Thursday, March 15, 2018

Turner Games Q4 2017 Update

This is a long overdue update on my board gaming for the last three months of 2017 that I inexplicably skipped over posting for the past two-and-a-half months. It's a little shorter than most of my updates, since I'm going to leave a number of items (ie. updating my goals for 2017) for my year-in-review post, as well as omitting the usual "what I'm looking forward to in the next quarter" conclusion.

Games Played

Games played this quarter from my Top 25 to play: Jump Drive (1)

Games played this quarter from previous "Top to Play" lists: Space Alert (1)

Other games played this quarter from my "Want to Play" list: Azul; Barenpark; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; First Class; FlowerFall; Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle; Herbaceous; Hero Realms; Infinite City; Ladder 29; Magic Maze; Mega Man: The Board Game; Monad; Okey Dokey; Roll Through The Ages: The Iron Age; Tiny Epic Quest; Valletta; Word on the Street; Yamatai (19)

Other new games played this quarter: Codenames: Marvel; Doctor Who Fluxx; EXIT: The Game - The Abandoned Cabin; Go Nuts for Donuts; Quelf; Stock Ticker; Tokyo Highway; Unlock! The Tonipal's Treasure (8)

New expansions played this quarter from my "Want to Play" list: Between Two Cities: Capitals; Galaxy Trucker: Another Big Expansion; Oh My Goods! Longsdale in Revolt; Pandemic: The Cure - Experimental Meds (4)

Other new expansions played this quarter: N/A

New party/social games played this quarter: Codenames: Marvel; Quelf; Word on the Street (3)

New filler games played this quarter: Doctor Who Fluxx; FlowerFall; Go Nuts for Donuts; Herbaceous; Magic Maze; Okey Dokey; Stock Ticker; Tokyo Highway (8)

New light strategy games played this quarter: Azul; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; Hero Realms; Jump Drive; Ladder 29; Monad (6)

New family games played this quarter: Barenpark; EXIT: The Game - The Abandoned Cabin; Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle; Infinite City; Unlock! The Tonipal's Treasure (5)

New family strategy games played this quarter: Mega Man: The Board Game; Roll Through The Ages: The Iron Age; Tiny Epic Quest; Yamatai (4)

New complex games played this quarter: First Class; Space Alert; Valletta (3)

Favourite new light/medium games played this quarter: Azul; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; Jump Drive; Magic Maze; Okey Dokey

Favourite new strategy/complex games played this quarter: First Class; Tiny Epic Quest; Valletta

Games played most this quarter:
1. Codenames Duet (18)
2. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (6)
3. Anomia; Azul; Magic Maze (5)
6. NMBR 9; Okey Dokey; OctoDice (4)

Other games played repeatedly this quarter: 7 Wonders; Cacao; Can't Stop; Century: Spice Road; Codenames: Pictures; Galaxy Trucker; The Game; Get Bit!; The Great Heartland Hauling Co.; Istanbul; Monkey; Oh My Goods!; Orleans; Pot O' Gold; Roll for the Galaxy; San Juan; Splendor; Tides of Time; Tiny Epic Galaxies; Villages of Valeria; The Voyages of Marco Polo (21)

New games played repeatedly this quarter: Azul; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; Codenames: Marvel; Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle; Magic Maze; Okey Dokey; Space Alert; Tiny Epic Quest (8)

Games replayed from my Top 25 to Replay List this quarter: Quadropolis (1)

Other games replayed (for a second time) this quarter: 6 Nimmt!; Acquire; Broom Service; Camel Up Cards; For Sale; Gold West; The Great Heartland Hauling Co.; Great Western Trail; The Oracle of Delphi; Sagrada; Tides of Time (11)

Expansions replayed (for a second time) this quarter: Cacao: Chocolatl; Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black (2)

New nickels (five total plays) this quarter: Azul; Cacao; Can't Stop; Century: Spice Road; Codenames Duet; Harry Potter: Hogwarts' Battle; Magic Maze; Medieval Academy; Roll for the Galaxy; Samurai; The Voyages of Marco Polo (11)

New dimes (ten total plays) this quarter: Codenames Duet (1)

New quarters (25 total plays) this quarter: N/A

Want to play

Games added to my "Want to Play" list this quarter: Hardback; Istanbul: The Dice Game; Ladder 29; Majesty: For the Realm; Mint Delivery; Mint Works; Pulsar 2849; Rajas of the Ganges; That's A Question! (9)

