Saturday, February 23, 2019

2019 Final Oscars Picks

Well, here we are, close to the end of one of the more divisive and confusing awards seasons in recent memory. I have actually had trouble remembering a more active and contentious Oscars season in the 21st century. The past few years have had their controversies and ultimately, their surprises, but I don't think there has been a season like this with the combination of tumult in several of the nominees, the telecast, and in Best Picture itself.

I suppose that some of that tension might actually be good for the Oscars, but this year it has felt especially draining, particularly insofar as it feels tiring to have continued to have to have these conversations about problematic politics about race, gender, and sexuality. Sean Fennessey of The Ringer had a fair amount of existential malaise in his final ruminations on the season, and I don't entirely disagree with him. Such is perhaps the inevitable nature of attempting to change an unwieldy institution, but it felt especially tired this year. At any rate, here are my final picks for this year's Oscars.

The main categories


Best Picture: Roma is the odds-on favourite, but it is far from a lock. It would be the first foreign language film to win, as well as the first product of the streaming studios, either of which could work against it. And yet, it is my pick for the win (which I give with the caveat that I am on a four-year streak of incorrectly guessing Best Picture) over Green Book, which would instantly become part of the conversation with Crash as an all-time travesty.

Best Actor: Rami Malek has run the table, so I expect him to win here over Christian Bale. There's too much love for Queen and Bohemian Rhapsody for it to go away empty-handed.

Best Actress: Glenn Close will finally get her Oscar after almost four decades - and in typical Oscar fashion, it is two decades too late and for an unmemorable role - but at least her speech should be a highlight of the night.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali will win his second award in this category in three years for Green Book. He has also run the table, and like Bohemian Rhapsody, there is too much affection for this movie for it not to win anything.

Best Supporting Actress: I'm sticking with Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk for this one over Rachel Weisz for The Favourite.

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón for Roma should win his second and the fifth win in this category in the past six years (!) for one of the Mexican directors nicknamed the Three Amigos: Cuarón; del Toro; Iñárritu.

Best Animated Feature: I'm going to go with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse here over The Incredibles 2. I know Brad Bird has two Oscars and might be the "smart bet", but my Spidey sense is tingling here for the upset.

Best Original Screenplay: The Favourite remains my pick here.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Spike Lee should finally get a long-overdue Oscar for BlackKklansman.

Other categories


There are a few other interesting categories peppered throughout the Oscars; here are my thoughts on a few of them.

Cinematography: Cuarón could win five Oscars for Roma, but my guess is four, including this one, the aforementioned two, and Foreign Language Film.

Costume Design: This typically goes to a Best Picture nominee with the "most" costumes, unless there is a clear leader otherwise. There isn't, but there are two possibilities here from Best Picture: The Favourite and Black Panther. I think that Black Panther will actually win this category in part as recognition of Ruth E. Carter's long and storied career.

Film Editing: The fact that Roma was not nominated here is one of the reasons to second guess its status as frontrunner for Best Picture, but this race is interesting on its own merits. I think it will go to Hank Corwin for Vice as a way of recognizing his entire body of work, but especially his recent work on The Big Short.

Foreign Language Film: The only reason Roma would not win here is if enough people feel like it will win Best Picture that they could pick Cold War here - but I just don't think that's going to happen.

Makeup and Hairstyling: Vice. Just look at any picture of Christian Bale.

Original Score: I think Black Panther has a real shot here for Ludwig Goransson, but the smart money is on Nicolas Britell for If Beale Street Could Talk.

Original Song: A Star Is Born should get its only Oscar of the night here, and part of the irony is that Bradley Cooper is not nominated in this category. But its win will leave Lady Gaga and Mark Ronson each halfway to an EGOT.

Production Design: This category splits with Costume Design half of the time, and I wouldn't be surprised if it did again this year, with The Favourite winning. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if Black Panther won this award too.

Visual Effects: Marvel should finally win here for Avengers: Infinity War, unless there's a push for First Man as a smaller film with impressive effects -which does happen often enough in this category.

Conclusion


In fourteen years of public prognosticating of Oscars, I have come within one award of a 9/9 sweep of the major awards five times, including being foiled by Best Picture twice in the past three years. That category may again be my undoing this year, along with Animated Feature and/or Supporting Actress. But I tend to think that Roma will take home the narrative of the evening.

As I reflect on my picks, I realize that I am expecting every Best Picture nominee to win at least one award - most of them in those eight significant categories - which would be somewhat unprecedented; that said, the fact that I expect that A Star Is Born, Vice, and Black Panther will not win major awards is enough to satisfy my expectation that a major contender will be essentially shut out, which happens relatively often.

