Set in the pretentious NPR world of the classical music scene, Cate Blanchett (in her best performance since “Blue Jasmine”) plays Lydia Tár; an American woman who is acknowledged as the greatest living composer-conductor.
Like a long-form piece of classical music, there is purposeful structure and pacing to this story and how writer/director Todd Field chooses to tell it, which admittedly will not be for everyone. For the first hour or so nothing of substantial plot driven note happens, as we follow Tár during her daily interactions; which isn’t as uninteresting as it sounds. This first half establishes Tár as a steely, no nonsense, musical genius, getting ready for a book launch while directing a major German orchestra. To be honest, this film contains such little plot during this section that I was very unsure what it had to say about anything until nearly forty minutes in, when Tár has her first combative encounter with a self-proclaimed BIPOC student and her true nature flashes. The second half really kick-starts the actual story, as Tár is ripped from her insulated world of celebrity upon the emergence of the #MeToo movement. This half (though predictable) because of the “ripped from the headlines” subject matter, does allow for a deeper investment into seeing what becomes of this most unlikeable character.
This is a movie about systemic unchecked power within wealthy white liberal communities. This is also a movie which asks if it is at all possible to separate the art from the artist. But the biggest reason why “Tár” is completely rewatchable despite its pacing, is that it’s a two hour and thirty-eight-minute figurative disemboweling of an abusive narcissist, spearheaded by an award worthy lead performance from Blanchett.
Blanchett’s performance is perfection. I can’t believe I’ve gone this far into my review without dying on this hill it, as she is the best thing about “Tár”. She plays this undemonstrative character we are meant to hate, but still find prolonged interest in, and does it in a way which allows audiences to clearly understand how we are to feel about her actions and responses during every second she is on screen. And Field’s direction is a superb compliment in the way that he frames her in a mostly ultra-sterile world, allowing us to hyperfocus on the smallest detailed and purposeful movement Blanchett has to offer.
Final Thought: Since this a portrayal of a fictionalized figure and where this film ends up comes straight from the mind of Todd Field, the final thirtyish minutes does become a bit too overworked and nearly too silly for the subject matter. While I understand that there is a point about so called “cancel culture” which Field is attempting to drive home, the ending comes off as a prolonged punchline that while technically makes sense, leaves what was left hypnotically subtle in the first two hours, unnecessarily forced in the final act as the hammer comes out and strikes the point home again and again and again. With that said, if “Tár” were only a two-hour film, it would clearly be one of my top ten films of the year.
Adapted from the Joyce Carol Oates novel of the same name, “Blonde” is the fictionalized retelling of the personal life of Hollywood icon Norma Jeane aka Marylin Monroe (Ana de Armas). Depicting her as someone who aspires to be a serious actress, but is physically taken advantage of by every person she comes into contact with.
The acting here is good. Yes, de Armas has an accent that she tries to mask behind a breathy Monroe inspired delivery, but she puts forth a solid effort; as does every actor in this. But as she is in every scene, I’ll focus on her when I proclaim how painful it was to watch how little support she received throughout from director Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly). It’s not much of a stretch to liken watching this nearly three-hour movie to watching de Armas drown on-screen in slow motion.
Dominik’s depiction of the life of the infamous “blonde bombshell” is too experimental and surreal for its own good. Some of the film looks like literal screen tests. And while Dominik may believe that filming the entire movie this way serves a purpose, as he attempts to show a world through the eyes of someone whose cinematic life and actual life blur to the point of incoherence, it results in something confusing and awkward and disconnected in its best moments and wildly exploitative in its worst.
“Blonde” is an NC-17 film that depicts the life of an abused individual. So, one would think the subject matter would have been handled with tact. Well, what we get is something in between a stage play and an actual movie, with little to no soundtrack to speak of, and scenes that go on for far too long, containing the random edits of someone just learning how to use Microsoft PowerPoint. It’s simply hard not to feel bad for these actors (especially de Armas). Actors who put themselves out there in super vulnerable positions, as their director seemingly abandons them in order to create the most voyeuristic viewing experience of 2022.
The second half does work better to create a more palatable, plot driven experience. That said, it does contain the most gratuitous and preachy scenes in the film, so…there is that.
Final Thought: Andrew Dominik is a good director, but “Blonde” isn’t it. “Blonde” is an uncomfortable watch for all the wrong reasons. A bloated mess of film, containing random acts of surrealism, French New Wave, pornography, horror and found footage, Dominik wants to have it all and give it to us all at once, and it’s beyond jarring. Instead of giving us a movie about loneliness as felt by someone violently losing their autonomy, “Blonde” will forever will go down as the movie where Marylin Monroe was humiliated for nearly three hours.
