The 93rd Oscars – Best Documentary Feature

film projector

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

The Nominees

Collective

The foundational event setting the stage for Collective is a fire in 2015 that broke out in a nightclub called Colectiv in Bucharest, Romania, which initially resulted in the death of 27 patrons and claimed nearly 40 more lives in the following weeks in light of Romania’s gravely deficient hospitals and public health infrastructure. It is these issues with Romania’s healthcare system which form the focus of the film, which follows a number of investigative journalists who delve into the bedrock of government fraud, corruption, and incompetency giving rise to a deadly public health crisis. Collective is certainly a compelling piece of investigative filmmaking, and it definitely paints a raw and harrowing picture of the Romanian government’s sheer ineptitude with respect to governance, especially as it pertains to administering its healthcare system. I will never forget the distressing footage of the fire itself and the shocking surreptitious video of the abhorrent hospital environment for the burn victims in the weeks after the fire. Streaming for free for subscribers to Hulu.

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution

Executive produced by Higher Ground Productions (founded by former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama), Crip Camp tells the story of a group of hippie teens who in the 1970s attended Camp Jened, a summer camp for youths with disabilities. The campers quickly formed an immense bond, and after their years at Camp Jened concluded, that unique sense of community breathed life into a budding civil rights movement seeking systematic change in the United States with respect to accessibility and disability rights. Although I am intimately familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (which codifies prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of disability) in light of my career as an employment lawyer, I was unaware of the fascinating story behind the journey to securing that critical piece of legislation. Crip Camp is an important film, which brings deserved attention to a critical civil rights movement. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix.

The Mole Agent

The setup for The Mole Agent is simple: The family of a nursing home resident in Chile tap a private investigator to hire an elderly man to go undercover at the nursing home to report back concerning whether or not the resident in question is being subjected to abuse. Enter Sergio Chamy, an 83-year-old man who answers the call to be the family’s spy. Although this synopsis likely sounds harrowing and depressing, this movie is far from that. The filmmakers present the story in a creative manner, which makes the film feel more like a spy thriller than a documentary. The highlight of The Mole Agent is Sergio, who epitomizes earnestness in the most charismatic way possible. He is a compelling lead, and he serves as a beautiful emotional hook for the overall story. Although I think a number of documentaries deserved an Oscar nod over it, The Mole Agent is still worth a watch. Streaming for free for subscribers to Hulu.

My Octopus Teacher

This film follows Craig Foster, a documentarian by trade, as he narrates the story of his seemingly unreal experience of befriending a common octopus while free diving in an underwater kelp forest near his home off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. To put it plainly, this film absolutely captivated me. I love nature documentaries, especially those that explore sea life, but My Octopus Teacher is vastly different from the likes of Sir David Attenborough’s critically acclaimed Blue Planet series. Here, Craig Foster is not a passive observer of the underwater world he explores. Instead, he actively engages. The story of his friendship with the titular octopus is surprisingly emotional, and the film ultimately evoked a number of diverse and intense emotions in me, ranging from sweet to distressing—I was fully invested in the exploration of their relationship. Also, Foster’s homemade underwater footage is mesmerizing, showing us a world we otherwise might never see. This is definitely one of the best documentaries in recent memory. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix.

Time

This documentary by Garrett Bradley follows Sibil Fox Richardson as she spends over twenty years advocating for the release of her husband, who is serving a 60-year sentence in prison for an armed bank robbery they committed together. (Sibil served a few years for her role in the crime.) There couldn’t be a more apt title for a movie this year than Time. The film plays out almost as the documentary cousin of Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking narrative Boyhood—through home video footage spanning over two decades, combined with new footage chronicling her current fight to secure Rob’s clemency, the filmmakers skillfully present a tale of painful, yet resilient, perseverance against the backdrop of race relations as they particular pertain to the criminal justice system. This is an emotional documentary, in all the most inspirational ways. Streaming for free for subscribers to Amazon Prime.

Snubs and Other Great Documentaries

This past year, I watched somewhere in the ballpark of 25 documentaries, and in addition to the foregoing films, there were a handful of other wonderful documentaries released. Any of these could easily have been nominated this year in place of The Mole Agent and Collective. First, I was riveted by The Dissident, a film about the murder of The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi officials at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October of 2018. Despite the critical acclaim heaped upon this film, it barely saw the light of day for wider audiences—I concur with the filmmaker in believing this was due to political reasons associated with Saudi Arabia. Second, All In: The Fight for Democracy was a resilient tale of former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and the topic of voter suppression in the United States. It is a thorough, well-crafted documentary, and it couldn’t be timelier in light of Georgia’s latest attempt to quash civic participation by black and brown communities. Additionally, filmmaker Kirsten Johnson’s intimate, imaginative, and darkly comedic documentary Dick Johnson Is Dead is a film I won’t soon forget—the documentary deftly portrays a daughter’s coming to grips with her father’s dementia by choregraphing and filming a number of possible ways Dick Johnson might die, with her father participating in the staged deaths.

But for me, the singular snub in this category was the Apple TV+ release Boys State, which previously won U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Boys State follows the 2018 American Legion Boys State, an annual summer program for high school boys (there is also a Girls State for high school girls) where, according to the Texas Boys State website, “each student becomes a part of the operation of his local, county, and state government” and is “exposed to the rights and privileges, the duties and the responsibilities, of a franchised citizen.” Boys State follows some very memorable characters, including wise-beyond-his-years lead Steven Garza, and the film is utterly compelling in its examination of the fascinating (and yet at times incredibly upsetting) political differences and ideologies shaping the lives of Gen Z high school boys in this country. The filmmakers definitely struck gold with this story, and it without a doubt deserved an Oscar nod this year.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Time

Ever since nominations were first announced, this category has felt like a two-horse race, and that initial reaction has been corroborated by the betting odds. If the favorite doesn’t take home the Oscar for Best Documentary, expect the “upset” to come from Time, which is currently getting +250 odds.

Who Should Win: My Octopus Teacher

When I first turned on My Octopus Teacher, I really didn’t know what to expect. And yet, it captivated me in a way few documentaries have before. If I had a vote this year, it would most definitely be cast for My Octopus Teacher.

Who Will Win: My Octopus Teacher

Out of all the nominees, Time currently has the most wins in a Best Documentary (or equivalent) category, picking up victories from the New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and National Society of Film Critics. However, in terms of vital wins this season, My Octopus Teacher has gotten the nod, winning at the Producers Guild of America Awards and British Academy Film Awards. This category is a close one, but with -335 betting odds, I think the Oscar goes to My Octopus Teacher this year.

The Triumphant Return of My Annual “Countdown to the Oscars” – COVID Edition

The World Theater signDue in no small part to the COVID-19 pandemic, this past year was one of the wildest in movie history (and honestly, probably the most bizarre year of my life, period). Theaters closed down (both temporarily and, unfortunately in some cases, permanently), nearly every major film set to debut in 2020 was either delayed until 2021/2022 or released exclusively on streaming platforms, and the entire landscape of cinema was likely changed forever. During the eligibility period for this year’s Oscars (which usually spans one calendar year but this year includes movies released in 2020 all the way up until February 28, 2021), I saw over 100 movies, which is more than I’ve ever seen before in a single Oscars eligibility year. And yet, I only saw two movies physically in a theater (The Invisible Man literally right before the COVID lockdown and Tenet while masked up in my local limited-capacity, socially distanced AMC). Obviously, this past year was incredibly unusual in all facets of life, including movies, but there’s plenty of positive things to be excited about for 2021—I am fully vaccinated (Pfizer for the win!) and movies are rapidly returning to theaters around the country. I cannot wait to be back in front of that giant silver screen all year long.

