Oscars: Taking stock of a wide-open Best Picture race.

As awards season heats up, with the first batch of critics prizes already done and SAG ballots out, I take stock of a Best Picture race that’s without a clear frontrunner. That’s not to say it’s a weak field, there’s just no clear battle at the top like there has been the last few years. No Birdman vs Boyhood. No Spotlight vs The Revenant vs The Big Short. No La La Land vs Moonlight. We’ll learn more over the coming weeks as precursors start but it’s already Thanksgiving and Oscar pundits everywhere seem lost.

For full predictions in every category, updated every week or so, check here.

Despite the wide open nature of the race there are four films that appear to be near-locks for at least a nomination, so I’d like to run through those first and explain why they’re such safe bets. Nine out of the last ten years the people’s choice prize winner at the Toronto International Film Festival has gone on to score a Best Picture nom, and the one that didn’t was a foreign language film. It’s become the most significant Oscar forecaster. This year, in a relative surprise, Martin McDonagh’s black comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri took home the prize. While it’s far from your typical Oscar film and the Academy hasn’t responded to McDonagh’s past work, Fox Searchlight is campaigning it across nearly every major category as their primary pony and it looks like a major threat to win Actress (Frances McDormand), Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell), Original Screenplay (McDonagh), Film Editing (Jon Gregory), and even Original Score (Carter Burwell). If you had to peg a Best Picture frontrunner right now, Three Billboards is the smart choice.

Fox Searchlight has another strong player with Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. A passion project for GDT, said to be a blend of Creature from the Black Lagoon and Beauty and the Beast, it’s played the festival circuit very well and even won the Golden Lion at Venice. Guillermo has always flexed his visual muscle, and he appears to have crafted a story that pulls at the heartstrings as well. However, there is certainly some genre stigma to overcome with it being a blend of fantasy, horror, and classical romance. Its chances of actually winning could come down to how popular it proves once it actually comes out. It’ll pick up at least five nominations nominations, both in major categories and “below-the-line” technical categories, and that could lead to Guillermo winning Best Director while something else wins Best Picture (there’s been a Director/Picture split four of the last five years). Another film that looks like a lock for a nomination in both those categories and a real chance to win in Director is Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. The most significant Oscar player from the summer, Nolan’s film is arguably his best work yet as a director and will hit with most technical branches, making it a possibility to pick up the most overall nominations on Oscar morning. Support from those branches combined with the overdue narrative from Nolan never having been nominated as a director before could catapult him to a win. Warner Bros is also giving it a December re-release in IMAX 70mm to ensure that all interested parties see the film in its intended format. I don’t see any scenario where it wins Best Picture, however. The acting branch is the largest of the Academy. Not since Braveheart in 1995 has a film won Best Picture without getting a SAG Ensemble nom. Dunkirk is simply not an “actor’s film”. Perhaps veteran and recent winner Mark Rylance scores a nom. But even then, the film won’t have the passionate support from the most important branch necessary to win.

My final “lock” would be Lady Bird, the exceptional directorial debut of Greta Gerwig. Critically-adored (a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with 146 reviews) and a huge hit with audiences so far, the coming-of-age film is looking like another force to be reckoned with from A24 Films, the hot indie studio who won the big one last year with Moonlight. The film will score two acting nominations (Saoirse Ronan & Laurie Metcalf) and an Original Screenplay nod. It’s also very much a player in editing, cinematography, and director. Maybe it feels too small to win Best Picture, but so did Moonlight.

After those four, there are a handful of really strong bets, but strong bets that have one potentially fatal flaw as far as awards makeup goes. First is Darkest Hour, the film the everyone assumes Gary Oldman (playing Winston Churchill) will win Best Actor for. It has the traditional Oscar DNA as a talky period piece with a juicy performance that’ll resonate both with older voters and the oft-overlooked British sect of the Academy. But the Academy is getting younger and less traditional. I still believe the film will have a strong box office and drum up enough support to get in, but the days of stuff like The King’s Speech dominating the night are over. On the opposite end of this spectrum is the surprising smash hit Get Out, which could make for the most subversive Best Picture nominee ever. There are certainly concerns -genre stigma for both horror and comedy, lack of buzz in the acting categories- but the film’s momentum has held strong throughout the year. It should continue to pick up a ton of critics prizes and will probably win Best Comedy/Musical at the Globes. It’s hard to pick out any places where it’s a real threat outside of screenplay, but this is hugely popular film getting a giant push from a major studio. It doesn’t need to take the traditional path to a nomination.

Call Me By Your Name has been a critical favorite since Sundance, and Sony Pictures Classics believes they may have a winner on their hands. I don’t buy people’s concerns over the subject matter (both the romance between a 24 y/o & 17 y/o being problematic & another “gay” film the year after Moonlight). If voters love the film none of that will matter. But it remains to be seen how the film plays with mass American audiences and Oscar voters. Critics don’t matter as much as we often pretend they do when it comes to industry awards. Another critical darling is The Florida Project, which I have seen and think is very strong, but feels small for a Best Picture run, especially considering A24 has Lady Bird as well. The brilliant but understated filmmaking may not jump out at voters, and the only place it feels like a threat to win is Best Supporting Actor (Willem Dafoe). It certainly could have a nice run with critics prizes and precursors, but other indies seem to have much more buzz right now so I don’t feel too comfortable predicting it despite the fact that it plays as a crowd-pleaser.

The biggest mysteries right now are The Post from Steven Spielberg and Phantom Thread from Paul Thomas Anderson. They won’t hit theatres until the end of December, but will screen for guilds beforehand and are getting screeners sent out in time to qualify for critics awards and major industry precursors like SAG and DGA. Spielberg saw Bridge of Spies score six nominations, and The Post is a more timely historical story given our current president and that it deals with freedom of the press. He has both Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in tow this time. There were early rumors of the film having problems in the editing room, but with it getting screeners out in time for SAG, those rumors don’t appear to have any basis in reality. Phantom Thread is a tougher film to assess with Oscar until reviews start rolling in, as Paul Thomas Anderson’s work doesn’t always resonate with the Academy. Inherent Vice didn’t really land with Oscar, and The Master missed out in Best Picture despite THREE acting nominations. But he’s back with Academy favorite Daniel Day-Lewis this time around. Their previous collaboration, There Will Be Blood, scored eight nominations including Best Picture and saw Day-Lewis win. Phantom Thread looks very unique, to say the least, but I don’t doubt PTA or DDL. It’s also the only pony Focus Features has this year, so it’ll surely get an aggressive campaign.

Then there’s All the Money in the World, Ridley Scott’s film that formerly starred Kevin Spacey but saw him replaced with Christopher Plummer and is currently re-shooting hoping to make its Dec. 22nd qualifying release. This is an unprecedented move from Sony, to say the least. I have no idea how to look at it. If it’s good, will it matter? Does the fact that it originally starred Spacey damn it entirely, or will that have the reverse impact and give the film bonus good will? All I know is that he original trailer looked great and that while Ridley is hit-or-miss with Oscar, he hit big as recently as two years ago with The Martian.

There are other films from major studios getting campaigns. Blade Runner 2049 (Warner Bros) received strong reviews but the box office was simply terrible, and genre films really need to emerge as popular hits to have a chance (Arrival, also from Denis Villeneuve, doesn’t get in last year if it doesn’t surprise and put up big numbers). But it’s going to pick up some technical noms and will probably win Roger Deakins his long-deserved cinematography Oscar so you can’t rule it out. Fox is pushing War for the Planet of the Apes. I personally think it’s deserving of a great many noms, but its Oscar upside is likely limited to a victory in Best Visual Effects. The Academy has ignored the franchise to this point. Fox also has a musical starring Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams in The Greatest Showman. While that seems Oscar friendly, early buzz surrounding the film is dreadful.

On the superhero front, there’s been talk about how Logan and Wonder Woman could break through genre stigma and land with Oscar. I don’t buy it as anything more than clickbait fodder, personally. Both films appear much more likely to hit a couple Globe noms and maybe score with PGA like Deadpool did last year. Wonder Woman remains a talking point though and I wouldn’t completely rule it out with Oscar. Love for the film could spill over to a nom in Visual Effects (not deserving imo) or Costume Design (very deserving imo). There’s also an added and very legitimate female empowerment narrative surrounding the film that’s only made more relevant every time a sexual harasser within the industry is exposed. If it wasn’t such a loaded Best Actress race this year, I’d consider Gal Gadot a real threat, which would really help the films chances overall. Logan seems relatively forgotten at this point.

The big wildcard is Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The Force Awakens was much closer to getting a Best Picture nom than you think. It scored five nominations including the very important Best Film Editing, and was a PGA nominee as well. If TLJ ends up being the improved sequel most expect it to be, it certainly is a contender. At the very least it’ll pick up a handful of technical noms like its predecessor. Disney doesn’t have to push it hard. Everyone will see it regardless and it campaigns itself.

