Lisa Marie’s Oscar Predictions for January

Well, here we are. Another awards season is wrapping up. Almost all of the regional critic groups have announced their picks for the best of 2021. The Guilds have spoken. The front runners have emerged. Both Don’t Look Up and Being the Ricardos have weathered bad reviews and become probable Oscar nominees. If nothing else, I’ll have something to complain about for the next three or four months. At the same time, Power of the Dog has emerged as the critical favorite. Belfast seems to be the populist favorite. West Side Story is the big production that has to be nominated, even though no one seems to feel particularly strongly about it one way or the other. Dune is the blockbuster that the Academy is hoping will cause people to tune into the ceremony, especially now that it appears that the Spider-Man Oscar campaign has fizzled. Don’t Look Up is the “Let’s piss off the cons” nominee. Being the Ricardos is this year’s “Wow, our industry really is the best” nominee. Personally, I’m going to view tick, tick….Boom! as being the most likely dark horse to pull off an upset.

So, with all that in mind, here’s my last set of 2021 Oscar predictions.

Looking at the list below, I have to say that we certainly have a good race this year. It’s interesting that, this year, only films that were released between March and the end of December were eligible for the Oscars. 2021 was a very good year for movies! Not only do we have the nominees below but we also had films like The Father and Judas and the Black Messiah, both of which are 2021 films as far as I’m concerned.

(Consider this. If the Oscars had kept the eligibility window the same last year instead of extending it to accommodate films delayed by the pandemic, Anthony Hopkins would probably be the Best Actor front runner right now and the Academy probably would have given Chadwick Boseman a posthumous Best Actor award last April. I also imagine that Jesse Plemons would have a better chance of picking up a supporting actor nomination if the members of the Academy were currently screening both The Power of the Dog and Judas and the Black Messiah at the same time.)

To see how my thinking has evolved,  check out my predictions for March and April and May and June and July and August and September and October and November and December!

The Oscar nominations will be announced on February 8th. Below are my predictions!

Best Picture

Being The Ricardos
Don’t Look Up
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
The Power Of The Dog
Tick, Tick….Boom!
West Side Story

Best Director

Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog

Adam McKay for Don’t Look Up

Lin-Manuel Miranda for tick, tick …. Boom!

Steven Spielberg for West Side Story

Denis Villeneuve for Dune

Best Actor

Nicolas Cage in Pig

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog

Andrew Garfield in tick, tick….Boom!

Will Smith in King Richard

Denzel Washington in The Tragedy of Macbeth

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Nicole Kidman in Being the Riacardos

Kristen Stewart in Spencer

Best Supporting Actor

Bradley Cooper in Licorice Pizzia

Ciaran Hinds in Belfast

Troy Kostur in CODA

Jared Leto in House of Gucci

Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Power of the Dog

Best Supporting Actress

Caitriona Balfe in Belfast

Ariana DeBose in West Side Story

Kirsten Dunst in The Power of the Dog

Aunjanue Ellis in King Richard

Ruth Negga in Passing

The Films of 2021: Don’t Look Up (dir by Adam McKay)

Our story so far:

In 2010, after making audiences laugh with films like Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers, director Adam McKay released The Other Guys.  A spoof of buddy cop films, The Other Guys featured Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell as two lovably incompetent but well-intentioned cops who took down a corrupt investor played by Steve Coogan.  It was a funny movie and, along with Anchorman and Talladega Nights, it revealed that McKay was one of the few directors who understood how to best capture Ferrell’s style of comedy.  And yet, the film ended on a bit of an odd note as the end credits were accompanied with statistics on how much money Wall Street executives were getting paid while the average American struggled to keep up with their bills.  It suggested that McKay meant for Coogan’s somewhat cartoonish villain to be taken seriously.

McKay followed up The Other Guys with Anchorman 2, which had some funny moments but which was also overlong, spent a good deal of time railing against corporate sponsorship of the news, and took a jarringly serious approach to a subplot in which Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy was rendered blind.  In retrospect, it’s easy to see how The Other Guys and Anchorman 2 both lay the foundation for what would become McKay’s signature style.  The end credits for The Other Guys revealed that McKay felt he could change the world through comedy and, at the time, there was actually something charmingly naïve about his belief that he could use the end credits to turn the audience into activists.  Anchorman 2‘s excessive length and its strained attempts at being meaningful (particularly when compared to the pure fun of the first film) revealed a somewhat less charming side to McKay’s activist vision.

