Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Twelve Days of Oscar, Day 1:
Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay

I mean, not that I've blogged whatsoever in the past nine months, and not that I've been anything but scrambling to get my Oscar nominees viewing situation under control, but anyway, here we are! Let's see if we can't blather about the Oscars each of these next twelve glorious days as we slide into ceremony Sunday; what do ya say?

Welcome back to my Twelve Days of Oscar, in which I will (attempt to) blog about two categories per day each of these twelve days! I will mostly do the categories in a seemingly super-random order that is actually based on what I've completed seeing, but I'll justify it somehow, never fear.

For example, today it totally makes sense to look at Supporting Actress, because why not talk about this award early on, just as it's given out so early in the show sometimes (and then, some argue, the winner is promptly forgotten for all time...?)   And since that category overlaps in nominations this year with screenplay categories, why not lump'em together and do a screenplay category today as well? Except it'll have to be Adapted Screenplay, because that's the one for which I've already seen all five.

Actress in a Supporting RoleThe nominees are:
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Amy Adams, Vice

In just what order did I list those names, above? In my order of preference? In order of how much I liked the movie? When I saw the movie? Who has the best chance to win? No, no, no, and no. I listed them in order, from most accurate to least accurate, of which roles could properly be described as Supporting Actress roles. Amy Adams' role, the presumed favorite to win, clearly should not be considered supporting. Alas and alack, we have to go through this rigmarole every year of marketing an actress who stars in a film as "supporting" so she has a "better chance" to win her Oscar. Never mind the "This-is-what-Lead-Roles-look-like" aspect of this misogyny, it is such an unfair charade and to know me is to know that it is one of the (very few!) things I hate about the Oscars. Tiresome.

So, no, I don't think that Amy Adams should win, in that I don't think she should win in THIS category. If she were being considered for Lead, as she should be, as Viola Davis should have been for Fences, and as Alicia Vikander should have been for The Danish Girl, and so on and so forth, then maybe. The other mildly annoying factor to consider here is that she's gonna get some make-up Oscar/"lifetime" achievement (I mean, she's still young) votes because people want to finally reward her with an Academy win after nominating her a whole bunch over the last decade plus of awards seasons.

Speaking of that, so Amy Adams has been Oscar-nominated five previous times, with Vice being her sixth. Can you name the other five films? Answers will appear below at the bottom of this post, so make your guess before scrolling down. Hint: four were for Supporting (actual supporting) roles, and one was for Lead.

What about this year's other nominated actresses? Any previous nominees among them? You bet! There are even previous winners! Our other redhead, Emma Stone -- wait, is Marina de Tavira a redhead? Roma was in black and white, so who knows? -  has two previous nods, one Supporting for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (ugh) and one Lead for La La Land (massive ugh, but she won) (the film didn't, though! ha ha ha, remember that?!)  And Rachel Weisz won for Supporting for The Constant Gardener, her only previous acting Oscar nom.

Meanwhile, Regina King was really good in If Beale Street Could Talk, which I think was just a sublime and incredible film, and I really think she should be rewarded, but I guess she'll have to be honored just to be nominated, because frankly, Amy Adams' competition might actually come from Marina de Tavira, who by the way y'all I think might indeed have red hair, but maybe only sometimes, dyed, which means she's not actually a redhead,  in Roma. This is because everyone (in Hollywood) (the industry, not the city) not only loves Roma but is super-proud of themselves for loving Roma, the little Netfllix-produced film that could (upset the notion that only traditional major studios or at least indies with lots of cool connections, but not online streaming services, can produce Best Picture Winners).

Need another hint about Amy Adams? Two of her noms were for films with one-word titles and two were for films with The [Something] two-word titles.

Oh yeah, I forgot to give my opinion about the actresses in The Favourite, who probably won't win because if anything they'll split the vote. Um... it was a weird movie. It gave me anxiety to watch it because the whole time I was freaking out about the caged rabbits. They were good performances and all, but... meh. It's just not my Favourite.

Adapted Screenplay The nominees are:
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star Is Born
Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Zero question here, folks, because I want BlacKkKlansman to win everything it was nominated for. This is always a tricky category for me when I haven't read all the books/consumed the previously published material from which these screenplays were adapted. That's right, I've never seen any of the previous Stars who were Born, and I've not yet read the James Baldwin nor the Lee Israel nor the Ron Stallworth books. And what the hell is The Ballad of Buster Scruggs based on? The Coen Brothers' latest fever dream?  Oh, look, I just checked, and basically, yes: it's based on short stories written by the Coens over a bunch of years. Yeah, I knew watching it that those vignettes came from their weird imaginative brains, and by the way for those who haven't yet seen it, they are kind of grisly and effed up. And I have a strong case to make that it isn't really a movie at all, just a series of unconnected vignettes. (Connection = "the Old West."  Connection = the Coens want another Oscar contender, so let's not make this just a streaming Netflix series.)  Anyway, as I was saying, BlacKkKlansman is great and one of my top films of the year and I want it to win everything, so that's my pick in this category, although I did like Can You Ever Forgive Me? and If Beale Street Could Talk a lot, and I couldn't look away from A Star Is Born, really, no matter what else around me might have tried to distract me, as it was just this glorious train wreck of Bradley Cooper-dom and the downward spiral of the rich and famous and some not-too-shabby Gaga and lots of bits about songwriting, and boy was it compelling viewing.

Although I personally want BlacKkKlansman to win, I don't know that it will. Beale Street could possibly take this award; it was so beautifully rendered. I would feel wrong if Can You Ever Forgive Me? won because it's so weird to have a writer in the first place writing a "true" account about stuff she made up... I just don't know how I feel about that to begin with. And Buster Scruggs  needs to just, no.

So there we have it! I'm rooting for Regina and BlacKkKlansman and my hopes will probably be dashed. Who are your picks?

Supporting Actress Answer: Amy Adams was previously nominated for Junebug, Doubt, The Fighter, The Master, and American Hustle. That last one was a Lead Actress nomination.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Birthday Bloggage: Reflection Time!

Tomorrow, yikes!, is my birthday. I don't want to say I've been depressed, exactly, about this approaching birthday, but I have at least been nigh on discomfited, mostly along the lines of "why the !@#$%&* haven't I accomplished everything I wanted to have accomplished by now?!"

But that's never a really useful birthday-approaching thought process, now is it?

So I decided to give myself some good advice: "Accentuate the positive!" (so original, I know), and to take said good advice from myself, that is to say, to think about things that I DID do during the past year.

Some things I did while I was (*) years old:

  • Worked on the writing of three new books -- yes, I now have three books in active progress.
    Negative spin: I have so many works in progress and haven't finished any of them.
    Positive spin: I have put into action THREE new book ideas and made progress on all of them! 
  • Wrote a bunch of songs.
    Negative spin: What am I going to do with them? And they might all be terrible.
    Positive spin: Holy shite I've been writing songs! Like, lots of songs! I've discovered this whole new part of myself over the past nine months. It's incredible and I seriously don't know what to make of it, but I'm digging it. 
  • Traveled all around the Midwest and even some other parts of the U.S., with no small number of road trips during the last year, having driven to: Iowa (twice), Nebraska, Wisconsin (several times), Michigan, Indiana, and we mustn't forget St. Louis for the total solar eclipse which was AWESOME and, related to the point above, was the genesis of the first song I wrote, an eclipse metaphor about the universe/love/life that just kind of poured out of my brain while I was sitting on the highway in post-eclipse traffic trying to drive back to Chicago.
    Negative spin: I didn't get to go on the Habitat for Humanity trip to Prince Edward Island I'd been planning to attend. Positive spin: So f-ing what? I got to see family, friends, three weddings, and the super-cool eclipse event that was apparently the opening of a new chapter in my life. 
  • Lost weight - I finally shed all those back-in-the-U.S.A pounds.
    Negative spin: Don't really have one. Except that so many of my clothes are too unwearably big, ha! 
  • Took even more classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music aka my second home these days, adding to my regular weekly guitar class several more including guitar fingerboard theory, vocal techniques (twice), songwriting (see above!), and perhaps foremost in my joy the Modern Country Ensemble, which I enjoy so thoroughly that I am now taking it for a fifth session in a row. It is a joy and a treasure, and every sixteen weeks we perform a real live gig. My Monday nights at the Old Town School are such a given, and now Tuesdays too...
    Negative spin: I'm busy. Positive spin: I love it. 
  • Became a regular volunteer at the Old Town School of Folk Music, which enables me to afford everything I just mentioned in the previous point.
    Negative spin: Yup, really busy. Positive spin: I love it. 
  • Made new friends. Building community is hard enough when adults stay put, and I gallivant about the world so much that I may have had it even harder, plus I actually really need solitude and seriously carve out time each week to be alone, but whether it was the whole staying-in-one-place-for-three+-years thing, or the whole hanging-out-with-music-people and hanging-out-with-books-people and hanging-out-with-yoga-people things, I have definitely made actual new friends during the past year, which is interesting and nice. I mean, I'm disgusted with so much of humanity (negativity!) that it's rather nice if rare when I find humans I like (positivity, check it!) 
  • Finished my Prez Bio reading up through Dubya, which technically is the completion of my Prez Bios reading project, which you'll recall was launched during Dubya's administration and was called Reading a Biography of Every President In Order, To See Where We Went Wrong. Of course, since then we have gone even wronger, and I am going to also read books about Obama (after which point the presidency dies and my project dies with it so don't you even dare suggest...) but I did technically make it to the "end" of what I set out to do. Finally!
    Negative spin: What took me so long? Positive spin: I did that! 
  • Speaking of books, some of the great ones I read this past year: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk by John Doe et. al., Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee, Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Enlightenment by Robert Wright, American Plays of the New Woman ed. by Keith Newlin, and La vida util de Pilo Polilla  by Vivian Mansour Manzur, along with a bunch of other good and some not-so-good ones, AND I recently led in my local store the book group discussion of The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer, which was the inaugural selection of the Barnes & Noble nationwide book club. 
  • Found interesting English/ESL teaching work with some non-profits, mostly teaching immigrants, which led me to discover how much more enjoyable it is to teach these classes as opposed to the for-profit school for which I'd been working (and which I swear drove me to drink) the previous couple of years here in Chicago. That was interesting to learn.
    Negative spin: I seriously didn't want to go back to the classroom at all... Positive spin: Work. Work earns money. Work accomplishes things. Work it. 
  • Speaking of work, at all three of the part-time jobs that I had one year ago and still have, I have had my accomplishments recognized with different positions/training/new responsibilities kind of things. Negative spin: They weren't promotions to full-time massive-money-making career ops. Positive spin: Employers recognize that I am smart and do things.
And ya know, those are just a.) the easily listable things b.)that I'm willing to discuss on a public blog. I have also done other things on philosophical, personal, introspective, and psychological levels that either aren't as quantifiable or easy to notate or don't really need to be delineated here or whatever. But my point is - it was quite a year, now that I stop to think about it.

AND I saw Indigo Girls perform four times during it, plus Emily Saliers' solo show. So there. Not to mention dozens of other bands and singers, and totally I didn't mention how much new music I came to know about because of Spotify. I even succumbed to Spotify Premium this year. Consider me thoroughly Spotified. . 

AND I saw a bunch of good movies. 

AND I spent so much quality time with my kittens like you would not believe. 

AND I de-cluttered my closet and got rid of clothes I don't wear anymore and got rid of some other stuff around the house, too.

AND I continued to discover new restaurants and happy hours and hiking (walking) spots around Chicago and to look at the Lake on a regular basis. 

So although I did not in fact really conquer life, the universe, and everything in the ways I had planned to do... I did other things instead! 

Let's see what the next year brings. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Brief History of My Week

What happened was, on Tuesday night I was on Facebook, engaged in multiple conversations on my and others' pages/status update threads, about three horrible things that had all happened, to wit: #trumptydumpty firing Tillerson and all the retaliation goin' on in the #trumpsterfire, plus the dog killed in the overhead bin of a flight, plus the 7,000 pairs of shoes outside the Capitol calling for gun sense. None of these conversations was a pleasant conversation. Even with people who agreed with me on whatever aspect of the topic, the discussions were filling me with outrage, because there was so much, well, outrageous behavior that had happened on Tuesday on the part of humans. So I spent a long time Tuesday night, up too late for sure, feeling increasing outrage and disgust, pretty much all directed at humanity out there.

Over and over in the comments of these various anger-inducing conversations, Fb-friends (or, as I call them, Fbriends) made comments along the lines of, "Well, people are stupid." "Yeah, people are terrible." "Humans don't deserve what they've got/" "Humans are the worst." And so forth. 
Which, frankly, I feel is all true. But it was making me feel awful, and I had SO much outrage. More, even, than the usual outrage felt on any given day since 2016.  

Amid all that, the only other news story piercing these swirling topics of doom was another sad story, that Stephen Hawking had died. 

That reminded me: there are some really smart people in the world. Geniuses, in fact. Why, then, was I wasting my time fretting so fiercely about all the stupid people? 

Why was I engaged in fruitless arguments, dealing with the nonsense babble of #trumptydumpty supporters and other hideous specimens... why? When I could be reading the words of smart people instead? 

Wednesday I found myself in a Barnes & Noble, where I picked up a copy of A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and resolved not to go back on Facebook until after I had read it. Simply, replacing the stupidity with the smarts. 

Boy, it's been a nice four days! 

Some unanswered questions that I will try to answer: 

Q: Why hadn't I read A Brief History of Time before now? 
A: Seriously, have you seen my to-read piles? Egad. But it is now proudly shelved in "read" -- and "finally." 

Q: Didn't I hate being "that guy/gal" reading it the week he had died? 
A: Well, duh. But I got an excuse note from a supervisory book related figure in my life who understood the nature of my predicament (the outrage, the step away from Fb, the normally-I-wouldn't-do-this ... and oh yeah, p.s., also the uh, we're not exactly worried people will think we're not smart). 

Q: So...did I like the book? 
A: Hell yeah! So funny and personable! So the story of the universe! So worth reading, y'all seriously. It won't even take you four days -- you'll be able to return from your Brief History of Facebreak much faster than I did, if you have anything resembling free time/a normal life, which I do not. 

Q: Is it hard? 
A: Well, the universe is hard. So there's that.
Q: What is a singularity? Is time travel possible? Will we ever have a Grand Unified Theory? Is the weak anthropic principle a valid outlook? What's a gluon? What would happen to an astronaut falling into a black hole? Can we really know the mind of God?  
A: Uh, guess who tackles these questions? Not me! That would be, our boy Stephen. Come on, go buy the book folks. AT A BOOKSTORE, PLEASE, THANKS. 

I recommend the illustrated version. 

You are not in my future light cone, #TrumptyDumpty. You are in my elsewhere, and you can damn well stay there. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

DST: Daylight Saving Time, or Demanding Sloth Time?

And so we have sprung forward once again, completing this silliest of human rituals, advancing our clocks one hour so as to have "extra" daylight in the evenings. On this Monday, a day often seen as the start of a new week, a day in which many people will think something like, "Wow, it's still so light!" upon leaving their traditional workplaces, I'll quickly summarize something I've realized about daylight saving time cheerleaders. Beyond the absurdity of semi-annual clock changing and the nonsensical extending of DST to eight months of the year so that it now lasts even longer than standard time, I now see that DST enthusiasm reveals how simultaneously lazy and demanding humans are. 

And if you know me, you know I loathe the combination of lazy (or helpless) + demanding. I firmly believe you should pick one or the other. If you're lazy or helpless, fine, but when people do stuff for you, you'd best not complain about how it's done. If you're demanding, fine, but then you'd best get on top of things and get your stuff done, not whine that it has to be done a certain way but then expect someone else to do it. 

Think about it, though. You hear a lot of positive comments in these early days after the spring forward time change along the lines of, "Wow, it's light until 7 p.m.!" or whatever. But...

1. Demanding. More light - uh, this is how summer works. This is just how our planet works: as summer approaches, the days get longer -- that is to say, there are more hours of daylight and fewer of darkness. Everyone knows this, and for the most part everyone understands why (loony-tunes-flat-earthers notwithstanding). (There are a bunch of absurd things about Daylight Saving Time but one that has always baffled me is this, that the days are getting longer anyway -- and this is the season you choose to change your clocks for?) Springing forward is a weird attempt to make it happen sooner. Like, the functioning universe isn't enough for you people -- you just have to speed things up and instead of passing through each March, April, May day with sunset getting later and later, you have to accelerate the process with this jolt, because you want light at 7:00 in the evening NOW and not in April when it would come along. "Hey universe we know you have this whole sun, light, and changing seasons thing totally worked out, but we're just gonna come along and demand a little improvement, 'k?"  Seriously, what is WRONG with humans? 

2. Lazy. And yet... lest we forget the main absurdity of DST to begin with, namely that there is no extra daylight when you move your clocks forward, just a shifted hour of daylight, these demanding humans simultaneously reveal themselves to be lazy as sin. You want more daylight? You want to enjoy that "extra" hour of sun? All you have to do is get your sorry slug self up out of bed in the morning when a little thing called sunrise happens. I mean, my everloving gods, humans are seriously a terrible species, we know that, but this really takes the cake. You want to enjoy this hour of light but are convinced that you are incapable of doing so in the morning when it happens. You'd rather create a system of semi-annual clock changing rather than just get your lazy bones out of your bed in the morning. What. The. Actual. 

Demanding and lazy. Bunch of sloths - no offense to the sloths, who are nowhere near as demanding and absurd. 

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Twelve Days of Oscars, Day 12: Foreign Language Film and the Big One You've All Been Waiting For

Oscars Day is here!

It has been a busy and complicated time for me, and sadly I was not able to make it through my entire checklist of 34 films before today, but I am definitely ahead of, you know, some people who aren't obsessed with such things. And of COURSE I've seen all of the nominees for Best Picture, silly. What do you take me for?

Best Picture: Call Me By Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Post, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Foreign Language Film: A Fantastic Woman, Loveless, The Insult, On Body and Soul, The Square

Foreign Language Film is kind of like a Best Picture award, too. I love the Foreign Language category - and I'm aware that there are those among you who basically never see anything from it ever - so it's fun for me to pair it with the Best Picture category that everybody pays attention to. I love watching foreign films and I do pretty well getting to all the nominees eventually, but there are sometimes a few hard to come by in any given year that won't be released in the U.S. until after the ceremony. This year, I've seen four out of five, including the most recent I watched, Loveless, which opened at the Music Box Theater here in Chicago just  two days ago, Friday. You know I don't normally go to movies on their opening weekends or any movies on Friday nights, but I made an exception for a totally dismal bleak some-(all)-might-say-depressing Russian film nominated in the foreign language category playing at the ever cool Music Box. Needless to say, I loved the film. I love me some dark Russian art portraying the misery of the human experience. So good. Does the plot even matter? In this one, a divorcing couple who absolutely hate each other are too busy fighting to notice their suffering 12-year-old son, who goes missing. It's so damn good.

Also really good? The Insult. That one's from Lebanon, and has all my favorite themes (that aren't the dismal bleak Russian summation of our pathetic human existence - but on a grand scale) such as redemption, human rights, a feminist lawyer, family, grievances, forgiveness, international conflict resolution, all the good stuff. Loved it.

Didn't like as much: A Fantastic Woman, but I fear it could win because people are going to be proud of themselves to vote for its depiction of the cruelty toward a trans woman. I wish trendy factors like that weren't a factor, but they are, which annoys me. The film is kind of weirdly cliched with heavy-handed symbolism at parts, but it was good - I just don't think it was the best. And I hated The Square. If that wins, I will throw things at the television. If On Body and Soul  wins I won't do anything except remember that I still need to watch it.

All right then. Best Picture!

Man, I did not know, until I saw Call Me By Your Name, if I was going to think any of the nominees was most triumphant. I enjoyed The Post, Dunkirk, and Darkest Hour in many ways, but each of them had a bit of formula in their cinematic trajectories and Post and Darkest Hour had very specific flawed scenes where you're just like, really? He *had* to step into the street and be startled and almost hit by a car because he's in awe of The New York Times? Pointless. Dumb. Really? He had to go conquer his Underground fears and find the common people? No, obviously, in real life, not exactly like that on the way to that meeting. He apparently did some stuff like that, but not in such ...storytelling climactic style. Dumb. (If not pointless.) I enjoyed Get Out a lot but didn't think it was the best of the year. Ditto Lady Bird - I think the outsized reaction to it (i.e. "There's never been anything like it!") is utterly baffling. I did like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and don't totally agree with the backlash against it, as I get what Martin McDonagh does/is trying to do, but it still wasn't my "oh-my-god-so-good-#1-pick!" And I don't care for The Shape of Water (as I've mentioned on many, many other Days of Oscars) despite my recognition of Guillermo del Toro realizing his vision, and I hated Phantom Thread. Really, though. Ugh. But Call Me By Your Name  was lush and engrossing and pretty and full of intellectual people who like to read and be in different countries and have fun and even though it was male, it achieves a stunning brilliance during a certain emotional monologue delivered by Michael Stuhlbarg that I could just watch forever on an endless loop.

And so there you have it.  Picks: I'm on Team Call Me By Your Name.  But I think something else will win. If it's The Shape of Water I will want to throw things (though it's a bit late in the night by then for throwing things,  the ceremony ending) so I'm just going to stick with my theory that Get Out is the second or third favorite of everyone who doesn't have it as their top pick so through preferential voting it will triumph. Maybe.
Foreign: I want Loveless. It might be A Fantastic Woman, ugh ugh ugh.

But I want to know what YOU  think! What's going to win?
What's your pick for Best Pic?
Or any other category?
Did you join an Oscar pool? Are you confident in your choices?


Saturday, March 03, 2018

Twelve Days of Oscars, Day 11: Documentary Feature and Documentary Shorts

Let's talk docs!

I love documentary film. Love, love, love. This is one of my favorite Academy Awards categories, and I love seeking out and watching the nominated films, though they can occasionally be a little harder to come by than the feature fiction film noms. It has definitely gotten easier over the years, what with Netflix and online streaming and more web site accessibility to the filmmakers and whatnot. It was fifteen years ago that I really started paying tons of attention to this category, specifically with my boy Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, and that very memorable Oscar win which happened the same week we (Dubya/"we") went to war in Iraq and I quit smoking and... that's a story I tell elsewhere.

Here, let's look at this year's nominees:

Documentary Feature:
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Faces Places, Icarus, Last Men in Aleppo, Strong Island

Documentary Short:
Heroin(e), Edith + Eddie, Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405, Knife Skills, Traffic Stop

Unfortunately, I have been busy and scattered and unable to complete my Oscars checklist before today's ceremony, and the Documentary Feature category, despite being one of my favorites, is my least complete. I've only seen Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, which I really liked. It's about a family-owned bank in New York City that serves the Chinese immigrant community and was prosecuted in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis for, well, nothing to be guilty of, really, while "too big to fail" banks kept on doing their greedy illegal things. The family in Abacus... is so awesome and it's a really good documentary. I'm so lame for not having seen the others; I've been hearing about Faces Places for months, and I have Last Men in Aleppo recorded off of PBS but haven't found time to watch... I don't know if Icarus or Strong Island will be able to beat the appeal of voting for Agnes Varda's Faces Places, because she is getting an honorary Oscar this year and she would be the first woman to get an honorary and competitive Oscar in the same yearThat would be such a fun fact. (Some men have done that, including Walt Disney.)

Documentary shorts, though, I saw. I love Heroin(e) a lot. It follows people, including three main women, dealing with the heroin epidemic and overdose crises in Huntington, West Virginia. The three women are helping heroin addicts in very different ways, some through official work, some through less official outreach, all through compassion, problem-solving, and tackling the problem in ways our societal systems are clearly not. You'll find yourself smiling so big while watching drug court scenes. It's great. But it's also a sobering reminder of how desperately this good work is needed. I would love for this short to win the Oscar.

Knife Skills also documents outreach to people who've had trouble, in this case former convicts who go through a culinary training program and work at a fancy restaurant, and the troubles that ensue along the way. Traffic Stop, very timely, is about a black woman body slammed to the ground by a cop during her traffic stop, and I think it does a really good job of exploring how that was preventable while doing more than issuing general platitudes. It was a strength of that film that you watch what happens and then later hear the cop describe what happened. He never speaks a lie or distorts the facts, really, and when you hear them from him perspective you're like -- oh my god. Yes, that's what happened. And why couldn't you - or thousands of other cops - in that situation make it better instead of worse? It was very interesting. I think a lot of people like Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405, which has very little to do with traffic and is instead a weird, trippy examination of a traumatized woman who grapples with her life and issues, among them childhood and mental health issues, with art and other tactics. Edith + Eddie is a sad story - an old newlywed couple (like 95, seriously) separated when the daughter and legal guardian of the woman take over because she is judged not competent to make her own legal decisions. It wasn't as well made of a film, but was kind of like watching a long, fairly interesting news story.

All right, who's going to win?

Documentary Feature: I can't pick mine, because I'm ignorant here. I think Faces Places might win.
Documentary Short: I want Heroin(e).  It could be that or either of the Traffic ones though.

This is Oscar weekend, people! My own personal "New Year's Eve"-level festivity!

Friday, March 02, 2018

Twelve Days of Oscars, Day 10: Animated Feature and Visual Effects

I was very nearly thwarted on my way to seeing the film that is my pick to win one of these categories! Specifically, I was trapped in an elevator for a few minutes. (Not knowing, of course, as one never does when the elevator fails to function correctly, whether it would be a mere few minutes.) I was in the parking garage at the cinema and the elevator went to the ground floor where I needed to get off but the doors opened just an inch or so and then stayed stuck, unmoving, unable to be moved. I couldn't push or pry the door open from inside. It opened that inch or so and then just sat, stuck. Definitely not enough room to get any leverage or squeeze through. It was trippy, and I didn't feel particularly scared, as first of all I had my phone in my hand, and secondly there was an emergency call button right there on the panel, which I used to speak to a man who promptly sent help. But. My initial thought was that, oh no, I was now going to be late to see Coco!

Animated Feature: The Breadwinner, The Boss Baby, Coco, Ferdinand, Loving Vincent
Visual Effects: Blade Runner 2049, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Kong: Skull Island, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, War for the Planet of the Apes

And indeed, after my elevator misadventure I was just a hair late getting into the Coco showing, but I could tell it was still the very beginning, with the kid voiceover narration introducing his family and his background. Let me just say, Coco is fantastic and deserves all the accolades it has been getting. Until that fateful elevator day when I saw it, I wanted Loving Vincent to win an Oscar. I absolutely adored Loving Vincent. It's unique and brilliant, and it's about my boy Vincent! (Van Gogh) The film is, as I understand it, painted. The process of painting animation is explained here, and it ends up looking really, really cool - Vincent's paintings, alive and fluid, telling his story. It was magical and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I was sure it deserved the Oscar. 

Then I saw Coco and thought - uh-oh. 

I really, really, really wish they could tie. It's the most fervently I've ever wished for an Oscars tie, or a tie for anything, really. 

Coco  is Pixar magic, and this year the magic tells a vibrant story set in Mexico Día de Muertos land. It's a boy who just wants to play guitar and release the music inside him who is thwarted by his family. I don't even want to describe the plot, because it's so much more than that, and the story hums and zips along as he wanders to the land of the dead. It's thrilling, touching, and spectacular. If it was any other Pixar film beating Loving Vincent, I'd be angry. If it's Coco, I understand. I seriously think if I was an Academy voter this year I would try to find one person to vote for one and I'd vote for the other, and encourage everyone I knew to do the same thing. 

As for the other nominees?  I didn't see The Breadwinner (really want to), and I really don' know that I'll make it to The Boss Baby, which is by all accounts terrible, and which is my absolute last priority on the checklist of all the nominated flicks. After the ceremony, I probably will lose interest  in checking that one off. I did see Ferdinand, and found it weirdly traumatic. It's about bulls who want to excel at bullfighting so as to avoid going to the slaughterhouse, who don't yet know that murder awaits them either way, but it's all talking animals/crazy characters/jolly times, so it's this kind of disconnect between the brutal truths of the plot and the song and dance and games you're watching. It was hard for me to experience. 

But Coco and Loving Vincent  are better films, seriously. 

As for the visual effects in otherwise "real" live action movies, I've seen three and a half nominees there: Blade Runner 2049, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Kong: Skull Island, and half of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Haven't yet got around to War for the Planet of the Apes - which, by the way, I hear is fantastic. But how are the visual effects? I don't know. Guardians...2's plot was so not interesting to me that even as I was watching (half) of it I kept forgetting what was happening, but it all did look really cool. Star Wars is, well, Star Wars. I might root for Blade Runner 2049 here, because I think that movie pulled off every visual thing that it did wonderfully. Kong: Skull Island was ridiculous, but enjoyably ridiculous, and you kind of believed that these various creatures and island things were interacting with the characters, so it's definitely no slouch in this category. 

What to do, what to do. 

My mother used to ask me, when I would rant about this or that person I "hated" (like, an annoying celebrity, or George Dubya, or whoever) versus some other awful person, "Whose elevator would you rather be stuck in?" It really makes you think. Like, Dubya is terrible, but you'd rather be stuck in his elevator than Charles Manson's, right? Whose elevator would you rather be stuck in, Anne Hathaway or James Franco? O.J. Simpson or Caitlin Jenner? Trump or Putin? Like such. Well, I really did get stuck in an elevator this week trying to see my animated features, and maybe that's a helpful way to make Oscar picks: which elevator would I rather be stuck in, one playing Coco on an endless loop, or Loving Vincent? 

That's actually quite hard, but it would probably be the latter because it's kind of calmer. What about a Blade Runner 2049 elevator or a Kong: Skull Island? Definitely either of those over the Star Wars: The Last Jedi elevator. 

Animated Feature: PLEASE can we have a tie? I'll vote for my pick, Loving Vincent, and you vote for what I think will win, Coco. 
Visual Effects: Blade Runner 2049, I think, is my pick. And I think that either it or maybe the ...Apes will win? 

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Twelve Days of Oscars, Day 9: Animated Shorts and Live Action Shorts

You know what's fun to do every year during awards season? Go see the nominated short films! 

This fun activity is available in more and more cities in recent years, as opposed to twenty years ago, when it seemed to be a much more obscure pursuit. I first started going regularly when I lived in New York, and have been happy to continue hitting up a theater to see them in Chicago. Definitely took time off from this hobby when I lived abroad. 

Animated Short:
Dear Basketball, Garden Party, Lou, Negative Space, Revolting Rhymes

Live Action Short:
DeKalb Elementary, The Eleven O'Clock, My Nephew Emmett, The Silent Child, Watu Wote/All of Us

The whole shorts-watching thing varies from year to year. Sometimes I like the animated a ton better, and sometimes the live action are better overall. I often LOVE the Documentary Short category, but we'll get to that another day. For now, let's think about fiction. 

And the first thing I have to say is that the Live Action Shorts this year were weirdly not-that-fiction like. I mean, they were fictional films, with actors, portraying a story but they were so reality-based, so ripped-from-the-headlines, and even so based-on-a-true-story for a couple of them, that they almost feel similar to the doc shorts in my mind. It's weird. DeKalb Elementary involves a man walking into a school with a gun. My Nephew Emmett is about a specific Emmett, namely, one who traveled from Chicago to the Deep South decades ago, and whose legacy we all now know about.  The Silent Child is about a deaf child whose parents haven't taught her sign language and now she's about to start school, and at the end credits it provides stats about hearing-impaired children. Watu Wote deals with tension between Christians and Muslims in Kenya and depicts an inspired-by-true-events experience on and around a bus in a hot-spot border region. The only one that's really a flight of fancy is The Eleven O'Clock, about a psychiatrist and a patient and some zany confusion. 

And they're all really good! Another tough race to call. 

The animated shorts were good this year, too, although one of them was overlong and didn't do as much for me, and that was Revolting Rhymes, which brings to (animated) life Roald Dahl's poems that parody/reimagine a few classic fairy tales - The Three Little Pigs, Red Riding Hood, etc. It went on and on and on and I'm like, OK, I get it, Roald Dahl was clever, but can this wolf stop talking now? I thought Garden Party and Negative Space were OK. Simple, intriguing, well-rendered. (Don't forget, y'all: animation and animated film aren't my thing to begin with, but I do enjoy the five shorts each year more than the five animated features, generally. That is, if I even get around to watching the five animated features. This year I've seen three.)  The two I liked best were Dear Basketball, Kobe Bryant's letter to basketball that was fantastic and is about his feelings toward his sport, his gift, his passion, and our (all of our!) need to do what we do best before our time is up. Make use of your talents, everyone! The day I saw the shorts, I declared Lou to be my favorite. It's Pixar, and we know they are at the top of their game. This one's content, though, was right up my alley: redemption!

So, let's pick: 

Animated Short: I want Dear Basketball or Lou. I think those are the two that might win, too. 
Live Action Short: Ugh...hmmm... I'd be happy with ANY of them winning, seriously. But I think I'm pulling for DeKalb Elementary. I think it will be that or The Silent Child, although My Nephew Emmett  could sneak in there. It's equally as topical as DeKalb Elementary. 

Yay, shorts!