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!!

‘The Revenant’ should be revered

Show of hands: Who knew what “revenant” meant before the movie? ——–

As suspected.

Folks, don’t judge a movie by its title. Tough to draw an audience to the cinema by way of the thesaurus, 20th Century Fox has learned. Upon formulating it was a “revenge flick,” the public was less likely to see it when it came out on Christmas Day — didn’t strike anyone as particularly festive.

And yet the movie’s theme of isolation resonated more powerfully for me (an Oscar marathoner can relate, sitting alone in a theater during 10:10 p.m. previews). It so happens isolation is a common theme among this year’s batch of nominees. The Martian. Room. Carol. 45 Years. The Danish Girl. Joy. Bridge of Spies. Theeb. They all track survivalists’ courage, sitting “inside the head” of protagonists as they struggle alone against the tide or against their demons or against the challenge of seeing 37 feature films and 15 shorts in a month’s time.

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Every year, my Oscar cheat sheet looks slightly different. This year, I started marathoning at my parents’ house when my dad’s printer was low on ink. Charming. One of these days, I shall invent the Oscar Marathoners’ app — the better to track showtimes and venues and fit them into a busy schedule.

It’s been nearly a week since I wrapped up the Best Picture nominees ahead of the 88th Academy Awards telecast, now nine days away. My Oscar marathoning score: 23/37+0/15 or 62% of the full-feature nominees. Still need to squeeze in those shorts. Who can blame me? I’ve been traveling all but seven days of 2016, a big handicap. (Recap: My denominator is 37 and not 42 because I’m not counting the five Original Song nominees as I refuse to waste a cent on such refuse/trash as Fifty Shades of Grey. Should factor in some points for seeing The Hunting Ground twice and catching Spectre On Demand later this week, if I manage it.) 

Today I’m just three pictures away from crossing off what people consider the “top 6” categories: four acting honors plus best director and best picture. I tend to include the two screenplay categories as my Essential Eight. The hateful titles standing in the way: The Hateful Eight (a bear to locate; it’s playing at one remote theater with only one midday showing), Creed (plan to see the late show tonight at a hole-in-the-wall, second-run college theater) and Trumbo, which finally, FINALLY popped up On Demand.

Feast your eyes on the categories I’ve decimated:

  1. Adapted Screenplay
  2. Original Screenplay
  3. Visual Effects
  4. Sound Mixing
  5. Sound Editing — what’s the difference again?!
  6. Production Design
  7. Makeup and Hairstyling
  8. Film Editing
  9. Directing
  10. Actress in a Leading Role
  11. Best Picture

It’s never too soon to predict the big awards, so here’s my big picture on Best Picture — and you know where I’m going with this if you’re paying attention. 

*(In case you’re wondering why there are only eight nominees and not 10, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences changed the rule, ergo: “The pictures receiving the highest number of votes shall become the nominations for final voting for the Best Picture award. There may not be more than 10 nor fewer than five nominations; however, no picture shall be nominated that receives less than 5% of the total votes cast.”)

The Big Short (5 total nominations; released Dec. 11, 2015). I’m all for trying to electrify a dry subject like underwater mortgages. But when I tried to watch this movie with my parents, ages 91 and 84, who have their faculties intact except for some vision/hearing issues, it played like a horror movie on their giant home-theater screen. Too jumbled, gimmicky and LOUD. They couldn’t stand it for even five minutes, so we watched Steve Jobs instead (yay, my third time!!!). Not saying The Big Short wasn’t stylistic or entertaining or educational. It aroused strong emotion: blistering anger. But this movie was trying too hard to get me to like it and, like taking medicine or an advanced econ class, I resisted. It seems targeted to Millennials with squirrel-like attention spans. For what Best Picture tends to represent — a slice of Americana that’s not so bleak — it doesn’t meet my criteria. Ranks 6th on my list.

Bridge of Spies (6 total nominations; released Oct. 4, 2015). Who knew we were referring to a literal bridge?!? Despite fairy-tale-like production design and drippy nostalgia, most of the imagery was not only too literal — it was simplistic. Terrific story, but in Steven Spielberg’s hands it was dumbed-down, Disney-fied, you know, for kids. God, I hated the part on the bus or train where the woman is reading the paper and glowering at Tom Hanks over the negative headlines and then later, same woman, different headlines and she’s all sugar and gaga. GAG ME. “Maudlin” was the word my husband used, and that describes it to a T. Although Mark Rylance was brilliant, Hanks never sold me, no matter how stirring and patriotic the soundtrack got. Give me an actual spy movie with unpredictable twists and turns any day. Ranks 7th on my list.