Despite the unique circumstances from the past year, the current Oscars eligibility period was a wonderful year for movies, and I am extremely pleased to now return for another annual installment of my “Countdown to the Oscars” blog. Over the next two weeks, I cannot wait to share with you my thoughts on the best movies released this past year as we approach the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony, which is set to take place live on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at both its traditional home (the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood) and a second location (Los Angeles Union Station) due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (The Academy also announced since it would not permit guests to participate virtually this year, it plans to establish additional physical sites in both London and Paris to ease travel for those based elsewhere around the globe.)

Here’s a recap of the structure of posts you can expect to see on The Reel Countdown the next two weeks: (1) my “Top 10 Films of the Year” (including an “Honorable Mentions” post, 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., how I would vote if I had a ballot) for some of the year’s major categories, based on this year’s nominees, and (3) a recap of the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony, which will highlight the most noteworthy moments from the broadcast.

Let the show begin!

Top 10 Films of 2019

With only a single day left to go before the Academy Awards ceremony (which marks the official close of awards season for the previous year’s movies), the time is ripe to reveal my Top 10 Films of 2019. Enjoy!

My Top 10 Films of 2019

No. 10 – Ready or Not

Ready or Not is a comedic horror film directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, with a script from Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy. The film focuses on Grace (Samara Weaving) as she marries Alex (Mark O’Brien), a member of the wealthy Le Domas family who made its fortune in the board game business. On their wedding night, Grace must take part in a Le Domas family ritual: To welcome her to the family, everyone gathers around a table and lets a mysterious antique box choose a game for the family to play. The box chooses the one game Alex did not want to play—hide and seek. Grace thinks nothing of it, but soon she realizes that “hide and seek” is an affair akin to The Most Dangerous Game, wherein the Le Domas family must find Grace and kill her before sunrise or perish themselves. Aside from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, this was by far the most fun I had watching any movie this year. The premise is unique and its execution is excellent, packed with plenty of jump scares, smart laughs, and amusing gore. The film deftly blends comedy, drama, horror, and satire, and its frenetic pace and high energy make for one of 2019’s most underrated film experiences. (Not to mention, Samara Weaving is sensational as the film’s breakout star.) Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtYTwUxhAoI.

No. 9 – The Irishman

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, an epic 209-minute film, tells the story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro), who became a hitman for the Bufalino crime family (led by crime boss Russell Bufalino, played by Joe Pesci) and a close associate of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), the leader of the Teamsters. Martin Scorsese may not have invented the mob movie, but he’s sure responsible for perfecting it. (The gold standard for the genre is his 1990 film Goodfellas.) Part of Scorsese’s mob success is the effortless connection between him and his frequent collaborators, including Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel. All three actors return for The Irishman (De Niro and Pesci in central roles, Keitel in more of a cameo appearance), which serves as a wonderful final chapter in Scorsese’s storied saga of mob crime films with these actors. With respect to acting, it is one of The Irishman’s central strengths, which makes sense in light of the fact that its principal performers are three Oscar-winning legends: De Niro, Pesci, and Al Pacino. As I mentioned in my Best Supporting Actor post, Pesci and Pacino are incredible—Pesci flips the script on his usual characters to play a much quieter and reserved role, while Pacino thrives as Jimmy Hoffa in his trademark bravado. This was also the first Pacino-Scorsese collaboration, and it was well worth the wait. One aspect of the film that has gotten the most attention is Scorsese’s use of expensive de-aging effects to make the three main actors look younger. At first, it is a real shock to see the actors look like young guys. But for me, after a short while, I stopped noticing, so the effect didn’t become a distraction for my viewing experience. Although Scorsese has already made the perfect mob film in Goodfellas, his work here (with the assistance of a solid screenplay from Gangs of New York co-writer Steven Zaillian) is still marvelous and goes to show that when it comes to this genre, Scorsese will always reign supreme. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RS3aHkkfuEI.

No. 8 – Ford v Ferrari

Based on a true story, Ford v Ferrari tells the story of Ford Motor Company’s journey building a racecar to defeat the dominant Ferrari racing team in 1966 at the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans, a prestigious staple of endurance racing held each year outside of Le Mans, France. In order to defy expectations and truly challenge Ferrari for the crown, Ford enlists American racing legend and sports car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and the brash British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to turn its dream into a reality. When I first saw the trailer for this film, I thought it looked cheesy. Even though it isn’t a Disney movie, I was worried it might fall victim to tired tropes as seen in many Disney sports biopics, such as Miracle or Invincible. But I was wrong. Against a long list of great narrative features about racing (such as Rush, Le Mans, and Grand Prix), James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari takes the checkered flag. Part of the movie’s appeal is its intricate balance of racing and humanism. Yes, the actual story of Ford’s racing team taking on Ferrari at the ’66 Le Mans is compelling, and in that respect, the film’s thunderous sights and sounds (perfected via first-rate sound editing/mixing and film editing) can’t be beat by any other racing movie. But the film’s focus on its characters is equally as impressive. Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles are interesting characters, and the exquisite acting from Matt Damon and Christian Bale, respectively, makes you care about their story, both on and off the track. Streaming available for purchase on most major platforms (not yet available for rent). Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3h9Z89U9ZA.

No. 7 – Midsommar

Ari Aster’s follow up to his acclaimed 2018 film Hereditary, Midsommar tells the story of Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor), a young couple whose relationship is on the rocks. When Dani’s family tragically dies, Christian begrudgingly lets her join him and his friends for a summer trip to a small village in Sweden to take part in the community’s midsummer festival. What starts out as a fun, cheerful experience soon turns ominous and terrifying as the village’s rituals grow more unsettling. Although Hereditary laid the foundation for Ari Aster’s twisted filmmaking prowess, Midsommar perfected it. There is nothing conventional about this movie—some scenes left me absolutely gobsmacked, but I couldn’t look away. The sights and sounds of Midsommar absolutely sink their teeth into you. In addition to the vibrant colors and magnificent set design, the film’s main strength is Florence Pugh, who turned in one of the best acting performances of the entire year. Pugh is definitely one of my favorite rising stars in cinema, and Midsommar features her best performance yet. Dani is an emotional wreck throughout the film for a variety of reasons, and Pugh plays it seamlessly. Do yourself a favor and give this film a chance! Streaming for free for subscribers to Amazon Prime. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Vnghdsjmd0.

No. 6 – Jojo Rabbit

Writer/director Taika Waititi’s film Jojo Rabbit is a satirical black comedy set during the height of World War II in Nazi Germany. The titular character (Roman Griffin Davis) is an aspiring member of the Hitler Youth who idolizes the ideological views of the Third Reich—these prejudices are then encouraged by his imaginary friend, Hitler himself, played hilariously by Waititi. However, Jojo is forced to confront his intolerance when he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. In Jojo Rabbit, filmmaker Taika Waititi is as brazen as could be. Tackling a serious subject matter like this via satire is always daring, and Waititi certainly takes risks with an irreverent sense of humor. But the result is a beautiful cinematic experience. Waititi’s dialogue is sharp and witty, both in its humor and its solemnity, and he deftly juxtaposes the laughs with more serious tones and themes that make you think. I was particularly impressed with the performances of the film’s younger actors, namely Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie—the evolution of their relationship throughout the movie was touching, and the chemistry between the actors was palpable. And although I already discussed it thoroughly on my Best Supporting Actress post, it is worth mentioning again that Johansson is a vision as Rosie Betzler, Jojo’s mom. She serves as the moral core and emotional hook of the film, and Johansson definitely nails it. Streaming available for purchase on most major platforms (not yet available for rent). Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tL4McUzXfFI.

