Thursday, February 6, 2020

Our Academy Award Predictions (and Winners) for the 2019 Films plus Short Takes on The Rhythm Section

Comments (and a review) by Ken Burke

 Here's our 9th annual Oscar-predictions-posting (with some repeated intro statements from past versions because certain situations don’t change much year-to-year, but at least I’m admitting my self-plagiarization), although I’ll admit some of my “insightful predictions” are just wild speculations based on industry gossip (or less than that, given I haven’t even seen some of these nominees).  All sorts of people have opinions as to whom they think should win the upcoming Oscars—as opposed to predicting who will win (I do both in the lists below)—so your opinions are just as valid as mine, although if you’re trying to win money in an Oscar pool you might want to consult industry-insider-sources such as this video (18:21) and this one (17:32) with input from Deadline, Gold Derby, IndieWire, and Variety or these will/should-thoughts from The Hollywood Reporterbut I’ll take my usual chances in posting my predictions whether I agree with these “experts” or not.  However, you might find the Metacritic tally of which films have actually won awards or been nominated to be a more-tangible-indicator but only for the major categories, not the many technical or more-obscure-areas not covered in their survey (further, Metacritic also tracks various critics' opinions with often little overlap on how Oscar voters might choose so tread carefully with the decisions you get from us ”learned” cinema analysts because our tastes land all over the movie map, no matter how it may be gerrymandered).  Another consideration in terms of how these Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences results come out, however, is the level of integrity exercised by the voters in terms of making decisions based on word-of-mouth, colleagues’ recommendations, Golden Globe winners, or other outside influences with these roughly 9,000 ballot-casters of the almost 10,000 Academy members who can weigh in on most of these categories (I think a few of the more obscure ones still require proof of viewing before a vote can count; otherwise, everybody votes on everything) without necessarily having expertise in some of the technical areas or choosing something they’re familiar with without having seen all of a category’s nominees.  Carey Mulligan suggests proof of viewing for all categories, as a reaction to how notable films from this year’s potential-crop focused on women (she notes Hustlers and The Farewell) were largely overlooked in the final nominees’ lists (or the complaint Little Women got 6 noms overall—including Best Picture—but none for Greta Gerwig as director, just as adapted screenwriter).  Of course, if Mulligan’s recommendation became mandatory there might be vastly fewer voters (even skewing toward the older ones who aren’t as active in the production world) because, as she notes, each Academy member probably gets about 100 screeners (DVDs) from studios making a pitch for their product to folks who’re too busy making films to have time to watch all the others in the marketplace, but even with the screeners there’s no guarantee how many of them get watched.  So, choosing awards may be as much of a crapshoot as trying to predict winners, but—in 1917 terms—let us “soldier on” to this year’s situation anyway.

Group photo of the 2020 Oscar nominees available for the annual pre-awards luncheon.
 With recognition of the above considerations, here are my predictions and preferences in all 24 of the 24 competitive categories (I’ve seen none of the Shorts so I'm just making random wild guesses in those areas)—with winners and other comments to be added soon after the ceremony.  Color-coding key: red = my prediction, green = my preference of the nominees, red + green = prediction and preference (gold + bold updated here next week = WINNER! [plus update comments on my prognostications]).  In deference to my waning sanity and a desire to not clutter up this posting more than necessary (what a change!), I’ll skip my usual identification of directors, year of release, and date of a Two Guys review after most of the titles listed below, but you can see our Summary of Reviews to get that info if you like (assuming we’ve posted a review for a specific title after our launch in late 2011)—you’ll find the current nominees in many of the categories below but not so much in Animated, Documentary, and International features (with a couple of screenings a week I don’t claim to see everything that’s released, even when available) or any of this year’s Shorts—however, please note you do have to scroll through the various star clusters (each one alphabetized) in the Summary to find what you’re looking for so it does take a little time.  (But the results will certainly be well worth it; where else would you read such brilliance?)  One more thing, just for clarity: When the nominations are determined they come from the various branches within the Academy (actors, directors, screenwriters, various technical areas) except for Best Picture which everyone can nominate, with some determination (I don’t know what) as to how many finalists there’ll be up to a maximum of 10 for that top award, but when it’s time to vote in the actual categories everyone can weigh in on everything (except, as noted above, a few categories may still require verification of viewing) so actors are voting on sound mixing, set designers are voting on actors, etc., allowing bandwagon effects to often sweep something along in a gush of general popularity (with the counter-possibility of some well-liked-entries getting a “compensation” award [sorry, sound mixers] in some technical category because it likely won’t succeed in what many [including me] consider the major categories [my 8 below with the detailed comments, although I give more attention to scriptwriting than others in determining what “major” means in this context]); a further complication for Best Picture is there the voting is ranked, so it’s not just what finalist gets the most votes in a 1-round-tally but instead the 2nd, 3rd, etc. choices also are factored in possibly resulting in a win for something with more down-ballot-votes than #1 choices.  A crapshoot again!

