the Before movies, Three Colors, and Toy Story have in common? They’re some of the best cinematic trilogies ever made, and soon, dueling impressionists Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon will have the chance to join that golden pantheon as they take their third culinary trip around Europe. The only reason I wouldn’t want this to be a perfect trilogy is so the series keeps going. There is no country on Earth I wouldn’t like to see Coogan and Brydon travel to as long as they bring their Michael Caine impression along for the ride.

The Beguiled – I’m a sucker for revisionist Westerns, so I couldn’t be more excited for this remake of a Clint Eastwood vehicle of the seventies which will be directed by none other than Sofia Coppola. A peculiar choice for sure, but one that has me super excited. Colin Farrell stars as a Union Soldier trapped in a Confederate girls’ boarding school. He will be joined by -listen to this- Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Angourie Rice (from The Nice Guys), and sure-to-be-2017-MVP Nicole Kidman. The movie comes out June 30 in the U.S. And here’s the trailer!

Five Holdovers from 2016 (That Will Be Released in 2017 and I’m Most Excited For)

The Lost City of Z – James Gray’s period adventure about explorers who venture into the Amazon premiered as the closing film of last year’s New York Film Festival, and I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. I am a big fan of Gray’s work (at least what I’ve seen of it), so I will definitely be there when the movie is released April 14.

Nocturama – I’ve been intrigued by this movie ever since I heard it focused on a young group of terrorists trying to stage an attack in Paris. It’s the type of daring subject matter that could go horribly in the wrong hands, but director Bertrand Bonello has proven himself capable of good stuff in the past (and reviews have been very interesting). It’s also the tricky subject matter that has kept the movie from getting a U.S. theatrical release. The way things are going, I don’t know if it ever will.

Personal Shopper – I wasn’t a huge fan of Clouds of Sils Maria (the last collaboration between director Olivier Assayas and star Kristen Stewart), but I’ve been wanting to jump into the Kristen Stewart bandwagon for a while now. Most of the film critics I respect have grown enamored by her, and if any movie is going to make me join them, I figure it’s gonna be this one. We’ll find out March 10.

Free Fire – This new movie by Ben Wheatley has the kind of simple premise that gets me excited, as it focuses on a meeting between two gangs that goes horribly wrong and turns into a deadly shoot-out inside a deserted warehouse. Not the stuff of high drama, sure, but bound to be a hell of a lot of fun. It comes out April 21.

Call Me By Your Name – Ok, I’m kind of cheating because this is a 2017 movie, but since it already premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, I’ve read enough reviews to get a good idea of it and know that I’m probably going to love it. The fact that director Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash) is behind the camera would be enough to get me to buy a ticket, but the glowing reviews from Sundance have me really excited.

Five Movies I Want to Be Good But I’m a Little Nervous About (You Know, Cautiously Optimistic)

Lady Bird – If the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig is anything like the movies she co-wrote with Noah Baumbach, then this will be one of the best movies of the year. This stars two great young actors in Saoirse Ronan and Lucas Hedges, but then again, I always get a little nervous when actors step behind the directing chair, even someone as talented and unique as Gerwig.

Coco – How could I not be excited by the fact that Pixar has finally decided to make a movie about my life? Ok, so it’s not really about me, but it’s an original story set in Mexico during Dia de los Muertos which should be a lot of fun. Pixar has been hit and miss lately, but the fact that this is an original story and not a sequel gives me a lot of hope. This comes out November 22.

Slice – The only reason this movie is not one of my five “most anticipated” is because it sounds too good to be true. From what I understand, this movie stars Chance the Rapper as a motorcycle-riding werewolf and is directed by Austin Vesely, who is responsible for “Sunday Candy“, one of the most beautiful music videos ever made. I’m trying to be cautious because if this isn’t the most awesome movie of the year, then I’ll be crushed.

Darkest Hour – I am a big fan of Joe Wright, even if Pan was a huge disappointment. He’s made some truly great movies in the past and I will defend them to death, but… I gotta be honest, this biopic about Winston Churchill doesn’t look too promising, especially based on that first picture of Gary Oldman covered in tons of makeup in order to look like Churchill. I’m still hoping for the best. It’s currently scheduled for November 24.

Get Out  Even if the directorial debut of Jordan Peele isn’t that great, it will surely be one of the most fascinating and ambitious movies of the year. A horror movie in which a black man is the tormented by the dark secrets of the (white) community of his girlfriend’s parents sounds like the kind of cinematic experiment that only comes once in a generation. It comes out on February 24.