No. 5 – The Farewell

In Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, a Chinese family’s cherished grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. However, Nai Nai has no clue of the diagnosis. The entire family decides to shield Nai Nai from the news and convene in China to spend time with her before she dies under the premise of a spontaneous wedding involving one of the cousins. Billi (Awkwafina), who lives in New York City but still maintains an incredibly close relationship with her grandmother, cherishes her time back in China with Nai Nai but struggles considerably with her family’s decision to keep up the ruse. The Farewell was one of the darlings of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and justifiably so. It is a touching examination of family and culture, with an impeccable balance of laughs and tears. On this blog, I previously discussed why Zhao Shuzhen and Awkwafina were the two biggest snubs in the Best Supporting Actress and Best Leading Actress categories, respectively. Their performances are tender and beautiful, and although the underlying story and themes are compelling enough, their acting packs an inspirational punch, bringing it all home in such a relatable way. If you’re looking for a film to give you all the feels, look no further than The Farewell. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RofpAjqwMa8.

No. 4 – 1917

Sam Mendes’s 1917, set during World War I, tells the story of two British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), who must relay a message across enemy lines to another battalion in order to call off a scheduled attack that will surely result in the casualties of 1,600 soldiers. For me, 1917 is one of the greatest technical film achievements of all time. The main unique storytelling device Mendes uses to tell this story is a single long take. Casual film audiences may find the use of the single tracking shot to be a bit gimmicky, but knowing everything that must go into flawlessly executing such a feat (including elaborate production design, careful character blocking, and precise cinematography), I was wildly impressed. (Check out this featurette detailing just how much work went into crafting this film.) The meticulous art of legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins’s photography is breathtaking, and honestly, his long take creates an incredible sense of suspense and anxiety—it really is a masterful piece of cinema. If the movie stood only on the shoulders of its technical proficiency, it would probably still be on this list but wouldn’t be as high. 1917’s extra boost comes from the story’s incredible themes of humanism and resolve. Based on the war stories told to Mendes from his grandfather’s first-hand accounts, 1917 is an amazing war epic. Streaming not yet available for purchase or rent. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZjQROMAh_s.

No. 3 – Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems is a one-of-a-kind movie. The film follows Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a New York City jeweler who imports a rare Ethiopian opal (under clearly unethical circumstances) and looks to sell it to land a big payday. However, Howard has a debilitating gambling addiction (probably not in his own eyes, though) and owes money all over town. Thus, while trying to secure a profit from the opal, Howard’s poor decisions and rather sleazy personality land him in the stickiest of wickets, which serve as the driving force for the film’s conflict. In 2017, my No. 6 movie of the year was Good Time, the previous film from the Safdie brothers. And while Good Time has the same general frenetic style of Uncut Gems, it was a bit more disjointed. I obviously still enjoyed it, but here, the Safdie brothers deliver a much more coherent purpose for the plot. The Safdie brothers’ chaotic filmmaking style is raw and anxiety-inducing, but it fits the story like a glove. The most impressive feat from the young filmmakers, though, is their collaboration here with Adam Sandler. Howard Ratner is deranged and delusional, and above all, he is arrogantly unfazed by the consequences of his many disastrous choices. Adam Sandler embodies the role marvelously, turning in a career-best performance. I enjoyed the supporting performances from Lakeith Stanfield (one of this generation’s most talented actors) and Julia Fox, but I was also thoroughly captivated by Kevin Garnett’s acting debut. (The movie is set in 2012 during the Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and 76ers, and the future hall of famer plays a fictionalized version of himself who is obsessed with Howard’s opal, believing it to be his good luck charm on the court.) Uncut Gems is 2019’s most exhilarating thrill ride—you’ll never forget it! Streaming not yet available for purchase or rent. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTfJp2Ts9X8.

No. 2 – Parasite

Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite follows the Kim family as they work to infiltrate the home of the Park family in order to attain financial stability. The Kims occupy a place near the bottom of the South Korean class system, living in a shabby semi-basement and attempting various hustles for income (like folding pizza boxes for a local business). Conversely, the Park family is incredibly wealthy and live in a luxurious home. The Kim children, Ki-woo and Ki-jeong, eventually hatch a plan to serve as tutor and “art therapist,” respectively, for the Park family’s children. Once they’ve successfully done so, the family devises additional plots to secure employment for their parents—their mother, Chung-sook, eventually lands a coveted spot as the Parks’ housekeeper, and their father, Ki-taek, takes up the role of the Parks’ valet. Bong’s film, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, is amazing. Absolutely brilliant. Not only is it my second favorite film of 2019, but I recently ranked it as my fifth favorite movie from the 2010s. The production design is outstanding, the cinematography is beautifully captivating, and the darkly comedic script is flawless. And then there is the film’s title. Merriam-Webster defines “parasite” both as “a person who exploits the hospitality of the rich and earns welcome by flattery” and “an organism living in, with, or on another organism.” Bong shrewdly explores the full extent of the “parasite” theme throughout this film, which pairs seamlessly with his broader examination of the inequities of the social class system. In addition to Bong’s filmmaking, Parasite is a shining example of superlative acting. The entire cast is great (in fact, the group won the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture), but the standout performers are Song Kang-ho as Ki-taek Kim and Cho Yeo-jeong as Yeon-gyo Park. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xH0HfJHsaY.

No. 1 – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the ninth feature film by Quentin Tarantino, is set in Los Angeles in 1969 and tells the story of aging actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they work to find their place in the industry during the last days of Hollywood’s Golden Age. I’ll get this out of the way at the outset: I am an unabashed fan of Quentin Tarantino as a filmmaker. (Inglourious Basterds is my favorite movie of all time.) I think he is one of the most influential cinematic craftsmen of all time, and his unparalleled brand of storytelling (which features a distinct sense of humor) always connects well with me. With Once Upon a Time, Tarantino is at his very best concerning a subject matter he’s incredibly passionate about—Hollywood. This film truly immerses you in the times. Although I obviously wasn’t around in 1969, I left the theater feeling as if I’d actually experienced the real-life Hollywood from that era—the production design and set decoration from Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh, respectively, was masterful. At its core, this movie is about friendship, and in that respect, DiCaprio and Pitt make it all the more authentic. The chemistry between the two veteran performers is unmistakable, and you’d be hard-pressed to find too many acting duos in film history that did it as well as Leo and Brad did here. Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth couldn’t be more different, but therein lies the charm of their loyal companionship. Dalton is unsure of himself, while Booth is fearlessly confident and cool. (For instance, Dalton gets into an all-out screaming match with himself in his trailer when he botches some lines on the set of Lancer, while Booth comfortably, without hesitation, beats the living daylights out of a hippie at Spawn Ranch for slashing his tires.) These were truly two of the most memorable performances of the year, and Pitt is more than likely going to take home an Oscar for his part. The last thing worth mentioning is Tarantino’s decision to use Charles Manson and Sharon Tate (played wonderfully by Margot Robbie) as an underpinning to the film’s plot. I was not sure where Tarantino was going to take that subplot, as we all know how the real thing ended on that fateful night at 10050 Cielo Drive. In the end, I was a bit surprised and thoroughly satisfied—it all came together in a manner that only could have come from the twisted mind of Quentin Tarantino. This movie is provocative and without restraint, and all I want to do right now is watch it again! Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELeMaP8EPAA.

