0

Bad Blood

underworld-blood-wars

This is it. I’m done.

Like for real. No more Underworld movies. I don’t give a fuck what Len Wiseman says to fix his ex-marriage to Kate Beckinsale. I don’t care that the final note of this films happens to scarily imply a sixth Underworld film. It makes no sense to continue it anyway.

It makes no sense for Underworld: Blood Wars to exist!

On a narrative schema, Underworld: Blood Wars has now ignored – once again – the concept of humans having a stake in this fight after Underworld: Awakening was all “now the humans know bout the monsters!” Much more severely than any of the other films, since while all the other movies at least have human characters popping their heads in to say “hey! we exist in this universe!”, Underworld: Blood Wars does not feature ONE human character for the first time in the franchise.

No sirree, it’s all on its vampire/werewolf Lycan war now since it’s trying to figure out a worthy final note for it to end on. And my problem with that is that we’ve had not one but TWO movies that insisted vampires vs. werewolves didn’t become a thing here until Viktor (Bill Nighy who appears in archive footage) and Lucian (Michael Sheen who I don’t think even appears in that capacity) had beef. Not only are Viktor and Lucian long dead by the time of this movie, all three of the vampire elders are out of it and yet this war still keeps raging on and on because… the producers thought 13 years was long enough for the characters to forget about that. I don’t even think Lucian gets mentioned by name in any of the sequels.

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I know it doesn’t do to linger on the mythology of the Underworld universe for logic or reason, but any excuse for the movie not to continue is a good one. Still it rolls on, this time all the way into the Eastern Europe covens of vampires and some mega-intelligent werewolf guerrilla leader by the name of Marius (Tobias Menzies) who is so good at his job he has the vampires scared. The Eastern coven is convinced by Semira (Lara Pulver playing the resident Eva Green femme fatale role) and Thomas (Charles Dance returning) to forgive Selene’s murder of Viktor so she can train them to fight werewolves, but this turns out to be a diversion for Semira to actually massacre several vampires (amongst them Thomas) and frame Selene and Thomas’ son and Selene’s buddy David (Theo James) for the betrayal.

Oh ho! Betrayal is the name of the plot game here, for this movie is devoted to acting like an extended episode of Game of Thrones where everybody betrays everyone and the choice of having a director of Outlander episodes, Anna Foerster, take the helm seems to promise that especially in its tone. Every single character is playing a game of Risk. Badly. In any case, what isn’t promised is the lack of color processing to blues, although it changes it up by adding a lot more angelic whites and greys when we meet the peaceful Nordic vampire cult and witness their special “resurrection” ritual that only adds more to the inevitability of Selene becoming the angriest Vampire Jesus around, what with her “can walk in the sunlight” blood and the blood of her non-present vampire-Lycan daughter Eve being the MacGuffin for every character.

The action is what any sane person comes for and this is a lot more sanitized than is necessary (although there is an interesting point where it almost turns into a feminist screed with Selene out-sparring the assassin trainer Varga, but that goes down the drain before the scene is over with his actions). It’s largely bloodless for a movie more dedicated to swordplay than the other Underworlds except for the final battle between Selene and Marius and that is the punchline to a battle too short to even realize it happened. It’s just as visually boring to look at as the other films and it doesn’t compliment the film that it all just happens to stop with a “whelp, we’re done fighting” for the whole franchise.

Just like me with this review now that I reached my minimum word count. I’m out.

It’s gonna take a long-ass while (and a lot of Whit Stillman) before looking at Kate Beckinsale doesn’t trigger me, but I did it. I’m done with this franchise.

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2

I’m So Woke, Dog

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I just want to get this over with, so if you find these next two reviews of the Underworld franchise on the short side of things then I apologize, but there are just so many more movies to talk about. In any case, it’s not like the next two directors up in the chairs, Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein, made any huge effort to make Underworld: Awakening anymore watchable. Nor did the single weirdest slate of co-writers for the film – made up of franchise executive producer Len Wiseman, John Hlavin, Allison Burnett, and most unforgivable of all… the sci-fi legend J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI. They dragged the creator of Babylon-5 into this mess now.

But, of course, Straczynski is very good at what we might call “social sci-fi” and this story happens to do something a lot more interesting than one would think with a franchise about vampires and werewolves fighting… it begins to wonder how would humans really start to fray into the mix themselves. The obvious answer of which is “fear for their lives and begin hunting down both sides of the animals” and we get the most uninspired Matrix-ripping dystopian future tale around right down to the opening being an extended version of Trinity’s famous police battle.

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But anyway there’s a story tethered to this movie AND poor much better than this Kate Beckinsale tethered to the franchise once more as she returns as the scowling vampire without most of its vampire weaknesses Selene (maybe garlic, but, like… garlic doesn’t even get used at any point in this franchise). Now that every single human being hates her, she’s in a rush to escape the city with werewolf boytoy Michael Corvin who is played by NOT Scott Speedman, which is where the franchise has turned to Syfy production moment. They really are dedicated to implying Michael’s presence with every trick you could possibly use in the book, but it’s clearly not Speedman and they’re very quick to get him out of the picture before you can admonish the makers for it.

Getting him out of the picture meaning getting Selene captured and held by an evil scientist Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea, making another entry in the “better actor than this” hat trick) who intends to experiment on her because we’ve reached the point in the franchise where Selene has become the angriest vampire Jesus ever. When she escapes, the movie suddenly wants to be so much more of a mystery/survey of how people were affected by the vampires, but 89 minutes of runtime is not enough to explore what that demands and GOD I DO NOT WANT THIS MOVIE TO BE A SECOND LONGER THAN THAT.

In any case, it means that any mysteries – including who the young girl Eve (India Eisley) is that Selene and her sudden compatriot David (Theo James) runs into – are all wrapped up quicker than we can realize the movie wants to muse upon these developments. And the only worthwhile presence beyond the slowly waning persuasion of Beckinsale’s glare is Charles Dance playing his usual “authoritarian patriarch of high standing in society having trouble with his son (David being the son” act that he sleepwalks through (and frankly nothing about his performance here implies he’s not sleepwalking). Other than the underground vampire society Dance’s character and David live amongst, the movie just feels content to pick up and drop plots until it finally ends.

Where it puts all of its effort is on its look and that’s admittedly a little bit more interesting in concept based on the science fiction future aspects than gunmetal blue of all the other films. In execution… it’s a disaster. It’s the most expensive Underworld film to date and I would have put my hand to God that this was the cheapest of the bunch. CGI that feels a few f-stops away from the actual content of the screen, the wolves have little weight within the framing even when the dialogue is just short of begging us that “these are the biggest Wolves yet, please be scared”, dark laboratory boilerplate, and the silliest visual concept is how Selene and Eve can see through each other’s eyes in broken continuity cuts and color shades.

