2018 Academy Award Picks

I had made the decision not to write my Oscar predictions this year.  The “Big 6” categories all seem like foregone conclusions, so what is the point?  But I changed my mind, because some of the films in the lesser seen categories deserve a mention.

So this is who I think will win, not necessarily who I think should win.

Best Picture:  The Shape of Water

This seems to be a fait accompli, and I’m okay with that.  I liked this movie more than most.  It has charm, and interesting characters, and it is a visual masterpiece.  Could Lady Bird  or Dunkirk sneak in for the win?  Not bloody likely.

Actress:  Frances McDormand

My personal vote favorite is Sally Hawkins, but this one is a slam dunk for McDormand.  History says if you win best actress at the Globes and the SAGs, you are going to win the Oscar too.

Actor:  Gary Oldman

Again, this is an absolute lock.  Oldman had his win sealed months ago, and it really is a powerful and transformative  performance.  It was great to see Daniel Kaluuya get some recognition as well.

Supporting Actress:  Allison Janney

Again, no contest in this category.   I think all five performances in this category are very solid, but Janney is going to win, no doubt.

Supporting Actor:  Sam Rockwell

Rockwell has all the momentum here.  Honestly there were other performances I preferred.  Woody Harrelson is the moral center of Three Billboards, and gives a fantastic performance.  Willem Dafoe is the heart and soul of The Florida Project.  The funny thing is, Dafoe has given a dozen performances better than this one.  He was nominated in this category 31 years ago (!) for Platoon, and probably should have won then.  Since this category is often used as a “lifetime achievement award” of sorts, I would not be unhappy if Dafoe pulled off the upset.

Director:  Guillermo del Toro

I would say this is close to a sure thing.  And I couldn’t be happier.

Cinematography:  Blade Runner 2049

This has to be the year for Roger Deakins, right?  Every other film in this category, except for Darkest Hour, had stand-out cinematography.  But Deakins will win, and he’ll get an ovation and one of the loudest cheers of the night.

Costume Design:  Phantom Thread

This category tends to favor period pieces and fantasies with lush costumes, which would make one lean towards Beauty and the Beast or Victoria & Abdul.   But the film that is about a clothier has to win, right?

Documentary feature:  Strong Island

You can make a case for all five movies in this category.  Some have said that a Steve James win for Abacus will right a previous wrong,  when his fantastic Hoop Dreams was snubbed from even receiving a nomination in 1994.  Last Man in Aleppo is powerful, but Netflix won in the Documentary Shorts category last year with a similar piece.  Most of the pundits are picking Icarus or Faces Places, and either could win.  I am going out on a limb here to predict the voters will select Strong Island,  because it was not only a powerful story, but the best made film of the bunch.

Documentary short:   Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405

I enjoyed all five nominees, and I know many people are picking Traffic Stop.  While Heaven does not have the powerful subject matter of some of the other entries, it is quite simply the most interesting story.  It is compelling and well made, and will appeal to voters.

Film Editing:  Dunkirk

I think this may be the only award that Christoper Nolan’s film comes away with.  I wouldn’t be completely shocked if The Shape of Water took the award here;  if it does, look for a runaway night for Del Toro and company.  But I think Dunkirk is a safe bet.

Foreign Language Film:  A Fantastic Woman

This is a category which is known for surprises.  Many times the “sure thing” has lost to a lesser known film. I did really enjoy Hungary’s entry, On Body and Soul, and Sweden’s The Square, which is a layered film that challenges the viewer to think and to question. But Chile’s entry is a superbly crafted movie, and although Lebanon’s The Insult  has been gaining traction recently, I look to A Fantastic Woman to win the night.

Makeup and Hairstyling:  Darkest Hour

Original Score:  The Shape of Water

If I hear one more person predicting a win for Phantom Thread…  Yes, it is well crafted music.  For an entirely different film.  It is often at odds with the visual;  stuggling, fighting and distracting from what the viewer sees.  Alexandre Desplat will win his second Oscar for del Toro’s film.