Party/social games added this quarter: That's A Question! (1)

Filler/light games added this quarter: Mint Delivery; Mint Works (2)

Light strategy games added this quarter: Hardback; Istanbul: The Dice Game; Ladder 29 (3)

Family games added this quarter: Majesty: For the Realm (1)

Family strategy games added this quarter: N/A

Complex games added this quarter: Pulsar 2849; Rajas of the Ganges (2)

Expansions added this quarter: Innovation: Artifacts of History; Innovation: Cities of Destiny; The Networks: Executives; Paperback: Unabridged; Terraforming Mars: Hellas and Elysium; Terraforming Mars: Venus Next; Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 - United Kingdom and Pennsylvania; Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 6 - France and Old West (8)

Games and expansions removed from my "Want to Play" list this quarter: Brewin' USA; Colony; First Martians; Leaders of Euphoria (4)

Changes to my collection

Games acquired this quarter: Boss Monster; Cacao; Caverna: Cave vs. Cave; Century: Spice Road; Codenames Duet; Compounded; Glen More; Go Nuts for Donuts; The Grizzled; Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle; Jump Drive; Ladder 29; Louis XIV; NMBR 9; Okey Dokey; Pandemic Legacy: Season 2; Roll for the Galaxy; Terraforming Mars; Tichu (19)

Party/social games added this quarter: Codenames Duet (1)

Filler/light games added this quarter: Go Nuts for Donuts; NMBR 9; Okey Dokey (3)

Light strategy games added this quarter: Boss Monster; Century: Spice Road; The Grizzled; Jump Drive; Ladder 29; Tichu (6)

Family games added this quarter: Cacao; Caverna: Cave Vs. Cave; Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (3)

Family strategy games added this quarter: Compounded; Glen More; Roll For the Galaxy (3)

Complex games added this quarter: Louis XIV; Pandemic Legacy: Season 2; Terraforming Mars (3)

Large expansions acquired this quarter: Between Two Cities: Capitals; Cacao: Chocolatl; Compounded: Geiger; Dixit: Odyssey; Flash Point: Fire Rescue - Tragic Events; Oh My Goods!: Longsdale in Revolt; Pandemic: The Cure - Experimental Meds; Cities of Splendor; Terraforming Mars: Hellas and Elysium (9)

Promo (mini/small) expansions acquired this quarter: 7 Wonders Duel: Stonehenge; 7 Wonders: Cities - Anniversary Pack; 7 Wonders: Leaders - Anniversary Pack; Century: Spice Road - Promos; Codenames: Authors and Board Games; Codenames: Pictures: 5x5 Promo Tiles; Compounded: Chemical Chaos; Compounded: Methamphetamine; Go Nuts for Donuts: Apple Fritter; Go Nuts for Donuts: Bacon; Go Nuts for Donuts: Zombie; Imperial Settlers: Dice Tower Inn; Louis XIV: The Favorite; Mega Man Pixel Tactics: Frost Man; NMBR 9: Starting Tiles; Orleans: Drawbridge; Orleans: Neue Ostkarten No. 5; Orleans: Promo No. 1; Splendor: Dice Tower Noble; Terraforming Mars: Self-Replicating Robots; Terraforming Mars: Snow Algae; Thief's Market: Narrow Alleyway (22)

Games and expansions liquidated from my collection this quarter: Hive  + 2 expansions; Keyflower; Morels; Orleans; Prairie; Space Alert (4+3)

Kickstarters that arrived this quarter: Flash Point: Fire Rescue - Tragic Events; Ladder 29 (2)

Kickstarters ordered this quarter (with target arrival date): The Networks and Executives (May)

Kickstarters still on order from previous quarters (with expected arrival date): Hardback and Paperback Expansion (Jan); Mint Delivery and Mint Works (May); Star Realms: Frontiers (Feb)

Games added to my wish list this quarter: Azul; Istanbul: The Dice Game (2)

Expansions added to my wish list this quarter: Agricola: Farmers of the Moor; Cacao: Diamante; Concordia: Aegyptus / Creta; Dixit: Harmonies; Imperial Settlers: We Didn't Start the Fire; Voyages of Marco Polo: Agents of Venice (6)

Small (mini/promo) expansions added to my "Want in Trade" list this quarter: Cacao: Diamante - The New Huts; The Castles of Burgundy: Team Game; Mega Man Pixel Tactics: NMBR 9 - Extra Tiles; Stardroids; Roll for the Galaxy: World of Ambition; Terraforming Mars: Penguins (6)

Here's the updated shelfie for posterity:

In the Queue

I found that having a queue last quarter was really valuable for guiding my playing priorities, so I decided to expand it a little bit for this quarter.

