My Review of the 93rd Academy Awards

Well, I am surely not the only person to use this pun to describe last night’s Academy Awards, but for a ceremony that primarily took place at Los Angeles Union Station, it certainly went off the rails at the end. This ceremony was never going to be perfect or look the way we’ve grown accustomed to as an audience in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but I could never have imagined just how crazy this year’s Oscars, which was for the most part fairly uneventful throughout, would end up. The show still had some great moments, hilarious parts, and inspirational speeches, albeit along with some very miscalculated bits—here’s my review of the 93rd Academy Awards.

It’s probably necessary to get to the show’s twist ending first. At every Oscars since 1948 (with the 1971 ceremony being the lone deviation), the Best Picture award has been announced last. Clearly, if you dig into Oscars history, you’ll find that most early ceremonies didn’t utilize this setup, but nearly every film fan, for the most part, has grown up watching the biggest award in world cinema deservedly announced last. This year, things got weird when Rita Moreno stepped onto the stage and started reading off nominees for Best Picture—I was quite confused, wondering if I had somehow blacked out for the two lead acting categories, rewinding my TV a bit to make sure. The nominees also looked a bit stunned by the reorganization of the show’s homestretch. At that point, it felt like the Oscars producers (which this year included previous Best Director winner Steven Soderbergh) mixed things up to deliberately set up a massive emotional climax for the night—Chadwick Boseman becoming the third actor to win a posthumous acting award for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. My goodness, was that a mistake. The Academy famously doesn’t know the results of any category until the envelopes are opened during the live broadcast, as its longtime accounting firm, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, tabulates the ballots and keeps the results entirely confidential—that couldn’t have been clearer in light of how this show ended up.

After Renée Zellweger presented the Best Actress award to Nomadland’s Frances McDormand (a win which made her only the second woman to win three career Best Actress Oscars, behind only Katharine Hepburn who won four) last year’s Best Actor winner Joaquin Phoenix strutted out and, in trademark fashion, stumbled through an intro about acting. Eventually, after reading the nominees, Phoenix opened the envelope and the rest is history. Instead of Boseman winning the Oscar, the award went to legendary actor Anthony Hopkins for his performance in The Father, who, at the age of 83, became the oldest actor to win an Oscar. However, Anthony Hopkins didn’t show up this year, either in Los Angeles or at any satellite location (including London). Via Phoenix, the Academy accepted the award on Hopkins’s behalf, and then the camera cut back to in-house DJ Questlove, who thanked everyone for watching and ended the show. It was mind-boggling—truly the epitome of the term anticlimactic.

This year, I personally (and I recognize that it’s all subjective) had Riz Ahmed, Anthony Hopkins, and Steven Yeun ahead of Chadwick Boseman on my Best Actor rankings. Ahmed gave such a powerful performance in my favorite movie of the year (Sound of Metal), Hopkins delivered arguably the best performance of his career in The Father, behind only his Oscar-winning role in Silence of the Lambs, and Yeun was beautifully poignant in the wonderful Minari—although Boseman was certainly stunning in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, I personally felt other performers in far-better movies were more deserving of being declared the year’s best actor. With that said, I was certainly on board and excited for Boseman to win this year—in his final film performance, while in the final stages of his cancer, he gave an impassioned portrayal of Levee Green, and the Oscar here would have felt like a fitting tribute to an incredibly talented actor who impacted the world in so many incredible ways through films like Black Panther and whose life was tragically cut short by cancer. The betting odds heavily favored Boseman at -1667 and other than the BAFTA (which went to Hopkins), Boseman swept the other major pre-Oscars awards. The world certainly expected to see Boseman winning this award.

If you ventured to Twitter after the show, it was full of Oscars slander for Boseman’s surprise loss. And understandably so, as literally everything pointed to Boseman’s posthumous win. The Academy built the entire close of the show around the possibility for a heartwarming emotional high point based on an expected Boseman victory, and instead, we ended the show on an award without its winner anywhere to be found to deliver an acceptance speech. Steven Soderbergh and the producers gambled big on that setup…and ultimately, they lost big.

Aside from the Oscars’ twist ending, there were a number of other noteworthy moments from this year’s ceremony. First, last night was a major step in the right direction for the Academy as it works to overcome the infamous #OscarsSoWhite controversy a few years ago and be more inclusive. This year’s class of nominees was the most diverse in Oscars history, and a number of historic moments followed. Nomadland’s Chloé Zhao became only the second woman (and first woman of color) to win the coveted Best Director award. Both the Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress winners (Daniel Kaluuya and Youn Yuh-jung, respectively) were people of color. Emerald Fennell won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (the first woman to do so since Diablo Cody won for Juno in 2008). And for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson became the first black women to ever win for Makeup and Hairstyling. It was a great night for inclusion and diversity.