Among the dark horses are a few films hoping to ride lead acting contenders to overall Oscar love. A24 Films is already making a strong effort to campaign James Franco for The Disaster Artist, which he also directed. While the film -a comedy telling the story of cult midnight film The Room– is far from traditional Oscar material, it’s in part a love letter to filmmaking that folks in the industry should relate to. Critics already love it. We’ll see if audiences respond. Stronger did not have the box office Lionsgate was hoping for but Jake Gyllenhaal is probably getting nominated and there’s some real love for the film as a whole. It’ll need to surprise with precursors, but I wouldn’t stick a fork in it just yet. Molly’s Game, the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin featuring an acclaimed Jessica Chastain performance, played well at Toronto and is now closing AFI Fest. It could be a late riser like Lion and Hidden Figures last year, or it could be just a screenplay contender. Wonder may be overly sentimental but that hasn’t stopped a great many films from hitting with Oscar. It had a huge opening weekend and Lionsgate should recognize what they have and push the film and Julia Roberts as this year’s Lion/Nicole Kidman.

Some lesser-known distributors are hoping to break through. NEON is a new company but they seem to have a real contender in I, Tonya, which is likely looking at nominations for both Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. The Tonya Harding biopic is another film that surprised on the festival circuit and it’s stylistically different from anything else in the race this year. Can NEON score the film a SAG Ensemble nom? Getting the actors to bite is key. Hostiles, a challenging and violent western from rising director Scott Cooper, was picked up last minute by Entertainment Studios. It isn’t typical Oscar material but it features an acclaimed Christian Bale performance and Oscar absolutely loves him. Also, Netflix has their best chance yet at major nominations with Dee Rees’ Mudbound, but there’s still a huge hurdle for the company to jump and the film doesn’t appear to be playing as well with general audiences as it did with critics at Sundance. I’ll believe it’s got a real shot if it gets a SAG Ensemble nom.

A great many assumed contenders appear dead in the water. Wind River has strong box office, solid reviews, and features a powerhouse Jeremy Renner performance…but it’s mostly been forgotten and no matter how hard writer/director Taylor Sheridan tries, it’s tough to separate the film from Harvey Weinstein. Annapurna Pictures is trying to get Detroit back in play with a re-release, but the passion for the film just isn’t there and it’s got some potentially messy racial commentary attached to its third act. Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying has a big-name cast but hasn’t opened well or sparked much passion with anyone. It’ll need a surprising late boost. Along with that film, Amazon Studios co-distributed The Big Sick, which proved surprisingly popular on top of critical acclaim. It’s a crowd-pleaser but the momentum seems to have really slowed down and I don’t see it competing anywhere outside of screenplay. Maybe critics groups can push it back into the discussion over the next few weeks. We’ll see. Breathe has not received good reviews and is being called pure Oscar bait. Wonder Wheel has not received good reviews and is directed by Woody Allen. Downsizing and Wonderstruck are ambitious films from beloved directors (Alexander Payne and Todd Haynes, respectively) but neither are said to be anything special as experiments. Battle of the Sexes has Emma Stone and Steve Carrel, and it certainly tried on the festival circuit, but the reviews are just okay and Fox Searchlight already seems to be forgetting about it in favor of Three Billboards and The Shape of Water. Darren Aronofsky has hit before with Oscar, but mother! has proven very divisive and didn’t do anything at the box office. It has Jennifer Lawrence and I think it’s possible the DGA will acknowledge the ambition and cite Aronofsky. Maybe it can get some late momentum but it’ll be awfully difficult for Paramount to get it major love.

Anyways, that’s my commentary for now. I’ll do a similar post looking at the acting categories sometime over the next week.

50 Great Actors & Actresss Who’ve Never Been Nominated for an Oscar.

As Oscar season gets into gear, I’ll be posting a bunch of Oscar-related content, both past and present. Here is a list of 50 great performers who’ve never been nominated, ordered alphabetically by first name. I tried to keep it current with folks who are somewhat active today and could very well be in for their first nom soon.

Adam Driver: Driver’s understated work in last year’s Paterson is one of the great screen performances I’ve ever seen, but I’m not going to get too upset about him being snubbed because his rising Star Wars fame makes it extremely likely he gets in for his next great performance. Perhaps Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote next year?

Anthony Mackie: I’m not sure how the hell Mackie hasn’t been nominated yet. He’s very talented, famous, handsome, and works interviews well. He was also every bit as good as his nominated co-star (Jeremy Renner) in The Hurt Locker. He just hasn’t really gotten any juicy, awardsy roles since. Fix that please, Hollywood producers.

Aubrey Plaza: Don’t laugh, she’s much more than just a deadpan comedy star. Performances in films like Safety Not Guaranteed and Ingrid Goes West prove such. She can bring it, and if she steps away from the mumblecore stuff for a bit, the Academy will see that.

Ben Foster: There may not be a better character actor working right now. Nobody does unhinged-but-still-human better than Ben Foster. 3:10 to Yuma, Alpha Dog, Hell or High Water…the list goes on. The latter of those three was a Best Picture nominee last year and he still couldn’t get in despite picking up a handful of critics awards. Ugh.

Brendan Gleeson: He’s either won or been nominated for virtually ever other major acting award there is; so Oscar continually ignoring his work is on them, not him. It’s starting to feel like one of his kids is going to get a nom before he does. I like Domhnall though, so that’s cool I guess. 

Bruce Willis: Sure, he’s starred in some really bad movies, but so have plenty of other Oscar favorites. That shouldn’t erase his great performances, like being the best part of Pulp Fiction, for example.

Channing Tatum: The cinephile community continues to ignore just how good Tatum is. Maybe it’s because he was mostly cast in meathead, show-off-your-chest roles early in his career. But his Soderbergh collabs, hilarious work in the Jump Street movies, and all-in performance in Foxcatcher have proved he’s a great actor. He just needs people to stop seeing him as the guy from Step Up.

Chris Pine: Those dreamy eyes and chiseled jawline are both a blessing and a curse, as Pine is actually a versatile character actor trapped in a prototypical leading man’s body. He’s good in everything, whether it be lifting an otherwise bad movie like Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, or deftly blending in with his co-stars and scenery in something more serious like Hell or High Water

Colin Farrell: Colin suffers (or, suffered) from the same curse as Pine. When he came up, Hollywood tried to make him their next Tom Cruise. But he’s not an action hero or leading man. He’s a remarkably unique actor capable of communicating deep depression and hilarity in the same line. I don’t think anyone else could’ve made films like In Bruges and The Lobster work.

Danny Glover: Glover has been such a staple in Hollywood for nearly four decades that people often forget about him. He just, is. While he doesn’t have that one performance that jumps out in an “how was he not nominated for that?” sort of way, his prolific filmography should be more than enough to get him noticed by a branch that often hands out career achievement awards disguised as nominations.

Donald Sutherland: I’m dead serious. Donald Sutherland, star of M*A*S*H and Klute and a dozen other classics, has never been nominated for an Oscar (8 Golden Globes though). At least the Academy has realized how wrong they are and decided to give him a Lifetime Achievement Awards this year.

Emily Blunt: This is starting to get ridiculous. You can probably count on one hand the actresses who’ve been more prolific than Emily Blunt over the last fifteen years. She can do it all; whether that be stealing scenes from Streep and Hathaway, making Tom Cruise seem like a sidekick in an action movie, or keeping an overly gritty film like Sicario human. Goddamnit, how does Emily Blunt not have a nomination?

Elizabeth Banks: She’s coming for one soon as she continues to break out of her comedy shell. Her work two years ago in Love & Mercy managed to stand out even surrounding by great actors like Cusack, Giamatti, and Dano. She’s also proven herself a capable director. 

Elizabeth Olsen: The most talented Olsen sister has quietly become one of the most consistent working actresses. Martha Marcy May Marlene is a landmark performance for which she should’ve been nominated. She’s a scene-stealer in the Marvel movies. And she was great this year in Wind River. Still just 28, she’ll surely get one.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw: If Gugu isn’t a household name yet, she will be by this time 2018, after starring in two likely blockbusters (God Particle, A Wrinkle In Time). Her performances in both Belle and Beyond the Lights were nomination-worthy, the film’s just failed to land with general audiences. Her most notable work probably came in the Emmy-winning Black Mirror episode “San Junipero”. Like with Olsen, it feels like a foregone conclusion that she’ll get one sometime over the next five years.

Idris Elba: Hollywood producers have never really understood how to use Idris Elba. It’s not a coincidence that’s his best work has come on TV, although, he was certainly deserving of all the praise he received for Beasts of No Nation. It appears this could change this year, as he’s in the thick of the Best Supporting Actor race yet again for Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game.

Jamie Lee-Curtis: Like with Sutherland or Glover, what can you really say at this point? Few people have given greater contributions to the medium of cinema over the last 40 years.

Jeff Goldblum: Perhaps he’s become more well known in recent years for his unique style of ranting than for his actual acting talent, but Goldblum can bring it. Just watch The Big Chill or The Fly if you don’t believe me. Goldblum needs a director to tailor a flashy supporting role in a Best Picture nominee to his talents, like what Whiplash did for J.K. Simmons.