I am actually unsure as to whether I will actually watch the full telecast on Sunday night, but be assured that I will be posting my results and reflections as soon as possible next week. And I sincerely hope that I will not have to write one of the possible thousands of thinkpieces on how Green Book could win in 2019 and what it means for the future of the Academy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Let's fix the Oscars: the Awards

The Academy Awards are just around the corner, and there has been a lot of buzz about this year's Awards - most of it not very good. Whether it is the fraught nature of some of the main nominees, the telecast itself, or the current status of the academy, most of the press since last summer has been negative, and deservedly so, I would argue.

Perhaps this should have been obvious, given the increasing unease of events that have shaken up the Academy in recent years, as many of the simmering issues of gender, race, and power politics have come to the surface: the repeated #OscarsSoWhite neglect of nominations for actors of color; the continued and increasingly indefensible ignorance of prominent female filmmakers in most categories; the #MeToo controversy (especially insofar as it involved noted Oscar manipulator Harvey Weinstein and former winner Kevin Spacey); and (far less significantly) the Best Picture snafu of 2017.

In the past six months alone, there has been the "Best Popular Film" announcement and subsequent retraction, the controversy over host Kevin Hart, followed by the current plan of not having a host, and the recent uproar over the relegation of Cinematography, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Live Action Short to the commercial breaks - which was summarily reversed in the week before the telecast.

In short, the Oscars are a mess, and they need some fixing, and fast. I have a lot of suggestions for fixing the Oscars, but I thought we should start with the main point of the Oscars: the awards themselves. Here my thoughts on how to fix the awards given out each year.

The practical suggestions


1. Combine Sound Editing and Sound Mixing into one category. Look, I know they're different practices, but there is often significant overlap between the categories, with the same movies and even the same people being nominated. The Academy does not divide visual effects into digital and practical, or the different elements of VFX, so why should Sound get two categories? Simple answer: it shouldn't.

2. Create a category for Best Stunt Coordination (and maybe include Choreography). It boggles my mind that neither of these groups of craftspeople have been recognized with awards. When I looked into it, I saw that stunt coordination was rejected as a category from 1991-2012, which is just shameful on the part of the Academy. Stunts are such a huge part of movies, and they deserve to be recognized as such. Just think of possible past winners: The Dark Knight; Inception; Mad Max: Fury Road; Baby Driver; the last two Mission: Impossible movies. Sure, some of those won for Visual Effects in part because of their physical prowess, but Stunt Coordination is its own art and should be recognized as such..

Choreography could perhaps have its own category, but it kind of makes sense to me to at least attempt to honor it here. I think it could easily produce enough nominees as its own competition, particularly if the definition of Choreography is extended beyond dance to the concept of blocking and physical manipulation of actors. Past winners/nominees could include: La La Land; Birdman; even comedies like Bridesmaids.

3. Create an additional acting category for Best Ensemble and/or Best Casting Director. It's great to recognize the four actors, but there is something different about recognizing a film as a whole. This extra category could also go a long way to awarding the Casting Directors who are the only craftspeople in the opening credits and Academy-recognized Guild that does not have an award; I would argue that this could go to the Casting Director on behalf of the actors in the film. Past winners could include: Juno; The Dark Knight; MoonlightThe Hurt Locker; 12 Years a Slave; or maybe upsets like The Master or even a comedy.

The radical suggestions


I have four other kind of "out there" suggestions for changes to the awards. I would love to see them happen, even though I don't think they would - but here are my somewhat radical suggestions for improving the awards.

1. Create a category for Best Use of Existing Media. The Oscars famously shun existing material for songs and scores, so it feels like there could be some balance restored by adding in a category to honor the directors and music directors who are doing incredible work in curating soundtracks and incorporating existing material into their original works. Think of all the times T-Bone Burnett could have been nominated for his work with the Coens, or other possible past winners like: Almost Famous; Moulin Rouge; or Juno. This really should happen!

2. Create a category for Best Promotional Video. Sure, there are already three Oscars for short films, but the most watched group of shorts - trailers and promotional tie-ins - are completely ignored by the Academy. I would love to see five nominees for the best trailers - and I bet some (most?) of them would be for movies that would not otherwise contend for Oscars. Past winners could include: The Social Network; Get Out; Guardians of the Galaxy; or the initial trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - which, of course, was quite different from the final movie after rewrites, reshoots, and the general Disneyfication of the movie before its release.

