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The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

Finding the crux of a Pedro Almodóvar film is not unlike asking how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

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The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

Finding the crux of a Pedro Almodóvar film is not unlike asking how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. In each case, the supposed science of the issue at hand is often short-circuited by impatience. Lest the comparison seem too glib, Almodóvar’s entire filmography is, to varying degrees, about the performance of taste, where characters often relate to one another not through their minds, but through their fingers, eyes, and teeth. Sweet tooths are more than a matter of dental hygiene; they’re a means of defining personal placement within the broader spectrum of vivid characters and self-serving interests. The bright color scheme of Almodóvar’s mise-en-scène redoubles these matters by problematizing realism as a dissenting faction amid otherwise psychologically defined characters, whose motivations are typically for sustenance of a rather short-order sort. On that note, Almodóvar’s oeuvre, and the characters that comprise it, can perhaps be best summarized by Carmen Maura’s character in Matador, who says near the film’s end: “Some things are beyond reason. This is one of them.”

In honor of the Museum of Modern Art’s complete retrospective of Pedro Almodóvar’s work, running from November 29 to December 17, we ranked the Spanish auteur’s films from worst to best.

The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

20. I’m So Excited! (2013)

The broad comedy of I’m So Excited! stays too comfortably on airplane mode throughout the film’s brisk runtime. It’s a deliberately frivolous, tossed-off effort, with middling jokes about barbiturates and musical numbers that pander, and too nakedly appeal, to camp impulses. These shortcomings are partially assuaged by the film’s sheer pep, especially as it becomes evident that actors like Javier Cámara and Carlos Areces are having a great deal of fun in their roles as unperturbed flight attendants. Still, these fairly meager pleasures are unsatisfying consolation prizes when stacked against Almodóvar’s finest films, where there’s no evidence of an in-flight creative nap.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

19. Julieta (2016)

Arguably the most conventional film of Almodóvar’s career, Julieta consistently renders its titular character’s recollections in explicit terms as those of a conflicted woman whose life has been spent in the throes of filial grief. Lacking an exuberant production design, the film settles for a predictably varied visual palette that, at this point, operates only as a commercial selling point for Almodóvar’s directorial style. The screenplay’s unimaginative frame narrative isn’t helping matters either; instead of reconfiguring memory into emotionally resonant bursts or revelations of desire as in All About My Mother, Almodóvar opts for template melodrama, with cutaways to Julieta (Emma Suárez) literally scribing her recollections in the present tense. In a career defined by inventive methods of access to his characters’ lingering duress, Julieta is an unfortunately flat-footed step toward complacency.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

18. What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984)

More compelling in theory than practice, What Have I Done to Deserve This? finds Almodóvar forgoing the punkish abandon of his earlier work for a calmer, if still rambunctious, domestic drama starring Carmen Maura as Gloria, a housewife whose husband and children have little respect for her. Almodóvar regular Chus Lampreave stands out as Gloria’s cupcake-hoarding mother-in-law, whose mitigating presence within the patriarchal family recalls a similar figure in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Master of the House, but several of the gags, whether a lizard being the only witness to a murder or a man’s demand for “elegant, sophisticated sadism…like in French films,” don’t resound with the same resourcefulness of those from Almodóvar’s sharpest farces.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

17. Broken Embraces (2009)

After the popular and critical success of Talk to Her and Volver, Almodóvar opted for a decidedly reflexive opus (Broken Embraces boasts the longest runtime in his oeuvre at 127 minutes) of self-indulgence, guided through time by the memories of Mateo (Lluís Homar), a blind filmmaker whose newfound creative partnership with the much younger Diego (Tamar Novas) breeds a series of episodes detailing past love affairs. Unwieldy by nature, Broken Embraces is in some sense the most sprawling presentation of Almodóvar’s telenovella revisionism, but the narrative net is cast so wide, and with such a decided but superficial emphasis on the tortured process of an artist, that few of the passages, let alone characters, are given the necessary affective space to blossom.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

16. Kika (1993)

By the early 1990s, the stakes of both Almodóvar’s perceptions on contemporary sexuality and intertextual play with film history had necessarily reached a point of no return. If the director’s films were still going to be capable of shocking or at least surprising audiences, they would require a refreshed template, one informed by but not beholden to his films of the past decade. The first of those three efforts was Kika, a wholly postmodern experiment that collages bits and pieces of classical Hollywood with Almodóvar’s fearless bid to fuse rape, cunnilingus, and the music of Bernard Herrmann into a whirligig of excesses. While there’s a certain je ne sais quoi to the film’s sheer energy, there’s also a fundamental hole at its emotional core, with flattened characters and meandering visual motifs.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

