The 55th New York Film Festival boasts eight films in its main slate made by women. Progress is relative, in this case, considering that this year’s Cannes Film Festival featured just three female-helmed features in competition, while Venice fared even worse, with only China’s Vivian Qu offered a chance to compete for the Golden Lion. Perhaps the most notable of these inclusions is Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, which was controversially excluded from the Venice lineup. An adaptation of Antonio di Benedetto’s 1956 novel set in 18th-century Paraguay, the fourth feature from one of global cinema’s most revered auteurs leads the group of main-slate films from a variety of old- and new-guard female filmmakers, ranging from the latest by Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In) to the much anticipated directorial debut of Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird).
Two international genre films directed by women will make their U.S. debuts as well at the festival, among them Agnieszka Holland’s Spoor, a murder mystery set in Poland’s Kłodzko Valley with imagery that echoes the Holocaust, and Valeska Grisebach’s Western, which, per our own Carson Lund, explores “the dichotomy between civility and savagery at the heart of the genre referenced by the film’s title.” Chloé Zhao’s The Rider, which is set on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, looks at the contemporary landscape of the American West by taking a hybrid approach to documentary and fiction.
If these works look to variously chart the dark night of the human soul, Faces Places is more optimistically driven. The documentary follows Agnès Varda and JR as they meet—and produce building-sized art of—citizens throughout France. The directorial collaboration bridges a generation gap between Varda and JR that compels them to also consider how their difference in age and gender can become a source of communication, not restriction. Other films in this year’s main slate, including some directed by men, also examine the intersection of social life and art. Robin Campillo’s BPM (Beats Per Minute) follows members of ACT UP Paris during the 1990s from protests to the dance floor, while Aki Kaurismäki’s The Other Side of Hope, the second entry in a planned “refugee trilogy,” utilizes local Finnish musicians to punctuate its deadpan portraiture of Europe’s inhumane immigration system.
A pair of Amazon Studios films from two of American cinema’s most prolific filmmakers will open and close the festival. Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying, the opening-night selection, follows three Vietnam veterans as they gather to mourn the death of one of their sons, and is being touted as a spiritual sequel to Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail. And closing the festival is Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel, which as of yet doesn’t even have a theatrical trailer. Set in Coney Island during the 1950s, Allen’s film carries a typically star-studded cast and marks the second consecutive collaboration between the filmmaker and renowned cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.
Among the noteworthy programs programmed alongside the main slate are Spotlight on Documentary, which includes new works by Abel Ferrara (Piazza Vittorio) and Alex Gibney (No Stone Unturned); the sidebar also includes the Vanessa Redgrave’s directorial debut, Sea Sorrow, “a plea for a compassionate Western response to the refugee crisis and a condemnation of the vitriolic inhumanity of current right wing and conservative politicians.” Revivals offers several new restorations of important classics, including a newly scored refurbishing of G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box. Projections, sponsored by MUBI, will feature some 50 experimental films, including retrospectives of pioneering filmmakers Barbara Hammer and Mike Henderson.
Starting today, check back daily for a review of each title in the festival’s main slate. The 55th New York Film Festival will run from September 29 to October 15. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, go to the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s official site.
Before We Vanish
In Pulse, an apocalypse prevails as people plummet from buildings and degrade like old photos. In Tokyo Sonata, people bring about their own demise, without aid or interference from the supernatural, but through the capitalist system they’ve devised, which leaves the unemployed worthless and hopeless and families in shambles. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s characters exist in the quietus of modernity. A sense of the end looms. With Before We Vanish, an alien-invasion film that sends up his auteurist obsessions while addressing some of the criticisms leveled against him, the filmmaker seems to have finally found hope. He’s finally having some fun at the dawn of the apocalypse. >>
BPM (Beats Per Minute)
The U.S. title, BPM (Beats Per Minute), of Robin Campillo’s latest effort stresses the film’s main thematic track involving the sense of movement that ACT UP Paris’s members feel they need to sustain in order to see another day. This energy is political, taking the form of protests against pharmaceutical companies whose research, drug trials, even words—assurances that they’re willing to negotiate with the sick—move at a speed that’s a slap in the face to those who have only months, maybe days, to live. But it’s also sexual, a resistance to the ugliness of a disease’s assault on the body, as in a singularly and simultaneously heartbreaking and erotic scene that sees Nathan (Arnaud Valois) beating off his hospitalized lover, Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), who’s in the final stages of AIDS. For a moment after, as Nathan wipes the ejaculate from Sean’s body and then kisses him, it’s as if Sean will live forever. >>
Call Me by Your Name
The three films that make up Luca Guadagnino’s self-described “Desire” trilogy all in some way organize their narratives around music. The Italian filmmaker relied on borrowed works from modern classical composer John Adams to determine the ebbing dramatic tension of 2009’s I Am Love, while 2015’s A Bigger Splash, which centers on the relationship between a fictional rock singer and her mercurial former lover and record producer, climaxes with an electric, lip-syncing performance of the Rolling Stones’s “Emotional Rescue.” But it’s the trilogy-capping romance Call Me by Your Name that most deeply connects this filmmaker’s abiding interest in music to a broader theme of the salvation found in the meditative power of the arts. >>
The Day After
Hong Sang-soo’s The Day After homes in on the similarities between job interviews and dates, mining them for a comedy of romantic alienation and autobiographical rumination. In the tradition of many of Hong’s protagonists, Bong-wan (Kwon Hae-hyo) is an acclaimed creative at a crossroads with the women in his life, implicitly feeling that his professional success grants him a right to his self-absorption. Bong-wan, a married book publisher, has three attractive women circling him throughout the film, which is a dream that becomes a castrating nightmare. Over the course of coffee and soju-drenched meals, these women demand that Bong-wan account for himself, as The Day After is a study of his increasingly inadequate deflections. >>
