Oscars 2022: Standing on Ceremony at the Finish Line

One challenge for Oscar marathoners: We can waste no time in starting to screen the best-pic noms and other “top” categories straight out of the gate once nominations are announced. One never knows if life will allow one to complete the mission. This year, contenders were announced on Feb. 8, leaving 6.5 weeks to cram in all 53 movies, at a rate of about eight titles a week.

(Sounds worse than it was, as I’m including the 15 shorts in that overall count — although some of this year’s batch proved epically long, such as the half-hour “Robin Robin” in the animation category and the 40-minute “Ala Kachuu – Take and Run” from Switzerland in the live-action category.)

That hierarchical hitch means one must save the less interesting categories to view at the end. So these “lesser” features are the freshest in our minds come D-(decision)day. In my case, the dregs tend to be the visual effects and animation feature groups — never been a huge fan of blockbuster action flicks, and since my kids are all in their 30s and older by now, I don’t have much use for formulaic cartoons, either. Or so I thought: Man, this year, I found all the animated features quite relevant and riveting, especially the revolutionary “Flee,” nominated in three categories (also international feature film and documentary feature), and — surprise, surprise — “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” which I have neglected to mention much.

(What about us?!)

Another hitch in our git-along: Many of the “top award” entrants get hyped throughout the year and chances are high a marathoner might have already seen them back when they were released, putting even more distance between the viewing and the Oscar race “reveal.”

I’ve been marathoning for 11 years now, and I typically have seen only two of the best-pic noms by the starting gun. This year, though, I had a leg up, having previously seen four of the 10 best-pic noms (“Don’t Look Up,” “Dune,” “The Power of the Dog” and “West Side Story”) plus “tick…tick…Boom!” (nominated for best actor and film editing). All those titles made deep impressions, but with so much time having passed, and so many other celluloid clips crowding my brain, my recall skills are now potentially unreliable, for comparison’s sake.

Still, my husband says I must complete my tour of movie duty and make predictions on these top categories — even though everything’s been written about them and you all have your own views and I wouldn’t be able to influence anyone at this point, with the telecast set to begin mere hours from now.

Check that: According to awards columnist Pete Hammond of the Deadline website, the deadline for Oscar voting is 7 p.m. ET today. Whoa. Still time to sway anyone on the fence. Hammond also notes: “The overall current total of Academy members is 10,487, but 914 of them are emeritus status and don’t vote, likewise for 86 active Associate members.” This year, voters began with a denominator of 276 eligible movies and had not quite five days to whittle those down into the critical categories. I’ll betchu not all 9,487 voters watched all 276 contenders — and I’m pretty sure a smaller share took the time (as I did) to screen even the 53 top nominees. Mainly because it took A LOT of time.

There is definitely something wrong with this system. Shortcuts are no doubt employed. These folks could be voting by feel, pulling filaments of hype from the air, or choosing based on trailers alone (which made, for instance, the international feature “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” look much better than it was because of expert trailer-editing skills).

(Note: I’m not saying the movie was bad — it just wasn’t as good as the trailer portends.)

One mustn’t discount, then, the influence of any small-time blogger upon any big-deal Oscar voter.

So, if anyone is listening, I shall do the dirty work and make your selections for you in what many consider to be the top eight categories.

First, perhaps the most difficult: the writing categories. Eeek. Apologies in advance for my hurried, hack writing.

Original Screenplay

Belfast. Kenneth Branagh’s memoirs as a boy living through “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland proved a gorgeous, intimate portrait of the Irish soul. Part of me thought: Wow, we’re all a little bit Irish, so is it now time to celebrate them (us) as an oppressed people? Viewing the violent conflict through the eyes of a love-smitten Protestant boy — especially when the object of his affection happened to be Catholic, and about a foot taller (another nod to “Romeo & Juliet” or even “West Side Story”) — was an ingenious narrative device. But because the story was largely a diary, point deduction.

Don’t Look Up. Adam McKay’s cleverly veiled clarion call about climate change is truly a statement of our times. It broke Netflix streaming records and obviously seals the popular vote. Biting satire and worthy of the honor, no matter what the snooty elitists say.

King Richard. Loved, loved, loved this movie, but the screenplay wasn’t necessarily the element that stood out, as it was based largely on real events and documented interviews.

Licorice Pizza. Saw this on a late-show date with my husband and — unsure he noticed, but I am confessing now — I dozed off. It’s certainly not one I can go back now to review, as it’s not being streamed. I loved the dialogue that I caught, and it had a lovely improvisational feel. But the story structure seemed jumbled and overwrought, especially after I woke up. Sorry, my bad, but an Oscar winner, even a good bedtime story (in this case, a waterbed) should never induce sleep.

The Worst Person in the World. No ordinary love story, this Norwegian import was ultimately about finding love for oneself. Creative storytelling, and the stop-action scene in which our protagonist tests another course in life with an alternative lover is one for the books. The worry is I can’t fully appreciate the screenplay because I experienced the dialogue only through subtitles — and Oscar voters may feel the same. A sentimental favorite, but …

Prediction & Pick: Don’t Look Up

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

Adapted Screenplay

I haven’t read/accessed the source material on any of these nominees — oh, no! Is that a chore I must add to my Oscar marathoning rules in order to properly choose in the future? Worse, I haven’t even read about the source material, been too busy watching movies. My stalwart husband, however, has read the “Dune” series and testifies Denis Villeneuve’s vision is finally a great adaptation.

CODA. This singing-signing-themed darling is now neck and neck in the best picture race with the alpha “Dog.” I think its chances are good. But “CODA” is a remake of the French-language film “La Famille Bélierso,” so I am less inclined to choose something for adaptation whose source material is another movie. (Although I’m certainly curious how American Sign Language and French signing compare.)

Drive My Car. Pure genius. Too long.

Dune. Shall I let my husband influence me?

The Lost Daughter. Possibly my favorite screenplay of the movies in the running — only because “Drive My Car” needed editing. Admittedly, though, the morning after I watched “The Lost Daughter,” I couldn’t recall the ending — I had to go back and review the final shot, which is so important in evaluating a screenplay. Coulda been the wine. Still, all that doll stuff was disturbing and unpredictable, which are my criteria for screenwriting: stories that keep me guessing and take twisted turns.