15. High Heels (1991)

Not unlike Woody Allen’s Interiors, High Heels is an homage to the films of Ingmar Bergman (particularly Autumn Sonata, which is directly referenced) that’s softened, in part, by its direct, reverential address to the Swedish filmmaker. The story starts promisingly, with a flashback structure that splits its central character’s time between Mexico and Madrid during the 1970s, but it quickly converts these potentially sociopolitical tensions into a mother-daughter melodrama of a rather nondescript sort. While intentions of murder are most welcome in nearly any Almodóvar film, here those elements feel forced onto a final third that relies upon the titular heels for sentiment in place of antipathy.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

14. The Flower of My Secret (1995)

Whereas Kika offers a deluge of painterly compositions, taboo subject matter, and revels in the sheer force of its excesses, The Flower of My Secret holsters those impulses for a calmer character piece about Leo (Marisa Paredes), author of several, popular romance novels, whose own sex life is filled with disaffected lovers and impotent men. It’s one of Almodóvar’s most tranquil films, and though it considers Leo’s sexual dissatisfaction with an attunement to her body’s craving for contact and a lasting embrace, it’s altogether too removed from its implicit critique of literature (and art) that lacks a sociocultural spine. The film is less a fastball than a warm-up pitch, a starter kit for the masterful melding of excesses and character emotion that are just a few films down the pike.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

13. Labyrinth of Passion (1982)

Almodóvar has called Labyrinth of Passion “the most pop film I ever made,” and it’s easy to see why. The basic premise, following a nymphomaniac pop star named Sexi (Cecilia Roth), is but one leg of a gonzo tour through a variety of Madrid’s sex-minded inhabitants, including the gay son of a Middle Eastern emperor and Antonio Banderas as a rent-boy terrorist. Almodóvar even appears himself, fronting a punk band with musician McNamara in Ziggy Stardust-esque makeup, and singing “Suck It to Me” in English. The film’s wild-eyed vacillation between storylines lands not as a deliberate obfuscation of any singular narrative, but as several meaningful articulations of the ever-shifting sources of, and perspectives on, sex positivity during Spain’s Movida Madrileña period.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

12. The Skin I Live In (2011)

It’s easy to imagine an argument against The Skin I Live In, what with its cavalier depiction of rape and junky assessment of gender identity (many elements deliberately invoke The Silence of the Lambs), as a misguided provocation. However, making such a claim would ignore the outré politics of Almodóvar’s remarkably clear-headed revaluation of Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face and its implicit indictment of French complicity in the Holocaust. Almodóvar uses Franju’s framework to offer a comparable charge against ideologically tinged treatments of sex, while simultaneously acknowledging that sexual liberation only yields political purpose if not practiced by psychopathic men, whether they’re physicians or dressed as lions. That potential reality, it seems, is the film’s core source of fantasy.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

11. Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980)

Almodóvar’s first feature displays an unwillingness to reign in its divisive content for the sake of argumentative clarity. Opening with a scene in which Superman, marijuana, and rape figure prominently, the film conceives of cultural desires of all sorts, whether covetous, consumptive, or libidinous, as absurdist tropes for examining free-spirited and sexually open human beings. Almodóvar also shows compassion for his struggling characters—a trait often missed in discussions of his earlier works. Late in the film, when Luci (Eva Siva) defiantly says, “I’m much more of a slut than you think I am,” it’s not a badge of honor so much as a plea to recognize some degree of human equality through shared bodily experience.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

10. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)

An ensemble in an Almodóvar film is far closer to a nightmarish family reunion than a nostalgic gathering. Pepa (Carmen Maura) is the glue holding this ramshackle carnival together, which features Lucía (Julieta Serrano), her husband’s clinically insane, potentially homicidal ex-wife. There’s also Marisa (Rossy de Palma), her son’s stuck-up fiancée, who passes out after unwittingly drinking some spiked gazpacho. And Candela (Maria Barranco), who’s riddled with paranoia from housing a Shiite terrorist, adds injury to insult by nearly throwing herself to her death from Pepa’s apartment balcony. Almodóvar’s progressively unhinged mystery tale includes gunshots, sleuthing in phone booths, an airplane hijacking, and a hilarious scene with actors dubbing a scene from Johnny Guitar into Spanish.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