Jim Carrey: Carrey proved himself as a dramatic actor years ago with films like The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Him missing for the latter is one of the worst Oscar snubs of the century so far. Since then, he hasn’t really *tried* to do something that would resonate with Oscar, which is fine, but if he wants one, he has to choose better/different scripts. 

Joel Edgerton: Edgerton continues to churn out quality work in good films that can’t quite land with the Academy (his Loving co-star Ruth Negga got a nomination, but the film was snubbed beyond that). Focus Features is gearing up for an Oscar run with Boy Erased next year. It’s Edgerton’s latest directorial effort, but he’s not acting in this one. Maybe that’s where he finally finds Oscar love?

John Goodman: WHO DO I HAVE TO FUCK FOR GOODMAN TO GET AN OSCAR NOMINATION? Seriously, when you think of the term “best supporting actor”, is he not the first name that comes to mind? Pick your favorite Goodman role in a Coen Bros movie, and it’s more than a worthy performance.

John Turtorro: Yet another Coen muse named John who’s been grossly ignored by the Academy. Turturro is an actor who lifts every film he is in, even the dreadful Transformers movies.

Keanu Reeves: While his highest-profile work has come in action movies, Keanu has also proven himself time and time again a great dramatic performer. My Own Private Idaho drew raves mostly for the work of the late River Phoenix, but Keanu was every bit as good. 

Kerry Washington: Everyone knows how great Washington is. She’s become very, very popular thanks to her work on Scandal. Now it’s just about finding the right role in an Oscar-friendly film. Some though that may be Django Unchained, but her character ended up sitting almost the whole movie out.

Kevin Bacon: Another performer whose lack of a nomination is genuinenly shocking. You can probably pick out 10+ Kevin Bacon turns that are worthy of awards attention. For a recent great Bacon performance, check out Cop Car (2015).

Kirsten Dunst: Maybe her frustrating work in the Spider-Man movies left a bad taste in the mouths of many, or maybe it’s just that her best performances come in art films that aren’t really in the Academy’s wheelhouse? I don’t know, but nobody as good as Dunst was in Marie Antoinette or Melancholia should be without an Oscar nomination.

Kristen Stewart: Ever since her Twilight duties ended, K-Stew has turned in exceptional performance after exceptional performance. She works with great directors. It’s probably a matter of being in something a bit more commercially friendly.

Kurt Russell: One of the great pure movie stars of all-time has never gotten his proper due as a serious actor. Perhaps he’ll find an old man role that can bring him one. We thought it may be The Hateful Eight, but some of his co-stars outshined him. He doesn’t currently have anything in the pipeline.

Léa Seydoux: Seydoux was so unbelievably good in Blue is the Warmest Colout, but it’s not very surprising the lengthy French romance didn’t land with Oscar. She’s a rising name though thanks to her appearances in major franchises such as Bond and Mission: Impossible, so perhaps her next transcendent work will have more American eyes on it.

Margot Robbie: Robbie’s sudden rise to the top of the game has been fascinating. It’s really been the result of just two roles; a seductive Brooklynite in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and the iconic Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. While those two films unfortunately portrayed Robbie’s character as little more than a sex object, she’s proven her dramatic capabilities in Z for Zachariah and (reportedly) in I, Tonya, which many pundits expect to land her a nomination this year.

Maria Bello: All Bello does is churn out quality work. It’s crazy she wasn’t nominated for either The Cooler or A History of Violence

Martin Sheen: Insane. The star of Badlands and Apocalypse Now, two landmarks in American cinema, has never been nominated for an Oscar (though he’s picked up a slew of Emmys and Globes for The West Wing). He’s also turned in a handful of strong support performances. At 77, the clock is, unfortunately, ticking. He’s playing Oral Roberts in a Netflix film coming next year. Maybe that’s the one?

Michael B. Jordan: Another guy who feels destined to be nominated sooner rather than later. He did deserving work in both Fruitvale Station and Creed, but neither film got a real awards push from their distributors. Once he finishes his duties for Creed II, expect him to find a project that’ll get him back in the awards discussion. 

Michael Peña: Peña is one of the most versatile actors working today. He can be hilarious (Ant-Man, Observe and Report). He can be heartbreaking (he gave the best turn in Crash, a Best Picture winner). He can act next to huge movie stars and not get outshined (End of Watch with Gyllenhaal, Fury with Pitt). He’s another Michael who feels destined to get one soon. Maybe for the War in Afghanistan drama Horse Soldiers from Warner Bros next year?

Miles Teller: Miles Teller has been compared to a young Brando; both for his acting chops and the fact that he doesn’t appear to mind coming off as an asshole. That type of PR can work both ways. Whiplash saw an awards-worthy performance out of Teller, but all attention and campaign dollars were directed at J.K. Simmons.

Nicholas Hoult: Some questionable role choices in bad franchises have held Hoult back, but he can act. He was a standout in Mad Max: Fury Road, and he’s got a juicy role in the new Yorgos Lanthimos film coming next year.

Pam Grier: Most of her notable work came in 70s genre film, which never had a chance with Oscar, but Jackie Brown certainly should have. She held that rather crazy narrative together. Unfortunately, Greer doesn’t really work anymore and seems comfortable with her legacy. But if she does step back into serious work, I’d expect Oscar to take note.

Paul Dano: The fact that this didn’t happen after There Will Be Blood or Love & Mercy makes me think it never will. Maybe Oscar just doesn’t really know or care who Dano is. But he’s one of the very finest actors of his generation. I have no doubts he’ll give a dozen more worthy performances.

Peter Sarsgaard: Shattered Glass, An Education, Jackie. Get this man a damn nomination, please. He’s perhaps the most underrated actor working today. 

Ray Liotta: I’d like to take a second to note how ridiculous it is that Liotta wasn’t nominated for Goodfellas, one of the great lead performances ever. Surrounded by flashier work, Liotta holds the film together with his enthusiastic turned paranoid performance. He does what DiCaprio did in The Wolf of Wall Street, but more human. He’s also done some very good supporting work since (The Place Beyond the Pines, Killing Them Softly).

Rebecca Hall: Hall’s work in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Christine make for two of the best performances of this century. She understands the subtleties of her characters, and how to communicate them without speaking. She’s an automatic must-watch for me, as I’ve never not seen her lift a movie. She’s gonna be in Woody Allen’s 2018 film, maybe that’s the one? Allen directed her best performance in the aforementioned Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Regina King: We as a collective need to stop under-using and underappreciating Regina King. Much of her major work has come on TV, but roles in Jerry Maguire and Ray should’ve garnered her more attention. 

Robin Wright: Ever since she broke out with The Princess Bride, Wright has struggled to resonate with Oscar despite some really strong supporting work. Her stock is higher than ever thanks to House of Cards and Wonder Woman. Maybe her next turn in a prestige film will do the trick.

Rosario Dawson: While she’s known nowadays for the Marvel/Netflix shows and problematic comments, Dawson has proven herself a great actress. She gave a powerhouse performance in Kids at the age of just fifteen. #MakeRosarioDawsonGreatAgain.

Rose Byrne: She’s just so consistently great, whether it be in comedy or drama. I’d cite Paul Feig’s Spy as the clearest example. She shows up and steals the show from a very talented cast. She was also great opposite Susan Sarandon in The Meddler last year.

Sam Rockwell: Perhaps the most consistently electric character actor of today appears to finally be in for his first nomination courtesy of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Scarlett Johansson: Crazy that ScarJo hasn’t been nominated. Despite still being just 32, she’s been one of the most prominent and acclaimed actresses of the last fifteen years, ever since her should’ve-been-nominated breakout turn in Lost in Translation. Films like A Love Song for Bobby Long, Under the Skin, and even her voice work in Her shouldve garnered more awards attention. 

Shailene Woodley: How Jennifer Lawrence has 4 nominations while Woolley has 0 is beyond me. The Descendants, The Spectacular Now, The Fault in Our Stars. Whew. That’s a damn fine trio of performances for such a young actress. Bonus points for holding her own opposite three titans of the field on Big Little Lies.

Steve Buscemi: William H. Macy and Frances McDormand certainly deserved their nominations for Fargo, but Buscemi should’ve been nominated too. And for Mystery Train. And for Reservoir Dogs. And for Ghost World. AND FOR CON-AIR.

Oscar Isaac: I 100% buy the young Pacino hype. Oscar Isaac is incredible. His work in Inside Llewyn Davis, A Most Violent Year, and Ex Machina make for some of the best turns of this decade. All three should’ve been cited. Thanks to Star Wars fame, his next great turn likely will be.

21 Questions: 2018 Oscars Edition

It’s October. Fall Film Festival season is essentially over (there are still a couple notable NYFF and AFI Fest premieres, but mostly everything has been seen). That means it’s officially awards season in the cinephile community, much to the chagrin of some. I follow and track the Oscars year round hoping to get a leg up on the competition when it comes to predicting and gambling. I did well last year if I may toot my own horn (8 of 9 best picture nominee, 18 of 20 acting nominees). In this post, I get weird and ask myself questions designed to help you follow awards season.