The Power of the Dog. This may be, technically, the best adaptation. And I may be advised to pick it, considering I have virtually snubbed this 12-time-nominated movie thus far. Then again, I’m not trying to get a good score. There is no money on the line. Only my reputation. Already damaged. This endeavor is not at all about being right — only about justice.

Prediction: The Power of the Dog

Pick: The Lost Daughter

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

And now, for the remaining, highest-achiever categories, just gonna list ’em. Not gonna sweat my rationale, as I have no reason left.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Prediction & Pick: Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”)

[Update post-Oscars: Ariana DeBose was the winner!]

Actor in a Supporting Role

Prediction & Pick: Troy Kotsur (“CODA”)

[Update post-Oscars: Troy Kotsur was the winner!]

Actress in a Leading Role

Prediction: Penélope Cruz

Pick: Jessica Chastain

[Update post-Oscars: Jessica Chastain was the winner!]

Actor in a Leading Role

Prediction & Pick: Will Smith

[Update post-Oscars: Will Smith was the winner!]

Directing

Prediction: Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”)

Pick: Steven Spielberg (“West Side Story”)

[Update post-Oscars: Jane Campion was the winner.]

Best Picture

Prediction: CODA

Pick: West Side Story

[Update post-Oscars: CODA was the winner!]

Notice the absence of “The Power of the Dog” in that last bit. What can I say? I’ve always rooted for the underdog. Plus, between “The Piano” and “Dog,” can’t help but wonder if Campion has a sadistic streak.

And maybe I’m a little masochistic, but my Oscars 2022 marathon is finally, officially a wrap — although I still plan to watch “Writing With Fire” upon its release tomorrow, just to say I’ve seen 100% of all nominees in the top 23 categories. My viewing score is 98%. My guessing score will be far, far lower because I’m not in it for the win. It’s an honor just to experience all the nominees. And better luck next year.

The whole thing is a crapshoot, and I’m pooped.

See you all virtually tonight. Congratulations to all the artists who make the movies magic. And keep an eye peeled for winners holding their Oscar statuettes upside down to signify their protest of the eight categories cut from the telecast. I’m with them — thumbs down on ABC’s decision.

[Update post-Oscars: 6 of 8 correct. But never saw the Will Smith outburst coming. My overall score, though, is abysmal — the worst ever at 47%. Mostly because I didn’t appreciate “Dune,” and couldn’t trust the popular choice.]

Oscars 2022: The Thrill of Discovery

Big announcement for anyone who cares. As of 11:30 p.m. ET on March 19, 2022, I’ve finished viewing 98% of all the movies nominated in the top 23 categories for this year’s Academy Awards. That’s 37 of the 38 full-length features and all 15 shorts.

The only reason I can’t achieve 100% is because the documentary feature “Writing With Fire” refuses to be available in theaters or via any streaming service until March 28, the day after the ABC telecast. It also happens to be the critics’ favorite title in that category, with 100% of positive reviews, according to Rotten Tomatoes polling — the only film in this year’s lineup to achieve such perfection. It figures that the “perfect film” would handicap my own potentially perfect score. Still, who can scoff at 98%? So, so, so close. The closest I’ve ever come in over a decade of striving.

Thus I’m kinda writing with fire myself to say: What a journey it’s been. Sure, it used to be more thrilling back in the ancient pre-streaming days, having to carefully plan my itinerary up against the deadline, mapping out those off-the-beaten-track theaters, catching late-night offbeat screenings, even double and triple features on my days off, doing it all in just over a month. But if the covid pandemic has done anything it’s made my movie diet easier to consume on my own timetable. Now, with a week to go before the Oscars telecast, I’m unsure what to do with myself. Maybe just rewatch a few to make proper picks in the categories I’m unsure about.

Oh, right. The D.C. Environmental Film Fest is in full swing and all virtual this year, so I could binge there. Or I could read my stack of unread must-read books. I could also campaign and beg the producers of “Writing With Fire” to release it early, please, please, pleeeeeeeeeze. Or I could join the chorus of complaints about ABC editing out some of the most important, suspenseful categories from its live telecast: best original score, film editing, production design, makeup and hairstyling, sound, documentary short subject, live action short film, and animated short film. The creators behind these films, not the A-listers, are the folks who need the recognition to further their careers. These titles represent the gems that the mainstream audience never bothers to see.

As Emmy-winning film composer Scott Bomar recently told The Washington Post: “You’re going to diminish these eight categories and air a Twitter vote instead?” (He was reacting to the stooooopid #OscarsFanFavorite and #OscarsCheerMoment categories whose winners, selected online, will be announced during the ceremony.) “This whole thing is making the academy less relevant instead of more relevant, which is what they’re going for,” he said.

I couldn’t agree more that the point of awards shows — if there’s a point — isn’t the fashion or the speeches but the “thrill of discovery” — getting those sneak peeks of the relevant art that flew under the radar, whetting audience appetites to consume them. Like “Writing With Fire,” about ballsy female journalists in India, something right up my alley but that apparently was available only to select film clubs.

I don’t go to the movies much during the year, preferring instead to wait for awards season, when the endless offerings have been culled by critics. Although the Oscars have lost much of their luster and integrity, it’s still my blueprint for exploration. At least, that is, until I achieve 100% one year; maybe then I can be done with my Oscar marathoning.

Because I’ve never been big on action flicks, the category I ended with was Visual Effects. That one’s usually a slog because I tend to fall asleep during mega-battle scenes. But the two features I saw tonight, I must say, proved delightful surprises. “Free Guy,” starring Ryan Reynolds (my first-ever Ryan Reynolds movie), touched and tickled me. And “Shang Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings” featured some bad-ass lady martial artists, such as Michelle Yeoh, who at age 59 still has it going on and, not to mention — if you’ve seen as many movies as I’ve seen in theaters this month you’d know — has a new multiverse flick coming out, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” (The multiverse is definitely having its moment. Would that make the multiverse part of the meta-verse?)