La La Land’s Oscar Nominations Ranked From Most to Least Likely to Win

LLL d 41-42_6689.NEF

So, here’s the deal, La La Land got fourteen Oscar nominations last week (the most for any single movie, sharing the record with Titanic and All About Eve), which means it has the best chance in almost twenty years to break the record for the most Oscar wins by a single film. In order to do this, La La Land must win twelve Academy Awards. If it wins 11, it would still be one of the movies to win the most awards, but would have to share the record with three other movies: Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but honestly, where’s the fun in that?

So, what I’ve done is rank all fourteen of La La Land‘s nominations by their likelihood of winning, going from most likely to least likely to get an Oscar on February 26, trying to determine how likely it is that La La Land would be able to break the record.

Now, before we get into this, keep in mind that this ranking has nothing to do with my personal opinions about the quality of the movie La La Land, only with my assessment of how likely it is to triumph on Oscar night based on my experience studying the Oscars and other award shows. If you want to know my thoughts on La La Land, here’s my review. Otherwise, let’s get on with the show…

1. Sound Mixing
Musicals and music-related movies do extremely well in this category, especially musicals that are bout to win Best Picture. Similar winner in this category include Chicago, Ray, Dreamgirls, Les Miserables and Whiplash. I have the hardest time picturing any movie other than La La Land winning this category, which is ironic, since the sound mix has been one of the technical aspects of the film that has come into sharp criticism. I personally agree with those who think the mix was all out of whack and it was really hard to understand the lyrics (especially in the opening sequence), but I doubt Academy voters will care.
Likelihood of winning: extremely high

2. Original Score
This is, after all, an original musical. How crazy would it be for Oscar voters to love the movie in practically every category and not give it an award for its score? You can take this one to the bank.
Likelihood of winning: extremely high

3. Production Design
There is nothing particularly unbeatable about La La Land’s Production Design. This has more to do with the fact that none of the other nominees strike the balance of showy design and Best Picture front-runner that would be required to win. The closest to that is probably Arrival, but its design is so minimalist it probably doesn’t stand a chance.
Likelihood of winning: extremely high

4. Best Director
Even if there is a challenger to La La Land in the Best Picture category (and there’s not), director Damien Chazelle looks likely to prevail no matter what. And it makes sense, it is easy to see how anyone who loves the movie will see it as a triumph of a passionate director. It’s also the showiest and most technically impressive film in the category, which will surely help.
Likehood of winning: very high

5. Best Picture
I guess I can see a scenario in which the backlash starts to grow exponentially and a strong campaign allows for Moonlight or Hidden Figures to win, but who are we kidding? Oscar voters are in love with this movie.
Likelihood of winning: very high

6. Lead Actress: Emma Stone
Now that she’s won both the Golden Globe and the SAG Award, Stone is firmly on her way to winning an Oscar. Could she be stopped? The actresses most likely to challenge her with a “I’ve been nominated countless times and still haven’t won” type of strategy (a.k.a. Amy Adams and Annette Bening) didn’t even get nominated, Jackie‘s Natalie Portman is losing buzz, and a win for the wonderful Isabelle Huppert would be incredibly out of character for a group of people who like to avoid honoring foreign films as much as possible.
likelihood of winning: high

7. Editing
The last musical to win in this category was Chicago, and it was similarly a Best Picture front-runner. When you are going to win Best Picture, you most often than not also get the Editing award, so La La Land‘s chances here are good.
Likelihood of winning: high

8. Cinematography
Much like in the Director category, La La Land will benefit from being the “showiest” of the nominees. Complicated camerawork and the movie’s vision of Los Angeles as photographed during magic hour should be enough to win the Academy, who tends ot have a “more is more” mentality when it comes to the technical categories.
Likelihood of winning: high

9. Original Song: “City of Stars”
It only makes sense for La La Land to win the original song category, so why is it so relatively low in this list? Well, two reasons. The first is that two of La La Land‘s songs got nominated and could theoretically split the vote. The other is the fact that awards-magnet Lin-Manuel Miranda is also nominated in the category for his work in Moana. There is a bit of a push to get Miranda an Oscar as soon as possible, but Academy voters could as easily just wait until Hamilton is adapted into a movie, especially when they have their own pet project to shower with awards.
Likelihood of winning: more likely than not

10. Original Screenplay
This seemed like a likely place to give some love to Manchester by the Sea or even Hell or High Water, especially since people do not tend to single out the screenplay when talking about La La Land‘s virtues. Here’s a statistic for you, however: Every Best Picture winner has also won the Screenplay award for the past eleven years. Except for The Artist, but that was a silent film. Is a musical the same as a silent?
Likelihood of winning: more likely than not