Additionally, per usual, there were some great speeches, ranging from inspirational to hilarious. In particular, I enjoyed watching Daniel Kaluuya, who won Best Supporting Actor for my favorite acting performance of the year in Judas and the Black Messiah, deliver a wonderful tribute to Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party. (He also referenced his parents having sex, which turned out to be particularly hysterical as the camera then cut to a live shot of his mother, who was watching from the British Film Institute in London.) I was also nearly brought to tears listening to Thomas Vinterberg, who won Best International Film for his brilliant Another Round, dedicate the Oscar to his late daughter, Ida, who was supposed to appear in the film but died in a tragic traffic accident just days into production. On the lighter side, it was a joy to watch Youn Yuh-jung give her acceptance speech after winning Best Supporting Actress for her scene-stealing performance in Minari. Youn was just as adorably funny in real life as she was in Minari, especially as she gushed over her presenter, Brad Pitt.

Lastly, I couldn’t do a proper review of the show last night without mentioning the funniest moment of the evening. During the middle of the show, there was a musical bit where actor/comedian Lil Rel Howery picked actors in the audience to listen to past movie songs (played by Questlove) and guess whether those songs won an Oscar for Best Original Song, were just nominated in the category, or none of the above. Truthfully, I didn’t enjoy this bit almost in its entirety—it was a bit choppy and didn’t land the way the producers probably thought it would. However, this “game” provided us with the night’s most gif-worthy moment—acting legend Glenn Close dancing to “Da Butt,” the song featured in Spike Lee’s 1988 film School Daze. I sure didn’t see that one coming, but it was very, very funny!

 

The 93rd Oscars – Best Supporting Actor

In today’s post, I will review the Best Supporting Actor category for this year’s Oscars. Let’s go!

The Nominees

Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7)

In Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, which tells the true story of a group of anti-war activists standing trial for allegedly inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Sacha Baron Cohen plays Abbie Hoffman, the outspoken Flower Power leader who co-founded the “Yippies” (i.e., the Youth International Party). Baron Cohen is exhilarating as Abbie Hoffman, and his overall fit as a performer for this role is embodied in this quote by Baron Cohen on playing Hoffman: “There’s the public persona of Abbie where he’s trying to inspire people and then there’s the private Abbie. So there’s a balance between the clown and the intellect.” Baron Cohen strikes gold in portraying this dichotomic nature of Hoffman, using his trademark funnyman skills to perfection, while also emoting the superb dramatic elements of the character. In a year where Baron Cohen dominated entertainment headlines for his Borat sequel, his true prowess as an actor was most exemplified by his turn as Abbie Hoffman.

Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)

In Judas and the Black Messiah, Daniel Kaluuya portrays Fred Hampton, the real-life chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and deputy chairman of the national Black Panther Party, who was gunned down by law enforcement in 1969. This film should be required viewing as a remarkable depiction of the underlying racial, societal, and political forces which both brought Fred Hampton to prominence and resulted in his assassination by the Chicago police. And aside from the film as a whole, Judas and the Black Messiah is a must-see for Kaluuya’s awe-inspiring performance. As Fred Hampton, Kaluuya is electrifying. Hampton was clearly a gripping public speaker, and Kaluuya shines the most in the scenes depicting rallies and speeches. The film’s signature scene takes places in a church following Hampton’s release from prison, wherein Hampton delivers an iconic movie speech to his many supporters. It’s single-handedly one of my favorite scenes in movie history, and Kaluuya is front and center. During that speech, Kaluuya masterfully embodies the true essence of Fred Hampton’s vital role as a revolutionary. It’s some of the greatest acting I have ever seen, which only adds to Kaluuya’s other impressive moments in the film’s quieter, more intimate scenes. This year, there simply was not a better supporting performance by an actor than Daniel Kaluuya as the one-of-a-kind Black Panther leader.

Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami…)

Regina King’s directorial debut One Night in Miami…, written by Kemp Powers and based on his 2013 stage play of the same name, gives a fictionalized version of a meeting between civil rights icons Malcolm X (played by Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali (played Eli Goree), Jim Brown (played by Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) at a motel in Miami, Florida, following Ali’s title-winning fight against Sonny Liston in 1964. I was personally impressed by each of the four central actors’ performances in this movie, but as the Academy and numerous other award shows have noted via their nominations, Leslie Odom Jr. clearly stands out as the best. Odom Jr. first became a household name a few years ago due to his transfixing performance as Aaron Burr in the critically acclaimed Broadway musical Hamilton, but in One Night in Miami…, he demonstrates why he’s a true force to be reckoned with on the silver screen. In this film, Odom Jr.’s transformation into Sam Cooke is exquisite, and his acting skills are most on display in the scenes debating and arguing with Ben-Adir’s Malcolm X about the strategic ins and outs of the civil rights movement. (Not to mention Odom Jr. utilizes his award-winning vocal skills in a beautiful performance of Cooke’s famed “A Change Is Gonna Come” toward the end of the film.) Leslie Odom Jr. put on a show as Sam Cooke, and for that, he received a deserved first Oscar nomination. (Odom Jr. is actually nominated twice this year, as he also received an Oscar nod for Best Original Song for co-writing “Speak Now” from the same film.)

