I Don’t Have A Vote: The 89th Annual Oscars – You are ruining Everything

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89th Annual Oscars – You’re Ruining Everything

Save us, Jimmy Kimmel. Save us.

This year, with all that’s going on in the rest of the world, we need movies more than ever as a distraction. Awards shows in the modern era normally have a certain amount of politics thrown in, but Meryl Streep’s  flatulent performance at the Globes really ruined it for a lot of people, including our entire house. One can hope they don’t hand her a microphone this year, but this is unlikely.

My heart was set even further asunder when I saw how good a speech can be. George Kennedy is not everyone’s first thought as an Oscar winner. And that also included George Kennedy.

Could you imagine anyone winning the award Post Halle Berry handling it with such grace? It beats talking about saving the planet from climate change and then flying off in a lear jet to go spend time on one’s yacht any day.

My wife wants to skip it. My youngest daughter wants to watch Jimmy. So do I. Looks like we’re going to have to rely on our DVR so we can cut the crap and enjoy the crappy spectacle.

As a result of that one complete overindulgence, I nearly lost the will to tell you what I liked best this year. This is as close to forcing it as writing comes for me. There was some good things in the movies this year though, and I think we need to talk about it.

My pick for the best in film this year is a lot closer to what the Academy picked this year. I can almost see it from here when there are no clouds at night. It’s somewhere behind Pluto.

So I will give everyone my take on who I would have won the awards. Often it’s someone who isn’t on the board, and that is okay. This follows with who I think should win of the nominees. I hope you find some way to enjoy some movies that may not be mentioned at all tonight.

Best Film:

I gave my highest rating to Hacksaw Ridge, Fences,  The Girl With All The Gifts, Loving and Captain America: Civil WarArrival and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story almost got there, too. That’s a pretty good year. Of these films, the one that I think accomplished the most is McCarthy’s take on an apocalyptic vision. In under two hours we see one of the most brilliant philosophical musings about moving forward as a species ever placed in such a humble package. If you haven’t seen it and you can stomach a zombie film that discusses and understands Schrödinger’s Cat, you should.

Of the nominees:

I need to go with Fences. It’s the best of those films. La La Land will likely win. Most winners for best picture ended up being just above average (at ***1/2 stars) for me.

Best Director: 

Arrival accomplished the most amazing thing this year in its approach to sci-fi. We have as many heady subjects going on as are occurring in The Girl With All The Gifts, and most importantly, Villeneuve works carefully with his team to avoid any of the tropes that we see in even the best sci-fi. It’s lone weakness of circular logic is insignificant when one considers we are going back to the most basic form of communication to ponder some of the deepest philosophical and heart-wrenching truths of human existence. His work here, along with an incredibly dense (if short) career’s worth of work places him just above McCarthy.

Of the nominees: 

Villeneuve. Gibson has created a powerful film that seems at once of its time and timeless, but I have to defer to the power of Villeneuve’s simple choices.

Best Actor:

Andrew Garfield has a great performance as a man driven by impulses that many can’t understand. Denzel Washington has the kind of vulnerable performance that he’s never done before. My favorite performance of the year is Ryan Gosling in…The Nice Guys. I spent much of La La Land realizing how good he had been and subsequently went home and watched it again. His range therein moves from incomparable weenie, to overwrought widower, horrible father to great father. If there were ever a performer that completely absorbed Shane Black’s vision, this is it.

Of the nominees:

Garfield may never be nominated again, and it would be nice to see him win. But there is no way he was better than Washington.

Best Actress:

Sennia Nanua has what I consider the most memorable and poignant performance of the year. Her journey from complete innocence to an understanding of her role in the advancement of humanity is one that I will not forget.

Of the nominees:

I am so hopeful that Ruth Negga wins this category for Loving. Her performance is the best of those that I saw. What I have seen of Huppert’s performance in Elle intrigues me. WeMissE has me thinking I need to watch this film today. But dear God, whatever you do, don’t give this to Streep.