11. Costume Design
La La Land‘s costumes are showy enough to take the award, but unlike other technical categories, this is one with some steep competition. I’m mostly thinking of Jackie, which isn’t nearly as beloved by the Academy, but does have the “historic lady” type of costumes that tend to win in this category. It falls in line with past winners such as Marie Antoinette, The Duchess, and The Young Victoria. I honestly could see either movie winning.
Likelihood of winning: toss-up

12. Sound Editing
Unlike in Sound Mixing, it’s extremely hard for musials to do well in Sound Editing (which used to be called Sound Effects Editing). In fact, not only has a musical never won this category, no musical has ever been nominated! (unless you count Aladdin, which maybe?). This is the technical category La La Land is most likely to lose (probably to a movie with lots of loud sound effects like Hacksaw Ridge), and yet, if voters get caught up in the sweep… there’s a clear possibility here.
Likelihood of winning: toss-up

13. Original Song: “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”
Doesn’t this song kind of sound like “The Rainbow Connection”? Anyway, the marketing team for the movie is clearly positioning “City of Stars” as the song they want to see win, so it’s be a big surprise if “Audition” wins. A win for Moana (and Lin-Manuel Miranda) is probably more likely than a win for this song.
Likelihood of winning: low

14. Lead Actor (Ryan Gosling)
The lead actor race has turned into a bit of a free-for-all, with Gosling winning the Golden Globe for Comedy or Musical, Casey Affleck winning the Globe for Drama, and Denzel Washington winning the SAG. Any of these three could win the Oscar, but while Gosling could benefit from a La La Land sweep, it’s super rare for male romantic leads to win Oscars. I’m afraid it’s most likely than one with the actors with the more dramatic parts will take home the gold. 
Likelihood of winning:
 low

In conclusion, La La Land is in a very good position to break that record.

Short(ish) Review: The Salesman

salesman

Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman opened in limited release on the same day President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order banning Muslims from a number of Middle Eastern countries from entering the United States of America, including Farhadi’s home country, Iran. Let me tell you, I do feel kind of conflicted about how I don’t seem to be able to write a review without mentioning this Douchebag-in-chief and his horrific policies lately, but I think it’s particularly relevant when writing about this movie. Trump’s unconstitutional -and completely ridiculous- ban of Muslims is fueled by the fear of people whose understanding of the Islam and the Muslim world is extremely limited.

The day after Trump signed his Executive Order, it was announced that Farhadi -who is nominated for the Oscar in the category of Foreign Language Film- would not be granted a visa to attend the ceremony. An extremely ironic turn of events, considering Farhadi’s movies represent a kind of complex, humane, and very sophisticated type of thinking that doesn’t simplify every conflict and demand a simple solution. Farhadi tries to understand the characters involved, their motivations, and reflect the reality that life can be messy and chaotic. His movies never forget that humanity is found in the struggle to understanding each other, no matter how hard. These movies are the absolute moral opposite of the Hollywood myth of absolute good versus absolute evil. They are everything in between. They are nuanced. You know, the opposite of everything Trump does.

The premise of a Farhadi movie always involves a series of coincidences that build up to a controversial occurrence which sparks a series of conflicted reactions by the people involved resulting in a complicated and messy situation. Here’s how this template applies to The Salesman: Our protagonists are Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), married actors who are performing in a production of Death of  Salesman. The movie opens with an earthquake, the damage of which forces the couple to temporarily move out of their apartment. One night, Emad comes back from work to find Rana has been attacked while she was taking a shower.

The details of how the attack came to pass are numerous and rather intricate. The identity of the previous tenant of the apartment, for example, comes into play. There are numerous other elements that factor into the story, and it’s not worth it to explain in detail when the movie does such a terrific job of keeping track of its own complicated plot. The important part is that this whole situation sends Emad and Rana’s marriage into a tailspin. The wife is suddenly afraid of being alone, and unsure of how to cope, while the husband can’t get over his own rage, and desire to find some sort of justice.

Justice, of course, doesn’t come. At least not cleanly. Every action brings another problem, another thing to keep in mind. In movies such as About Elly and A Separation, Farhadi proved himself as a masterful screenwriter, capable of turning polemics into intricate and unique puzzles, in which every piece falling in its place doesn’t necessarily reveal a concrete image. The puzzle is finished, but the image it forms is blurry. The Salesman is no exception. Its power comes not from seeing a righteous person act righteously, but from the not necessarily easy exercise of making peace with every character’s flawed humanity.