Original song:   “Remember Me”, Coco

“This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman has been gaining traction in recent days, and could easily win.  I think Coco will hold on in a very underwhelming year for original songs.

Production Design:  The Shape of Water

Again, a solid case can be made for all films in this category.   But I think del Toro and company are in for a very good night.

Animated short film:  Dear Basketball

To be clear, I don’t want this film to win.  It is a love letter from Kobe Bryant to the game of basketball.  It is simple, sweet, and memorable.  It is narrated by Kobe Bryant.  It also has a score by John Williams.  Who but Kobe Bryant could get Williams to score a 7 minute short?   My absolute favorite is Garden Party, which has fantastic animation, and a story that is fresh, original and multilayered.  But L.A. is Kobe-town, and I can’t see them not giving this to him.  If Garden Party wins, this will be my highlight of the evening.

Animated feature:  Coco

Coco is great, but honestly, Loving Vincent should win this award.  It was the first ever all-hand-painted movie.  It is visually striking, and tells a great story.  But, you know, Pixar.  Enough said.

Live Action Short:  The Silent Child

This has become perhaps my favorite category at the Oscars.  I’ve been watching the shorts for about ten years, and there are some amazing films being made that are under 40 minutes in length.  And it’s never been easier to see them, with all of the streaming services available.  If you are a movie lover, and you haven’t checked out the films in this category before, give it a chance.   You’ll be glad you did.  DeKalb Elementary could easily win, but I think the final message of The Silent Child ensures it’s victory.  Look for some sign language on stage tonight when it wins.

Sound Editing:  Dunkirk

So, if you need a refresher, the sound editor creates all the non-dialogue and non-music sounds that are heard in a feature film.  The sound mixer takes all of the elements (sound effects, dialogue, score) and finds the right balance or mix for each scene.

Sound Mixing:  Baby Driver

Baby Driver is one of the best mixed films of all time, period.  Many pundits are picking Dunkirk in this category, but it is a crime if Baby Driver doesn’t win.

Visual Effects:  Blade Runner 2049

Yes, I know many prognosticators are saying War for the Planet of the Apes will win, and it very well could.  But I think Blade Runner will pull off the victory here

Adapted Screenplay:  Call Me By Your Name

Normally when you see Aaron Sorkin’s name in the mix, it’s game over.  But Call Me By Your Name will win, for two reasons.  One, it is a lifetime achievement recognition for James Ivory, a long-time academy favorite.  Two, the oft-cited monologue, the words of wisdom that father imparts to son in the movie.

Original Screenplay:  Get Out

This category is Lady Bird‘s only real shot at an Oscar, but I think the academy will choose to acknowledge Jordan Peele instead.  The Big Sick was great, but its nomination is its victory.  Guillermo could win here too.

So, I guess I am predicting a big night for Guillermo Del Toro, and a shutout for Lady Bird.    We will see what the evening brings.  Have fun watching!

ON BODY AND SOUL: “By the way, what did we dream about last night?”

ON BODY AND SOUL – 2017 – 116 minutes – ★★★1/2

Directed by Ildiko Enyedi

Starring:  Geza Morcsanyi (Endre), Alexandra Borbely (Maria).

Oscar nomination:  Best Foreign Language Film

Where to watch:  Streaming on Netflix

The country of Hungary is riding a hot streak at the Oscars in recent years.   The powerful Holocaust film Son of Saul won in this category just two years ago.  And last year,  the Hungarian short Sing, a sweet film about a children’s school choir, won in the Live Action Short category.