9. Live Flesh (1997)

Almodóvar’s films sometimes display noirish sensibilities, but Live Flesh is his only straight-up noir, with a two-decade spanning story that pits a paralyzed police officer (Javier Bardem) against his assailant (Liberto Ribal) years after their initial, violent confrontation. Yet that’s only a piece of this winding tale that begins with a title card explaining Franco-era restrictions on citizens rights and ends in late-’90s Madrid, under the monochromatic reds of street lights on rain-soaked sidewalks. Far from an empty pastiche, the film thrillingly navigates its characters’ complicated sexual hang-ups and confronts crippled masculinity without the slightest sentiment whatsoever. The femme fatale becomes an homme fatale, and Almodóvar transforms the archetypes of noir into a tale specific to a nation still dealing, and in part reeling, from Franco’s legacy.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

8. Talk to Her (2002)

Perhaps the densest screenplay Almodóvar has ever written, Talk to Her is also nakedly cinephilic in its overt construction as an ode to the senses. Whether comatose, repressed, or imprisoned, the core quartet of characters are wholly defined by their oscillating state of mind, though it’s consistently two men, given their ultimate care over a pair of women, that control any given situation. The scenario could easily be read as an allegory for Almodóvar’s control as a filmmaker, but stopping there would only gloss the film’s complicating interludes. Thus, when a scene from a fictional silent film shows a shrunken man crawling into a woman’s vagina, it isn’t an oddball nostalgia trip, but evidence of Almodóvar’s unceasing commitment to revealing the frequently contradictory complexities of sexual identity.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

7. Law of Desire (1987)

Law of Desire is less a title than a rule in Almodóvar’s über-kinky thriller about Pablo (Eusebio Poncela), a stage director, and the psychotic rapist/serial killer (Antonio Banderas) who becomes fixated on him. The pair’s dimly lit, sweaty sex scenes contrast Almodóvar’s otherwise candy-colored mise-en-scène, like the expressionistic greens and reds that bleed into Pablo’s production of Jean Cocteau’s La Voix Humaine. Containing two of Almodóvar’s recurring emblems of masculinity (the libidinous artist and the sex-minded, psychopathic stud), the film intersects art, fucking, and madness (Almodóvar’s holy trinity) into a dastardly renunciation of good taste that is further explored in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and Bad Education.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

6. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! delivers on Law of Desire’s reference to Cocteau by taking the form of a farcical Beauty and the Beast narrative, with Marina (Victoria Abril), a former heroin junkie and porn star turned B-movie actress, being held captive by a superfan, Ricky (Antonio Banderas). Stockholm syndrome has probably never been rendered with such sumptuous consideration for the frame, as cinematographer José Luis Alcaine manages degrees of realism and fantasy in equal measure, turning even the confines of Marina’s domestic apartment into a carnivalesque plethora of signifiers and connotations. The film is Almodóvar’s Body Double, in that it finds the director simultaneously reflexive and deliriously irreverent, taking various strands of his previous films to several of their most perverse conclusions.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

5. Dark Habits (1983)

Almodóvar has never met a boundary that couldn’t be crossed. There’s little better evidence of this in the director’s oeuvre than Dark Habits, its title a pun on the vice inside a convent called the Humiliated Redeemers. The film features nuns shooting heroin, peeping through keyholes, and gossiping about Yolanda (Cristina Sánchez Pascual), a cabaret singer who’s given temporary refuge at the convent in order to elude police. There she meets Sister Damned, Sister Manure, Sister Snake, and Sister Sewer Rat: they’re the dwarves to Yolanda’s Sister Snow White. Almodóvar routes his invigorated tale of forbidden love between Yolanda and the Mother Superior through a trenchant, and frequently hilarious, satire of organized religion’s repressive, absurd effects on an ideologically shackled, post-Franco Spanish culture striving for sexual liberation.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