I’m doing things a bit differently this year. Rather than post actual predictions and analysis on this blog, I’m doing them on this GOOGLE SHEET. It’ll be easier for me to update and for you to follow along.

This is a rather long post, so let’s get started. Feel free to jump around as the questions aren’t posed in any particluar order.

#1) Which, if any, early year/summer hits will actual factor into the Best Picture race?

Modern conventional Oscar wisdom is relatively simple; distributors hit the fall festival circuit with their top horses, then position them as limited October/November/December releases that slowly expand as awards season heats up. There’s sometimes room for a hot Sundance buy or popular foreign film in the field (though those films usually play the festivals as well). But every now and then there’s a studio film from the year’s first half that sustains hype and plays a major role in the race. Take recent examples Mad Max: Fury Road (a May release) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (a March release), which went onto ten and nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture nods, respectively. Could there be an already-seen juggernaut lurking this year?

Dunkirk is the most likely to last the season. Christopher Nolan’s latest (and possibly greatest) blurs the line between commercial mass-market entertainment and more typical prestigious filmmaking the Academy tends to favor. Oscar also loves them some WWII. Dunkirk will fight for the most overall noms on Oscar morning thanks to the support it’ll get from “below-the-line” branches such as the cinematographers and sound editors. It surely won’t win Best Picture, but looks like a lock for a nomination unless Warner Bros really fucks up the campaign.

Elsewhere, for all the deserved talk about its importance and Oscar campaign, Wonder Woman is looking less and less likely to be a factor everyday. Oscar pundits fell for the early year blues yet again. We talked about Wonder Woman mostly because there was nothing else to talk about. Now that other contenders have emerged, and Warner Bros has both Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049 to work, Wonder Woman looks like a PGA/Golden Globes player at best. It’s not your fault fanboys (girls, too) and overzealous Oscar prognosticators…we fell for the same trap last year with Deadpool.

Also on the superhero front is Logan, which Fox has been working all year and supposedly already sent out screeners for. It’s a very popular film and certainly has its Oscar merits (Marco Beltrami’s film-carrying score, Patrick Stewart’s vulnerable supporting turn) but like with every other film named after a comic-book character, Oscar isn’t ready to embrace it just yet.

I adored Get Out but it has serious genre stigma to overcome and has fun laughing at old, white, wealthy, half-woke liberal archetypes who still fill up the majority of the Academy despite the organization’s best efforts the last two years. Universal’s best chance for the film remains Jordan Peele’s screenplay. The Big Sick (Amazon Studios) also sees its best chances come via writing, but unlike Get Out, it’s managed to sustain buzz all year. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are both players in supporting acting races. If other assumed contenders falter, the film could make Best Picture noise.

That’s it.

#2) What are the Sundance darlings that will emerge as Oscar players?

There is almost always a film that premieres at Sundance in February then goes on to battle the big boys all year on its way to a Best Picture nom. 2012 was the last time such wasn’t the case. Now, the film(s) that becomes a contender isn’t always the one we expect immediately following the ‘Dance (last year, mostly in response to #OscarsSoWhite, everyone labeled The Birth of a Nation an Oscar frontrunner at Sundance. But then Nate Parker got exposed, and more people actually saw the not-very-good film. Manchester by the Sea, another Sundance hit, went on to score a BP nom). This year’s Sundance films with real Oscar hopes include:

  • Novitiate, a very small film even by Sundance standards, but one purchased by Sony Pictures Classics with intention of the great Melissa Leo winning Best Supporting Actress.
  • The Big Sick, Get Out, and Wind River all premiered out-of-competition at Sundance and all have varying screenplay hopes.
  • Mudbound premiered to acclaim, and was then scooped up by Netflix. Many are saying it’s the film that’ll finally see the streaming company break through into major awards categories.
  • And then there’s Call Me By Your Name. Sony Pictures Classics appears to have a major Oscar player on its hands, and I’d even go as far as to say it’s more likely than not that it gets a BP nom. Critics certainly love it; actors will too. Althout it is suffering from lazy and unfavorable comparisons to Moonlight due to its subject matter.

#3) Is it Gary Oldman’s Oscar to lose?

Probably, yes. All the stars are alinging to Oldman in Lead Actor. He’s playing Winston Churchill in a BP contender (Darkest Hour, directed by Joe Wright). He’s got a strong overdue narrative as a popular actor who’s never won before (and with just one nomination, somehow). He’sbeen labeled as a must-see frontrunner for all voters to an extent only matched by Leonardo DiCaprio and Julianne Moore in recent years.

Oldman is very much the favorite, but there are a few upset possiblities, naturally. Don’t rule out the also-overdue Jake Gyllenhaal (Stronger), rising star Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), or the legend himself Daniel Day-Lewis (still untitiled Paul Thomas Anderson film).

#4) Can new distributors break through?

A couple of distribution companies with no awards campaign experience picked up some Oscar hopefuls at the last minute on the festival circuit. Enterainment Studios grabbed Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, whoch stars Academy favorite Christian Bale. I, Tonya, which sparked Oscar buzz for Margot Robbie & Allison Janney at TIFF, was scooped up by Neon. Just because a distributor is new doesn’t mean it can’t run a great campaign. A24 Films saw Moonlight WIN BP just three years after the company started distributing films.

#5) What impact will the continued changes to Academy membership have on this year’s race?

For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) broke its own record for new member invites. This year sees 774 new invitees (i.e. Oscar voters) added to the pack. This is part of the Academy’s continued effort to get more diverse in terms of race, gender, and -most significantly in terms of film tastes- AGE. The changes come in part as a response to #OscarsSoWhite from a couple years ago, a legitimate but misdirected gripe aimed at the Academy (a union, more or less) rather than the actual industry responsible for the problematic hiring practices.

39% of new members are female. 30% of new members are people of color (though POC still represent just 13% of the overall Academy, a staggeringly low figure). The acting branch, the largest and therefore most powerful subset of the Academy, saw many big names added. Donald Glover, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, Naomie Harris, Margot Robbie, all the Marvel Chris’ (Pratt/Evans/Hemsworth)…just to name a few. This isn’t a battle that’s going to be won overnight seeing as there’s about a century of ugly history to fight against, and even Moonlight winning last year is more of an outlier than a sign of actual change. But it’s encouraging to see AMPAS -who have the inherently difficult task of representing an industry that struggles so much with representation- at least trying.

Also, AMPAS is reportedly taking away voting privileges from some old folks who haven’t worked in years.

on top of fighting Thanos, these three Chris’ will also be voting on the Oscars.

#6) Speaking of diversity, are this year’s acting races really that white again?

They sure are. I’d like to reiterate that Oscar isn’t to blame for what’ll likely be another nomination morning filled with mostly white English names. Oscar reacts to and judges what is presented to them. If the studios and production companies either don’t make films with POC or don’t handle their POC-driven films in an Oscar-friendly way, I’m not sure what you can expect the Academy to do.

A few non-white names to keep an eye on this year, though I wouldn’t feel good about betting on any of them right now:

  • Idris Elba, playing Jessica Chastain’s attorney in Molly’s Game, the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin.
  • Downsizing scene-stealer Hong Chau, who’d be a shoe-in if the film had played festivals better.
  • Octavia Spencer is in likely BP nominee The Shape of Water, but most praise for the film has been directed at other cast members.
  • Always a threat and a nominee last year, Denzel Washington is said to be great in Roman J. Israel, Esq., if only word for the film as a whole was as kind. But hey, he got in for the god-awful Flight.
  • Jason Mitchell broke out two years ago with Straight Outta Compton and is said to be the best performer in BP hopeful Mudbound.

#7) Is it FINALLY Roger Deakins’ year?

Once DiCaprio won his, the biggest overdue narrative amongst Oscar fans shifted to Roger Deakins, the now legendary cinematographer and thirteen-time nominee who’s back in the race this year, having shot Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. If you’re not familar with his name somehow, google his filmography. I guarantee he’s shot one of your favorites.

His work on 2049 is arguably the most praised element of a critically-adored film that’ll factor in everywhere below-the-line with Oscar. One of his prior Villeneuve collabs, the exceptional Prisoners, netted him a nom. There are certainly other deserving contenders –Hoyte van Hoytema’s work on Dunkirk is stunning, and the great Vittorio Storaro appears to have shot Wonder Wheel exquisetly- but it still looks like Deakins’ award. Bet the house on him. He’s the winner I’m most confident in right now; even more so than Oldman.

#8) What’s up with The Weinstein Company?

Harvey Weinstein, through both Miramix and his current self-titled company, was once the Oscar game’s King Midas. He could buy a middling film after a mediocre festival premiere, take his scissors to its liberal running time, and then campaign it to a slew of nominations. But TWC has struggled a bit in recent years. Lion snuck into BP last year, snapping a year-long skid for the company that included high-profile BP misses Carol and The Hateful Eight (both would’ve been deserving, I might add). TWC hasn’t won the big prize since The King’s Speech, which feels like decades ago given how much awards season has changed. All of this comes amidst continuing reports of financial struggles for the company, though it’s not as if TWC isn’t trying because they can’t afford to.