The Salesman is not my favorite Farhadi movie, but it’s typically strong work coming from a strong director. It will be valuable introduction for anyone who has never seen one of his movies before. If nothing else, I hope this whole visa controversy can help bring attention to the director’s work. Because sometimes it feels like if everyone had seen a Farhadi movie, with all its complications and complexities… Well, who knows? Maybe the world would be a better place.

Grade: 8 out of 10

The 2016 Oscar Nominations

hidden-figures

Dear reader, I have lots of thoughts. These nominations are giving me whiplash. So happy one second, so angry/disappointed the next.

But let’s get on with it, shall we?

Best Picture

  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water 
  • Hidden Figures
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Moonlight 

A very decent list. I’m saddened by the fact that I don’t outright “love” any of the nominated movies, although I think they’re all pretty solid… except for Hacksaw Ridge, that movie is garbage. But more of that in a second. The big story here (and of the nominations overall) is that La La Land got 14 (the most for any film sharing the record with Titanic and All About Eve), and is in a pretty good position to win the most Oscars ever won by a single film (it would have to win 12 to beat the record of 11 shared by Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King).
How I did in my predictions: 8 out of 9
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: La La Land

Director

  • Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
  • Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
  • Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
  • Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
  • Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Don’t want to go on a rant about how this is the kind of horse-shit that happens in Trump’s America or anything, but let’s think of the fact that Mel Gibson (Mel Gibson!) got nominated this morning. Worst part of it is, even putting aside the morality of nominating this man, his movie was a pile of garbage! Speaking of piles of garbage, I’m really happy Nocturnal Animals didn’t get in for either of these categories, as it seemed for a while like it might have.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Damien Chazelle

Lead Actor

  • Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
  • Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
  • Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
  • Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)
  • Denzel Washington (Fences)

I’ve spoken my piece about Captain Fantastic and how terrible it is, so I won’t say more. In a broader sense, this is the third year in a row in which we have a very boring and unimpressive Lead Actor category.
How I did in my predictions: 5 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Casey Affleck

Lead Actress

  • Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
  • Ruth Negga (Loving)
  • Natalie Portman (Jackie)
  • Emma Stone (La La Land)
  • Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

This is the category where the whiplash happens. Isabelle Huppert got nominated? I can’t believe it, amazing! Ruth Negga got nominated? I haven’t seen Loving yet, but what a refreshing and exciting nomination! Natalie Portman? Great. Emma Stone? Sure, she was good too… and… is that… Meryl Streep? For Florence Foster Jenkins? Look, we all loved her speech at the Golden Globes, but nominating her for this movie… over Annette Bening’s career-best performance in 20th Century Women? I don’t know how to cope.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Emma Stone

Supporting Actor

  • Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
  • Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
  • Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)
  • Dev Patel (Lion)
  • Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

So, let’s talk about Nocturnal Animals. For a while there it seemed like the wretched movie was going to stomp in and sweep all sorts of awards. It also seemed, especially after his unexpected Golden Globe win, like Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s performance as a person who has a toilet in his front porch would surely get nominated. Instead, Nocturnal Animals‘ only nomination is for Michael Shannon, who is undoubtedly the very best (and perhaps only good) part about the movie. I’ll take it.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali

Supporting Actress

  • Viola Davis (Fences)
  • Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
  • Nicole Kidman (Lion)
  • Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
  • Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

Nothing surprising here, these five ladies were the expected nominees, and good for them! Although I have to mention it’s kind of remarkable to see three actors of color get nominated in the same category. It’s been at least ten years since this last happened (by my count last time was Supporting Actress 2006, which had Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi, and eventual winner Jennifer Hudson).
How I did in my predictions: 5 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Viola Davis

Original Screenplay

  • Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan)
  • La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
  • The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimus Filippou)
  • Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Longergan)
  • 20th Century Women (Mike Mills)

I was resigned to see the horrendous Captain Fantastic get a surprise nomination here, so to see not only my favorite movie of the year (The Lobster, yay!) get nominated, but also a recognition for Mike Mills’ lovely and amazing 20th Century Women? I was ready to make up with Oscar and give him a big smooch.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Manchester by the Sea 

Adapted Screenplay

  • Arrival (Eric Heisserer)
  • Fences (August Wilson)
  • Hidden Figures (Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi)
  • Lion (Luke Davies)
  • Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, Tarrell Alvin McCraney)