 Brooklyn (3 total nominations; released Nov. 4, 2015). Oh, heaven. Now THIS is the kind of American story that wins Best Picture. An absorbing immigrant tale (topical!) that some might discount as a “chick flick” but should seduce anyone with a pulse. Gorgeously filmed, consummately acted, lovely screenplay … blew me away. Unfortunately, it carries East-Coast-bias baggage and nobody saw it, so it won’t win. Ranks 4th on my list.

Mad Max: Fury Road (10 total nominations; released May 15, 2015). I’m shocked this was even nominated. I know that hurts the feelings of people I love and respect; I’m sorry. It’s nothing but a CGI car chase purported to be feminist — I felt it was sexist-ugly. The best I could give it might be costume design. People who know me understand that CGI puts me to sleep; I fell asleep twice, unfortunately, and had to see it twice. It did not improve on a second look. A Best Picture, for me, needs to be compelling enough to want to watch again and again. I’m embarrassed USA TODAY reviewers put this one at the top of their list. It would not make my top 20. I think its long legs (its release date a distant memory) can be attributed to the power of the franchise behind it, and the fact movie technology has finally hit critical mass appeal for its audience. Ranks 8th (last) on my list.

The Martian (7 total nominations; released Oct. 2, 2015). This is one of three Best Picture nominees I saw at the theater when they were released (Spotlight and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are the others). I enjoyed it enough to see it twice. Shocking that many average Americans considered it a documentary. Hello?! If a Best Picture is supposed to put life in perspective with universal themes, this works. I still get choked up thinking of the scene where the whole world is watching on screens, pulling for our lone hero in space. However, it’s not a “great” film, and its competition is too great. Ranks 5th on my list.

The Revenant (12 total nominations; released Dec. 25, 2015). I have to admit, for once, the Academy got it right. I literally had to drag myself to see this one — not unlike Hugh Glass dragging himself in the mud and snow back from the brink of death. (Funny how Leo doing that reminded me of his amazing physical comedy in his Wolf of Wall Street now-classic Quaaludes scene.) Despite my reluctance — and I never would have gone to see this if it hadn’t been nominated, thank you, Academy — as soon as the movie started, from the first frame, I was hooked. It was the closest thing to a virtual-reality cinematic experience I’ve known. Never been a fan of 3-D and actually watched it in 2-D, but still, I felt totally immersed, as if I was part of the hunting party. And for anyone who rejoices in nature — holy moly! “Revenant” should stand for “reverence.” While it is indeed a story of revenge, it has themes up the wazoo — family, tolerance, hunter-becoming-hunted, man’s place in grand scheme, native rights — the American Indian stuff alone should make it America’s Best Picture and required study in schools. This is visual literature. Haven’t read the book, but don’t need to. Pure moviemaking magic. Make fun of it all you want, but that bear-mauling scene!! I want to see it over and over. The filming of that scene should be a movie all its own. And the underwater scenes! The stunts, the rapids, the falls. This is Hollywood at its best, people. A pure vision from a brilliant director and collaborative excellence from his whole team, from hair and makeup designers to breathtaking cinematography. I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Part of my reaction could be because my expectations were so low that it was an utter joy to discover. I famously posted on Facebook that if The Revenant doesn’t win Best Picture, I’ll eat a raw squirrel — which is why I’m ill advised to host an Oscar party this year. Would be happy for The Revenant to sweep the rest under the rug, and I almost always prefer awards to be spread around. Go, Leo!! Ranks 1st (tops) on my list, obs. 

Room (4 total nominations; released Sept. 4, 2015). Before I saw The Revenant, this was my hands-down favorite. As you’ve heard all the critics say, it’s the Little Movie That Could. Because I had read the book, I especially could appreciate the translation to film — the movie is definitely its own vehicle, even with the author doing the screenplay adaptation — great choices. The acting is flawless, and that whip-smart Jacob Tremblay, who was not nominated for an Oscar, grrrr, nevertheless is the reason I’m torn and could almost assign Best Director to Lenny Abrahamson. The performance he coaxed outta that 9-year-old kid. … But so hard to compete with my new master, Alejandro González Iñárritu. I’m afraid Room will have to settle for a Best Adapted Screenplay and maybe a leading actress Oscar, haven’t quite decided on that yet. And that’s largely because Emily Blunt wasn’t nominated for Sicario. Robbed! Ranks 2nd on my list.

