Oscars 2022: The Envelope, Please

Do they still use envelopes? You really can’t call those $200-apiece cardboard craft projects envelopes.

The 94th annual Academy Awards are upon us. My penultimate round of picks, made under duress:

Music (Original Song)

Can’t go wrong with Queen Beyoncé. “King Richard” was the only sports movie ever that made me cry.

Prediction: “Be Alive”

Still, the artistry of Billie Eilish can’t be denied. This music video captures more emotion than the movie did — in fact, the Bond clips kinda ruin the video. Anyway, it won’t win, but I sure like the poetic convergence of “Be Alive” and “No Time to Die” in this category. Keeping the movies alive that keep us alive!

Pick: “No Time to Die”

[Update post-Oscars: “No Time to Die” was the winner!]

Feeling obligated to share the also-rans, just in case you missed them. You can play them while you “read” (scroll). And de verdad, “Dos Oruguitas” shouldn’t win — not only because no one can remember how to spell it, but because even Disney is voting against it by promoting “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” instead; see quibble at the end of the post.

Visual Effects

For the first time ever, I enjoyed seeing all the action movies tied to this category.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings” broadened me culturally. So much humor and I didn’t fall asleep during the battle scenes as I typically do. The story was weak, though. Super far-fetched. (As if the rest aren’t?) One point against it: The VFX team used the exact same “ring of fire” portal effect for the characters to step through to other dimensions as was used in “Spider-Man.” Is there a setting on the MacBook for “ring of fire portal”?

“Dune” — Just wasn’t feeling the sandworms. Sleep-inducing. Like a lullaby. Check back when we get to Part Two. [UPDATE: While watching the run-up interviews on March 27, all the VFX artists were explaining their techniques, and I might have made the wrong call here. “Dune” probably has the artistic edge. If only the movie hadn’t felt so dull.]

“No Time to Die” — Big surprise! The hero dies! (You knew that, right?)

Prediction: Spider-Man: No Way Home

Can’t bet against the most popular movie of the year. I honestly felt queasy as he swung around, so I guess those were some rad visual effects. Enjoyed the star power and the multiverse science stuff, too. But because of the ordinary “ring of fire” effect, it loses points and can’t be my pick.

Pick: Free Guy

“Free Guy” is the only movie in this category I’d be inclined to rewatch. It’s “Groundhog Day” meets “The Truman Show.” Chris, if you’re reading this, you MUST check out this flick. Augmented reality is part of my daily life, so it stimulated my imagination — and not just in scenarios featuring Ryan Reynolds, but, yeah, that, too. Now I gotta cue up “Deadpool”! (Yes, I’m the only one in the universe who hasn’t seen it.)

[Update post-Oscars: “Dune” was the winner.]

Costume Design

“Cruella” was smashing, but its extreme fashions catered to mostly one person. “Cyrano” was credible, but nothing too special — and seeing Peter Dinklage’s wardrobe only made me feel worse for the protagonist of the live-action short “The Dress,” about a woman with dwarfism who struggled to find any nice clothes to fit her. Throughout “Dune,” I felt the urge the do laundry. Nothing against the stylistic “Nightmare Alley”

Prediction & Pick: West Side Story

… but nothing can compare to “West Side Story,” whose wardrobists had to outfit an entire mob. While the costume design was enmeshed in its production design — could the dance at the gym have been better coordinated? — every garment in every frame simply sizzles and energizes. They paid homage to the original while freshening and upping their game. The costumes contribute more to the characters than any other nominee.

[Update post-Oscars: “Cruella” was the winner.]

Cinematography

This is the one category in which I will yield to the front-runner — although I am still secretly (or not so secretly) rooting for “West Side Story.” I think the power of “The Power of the Dog” is all in its cinematography, so throwing it a bone here.

Prediction & Pick: The Power of the Dog

[Update-post-Oscars: “Dune” was the winner.]

International Feature Film

Flabbergasted that the critics gave a 100% score to Bhutan’s “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom,” about a reluctant teacher in the most remote classroom on Earth. That and Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino’s near-pornographic, self-indulgent, autobiographical “Hand of God” are the only two I can safely eliminate. (Sure, now you’re all gonna race to stream that one.) Denmark’s “Flee” and Japan’s “Drive My Car” were brilliant — but “Flee” has other chances to win in the animated feature and documentary feature categories. Norway’s “The Worst Person in the World” was probably the most relatable and engaging entrant for me — I also had the chance to see it in the theater, so maybe that gave it an advantage. (I featured it in an earlier post.) But it has a chance to win in the original screenplay category, whereas I doubt “Drive My Car” will snag best picture or adapted screenplay. So making the most charitable pick here.

Prediction & Pick: Drive My Car

[Update post-Oscars: “Drive My Car” was the winner!]