The company looks hopeless in the BP race yet again this year. Garth Davis, who directed Lion, saw his already controversial film Mary Magdalene pushed back to 2018. Wind River has had a nice box office run, but it isn’t this year’s Hell or High Water. The critical love just isn’t there. The Current War, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon, has had bad buzz surrounding it for over a year and premiered at TIFF to boos and harsh reviews. It’s dead on arrival.

#10) Just how loaded is the Best Actress race?

Loaded, as loaded as any race I’ve seen since following the Oscars (~11 years now). Here are just some of the names of previously-nominated ladies who’ve had their films seen and already labeled as contenders:

Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Judi Dench (Victoria & Abdul), Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game), Jennifer Lawrence (mother!), Annette Bening (Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool), Carey Mulligan (Mudbound), Nicole Kidman (The Beguiled).

Then there’s relative youngin’s Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), and Claire Foy (Breathe). Then there’s unseen but highly-anticipated work from Oscar favorite entering the race (Meryl Streep in The Post, Kate Winslet in Wonder Wheel).

Like I said, loaded.

#11) Can any currently unseen studio films surprise and enter the race at the last minute, a la The Big Short?

Of course, I’d even wager that there will at least one BP nominee that nobody has seen yet. The hard part is forecasting which one. AFI Fest in early November is traditionally the last jumping off point in terms of festivals, but oftentimes last-minute contenders aren’t ready in time and have to work the Oscars without a festival boost. These films usually come from major studios with deep pockets though, so building buzz isn’t a huge issue.

The most obvious possibility this year is Fox’s The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks & Meryl Streep. On top of the film’s Oscar pedigree (Spielberg’s usual craft team is in tow) it’s a historical drama whose freedom-of-the-press themes are very timely, for obvious reasons.

Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World has a great cast, a great trailer, and Sony subsidiary TriStar Pictures is having the film make its debut at AFI Fest. Ridley is hit-or-miss with the Academy, but he hit big as recently as The Martian.

Also, dealing with the 2015 Thalys train terrorist attack, Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris stars its actual subjects as themselves and seems very interesting. It started shooting in mid-July, so while it being done in time is far from a guarantee, I wouldn’t bet against the uber-efficient Eastwood.

#12) Any chance we see a “lone director” nom this year?

– The “lone director” refers to when a filmmaker is nominated in Best Director despite his or her film missing out on a Best Picture nod.

As the directors branch grows, the possibility of a lone director nom becomes less likely. A small group of directors who really love a specific film or filmmaker  don’t have the same power they used to. The tastes of the branch continue to inch closer to the tastes of the overall Academy. The last time we saw a lone director was three years ago with Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher). Before that, you have to go back ten years to get one (Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).

Even with a wide-open BP race, it’s hard to see a lone director happening this year. The best bet is probably Paul Thomas Anderson, a respected filmmaker whose work is often a bit strange for general Academy/BP tastes (for example, The Master didn’t get a BP nom despite THREE acting noms). His still untitled 1950’s Londo couture drama satrs Daniel Day-Lewis and will get a Christmas release from Focus Features.

#13) How come the screenplay categories seem so inbalanced this year?

No real reason, it just so happens that the vast majority of BP players this year come from original screenplays rather than adapted ones. Perhaps an open Best Adapted Screenplay race could result in an out-of-left-field nominee like The BeguiledThe Disaster Artist, or even Logan.

#14) So what exactly is the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing with Oscar?

It’s simple enough. Best Sound Editing (preveiously called Best Sound Effects) is an award for exactly that; sound effects, or non-dialogue/music created sounds for a film. Best Sound Mixing awards the cominbing and blending of all sounds in a film, including the sound effects that are awarded in editing.

Common confusion between the two stems from there being so much overlap in nominees between the two categories. Last year, three films (Hacksaw RidgeLa La LandArrival) were nominated in both places. The year before that, four film were nominated in both.

#15) The last couple years have seen FOUR first-time Best Director nominees each, can we expect the same this year?

Probably not, though the changes to the Academy certainly make it more likely. The directors branch is a very old branch that prefers to nominate fellow veterans. They really make you earn it for years, usually across at least five films, before they notice you. Damien Chazelle (La La Land) made for the younges winner ever at 32.

Barry Jenkins, Kenny Lonergan, and Damien Chazelle were all first-time directing nominees last year.

New films from big, previously nominated names such as Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Woody Allen, Paul Thomas Anderson, Denis Villeneuve, Ridley Scott, and Clint Eastwood make it unlikely we’ll see four cherries popped again, but two or three is certainly possible. Keep an eye on:

  • Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), who has somehow never been nominated as a driector.
  • Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name)
  • Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
  • Joe Wright (The Darkest Hour)
  • Sean Baker (The Florida Project)

Those five all helm BP contenders and look like decent bets right now (in descending order).

#16) Is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri a Best Picture lock?

I hesitate to use the word “lock” with something I haven’t personally seen yet, but recent history suggests that it is. The latest from Martin McDonagh (In BrugesSeven Psychopaths) won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF. Eight of the last nine winners of that prize have gone on to score BP noms, and the one that didn’t was Where Do We Go Now?, a Lebenase film.

#17) Who’s the frontrunner in a fascinating Best Visual Effects race?

It really is going to be an interesting race, unlike last year, where nothing was touching The Jungle Book (and deservedly so). For much of the year, War for the Planet of the Apes was considered the heavy favorite given its groundbreaking mo-cap work and the fact that the franchise has never won the award before (the second one losing to Interstellar still stings three years later). But then Blade Runner 2049 premiered, and it’s even more of a visual treat than folks anticipated. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is of course a formidable contender, as is The Shape of Water. We saw that “best visual effects =/= most visual effects) with Ex Machina winning a couple years ago. So while Guillermo del Toro’s film may be a bit more understated in the VFX department, the VFX he does employ may be scene as absolutely essential to his story. These four all look like locks for a nomination. One of them will win. I’m still leaning Apes until I see the other films.

As for the fifth nomination…it probably comes down to the Marvel trio (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming”, and Thor: Ragnorak), the practical VFX driven Dunkirk, or Wonder Woman (which has bad VFX for my money but is a popular film people will want to see cited somehwere).

#18) What’s a film nobody is really considering right now that could surprise on Oscar morning?

Here’s a dark horse for ya’….The Disaster Artist. The dramedy from A24 Films (who took Moonlight all the way) is directed by and stars previous Oscar nominee James Franco. It tells the story of the making of the historically awful film The Room. It drew raves at both SXSW and TIFF, and pundits have started putting Franco’s name on Best Actor lists. I can’t say much more until I actually see it when it comes out in December, and perhaps it’ll be too silly, but it seems like a film that’ll really play to the tastes of industry folks, and with the very-popular Franco at the center of it, you never know.

#19) Is that little movie called Star Wars: The Last Jedi a real Best Picture threat?

I fully believe it is. If it’s the Empire to TFA’A New Hope, which I think it may be with the great Rian Johnson at the helm, it’ll be in the discussion. I don’t think people realize just how close The Force Awakens was to a BP nom two years ago. It received a PGA best film nom and an Oscar nom for Best Film Editing, two of the awards that most often go hand-in-hand with BP. It also received four other Oscar noms, winning best VFX.

Star Wars is the one franchise that doesn’t really suffer from franchise/sequel stigma when it comes to reviewers and industry tastes. The Academy doesn’t view these films like Transformers movies or Marvel movies.

#20) What events should you follow throughout Awards Season to keep up with everything?

To some, awards season begins on Oscar nomination morning. For us obsessives, the real fun is the road leading up to Oscar. Predicting nominations is the most fun and (relatively) challenging part. Here are some important dates along the way:

  • Nov. 16th: Screen Actors Guild (SAG) voting opens.
  • Nov. 24th: Golden Globe voting opens.
  • Nov. 27: Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) voting opens.
  • Nov. 28th: National Board of Review (NBR) winners and top 10 films announced (this is the first major awards announcement of the season).
  • Nov. 29th: Director’s Guild of America (DGA) voting opens
  • Nov. 30th: New York Critics winners announced.
  • Dec. 4th: Annie Awards (for animated films) nominations announced.
  • Dec. 11th: Golden Globes nominations announced.
  • Dec. 13th: SAG nominations announced.
  • Dec. 14th: Producers Guild of America (PGA) voting opens.
  • Jan. 5th: PGA nominations announced.
  • Jan. 5th: ACADEMY AWARDS nominations voting opens.
  • Jan. 7th: Golden Globe awards are held.
  • Jan. 9th: British Academy of Film & Television Arts (BAFTA) nominations announced.
  • Jan. 11th: DGA nominations announced.
  • Jan. 12th: ACADEMY AWARDS nomination voting closes.
  • Jan. 20th: PGA awards are held.
  • Jan. 21st: SAG awards are held.
  • Jan. 23rd: ACADEMY AWARDS nominations announced.
  • Feb. 3rd: DGA awards are held.
  • Feb. 3rd: Annie Awards are held.
  • Feb. 11th: Writers Guild of America (WGA) awards are held.
  • Feb. 18th: BAFTA awards are held.
  • Feb. 20th: ACADEMY AWARDS final voting opens.
  • Feb. 27th: ACADEMY AWARDS final voting closes.
  • Mar. 4th: ACADEMY AWARDS (Oscars) are held.

