Friday, February 24, 2017

My 2017 Oscars Predictions

It was just another year, with "regular" movies such as La La Land and Moonlight suddenly shooting to critical fame ... again. In his recent autobiography, Owen Gleiberman calls this concept "Media Mic": when it seems a mysterious microphone is singing praise of a certain movie into critics' ears all over the country, and critics all just sing along. Happens all the time, and Media Mic lives strong.

But then about a month ago, the President of the United States started persecuting minorities. A few nominees (including Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi) were temporarily banned from attending the ceremony, and since many Academy members are in the habit of showing the middle finger to organizations such as the government ... this changed things. The nominees that addressed the plight of refugees, immigrants and minorities suddenly came to the forefront - because after all, when have the Oscars ever been about art?

So in view of recent turn of events, I'm adding a "Trump Fallout" category to my predictions: movies that suddenly have a better shot at winning in spite of Trump's rescinded Executive Order. Actually, this is my way of chickening out of committing to my predictions, because the recent storm blurred the lines and blew everything out of the proportion, making it extremely difficult to predict an otherwise very predictable year.

Best Picture:

(Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight)

The front-runners here are La La Land and Moonlight. While the unwritten rules dictate La La Land should win, I'll go out on a limb on this one, and hope Academy voters will come to their senses, realize that La La Land wasn't actually about anything praise-worthy, then make a stand against current tides, and go for Moonlight - a movie about a black gay boy. Of course, my pick would've been my own favorite of the year.

Should Win: Manchester By The Sea.

Trump Fallout: Moonlight

Will Win: Moonlight

Best Director:


(Denis Villeneuve for Arrival, Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge, Damien Chazelle for La La Land, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester By The Sea, Barry Jenkins for Moonlight)

Okay, everything is going for Damien Chazelle here. Compared to MoonlightLa La Land was a much more complicated movie to direct. But when it comes to difficult directorial efforts, none of the nominees beat Hacksaw Ridge in my book.

Should Win: Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge

Trump Fallout: Barry Jenkins for Moonlight

Will Win: Damien Chazelle for La La Land

Best Actor:

(Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea, for Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling for La La Land, for Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic, Denzel Washington for Fences)

The only element going against a Casey Affleck win is rape allegations that have recently propped up about an incident that occurred years ago. Otherwise, his should be a smooth win. Anti-Trump sentiments make Denzel a close competitor, but while his acting in Fences was superb as always, his attempt at directing it was not. Add to that, he already has two Oscars. Viggo Mortensen's nomination for Captain Fantastic was just an Academy nod to indie film-making, but a win would be a tough act to pull.

Should Win: Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea

Trump Fallout: Denzel Washington for Fences

Will Win: Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea

Best Actress:

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

The Golden Globes for Best Actress went to the seasoned Isabelle Huppert, and the younger Emma Stone. Stone has since went on to win the Bafta and the Screen Actors Guild Award. The time-honored tradition has been that when choosing between the young and old, the Academy goes for the young. Ruth Negga, as the wife of a couple fighting for interracial marriage in the 60s, could become the dark horse of the resistance. Me? I pick Meryl Streep every time she's nominated.

Should Win: Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins

Trump Fallout: Ruth Negga for Loving

Will Win: Emma Stone for La La Land

Best Supporting Actor:

(Mahershala Ali for Moonlight, Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water, Lucas Hedges for Manchester By The Sea, Dev Patel for Lion, Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals)

The Force is strong with Mahershala Ali - both because he won the SAG, and because he declared he converted to Islam at the podium after receiving the SAG. That should piss a lot of Trumpsters off. Producers tried to increase Dev Patel's chances by categorizing him as a supporting role, while he actually had a leading role in Lion - a trick that worked at winning him the Bafta. Also, Lion is about immigration, and many Trumpsters, especially immigrant-ancestor Trumpsters (ahem, all of them), don't like immigrants. Strangely, while not a strong movie in itself, among the nominees, Jeff Bridges' act in Hell or High Water stood out the most to me.

Should Win: Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water

Trump Fallout: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight or Dev Patel for Lion

Will Win: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress:

(Viola Davis for Fences, Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Nicole Kidman for Lion, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, Michelle Williams for Manchester By The Sea)

The cards are all stacked in favor of Viola Davis. The minority card, the brilliant performance card, the Golden Globe/SAG/Bafta winner card, the three-time-Oscar-nominee-no-win card, and finally, the Mo-View approval card. Especially the Mo-View approval card.