This all led to 2015’s The Big Short, a film in which McKay mixed broad comedy with strained drama and attempted to tell the story of the 2007 financial crisis.  It was a mess of a film, featuring Ryan Gosling introducing famous people to explain complex financial concepts.  It was also a film that occasionally attempted to be a serious tear-jerker, featuring poor old Steve Carell as an investor who still hadn’t gotten over the suicide of his brother.  At the time, The Big Short was acclaimed by some and hated by others.  Interestingly enough, some of the most liberal film critics out there dismissed the film as being smug and preachy.  There were other critics who thought the film was brilliant.  The Academy appreciated the film, nominating it for Best Picture and giving McKay an Oscar for his screenplay.  McKay, for his part, encouraged everyone watching the Oscars to vote for Bernie Sanders.

In retrospect, of course, The Big Short wasn’t very good.  A lot of the film’s so-called revolutionary style was lifted from a British film called 24-Hour People (which, make of it what you will, starred The Other Guys‘s Steve Coogan) and the film’s mocking use of celebrities was nothing that hadn’t already been done before.  Worst of all were McKay’s attempts at drama.  I’ll always remember the random scene in which Steve Carell is seen crying to Marisa Tomei about his dead brother.  “He said he was feeling sad and I tried to give him money!” Carell says.  The McKay of old would have understood that this was the point where the scene needed Tomei to deadpan, “That’s probably why he killed himself.”  However, The Big Short was directed by the new, serious McKay.

Why was The Big Short such a success with the Oscars?  In a pattern that would repeat itself, it was a film that preached to an appreciative audience of the already-converted.  No one decided to vote for Bernie Sanders as a result of watching The Big Short.  However, those who were already planning on voting for him left the film even more determined to do so.  As well, by taking place in 2007 and 2008, The Big Short allowed viewers to blame the sluggish economy on the former president as opposed to the one who was currently sitting in the White House.

In 2018, McKay returned with Vice, in which he brought his new signature style to the life of Dick Cheney.  Vice received even worse reviews than The Big Short as it attempted to get audiences to care about someone who hadn’t exactly been relevant for the last ten years.  Again, though, Vice was appreciated by a vocal group of critics and it was the second McKay film to receive a best picture nomination.  2018, of course, was a notably weak film as far as Oscar contenders were concerned.  Also, undoubtedly, there were many people who felt that nominating Vice would “own the cons.”  Of course, if those people (or McKay, for that matter) understood how deeply unpopular Cheney was with most right-wingers, they might have thought twice.  If anything, Vice’s portrayal of Cheney being a heartless insider who sacrificed American lives for his own personal and financial gain could have been written by Donald Trump.  As well, quite a few audiences members walked out of the theater thinking that Cheney had a point when he said that whatever he did, he did it to keep Americans safe.  One need only compare Oliver Stone’s Nixon biopic to Adam McKay’s Cheney biopic to see the difference between a filmmaker who makes movies about politics and an activist who allows his politics to make his movies.

Vice featured a mid-credits scene in which a focus group, having watched the film, got into a fight over whether or not Cheney was a hero.  During the fight, two girls were seen looking at their phone and talking about how they can’t wait to see the new Fast and Furious film.  That scene pretty summed up McKay’s view of the American public.  He may want to save you but that doesn’t mean that he thinks much of you.

That attitude leads us directly to McKay’s latest film, Don’t Look Up.  I fully understand that you may be wondering whether it was truly necessary to devote 1,000 words to Adam McKay’s pre-Don’t Look Up career to review his latest film.  I would argue that it was because it’s impossible to really understand Don’t Look Up unless you understand how Adam McKay has gone from directing broad but enjoyably silly comedies to being one of the most self-important filmmakers working today.  Don’t Look Up is not a film that could have been made without the undeserved accolades that were given to The Big Short and ViceDon’t Look Up is the ultimate Adam McKay film, a towering testament to McKay’s misplaced belief that the best way to convert audiences is to hit them over the head with a sledgehammer.  The flaws are obvious but they’re the same flaws that many chose to overlook in The Big Short and ViceDon’t Look Up is not very good but, as with his previous two Oscar-nominated films, that probably won’t matter when the Academy Award nominations are announced on February 8th.