“Shang Chi” proved the perfect movie to wrap on because it offered a li’l sumpin’ sumpin’ that few movies bother with anymore: a couple of Easter egg segments tucked midway through and at the end of the credits. I always insist on sitting all the way through until the end just in case. How wonderful to be rewarded with my last feature of the season, and a Mark Ruffalo/Hulk cameo to boot! It may have been a shameless promotion from Marvel, but marvelous nonetheless.

Cramming on movies is my personal brand of March Madness. Now all that’s left is the filling out of my ballot/bracket. And for the first time ever, I have a whole week to do it.

 

Oscars 2022: Lead Me to the Movies, My Second Home

Roughly midway through “Lead Me Home,” a masterful documentary short about the nation’s homelessness crisis, when the onscreen discussion had turned to strategies for finding a shower (one woman confessed to sneaking into motels after the maids had left), I finally got a good whiff of myself. Frankly, I stank. The week had been so crammed with my day job on top of my night job of Oscar marathoning — my annual quest to see every film nominated for an Academy Award in every possible category — that it had been days since I’d showered.

And that was my only excuse for not going out afterward for a bite or even grabbing a photo of me and Barbara of Winchester, one of the three people committed to sitting in darkness on this sunny afternoon to witness all the documentary shorts, which are not in the least bit short.

The halcyon days of spending an entire day holed up with strangers and booze at West End Cinema in D.C. are long gone. That bougie dive used to be the only place in the DMV you could catch the documentary shorts, which would get split into two full-length features, shown back-to-back, over the span of four hours. Since the pandemic interceded and amplified the risks of patronizing tiny arthouse cinemas — historically, the documentaries would prompt impromptu film clubs afterward, with robust yapping and laughing among groups of suddenly fast friends — I’ve resorted to mostly a streaming film diet. Which is sad, because crossing paths with other cinephiles is part of the dang-gone fun.

Barbara of Winchester turned out to be my superhero. You see, three of this year’s documentary shorts are available on Netflix, so I had already done my due diligence and digested “Audible,” “Three Songs for Benazir,” and “Lead Me Home” at home. “Three Songs for Benazir” I’d even watched twice because, after staying up so late streaming movies, I’d fallen asleep my first time watching it on my phone in bed. To cross off this category, I needed only “The Queen of Basketball” and “When We Were Bullies.” In the theater’s description, “The Queen of Basketball” and “When We Were Bullies” were listed first, so in between errands today, I figured, I could buy a ticket, watch those two, then sneak out and not spend too much of my day every day watching movies. Besides, I already had a date planned tonight for dinner and “Licorice Pizza” for dessert.

When buying my Doc Shorts ticket, though, a flash of disappointment: Another patron had already claimed my favorite seat. Oh, well. At least I won’t be alone in the theater for a change (many people are still hesitant to return to the movies, and those braving the experience are mostly seeing “The Batman”; this past week, the late showings of “The Worst Person in the World” and “Cyrano” were empty — more safety for me!).

So today it was Barbara of Winchester in My Favorite Seat, me positioned near the screen, and another lady waaaaaaay up in the back row who were propping up the local cinema economy. The previews end, the reel gets rolling, and whoa. The live-action shorts begin. What?! We all exclaim different levels of confusion and frustration. Me: “I thought this was the documentaries? Hmm. I do need these, too, tho …” Lady in back: “Oh, jeez. They’re running the wrong reel! Is somebody gonna tell them?!” Barbara of Winchester in My Favorite Seat Now Unburdening Herself of a Tub of Popcorn: “Yes. I’ll go do it. Because I’ve bought tickets to all three shorts presentations today, and the timing will all be off if we see these first because they’re the longest.”

Don’t remind me. Gosh, I sure hope they’re in the right order so I can still leave and get stuff done. I watch a little bit of the live-action nominee “On My Mind,” patiently waiting for Barbara of Winchester with the Purple Spiked Hair to return with things all straightened out.

She’s nothing if not effective. And dedicated: Not even I had the stamina to take in all 15 nominated shorts in one day, enduring a six- or seven-hour marathon, plus previews and the two-hour round-trip drive from Winchester. Within moments, the documentary shorts start rolling and, shoot. Wrong order. It goes: “Audible,” “When We Were Bullies,” “Three Songs for Benazir,” “Lead Me Home,” and, finally, “The Queen of Basketball.” But I don’t suffer much. Turns out the third time’s truly the charm for “Three Songs.” I adore it now and predict it may win — although I have a new personal favorite, which I’ll divulge in due time, in my traditional Predictions-Picks Post.

Anyway, Barbara doesn’t agree with me. When I go to thank her afterward, she confesses she almost fell asleep during the one I favor because she, too, has been cramming on movies and doing crazy things like driving from Winchester to Reston for rare screenings. (“It’s not really very far.”) Oh, I know. For an Oscar marathoner, even Philly wouldn’t be far. We share bite-size film analyses, if not a bite and a brew, and she invites me to join a session of her Winchester Film Club, which meets every Wednesday night at the Alamo Drafthouse. Tells me they screened the one film I can’t find anywhere (“Writing With Fire”), the one I desperately need to clinch 100% of my marathoning this year (never attained; current score: 25 of 38 full-length features and 6/15 on shorts). That movie was a must-see, of course, she testifies. I tell her I sometimes blog about this thing we do. She asks if I’ll write about her. I say I may, and she warmly extends her hand.

Which, to someone who had spent the past two years shunning human contact beyond her pandemic bubble and hadn’t showered in three days, seemed a tremendously generous gesture.

And I just might show up at the Alamo in Winchester one Wednesday night to finally get that selfie together. Or maybe I’ll simply go back to my neighborhood theater in a couple of hours to catch the animated shorts — knowing full well Barbara will be there.

Oscars 2016: I coulda been a contender

oscarjoyAs in Oscar marathoning, so in life.

What commodities are at play? Time, money, motive, opportunity.