Collaboration between filmmakers remains a controversial notion in cinema, primarily because viewers (and often critics) feel more comfortable attributing intent to a singular mind. The refutation of such artistic credit, however, occupies a fundamental role in Agnès Varda and JR’s Faces Places, in which the pair traverse the French countryside seeking memorable encounters with working-class people. The film’s French title, Visages Villages, provides a more accurate summation of their destinations and how locations help create the people who inhabit them. JR’s large prints of human faces and, sometimes, three-story printouts of faces and full-body shots, become art pieces plastered on buildings, trains, and other objects. More so than any film of Varda’s career, Faces Places testifies to the necessity of contact with the unknown as a form of collaboration unto itself and how such endeavors can, and should, encompass the spectrum of one’s mortal experiences. >>
About halfway through its running time, Alain Gomis’s Félicité breaks away from its realist trappings toward a reckoning with the sensory world of its main character. There are conceivably valid narrative explanations for this shift, as Félicité (Véro Tshanda Beya), having spent the first part of the film travelling around Kinshasa asking friends and acquaintances to fund her son’s leg operation, falls into silence and depression over not having succeeded at her task. But the film’s sudden devotion to symbolism, as in repeated visions of Félicité descending into bodies of water amid darkness, never transcends stylish posturing to ever give a concrete sense of Félicité’s trauma. >>
The Florida Project
Sean Baker spends much of The Florida Project charging in vigorously nimble fashion up and down the stairs of the Magic Castle, in and out of its rooms, investing the minutia of the down-and-out lives within this little ecosystem with a bittersweet energy and significance. For much of the film, calamity is never harsher than a father packing up to move to New Orleans and forcing his son to leave his toys, relics of memories, behind with the friends he’ll never see again. And almost always the camera is yoked to Moonee’s (Brooklynn Prince) present-tense point of view, which explains why the forces battering these lives from all sides remain largely outside the film’s purview: They’re not only too big for this little girl to both completely imagine and understand, but it’s outside her field of vision where the film’s adults are content to keep these forces. >>
As in the later films of Alain Resnais and Raúl Ruiz (especially You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet and Night Across the Street), Ismael’s Ghosts finds French writer-director Arnaud Desplechin simultaneously collapsing and expanding his body of work, reflexively revealing its many layers, like a pop-up book. Desplechin liberally borrows character names and plot points from many of his previous films, playing fast and loose with the narrative connections that exist between many of them, resulting in a nesting-doll narrative that’s far removed from 2013’s formally and dramatically disciplined Jimmy P. Desplechin builds instead from 2015’s My Golden Days, which positioned itself as a loose prequel to 1996’s My Sex Life… or How I Got Into an Argument. >>
Lady Bird’s broader shift in perspective is its most impressive, as its sympathies gradually tilt from Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), a teen desperate to transcend her upbringing, to Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a mother who sacrifices her time and her body for her family without reward. Ronan, who seems to grow into her lanky frame over the course of the film, nails the sense that the life of a teenager is a tendentious war between one’s ego and their increasing sense of the world around them, while Metcalf masters Marion’s inability to erase her frustration at her inability to be selfish or impulsive. Both performances are remarkable, brittle and diffident in wholly original ways that distinguish Gerwg’s film from The Edge of Seventeen, Pretty in Pink, and other canonical coming-of-age works that attempt to honestly reckon with issues of privilege. A uniquely American comedy, Lady Bird is testy, humane, and firmly rooted in its time and place. >>
Last Flag Flying
Last Flag Flying, co-written by Linklater and Ponicsan, is colored by how time reshapes our sense of self, embracing some memories while occluding others, and it ingeniously folds us into a similar state of reflection and uncertainty about previous eras of false optimism about national values. It takes place in 2003, nearly two years into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a nebulous war on terrorism; the fog of 9/11 has cleared, and many Americans and most other Western democracies are increasingly rattled by domestic surveillance and military bellicosity. One long, hilarious scene of cellphone humor conjures the major cultural shift of the era, but the enduring historical markers of the moment pass by on televisions in the background of many scenes: Saddam Hussein, filthy and just snatched out of an underground bunker; George W. Bush, smirking through consolations and expansionist bravado. Within the film’s intricate generational schema, these images become almost painfully mundane, just a few notes in a lifetime’s steady drumbeat of disillusionments. Like Before Midnight, Last Flag Flying is both gimlet-eyed and philosophical enough to question the lasting worth of youthful romanticism. >>
Let the Sunshine In
Claire Denis’s latest film, Let the Sunshine In, is, as its name suggests, less despondent than Bastards, concerned as it is with the fragility, and perseverance, of the heart. Its modesty and intimacy runs the risk of being erroneously labelled slight. It’s a 95-minute reconciliation with love, which has always been something of an unmitigable poison for Denis’s characters. The self-destructive nature of searching for meaning, for a partner, has long fascinated the filmmaker, and here she strips bare that hopeless pursuit. In those diurnal moments, the mundane, unexceptional motions that make up a relationship, Denis disinters the pleasures (however brief) and pain of love. >>
Lover for a Day
Like In the Shadow of Women, Lover for a Day is shot in widescreen black and white by Renato Berta, staged in a prosaic suite of bedrooms, cafés, and side streets, and narrated in a terse short-form prose style. But in contrast to Garrel’s last film, which diligently plucked away at the morose self-importance of its male lead, the wise French dramatist’s latest foregrounds the malleable spirits of its young female characters, leaving Gilles something of an implicit gravitational force rather than a subject of sustained consideration. In doing so, the film adopts an unbiased lucidity. Instead of the wry, pitch-perfect assessments of human behavior contained within In the Shadow of Women, we get a hushed sense of awe and empathy as Garrel ruminates on the burgeoning womanhood of his daughter, here cast for the first time in a lead role under his direction, by way of the character she inhabits. >>
The Meyerowitz Stories