Underworld: Awakening is essentially a film franchise trying desperately to stand on its last legs because its creators don’t have the heart to put it down after so many creative misfires. Somebody ought to put this franchise out of its misery.

Or at least me.

Please.

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0

MICHAEL’S TOP 10 FILMS OF 2016

2016 was a really good year at the movies, particularly for independent film. Summer blockbusters and year end blockbusters generally disappointed me, but independent films released February thru December (January is always a stinker of a movie month) in the US were more solid than usual. This is just an opinion piece, I’m not claiming these are objectively the best movies of 2016, just the best ones viewed through my chubby eyes. So all you La La Land fanatics and Nocturnal Animals lusters and people who thought Arrival defined 21st century science fiction and American Honey I-like-20-minute-stretches-of-film-where-people-just-sing-in-a-van fans can just calm the shit down.

10. The Witch (dir. Robert Eggers)

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An incredibly impressive debut feature from filmmaker Robert Eggers, The Witch was the most terrifying filmgoing experience I’ve had in years. And they did it all without a single jump scare. Using atmosphere and soft sounds, The Witch slowly builds to terrifying moments much like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Written using authentic texts from the 1600s, The Witch features unfamiliar dialogue spoken by mostly unfamiliar actors (all of whom are excellent) that significantly adds to the creep factor.

 

09. Elle (dir. Paul Verhoeven)

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Viciously dark comedy about rape, gender politics and what it means to be a victim, Elle is a film that is almost impossible to describe without making it sound revolting. However, without giving anything away, it manages to be both intelligent and surprising, diverting our expectations of how a rape revenge movie or even just a standard thriller should play out. This is mostly due to an extraordinarily complex and nuanced performance by Isabelle Huppert, the year’s best.

 

08. Jackie (dir. Pablo Larrain)

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I’m usually pretty weary of biopics, but Pablo Larrain’s Jackie is anything but a typical one. Less like Lincoln and more like The Babadook, Jackie chronicles the deteriorating sanity of Jackie Kennedy in the weeks following the JFK assassination. With extremely claustrophobic and almost surreal cinematography, accompanied by a manic score, the film feels like a lucid nightmare. Natalie Portman was amazing in Black Swan, but here she gives the most complex and powerful performance of her career.

 

07. The Handmaiden (dir. Chan-wook Park)

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Completely unlike anything he has done before, The Handmaiden is Chan-wook Park’s best film since 2003’s Oldboy. Gorgeous cinematography and wonderful performances perfectly compliment an extremely layered and unpredictable narrative. It’s surreal, shocking, but never for a second unbelievable.

 

06. Hell or High Water (dir. David Mackenzie)

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Speaking of “completely unlike anything he’s ever done before”, David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water couldn’t be more different than his last film, the excellent but little seen Starred Up. That movie was about a horribly unloving and manipulative father/son relationship in prison, while this movie is all about fulfilling family obligations.  Chris Pine and Ben Foster give career-best performances as brothers robbing Texas banks to save their mother’s farm, while Jeff Bridges is wildly entertaining as the eccentric lawman hot on their tail. However, the real star of the movie is screenwriter Taylor Sheridan who provides some of the year’s best dialogue for wholly realistic characters.

 

05. Green Room (dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

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A technically perfect thriller from the new up and coming genre genius on the scene, Jeremy Saulnier. While not as “scary” as The Witch, Green Room might have it beat for intensity. How refreshing it is to see basically a home invasion movie with characters as clever and three-dimensional as real people. Featuring powerful performances from everyone involved. The stand-out is clearly Patrick Stewart playing a villain so mundane it will make your skin crawl.

 

04. Toni Erdmann (dir. Maren Ade)

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Hands down, the best comedy of 2016, Toni Erdmann is the hilarious, bitter-sweet story of a stressed-out workaholic (Sandra Huller) who’s distant practical joker father (Peter Simisischek) rolls into Bucharest to try to mend their relationship. When things don’t work out, he refuses to leave and follows his daughter to all of her business functions sporting a ridiculous wig and fake redneck teeth as his alter ego, Toni Erdmann. Maren Ade brilliantly balances the outlandish physical comedy sequences with poignant human drama. Huller and Simisischek’s amazing chemistry keep the proceedings real and relatable even when one has to don a nine foot sloth costume during what is possibly the funniest nude scene ever committed to film.

 

03. Manchester by the Sea (dir. Kenneth Lonnergan)

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God, I wish I could write like Kenneth Lonnergan. I wish I could create characters that were so painfully real and weren’t profound every time they opened their mouths but were profound in how they just existed. I wish I could blend comedy and drama so seamlessly and resist the urge to provide my characters with absolute closure. Lonnergan displayed this talent in the underrated You Can Count on Me and the little-seen but severely flawed Margaret, but Manchester by the Sea is where all of it works perfectly. He takes you on a journey with Lee Chandler, and by the end you kind of feel like you are the guy.

 

02. OJ: Made in America (dir. Ezra Edelman)

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A staggering piece of work, this near 8-hour documentary chronicles OJ Simpson’s life in three parts — before the murder, the murder trial and after the murder trial. But it’s really about race relations in America and how a celebrity murder trial became a fight for civil rights. Never glamorizing OJ Simpson, the doc simply just attempts to understand him in the context of what was going on in the country at the time of his rise and fall. It’s one of the best documentaries ever made, and you can watch it on HULU.

 

01. Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins)

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No film moved me more this year than Barry Jenkins’ beautiful, cerebral and ever so timely Moonlight. Rarely is something this effortlessly compelling and truthful. Perfectly acted by an amazing ensemble cast, Moonlight tells the story of a gay black male with three strikes against him, growing up in 1980s Miami while struggling to come to terms with his identity. Moonlight never offers any easy answers and while it has every opportunity to be saccharine or ham-fisted with its’ message it always resists the temptation in order to be honest. The Academy would be real fucking assholes to pass this one up.

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

13th, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Midnight Special.