This year Hungary is represented again in the foreign language category with On Body and Soul.   This movie introduces us to Endre, the CFO of a slaughterhouse.  He is good at his job, respected by his workers, but seems to live an empty existence.  Endre (played by Geza Morcsanyi) has one of those faces that is a road map of his life; every wrong turn, every bad decision is written in the creases.   A new  quality control expert begins working at the slaugtherhouse.  Maria (played by Alexandra Borbely) has an almost angelic, ethereal quality about her.   She is strikingly beautiful, which gets everyone’s attention.  But she also appears to have Asperger’s syndrome, or something which places her on the autistic spectrum.  She is very intelligent, but lacks simple social skills.  Even navigating a mundane lunchroom conversation is beyond her.

We see her at home, using Lego characters to replay and re-imagine interactions in the workplace.   After a workplace theft, a psychologist is brought in to interview the entire staff.  One of the psychologist’s questions is about dreams.  Endre and Maria separately narrate an identical dream.  Both dream that they are one of a pair of deer in a forest.  The psychologist thinks they are playing her for a fool and confronts them.  Soon Endre and Maria begin an awkward, unconventional courtship.  Could they be having the same dreams?  Are they meeting in their dreams?

One could call this a romance, but it does not follow a conventional path.  The film takes it time, giving the viewer the opportunity to discover details along the way.  What makes the film a pleasure to watch is the power of the two lead performances.  I had imagined that Morcsanyi must be a veteran Hungarian actor, with dozens of films to his credit.  Lo and behold, this is the Hungarian playwright and professor’s feature film debut, at the age of 65.   Equally impressive is Borbely’s performance as Maria.  She manages to inhabit the character in a way that is believable, and never slips into caricature.

There are a couple of scenes that some viewers may find disturbing.  The movie is set in a slaughterhouse, and some scenes were clearly shot in a working slaughterhouse, with very real animals being killed and carved.  The scenes are brief but clearly real.

Another memorable scene shifts tone from gruesomely uncomfortable to awkwardly funny in a way I’ve never quite experienced in a movie before.   This is not a perfect film, but it is a memorable one. The love story of  Endre and Maria will stay with me for some time.  Like our best dreams, it is not fully formed, but has a power beneath the surface that lingers after waking.

DUNKIRK: “What do you see?” “Home.”

DUNKIRK – 2017 – 106 minutes -★★★★1/2

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Starring:  Fionn Whitehead (Tommy), Kenneth Branagh (Commander Bolton), Mark Rylance (Mr. Dawson), Tom Hardy (Farrier), Cillian Murphy (Shivering Soldier), Harry Styles (Alex), James D’Arcy (Colonel Winnant), Barry Keoghan (George Mills).

Oscar nominations:  Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Music Score, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Production Design.

Where to watch:  Blu ray or DVD, streaming on Google Play.


Dunkirk (n) 1.  a seaport in northern France 2. site of an amphibious evacuation, when over 300,000 British troops were evacuated while under enemy fire 3.  a crisis in which a desperate effort is the only alternative to defeat.

As you can see from the dictionary definition, Dunkirk began as a geographic location.  Then it became known as the site of one of the greatest evacuations in human history.  Then it became something more, something that perfectly encompasses the British demeanor of courage under fire.  Christopher Nolan’s movie encapsulates all three meanings, in one tense, gripping film.

The movie doesn’t build tension, it begins with it.  There is some text,  providing very basic detail:  In the early days of World War II, the Germans have pushed through France, backing the British up to the sea.  Trapped there in Dunkirk, they await the arrival of ships to evacuate them.

Nolan decided to tell the story in a very original  way.   There are three different narrative threads:  one on land, one on the sea, and one in the air.  They each cover a different period of time:  one week, one day, and one hour respectively.  On paper this sounds tricky to pull off, or perhaps a bit gimmicky.  But it works to perfection.  The movie cuts from story to story, and we never lose sight of what we are seeing or who we are following.  Sometimes the threads of the narratives overlap, or come together.