This is a solid category, and it’s nice to see diverse movies recognized even if the screenplay is by far the weakest part of Hidden Figures, and what kept me from fully embracing the movie.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Moonlight 

Cinematography

  • Arrival (Bradford Young)
  • La La Land (Linus Sandgren)
  • Lion (Greig Fraser)
  • Moonlight (James Laxton)
  • Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)

A lot of first-time nominees in this category, and for richly deserving work. Bradford Young and Greig Fraser in particular, have done some of the best cinematography work of the past five years, so it’s great to see them finally be rewarded. In other news, this ended up being the only nomination for Martin Scorsese’s Silence, a movie that has simply failed to connect with a larger audience (even Academy members).
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: La La Land 

Production Design

  • Arrival (Patrice Vermette)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Stuart Craig)
  • Hail, Caesar! (Jess Gonchor)
  • La La Land (David Wasco)
  • Passengers (Guy Hendrix Dyas)

Nice to see my beloved Hail, Caesar recognized, even if the completist in me now feels like i have to watch Passengers, which is always bad news.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: La La Land 

Costume Design

  • Allied (Joanna Johnston)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Colleen Atwood)
  • Florence Foster Jenkins (Consolata Boyle)
  • Jackie (Madeline Fontaine)
  • La La Land (Mary Zophres)

Good list. I’m actually looking forward to catching up with Allied, for some reason.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: La La Land

Film Editing

  • Arrival (Joe Walker)
  • Hacksaw Ridge (John Gilbert)
  • Hell or High Water (Jake Roberts)
  • La La Land (Tom Cross)
  • Moonlight (Nat Sanders, Joi McMillon)

No surprises here. A solid list of Oscar front-runners, although not getting nominated here truly hurts Manchester by the Sea‘s chances to win Best Picture (not that anyone could beat the La La Land juggernaut, but still).
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: La La Land 

Original Score

  • Jackie (Mica Levi)
  • La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
  • Lion (Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka)
  • Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)
  • Passengers (Thomas Newman)

I must’ve had a mini heart-attack when I heard Mica Levi’s name. This is probably the nomination I’m most happy about this morning. Four out of the five nominees here are newcomers, a very unusual list of nominees considering the Academy’s music branch is notoriously conservative preferring to reward well-established composers.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: La La Land 

Original Song

  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” (La La Lad)
  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling” (Trolls)
  • “City of Stars” (La La Land)
  • “The Empty Chair” (Jim: The James Foley Story)
  • “How Far I’ll Go” (Moana)

The fact that “Drive It Like You Stole It”, or any song from Sing Street for that matter, didn’t get nominated is truly a crime. Now, having said that, am I a complete monster for kind of liking Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling”?
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: “City of Stars”

Sound Mixing

  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Sully
  • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Isn’t the fact that I now feel the urge to watch the surely dreadful Passengers enough? You also have to throw Michael Bay’s freaking Benghazi movie in the mix? I feel like I relate to the priests in Silence now.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: La La Land 

Sound Editing

  • Arrival
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 

As far as I can tell, La La Land is the first musical to ever get nominated for Sound Editing, which is a category most closely associated with sound effects. The real question is whether its juggernaut status will be big enough for it to win the category.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Hacksaw Ridge 

Makeup and Hair

  • A Man Called Ove
  • Star Trek Beyond
  • Suicide Squad 

Ok, I’m really excited about two things here. One, Deadpool is not an Oscar nominee. This whole Deadpool is getting awards thing was getting ridiculous, with people thinking it might get in for Best Picture or something, so I’m happy the Academy shut it down. Two, freaking Suicide Squad, a movie so bad it barely counts as a movie gets nominated here and continues the wonderful tradition of God-awful movies getting nominated for the Makeup and Hair Oscar (previous examples: Norbit and Click).
How I did in my predictions: 1 out of 3
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Star Trek Beyond

Visual Effects

  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Doctor Strange
  • The Jungle Book
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 

Listen, if Ex Machina could win this category last year, anything is possible. The campaign to make Kubo and the Two Strings the first animated movie to win Visual Effects starts here! (In case you’re curious it’s not the first to get nominated, The Nightmare Before Christmas lost to Jurassic Park in 1993).
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: The Jungle Book  

Animated Feature

  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Moana
  • My Life as a Zucchini
  • The Red Turtle
  • Zootopia 

Not much to say here except this looks like a good list, and I’m looking forward to catching up with The Red Turtle and My Life as a Zucchini.
How I did in my predictions: 5 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Zootopia 