MOST OVERRATED:

Nocturnal Animals

MOST UNDERRATED:

Green Room

 

BEST DIRECTOR

Moonlight

Maren Ade – Toni Erdmann

Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Pablo Larrain – Jackie

Kenneth Lonnergan – Manchester by the Sea

 

BEST ACTRESS

isabelle-huppert

Amy Adams – Arrival

Sandra Huller – Toni Erdmann

Isabelle Huppert – Elle 

Natalie Portman – Jackie

Emma Stone – La La Land

 

BEST ACTOR

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Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

Adam Driver – Paterson

Jesse Plemmons – Other People

Peter Simonischek – Toni Erdmann

Denzel Washington – Fences

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Moonlight

Mahershala Ali – Moonlight 

Ben Foster – Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea

Andre Holland – Moonlight

Trevante Rhodes – Moonlight

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

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Viola Davis – Fences

Naomie Harris – Moonlight 

Min-hee Kim – The Handmaiden

Molly Shannon – Other People

Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

adapted-screenplay

Arrival – Eric Heisserer

Elle – David Birke

The Handmaiden – Chan-wook Park, Chung Seo-kyung

Moonlight – Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney 

Silence – Jay Cocks, Martin Scorsese

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

original-screenplay

 

Green Room – Jeremy Saulnier

Hell or High Water – Taylor Sheridan

The Lobster – Yorgos Lathinmos, Efthimis Filippou.

Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonnergan

Toni Erdmann – Maren Ade

 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

cinematography

Arrival – Bradford Young

The Handmaiden – Chung-hoon Chung 

Jackie – Stephane Fontaine

La La Land – Linus Sandgren

Moonlight – James Laxton

 

BEST FILM EDITING

film-editing

Green Room – Julia Bloch

Jackie – Sebastian Sepulveda

La La Land – Tom Cross

Moonlight – Nat Sanders, Joi McMillon

OJ: Made in America – Bret Granato, Maya Mumma, Ben Sozanski

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

original-score

Arrival – Johann Johannsen

Jackie – Mica Levi 

La La Land – Justin Herwitz

Moonlight – Nicholas Britell

Nocturnal Animals – Abel Korzeniowski

 

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST

ensemble-cast

Fences – Jovan Adepo, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Russell Hornsby, Saniyya Sidney, Denzel Washington, Mykelti Williamson.

Manchester by the Sea – Casey Affleck, Anna Baryshnikov, Matthew Broderick, Heather Burns, Kyle Chandler, Tate Donovan, Josh Hamilton, Kara Hayward, Lucas Hedges, Gretchen Mol, Michelle Williams, C.J. Wilson.

Moonlight – Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Alex Hibbert, Andre Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Janelle Monae, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders.

Other People – Maude Apatow, Madisen Beaty, Paul Dooley, John Early, Mike Mitchell, Paula Pell, Jesse Plemmons, Retta, Molly Shannon, June Squibb, J.J. Totah, Matt Walsh, Bradley Whitford, Zach Woods.

The Witch – Lucas Dawson, Kate Dickie, Ellie Grainger, Ralph Ineson, Harvey Scrimshaw, Anya Taylor-Joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

Feed to the Wolves

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Almost every single one of the Underworld movies, save for the first film and the current subject Underworld: Rise of Lycans, begin in a manner similar to a television series: the exact same montage of the exact same clips with the exact same voiceover given by our icy vampire protagonist Selene (Kate Beckinsale). I’ve witnessed the same damn shot of Bill Nighy’s head getting sliced off more times than I can count. This could be Underworld assuming that anybody would be interested in watching those movies without dealing with the previous films, but that just seems like cruelly leading moths to flames and so I want to pretend the fault is entirely in the filmmakers not trusting its audience to simply get it. We get it. We know the story.

Rise of the Lycans is a prequel film set before the first film (yet after the prelude to Evolution) that provides ample evidence that yes, the writers and producers of the Underworld series are not above regurgitating information we already know and that they know we know. The very basis of the film’s existence – other than continuing the successful franchise’s brand in spite of Beckinsale’s wise decision not to return to the franchise and taking her then-husband and director of the first two films Len Wiseman with her (though he still stayed on as producer and story writer) – is to tell us about a matter WE KNOW already happened, not because the characters in the first Underworld already discussed, but because we already SAW IT – including the pivotal moment that led to the central conflict in the ongoing between vampires and werewolf Lycans.

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Evidently, the contract the producers had on Michael Sheen and Nighy from the first film was probably running and they wanted to use them up all the way, hence that moment is stretched to 90 odd minutes as we witness the vampires, led by Viktor (Nighty), enslave the werewolf race back in the 5th Century.Viktor particularly takes a liking to Lucian (Sheen) as his personal pet and Viktor’s daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra) shares that very liking. So it’s almost no surprise when Rise of the Lycans retreads the good ol’ forbidden love trope to throw the races into eternal battle and here’s where I learned something very interesting. Kevin Grevioux, owner of one of the coolest voices I’ve ever heard on an actor, appears in both this and the first installment as Lucian’s right-hand werewolf Raze. That is not Grevioux’s only role – he actually developed this franchise and co-wrote the film based on his own experiences with interracial dating and the backlash and bigotry he suffered with it (Grevioux being black). Now, the emotional stakes and mythology within any of the films have never been more clear in all five movies as it has been here in Rise of the Lycans, where Lucian basically embodies a werewolf Spartacus. But it also means the only source of true personality in the film comes from an off-screen trivia item and it also doesn’t help its case that Grevioux is sidelined while the lead werewolf SLAVE is played by a white man, which means any racial commentary the Underworld franchise is interested in (and I think it’s oblivious given that the only two non-white actors I can recall in it are Grevioux and Robbie Gee off the top of my head and they’re both disposable characters) is dismissed outright.

Anyway, it’s not such a crime that Sheen has to lead the show because he’s easily the best performance in the film, although it’s clear he may not having as much fun as he did in here as he did with the first film. He sucked out all the scenery chewing he pulled off as the rock star performance he gave prior to becoming instead a scowling and angry figure full of obvious anger, matching Mitra because they’re the most facially pissed-off figures in the film and that’s their chemistry in a nutshell. Nighy, in the meantime, also clearly is not having much fun away and so his acting is the type that wants to burn the whole place down, trying to make himself as big and unwieldily theatrical as he can do it. Snarling and spitting and yelling, Nighy does it all. And these performances all clash with each other so that’s just another good thing that goes hella wrong.

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Want another good thing Rise of the Lycans does right? No guns. It’s the 5th Century, so that means swordfights entirely. And while y’know, it’s still hella boring to make your werewolves and vampires just go at each other with swords rather than use their monstrous bodies, there it is and it at least lets the movie feel more gothic than nu-metal. Want to know how Rise ruins that shit anyway? Director Patrick Tatopoulos and cinematographer Ross Emery underlit that shit all to hell and still can’t spare any color beyond the most obnoxious blues. So, that’s a complete hell.