New games to play from my collection: Back to the Future: An Adventure Through Time; Boss Monster*; Compounded*; Incan Gold; Louis XIV*; Mega Man Pixel Tactics; Pandemic Legacy: Season 2*; Tichu* (8)

New expansions to play from my collection: Compounded: Geiger*; Core Worlds: Revolution; Galaxy Trucker: Latest Models*; Galaxy Trucker: Missions*; Fresco: 8, 9, and 10;  Innovation: Artifacts of History; Innovation: Cities of Destiny; Innovation: Figures in the Sand; The Resistance: Hostile Agenda and Hidden Intent*; Roll Through The Ages: The Iron Age - The Mediterranean*; Terraforming Mars: Hellas and Elysium* (10)

Top games to pull off the shelf and replay: Core Worlds*; Cosmic Encounter; Glass Road*; Le Havre; Le Havre: The Inland Port; In The Year of the Dragon*; La Isla*; Ora et Labora; The Princes of Florence; Tikal; Uchronia* (11)

Games with 5+ plays that will join my Shelf of Shame if unplayed this quarter: Agricola; Burgoo; Caverna: The Cave Farmers; Coin Age; Dixit; El Grande; Hey, That's My Fish!; King of New York; Knit Wit; Lost Cities; Saint Petersburg; Spyrium; Sushi Go! (13)

Top new games to play: The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game; Ex Libris; Food Truck Champion; Gaia Project; Majesty: For the Realm (5)

Top (non-owned) complex games to replay for a second time: Concordia; The Gallerist; La Granja; Grand Austria Hotel; Lorenzo il Magnifico* (5)

Top Deep Dives: Galaxy Trucker; Innovation; Terraforming Mars (3)

Top small/medium games to buy: Azul; The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game; Gravwell; Lanterns: The Harvest Festival; Queendomino (5)

Top large games to buy: The Castles of Mad King Ludwig; Deus; Shakespeare; Troyes; Vikings

Top promo expansions to buy: Cacao: Volcanoes; The Castles of Burgundy: Trade Routes; NMBR 9: Extra Tiles; Roll For the Galaxy x2 (5)

Top large expansions to buy: Cacao: Diamante; Isle of Skye: Journeyman; Kingdom Builder: Harvest; Roll For the Galaxy: Ambition; Village Port (5)

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The Progressively Conservative 2018 Oscars

It happened again. For the second time in three years, I entered the announcement of Best Picture only one correct guess away from sweeping my picks of the nine major categories for the first time. And for the second time in three years, my pick for Best Picture spoiled an otherwise perfect night.

Of course, this time, I was picking the underdog over the favourite in the hopes that the history of the past two years would repeat itself, but I was disappointed that the Academy actually followed through this time and picked the predictable movie to win. But it was not just The Shape of Water's win that was predictable - it was almost every award of the night; aside from my miss on The Shape of Water, I missed only two other awards, and one of those was another award in which I picked the upset because I figured that there had to be a couple of upsets

The lesson here is that the Academy is risk-averse and will almost always choose the safest option, whether that is in its choices for the awards or for the ceremony, but it seems that they were even more so this year, only a year after the Best Picture flub and with #timesup and #metoo informing many of the decisions of nominees and presenters. It makes sense that they found a way to be both conservative and push their own limitations this year, and The Shape of Water makes sense as the winner - at least in the interim (more on that later).

That said, I do think there is a little more going here that requires some unpacking, so here are my thoughts on this year's Oscars, including the true historical comparison to what happened with Best Picture and some other awards to some of my personal highlights and my performance to a few assorted thoughts on the Oscars ceremony itself.

