My Review of the 91st Academy Awards Ceremony

Well, that’s a wrap on the 91st edition of the Academy Awards. Like all years, the Oscars had some great moments, some not-so-great moments, and some hilarious quotes! Here are my reactions to some of the major highlights from the 2019 Academy Awards ceremony:

Best Moment: “Shallow” performance by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper

giphyThis performance was a knockout! Like most fans of A Star Is Born, I have listened to “Shallow” from the film’s soundtrack on repeat since I first saw the movie. The performance by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper was probably the moment I was most looking forward to last night, and it absolutely, unequivocally did not disappoint. I will admit, after watching that recent impromptu performance of “Shallow” together at a Lady Gaga concert in Vegas, I was a little worried about Cooper’s singing abilities come Oscar night – that ended up being a total non-issue, as Cooper’s performance of his portion of the song was pitch-perfect. Obviously Gaga knocked the song out of the park, and it was such a cool moment to see these two (who had some of the best on-screen chemistry in any movie last year) light it up on Hollywood’s biggest night.

Worst Moment: Green Book wins Best Picture

Screen Shot 2019-02-25 at 5.37.18 AMTalk about a letdown to end an otherwise enjoyable night celebrating cinema. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed Green Book. It was a good movie. A good movie. But the best movie of the year? Not a chance. Not a damn chance. The above tweet from The A.V. Club so perfectly sums up a Green Book win for Best Picture. This year, there were some wonderful movies nominated in the Best Picture category, and I would not have been unhappy whatsoever to see a win for The Favourite, A Star Is Born, Black Panther, Roma, or BlacKkKlansman – in fact, any one of those five films would be a deserving victor. You could sense it on the broadcast that the Dolby Theatre found the win underwhelming, too, as everything seemed deflated during the acceptance speech.

Most Surprising Moment: The hostless concept wasn’t that bad 

giphy3Following the Kevin Hart controversy, viewers were understandably interested in how the Academy would execute its first hostless ceremony in exactly 30 years. Although the last Oscars without a host didn’t go down in the annals of history in a positive manner, I was pleasantly surprised with how good last night’s show was despite lacking a customary ringleader. First, instead of a monologue, the Oscars kicked off with an amazing musical performance of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” by Queen and Adam Lambert – in a year where Bohemian Rhapsody won the most Oscars, it was a fitting start to the show. Then, we got a short definitely-not-a-monologue by definitely-not-hosts Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler – although brief, it still provided a good taste of jokes that we are used to at the Oscars. All in all, I was surprised with how enjoyable the show was without a host.

Most Awkward Moment: Vice Acceptance speech for Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Every year at the Oscars, we get some incredibly eloquent and thought-provoking acceptance speeches that are emotionally affecting and inspirational – the one for Vice’s Best Makeup and Hairstyling win by Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney was not one of those speeches. It was downright painful. The three winners constantly talked over each other while reading off a piece of paper containing names of those they wanted to thank – Greg Cannom even quipped at one point when he was told by one of his co-winners to read a particular line from the “thank you” paper, “No, I already did.” It was bumbling and awkward, and many on Twitter dubbed it the worst acceptance speech of all time. Twitter ain’t wrong.

Biggest Upset: Olivia Colman wins Best Actress 

sourceWhen Olivia Colman’s name was called for Best Actress, I think I might have literally fist-pumped on my couch while exclaiming, “YES! SHE DID IT!” It was such a major moment because (1) I loved Colman’s performance in The Favourite and desperately wanted her to win, and (2) Glenn Close was a MAJOR frontrunner to take home the award. I had pretty much accepted that Close would win this award after taking home nearly all of the Best Actress trophies at the major pre-Oscars award shows. (And I wasn’t even mad about it, because I loved her in The Wife.) But if ever there was an upset at this year’s Oscars, I am incredibly thankful that it was in Colman’s favor.

Best Joke: (Tie) Peeing at the Grammys and Fyre Festival

giphy2In the aforementioned brief comedy opener by Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler, the three women alternated sharing some quick jokes about the ceremony and the nominated movies/performances. There weren’t really any that didn’t hit, but there were a couple that definitely stood out as my favorites. First, Maya Rudolph looked at Bradley Cooper and said, “Don’t worry, Bradley, after four kids, I too have peed myself at the Grammys,” harkening back to Jackson Maine’s unfortunate moment on stage in A Star Is Born. Then, Tina Fey proclaimed to the crowd, “Everyone, look under your seats, you’re all getting one of those cheese sandwiches from the Fyre Festival!”

Line of the Night: From Rayka Zehtabchi during the acceptance speech for Best Documentary – Short Subject

sourceLast night, the Oscar for Best Documentary – Short Subject went to “Period. End of Sentence.” The film is a very serious look at revolutionary efforts by women in India to not only improve feminine hygiene, but also to empower women. I have not yet seen this short film, but from all accounts, it is tremendous and meaningful. When its creators got on stage last night to give their acceptance speech, director Rayka Zehtabchi announced, “I’m not crying because I’m on my period. I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” Zehtabchi’s response to winning an Oscar about a taboo subject was brilliant, funny, and full of emotion – definitely the line of the night.