And it can’t be said enough: this is a story we already knew (especially its climactic moment), finished off with a fanservice Windows Movie Maker-looking epilogue that separates entirely from this individual film’s plot and makes NO SENSE to anybody who didn’t see the original films (as well as implying that Selene should not have been surprised by the revelation of Viktor in the first movie). Nobody needed to make Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, nor should anybody suffer it. We should all just go home. I just want to get this over with.

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0

89th Academy Awards Nomination Predictions – POST-ANNOUNCEMENT REVIEW

On Tuesday, January 24th, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences are going to announce their nominees for the 89th Oscars and that means more fun predictions by ya boi. I’m posting relatively early my predictions for what will find their way to each nomination slate with my brief commentary simply because these past few weeks have been busy with the Miami Jewish Film Festival that I work at so come tomorrow, I’ll be back to back-to-back office+screening days until Thursday Night’s Closing. So I wanna get this out before I have to look like a smart alec because my predictions are always SO CORRECT, AMIRITE?!

Ah, now to take a look at how wrong I am about everything. My predictions on the winners are all non-binding and will be revisited come the week of the ceremony.

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BEST PICTURE

  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • Hidden Figures
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Moonlight

MY PREDICTION: La La Land
MY PICKLa La Land

Yep, predicting eight nominees because I’m just too optimistic to predict Nocturnal Animals and FUCK OFF, DEADPOOL.

If I may, I had a funny encounter with a friend who was so very traumatized by the idea that Hacksaw RidgeSully, and Patriots Day would be nominated over Moonlight, he REFUSED to recognize that Moonlight was a lock for Best Picture almost immediately upon release. He swore those three films had a higher chance of nomination than Moonlight and he was so heated from the exchange (and the fact that I don’t hate Clint Eastwood as a filmmaker) that I was promptly blocked on facebook. It was the single funniest reason I’ve been blocked on facebook and, at the risk of sounding like a smug loser, I am going to be very pleased when Moonlight gets nominated on Tuesday morning and only Hacksaw gets in by the skin of its teeth.

8/9

Yep… the smugness feels good. However…

Goddamn, I missed Fences after being so on the fe–… after thinking about it for a while. But ah well, my caution has cost me.

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BEST DIRECTOR

  • Damian Chazelle – La La Land
  • Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
  • Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
  • Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
  • Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

MY IMMEDIATE PREDICTION: Damian Chazelle
MY PICK: Damian Chazelle

Self-explanatory with my Picture slate, behold the return of Mel Gibson’s love.

Called it.

BEST ACTRESS

  • Amy Adams – Arrival
  • Isabelle Huppert – Elle
  • Natalie Portman – Jackie
  • Ruth Negga – Loving
  • Emma Stone – La La Land
  • Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

MY IMMEDIATE PREDICTION: Isabelle Huppert
MY PICK: Emma Stone

20th Century Women came too late to get serious awards consideration (between Silence and this movie, I’m mourning this movie’s losses more), Ruth Negga’s early goodwill since Loving‘s Cannes premiere died undeservedly as its release fizzled, and Oscar don’t see the great thing that is Taraji when it’s staring them in the face. Altogether that splits into the certainty that I’m finally gonna have to force myself to watch Florence Foster Jenkins. Forget Streep, I’d trade Adams’ nomination over any of those three easily.

4/5 Correct

Looks like they heard my prayers and replaced Adams with Negga outright. Now I can just glare at one nomination (Streep) instead. That said… what a shocker that Adams didn’t get in.

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BEST ACTOR

  • Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
  • Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
  • Ryan Gosling – La La Land
  • Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington – Fences

Pretty much the lockiest lock of the ceremony, both in winner (children who live with wolves know Affleck will take the Gold) and nominees.

Nobody is surprised now. Nobody will be surprised then.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Viola Davis – Fences
  • Naomie Harris – Moonlight
  • Nicole Kidman – Lion
  • Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
  • Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

No 20th Century Women love means no Greta Gerwig love which means hello Octavia by the skin off her teeth.

Called it once again.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
  • Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
  • Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
  • Dev Patel – Lion
  • Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nocturnal Animals

That Golden Globe win in the middle of Oscar voting scares me enough to believe it will happen. Newcomer Hedges gets knocked off for Kick-Ass’ best Squidbillies impression.

3/5

I’d rather no Nocturnal Animals nomination, but I’ll take it.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Jared Bush & Phil Johnson – Zootopia
  • Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  • Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Fillipou – The Lobster
  • Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
  • Mike Mills – 20th Century Women
  • Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water

I really don’t see much awards traction for Captain Fantastic beyond Best Actor. 20th Century Women and Jackie are DOA on awards love. Zootopia is getting an obscenely unnecessary amount of love for more than just how it looks, particularly. The love for its race content might just inch it into Best Original slot.

4/5

Never write out a movie too hard. Mills got one!

LION

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Luke Davies – Lion
  • Eric Heisserer – Arrival
  • Barry Jenkins AND Tarell Alvin McCraney – Moonlight
  • Theodore Melfi & Allison Schroeder – Hidden Figures
  • August Wilson – Fences

All of them potential Best Picture nominees. One based on a much beloved stageplay by the original writer. They’re all in.

5/5 kind of

It’s a fact only known amongst my friends that it bugs the hell out of me that McCraney didn’t get a co-writing credit for Moonlight for reasons too complicated to go into right now. And now Oscar understands me and this is the happiest I’ve been.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Greg Fraser – Lion
  • James Laxton – Moonlight
  • Rodrigo Prieto – Silence
  • Linus Sandgren – La La Land
  • Bradford Young – Arrival

“Marty, we’re really sorry we missed you. At least your movie was really pretty” -Love, Cheryl

My dawg, Bradford Young, FINALLY GOT RECOGNIZED. Not for one of his best but…

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BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Colleen Atwood – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Consolata Boyle – Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Madeleine Fontaine – Jackie
  • Jo Sang-gyong – The Handmaiden
  • Joanna Johnston – Allied
  • Renee Ehrlich Kalfus – Hidden Figures
  • Mary Zophres – La La Land

This category loves its historical drama, so why not assume that’s what it’s definitely gonna head for?

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BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Stuart Craig – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Guy Hendrix Dyas – Passengers
  • Jess Gonchor – Hail, Caesar!
  • Jean Rabasse – Jackie
  • Shane Valentino – Nocturnal Animals
  • Patricia Vermette – Arrival
  • David Wasco – La La Land

Why wouldn’t a Tom Ford picture be recognized more for how it looks than what it’s about?