4. Volver (2006)

If the camaraderie of women forms a significant portion of Almodóvar’s aesthetic interests, then Volver is perhaps the most pleasurable, and accessible, expression of those aims. It’s also a showcase for Penélope Cruz and Carmen Maura as two generations of women whose meeting doubles as a two-decade bridge from What Have I Done to Deserve This? to the present: a changing of the guard from one iconic performer to another. It’s an altogether warm, glowing film, but by no means neutered in its first half-hour’s threat of sexual violence. The second half is tinged with melancholy for lost loved ones, but never dips into outright eulogizing. It’s indicative of Almodóvar’s keenest reflexive impulses, where nostalgia is reworked into recognition of collaboration as the ultimate source of artistic pleasure.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

3. Matador (1986)

Hand on cock, eyes on Bava—no Almodóvar film opens as perversely, and so thoroughly forgoes middlebrow accessibility, as Matador. Almodóvar stages Diego (Nacho Martínez) stretching from a chair, his heels propped atop a TV set, and jerking off to the goriest scenes from Blood and Black Lace like it’s a routine evening at home watching his favorite sitcom. A tale of bullfighting and romance only in passing, little holds water (but plenty spills blood) in Almodóvar’s greatest ’80s film. It’s an apogee of queer psychosexual scenarios that plays out like a gialli, in part, but is unmistakably an inaugural culmination of the director’s virulent skewering of bourgeois aesthetics—including diligent homage. Some have asked if Bava would have condoned such an appropriation of his own film. Almodóvar’s razor-edged brio suggests he couldn’t care less.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

2. Bad Education (2004)

The recent Nocturnal Animals nearly lifts its entire narrative structure from Almodóvar’s most seductive film, but manages none of its intimacy or insight regarding institutional corruption. Both films are about art and its assaultive capabilities, yet Bad Education, attuned to the remonstrative implications of its story’s sexual violations, routes its perceptions through the loins of its male characters, whose insuperable appetites for sex are less about the pleasure of the flesh than an assertion of power. These include grown men, their younger selves, and members of the clergy, though Almodóvar’s pursuit is less a bald castigation of religious hypocrisy than performing a sinuous arabesque of betrayals that run generations into the past. It’s both an allegory for the ideological stranglehold of art and an explicit evocation of it; Bad Education is Almodóvar’s most masterful thesis on the often invisible line between interior and exterior, whether relating to art and lived experience, one’s own body, or the actual unfolding of the film itself. The film’s sexiness exceeds a display of skin to include a remarkable understanding of how being led astray can be the best path to self-discovery—that is, if it doesn’t kill (or irreparably traumatize) you first. To paraphrase Dean Stockwell in Blue Velvet: Here’s to your fuck, Pedro.


The Films of Pedro Almodóvar Ranked

1. All About My Mother (1999)

The playfulness of Almodóvar’s ’90s films, which often dabble in visual experimentation and non sequiturs at the expense of narrative cohesion, finally found acute precision with All About My Mother, a film in which each scene builds so fittingly upon the last, that its unfolding finally overwhelms for the depths of its reach. An early viewing of All About Eve by Manuela (Cecilia Roth) and her son, Esteban (Eloy Azorín), doubles as a primer for how to understand the subsequent events. They directly relate at several points to jealousy and dwindling stardom, but also sensuality, as an imperative on the placement of personal desire, whether sexual or emotional, within the larger spectrum of the cosmos. Yes, All About My Mother is about the stars and how miniscule those who gaze upon them are made to feel without a place of their own. When Ismaël Lo’s “Tajabone” plays as Manuela drives in circles at night, searching amid numerous, anonymous sex acts, it’s a distillation of Almodóvar’s existential sojourn, of paradoxically reclaiming oneself and letting go: We call it cinema.


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WATCH: Stylish Queer Short Film Stay Makes Its Online Premiere

Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay debuts for free online.

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Stay

Writer-director Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay made its premiere on the film festival circuit back in 2013, but the L.A.-based filmmaker is finally debuting it for free online. The short film, which Zuck claims is loosely based on events from his past, follows Ash (Brandon Harris) and his ex-boyfriend, Jacks (Julian Brand), on a road trip to the Florida Keys where the pair get mixed up in a fatal drug deal.

“I think maybe I was holding onto the film because it’s such a part of me,” Zuck says about his decision to release Stay on YouTube, which has been criticized by queer creators and organizations like GLAAD for ever-changing content guidelines that appear to target content made by and for LGBT people.

“YouTube started age-restricting my other LGBT films and—to be totally honest—I got furious. YouTube is this faceless behemoth and there’s nothing someone like me can do to fight any of it directly. Really the only thing I could think of was just putting more queer content out there. And Stay was sitting right there on my desktop where it’s always been. So I just hit upload. And it got age-restricted. C’est la vie. Next.”