Noah Baumbach has always been a writer-director of no formal distinction, but he’s possessed with a keen eye and ear for the intricacies of pettiness, humiliation, and schadenfreude. His new film, The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected), concerning a family of neurotic middle-aged New Yorkers attempting to come to grips with the imminent demise of their sculptor father, Harold (Dustin Hoffman), duly feels like a retread of past works (and not just Baumbach’s), if better structured and finer-grained than most. It appreciates life’s vastness and maddening repetition; its screenplay is emotionally sprawling but peripatetic in the telling. Baumbach makes a lived-in milieu feel instantly familiar as Danny Meyerowitz (Adam Sandler) and his teenage daughter, Eliza (Grace Van Patten), pause in the middle of their search for a parking spot to enjoy Fine Young Cannibals’s “She Drives Me Crazy” on the radio, before the inevitable New York City honking and screaming resumes. >>
Serge Bozon’s monster story is imbued with his idiosyncratic visual and comedic style. Shot by his longtime collaborator and sister, Céline Bozon, Mrs. Hyde is tinged even in daylight with crepuscular tones, and the quick-cutting, lean editing gives the film a peculiarly frenetic energy, putting the audience in a position of feeling like they’re chasing after the constantly evolving narrative. But as Mrs. Géquil (Isabelle Huppert), a science teacher who goes about her daily life with a spastic nervousness, transforms into a competent instructor, and her alter-ego grows in strength in the wake of a freak lab accident, Mrs. Hyde becomes increasingly more sinister—a tone that rubs jarringly against the madcap satire of the film’s first half. >>
The patch of worn Mississippi farmland where much of Dee Rees’s Mudbound is set connotes an atmosphere of literal and economic devastation. The fertile properties of Mississippi Delta soil are scarcely visible in the modest plant growth that adorns the flat landscapes, which are occasionally dotted with shacks that look as if they were designed with the express purpose of falling apart. This is the sort of place barely fit for human habitation, which in the Jim Crow South inevitably means it’s been set aside for black citizens who continue to work as sharecroppers, saved from redundancy only by the remoteness of their location, a place where tractors and other mechanized farm equipment have yet to reach. >>
On the Beach at Night Alone
On the Beach at Night Alone’s two parts are united by repetitions that signal the recurring habits of our lives and the emotionally mathematical fastidiousness of Hong’s imagination. In both halves, Young-hee (Kim Min-hee) says that she should move to the city in question, suggesting her desperation to rejoin a fixed society. In each half, Young-hee is told that her romantic grief over her lover has caused her to look more mature and “womanly”—an observation that’s never not creepy. Correspondingly, Young-hee tells her buddy, Myung-soo (Jung Jae-young), that he looks older, commenting on his face in a manner that’s repeated almost verbatim in a similar context in The Day After. Beaches, which give the film its title along with a famous Walt Whitman poem, figure in each half as the ultimate realm of Young-hee’s solitude, which is breached, however, by unseen males who attempt to put the woman back on course—white-knight gestures that are facetiously staged to epitomize the ego of patriarchy. >>
The Other Side of Hope
Over the past 35 years and more than a dozen feature films, Aki Kaurismäki has maintained, along with cinematographer Timo Salminen, a distinctive aesthetic that uses high-contrast lighting, close-ups, and stoic faces to achieve a deadpan style perched somewhere between the sardonic and the severe. The Other Side of Hope upholds that standard, and follows on the heels of Le Havre, the writer-director’s 2011 film about a young Gabonian refugee on the run in the titular port city, with the tale of Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Finland. Kaurismäki has spoken of this film as being the second in a planned “refugee trilogy,” with the third shooting location as yet undetermined. Based on the dip in quality from Le Havre to The Other Side of Hope, though, one may wonder if Kaurismäki hasn’t already exhausted the material, especially since this new film hits comparable narrative beats without the same specificity as its predecessor. >>
The proximity of fiction to actual fact adds an inherent layer of interest to Chloé Zhao’s The Rider, especially in scenes between family members, which resemble the kinds of conversations they must have, or have had, about the real Brady’s accident and his high-risk life choices. But those opportunities aren’t seized on as directly as they could be; the writing instead emphasizes the universality of the family’s struggles, turning a potentially very personalized narrative into more of an archetypal one. An exception to this is a scene in which Brady (Brady Jandreau) is woken up by a group of his cowboy buddies and dragged out to the middle of nowhere for a night of drinking and guitar playing around a campfire. As the friends work in unison to raise Brady’s spirits and take his mind off his injury, each reveals a bit about themselves, their own cultural ideas, ethnic backgrounds, and individual feelings on the American West. >>
Spoor’s driven by a striking tonal contrast. On one hand, it’s an atmospheric and surreally comic character study that follows Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka), an eccentric retiree who teaches English to children part-time, as she learns to come out of her isolation and depend on humans as well as animals, fashioning a new social life in vignettes that emphasize gentility and connectivity, most memorably in a series of montages that suggest Duszejko’s visions of new acquaintances’ pasts. On the other, it’s a veiled call for revolution, excusing murder as a necessary step toward taking back our planet. The final scene, reveling in the birth of a new community that’s built on a bedrock of murder, is chilling for its persuasive sweetness. This tree-hugging, animal-loving film has a stinger in its tail. >>
After scrupulously analyzing the rippling effects of a man’s moment of human weakness in Force Majeure, Ruben Östlund has adopted a more panoramic view for The Square, edging his latest film closer to the vignette-driven narrative terrain of 2008’s Involuntary. Juggling the handful of interconnected tribulations that overwhelm Christian (Claes Bang), the curator of a reputable Stockholm contemporary art museum, in the run-up to the opening of a new relational art exhibition called The Square, the film grabs at a pinwheel of hot-button social topics including class privilege, liberal guilt, urban poverty, viral marketing, and mutually reinforced passivity in the face of mounting inhumanity, winding up with something simultaneously overstuffed and undercooked. While Östlund’s mastery of visually amplifying social unease is still very much intact, he’s partially undone here by his own thematic ambition, which, in scene after exquisitely staged scene, threatens to put too fine a point on otherwise thrillingly indeterminate situational comedy. >>