I had plenty of motive this year. A modicum of money. Less so time. As to opportunity, in the end, the only movies that truly were withheld from view were two features and three documentary shorts — meaning, short of buying the Blu-ray in Marnie‘s case (money commodity), there is nowhere to see them today if I tried:

  • When Marnie Was There (animated feature)
  • Embrace of the Serpent (documentary feature)
  • Body Team 12 (documentary short)
  • Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah (documentary short)
  • A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness (documentary short)

It’s my own fault on those remaining documentary shorts. I trusted a bad Google search that implied the West End arthouse cinema was permanently closed. It had been the go-to place for documentary shorts, but I dismissed it this year as a possibility. In fact, it recently reopened and was showing them the first week in February — not today. Opportunity missed.

And previously I, along with fellow Oscar marathoners, were spewing hate at Quentin Tarantino and The Hateful Eight: Tarantino, for making a 70mm bloody movie that few theaters wanted to order or had the capability to show (he’s just as frustrated after one in particular reneged on showing it) and The Hateful Eight for teasing us into thinking we could catch it in Silver Spring on Feb. 19. Missed it by ONE DAY. For an entire week, it was nowhere — well, nowhere within 200 miles. Then outta the blue, while heading into D.C. on Friday — my last “free” night before Oscars night — on the way to see A War, which I thought would be the last film I picked up this season, a quick Google search turned up The Hateful Eight at a pop-up arthouse near Gallaudet University. The only showing I could make was 9:25 p.m., and I’d have to break a standing date with my husband, and walk a mile round-trip in an unfamiliar, dangerous neighborhood after midnight. While weighing options on the Metro, someone at another station actually got hit by a train, disabling service. Decision made, and opportunity lost.

That same theater, Angelika Pop-Up — likely a perfectly safe, cool theater, I may never know — also this weekend opened the hard-to-get Boy and the World (animated feature from Brazil), which I could have nabbed this morning — early this morning, for an 11:15 showing — but it woulda meant a 1¼-hour trip, three hours round-, plus the 1½-hour movie … nearly six hours for a cartoon? The commodity of time notwithstanding.

oscar1wordStill, if I’d planned things right, I could have ended this season with having seen an impressive 90% of all Oscar-nominated movies in the top 24 categories. That’s even including the five Original Song nominees, excluded here because of the shunned, shameful Fifty Shades of Grey. (I’ve seen The Hunting Ground — a heart-wrenching documentary putting faces to the unbreakable sexual abuse survivors on today’s most prestigious college campuses and tracking their battle to hold university officials more accountable — and the other four suddenly are available either for peanuts On Demand or free on HBO. I’ll sample the tunes on iTunes.)

Back to reality: After picking up the anomaly in the animated feature category, Anomalisa, at an Alexandria, Va., late show last night with my husband after a party and then nailing Cinderella — and completing the costume design category — this morning before breakfast by signing up through Amazon Prime for a free seven-day trial of its streaming service Starz, I end with a score of 34/37+12/15, or 88%!!!!

Adding to the titles missing above, I also lack, a-lack …

  • The Hateful Eight 
  • Boy and the World 

… thus am disqualified from voting with full authority in five frigging categories:

  • Actress in a Supporting Role (grrrrr — hateful to miss any of the “top six”)
  • Cinematography
  • Music (Original Score)
  • Animated Feature
  • Documentary (Short Subject)

My predictions, you ask? Nothing earth-shattering here. The 2016 Oscars seem boring and far too easy to predict.

Best Picture

Prediction & Pick: The Revenant

(see ” ‘The Revenant’ should be revered” for rationale)

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Spotlight won.

Actor in a Leading Role

Prediction & Pick: Leonardo DiCaprio

(see “Best actor slam-dunk” for rationale)

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Leo won!!!!

Actress in a Leading Role

Prediction: Brie Larson

Pick: This is where it falls apart for me. Hardest category, always. The only fabulous leading lady easily eliminated this year is Cate Blanchett. Carol, about a May-December lesbian love affair back in the ’50s when such things were unspoken, even unconscionable to some, was deeply moving, as was Cate’s pivotal “these people” scene during the deposition with her husband — out of nowhere, crocodile tears. But she was unknowable (maybe that was the point). She outshone herself with her performance as the stepmother in Cinderella, yet she wasn’t nominated for that. What bugs me most is her young lover and supporting actress nominee, Rooney Mara, had more screen time and did more yeoman’s acting yet was sublimated by Cate’s stature. So Cate earns a penalty.

Jennifer Lawrence, while smokin’ stellar in Joy — she carried the film, despite De Niro threatening to sabotage it — didn’t stretch far enough from Catniss. I love you, Jen, I do, you have a magnetic aura, but no mopping up for you. I fell in love with Saoirse Ronan. As an Irish maiden torn between two lovers and two homelands, she left me breathless, like that Kander and Ebb showtune A Quiet Thing “… Happiness comes in on tiptoe, well whaddya know? It’s a quiet thing …” Do folks even realize she played Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones? That heart-stopping scene with Stanley Tucci still gives me chills, and she was only about 14. (BTW, Tucci was my favorite actor in Spotlight.)

I want to give this enchanting, gifted actress a body-of-work Oscar already and she’s but a wee lass of 21. But our-house-of-cards-is-crumbling Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years: even quieter, and no one much has trumpeted her gloriousness. Of all the films and performances this year, her portrayal of a wife battling a dead rival will likely stay with me longest. Could be my age. Could be her age (70). She was understated and elegant, and in the final frame simply haunting. Here’s a clip (not the final frame):

So my pick? Oh, piddle. Brittle but unbreakable Brie Larson‘s survivor, maternal, petulant spirit took us on quite the journey. But the star of this movie is the story, the screenplay, the directing, the 9-year-old who wasn’t nominated.

So my brain-picking pick: Saoirse (SEAR-sha) Ronan 

(Looking for an upset and some excitement, but I’ll be disappointed only if Cate Blanchett wins.)

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Brie Larson won.