Documentary Feature

Ah, cursed category in which I was unable to screen all five submissions. “Writing With Fire” remains elusive (its public premiere is March 28, the day after the Oscars telecast), so I’m not wholly qualified to judge. It also received 100% positive reviews from the critics, but who knows — many Academy voters may not have gotten through all their screening materials. It certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of ink, being a journo flick. It may indeed win. But this category is so strong, it’s anybody’s race. I wrote a whole post early on about “Attica,” and “Ascension” simply blew me away — a fly-on-the-wall study of the Chinese work ethic, classism, and that pervasive “Made in China” label. The sex-doll factory alone! “Flee,” again, was mesmerizing. Yet I’m compelled to go with the most entertaining and the best-edited documentary — the solid-gold “Summer of Soul.”

Prediction & Pick: Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

[Update post-Oscars: “Summer of Soul” was the winner!]

Animated Feature

Prediction & Pick: Flee

[Update post-Oscars: “Encanto” was the winner.]

“Encanto” fans will call this pick blasphemy, but I’m making the choice based on art here, not formula. Besides, my favorite song/scene in “Encanto” is “Surface Pressure” — and no one ever talks about that one (instead “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” gets all the attention — it wasn’t even the nominated song, and yet it will be performed during the live telecast, upstaging its own nominee). “Surface Pressure” also contains the only Titanic reference I recall among all 52 Oscar nominees I’ve seen.

And that segues into what I consider the top eight categories — all four acting awards, best picture, best director, and, most important, the two writing awards (original and adapted screenplay). That’s too much pressure for me to process tonight. No doubt you’ve made up your mind already on those and don’t need me to weigh in, anyway. No mistakes, no pressure! tick…tick…BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

[Update post-Oscars: My score was a dismal 3 of 7 among these.]

Counting down to Oscars 2022 … tick … tick … BOOYAH!

Only an Oscar marathoner like me — who has screened 98% of all the movies nominated in the top 23 categories (52 of 53, all told) — can fully register the convergence of talent spanning this year’s contenders. Cross-pollination of projects makes busy bees of many A-listers, especially as they emerge from pandemic-induced hibernation.

As far as I can tell, no one is up for multiple awards in separate categories this year, but nothing in the rulebook bars that from happening.

At least a dozen times in Oscar history, actors and actresses have been nominated for multiple awards in the same season. Such freaky-deaky overlap first occurred in 1938, during the 11th annual awards, when Fay Bainter was nominated as best actress for her role in “White Banner” and took home the Oscar for best supporting actress for her turn in “Jezebel.” In 2020, Scarlett Johansson was nominated for both leading actress (“Marriage Story”) and supporting actress (“Jojo Rabbit”) — winning neither. The most recent time an actor has been nominated in two categories and actually won one was in 2004, Oscars LXXVII, when Jamie Foxx clinched best actor honors for “Ray,” and was an also-ran for best supporting actor in “Collateral.” Although featured in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (nominated for visual effects) as the laser-gifted villain Electro, Foxx’s name won’t be etched on any statuettes this year.

That 2021 Marvel vehicle, though, is like a clown car packed full of cinematic double-timers.

“Spider-Man” sure gets around! Consider:

Benedict Cumberbatch: Not only does he seem to be leading the pack in the best actor category for “The Power of the Dog,” Cumberbatch’s familiar Doctor Strange in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” helped “No Way” open to a staggering $260 million at the box office amid a pandemic, eventually becoming the third-biggest U.S. box office grab in movie history. Yes, way! But no way do I want him to win. I thought he was more chilling in “The Imitation Game” (2014) as computer nerd Alan Turing.

Andrew Garfield: Cumberbatch’s fellow British rival for best actor — yes, both of these karma chameleons are English — also found his way into “No Way” by reprising his 2012-14 Peter Parker part. Garfield, who won a best actor Tony for the 2018 revival of “Angels in America” but never an Oscar (he was previously nominated for “Hacksaw Ridge” in 2017), may seem a triple threat this year. He was simply dynamite impersonating Jonathan Larson in “tick…tick…Boom!” having taken vocal training for a year and learning to play the piano well enough to pass as fluent. Still, I fear he was nominated for the wrong performance. His Jim Bakker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” was even more masterful than his Larson, as he convincingly portrayed the Southern televangelist through his arc from straight-laced to crooked. I wouldn’t be sorry if Garfield won, but my heart this year is with Will Smith.

Zendaya: Yet another “Spider-Man” ensemble member represented in multiple Oscar-worthy projects is Zendaya, so incomparable that only one name suffices. In “Spider-Man” as in real life, she is Tom Holland’s eye candy, but she’s also the ethereal, ephemeral vision with the piercing-blue spicy eyes in “Dune.” Although she didn’t get enough screen time in either movie to broker a nomination, she is sure to be rewarded (again) come Emmy season for her rapturous work in HBO’s “Euphoria.”

