Oscar-Nominated Shorts: Animation

fuzzy wool

Best-Animated-Short-Oscars-2020After the Oscars, and indeed, just before the package left town, my wife and I finally saw the Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Animation.

The first, and the one that Indiewire ranked the least, was Hair Love, which won. “The Sony Pictures short — which screened last year before ‘Angry Birds 2’ in theaters — started as a Kickstarter campaign.” It was later adapted into a children’s book.

I had actually already seen Hair Love on CBS Sunday Morning. It was about a young black girl and her father being overwhelmed trying to fix her hair. Been there! I thought it was quite moving, even on second viewing.

Daughter, from the Czech Republic’s Daria Kashcheeva is also between a girl and her father, but far more melancholy. The title character is “startled by a bird crashing into the window, which in turn sparks a series of somewhat-difficult-to-follow memories in which she imagines herself to be a bird.”

I was a tad confounded by the narrative. But the technique, which appear to be puppets made from papier-mâché, was impressive. The “camerawork… mirrors the shallow focus and shaky, handheld technique used to convey emotional turmoil and confusion in live-action movies.”

China girl

Sister is a China-US project. As Variety notes, its stop-motion “represents the most successful marriage of concept and technique among the nominees, but hinges on a twist that’s best not revealed here.” Yet, annoyingly, Indiewire DOES tell too much.

The “puppets have been assembled from fuzzy wool, which the director lights in such a way that they look alive. Stray squiggles of loose material complete the illusion, vibrating even as the dolls sit still… The underlying script is so strong… that [the limited facial features] merely reinforce the film’s humor. For instance, “the hungry infant swells to fill the entire nursery, then comically deflates like a balloon…” And that really IS funny.

Quite often, these shorts show people coping with Alzheimer’s. The French stop-motion entry Mémorable deals with an elderly artist. “Director Bruno Collet has designed his main character to resemble one of Vincent van Gogh’s self-portraits.”

He “remains determined to paint, asking his wife to pose without realizing who she is,” and it is a marvelous portrayal. “Nicolas Martin’s string score adds resonance to the couple’s predicament.” Possibly my favorite.

Kitbull is about “a rowdy stray kitten attempting to survive a stormy night in a heap of trash. The cat “encounters a pit bull… being subjected to abusive owners.” It is a wordless story about the value of negotiation. It was “produced as part of Pixar’s SparkShorts program, which finances independent shorts by young Pixar artists.” It’s not bad.

Also-rans

As always, those who catch the program in cinemas will be treated to a handful of “highly commended” shorts. A stop-motion project, Henrietta Bulkowski tells a parable about overcoming differences. Variety says, “The animation’s nice, but the story feels rigged to prove a point…” This features Christina Hendricks and Chris Cooper as voice actors.

“Carol Freeman’s The Bird & the Whale represents a painstaking job of hand-painted oil-on-glass animation, though the story… doesn’t quite work.” I’d agree with that.

“Computer-animated French entry Hors Piste is hilarious in its retro-toned, well-timed slapstick humor.” It features “a number of clever gags involving a bumbling high-altitude rescue squad.” We’re talking LOL funny.

The two-minute CG Maestro from the team behind 2018 nominee Garden Party, shows them pushing their photoreal animal animation to new levels.” It is essentially one joke, but it’s visually amazing.

Movie review: Little Women (2019)

best picture nominee

Little WomenI’m not an expert on the writings of Louisa May Alcott. Thus I can only judge the new movie Little Women based on what I saw on the screen. I was most impressed. My wife, on the other hand, is seeped in the story. She enjoyed it immensely.

I understand that this is a reimagining. Writer/director Greta Gerwig drew on Louisa May Alcott’s life and letters, as well as the original source. It was not strictly chronological, which confused me early on, but it soon made sense.

We really enjoyed Gerwig’s previous film, Lady Bird, which also starred Saoirse Ronan. In Little Women, she plays a Jo March that is talented, but with doubts. The Oscar-nominated Ronan was also excellent in Brooklyn and Atonement.

It seems that Gerwig has developed a troupe, of sorts, besides Saoirse. Timothée Chalamet, best known in Call Me By Your Name, was a young musician in Lady Bird, and Theodore “Laurie” Laurence in Little Women. Tracy Letts embodied Henry Ford II in the Oscar-nominated Ford v. Ferrari; he was the father in Lady Bird and Mr. Dashwood in this film.

The former Hermione Granger

They were all fine performers, as were Emma Watson as Meg, Eliza Scanlen as Beth, and the always reliable Laura Dern as Marmee, among others. Apparently, the role of the aunt was expanded, which I suppose happens when one gets Meryl Streep for the role.

But Florence Pugh as Amy was a revelation. She was a force. The performer has been in a number of movies, none of which I’ve seen, and most of which I never heard of. Her Academy Award for best supporting actress nomination was well deserved.

I’d already put Alexandre Desplat’s original score on my wishlist. I’m glad he, Greta for adapted screenplay, and costume designer Jacqueline Durran all got Oscar nods. I’m sorry, though that Greta Gerwig got left off the ballot for best director; what remains is that burger joint, five guys.