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Disclaimer: While I don’t believe a film critic has any real impact on the box-office, I am of the belief that there are online influencers who are very much able to galvanize their bases in a very real way in order to impact the box-office, by creating controversies surrounding targeted media they deem to be “woke” or basically inclusive. These influencers are not critics at all, but mostly from the world of political commentary. And while I may be in the minority in my thoughts on how much influence these groups actually have, I will BRIEFLY touch on one of the controversies surrounding this film as a rebuttal I feel is very much needed. Is this film historically accurate? No. There are liberties taken by the filmmakers as to the Kingdom of Dahomey’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. And so, the film is not historically accurate. Not that it ever claims to be. In fact, I have seen this film described accurately as an alternate historical retelling or historical fiction. That said, nobody said shit when white patriotic movies like “Braveheart”, “Gladiator” or “The Patriot” bend the historical truth; hiding factual atrocities and whatnot. But when a movie like “The Woman King” does it, then we have a problem? Anyway, moving on.
A film that caught me completely off-guard, “The Woman King” is a superior theater going experience on almost every level.
Taking place in 1823 West Africa, this film tells the story of Nanisca (Viola Davis), the leader of an all-female unit of warriors in the Kingdom of Dahomey. The film follows this group and their king (John Boyega) as they attempt to fight off a powerful group of slave traders.
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball), instantly establishes the scale of this epic by going big right out of the gate with a theater shaking battle sequence. She quickly works to showcase her love and admiration of these physically dominate female characters throughout the film, through fight and training sequences which are all filmed with the visual clarity and boldness of a big budget musical number. But it’s not just about the action, as there really are only three or four big action sequences. It is the smaller scenes of levity and female-centric bonding centered around trauma, loss and triumph which really carry this two hour plus film. And this is possible due to a cast which includes the aforementioned Davis and Boyega, but also Lashana Lynch (No Time to Die), Sheila Atim (Bruised) and Thuso Mbedu (The Underground Railroad) who all give performances which meet the moment, as this collective display of Black cinema excellence more than holds in the same movie as some of the most adrenaline pumping visuals, I’ve seen all year.
Sure, there are a few melodramatic scenes involving a love interest storyline which take away from the story. And no, the film wasn’t as visually bloody as it could’ve been, as it is PG-13. But the battle scenes are quite gruesome in their own right, while maintaining a spatially coherent, fast paced acrobatic quality that I think many MCU movies could take notes from. And the melodrama here is no different than what one would find in other award-winning historical action-based films like “Braveheart” or “Gladiator”.
Final Thought: “The Woman King” has so much going for it. From the battle sequences, to the character building, to the historical stakes felt throughout because of some fantastic storytelling, there is something for everyone. For me there was also something deeper. “The Woman King” depicts its relationship between elder Black female characters and younger Black female characters as analogous to the fractured connection between Africa and every single person stolen from her during this horrific time in history. A profound theme handled with such care, that I wish more people would actually experience before making their own statements about “The Woman King” as a film.
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I hate using the term “elevated horror”, since most memorable horror films are allegorical as hell. With a Jordan Peele film there’s always something deeper at play; a social commentary, critiques on the relationship between America and its Black citizens, and an abundance of well-placed Black history morsels baked into a fictional story. “Nope” is no different, as his overall statement draws attention to how cinema has historically treated its non-white actors.
Synopsis: OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) are in financial distress. They own a horse ranch and are in fact the only Black horse wranglers in Hollywood, but are struggling to find work after a sudden family tragedy. One night after one of the horses jumps a fence and runs off, OJ thinks he sees something resembling a UFO flying above the ranch. When he tells his sister she’s skeptical, but soon realizes that if they could get a clear photo of it, they could monetize this event.
The rest of the movie follows the siblings (with the addition of a couple of eccentric characters) as they attempt to capture evidence of a UFO on film. This is a quest which leads them to the horrifying truth about this particular UFO; with a twist which I did not see coming.
There is also a side story, told as a flashback, which documents the violent event surrounding a chimp who was once the star of its own television sitcom. As bizarre as this tale is, it clearly stands as the most intriguing thing in the movie.
The characters themselves are fairly two-dimensional, which is somewhat surprising given how Peele usually presents his leads. That said, these simplistic characters really complement the type of story where a small group of “nobodies” band together to defeat an insurmountable bad guy. Oddly enough it’s this “simplicity”, along with Keke Palmer’s standout performance, that allows for a concentrated level of pre-third act entertainment value, which is maintained for most of the film.