 Actor in a Supporting Role

Prediction & Pick: Sylvester Stallone

Rationale:  Christian Bale seemed more autistic than odd bird in what one critic calls the erratic tragicomedy The Big Short. Mark Ruffalo is one of my favorite guy and journalists are my peeps, but this performance was average — all impatience and mumbling. Cool cucumber Mark Rylance nearly gets my vote; as a Cold War spy, he brought artistry to a movie that screamed artificial. Tom Hardy — huge profile for him this year, eh?, between The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road. He’s truly masterful, the Next Big Thing, but he also mumbled through both roles. (What’s wrong with mumbling?! Dunno, but I need to find some way to eliminate them.) In the end, Stallone was a huge surprise. Didn’t think he could act. But those darting eyes, curling lips, the strength he emotes in what seems a decrepit face (c’mon, he’s only 69!! THAT’S acting!). Gotta go with the odds-on favorite.

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Mark Rylance won.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Prediction: Alicia Vikander

Pick: Kate Winslet 

(I’m not allowed to vote here, according to my rules, because I didn’t see Jennifer Jason Leigh in “The Hateful Eight,” but I “saw” her in “Anomalisa.”)

Rationale: Almost went with Vikander. Saw her in Ex Machina, too, of course, and she’s amazing, she deserves the win. But I can’t get Kate’s performance off my mind, so I’m just going with that. I’d also be THRILLED if Rooney Mara gets it, because she is a leading actress in that film (not supporting, as classified) if ever there was one. I wanted to see Carol a second time just to time her screen time, but I know that’s not how the academy decides leading vs. supporting. She’s handicapped because the name of the film is Cate Blanchett’s character. The only one easily eliminated is the flat Rachel McAdams. She is almost as inconsequential in Spotlight as she was in the second season of True Detective. Emily Blunt was robbed for not being nominated  for Sicario  — even if she would have been placed in the leading actress category, I blame Rachel McAdams for wasting a female spot.

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Alicia Vikander won.

Animated Feature

Prediction: Inside Out

Pick: Anomalisa

Rationale: Charlie Kaufman’s frisky masterpiece borrows from his Being John Malkovich screenplay but is possibly funnier, more tragic and artistically mesmerizing. Motivational speaker Michael Stone has lost all sense of himself in a world of utter sameness. It takes a “deformed” dimwit — freshly prosaic Lisa — to rouse him, if only momentarily, from his hypocritical, hyper-critical stupor. And Inside Out is just good, clean therapy, for anyone, not just the kids.

(I’m also not allowed to vote here, because I didn’t see “When Marnie Was There” or “Boy and the World.”)

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Inside Out won.

Cinematography

Prediction & Pick: The Revenant

(Didn’t see “The Hateful Eight”)

Rationale: The most immersive camera work ever. And no VR or 3-D. Sure felt like it.

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: The Revenant won.

Costume Design

Prediction & Pick: Cinderella

Rationale: I wanted to throw a bone to Mad Max: Fury Road here, but Cate Blanchett’s frocks as the stepmother were jaw-dropping and Cinderella’s ballgown? It had the moonlight in it without being over-the-top. Those costumes alone made me cry.

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Mad Max: Fury Road won. (I had picked that to win before I saw Cinderella.)

Directing

Prediction & Pick: Alejandro G. Iñarritu for The Revenant

But: I was this close to picking Lenny Abrahamson for Room.

And, question: Why does the Oscar cheat sheet list only movie titles and not the directors’ names for this category? Oversight? Works this year, though, because the accomplishments of movie and director are seamless and inseparable. From 2006 (The Departed) through 2011 (The Artist), the Best Picture and Best Director awards were indistinguishable (matched wins). We had two years of disjointed, “spread it around” awards, but last year Iñarritu restored the AMPAS tradition with Birdman, and he’s bound to do it again with back-to-back Oscars.

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: The Revenant won.

Documentary (Feature)

Prediction: Amy

Pick: The Look of Silence

Rationale: The Amy Winehouse story is something everyone in Hollywood can relate to. Reminded me of the Kurt Cobain film, Montage of Heck. Nicely structured, uncomfortably voyeuristic, with great archival footage. But in the end, they’re both “home movies.” If a biopic were to take top honors, I’d rather see it go to the Nina Simone thought-provoking piece, What Happened, Miss Simone? Far more moving and important a message (racism, mental illness). Documentaries should be about the message, and that’s why I favor Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to 2013’s The Act of Killing. How many times does this guy need to call our attention to genocide? Most people aren’t aware what happened in Indonesia in the 1960s. Please, if you haven’t already, discover this artful film. 

POST-OSCARS UPDATEAmy won.

Documentary (Short Subject)

Predicton & Pick: Last Day of Freedom

(I saw only two of the nominees, but  rationale is in “On Oscar diversity: The Big Shortcoming”)

POST-OSCARS UPDATEA Girl in the River won. NEED TO SEE THIS.

Film Editing

Prediction & Pick: The Revenant

POST-OSCARS UPDATEMad Max: Fury Road won.

Foreign Language Film

Prediction: Son of Saul

Pick: Theeb

(Note: I didn’t get to see all the nominees; still missing “Embrace of the Serpent”)

Rationale: I discussed this category a bit in “Oscar-nominated foreign films: The chosen one,” but that was before I saw A War, a Danish treatise on the war in Afghanistan that elicits serious PTSD, and Theeb, a gorgeous, lone-wolf Arabian western — the marriage of The Martian and The Revenant — starring an amazing young talent, Jacir Eid-Al-Hwietat. Who?! Right. Also loved Mustang, but it had editing issues.

POST-OSCARS UPDATESon of Saul won.

Makeup & Hairstyling

Prediction & Pick: The Revenant

Rationale: Sorry, Mad Max. And unsure why The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared was even nominated. He didn’t look 100.

POST-OSCARS UPDATEMad Max: Fury Road won.

Music (Original Score)

Prediction: The Hateful Eight

Pick: Sicario

Rationale: I didn’t see The Hateful Eight but, given its three nominations and all Tarantino’s troubles, figured it should get something. Meanwhile, the score for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, while great, was recycled greatest hits. Sicario was chilling, haunting, memorable and truly fit this fantastic film that more people should have seen and/or appreciated. All senses engaged; you could even smell it.

POST-OSCARS UPDATEThe Hateful Eight won. How’d I guess?! NEED TO SEE THIS.

Music (Original Song)

Prediction & Pick: “‘Til It Happens to You,” The Hunting Ground

Rationale: Gaga.

