A Very Preliminary Shot at Oscars 2020 – Sundance

  When it comes to film festivals, Sundance is one the most reliable prognosticators for the year’s Oscar race. Often, of the varied treasures up on offer, several gems stand out and manage the weather the full season and finish strong at the Oscars. Last year, Sundance gave us Get Out and Call Me By Your Name, and by extension, introduced us to Daniel Kaluuya and Timothee Chalamet, two actors who have broken out in a large way. 
Here, I’ll talk about some films which, on paper, either look to be contenders, or have a premise interesting enough that I’m excited to see already. A disclaimer that I, very sadly, have not seen any of these films, and am merely offering my immediate thoughts on these projects. I’m only listing a handful (because it’ll just be an almost full list of Sundance films otherwise!) that caught my attention.

Late Night
Possible nominations:

Best Original Screenplay
Best Actress – Mindy Kaling

Best Supporting Actress – Emma Thompson
Synopsis: A talk show host on the verge of losing her show hires in a female writer to help revitalize the program. (credit: Wikipedia)
I’ve enjoyed Mindy Kaling’s comedic work for a long time, and when I saw that she both starred in this film AND penned its screenplay, this became a must-see for me. The premise is interesting and certainly verbose with social commentary about diversity, a hot topic in film this year. Reviews reveal it to hit the right comedic tones and be an enjoyable watch, which tells me this could really score with the Globes in Comedy, and perhaps even at the Oscars. Think: The Big Sick, a feel-good, comedic film about clashing cultures that snagged an Original Screenplay nomination at the Oscars last year. If this lands, and attention is duly paid to it, I think Mindy Kaling could be the first Indian-American Actress to be nominated, let alone win a Golden Globe (film) Award in a very, very long time. Excited for this!
Read the Indiewire review here: https://www.indiewire.com/2019/01/late-night-review-mindy-kaling-emma-thompson-sundance-1202038404/
The Report
Possible Nominations
Best Picture

Best Director

Best Original/Adapted Screenplay

Best Actor – Adam Driver

Best Supporting Actress – Annette Bening

Best Supporting Actor – Jon Hamm
Synopsis: Senate staffer Daniel Jones is assigned the daunting task of leading an investigation into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. After analyzing extensive evidence, he learns about their ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’—proven to be brutal, immoral, and ineffective—that the CIA adopted after 9/11. When Jones and the Senate Intelligence Committee attempt to release the results from his investigation, however, the CIA and White House go to great lengths to prevent the truth from getting out. (credit: Sundance)
This looks like typical Oscar fare, and with a (albeit early) score of 100% on RottenTomatoes and rave reviews to boot, I think this film will be a major player in this year’s Oscars. With Adam Driver finally being nominated for BlackKklansman this year, I don’t see attention at him stalling anytime soon. The Report may just be the vehicle for his first Lead Actor nom, which critics are calling a commanding performance. I think Annette Bening could be a major player especially after her perceived snub for 20th Century Women 2 years back. She’s also a veteran, and somewhat overdue. Of course, I have yet to see the film so this is all speculation on my part, but we have the word of the critics that it’s a solid performance. As with conspicuously political films, what this will have to weather is likely not time, but controversy. Seemingly a response to the much acclaimed but also highly controversial Zero Dark Thirty, I expect this film to be highly revelatory and I can’t wait to be educated.
Read the Indiewire review here: 

https://www.indiewire.com/2019/01/the-report-review-adam-driver-annette-bening-sundance-2019-1202038732/

Brittany Runs A Marathon
Possible Nominations:

Best Actress – Jillian Bell
Synopsis: A woman tries to overcomes her life problems and in the process takes part in the New York City Marathon.
Jillian Bell steals EVERY scene she’s in. In 22 Jump Street for example, she elevated the comedy of the film by playing one of the funniest villains in recent memory, and as with other films she’s been in, I wished only that she had more screen time. In Brittany Runs a Marathon, she FINALLY gets a leading role. Critics have lauded both its raucous comedy and emotional resonance, which speaks of an amazing film. I CAN’T WAIT. Here’s hoping she breaks out like Amy Schumer did with Trainwreck… but actually gets things right from there.
Read the Indiewire review here:

https://www.indiewire.com/2019/01/brittany-runs-a-marathon-review-jillian-bell-comedy-sundance-1202039442/
Luce
Possible Nominations:
Best Actress – Naomi Watts