Foreign Film

  • Tanna (Australia)
  • Land of Mine (Denmark)
  • Toni Erdmann (Germany)
  • The Salesman (Iran)
  • A Man Called Ove (Sweden)

Have only seen Toni Erdmann, which is fantastic, and I hope it wins.
How I did in my predictions: 5 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Toni Erdmann 

Documentary Feature   

  • Fire at Sea
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • Life, Animated
  • O.J. Made in America
  • 13th 

I haven’t even tried to watch documentaries this year. The only one I’ve seen is 13th which is pretty good, but I get the feeling will probably not win.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: O.J. Made in America 

 Animated Short

  • Blind Vaysha
  • Borrowed Time
  • Pear Cider and Cigarettes 
  • Pearl
  • Piper

Remember when we all went to see Finding Dory and thought Piper was so much better than the actual movie? Well, here you go. And hey, that other animated short that made the internet cry is also nominated.
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Piper

Documentary Short

  • Extremis
  • 4.1 Miles
  • Joe’s Violin
  • Watani: My Homeland
  • The White Helmets 

Live Action Short

  • Ennemis Interieurs 
  • La Femme et le TGV
  • Silent Nights
  • Sing
  • Timecode 

Luckily it’s another Sing, not the one with the singing animals that looks like two hours of torture.

Split: The M Night Returns

split

This weekend saw the release of the Vin Diesel vehicle XxX: Return of Xander Cage, but Xander’s thunder was stolen. In terms of cinematic returns, the weekend clearly belonged to Mr. M. Night Shyamalan. In less than twenty years, Shyamalan has gone from being known as the box office wunderkind of The Sixth Sense to the derided auteur of The Last Airbender. His name became synonym with badness (and not without reason, he made some truly atrocious crap), but if Split, which is poised to perform quite well at the box office is any indication, Shyamalan made have found a way to make his way back to the top. Those who predicted this return to form after seeing last year’s schlocky horror comedy The Visit deserve a pat on the back. The Shyamalassaince is here.

There have been many theories as of what exactly went wrong with Shyamalan’s career. I tend to agree with those who believe he bought too hard into his mythology. He blindly believed that he was a genius. As his movies grew more ambitious, he started to be swallowed up by his insecurities. By the time he was transparently exorcising his demons by making a film critic the villain of the nonsensical Lady in the Water, he had clearly lost his touch.

Losing whatever good will he had left in Hollywood must have been a sobering and humbling experience for Shyamalan. After a number of big-scale disasters, he has retreated to smaller, schlockier, and honestly, more entertaining fare. Split is a small-scale thriller on the style of last year’s 10 Cloverfield Lanein which a trio of teenage girls are kidnapped by a man with 23 different personalities, a couple of which happen to be psychopaths. The girls are led by Anya Taylor-Joy (coming strong off The Witch), while the villain is played with gusto by James McAvoy, who can’t help but rejoice in the opportunity to chew some scenery after spending the last few years chained to the role of Professor X by those X-Men movies.

It’s the kind of tight and effective scenario that would be hard to screw up, although if someone was going to load too many things on this sturdy tortilla, it would’ve been Shyamalan. Writing has always been the director’s weakness, and the screenplay is definitely the weakest part of Split. There a number of moments in which plot points are spelled out through clunky, expository dialogue. There are certain moments in which characters (who are not supposed to be mentally ill) behave in ways you wouldn’t expect humans to behave. Not in huge ways, but in small details that could’ve been easily tweaked by taking another pass at the script.

That being said, the script is not weak per se. It might have a couple noticeable weaknesses, but it works. Mostly, because Shyamalan is truly confident behind the camera. There’s nothing particularly flashy about his direction, which is a testament to how compelling he can be as a director. One of the smartest moves Shyamalan has made throughout his career is to surround himself with some of the best cinematographers in the business. This time, he recruits Mike Gioulakis, who did a terrific job with David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows.

This collaboration results in such carefully chosen camera angles, Split could be used a primer on the art of shot composition. The use of space within (and outside) the frame is not only impressive, but fun. There is a scene in which one of the kidnapped girls runs through a long, dark hallway facing the camera. The audience, failing to see where she’s heading, is in that moment as impatient and lost as the character herself.

That’s the crazy, and so satisfying thing about Split. Too often has Shyamalan shot himself in the foot by trying to dazzle his audience with complicated plots and lofty ideas. What makes those other movies so disappointing is that they seem designed to impress an audience, not to connect with them. Split is different. It is focused on character in a way no Shyamalan movie has been in a long time. When the big “twist” comes along, the conflict is resolved by something that has been set up as the characters’ defining characteristic. The twist comes from within. It’s, admittedly, a “problematic” solution to the plot. The kind of simplistic psychology that belonged in B-movies for a long time but has become too insensitive for our times. It is so of a piece with that kind of trashy story-telling, however, that it worked quite well on me.