Should Win: Viola Davis for Fences

Trump Fallout: Viola Davis for Fences

Will Win: Viola Davis for Fences

Best Original Screenplay:

(20th Century WomenHell or High WaterLa La Land, The LobsterManchester By The Sea)

Best Adapted Screenplay:

(ArrivalFencesHidden FiguresLionMoonlight)

While there's suspicion that Casey Affleck might lose the Oscar to Denzel, there's minimal disagreement that Manchester By The Sea (i.e., Kenneth Lonergan) will at least win for the film's superb screenplay. On the same token, if Moonlight is destined to win only one Oscar, it'll be for its screenplay - especially since Barry Jenkins will likely lose Best Director to Damien Chazelle.

On the other hand, the Greek-written Lobster is the only Original Screenplay nominee that has an anti-establishment message, and Arrival is the only Adapted Screenplay nominee that doesn't have an anti-establishment message (although it can if you try).

Should Win: Manchester By The SeaLion

Trump Fallout: The Lobster, all except Arrival 

Will Win: Manchester By The SeaMoonlight

Best Documentary Feature Film:

(13th, Fire At Sea, I Am Not Your Negro, Life, Animated, O.J.: Made in America)

Life, Animated is the one that has zero chance at winning. All other four nominees have some degree of a winning shot for reasons detailed above: 13thI Am Not Your Negro and O.J.: Made in Americafor elaborating on the plight of African-Americans in the US, and even more applying to Fire At Seafor detailing the plight of refugees. But the Academy will likely give the Oscar to the (deserving) near-8-hour O.J.: Made in America, for the added benefit of "the longest film ever to win an Oscar" - a cool record.

Should Win: O.J.: Made in America

Trump Fallout: Fire At Sea

Will Win: O.J.: Made in America

Best Animated Feature Film:

(Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life As A Zucchini, The Red Turtle, Zootopia)

My Life As A Zucchini is the only nominated feature I haven't seen yet. But again, like in the case of Viola Davis, not much of a contest here. Zootopia predicted and delivered a strong anti-Trump message far ahead of our time, and so far has won the major awards.

Should Win: Zootopia 

Trump Fallout: Zootopia 

Will Win: Zootopia 

Best Foreign Language Film:

(Land of Mine, A Man Called Ove, The Salesman, TannaToni Erdmann)

This is where the the main Trump showdown will take place. Toni Erdmann was the sweetheart up until a month ago, but then Trump's travel ban came along, Farhadi and his film's actress boycotted the ceremony, and suddenly, The Salesman inched closer from second place in the Foreign-Language Oscar race, to first.

To be honest, in my opinion, this is not fair. Farhadi already has an Oscar for A Separation, and while both are brilliant movies, Toni Erdmann was slightly better, because it describes a complicated situation in simple terms, while The Salesman describes a complicated situation in complicated terms. And the Oscars have always been about connecting to the masses.

Should Win: Toni Erdmann

Trump Fallout: The Salesman

Will Win: The Salesman

And for predictions in other categories:

- Best Editing: La La Land

- Best Production Design: La La Land

- Best Cinematography: La La Land

- Best Makeup: Star Trek Beyond

- Best Original Score: La La Land 

- Best Original Song: La La Land (for "City of Stars")

- Best Costume Design: La La Land 

- Best Sound Editing: Hacksaw Ridge

- Best Sound Mixing: 
La La Land 

- Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

It would be interesting to see if the Academy will reward Rogue One's "philosophy" (and not technical expertise) of digitally making old actors young, and bringing dead actors back to life. I'm willing to bet it will not.

- Best Animated Short Film: Piper

- Best Documentary Short Film: The White Helmets (another famous refugee crusader) 

- Best Live Action Short Film:  Ennemis Intérieurs

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Eagle Huntress (2016)

Director: Otto Bell. Narrator: Daisy Ridley. 87 min. Rated G. UK/Mongolia/USA. Documentary.

Another one of those worlds you wouldn't experience in a lifetime - other than in a movie. Kazakh nomads use eagles to help them hunt in the freezing cold, and a cheery 13-year-old girl struggles to become the first eagle huntress ever. Reports like these (and similar arguments made in the film) undermine the claim that women should have entirely equal job opportunities to men, but this documentary proves a few exceptional females can handle it. And when you add the stunning cinematography, this is a film delivering a healthy dose of art and reflection to all members of the family.

Mo says:

The Birth of a Nation (2016)

Director: Nate Parker. Cast: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley. 120 min. Rated R. Biography/History.

True story of slave/preacher Nat Turner, who organized the 1831 violent uprising against white slave-owners. From beginning to end, the plot follows Braveheart's structure, and while the atrocities portrayed here makes your blood boil the way 12 Years a Slave did, you wonder: Is Parker trying to make freedom-seeking Black-against-White violence look heroic, the way Gibson made freedom-seeking Scottish-against-English campaigning look in Braveheart? I doubt that's an advisable alternative for our times. This movie didn't fail because of Parker's rape scandal; it failed because it is agenda-driven, countering D.W. Griffith's century-old pioneering but KKK-promoting film of the same name.