Watch Stay below:

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Awards

2019 Oscar Nomination Predictions

How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways.

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Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways. The hastily introduced and unceremoniously tabled (for now) “best popular film” Oscar. The impending commercial-break ghettoization of such categories as best cinematography and best film editing, but most certainly not best song and best animated feature. The abortive attempts to unveil Kevin Hart as the host not once, but twice, stymied by the online backlash over years-old anti-gay Twitter jokes and leading AMPAS to opt for George Glass as this year’s master of ceremonies. The strong-arming of its own membership to deter rank-and-file superstars from attending competing precursor award shows. If these end up being the last Oscars ever, and it’s starting to feel as though it should be, what a way to go out, right? Like the floating island of plastic in the Pacific, the cultural and political detritus of Oscar season has spread far beyond any previous rational estimates and will almost certainly outlive our functional presence on this planet. And really, when you think about it, what’s worse: The extinction of mankind or Bohemian Rhapsody winning the best picture Oscar? In that spirit, we press on.

Picture

Vice

There will be plenty of time, too much time, to go deep on the many ways Green Book reveals the flawed soul of your average, aged white liberal in America circa 2019. For now, let’s just admit that it’s as sure a nominee as The Favourite, Roma, and A Star Is Born. (There’s snackable irony in the fact that a movie called The Front Runner became very much not an Oscar front runner in a year that doesn’t appear to have a solid front runner.) And even though few seem to be predicting it for an actual win here, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman has an almost spotless precursor track record, showing up almost across the board among the guilds. Predicting this category would’ve been easy enough when Oscar limited it to five films, but it’s strangely almost as easy this year to see where the line will cut off between five and 10. Adam McKay’s Vice may be without shame, but you don’t have to strain hard to see how people could mistake it for the film of the moment. Bohemian Rhapsody is certainly lacking in merit, but, much like our comrade in chief, Oscar has never been more desperate for people to like and respect him, and a hit is a hit. Except when it’s a Marvel movie, which is why Black Panther stands precariously on the category’s line of cutoff, despite the rabid enthusiasm from certain corners that will likely be enough to push it through.

Will Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star Is Born, and Vice

Closest Runners-Up: If Beale Street Could Talk and A Quiet Place

Should Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Burning, First Reformed, Let the Sunshine In, and Zama

Best Director

Yorgos Lanthimos

Everyone can agree that Bohemian Rhapsody will be one of the best picture contenders that doesn’t get a corresponding best director nomination, but virtually all the other nominees we’re predicting have a shot. Including Peter-flashing Farrelly, whose predictably unsubtle work on Green Book (or, Don and Dumber) netted him a widely derided DGA nomination. The outrage over Farrelly’s presence there took some of the heat off Vice’s Adam McKay, but if any DGA contender is going to swap out in favor of Yorgos Lanthimos (for BAFTA favorite The Favourite), it seems likely to be McKay. As Mark Harris has pointed out, Green Book is cruising through this awards season in a lane of its own, a persistently well-liked, well-meaning, unchallenging throwback whose defiant fans are clearly in a fighting mood.

Will Be Nominated: Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Alfonso Cuarón (Roma), Peter Farrelly (Green Book), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), and Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)

Closest Runners-Up: Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk), and Adam McKay (Vice)

Should Be Nominated: Lee Chang-dong (Burning), Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Lucrecia Martel (Zama), and Paul Schrader (First Reformed)

Best Actress

Yalitza Aparicio

Had Fox Searchlight reversed their category-fraud strategizing and flipped The Favourite’s Olivia Coleman into supporting and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone into lead, the five best actress slots would arguably have been locked down weeks, if not months, ago, unless Fox’s bet-hedging intuits some form of industry resistance to double female-led propositions. As it stands, there are four locks that hardly need mention and a slew of candidates on basically equal footing. Hereditary’s Toni Collette has become shrieking awards show junkies’ cause célèbre this year, though she actually has the critic awards haul to back them up, having won more of the regional prizes than anyone else. The same demographic backing Collette gave up hope long ago on Viola Davis being able to survive the Widows collapse, and yet there by the grace of BAFTA does she live on to fight another round. Elsie Fisher’s palpable awkwardness in Eighth Grade and winning awkwardness navigating the Hollywood circuit have earned her an almost protective backing. But we’re going out on a limb and calling it for the rapturously received Roma’s Yalitza Aparicio. Voters could, like us, find it not a particularly great performance and still parlay their good will for her into a nomination that’s there for the taking.