2/10/2020—This year I did considerably better than in 2019 when I got just 14 of 23 (didn’t attempt 1 category where I’d seen nothing) for 61% correct; my 2020 predictions ended up being right for 18 of the 24 (I still hadn’t seen everything in all the races but decided to chance some “insight” anyway) for a 75% success rate, with my favorite-movie-going-companion, my wife, Nina Kindblad, also getting 75% of them right (not in all the same categories, but never ignore her intuitions) who once again was guessing in some cases (we’ve been trading the same lousy cold for the last month—which I find in re-reading last year's Oscar posting was the same situation then healthwise, but it's almost clear for both of us nowso there were a few times I saw something without her when I was the one feeling better), but at least we came out even this time unlike in 2019 where some of her guesses gave her the better total).  Still, when compared to the other prognosticators I noted above we did notably better than any of them (including our local-critical-guru, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle who only publicly predicted winners in the first 6 categories I detail below, so while we tied him there with getting 4 of the actual 6, at least we attempted all 24 so I consider that a win for us); all those other predictors previously cited only attempted half (or fewer) than the full 24, yet even with less coverage than Nina and me, we still came out with better percentages—except for the true champs of this group, Scott Feinberg and Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter, whose 20 of 24 correct predictions yields an awesome 83% success for them.  Clearly, none of us were prepared for Parasite taking Best Picture and Best Director (no one cited in this posting got that right) in addition to its more-anticipated-victories, but—even with my continuing support for The Irishman (despite its 0 for 10 result; damn!)—I salute Bong Joon Ho for his triumphs (first time for a win—or even a nomination, I think—in any of its categories for a South Korean film), giving some support for the needed-diversity so many continue to demand of the Oscars.  In no case where my actual favorite was not my prediction did my cherished-ones prevail so only 10 of those simultaneous predictions/favorites come out on top, but I don’t think anyone was “robbed”—at least too much—by any winner, surprise or not.  Just before the ceremony I did get a chance to see the Live Action Short Films so my comments about those 5 will be posted a bit later this week.

Best Picture

Ford v Ferrari  (review posted on November 27, 2019)

The Irishman (review posted on November 21, 2019)

Jojo Rabbit (review posted on November 13, 2019)

Joker (review posted on October 9, 2019)

Little Women (review posted on January 2, 2020)

Marriage Story (review posted on December 11, 2019)

1917 (review posted on January 22, 2020)

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (review posted on August 1, 2019)

Parasite (review posted on October 31, 2019)  WINNER!

 Just as the Democratic Party seems to now have 4 main candidates—Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigeig—vying to be the nominee to run for the Presidency next fall (with a few other hopeful-contenders not likely to rise to the top unless something surprising happens between now and then, such as unforeseen results when the final count comes in from the Iowa caucuses—what a mess that turned out to be; yikes!) so too the Oscar contenders for Best Picture seem to most likely be The Irishman, 1917, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, and Parasite (with the other 5 equally-hopeful of an upset, unless maybe Joker has enough interest to slip past the front-runners—as well it might, given the criteria I cite in the next paragraph below, as it won Best Actor-Drama [Joaquin Phoenix] at the Golden Globes, Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role from the Screen Actors Guild, topped everything else at the Oscars with 11 nominations, but, strangely enough, is rarely in the conversations for winning Best Picture).  The top-tier-status of the 4 I’ve just noted is based on a combination of total nominations (an indicator a film has diverse support from the various branches of the Academy), active support from critics (not that our opinions are so well respected  [especially mine, out here on the edge of obscurity, most popular with readers from Goggle’s “Unknown Region”*] but a consideration in terms of giving legitimacy to the awards, a factor that usually steers Best Picture possibilities away from superhero, sci-fi, and other overtly-genre-based hopefuls), insider-chatter among the voters (those columnists more active in the industry report what they discern about this; however, it’s mostly speculation, just like how people say they’ll vote in a political poll, to be seemingly in tune with their neighbors, but actually choose someone else privately, leading at times to election-night-surprises), and winners from the industry-guilds (which often overlap Academy membership so there’s some built-in-momentum heading into the Oscar balloting) or the Golden Globes (whose miniscule cadre of voters—the roughly 90 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association—really have little overlap within the industry but for some obscure reason provide an encouragement to harried Oscar voters as to which of those many screeners piled up by their DVD players to actually look at).

*As I detailed in my predictions for Oscars for 2018 films, since this blog began in late 2011 I’ve agreed with the Academy’s choice for Best Picture 4 of 8 times (although in 3 of those years my true favorite didn’t even make their finalists’ lists; at least they've added The Irishman into the hunt).

My #1 for 2019, The Irishman, won't likely win many (any?) Oscars, but I'm giving it whatever recognition
I can, even with just a photo.
  Also, I'm going to recommend this anatomy of a scene (6:57) where actor
Stephen Graham discusses improv work with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro
(and in an earlier scene also).
 Based on those considerations you have my assumptions about why certain nominees are the top 4 probables as 1917 has 10 Oscar noms, won the Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture-Drama and Best Director (Sam Mendes) along with the Producers Guild award for Outstanding Motion Picture; Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood has 10 Oscar noms, got the Globes for Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Brad Pitt); Parasite has 6 Oscar noms, the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture-Foreign Language, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award for Best Ensemble Cast Performance in a Motion Picture (their equivalent of Best Film), the prestigious Palme d’Or from the Cannes Film Festival (“best of show” essentially); while in those realms The Irishman has only 10 Oscar noms, no big outside wins, but a lifetime of respect from Oscar voters for its director (Martin Scorsese) and principal actors (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci—Oscar winners all, 2 for De Niro) so don’t discount that intimidating-heritage.  It seems to me 1917 has the most momentum at this point, but I wouldn’t discount the Hollywood-insider-lovers for supporting Once Upon a Time… given their option of giving the top award to director Quentin Tarantino, long a fixture in Tinseltown who’s already announced a soon-to-be-retirement; there seems to be a lot of interest in Parasite also, yet it's surely a lock on International Feature so maybe the voters'll decide it doesn’t need a double-dip.  Had these choices been up to me I’d had left out Ford …, Jojo …, … Women (I hear my former students at all-undergrad-women-Mills College in Oakland, CA giving me the collective raspberry; however, I just wasn’t as impressed by it as a good many others seem to be), instead (in order) taken Pain and Glory, A Hidden Life, Rocketman, and Just Mercy, but who knows what rises to the upper plateau this year as that ranked-ballot-voting can easily elevate anything with a lot of #2 and #3 choices.  Crapshoot indeed!