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre won. Pissed.

Production Design

Prediction: Bridge of Spies

Pick: The Danish Girl

But I obviously wouldn’t be sad if The Revenant won again.

POST-OSCARS UPDATEMad Max: Fury Road won.

Short Film (Animated)

Prediction: Prologue

Pick: World of Tomorrow

(see “Are Those Animated Shorts or Are You Just Happy to See Me?” for rationale)

POST-OSCARS UPDATEBear Story (Chile) won.

Short Film (Live Action)

Prediction: Day One

Pick: Stutterer

(see rationale in “On Oscar diversity: The Big Shortcoming”)

POST-OSCARS UPDATEStutterer won.

Sound Editing

Prediction: The Revenant

Pick: Sicario

POST-OSCARS UPDATEMad Max: Fury Road won.

Sound Mixing

Prediction & Pick: The Revenant

POST-OSCARS UPDATEMad Max: Fury Road won.

Visual Effects

Prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road

Pick: Ex Machina

POST-OSCARS UPDATEEx Machina won.

Rationale: I always get this category wrong.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Prediction & Pick: Room

(see rationale in “Adapted screenplay: Make room for ‘Room’ “)

POST-OSCARS UPDATEThe Big Short won.

Writing (Original Screenplay)

Prediction: Spotlight

Pick: Ex Machina

Rationale: Gotta give Spotlight at least one. As a real-life journalist, I thought the screenplay was scarily accurate and gripping. Some people say this film will sweep, but I beg to differ. I beg to, because I loved it — saw it twice. And I agree with my husband who says movies must be important, not just entertaining or magical or honest or wrenching or whatever other criteria. Indeed, this one is important, as Doubt was important, or All the President’s Men. (Ultimately, though, as my justification for ignoring Spotlight in every other category, The Revenant got ahold of me and never let go, just like that bear.) Ex Machina, meanwhile — what a fantastic, futuristic, escapist (or not!) story. One of my favorites of the year.

POST-OSCARS UPDATESpotlight won.

Phew, done. Nothing left but the tears.

LET THE FASHION PARADES AND EFFING PARTIES COMMENCE.

Oscars 2016: In the home-alone stretch

team_terry_double_sided_star_ceramic_christmas_ornament-r4e8a95a3af254affaf2c4d254dfb8ed3_x7s2g_8byvr_324I’ve run out of films to pick up On Demand, so today’s dilemma: Venture downtown for a 1:20 p.m. showing of the final foreign film nominee I can possibly see before Sunday? (A War at E Street Cinema; that would leave only Embrace of the Serpent, whose distributors are greedily withholding.) Or skip my weekly allergy shots, which I also missed last week whilst squeezing in 45 Years (no regrets)? A war within.

The big risk on Thursdays is WHAT IF THE THEATER REPLACES THE FILM FRIDAY? In Oscar marathoning, tomorrow is not necessarily another day.

Someone asked me on Twitter this morning: You’ve seen so many movies in such a short time — which is your favorite? “Too tough; it’s Apples and Agent Oranges,” I said. Classic marathoners’ line. (References to Steve Jobs and Chau, beyond the Lines, respectively. And, yes, that “b” is lowercase.)

Never mind. You had to be there. In my head.

 

Winnowing the Oscars 2016 field via social media

oscaractress

Some of my handiwork at work at USA TODAY

Oscar predictions have hit critical mass this week — from both critics’ standpoints and mass opinions online.

Sealed envelopes? Puh-leaze. Such an archaic messenging device. And no one wants to wait four days for the reveal. These days social media is a prism that doubles as crystal ball.

Who says the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences secret ballots are impregnable?

On the heels of a USA TODAY/Fandango.com poll among 1,000 well-versed moviegoers predicting who’ll win, Hewlett Packard Enterprise analyzed thousands of online conversations surrounding the “top six” categories. It monitored top social media sites and thousands of news sites, using its enterprise search and analytics platform HPE IDOL, to come up with these crowdsourced best bets:

Best Picture: Spotlight

Best Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Best Actor: Matt Damon

Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance

Best Actress: Brie Larson

Best Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara

Interesting subplot: Although what HPE dubs “social sentiment” leaned one way, the volume of interest in particular nominees largely leaned another. Of split minds, just as so many other movie fans and pundits, like my Predictions & Picks system. Coin toss time.

Buzziest Picture: The Revenant
38% of mentions in posts related to that category

Buzziest Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio – 61%

Buzziest Actress: Brie Larson – 35% (we have a match!)

Buzziest Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu – 70%

Buzziest Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone – 95%

Buzziest Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet – 33%

oscar1wordIf such analytics prove inaccurate Sunday — as in not mirroring the opinions of the 89% male, 84% white and roughly 50% 60-or-older voting members of the academy — at least we can be sure they reflect the public’s tastes in movies and performers.

Using the same mobile tools as the revolutionaries at Maidan or the activists behind the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, perhaps We the small-screen People can help direct future big-screen endeavors.

Meanwhile, my Oscar marathoning score, with just four days and three nights to go: 30/37+12/15 or 81% of all nominees in 23 of the top 24 categories (does not include the Original Song nominees, because I’m not so masochistic as to force myself to watch Fifty Shades of Grey).

Oscar marathoners: We are not alone

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Ellen, right, and I are comfy in the dark.

And this is what’s so thrilling about Oscar marathoning. I put out a call tonight on Facebook inviting anyone to join me in knocking off the supporting actor category at the late show of Creed. I heard not a peep, yet when I showed up at the theater, who’s waiting in the lobby but a fellow sojourner, Ellen Stucker! Imagine. We live in separate towns. It was like a mini-flash mob. We compared lists and notes, enjoyed the flick, then exited our dark sanctuary into the darker night to cram another day.

I recall with bittersweetness (nonpareils) the friends I made at West End Cinema in D.C. — the only place that showed the documentary shorts and truly the highlight of the season. Some people would come from Baltimore or farther just to lap those up, and we’d all pull out our crumpled lists. It was an annual pilgrimage for many of us. If any of you are still reading this blog, let’s meet up somewhere for Anomalisa.