Joachim Trier’s Thelma opens with an unnerving father-daughter hunting trip on a frozen lake. As the pair cautiously progresses across the ice, the camera occasionally points down, catching fish darting around just below the surface of the dark but clear water. The ominous atmosphere of the moment escalates swiftly when, stalking a deer, Trond (Henrik Rafaelsen) gets into position, only to turn his rifle on his unaware child, Thelma (Grethe Eltervåg). The father holds the gun to her head for an excruciatingly long time before reconsidering his plan and lowering the weapon. Few scenes in the rest of Joachim Trier’s film match the sharp tension of this sequence, its cold precision masking a compelling mystery that’s all too quickly explained. >>
“War is war. Life is life. You can’t lump them together,” says a burly construction worker early on in Valeska Grisebach’s Western, immediately invoking the dichotomy between civility and savagery at the heart of the genre referenced by the film’s title. The seasoned audience member will recognize the hollowness in such a statement, as the most ageless westerns have proven time and again that violence—physical and otherwise—is the engine of civilizing progress. And though blood is scarcely spilled in Western, the film nevertheless teems with nervous tension as a German construction crew descends on a modest Bulgarian village to conduct work on a hydroelectric power plant in the hills nearby. In a supremely understated style, Grisebach sets this all-too-modern scenario in motion and charts the ways in which power and privilege unconsciously manifest themselves, turning a boilerplate engineering initiative into a loaded culture clash. >>
What the photographs of Ruth Orkin and Saul Leiter were to the painstaking tableaux of Carol, the work of Roy DeCarava might be to these 1920s-set sequences. Todd Haynes’s eye for detail is astringent as ever, and he boldly opts to make Rose’s (Millicent Simmonds) scenes “deaf” as well: completely silent beyond Carter Burwell’s punctuating music, itself an exercise in Aaron Copland-esque affect that suggests the music accompanying remastered versions of silent films whose original scores have been lost to the ages. Ben’s (Oakes Fegley) crossing into Manhattan depicts a vibrantly seedy city, throbbing with summer heat, ratcheting up tension by dwarfing a newly deaf child in a vast crowd’s anonymizing bustle. Ben makes friends with a kid named Jamie (Jaden Michael), whose father works at the Museum of Natural History; Rose makes a similar trip and Haynes juxtaposes scenes from both storylines, centering on specific exhibits. Eventually, the characters of the 1927 narrative are reintroduced in their late-adult iterations, and the connection between Ben and Rose is made explicit. >>
Though he’s directed some of the finest performances in American cinema, and his gift for rambling, navel-gazing dialogue was, at one point, eminently quotable, Woody Allen manages to coax painfully unnatural performances from almost everyone in Wonder Wheel. The tone throughout vacillates wildly from silly comedy to classic Hollywood melodrama, and all of it feels as artificial and unsatisfying as the cotton candy twirling in a vending cart. Kate Winslet in particular plays her role with unabashed histrionics, all fury and forced emotions. It’s her most misguided performance since Sam Mendes’s voluptuously idiotic adaptation of Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road. Jim Belushi fares better, spewing out vitriol and love with equal amounts of conviction, but all the shouting and scenery-chewing going on around him saps the poignancy from his performance. >>
Zama’s uncanny visual humor is reminiscent of Miguel Gomes’s Tabu and João Pedro Rodrigues’s The Ornithologist, which are also shot by Poças and approach the legacy of colonialism from a strange angle. What distinguishes Lucrecia Martel’s film from those others is how bluntly its comedy informs its politics. The narrative takes place just before a revolution that united South American Creoles, slaves, and natives against their Spanish oppressors. At once oblique and straightforward, the film uses image and sound to posit this revolt as an inevitability without ever speaking a word about it. Zama’s (Daniel Giménez Cacho) size is diminished by natural rock formations, and shadowy heads and limbs always seem to be wandering by the camera in front of him. To the back of the frame, slaves and natives regard Zama quizzically or merely go about their business. Sometimes llamas, horses, giant dogs, and ostriches pop into view, similarly indifferent to his plight and his gradually waning sense of authority. >>
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Song
Pundits and show producers didn’t quite get the pop star-studded best song lineup that they were hoping for this year.
Pundits and show producers didn’t quite get the pop star-studded best song lineup that they were hoping for this year, as Golden Globe nominees Taylor Swift and Beyoncé failed to score nominations, though the former’s omission sparked heavy sighs of relief among Oscar completists who were dreading to have to watch Cats. Neither did they make room for Oscar-winning actress Mary Steenburgen, whose “Glasgow (No Place Like Home)” in Wild Rose was widely regarded among the year’s best movie songs. In short, this is a category that feels more characterized by what’s absent than what’s present.
Ten previous nominations have so far added up to one conspicuously absent win for the indefatigable Diane Warren, whose nomination for Chrissy Metzs inspirational dirge in the very, very Christian Breakthrough calls to mind the nomination that was removed from competition six years ago, for Bruce Broughton and Dennis Spiegel’s contribution to the also very Christian Alone Yet Not Alone. Conversely, the Toy Story series has never been absent once from this category, actually earning Randy Newman one of his two wins here for the third installment’s “We Belong Together.” Cynthia Erivo’s all but absent chances to win in the best actress category wouldn’t be much of a factor here even if the academy felt more overt remorse about #OscarsSoWhite, and so far as power ballads go, we expect the academy’s drama-queen wing to fall into line for Frozen II’s “Let It Go II.”
However, when Elton John won the Oscar 25 years ago for The Lion King’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” his lifelong songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, was absent from his side, as it was Disney’s top lyricist, Tim Rice, who shared that 1994 award with the pop star. John was canny enough to mention the fact that he and Taupin had never won a competitive award while they accepted the Golden Globe earlier this month for Rocketman’s peppy closing number “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again.” In saying so, he turned the act of voting for the song into endorsing a de facto lifetime achievement award for the team.
Will Win: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” Rocketman
Could Win: “Into the Unknown,” Frozen II
Should Win: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” Rocketman
Interview: Kantemir Balagov on Avoiding Artistic Stagnation with Beanpole
Balagov’s cinematic verve feels like an accomplishment not so much because of his age, but in spite of it.
The cinematic verve of 28-year-old Russian director Kantemir Balagov feels like an accomplishment not so much because of his age, but in spite of it. His sophomore feature, Beanpole, may have many audacious touches, but the controlled classicism with which he constructs a meticulous physical and emotional landscape defies his age.