Best Supporting Actor: 

Russell Hornsby and Stephen Henderson keep coming to my mind for their divergent takes on the sons of Troy Maxson in Fences. Both present incredibly resonant reactions to a father who is different to both of them and continues to change. I didn’t expect to be so enamored with their bit roles, but they really help to bring the story into focus with their performances. No one can take this award from Mahershala Ali, though.

Of the nominees: 

Ali.I love Shannon. He really made chicken salad here. Bridges is great here, too. But he’s done this guy before, even if the ending of this film pushes him to another level.

Best Supporting Actress:

There really can be no other discussion beyond who is second best. Davis has this award locked and she deserves it. This is a performance of the ages.

Of the nominees:

Davis. Just don’t thank Meryl Streep.

Best Original Screenplay:

Hell or High Water has about the best ending of any film this year. The only one that was better is Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s Rogue One A Star Wars Story. It’s remarkable achievements include creating a cast of original characters, making A New Hope‘s weaknesses disappear, and adding to the mythology while detracting the dorkiness factor. It’s truly a remarkable achievement in a series I had given up on seeing a good script from.

Of the nominees:

La La Land has a good script, but of this group, the best one I have seen is Hell or High Water. Sheridan is on a roll.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

This truly is a race between Fences, The Girl with All the Gifts and Arrival. The difference here is that the former is almost entirely word for word from the original. There is no real adapting, because it is perfect the way it is. Arrival is has had some work done, but then there is that circular logic thing. I enjoy both of them so much, it’s literally a tossup. Either of them will not be forgotten. My pick is The Girl with All the Gifts. It’s an extraordinary story that could be understood by kids as well as adults, even if the subject matter can be gruesome.

Of the nominees: 

Same here, though I give Arrival a slight edge since Wilson has already taken home some pretty impressive accolades (including 2 Pulitzer Prizes, one for this) and he would not be around to pick up the trophy, since he passed 12 years ago.

Best Cinematography:

Arrival and La La Land are both fantastic in this category. Simon Duggan’s work in Hacksaw Ridge is extraordinary. The work that stands out for me is Ben Davis’ seamless blend of effects and imagery in Doctor Strange. It’s one thing to push forward the incredible work done in dimensional photography in Inception. It’s quite another to completely replicate the remarkable comic book look shot for shot.

Of the nominees: 

This is one category I think La La Land should win.

Best Animated Film:

Moana is another in the long line of Disney Princess films that will resonate for generations. Sure it misunderstands the purpose of promoting a woman is to make her look good without denigrating men, but damn the visuals are exquisite and the songs are catchy. Zootopia is a really good movie too, but it’s preaching so much, the good stuff is harder to detect while trying to weave out the bad. For this reason, I have to go with the art of Kubo and the 2 Strings.

Of the nominees:

Kubo

I don’t know if I will ever stop watching this celebration of movies. As bad as it usually is each year, it’s still the best thing we have to mark the passage of a year in the age of film. It really helps if Jimmy Kimmel is on his game, though. We need him more than ever this year.

 

 

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Doctor Strange (****) cuts a few corners but is no less enjoyable

 

Dr. Strange – 2016

Director Scott Derrickson
Screenplay by John Spaihts, C. Robert Cargill and Derrickson
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton

We may be reaching a breaking point on guest stars in Marvel films. The talent in Dr. Strange is at once invigorating and frustrating. To find that Ejiofor plays Mordo gives a feeling of exhilaration for all of the possibility it represents. Then we find he’s limited in both personality and exposition to the point where it’s amazing that he could be considered the good Dr.’s primary nemesis throughout the series. It’s one thing to be parenthetical to future growth. It’s something else to be an afterthought.

Making Derrickson the choice to bring Dr. Strange to the screen was a gamble. He’s been up (Sinister) and mixed (nearly everything else) but never clearly gifted to the point of being a can’t miss. The Russo Brothers, James Gunn and even Peyton Reed show that Feige has the midas touch so far. The biggest problem for all of the Marvel films is that which affects all superhero films. Rinsed and repeatable plots and bad guys. The difference for the studio is that they have made Easter Egg plot devices an art form.

The penchant for future payoff is likely what they had in mind with Mordo. Even if that is the case, does it hurt the plot to make him more than a rule follower, or at least interesting at some level beyond right hand man to the Swinton’s Ancient One?

In all fairness, kudos to Feige for not bowing to public pressure in the casting choices of the director. The whitewashing anger movement in Hollywood makes about as much sense as complaining about the lack of diversity in Bollywood or within K Drama. Swinton is not my favorite actor, but her choice as the old wizened leader of Marvel’s mystic arts makes sense. Age, color, nationality, culture…how much of this stuff is rooted in magical mysticism? Once your soul departs your body, what does it matter the color?

For those who don’t know the story, Dr. Strange tells the story of an incredibly gifted surgeon who stupidly throws it all away while trying to look at x-rays in his car while passing on a two lane ocean road. The accident leaves his hands useless, but he refuses to acknowledge that his faith in Western Medicine can’t bring him back to his former glory.

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This eventually leads Strange to Kathmandu and to Mordo, Wong (Wong) and the Ancient One. The story makes it’s more interesting assumptions here. All time we take getting Strange from Tony Stark mode to “teach me” is 30 minutes, or about 1/3 into the running time. From here, Strange needs to train fast enough to get back to Sanctum Sanctorum and then find out about the bad guy Kaecilius (Mikkelson) and then fight him.

Whether or not it could be done efficiently, Derrickson is all over the map here.  The strangest aspect to this section is the loose comparison of Strange to the Ancient One’s other great student, Kaecilius. Strange is breezing through books with his photographic memory and soon enough, he’s Hermione Granger.

In the midst of his training, Strange wanders right past the regular magic books and grabs one of the Ancient One special editions. Strange learns that while no knowledge is forbidden, Kaecilius thought it juicy enough to steal a couple of pages out of one of the texts. Guess what Strange is going to go for next? Not before we see he has problems mastering the teleportation spell. One lesson at Everest cures him. Very soon thereafter, his training ends abruptly and we’re thrust into the last act of the film.

Kaecilius is an amalgam of bad guys from Marvel. In short strokes, he thinks that Ancient One is a hypocrite because it has access to something that is forbidden to others. The logic seems flawed, as there is a lot of information available and no one tending the library during crucial moments.

Mads is not here to have an original character. He’s here to put his original twist to a character we all know. It’s Mikkelson’s charisma that makes more than a match to Cumberbatch. The first matchup between the two is made more interesting for the apparent lack of preparation and sheer luck involved. Things happen that we don’t expect, yet they make sense while being beautifully timed. That it happens so soon in the arc of the hero’s’ journey adds to the freshness, even if it doesn’t make that much sense.

The way that confrontation ends should be the end to the story, but frustratingly and stupidly they allow for more exposition until…well, you’ll see.

Cumberbatch plays the titular character with less real nuance than one would expect. It doesn’t exactly hurt the character, because, come on, it’s about the magic at this point. We need to see him move from egotist, to coward to master magician. There should be learning with no hugging, and Cumberbatch can do this with plenty to spare. He’s more likable while being just as much of an ass. It will be fun to find out how far he takes strange in future installments.

The overwhelming feeling while watching Dr. Strange is that of fun. The effects, the tone and the frenetic pace astounds. There are no moments where the exposition outweighs forward story movement. It’s good on first viewing, better with second viewing.

If it can be considered a fault, we see too many characters that could be considered major for one installment. The lack of character development is more pronounced than it would be if it were a bunch of stormtroopers being dispatched. It’s not like Marvel has only one chance to get each of these sub-franchises right by this point. Okay, well, the Hulk doesn’t count. Maybe it’s representative of having the less established directors.  We know Feige’s been here before, though. Let the foot off the gas a bit.

(**** out of *****)