Meanwhile, the documentary shorts are among the most inspiring and riveting categories. If anyone has any leads on where I can inhale them before Feb. 28, do tell.Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 1.16.02 AM*Note: Funny thing — turns out the last time I blogged about this same phenom, I used the exact same headline!

Adapted screenplay: Make room for ‘Room’

This is new: Adapted screenplay is the first category of nominees checked off in my race to see 37 feature films and 15 shorts before Oscar Night. That hardly ever happens. My score so far: 12/37+0/15, which means I’ve seen 32% of the essential Oscar-nominated films in this year’s first two weeks of marathoning.

But I’ve read only one of the books on the list (Room). So, despite having seen all five nominees, I’m sorely unqualified to judge.

The combination of Jack's knit hat in "Room" and Joy's stolen innocence combines to feel lot like Susie Salmon in "The Lovely Bones."

The combination of Jack’s knit hat in “Room” and Joy’s stolen innocence meshes, for me, into a mirror of Susie Salmon of “The Lovely Bones.”

Let’s begin with Room, then. The book was hauntingly told in the voice of a 5-year-old. It evoked Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, in which horrific events are filtered through a child’s eye. But Bones was a sad screen adaptation, with screenplay by Peter Jackson, lord of the epics. Relief, then, to see that author Emma Donoghue adapted her own book. She deftly sanitized parts, enhanced the dramatic tension where issues were glossed over in print — unsure how much guidance she had, but this was an emotionally wrenching, faithful, fresh adaptation.

Even the blue palette is the same.

Susie Salmon –who happened to be played by Brie Larson’s rival for best actress, Saoirse Ronan!!! I just realized — appears in her handmade knit cap. As if a parent’s love could protect a child from the cold, cruel world. Even the blue palette is the same.

A well-worn crutch in most adapted screenplay nominees (especially those derived from books) is the overuse of narration. Room managed to use this technique sparingly and effectively. The shift from Jack’s separation anxiety in the book to Ma’s on-screen trauma balanced the work, as a whole. Adore this movie, and I want it to succeed in as many categories as possible.

But then there’s The Big Short, a flashy sermon on the housing bubble, which no doubt in book form is about as far as you can get from an “action” movie. Yet, this is one of the buzziest and most kinetic films on the list. Impressively translated, but not a slam-dunk. It relied too much on narration, slide-show effects and the breakdown of the fourth wall. Too cheeky for me.

The Martian? This novel was on most folks’ holiday reading lists, yet maybe the film hewed too closely to the book. Not much adaptation to be had, aside from condensing — and most of the fascinating science got sacrificed, I hear, which made for a confusing movie upon first viewing. What amazes me is many American viewers thought this film was a documentary, that the events actually happened (while possibly the same subsample of folks subscribes to the conspiracy theory that the moon landing was a hoax). When belief is at odds with suspending disbelief, it diminishes  the sci-fi effect. Like the air on Mars, this screenplay proved thin.

Brooklyn and Carol. Both very powerful woman-empowerment flicks. I think Brooklyn outdid Carol as both film and screenplay.

Carol had one foot stuck in a novelesque mental landscape; Exhibit A was its overdone window/mirror imagery. Moving, but the movie tried too hard. I can’t imagine reading through that screenplay, ugh. While it made good use of the “flashback” technique, it was way too self-conscious to earn my vote.

Brooklyn was simply lovely. If the secret to a good adaptation is that the movie makes you want to read the book, it did its job. Brooklyn will be the next one I download.

In short, I fear The Big Short might win the Oscar, but I’m gonna short (bet against) The Big Short. Instead, I’m pulling for Room.

My 2016 Oscar Rustle-Hustle

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Next up: These two, together knocking out eight nominations

Confident this year I can do it: see all of the feature films and shorts nominated for Academy Awards in the top 24 categories within the six-plus weeks between Noms and Statuettes.

For 2016, there are 42 unique films and 15 shorts.

Given Fifty Shades of Grey is nominated for original song, I will change the rules slightly: I can’t bear to look upon that movie and shall eliminate the pressure to see the five song nominees, rather sampling only their songs. (Besides, “The Hunting Ground” will win that category, thanks, Gaga, and I’ve seen that movie — DONE!)

So, I need to tally only 37 feature films plus 15 shorts.
Score so far: 4/37+0 (11%).

Last year I couldn’t participate, due to homeowner’s woes, but in 2014
I finished with 31/42+15 (74%). In 2013, 23/38+15 (61%). Progress, not perfection, is the goal.

If I manage even 28 features plus all of the shorts, I win. Bundling each of the three shorts categories into four “movies,” as they’re presented at the local arts cinema, translates to consuming about five features a week, easy-peasy.

Here is the list, in order of appearance — as stacked at oscars.org — plus number of multiple nominations by my quick count (pardon errors):

FEATURE-LENGTH

Speaking of pressure, here's a little for "Mad Max: Fury Road" ...

Speaking of pressure, here’s a little for “Mad Max: Fury Road” …

  1. The Big Short – 5
  2. Bridge of Spies – 6
  3. Brooklyn – 3
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road – 10
  5. The Martian – 7 (seen it, twice)
  6. The Revenant – 12
  7. Room – 4 (read the book)
  8. Spotlight – 6 (saw it on Thanksgiving)
  9. Trumbo
  10. Steve Jobs – 2 (saw it on Halloween)
  11. The Danish Girl – 3 (reading the book)
  12. Carol – 6
  13. Joy
  14. 45 Years
  15. Creed
  16. The Hateful Eight – 3
  17. Anomalisa
  18. Boy and the World
  19. Inside Out – 2
  20. Shaun the Sheep Movie
  21. When Marnie Was There
  22. Sicario – 3
  23. Cinderella
  24. Amy
  25. Cartel Land
  26. The Look of Silence
  27. What Happened, Miss Simone?
  28. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
  29. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – 5 (saw it on Christmas Eve)
  30. Embrace of the Serpent
  31. Mustang
  32. Son of Saul
  33. Theeb
  34. A War
  35. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
  36. Fifty Shades of Grey (song)
  37. Racing Extinction (song)
  38. Youth (song)
  39. The Hunting Ground (song) (seen it twice)
  40. Spectre (song)
  41. Ex-Machina – 2
  42. Straight Outta Compton

... and a little pressure for Eddie Redmayne

… and a little pressure for Eddie Redmayne

SHORTS

  1. Body Team 12
  2. Chau, Beyond the Lines
  3. Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
  4. The Girl on the River: The Price of Forgiveness
  5. Last Day of Freedom
  6. Bear Story
  7. Prologue
  8. Sanjay’s Super Team
  9. We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
  10. World of Tomorrow
  11. Ave Maria
  12. Day One
  13. Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)
  14. Shok
  15. Stutterer

Fun aside: I was reading my 84-year-old mama the list, and she said, “Oh! Fifty Shades of Grey! I loved that one!”

