Tag Archives: Oscars

Review: Live Action Oscar Shorts

In my quest to watch as many of this year’s Oscar nominated films as I can, I checked out a screening of all five of the Live Action Short nominees. The results were… depressing!

That said, I did like 4 of the 5 films, to varying degrees. Below are my brief thoughts on each, in the order I watched them.

Mother

Mother (Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Spain)

Perhaps the ideal use of the short film format, Mother tells an economical story in a trim 18 minutes. It’s self-contained and propulsive, ratcheting up the tension by using a single shot for the majority of its runtime.

The acting is solid, selling this story of a mother who receives a call from her young son who’s been left by himself in an unknown location. Of course, things only escalate from there, but we always stay on the mother’s end of the line so the viewer is similarly left in the dark of what exactly is happening.

I would have liked a bit more character development to make it easier to get emotionally invested. But the slick filmmaking provides plenty of narrative stakes on its own.

Fauve

Fauve (Jeremy Comte, Canada)

Comte’s short is easily my favourite of the bunch, telling the story of two boys who are out exploring on their own and get into far more trouble than they expect. The child actors are excellent and Comte’s camera is patient, giving the film an extremely naturalistic feel. The story unfolds at the perfect pace, building to a subtle but emotionally impactful ending.

There is an artistry to Fauve that sets it apart from the others, and I’d be extremely interested to see what Comte could do with the feature-length format. He has a knack for visual storytelling. Because while like most of the other shorts in this programme Fauve is grim, it never wallows and instead earns its somberness. I would be surprised if this one won the Oscar, but it would certainly be worthy.

Marguerite

Marguerite (Marianne Farley, Canada)

The category’s second offering from Canada, Marguerite is actually the most uplifting of the bunch. Which is an interesting thing to say about a film that follows a dying elderly women thinking about the great regrets of her life. But there is a hopefulness and warmth to Marguerite that actually makes it quite lovely. There are only two actors in the film (Beatrice Picard and Sandrine Bisson) and both are wonderful, lending a lot of emotional heft to the proceedings.

The film’s character intimacy is its great strength. Less strong is the pacing, which feels a bit shaggy even at only 19 minutes long. While emotionally affecting and overall a strong showing, it felt like there was just one small element missing.

Detainment

Detainment (Vincent Lambe, Ireland)

I can almost always find a way to at least justify a film’s existence, but that’s not really the case with Detainment. Tackling the distressing true story of two 10-year-old boys accused of murdering a toddler, it comes across as not only exploitative (which would be bad enough) but also artless. There’s no real visual style, atmosphere, or narrative tension (beyond the general sense of dread stemming from the subject matter) to be found.

The bright spot (if you can call it that) of the film is the performance by Ely Solan as one of the two boys, the doe-eyed Jon. It is an unsettlingly excellent performance from such a young actor, to the point where it made me wonder about the ethics of putting child actors into such a disturbing (yes, fictional) situation.

There simply isn’t a reason for this movie to exist. It’s one thing to be bleak. It’s another to use real-life tragedy for shock value and do nothing more with it.

Skin

Skin (Guy Nattiv, USA)

I have mixed feelings on Skin. Partly, I think it suffered for being the last of the five shorts shown in the programme, forced to follow up all the grimness that came before. But more than that, I think it just goes overboard to make its point. The subject matter (concerning a racially-based hate crime in the small-town southern USA) is no doubt important. But while I think (?) the heavy-handedness is intentional (meant to be allegorical rather than taken at face value), the stereotypes and oversimplification of the complex themes is a bit hard to stomach.

That said it is beautifully shot, and the story flows well. The acting is also strong – Jonathan Tucker and Danielle Macdonald are experienced and talented enough to imbue some intricacy to what would be otherwise very one-dimensional characters. If only the story itself had an ounce of nuance.

Final 2019 Oscar Nomination Predictions

a star is born

Although I usually don’t do too badly predicting the Oscar winners, my track record prognosticating the nominees is… a bit shaky. Beyond some solid bets, it’s anyone’s best guess as to who will round out most of the categories. And there are always at least a couple shockers on nomination morning. That’s what makes it fun!

Below, I’ve outlined my final predictions for this year’s nominees in the major categories, plus the screenplay, animation, foreign language, and documentary categories. Nominations are announced January 22.

Lists are ranked by how likely I think each person/film is to get nominated (not necessarily win).

Best Picture
A Star is Born
Roma
Green Book
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
The Favourite
Vice
Bohemian Rhapsody
If Beale Street Could Talk

I will be shocked if any of the first seven films on this list don’t get a nomination. The last two are more vulnerable, but if the Academy sticks with its pattern of having nine Best Picture nominees, I don’t think there are many other really solid bets.

Best Director
Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born
Peter Farrelly – Green Book
Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman
Adam McKay – Vice

This is a weird category? Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite) is also a strong possibility, but did get snubbed by the DGA. Barry Jenkins, who on paper should be a shoe-in has been pretty absent from nominations all awards season. There’s no one else I can really see sneaking in.

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born
Viggo Mortensen – Green Book
Christian Bale – Vice
Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody
Ethan Hawke – First Reformed

My greatest (possibly futile) hope for this awards season is that Hawke lands himself a nomination. And he’s remained a steady dark horse presence throughout the season, so it might actually happen. Right now his biggest competition for the fifth slot is BlacKkKlansman’s  John David Washington, and I could really see it going either way.

Best Actress
Lady Gaga – A Star is Born
Olivia Colman – The Favourite
Glenn Close – The Wife
Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Nicole Kidman – Destroyer

Again, it seems like there are two people fighting for one spot: Emily Blunt for Mary Poppins Returns, and Kidman. (Yalitza Aparicio from Roma – my personal favourite in this category – also has an outside chance.) Oscar loves recognizing A-list actresses in semi-obscure films, which is why I think Kidman has the slight edge.

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali – Green Book
Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott – A Star is Born
Timothee Chalamet – Beautiful Boy

Ali and Grant are pretty much locks at this point, and Driver, Elliott, Chalamet, and Sam Rockwell are the four contenders for the last three spots. Elliott’s nomination should be a given, but his surprising snub at the Golden Globes makes me think it’s possible he could go the way of Albert Brooks in Drive (i.e. veteran actor considered nearly a lock to WIN the Oscar, gets snubbed by a major precursor, and then doesn’t even get nominated). Maybe it’s foolish to bet against last year’s winner (Rockwell), but I also can’t really see anyone else from this line-up missing.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams – Vice
Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone – The Favourite
Rachel Weisz – The Favourite
Claire Foy – First Man 

Regina King’s snub by SAG makes me fear for her chances of winning, but I think the Academy will diverge from SAG here and still nominate her. I’m going with the Globes line-up.

Best Original Screenplay
Green Book
Roma
The Favourite
Vice
Eighth Grade

Is my Eighth Grade prediction just wishful thinking? Quite possibly. However, there is an open spot with no clear fifth shoe-in. Fingers crossed.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
First Man
A Star is Born

This is a sort of low-profile category this year, so there’s room for a wildcard to sneak in (Leave No Trace, The Death of Stalin, Wildlife, etc.) This one is hard to predict.

Best Animated Feature
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Isle of Dogs
Incredibles 2
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Fireworks

There’s no way Spider-Verse isn’t winning, right?

Best Foreign Language Film
Roma
Cold War
Shoplifters
Capernaum
Never Look Away

I always find this category tricky, even when there are only nine shortlist options to choose from. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the shortlist get nominated and the only ones I’d be shocked to see snubbed are Roma and Cold War.

Best Documentary
Won’t You Be My Neighbour
Free Solo
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
Three Identical Strangers

This category is always a weird balance of very crowd-pleasing fare (think previous winners 20 Feet From Stardom and Searching for Sugar Man) and more “serious” entries and this year’s 15-film shortlist is divided almost right down the middle between the two options. There were quite a few more “accessible” docs that got a lot of attention this year (Won’t You Be My Neighbour, Three Identical Strangers, Free Solo, Minding the Gap, RBG, Shirkers, and Hale County This Morning This Evening) and while I don’t think they’ll all make the final cut, I can’t see the Academy turning down most of its more high-profile options for this category.

Ranked: Best Animated Short Oscar Shortlist

Last year I discovered the wonderful world of Oscar shorts when, for the first time, I checked out the full lineup of nominated documentary and animated shorts. This year, I took things a step further and have now watched all ten animated shorts that made Oscar’s recently-announced shortlist.

Watching all ten shorts in a concentrated period illuminated some common themes (which will probably become clear) but also how much animation can vary. From the glossiest, most vibrant Pixar productions to some frankly, well, weird low-fi experiments, animation can encompass a lot.

Now, after just espousing how there’s room for everything in animation, I’m going to pit these vastly different shorts against each other. It’s worth noting that I enjoyed all 10 shorts (and they’re all better than last year’s WINNER in this category, the Kobe Bryant-produced Dear Basketball). But because this is how my brain works, below is how I rank them in terms of my own enjoyment. (Predictions for what I think will actually get nominated come at the end of the post.)

At the time of publishing, all 10 shorts are currently available online through YouTube or Vimeo. Click each film title to watch.

bilby

10. Bilby

Telling the story of the unlikely friendship between an Australian bilby and a tiny (adorable) bird, Bilby feels like Dreamworks’ answer to the antic-filled shorts that used to be a staple of the Pixar canon. It’s very cute and features a stand-out montage (the two friends narrowly avoiding the various threats that nature poses), but ultimately feels a bit too light to be truly memorable.

age of sail

9. Age of Sail

Age of Sail is one of the few Animated Short contenders with some star power behind it, since it stars Ian McShane as a grizzled sailor whose search for solitude at sea is interrupted when he has to rescue a girl who has fallen overboard from a nearby passenger ship. It’s directed by John Kahrs, who is a previous winner in this category for 2012’s Paperman.  But while the illustration-style animation is used to great effect during a bravura shipwreck sequence, the film’s character-based storytelling it too simplistic to fully carry it for its 12-minute run.

bird karma

8. Bird Karma

At just 4:45 minutes long, Bird Karma is the shortest of the bunch by a fairly wide margin. And the brief runtime suits the simplicity of this morality tale about a greedy bird. The traditional animation style is used to colourful and creative effect, though it doesn’t necessarily push the limits of the medium.

one small step

7. One Small Step

This is the first of several shorts on the list that seem to take inspiration from the emotional tug of the opening of Up. It tells the years-long tale of a serious-minded girl who pursues her dream of becoming an astronaut, sometimes to the detriment to her family relationships. Animated by TAIKO Studios, One Small Step has an extremely vibrant, warm style. The story is a bit predictable, but that doesn’t lessen its emotional impact.

Late Afternoon

6. Late Afternoon

Another tearjerker, Late Afternoon follows Emily, an elderly woman whose memory is becoming increasingly fragmented as a result of Alzheimer’s. With vibrant, almost child-like animation, it does a great job of portraying the disjointed, impressionistic format Emily’s memories have assumed. It’s not subtle with the sentimentality of its storytelling, but it’s effective nonetheless.

animal behaviour

5. Animal Behaviour

Coming from the veteran animation team of Alison Snowden and David Fine (winners in this category for 1994’s Bob’s Birthday), this comedic short portrays what might happen if a variety of animal species came together for group therapy. It takes a more traditional storytelling approach than some of the other shortlist picks, relying on spirited vocal performances and sharp writing. The result is an engaging and funny romp that comes across as quite unique among the nominees.

lost and found

4. Lost & Found

Maybe the most adorable AND the saddest of a pretty uniformly adorable and sad bunch of films, I really loved the knitted stop-motion animation used in Lost & Found. (Apparently this is its own subgenre, which is news to me.) It’s part romance and part thriller, showing a daring rescue mission involving a fox and a dinosaur. It certainly pulls on the heartstrings (heart-yarn?) and the stop-motion animation is done with jaw-dropping precision. It’s a testament to the strength of these shorts that this only made it to #4 on my list.

bao

3. Bao

Likely the frontrunner to win this category, Bao would be a worthy champ. Domee Shi has crafted a layered look at maternal love wrapped in a rich animation style that shows Pixar is continuing to innovate. Heartfelt and more complicated than it originally appears.

weekends

2. Weekends

The top two films on the list landed where they are because, to me, they represent an extra little step of creativity and innovation. Weekends feels like a tone poem. It follows a young child of divorce as he splits his time between a neurotic mother living in the country and his “cool” dad who lives in downtown Toronto. Clocking in at 15:17, it’s the longest of the bunch and earns each second with its artistry and subtle emotion. Quietly beautiful, sad, and strange all at once, Weekends is perhaps the most significant artistic achievement of the bunch.

grandpa walrus

1. Grandpa Walrus

Taking the top spot for me by just a hair is Grandpa Walrus, from French animator Lucrece Andreae. It follows a family mourning the recent death of their family’s eccentric patriarch. Their visit to a favourite seaside spot of brings out a lot of simmering emotions, to say the least. With macabre touches and a unique hand-drawn animation style, Andeae has crafted something that feels deeply personal yet universal in its themes of family tensions and loss. It’s off-beat enough that it’ll probably be an underdog in this category, but it really worked for me.

Predictions

So which five from the shortlist will ultimately get nominated for an Oscar? If I had to guess, I’d put my money on Bao, Late Afternoon, Weekends, Lost & Found, and One Small Step.

Nominations are announced January 22.

2014 Oscar Predictions

Bright and early tomorrow morning, the nominations for the 2014 Academy Awards will be announced in Hollywood. Predicting who will find themselves on the prestigious list is more or less a guessing game, but I figured I might as well get in on the fun, despite not following the Oscar race quite as closely as I have in the past. Here are my picks for some of the major categories, ranked alphabetically

Picture

12 Years a Slave

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Gravity

Inside Llewyn Davis

Nebraska

Philomena

The Wolf of Wall Street

Oddly, I’d say 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, and American Hustle are the only sure things. There are plenty of quality movies in the running this year, but not a lot of showy, “prestige” pictures that have gained much traction. Lots of more quirky and/or low-key fare. Other movies like Her, Dallas Buyers Club, or Blue Jasmine could easily sneak onto the list.

Actor

Bruce Dern, Nebraska

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips

Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Robert Redford, All Is Lost

To predict Leo or not to predict Leo. That is the question. His Golden Globe win gives me hope, and maybe this year will end the Academy’s streak of snubbing him. Then again, I’m not sure how much they’re going to take to The Wolf of Wall Street. If anyone were to get bumped, it would likely be Redford, but I’m going to stick with the “safe” lineup for my predictions in this case.

Actress

Amy Adams, American Hustle

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Sandra Bullock, Gravity

Judi Dench, Philomena

Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

The Academy does look David O. Russell movies (and especially his actors) and they love Amy Adams, so I had to find a spot for her. While I’m a little doubtful that they’ll deny Streep, she does seem to be on the shakiest ground of all the nominees.

Supporting Actor

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper, American Hustle

Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave

James Gandolfini, Enough Said

Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

I’m going out on a limb and guessing that Bruhl is this year’s “sure thing” snub, though I could be way off-base.

Supporting Actress

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

June Squibb, Nebraska

Oprah Winfrey, The Butler

Again, it’s a safe lineup, but I don’t feel like Hawkins has gained enough traction to bump someone out.

Director

Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips

Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

Alexander Payne, Nebraska

David O. Russell, American Hustle

Original Screenplay

American Hustle

Blue Jasmine

Her

Inside Llewyn Davis

Nebraska


Adapted Screenplay

12 Years a Slave

August: Osage County

Before Midnight

Captain Phillips

Philomena

Animated Feature

Despicable Me 2

Ernest & Celestine

Frozen

Monster’s University

The Wind Rises

Documentary Feature

20 Feet From Stardom

The Act of Killing

Blackfish

The Square

Stories We Tell

Foreign Language Film

The Broken Circle Breakdown

The Great Beauty

The Hunt

The Missing Picture

Omar

SAG and Golden Globes: Surprises and Snubs

Ah, Oscar season. It seems to start earlier every year, doesn’t it? This week, we saw the one-two punch of the SAG and Golden Globe awards rolling out their (fairly predictable) list of this year’s nominees. While the two lists weren’t carbon copies of each other, there was considerable overlap – including a couple of surprising patterns that seem to be forming. Let’s take a look at the most surprising revelations from this week’s announcements.

1. Daniel Bruhl and Barkhad Abdi prove to have staying power

Around the release of Rush and Captain Phillips, respectively, these two supporting actors garnered plenty of praise and moderate whispering about possible Oscar nominations. However, the buzz seemed to have died down, and neither of their films have been getting a whole lot of chatter lately. However, Bruhl and Abdi found their way onto both the SAG and Golden Globe list of nominees. Sure, it’s no guarantee at an Oscar nomination (just ask John Hawkes, Marion Cotillard, Helen Mirren and Nicole Kidman – all of whom scooped up a SAG and Globe noms last year but missed out on the big show), but it gives them a much-needed boost and ensures that they’ll still be in the conversation until the Oscar nominations are announced.

What surprised me about their nominations, though, is the lack of pedigree the two actors have in Hollywood. Bruhl is a wonderful actor who has been working in Germany for years and has had a few Hollywood roles (most notably, a memorable turn in Inglorious Basterds). But he really hasn’t been a crossover darling like, say, Marion Cotillard or Christoph Waltz. Even the fact that he’s being campaigned in the supporting category when his role in Rush is pretty clearly a co-lead shows that the studios were clearly banking on Chris Hemsworth as the star power for their movie. Abdi, meanwhile, is a complete newcomer, and many had been questioning his chances of being considered for an Oscar when he was going up against Tom Hanks, who is about as recognizable of a face as you can find in Hollywood.

Both actors seemed to have a lot working against them, in terms of Oscar chances: relative youth, foreign-born status, lack of name recognition, playing second-fiddle to an A-list star, movies with early fall release dates, etc. Yet, there their names were, even over the likes of Jonah Hill, Tom Hanks, and Jake Gyllenhaal – all of whom had arguably been perceived as stronger contenders prior to this week’s announcements. Will they beat the odds and wind up as first-time nominees in a category completely dominated by previously-winning veteran actors just last year? Only time will tell. Speaking of which…


2. Best Supporting Actor skews young

Last year’s Supporting Actor category was filled entirely by well-established names in relatively stately roles: Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master, Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln, Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained, Alan Arkin in Argo, and Robert DeNiro in Silver Linings Playbook. This year? Not so much. Along with Bruhl and Abdi, the rest of the category is pretty unexpected, too. Right now, it’s generally thought that the frontrunners of the category are Michael Fassbender for 12 Years a Slave and Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club. Both play far more colourful, daring characters than anyone in last year’s roster, and both will also become first-time Oscar nominees. SAG and the Globes diverged on the last slot of the category, with SAG honouring the late James Gandolfini for Enough Said, and the Globes continuing to shower love on American
Hustle by nominating Bradley Cooper. It’s hard to say who will take the last spot at the Oscars. Hill and Hanks are still very possible, but neither The Wolf of Wall Street or Saving Mr. Banks have proven to be hugely strong awards contenders yet. However, it’s seeming more and more like that no matter how it all ends up, this will be the youngest Supporting Actor group in number of years.

3. No SAG for Robert Redford

Based on online reaction, this seems to be the most notable snub of the week. Many pundits had Best Actor all locked up: Bruce Dern, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tom Hanks, Matthew McConaughey, and Robert Redford. However, this just goes to show that you can’t be certain about any lineup until the precursors. Redford’s name was noticeably absent on the SAG nomination list for All is Lost, replaced instead by Forrest Whitaker for The Butler. It is surprising that the actors branch wouldn’t show a bit more love for Redford’s one-man-show performance, especially given his legacy in Hollywood and his respected work in other aspects of the film industry. But I think he’ll find a spot in the Oscar nominations. It may just be a case of SAG really liking The Butler. Oprah was also recognized, and the film snapped up an ensemble nomination. (The HFPA was obviously much less keen on the film and shut it out of the Globes entirely.)

4. No Globe for Oprah = Oscar for June Squibb?

See above. Oprah still has a good chance at getting nominated for an Oscar, but her absence from the Globe’s seems to only strengthen Lupita Nyong’o’s path to Oscar glory. However, I wouldn’t say Nyong’o has it in the bag yet. June Squibb, who also got double recognition this week, is emerging as an unlikely dark horse for the win. Nebraska has been doing extremely well in the precursors, and it seems to be hitting its peak of popularity at just the right time.

5. Best Actress may be as boring as everyone is predicting

SAG only solidified the deserving but uninspired list of potential Best Actress nominees that has been volleyed around for weeks now: Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, Emma Thompson, and Meryl Streep. And indeed all five actresses found recognition in yesterday’s Globe announcements. So is it as clear-cut as that? Is it going to be a battle between Blanchett and Bullock – two actresses who have won Oscars within the past decade? (Don’t get me wrong – I loved both of their performances and would actually be happy to see either win, but it just doesn’t make for a very compelling lead-up to the Oscars.)

All hope is not lost, though. Amy Adams racked up her fifth Globe nomination this week, and she might just go on to get her fifth Oscar nom, too, if voters are enamored with American Hustle as much as the HFPA was. And with some critics claiming this to be her best work yet, she could knock out Thompson, seeing as Saving Mr. Banks has been evoking some lukewarm reactions. It kind of reminds me of Hitchcock form last year. And look what happened to Helen Mirren – yes to SAG and Globe, no to Oscar.

6. Indie favourites miss out

Okay, maybe this isn’t surprising, exactly. But while Nebraska is proving to be an awards season hit, there are a number of other smaller films that are sadly getting passed over in the precursors. (The fact that they don’t have an established director like Alexander Payne attached may have something to do with this.)

Fruitvale Station was projected to become the next Beasts of the Southern Wild or Winter’s Bone by some, but its strong reception at Sundance and summer indie-hit status sadly hasn’t been translating to much awards play. The smaller critics groups and award shows that designate special categories for breakthrough films, directors, and actors have been giving it lots of love, but it was nowhere to be found in the SAG or Globe nominations. Michael B. Jordan’s early buzz is fading, leaving him probably even outside the top 10 list of contenders for Best Actor at this point. Meanwhile, recent champ Octavia Spencer – once thought to be a strong contender for Best Supporting Actress – was even passed over in favour of Sally Hawkins at the Oprah-free Globes.

Meanwhile, Brie Larson didn’t pick up the support she needed to be a Best Actress contender for Short Term 12, nor did Adele Exarchopoulos or Lea Seydoux for Blue is the Warmest Colour. Stranger things have happened with small movies come Oscar time, such as Javier Bardem (Biutiful), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart), and Laura Linney (The Savages) sneaking on to the Oscar nomination list without Globe or SAG support, but in all of those cases, they were much more established actors than most of the ones we’re talking about here.