Top 10 Films of 2019 – Honorable Mentions

Soon I will finally reveal the list of my ten favorite films from 2019. But before I do, it’s worth mentioning a handful of others that just missed out on cracking that list.

Honorable Mentions

No. 15 – High Flying Bird

High Flying Bird, director Steven Soderbergh’s second consecutive film shot on an iPhone, is a small movie with big ideas. The film, which stars Moonlight’s André Holland as professional basketball agent Ray Burke, takes place during the middle of an NBA lockout and focuses on Burke’s unique business plans to benefit his firm and his prized client Erick Scott during this tumultuous time. High Flying Bird is a scant 91 minutes in duration, but I assure you, that entire hour and a half is packed full of snappy dialogue that will suck you into the story. The movie is beautifully shot and depicts the incredibly important intersection of sports/entertainment and race/politics. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iL1K_l8Jyo.

No. 14 – Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame is the 22nd movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Infinity Saga” and serves as the closing chapter of this particular story of the Avengers. This particular saga is the most commercially and critically successful superhero movie franchise of all time, and thus, Endgame had a massive challenge to wrap up this story in a way that satisfied fans. It went above and beyond that challenge and succeeded spectacularly. The film was complex at times and the story was intricate, but Endgame stayed true to the essence of its Marvel predecessors and provided the perfect cocktail of laughs, tears, action, and entertainment to make this final ride worth it for the audience. (In fact, the 182-minute runtime never felt like a chore for a single second.) Streaming for free for subscribers to Disney+. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcMBFSGVi1c.

No. 13 – Dolemite Is My Name

In Dolemite Is My Name, Eddie Murphy returns to his raunchy comedy sweet spot (his first Rated-R film since Life in 1999) in his portrayal of the real-life comedian and legendary blaxploitation filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore. Eddie Murphy is one of the greatest comedians of all time, but from the perspective of cinema, his career has been off track since his Oscar-nominated performance in Dreamgirls. In Dolemite, Murphy has absolutely gotten his swagger back. I also loved the supporting performance by Wesley Snipes as the real-life blaxploitation star D’Urville Martin—Snipes’s hysterical depiction of Martin completed a noteworthy comeback of his own. This film is equal parts hilarious and charming, and I reveled in the core themes of hope and perseverance. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws1YIKsuTjQ.

No. 12 – Joker

Joker serves as an origin story for the infamous Joker villain from the DC Comics. The film follows Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a wannabe stand-up comedian with severe emotional instability who, over the course of the story, spirals down into a dangerous and violent state of madness. This film has obviously been fodder for people wanting to debate the ethics of depicting gun violence and mental illness. But although I felt a bit uncomfortable during some of Arthur’s emotional outbursts and episodes, I can’t imagine watching a movie about someone struggling with mental illness and feeling anything other than a sense of uncomfortableness. Todd Phillips’s story is raw and unrestricted, and I appreciated the social and political commentary on society’s consistent rejection of those that are different, especially in light of the present times. The film is beautiful in terms of costumes, production design, musical score, and cinematography, but the single greatest strength of Joker is Phoenix’s acting performance—a true tour de force. The storyline is eerily reminiscent of two Martin Scorsese films, The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, and Phoenix channels those brilliant Robert De Niro performances in crafting his one-of-a-kind character. (The fact that De Niro plays a role in Jokeris almost poetic.) Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t433PEQGErc.

No. 11 – Apollo 11

In a year filled with many great documentaries, my favorite was Apollo 11. The film documents the famous Apollo 11 space mission in 1969 that resulted in the first spacewalk. Some of my favorite documentaries in recent memory (such as Senna and Amy) create gripping narratives utilizing only archival footage. Apollo 11 does the same here, but it goes a step further, refusing to use even interviews—the entire story is told through glorious archival footage, much of which was previously unreleased. The whole world knows this story and how it ends, and yet, the breathtaking footage and unique storytelling devices create a mesmerizing sense of adventure and suspense. Streaming for free for subscribers to Hulu. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Co8Z8BQgWc.

The 92nd Oscars – Best Leading Actor

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

The Nominees

Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory)

In legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film Pain and Glory (nominated this year for Best International Feature), Antonio Banderas stars as Salvador Mallo, an aging filmmaker battling health issues and nostalgia as he reflects upon important memories and relationships throughout his past and how they’ve shaped his present. I have not seen an immense amount of Banderas’s films, but from what I have seen, his performance in Pain and Glory is certainly his best. This movie has a lot of drama and a lot of heart, all while sprinkling in some clever humor. And although the film features some wonderful supporting performances (including Penélope Cruz as Mallo’s mother and Asier Etxeandia as his former collaborator Alberto), Pain and Glory thrives most prominently because of this stunning performance by Banderas. Whether it’s the humorous moments where Mallo is, for the first time in his life, trying heroin with Alberto, or the emotional reunion with a lover from days gone by, Banderas sinks his teeth into the role and delivers a masterful performance. It is no wonder Banderas took home the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019.

Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)

Quentin Tarantino’s newest masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set in Los Angeles in 1969 and tells the story of aging actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they work to find their place in the industry during the last days of Hollywood’s Golden Age. In my Best Supporting Actor post, I waxed poetic about the glorious reunion between Tarantino and Brad Pitt following their collaboration in my favorite film of all time, Inglourious Basterds. But Once Upon a Time also marks a spectacular reunion for Tarantino and DiCaprio, who previously joined forces to bring us one of the most well-acted, but despicable villains of all time, slave owner Calvin Candie in Django Unchained. As much as I loved Brad Pitt here as Cliff Booth, my favorite aspect of the film (aside from the brilliance of Tarantino’s storytelling as a whole) was DiCaprio. Rick Dalton is by far the funniest character DiCaprio has ever portrayed (yes, even more so than the real-life Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street), and he delivers a performance that, in a year where Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t play the Joker, surely would be my top pick to take home the Oscar. This performance exhibits much of DiCaprio’s range, equal parts comical and earnest. The moments that will live on in my memory forever include the Basterds-esque “anyone order fried sauerkraut?” scene; the “Easy Breezy” conversation with Julia Butters’s character; yelling at the Manson hippies with a pitcher of margaritas in his hand; and most of all, that infamous trailer argument with himself on the set of Lancer.

Adam Driver (Marriage Story)

Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story follows a couple, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver), as they cope with a contentious coast-to-coast divorce that involves a bitter custody dispute over their eight-year-old son. Despite the sad and depressing nature of Marriage Story as a whole, it is hard to argue with the fact that the film features two utterly tremendous performances from its leading actors. I have already discussed Johansson’s performance in my Best Leading Actress post, but with respect to Driver, his portrayal of New York-based theater director Charlie is one of the most emotionally shattering acting performances of 2019. Although the film follows both Charlie and Nicole through their separation and divorce, Marriage Story eventually homes in more distinctly on Charlie’s struggles. (The character arc of Nicole is vital to the story, but given Baumbach’s own divorce history with ex-wife Jennifer Jason Leigh, the self-reflection through via Charlie is unsurprising.) Although the scene has been turned into a bit of a meme via Twitter, the argument between Charlie and Nicole in Charlie’s LA apartment (wherein Driver angrily proclaims “Every day I wake up and hope you’re dead”) is etched in my memory forever, and it certainly provided Driver his “Oscar moment.”

Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

Joker, co-written and directed by Todd Phillips, is an origin story for the infamous Joker villain from the DC Comics. The film follows Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a wannabe stand-up comedian with severe emotional instability who, over the course of the story, spirals down into a dangerous and violent state of madness. Upon release, Joker polarized audiences for its depiction of mental illness and gun violence. But regardless of your take on the ethics of the film, Joaquin Phoenix’s staggering transformation into the famed super-villain is a sight to behold and deserves all the critical acclaim you can throw at him. One of the most obvious parts of Phoenix’s transformation is physical in nature, as he lost a significant amount of weight to give Fleck a disturbingly gaunt figure. Although impressive, the weight loss hardly compares to the haunting genius of Phoenix’s acting performance as a whole. Phoenix had massive shoes to fill with his portrayal of the future Joker, as Heath Ledger already gave the world one of the greatest performances in film history as the character in The Dark Knight (for which Ledger posthumously received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor). Phoenix’s performance is incredible, but it’s also different from Ledger’s, as Phoenix only becomes the Joker during the climax of the film. As Arthur Fleck, Phoenix is chilling and terrifying, slowly creeping toward complete derangement throughout the movie. One of the major standpoint parts of Phoenix’s performances is the variety of maniacal laughs in Fleck’s repertoire—those things will haunt my ears forever. Phoenix’s embodiment of such a mentally ill character must have been taxing, both physically and emotionally, but his acceptance of the challenge provided cinematic history with one of its better performances. I expect Phoenix to take home the gold in a few days!

Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)

Netflix’s The Two Popes is about Pope Benedict’s shocking decision to resign the papacy (the first to do so in over 700 years) amidst controversy and the unlikely journey of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (later Pope Francis) to the Chair of Saint Peter as his successor. With the exception of a couple of stray scenes, this film is comprised nearly entirely of one-on-one conversations between Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) and the future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). Although that does not seem like a recipe for an entertaining movie, I was thoroughly surprised in the result being just that. The two characters are both Catholic, and that is really where their similarities stop. Pope Benedict is staunchly conservative, while Pope Francis is more liberal and progressive. This dichotomy of ideologies makes for some very interesting conversations and debates throughout the film as the two discuss the future of the Church, and Pryce subtly, but quietly, steals the show, turning in a wonderfully inspired performance.

Snubs and Other Performances

This category was always going to be a bit crowded this year, as 2019 was packed with wonderful performances. In addition to the five nominees, though, there were a handful of other actors that turned in noteworthy performances this year that deserve some appreciation. First, despite the fact that both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci earned Best Supporting Actor nods this year, The Irishman’s lead, Robert De Niro, missed out on a nomination, despite giving us another very memorable performance as the titular Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran. Second, Daniel Craig was marvelous in Rian Johnson’s whodunit Knives Out as private detective Benoit Blanc—this was by far the most fun role I’ve ever seen Craig in and he killed it. Third, Eddie Murphy was absolutely hilarious in his R-rated comedy comeback Dolemite Is My Name (his first R-rated film since Life in 1999), a film about the real-life comedian and legendary blaxploitation filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore. Murphy would have been a worthy nominee for the Oscar, as he received nominations at the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards. Additionally, Christian Bale was remarkable in Ford v Ferrari as British racecar driver Ken Miles. When I first saw the trailer for Ford v Ferrari, I thought it looked like a very paint-by-number Disney-style biopic—I was wrong. The film is fast-paced, electrifying, and extraordinarily fun, and Bale carries the film gloriously across the finish line with one of my favorite performances of his storied career.

The five nominees all gave very strong performances, but I really think the Academy made a mistake by not nominating Adam Sandler for his portrayal of jeweler and gambling addict Howard Ratner in Uncut Gems. (I guess Pryce would have to lose his spot to grant a nomination to Sandler.) This was one of my very favorite movies of the year, and although it’s great for so many reasons (including, but not limited to, the raw and frenetic pace masterfully crafted by the Safdie brothers, as well as the stellar supporting performances from Kevin Garnett, Lakeith Stanfield, and Julia Fox), it is a notch better on the strength of the single greatest acting performance of Adam Sandler’s career. On paper, Howard Ratner is incredibly unlikable. Throughout the entire film, he proves to be a bit of a sleazebag who incessantly makes bad decisions at every turn. And yet, because of Sandler’s career-defining performance, it’s impossible not to root for Howard during the movie’s thrilling twists and turns. Sandler obviously has more career ahead of him, but it’s hard not to imagine this being his masterpiece—the Academy should have rewarded that.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Adam Driver

Just like his Marriage Story co-star Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver is currently getting +1400 odds to pull off an upset in the Best Leading Actor category. Please read the “Who Will Win” section below for proof as to why this upset isn’t happening, though. (Yes, I know I listed Driver as someone who “could” win, but I feel obligated to at least list the second best odds amongs the other nominees no matter what, even though the odds don’t suggest Driver will be winning on Sunday.)

Who Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix

Think what you want about Joker as a film, but it is patently undeniable that Joaquin Phoenix turned in one of the greatest acting performances of all time. He deserves this win more than ever before.

Who Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix is currently getting the second best odds of any nominee in any category to win an Oscar this year. (Phoenix’s -5000 odds are second only to Parasite’s odds to win Best International Feature, which currently stand at an astounding -10000.) With the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice Award, SAG Award, and BAFTA already under his belt, I fully expect Phoenix to be the actor giving his acceptance speech in this category come Sunday night. If When he wins, it will be his first Oscar win.

The 92nd Oscars – Best Leading Actress

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

The Nominees

Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)

In Harriet, Cynthia Erivo plays the titular character, Harriet Tubman, as the film chronicles the inspirational story of the renowned abolitionist’s escape from slavery and strenuous work to help others along the Underground Railroad. I was hoping to like Harriet much more than I actually did, as I was all in on a proper film adaptation for such a heroic American figure. However, the film as a whole was a bit mechanical and lacked depth. With that said, nothing can take away from the rousing performance by Erivo, who brilliantly assumes the mantle of this legendary heroine. Her performance is adept and moving, and Erivo absolutely deserves a nomination this year. Erivo is a multi-talented performer, and both her acting and singing gifts shine on the big screen. In addition to this acting nomination, Erivo is also up for Best Original Song for “Stand Up” from the film, and if she were to win in either category, she would complete the illustrious EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony).

Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)

Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story follows a couple, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver), as they cope with a contentious coast-to-coast divorce. As I have previously said, Marriage Story is not a fun watch. I am definitely an admirer of Baumbach’s previous work (btw, The Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha are far superior films to Marriage Story, and if you haven’t seen them, do yourself a favor and make that happen), but this movie is just so sad and depressing at its core. (With that said, it is still incredibly well made.) Regardless of my enjoyment of the movie as a whole, the acting is undoubtedly magnificent and thus, Johansson’s nomination is 100% deserved. Johansson vividly wears Nicole’s pain and suffering on her sleeves throughout the movie, and during the film’s most antagonistic moments between Nicole and Charlie, Johansson delivers a heartbreaking performance that highlights her acting superiority.

Saoirse Ronan (Little Women)

In Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s critically acclaimed book Little Women, Saoirse Ronan plays the story’s protagonist Jo March, a fiery, stubborn, and self-reliant young woman attempting to make a literary career for herself, all while balancing the stresses of her family and grappling with her loneliness, a product of her stern independence. Before Ronan, Winona Ryder played Alcott’s storied heroine in a 1994 film adaptation, which garnered three Oscar nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Ryder. In such a famous role that already evokes nostalgia for a generation that grew up on Ryder’s version, Ronan proves her worth and makes the character her own. In fact, I think Ronan’s interpretation of and performance as Jo March is superior to that of Ryder’s—for me, this isn’t entirely surprising, as Ronan is objectively one of the most talented actresses in the film business. (This is Ronan’s fourth Oscar nomination, making her the second youngest actor/actress to reach four nominations, lagging behind Jennifer Lawrence by mere months.)