#21) So, who are you predicting to win?

I don’t like calling winners this early, and for full detailed predictions for nominees in every category, check here:


But for the hell of it, I’ll throw some way-too-early stabs at winner.

  • Best Picture: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Fox Searchlight)
  • Best Director: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
  • Best Actor: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
  • Best Actress: Kate Winslet (Wonder Wheel)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
  • Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
  • Best Original Screenplay: Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name)
  • Best Film Editing: Lee Smith (Dunkirk)
  • Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049)
  • Best Original Score: Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water)
  • Best Visual Effects: War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Best Sound Editing: Blade Runner 2049
  • Best Sound Mixing: Dunkirk
  • Best Costume Design: Currently untitled Paul Thomas Anderson film
  • Best Production Design: Blade Runner 2049
  • Best Hairstyling & Makeup: Darkest Hour
  • Best Animated Feature: Coco (Pixar)
  • Best Foreign Language Film: The Square (Sweden)

That’s all folks. I look forward to continuing to cover the race throughout the coming months.

Chekhov’s Cock: ‘Boogie Nights’ turns 20.

September 11, 1997.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Buzz was palpable before anybody saw a single frame. Anderson’s wholly original and lively script had been circulating the desks of Hollywood players for years*, with William H. Macy even calling it the best thing he’d ever read and saying he’d “read the yellow pages if Anderson was directing”. The film was an instant success. Reviewers praised it as one of the most groundbreaking films of the 90’s, something akin to Pulp Fiction or Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Anderson was hailed as a wunderkind; comparisons to names like Altman and Kubrick and Scorsese didn’t seem too far-fetched. The ensemble cast was lauded as well, with particular praise going to Burt Reynolds and Julianne Moore (both of whom would go on to receive Oscar nominations for the film).

*For more on the development of the film and a script that almost became an urban legend, check out this exceptional oral history of the film from Grantland (R.I.P.)

Boogie Nights was a smash hit with audiences as well. It grossed $43M (nearly 3x its budget) despite being a 150+ minute film with a hard-R rating that lacked both an established star in the lead and the backing of a major studio. It’s only grown in stature in the two decades since.

It’s easy to see why. For a film with so much thematic weight and so many big ideas, Boogie Nights never sacrifices entertainment value (the same can’t be said for Magnolia, Anderson’s brilliant but challenging follow-up). Much of that is thanks to Anderson’s script being really funny. I often think back on the scene when Dirk (Mark Wahlberg) goes to a party at Jack’s house and first meets Reed (John C. Reilly). Reilly is used perfectly. The character wants to impress everyone, but nothing about him is particularly impressive. He claims to look like Han Solo, but obviously lacks Harrison Ford’s handsomeness. He claims to work out a lot, but doesn’t seem to be in good shape. He attempts a flip off a diving board, but all he does is hurt himself.

As the drugs flow more and more, Reed’s detachment from reality only grows, bringing Dirk along as well. If you’ve ever had any experiences with cocaine or witnessed the experiences of others, you know that when someone is geeking they’re confident to a fault. No scene I’m aware of captures this as brilliantly as the recording studio scene in Boogie Nights. Dirk and Reed, coked-up to the point where their legs are restless and the cigarettes burn at a rapid rate, wholeheartedly believe they’re making the next hit single with “Feel My Heat”. Only, it’s awful. Unbelievably awful. Hilariously awful. The engineer in the studio can hardly keep a straight face. It’s a very funny scene, but also somewhat of a tragic turning point in the film. Dirk and Reed are so far gone off the drugs and their own egos that they can’t see how ridiculous they look/sound.

Scotty (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) sees it though, only he’s too bashful to speak up. He truly loves Dirk, and his overall timidity stems from the fact that he’s a relatively flamboyant gay man living in a time and working in an industry not exactly open to such lifestyles. He’s a great tragic character. The most heartbreaking moment in a film filled with heartbreaking moments comes at the New Year’s party when Scotty arrives and shows Dirk his new car. Dirk couldn’t care less, but he’s too nice to let Scotty know it. Scotty bought the care with the sole purpose of impressing Dirk, even as going as far as saying he’ll return it if Dirk doesn’t think it’s cool. Then he tries to kiss Dirk. Dirk’s very polite about turning down the advance, but it still crushes Scotty. Dirk goes back to the party, while Scotty gets in his car and bawls his eyes out. This was Scotty’s most significant moment in the film but probably something Dirk forgot about the next morning. A minor scene in the larger context of the movie, but a monumental moment for Scotty, and a nice reminder that what’s insignificant for some is often life-or-death for others.

The entire New Year’s party, welcoming the 1980’s, is an important thematic moment in a film that’s very much about the ending of eras. Now, this turn-of-the-decade may not mark the clear cultural shift that the previous one did (which Anderson would go on to explore in Inherent Vice), but it functions that way in the film as from here on out things get really dark. The energy and optimism of the films first half ends abruptly. Every character hits rock bottom, and those moments are cut together perfectly. Kicking it off is Little Bill (William H. Macy), who again witnesses his promiscuous wife (played by none other than porn superstar Nina Hartley) fucking another dude without even making a real effort to conceal it. This is the third time we see this. Bill has reached his breaking point. In what makes for one of the most iconic extended shots in cinematic history, Bill walks in on his wife, then emotionlessly walks through the party out to his car, gets his gun, walks back through the party, murders his wife and her lover, and then kills himself in front of the whole party. Boom. The gunshot brings in the 1980’s, and functions as the moment when Boogie Nights starts to become a tragedy. 

Sticking with the “end of an era” theme, Anderson works some meta-commentary on the film industry in. Famed porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) is resistant when his financier insists he begin making the switch from film to video, which is cheaper to shoot on and distribute. Jack considers himself a filmmaker and an artist, and to make this compromise is to surrender his integrity. The same transition was happening with Hollywood at the time of Boogie Nights’ release, and the fight would continue. It’s over now. Almost everything is shot and projected digitally. But Anderson is still a champion of film. It’s funny to see him arguing for the merits of shooting on film stock via a story about the pornography industry in the 70’s. It wasn’t an accident that this bit was included.

I can’t believe I’ve written 1,000 words on Boogie Nights without talking about Dirk Diggler’s penis. From the very first scene we’re told it’s quite the penis, something capable of inspiring awe even in folks who work around big penises everyday. Many of the film’s most memorable images are of other characters seeing Dirk’s package for the first time. Anderson has fun teasing us. Everyone in the movie gets to see it, but the audience doesn’t, at least not until the film’s final scene. It’s remarkable visual storytelling by Anderson. I’m heterosexual (I swear it), yet when watching the film for the first time I was emotionally invested in seeing it. After all, this penis is the catalyst for the whole film. We never get to meet this eccentric cast of characters Dirk’s now legendary prosthetic dick doesn’t entice Jack.

As Boogie Nights tumbles to a close -I say “tumbles” because once 1980 hits it’s really all downhill for these characters- we get to an uncomfortably intense scene that has our characters wondering what went wrong to get to this point. I’m of course talking about when Dirk, Reed, and Todd (Thomas Jane) visit the home of Rahad (Alfred Molina) for a drug deal. Unbeknownst to Dirk and Reed at first, Todd brought along a gun and plans to rip the dealer off. We know something bad is going to happen, so during the deal, when Rahman dances and air-guitars to “Sister Christian”, we should be laughing at how ridiculous Molina makes it look. But we can’t, because of the black cloud hanging over the scene. Exceptional acting from all involved and a testament to Anderson’s ability as an atmospheric director. He’s toying with us. Again. You can’t help but be completely acquiescent to Anderson’s cinematic whims.

A big part of what makes the film so endearing is the lead turn of Wahlberg*, who would go from underwear model to serous movie star overnight. The raw, unhinged sexuality he brings to the role fits perfectly. When he freaks out and his voice gets high, we remember Dirk is really still a kid (he’s 16 at the start of the movie). Wahlberg nails every emotional note the script calls for, which is an awful lot of range for such an inexperienced actor to show off. It remains the best performance of his career.

*Oddly enough, Anderson originally wanted Wahlberg’s ‘The Basketball Diaries’ co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, but Leo chose ‘Titanic’ instead. Then Anderson wanted Joaquin Phoenix, but he had reservations about playing a porn star. Ultimately, after being referred to Anderson by Leo, Wahlberg won the role.

For all the film’s formal merits -groovy costumes and set design, stunning photography courtesy of Bob Elswitt- it’s not the film’s technical achievements that make people come back to Boogie Nights after all these years. It’s the characters. We return to see Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) unofficially adopt Rollergirl (Heather Graham) over a great many lines of coke. We return to see Buck’s (Don Cheadle) dream of premium stereo equipment at discount prices become a reality. We return to see Maurice (Luis Guzmán) endlessly beg Jack to put him in a porno despite his hairy beer belly. Anderson loves all his characters, and he loves all their flaws. He forces us to love them too.