Beanpole centers the female home-front experience in post-World War II Leningrad. The film’s vibrant hues belie the dour misery that bonds two friends, Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) and Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), even closer together in the wake of war’s destruction. The need to bring life, especially in the form of a child, into this bleak landscape animates the two women amid an otherwise debilitatingly austere backdrop. Balagov charts Iya and Masha’s psychological power struggle gently and without ever steering into melodramatic territory, all while maintaining virtuosic control over sound and image.
When sitting across from Balagov prior to his film’s New York Film Festival premiere last October, the incongruity of film and filmmaker seemed even more pronounced. His youthfully unkempt appearance contrasted with both the intelligence of his answers and the methodical nature of his decisions behind the camera. The interview began with Balagov elaborating on how he crafted Beanpole and ended up in a reflective discussion musing about how directors can develop a signature style without succumbing to artistic stagnation.
In your debut feature, Closeness, you introduced your presence to the audience by putting your name in title cards and contextualizing your reasons for making the film. Even though there’s nothing like that in Beanpole, are you still in the film?
Yeah, absolutely. I hope I’m in the film. I try to watch the world with my character’s point of view, their eyes. I’m [as] afraid as Iya and Masha to be alone. That’s kind of my fear and their fears. I try to share my experience with them. For me, they’re real [people], not just characters.
Who do you consider to be the protagonist of this film: Iya, Masha, or both?
I think that even Sasha [Masha’s love interest, played by Igor Shirokov] and the doctor are beanpoles. In Russian, beanpole is about height. But, for me, it’s about clumsiness. The way they are trying to live after the world is a clumsy way. They feel clumsy, and they talk a little bit clumsy. They’re all beanpoles in some way.
You’re working once again with non-professional actresses. Is there a particular effect you’re looking to achieve with their less studied and self-conscious style?
They’re actresses, and they studied while shooting. For me, the most important thing is personality. I don’t need the acting course. I need the personality first of all. Trauma and personality.
Since they hadn’t been in other films before, does that make them more impressionable as performers? Can you shape their performances in a certain way?
I think the lack of film experience didn’t play a big role. In the first moment, we created a human connection rather than a professional one.
Is there any conscious reason in particular why, at least so far, you’ve gravitated toward telling women’s stories?
I try to discover my female side and understand my childhood. I was living with my mother because my parents were divorced. I feel comfortable with them.
It’s impossible to discuss your films without colors, especially blue in Closeness and green—as well as yellow, to a lesser extent—in Beanpole. What’s the process of conceiving those intellectually and then working with your production team to visualize it?
The content of the film shapes the colors. Specifically talking about Beanpole, in reality, the colors were much gloomier. We wanted to pick colors to highlight avoiding their reality—to uplift it.
Is that for the sake of the characters in the film or the audience watching it?
That was made for the emotional impact. I knew what my characters would be. I knew how much suffering there would be, and I didn’t want them to look miserable in the frame. I want them to look decent, so that’s why we tried to create some beautiful frames. Like art frames.
It’s such a stark contrast to post-war films with greys or desaturated colors.
Yeah, from the beginning, it should be like mud. But there are just some things that helped point me to using colors.
Does it come from a feeling you have? Are you a student of color theory?
No, my hobby is photography, and I’m a huge fan of Magnum photos, the agency created by Henri Cartier-Bresson with Robert Capa. In the color photos, there’s some rhythm of the colors. It’s easy to see because a photo is like a freeze frame. I took it and used it in Closeness, and I liked it.
The line “heroes weren’t only on the front lines” feels like such a summation of Beanpole’s mission—revising history to accommodate the substantial contributions of women. Is it meant to echo forward into the present at all?
Frankly speaking, I didn’t intend to make a movie that resonated with today. I started to think about it in 2015, and it’s important to remember that the events of 2015 might not be expressed in this in 2019. My goal was not to make something that reflected today’s events.
The press notes point out there’s no imagery of Stalin or communism at all in Beanpole. What was the rationale behind that—to make the story more universal?
Cinema, for me, is a tool of immortality. I think those people don’t deserve immortality, in my view.
It makes the film feel not necessarily universal, but it’s not quite so bound to specifics of the time. It’s applicable beyond the immediate context.
Yeah, I think so. We didn’t want to hitch it to a certain period. We wanted to create a universal story.
What’s the effect of all your meticulous historical research on the set? It strikes me that it has as much to do with having an impact on the performers as it does the audience.
I think those meticulous things we included in the film affected the body language, for example. It helped the actors achieve a specific tone, voice, and gesture. The way people moved back then is very different from the body language we have today.
People were exhausted by the war. They moved slowly. When I was researching, I watched some footage from those times. In some way, we have some common things [with that time period]. But they talk differently. The intonation in the voice seems very fragile—one touch and it’s going to break.
You’ve frequently referred back to the advice of your mentor Alexander Sokurov. Now that you’ve made two films of your own, are there any areas where you’ve gone your own way or found your own wisdom?
As an auteur, I want to be independent. But as a human being, I feel a connection with him. I really appreciate it.
In recent interviews, you’ve said that you feel like you’re still searching for your style. What does the end result of that search look like for you? A single, identifiable aesthetic or a more intangible voice?
It’s hard to describe. It’s you who will decide.
Don’t put that pressure on me!
I was so curious, I asked Sokurov when I was studying what’s the difference between stagnation and an author’s signature. He said to me that you should find it on your own, I don’t have the answer for you.
I get the sense that artists tend to look for stories that inspire you, and you all don’t think of necessarily envision a linear career path in the same way that journalists do. Scorsese, for example, makes so many different kinds of films, but you can always tell that he made them.
That’s why I was curious about the difference between style and stagnation. I really admire many contemporary directors, but so many of their works are stagnant. I’m afraid of that. I’m afraid that my third film will be a sign of stagnation.
So variation is what you hope for?
Yeah, I would like to make an animated movie. I’m really curious about games. I would like to direct a game. I’d like to make a film from a game, like The Last of Us. I’m open to it.
Translation by Sasha Korbut
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
The Oscars have a long history of awarding war films in this particular sound category.