Will Be Nominated: Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Closest Runners-Up: Toni Collette (Hereditary), Viola Davis (Widows), and Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)

Should Be Nominated: Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In), Toni Collette (Hereditary), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Regina Hall (Support the Girls), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Actor

John David Washington

Take Toni Collette’s trophies thus far in the competition and double them. And then add a few more. That’s the magnitude of endorsements backing First Reformed’s Ethan Hawke. And his trajectory has the clear markings of an almost overqualified performance that, like Naomi Watts’s in Mulholland Drive, cinephiles decades from now will wonder how Oscar snubbed. If Pastor Ernst Toller and Sasha Stone are right and God is indeed watching us all and cares what the Academy Awards do, Hawke’s nomination will come at the expense of John David Washington, whose strength in the precursors thus far (SAG and Globe-nominated) is maybe the most notable bellwether of BlacKkKlansman’s overall strength. Because, as with the best actress category, the other four slots are basically preordained. Unlike with best actress, the bench of also-rans appears to be one solitary soul. A fitting place for Paul Schrader’s man against the world.

Will Be Nominated: Christian Bale (Vice), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Viggo Mortensen (Green Book), and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

Closest Runners-Up: Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)

Should Be Nominated: Yoo Ah-in (Burning), Ben Foster (Leave No Trace), Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), Meinhard Neumann (Western), and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

Supporting Actress

Emily Blunt

Every Oscar prognosticator worth their bragging rights has spent the last couple weeks conspicuously rubbing their hands together about Regina King’s chances. The all-or-nothing volley that’s seen her sweep the critics’ awards and win the Golden Globe, and at the same time not even get nominations from within the industry—she was left off the ballot by both SAG and the BAFTAs—are narrative disruptions among a class that lives for narratives and dies of incorrect predictions. But despite the kvetching, King is as safe as anyone for a nomination in this category. It doesn’t hurt that, outside the pair of lead actresses from The Favourite, almost everyone else in the running this year feels like a 7th- or 8th-place also-ran. Except maybe Widows’s Elizabeth Debicki, whose fervent fans probably number just enough to land her…in 7th or 8th place. Vice’s Amy Adams is set to reach the Glenn Close club with her sixth Oscar nomination, and if she’d only managed to sustain the same loopy energy she brings to Lynne Cheney’s campaign-trail promise to keep her bra on, she’d deserve it. Which leaves a slot for supportive housewives Claire Foy, Nicole Kidman, and Emily Blunt. Even before the collapse of Mary Poppins Returns, we preferred Blunt’s chances in A Quiet Place.

Will Be Nominated: Amy Adams (Vice), Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Emma Stone (The Favourite), and Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Closest Runners-Up: Claire Foy (First Man), Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased), and Margot Robbie (Mary, Queen of Scots)

Should Be Nominated: Sakura Ando (Shoplifters), Zoe Kazan (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Rachel McAdams (Disobedience), and Haley Lu Richardson (Support the Girls)

Supporting Actor

Timothée Chalamet

The same people who’re curiously doubting Regina King’s nomination chances seem awfully assured that Sam Elliott’s moist-eyed, clearly canonical backing-the-truck-up scene in A Star Is Born assures him not only a nomination but probably the win. Elliott missed nominations with both the Golden Globes and BAFTA, and it was hard not to notice just how enthusiasm for A Star Is Born seemed to be cooling during the same period Oscar ballots were in circulation. Right around the same time, it started becoming apparent that BlacKkKlansman is a stronger draw than anyone thought, which means Adam Driver (who everyone was already predicting for a nod) won’t have to suffer the representationally awkward fate of being the film’s only nominee. Otherwise, the category appears to favor previously awarded actors (Mahershala Ali and Sam Rockwell) or should have been previously awarded actors (Chalamet). Leaving Michael B. Jordan to remain a should have been previously nominated actor.