Best Supporting Actress – Octavia Spencer
Synopsis: A married couple is forced to reckon with their idealized image of their son, adopted from war-torn Eritrea, after an alarming discovery by a devoted high school teacher threatens his status as an all-star student. (credit: IMdb)
A film that touches on issues of race and class, this well-reviewed film could make waves if its themes resonate with Oscar voters. Naomi Watts, who somehow still hasn’t won an Oscar, could be recognized for her performance, and Octavia Spencer is one of the most reliable bets for a Supporting nod if her film does well.
Read the Indiewire review here: 

https://www.indiewire.com/2019/01/luce-review-naomi-watts-octavia-spencer-sundance-1202038874/
The Souvenir
Possible nominations: 

Best Picture

Best Director – Joanna Hogg

Best Actress – Honor Swinton Byrne

Best Supporting Actress – Tilda Swinton
This film seems really, really interesting, and going by what critics are saying, seems really, really good. Just imagine the mother-daughter duo of Tilda Swinton and Honor Swinton Byrne in the Oscar race together. With the lack of female directors in this year’s line-up, perhaps Joanna Hogg could hold the torch next year.
Read the Indiewire review here: https://www.indiewire.com/2019/01/the-souvenir-review-sundance-2019-1202036960/
OTHER POSSIBILITIES:
Michelle Williams / Julianne Moore, After the Wedding

Chiwetel Ejiofor, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Oscar Nominations Predictions (Part 2): Fierce Fights for that Final Slot

This year is particularly chaotic when it comes to the acting races in this Oscars, because precursor awards have been throwing snubs and surprise nominations left and right, culminating in a situation where we find several actors fighting to fill the final spot in the 5-nominee list. Continue reading

Oscar Nominations Predictions (Part 1): Will popular films rule the day?

With Oscar voting having wrapped on the 14th of January, it’s time to finalize my Oscar nomination predictions before they are announced next week! This season so far has been nothing short of turbulent and rife with controversy and think pieces. The created and then removed Popular Film category, the subsequent move to be more inclusive of popular films, Roma and the Netflix situation, Green Book and the barrage of accusations volleyed at the team behind it, First Man’s underwhelming run for its unpatriotic storytelling, the unprecedented inclusion of Asian-American voices to the mix… the list goes on. With many precursors having already announced their nominees, and in some cases, their winners, it’s time for me to consolidate my list of predicted nominees before the big day approaches. In this first part, I present my predictions for Best Picture and Best Director.

Continue reading

Sight Unseen: Pacific Rim Uprising

One franchise that the Pacific Rim one brings to mind is the Transformers series, and not just because both involve giant robots in fights aplenty with explosions. 

From the Pacific Uprising trailers, I’m already drawing many similarities between the two; whereas the first had decent storytelling and a more solemn tone to ground the film, the second looks to be an explosion-fest of robot battles with a constant upbeat tone to match. While this may be the winning recipe for the average movie goer, I think it may still fail if 1. the characters are either too unrelatable or underdeveloped, which may be the case seeing how all the characters appear to be the typical hero/anti-hero types, or 2. if the scenes lack enough intensity to make them thrilling. As cool as it is seeing a giant robot beating up some monster, it’ll certainly grow stale if that’s all that happens for 1-2 hours. I think the film make lack the intensity of the first here given how much smaller both the monsters and the robots seem; I thought the first film did an incredible job in bringing out the sheer scale of these battles, which definitely added to the intensity. From the trailers of this second film however, they somehow felt rather Transformers-like, in other words, big but nowhere near the imposing size felt in the first.

I think John Boyega would be good as the lead – he definitely has charisma, but I wonder if he can carry the film, especially if his character doesn’t grow much beyond the typical anti-hero plot line that seems set out for him, along with the already cliche-sounding dialogue from the trailer.

I should note that I think it’s nice how the plot hasn’t been betrayed by the trailers; the introduction of ‘rogue’ robots could create an interesting story arc. 

I foresee the plot to follow the line of the rogue robot/organization re-opening the portal to our world, a series of lost battles ensue followed by victorious ones after the obligatory motivational speech as well as the various characters coming to terms with themselves, resulting ultimately in the defeat of the monsters. Basically, predictable stuff. The whole rogue robot thing does make me wonder if we’ll be surprised by a nice plot twist though.

Prediction: 4/10

Looking Onwards to Oscars 2019, And a Wrap-Up of Oscars 2018

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The #TimesUp conversation was the dominant one during the 2018 awards season, and for the first time since Million Dollar Baby in 2004, Best Picture went to a film with a female lead. Runner-up films such as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and Lady Bird also told very female stories, and told them well.

What I glean from this is an industry that has become more politically charged and aware than before, and I think a large part of this has to do with the new reign under the Trump administration. In 2017, Moonlight won Best Picture amidst the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and films such as Hidden Figures gained far more attention than pundits had originally predicted.

In both years, we see that the originally held frontrunners, which were more in-line with typical Oscar movie fare (La La Land and Three Billboards), with La La Land especially being one of the most baity type Oscar Best Picture films (a musical, about the industry, about actors) lost out to the more political choice of Moonlight. I’m certainly not looking down on the winners of the past two years – they were both completely deserving, and were the movies of the moment; they were both incredible cinema and harboured important political messages for their time.

Looking forward into 2019, I think we can similarly expect a more politically aware Oscars. With that in mind, I’m going to list out my very preliminary and wild guesses at next year’s Academy Awards.

Damien Chazelle’s First Man seems to be the very early frontrunner based on what experts are saying, which stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, who definitely seems like he could land his third acting nomination. One has to wonder though whether a film like this would be in line with the Oscar’s more in-the-moment streak; this is a historical film that Oscar voters typically would love, but it is about a well-known white man and a very well-known segment of American history. The Academy certainly seems to have shifted their focus to recognising different and once unheard voices in cinema, and this one rings of old Oscar fare. Indeed, one has to wonder how a film titled “First Man” would have stood up amongst the #TimesUp movement this year.

One noticeable thing about the Oscars is that there is a lot of spillover love year-on-year, especially in the case of Oscar breakout stars. I think a lot of it has to do with them finally being noticed by the industry at large. Looking at the past few years, a few of such breakouts include Eddie Redmayne and Jennifer Lawrence. Indeed, Lawrence was nominated almost consecutively year-on-year following her star turn in Silver Linings Playbook, while Redmayne’s Oscar-winning Theory of Everything performance certainly propelled him forward in the Oscar race the next year with his nomination for The Danish Girl.

One of the main breakouts of the year is undoubtedly Timothee Chalamet, who many considered to be the runner-up to Gary Oldman’s career-defining performance. Certainly, he’s proven himself to be the lovable, wide-eyed ingenue navigating through this year’s awards season, and I think the industry definitely has their eyes set on him, ready to take the bait if he gives them one. This year, he stars in Beautiful Boy alongside Steve Carrell, which sounds promising, and could get him his second Oscar nod. Timothee’s Call Me By Your Name co-star Armie Hammer may also enter the race this year after many thought him to be snubbed last year, this time in On the Basis of Sex, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg film that’s been featured aplenty on various film websites.

A breakout from the year before, Lucas Hedges, (nominated for Manchester By The Sea) also present last year in a big way as Danny in Lady Bird, stars in Boy Erased, a coming-of-age story about a boy forced through gay conversion therapy. Flanked by supporting performances from industry heavyweights Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman, this looks to be a film that could make some serious waves this year, and a lot will be dependent on Lucas Hedges. He’s certainly proven himself before, and I think he’ll do it here again. An interesting though unreliable thing to note is that in the past few years, the Best Picture winner has consecutively had nominations in both the Supporting Actor and Actress category, and this film definitely seems poised to feature strong supporting performances.

At this point, one has to wonder whether the LGBT conversation will be one to permeate this year’s Oscars, with 2017 being a far from ideal one in relation to LGBT and Trump. Last year, a number of prominent films that featured LGBT characters portrayed them as ostracised by society; Giles in The Shape of Water is the closeted neighbour who can’t find his place in the bigger world, Danny in Lady Bird breaks down in shame at his sexuality to Christine. They were all important but supporting players, and perhaps this year, their stories could come to the forefront, in the vein of Call Me By Your Name.

Another breakout of 2017 is Saoirse Ronan – though this one is arguable as I think Oscar voters as well as moviegoers have already noticed her over the past years for her impressive resume of films, including her Oscar-nominated turns in Atonement and Brooklyn. As the established runner-up in the Best Actress race for both Brooklyn in 2015 and in Lady Bird, as pundits on sites such as Gold Derby have shown, one has to think that her time will come soon. This year, she stars alongside Margot Robbie in Mary Queen of Scots, about two queens fighting for control of England, drawing an amusing parallel to this year’s concluded Oscar race, where both Robbie and Ronan were nominated in Best Actress.