BEST FILM EDITING

  • Tom Cross – La La Land
  • John Gilbert – Hacksaw Ridge
  • Joi McMillion & Nat Sanders – Moonlight
  • Blu Murray – Sully
  • Jake Roberts – Hell or High Water
  • Joe Walker – Arrival

Always means the MOST editing and these are contenders that are so VERY MOST editing. A musical, a war film, and three movies that mess with chronology? Done.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Arrival
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Doctor Strange
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • The Jungle Book
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Yep. Again… MOST.

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BEST HAIR & MAKEUP

  • Deadpool
  • Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Star Trek Beyond
  • Suicide Squad

Academy Award Nominee Deadpool. Trump’s America, now.

BEST SCORE

  • Nicolas Britell – Moonlight
  • Alexandre Desplat – Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Michael Giacchino – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Justin Hurwitz – La La Land
  • Mica Levi – Jackie
  • Dustin O’Halloran & Hauschka – Lion
  • Thomas Newman – Passengers
  • John Williams – The BFG

The usual suspects and the new players on the coattails of their Oscar locked films.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • “Audition (The Fools That Dream)” – La La Land
  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Trolls
  • “City of Stars” – La La Land
  • “Drive It Like You Stole It” – Sing Street
  • “The Empty Chair” – Jim: The James Foley Story
  • “How Far I’ll Go” – Moana
  • “I’m Still Here” – Miss Sharon Jones

Usual where movies who don’t have a chance elsewhere get recognized, but La La Land is hefty enough to steal more seats (and probably the Gold). Poor Lin-Manuel Miranda will not become the youngest EGOT winner in this ceremony, I don’t think. While John Carney has never had one of his musical films unrecognized for their songs.

BEST SOUND MIXING

  • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Sully

BEST SOUND EDITING

  • Arrival
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Sully

Again, the name of the game is MOST to these voters.

On the fucking point with Sound Editing. Did not expect the 13 Hours recognition for Sound Mixing and while I don’t like the movie as a whole… I’m pleasantly surprised.

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BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Moana
  • My Life as a Zucchini
  • The Red Turtle
  • Your Name
  • Zootopia

4/5

Both Disney Features are in and if Zootopia doesn’t win, Moana will. The rest is just an educated guess based on the universal and industry love each has gotten.

 

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BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

  • 13th
  • Fire at Sea
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • Life, Animated
  • O.J.: Made in America

5/5

O.J. will win. Let’s go home.

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BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

  • Land of Mine
  • A Man Called Ove
  • Paradise
  • The Salesman
  • Toni Erdmann

4/5

The question at this point is WHAT is going to compete with Toni Erdmann‘s win.

My office at the Festival (where we are showing Paradise and Stefan Zweig, two shortlisters) is actually surprised Paradise didn’t get it. I kind of am, but I should have recognized Tanna‘s speed.

One day I might be able to know what I’m doing with the short categories…

So I’ll abstain and wish you all a great rest of the weekend.

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Vampires and Werewolves… ON ICE!!!

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It’s pretty much a law of storytelling that drama is driven by conflict of some sort, even when it’s not violent, physical, or even particularly angry. Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Self, the gist of those kinds. So, people should want things that conflict with another person’s wants somehow and so on and so forth. Yet the Underworld franchise comes across to me as a story of problems that would probably be so very easily wrapped up if the characters were not all just assholes for the sake of being assholes. The whole mythos of the trilogy is little more than a cover for the fact that certain people hate other people hard enough to try to murder one another and it wasn’t something that was as obvious to me in the 2003 starter Underworld as it was halfway through its 2006 sequel Underworld: Evolution.

The assholery is begins with Evolution‘s prologue. After a title scroll that explains how the Corvinus line became involved with the everlong war between vampires and werewolf Lycans – brothers Markus (Tony Curran) and William (Brian Steele) were bit by a bat and a wolf, respectively and became amongst the most powerful of their kind – we are introduced to a scene in the 1200s where Markus and fellow vampire Elders Viktor and Amelia (Bill Nighy and Zita Gorog reprising their roles in brief cameos; Nighy is the only one who gets to make a huge impression) capture William after he rampages through a village. The capture is in some vague manner that upsets Markus (he seems angry about their intent to “harm” William, but they’re imprisoning William like they all planned). In any case, asshole move #1 is performed.

Following all of that, we’re back to the present day with vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Corvinus descendant vampire-werewolf hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman) are in hiding after killing Viktor in the previous movie (asshole move #2, being spurred by asshole move #3 – Viktor’s massacring of Selene’s family against her knowledge). With Viktor and Amelia both killed by the events of the previous film, Selene seeks to implore the assumed-dormant Markus’ favor somehow by rescuing him from the now-openly-trecherous Kraven (Shane Brolly). Which, by the way, opens up a big question: If Selene found out Michael’s last name to be Corvin and Markus is well enough known amongst the vampires as a leader, why the hell does it take her such a long movie as the previous Underworld to figure out Michael’s ties to the vampires and Lycans?

But anyway Underworld had its time to be hated on, now it’s Underworld: Evolution‘s turn.

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Markus doesn’t need Selene’s aid. He’s already been awakened, dispatches Kraven violently with more flat video-game CGI, and now outwardly seeks Selene to specifically kill her for matters he deliberately keeps coy about (asshole move #4) which means after running to reach Markus, Selene and Michael are running away from the heavily overpowered, largely made-up or CGI’d Markus (especially when he’s in huge bat form). With Selene’s final chance to get out of the vampires’ bad side ruined, she and Michael rush to find out what Markus’ hang-up with Selene is and what that has to do with his plot to free William.

 

This involves digging – and by digging we mean find an exposition machine of a character, Andreas Tanis (Steven Mackintosh), who explains the Corvinus lineage followed by the unsurprising revelation that an immortal with a SWAT team in his pocket (because vampires vs. werewolves + supergoth = gunfights!) is in fact the first of the Corvinus line, Alexander (poor Derek Jacobi, who is the only person in the world I’d say was better off working with Kenneth Branagh). I feel like stating there’s no consequence to these revelations is a severe understatement, the primary players are the only true non-human element to the film and despite the movie being a gigantic Corvinus family reunion, there is no reaction to Michael’s involvement in the line (in fact, his involvement in the story is obscenely arbitrary to the point that he’s dispatched from the plot in the middle of the film until the climax where we need two fights going on at once).

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The only real development comes from Selene’s family and why they were murdered (and Markus desires her blood – which could be accomplished without murder as has been established in the series) and still it muddles an already muddled-up mythology (not to mention what it does to vampire mythology on its final beat). None of the characters are anymore than functionary and have no emotional reaction to a plot that requires their emotions except for Curran and the man is too caked-up in makeup to do much. The permanently-scowling Beckinsale and non-entity Speedman are involved in one of the inadvertently coldest sex scenes I’ve ever witnessed because of how little the film’s blue and grey palette (more appropriate in Evolution’s wintery setting than in the previous film) and their writing affords them, though I’d never trust Speedman to play even drying paint.