Historical comparison

When I first wrote my thoughts after the nominations, I compared this year to 2008 and 2013, which happened to be Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous runs at the Oscars. But it turned out that I missed the true comparison: 2015, when everyone just kind of decided that Birdman was the best movie of the year. Just take a look at all of the similarities between the two years:
  • An auteur film by a previously-nominated, well-loved, technically-adept Mexican director won Best Director and Best Picture (Birdman; The Shape of Water)
  • A biopic starring a British actor won Best Actor (The Theory of Everything; Darkest Hour)
  • A woman known for collaboration with the Coen brothers won Best Actress (Julianne Moore; Frances McDormand)
  • A passion project by a long-standing auteur director who had long been ignored by the Academy still ended up being mostly ignored by the Academy (Richard Linklater’s Boyhood; Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk)
  • Best Supporting Actor came from a film nominated for Best Picture and was given to a well-respected character actor in his first nomination (J.K. Simmons for Whiplash; Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
  • Alexandre Desplat won Best Original Score (The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Shape of Water)
Now, I know you could probably draw similar comparisons with many previous Oscar years, but this one seems particularly apropos, since Birdman and almost everything from that year have been all but forgotten, with two exceptions: Whiplash and Selma, which was itself famously mostly snubbed that year.

I imagine a similar fate will fall to many of the films from this year, likely including The Shape of Water. In five years, I think many people will look back and wonder how Get Out did not win Best Picture, how Lady Bird did not win anything, and how safe these Oscars were - if they remember them at all past those two movies.

On Best Picture

It is admittedly weird that a del Toro-directed monster romance flick set in the Cold War is now a Best Picture, but it makes a strange kind of sense once you start to parse the Academy's trajectory this year. They needed a movie that was not too out there politically but that was still progressive enough to keep the momentum from the last five years going, and The Shape of Water fit perfectly in that intersection.

I wonder, actually, if the choice of The Shape of Water is an example of a form of "moral licensing" - the idea that past progressive decisions or good deeds can help people justify future misdeeds or reversions to more conservative thinking. It's part of the explanation as to why Trump followed Obama, and it might help explain why after Moonlight - a story about a gay black kid - won last year, the Academy members had the moral license to not have to push the envelope further this year by picking Get Out.

Now, that does not entirely line up, since The Shape of Water is a love story about a fish man and a mute woman, and it also features a black woman and a gay man - boy, the heads on conservative talk radio must have been spinning on Monday - but it feels like a more classic Best Picture winner and so it is more "conservative" in that sense, much like Birdman was when it won three years ago a year after the Academy solved racism by choosing 12 Years a Slave.

I still defend my reasoning for picking Get Out to beat The Shape of Water, but I should have picked Water to win based on my own rules, several of which I broke this year in picking the upset. I did not trust the guilds, who overwhelmingly pointed to a Water win. I relied too much on history, as the upset wins of Spotlight and Moonlight in the past two years influenced my opinion significantly.

And worst of all, I didn’t trust my own gut; I knew I should have gone with The Shape of Water, but I could not shake the feeling that Get Out really had a shot to win, so I took the possible glory of the upset over the possible sweep. After all, some of the reasons I picked Get Out also applied to The Shape of Water - it was still a groundbreaking choice as a science fiction film, after all - and it was (ironically) the safe choice, despite its fundamental strangeness as a film and as an entry within the greater context of the scope of Best Picture winners.

The Shape of Water and science fiction

The Shape of Water is now the only science fiction movie to win Best Picture, which seems long overdue in the grand scheme of the Oscars, especially since science fiction has emerged as the primary box office draw genre in the 21st century thanks in large part to the boom in superhero culture (which I do count as a subgenre of science fiction, at least in a “soft” sense).

The list of science fiction films nominated for Best Picture before 2010 is very short, at merely three films - A Clockwork Orange; E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial; and Star Wars. The list has increased since the expansion of the number of nominees in 2010, with nine more Best Picture nominees added to the ranks in the past nine years: Arrival; Avatar; District 9; Gravity; Her; Inception; Mad Max: Fury Road; The Martian; and, of course, The Shape of Water.

The list of science fiction movies that have gotten some kind of recognition from the Academy, whether in the form of nominations or in some cases actual meaningful awards - over the years is slightly longer, but it still feels woefully under-representative of the genre as a whole. The list of other sci-fi movies that received another non-technical nomination - ie. for Directing, Acting, or Writing - is, as far as I can tell: 2001: A Space Odyssey; Aliens; Brazil; Children of Men; Close Encounters of the Third Kind; The Dark Knight; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Twelve Monkeys; and Wall-E.

There are also a few other notable examples of SF films that received nominations for technical awards only - Alien; Blade Runner; Jurassic Park; The Matrix; and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the latter of which won four awards in 1992 (!). And then, of course, there are even more SF movies that did not receive even that much recognition. There have, of course, been a few SF films snubbed even over the past nine years - Ex Machina; Interstellar; Moon; and Snowpiercer, for example - but the overall trend has been toward accepting and even embracing the genre that was often mostly ignored by the Academy; that dubious distinction now belongs almost exclusively to horror and comedy, which probably further explains why Get Out did not win.