The time is the near future.  Kate Dibiansky (Jennifer Lawrence) and Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) are two low-level astronomers who discover that a comet is heading straight towards the Earth.  “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!” as Kate puts it.  “I’M SO SCARED!” as Dr. Minty puts it.  They go to the White House but the President (Meryl Streep) is more concerned with her approval ratings and her son, the chief of staff (Jonah Hill), is a weirdo who keeps talking about how hot his mother is.  Kate and Randall go on a morning show but the hosts. Brie (Cate Blanchett) and Jack (Tyler Perry), are only interested in repeating positive news.  (We all know how much news stations go out of their way to avoid panicking people.)  When Kate has a breakdown, she becomes a meme.  Randall, on the other hand, briefly becomes a celebrity and has an affair Brie.  While a strange tech billionaire (Mark Rylance) plots to harvest the comet for its minerals, Kate gets a job at a grocery store and has a weird romance with a religious skater named Yule (Timothee Chalamet).  As it slowly becomes impossible to ignore the sight of the comet approaching Earth, the President orders her supporters to “DON’T LOOK UP!”  Some insist on looking up.  Some look down.  Fights break out as people argue online.  Ariana Grande sings a song to encourage people to look up.  Meanwhile, those who always knew what was happening prepare for the world to end because you can do anything in a montage.

Don’t Look Up was envisioned as a commentary on America’s response to the climate crisis.  It was originally meant to be released during the 2020 presidential election, hence Meryl Streep playing a president who was obviously meant to be a combination of Donald and Ivanka Trump.  When DiCaprio shouts that “this administration” doesn’t care about protecting the Earth from the comet, it’s obvious which administration he was actually supposed to be referring to.  However, because of the pandemic, Don’t Look Up wasn’t released until 2021 and, as such, its portrayal of the White House being occupied by an amoral former television star doesn’t carry quite the same bite that it would have in 2020.  Because of the delay in the film’s release, many have reinterpreted Don’t Look Up as being a commentary on the COVID pandemic.

Well, regardless, of how you interpret the film, it doesn’t work.  It takes all of the flaws of The Big Short and Vice and it multiplies them several hundred times.  It’s a big, messy, and rather smug film.  The editing is self-consciously flashy, the 138-minute running time feels excessive, and McKay’s attempts to generate dramatic tension reveal that he hasn’t learned much since that scene with Carell and Tomei in The Big Short.  It’s been a while since Leonardo DiCaprio has been this bad (and this shrill) in a film while Meryl Streep acts up a storm without really making much of an impression beyond, “Hey, there’s Meryl overacting.”  On the plus side, I did like the scenes between Jennifer Lawrence and Timothee Chalamet but there aren’t many of them and one gets the idea that the only reason why Yule was included in the script was so Chalamet could join the cast.

Politically, this is a film that preaches to the converted.  Now, if you’re one of the converted, that may not matter to you.  You can watch the film and say, “That’s exactly the way it is!”  You can even say, as many have, the it’s impossible to change the minds of climate deniers so why should anyone even waste their time trying to come up with a persuasive film.  That’s a legitimate argument but it goes against the stated aims of the filmmakers.  Both McKay and screenwriter David Sirota have said that the goal of the film is to try to convert climate agnostics.  McKay recently gave an interview in which he said that his hope was that Joe Manchin would watch the film because he or a family member liked someone in the cast and that Manchin would later wake up, sweating in fear.  However, the film is so heavy-handed and so contemptuous of just about everyone on the planet (even those who look up) that it’s hard to imagine it changing anyone’s mind.  The possibility of Manchin or any other politician turning against coal power after watching Don’t Look Up is probably about as likely as an atheist converting to Christianity after watching God’s Not Dead.  If anything Don’t Look Up is the secular version of the type of films that people watch in church basements.