The ending is where things came back down to Earth for me. After maintaining said high level of entertainment which allowed me to shrug off some of the more confusing aspects with ease, the final fifteen minutes felt complete, but underwhelming; leaving me longing for a third act that was just as profound as some of the themes throughout the film.
Final thought: When speaking of an auteur like Jordan Peele, it is hard not to start comparing “Nope” to his other films. If at all possible, I would encourage you not to do that. What “Nope” lacks in certain aspects, it makes up for in being a fully original story, as well as being his most visually ambitious film to date. This is a movie which comes to the table with new ideas, while also borrowing from movies like “Jaws”, “Tremors” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. And while it does fall short of those classics, I will continue to proclaim that my least favorite Jordan Peele movie is still a good movie.
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Every time I see a good Miles Teller movie like “Top Gun: Maverick”, I hope against hope that he’s done with throwaway material like “Spiderhead”. But here we are.
The funny thing is, this movie is directed by the same guy (Joseph Kosinski) who brought us the aforementioned visually spectacular box-office hit “Top Gun: Maverick” starring Miles Teller. So, what happened here?
Synopsis: In the near future certain prisoners are brought to an Alcatraz looking incarceration facility for voluntary drug trials. In this facility, the prisoners, one of them being Jeff (Miles Teller) are allowed to walk freely, wear regular clothes and have access to a ping pong table. At least once a day, a “good cop” character named Mr. Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth) takes two prisoners and puts them into an observation room together, where a drug is voluntarily administered to them. This drug seems to make the two instantly fall into a state of hyperactive love. But as these trials move forward, we see that there are other drugs; drugs that push the recipients to the extreme edge of a single emotion.
Okay so, the acting is clearly the best thing going for this film. Let’s get the lone positive critique out of the way first.
A fairly simple sci-fi premise, “Spiderhead” is set up to be quite easily digestible. Visually the setup looks to be mimicking some notable social experiment that we learned about in psychology class.
The soundtrack is a series of 80’s pop hits that are annoyingly on-the-nose, but this can be forgiven if you enjoy these songs.
The plot is very much predicated on the promise of a big third act twist, similar to something from M. Night Shyamalan. It’s just turns out to be simply not as creative.
The movie is bogged down by many things. It’s too long, it feels like something we’ve seen a million times and it’s built upon a terribly unfunny script (written by Rhett Reese, based on a short story by George Saunders) that so badly wants to be a dark comedy. Not to say that humor cannot exist in sci-fi. Of course, it can. And not to say the likes of Chris Hemsworth can’t deliver this form of humor, because he very much can: see any of his films, it’s kind of his thing. It’s the humor in this movie in particular. The humor in “Spiderhead” is akin to being trapped in a conversation with a person who thinks they are funnier than they are. There are moments of reprieve by way of action, but not enough to keep from cringing every time a character tells a joke or does an actual pratfall.
Final Thought: I really want to be done with talking about this movie, but I must touch on one more thing; the direction. Kosinski can direct. If you’ve seen “Top Gun: Maverick”, “Oblivion” or “TRON: Legacy”, then this statement seems more than obvious. That said, the direction in “Spiderhead” is uninspired and dull. Looking back, I can’t think of one memorable moment. And unfortunately, as the plot twists happen and reveals are made (some silly, but others that are meant to be powerful) they all fall flat because everything leading up to it has been made to feel like such a who-cares-fest. What a shame. “Spiderhead” is a completely forgettable movie. But to be fair, if “Spiderhead” was just a little better it could’ve been considered something likened to a completely forgettable episode of “Black Mirror”. So, there is that.
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There is definitely a huge market for movies like these. Ones which lean hard into the underdog/inspirational/feel good stuff. And yes, afterword I did want to go outside and shoot some hoops, which does mean “Hustle” succeeded in its basic sports movie obligation. But with nothing really new to offer, a by-the-numbers storyline, speeches that never quite become inspirational and a couple of Rocky-esque montages that were never going to be as good as the real thing, all praise must go to the filmmakers for understanding how to make this story into a film that was more entertaining than it had the right to be.
Synopsis: Middle-aged disillusioned scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, Stanley Sugerman (Adam Sandler) discovers a diamond in the rough, street ball player in Spain named Bo Cruz, who he believes might be the next big thing in the NBA, and also Sugerman’s ticket off the road and into the NBA coaching job of his dreams.