So that is all a long way of saying that science fiction was long overdue for an award like this, so it's not a huge surprise that the genre was finally recognized. The genre's best previous chance was Avatar, which deservedly lost to The Hurt Locker almost a decade ago, and The Shape of Water is undoubtedly a much better choice. Of course, all this means is that in the next year or two, one of the all-time incredible science fiction films will be released and the Academy will not have it win because The Shape of Water just won. And so it goes...

On the rest of the awards

The awards were not only safe, but arguably equitably distributed among major films; of the nine Best Picture nominees, only The Post (with only two nominations) and Lady Bird went completely unrewarded for the night. It was a definitely disappointing that Lady Bird, which was in many ways as much an accomplishment as Get Out, ended up in direct competition with that film for its awards, but it's the unfortunate reality that there is often one major nominee that does not receive any awards, and that turned out to be Lady Bird this year. I think it will remain one of the cult favourites of the year - much like Juno lingers from a decade ago - and at least we have some great memes to express our collective feelings at its absence.

Gary Oldman, Sam Rockwell, and Allison Janney are certainly all worthy of the mantle of “Academy Award Winner” - if not for these roles, then for some role at some point in their careers - but what is most incredible is that the three of them had only earned one nomination between them before this year. Frances McDormand is definitely worthy of being on the short list of actresses to win two Oscars and the even shorter list of actresses (or actors) to win Best Actress (or Actor) twice (fourteen actresses and nine actors, FYI).

It did not go without notice, however, that the average age of these winners was 56.5 years old and that the average color was white, so it seems like #OscarsSoWhite is not quite dead yet. In other hashtag news, it was problematic that Oldman and Kobe Bryant - both accused abusers - won without comment from them of their pasts on a night that also featured a number of implicit and explicit references to the shifts in Hollywood over the past year.

Of the technical awards, the one I tend to care about the most is Cinematography (Editing is a distant second), so I was very excited to finally see one of my favourite cinematographers - Roger Deakins - finally win his (well-deserved) Oscar for Blade Runner 2049, even though it probably should have been his third or fourth win. If you don't believe me, here’s the list of his nominations:

The Shawshank Redemption; Fargo; Kundun; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; The Man Who Wasn’t There; The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; No Country for Old Men; The Reader; True Grit; Skyfall; Prisoners; Unbroken; Sicario; and, finally, Blade Runner 2049. 14 nominations in 24 years with no gap of longer than six years between nominations (2001-2007, when the worked with the Coens on their two worst movies), and that list does not include his work on Oscar nominees such as Dead Man Walking; A Beautiful Mind; Doubt; Revolutionary Road; and A Serious Man.

Some of those losses were justified - say, his work on No Country losing to Robert Elswit’s timeless work on There Will Be Blood or his work on Sicario losing to Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on Birdman - but this was an example of the Academy finally correcting a woeful oversight, much like Martin Scorsese finally winning Best Director in 2006 for The Departed.

I was also glad to see Blade Runner 2049 receive the Oscar for Visual Effects and to see Dunkirk receive Oscars for both Sound categories and for Editing. Overall, I had few complaints with the awards given, and I was also quite pleased to see that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri did not win any non-acting categories; it's an interesting enough film with some great performances, but I think its success was wildly overblown and that the Academy will be glad it did not win in any other categories.

The ceremony itself

I was more underwhelmed by this year's telecast than I had been in previous years. Maybe I had been expecting more of the show due to the Time's Up and Me Too movements than I should have been, or maybe it seemed like it should have been more momentous, but it was mostly risk-averse and safe - mostly.

It didn’t click for me until last night, but Jimmy Kimmel is basically Ellen for bros. He knows his schtick and he schticks to it, whether it's working or not. There were a couple of genuinely inspired moments, and I think he had the right mix of irreverent and self-aware to manage what could have been a disaster, but it seemed like he was playing it really safe this year. I was slightly disappointed with his performance, actually - a lot of his jokes were more lackluster and predictable than they could (or should) have been, and his gag - taking stars over to a theatre to meet the ordinary people - fell flat. He had a few good moments in his monologue, but he was

There were a few great moments, though. Maya Rudolph and Tiffany Haddish stole the show as presenters. The acknowledgement of Salma Hayek, Ashley Judd, and Anabella Sciorra as presenters was meaningful, and even though the video they introduced felt a little forced in terms of the overall narrative of the night by "acknowledging new voices" (mostly Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig), it was a great attempt.

Janney and Rockwell gave classic actors' acceptance speeches; I especially appreciated Janney's opening line "I did it all by myself" and Rockwell's anecdote about skipping school to go to the movies and his dedication of his award to Philip Seymour Hoffman. McDormand's moment will be long remembered for its emblematic significance more than the speech itself, as it helped give the ceremony a narrative and a sense of the stepping into the importance that hovered over the evening's proceedings from its onset.

Update on my picks

I'm now on a four-year-long streak of mispredicting Best Picture, but my overall stats for prognostication improved ever so slightly with this year's performance, from 83/117 (70.9%) to 91/126 (72.2%). And aside from the year in which I really missed the boat (Birdman in 2015), I have a very strong streak going over the past decade, aside from those misses on Best Picture. (By the way, The Shape of Water now joins Spotlight, Her, The Iron Lady, and Milk as the movies that have spoiled my attempt at a sweep over the years.

Results by year:
2018: 8/9 (missed Picture)
2017: 7/9 (missed Picture and Actor)
2016: 8/9 (missed Picture)
2015: 4/9 (missed Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Screenplay, and Animated Feature)
2014: 8/9 (missed Original Screenplay)
2013: 6/9 (missed Director, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature)
2012: 8/9 (missed Actress)
2011: 7/9 (missed Director and Original Screenplay)
2010: 6/9 (missed Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Screenplay)
2009: 8/9 (missed Actor)
2008: 6/9 (missed Actress, Supporting Actress, and Adapted Screenplay)
2007: 5/9 (missed Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature)
2006: 7/9 (missed Picture and Supporting Actress)
2005: 7/9 (missed Picture and Original Screenplay)

Results by category:
Best Picture: 6/14 (missed 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)
Best Director: 11/14 (missed 2011, 2013, 2015)
Best Actor: 11/14 (missed 2007, 2009, 2017)
Best Actress: 12/14 (missed 2008, 2012)
Best Supporting Actor: 12/14 (missed 2007, 2013)
Best Supporting Actress: 12/14 (missed 2006, 2008)
Best Original Screenplay: 9/14 (missed 2005, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015)
Best Adapted Screenplay: 11/14 (missed 2008, 2010, 2015)
Best Animated Feature: 11/14 (missed 2007, 2013, 2015)


2017 was a great year for film and a decent year for the Academy Awards, even though it could be argued that they played it a little safe. They continued to make progress in regard to inclusion and acknowledgement of a more diverse array of films, even though they still nominated and even awarded some of the classic Oscar bait. They finally awarded a science fiction film, even though it was a "soft" science fiction that will likely not rank that highly within the overall genre in time. And it seems like the world of #OscarsSoWhite might be a thing of the past in regard to nominations, but the winners were all white.

I do think that several movies from this year will stand the test of time. Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, and Phantom Thread seem like they will have a lasting impact either within their genres, for their social impact, or as well-crafted films, and I have a feeling that Three Billboards is headed for a reputation as a divisive film. I still have to see a few of the key movies - namely The Shape of Water, Phantom Thread, and Darkest Hour - but I know that I will be rewatching many of these films for years to come. This actually might end up being one of my favourite Oscar years as a result of the success of most of the nominated films, which is really saying something.

I am hoping for a bit more risk at next year's Oscars. There are a few interesting movies coming out later in the year that will likely at least figure into the conversation for next year's Oscars: Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in Damien Chazelle's First Man, Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody as Freddie Mercury, and Saiorse Ronan and Margot Robbie in Mary, Queen of Scots.

But the main point of conversation for next year's awards is what will happen with Black Panther; it seems likely to earn a few technical nominations (Costume Design, Production Design, and Cinematography for sure), but it will remain to be seen if it can crack any of the other categories (like Michael B. Jordan as supporting actor). That would be a first for Marvel and a risk for the Academy, so let's hope that something can keep shaking up the Oscars, even if it's just the choice of a new edgier host - maybe someone like Kumail Nanjiani.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Oscars 2018: Final Picks

The Oscars are coming up on Sunday, so it's time for me to engage in my annual tradition of possible public embarrassment and lock in my picks for the Academy Awards. I have been picking the Oscars for over a quarter of a century, and although I have a decent track record  - a 70.9% success rate picking all nine major categories over the past thirteen years, with four years in which I picked 8/9 correctly - I really struggle with picking Best Picture, and this year seems no different.