We’re sorry. Last week, Eric and I agreed that he could blow my lead here by saying that we were going to bet on Ford v. Ferrari to take both sound awards. Part of our logic was that the sound awards split more times than not, and opting for the same film in both categories would guarantee that we’d at least get one of those categories correct. But seemingly every day of this accelerated awards season hasn’t only increasingly solidified 1917’s frontrunner status for best picture, but also pointed to the possibility of it lapping up almost as many Oscars as Slumdog Millionaire, so we’re doing some course correcting.
Last night, the Cinema Audio Society, which has accurately predicted the winner in this category 14 out of 26 times, awarded its prize for achievement in sound mixing to Ford v. Ferrari. And that 1917 wasn’t even nominated for that award makes Ford v. Ferrari a relatively safe bet here. (Only one other film, Whiplash, has won the Oscar here after failing to be nominated for sound mixing at the Cinema Audio Society since the guild’s inception in 1994.)
But we’re going to take it as a sign of things to come that Ford v. Ferrari and 1917 split the top sound awards at the recent MPSE Golden Reel Awards, suggesting that the latter’s lack of a CAS nomination may have been a fluke, possibly a result of it entering the awards race so late in the season. Also, the Oscars have a long history of awarding war films in this particular sound category, especially those with more than a realistic chance of snagging the top prize, so we’re giving the edge here to Sam Mendes’s war horse, which will be lapping James Mangold’s racing drama at the box office in a matter of days.
Will Win: 1917
Could Win: Ford v. Ferrari
Should Win: Ad Astra
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Actor
Luckily for Joaquin Phoenix, he’s not up against anyone playing a real-life individual.
We’ve reached the halfway point of our rolling Oscar prediction coverage, and I think I speak on behalf of Ed and myself when I say we’re already absolutely spent. Yes, we still have some major rounds of mental gymnastics to undergo for best picture, which most people believe can be won by no fewer than three and as many as six films, and a few other races feel ripe for an upset (we’ve got all eyes on both screenplay categories). But nowhere does the fatigue of even an accelerated Oscar season feel most evident than it does in the acting categories, which at an increasing rate seem to be nailed down even before the Golden Globe and SAG award winners are announced each year.
Yes, we still have the image of Glenn Close nodding and grimly grinning while resignedly slumped over in her front-row chair at the Oscar ceremony last year imprinted in our memory bank, but that universe-disrupting exception only proved the rule. And it’s a rule that, incidentally, is only rivaled in rigidity by what Ed mentioned last week when predicting Renée Zellweger at the beginning of this year’s marathon: “There’s nothing more unwavering than Hollywood’s support for actors playing real-life individuals.”
Luckily for Joaquin Phoenix, who’s going to win the Oscar, he’s not up against anyone playing a real-life individual. Sure, he’s up against Adam Driver playing a thinly veiled version of director Noah Baumbach in Marriage Story, and Antonio Banderas playing a thinly veiled version of director Pedro Almodóvar in Pain and Glory, and Jonathan Pryce playing a thinly veiled version of the faultless, approachable, non-slappy Pope Francis that director Fernando Meirelles sells to the world in The Two Popes. But none of them are in the same class of mimicry-first winners as Rami Malek, Gary Oldman, and Eddie Redmayne.
Add to that the fact that the historically prickly Phoenix has proven himself capable this Oscar season of not only directing his pugilism at worthy causes (being arrested alongside Jane Fonda protesting climate change enablers, comforting slaughterhouse pigs), but also coming off as a genuinely effusive member of the acting community, as when he spent his speech time at the SAG awards paying tribute to his co-nominees and, then, Heath Ledger. He’d have the award even if he wasn’t playing Joker’s real-life version of Donald Trump.
Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Could Win: Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Should Win: Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Documentary Short
Bet against a message of hope and you may find yourself losing an Oscar pool.
Our track record here is spotty, but we’re on a roll, having correctly guessed the winner three years in a row. Just as every film up for the documentary feature prize grapples with the nature of freedom in a world gripped by war, every one nominated for best documentary short concerns the aftermath of trauma. And this category’s history tells us that academy members are quite keen on a certain angle on the process of coping with trauma, which is implicit even in the titles of the films that won here but whose chances we underestimated, such as Mighty Times: The Children’s March and A Note of Triumph.
There isn’t a single dud in this bunch, but a few feel only half-formed. Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan’s St. Louis Superman, which earned MTV its first Oscar nod, concerns Ferguson activist and battle rapper Bruce Franks Jr. and his efforts to pass a bill recognizing youth violence as a public health crisis after being sworn into the Missouri House of Representatives. A powerful sequence set during a rap battle gives us a complete picture of how the trauma of his younger brother’s death—and, simply, living while black—has come to shape Franks’s politics, but if the short successfully attests to his accomplishments against all odds, it remains conspicuously tight-lipped about his home life and has a final title credits sequence tell us about his future in government that we wished it had actually processed on screen.
John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson’s gripping Life Overtakes Me, the only short in this category with Netflix’s muscle behind it, feels as if it could benefit from simply reporting on a relatively unknown matter: the dissociative condition known as resignation syndrome, a response to the trauma of refugee limbo that has been predominantly observed in children from the Balkans now living in Sweden with their families. The filmmakers vigilantly depict the day-to-day routines of parents struggling to feed their comatose children and keep their limbs as lithe as possible. But the short doesn’t offer enough context about the struggles that brought these families to Sweden and, like St. Louis Superman, it has one read a little too much between the lines, sometimes literally so, as information relating to the asylum process and evolving opinions about resignation syndrome is largely conveyed via on-screen text.
Yi Seung-jun and Gary Byung-seok Kam’s In the Absence plays out like a ghost story, and it’s much less withholding than both St. Louis Superman and Life Overtakes Me. Concerning the 2014 MV Sewol ferry disaster in South Korea, this hauntingly cool-headed short doesn’t lack for astonishing footage of the incident, some of it pulled from the phones of those who were aboard the ship; the shots of the protests that followed the incident, as well as the talking-head interviews from the families of the deceased, are no less harrowing. The filmmakers are ferocious in their condemnation of the various failures of communication that led to the deaths of hundreds aboard the ship, and one deserved target of their contempt is South Korea’s former president, Park Geun-hye. Still, if we have any reservations about our favorite short in this category, it’s over the way it risks leaving some with the impression that the Sewol disaster was largely responsible for the disgraced politico’s downfall.