 

It’s a sequel that exists for the sake of a sequel rather than any real narrative or character investment with nothing for the audience to hang on to and embarrassingly outdated visuals. Its leaves no room for fun in its grave tone and no real interest except as an obligation to someone who would be watching and writing about these films simply because the latest entry began 2017.

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It Bites

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It’s embarrassing to know that if I had seen Underworld at the age of 11 when it came out and I overheard some of the classmates I was desperately trying to be friends with say how cool it was, I would have loved it and thought “so awesome, man.” Instead, I am at the age of 24 when I have seen it for the first time in my life and know better than to fall for whatever faux-gothic slick leather cool wire-fu action flick comes out on the spurs of The Matrix‘s own slick leather cool wire-fu action flick success.

That’s not hyperbole. Underworld is exactly the type of movie that could only exist how it is in 2003, dated to the dot by its presence of Kate Beckinsale whuppin’ ass in tight black leather, its fascination with vampires and werewolves without real interest in using their mythology except insofar as a vehicle for bullet time sequences. It is a movie that wears its influence from Matrix and Blade on its sleeve while preceding so many women kicks ass in tight clothing movies such as Aeon Flux and basically Milla Jovovich’s entire career. The effects are that dated, with flat blood splatters, shiny and rubbery CGI, or static body prosthetics for practical werewolves. And director Len Wiseman giving the soundtrack it’s unrestrained indulgence with industrial metal and color correcting every single shoot to the steeliest of blue (which is at the least more visually pleasant than the greens of The Matrix) is part of what dates the film most. I’m serious about the industrial metal element, the score by Paul Haslinger thuds accordingly with echoes and, my hand to god, the movie shoves in a remix to A Perfect Circle’s “Judith” so eagerly it keeps certain lyrics audible, including “fuck your god”, for no other reason than it’s what the cool kids were into.

Looking cool in that early 2000s manner is exactly what Underworld is concerned with. No room for logic in a movie where the premise is as simple as an ongoing war between vampires and the werewolf Lycans rages on around vampire assassin Selene (the too-talented-for-this Kate Beckinsale in her unfortunately best-known performance). She discovers two things that must not be: that the Lycans’ leader Lucian (a never-more-hammy Michael Sheen relishing the scenery in his mouth) is alive despite the claims by vampire de facto leader Kraven (Shane Brolly) and Lucian is weirdly fixated on a medic Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman). With the alarming addition that the Lycans have weaponized UV rays into a bullet, Selene is getting close to appealing over Kraven’s obstruction to the dormant vampire superior Viktor (Bill Nighy) during her own investigation of the matter.

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It barely makes sense. It doesn’t make sense for vampires and werewolves to shoot each other in subways rather than fight like monsters. It doesn’t make sense for them to be shooting at each other when they knew it wouldn’t work until they weaponize light and silver. It doesn’t make sense that the sets look European (the international production was shot in Hungary) but half of the cast – including local police and medical – speak in American accents. Selene literally has a scene talking into a mirror and it doesn’t seem like it’s necessary to break vampire mythology so.

Beckinsale and Nighy both treat this scenario with more gravity than necessary (which is why the best scenes are when they’re confronting each other), Beckinsale with a confused yet compelling icy visage in every moment, giving focus to anything that crosses her and Nighy by upping the authoritative logos (even when Viktor is clearly wrong) that he heightens like he’s in Shakespeare. Nighy’s ability to be big is aided by Sheen using the pathos of Lucian’s tragic backstory to be the loudest figure in every shot and selling it because Sheen is every bit as qualified an actor as Nighy and Beckinsale. This trilogy is what drives a ridiculous premise and bootleg goth Matrix aesthetic a good half hour than it needs to be (the film is a little under two hours).

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The biggest sign of Wiseman’s poor craftsmanship of Underworld lies in two voices. Brolly is clearly attempting an American accent for his Kraven and yet there is not a second of this where he’s not obviously Irish and his laboring swallows the life out of any line readings. In the meantime, there is also the fact that Robbie Gee wears prosthetic fangs in his makeup and you hear it impede his speech in every scene he’s in and yet clearly they either didn’t bother doing ADR work on him or he was still wearing fangs during it. Why? Beats me.

Underworld‘s not trying to be a work of art. A man dies in it because his chain whip gets stuck under a rock. So I can see why people might find it trashy fun in all of the Victorian carts and overlit sewer action, but I’d be lying to say I don’t get tired of it before the halfway point and the work it goes through to complicate its plot – including how many times Michael slips between Vampire custody and Lycan custody – is alienating. It is what it is in the end and I still know kid me would have rewatched it. But kid me also had Van Helsing as a favorite movie.

shudder

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Behind Every Space Man…

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A disclosure that I can only get away with on a personal blog: the reason that the concept of a movie largely involved with academics in general puts me usually is the same as one of the (many) reasons that I, Grad student of computers, hate school. I can’t stand chalkboard sounds. Something about the silent scraping of chalk against that calcium sulfate material always gets my teeth grinding and on edge about how easily it could go wrong. There’s always a fine gravelly tone for the contact, no matter how softly you write. Chalkboard makes me anxious.

Anyway, part of the reason why Hidden Figures kept me from enjoying it was the fact that, because it revolved around characters needing to make calculations that are apparent to the audience and that means literal visual representations and that means a lot of chalkboards. It’s imperative to the plot of the film after all, which is to follow on three of the unsung heroines of the NASA Project Mercury between 1961-62 (the project lasted from 1958-1963, early in the Space Race). Which, being a Space enthusiast, obviously interested me heavily enough to forego the fact that I couldn’t even finish director Theodore Melfi’s first feature St. Vincent. To be honest, his bland “history class movie” work here is not good either and yet another reason why I didn’t dig Hidden Figures enough to understand why it’s such a heavy contender for the Best Picture Oscar.

Those unsung heroines of the field are notably African-American women working in a dungeon-esque basement in a bland building in NASA away from the real projects at the beginning of the film. The three central ones in our focus are Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), who spends the majority of her screentime going through a painstaking academic crucible to be promoted from mathematician to engineer, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), the much-labored de facto supervisor-without-the-title of all the Afro-American female calculators who ends up getting ahead of NASA on their integration of IBM’s computers, and very much at the front of the picture, Katharine Johnson nee Goble (Taraji P. Henson), whose accuracy with complex calculations meant that she was able to figure trajectories and landing points better than the IBMs and helped send John Glenn (Glen Powell) to space and back again.