That said, I'm going to leave my Best Picture pick for last and start with (what should be) the easiest categories to predict: the Acting categories and Animated Feature, which have all seemed to be locked in since the beginning of the race and for which no commentary seems necessary.

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney in I, Tonya.

Best Actress: Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Best Actor: Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour.

Best Animated Feature: Coco.

The Writing and Directing categories are a bit more interesting, however...

Best Adapted Screenplay: I thought initially that James Ivory would win for Call Me By Your Name, and his win at the Writers' Guild only solidified that opinion. I do not see an upset here, and this will serve as a way for the ardent fans of the film to honor not only its writing, but also Ivory's entire career.

Best Original Screenplay: I thought earlier that Greta Gerwig might win this category over Martin McDonagh, but now I think that the momentum belongs to Jordan Peele, and that his WGA win for Get Out will also give him the Oscar. I think, however, that whoever wins this category may give us an idea of which way the biggest award of the evening may swing.

Best Director: Guillermo del Toro won the Directors Guild Award and The Shape of Water won the Producers Guild Award, so I think he has this one locked up. The Academy does not want the optics of giving the Best Director award to a white male this year, so Christopher Nolan will have to wait yet again, even though Dunkirk might have been his best chance thanks to the fickle nature of the Academy. (Or it just means that he could win for one of his next few films that might not be quite as good, as tends to happen with the Academy - like when Guillermo del Toro wins this year.)

Best Picture

This has been the most competitive year I can remember in regard to the Best Picture race. Usually, by this point, there are only two movies that could win; this year, I count four that have a decent chance at the prize. I have had a very difficult time choosing which one will win as a result - so much so that I cannot shake the feeling that no matter which movie I pick to win, I'll be wrong. That would make four incorrect Best Picture guesses in a row, by the way - although only one of those misses (when I did not pick Birdman to win) will have been truly indefensible. Here are my thoughts on the chances of each picture.

No chance: Call Me By Your NameDarkest Hour; Lady Bird; Phantom Thread; and The Post. I had originally thought that Lady Bird might have more of a shot, but it just does not seem to have the momentum to win, even though James England's model, which has correctly predicted the last two upsets using his crowd-sourcing technique, has it listed as an overwhelming favourite. I do not think he will three-peat, but some of his other results have informed my own.

Here are the cases for and against the remaining four nominees, in my estimation of least likely to most likely.

Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan's WWII film has stayed in the conversation for a long time, and with good reason. There has not been a war movie named as Best Picture since The Hurt Locker in 2010, and there's usually one named in every decade. That said, there is also a long history of critically lauded, technically excellent war movies not winning Best Picture (Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan), so that pattern is by no means an indication that a war movie will win in the near future.

The main reason I have not been able to shake Dunkirk from the top contenders - other than its eight nominations - is the possibility of its winning based on the preferential voting system. If, like many pundits expect, The Post and Darkest Hour are the two least popular films after the first vote, there is a good chance that the voters who prioritized those movies would also put Dunkirk high on their lists.

So, depending on the how voters rank the other movies, it could sneak a win if it is named second on enough ballots. That said, it just has not seemed to garner the kind of buzz that it has needed, even as a possible front-runner, so I think it is far more likely to end up on the perennials lists of "Best Movies That Did NOT Win Best Picture", which will likely help its long-term legacy, rather than harming it.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: This drama took hold of the #MeToo moment more than any other movie, and its Golden Globe win gave it an early front-runner status that has somewhat inexplicably lasted through the backlash the movie received. But perhaps the most problematic issue is not with the movie's awkward treatment of racial politics or revenge fantasies: it is the decreased age of Academy voters and the consideration of what a Best Picture is now.

I think we no longer live in a time in which The Artist or Argo or maybe even Birdman could win Best Picture. The increase in youth in the Academy and the way that the social media narrative has escalated even in the past three years seems to have changed the Oscars, and that will hurt movies like Three Billboards. There seems to be a much bigger focus on the legacy of these movies, and no one wants to see another Crash - a movie to which Three Billboards has been unfavourably compared in recent weeks thanks to the way in which its politics are being regarded and the content and method of the movie itself. It's not an entirely fair comparison - Three Billboards is superior to Crash, and there's no instant classic like Brokeback Mountain for it to defeat in an upset, but the fact that it's there might be enough to keep voters away.