Now, for those who couldn’t read between the lines of this post’s first paragraph: Bet against a message of hope, as we did in the past when we didn’t rally behind Music by Prudence and Strangers No More, and you may find yourself losing an Oscar pool. As such, In the Absence faces stiff competition from Laura Nix and Colette Sandstedt’s touching but somewhat featherweight Walk Run Cha-Cha, about a young man and woman who, 40 years after being separated during the Vietnam War, and especially Carol Dysinger and Elena Andreicheva’s Learning to Skate in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl), which, spite of its cloying score, chronicles a resistance in a language that will be impossible for most to resist.
Learning to Skate in a Warzone tells the story of a school in Kabul that teaches young girls to skateboard and, by extension, take on the patriarchy. “I don’t want to grow up so I can skate forever,” one girl says at one point. Hopeful words, yes, but we can see their melancholic roots. The filmmakers may not have bombard us with images of violence, but you don’t walk away from this short without understanding the risk of simply seeing that girl’s face speaking those words, in a country where so many girls are destined to become prisoners in their own homes, and are more prone than boys to be the victims of terrorism.
Will Win: Learning to Skate in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
Could Win: In the Absence
Should Win: In the Absence
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Live Action Short
It never hurts to let this academy feel as though they’re just liberal enough.
If last year’s slate in this category reflected, as Ed pointed out, children in peril as the “fetish du jour” for the academy’s shorts committee, the trend certainly didn’t carry over into this year, with only one nominated film dealing with such subject matter. That said, it’s characteristic of this particular category’s history in that it’s among the most galling, sermonizing screeds nominated for any Academy Award this year.
Unlike such previously slated diatribes as That Wasn’t Me or One Day, however, Bryan Buckley’s Saria is explicitly a recreation of a real-life tragedy, a 2017 fire that killed 41 girls in a Guatemalan orphanage, potentially sparked by one of the girls in an act of political protest against their gorgonesque caretakers. That the entire episode touches on just about everything wrong with the world today means it can’t be fully counted out. But it’d be a lot easier to get in the filmmakers’ corner if it didn’t so strongly feel as though they turned the slow-crawling death toll into a bizarre sort of victory lap in the final credits reel. And Oscar voters haven’t been too tacit lately about their aversion of tough messages being shoved down their throats.
Among other nominees with seemingly very little chance at winning, Delphine Girard’s A Sister gave us major déjà vu, and not only from its narrative echoes of recent short Oscar winners The Phone Call and Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. A well-made exercise in escalating alarm in miniature, this Belgian thriller centers around an emergency operator (Veerle Baetens) who quickly and professionally ascertains the coded cry for help from a caller (Selma Alaoui) being held hostage in the car of a dangerously irrational man (Guillaume Duhesme). Confidently but abstractly directed, the film joins a very long line of Eurocentric thrillers about domestic violence nominated in this category, including Miracle Fish, Just Before Losing Everything, Everything Will Be Okay, and DeKalb Elementary. And if these sorts of films always seem to get nominated, they also never win.
So what does? At this point, this category has a long-ish history of rewarding candidates that are either the only English-language nominee, the most hipster-friendly ironic in nature, or both (Stutterer and Curfew, to name two examples of having those bases covered). This year that sets up a battle between Yves Piat’s Nefta Football Club and Marshall Curry’s The Neighbor’s Window. The former has all the makings of a winner for most of its running time. In it, a pair of brothers (Eltayef Dhaoui and Mohamed Ali Ayari) in Tunisia find a drug mule—an actual mule, that is—wandering around because the pink headphones his handlers (Lyès Salem and Hichem Mesbah) placed on him are playing not Adele’s “Someone Like You,” which would cue the trained animal to return home, but Cheik Hadel. One of the two boys recognizes the mule’s stash for what it is, but the other one presumes it’s laundry detergent, rubbing enough on his tongue that he really should spend the rest of the short tripping balls. The EC Comics-reminiscent twist ensures that the short is never less than glibly cavalier toward geopolitical readings but also comes off like a damp squib compared to the declarative setup.
Similarly anecdotal, The Neighbor’s Window is a schematic empathy fable in Rear Window drag about a ennui-ridden, middle-aged mother (Maria Dizzia) of three captivated by the twentysomething couple (Juliana Canfield and Bret Lada) living in the building across the way. While the short’s milieu offers every opportunity to lean right into the brand of snarky irony that this category favors—the woman’s voyeurism is kicked off when she and her husband (Greg Keller) spy on the younger couple fucking in full view of the rest of the neighborhood—the film remains almost doggedly like a “we all want what we cannot have” teleplay updated for Gen Xers. Still, in that it validates the struggles of the world’s haves, it’s very much in play.
But we’re tempting fate and picking Meryam Joobeur’s Brotherhood as the spoiler. It centers around a Tunisian patriarch (Mohamed Grayaâ) whose oldest son (Malek Mechergui) comes back after years spent in Syria, with a new wife (Salha Nasraoui) whose face-hiding niqāb all but confirms the father’s suspicion that the son has been recruited by ISIS. It’s a minor miracle that the film doesn’t come off as one big finger wag, in part because it comes at the whole “world is going to hell in a handbasket” angle by highlighting mankind’s universal failure to communicate. Equally miraculous is that its shock finale doesn’t resonate as a hectoring “gotcha,” but instead as a proper outgrowth of its reactionary main character’s failure to live up to his own, presumably, liberal identification. Post-Green Book, it never hurts to let this academy feel as though, unlike Brotherhood’s doomed father, they’re just liberal enough.
Will Win: Brotherhood
Could Win: The Neighbor’s Window
Should Win: Brotherhood
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Animated Short
Another year, another reminder to take our prediction in this category with a grain of salt.