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If I do admit I somewhat dug Hidden Figures, it’s by the skin of its teeth and thanks entirely to its cast. You see, Hidden Figures is the sort of movie that under a director as lazy as Melfi pushes everything right into the indiscernable background of the film just to prostrate itself to actors (this as opposed to the much more skilled Pablo Larrain’s Oscarbait biopic this year, Jackie, which is undeniably a showcase for Natalie Portman’s performance but also an overall brilliantly crafted examination in trauma, grief, and identity). And when I say indiscernable, I mean, I can’t waste any more words trying to think of a manner that Melfi tries to make the movie have any personality beyond its soundtrack – a mix between Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch trying to use unrecognizable motifs to make this feel like a Kevin Costner vehicle from the late 80s to Pharrell Williams writing original songs trying so hard to recreate the James Brown stylings of 1960s rhythm music. Otherwise, it’s the least effort I’ve seen in a visual vocabulary.

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Part of why this movie needed to have its cast – especially its three leads – do the heavy-lifting is from the frank fact that there is not as much fascination made with what the three did than it is with the fact that they ARE black women and unlike Tim Brayton, I really have no problem with that being the point of the film. The film portrays Johnson’s mathematical capability like it’s practically casual for her and the bigotry is the only real roadblock to seeing her accomplishments. In the meantime, the only reason Jackson has a tough time being allowed to join the engineers or Vaughan getting the recognition she deserves for being overworked as a supervisor without the recognition she earns for it is because of their color while their gender leads to them being doubted by many of the black men surrounding them, including briefly Johnson’s obvious to-be-husband Lt. Col. Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali, because he’s everywhere in 2016 and I don’t mind with the life he gives to a functional role pretending the story is about his eagerness to marry Katherine). Could the film be less lead-footed about it? Lord, YES. There are two speeches by Henson given to Johnson and her supervisor Al Harrison (Kevin Costner as the good white man who again makes it work in his Costner wholesomeness) and they are brilliantly delivered, especially the latter in its exhausted fieriness, but the dialogue does her no favors overstating themes and the script by Melfi and Allison Schroeder never gets better.

And yet Monae provides more proof that with enough screentime, she can use sparks to make a presence even when her character is only driven by step-by-step plotting (Jackson’s academic pursuits are the least-developed area in the script). Spencer uses her usual screen persona to embody a mother hen role that portrays not only how easily she can have a relationship with our leads and the rest of the computers and defend their jobs, but even lets that extend to Vaughan’s skill with machinery, continuously remaking “that a girl” when she maneuvers a computer or car or tv or radio with ease and making it totally not hokey. And Henson… Henson’s facials alone embody a weariness and lack of confidence that translates to more focus on her work. And then Henson uses that build into an arc of growing confidence to call things how she sees it and finally get a seat at the table. It’s a performance deserving of a better movie. All of the performances are (save for Jim Parsons being… a non-entity). It’s a story deserving of a better director. The movie may have finally given these real-life heroines credit, but I’m cannot give it much more beyond its actors.

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Get the Hook

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WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU POSITION SOMEBODY BEHIND A POLE AND THINKS IT’S GOOD FRAMING?!

Even after we’ve already squared the “First Best Picture” discrepancy, the Oustanding Picture slate for the 2nd Academy Awards is quite tricky. Movies get lost. That’s simply what happens. We can (and should) push for preservation of our art in this industry, but despite our best efforts, we might lose prints completely. And so it is a common tragedy that The Patriot, one of the nominees for Best Picture in that very ceremony, has no complete print remaining in the world and we might never see it ever again. I can’t speak to its quality, but given that it’s directed by the brilliant Ernst Lubitsch, I like to imagine it worthy of standing amongst the masterpieces in his career. At the very least, I like to hope it’s a good movie.

Its absence from the world means that we filmgoers are left with four nominees from the 2nd Oscar ceremony and bruh… they’re all fucking bad. If I were to group the nominees of the first ceremony of the Oscars to be broadcasted (on the radio) and count their collective redeeming features, I’d be able to do it on one hand and spare fingers. So, in this lost cause, I’m not sure we could do worse than the actual winner of the evening The Broadway Melody (itself having a lost Technicolor part), but I’ll tell you something… we could do much much better.

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In retrospect, it’s easy to see why The Broadway Melody was selected to take home the top prize: it’s about show business, it had the powerful Irving Thalberg of MGM producing it (Thalberg had another nominee within the slate – the variety special Hollywood Revue), but the most obvious one is a matter of historical precedence: The Broadway Melody is not only the first sound picture to have won the top Oscar prize, it is also the first all-talking musical (The Jazz Singer obviously predates it as the first sound musical, but is mostly made up of silent soundtrack-less moments).

There is one thing that is certain: it didn’t win that shit with merit. The Broadway Melody is one of only three movies to win the Best Picture Oscar without receiving ANY other Oscars at the ceremony (the others are Grand Hotel and Mutiny on the Bounty; also no film won more than 1 Oscar at this ceremony) and that says quite a lot.

The story is cookie-cutter showbiz, even as early as 1929: The Mahoney Sisters – Hank (Bessie Love) and Queenie (Anita Page) show up in New York to rendezvous with Hank’s fiancé Eddie Kearns (Charles King), who also happens to be a singer, songwriter, and their potential in on the Broadway stages. Indeed, they try to show off their nonexistent talent to producer Francis Zanfield and are barely able to get their approval to be in the play when the three of them make their appeal (Queenie having the most influence). The very number they try to show off to Zanfield is a good synecdoche for the quality – the girls’ voices of the screechiest quality and barely able to keep tempo, their dancing even clumsier and that’s even when them holding on to each other in the most boring fashion, the song (which I honestly don’t think I can identify) was hokey in the worst way, and the performance keeps getting stilted by the piano’s malfunction. “I’ve seen enough,” Zanfield eventually declares and he made it through the performance farther than I did. I hate to use a better movie to dig on something that already is poor on its own merit, but The Broadway Melody until this point basically promises the same type of backstage making-of-a-show drama that was more less perfected in 1933 with 42nd Street. While it tries to stick to the sameof structure in which dialogue scenes go long and far between poorly sung musical numbers (almost all composed by legendaries Nacio Herb Brown and lyricised by Arthur Freed, who have both obviously seen better days), things get more melodramatic but only less interesting.