Charlize Theron (Bombshell)

Bombshell tells the story of Fox News and the sexual harassment controversy surrounding its former CEO Roger Ailes. As I previously mentioned on my Best Supporting Actress post, I wanted to like Bombshell, but I just didn’t. The makeup work is phenomenal and the acting performances are great, but the film as a whole felt incredibly surface-level and sensationalist. In the film, Charlize Theron plays Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News host who famously drew the deranged ire of Donald Trump (then a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination), which is depicted in the film. If you’ve seen the images of Theron as Kelly, the resemblance is unbelievably uncanny—the makeup team did a phenomenal job (they are nominated for an Oscar, too) and Theron, an expert in her craft, nailed the complete embodiment of her character, including Kelly’s distinct voice and mannerisms. Although Theron was great, her performance was simply not as moving as those of her fellow nominees, and if I had a vote, I would have given her spot to Awkwafina (discussed more in detail below), who gave a more inspired performance this year that deserved to be recognized on this level.

Renée Zellweger (Judy)

Judy tells the story of famed actress and singer Judy Garland’s final year of life, during which she makes a professional comeback for a short residency at the Talk of the Town nightclub in London, England. With her employment prospects dwindling in the United States and her finances in disarray, Garland is convinced to make the trip across the pond to perform for a country of fans who adore her. However, despite some early success during her show’s initial run, Garland’s personal problems increasingly interfere with her professional life, as the film documents her troubles with alcoholism and drug addiction. I will admit, the only facts I really knew about Judy Garland before this movie were that she was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and that she died from a drug overdose. These two facts (and the complexities involved with each) bookend this film, and everything in between is incredibly informative and wonderfully crafted to make for a solidly entertaining movie. And if you haven’t seen Judy, I urge you to believe in the Renée Zellweger hype—she is radiantly flawless in her portrayal of the troubled star. Zellweger deftly navigates the dichotomy of Judy Garland—on the one hand, she’s an incredible talent with first-rate performance abilities, and on the other, she’s hobbled by debilitating substance abuse. Like the film’s story of comeback, Judy serves as a renaissance of sorts for Zellweger, too, who is spectacular.

Snubs and Other Performances

In addition to the foregoing actresses, there were a handful of other actresses that turned in performances this year that deserve some attention, including one that should have received a nomination instead of Charlize Theron. First, Lupita Nyong’o was stellar in Jordan Peele’s Us. Although I really didn’t enjoy the film (I can usually overlook a few plot holes, but goodness, that storyline just blatantly didn’t add up), it is impossible to ignore the solid work of Nyong’o as both Adelaide and her “tethered” character Red. Second, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out was creative, quirky, and a lot of fun, and Ana de Armas was one of the film’s brightest stars as a caretaker suspected of killing her employer. Additionally, I was wildly impressed with Florence Pugh’s chilling performance in Ari Aster’s eerie horror flick Midsommar, one of my favorite movies of the year—the image of Pugh’s character donning the May Queen crown is instantly iconic! I was more than pleased to see Pugh receive some Oscar love with her nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category for Little Women, but her performance in Midsommar was definitely her best this year.

Despite these wonderful performances, the biggest “snub” in this category is Awkwafina for her emotionally beautiful performance in the critically acclaimed film, The Farewell. If you recall, I already discussed Zhao Shuzhen from The Farewell being the biggest snub in the Best Supporting Actress category, but it is an even bigger travesty that Awkwafina missed out on a nomination. Awkwafina has already made her mark in the industry thanks to her comedic chops (see, e.g., Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising and Crazy Rich Asians), but in The Farewell, the 31-year-old proved that she is an absolute force to be reckoned with from a dramatic perspective. Although the Golden Globes don’t historically predict the Academy Awards, insiders were confident that Awkwafina’s win would vault her to an Oscar nomination. Charlize Theron was solid as Megyn Kelly, but there is not a doubt in my mind that Awkwafina should have been nominated in her place.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Scarlett Johansson

Like every single other acting category this year, the winner here, according to the betting lines, seems like a guarantee already. However, Scarlett Johansson is currently getting the next best odds, albeit they are +1400.

Who Should Win: Renée Zellweger

Renée Zellweger is perfect in her portrayal of Judy Garland. I believe in the hype that she is getting, and if I had a vote, I would gladly cast it for Zellweger!

Who Will Win: Renée Zellweger

Every favorite in an acting category this year has swept the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Awards, SAG Awards, and BAFTAs. So, for the first time in a long while, I don’t anticipate a single upset in any of these four categories. Zellweger is getting -2000 odds as the favorite, and I look for her to definitely lock in her second career Oscar win on Sunday.

The 92nd Oscars – Best Supporting Actor

In today’s post, I will be analyzing the Best Supporting Actor category for this year’s Academy Awards, the most decorated acting category at this year’s Oscars. (The five nominees combined account for 27 career Academy Award nominations in acting categories.) As I pointed out yesterday, the format for all of these post concerning the acting categories will be (1) a review of each nominee in alphabetical order; (2) a brief discussion of my other favorite performances of the year, including any “snubs”; and (3) a breakdown of who could, should, and will win the Oscar in this category.

So let’s go!

The Nominees

Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a biopic inspired by a real-life Esquire article about Fred Rogers (better known as Mr. Rogers) by journalist Tom Junod titled, “Can You Say…Hero?” Although the film takes inspiration from the famous theme song from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Mr. Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, is merely a supporting character. Hanks is obviously one of the greatest actors of his generation, and in this film, he is great in his embodiment of the calm, soft-spoken Mr. Rogers—although not looking physically like Mr. Rogers, Hanks nails the voice and mannerisms. But although I enjoyed his performance, it didn’t feel incredible invigorating for me, especially since Hanks just played Walt Disney in 2013’s Saving Mr. Banks, which this film felt so eerily similar to. I like Tom Hanks, and I really enjoyed him here, but I couldn’t help but think name recognition played a major role in not only this nomination, but also its companions at the Critics’ Choice Awards, SAG Awards, Golden Globes, and BAFTAs.

Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)

At first glance, I didn’t think Netflix’s The Two Popes was going to be a movie I’d enjoy, but in the end, I was thoroughly surprised by and taken with its charisma. The film is about Pope Benedict’s shocking decision to resign the papacy (the first to do so in over 700 years) amidst controversy and the unlikely journey of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (later Pope Francis) to the Chair of Saint Peter as his successor. The plot is simple, and the film is executed through Sorkin-esque dialogue between the two main characters as they debate and discuss many topics, most importantly their vastly different religious ideologies. Pope Benedict is incredible conservative, while Cardinal Bergoglio (played by Jonathan Pryce, who was nominated for Best Actor) is widely progressive. Both of the actors are exquisite and authentic in their portrayal of these real-life characters on the brink of a major shift for the Catholic Church, and per usual, the legendary Sir Anthony Hopkins is masterful.