Director Jeremiah Zagar saved this movie from becoming background noise, by both using handheld camerawork, giving “Hustle” it’s gritty feel, and more importantly giving Netflix audiences what they came to see from movie like this; don’t bore us, get to the chorus. “Hustle” is conventional, but also is never not moving forward.
And if all you came to see was NBA superstars, “Hustle” has got you covered too. This is a basketball film that would like you to know that it spent a lot of money on numerous NBA cameos. Cameo’s ranging from Shaq, to Charles Barkley, to Dr. J (Julius Erving) himself. There are also plenty of current players in this, the two who get the most screen time being Juancho Hernangomez of the Utah Jazz, who plays Cruz, and Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who plays a highly sought-after college superstar, the Apollo Creed of this film and the antithesis of Cruz. As first-time actors, Edwards and Hernangomez give performances that are good enough not be distracting.
But Adam Sandler is the lead here. And love him or hate him, Sandler is a charismatic actor who can act when he wants to, and he is good in this. Queen Latifah, who plays his wife, does a wonderful job in regards to making their relationship seem believable. But the real standout performance comes from Ben Foster, who plays the evil and spoiled billionaire Philadelphia 76ers owner. He’s not even in that many scenes, but his presence is felt as someone we should love to hate.
Final Thought: “Hustle” is no “He Got Game”, but is entertaining enough to get the job done. Also, you don’t have to know basketball to enjoy it. In fact, during the gameplay sequences where the majority of Bo’s opponents are substantially shorter than him, it might be better if you’ve never witnessed a minute of professional basketball.
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Capt. Pete Mitchell aka Maverick (Tom Cruise), who after more than thirty years as a naval aviator, playing by his own rules, is ordered to return to the infamous flight academy Top Gun, for one last job. There he must lead a class of young hotshot pilots on a mission that has previously been deemed unachievable.
If you saw this movie or are planning on seeing this movie, it was/is undoubtedly for the stunts and/or the nostalgia. So, let’s get into it:
The Stunts: Before the movie begins, Cruise literally pops up on-screen, basically telling audiences that what we are about to see is real. “Top Gun: Maverick” is worth buying a ticket to see on visuals alone. From jets doing backflips, to the many sequences where a camera is fixed on an actor as they attempt to maintain control of said jet, it all looks pretty damn real. There were a few times where it looked as though Cruise’s life was very much in danger, so kudos to the entire film crew for that achievement. Directed by Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion) “Top Gun: Maverick” is one of those movies where it’s quite obvious that the actors had to go through extensive training to pull off what was done on-screen; even with millions of dollars of movie magic at work. This style of stunt focused filmmaking was definitely a choice by Cruise and producers, that does pay off. That said, much of the more irresistible action sequences don’t arrive until almost an hour and a half in.
The Nostalgia: At this point we’ve all heard and seen multiple reactions to this film, all of which have been pretty positive; even by those who weren’t in love with the original. So, when talking about the first chunk of this movie, it’s easy to see where the focus was going to be. “Top Gun: Maverick” walks into the room nostalgia first. This is a film made by filmmakers who love 1986’s “Top Gun” and display this fact early and often. Right away and for the first two-thirds, we are smothered with sequences that pay visual homage to the original; sequences solely for people who have seen the original. We walk into a room and are introduced to overconfident characters who all have nicknames and speak almost entirely in quippy one-liners. Even the story is predictable in a very comforting way. Again, that said, this is the section of the film that may take some time to acclimate to for those who have never seen the original or are not used to 80’s style dramatic camp. Honestly, I don’t think it matters if you were a huge fan of the original, but more so if you’ve seen it at all.
Final Thought: While it co-stars Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly and Jon Hamm (with a heartwarming cameo from Val Kilmer) this is clearly a Cruise vehicle. Not only because he is in every scene, but also because his perfectionist touch is all over this movie. It’s easy to recognize why he is a box-office draw and an action superstar to this day. “Top Gun: Maverick” has its flaws, but if the point of the film is to appease with a healthy dose of nostalgia and wow-factor visuals, it delivers.
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“Men” is a somewhat deep, body horror take on toxic masculinity.
Written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex-Machina, Annihilation) “Men” follows Harper (Jessie Buckley) who after her ex-husband commits suicide, decides to go to an English countryside estate to clear her mind. Once there, she eats an apple from a tree and then meets a man, Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) the caregiver of the house Harper will be staying in. He is nice enough; sheepish and awkward, but “harmless”.