Spotlight (6 total nominations; released Nov. 6, 2015). As a journalist, I’m all for valentines to investigative reporting. I’ve seen this one twice and still cry when the presses roll. But despite a fantastic cast — including one of my favorite Broadway idols, Brian d’Arcy James, and my soulmate, Stanley Tucci — it did not ring all my bells. Yes, a compelling issue, gripping story, important to be seen and advocate for. But I’m rating movies here, not topics. And I feel neither Mark Ruffalo nor Rachel McAdams deserves their nomination. Ranks 3rd on my list, with Brooklyn a close 4th.

More predictions coming soon to a blog post near you.

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.

Movie memes: Cross-pollination of mainstream flicks


First things first. I share Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee’s consternation over this year’s #OscarsSoWhite snub. Seems to be a pattern. A baffling black-white one.

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Will Smith in “Concussion,” proof Hollywood is not an even playing field

And I was so looking forward to seeing Concussion, certain that Will Smith would be nominated for his transformation into a serious Nigerian. The trailer alone — that small furrow of his brow — seemed award-winning. Nothing’s stopping me from seeing the movie still … except time. Can’t possibly cram it in this month if I don’t hafta. This controversy puts the “cuss” in Concussion. On MLK Day, no less.

Four days since nominations were announced, my movie-viewing score stands at 8/37+0/15, or 22%. In the past few days, I rewatched Spotlight and Steve Jobs (to share the experience with my parents) and picked up Brooklyn, The Big Short, The Danish Girl and Room.

Besides acting inequities and lily-white actors, other patterns are popping up from film to film.

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Comedian Amy Poehler voices the Joy character, who goes through a roller coaster of emotions, in “Inside Out.”

For instance, the name Joy. Not a common female name, yet three honored movies feature Joy protagonists: Inside Out, Joy, obs, and Room. In the latter two, Joy seems ironically named, as neither character is particularly joyful, though I have yet to experience Joy.

In Inside Out, Sadness plays a vital supporting role to Joy — brings to mind Stevie Wonder’s hit Joy Inside My Tears. The Disney/Pixar animated feature is  a teaching tool to help kids name and access their emotions and realize there is no joy without sadness.

Speaking of kids, another echo is the 5-year-old‘s perspective, from Jack in Room and when we first meet Lisa in Steve Jobs. Also, remember when Lisa weaves through the puffy-cloud racks of tutus backstage at one of her dad’s dog-and-pony shows? That dreamy indoor landscape is echoed by a tutu array at Ulla’s humble theater in The Danish Girl. I’ve looked at tutus from both sides now.

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The spotlight is on gender-identity and sexual-abuse issues in “The Danish Girl” and “Spotlight,” respectively.

Another theme/meme, this time between The Danish Girl and Brooklyn: Lili (Eddie Redmayne) finally blooms, abandoning the painter she was and finding frilly work as a sales counter girl, gossipy and giggly with the other gals, selling perfume … same as Irish immigrant Ellis (Saoirse Ronan), eventually a no-nonsense accountant who first struggles to fit in through a department store job, selling nylons and such — nylons! Lili’s gateway drug! Eventually both fair-skinned lasses feel comfortable in their own skins, but they’re like sisters on the journey. Ellis hardly speaks and Lili mostly whispers.

Then there’s the iPodThe Big Short opens with narrator Ryan Gosling introducing us to banking ghoul Lewis Ranieri: “You might not know who he is,” he drones, “but he changed your life more than Michael Jordan, the iPod and YouTube put together.” Hey! Point for an African-American icon! A historical montage flashes past, with images of — hello! — the first Macintosh, which is a co-star of Steve Jobs; the first iMac, also making a cameo in Steve Jobs; and a haunting image of the WTC twin towers with a large bird (is it a plane?) dodging past.

No spoilers here, but the dawning of the iPod in Steve Jobs was an emotional peak for me. The device did, in fact, transform my life. Seems poignant, with 2015’s streaming music wars all but killing our beloved iPod. And though the twin towers are but a footnote both in The Big Short and Spotlight, they register melancholy whenever glimpsed.

Visual and thematic cross-references like these, themes and memes, likely jump out only to Oscar marathoners — proof there’s nothing new under the sun, nor the Klieg lights, in the same awards season. It takes cluster viewing to suss out creative parallels.

Can one get a concussion from watching too many movies too fast?