“I’M SO SCARED!” multiple characters are heard to shout in scenes that are obviously meant to pay homage to Network‘s cry of “I’M AS MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!”  Indeed, the film owes an obvious debt to both Network and Dr. Strangelove but McKay doesn’t seem to have learned the most important lessons that those films have to offer.  Dr. Strangelove may have featured a bunch of dumb people in Washington and it may have been full of characters with silly names but, as a director, Stanley Kubrick wisely took a straight-forward approach to his material.  Kubrick directed in an almost semi-documentary manner, giving the film a realistic feel regardless of how crazy things got onscreen.  The fact that the film played out in such a matter-of-fact, non-flashy style is why it was so effective.  If the action had stopped so Peter Sellers could deliver a 9-minute speech about the evils of nuclear war, it’s doubtful the film would be remembered today.   (Famously, Kubrick removed a custard pie fight from the finale because he realized it would take away from the film’s realism.  One doubts that McKay would have been capable of such restraint.)

As for Network, Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet both understood why it was important that Howard Beale be the made prophet of the airwaves but they also understood that there could only be one Howard Beale.  Only one man could rant and rave and be killed for low ratings.  If every character had been Howard Beale, Network would have been unwatchable.  With Don’t Look Up, McKay fills the movie with Howard Beales and it gets tedious.  The constant screams of “I’M SO SCARED!” become a sort of panic porn as opposed to being the calls for action that McKay seems to mean for them to be.

And yet, despite not being a very good movie, I have a feeling that Don’t Look Up will be nominated for Best Picture and it will be nominated for the same reason as The Big Short and Vice.  Politically, it has the right message for a very select audience.  It’s a film that will resonate with people who have a very specific way of viewing existence.  It may be a film that preaches to the converted but the converted love it.  It’s a film that appeals to those who are convinced that the world is going to end at any moment.  It’s a film for everyone who is pissed off that some people were more concerned about the next Fast and Furious film than they were with watching the latest political melodrama.

All of that said, perhaps the most interesting thing about Adam McKay’s politically-charged films is how ineffective they are.  The Big Short won an Oscar for McKay’s screenplay but Bernie Sanders twice lost the Democartic presidential nomination to candidates who were backed by Wall Street.  Indeed, much like Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, The Big Short today seems to be more likely to inspire someone to play the stock market than to rally against it.  As for Vice, Dick Cheney’s daughter is currently the media’s favorite Republican and Cheney himself was recently given a hero’s welcome when he returned to D.C.  Watching Don’t Look Up, you have to wonder how many people sympathized with the “I’M SO SCARED” crowd and how many people instead watched the rich and powerful boarding a spaceship and thought to themselves, “That’s who I want to be.”

Personally, I refuse to give up hope for Anchorman 3….

The Sunset Critics Honor Dune

Here are the winners of the 2nd annual Sunset Critics Awards!

Being The Ricardos
Belfast (RUNNER UP)
Don’t Look Up
The French Dispatch
King Richard
The Power Of The Dog

Kenneth Branagh – Belfast
Jane Campion – The Power Of The Dog
Pablo Larraín – Spencer (RUNNER UP)
Denis Villeneuve – Dune (WINNER)
Joe Wright – Cyrano

Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter
Jennifer Hudson – Respect
Nicole Kidman – Being The Ricardos (RUNNER UP)
Kristen Stewart – Spencer (WINNER)

Leonardo DiCaprio – Don’t Look Up
Peter Dinklage – Cyrano
Adam Driver – Annette
Andrew Garfield – Tick, Tick…Boom! (WINNER)
Will Smith – King Richard (RUNNER UP)

Jon Bernthal – King Richard
Jamie Dornan – Belfast (WINNER)
Shazad Latif – Profile
Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Power Of The Dog
Jeffrey Wright – The French Dispatch (RUNNER UP)

Caitríona Balfe – Belfast (WINNER)
Haley Bennett – Cyrano
Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard
Rebecca Ferguson – Dune (RUNNER UP)
Marlee Matlin – CODA

Being The Ricardos
Don’t Look Up
The French Dispatch

Ben Affleck – The Last Duel (RUNNER UP)
Sharon Duncan-Brewster – Dune (WINNER)
Chris Evans – Don’t Look Up
Sally Hawkins – Spencer
Channing Tatum – Free Guy

Being The Ricardos (WINNER)
Don’t Look Up (RUNNER UP)

The French Dispatch
The Power Of The Dog
Spencer (RUNNER UP)
The Tragedy Of Macbeth

C’mon C’mon – Aaron & Bryce Dessner
Don’t Look Up – Nicholas Britell
Dune – Hans Zimmer (WINNER)
The French Dispatch – Alexandre Desplat
Spencer – Jonny Greenwood (RUNNER UP)

A Quiet Place Part II (RUNNER UP)
Candyman (WINNER)
The Night House
Psycho Goreman

Clifford The Big Red Dog
Free Guy (WINNER)
Ghostbusters: Afterlife
The Mitchells vs. The Machines (RUNNER UP)

David Bruckner – The Night House
Nia DaCosta – Candyman (TIE)
Joanna Hogg – The Souvenir Part II
Lin-Manuel Miranda – Tick, Tick…Boom! (TIE)
Tim Sutton – Funny Face

The National Board of Review Names Licorice Pizza The Best of 2021

The National Board of Review just announced their picks for the best of 2021 and, while many thought they might go with West Side Story or The Power of the Dog, the NBR instead announced that their pick for Best Picture was Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza!

In fact, Power of the Dog went curiously unmentioned by the National Board of Review.  I wouldn’t read too much into that, though.  While the NBR is one of the more prominent of the precursors, they’re also not one of the most reliable.  If the Guilds ignore a film that was considered to be contender, that’s when you might want to start changing your predictions.

Anyway, here are the NBR winners:

Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, LICORICE PIZZA
Best Actor: Will Smith, KING RICHARD
Best Actress: Rachel Zegler, WEST SIDE STORY
Best Supporting Actor: Ciarán Hinds, BELFAST
Best Supporting Actress: Aunjanue Ellis, KING RICHARD
Best Original Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi, A HERO
Best Adapted Screenplay: Joel Coen, THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH
Breakthrough Performance: Alana Haim & Cooper Hoffman, LICORICE PIZZA
Best Directorial Debut: Michael Sarnoski, PIG
Best Animated Feature: ENCANTO
Best Foreign Language Film: A HERO
Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel, THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: FLEE

Top Films (in alphabetical order)
Don’t Look Up
King Richard
The Last Duel
Nightmare Alley
Red Rocket
The Tragedy of Macbeth
West Side Story

Top 5 Foreign Language Films (in alphabetical order)
Lingui, The Sacred Bonds
The Worst Person in the World

Top 5 Documentaries (in alphabetical order)
The Rescue
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

Top 10 Independent Films (in alphabetical order)
The Card Counter
C’mon C’mon
The Green Knight
Old Henry
Shiva Baby
The Souvenir Part II

*Sigh* Here’s The Trailer for Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up

Adam McKay has a new movie coming out.  It’s called Don’t Look Up and the cast is packed with stars.  It’s apparently a comedy about two astronomers who discover that a comet is about to collide with Earth, potentially ending all life as we know it.

Here’s the teaser:

I’m not really a big Adam McKay fan.  In fact, I think the last Adam McKay film that I really liked was AnchormanThe Big Short was overrated and smug.  Vice was an attempt to destroy Dick Cheney that, instead, rehabilitated the former vice president’s image in the eyes of many.  (I mean, seriously, it takes a certain amount of effort to screw up a film that’s only reason for existing was to portray Dick Cheney as being a sinister figure.)  Both Vice and The Big Short were victims of McKay’s tendency to try too hard to prove that he’s capable of more than just Anchorman.  (Let’s be honest, though.  If you had to pick between Anchorman and either of McKay’s Oscar-nominated films, which one are you going for?)

McKay is not a particularly good or clever political satirist but there are people who love his work, largely because they already agree with him.  His films are like the progressive, secular version of God’s Not Dead, heavy-handed, predictable, and beloved by people who exist in a very specific social and cultural bubble.  Of course, both The Big Short and Vice received several Oscar nominations but that due more to Hollywood agreeing with the film’s politics than the films themselves.

Anyway, the teaser features Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep, and Jennifer Lawrence, all acting up a storm.  (These are four talented actors, all of whom really need a director who is willing to say, “Okay, let’s dial it back a little.”  Subtlety, of course, is not really a McKay specialty.)  I’m not looking forward to this film but I’ll still watch it when it shows up on Netflix.  Who knows?  Maybe it’ll feel more like Anchorman than Vice.  One can only hope!