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Best Actress in a Leading Role (2018)

The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Olivia Colman (The Favourite)

fave

The Favourite is a film set in England in the early 18th century that follows the struggle between Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) as they jockey for the attention and adoration of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). I previously mentioned in my Best Supporting Actress post that The Favourite is an amazing film that thrives in totality due to the award-worthy performances by each of its three central actresses – Colman, Weisz, and Stone – and Colman likely has the best chance of the three to upset the frontrunner in their respective Oscar categories. Colman bested Glenn Close for the BAFTA, and she has also won awards for Best Actress in a Comedy at both the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards (although Close has won the same award in the Dramatic category at both of those latter two award shows). In The Favourite, the character of Queen Anne is both tragic and hilarious at the same time – her health is in a very volatile state, she flips back and forth between needy and irritable, and she maintains 17 pet rabbits that sorrowfully represent each of her unsuccessful pregnancies. Despite the challenge of such an unstable character, Colman executes the performance masterfully. She nails the portrayal of Queen Anne’s surreal outlandishness and sublimely commands her position as the object of both Sarah’s and Abigail’s affection. Olivia Colman delivered one of my favorite acting performances of the entire year, and I am cautiously hopeful that she can eke out a surprise Oscar win this Sunday.

2. Glenn Close (The Wife)

wifeIn The Wife, Glenn Close plays Joan Castleman, the wife of a famous novelist, Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce). The film begins with the news that Joseph’s prominent writing career has earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the Castlemans get the distinct honor of traveling to Sweden for the ceremony. By all accounts, Joan appears to have long ago given up her own writing career to play the role of dutiful wife, a position in the marriage that is patently secondary to that of her husband. However, as the film progresses, it becomes abundantly clear that the power in this relationship (and the true nature of Joseph’s acclaimed career) may not be all that meets the eye. The 71-year-old Close has led a long and illustrious acting career, but her performance as Joan may just be one of her very greatest. At the start of the film, Joan’s nature seems very meek and straightforward, but it is only as the story continues to slowly unfold that we discover that she really wields an immense amount of significance in the overall success of Joseph’s writing career. Close’s portrayal of Joan is poised and dexterous, and Close carefully progresses toward the unveiling of Joan’s emotional tipping point with an unbelievably striking subtlety that is award-worthy in and of itself. Prior to this nomination, Close had been nominated six times for acting Oscars with a whopping zero wins. However, that is all (most likely) about to change – Close is the clear frontrunner for the Academy Award and has already locked in key wins at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, and the Golden Globes. Although I loved Colman’s performance better, it will not make me upset at all to see Close finally take home the Oscar gold this Sunday.

3. Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)

10

In A Star Is Born, Lady Gaga portrays Ally, an aspiring singer/songwriter whose dreams of making it big in the industry start to bloom after she meets and falls in love with Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), a famous country musician. Ever since she broke onto the music scene in 2008 with back-to-back chart-topping singles “Just Dance” and “Poker Face,” Lady Gaga (born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) has evolved into one of the biggest and most recognizable pop stars on the planet. Recently, she started expanding her career into acting (I have heard she is very solid in American Horror Story), which never seemed like much of a stretch to me because the essence of Gaga’s strength as a musician is her proficiency as a performer. And in A Star Is Born, she has seamlessly transitioned into one of the most impressive up-and-coming actors in all of cinema – this was definitely a career-altering role. Ally is a character with a lot of vulnerabilities who, over the course of the film, achieves a greater sense of confidence in herself, and Gaga effortlessly portrays Ally’s emotional complexities to perfection. If it were not for Olivia Colman and Glenn Close delivering two career-defining performances, Gaga might have seen herself taking home the Oscar.

4. Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)

Roma

Set in the early 1970s in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City, Roma stars Yalitza Aparicio as Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez, a domestic worker who lives with and works for a prominent family. Aparicio’s journey to the Oscars is unbelievable – prior to auditioning for the role of Cleo, she had planned to become a preschool teacher in Mexico. In fact, before Roma, Aparicio had never acted professionally in her life. (This harkens back memories of Barkhad Abdi, who, for his debut film role in Captain Phillips, earned a BAFTA win and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.) The fact that Aparicio was not previously an actress makes her performance in Roma that much more outstanding and noteworthy. Throughout the film, Cleo experiences a variety of events that lead to a broad range of emotions and feelings – she oscillates between happiness, sadness, loss, helplessness, and hopefulness. Aparicio’s nuanced performance was incredibly authentic and beautiful.

5. Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Can You

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a biopic starring Melissa McCarthy as the real-life, down-on-her-luck biographer Lee Israel, and it follows her attempt to revitalize her writing career by forging letters by famous celebrities and selling them for vast amounts of money. Off the top of my head, I am not confident I can think of a single time I have watched Melissa McCarthy in a sincerely dramatic role – obviously her bread and butter has always been comedies. However, if this film is any indication, McCarthy should really consider taking on more serious roles – she is absolutely spectacular here. Lee Israel is depicted as a callously cynical and insufferable woman, and McCarthy perfectly portrays these characteristics with the clever wit that she has lent to previous comedic performances. But in Israel’s darkest moments (such as when she discovers that her cat has died or as the walls come crashing down around her fraudulent scheme), McCarthy shines on an emotionally empathetic level. This was a really enjoyable film, and it was great to see McCarthy stake her claim in a new genre.

 

Best Actor in a Leading Role (2018)

The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)

malek

In Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic about Queen, Rami Malek plays lead singer Freddie Mercury. Like with the Green Book, the controversy surrounding Bohemian Rhapsody is well known and has dominated the headlines for months. However, just like with my pick of Mahershala Ali for Best Supporting Actor in Green Book, the controversy simply cannot take away from the absolutely dazzling acting performance provided by Rami Malek as the notorious singer/songwriter. I always had other issues with the film as a whole outside of just the controversial director, namely the neutering of the true story, which I, like a lot of film fans, felt prevented a more-than-surface-level exploration of Mercury. However, in the end, none of this matters a whole lot, as Malek came to the rescue and saved the day. With every wild outfit worn and with every sexual strut on stage, Malek completely embodied Freddie Mercury’s passion and soul for his music, as well as his ostentatious personality. Malek delivered the performance of a lifetime in Bohemian Rhapsody, and not only is he my personal pick for Best Actor, I wholeheartedly expect him to take home the Oscar this Sunday, following vital victories at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and BAFTAs.

2. Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)

Cooper

In his self-directed film A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper portrays Jackson Maine, a prominent country musician who discovers and falls in love with a young, aspiring singer named Ally. As I mentioned in my full review of the film, Cooper is tremendous behind the camera in his directorial debut (which he also co-wrote), but he is just as incredible in front of it, turning in one of the best acting performances of his career (second only to his role in Silver Linings Playbook). Jackson Maine is a deeply complex character, struggling in ongoing battles with pills, alcohol, and personal demons galore. Despite the invigoration that Ally brings to his life in terms of love and music, Jackson never can quite defeat those underlying issues, resorting to self-sabotage at every turn. Cooper’s portrayal is haunting and emotionally packed – he brings the heartbreak on screen to life in such an affecting manner. Cooper definitely gave an unforgettable performance.

3. Christian Bale (Vice)

Vice

In Vice, Christian Bale portrays the titular character, former Vice President Dick Cheney. The film tells the story of Cheney’s rise from White House intern during the Nixon years to White House Chief of Staff for President Ford and eventually from CEO of Halliburton to the most powerful second-in-command in United States history. Despite some great supporting performances by Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, all of the buzz has generally centered around Bale’s leading role – and rightfully so. Bale has a much-admired penchant for roles requiring immense transformations (see e.g., The Machinist, The Fighter, and American Hustle), and with the help of a 40-pound weight gain, Bale’s demeanor physically embodies Cheney superbly. However, in my opinion, here the true transformation into Cheney was more due to some amazing makeup work (a category in which the film was deservedly nominated). Bale’s voice tone and mannerisms definitely exemplified the Vice President (and Bale obviously acted his ass off, as he always does), but it was still difficult to separate Bale from the character, something with which I usually don’t struggle – that is the main reason I don’t personally have Bale competing for the Oscar in this category, although I admit he is one of the actual frontrunners to take home the award this Sunday.

4. Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)

Van Gogh

In Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate, Willem Dafoe portrays the real-life painter Vincent van Gogh during the final years of his life in France. I genuinely didn’t enjoy this film (which sucks, because I really was looking forward to it), as Schnabel’s filmmaking techniques ended up being – although interesting – messy and distracting. However, I can definitely say that if there is any bright spot whatsoever, it is Dafoe’s performance. Depicting those last few years of van Gogh’s life, the movie focuses on the severe mental illness that the Dutch painter suffered from, highlighting his time in Arles, his stint in a mental hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and his final months in Auvers-sur-Oise. Dafoe brilliantly portrayed van Gogh’s severely impaired mental state, offering up a truly emotional and empathy-evoking performance. For all the film’s flaws, Dafoe’s performance was unwavering – he definitely earned this Oscar nomination.

5. Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Green

In the film Green Book, Viggo Mortensen portrays the real-life Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, an Italian-American bouncer from New York who takes a job as a driver for Don Shirley (the real-life African-American jazz pianist) during Shirley’s 1962 concert tour through the Deep South. I previously discussed the controversy surrounding the film in the post about my ballot for Best Supporting Actor, so I won’t rehash that here. But as good as Mahershala Ali is as Don Shirley (regardless of the potential issues with the film’s story), Mortensen just seemed average for me. He is obviously a very talented actor (this is his third nomination for Best Actor), and in the film, he is very convincing in his physical depiction of Tony Lip – he even put on 40–50 pounds for the role. However, as compelling as the real-life Tony Lip may have been, I simply found his character in the film to be lacking a whole lot of depth (which was surprising, considering his own son, Nick Vallelonga, co-wrote the screenplay) – the character is too two-dimensional, simply living from worn-out trope to worn-out trope. Mortensen was good, but this spot in the nominations definitely should have gone to Ethan Hawke for First Reformed.

Top 10 Films of 2018, No. 4 – A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born is a musical drama directed by Bradley Cooper (in his directorial debut) and co-written by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters.  The film tells the story of a country musician named Jackson Maine (Cooper) who discovers and falls in love with a young, aspiring singer named Ally (Lady Gaga). Ally’s budding musical career quickly takes off, but all the while, Jackson’s own personal demons threaten to tear his down.

Star Gif 4This iteration of A Star Is Born is the third remake of the original 1937 film, following reincarnations in 1954 (starring Judy Garland and James Mason) and 1976 (starring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson). Despite trotting through familiar territory, the Cooper- and Gaga-led version feels undeniably new and wholly unique. As much as this film is about the music (and trust me, the music is flawless – I still listen to “Shallow” at least a few times each week), it is really much more about an exploration of Jackson and Ally and their obviously genuine, but altogether complicated, love story. These two characters clearly inspire each other in the most believable ways possible (both in life and in music), which makes their rollercoaster relationship that much more affecting for an audience. Star Gif 1Although the ease of buying into this tale of romance has a lot to do with Cooper and Lady Gaga as actors (their chemistry was organic, unforced, and utterly convincing), it can also be credited to the dynamic screenwriting trio, the X factor of which is Eric Roth. Roth has led a critically acclaimed career behind the pen, writing the scripts (and receiving Oscar nominations) for Hollywood heavy-hitters Forrest Gump, The Insider, Munich, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. With such an illustrious filmography, it is patently obvious that Roth’s fingerprints were all over the script for A Star Is Born.

Star Gif 3The movie also benefits tremendously from an exquisite directorial achievement by Cooper. Some of the most emotionally packed scenes in all of film this year came from A Star Is Born, and Cooper’s vision is at the root. Avoiding spoilers, I will say that the emotional climax of the film was, even for someone that hadn’t seen any of the previous iterations of the story, predictable. But despite that, Cooper still presented it in a way that felt raw and unexpected – it was single-handedly the most heart-wrenching scene of the year. (There wasn’t a dry eye in the theater.) Further, the main function of a director, aside from being the film’s chief visionary, is to get the best work out of the actors – in that department, Cooper far exceeded all expectations that could possibly have been set for him. As I will get into more detail about in a moment, Lady Gaga delivered an exceptional performance as Ally. Yes, she was clearly born to be a performer. Yes, she already has a small handful of acting credits. And yes, the film is about a singer, which Gaga already is in real life. But in the wrong director’s hands, a good performer could still fall flat – it happens all the time. Luckily, in A Star Is Born, the combination of Cooper’s shrewd direction and Gaga’s unquestionable talent came together beautifully to offer one of the year’s best acting performances. Star Gif 5It also says a lot that Sam Elliott, a pioneer in the acting world with a career that spans over five decades, received his first Oscar nomination of all time in the role of Bobby Maine, Jackson’s manager and half-brother. Not only did Cooper bring out the best in Lady Gaga, but he also found a way to elicit a career-defining supporting performance from a Hollywood legend. I am still quite a bit upset that Cooper was overlooked in the Best Director category – he definitely should have received a nomination for his work behind the camera.

Star Gif 2As alluded to above, Lady Gaga’s portrayal of Ally was amazing – given her background in music and her own rise to fame, Cooper could not have hit a more definite homerun in terms of casting than this. Gaga effortlessly commanded the complex emotional nature of Ally, portraying her vividly as a young woman who is at first apprehensive and lacking in self-esteem, and later confident and more comfortable in her own skin. However, even after Ally becomes more self-assured, she still maintains an innocent sense of vulnerability – Gaga depicts that remarkably. tumblr_pg469awrKr1qjde42o8_400Even though Bradley Cooper is the film’s creative mind behind the camera, he also turns in one of the best acting performances of his own career, justifiably earning him a fourth Oscar nomination in an acting category. Jackson Maine is a complicated character – despite Ally energizing his life in terms of love and music, he still struggles to keep up with his own personal battles. A life of alcoholism and self-sabotage trips Jackson up at every turn, and Cooper’s portrayal is haunting and dramatic – it was definitely a memorable piece of acting. A Star Is Born is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity, and substance abuse.

A Star Is Born trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSbzyEJ8X9E&t=8s

Academy Award nominations for A Star Is Born:

Best Picture (Bill Gerber, Bradley Cooper, and Lynette Howell Taylor, producers)

Best Actor in a Leading Role (Bradley Cooper)

Best Actress in a Leading Role (Lady Gaga)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Sam Elliott)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Screenplay by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters)

Best Original Song – “Shallow” (Music and Lyrics by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, and Andrew Wyatt)

Best Sound Mixing (Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Jason Ruder, and Steve A. Morrow)

Best Cinematography (Matthew Libatique)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role (2018)

The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Mahershala Ali (Green Book)

AliIn the film Green Book, Mahershala Ali portrays Don Shirley, the real-life African-American jazz pianist. The film follows Shirley on his 1962 concert tour through the Deep South, escorted by his Italian-American driver, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga. In light of the Jim Crow era setting, both men are thrust into a variety of racist issues throughout the tour, and the film tells the story of their personal journey and growth as they learn about life from each other. I enjoyed Green Book, but as many of you might know, it has been marred by controversy since its release – the debate revolves around Shirley’s family’s objections to the film and its screenplay, which was co-written by Tony Lip’s real-life son Nick Vallelonga. Despite the family’s issues with the depiction of Shirley and his relationship with Tony Lip, Ali admitted that in his performance, he did his best to honor the legacy of Shirley based on the information he had – and for me, that performance was impeccable. Although this controversy has dominated the headlines, it is nonetheless impossible to ignore the remarkable acting work of Ali – his mannerisms are nuanced, his emotions shrewdly portrayed, and his ability to impressively master Shirley’s fears and insecurities in light of the overt racism plaguing the nation in the early 1960s was unimpeachable. Mahershala Ali has evolved in the past few years into one of the most talented actors in the business, and if I had it my way, he’d walk away on Oscar night with his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the past three years.

2. Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Richard-E-Can-You-1In Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a film about the real-life biographer Lee Israel and her attempt to invigorate her writing career by forging letters by famous celebrities and selling them for large amounts of money, Richard E. Grant plays the role of Jack Hock, a recent acquaintance of Israel who joins her in the exploitation of the fraudulent letters. In this film, Melissa McCarthy churned out probably the best dramatic acting performance of her career, but for me, Grant’s Hock stole the show. Despite not having a permanent home and appearing rather drifter-like, Jack Hock is flamboyantly lavish in his tastes and is as witty and charming as a character can be, making the film much more fun and entertaining. Mark Kermode, a film critic for The Guardian, summed up Hock brilliantly: “Jack seems to be in permanent performance mode, hiding his own insecurities behind a mask of bravado and bonhomie.” Despite being a recognizable face in the industry since his career-defining performance in his 1987 film debut Withnail and I, Grant has only ever been nominated for acting awards on a few occasions (and those were many years ago) – for his cleverly beautiful performance as Jack Hock, Richard E. Grant has justifiably reversed that history.

3. Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)

rev-1-ASIB-06247_High_Res_JPEGIn A Star Is Born, Sam Elliott plays Bobby Maine, the manager for and older half-brother of singer Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper). To put it simply – Sam Elliott was phenomenal during his limited on-screen time in A Star Is Born. Although Bobby Maine is the personification of a “supporting” character, Elliott – a legend in the industry – deftly executed every second of his performance. Two scenes stick out the most for me that made Elliott’s portrayal of Jackson’s brother so incredibly memorable – (1) the argument between Jackson and Bobby over their father’s land, and (2) the moment Bobby pulls out of Jackson’s driveway after dropping him off towards the end of the film. In that latter scene in particular, the passion Elliott put into portraying Bobby’s flash of emotion as he backs out of Jackson’s driveway is worth the price of admission. With a film career that has spanned over five decades, it is awesome and well-deserved to see Elliott celebrating his very first Oscar nomination.

4. Sam Rockwell (Vice)

RockwellThe setup for Sam Rockwell’s portrayal in Vice is simple – he portrays George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States. All the acting buzz surrounding Vice centers predominantly on Christian Bale in the lead role of Vice President Dick Cheney. But for me, one of the most underrated aspects of the movie was Rockwell’s performance. With some fantastic work from the makeup department, Rockwell did look quite a bit like Bush, way more than Josh Brolin did in Oliver Stone’s 2008 biopic W. However, what is truly more impressive about his portrayal (which also bests that of Brolin’s) is Rockwell’s seamless embodiment of Bush in terms of accent, mannerisms, and speech pattern. Rockwell nailed Bush’s trademark Texas twang, and his first-rate acting abilities (which garnered him an Oscar win last year in this category for Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri) made this performance one to remember.

5. Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)

DriverIn Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, Adam Driver portrays Det. Philip “Flip” Zimmerman, the Jewish partner of John David Washington’s lead character, Det. Ron Stallworth. As Stallworth, an African-American officer, slowly starts to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan via telephone (posing as a white man), Zimmerman is tasked with being Stallworth’s physical stand-in for in-person meetings with the KKK – as famed film critic Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun Times described it, “We’ve got a white cop impersonating a black cop impersonating a white supremacist.” Although BlacKkKlansman didn’t make it onto the list of my favorite movies from 2018, it still was an enjoyable experience with some superb acting, particularly by Washington. In terms of Driver, though, I found his performance to be simply “good” and “serviceable” – nothing extraordinary in my estimation. Truthfully, I thought his nomination should have gone to the likes of Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther), or Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite) instead.

The Return of My Annual “Countdown to the Oscars” and Best Original Song and Score

Dolby TheatreLast year, after five consecutive Academy Awards seasons of active blogging here on The Reel Countdown, I was unable to devote any time at all to posting about the year in movies due to a very busy work schedule – in fact, my only post during the run-up to the Oscars last year was simply sharing my ballot and providing a ranked list of all the movies I had watched from 2017. However, I am thrilled to say that my annual “Countdown to the Oscars” is back (is this where I say “and better than ever”?), and I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you on the best in film from 2018 over the course of the next three weeks as we approach the 91st Academy Awards ceremony, which is set to take place on Sunday, February 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California.

Since it has been a couple of years since I’ve blogged through an Oscars season, here’s a recap on the structure of posts you can expect to see on The Reel Countdown: (1) my “Top 10 Films of the Year” (including an “Honorable Mentions” post within the next couple of days, which will break down the five films that just missed out on cracking my list this year), (2) my own personal Oscars ballot (i.e., not a prediction of who will win but rather how I would vote if I had one) for some of the year’s major categories, based on this year’s nominees, and (3) a recap of the 91st Academy Awards ceremony, which will highlight the most noteworthy moments from the broadcast.

I am kicking off this year’s edition of The Reel Countdown with my ballot for the two musical categories at the Oscars – Song and Score!

My ballot for Best Original Song is as follows:

WINNER: “Shallow” from A Star Is Born – Music and Lyrics by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, and Andew Wyatt

rev-1-asib-trl-9090r_high_res_jpeg-1-_wide-3afaaddfb18a9a5732dbd6843e417c693a5949fb-s800-c85In my opinion, no original song better embodied the spirit of its film’s story arc this year than “Shallow,” a beautiful ballad performed as a duet in the film by Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper) and Ally (played by Lady Gaga). The lyrics and musical composition are clearly stunning, but it is the chemistry of the film’s lead characters and their undeniable harmony on the song that truly make “Shallow” one of the film’s greatest assets. Needless to say, I was very excited to see the video pop up online this week of Lady Gaga bringing Bradley Cooper on stage at a Vegas concert to perform the song with her. I cannot wait to see these two light up the stage again on Oscars night – sign me up for any chance to see Gaga belt out her now-iconic “haaa-ah-ah-ah, haaawaah, ha-ah-ah-aaah” line!

2. “All the Stars” from Black Panther – Music by Mark Spears, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, and Anthony Tiffith; Lyrics by Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, Anthony Tiffith, and Solana Rowe

3. “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Music and Lyrics by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

4. “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns – Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman

5. “I’ll Fight” from RBG – Music and Lyrics by Diane Warren

 

My ballot for Best Original Score is as follows:

WINNER: Black Panther – Ludwig Göransson

Ludwig+Goransson+Los+Angeles+World+Premiere+pQZWs79_UlAlBlack Panther is obviously one of the best superhero movies of all time – the acting is superb, the story is unique and fresh, and writer/director Ryan Coogler’s vision is magnificent. But for me, the glue that held all of Black Panther‘s many incredible pieces together was Ludwig Göransson’s thrilling musical score. Göransson’s composition offers brilliance in all of the classical aspects of film scoring, but what sets Black Panther apart is his masterful incorporation of traditional African instrumentation and booming sounds influenced by today’s hip-hop (the latter of which comes as no surprise, considering Göransson is a frequent collaborator of rap’s inimitable Childish Gambino). The Black Panther score is truly magical!

2. Mary Poppins Returns – Marc Shaiman

3. If Beale Street Could Talk – Nicholas Britell

4. BlacKkKlansman – Terence Blanchard

5. Isle of Dogs – Alexandre Desplat

Fall Film Preview – 2018

We are nearly one month into my favorite time of the year for movies – the fall film season. Each year from September through December, most of the year’s heaviest hitters start making their way to the big screen in hopes of garnering an abundance of buzz for the Academy Awards – and indeed, Oscars success is generally tied to a fall release.  In fact, the last Best Picture winner that wasn’t released theatrically during the fall film season was The Hurt Locker in June 2009.  Which films will steal the show this fall? Only time will tell.  But in the meantime, here is my list of the films I am most looking forward to seeing over the course of the next few months!

No. 1 – First Man (October 12)

Film Title: First Man

First Man is a biographical drama that follows the story of Apollo 11’s famed mission to the Moon in 1969.  I am incredibly excited to see First Man due to the two men behind the direction and screenplay of the film – Damien Chazelle and Josh Singer, respectively.  Chazelle’s first two films (Whiplash and La La Land) have been some of the very best made in the past few years (in fact, Whiplash was my favorite film of 2014), and I have been patiently awaiting his next directorial endeavor.  This time, instead of penning his own screenplay, which he did for his first two films, Chazelle has employed a script by Singer, who won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Spotlight and was nominated for a Golden Globe last year for The Post.  Starring Ryan Gosling in the lead role as Neil Armstrong and The Crown’s Claire Foy as his wife, this film looks set to attract some serious Oscar buzz this fall. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSoRx87OO6k&t=20s

No. 2 – If Beale Street Could Talk (December 14)

If Beale Street Could TalkIf Beale Street Could Talk, based on the 1974 novel of the same name, is a drama set in Harlem during the 1970s and follows an African-American family’s enduring spirit of love and humanity as they navigate a racially charged era in American history.  This film is Barry Jenkins’s follow-up effort to his Best Picture-winning drama Moonlight, and although the trailer does not give too much away, it is evident that Jenkins looks to passionately pull at the heartstrings of moviegoers everywhere once more – I cannot wait to see what he has in store this time. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4m3t3G3Zqc

No. 3 – Bad Times at the El Royale (October 12)

BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYAL

Bad Times at the El Royale is a thriller that follows seven strangers whose lives and dark secrets intersect at a rundown hotel in Lake Tahoe.  Bad Times is immediately intriguing due to its ensemble cast, which features the likes of Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, and Chris “Thor” Hemsworth.  But aside from this stellar group of actors, I am personally looking forward to this film due to its writer/producer/director, Drew Goddard.  The 43-year-old filmmaker has previously penned the scripts for Cloverfield, World War Z, and The Martian, but it was his directorial debut in 2012 with The Cabin in the Woods (Goddard also wrote the screenplay) that has me looking forward to Bad Times the most – the trailer reeks of Cabin-like imagery and obscurities (which is definitely a good thing), and I can’t wait to see if Goddard can capture that same rousing energy again.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7wzBVARwaU

No. 4 – Hold the Dark (September 28 – Netflix)

Jeffrey Wright in the new film Hold the Dark. Photo credit: Netflix

Hold the Dark is a thriller set against the backdrop of the Alaskan tundra, and it follows the aftermath of the mysterious death of a young boy by a pack of wolves. From an acting standpoint, this film brings together some of my current favorites in the game – Jeffrey Wright (Westworld), Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road), and Alexander Skarsgård (Big Little Lies).  However, the factor that weighs most heavily in terms of my anticipation for the film is its director and writer – Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair, respectively.  Saulnier wrote and directed two of my favorite films from the past few years (Blue Ruin in 2014 and Green Room in 2016, both of which featured Blair as an actor), and Blair wrote and directed one of my favorite movies from last year, I don’t feel at home in this world anymore. All three of those films were thrilling and unique, and I expect nothing less from Hold the Dark.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFAwDO6b5KI

No. 5 – The Favourite (November 23)

The FavouriteThe Favourite is a drama (set in England in the early 18th century) that follows the struggle between Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and her cousin Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) as they jockey for the attention and adoration of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman, aka the new QEII in The Crown).  The Favourite is the newest film by the inimitable Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos.  If you haven’t seen any of Lanthimos’s films yet, go watch the trailer for The Favourite ­– it will absolutely give you a taste of this man’s distinctive style. Lanthimos broke out among American audiences in 2015 with his film The Lobster – although the first act of that movie had me hooked, he simply couldn’t keep that momentum going for me throughout the entire film.  No matter – Lanthimos returned last year with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which was thrilling, compelling, and darkly hilarious for its entire two-hour runtime.  Because of my deep appreciation for that film, I am very much optimistic that his newest endeavor will be a great achievement.  Trailer –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqYlnvghV-U

No. 6 – Widows (November 16)

WidowsWidows is a thriller that tells the story of a group of women who attempt a heist after their criminal husbands are killed.  The uber-talented British filmmaker Steve McQueen is back with his first feature film since 12 Years a Slave, the Best Picture winner that I named my favorite film of 2013.  McQueen is such a unique storyteller, and if the critical success of his complete filmography (Hunger, Shame, and 12 Years a Slave) gives us any indication, Widows is sure to be a fantastic piece of cinema.  Oscar winner Viola Davis also stars as the lead, which is another reason this film is likely to impress. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nN2yBBSRC78

 No. 7 – A Star Is Born (October 5)

A Star Is BornA Star Is Born is a musical drama about a country musician (Bradley Cooper) who discovers and falls in love with a young singer (Lady Gaga).  This iteration of A Star Is Born (which marks Cooper’s directorial debut) is the third remake to the original 1937 film (it was remade with Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954 and with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in 1976). Truthfully, the trailers for this film that have been playing repeatedly on TV lately have me hooked – I love the sound of the music, I love the apparent chemistry between the two leads, and I love the style in which it is shot.  And I am already buying into the hype surrounding Lady Gaga’s performance, simply based on what I can see from the trailer.  No one would doubt that Lady Gaga is a standout performer in general, not just as a singer, and I look forward to seeing her acting talents on the big screen in what has already been characterized by many in the industry as an early Best Picture darling.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSbzyEJ8X9E

 No. 8 – Outlaw King (November 9 – Netflix)