Will Be Nominated: Mahershala Ali (Green Book), Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Closest Runners-Up: Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) and Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)

Should Be Nominated: Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Hugh Grant (Paddington 2); Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Steven Yeun (Burning)

Adapted Screenplay

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Get beyond the best picture hopefuls BlacKkKlansman and If Beale Street Could Talk, which seem deservedly locked, and A Star Is Born, which is even more deservedly iffy, and you’ll see the screenwriters’ branch deciding just how seriously to take themselves this year, and whether they’re feeling like spiritually reliving the moments that found them nominating Bridesmaids and Logan. If so, then expect Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther to factor in here. If they most definitely don’t feel frisky, then maybe the foursquare First Man has a shot at reversing its overall downward trajectory. If they’re seeking that “just right” middle ground, then Can You Ever Forgive Me? and The Death of Stalin are in.

Will Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Death of Stalin, If Beale Street Could Talk, and A Star Is Born

Closest Runners-Up: Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and First Man

Should Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, First Man, Leave No Trace, The Grief of Others, and We the Animals

Original Screenplay

First Reformed

It’s not unusual for some of the year’s most acclaimed movies whose strength isn’t necessarily in their scripts to get nominated only in the screenwriting categories. First Reformed, which even some of its fiercest defenders admit can sometimes feel a bit like Paul Schrader’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” greatest-hits package, stands to be another of them. But it’ll be a close call, given the number of other equally vanguard options they’ll be weighing it against, like Sorry to Bother You, which arguably feels more urgently in the moment in form, Eighth Grade, which is more empathetically post-#MeToo, and even Cold War, which had a surprisingly strong showing with BAFTA. Given the quartet of assured best picture contenders in the mix, First Reformed is going to have to hold off all of them.

Will Be Nominated: The Favourite, First Reformed, Green Book, Roma, and Vice

Closest Runners-Up: Cold War, Eighth Grade, and Sorry to Bother You

Should Be Nominated: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Bodied, First Reformed, Sorry to Bother You, and Western

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Reflections in a Quilt: John McPhee’s The Patch

There’s something uncommonly relaxing about many of McPhee’s patient elaborations of things known and unknown.

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Reflections in a Quilt: John McPhee’s The Patch

“But beyond the flaring headlines of the past year, few are aware of who Richard Burton really is, what he has done, and what he is throwing away by gulping down his past and then smashing the glass.” This is one of those quotes, which, through its sheer heft and style, threatens to turn any accompanying review into a redundancy. To find other lines that meet its towering standard, seek its source: The Patch by John McPhee. There’s no shortage of arresting remarks in this nicely heterogeneous collection of writing. One sinks into the book, riveted, but also races across it as its fascinations multiply.

The first section is called “The Sporting Scene.” Those typically uninterested in sports or sports writing, like myself, shouldn’t be deterred by the title. As I discovered through other recent encounters with McPhee’s ballyhooed writing, the author has a knack for inexorably moving readers beyond their biases. Two-part New Yorker articles like “Oranges,” “The Pine Barrens,” and “Basin and Range,” which were later turned into books, are studious and propulsive. Fine-grained matters of geology or citrus aren’t exactly simplified in these articles, but wading through the density becomes an irresistible prospect thanks to the author’s intelligibility, wit, enthusiasm, and atmospheric touches. For an example of the latter, consider McPhee’s focus on the “unnatural and all but unending silence” of the Floridian orange groves that he visited. What’s more, he often conveys a certain sense of respectful understanding, as when he mentions that he has “yet to meet anyone living in the Pine Barrens who has in any way indicated envy of people who live elsewhere.”

Similar virtues spruce up the “The Sporting Scene.” Its pieces include emphases on fishing, football, golf, and lacrosse. McPhee honors the athletic endeavor by carefully illuminating its particulars. He busily supplies facts, anecdotes, ideas, and biographical details. In “The Orange Trapper,” for instance, he discusses his hunt for errant golf balls. It’s an engaging topic. He has learned, among other things, what occurs when you take a saw to a golf ball. You find the world: “Core, mantle, crust—they are models of the very planet they are filling up at a rate worldwide approaching a billion a year.” Other jolts arrive through the often remarkable conclusions to his paragraphs and pieces. The ending of “The Orange Trapper” is an especial wonder—a thrilling mobilization of words that elicits laughter and awe.

