Lisa’s Way, Way, Way, Way, Way, Way, Way Too Early Oscar Predictions For February


It’s a fool’s errand to try to predict next year’s Oscars nominees this early but we’re all about taking risks here at the Shattered Lens.  So, with that in mind, here is my latest set of monthly predictions.

If you look over these names, you’ll see a lot of familiar ones.  That’s because it’s early in the year and familiarity is really the only thing that a lot of these unreleased films have going for them.  Some of the films mentioned below were hits at Sundance.  From what I’ve read, I really do think Minari could be a contender because, along with being loved by critics, it sounds like it’s very much of the current cultural moment.

But the important thing to remember is that, last year at this time, no one expected Joker to become the film of the year.  No one had even heard of Parasite.  Most people were still predicting the Oscars would be dominated by Harriet.  So, my point is — take this stuff with several grains of salt.

To be honest, I think a lot depends on how the presidential election goes.  If Trump is reelected, I think you’ll see the Academy voting for angry, political films, if just as a way to get back at Trump and the people who voted for him.  (Think about the otherwise baffling love that was previously shown to a movie like Vice.)  The Trial of the Chicago 7 sounds incredibly tedious to me but I could imagine people voting for it and thinking to themselves, “This is so going to piss off the Republicans.”  If Trump is defeated, I imagine the Academy will be a bit more upbeat in their selections.

If you want to see how my thinking has evolved, check out my predictions for January here!    (It’s only been a month so my thinking hasn’t really evolved at all.  Still, we could always use the clicks.)

Best Picture

Dune

Happiest Season

Hillybilly Elegy

Ironbark

Minari

News of the World

Respect

Stillwater

The Trial of the Chicago 7

West Side Story

Best Director

Isaac Lee Chung for Minari

Paul Greengrass for News of the World

Ron Howard for Hillybilly Elegy

Steven Spielberg for West Side Story

Denis Villeneuve for Dune

Best Actor

Benedict Cumberbatch in Ironbark

Matt Damon in Stillwater

Tom Hanks in News of the World

Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Will Smith in King Richard

Best Actress

Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy

Olivia Colman in The Father

Clare Dunne in Herself

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Angelina Jolie in Those Who Wish Me Dead

Best Supporting Actor

Bo Hopkins in Hillbilly Elegy

Merab Ninidze in Ironbark

Mark Rylance in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Forest Whitaker in Respect

Steven Yeun in Minari

Best Supporting Actress

Abigail Breslin in Stillwater

Glenn Close in Hillybilly Elegy

Vera Farmiga in The Many Saints of Newark

Mary Steenburgen in Happiest Season

Helena Zengel in News of the World

Goin’ South (1978, directed by Jack Nicholson)


Jack Nicholson was not an overnight success.

Nicholson was 17 years old when he first came to Hollywood in 1954.  Looking to become an actor, Nicholson toiled as an office worker at the MGM cartoon studio, took acting classes, and went to auditions.  It would be four years before he even landed his first role, the lead in the Roger Corman-produced The Cry Baby Killer.  When that film failed to become a hit, Nicholson spent the next ten years doing minor roles and occasionally starring in a B-picture.  He auditioned for some big parts, like Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, Buck Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde, and Guy Woodhouse in Rosemary’s Baby, but his big break continued to allude him.  By 1969, Nicholson was so disillusioned with acting that he was planning to instead pursue a career as a director.  However, before Nicholson officially retired from the acting game, he received a call from the set of Easy Rider.  Depending on who you ask, Rip Torn, who had previously been cast in the role of alcoholic George Hanson, had either quit or been fired.  Bruce Dern, the first choice to replace Torn, was busy filming They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Nicholson agreed to step into the role and the rest is history.

Easy Rider may have made Jack Nicholson one of the world’s biggest film stars but he never lost his ambition to direct.  In 1971, he made his directorial debut with Drive, He Said, a film about campus unrest.  At the time, the film flopped at both the box office and with critics and quickly sunk into obscurity.  (It has subsequently been rediscovered and, in some cases, positively reevaluated.)  After the failure of Drive, He Said, it would be another seven years before Nicholson again got a chance to direct.

Nicholson’s second film as a director, Goin’ South, is a comedic western.  Nicholson plays Henry Lloyd Moon, an unsuccessful outlaw who used to ride with Quantrill’s Raiders.  When Moon is captured in Longhorn, Texas, he is sentenced to be hanged.  Fortunately, for Moon, Longhorn has a special ordinance.  Any man condemned for any crime other than murder can be saved from the gallows if a local woman agrees to marry him and take responsibility for his good behavior.  As a result of this ordinance, Longhorn is populated almost exclusively by single women and reformed outlaws.

While standing on the gallows, the cocky Moon is stunned to discover that none of the women want to marry him.  Finally, an old woman emerges from the crowd and announces that she’ll become Moon’s wife.  When Moon hops off the gallows and thanks her, the woman drops dead.  Fortunately, another, younger woman, Julia Tate (Mary Steenburgen, making her film debut), steps forward.

Once they’re married, the lecherous Moon discovers that Julia is a virgin and that the only reason she married him was so she could force him to work in the secret gold mine that’s hidden underneath her property.  The railroad will soon be taking over the land and Julia wants to get all of the gold before she leaves town for Philadelphia.  Though Julia, at first, wants nothing to do with Moon, he eventually wears her down through sheer persistence and the two fall in love.

Complicating matters is Deputy Towfield (Christopher Lloyd), who is upset because he feels that Julia was meant to be his wife.  Also, the members of Moon’s former gang (including Danny DeVito and Veronica Cartwright) show up at Julia’s house and discover the truth about the mine.

Goin’ South gets off to a good start.  The scene on the gallows, where Moon waits for someone to marry him and save his life, is genuinely funny and Nicholson and Steenburgen have a playful chemistry for the first hour of the movie.  Nicholson leers even more than usual in this film but the script is written so that the joke is always on Moon.  Much of the film’s humor comes from Moon always overestimating both his charm and his cleverness.  However, once Moon and Julia finally consummate their marriage, the movie loses whatever narrative momentum it may have had and gets bogged down with the subplots about Towfield and Moon’s gang.  There are funny moments throughout but the story gets away from Nicholson and the film is reduced to a series of set pieces, none of which build up to much.

Not surprisingly, Nicholson gets good performances from his cast, which is largely made up by the members of his 1970s entourage.  Along with Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd, longtime Nicholson associates like Tracey Walter, Ed Begley Jr., Richard Bradford, Jeff Morris, and Luana Anders all appear in small roles.  John Belushi plays the tiny role of Deputy Hector.  (Goin’ South was actually the first film in which Belushi was cast, though production didn’t actually begin until after Belushi had finished working on National Lampoon’s Animal House.)  Unfortunately, despite all of the good performances, the script doesn’t do much to develop any of the characters.  Belushi especially feels underused.  (Because Belushi had moved on to Animal House by the time the film went into post-production, Nicholson ended up dubbing several of Belushi’s lines himself.)

Drive, He Said was largely considered to have failed at the box office because Nicholson remained behind the camera so he took the opposite approach with Goin’ South.  Nicholson is in nearly every scene and he gives one of his broadest performances.  It works for the first half of the film, when Moon is constantly trying to get laid and failing every time.  But, during the second half of the movie, Nicholson’s failure to reign in his performance works to the film’s detriment.  When the movie needs Nicholson to be romantic, he’s still behaving like a horny cartoon. Whenever he looks at Mary Steenburgen, it seems as if his eyes should be popping out of his head, Tex Avery-style.  He’s an entertaining cartoon, but a cartoon nonetheless.  As a result, Goin’ South is often funny but it still feels very inconsequential.

Like Drive, He Said, Goin’ South was both a critical and a box office flop and it temporarily turned Nicholson off of directing.  It would be another 12 years before he would once again step behind the camera.  In 1990, Nicholson directed The Two Jakes, the sequel to one of his best films, Chinatown That would be Nicholson’s last film as a director.  Nicholson acted for another 20 years, following the release of The Two Jakes.  To date, he made his final screen appearance in 2010, with a supporting role in James L. Brooks’s How Do You Know.  Nicholson has disputed claims that he’s officially retired, saying that he’s instead just being more selective about his roles.  Even though it’s been ten years since we last saw him on screen, Jack Nicholson remains an American icon and a living legend.

Cold Terror: Dead of Winter (1987, directed by Arthur Penn)


Katie (Mary Steenburgen) is a struggling actress with an out-of-work husband (William Russ) and a deadbeat brother (Mark Malone).  Desperately in need of money, Kate goes to an open audition and is immediately hired by Mr. Murray (Roddy McDowall), who explains that Katie will have to meet with one of the film’s investors, the wheelchair-bound Dr. Lewis (Jan Rubes).  In the middle of a raging snowstorm, they go to Dr. Lewis’s home and, once they’ve arrived, Katie discovers that she is meant to replace an actress who looked exactly like her but who Dr. Lewis claims had a nervous breakdown.  She’s told that she must stay the night so she can meet the director in the morning and when she tries to call her husband to let him know where she is, the line is dead.  (For those born after 1996, the line being dead was the 80s equivalent of not being able to get a signal.)  Dr. Lewis says it must be due to the storm but he promises to have Mr. Murray take her into town in the morning.  Of course, the next morning, the car doesn’t start and it becomes clear that Dr. Lewis is not planning on ever letting Katie leave his home.

Dead of Winter is a throw-back to the type of gothic, damsel-in-distress films that actresses like Nina Foch, Ingrid Bergman, and Linda Darnell used to make back in the 1940s and 50s.  If you can accept that anyone could ever be as naive as Katie, it’s not that bad of a thriller.  Director Arthur Penn fills his movie with homages to Hitchcock and the scene where a drugged Katie wakes up to discover that she’s missing a finger is an effectively nasty shock.  By the end of the movie, Mary Steenburgen has played three different characters and she does a good job as all three of them.  Jan Rubes makes Dr. Lewis’s too obviously evil but Roddy McDowall is great as the polite but psychotic Mr. Murray.  When Mr. Murray sees that Katie has tried to escape by climbing out a window, he yells, “Oh dear!” and only Roddy McDowall could have pulled that off.

Dead of Winter was Arthur Penn’s second-to-last theatrical film.  After making films like Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man, and Alice’s Restaurant, Penn’s career went into decline as the American film industry became increasingly centered around blockbusters and Penn’s cerebral approach fell out of favor.  After Dead of Winter, Penn would direct Penn & Teller Get Killed before returning to his roots as a television director.  Penn ended his long and distinguished career as an executive producer on Law & Order.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #108: The Brave One (dir by Neil Jordan)


Brave_one_2007For our next entry in Embracing the Melodrama Part II, we take a look at Jodie Foster in the 2007 film The Brave One.  And…

Well, how to put this delicately?

I hate hate hate hate HATE this movie, with every last fiber of my being.  I hated it the first time that I saw it and I hated it when I recently rewatched it and right now, I’m hating the fact that I even decided to review this damn film because it means that I’m going to have to think about it.  I’m going to try to get this review over with quickly because, with each minute that I think about this film, I doubt my commitment to cinema.  That’s how much I hate this movie.  If I’m not careful, I’m going to end up joining a nunnery before I finish this review…

So, in The Brave One, Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain.  Erica lives in New York and hosts one of those pretentious late night radio shows that are always popular in movies like this but which, in real life, nobody in their right mind would waste a second listening to.  Erica spends her time musing about life in the big city and hoping that we can all just love one another and expressing a lot of other thoughts that sound like they’ve been stolen from an automated twitter account.

Erica also has a boyfriend.  His name is David and he’s played by Naveen Andrews.  That means that he looks good and he has a sexy accent and when he first shows up, you hope that he’ll stick around for a while because otherwise, you’re going to have to listen to move of Erica’s radio monologues.  But nope — one night, while walking through Central Park, David and Erica are attacked.  David is killed.  Erica is raped.  And their dog is taken by the gang!

(And the film doesn’t seem to know which it thinks is worse…)

When Erica gets out of the hospital, she is, at first, terrified to leave her apartment.  Or, at least, she’s terrified to leave her apartment for about five minutes.  But then she does find the courage to go outside and, of course, the first thing she does is buy a gun.  At first, she’s buying the gun for her own state of mind but, almost immediately after purchasing her firearms, she happens to stumble across a convenience store robbery.

Bang!  Bang!  Erica’s a vigilante now!