Bradley Cooper: The nine-time Oscar nominee (four acting nominations, four producer nominations, and one writing nomination) produced and stars in the hellish circus fever dream “Nightmare Alley,” and also goes on a rampage as Jon Peters, Barbra Streisand’s erstwhile significant other, in “Licorice Pizza.” No silver lining here; “Nightmare Alley” can’t possibly win for best picture. But it is kinda wild to recall that Cooper directed and starred in the 2018 remake of “A Star Is Born,” playing opposite the character Streisand played in the 1976 remake, which Peters produced. (Sadly, Lady Gaga, Cooper’s co-star from the 2018 “Star” vehicle, was snubbed — however you make the Italian gesture for “snubbed” — this year for her fashionable turn in “House of Gucci.”)

Lin-Manuel Miranda: OK, this is where things get fun. Broadway’s self-appointed ambassador not only directed the movie version of “tick…tick…Boom!” (which apparently missed a best-pic nod by a hair) but he also helped infect this year’s Oscars with enough Tony as to confuse voters about whose party it is next Sunday. Get ready to rumble, Oscar vs. Tony! And Miranda’s Nuyorican fingerprints are all over “Encanto,” an enchanting entry into the animated feature category for which he work-horsed the music. Not only has the flick collected oodles of awards and #hashtag hits, but it also has entered Miranda into the best original song category for “Dos Oruguitas” (“Two Caterpillars”). A very hungry caterpillar indeed. Plus, Miranda opines about music in the documentary feature that I predict will win: Questlove’s “Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).” My only question: Why was his “In the Heights” overlooked — the movie for which I first subscribed to HBO Max, opening my Pandora’s box of streaming via the FireCube? Side note: A P.R. high school classmate, Olga Merediz, played Abuela Claudia in that movie and also originated the role on Broadway, for which she was nominated for a Tony, which is why I had to see it as soon as it was released. Sweet release. And so … we’ve come full circle, as far as Miranda goes.

My former school chum Olga Merediz (right) with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Grace (Nina Rosario) at the “In the Heights” premiere.
Did the release of Steven Spielberg’s fabuloso “West Side Story” on Dec. 10, 2021, completely erase from our memories the “In the Heights” release just six months earlier?

Awkwafina: Speaking of coincidences and highly animated features, the mythical dragon Sisu in “Raya and the Last Dragon” is voiced by self-deprecating actress, rapper, and comedian Awkwafina who (SPOILER ALERT!) casts the fatal blow to the evil dragon in “Shang Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings.” Typecast much? Awkwafina’s birth name is Nora Lum, but she chose Awkwafina at age 15 as a “shield of confidence” (and apparently a reminder to stay hydrated). Sisu’s name is a Finnish word meaning courage, guts, grit, and determination. Fits her.

Olivia Colman: Another actress with animation voice-over in her arsenal — which few people may be aware of — is Her Highness Olivia Colman, who played the villainous AI called Pal in the animated feature nominee “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (an obvious nod to HAL from fellow Brit Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”). Colman’s certainly not lost in space, but she does give an out-of-this-world, non-robotic performance in “The Lost Daughter,” for which she’s up for best actress.

PAL (on left) vs. HAL 9000

Maya Rudolph: Finally, a mainstay on “SNL” from 2000 to 2007, Rudolph seems to prefer to be heard and not seen in this year’s Oscars race. She appears briefly in “Licorice Pizza” as casting director Gale, mostly in a long shot and making hilarious gestures. She also voices the mom, Linda Mitchell, in “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” as well as the mom, Daniela Paguro, in Pixar’s “Luca” — two nominees in the best animated feature category. A mother of four herself, Rudolph knows motherhood from many angles. One of her claims to fame is her own mom’s identity: Minnie Riperton of five-octave “Lovin’ You” fame. Too bad Riperton didn’t get a shoutout in “Summer of Soul.”

Maya and mom Minnie, lovin’ each other.

Another fun mother-child discovery: The namesake of the film “Luca” is voiced by an actor of that famous mom story from Oscars 2015, “Room.” Canadian Jacob Tremblay was only 9 when he gave an arresting performance as the boy who knew of nothing beyond four walls and his caretaker mother. His film debut two years earlier, though, was another animated feature: He played Blue in “The Smurfs 2” (2013). He’s more sea-green in “Luca,” a “Little Mermaid”-type story for boys about sea monsters and vroom-vroom (not “Room”) — in which our misfit hero is trapped inside his own skin.

Then there’s the mantra that Luca and his best bud, Alberto, use to silence their inner voice of self-doubt: “Silencio, Bruno!” Errr, we don’t talk about Bruno? An “Encanto” reference, for you youngsters and hipsters. Full circle again, back to Lin-Manuel Miranda. Boom! Booya!!