The Shape of Water: I have not seen del Toro's Cold War romance yet, but I just do not get how this is the front-runner going into the final weekend - and I count myself as a del Toro fan. Sure, there is a past in which the kind of historical placement and ethical considerations of a movie like this would have helped it win, but there is a far longer history of movies like this NOT winning; romances rarely win, and a science fiction film has never won. That's not to say that it could not happen for the first time now, but I just cannot see the Academy overturning ninety years of sci-fi snubbing to award the Cold War "fish sex" movie.

This is where I'm probably going to be wrong, as this is the movie that many pundits are picking to win, but I'm at peace with not picking it to win. I would rather take the chance to predict something else to win and be wrong about it than to predict this to win and be right (even though there is a good chance I will really enjoy this movie whenever I get around to it).

Get Out: I can't believe I'm doing this, but after a lot of consideration, I cannot shake the fact that I think that Get Out not only could but will win Best Picture, and here's why: I really think that the context, the narrative, the voting procedures of Best Picture all play into this vote. And, for the record, both Vanity Fair and The Ringer have similar reasoning to mine, as I discovered after reasoning through my picks.

Three Billboards has gotten press for its political acumen, but I think that Get Out has more momentum in regard to its popular regard as a way to capture the current moment. The last two (surprise) Best Picture winners - Spotlight and Moonlight - both seemed to win as a way to capture the moment, and I just don't think that Academy voters will see other nominees as doing that. Get Out says and does things about race that capture the last few years of American politics in a way that Moonlight did not even manage (which is not meant as a slight against Moonlight), and I think the voters will see that as a reason to vote for Get Out.

Get Out has a couple of narrative hooks aside from its political context that advance its case. First, there has only been one horror movie to win Best Picture - The Silence of the Lambs in 1992 - and even that is a stretch of genre. Get Out is, of course, an inversion of the traditional horror film, but it adheres to the tropes of the genre much more closely, and so it would be the first true horror film to win. It also has the story of being both a micro-budget movie to succeed and a huge box office success (unlike Moonlight last year), so it has a lot of popular appeal and automatically serves as a refutation to the constant refrain that the Academy only picks movies that no one has seen.

Finally, I think the Academy's system of voting will advantage Get Out. I really think it has a very strong base of voters who will rank it in their top two, and I think it will generally rank higher on ballots than either Three Billboards (which seems like a first ballot or bust kind of vote) or The Shape of Water. Get Out has a lot of support, as demonstrated by its nomination, and I think it will be one of the movies that people will want to be remembered from this year.

I really think that the idea of the legacy of the Oscars is a bigger deal now than it has been, and that the Academy as a whole does not want another Crash or The Artist or even Argo; they want to pick the movie that people will remember from that year, whether it is the "best" or not. No one maligns No Country for Old Men as a winner even though There Will Be Blood is widely considered to be the Citizen Kane of the 21st century, since No Country is still a great movie and representative of that year, and it's much better in comparison to Blood than the comparison between Citizen Kane and the movie to which it lost, How Green Was My Valley. Get Out is that movie to remember from 2017, and since there is no Citizen Kane this year, I'm picking Get Out in the upset.

Other Categories

There are, of course, other categories at the Oscars, so here are my picks on the other categories.

Animated Short: Dear Basketball (which means that Kobe Bryant would have an Oscar)

Cinematography: Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049

Costume Design: Mark Bridges for Phantom Thread

Documentary: Icarus (a win for Netflix!)

Editing: Lee Smith for Dunkirk (although a Baby Driver win would not surprise me here)

Foreign Film: A Fantastic Woman from Chile

Makeup and Hairstyling: Darkest Hour

Music (Original Score): Alexandre Desplat for The Shape of Water

Music (Original Song): "Remember Me" from Coco

Production Design: The Shape of Water

Sound Editing: Dunkirk

Sound Mixing: Baby Driver

Visual Effects: War for the Planet of the Apes (as the trilogy finally gets its Oscar)


Whatever happens at the awards, it has been one of the most engaging Best Picture races in years - at least since 2010-11 when the category was expanded. I suspect that the viewership will be higher this year because of the nature of some of the films included, and because a lot of people are interested to see how host Jimmy Kimmel rebounds after last year's flub and how he addresses #TimesUp, #MeToo, and even the Parkland School Shooting. This has the possibility to be an all-time great Oscars ceremony, so I'm fascinated to see how it all unfolds.


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