Al Pacino (The Irishman)

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, an epic 209-minute film, tells the story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro) who became a hitman for the Bufalino crime family and a close associate of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), the leader of the Teamsters. Surprisingly, The Irishman was Pacino’s very first collaboration with Scorsese, and it definitely left me wishing the two worked together more. In his portrayal of Jimmy Hoffa, Pacino returns to his peak acting prowess. Over the years, some believe Pacino has become a caricature of himself, resorting to the loud and boisterous delivery made famous in his Oscar-winning role in A Scent of a Woman far too often. In The Irishman, Pacino taps into those infamous rowdy and ostentatious traits, but he does so in a way that is extraordinarily reinvigorating—it is the Pacino we’ve grown to know, but it never feels like old hat. This is Pacino’s 9th Oscar nomination, but it’s his first since his lone win 27 years ago. As Hoffa, Pacino was back to his best, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to see him back at the Oscars as a nominee.

Joe Pesci (The Irishman)

In The Irishman, Joe Pesci plays Russell Bufalino, a mobster and crime boss of the Bufalino crime family. Pesci came out of an extended retirement to play his role in The Irishman, and some reports indicate he actually turned down the role over 50 times before finally agreeing to do it. We should all count ourselves lucky for his decision to jump in. In this film, Pesci is as we’ve never seen him before, especially in the mob genre. A frequent collaborator of Scorsese, we’ve learned to expect Pesci to embody the smack-talking, loud-mouth, larger-than-life, over-the-top character traits from Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino. (And oh, how I love Pesci when he’s in that zone.) But here, Pesci is distinctively restrained, exemplifying a strange sense of calmness. It is this aspect of Pesci’s performance that not only steals the show but also makes the character eerily more sinister than past Pesci characters—the guy plays a caring father figure to De Niro’s character with a great deal of compassion, all the while being someone who can call in a hit like it’s nothing. This will go down as one of Pesci’s greatest performances of all time.

Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)

Quentin Tarantino’s newest masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set in Los Angeles in 1969 and tells the story of aging actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they work to find their place in the industry during the last days of Hollywood’s Golden Age. I am admittedly a huge fan of Tarantino and his work (Inglourious Basterds is my favorite movie of all time), and when I describe my love of Once Upon a Time to people, I tell them that it’s just a movie that was made for me. (Tarantino’s exquisite storytelling set against the backdrop of a glorious era of cinematic and cultural history is a recipe for success.) And from an acting standpoint, DiCaprio and Pitt are an amazing duo and are truly simpatico. And this film marks an outstanding return to the Tarantino set for Pitt, who dazzled in his memorable role as Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds. Here, Tarantino gets the absolute best out of Pitt once more. Cliff Booth is just cool, and Tarantino couldn’t have chosen a better performer to embody that swagger. Highlights for Pitt in this movie include his fight with Bruce Lee, fending off hippies in the Manson cult at Spawn Ranch, and that hilariously unrestrained ending involving Pitt high on an acid-dipped cigarette. In this movie, Brad Pitt is in his element, and oh, what a wonderful element it is.

Snubs and Other Performances

In addition to this year’s nominees, there were a handful of other noteworthy performances this year that easily could have been in contention for the Oscar. First, although The Lighthouse did not necessarily work for me (which was a surprise, as I generally love everything A24 Films puts out), there is no denying that Willem Dafoe’s gruff portrayal of lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake is superbly deranged as one half of the film’s two-man show. Second, Dolemite Is My Name was one of my favorite out-and-out comedies of the year. And not only was it the vehicle for Eddie Murphy’s spectacular R-rated renaissance, but it also provided a humorous return for Wesley Snipes, who portrayed the real-life blaxploitation star D’Urville Martin. Additionally, I really enjoyed The Last Black Man in San Francisco (shout out to A24 again), and although Jimmie Fails was great as the lead, I was most impressed with Jonathan Majors as Jimmie’s sidekick “Mont”—the character is eccentric, artistic, and caring, and Majors was absolutely brilliant in his execution.

One of the single best supporting performances of the year, though, came courtesy of legendary South Korean actor Song Kang-ho in Parasite. Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece is a darkly comedic exploration of class inequalities, and Song is extraordinary as Kim Ki-taek, the patriarch of a poor Korean family who uses ingenuity and deception to infiltrate the home of the wealthy Park family as employees. The entire acting ensemble in Parasite is collectively magnificent. (In fact, the group won the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.) However, Song is definitely the film’s brightest star, and he was thoroughly deserving of an Oscar nomination this year.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Joe Pesci

Joe Pesci is currently getting odds of +1200 to render an upset in this category, better than any of the other three underdog nominees by quite a bit. (For instance, Al Pacino is next best, but his odds currently sit at +2800.) I don’t anticipate a surprise for Best Supporting Actor, but if the Academy throws us a curveball here, look for Pesci to be the only other nominee with a chance.

Who Should Win: Brad Pitt

I love Tarantino’s characters, and I love the actors and actresses he chooses to portray them. Cliff Booth is a fun and charismatic character, and I wholeheartedly believe no other actor but Brad Pitt could have breathed that energetic life into Booth. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the vintage performances from Pacino and Pesci, I find Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to be a better film than The Irishman. (Pacino and Pesci also cancel each other out a bit in this category.) So Pitt gets the nod here for me.

Who Will Win: Brad Pitt

Just like Laura Dern, Brad Pitt has executed a clean sweep this awards season, taking home this award at the BAFTAs, SAG Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards, and Golden Globes. Currently, Pitt’s odds to win the Oscar are an astounding -3335. So just like Laura Dern, it looks nearly certain that Pitt will be taking home the first Academy Award of his career in an acting category.

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

This 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

Talk 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 

Following 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 

When 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

In 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

Last 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.

91st Academy Awards: My Ballot and Complete Ranking of 2018’s Year of Film

Well, another Oscar season of blogging about my thoughts on the previous year in film is coming to a close, and per usual, it has been a gratifying experience to share my reviews of 2018’s most remarkable films and performances with all of you. In advance of tonight’s 91st Academy Awards, I have posted this recap. Below you will find my Top 10 Films of 2018, my personal ballot for all categories in which I have seen each film/performance, and a complete ranking of every film I saw from 2018.

With that said, check out my recap and then make sure to tune into the 91st Academy Awards tonight at 7:00 p.m. (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Enjoy, film fans.

Top 10 Films of 2018

1. The Favourite
2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
3. The Death of Stalin
4. A Star Is Born
5. Blindspotting
6. Thoroughbreds
7. Upgrade
8. American Animals
9. A Quiet Place
10. Black Panther

91st Academy Awards Ballot

Best Picture

  1. The Favourite
  2. A Star Is Born
  3. Black Panther
  4. Roma
  5. BlacKkKlansman
  6. Vice
  7. Green Book
  8. Bohemian Rhapsody

Best Actress

  1. Olivia Colman – The Favourite
  2. Glenn Close – The Wife
  3. Lady Gaga – A Star Is Born
  4. Yalitza Aparicio – Roma
  5. Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Actor

  1. Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody
  2. Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born
  3. Christian Bale – Vice
  4. Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate
  5. Viggo Mortensen – Green Book

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Emma Stone – The Favourite
  2. Rachel Weisz – The Favourite
  3. Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk
  4. Marina de Tavira – Roma
  5. Amy Adams – Vice

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Mahershala Ali – Green Book
  2. Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  3. Sam Elliott – A Star Is Born
  4. Sam Rockwell – Vice
  5. Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman

Best Original Screenplay

  1. The Favourite – Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
  2. Vice – Adam McKay
  3. First Reformed – Paul Schrader
  4. Roma – Alfonso Cuarón
  5. Green Book – Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, and Peter Farrelly

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. A Star Is Born – Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters
  2. BlacKkKlansman – Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
  3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
  4. Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
  5. If Beale Street Could Talk – Barry Jenkins

Best Original Score

  1. Black Panther – Ludwig Göransson
  2. Mary Poppins Returns – Marc Shaiman
  3. If Beale Street Could Talk – Nicholas Britell
  4. BlacKkKlansman – Terence Blanchard
  5. Isle of Dogs – Alexandre Desplat

Best Original Song

  1. “Shallow” from A Star Is Born – Music and Lyric by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, and Andew Wyatt
  2. “All the Stars” from Black Panther – Music by Mark Spears, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, and Anthony Tiffith; Lyric 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

Best Sound Editing

  1. A Quiet Place – Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
  2. Roma – Sergio Díaz and Skip Lievsay
  3. First Man – Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
  4. Bohemian Rhapsody – John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone
  5. Black Panther – Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker

Best Sound Mixing

  1. Roma – Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan, and José Antonio Garcia
  2. First Man – Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Ai-Ling Lee, and Mary H. Ellis
  3. A Star Is Born – Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Jason Ruder, and Steve A. Morrow
  4. Bohemian Rhapsody – Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin, and John Casali
  5. Black Panther – Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor, and Peter J. Devlin

Best Production Design

  1. The Favourite – Fiona Crombie (Production Design) and Alice Felton (Set Decoration)
  2. Black Panther – Hannah Beachler (Production Design) and Jay Hart (Set Decoration)
  3. Mary Poppins Returns – John Myhre (Production Design) and Gordon Sim (Set Decoration)
  4. Roma – Eugenio Caballero (Production Design) and Bárbara Enríquez (Set Decoration)
  5. First Man – Nathan Crowley (Production Design) and Kathy Lucas (Set Decoration)

Best Film Editing

  1. The Favourite – Yorgos Mavropsaridis
  2. Vice – Hank Corwin
  3. Bohemian Rhapsody – John Ottman
  4. BlacKkKlansman – Barry Alexander Brown
  5. Green Book – Patrick J. Don Vito

Complete Ranking of Films Seen from 2018

1 The Favourite
2 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
3 The Death of Stalin
4 A Star Is Born
5 Blindspotting
6 Thoroughbreds
7 Upgrade
8 American Animals
9 A Quiet Place
10 Black Panther
11 Sorry to Bother You
12 Roma
13 Isle of Dogs
14 Minding the Gap
15 Crazy Rich Asians
16 Annihilation
17 BlacKkKlansman
18 Beautiful Boy
19 Eighth Grade
20 The Wife
21 Vice
22 Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
23 First Man
24 RBG
25 Green Book
26 Monsters and Men
27 Can You Ever Forgive Me?
28 Mary Poppins Returns
29 Bohemian Rhapsody
30 The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
31 First Reformed
32 To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
33 You Were Never Really Here
34 Hereditary
35 Bad Times at the El Royale
36 Bird Box
37 Outlaw King
38 Creed II
39 Hold the Dark
40 If Beale Street Could Talk
41 Game Night
42 Red Sparrow
43 Unsane
44 Woman Walks Ahead
45 Daughters of the Sexual Revolution: The Untold Story of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders
46 A Shot in the Dark
47 Dumplin’
48 22 July
49 Paterno
50 Disobedience
51 Come Sunday
52 At Eternity’s Gate
53 On Chesil Beach
54 John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection
55 Blockers
56 Game Over, Man!
57 Fifty Shades Freed

Top 10 Films of 2018, No. 1 – The Favourite

The Favourite is an historical black comedy/drama directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, with a screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. The film is set in England in the early 18th century and follows the power 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).

It may seem a bit too on the nose that my favorite movie from 2018 is called The Favourite – but here we are! This film has so much going for it, and all of its spectacular areas of filmmaking combined to create the best movie of the year. The ringleader is Yorgos Lanthimos, a Greek director that has mastered his own vision and voice in filmmaking, producing a uniquely idiosyncratic blend of black comedy and drama (see e.g., Dogtooth, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer). I personally enjoy Lanthimos’s distinctive style of filmmaking, and in The Favourite, he is definitely at his peak. Although Lanthimos did not write the script, his customary deadpan vision (built on a sense of ridiculousness and uneasiness) undoubtedly permeates the film. In a year filled with some great dark comedies (such The Death of Stalin and Thoroughbreds), Lanthimos’s The Favourite indisputably stands out as the finest.

One of the most noteworthy aspects of the movie is the team Lanthimos assembled to execute his eccentric vision. Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara wrote the screenplay, and my goodness, it was stellar. The dialogue is snappy and razor sharp in its ability to take hold of a scene. I knew the film was going to be fantastic in an early scene depicting Abigail riding in a packed carriage, which featured one creepy individual staring at her while pleasuring himself – it was so shockingly hilarious, and it definitely set the tone for many other great scenes/lines. One of my favorite scenes from the entire year featured a completely out-of-place dance medley from Joe Alwyn and Rachel Weisz as they utilized modern dance moves in the middle of a fairly stuffy 18th-century ball – it was sidesplitting!

The movie’s cinematography is also outstanding, and the unique way in which Robbie Ryan shot the film added to the film’s comical nature. Ryan’s style here featured lots of experimental shots with a fish-eye lens, which added a wonderful layer of surrealism to the landscape within the castle. Further, Ryan’s propensity to switch views/perspectives with sharp panning was exquisite.

In terms of acting, The Favourite features a forceful trio of Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone. Colman’s portrayal of Queen Anne is flawless and perfectly captures the character’s proclivities for being both childishly needy and wickedly sinister. Queen Anne is an emotional rollercoaster, but we see that some of it is of her own doing – she propagates the battle between Sarah and Abigail for her affection, which ultimately leads to more depression for her character. Colman absolutely nailed her performance as Queen Anne.

Although Colman was impressive, I was even more taken with Stone’s and Weisz’s performances. Under Queen Anne’s roof, Weisz’s Sarah is Queen Anne’s established confidante and advisor, as well as her trusted lover, while Stone’s Abigail is the newcomer to the royal inner circle. These distinct roles have distinct personality traits associated with them, and each actress performs extraordinarily – Stone and Weisz were built for their respective characters. Abigail appears unassuming at first, but we quickly learn that she has an almost innate ability to balance that sense of innocence with disturbing cunningness – Stone thrives in this role, tapping into her comedic roots to bring Abigail’s amusingly menacing personality to life. On the other hand, Sarah finds herself having to desperately protect her position from Abigail, resorting to psychological mind games out of uncompromising devotion to Queen Anne. Weisz chillingly emotes steeliness in this role, and her portrayal of Sarah’s endless loyalty to Queen Anne is shrewdly memorable.

Another fantastic performance in The Favourite was Nicholas Hoult as Robert Harley, a member of Parliament who opposes some of Queen Anne’s economic policies. Harley is the embodiment of pretentiousness, and Hoult’s portrayal of the scheming politician was magnificent – it was an underrated part of the movie, and I was disappointed that Hoult wasn’t in greater contention for a nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category. The Favourite is rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, and language.

The Favourite trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYb-wkehT1g&t=2s

Academy Award nominations for The Favourite:

Best Picture (Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday, and Yorgos Lanthimos, producers)

Best Director (Yorgos Lanthimos)

Best Actress (Olivia Colman)

Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone)

Best Supporting Actress (Rachel Weisz)

Best Original Screenplay (Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara)

Best Cinematography (Robbie Ryan)

Best Production Design (Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton)

Best Costume Design (Sandy Powell)

Best Film Editing (Yorgos Mavropsaridis)