3. Create an award for Best Title Design / Promotional Presentation. This was a rejected suggestion at one point, but I think it merits consideration for an award. There is so much amazing work happening with title sequences, fonts, and general promotional presentation other than videos and trailers that the graphic designers who work so hard to make these films marketable could easily be recognized for their contributions. After all, the marketing budgets often exceed the actual budget, and in this age of movie-going, it seems even more important than ever to the commercial and creative success of a film to make a fast impression; hence, this award.

4. Create an award for Best Vocal Performance. The shift toward animated films and computer-generated characters has only increased over the last two decades, and I think there should be recognition of this art, especially because the Academy does not seem like it will ever do so; after all, if Andy Serkis would not be nominated for Gollum, who would? There are some really interesting possible past winners/nominees here - Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter for The Incredibles, perhaps, or maybe Peter O'Toole actually winning an Oscar for his work in Ratatouille, or Amy Poehler for Inside Out.

Changes that should not happen


And finally, here are three possible changes that have been suggested that I think should actually be rejected outright. 

1. Best Popular Film. I wrote about this idea when it was suggested, and although I tried to be charitable to the Academy, I have come to really think that this is a terrible idea. There are so many issues with how these nominees would be decided, much less the actual idea of even trying to divide these movies into their own category. The reality is that these movies should be recognized in the Best Picture conversation if they deserve to be there; Black Panther deserves its consideration, for example, as have other previous "popular" nominees like Inception or The Lord of the Rings. Let's move beyond elitism and not further entrench the divide between awards season and blockbusters.

2. Separate categories for Best Comedy and/or Musical - or any other genre-based award, for that matter. It often comes up that certain genres like comedies and horror movies are underrepresented by the Academy, which is true. But the solution is not to create more individual categories for those movies; it is to continue changing the Academy's membership so that more movies from those kinds of genres are recognized.

The Golden Globes often demonstrate the kind of category fraud that happens between these categories, and even the Emmys, in which the divide between comedy and drama is incredibly well-established, have begun to experience some existential angst about the division in recent years as television continues to change.

I do think Documentary, Animated Picture, and Foreign Language Film should continue to be recognized, although I do wonder if there will ever be a Documentary nominated for Best Picture. (O.J.: Made in America might have been the best possibility in recent years, and even that never came close.) But don't add any more categories like this; it would just make things much murkier.

3. Best Breakthrough (either Performance or Craft). There is an argument to be made that there could be awards given for breakthroughs on either side of the camera - but not by me. I think that any truly deserving breakthroughs should be recognized with individual nominations, rather than a separate category, and that this kind of award should remain the purview of shows that few take seriously, like the MTV Movie Awards or the Grammys.

Conclusion: The revised Oscars


So, for anyone keeping track at home, here are my revised Academy Awards after all of those proposed changes (or rejections thereof), as grouped into categories of similar awards.

Picture/Genre: Picture; Animated Picture; Foreign Language Film; Documentary (4)

Acting: Actor, Supporting Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Ensemble/Cast, Vocal Performance (6)

Film Craft: Cinematography; Directing, Film Editing, Adapted Screenplay; Original Screenplay (5)

Music/Media: Score; Song; Use of Existing Media (3)

Production: Costume Design; Makeup and Hairstyling; Production Design; Sound; Stunt Coordination (and Choreography); Title Design; Visual Effects (7)

Short Film: Animated; Documentary; Live Action; Promotional Video (4)

That makes 26 Oscars for mainstream films plus the three categories for original shorts, which seems about right. It's an increase of only five awards overall, and only one or two in any given group of similar categories, so there would be not be a huge imbalance in representation from the current status quo. If anything, these changes would help the Academy recognize the kinds of films that should get more attention.

Just in case you're wondering, the most nominations any given film could receive would be 24 - only one Screenplay and not Documentary. The current record, by the way, is fourteen (shared by All About Eve, Titanic, and La La Land), which seems unlikely to be broken any time soon - but it's still fun to consider as a possibility.

These changes would go a long way to further legitimizing the Oscars, and I think that the Oscars need that more than anything. They have been suspect for many years, but internet culture continues to shift the public perception at an increasing rate. These changes would make the Oscars more reflective of the twenty-first century of film, rather than the end of the twentieth, and I tend to think that they would make the awards more interesting for a wider group of moviegoers. There would, of course, still be significant changes that would need to be made to the Academy itself and its public persona, but any of these ten changes would be a good start.

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