Mo says:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Allied (2016)

Director: Robert Zemeckis. Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan. 124 min. Rated R. UK/USA. War/Thriller.

The entire first hour of the movie is already spoiled in the trailer: Canadian and French agents meet during a WWII assignment in Morocco, marry, work for England, then the husband is told his wife may be a German spy. Although Zemeckis handles the husband's ambivalent state after the debriefing admirably, two problems: 1. Why does the husband go through such a life-threatening endeavor to prove his wife's innocence/guilt, when the British intelligence already instructed him an easier path? 2. We're passed the times when people watch entirely fictional WWII stories. Audiences have gone truth-based, or at least truth-inspired.

PS: A few words on the story's veracity (or lack thereof) here.

PPS: Inglourious Basterds, Fury, Allied. I can imagine a "Brad Pitt: WWII Hero" DVD package coming out soon.

Mo says:

The Love Witch (2016)

Director: Anna Biller. Cast: Samantha Robinson, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Laura Waddell. 120 min. Unrated. Horror/Comedy.

You need to be part of a small eccentric group of movie-lovers to appreciate what's been done here. We always groan they don't make movies like they used to, but director Anna Biller has done exactly that: she's recreated one of those corny low-budget sex-and-violence-filled colorful movies of the 70s, where the plot was laughable, the acting was somewhat intentionally awful, the soundtrack was so Ennio Morricone, and the copious blood looked like light-colored ketchup (Tarantino is famous for these grind-house resurrections). Except in those times, nobody appreciated them. Now we do; especially the pain to reawaken the same feeling.

Mo says:

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Monster Calls (2016)

Director: J.A. Bayona. Cast: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones. 108 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Spain. Fantasy/Drama.

A youngster struggles with his terminally-ill mother's impending death, through fantasizing about a tree-like monster who tells him three stories, in exchange for one of his own. It's heart-wrenching melodrama, for (in the film's own words) kids who are "too old to be a kid, too young to be a man", but still a necessary work of art for the unfortunate child in the same situation. While Weaver displays an awful British accent, young newcomer McDougall does an astonishing job, and both the animated sequences and the Monster's CGI effects are beyond satisfying.

PS: Watch for Liam Neeson in a picture frame in the final scene to discover the Monster's identity.

Mo says:

I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

Director: Raoul Peck. Narrator: Samuel L. Jackson. 95 min. Rated R. France/USA. Documentary.

If just two years ago I was shown a documentary about a Black scholar debating that "America is not real", I would've brushed it off as reverse racism - a Black conspiracy targeting Whites. But now, after watching first-hand how half the Americans were 'okay' with a blatant racist as their President, I believe it. The tale of James Baldwin, whose three activist friends (Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X) were assassinated, is similar to 13th: arguing that racism in America never got better; it just changed form. This film isn't just relevant today. It is today.

Mo says:

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Director: Chris McKay. Voices: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifianakis, Jenny Slate, Conan O'Brien, Billy Dee Williams, Zoë Kravitz, Eddie Izzard. 104 min. Rated PG. Denmark/USA. Animation.

The new norm of recent years has been to create children's animation that works on two levels: fun for kids, messages for adults. The successful Lego Movie adhered to the same formula, so they thought to apply it to a Lego Batman movie, but the other way around: a complicated adult message ... addressed to kids. As a result, kids got confused figuring out existential concepts such as 'appreciating your enemy's presence by hating them a lot'; because believe it or not, that's what this movie was about. At the end, my 5-year-old said: "I like Robin more than Batman."

Mo says:

Monday, February 13, 2017

They Live (1988)

Director: John Carpenter. Cast: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster. 93 min. Rated R. Sci-fi/Horror.

An oldie but goodie. If you can ignore the clunky dialogue, ignore the horrendous lead actor (whom I'm glad to have seen for the first and hopefully last time), and avoid exploding from laughter at the super-long mid-movie street fight sequence ... you might actually enjoy how well the famed director tells a story with such small productions values, and hurls surprise after surprise till the very end. Only John Carpenter-lovers, those who understand his minimalist blockbuster film-making technique (if there is such an oxymoron), will have fun here - and even find significant correlates to Trump's America today.

Mo says:

Friday, February 10, 2017

20th Century Women (2016)

Director: Mike Mills. Cast: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Lucas Jade Zumann, Alia Shawkat. 119 min. Rated R. Drama/Comedy.