Paul Raci (Sound of Metal)

Sound of Metal tells the story of Ruben (played by Riz Ahmed), a recovering drug addict and drummer in a hard metal band, who suddenly loses his hearing. Eventually, Ruben makes his way to a sober-living community for deaf people, which is run by Joe (played by Paul Raci), a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War. If it weren’t for Daniel Kaluuya’s justified domination in the Best Supporting Actor category this awards season, I would heavily campaign for Raci to take home all the wins. His acting in Sound of Metal is incredible as he deftly portrays Joe as an unflappable, yet compassionate figure. A performer with over 30 years of acting experience, Raci’s breakout role was a match made in heaven—although Raci isn’t deaf, he is a C.O.D.A. (i.e., child of deaf adults) and is fluent in American Sign Language. This deeply personal context for Raci’s portrayal of Joe only adds to the magnetism of his performance and the authenticity of the film overall. One of the most emotional scenes in the entire movie (a heartbreaking conversation late in the film between Joe and Ruben at a kitchen table) provided Raci his Oscar moment. I couldn’t be more excited to see the Academy bestow this much-deserved nomination on Paul Raci.

Lakeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah)

In Judas and the Black Messiah, Lakeith Stanfield plays William “Bill” O’Neil (i.e., the titular Judas), the criminal-turned-informant who infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party for the FBI. I am beyond frustrated by Stanfield’s nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category. It’s not because Stanfield didn’t give us an Oscar-worthy performance—he delivered in this movie some of the year’s best acting, period. Rather, my annoyance resides in the fact every movie has to have a lead, and in this film, it is Stanfield. This is his character’s story. Expectantly, the Judas and the Black Messiah folks campaigned for Stanfield in the Best Actor category (while Kaluuya received support in the Best Supporting Actor category). But apparently Stanfield received more votes from Academy voters in this category, so here we are. Regardless, Stanfield is magnificent as the controversial Bill O’Neil. The character is clearly the film’s antagonist, and yet, it’s clear O’Neil is a complex figure, progressively more tortured by his informant role as time goes by and the stakes get higher. Stanfield walks his character’s moral tightrope between good and bad, right and wrong, with absolute precision. As an audience, it’s easy to be frustrated with O’Neil one moment, while feeling great empathy for him in the next—and it is Stanfield’s expertly nuanced portrayal that makes people care about the character.

Snubs and Other Performances

Other than the Oscar-nominated actors discussed above, this past year featured a number of other noteworthy acting performances from performers in supporting roles. First, the always-impressive Barry Keoghan is fascinating in The Shadow of Violence (titled Calm with Horses outside of the United States) as Dymphna, a member of an Irish family of drug dealers who puts up the front of a tough guy, while truly being a more scared, vulnerable character—the actor plays boss/sidekick to the film’s true hardman lead, played by Cosmo Jarvis, and Keoghan again shows why he is one of the best young actors in the world. Second, in the unfortunately average The Little Things, Jared Leto is definitely one of the best parts in his portrayal of Albert Sparma, an enigmatic man suspected of multiple murders. Even if the film underwhelmed, Leto was great, truly sinking into his character. Additionally, in Minari, aside from the other outstanding performances, a couple of which garnered Oscar nominations, Alan Kim was delightful as David Yi, highlighted by his bantering scenes with his grandmother, played by Youn Yuh-jung. Kim is currently 8 years old, and we are sure to see more of him very soon.

However, the one performance I expected to receive an Oscar nomination which didn’t was veteran of comedy Bill Murray in Sofia Coppola’s Apple TV+ film On the Rocks. Murray and Coppola previous collaborated in 2003’s Lost in Translation, for which Murray received his first Academy Award nomination, and in On the Rocks, Murray is clearly back to his best. Murray plays Felix Keane, the father of Rashida Jones’s character Laura Keane. When Laura experiences some strain in her marriage, suspecting her husband of cheating, she taps Felix for help. Laura clearly gets more than she bargained for, as Felix immediately inserts himself way too far into Laura’s life. The key to Murray’s brilliance in On the Rocks is how Felix interferes with Laura’s personal life in an incredibly charismatic way. This relationship between father and daughter is clearly dynamic, and you cannot help but love Felix, despite all his flaws. And for me, that was all Bill Murray. He’s perfect in this role, almost as if he was made to play the part. And for that, I really wish he could have been rewarded with a second Oscar nomination.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Sacha Baron Cohen

Sacha Baron Cohen is currently getting odds of +900 to render an upset in this category, better than any of the other three underdog nominees. However, I don’t anticipate a surprise for Best Supporting Actor. the Academy throws us a curveball here, look for Pesci to be the only other nominee with a chance.

Who Should Win: Daniel Kaluuya

This year, for me, who should win isn’t even a question. There were some really great performances worthy of Oscar nominations…and then there was Daniel Kaluuya—a class of his own!

Who Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya

Not only is Daniel Kaluuya currently getting -2000 odds from the bookmakers, but he’s already secured every single win at the major pre-Oscars ceremonies, including the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and British Academy Film Awards. This is Kaluuya’s second Oscar nomination following his breakout role in 2017’s Get Out, and for his remarkable turn as Chairman Fred Hampton, he will absolutely be heading home with his first Academy Award next Sunday.

Top 10 Films of 2018, No. 10 – Black Panther

Black Panther is a superhero film produced by Marvel Studios based on the Marvel Comic character of the same name. Directed by Ryan Coogler and written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as he becomes the new king of Wakanda, an isolated but technologically advanced African nation that is powered by a mysterious metal called vibranium. Soon after becoming Wakanda’s king and Black Panther, T’Challa is faced with an enemy (Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan) who challenges his reign, and he must rally both friend and foe among the nation’s tribes in an effort to secure the safety and longevity of Wakanda.

I must confess at the outset that I am not a big fan of the live-action Marvel movies – I have only seen roughly half of the franchise’s films. But of the ones I have seen, Black Panther reigns supreme in the Marvel universe (sorry Guardians of the Galaxy). In fact, after my initial viewing, it quickly became one of my top five favorite superhero movies of all time. My lack of passion for most superhero movies (especially in the Marvel universe) is due in significant part to what I view as cookie-cutter plots and characters – yes, most of these films are very well acted and produced, but they generally involve low stakes and follow the same tropes that are trotted out in every predecessor. With Black Panther, the story is much more intimate, and unlike its Marvel counterparts, it has a truly distinct style and personality, both in terms of the plot and the characters.

What sticks out the most for me in terms of Black Panther setting itself apart from most other Marvel films is its writer/director – Ryan Coogler was the perfect choice to be the film’s creative visionary. The 32-year-old filmmaker has built his budding career on the foundation of captivating stories about African-Americans – in his debut Fruitvale Station, Coogler created a thought-provoking sense of anger and heartbreak, and in Creed, he reinvigorated the Rocky franchise with storytelling that was simultaneously nostalgic and fresh. In Black Panther, Coogler takes his creative abilities to new heights, constructing a movie that fits the mold for a superhero movie (e.g., action, suspense, and triumph), while also bringing a certain intimacy and sensitivity to its plotline that induces a beautiful connection between the audience and the characters. Black Panther is a movie about identity, and this is, at its core, a product of Coogler’s imaginative excellence.

As discussed above, Black Panther features some fantastic characters, which were brought to life by wonderful performances. In supporting roles, the film had many outstanding performances, including those from Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Winston Duke. However, the standout supporting performance was delivered by Letitia Wright, who was magnificent as Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister – Shuri is both spunky and fierce, and Wright’s superb performance helped land her the EE Rising Star Award at this year’s BAFTAs. Further, I enjoyed Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, but he didn’t blow me away. This is likely due to the fact that Michael B. Jordan simply stole the show – in fact, for his performance as the villain Killmonger, I believe Jordan should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Aided by a deep backstory that slowly becomes more evident and emotional as the film progresses, Killmonger became one of the greatest Marvel film characters of all time – this is due unequivocally to Jordan’s marvelous performance. Black Panther is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.

Black Panther trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjDjIWPwcPU

Academy Award nominations for Black Panther:

Best Picture (Kevin Feige, producer)

Best Original Score (Ludwig Göransson)

Best Original Song – “All the Stars” (Music by Mark Spears, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, and Anthony Tiffith; Lyrics by Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, Anthony Tiffith, and Solána Rowe)

Best Sound Editing (Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker)

Best Sound Mixing (Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor, and Peter J. Devlin)

Best Production Design (Production Design: Hannah Beachler; Set Decoration: Jay Hart)

Best Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter)