Category Archives: What to Watch

Oscars Watch 2018 (Preview): What To Keep An Eye On This Year

Yes, this is probably too early.

But to be fair, this isn’t really a set of predictions. We don’t even begin to know what’s for sure getting released this year, much less what’s getting pushed and what will be successful outside of the festivals where these things live and even less what the political atmosphere will be surrounding this.

Think of this more as a trend piece. What should you be keeping an eye out for? If you want to keep up on what’s hot in the film world, what should you be grabbing tickets for? Basically, it’s a Fall preview, but only for the “respectable stuff.” You already know about Blade Runner 2049 (which actually does stand a good chance of getting technical nominations), Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Justice League. What else?

This is also by NO means a comprehensive list. This’ll be missing stuff like Wonderstruck, Logan, The Greatest Showman, Molly’s Game, Wonder, Last Flag Flying, Professor Marston & The Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman, A Ghost Story, and all the potential nominees for Foreign/Animated/Documentary.

So, right now, we’ll divide the fall festival films/Oscar hopefuls (insofar as they have a good chance, not all prestige bait necessarily) into three categories: Great Guesses, Don’t Count Them Out, and Count Them Out.

Also, I’m gonna use my standard rule for previews that I’m only gonna talk about movies we actually have seen something from, anywhere from a release to reviews out of a film festival. So sorry Phantom Thread and The Post, you’ll have to wait until later. The films here are the ones that are gonna play big roles. Best Picture is kind of the assumption, but there may be other awards I’m expecting, which I’ll note below.

Great Guesses

Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name seems to be the most direct response to last year’s surprise victory in Moonlight. A queer story, though one that seems to revolve much more around its romance, Call Me By Your Name is walking the path that Moonlight really blazed for it, a space that seemed unfriendly to a previously much more conservative Academy.

But even beyond that, Call Me By Your Name has received almost universal raves since its debut at Sundance. Luca Guadagnino (a long time critical favorite) has been called a beautifully written, gorgeously shot, and masterfully acted story that’s specific and universally relatable. With an apparent breakout performance for Armie Hammer as young star Timothee Chalamet and a score from Sufjan Stevens, there’s a lot to get excited about here and a lot for voters to latch onto.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score/Best Original Song

Dunkirk/Darkest Hour

Is there another year we’ve had two films functionally about the same event that have both attracted as much attention as these two have? Two films about the Evacuation of Dunkirk, one on the ground and one back in London making the decisions, both attracting huge Oscar attention. Dunkirk for Nolan’s visceral, “You Are There” filmmaking and sheer towering technical achievement, Darkest Hour as a more traditional chamber prestige drama rotating around its dialogue and the huge, flashy lead performance from Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.

Maybe (Both)?: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score
Maybe (Dunkirk)?: Just name a technical award
Maybe (Darkest Hour)?: Best Actor (Gary Oldman), Best Original Screenplay

The Shape of Water

With its Golden Lion win at Venice Film Festival, The Shape of Water technically becomes the first “Oscar season” picture to put some points on the board. Guillermo del Toro’s Cold War fairy tale of the love between a mute woman and a fish man has been getting gushing love throughout the critical spectrum. So far, the film has been praised for its sensuality and sensitivity as well as performances from lead Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones as well as supporting work from Richard Jenkins. That the design and directorial work is also extremely strong should surprise no one.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Sally Hawkins), Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins), Best Original Screenplay, All Technical Awards

Battle of the Sexes

The kind of film that will play like gangbusters for Hollywood and the critical audience (given every piece was “This is the election, but not the election”), it will be no surprise when Battle of the Sexes gets to be a huge crowd-pleaser coasting on that love to plenty of safe nominations. The sitting Best Actress winner apparently turns out another exceptional performance, so it’ll be interesting to see if she can pull it off again.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Actress (Emma Stone), Best Actor (Steve Carrell), Best Original Screenplay

Mudbound

Netflix’s attempt to get Oscar prestige has been, at least for me, the most quietly fascinating story in Hollywood. Not content being at this point synonymous with watching things on streaming and not content with being a player in just the TV awards, Netflix has been buying up prestige pics and projects right and left. Dee Rees’ post-WWII story of race and family has attracted a lot of attention and seems well up the Academy’s alley as one of the few Black films this year getting any attention.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Jason Mitchell), Best Supporting Actor (Garret Hedlund), Best Supporting Actress (Carey Mulligan), Best Original Screenplay

Don’t Count Them Out

The Films of A24

A24, having won last year’s Best Picture in one of the most dramatic Oscar moments ever, shows no intention on slowing down. While none of the three below are sure things, A24 has a really solid marketing and schmoozing department and the attention and love these have been getting mean that you absolutely shouldn’t count any out. Plus, the fact that these are three of the films that are getting very little division in a divisive year should be worth paying attention to.

Greta Gerwig making a story about women by women that apparently features an incredibly strong performance from lead Saiorse Ronan (already an Oscar darling). Melting everyone’s hearts.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (Saiorse Ronan)

Director of Tangerine makes a working class comedy with a confident directorial style. Amazing Willem Dafoe, great child performances, tapping into stories about the poor and working class.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Willem Dafoe), Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, Best Cinematography

And here’s my “Dark Horse” pick. Almost universally well-reviewed right now, a film about the passion and love of filmmaking from a director and star who can apparently surprise with a story that has a huge amount of appeal to the newly young Academy. A story about Hollywood anchored by a performance digging into the heart of someone that seems larger than life. I think we should prepare for a lot from The Disaster Artist.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Actor (James Franco), Best Adapted Screenplay

Get Out

One of this year’s bonafide cultural phenomenons, Get Out is the kind of populist blockbuster hit that also has a serious brain, its ideas quickly passing into the cultural aether. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut tapped a vein that a smart studio could easily turn into legitimate Oscar gold. And, given how great this movie is, it really does deserve it and the recognition that we need more stories like this could be good for the industry.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Actor (Daniel Kaluuya), Best Supporting Actress (Lil Rel Howery), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay

The Big Sick

Another romantic and bonafide crowd pleaser, the success of The Big Sick seems primed to wedge its way into the Oscar race. Amazon showed off its Oscar prowess with Manchester by The Sea last year and the industry seems to have absolutely fallen for the story of how writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, already cult favorites, fell in love.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay

I, Tonya

itonya_02-useforannouncement

A very recent entry into the consideration category, this one really just comes down to whether it’s released this year or not. Just picked up by NEON, they could choose to hold it for a 2018 release. If they don’t, the true story of one of the most bizarre stories in sports, apparently told with a 4th-wall breaking Coen-esque flair. Plus, Margot Robbie is just about at the point in her career where it’s time for her to win an Oscar and Allison Janney is apparently stealing the show at every turn.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Actress (Margot Robbie), Best Supporting Actress (Allison Janney), Best Original Screenplay

3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh has never exactly been one for a lot of prestige success, his seriously sweary scripts attract a lot of niche and critical love but are rarely going past recognition for screenplays. But between Frances McDormand’s tornado performance and an incredibly stacked cast in a film that seems to have a little heart alongside its caustic nature might go well for this film.

Maybe?: Best Actress (Frances McDormand), Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell)

Count Them Out

Suburbicon

Boy, George Clooney sure can whiff ’em. Reactions seem to be generally negative on this one, a film too divided between a dark comedy and an attempt at a social issues picture to work at either. If no one likes it, nothing is gonna stick.

mother!

What’s the opposite of a crowd pleaser? Darren Aronofsky’s psycho-horror mother! is getting a lot of great reviews and I’m dying to see it, but even the most positive word has cautioned that this movie will absolutely not be for everyone with one of the most verifiably insane third acts. The kind of movie that promises to “Mess. You. Up.” is gonna have a really difficult time getting its claws into an Academy Award.

Roman J. Israel, Esq

A chance for Denzel to win another award, but early word seems way too divided on this movie, mostly saying that it just doesn’t ever end up coming together, a lot of raw material that doesn’t quite work. Denzel could rise above, but if no one likes the movie, that’ll be hard. Nightcrawler didn’t exactly light up the Academy either.

Downsizing

While early word out of Venice was positive, this mostly seems to be getting slammed once it gets to American shores. A premise that mostly feels wasted and Payne maybe over-extending his reach a little bit. The word about the Vietnamese refugee character really doesn’t seem to help.

The Current War

The honorary winner of the trailer with the SINGLE LOUDEST CAMERA I’VE EVER SEEN, the constant bag of tricks apparently didn’t mean anything for this film. Reviews say that this is the same bland prestige biopic that always stars Benedict Cumberbatch…just with the camera spinning basically everywhere.

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3 Things to Watch This Week: Inaugural Edition

Welcome everyone to what I’m hoping will be a regular column. Pretty much every site does one of these, so you get the gist of it. Three things I want to recommend you give a watch, for one reason or another. One of these will be up every Tuesday, talking about things that aren’t going to get full reviews, but should absolutely be on your radar.

Maybe they’ll be new movies or TV? Maybe it’s something classic I’m just now paying attention to. Whatever it is, this is what should be streaming or spinning in your DVD player this week.

Get Me Roger Stone

Billed as a documentary about Trump booster and Republican “Dirty Tricks” operative Roger Stone, the secret of Get Me Roger Stone is that it’s basically the best horror movie of the year.

Its monster is Roger Stone himself, a man so dedicated to winning at all costs that he injects his own personal brand of venom into the entire Republican party, seeing it twisted into his own image. Something like a Body Politic Horror, the thesis is that Roger Stone’s style of politics has had such remarkable effectiveness over the course of the last decade, lurking in the shadows and subtly unlocking the hearts and minds of those in power to unleash their true dark potential.

Get Me Roger Stone doesn’t believe that the current twelve-ring-fuck-up-circus is a creation of the last few years, but rather a slow creeping sickness of which it vacillates between Stone being the infection or the symptom. Trump is the ultimate validation of his dirty politics, a win at all cost mentality.

It’s incredibly well-composed. While I wish a few threads had stuck around (the idea of Stone as the proto-showbiz politician is dropped too soon), Get Me Roger Stone is so good at twisting the knife over the course, directors Morgan Pehme, Dylan Bank and Daniel DiMauro drawing out the threads of his operations and his beliefs before pulling them all together in a stomach-dropping montage of the 2016 election.

You may wonder why Stone would agree to something that makes him so easy to hate. Well, beyond the quote there in the header up top, it’s perhaps because the film so validates the effectiveness, his amoral drive to win. It’s a film that makes him the Machiavellian Orchestrator behind every Conservative political move in the last 40 years. Whether you buy it or not, he certainly wants you to.

And as the man himself says:

“I revel in your hatred because if I weren’t effective, you wouldn’t hate me.”

Streaming on Netflix

Samurai Jack (Season 5)

The long-awaited return of Samurai Jack has functioned as something like the series’ Logan, a chance for creator Genndy Tartakovsky to throw off the creative restrictions of content restrictions and open up a world with all the darkness and violence that has always lurked under the surface.

Yet that isn’t necessarily what’s made this season work so extraordinarily well. Blood has amped up the stakes, and the ability to explore what exactly being alone for 50 years with no hope of returning home might do to a man’s psyche has given the show a new sense of depth.

But what’s worked is that Season 5 has been Samurai Jack with an endgame, a story to reach and Tartakovsky at the height of his powers, while still being the same core show that was so popular.

Its action fundamentally still over-the-top and masterfully rendered. Its environment and visuals still gorgeously and meticulously crafted. There’s still kind of goofy sense of humor at the heart of it all, the first villain is Scaramouche, a Paul Lynde-talking robot jazz assassin.

It’s willing to go directions it never has, but retains its core.

Streaming on Adultswim.com

(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer is perhaps one of the better examples of how badly the studio system can end up chewing up filmmakers and spitting them out.

Marc Webb, best known at this point for directing two Spider-Man films that can muster a pleasant nod at their best notes, has essentially turned into a hired gun, a bland and anonymous journeyman shooting with enough personality to keep the studio chugging along, Gifted perhaps the nadir of all this so far.

All of this makes it particularly insane to look back at the debut that made his name and simply realizing how bursting with life it was.

(500) Days of Summer shows a filmmaker who basically can’t stop moving. Every frame is something new, some way to discover a part of the story, some stylistic trick that still drills down into the character, some show of his knowledge of the craft. He’s playing with the French New Wave, there’s a musical number, he’s dipping the film into black-and-white, he’s giving a Rashomon impression. It’s a film that’s so gosh-darned excited to be getting made that it’s showing every trick in the book, a sort of melancholy exuberance in its construction.

In its best moment, it indulges in a bit of fantasy crushed by reality. The famous “Expectations vs. Reality” split-screen, on just enough of a delay to see the thoughts unfold before the world as it really happens. The Expectations are not some soaring La La Land, the Reality is not some sickeningly painful experience. They’re tempered, and all the more powerful for how recognizable both those are. There are few moments that ever so quite convey the soft tragedy of things not going as you’d imagine them quite like this.

One can imagine a world where Marc Webb continued along this vein easily, and in directing the pilot of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, he sort of did, that show perhaps picked up this movie’s torch better than anything else has. If only he’d make another film quite so effective and interesting. At least we’ve still got this one.

Rentable on all major streaming platforms