Now, the movie keeps going for a little while after the plot is resolved, and goes to an unexpected place, which I was frankly hesitant about… until the very last scene in the film, which is practically a post-credit sequence. Then… Well, let’s just say that after watching Split, I’m quite ready for the M. Night Shyamalan cinematic universe.

Grade: 8 out of 10

Predicting the Oscar Nominees for 2016

nom-predix-16

Why write an intro if you know how it works. In case you don’t: I try to guess what will be nominated, am wrong.

Best Picture

  • Arrival 
  • Hacksaw Ridge 
  • Hell or High Water 
  • La La Land
  • Lion 
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Moonlight

If there’s 8 nominees: Hidden Figures
If there’s 9 nominees: Nocturnal Animals
If there’s 10 nominees: Fences 

As you can see, there are seven movies that I’m most certain will make the cut. Hidden Figures looks like an increasingly likely possibility thanks in no small part to its amazing performance at the box office. Nocturnal Animals keeps popping up for nominations all over the place for some reason. And while Denzel Washington’s adaptation of Fences hasn’t done as well as it was once expected, there is still a chance it could show up, although 10 nominees seems highly unlikely (if not impossible).

Best Director

  • Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
  • Berry Jenkins (Moonlight)
  • Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
  • David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water)
  • Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)

Here’s the thing. There seems to be four likely nominees in this race (Chazelle, Jenkins, Lonergan, and Villeneuve), and it’s getting really hard to predict who the fifth nominee is going to be if you believe the Academy will be cautious enough to steer clear from nominating Mel Gibson and have the decency to not nominate Tom Ford. Hell or High Water seems to be a beloved movie, so my guess is the most likely candidate to benefit.

Best Actor

  • Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
  • Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
  • Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
  • Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)
  • Denzel Washington (Fences)

This lineup might as well be written in stone, so I wouldn’t be surprised if something stupid happens like Ryan Reynolds getting nominated for Deadpool happens. We’ll know the world has truly gone to shit when Reynolds gets in over Denzel Washington.

Best Actress

  • Amy Adams (Arrival)
  • Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
  • Natalie Portman (Jackie)
  • Emma Stone (La La Land)
  • Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

If 2016 taught us anything is that the world isn’t fair. The trend will continue when Annette Bening fails to be nominated for what is probably the very best performance of her already impressive career. I’ll take solace, as I do most every day, in the fact that Isabelle Huppert exists.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
  • Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
  • Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins)
  • Dev Patel (Lion)
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals)

There is a scene in Nocturnal Animals in which it is revealed that Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character has an operating toilet in the front porch of his house. He then poops and wipes his ass on screen. I have to assume that’s why he won the Golden Globe is bound to get nominated for an Oscar.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Viola Davis (Fences)
  • Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
  • Nicole Kidman (Lion)
  • Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
  • Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

This has been a consistent line-up through much of Awards Season, so I’d be surprised if any of these five ladies gets left out. (If I had to guess who is most likely to miss the nomination, I’d say Nicole Kidman, but it’s not going to happen).

Best Original Screenplay

  • Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross)
  • Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan)
  • La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
  • The Lobster (Efthymus Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos)
  • Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)

With the Academy deciding to move Moonlight to the Adapted category, there comes the possibility for a surprised nomination for The Lobster, which makes me really happy. That being said, every good news comes with a downside, which in this case is the likely inclusion of Captain Fantastic. How anyone can watch that movie and find it to be anything but terrible I will never know.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Arrival (Eric Heisserer)
  • Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi, Allison Schroeder)
  • Lion (Luke Davies)
  • Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
  • Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford)

Yup, you read that right. Don’t be surprised when Fences, written by the late August Wilson, one of the most honored and significant playwrights in American history doesn’t get nominated to make room for Tom Ford’s bullshit screenplay.

Best Cinematography

  • Arrival (Bradford Young)
  • La La Land (Linus Sandgren)
  • Lion (Greig Fraser)
  • Moonlight (James Laxton)
  • Nocturnal Animals (Seamus McGarvey)

This seems to be the one place where Martin Scorsese’s long gestating passion project could get a nomination, but competition is stiff, and Silence has performed so poorly (awards-wise and at the box office), I’m afraid it’s most likely to be forgotten on nomination morning.

