We’re right in the middle of my favorite season: Awards Season! A busy month of ceremonies kicks off on Sunday with the most fun and unpredictable show, the Golden Globes. I say it every year, but always feel the need to reiterate that all artistic awards are meaningless as any actual judge of quality, and that’s even more accurate for these. They are however, a great way to talk about film & television, and typically a pretty entertaining show. I’m sure that will continue in 2019 with a ceremony hosted by Andy Samberg and Sandra Oh, a very interesting and seemingly random combination of two people I like. They also said they hope to avoid politics for the night, which would be a pleasant surprise.
One thing (or rather 18) I’m not sure of, is who the winners will be. Film awards are becoming increasingly difficult to predict in general as social media reaction is louder and more important than ever and the Hollywood Foreign Press appears to be trying to improve their reputation with recent wins. The Golden Globes sometimes seem really predictable (big stars! big musicals!) until they’re not (Aaron Taylor-Johnson for Nocturnal Animals?), so even if there’s reasoning here it could all go completely out the window when dealing with the whims of a small, random group of foreign journalists that are particularly susceptible to marketing and meet & greets with celebrities. The TV awards at the Golden Globes feel like a huge afterthought for them and the audience, although they are ahead of the curve (Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) as much as they are too eager to crown something new (Mozart in the Jungle). I do not mean to take away from any winners, it’s just all very confounding.
The Golden Globes do still manage to put out a good list of nominees, there are only a couple true headscratchers. With that, onto my totally right, maybe wrong, subjective, well-reasoned, unbiased opinion on who will (and should) win.
Vice is a comedy, and can be quite funny at times, but the dominant feeling I had was not joy. It was anger. And I'm pretty sure that was director Adam McKay’s goal, with laughter as a secondary objective. The film's political bias (although it makes the argument it's simply a humanity bias) is in plain view, and that education appears to be main purpose other than letting us watch Christian Bale play this part. When you have a villain as the lead in your story, it’s typically important for the audience to be on their side at some point, but while Vice often shows (or strongly implies) Dick Cheney’s motivation for his awful acts and beliefs, it never agrees with him, and certainly never wants the audience to be on his side.
Much like the character himself, Aquaman is stuck between two worlds, unable to leave one behind for the other. While Aquaman manages to bring his two worlds together, Aquaman’s dramatic and comedic elements never mesh into an enjoyable movie. If it was just a little bit better or a little bit worse, it might have been fun. As is, it’s a tonal disaster.
Aquaman made me realize just how impressive it is that Marvel pulled off the first Thor movie. It’s hard to remember now since that character has changed so much, but when introduced, Thor himself was played completely seriously, as was the entire Asgard setting. But as a fish out of water, Thor was funny. One of the things that made Jason Mamoa stand out as a supporting player in Justice League was his humorous, self-aware attitude. That may have worked when Aquaman was a bit player in the ‘real’ world, but it proves detrimental to a similarly Shakespearean origin story. It tries to be self-aware but only when Aquaman is making fun of other characters, and nothing about the entire proceedings. The character and production team is so amazed by his underwater home, the one thing that should be made fun of for being absurd is left alone.
As everyone takes a break from work, it’s time for a lot of us to catch-up with the year’s best entertainment. I’m certain you have a list and there's an abundance of things that deserve your time, but I am here to make the case for why Patriot, an Amazon Prime hidden gem that released its second season a few weeks ago, should be a priority. It's admittedly difficult to describe, but I'll do my best.
Patriot follows John Tavner (Michael Dorman): a very sad spy, yet also manages to be one of the funniest, most enjoyable, most bizarre things I’ve seen in a long time. If you have a penchant for dark humor and characters that tenaciously move forward by any means necessary, no matter how bad it gets, with a grin on their face, then this is for you. If you find it funny when the lead pushes someone in front of a truck in the first two minutes, then this is for you. If you’d like to hear a spy sing sad folk songs outlining his missions in way too much detail, then this is for you. If you like one of those things or none of those things, there's a good chance you’ll still like Patriot.
For the first moment after walking out of Bumblebee I thought it was kind of good. But as I tried to figure out what I liked about it, I realized I couldn’t find more than one or two things that stood out. Sure, it makes sense. Most of the acting is fine, and the central performance is good. Neither of the leads exist only to be ogled. There are even a couple jokes that work and real people talk with other real people more than robots fight each other. It’s even less than two hours long (by a hair). Those are all things that Bumblebee delivers. So, if you go in with the standards of the Transformers franchise, you might be tricked into thinking this is a good movie. But it is a step in the right direction, so I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad movie.
By embracing what has come before instead of ignoring it, Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse is able to separate Spider-Man from Peter Parker, finally doing justice to the idea that heroes can come from anywhere – something that differentiates Spider-Man from Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Thor, etc. – in the process. Playing with the audience’s expectations of the public and private identities of an established character is what makes it work, breathing a whole new life into what could have simply been an animated version of that same story. The best thing about this film is that after using Peter Parker’s (Jake Johnson) history as a brief set-up, it introduces us to Miles Morales (Shameik Moore): a brilliant, quiet, half-black & half-Puerto Rican kid from Brooklyn dealing with tension in his family and high school. He just happens to be the new Spider-Man. It’s a different origin story with enough echoes that some details can be explained very quickly without causing frustration. This is all in favor of giving equal billing to Miles’ existing and new lives, so all the crazy stuff going on with his new identity can be placed in a meaningful context and ultimately deliver a character-first story.
The Favourite is 18th century royalty as only director Yorgos Lanthimos could present it, and by surrounding himself with incredible women from the page to the screen, they have all crafted a scathingly hilarious comedy of personal and political backstabbing. The story follows one powerful woman – Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) – and two others vying for her affection, gaining and losing power based on their own machinations and the whims of the bratty monarch. Traditional female stereotypes of backstabbing, gossiping, and whining are turned around as conscious weapons these women wield to manipulate each other while lesser, dolled-up men play the role of pitiful tools: used and discarded or kept in waiting until necessary. Overflowing with intelligence, emotion, beauty, and ruthlessness, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone) juggle power through increasingly hilarious and cruel means. Occasionally cold – in service of the story – but still overflowing with intelligence, beauty, and ruthlessness, The Favourite will keep you laughing hysterically from beginning to end.
Before it even started, Roma was unlike any film I had ever seen. There was the usual festival hype and awards talks, but it was in Spanish, black & white, and had no familiar faces in front of the camera. Mostly though, there was a very familiar red and white logo up on the screen. Netflix deserves a lot of credit for being the place that gave Alfonso Cuaron the opportunity to make exactly the film he wanted to, sharing a deeply personal journey with the world. I’m disappointed that most people will not have the chance to see this film in a theater, but it's a very small price to pay to ensure this film exists at all, and it wouldn’t without a company like Netflix. When you watch it at home, stay off your phone, turn off the lights, and just soak it in. If you do, you will find one of the most rewarding emotional journeys put to film in a very long time.
Throughout Roma we follow Cleo, the nanny/housekeeper to a family of four children, as well as their mother, grandmother and mostly absent father, in Mexico in the early 1970’s. While the pacing is certainly slower than the average film of this scale, it always keeps you engaged, even if the stakes initially feel minor. We observe how important each of these relationships is, which ones might be taken for granted, and how quickly they can go from familial to seemingly tenuous. There are multiple moments of beautiful bonding, like when Cleo plays dead with the youngest child after his older brother abandons their game or when she does small exercises with the family’s cook Adela in their tiny room. A few brief mentions of Cleo's mother make it clear she has left her a rural home for a far different life in the city, but she appreciates what her life has become. Yet from the moment the film starts there is an underlying sense that this routine is at risk and everyone is walking on eggshells despite the clear affection for each other.
I am not a comic aficionado, so I am coming at this from a purely movie nerd standpoint, engrossed in all-things cinema from news to reviews, including a love for recent superhero movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe fascinates me on many levels, and one of the key things I love is that they consistently surprise people, managing to blow through what fans on the internet expect. When the MCU started, the bar was so incredibly low that just being good was enough, regardless of strict loyalty to existing material. The general consensus seems to be that they take a lot of liberties with characters and evolving stories, but the fanboy community has grown to trust them – and with that trust comes an acceptance of change. With Venom, I believe a lack of trust caused a unique take on the character to be altered to fit what fans expected, causing the tonal mash-up currently in theaters.
After the best picture presentation debacle (but great outcome) last year, it’s inevitable that the Academy Award show will be less exciting than 2017. But for those of us who pay too much attention to this stuff, it’s already one of the most interesting and competitive film awards years ever, and the finale should continue that trend. I’m a big fan of a lot of the key contenders as well, which always makes it more fun. So no matter what wins – even as, like I say every year, it doesn’t really matter outside of a conduit for conversation and promotion – I’ll be happy with the list.
While many of the “big” awards seem set-in-stone, the best picture race is unlike anything I have ever seen, with 3-4 legitimate contenders to win it. Plus, there’s a lot of deserving winners in most categories that seem like locks. For anyone taking bets (literally or figuratively) the below-the-line categories will provide a lot of tension to keep you entertained.
Perhaps more than ever, politics will cast a shadow over the whole show. With the #MeToo movement, gun control, and a vast array of other issues top of mind, expect a political lens on everything, for better or worse.
As always, I am trying to predict, but when there's a toss-up I go with the one I want to win, which usully hurts my accuracy. So without further ado, my kind-of, maybe somewhat accurate, but almost certainly wrong Oscar predictions for 2018!