6 Directors We’d Love to See Get Fired From a ‘Star Wars’ Movie

A couple days ago, news broke that Colin Trevorrow of Jurassic World fame will no longer be directing Star Wars Episode IX. Much like literally every other time in history somebody in Hollywood is fired, the PR spin calls it a “mutual decision” and says it’s due to “creative differences”. Considering the film is still only in scripting/development stages it’s not the craziest thing to see the director replaced. What makes it alarming is that this is the FOURTH time LucasFilm president and super-producer Kathleen Kennedy has removed a director from a project in her still short tenure as Star Wars boss. With Rogue One, which was ultimately quite successful, Kennedy forced director Gareth Edwards to take a backseat during re-shoots and post, bringing in Bourne veteran Tony Gilroy to spearhead the film’s completion. Josh Trank couldn’t even get his standalone story off the ground, and just this year Kennedy fired Phil Lord & Chris Miller off of the upcoming Han Solo movie IN THE MIDDLE OF SHOOTING, replacing them with the experienced and competent but often bland Ron Howard. Something is clearly up at LucasFilm. Kennedy is the one in charge and if she sees things differing from her vision, she’s quick to make a move.

Our team -Zak, and Zak after five expired Coors Lights- thought it’d be interesting to put together a short list of directors we’d like to see get hired and then fired by Kennedy. 

Also, I would never actually root for someone to lose their job. This is for fun. 

Let’s begin with…

George Lucas

Much to the chagrin of the goddamn nerds who continue to push the awful myth that the prequels were anything other than crap, George Lucas has had no involvement in Star Wars since he sold his company to Disney. I would love to see Lucas brought back into the fold, only to be let go after the first draft of his script dedicates its entire third act to regulations in the scrap metal industry on Jakku.

Also, Lucas and Kennedy (and Steven Spielberg, and Kennedy’s husband fellow super-producer Frank Marshall) have all been close friends for decades. I’m a huge fan of personal relationships being destroyed by professional rifts, personally. 

Patty Jenkins

Jenkins is fresh off the wildly successful Wonder Woman, a film that champions strong ladies in an industry that is still run by a staggering number of old men. What’s lame about that is, journalists and fans are now talking about Jenkins like she’s the only female filmmaker. Any time there’s a job opening, her name is brought up as the progressive choice. Like, really? Patty has already “made it”, folks. So have Kathryn Bigelow and Ava DuVernay. If those are the only three female names you can conjure up when fan-hiring a female director, you’re part of the problem. Studios should be trying to balance the scales by finding the next Jenkins.

So I’d love to see Jenkins hired but then replaced by another filmmaker on the cusp of the superstardom Jenkins has already achieved, like Susanne Bier or or Dee Rees or Michelle MacLaren (who was actually originally hired for Wonder Woman.)

Quentin Tarantino

Here’s a hypothetical…Kennedy hires the lauded Tarantino as an unexpected coupe. Fans everywhere are excited. We all imagine the insanely talented Star Wars cast reading Tarantino dialogue. But when the script is finalized, Tarantino has Finn saying the n-word every other line and cast Samuel L. Jackson as his father. Can you imagine someone telling Finn he needs to go back to Jakku and him screaming, “N—-, what?”. Would that be too controversial for a Disney-backed franchise film? Would Tarantino be fired on the spot? Would Spike Lee emerge from thin air to remind everyone that Django Unchained was both bad and extremely problematic (which he’s right about, btw)?

Christopher Nolan

“We’re going to shoot this film on both IMAX and 65mm film stock. Actually, we’re going to invent a new film stock, like 95mm or something. Then, we’re going to build an actual working, flying Milenium Falcon. NASA will help with the costs. Then, we’re going to write a nonlinear script that closes by pondering if the entire trilogy was just a dream. Then, we’re going to cast Cillian Murphy as Kylo Ren, and have Tom Hardy in there somewhere, and maybe Michael Caine. Also, fuck Netflix. Did I mention that? Then, we’re going to enlist actual astronauts to-”

“Chris, get the fuck out of my office.”

Woody Allen

I lied earlier when I said I’d never root for someone to actually get fired. I hope Woody Allen gets fired from something. Fuck Woody Allen. Maybe getting fired from such a high profile film would make everyone realize he’s really just a rapey pedophile whose works have aged poorly for everyone who isn’t a Brooklyn-based posh fuck who subscribes to The New Yorker and never reads it but makes sure to bring it everywhere with them and have its logo hang out their Patagonia laptop case yet they couldn’t tell you who Junot Díaz is despite having the last 5 NYer issues on the over-priced minimalist coffee table in their Scandinavian-influenced apartment that smells like an odd mixture of cat urine and bush weed that they refuse to tidy up because the filth makes them feel like real Brooklynites and not the ugly mustache-having fucks guilty of gentrification that they actually are. You know, the types who’d actually be excited for a new Woody Allen movie.

Fuck Woody Allen.

Clint Eastwood

Clint works so damn fast, often developing and shooting and editing an entire acclaimed film in the span of six months, that Kennedy might even get the chance to fire him. Kennedy would show up with some script revisions only to find Clint already made the whole damn movie. 

‘Game of Thrones’ szn 7, ep. 3: Is Jaime about to become a cuck?

For all the dragons and armies and boobies, Game of Thrones is at its best when it’s at its quietest; that is, moments when it’s just two or three or maybe four people in a room talking to each other. In “The Queen’s Justice”, by far the strongest episode of a season that’s already 42.8% of the way over, we saw a handful of accelerated action sequences sandwiched in between a couple of killer conversations.

Let’s start with the obvious one, the most anticipated meeting in GOT history. Dany and Jon. Ice and fire. Auntie and nephew. The two characters this show has set up as the likable leads ever since season one. All that jazz. Despite the one-note nature of the Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington as of late*, there was still some stirring dialogue here. I credit the larger context of the the conversation; context that the viewer, but not the characters, understand. There’s this “rule” in storytelling that for a scene to have real tension, someone has to be hiding something from someone else. Either one character knows something the other doesn’t, or the audience knows something neither characters do. This was of course a case of the latter as we all know Dany and Jon are related. Everything they do and say to each other before they learn the truth carries extra dramatic weight. It must be really fun to write dialogue this way, and harkens back to just how perfect is was to reveal Jon’s lineage to us last season before he met Dany.

*Just how many times is GOT going to make a joke about Jon Snow brooding before it, you know, has him do something other than brood?

Dany and Jon were at a relative stalemate at first. She wants him to bend the knee and support her claim to the throne. He wants her to give him dragonglass and join his side in the coming war against the dead. Luckily, Tyrion is there. He’s the best talker of the bunch and somewhat in the middle of the two. He’s loyal to Dany and wants to see her destroy Cersei, but he also knows Jon is an honest dude who probably isn’t making everything up. We saw him able to convince Dany to budge a bit and allow Jon to mine dragonglass. But it’s not like Dany and Jon are best buddies just yet. As Jon asked, how does he convince people he doesn’t know that a threat they don’t believe in is coming to kill them? That’s the story for the remainder this season.

I don’t care about Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes dying.

Line of the Week

“They just like severed heads, really” – Euron

Bran is sort of a weirdo, no? I understand his role as the Three-Eyed Raven requires him to act a certain way, but good god, that reunion with Sansa was cold. He hadn’t seen her in years, more or less since he could walk, and the first thing he said to her boiled down to “you looked pretty that night you were forced to marry and raped by a monster”. Bran is clearly a huge part of the show’s endgame, but his last few scenes have been uncomfortable to watch, and not in the way GOT scenes are usually uncomfortable to watch.

Ramsay Bolton, the aforementioned monster who terrorized Sansa, may be dead, but the show has been quick to replace him with Euron Greyjoy. Euron is a much more interesting character than Ramsay, however. Euron at least has understandable motivations, a certain method to his madness. Ramsay was a sadist who existed on the show for the sole purpose of giving the viewer someone easy to root against. It was fun to see Euron parade his captors through the streets of King’s Landing on his way to the Red Keep. Mark Mylod, a veteran director of GOT and other HBO shows, made a strong effort to shoot the walk from the same angles as Cersei’s “walk of shame” at the end of season five. It wasn’t too long ago that the same commoners were throwing shit and food at a naked Cersei; now they’re doing it to their enemies. It was a neat way to show the fickle nature of the people. “They just like severed heads, really,” as Euron said.

I still don’t care about Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes dying.

Cersei and Jaime’s wartime strategy certainly one-upped Tyrion and Dany’s yet again this week. I enjoyed the way the attack on Casterly Rock was staged, more or less as a montage narrated by Tyrion. In doing so, the show was able to not waste any time with a relatively insignificant plot point but still work in some action. It was a callback to Tyrion’s heyday of entertaining whores, much like Jaime’s decision to give up The Rock in favor of easily taking Highgarden was a callback to a similar tactic Robb Stark deployed against him back in season two. Also, the show didn’t make it clear, but the logic behind taking Highgarden instead of defending The Rock is so the Lannisters could use the loot from Highgarden, the richest place in Westeros, to pay back the Iron Bank. On top of that, Casterly Rock is on the other side of the world. Now without ships, Grey Worm and the Unsullied are basically stuck away from where the war is. If you’re Cersei/Jaime and had to chose having control of just one of the two, Highgarden is the obvious choice.

