Sunday, February 09, 2020


Feel the excitement -- Oscar night! As you may know, I'm in the habit of seeing as many Best Picture contenders each year as I can. Yesterday I finished the cycle with Ford v Ferrari. And what a dumb pleasure it was! Two racing pros, the plain-spoken and practical Texan Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and the explosive, eccentric visionary Brit Ken Miles (Christian Bale), are at loose ends in 1963 when fate hands them a dream project: Make Ford Motor Company a world-class winning race car. Part of the drama is our boys versus the "suits" at FoMoCo who insist on gumming up their bold work with corporate bullshit. This to some extent also pits our boys against one another, as Shelby is more inclined to work with the suits and Miles to blow them off. Ironically, I felt the heavy hand of Movieland suits on Ford v Ferrari itself --  you can almost call out points where someone must have said, for example, "test scores say we really need Shelby to get hot with the Ford asshole around 1:35." But I gotta admit that, aside for a sniffly coda underlining the heroes' man-love, as Hollywood product goes the thing's very well built. I worried how things will go, felt good when they went well, and the racing stuff made a car-crazy little kid out of me and I don't even drive. I could have stood Shelby and Miles to be more, like, characters, but given the context I'm content with Damon and Bale coasting on their considerable base skills and charisma. If you want real acting there's plenty in the supporting cast, including Tracy Letts as pig-eyed honcho Henry Ford II (a world away from his Lady Bird and Little Women characters; his reactions to a report of Enzo Ferrari's insults is a little master class) and Ray McKinnon as a great car engineer who seems to know a little something about how people work, too. (Yeah, that's a cliche, but with a movie like this cliches aren't so bad.)

OK, you've seen my other reviews (links here). Now to my famous predictions! I'm seldom more that 65% right and often do much worse, but I did call Green Book last year.

× Best Picture: Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

My big sucker bet right up top! Here's my reasoning: Everyone's saying 1917. It's so well-done, they say, a tour de force, it's a lock. But no one loves 1917. Once its brutal effect passes, it mainly remains in the mind as a series of unpleasant set pieces. You'll notice no major critics' awards named it Best Picture.

Parasite leads the critics' awards, and oddsmakers put it as #2 to 1917. But would Hollywood go so far as to give its crown jewel to a Korean movie so obviously about class warfare -- and with such a downbeat ending? No, they're more likely to pick a movie that flatters themselves -- indeed, flatters a Hollywood era in which many of them came up. And it's fun!

× Best Director: Sam Mendes, 1917

 Best Original Screenplay: Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won, Parasite

And that's where they'll split the difference.

 Best Adapted Screenplay: Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit 

Had Waititi been nominated for Best Director, too, I'd be liking this movie for Best Picture. I found it not only involving but inspiring -- just the sort of thing Oscar goes for. It's a sign of our times that a movie about the fall of the Third Reich is the sunniest film of the bunch.

 Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
 Best Actress: Renée Zellweger, Judy
 Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
 Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

I'm not a total idiot.

 Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins, 1917
× Best Production Design: Dennis Gassner and Lee Sandales, 1917
 Best Sound Mixing: Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson, 1917
× Best Sound Editing: Oliver Tarney and Rachael Tate, 1917

Tough categories, but 1917 really is too good to refuse in the technical areas.

× Best Score: Alexandre Desplat, Little Women

There's a lot of hype for Hildur Guðnadóttir, understandably. Her Joker score is very good at ratcheting the tension of a film that requires constantly ratcheted tension. (Thomas Newman's 1917 score is similarly effective, but with more musical flourishes.) Randy Newman's Marriage Story score is pretty lush, but at odds with the mumblecore look of the film. Desplat's score is as always very musical and I can even remember snatches of tune from it, plus it brings back pleasurable memories of a film that some people think the Academy undervalued.

 Best Costume Design: Jacqueline Durran, Little Women

'Cuz it's a costume drama, duh. (If they're ambitious maybe they'll recognize the clever, cartoonish exaggerations of the Nazi uniforms in Jojo Rabbit, not to mention Scarlett Johansson's hat.)

 Best Film Editing: Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland, Ford v Ferrari

I have understood since Bullitt that they like to give this award to movies with cars going fast.

 Best Song: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again," Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Rocketman
 Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan and Vivian Baker, Bombshell
 Best International Feature Film: Parasite
× Best Animated Feature: Klaus
× Best Short Film (Animated): Kitbull
 Best Short Film (Live): The Neighbors' Window
 Best Short Film (Documentary): Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone (If You're a Girl)
× Best Documentary Feature: Honeyland
× Best Visual Effects: Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Elliot Newman, The Lion King

I don't know. What do I know? Kitbull gave me sniffles. Isn't The Lion King one long special effect?

And there we have it!

UPDATE. I'm a winner!
UPDATE 2: I'm a loser!
UPDATE 3: I can't be sore about Parasite -- it's brilliant. Props to the Academy for having the guts.

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