Martin Scorsese, The 

Todd Phillips, Joker

Sam Mendes, 1917

Quentin Tarantino, Once 
  Upon a Time…in 

Bong Joon Ho, Parasite   WINNER!

 This category may give Oscar voters one of their hardest choices because while the tendency to opt for pairing up the Best Director with Best Picture is a reasonable decision it’s not always been the case recently (just last year, for example, Green Book took the top honor but the director’s statuette went to Alfonso Caurón for Roma, just as in 2006 Ang Lee was chosen Best Director for Brokeback Mountain while Best Picture went to Crash [one of those L.A.-centric films often popular with Academy voters, although even that idea has limitations as we saw in 2017 with La La Land losing—after its brief moment of mistaken celebration—to Moonlight]).  This year there’s a solid probability that wins will connect 1917 and Mendes, but my thought is that after it all shakes out in the voting there could be a slight edge for Tarantino in this category because the Best Picture voters will assume 1917 will endure yet they want to give Quentin something significant.  More likely, though, is praise for the tremendous logistical accomplishment of Mendes with 1917 probably leading to an abundance of votes in this category to ensure at least 1 of the top awards for this extraordinary feat of cinematic choreography, winning this same award from the Golden Globes as well as the Directors Guild of America (see my review of January 22, 2020 for links on how this all was accomplished, along with my complaint about a major structural concern—and a possible [although not totally convincing to me] explanation for this problem as part of my 2019 Top 10 posting).  Some thought from voters might go to the reality Scorsese (The Departed) and Mendes (American Beauty) have won this award before, giving a sense of sympathy for the other 3, but I do think Mendes will win again (I also think Scorsese had an equally-challenging task for recreating an earlier time in his film [as did Tarantino], then having to consistently juggle specific temporal frames within the larger era, so given my overall support for The Irishman I’d hand him the trophy; further, I think voters will sense sure awards otherwise for Joker, Once …, and Parasite further narrowing the field for Mendes).  Some have complained Greta Gerwig should have been nominated here for Little Women, but I can’t truly support her presence over any of these 5 finalists, even if it does make for another all-male-contest; had it been up to me, I’ve had added Pedro Almodóvar for Hope and Glory, forcing me to drop Phillips, not an easy choice at all.  Whoever takes this revered category will richly deserve the honor.

Actor in a Leading Role

Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory

Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time…
  in Hollywood

Adam Driver, Marriage Story

Joaquin Phoenix, Joker  WINNER!

Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

 Once we enter into the realm of acting, though, there seems to be little hesitation as to the predictions for all 4 of these categories, beginning here with Phoenix as Best Actor, an honor he’s already received from SAG as well as the Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Drama (he’s also my #1 choice of any male lead role I saw from last year, as well as my no-doubt-favorite among these nominees).  While it may always be a topic of debate as to which chilling, demented personification of Batman’s chief nemesis is tops between that of Phoenix and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (for which he was awarded a most-worthy [posthumous] Best Supporting Actor Oscar)—or maybe we could just call each of these astounding performances a tie in granting due respect to both—there seems little doubt Phoenix will finally get an acting Oscar, even though all of his competitors were also outstanding in their roles, 3 of them never having achieved an acting Oscar at any level either (DiCaprio got Best Actor for The Revenant at the 2016 ceremony, further decreasing his chances).  Even though I have no hesitation in Phoenix taking this award, I’d have dumped DiCaprio and Pryce in favor of my #2, Robert Di Nero, in The Irishman (award-worthy in his own right), and my #5, Adam Sandler, in Uncut Gems; no matter, though, Phoenix has had this honor wrapped up since the film came out last October.  We can even feel some sympathy for how this mentally-tortured man evolves into a deadly-villain given all the cruelty he endured in his early years, yet the homicidal-maniac he becomes is a terror (even if, as some speculate, everything we see of his career of chaos is all in his mind as he’s confined—for now—in an insane asylum), awaiting yet another confrontation with another incarnation of Batman.

Actress in a Leading Role

Cynthia Erivo, Harriet

Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Charlize Theron, Bombshell

Renee Zellweger, Judy  WINNER!

 Similarly, Zellweger seems to have a lock on Best Actress, with parallel wins to Phoenix from both SAG and the Golden Globes (hers for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture-Drama), even though she has a previous Oscar but it was for Supporting Actress in Cold Mountain (Theron’s already got a Best Actress Oscar for Monster, while the others combine for a good number of Oscar noms but no wins so far).  While I’d have bumped Ronan for the marvelous dual role played by Lupita Nyong’o in Us (further enhancing the need so frequently demanded for more diversity among these nominees, an ongoing complaint about Oscar choices, related more—in my opinion—to what on-screen-products have become available for directors/writers/actors of color to get involved in through financing/hiring/marketing options than to blatant racism in terms of what voters have to pick from when awards categories are generally limited to only 5 final contenders).  Diversity outside of the Actress races also puts a focus on women being nominated as directors/screenwriters/cinematographers/etc., but, again, the product has to be there in the marketplace for considerations to be made; maybe this year Oscar voters were trying to encourage as much diversity in this category as possible by championed both a Black actress (although Erivo also caught criticism for being an Englishwoman portraying an iconic African-American hero) and an actress (Ronan) from a female-directed-movie (with complaints this still wasn’t enough because of Awkwafina’s [The Farewell] omission, despite her Golden Globe win for Best Actress in a Motion Picture-Comedy or Musical matches Zellwegger’s from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, leaving us with nothing for a film offering an active Asian presence, another shutout even as some shortcomings are sincerely trying to be addressed).  I suppose I could trade out Theron for Awkwafina in terms of quality of performance, but it’s a close call, one that begins to beg the intention of an award for pure artistry when you start taking demographics into account as well.  On that issue, all I can hope for is continuing diversification of the actual U.S. population so more films made by/intended to appeal to a wide range of audiences will be seen as profitable investments, increasing the options to reward high-quality-work from the fullest range of cinematic-contributors.  For now, though, based purely on impact by a performer within a narrative, Zellwegger’s revival of Judy Garland earns the win in my opinion, apparently for many more as well.

Actor in a Supporting Role

Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the

Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes

Al Pacino, The Irishman

Joe Pesci, The Irishman

Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time…
  in Hollywood  WINNER!

 I haven’t heard much complaint about the finalists in this group, except for the quiet grumblings that The Irishman and Marriage Story (more chatter on the latter in the next discussion) may be facing the situation of a quiet Academy boycott not because they’re financed by Netflix but because they only had as much theatrical exposure as they did to be able to qualify for Oscar consideration (by current rules, except for International Features which have their own release-date-requirements within their primary country of production/financing, all the current Oscar contenders must have played for at least 1 week during 2019 in at least 1 theater in Los Angeles County), they were never intended to be fighting it out with other releases for recognition/financial success in the cineplexes, instead mainly trying to attract streaming patrons at home, working against the need to keep people going out to theaters rather than undercutting what the film experience has always been until recently.  (I admit I watched both these films in this manner, although I also saw The Irishman on the big screen, both not wanting to wait for the home-release date and assuming [correctly] it would have a big audiovisual impact in a theatrical setting [bringing up another concern about Oscar voters seeing a lot of contenders via home-screen-DVD, possibly undercutting the impact the films have when viewed as intended—I can’t imagine 1917 being nearly as impactful as how I saw it when watched in a home theater, even the highly-sophisticated-system put together by my tech-literate brother-in-law].)  For me, no one of this group matches Pacino’s explosive performance in The Irishman (although Pesci, in an understated manner for a change, was a delight as well), yet Pitt’s win for Supporting Actor from both SAG and the Globes gives him a solid edge (especially considering how SAG winners provide strong indications for all the Oscar acting categories, given actors are the largest group within the Academy, most of them, I’m sure, also in SAG), plus he’s the only one in this group without at least 1 of these gold statuettes (Hanks has 2) for a winning performance already (although he did share a Best Picture producer’s trophy for 12 Years a Slave), so there’s sentiment for him as well as insuring something for Once … where it may get shut out in its other major categories.  Had this been up to me, though (despite the fine work of all these nominees), I’d have dumped all but Pacino and Pesci, opting instead for Willem Dafoe for The Lighthouse along with both Jamie Foxx and Tim Blake Nelson in Just Mercy (which I obviously liked more than Academy voters or even audiences [it’s made only about $38 million globally so far after 6 weeks in release]).  Still, Pacino’s my man, despite the sure-inevitability of Pitt, who was fine but not as fine for my tastes as my other choices.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell

Laura Dern, Marriage Story  WINNER!

Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit

Florence Pugh, Little Women

Margot Robbie, Bombshell

 Dern (as a fierce lawyer aiding Johansson's on-screen-divorce from Adam Driver) adds to the string of our Oscar acting nominees who’ve already won notable awards in their categories from both SAG and the Golden Globes, plus she’s also the recipient of a lot of critical attention/prediction for yet another trip to the winners’ podium so, as with the other Oscar categories in this area, I doubt there’ll be any surprises here.  Plus, a win for her would also assure some recognition for the stunning Marriage Story, widely-respected, honored with 6 Oscar noms, but not all that likely to win in any of its other races, so like with Pitt for Once … continued verification in this race for Dern will give a most-worthy-film's creators something to be happy about if it doesn’t succeed elsewhere—it’s most-likely other possibility would be in the Original Screenplay contest, where it’s most-likely other contender is also Once … so it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out in a few days.  As with the other categories so far discussed, I think all the nominees here provided us with worthy performances, although Pugh could easily be replaced for me by Zhao Shuzhen (Chinese use surnames first, unlike Western tradition where she's sometimes listed as Shuzhen Zhao) playing the grandmother in The Farewell, while there’s been a good bit of clamor that 1 of these slots should have gone to Jennifer Lopez for Hustlers (I'll come clean, I haven’t seen it, although her recent Super Bowl halftime show featured some spectacular pole dancing as well) so either one would be appreciated by those pushing for more-diverse-nominees, which could have appropriately occurred here with the subtraction of Pugh (but Little Women got only 3 stars of 5 from me so I’m certainly not the best advocate for anything about it nor do I think it deserves most of the Oscars it’s up for, even as my long-standing-membership in NOW may be jeopardized by such sentiment—if it helps any, my fiercely-feminist wife, Nina Kindblad, wasn’t that impressed by Little Women either [my review contains a link to a critique by a female writer who expressed her problems with it much more eloquently than I did, Neanderthal-male that I may well be]).  Ultimately, I do think Dern offers an impactful presence in Marriage Story, offering us a commanding performance richly-worthy of all the attention it’s getting.

Writing—Original Screenplay

Knives Out, Rian Johnson

Marriage Story, Noah 

1917, Sam Mendes and 
  Krysty Wilson-Cairns

Once Upon a Time...
  in Hollywood, Quentin 

Parasite, Bong Joon-Ho 
  and Han Jin Won   WINNER!

 So, if the acting awards probably won’t offer us much in the way of surprises the writing ones are much harder to call because good arguments can be made for several of the contenders in each of these 2 categories.  For the Original Screenplay finalists there’s the possibility of a bandwagon-effect for 1917 if voters became swept away with its overall presence, feeling each of its nominated elements must be respected as contributing to that collective-quality—although the same line of thought might be in play for Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood if a good number of the ballot-casters follow their hearts to support this paean to the ancestral home of the movie business—or, in either case, there could be concern that this is a place to attempt to insure a win for one of those top-rated-contenders in case the other one’s gotten carried into near-sweep-mode.  Then, there’s the guild-impact-factor for Parasite, winner of this award from the Writers Guild of America in another one of those situations where there are many overlapping members with the Academy so there’s already either a built-in-bloc of votes or the sense of well-earned-influence on members of the Academy’s other branches (personally, I had some conceptual problems with Parasite’s plot—therefore its script—although not enough to keep it out of my 2019 Top 10 list, but given those concerns I could never choose it over some of these others for a writing award), although there could be the attitude Parasite’s a shoo-in for the International Feature Oscar so does it really need this one as well?  That leaves us with Knives Out (which also had conceptual problems for me—again, see the review if you like—so I’d have dumped it from this category along with 1917), but it’s gotten rave-reviews, harks back to an Agatha Christy-type-mystery plot, like Once … it’s something with firm roots in past-Hollywood giving it a nostalgia factor, while my favorite of this bunch (or any other collection of Original Screenplay nominees) is Marriage Story, where I could be joined by some (or more) in the Academy as worthy of consideration here because it’s just a damn fine piece of writing that speaks to the torturous-reality of relationship-difficulties in a passionate, eloquent manner still resonating with me, even as the months roll by since I’ve seen it.  Were I running this show, I’d drop 1917, Parasite, and Knives Out in favor of (in order) Pain and Glory, Us, and Yesterday.   Of the actual contenders, though, with all these considerations I’ve noted, I think … Hollywood (my #2) will ultimately prevail.

Writing—Adapted Screenplay

The Irishman, Steven 

Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi   WINNER!

Joker, Todd Phillips and 
  Scott Silver

Little Women, Greta 

The Two Popes, Anthony 

 To begin with here in this cluster of comments, I'll provide another "quality" repeat from several past postings about the Oscars:  As always for this category (as someone who’s taught classes in film adaptations—mostly from novels), I always wonder if even the folks in the Academy’s screenwriters guild pay close attention to how these adapted scripts compare to their original sources (so the award’s for creative transference from one medium to another) or if they’re just impressed with a script happening to come from another source.  (I suspect the latter; that’s usually how I make my choices for this category without taking the time/effort to read the original sources, but the answer to that question continues to intrigue me.)  Here’s another situation where votes in other categories by Academy members may well impact how they choose their winner here.  Except maybe in Visual Effects I don’t think The Irishman (despite its many noms) has much chance for winning anything else, so there might be some serious consideration here, with the same going for The Two Popes and Little Women (although Costume Design might pay off for … Women)Joker’s virtually-assured of a win for Best Actor (possibly in some of the technical areas as well), so that might factor into decisions here about adding on or letting well enough aloneThen there’s the matter of the WGA again, where their Adapted Screenplay award went to Jojo Rabbit, another nominee with some active support that doesn’t seem to stand a chance (except for a major upset) for anything else it’s competing for.  Once again, I’m going to infuriate anyone reading this who’s a fan of Little Women by saying my preference would be to remove it from contention here in favor of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, but that doesn’t keep me from predicting … Women’s win in this group (much as I feel The Irishman’s considerably better than any of them), largely because I think the complaints about Gerwig not being nominated for Best Director could carry over to voting in this category, giving her some compensation for what many consider a snub in the other race, although it’s possible any of these might triumph, Jojo Rabbit running the inside track as a dark horse.  (How’s that for scrambling some metaphors?)  Adapted Screenplay's probably the category I feel the least secure about regarding my predictions in these major 8 (even as I’m less confident about some of the others below), yet maybe I’ll be accurate at least 50% (more?) after all.

 For most of the rest of the categories below I either have marginal interest in the winners (but all hail to them anyway!) or it’s hard to name a favorite (let alone make a prediction) when you’ve not seen all of the contenders, so if you find no further green in some of these areas (although I’ll still for the hell of it take a shot in the dark with red for a few of them) it’s because I’m not in a position to make a fully informed or embraced choice, as for instance the International Feature category (used to be Foreign Language, but with this name change it opens up the possibilities for something produced outside the U.S. but done in English, such as the late Héctor Babenco’s My Hindu Friend [review in our January 16, 2020 posting], which might have a chance for consideration at the 2021 Oscars depending on whether its very limited release back in 2015 makes it currently ineligible) where I’ve seen only Pain and Glory and Parasite, although given the critical (and Academy) stampede toward the latter I don’t think there’s much question who the winner will be in this category (although I’m intrigued by Honeyland in that it’s nominated both as International Feature and Documentary Feature, a rare occurrence; some have campaigned for Oscar voters to give serious consideration to the doc features for overall Best Picture but that hasn’t happened yet).  My only other comment here regards 1917, a likely lock for Cinematography (especially because it won that award from the American Society of Cinematographers [overlap/influence with Academy voters again]), but, as I noted in my review, after seeing the enormous list of special effects artists in the credits (and knowing how crucial precise editing was to allow the illusion this film all took place in 1 continuous 2-hour shot [although, oddly enough, 1917’s not nominated for Film Editing]), I have to wonder how much of what we’re seeing on screen is from Roger Deakins’ cinematography and how much is the result of post-production; still, I expect him to take home another Oscar to go with the one he’s already got for Blade Runner 2049 (no matter, I’m still partial to The Lighthouse, an astounding reclamation of the brilliant black & white beauties from decades [now centuries] past).*

*For Oscar-trivia-buffs, I encourage visiting this site for an enormous dose of that sort of info, current through 2019 awards. likely to be updated once the results for 2020 winners become public.

International Feature Film                                            Documentary Feature

Corpus Christi                                                            American Factory  WINNER!
Honeyland                                                                 The Cave
Les Miserables                                                           The Edge of Democracy
Pain and Glory                                                            For Sama
Parasite  WINNER!                                                    Honeyland

Animated Feature Film                                             Animated Short Film

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World               Dcera (Daughter)
I Lost My Body                                                          Hair Love  WINNER!
Klaus                                                                       Kitbull
Missing Link                                                             Memorable
Toy Story 4  WINNER!                                             Sister

Cinematography                                                     Film Editing

The Irishman                                                            Ford v Ferrari  WINNER!
Joker                                                                      The Irishman
The Lighthouse                                                        Jojo Rabbit
1917  WINNER!                                                     Joker
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood                             Parasite

Visual Effects                                                          Production Design

Avengers: Endgame                                                  The Irishman
The Irishman                                                            Jojo Rabbit
The Lion King                                                           1917
1917  WINNER!                                                     Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood  WINNER!
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker                              Parasite

Here’s more annual repetition: What do these next 2 categories about sound production mean as distinct from each other?  The experts who nominated them can make the proper differentiation, but for the rest of us (including most of the Oscar voters, I’ll bet), this is like staring into a dark hole hoping to find some light (or sound, in this situation) to help make better sense of these industry-specific-differences.  However, I’ll still try to make educated guesses as to how they might play out.

Sound Editing                                                         Sound Mixing

Ford v Ferrari  WINNER!                                          Ad Astra
Joker                                                                      Ford v Ferrari
1917                                                                       Joker
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood                             1917  WINNER!
Star Wars: The Rise of SkyWalker                              Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Music (Original Score)                                            Music (Original Song)

Joker  WINNER!                                                      “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,”  
Little Women                                                              Toy Story 4
Marriage Story                                                        "I’m Gonna Love Me Again,”
1917                                                                              Rocketman  WINNER!
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker                          “I’m Standing With You,” Breakthrough
                                                                                 “Into the Unknown,” Frozen II
                                                                             “Stand Up,” Harriet

Costume Design                                                  Makeup and Hair Styling

The Irishman                                                         Bombshell  WINNER!
Jojo Rabbit                                                           Joker
Joker                                                                   Judy
Little Women  
WINNER!                                      Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood                          1917

Documentary Short Film                                       Live Action Short Film

In the Absence                                                     Brotherhood
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone                       Nefta Football Club
   (If You're a Girl)  WINNER!                                     The Neighbors’ Window  WINNER!
Life Overtakes Me  Saria                                                
St. Louis Superman   A Sister                                             
Walk Run Cha-Cha                                               
And now, back to our regular programming …

I invite you to join me on a regular basis to see how my responses to current cinematic offerings compare to the critical establishment, which I’ll refer to as either the CCAL (Collective Critics at Large) if they agree with me or the OCCU (Often Cranky Critics Universe) if they choose to disagree.
              The Rhythm Section (Reed Morano)   rated R

A woman’s lost all direction after her family dies in an airplane crash when a reporter brings news the tragedy resulted from a terrorist bomber, not mechanical failure, so she goes into intense training to take out the assassins; this whole revenge-is-a-dish-best-served-cold is a cliché, but Blake Lively’s fabulous, the action scenes very powerful.

Here’s the trailer:

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters thusly: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.

 For those who rightfully want to see more mainstream cinema with a strong female presence there might initially have ben some high hopes with The Rhythm Section given it’s produced by Barbara Broccoli (longtime guiding force of the James Bond series), directed by a woman, stars well-known, well-liked Blake Lively, and successfully puts a female into the hard-hitting-revenge-scenarios so popular in the 1970s-‘80s with Charles Bronson, more recently this century with Liam Neeson.  Admittedly, though, The Rhythm Section’s screenwritten by a man, Mark Burnell (adapting from his novel), with mostly men in all the other roles except a few brief—largely inconsequential—appearances by women, so this movie certainly can’t cite the female-centric literary heritage, screenwriting, direction, and primary acting presences of Little Women, nor can it begin to compete with that movie’s CCAL success—95% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, 91% average score at Metacritic (very high for both, especially the latter)—whereas The Rhythm Section’s almost buried alive with a OCCU reaction of 30% positive RT reviews, a surprisingly-higher 44% MC score, even as audience response so far is no help either: Little Women’s still in the top 10 domestically (U.S.-Canada) for last weekend having taken in a still-growing-total of $99.1 million domestically, $163.7 million global after having been out for 6 weeks while The Rhythm Section in its debut did manage to be #10 over Super Bowl weekend but pulled in only about $3 million despite being in 3,049 theaters (a [sad] record; and don’t just blame football-distraction because Bad Boys for Life [Bilail Fallah, Adil El Arbi] sold $17.7 million in tickets, keeping it at #1 for 3 straight weeks for a domestic total of $149.6 million, a global gross of $292.7 million).  All of this goes to show the film industry can make attempts at diversifying who’s on screen, behind the camera, greenlighting projects that make it into the marketplace, but if the public’s not buying it this ultimately matters little (maybe Blake doesn’t look traditionally attractive enough [as she usually does] in the previews to pull in those you’d think would be a likely target audience for this story, maybe those who’d prefer more female-centric-cinema didn’t have this sort of “lively”-yet-brutal-revenge-story in mind); whatever the problem, this attempt to put a woman into an action genre (despite Blake's outstanding, body-bashing performance) didn’t seem to be what the #FilmIndustrySoMale critics were looking for.  Maybe the more-blatant-superhero-approaches of Black Widow (with Oscar-nominated thespian Scarlett Johansson, directed by Cate Shortland) due on May 1, 2020 and Wonder Woman 1984 (with Gal Gadot as Superman-equivalent-Amazon-Diana Prince, directed by Patty Jenkins) due on June 5, 2020 can prove to be more successful, albeit in even-more-male-centric-environments of Marvel and DC Universes (both also made as prequels to their characters’ more-recent-situations).

 But, what actually goes on in … Rhythm Section?  Read on and I’ll tell you, warning of spoilers if you don’t want to know too much, should you be among the few who’d like to see this for yourself (my Saturday late afternoon screening maybe had about 20 people in the auditorium).  We begin (after a quick flashforward to an unknown situation in Tangier, Morocco) in London where druggie-prostitute “Lisa” (Lively)—actually Stephanie Patrick—is visited by independent journalist Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey)—with shocking news about the plane crash that killed her parents and 2 younger siblings 3 years ago; she has him thrown out but later uses his business card to find his flat where there’s a wall of photos of all the crash victims, lots of research notes (many provided by Proctor’s clandestine-accomplice, "B" (an ex-MI6 agent), and Keith’s insistence the crash resulted from a bomb made by Mohammed Reza (Tawfeek Barhom), a London engineering student, acolyte of a radical Muslim (known only as U-17) whose intention was to kill a young reformer, Adbul Kaif, with the 136 others as “collateral damage.”  Stephanie buys a gun, goes to where Keith’s notes tell her Reza will be, sits next to him but can’t pull the trigger (after which he goes underground).  When she returns to Proctor’s flat she finds him dead, gets enough info from his files to find "B" in remote Scotland where, as Lain Boyd (Jude Law), he angrily tells her not to meddle in something she can't handle, then agrees to train her for several months when he realizes she doesn’t care if she dies in the process of extracting revenge (ultimately we understand the title refers to coordinating your breathing and heartbeat when gathering your wits to shoot someone)Using the identity of missing assassin Petra Reuter, Stephanie’s sent to Madrid to meet ex-CIA agent Marc Serra (Sterling K. Brown) who sends her to Tangier to kill Lehmans (Richard Blake) who actually planted the bomb (getting us back to the scene starting this movie).  Despite being much tougher than she used to be, Stephanie’s no match for a quick attack from Lehmans, who (lucky for her) dies when he’s away from his oxygen mask for too long, allowing her to get a bare head-start while his thugs give chase as she desperately races through the streets in a stolen car, a magnificently-choreographed-scene ending with more luck as she escapes (she keeps lying about being Petra but isn’t nearly as confident, skilled, nor dominant as we’d expect of an action hero in these situations, but that’s the value of this approach: she’s just an ordinary person with a burning personal quest, better ready for her challenges than most of us would ever be but still not any sort of skilled secret agent/assassin).

 Next, Serra has her kill NYC businessman Leon Giler (Max Casella) because he bankrolled the plane attack; she comes to his suite supposedly as a whore, intending to slit his throat but can’t finish the job when she sees photos of his kids.  As he tries to escape in a waiting car it blows up from a bomb Boyd set, accidently killing those kids as well as Giler; Boyd then tells Stephanie he killed Petra in response to her murder of his wife, also an MI6 agent, bringing about his dismissal because of Petra’s value to the CIA.  Serra (who’s gotten romantic with Stephanie by now) then sends her to Marseilles, France to take out Reza; she chases him from his residence (great scene as well) onto a bus where he and a female associate have a bomb.  Stephanie manages to subdue him long enough for the passengers to escape; she jumps out as well just before the bus blows up.  Back in Madrid she somehow (went by too fast for me) has figured out Serra’s actually the U-17 mastermind behind all this, using her to eliminate everyone connected to the airplane bombing, so she kills him too, her quest now done;  2 weeks later in London Boyd almost kills her but refrains as she just walks away.  (Like Stephanie—who harbored guilt about the plane crash because her family changed plans so she could join them, then she didn’t, so she takes responsibility for their deaths—Boyd also feels guilty about the bombing because Petra seemingly knew who U-17 was so by killing her in a fit of personal anger he may have been somewhat liable for not preventing this horrid disaster.)⇐   While this movie’s certainly not one I’ll be spending time contemplating the merits of in Oscar season 2021 I agree with those praising Blake Lively for carrying off this role with a high degree of skill, allowing herself to put aside past screen appearances to begin as “Lisa,” a young woman whose guilt-ridden, drug-ravaged face looks horrible, especially with the many closeups that confront us throughout this narrative. Her training with Boyd is a cruel sight as well, yet necessary given the certain death she’d face otherwise trying to avenge herself on those responsible for the murders of her family.  But, in perspective, it’s just one assigned kill after the next, barely allowing possible escape from the revenge-subgenre of Action movies, almost taking us back to those martial-arts-gauntlets a Bruce Lee movie protagonist had to face decades ago.  Overall, this is a high-adrenalin-rush, but probably not what the Greta Gerwig-Oscar-supporters had in mind.  As for my usual review-ending-tactic of a Musical Metaphor, I think “You’re No Good” (written in 1963 by Clint Ballard Jr., first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick that year, made famous by Linda Ronstadt on her 1974 Heart Like a Wheel album) at bj_32QeAaU, a 1976 live performance where Linda begins by introducing her band, is what we need here.  I perceive Stephanie saying to her victims: “I learned my lesson, it left a scar Now I see how you really are You’re no good […] I’m gonna say it again You’re no good [...] I’m going my way”; the fact she repeats the “You’re no good” line many times is appropriate as well because she’s got so many to say it to, is so full of anger about it all, she’s to be forgiven for these blunt redundancies.

 To close out on a couple of other current topics, first let me congratulate the Kansas City Chiefs for winning Super Bowl LIV, their first in 50 years.  While it would have been nice for my local San Francisco 49ers to get their 6th Super win, it’s overall nicer (especially because I didn’t bet on the game) for a team out of the winner’s circle for so long to finally get back on top.  As for the Niners, they were well in the lead (20-10) with about 7 min. to go when they hit breakdown mode, losing by a final score of 31-20 so I’ll offer them a Musical Metaphor of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs doing "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" (written by Scruggs, first recorded in 1949) because the Niners got lost in the fog somehow, even though they were in Miami rather than SF. The other event from this week encouraging my response is the U.S. Senate acquitting President Trump of the impeachment charges against him; it’s bad enough (in my Left-Coast-opinion, which I can’t contain, even in a film review blog, so please just tune out if you don’t want to hear it) he wasn’t found guilty, removed from office, but the Republicans also said there was no crime committed when Trump withheld millions of needed military aid from Ukraine (battling Russian invasions) in return for political dirt on Democratic Presidential rival Joe Biden, yet the Government Accountability Office said this action broke the law; then GOPers said the House Articles of Impeachment weren’t based on evidence from anyone who had direct contact with Trump on this matter yet they defeated several motions to call relevant witnesses (former National Security Advisor John Bolton, White House Chief of Staff Nick Mulvaney) to testify, saying House Democrats should have interviewed them even though Trump ordered them not to testify; finally many GOP Senators admit Trump’s wrongdoings but say such actions don’t rise to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors” required by the Constitution for removing a President from office (even though the Democratic Impeachment Managers offered testimony from the “Fathers” of our country such abuse of Presidential power was exactly why they included the option of impeachment in our founding document).  All I can say to this charade orchestrated by (Impartial?  What’s that?) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (along with the ridiculous “political theatre” of Trump’s State of the Union speech) is this final Musical Metaphor for what’s becoming of the U.S. (as a slim majority of the Senate verifies a President can practically do anything he wants as long as his party holds power in our version of the “House of Lords”), Jimmy Buffet’s "Banana Republics" (from his 1977 Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes album; lyrics below the video screen which just is an image of the album cover, so sing along) because many millions in the U.S. this week, including me (“None of the natives”), aren’t “buying Any second-hand American dreams” from scared, hypocritical politicians: “You know that you cannot trust them Because they know they can’t trust you.”  Who knows what this fall’s football season will bring for the NFL, but I do know what I hope Election Day brings for Trump and his craven minions.
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*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2019’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 9, 2020 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2019 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards 
and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the current Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2019 along with the Oscar nominees for 2019 films.

Here’s more information about The Rhythm Section: (26:24 info about the film from production designer Tom Conroy, actors Sterling K. Brown, Jude Law, Raza Jaffrey, supervising stunt coordinator Olivier Schneider, screenwriter Mark Burnell [also an executive producer and 
author of the novel this movie’s adapted from],  executive producer Gregg Wilson)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.  You can also leave comments at our Facebook page, although you may have to somehow connect with us at that site in order to do it (most FB procedures are still a bit of a mystery to us old farts).

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

If we did talk, though, you’d easily see how my early-70s-age informs my references, Musical Metaphors, etc. in these reviews because I’m clearly a guy of the later 20th century, not so much the contemporary world.  I’ve come to accept my ongoing situation, though, realizing we all (if fate allows) keep getting older, we just have to embrace it, as Joni Mitchell did so well in "The Circle Game," offering sage advice even when she was quite young herself.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 28,599 (as always, we thank all of you for your support with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:

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