Best Costume Design

  • The Dressmaker (Marion Boyce, Margot Wilson)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Colleen Atwood)
  • Florence Foster Jenkins (Consolata Boyle)
  • Jackie (Madeline Fontaine)
  • La La Land (Mary Zophres)

I feel quite confident about four of these picks, but then there’s that fifth slot and I have no idea what to fill it with. The Dressmaker is a movie about clothes, and even though it hasn’t been broadly seen, it does seem like the kind of movie that this branch nominates while others ignore it.

Best Film Editing

  • Hacksaw Ridge (John Gilbert)
  • Hell or High Water (Jake Roberts)
  • La La Land (Tom Cross)
  • Manchester by the Sea (Jennifer Lame)
  • Moonlight (Joi McMillion, Nat Sanders)

I think Arrival has a very good chance of getting nominated here, I just don’t know who would be left out if it did.

Best Makeup and Hair

  • Deadpool
  • Florence Foster Jenkins
  • A Man Called Ove

Every year, the Academy releases a shortlist of 7 movies before nominating 3 in this category, and it’s always a bizarre selection. I’m not a makeup expert so what do I know. I guess I’ll be tickled if Suicide Squad joins Click and Norbit in the hall of fame of infamously bad movies nominated for an Oscar.

Best Production Design

  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Stuart Craig)
  • Florence Foster Jenkins (Alan MacDonald)
  • Hail, Caesar! (Jess Gonchor)
  • Jackie (Jean Rabasse)
  • La La Land (David Wasco)

I’m going to be honest with myself and admit that this is the category I’m least certain about, which most certainly means it’s the category I’m going to get completely wrong. The only movie I’m certain will be here is La La Land, the rest is pure guesswork.

Best Original Score

  • The BFG (John Williams)
  • Jackie (Mica Levi)
  • La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
  • Lion (Hauschka, Dustin O’Halloran)
  • Nocturnal Animals (Abel Korzeniowski)

Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part to think Mica Levi has a chance of getting nominated by a branch that has proved itself to be incredibly cold to outsiders, so I’m balancing it out with a nomination for John Williams, the least “outsidery” person imaginable.

Best Original Song

  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” (La La Land)
  • “City of Stars” (La La Land)
  • “Drive It Like You Stole It” (Sing Street)
  • “How Far I’ll Go” (Moana)
  • “Runnin” (Hidden Figures)

Since Annette Bening’s nomination seems increasingly unlikely, all I really want from the Oscars is for Sing Street to get nominated here so we get those crazy kids performing at the ceremony.

Best Sound Mixing

  • Arrival 
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • The Jungle Book 
  • La La Land 
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 

Musicals, war movies, science fiction, visual effects extravaganzas, that’s the kind of movie that usually gets nominated in this category.

Best Sound Editing

  • Arrival
  • Deepwater Horizon 
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • The Jungle Book 
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 

The key to predicting Sound Editing is look if any musical is going to be nominated in Sound Mixing and replace it with a movie that involves a lot of water. Thus, La La Land gets replaced by Deepwater Horizon. 

Best Visual Effects

  • Deepwater Horizon 
  • Doctor Strange
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • The Jungle Book
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 

Big blockbusters with healthy box office returns usually dominate this category. The odd man out is Deepwater Horizon, which seems to have come and gone without much hoopla. That being said, literally the only thing I’ve heard about that movie is that the visual effects are absolutely amazing so I’m counting it in.

Best Foreign Film

  • Land of Mine (Denmark)
  • A Man Called Ove (Sweden)
  • The Salesman (Iran)
  • Tanna (Australia)
  • Toni Erdmann (Germany)

Every year, the Academy releases a shortlist of 9 finalists in the foreign film category before nominating five of those movies. I haven’t seen (or know much) about most of them, so this prediction is basically guesswork based on plot synopsis and previous Oscar winners.

Best Animated Feature

  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Moana
  • My Life as a Zucchini
  • The Red Turtle
  • Zootopia 

In recent years, the Academy has favored foreign movies over sequels and uninspired big hits. That’s why I’m fairly certain Finding Dory, the highest grossing movie of the year, won’t get a nomination. I am afraid, however, that something horrible like Sing might get nominated and then I’ll have to watch the wretched thing.

Best Documentary Feature

  • 13th
  • Cameraperson 
  • Fire at Sea
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • O.J. Made in America 

Not much to say here, I haven’t seen many documentaries this year. These are just five movies that people seem to love, so I expect the Academy to love them, too.