There are also bears: “Direct Eye Contact” is a compact assortment of hopes and advisements concerning bears in New Jersey, and it concludes on a sweetly uxorious note. Indeed, one never knows where any of these pieces are going. In “Pioneer,” meanwhile, McPhee ponders Bill Tierney’s choice to begin coaching the University of Denver men’s lacrosse team. “How could he leave Princeton?” McPhee asks. “It can be done. And Tierney knew what he was doing.” Those lines showcase the occasionally pithy, pleasantly chiseled style of his prose. It’s a considered design that favors clarity, structures hairpin turns toward new discursive trails, and pairs well with punchlines. In “Phi Beta Football,” one of McPhee’s colleagues promises to deliver him “a nice piece of change” if he figures out a suitable title for his book. “I went away thinking,” McPhee tells us, and then adds, “mostly about the piece of change.”

The recounting of sporting events is likewise augmented by the author’s playfulness. “Pioneer” throws us this line: “But Syracuse exploded—one, two, three—and the game went into ‘sudden victory’ overtime, the politically uplifting form of sudden death.” So transporting and genial is McPhee’s writing that the specifics of any given match never weigh down the reading, nor do his more elaborate remarks. “It’s a Brueghelian scene against the North Sea,” he declares in “Linksland and Bottle,” his piece on the 2010 British Open, “with golfers everywhere across the canvas—putting here, driving there, chipping and blasting in syncopation.” What’s even better is his sensitivity, in the same paragraph, to the fine distinctions between the manner of Scottish and Californian galleries as they observe rounds of golf. Suddenly, his words become almost numinous, and no grace is lost.

The second section of The Patch is called “An Album Quilt” and it encompasses a dizzying mixture of short pieces. None are available in any of McPhee’s other books. In an introductory statement, the author compares these pieces to the dissimilar blocks of a quilt. He notes that he “didn’t aim to reprint the whole of anything”; he sought out “blocks to add to the quilt, and not without new touches, internal deletions, or changed tenses.” This section is quite distinct from “The Sporting Scene,” but no less extraordinary in its overall effect. A piece about Cary Grant starts things off. Boyhood encounters with Albert Einstein are up ahead.

There are more standouts than can be briefly mentioned here, including an evocative overview of the craftsmanship that McPhee discovered within the original Hershey’s Chocolate Factory. The author’s clipped expressions of wonder enliven that piece: “Gulfs of chocolate. Chocolate deeps. Mares’ tails on the deeps.” A little later, he mentions “granite millstones arranged in cascading tiers, from which flow falls of dark cordovan liquor.” One can imagine Don Draper reading through this with poignant interest. In another entry, a series of succinct blurbs about tennis luminaries, Rod Laver’s childhood is crisply set against his eventual stardom: “Had to wait his turn while his older brothers played. His turn would come.”

And so one just leaps from piece to piece, and, along the way, discovers scenes from different periods in McPhee’s life and career. An encounter with two New York City policemen—this likely occurred in the ‘60s or early ‘70s, given the “familiar green and black” on the cop car—is particularly memorable. It begins with the author’s recollection of locking his keys inside his car, which, he notes, had been parked “in a moted half-light that swiftly lost what little magic it had had, and turned to condensed gloom.” After that characteristically precise fusion of atmosphere and psychology, he describes scrounging around for wire so as to open the door. The sudden arrival of the policemen created a dilemma: Would they view McPhee, who had been wedging a coat hanger into the car, as a thief or the hapless owner? “The policemen got out of the patrol car,” McPhee tells us, “and one of them asked for the wire.” From there, the situation undulates a couple more times before concluding through a sparkling punchline that’s supplied by one of the officers. The story is over before you know it, but its brisk and detail-oriented pleasures are echoed throughout much of the book.

In the title piece, meanwhile, McPhee movingly writes about his father, but also about fishing a pickerel out of a patch of lily pads. Here and elsewhere, granular descriptions become byways into a range of enthusiasms, histories, and hearts. The author, of course, frequently registers himself through the infinitesimal details, and through the humor that he yokes to affection. “‘Fuck you, coach!’ Quote unquote” is a message that McPhee once emailed to Bill Tierney. Great warmth radiates below the mantle of those words.

This, among sundry other qualities, keeps one reading. There’s also something uncommonly relaxing about many of his patient elaborations of things known and unknown. And there is, both within the book’s individual pieces and across its varied totality, a sense of constant renewal and revelation. As McPhee notes down somewhere amid the blocks of his quilt, “I could suddenly see it, almost get into it—into another dimension of experience that I might otherwise have missed entirely.”

John McPhee’s The Patch is now available from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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