I absolutely adored the performance of Diana Rigg as Olenna Tyrell throughout her run on the show. Her scathing wit made every conversation she took part in entertaining. She was a true scene stealer. At no moment was that more clear than her final scene. Even facing certain death, literally having just drank poison, she still won the moment vs Jaime. The look on his face as she explained Cersei’s monstrosity and admitted to killing Joffrey was priceless. He knew everything she was saying was true. It’s yet another scene where Jaime’s allegiances are subtly tested. He loves Cersei and he probably always will. But there has to be a breaking point sooner or later. 

More subtext from the Jaime-Olenna convo…Olenna admitting to killing Joffrey, and Jaime clearly believing her, means he now knows Tyrion FOR SURE didn’t do it. And more importantly, he now knows Cersei wanted Tyrion, a brother who Jaime loves, dead regardless of his non-involvement. Tensions in that bedroom should be at an all-time high.

The Sam/Jorah/Citadel subplot has been very underwhelming. First off, the legendary and incurable sickness greyscale is in fact quite curable. It was as simple as peeling the stuff off then applying a little ointment*. Sam’s presence at the Citadel to this point has been nothing more than convenient placing to drive the plot. It hasn’t done anything to forward his character arc. He surely has more to learn there -the common theory is that he’ll be the one to discover Jon’s lineage- but the writers have sacrificed one of their stronger characters for narrative ease to this point in the season.

*It should be noted, however, that Shireen Baratheon was not treated that way. She still had visible greyscale on her face, it just stopped spreading.

“The Queen’s Justice” was an overall solid episode. It featured real forward motion, a highly anticipated meeting, and one of the finest scenes in the series’ run with the Jaime-Olenna ending. It still feels like things are moving a bit slow considering how little time is left, but we’re getting there.

I still definitely don’t care about Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes dying.

Five Random Thoughts:

  1. If for some reason you aren’t reading/watching Jason Concepcion of The Ringer, please stop reading this and do so. As The Ringer’s in-house GOT nut and self-described Maester, he knows more about the show and books than anybody. His content is always essential. His “Ask the Maester” mailbags are very educational for non-book readers.
  2. If you haven’t heard, there was a major hack of HBO. The company fears that scripts and even full episodes have been stolen. Add this to the fact that the entire plot of this season has been on Reddit for over six months (and it’s been accurate thus far), and we’re looking at a larger problem with cyber-security in relation to spoilers with GOT. In full disclosure, I am vaguely familiar with what’s rumored to go down. But I would never spoil anything.
  3. We got some Bronn this week! Albeit in a speechless cameo when Jaime took Highgarden.
  4. No Arya this week. Also, nothing from The Hound and the Brotherhood again. Expect Arya to return to Winterfell and be featured prominently next week.
  5. Get Diana Rigg a goddamn Emmy. That is all.

‘Game of Thrones’ szn 7, ep 2: Make Westeros Great Again

“Stormborn” opened with a literal storm and Dany discussing strategy with her newly assembled crew. GOT has made a continued effort to show us how different Cersei, Dany, and Jon are as rulers. Cersei has surrounded herself with yes men. Jon does what he believes is right regardless of what his advisors say. Dany is learning to heed advice, specifically Tyrion’s, perhaps to a fault. As Olenna reminds her, she’s a dragon. Tyrion is correct that a straight up dragon attack on King’s Landing would kill a bunch of innocents, but at some point Dany is going to have let the dragons loose and channel her inner Targaryen if she wants to take the Iron Throne. Her and Tyrion going to great expository lengths to justify this patience wasn’t just so the Tyrell’s, Greyjoy’s, and Sand’s would understand; but so the audience would as well. Dany and Tyrion spent a decent portion of this episode defending the fact that they’re still doing little more than talking about conquering Westeros. Ugh.

I was very frustrated with the Dany-Vays conversation. First off, why now? If she wanted to grill him on his loyalty and character, why not do it right when she met him like she did with Tyrion? Second, we’ve been watching the show for seven seasons, we know Varys’ story. We don’t need to hear Dany recount it. Then she does the same thing with Melisandre seconds later! These are cases where the writers don’t trust the audience to grasp the basic context of the conversations unless it’s explicitly stated. 

Cersei is attempting to rally support with fear tactic narratives about dangerous foreigners. It’s a desperation move as traditional support for the crown is waning. She’s burned a lot of bridges, blown up septs, etc. While she finally sits on the Iron Throne herself, the choices that brought her to this point have backfired. Known bigot and wildling hater Randall Tarly seems down for the cause, at least. And Cersei has Euron Greyjoy working for her.

Speaking of Euron, it appears as if his gift for Cersei is Ellaria Sand and/or Yara Greyjoy. Quite the romantic, that Euron. The episode concluded with a big action set piece of Euron attacking the fleet Dany sent to lay siege to King’s Landing. It was an impressively executed scene -anytime you’re doing something so big on water it presents a lot of filmmaking challenges- and Pilou Asbæk does a fine job playing the menacing and cocky Euron. This was the first time we got to see Euron in action, where we learned his boasts about being the best captain in the world weren’t just all talk. But the way the episode was structured, the scene was supposed to be a high stakes “oh shit” moment. Unfortunately, the showrunners miscalculated how much (or little) viewers care about the Sand Snakes. Their introduction was butchered and they’ve had no arc. Seeing two of them die did nothing for me. I never considered them important players in the larger story. I’m not alone. They’re amongst the most hated characters on the show. Season five is generally considered the weakest season and they’re a big part of the reason why.

Just when we thought Theon had conquered his demons in full, we’re shown the trauma he’s been through will always be a part of him. Despite saving Sansa and making a rousing speech championing Yara at the Kingsmoot, he couldn’t muster up courage amidst the sight of Euron’s men cutting out tongues. I’m sure the show will find a way to have him redeem himself again, but I don’t care at this point. The cyclical storytelling with him has grown old. 

My favorite character moment of the episode came when Grey Worm performed cunninglingus on everyone’s favorite cunning linguist. His speech about love allowing him to know what fear is for the first time in his life was poignant, and Missandei is a sensitive listener. This is the strongest romantic relationship on the show. The relationship brings out the best in both characters’ individual stories, rather than just functioning as a convenient plot device (cough cough Dario and Dany).

Line of the Week

“You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.” – Olenna

I’m confused as to what is happening with Arya. Last week, in the already infamous Ed Sheeran scene, Arya smiled and laughed for the first time in years. It was the first time we saw her genuinely happy, for even a brief moment, since season one. In this episode, she reunited with Hot Pie, but receives him relatively coldly. You’d expect some hugs and jokes and whatnot. But, nope. The scene’s atmosphere was very odd. Arya’s mind was elsewhere even before Hot Pie informed her that Jon is the King in the North. So what could’ve been a nice character moment existed solely to spark Arya’s decision to return home to Winterfell. At least her (and probably Bran as well) heading there should lead to a sweet Stark children reunion.

The highly anticipated “Jonerys” meeting is a foregone conclusion at this point. It’ll probably happen as soon as next episode considering how liberally GOT has handled travel time the last two seasons. There will be some tension. His primary reason for taking the meeting is getting Dragonglass and possibly Dany’s support in the Great War. She wants him to bend the proverbial or literal knee and help fight the Lannisters. Despite the fact that Dany-Jon are actually Aunt-Nephew, I sense that most fans are rooting for a romantic relationship to develop between the two. This is Westeros, after all. The social stigma of incest is little more than the occasional subtle asterisk on the line of succession. 

Littlefinger’s days seem numbered. He’s a man who trades in deception, plays sides against each other, etc. The problem is, he’s been exposed. Everyone, most importantly Sansa, has realized how he operates. With the Knights of the Vale now under Jon’s (and Sansa’s) control, he has zero leverage or real power. He’s Littlefinger, so he’ll conjure up some scheme. But he’ll probably get called out on it and end up with a dagger (or a “needle”?) through his heart. Arya is heading to Winterfell…

“Dragonstone” was an all-around frustrating episode. Individual scenes failed to land, and the hour as a whole was surprisingly stagnant considering the momentum from the premiere and fact that there are now just ELEVEN episodes left in the entire series. 

Five Random Thoughts:

  1. Next episode should be a doozy. Look out for the attack on Casterly Rock by the Unsullied, the Stark children reunion, and the Jonerys meeting.
  2. Jorah isn’t currently winning any ribbons for best beach bod.
  3. Where, exactly, is everyone’s favorite sellsword turned anointed knight?
  4. And, again, where is Gendry?
  5. HBOers, the fantastic Hacksaw Ridge became available to stream or watch On-Demand this weekend. Give it a look if you haven’t.