My Oscar picks don’t include Roma

In the Best Documentary Feature category, I expectedwanted Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (re: Fred Rogers) and Three Identical Strangers

Roma_theatrical_posterWhen Roma came to the Spectrum Theatre, I said to my wife, “We need to see that film.” The weekend we were finally available, it had just left.

Yes, I suppose I could see it online, but I know I won’t. Currently, I have movies I’ve recorded weeks ago. I can’t find the block of time to watch them as they were meant to be viewed, i.e., in one sitting, without interruptions.

Roma was actually the second film in that category this year. In the summer, we both wanted to see First Reformed; alas, it didn’t happen. Links to my reviews, but only the first appearance on the list.

I saw it – *.

Best Picture

*Black Panther – my second pick
*BlacKkKlansman – my first pick, my wife’s second pick
*#Bohemian Rhapsody – at this moment, still playing here – finally saw
*The Favourite – NOT my favorite
*Green Book – my wife’s first pick; some critics want to make the contest a redo of When the Oscars Chose Driving Miss Daisy Over Do the Right Thing; meh
Roma
*A Star Is Born – the problem with this movie is that it was done thrice before
*Vice – a very divisive film

Best Actress

Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
*Olivia Colman, The Favourite
*Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
*Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me? – my pick

Best Actor – I would have bet money on Ethan Hawke in First Reformed getting nominated

*Christian Bale, Vice – he was REALLY good Dick Cheney
*Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
*#Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody – I suspect if I see this, this will win out
*Viggo Mortensen, Green Book – never felt like a starring role

Best Director

Alfonso Cuarón, Roma – will win
*Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
*Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman – my clear favorite
*Adam McKay, Vice
*#Pawl Pawlikowski, Cold War – hasn’t played yet in Albany

Best Supporting Actress

*Amy Adams, Vice – she was very good
Marina de Tavira, Roma
*Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk – a tossup between her and Adams
*Emma Stone, The Favourite
*Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Best Supporting Actor

*Mahershala Ali, Green Book – practically a leading role
*Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
*Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born – too small a part
*Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me? – my favorite role
*Sam Rockwell, Vice

Best Original Screenplay – I was hoping for a nod for Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade or Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You

*The Favourite
First Reformed
*Green Book – my choice
Roma
*Vice

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – a Netflix film that I’ve never seen advertised in a theater around here
*BlacKkKlansman – since it won’t win Best Picture, this would be a nice consolation prize
*Can You Ever Forgive Me?
*If Beale Street Could Talk
*A Star Is Born

Best Original Song

*“All the Stars,” Black Panther
*“I’ll Fight,” RBG
*“The Place Where Lost Things Go,” Mary Poppins Returns – this DID make me a tad weepy, maybe perhaps
*“Shallow,” A Star Is Born – give Gaga SOMETHING
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

ballad of buster scruggs
A Netflix film that never played theatrically in Albany, NY

Best Original Score

*Black Panther – Ludwig Göransson evokes Africa, my #1 pick
*BlacKkKlansman – Terence Blanchard’s eclectic-sounds, my #1A pick
*If Beale Street Could Talk
*Isle of Dogs
*Mary Poppins Returns

Best Film Editing

*BlacKkKlansman -yes
*#Bohemian Rhapsody
*The Favourite
*Green Book
*Vice

Best Foreign Language Film

Capernaum (Lebanon)
*#Cold War (Poland) – opened this weekend in Albany
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
*#Shoplifters (Japan) – saw it this past weekend; worthwhile

Best Animated Feature

Incredibles 2
*Isle of Dogs – very quirky; liked it a lot, and it’s not a sequel
Mirai
*Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – at this writing, still playing

Best Documentary Feature – I wanted Won’t You Be My Neighbor? re: Fred Rogers and Three Identical Strangers

Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
*RBG – this was VERY good

Best Cinematography

*#Cold War
*The Favourite – actually, the movie was technically good
Never Look Away
Roma
*A Star Is Born

Best Production Design

*Black Panther – this WOWED me
*The Favourite
First Man
*Mary Poppins Returns
Roma

Best Visual Effects – saw none

Avengers: Infinity War/Christopher Robin/First Man/Ready Player One/Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Costume Design

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
*Black Panther -yes
*The Favourite – would be worthy
*Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Queen of Scots

Best Makeup and Hair Styling

Border
Mary Queen of Scots
*Vice – this was very good makeup

Best Sound Mixing

*Black Panther – I never get the sound categories straight
*#Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma
*A Star Is Born

Best Sound Editing

*Black Panther
*#Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place
Roma

That new Oscar awards plan is dumb; what IS “popular film”?

It’s a sloppy solution to a particular problem brought on by Hollywood losing its ability to make mass market films that are actually ‘good.’

Operation Red Sea It seems that half of the websites I read regularly have weighed in on how dumb the new Oscar awards are; see Ken Levine’s take, e.g.. As Dustbury put it, “This modifies the common complaint that “Hollywood is out of ideas”; it’s just that Hollywood is out of good ideas.

If you somehow missed it, W’s In & Out describes it: “The Motion Picture Association of America has announced plans to institute a new Oscar category for ‘Popular Film.’ The news was vague, with little insight into what it actually means, but the general thought is that it would be meant to honor big blockbuster franchise films and, theoretically, at least lure fans of those types of film into watching the broadcast.

“Never mind that the show is still one of the highest-rated broadcasts of the year and brought in 26.5 million viewers last year—the odd decision has been met with backlash, especially amongst people who view the broadcast because they love the pageantry and competition between actresses or those who, you know, consider film to be an actual art form and expect integrity from the medium’s most cherished prize. It’s a sloppy solution to a particular problem brought on by Hollywood losing its ability to make mass market films that are actually ‘good,’ and the changing landscape of live television.”

Which begs some other questions: “Popular Film” Oscars: What Movies Would Have Won Over the Past 20 Years? La La Land AND Moonlight fans both would have been happy a couple years back.

And, just out of idle curiosity, what HAVE been the most popular films in 2018? As of August 10, 2018 at noon EDT, according to Box Office Mojo, where I go for all my movie box office statistical needs (totals in millions):

1 Avengers: Infinity War (BV) $2,045.3 worldwide, $678.2 domestic (33.2%)
2 Black Panther (BV) $1,346.8 worldwide, $700.0 domestic (52.0%)
3 Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Uni.) $1,264.5 worldwide, $407.3 domestic (32.2%)
4 Incredibles 2 (BV) $1,050.9 worldwide, $585.7 domestic (55.7%)
5 Deadpool 2 (Fox) $733.1 worldwide, $318.1 domestic (43.4%)

6 Ready Player One (WB) $582.0 worldwide, $137.0 (23.5%)
7 Operation Red Sea (WGUSA) $579.2 worldwide, $1.5 domestic (0.3%)
8 Detective Chinatown 2 (WB), $544.1 worldwide, $2.0 domestic (0.4%)
9 Ant-Man and the Wasp (BV) $430.1 worldwide, $198.7 domestic 46.2%
10 Rampage (2018) (WB) $426.2 worldwide, $99.3 domestic (23.3%)

I’m fascinated about items 7 and 8. Operation Red Sea (Chinese: 红海行动) is a 2018 Chinese action war film. Detective Chinatown 2 (Chinese: 唐人街探案 2) is a 2018 Chinese comedy-mystery buddy film. For the 25th Beijing College Student Film Festival, ORS won Best Film, and DC2 snagged Students’ Choice Award for Favorite Film.

There’s no guarantee Black Panther will win, if that’s the patronizing plan. Maybe it’ll be the sixth Mission: Impossible -Fallout, which is 13th on the box office list AND has a 97% positive ranking at Rotten Tomatoes. Or Operation Red Sea, or Deadpool 2. This new Oscar awards plan has been almost universally panned and I hope it is axed.

Actress Kathy Bates turns 70

Kathy Bates took her first Broadway curtain call in 1980’s ‘Goodbye Fidel.’

Though Kathy Bates had been working regularly on film since at least 1977, and I undoubtedly had seen her in some of those shows and movies, the first place I really recognized her was in the 1990 movie Misery.

“I’m your biggest fan” undoubtedly affected readers of the Stephen King novel, but to see her Annie Wilkes interact with Paul Sheldon (James Caan)… let’s put it this way; I haven’t seen that movie since I viewed in the cinema, and it STILL makes me shudder. She captured the Best Actress Oscar and a Golden Globe.

My favorite scene of hers, though, was in Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), the bit in a parking lot here or here, when Evelyn Couch got tired of being treated like an old davenport. The vicarious pleasure I felt was surprisingly strong.

From IMBD: “Kathleen Doyle Bates was… raised in Memphis, Tennessee. She is the youngest of three girls… One of her ancestors, an Irish emigrant to New Orleans, once served as President Andrew Jackson’s doctor.

“By the mid-to-late 1970s, Kathy was treading the boards frequently as a rising young actress of the New York and regional theater scene… She took her first Broadway curtain call in 1980’s ‘Goodbye Fidel,’ which lasted only six performances. She then went directly into replacement mode when she joined the cast of the already-established and highly successful ‘Fifth of July’ in 1981.

I have enjoyed her work in several other TV shows and films, including:

* a prostitute in Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog (1991)
* the unsinkable Molly Brown in Titanic (1997)
* the villainous Miss Hannigan in a Disney version of Annie (1999)
* quirky, liberal mom Roberta Hertzel in About Schmidt (2002), for which she received a Best
Supporting Actress nomination
* well-to-do Jo Bennett in the latter stages of the US version of The Office (2010-2011)
* Gertrude Stein in Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, 2011)

Kathy Bates turns 70 on June 28, 2018, and by the look of her upcoming credits does not appear to be retiring any time soon, despite living with lymphedema. She has been the national spokesperson for the Lymphatic Education & Research Network.