Most of the films I liked most didn't get anywhere near a nomination for Best Picture. There is 0% overlap between the Academy and my Ten Best list, and if I get around to posting a "worth mentioning" there might be three from that list. But there are lots of things to be praised in the selections.
And just to note, I signed up around Thanksgiving for this social media site called Letterboxd where I am listing every movie I see, and expect to review a good chunk of them.
Black Panther was one of the best superhero movies in years, but that's a deeply degraded standard since most of them aren't very good at all. But Black Panther is the work of a major filmmaker, who made a superhero movie steeped in influences from major works in the cinematic cannon rather than other superhero movies. Sure!
BlacKkKlansman is one of Spike Lee's best movies, it boasts great performances, it's timely. Sure!
Bohemian Rhapsody isn't a good movie, but the last twenty minutes are about as transcendent an experience as I've ever had in a movie theatre, helped by seeing it on a big RPX screen with great sound. And since you can't get directly to the transcendent experience, I've got no problem with the Academy bestowing a Best Picture nomination on the film. Sure!
The Favourite. WTF. There's a thirty point gap on Rotten Tomatoes between the critic and audience rating. I'm with the audience rating. WTF. WTF. WTF. And with Roma, I can understand and appreciate why the critics are fawning over the film even though I didn't like it all that much. My dislike of Roma veers into the kind of passionate dislike which at least suggests it's gotten under my skin. The Favourite? WTF WTF WTF.
Green Book: This would be kind of like having a really great slightly modernized version of a 1980s military sf novel come out in 2019, and be nominated for a Hugo Award. It's not a bad movie. I laughed out loud in parts, as did the audience I was with. Again, lots of good performances to go around. The movie's safe and comfortable, but I think not entirely so because there's some squirminess and discomfort in the mens store scene or the country club scene that bring it a little more into today than the same movie might have been thirty years ago. But at the same time, you can't shake from the movie that there are parts of it that seem so thirty years ago. Meh.
Roma: So I didn't like this movie very much. It's so full of all the things those deep within the critical establishment like. Deep meaning. Rich and wonderful black-and-white cinematography. Very auteur. It was pretty much foreordained from its earliest screenings to be an Oscar nominee, but I would have liked a character to care about, a tiny bit of a sense of humor, something that wasn't so fully and self-consciously auteur. Meh.
A Star is Born: I'll apply the same guidance as I did for Bohemian Rhapsody, only in reverse. The first third of the movie is danged good. It goes steadily downhill, the middle third somewhat worse and the final third I'm thinking really really hard about the Bumblebee puzzle in that weekend's NY Times Magazine. But the good parts are dang good. Sure!
Vice: No. Not Best Picture material. Nominate it for make-up, nominate it for Christian Bale, but this is not Best Picture material.
& Moving down the list...
Actor: Willem Dafoe got a nomination for a movie nobody has seen. I don't need to look at the "Snubs and Surprises" list to know what one of the leading Surprises will be. I would give this to Rami Malek, because how you give a great performance in a bad movie with those teeth leading into one of the most transcendent sequences on film...
Actress: Glenn Close is impeccably good in The Wife, and it's a movie about an author winning a Nobel Prize for Literature. How can I not root for that? But all the competition is strong.
Supporting Actor: Hard to choose, We'll toss Mahershala Ali for being in the wrong category. We'll toss Sam Elliott for doing a great job with cliches in a cliche ridden movie. Sam Rockwell is good, but I'm sure there are five other performances as or more deserving. And I still wouldn't be able to choose easily between Adam Driver and Richard E. Grant. But I'll go with Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me, because it's closer to my profession.
Supporting Actress: Amy Adams. Because The Favourite isn't very good, I didn't like Roma, I won't go see If Beale Street Could Talk. And Amy Adams was great. But whether or not I go and see Beale Street I think Regina King has this. (Why am I not going to see Beale Street: Me no like the overly arty Moonlight full of weird shots of people coming onto the frame out of focus. Unless there's a chance to do this as part of a double feature...)
Director: Spike Lee.
Animated: Spider-Verse. More because of how much love it's inspired from people I love, more than because I loved it myself.
Screenplay: First Reformed in Original. BlacKkKlansman or Can You Ever Forgive Me for Adapted.
And let's talk about First Reformed. Ethan Hawke is great in it, and the movie has some indelible aspects and images that I won't soon forget. The ending! The ending! But really, the movie is just too damned weird, and the unique and special qualities of the weirdness don't entirely compensate for the fact that the movie is trying to do way too many things at once, with too many important moments happening way too quietly to the point that you wonder if they're motivated at all. The weirdness of the movie, its offputting-ness, is nicely demonstrated by the fact that Willem Dafoe has an Oscar nomination for a movie nobody say, and Ethan Hawke does not. Since a lot of my problems with the movie have to do with its screenplay I hesitate to award it an Oscar in that category, but I feel like the movie deserves an award someplace.
Cinematography: Cold War and Roma are both fabulous.
Documentary: We are living in such a great era for documentaries, and Free Solo and Minding the Gap are both wonderful. And even though I liked RBG, I think it would be a disappointment, awarding a perfectly fine documentary for being in the moment when there are other movies which are just plain better.
Editing: Bohemian Rhapsody. You don't get twenty minutes of transcendent filmmaking at the end without editing the heck out of it.
Tech categories: A brief moment of silence for First Man, which has a couple nominations down ballot. I wanted to love this movie, with a director and actor I both love both doing some solid work, but at the end of the day the movie never makes a persuasive case for existing when we already have The Right Stuff, already have Apollo 13, etc.
Good News: No need to see Mary Poppins Returns on account of its Oscar nominations count, which is slim.
- The Brillig Blogger
- A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.