But, of course, she’s not really sure if that’s what she wants to be.  Even though she eventually ends up sitting on a subway and waiting for a guy to approach her so she can shoot him, Erica is still never really that comfortable with the idea of seeking vengeance.  And this is why I hated The Brave One.  The film is so damned wishy washy about Erica’s motivations.  Instead of allowing Erica to get any sort of satisfaction or emotional fulfillment out of her actions, The Brave One has her constantly doubting whether or not violence is the answer.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that violence is the answer.  But if you’re going to make a film about a female vigilante who is out looking for vengeance, why don’t you at least allow her to get some sort of empowerment out of her actions?  That doesn’t mean that the film itself can’t be ambiguous about what she’s doing.  But by having Erica constantly questioning her actions, it makes her into a weak character and it lets the men who raped her and the ones who subsequently threaten to do the same off the hook.  It allows them to be seen as victims, as opposed to products of a society where men are raised to believe that women will never fight back.

There’s a far superior New York-set film that has almost the same plot as The Brave One.  The title of that film was Ms. 45.  It was made for a hundred times less money than The Brave One and, at the same time, it was and remains a hundred times better.  (I previously wrote about Ms. 45 and The Brave One in my essay, Too Sordid To Ever Be Corrupted.)

The difference between the two films can be summed up by the film’s tag lines.  The Brave One was advertised with, “How many wrongs to make it right?”  Ms. 45 was advertised with: “She was abused and violated … IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!”   Ms. 45 features a vigilante who never doubts her actions and, as a result, she becomes a symbol not of violence but of empowerment.  Meanwhile, Jodie Foster is so constantly wracked with guilt and doubt that the film almost seems to be criticizing her for not staying in her apartment and trusting the police (represented by Terrence Howard and Nicky Katt) to do their job.

Oh!  And, of course, at the end of the film, Erica gets her dog back.  Because nobody ever permanently loses their dog in a big budget studio film…

And really, that’s why The Brave One is such a failure.  It takes a subject that was tailor-made for the grindhouse and attempts to give it the slick and self-important studio approach.  And part of that approach is that no one can be offended.  This is a film that both wants to celebrate and condemn at the same time.

And that’s why I say, “Give me Ms. 45!”

At least that movie knows what it wants to say…

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #62: Time After Time (dir by Nicholas Meyer)


TimeAfterTime79So, I just gave the 1979 film Home Before Midnight a fairly negative review but I simply cannot end the 70s section of Embracing the Melodrama on such a negative note!  So, before we move on to the 80s, allow me to suggest another film from 1979 that you could watch while you’re not watching Home Before Midnight!

Time After Time opens in London.  The year is 1893.  Writer H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) is having a dinner party so that he can show off his latest invention, a time machine.  Among his guests is a surgeon named John Stevenson (David Warner).  What nobody at the party suspects is that Stevenson also goes by the name Jack the Ripper and that he enjoys killing prostitutes.  When a detective from Scotland Yard shows up at Wells’s home, Stevenson jumps into the time machine and escapes into the future.  Since Stevenson does not have the “non-return key,” the machine returns back to 1893 but Stevenson has apparently escaped.

Wells uses the machine to pursue Stevenson and soon finds himself in 1979 San Francisco.  Wells had expected to find that the future would be a utopia but instead, he discovers the world of 1979 is loud, polluted, violent, angry, and dangerous.  (Kinda like the world of 2015…)  As Wells pursues Stevenson, he struggles to adjust to the world of the “future,” and he also meets a bank clerk, Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen).

Time After Time is probably the sweetest movie ever made about Jack the Ripper and that’s largely because of the romance between both Wells and Amy and the two actors who played them.  After watching Time After Time, I was not surprised to learn that McDowell and Steenburgen got married shortly after appearing in this film.  They were so incredibly sweet together!

Add to that, considering the he’s best known for playing villains and other menacing types, it’s interesting to see Malcolm McDowell plays such a gentle and nice character.  Wells’ befuddlement is charming to watch.  There’s a great scene where Amy calls Wells on a landline phone and Wells stares down at the receiver in frightened amazement.

Time After Time is a really good and likable movie.  It’s sweet and it proves that even hunting for Jack the Ripper can be a romantic experience if it’s done with the right person.  Watch it and enjoy!