The 70's ... and how that greatest of all American decades ended, heralding some ominous days to come. Bening, a washed-out fifty-something year old born in the Great Depression, who thinks she's seen it all and knows it all, has a teenage son, runs a rental house, and is chain-smoking her way to cancer. All other characters and subplots of this plot-less film aside, I felt sorry for the great actress, who as a four-time Oscar nominee, incorporates part of her own reality here, making one last (failed) effort at nabbing the award. Maybe look forward to an Honorary Oscar.

Mo says:

Monday, February 6, 2017

Paterson (2016)

Director: Jim Jarmusch. Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani. 118 min. Rated R. USA/France/Germany. Drama/Romance.

A soft-spoken mild-mannered poet named Paterson, who is a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, sees events repeating themselves every day: he sees twins, hears repeating dialogue, and notices recurring themes (I bet that's why Jarmusch chose Adam "Driver" for the role). His wife is interested in making everything black-and-white (clothes, cabinets, curtains, cupcakes - all "c"s). What those two concepts mean, I have no clue. That's the definition of an 'art-house movie': a director throws cryptic concepts at you, and you may or may not decipher them. But everyone still raves about them. At least 96% of everyone.

Mo says:

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Passengers (2016)

Director: Morten Tyldum. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne. 116 min. Rated PG-13. Sci-fi/Romance.

In this "Robinson Crusoe in space", one of 5,000 passengers of a deep space flight is woken up from hibernation, before reaching the destination, ... 90 years early. With only four actors (and an unnecessary cameo by Andy Garcia), the story-line is able to keep the viewer engaged in its slick but confined CGI-ridden setting. While the main criticism to the movie has been its ending, I didn't have a problem with it - not only because there wasn't any other way to close the circle, but also because it's as brave as Interstellar at approaching the impossibility of love in space.

Mo says:

Friday, February 3, 2017

Tanna (2015)

Director(s): Martin Butler, Bentley Dean. Cast: Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa. 100 min. Australia/Vanuatu. Drama/Romance.

Marking the first time I've seen (and most likely you'll ever see) a movie from the country called "Vanuatu", this Foreign-Language Oscar nominee delves into the true story of forbidden love deep in a Pacific island jungle, where the nearby active volcano becomes a metaphor for the fire erupting in these two lovers. This is not a movie for every taste, but shows no matter how modernized and evolved humans become, the caveman concepts of tribal prejudice and revenge, and the merits of forgiveness, never change. You probably won't ever visit Vanuatu, so this is your only chance.

Mo says:

Miss Sloane (2016)

Director: John Madden. Cast: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Lithgow, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sam Waterston. 132 min. Rated R. France/USA. Drama/Thriller.

The life of a Washington lobbyist. The plot is about how she is recruited to help consolidate the National Rifle Association's claws on politics, how she switches sides against the gun lobby, and how they pledge to destroy her. But the real theme is the lobbyist's cold way of thinking, acting and living - and that, is an image we've rarely been exposed to on film. Chastain (like always) is superb at undertaking that cold presence, and while the twist ending is hard to believe, it scores high for enchanting entertainment.

Mo says:

The Monster (2016)

Director: Bryan Bertino. Cast: Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine. 91 min. Rated R. Horror/Thriller.

The spirit of indie film-making. On a shoestring budget working as a metaphor for the beast called 'alcoholism', you have two unknown but brilliant actresses, a rainy road in the middle of the forest. smart lighting, and a cheap-looking monster which (in Jaws fashion) you see for the first time two-thirds into the movie, and ... there you go: you're hooked for one and a half hours. You need zero digital effects to make an entertaining movie. The Monster is proof of that.

Mo says:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Director: David Yates. Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Johnny Depp. 133 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Adventure/Fantasy.

A prequel to the Harry Potter stories, set in New York, with occasional references to "Hogwarts" and "Dumbledore", just to keep the story grounded. The soft-spoken Redmayne and numerous comedic moments make this (deservedly) much more lighthearted than the Harry Potter films, and the sudden switch at the very end from one famous actor to another to reveal the main villain (and prepare for the next episode) was a surprising touch. I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Mo says:

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Split (2016)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan. Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley. 117 min. Rated PG-13. Thriller.

A man afflicted by multiple personality disorder (in this case, 23 personalities) kidnaps three teenage girls for mysterious reasons. The movie, starting from the opening credits, is an obvious homage to Hitchcock's Psycho and Norman Bates' split personality, and while even some moments remind of Alien's claustrophobic chase scenes, the story has an originality of its own. That alone would've made this a great movie. But then ... the very final scene will blow you away, and hints that Shyamalan may be constructing an Avengers-type world of his own. After all, his movies all happen in Philadelphia, don't they?

PS: And with this and The Witch, consider Anya Taylor-Joy already a star.

Mo says: