Lisa’s Oscar Predictions for September


As of a few weeks ago, West Side Story is now officially out of this year’s Oscar race.  Steven Spielberg’s musical was one of the many major studio productions to be moved all the way back to late 2021.  So, scratch West Side Story from your lists, everyone.  It’s gone for now.

The more I think about it, the more I think the Academy made a mistake extending the eligibility window.  As you may remember, this year’s eligibility window now extends to February of 2021.  When this was first announced, I felt that it was the Academy’s way of keeping the big studios happy.  “You folks don’t want the Oscars to be dominated by streaming films,” the Academy seemed to be saying, “so we’ll just give you some extra time to get your movies out into the theaters.”  Well, joke’s on the Academy because, even with the extended time period, it still looks like the Oscar race is going to be dominated by streaming titles.

Personally, I wish that the Academy would just admit they made a mistake and go back to the old eligibility window.  Or, at the very least, just answer the question as to whether or not the 2021’s Oscar eligibility period is going to end at the end of December of that year or in February of 2022.  I’m a big believer in having a set schedule so all this uncertainty is annoying the Hell out of me.

Anyway, with all that in mind, here are my updated predictions for September.  After looking at these, feel free to check out my predictions for JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune, July, and August!

Best Picture

Da 5 Bloods

The Father

Hillbilly Elegy

Mank

Minari

News of the World

Nomadland

One Night in Miami

Respect

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Director

David Fincher for Mank

Paul Greengrass for News of the World

Ron Howard for Hillbilly Elegy

Spike Lee for Da 5 Bloods

Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

Best Actor

Tom Hanks in News of the World

Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods

Gary Oldman in Mank

Steven Yeun in Minari

Best Actress

Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Kate Winslet in Ammonite

Best Supporting Actor

Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Chadwick Boseman in Da 5 Bloods

Bill Murray in On The Rocks

Leslie Odom Jr. in One Night In Miami

David Strathairn in Nomandland

Best Supporting Actress

Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy

Olivia Colman in The Father

Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite

Debra Winger in Kajillionaire

Helena Zengel in News of the World

Fist Fighter (1989, directed by Frank Zuniga)


C.J. Thunderbird (played by Jorge Rivero) is a former professional fighter who is now a miner living in Arizona.  Two years ago, Thunderbird’s best friend was killed by a fighter named Rhino (Matthias Hues).  Thunderbird swore vengeance and, when he gets a telegram informing him that Rhino has been spotted in Bolivia, Thunderbird heads down to South America, looking to settle things once and for all.  With the help of a down-on-his-luck trainer named Punchy (Edward Albert), Thunderbird nearly defeats Rhino in the ring but the fight is suddenly stopped by the local police, all of whom are paid off by local drug dealer, Billy Vance (Mike Connors).  Rhino works for Vance and Vance doesn’t want his most fearsome goon to be shown up in public.  Thunderbird and Puchy soon find themselves in one of those prisons where the inmates are forced to take part in underground cage matches.  Thunderbird’s only chance of survival and perhaps escape depends upon defeating yet another fighter, the Beast (Gus Rethwisch).

The coolest thing about Fist Fighter is that it’s called Fist Fighter.  It sounds like a title for a movie that someone made up but instead, it’s very, very real.  The 2nd coolest thing about Fist Fighter is that the hero is named Thunderbird.  I think this was Thunderbird’s only film adventure.  If Fist Fighter had made more money, it could have led to a Thunderbird franchise.  Jorge Rivero wasn’t much of an actor but he’s good in the fight scenes and Edward Albert overacts to such an extent that he easily makes up for Rivero’s inability to actually show emotion.  I also liked Mike Connors as the smug villain.  Brenda Bakker plays Billy Vance’s mistress.  Of course, she ends up falling for Thunderbird.

Fist Fighter is dumb but entertaining.  If Rivero’s role has been played by Jean-Claude Van Damme or Dolph Lundgren, two action stars who could actually act as well as convincingly fight, Fist Fighter would probably be a cult classic.  As it is, it’s one of the more entertaining of the many rip-offs of Bloodsport.

“On Transit” : Max Morris Puts The Pedal To The Metal


Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Originally self-published “way” back in 2017 but only now making its way in front of my eager eyes, Chicago cartooning legend Max Morris’ On Transit is an admirably rancid duo-tone nightmare very much in the Gary Panter tradition, albeit with perhaps an even more raw punk sensibility, and is a legit must-read item for anyone reliant upon the whims and vagaries of public transportation, particularly CTA buses — although the bus system of any major city works in a pinch as a substitute. And while the depiction of the ride herein is exaggerated for both comic and horrific effect, chances are good it’s going to ring true for most readers because, hey, most of us have been there and done that.

Like being a prison guard or a schoolteacher, driving a bus is one of those occupations where you’re better off admitting silently to yourself that the inmates are running…

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Film Review: Mister 880 (dir by Edmund Goulding)


First released in 1950, Mister 880 is a wonderful surprise.

The film opens like a typical 50s crime drama.  We’re told that counterfeiting is a serious crime and that the dedicated agents of the Secret Service are working very hard to try to wipe out the scourge of fake money. We’re also told that Mister 880 is based on a true story and that it was produced with the full cooperation of the U.S. Treasury Department.  As a result, modern viewers will probably be expecting Mister 880 to be a work of pro-government propaganda, where wholesome treasury agents track down and stop soulless thieves.  Instead, Mister 880 turns out to be a wonderfully charming portrait of a criminal who doesn’t mean to cause anyone any harm.

Burt Lancaster stars as Steve Buchanan, a Treasury agent who is well-known for never letting a case go.  He’s developed a personal obsession with tracking down a counterfeiter who, for the last ten years, has been passing phony one dollar bills around a certain New York neighborhood.  The Treasury Department has named him Mister 880.  Mister 880 is definitely an amateur.  The money that he prints is sloppy.  At the same time, he also only prints one dollar bills and it appears that he only does so on occasion.  Just as no one can figure out his identity, everyone is also baffled by his motivation.  If he was looking to get rich through printing his own money, he would surely print more than just  a bunch of sloppy one dollar bills.

Investigating the neighborhood that he believes to be Mister 880’s base of operations, Buchanan meets and falls in love with Ann Winslow (Dorothy McGuire).  He also happens to meet Ann’s neighbor, Skipper Miller (Edmund Gwenn).  Skipper is an elderly man, a Navy veteran who lives with a dog and who says that he is financially supported by a rich cousin who nobody has ever met.  Skipper is a junk dealer and he’s a genuinely nice man.  Everyone in the neighborhood, including Ann, loves Skipper.  Buchanan soon comes to like the old eccentric as well.

Of course, as you’ve probably already guessed, Skipper is the counterfeiter.  He is Mister 880.  He doesn’t mean to cause any harm, of course.  He only prints money when he absolutely needs to and he always makes sure to not use too much of it.  He doesn’t want to steal from anyone.  He’s just an elderly man who wants to live out his days in peace and who doesn’t want to be a bother to anyone.

When Buchanan discovers the truth about Skipper, he’s faced with a dilemma.  Skipper is hardly a master criminal but Buchanan has sworn an oath and he has a job to do.  Not making things any simpler is that Skipper doesn’t deny what he’s done and he also says that he’ll plead guilty to his crime because …. well, he is guilty.  Skipper’s not a liar, despite the fake money.  Both Buchanan and Ann know that Skipper won’t survive spending years behind bars.  What do you do with a man who has broken the law but who, at heart, is not really a criminal?  Can a crime be forgiven just because the man who committed it is really, really likable?

Mister 880 is a sweet-natured comedy, one that doesn’t necessarily argue that Skipper’s crime should have been forgiven but which, at the same time, does make the case that not all law-breakers are created equal.  Gwenn, who is best-known for playing Santa Claus in the original Miracle on 34th Street, gives a wonderful performance as Skipper.  It’s hard not to love Skipper.  It’s not just that Skipper doesn’t make any excuses for being a counterfeiter.  And it’s not just that Skipper is an eccentric who loves his dog and has his own unique way of looking at the world.  It’s that Skipper is just a genuinely kind man.  He’s someone who would rather go to prison than be too much of a burden to the people who he cares about.  He’s the sweetest criminal you could ever hope to meet.

Gwenn was rightfully nominated for an Academy Award for his work in this film.  Not nominated but equally strong were Burt Lancaster and Dorothy McGuire.  Even though they don’t get any big, show-stopping moments like Gwenn does, both Lancaster and McGuire bring their characters to wonderful life and both do a great job of capturing their own mixed feelings about what should be done about Skipper.  Lancaster, in particular, is convincing as the by-the-book agent who is torn between his professional obligations and his feelings for both Ann and Skipper.

Mister 880 is one of my favorite movies, a wonderfully and unexpectedly good-hearted film about a real-life criminal who wasn’t the bad of a guy.  Emerich Juenetter, the real-life counterfeiter who served as the model for Skipper, reportedly made more money from the release of this film than he ever did over the course of his counterfeiting career.  After watching Mister 880, it’s hard not to feel that he earned every cent of it.

Film Review: Coma (dir by Michael Crichton)


Michael Crichton’s 1978 film, Coma, tells the story of strange things happening at a Boston hospital.

Seemingly healthy patients are having complications during routine surgery, complications that leave them brain dead.  Dr. Susan Wheeler (Genevieve Bujold) thinks that there’s something bigger going on than just routine medical complications.  First, her best friend (Lois Chiles) falls into a coma while undergoing an abortion.  Then, Tom Selleck falls into a coma while having knee surgery.  Dr. Wheeler investigates and discovers that all of the patients were operated on in the same operating room and that all of them were shipped to a mysterious facility after their surgery.

Yep, it sounds like a conspiracy.  However, no one is willing to listen to Dr. Wheeler.  Not her boyfriend (Michael Douglas).  Not Dr. George (Rip Torn), the chief anetheisologist.  Not Dr. George Harris (Richard Widmark), the chief of surgery.  Dr. Wheeler thinks that it’s all a conspiracy!

And, of course, it is.  As the old saying goes, the only thing that a conspiracy needs to succeed is for people to be remarkably stupid and almost everyone in Coma is remarkably stupid.  Admittedly, some of them are in on the conspiracy but it’s still rather odd how many people apparently don’t see anything strange about healthy people going into a comas and then being shipped to a mystery facility.

Coma is probably best known for the scene where Susan manages to sneak into the mystery facility and she finds herself in a room full of suspended bodies.  Visually, it’s an impressive scene.  It’s truly creepy and it also captures the detached sterility that most people hate about medical facilities.  At the same time, it’s also the only visually striking moment in the entire film.  Every other scene in Coma feels flat.  Whenever I’ve watched this film, I’m always a little bit shocked whenever anyone curses because Coma looks more like an old made-for-TV film than anything you would ever expect to see in a theater.

My point is that Coma is a remarkably boring film.  It has a potentially interesting story but my God, is this movie ever a slog.  It’s pretty easy to guess what’s going on at the institute so there’s not a whole lot of suspense to watching Susan try to figure it all out.  When the truth is revealed, it’s not exactly a shocking moment.  For that matter, you’ll also be able to guess which doctor is actually going to turn out to be the villain.  There’s really no surprises to be found.

Coma was the second feature film to be directed by Michael Crichton.  With the exception of the scenes in the institute, the visual flair that Crichton showed in Westworld is nowhere to be found in Coma.  The film moves at a tortuously slow place.  A part of me suspects that, as a doctor, Crichton related so much to the film’s characters that he didn’t realize how dull they would be for those us who don’t look at a character like Rip Torn’s Dr. George and automatically think, “He’s just like that arrogant bastard I worked under during my residency!”  Call it the Scrubs syndrome.

For some reason, Coma is a film that people often recommend to me.  I don’t know why.  Trying to sit through it nearly put me in a coma.

Film Review: Go For It! (dir by Carmen Marron)


Released in 2011, Go For It! is one of those films that can be summed up by its title.

“Go for it!”  That’s what the world is saying to Carmen Salgado (Aimee Garcia).  “Go for it!”  Stop accepting that you’re never going to get anywhere in life.  Don’t just settle for working in a grocery store with your best friend, Gina (Gina Rodriguez).  Don’t just live at home with your bickering family.  Don’t just dance in underground clubs.  Go for it!  Get a new job.  Move in with Jared (Derrick Denicola).  Drop out of community college.  AUDITION FOR DANCE SCHOOL!  Go for it!

I’m not going to talk too much about the plot of this film because it’s not necessary.  You already know everything that’s going to happen in Go For It!  If you’ve ever seen any film about a young dancer pursuing her dreams and trying to find the courage to audition for dance school, you know exactly what’s going to happen in Go For It!  The plot is just as generic as the name.

Myself, I always wonder if anyone has ever made a movie called Give Up!  You want a better job?  Give up!  You want a rich boyfriend?  Give up!  You want to go to dance school?  Give up!  You want to grab your dreams?  GIVE UP!  I don’t think it’s ever been done but, to be honest, would anyone want to see a movie called Give Up!?  I mean, seriously — it might sound like a funny or subversive idea but I think the joke would get old after the first 20 minutes or so.  Watching people give up is not fun and that’s the appeal of a movie like Go For It!  There’s no cynicism to be found in Go For It!  

Actually, to be honest, the film could have used a little cynicism.  As it is, it’s so predictable that it’s kind difficult to get involved in the story.  Aimee Garcia gives a likable performance as Carmen and some of the dance scenes are fun to watch but the lack of surprises makes it hard to really get invested in her story.  It’s like if I tell you that I was trying to drive to your house but I had to stop at a red light.  I mean, yes, for that moment, I was no longer heading towards your house.  My journey to my destination hit a snag.  But you know that the light eventually turned green so it’s not like there’s a whole lot of surprises or drama in that story.

Gina Rodriguez only has a supporting role in this film but she does most of the dramatic heavy-lifting.  She has an abusive boyfriend and Rodriguez does a good job with the role.  Her character’s story could have made for a compelling film but, unfortunately, the film’s only interested in using her as a motivation for Carmen to try to do something with her life.  In the end, it feels an interesting character and plot was wasted.

When Go For It! was first released, some posters encouraged viewers to “Follow your own beat,” which is a good message even if it’s also the message of almost every film made nowadays.  Another poster said — and I kid you not — “You don’t have to be the best.”  To me, that’s a terrible message.  You don’t have to be the best?  Then why even try?  You might as well just tell people to give up.