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.

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)

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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.

 

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)

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