The first day there she decides to venture out into the sprawling countryside for a walk, which leads her into the woods. As her walk continues, she seems more and more at peace. And then, off in the distance she sees a man. He is seated, but soon gets up and suddenly begins to run after at her. She runs back to the house, losing him and deeming this an isolated incident. But soon she will meet the men who live in a nearby town, who all seem to share the same face as the man from the woods.
A “woman in peril” A24 film just hits different. Sure, a movie like “Men” contains the traditional thriller/slasher tropes. We get an emotionally and literally isolated woman. We get the running and chasing sequences. We get countless sequences of a woman not being believed by authority figures. What this movie attempts to add is biblical symbolism atop the social commentary. “Men” contains lots of Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, woman and nature verses patriarchy stuff. But the overarching story concerns our female protagonist’s grieving process post abusive relationship; similar to 2019’s “Midsommar”.
Much as in other A24 horror productions, dramatic lighting techniques act as an additional character, giving the story the proper atmosphere to allow a horror film with almost no jump scares to contain that slow burn unnerving effect throughout. Also adding to the unease was the wonderfully uncomfortable chemistry between the two leads, Buckley and Kinnear (Kinnear actually playing multiple roles). And Garland’s pacing was that of a well-made horror film; efficient and never boring.
The criticisms: “Men” is the kind of horror that will help A24 fans sleep at night; right after they make a twenty-minute YouTube video entitled, “Men: Ending Explained”. It will also be a downright frustrating watch for those who are not looking for introspective horror. There will be others who will give “Men” no points for ambition and somehow write this film off as not deep at all. Furthermore, we must also be conscious as always, that “Men” is a film based entirely on female trauma told through the perspective of a woman, written and directed by a man. That said, the flaws I took away from this were based on the fact that more than a few ideas and sequences here were very on the nose. Garland just doesn’t seem to trust that his audience understands his arguments and thus adds additional sequences to drive home his point. A continuous example of this is Garland’s representation of abuse throughout the film. For example: There is a scene where Harper tells her husband that she wants a divorce and he then threatens to kill himself. This is clear abuse on his part, but Garland then adds an additional sequence where the husband physically assaults Harper. It could be argued that this scene pertains to the story, but for me this and a few other sequences come off as repetitive, not giving audiences credit that we understand that abuse comes in many forms. But if that is my biggest criticism in a film which contains Cronenbergian birthing sequences, then Garland did a fairly good job.
Final Thought: I believe Garland’s point with “Men” was to capture what different kinds of male abuse look and feel like to a woman; but in a concentrated format. Does he accomplish this? I think he does. But again, as a man I can only speculate if the goal of a film like this was fully met.
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Ever wonder why you never see documentaries about dairy cows?
The premise here is simple. We follow the lives of two dairy cows on a farm in England; a mother and her calf.
Directed by Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, American Honey) “Cow” doesn’t contain much talking throughout (other than some background conversations from the humans who work the farm) and would be considered a silent film; though the chorus of moos as baby cows are taken away from their mothers after the birthing process is deafening.
The camera work is unflinching as well as astounding, as throughout my viewing I repeatedly asked myself how access to such abuse was allowed to be filmed by the farm in question. For the most part this documentary consists of handheld close-ups of everything from the birth of a cow, to the eyes of the mother cow as she frantically looks for her young after its removal, to the udders of a cow as milking machines are hooked-up to them for hours at a time.
The film is not relentless in the way you may think. Arnold breaks up the scenes of abuse with a few scenes of respite, where cows are eventually allowed to graze in an open field and gallop around a bit. The direction during these scenes work to reinforce that what we are seeing is a living, breathing, sentient creature. We get a scene of our main cow staring off into the horizon and then up into the sky and then curling up on the grass and taking a nap. And then inevitably, she is transferred back into her holding area where we follow her as she makes her daily walk back and forth from holding pen to milking pen, as radio pop hits play in the background; undoubtedly for the workers.
We then get scenes of human males sticking their arms into her vagina over and over again, as they conduct inspections prior to insemination. Most of this in unbelievably hard to watch. “Cow” not only shows the physical toll this process takes on these cows, but also displays the slow spiritual death that occurs within these animals as they are used and abused for years until they are no longer viable.
Final Thought: The animal rights films which usually get a lot of exposure are the larger Netflix documentaries, where we are witness to mass animal genocide. These films come with stats and are quite important to the movement. But there is a place for smaller movies like “Cow” and “Gunda”. Documentaries which follow a few animals at a time, in this same world, under these same conditions, but allowing audiences to form a bond and empathize with the individual a bit better. The simple fact is all dairy cows are treated as depicted in this film; if not worse. They are inseminated. After they give birth, their calf is taken away from them and bottle fed. The mother cow is then hooked up to a machine and milked for human consumption. Then cows are inseminated again and the process starts all over again until they can no longer produce milk or their bodies break down so much that they can no longer stand. What Arnold does here is allow for this empathy to occur by showing us every part of this process.
If you’ve gotten this far into my review you are probably sympathetic towards the plight of dairy cows already. You probably already are in agreement that these are sentient creatures and should not be treated in this manner. But after watching “Cow”, it’s clear that Arnold’s thesis goes a bit further. She put it in our faces that there is a species of female whose abuse is championed for profit. With this film she makes the claim that the abuse of cows in the dairy industry is a feminist issue on par with any other feminist issue in the world today.
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The Oscars are upon us! Aren’t you excited? No? Still worried about the potential beginning of WW3? Fair enough. But why not take a break from that, and fill out an Oscar ballot with me.
For this article I will run down my picks for who I think will win along with who I would love to see win an Oscar for each of the 23 categories. And unlike the Oscars, I will be telling you the winners of every category, live, as you read this. And yes, I will go over my three-hour runtime.
Let me explain that last joke. The following categories will not be shown live during the Oscars telecast this year: Documentary short, film editing, makeup and hairstyling, original score, production design, animated short, live action short and sound.
OK, so admittedly this is not the best thing I’ve ever written, but…
What I want to win: “West Side Story”. I get it. You didn’t watch it. But trust me, it’s really good. And the funny thing is, it won’t win even though this “Steven Spielberg cut” is actually better than the original 1961 film which won Best Picture. Hmmmm…
What I think is going to win: “The Power of the Dog”. A lot of front-runners on this list seems to have lost momentum throughout these past few months, such as “Licorice Pizza” and “Belfast”. And “The Power of the Dog” is a movie which has already picked up a few of the bigger awards this season (Best Picture at the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Golden Globes) for reasons I’ll never understand. Sorry if I sound snarky, but I’ve seen this movie twice and it really didn’t meander any less the second time around. The acting is great, yeah, but to be honest I’ll be mad if it wins.
You know what? I’m changing my mind. Yeah, I can do that. I think “CODA” is going to win. It’s a solid heartwarming film for the whole family and it’s not “The Power of the Dog”.
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:
Who I Want to Win: Anybody but Javier Bardem for “Being the Ricardos”. I’m so mean. But seriously, literally anybody else in this category (Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Garfield, Will Smith, Denzel Washington) deserves to be recognized for their spectacular performances. But Bardem as Desi Arnaz, that’s not it.
Who I think will win: Will Smith for “King Richard”. Proving yet again why he is such a powerhouse actor; Smith has been cleaning up this awards season and rightfully so.
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
Who I want to win: Troy Kotsur for “CODA”. Kotsur, who has also been sweeping up this awards season, really delivers in his role as a deaf parent. Not only that, but his award worthy performance is yet another statement on how far Hollywood still needs to come in terms of inclusivity.
Who I think will win: Troy Kotsur: See explanation above.
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:
Who I want to win: Kristen Stewart for “Spencer”. Though I still feel that this is a two-person race between Stewart and Jessica Chastain for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”, I believe Stewart holds the better performance. Also, after seeing a lot of her more recent independent work, wouldn’t it be great to see her receive an Oscar?
Who I think will win: Kristen Stewart for “Spencer”. What makes this category so hard to predict is how Stewart was a lot of people’s picks to sweep this category for awards season back when “Spencer” was released. But it seems she’s lost a lot of momentum, as she’s continued to lose out to Chastain, as well as having not even been nominated for a SAG or a BFTA award.
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
Who I want to win: Ariana DeBose for “West Side Story”. My love for “West Side Story” doesn’t end with Spielberg. She sings, she dances, DeBose gives one of the best performances of any actor in 2021. That said, I’d also love to see Aunjanue Ellis win for “King Richard”. She gives an understated performance that will likely be acknowledged when Will Smith makes his acceptance speech.
Who will win: Ariana DeBose for “West Side Story”: She’s won every supporting role award this season. Did I mention she sings and dances?
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:
What I Want to Win: “Luca”. So many outstanding films in this category, but “Luca” was one of my favorite films of the year and one of the most important with the portrayal of homosexual central characters; I don’t care how hard Disney tries to deny it. Also, quick shout out for “Flee”, a movie that will have no chance to win in any of the categories it’s nominated in, but is an award worthy contender in every one.
What will win: “Encanto” because all of your kids and the voter’s kids have seen it and can sing every song.
Who I want to win: Greig Fraser for “Dune” is my runaway pick to win. That said, this is one of the only categories where I wouldn’t be upset if “The Power of the Dog” won. Ari Wegner is a talented cinematographer who makes tepid films watchable.
Who will win: Greig Fraser for “Dune” because, have you seen “Dune”?!
Who I want to win: Paul Tazewell for “West Side Story” is my pick. My proof being every dress in this movie.
Who will win: Jenny Beavan for “Cruella”. Disney’s “Cruella” is a film about fashion designers. Game over. Admittedly Beavan is a super accomplished costume designer with eleven Oscar nominations to her name. And what she does with the costumes here are pretty creative. In fact, the costume aspect of this film was such a standout in what I found to be a simply above average film, that a win here will be an opportunity to recognize “Cruella” for something it actually got right.
Who I want to win: Steven Spielberg for “West Side Story”, because (as I stated earlier) he is a huge reason as to why this film is better than an original, which is arguably the greatest theatrical musical of all time.
Who will win: *SIGH* Jane Campion for “The Power of the Dog”. Not, to say that she isn’t deserving for the look of this film (I would give more love to the cinematographer than Campion herself). But the fact that the film is almost intentionally dull for the majority of its runtime, has to fall on her. This is just my opinion of course. And I’m in the minority, as many critics and audiences alike loved this “slow burn” of a western. Also, I personally don’t care to hear more Campion acceptance speeches. But again, maybe that’s just me.
Who I want to win: “Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)”. While every film nominated in this particular category should be sought out, I really want to see Questlove’s documentary debut “Summer of Soul” take this one home. Also, as much as I love the fact that “Flee” again pops up in this category, “Summer of Soul” and the story behind how it was filmed, put together and why footage from this Black Woodstock (The Harlem Cultural Festival) is only being seen today, is a historical achievement.
Who will win: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Joseph Patel, Robert Fyvolent and David Dinerstein for “Summer of Soul (or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”, for all of the reasons I stated above, and also It’s another film that has been sweeping it’s category this awards season.
DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT):
Who I want to win: Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk for “Lead Me Home”. I may be biased because I am from an area where this was partially filmed, but I found this really moving and eye opening. It focuses on the unhoused community who live on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles, putting a face and a name and a story to these individuals who are suffering every day in our own backyards.
Who will win: Ben Proudfoot for “The Queen of Basketball” is the heavy favorite to take this category. An important and powerful story about the first and only woman to be drafted into the NBA. So, if this film wins, it will be well deserved.
Who I want to win: Joe Walker for “Dune”. It’s one of the best put together films of the year. And for how much information needs to come across to audiences, Walker succeeds in making this very dense narrative feel like a well-paced sci-fi blockbuster.
Who will win: Joe Walker for “Dune”. I feel like it’s just extremely difficult to deny what “Dune” does in terms of its watchability.
INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM:
Who I want to win: “Flee”. I would love for this animated documentary about a gay man retelling his escape from mid-80’s Afghanistan as a young boy, take this award. “Flee” is a film I didn’t see until recently, but the subject of “Flee” is a voice that needs to be recognized on a larger stage. I just wish this was the stage.
Who will win: “Drive My Car”. Okay, so here is another critically acclaimed film that I just didn’t love. The dialogue is well written, but boy was this a slog to get through. And that’s shocking because I usually love three-hour films about depression, sorrow and loss.
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING:
Who I want to win: Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram and Justin Raleigh for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”. The first shot of the movie is a close up of Tammy Faye’s face. This sets the tone for the makeup and hairstyling for the rest of the film.
Who will win: Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram and Justin Raleigh for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”. Jessica Chastain’s eye makeup is good too.
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
Who I want to win: Jonny Greenwood for “The Power of the Dog”. For the amount of shade I’ve thrown at “The Power of the Dog”, there is a lot it gets right. And Jonny Greenwood’s unsettling score is one of those things.
Who will win: Jonny Greenwood for “The Power of the Dog”. I feel that the acclaim for this film is already there and so this will assuredly be one of the most noncontroversial wins of the night.
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG):
What I want to win: “No Time To Die”, music and lyrics by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell.
What will win: “No Time To Die”, music and lyrics by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell.
OK, SO…here’s the thing. “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from Encanto has become this smash hit that’s on the radio 24/7 and now we can’t stop (or refuse to stop) singing it. So, why is the one “Encanto” song nominated “Dos Oruguitas”? a song nobody cares about. This is baffling.
What I want to win: “Dune”. Again, I believe “Dune” is just that visually stunning. While a close second would be a tie between “West Side Story” and “Nightmare Alley”, the team of Patrice Vermette and Zsuzsanna Sipos build this world that many filmmakers have attempted and failed. But they nailed it.
What will win: “Dune”. This is a clear opportunity to acknowledge the visual achievements of this film, although I don’t think this category is as “open and closed” as many may think it is. If the award does go to “West Side Story” or “Nightmare Alley”, I wouldn’t be at all shocked.
SHORT FILM (ANIMATED):
Shockingly, the most disturbing category of the Oscars. You heard me.
Who I want to win: I really really really really REALLY want to say Hugo Covarrubias and Tevo Diaz for “Bestia” (the animated film with bestiality), because it’s so twisted and so Lynchian and so “am I supposed to be seeing this?”. But my newly found tender heart will say Dan Ojari and Mikey Please will win for “Robin Robin”, the only child-friendly film of the bunch. Even though I believe its songs are really lackluster, “Robin Robin” is undeniably cute.
Who will win: Dan Ojari and Mikey Please for “Robin Robin”. It’s a stop motion animated film about a bird who is raised by mice and just wants to fit in. It’s undeniably adorable and the least offensive of the group. It’s also the least important in terms of the evolution of animation. Which means, it will definitely win.
SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION):
Who I want to win: There was only one film (“On My Mind”) which I thought was underwhelming. The rest are so hard hitting and disturbing in most cases. My pick to win is Aneil Karia and Riz Ahmed for “The Long Goodbye”, even though the odds where high that I’d choose a film called “The Dress” because of my nihilist tendencies. With “The Long Goodbye” we are given a disturbing look at a violent and racially charged dystopia that may be closer than we want to believe.
Who will win: Aneil Karia and Riz Ahmed for “The Long Goodbye”. Although, this is yet another category where I wouldn’t be surprised if a few other films won. “Please Hold” is a form of sci-fi anti-capitalism comedy that we don’t see enough, done exceptionally well. But “The Long Goodbye” is a film I’ve been hearing awards talk about for nearly a year now, so in fact this may not be as close of a race as I’m trying to make it seem.
Who I want to win: Is it a negative that I think “Dune” should win every technical award? I don’t think it is. Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather and Niv Adiri for “Dune”.
Who will win: Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather and Niv Adiri for “Dune”. As, much as I want to pick “West Side Story” because of how good this musical sounds, “Dune” is the clear winner here. Unless the Academy voters wants to mix things up, “Dune” will win.
OK, so this is a tough one, only because any of the films nominated could and should win this category.
Who I want to win: Am I going to really say “Dune” again? Yeah. I am. Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Conner and Gerd Nefzer for “Dune”.
Who will win: Anybody could take this, but actually I feel that the 007 franchise is so beloved by the industry, that Charlie Noble, Joel Green, Jonathan Fawkner and Chris Corbould are likely to pick this one up for “No Time To Die”.
WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY):
Who I want to win: Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe for “Drive My Car”. Just kidding. It’s still boring. The script was admittedly very well written, but I’d love to see Maggie Gyllenhaal’s script for “The Lost Daughter” win. It was personally my favorite script nominated of 2021.
Who will win: I feel this will be a strong night for Jane Campion and “The Power of the Dog”. I’ve heard that “CODA” is the front-runner in this category, but I feel strongly that “The Power of the Dog” could take another “W” at an awards show like the Oscars. Although, “The Lost Daughter” has a good chance as well.
WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY):
Who I want to win: Adam Mckay for “Don’t Look Up”. I continue to champion all aspects of this satire, especially the script. Allegorical, hilarious and timely, this screenplay is my favorite McKay piece of writing.
Who will win: Paul Thomas Anderson for “Licorice Pizza” will be thrown a bone here. This category is clearly a two-way race between two films that seem to have lost a lot of momentum this awards season. In reality, Kenneth Branagh’s script for “Belfast” could take the Oscar as well. “Licorice Pizza” recently won Best Original Screenplay at the BAFTA’s and “Belfast” won in the same category at the Critics’ Choice Awards. This is a completely 50/50 category. A race to see what movie isn’t totally humiliated after so much initial buzz.
So, there you have it. My picks. As always, this does not constitute legal advice and if you want to see more of my work follow me on Twitter @moviesmarkus and on Instagram @moviesmarkus1