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During their lucky break on the show, Queenie – whom practically nobody can pass by without commenting on how beautiful she is – gets the attention of rich playboy Jock Warriner (Kenneth Thomson), to the dismay of Hank at the potential of it breaking the duo up and Eddie as he slowly discovers that the empty air between him and Queenie must mean that the two of them truly love each other, since he has even less chemistry with Hank. In the meantime, the two girls’ Uncle Jed (Jed Prouty) keeps offering Hank a part in his 30-week traveling show and Hank considers it for longer than necessary. This all comes ahead to the most protracted and unengaging climax of shouting and manly punching with the sense that it’s more dramatic than it is (the wikipedia summary makes the ending sound more cynical than the vanilla film bothers to present it). I’m not sure if I don’t prefer the bad singing to the melodrama, since at least the terrible show performances have inadvertent humor in them. The first big revue we watch is the most laughably simplistic modeling of New York to the titular song where it’s just the flattest full frame shot director Harry Beaumont could come up with of Eddie and the girls finding their way around it (and filling it up later with a chorus line didn’t miraculously help). Its hilarious incompetence is the closest this gets to entertaining.

I’m not sure I can recommend this to even completists about film history, that it spawned a franchise to rival the Gold Diggers is a sham, and there’s much better movies that revolutionize musicals and sound within the same era (and without the poor sound quality of scratches and volume inconsistency either, but innovation means flaws with happen). It’s morbid mistake of the Academy to award such a film on their second year, but they got it right the following year, thankfully…

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For Your Consideration 2017

Ah, Oscar voting season has finally begun for the ceremony and whatever is still in the minds of those voters in the industry at this point is probably what’s going to find its way to those ballots and eventually to being an announced nominee come the 24th of January. It makes it just the slightest bit too late to express my own dark horse ideas of what should be nominated in the categories, but it’s not like any Academy members read this blog and this kind of wishful thinking is just as fun as it is harmful for my esteem.

So for your consideration for the Oscars, I’m gonna try to pick movies that I know have had some discussion but aren’t very strong contenders at this point…

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VISUAL EFFECTSDeepwater Horizon

I never in my life expected a day would come when I would suggest a Peter Berg movie to be nominated, but dammit if that isn’t a really physically surrounding mountain of effects in portraying the infamous explosion and oil spill. Like, the rest of the movie may be a dud just like the rest of that hack’s work, but the effects here are chaotic and full of mayhem and the result is a fire that feels like a complete danger even when the characters are cliche-o-mat extensions.

In any case, I’m sure Patriots Day will put me right back on hating that fool.

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BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins – Hail, Caesar!
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jess Gonchor – Hail, Caesar!
BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Mary Zophres – Hail, Caesar!

The lukewarm reaction to one of the densest films the Coens have given us (and unlike A Serious Man and Barton Fink, unpacking all the things the movie is about – like Hollywood, communism, Catholicism, etc. – doesn’t feel like a chore at all. It’s a lot of fun to dig deeper into this film!) is flat-0ut unfair. This movie deserves more praise for juggling so many dishes and dropping none, but I concede that it might not be some people’s thing so whatever. You can be wrong.

You are REALLY wrong to say this movie, in all of its happy homage to the studio system and 1950s Hollywood, is not absolutely positively gorgeous. Even if all you say is “well it’s just old Hollywood vignettes”, they’re stunning toybox vignettes that want to show off their stars’ skills in accents, stuntwork, dancing, and still give tribute to the glorious lie of cinema. Get out my face if you hate this.

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BEST ORIGINAl SCREENPLAY: Maren Ade – Toni Erdmann

People rallying over The Handmaiden (for Adapted Screenplay) and I think it’s the wrong Foreign-Language film. Erdmann is the one that doesn’t seem to lose itself in the third act. Now, I know it’s silly to look at the script for a movie that’s nearly three hours and commend it for its patience with its characters and sitting to watch them react and grow as respondents to one another, but the story of Winfried and Ines’ struggles to be father and daughter is sweeter and more touching than I expected of a German film without losing the realism behind and that’s to say nothing of its successes in convincing even when Ines tries to be different, she’s still Winfried’s daughter simply based on the way she speaks and does things. Plus, it’s hilarious. This movie is laugh-out-loud funny to me and I think that’s a real plus for comedy.

I can at least be satisfied knowing it’s absolutely going to win the Foreign-Language Picture Oscar.

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Whit Stillman – Love & Friendship
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Tom Bennett – Love & Friendship
BEST ACTRESS: Kate Beckinsale – Love & Friendship

Anybody who has seen the movie or is remotely familiar with Stillman or Jane Austen knows how this is a no-brainer. Stillman was BORN to make an Austen film, he was practically making metropolitan Austen films until this point. Beckinsale was BORN to play a wickedly manipulative socialite woman in Austen fashion (+10 for having like thuh baist chemistry with Chloe Sevigny) and Tom Bennett needs to have his own show playing Sir James Martin, because his imbecility is a complete riot.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Janelle Monae – Hidden Figures

So, like, if you’re gonna nominate this super-meh Oscarbait for Best Picture (and it looks like they might), you may as well nominate the very best part of it because I swear to God, Janelle Monae will become a movie star with or without good material (but thankfully Moonlight WAS good material, though Monae has much she can show off with this role).

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BEST ACTOR: Trevante Rhodes – Moonlight

I don’t wanna hear it about “Oh he’s only there for 1/3 of the movie”. He’s a co-lead with the other actors for Chiron. Nah, Rhodes does not only deserve the nomination, he deserves the Gold. Embody two performances we see before his (putting pressure on him), while personifying tropes of black masculinity, while subtly communicating a vulnerability and uncertainty underneath all that while keeping in mind Black has to react to seeing Kevin again.

All on this… no-name never-heard-his-name actor? This is some demanding work and Rhodes ACES IT. FUCKING ACES IT. The man should be a fucking movie star by this sort of performance and I really hope it.

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BEST DIRECTOR: Pablo Larrain
BEST PICTUREJackie

Remember when this movie felt for a comfortable bit like it would be a contender for both awards? And then it suddenly slowly faded out awards conversation except for the obvious one that gives the unfortunate look of Osca– well, I mean, it IS Oscarbait and there’s no going around that. And yes, obviously a goal of the movie (that it looks like it’ll achieve) is to get Portman a second Oscar. BUT… there’s more to it than that. Larrain and company have given us an abstract and disorienting presentation of violent grief and how it affects the memory and psychology. It’s a more impressive portrayal of immediate trauma than the same year’s Sully, by far. It just seems like one great big block of somebody’s mind trying to convince herself her husband’s brains are not on her, that she still has a home somewhere, and that she is more than just a shell of history. It’s the anti-thesis to Hamilton‘s “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”. And… I’m sorry did people just decide not to watch this? It’s incredible and deserves more love than its not getting.