Outlaw KingOutlaw King is an epic historical film about Robert the Bruce, one of the most famous Scottish warriors and eventual King of Scotland.  David Mackenzie directed this film, which is the very reason that it is on my list.  Mackenzie’s previous two films both ranked in the top 4 on my year-end lists (I ranked Starred Up as my No. 4 film in 2014 and Hell or High Water as my No. 2 film in 2016) – based on that track record, I am obviously looking forward to his newest film.  I will admit that a couple of weeks ago, this film was trending toward the top of my most anticipated list – however, early critical reviews have not been jaw-dropping, which is why its position has slipped a bit here.  Regardless of those early reviews, I am still confident that Mackenzie will bring a quality picture to the big Netflix screen – his cast of Chris Pine (fantastic in Hell or High Water), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (wonderful in everything he touches), and Florence Pugh (a vision in last year’s Lady Macbeth) will surely add some definite firepower.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-G1BME8FKw

No. 9 – Welcome to Marwen (December 21)

Welcome to MarwenWelcome to Marwen is a dramatic film inspired by the true-life story of Mark Hogancamp, a victim of a brutal assault, who undertakes an enormous effort to build a miniature World War II village in his backyard in an effort to cope with the trauma he has endured.  Yes, this movie features a great cast, including Steve Carrell as Hogancamp. Yes, the film is directed by Robert Zemeckis, who always seems to turn in quality work, year after year.  And yes, the film’s mixture of live-action and animation looks incredibly unique and charming.  But for me, my anticipation for this film stems solely from my profound reverence for the 2010 documentary that it is based on, Marwencol.  When I first saw Marwencol, I was enthralled by Mark’s story and utterly fascinated by his artistry and imagination.  Marwencol is definitely one of my all-time favorites, and I hope that Zemeckis’s film provides a great companion piece to the documentary.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6dy7xQ8NeE

No. 10 – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (November 16 – Netflix)

Buster ScruggsThe Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a western anthology film by the Coen brothers that features six separate chapters, each with its own cast.  I won’t lie – I have generally fallen out of love with the Coen brothers.  In terms of their directorial efforts, I really haven’t enjoyed many of their films from the past decade, outside of A Serious Man in 2009.  However, I continue to hold out hope that these cinematic visionaries can again replicate the success of their past hits (e.g., Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men).  The trailer here has me genuinely intrigued by what the Coen brothers can do with the anthology concept, and given their established résumé in the business, I am willing to keep giving them chances.  Trailer –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2PyxzSH1HM

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Creed IICreed II (November 21) – The sequel to Creed is set to follow Adonis Creed as he prepares for his next big fight – a bout against the son of Ivan Drago, the man that killed Adonis’s father in the ring so many decades ago.  I am always down for more from the Rocky universe, and I expect Michael B. Jordan to dominate the screen again in Round 2. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPNVNqn4T9I

Fantastic BeastsFantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (November 16) – The sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will follow Newt Scamander as he looks to take down Gellert Grindelwald, one of the wizarding world’s most powerful dark wizards.  The previews for this film have already revealed a return to Hogwarts, Jude Law as a young Albus Dumbledore, and the origin of Nagini – all of that is plenty to overcome the casting of Johnny Depp as Grindelwald.  I am very optimistic about this film, as I will always put my faith in J.K. Rowling and David Yates. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bYBOVWLNIs

Mary, Queen of ScotsMary, Queen of Scots (December 7) – This historical drama tells the story of the “Rising of the North,” an infamous conflict that pitted two half-sisters, Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, against one another in an epic struggle for power in England.  This film has a lot going for it.  First, Beau Willimon (creator of the Netflix hit House of Cards) wrote the script. Second, and most importantly, Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie star as Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I, respectively. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnqjSgMU36U

Under the Silver LakeUnder the Silver Lake (December 7) – This is a neo-noir film that follows Sam (Andrew Garfield) as he searches the seamy depths of Los Angeles to solve the disappearance of Sarah (Riley Keough), a mysterious woman he met at an apartment swimming pool.  This movie is director David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up effort to 2014’s It Follows, an incredible film that re-wrote the rules of horror flicks.  Based on my love for It Follows, I have a lot of confidence in Under the Silver Lake’s potential.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwgUesU1pz4

UPDATE: Sadly, it was announced on November 1 that Under the Silver Lake would be pushed back to an April 18, 2019 release, which does not bode well for the movie’s potential success.

ViceVice (December 25) – This biopic follows the political rise of former Vice President Dick Cheney.  This is the only film on this list that still does not have a trailer yet released, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t expect big things from it.  Adam McKay – the comedic genius behind Anchorman, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys – directs, but it is his directorial work on The Big Short that has me most pumped for this movie.  Christian Bale completely transformed his body (again – see The Machinist, American Hustle) to play Cheney, and one of my favorite actresses of all time (Amy Adams) is set to play Lynne Cheney. Trailer – NONE

UPDATE: The trailer for Vice was released less than a week after I posted this article. Needless to say, had it been available prior to this post going live, Vice would have been VERY high on this list!! Check out the trailer here: https://youtu.be/g09a9laLh0k