Upon further probing, turns out she meant Grey Gardens. Phew.

 

Oscar picks: Picking the lint outta my brain

Hurriedly writing here, minutes before Oscars … I realize I omitted several picks in my other posts. So, for the record, just so I can honestly record my score at the end, let me fill in those blanks.

Documentary Short: Loved them all, but my pick is “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life.” Sad that the subject, Alice Herz-Sommer, then the oldest-living Holocaust survivor, died Feb. 23 at age 110 and didn’t live to watch the Oscars, but that makes the film all the more poignant. The only thing I didn’t like was the tone of the narration — it felt like a social studies film. “Facing Fear” — which dissects a brutal hate crime from the perspectives of both victim and perpetrator — has a fighting chance. Also sticking with me: “Prison Terminal.” It tracks the death of a war hero turned murderer — and aren’t all soldiers killers? — in a prison hospice whose caregivers are fellow prisoners. Crocodile tears.  Why sentence the guy to life for killing a drug dealer? His righteous son turned him in. Another fave: “Cavedigger,” about Ra, a 65-year-old artist whose canvas is New Mexican sandstone, from which he constructs fabulous caves — rather than capture space, he creates it. His quotes are almost as life-affirming as Herz-Sommer’s. “Karama Has No Walls,” a firsthand look at the uprising in Yemen, is also gripping and important.

Documentaries, the long and the short of ’em, are possibly my favorite part of Oscar marathoning. A documentary filmmaker is what I once wanted to be when I grew up (you know, rather than ballerina or firefighter). If you really want to get something out of your two hours at the movies, skip the over-budget action movies and become a superhero for change by watching and supporting this genre.

TheVoormanProblem

Tom Hollander, as a prisoner who thinks he’s God, and Martin Freeman, as the psychiatrist assigned to evaluate him, engage in a fascinating tete-a-tete in “The Voorman Problem,” my pick for best live-action short.

Live-Action Short. “The Voorman Problem” will win. Awesomely creative and truly SHORT, also with star power (the guy from “Lord of the Rings”). Anyone know why Kevin Spacey was thanked in the credits, though? I am equally partial to the French offering “Just Before Losing Everything.” Important topic: domestic abuse. Its tension raised my BP. And “Helium” (Denmark) was uplifting. I didn’t care much for the Spanish “Aquel No Era Yo” (That Wasn’t Me). Finland’s “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything” is a delightful morsel, but it feels unfinished, pardon the pun.

Film Editing. “Dallas Buyers Club.” All the way!

Animated Feature. “Frozen.” I haven’t seen such a marvelous animated feature since “Beauty and the Beast.” And this is even better. It will make you melt and puddle up.

Original Song. “Happy” will win, obviously. But that’s only because the wrong song from “Frozen” was chosen. It should have been either “Fixer-Upper” or the one snowman Olaf sings. Is it called “Summer”? Don’t even know, I saw the flick only this morning. Even so, a song must truly work with the film to win, and “Let It Go” is a dramatic high point, even if it’s not overly catchy. The song I am most excited about hearing tonight is the U2 song from the Mandela movie, tho.

(If you’re wondering why there isn’t a fifth song nominee, one was disqualified about a week after nominations came out because of inappropriate campaigning. (IMHO “Happy” also engaged in sketchy, if not despicable, marketing.) For the full story on the disqualification of “Alone Yet Not Alone,” click here.)

Let’s review Josh Gad’s performance from “Frozen” — for once a sidekick character in a Disney movie that didn’t nauseate me.

Well, I guess it’s not worthy of best song. It’s not very anthem-like, which is what the Original Song Oscar is all about. Still, “In Summer” and “Fixer Upper” were the songs I left the theater humming. And “Fixer Upper” — in a “Hakuna Matata” vein — ultimately has a positive message as a blueprint for navigating relationships. Seriously, for a Disney movie, it’s a great departure from the Prince Charming brainwashing, telling kids: Hey, nobody’s perfect. It’s all in how you look at them and learn to overlook their faults. Kinda refreshing for Disney.

Original Score. I am envious of my oldest brother, a musical genius who goes to the movies and pretty much memorizes the score. I often forget to pay attention, even though I love music and am known to set images to music as a hobby. I think “Her” may and should win (ugh, that sounds like such bad grammar!), because I definitely noticed its near-futuristic score. But because this category is the only nomination for “Saving Mr. Banks,” I would love to see it win. Its score moved from celestine piano to lush soundscapes of the Australian outback to morose, marauding music for whisky drinking to whimsical Disneyland ditties. A show of versatile virtuosity.

cateUPDATE AFTER OSCARS BROADCAST: All told, I missed 10 predictions — got 14 right, for 58% — mostly because I underestimated Gravity‘s hold on folks’ imaginations. Missed two because I failed to see The Great Gatsby and missed one for not caring enough to see The Great Beauty. Great mistakes. My big miss, of course was over Miss Amy Adams. I wanted to see an upset in the leading lady category to add a little drama to the proceedings. As phenomenal as she is as an actress and as a person, Cate Blanchett was starting to act a little smug this awards season, and none of us likes going completely with the crowd favorite. Besides, being on the verge of a nervous breakdown is not a huge stretch for any woman, right, gals? Especially those of us inclined to binge on Oscar-nominated movies.

Look for my sequel in 2015.