At the same time, another narrative this year at the Oscars is the Oscar’s proclivity towards smaller, arthouse films, and its shunning of blockbusters. The film that comes to mind instantly from last year is Wonder Woman, which certainly gained attention during awards season and was nominated by the often reliable PGA, yet was completely shunned by the Oscars. Indeed, Jimmy Kimmel himself joked about how Black Panther’s record-breaking box office numbers mean that it’s Oscar chances were effectively doomed. Yet in light of very widely reported falling Oscar ratings, one has to wonder if the Oscars will be more welcoming in recognising blockbusters deserving of acclaim, because it’s likely the admirers of these large film that will push ratings up greatly with their often cultish fanbase. If that’s the case, we may well see Black Panther gain some traction, or perhaps Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns, starring the overdue Emily Blunt, who may well earn her first nomination in the sequel to a film that earned 13 Academy Award nominations, and the most recent Best Picture one for Disney to date.

Other films that seem promising based on the 2018 lineup as shown on Wikipedia:

Tully, in theatres April, teams director Jason Reitman with writer Diablo Cody; both who have had kind of hit-and-miss films recently (Reitman’s Men, Women and Children, and Cody’s Ricki and the Flash), but one can’t help but think back to the films featuring this director-writer duo, Young Adult and Juno, the latter earning Cody an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. With 2 promising and amusing trailers featuring Charlize Theron, I think this could make some waves at the Oscars if it delivers.

A Star is Born, in theatres October, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, is a third-time remake, and the first two were certainly very well-received by the Oscars. While the prospect of Lady Gaga getting an Oscar may seem kind of ridiculous, her Golden Globe winning turn in American Horror Story: Hotel may be an indication of her promise here, while Bradley Cooper is definitely well-liked among voters.

On the Basis of Sex, a film about Ruth Bader Ginsburg starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer.

Untitled Dick Cheney Film, by The Big Short director Adam McKay, starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Steve Carrell among others, about the 46th President of the United States, this sounds like typical Oscar fare.

Widows, starring Viola Davis amongst a very talented ensemble cast, directed by 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? From Boyhood director Richard Linklater, based on an acclaimed bestseller and starring Cate Blanchett, Kristen Wiig among others, this looks to be an interesting addition to the mix.

 

Watch out for the sidebar where I’ll put down my extremely early predictions in some of the main categories.

10 Favourite Films of 2017 + Final Oscar Predictions

With the Oscars drawing 2017 in film to a close in just a few hours, I’ve decided to make a list of my personal favourite films of 2017, along with my final predictions for a very memorable awards season.

10. Beauty and the Beast

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Picture credits: Disney

This film was one of the highlights from the earlier half of the year. While it certainly had it’s flaws, as I discussed in an earlier post, it stayed memorable because of it’s enchanting music and visuals, as well as how true it stayed to the original.

9. Dunkirk

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Christopher Nolan has a solid track record for delivering grand, epic films, and Dunkirk is no exception. In fact, I’d even call this one of my favourite movies of his yet. The visuals are of course crisp and spectacular, and every action sequence is impeccably crafted. I did feel however, a slight disconnect with the characters, though that seems to be a trend with me and Christopher Nolan films, which is perhaps why this wasn’t as memorable as it should have been. Still, definitely a cinematic achievement in many ways.

8. The Shape of Water

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Probably the most memorable romance film of the year, The Shape of Water is definitely not a film to be missed. With a story that feels strange yet familiar at the same time, this film redefines the fairytale genre with a Cinderella who is as complex as she is quietly radiant. The whimsical, dream-like quality of Sally Hawkin’s portrayal of protagonist Elisa certainly elevates the film. The amazing supporting cast and fantastical visuals coupled with the Cold War era plot blend fantasy with a very brutal realism, making this film’s message on oppression especially important in the Trump era.

7. blade runner 2049

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A large part of what places this film so highly on my list is the amazing cinematography by Roger Deakins, which gels almost perfectly with Denis Villeneuve’s style of slow-simmering tension with its constant overhang of gloomy and dark lighting. That alone made for an entrancing near 3-hour long experience. It helps that the characters are also highly memorable, especially Joi and Luv. Perhaps the one slightly stale character is the protagonist, K, who does seem like your typical anti-hero in many ways. A nice twist towards the end regarding his true identity does add an immediate complexity to his character though, which I found nice.

6. The Big Sick

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The Big Sick is my favourite feel-good movie of the year, which offers a simple yet touching and often hilarious story. I found particularly memorable the portrayal of the two family’s matriarchs, whose love for their children permeate throughout the film despite clear conflict throughout, making this film truly heartwarming. Definitely a very re-watchable movie that’s very deservingly nominated for Best Original Screenplay at this year’s Oscars.

5. Call Me By Your Name

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A quaint, beautiful film that makes you daydream about living in the bliss of 1980s Italy, Call Me By Your Name is a coming-of-age film that explores sexuality and love through the often sweet and electric relationship between the film’s two main characters. I’m  glad director Luca Guadagnino didn’t make the film overtly explicit, which keeps the undeniable charm of the movie intact. The film is also filled with genuine and heartfelt moments that stay with you long after it’s over, such as the touching monologue by Elio’s father to his son about love, and the ending shot of Elio staring, heartbroken into the fire at the loss of his love. A large part of the film’s emotional punch must of course be attributed to breakout Timothee Chalamet, who navigates Elio’s turbulent thoughts and emotions with such care.

4. Paddington 2

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I absolutely adored the first Paddington movie for its quirky British charm, lovable characters and amusing and often hilarious sequences. While sequels don’t exactly have the greatest track record in Hollywood, this one holds its own against the first, with yet again another wacky and interesting villain to boot. With never a dull moment and a fair share of both laughs and tears, this is one movie that anyone can watch and enjoy, and enjoyed it so much I did, which is why it’s my 4th favourite film of the year.

3. Wonder Woman

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Wonder Woman is a near perfect superhero film. With a winning, three-dimensional lead who is so much more than the action hero she is, along with actions scenes that left me with chills and goosebumps throughout the film, Wonder Woman is hands down my favourite superhero movie of the year. The scene in the trenches may be the most iconic movie scene in all of 2017, and will surely remain iconic for many years to come. The one reason why this film isn’t any higher is because of the slightly fuzzy last act, where it sort of reverts back to typical superhero fare. Nevertheless, easily one of the must-see cinematic experiences of 2017 for me.

2. Coco

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This hasn’t exactly been the strongest year for animated movies (Boss Baby, The Emoji Movie etc), but Pixar is back at the top of their game with their annual offering. For 2017, it was the incredibly moving and visually stunning Coco, which made everyone ugly-cry happy tears with its emotional wallop of a story. I’d been slightly hesitant at first because it reminded me strongly of a previous animated hit, The Book of Life, which I found good but not great. Here however, Pixar created a world I never wanted to leave, and left a strong message about family that I’m sure resonates with just about everyone. The constantly gripping story, along with a gasp-inducing twist towards the end makes this one truly a film to remember.

1. Lady Bird

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What makes Lady Bird my favourite film of the year is the incredibly clever screenplay by Greta Gerwig, a highly relatable and moving plot, and a certain untouchable beauty in the relationships portrayed in the film, particularly the mother-daughter one. The relationship between Lady Bird and her mother is the most affecting one I’ve seen in any film this year, because behind their conflictive exterior, it is filled with so much love. The scene where Lady Bird’s mother Marion drives off in her car at the airport was the most powerful and poignant film scene in all of 2017 for me, and truly affected me at a much deeper level than I’d felt from any other film in the year. On the whole, Lady Bird is simple yet indescribably beautiful, and certainly feels like the perfect coming-of-age film (Rotten Tomatoes definitely agrees).

Now that I’ve listed my favourite films of 2017, here are my predictions and picks for some of the bigger categories at the upcoming Oscars.

Best Picture

Predicted Winner: The Shape of Water

Personal Pick: Lady Bird

Best Director

Predicted Winner: Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water

Personal Pick: Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

Best Actor

Predicted Winner: Gary Oldman, The Darkest Hour

Personal Pick: Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

Best Actress

Predicted winner: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal Pick: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted winner: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Personal Pick: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress

Predicted winner: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Personal Pick: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Best Original Screenplay

Predicted winner: Get Out

Personal Pick: Lady Bird

Best Adapted Screenplay

Predicted winner: Call Me By Your Name

Personal Pick: Call Me By Your Name

Best Animated Feature

Predicted winner: Coco (obviously)

Personal Pick: Coco (obviously)

3 ‘surprise’ predictions: 

Daniel Day-Lewis wins for Actor

Mudbound wins for Adapted Screenplay

Get Out wins Picture

In a perfect world: 

Laurie Metcalf wins for Supporting Actress