On the land we see most of the action through the eyes of young private Tommy (played by newcomer Fionn Whitehead), who is justifiably frightened out of his wits, and wants to get on a ship as soon as possible.  He meets up with another young soldier, a mystery man who may be hiding a secret, and their plans to sneak on a boat go from bad to worse.

On the sea, we follow one of the “little ships”, as they were affectionately called.  Britain put out the call to all willing private vessels to cross the channel and assist in the evacuation of soldiers.  Over 800 ships answered that call.  In the movie we follow the Moonstone, piloted by a middle-aged Mr. Dawson, accompanied by his young son and another young man.  Mark Rylance brings a quiet self-assurance to his portrayal of Dawson.  He is the perfect actor for this role, for he is representative of all of the little ship owners, who crossed the channel into a war zone because it was the right thing to do.


In the air, we follow Tom Hardy as Farrier, the pilot of a British Spitfire.  Farrier never loses his cool,  even when engaged in a dogfight with an enemy plane.  The aerial photography in this movie is some of the best ever captured on film.  The entire movie was shot in large format, either 65 or 70 mm, and the aerial scenes in particular look glorious.

Eventually all three story lines will meet up, in time and space, bringing some of the now-familiar characters together.  Technically, every aspect of this movie is near-flawless.  Christopher Nolan eschews digital effects, and shoots as much as he can practically.  This adds to the realism of the film, which is almost unbearably tense.  I can’t recall a single other film I’ve seen which began with the tension this high, and then just kept increasing it.  The film score has a ticking clock sound, and the music itself has a metronomic quality which never lets the viewer forget that time is passing, that something is imminent.

When I saw this movie the first time in the theater, I thought it had the best sound quality of any movie I’d ever seen.  That holds up on the home theater as well.   The editing works flawlessly with the score, as the camera cuts from one story line to another, without ever confusing the viewer.   I think this movie may have the least amount of dialogue of any major film in quite some time.  It is so visceral that little dialogue is needed.   When words are needed, they are brief and to the point.  Kenneth Brannagh as Commander Bolton gets to deliver some of the most memorable.


On the surface, the Dunkirk evacuation is about a failure, not a success.  Hundreds of thousands of British soldiers fleeing from the enemy and abandoning the French.  But of course, it was so much more than that.  Those same British soldiers would live to fight on, and many would give their lives in the years to come as Europe was reclaimed from the Axis armies, foot by foot, inch by inch.   Had the British not succeeded in getting off the beaches at Dunkirk, the war could have taken a very different turn.  We all owe a debt of gratitude to those men, who stood there watching, waiting for a ship.  And a particular debt goes to those people who got into their fishing trawlers and pleasure cruisers on the English coast, not because they had to, but because they were asked.





Oscar Sunday! A year of movies!

Today is Oscar Sunday, my favorite day of the year.   I have avidly watched every minute of every Academy Award ceremony since 1983, when I was rooting for E.T. to win best picture.  I didn’t know who Gandhi was at the time, but the movie about him seemed long and boring to my eleven-year-old self, and I was disappointed when Gandhi beat E.T. at the end of the night.  But there began my love of movies, and my love of the Oscars.  Yes, I know the Academy gets a lot wrong, but I’m willing to forgive that.  Why?  Because movies, that’s why.

I have often wondered how much time I spend in an average year watching movies.  So now I am going to keep track.   Beginning today, from Oscar Sunday 2016 until Oscar Sunday 2017, I will keep a running tally of every movie I watch, and the accumulated time.  This will include not only movies seen in theaters but movies viewed at home at well.  It has to be something that was intended for theatrical release, not for TV release.  I will also include partial movies, so if I happen to stop on TCM and watch 10 minutes of Double Indemnity, I will include that too.   And of course it will include current viewings of movies that I’ve already seen.

This blog will be a record of everything watched, from the moment this entry is posted.  My Alfred Hitchcock blog will continue, and anything watched for review on that site will be included here as well.

My Oscar picks for tonight are posted on my best friend’s awesome movie site here.