Another year, another reminder to take our prediction in this category with a grain of salt. Since 2002, when we first started predicting the Oscar winners, we’ve guessed correctly in this category only eight times, and five of those were in the aughts, when one or more Disney shorts consistently lost to considerably more outré productions. It was a long dry spell for the studio between For the Birds taking the prize in 2002 and Paperman doing so in 2012. Disney now perseveres more times than not, which is why we’re given pause by the fact that, even though this is only the third time since 2002 that the studio doesn’t have a film in the lineup, two nominees here could be described as “Disney-adjacent.”
One of those, Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver’s charming and poignant Hair Love, had us busting out the hashtags (#OscarsSoWhite, #EverythingIsSoWhite, #WhiteWhiteWhiteIsTheColorOfOurCarpet), wondering if the guilt that AMPAS has about its diversity problems may be a victory-securing source of momentum. That Issa Rae, who saltily congratulated the men in the best director category when she announced this year’s Oscar nominees alongside John Cho, provides the voice for this short about a black father who learns to style his daughter’s hair in the absence of the girl’s mother feels as if it can only help.
At the same time, each day since the Oscar nominations were announced last week seems to bring one of those dreaded articles in which some anonymous academy member is asked about their picks ahead of deadline, and Michael Musto’s recent chat with one such voter has us convinced more than ever that guilt isn’t the average academy member’s chief motivator. Besides, Hair Love faces stiff competition from another Disney-ish, hit-‘em-in-the-feels candidate, Kitbull, which concerns the unlikely kinship that forms between a cat and a dog. It certainly tugged at our heartstrings, and in spite of the short’s bug-eyed cat at times alternately, and distractingly, reminding us of a mouse and an inkblot.
Perhaps inevitably, we found ourselves drawn to the more outré nominees. Siqi Song’s beautifully textured Sister doesn’t lack for memorable images, but my favorite is the one where the brother at the center of the short pulls on his giant baby sister’s outie-cum-Silly-String-umbilical-cord until the child shrinks down to size. This is an at once idiosyncratic and somber meditation on China’s one-child policy, but it left one of us wondering, in the wake of Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang’s One Child Nation being snubbed this year by the academy, if it would resonate with enough voters, and two of us certain that a sizeable portion of the academy’s more liberal members would take more than just the “I had fingerprints four weeks after conception” bit as something akin to a big pro-life billboard.
Remember this old Sesame Street bit? Eric sure did while watching Daughter, a striking rumination about the emotional distance between a father and daughter. Daria Kashcheeva’s expressionistic use of stop motion is haunting, even if the short, amid so much abstraction, doesn’t always evoke believable people. More approachable is Memorable, where the very nature of what can be believed and remembered is the governing principle. All the way until its stunning finale, Bruno Collet and Jean-François Le Corre’s confluence of styles (there are shades here of the “psychorealism” that won Chris Landreth an Oscar in 2005 for Ryan) is in profound conversation with the idea of dementia as a destructuring agent. We’re no strangers to wrongly betting on our favorite short persevering on Oscar night, but Disney consistently loses in years where it has more than one film gunning for this award, so we’re betting that the two Disney-ish shorts will split the vote and pave the way for a Memorable victory.
Will Win: Memorable
Could Win: Hair Love
Should Win: Memorable
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing
It’s not difficult to rationalize picking the same film to win both sound editing and sound mixing.
The movement to merge the two Oscar categories for sound into just one is finally picking up some steam after an academy subcommittee favored consolidation in December, but we regret to inform you that the exceptionally rational decision hasn’t yet been ratified, and thus won’t spare us one more year of double-feature kvetching. While the nominating members of the sound branch might know the exact difference between sound mixing and sound editing, and while compulsory Oscar blogging has forced us to know the exact difference as well, numerous academy members clearly don’t.
Case in point: Last year they awarded Bohemian Rhapsody its expected award in sound mixing, where musicals always have an advantage, but also an upset win in sound editing. Unless voters metabolized Singer’s violent blitzkrieg of a film and simply misremembered hearing explosions throughout, that’s not the vote of an informed electorate.
From our perspective as prognosticators, though, it’s not difficult to rationalize picking the same film to win both awards, especially in the absence of a musical. While there have been plenty of years we’ve carbon-copied our predicted winner in both categories only to see them split (even three ways, as in 2012, when Les Misérables took sound mixing, and Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty tied for sound editing), getting one prediction right is better than getting none at all, especially in a year like this where, to judge from both slates, sound equals fury.
One thing’s fairly certain: You can probably go ahead and count out Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The new trilogy failed to add any more Oscar wins to the franchise, and, in fact, a Star Wars film has never won a competitive award for sound editing. Episodes seven and eight lost to, respectively, a chase movie and a war movie, and this year’s top two contenders here are arguably the exact same pairing. While 1917 is still considered by many to be a frontrunner for best picture, we’re pretty sure the onslaught of vintage motors roaring for the climactic quarter-hour of Ford v. Ferrari will get voters right in the dad spot.
Will Win: Ford v. Ferrari
Could Win: 1917
Should Win: Ford v. Ferrari
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature
Completist-prone Oscar prognosticators were dealt a merciful hand last week when the Oscar nominations were announced and Frozen II didn’t show up in this category. But the winning hand belongs to Toy Story 4, which likely lost the Golden Globe to Missing Link as a result of a vote split between the two Disney properties. Sentiment to reward the American-based production studio Laika is brewing, and the fitfully droll Missing Link will, like Kubo and the Two Strings before it, probably find favor at the BAFTAs, but Laika’s latest and most expensive production to date dramatically bombed at the box office. And while no one will be weighing between the film and I Lost My Body, a singularly and actively morose and creepy film that won’t appeal to the academy at large, this category’s short history tells us that the Mouse House is only vulnerable to the biggest money makers. Also, Forky rules.
Will Win: Toy Story 4
Could Win: Missing Link
Should Win: I Lost My Body
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor
Pitt winning here will seem like the stars are lining up given what went down when he was first nominated in 1995.
We didn’t predict Anthony Hopkins to get nominated here, thinking that the Golden Globes’s enthusiasm for The Two Popes was a fluke. We were wrong, and he ended up becoming the elder statesman in an acting lineup that contains, on average, by far the oldest nominees. The person we predicted to get in instead, Marriage Story’s Alan Alda, is a year older than Hopkins, so we certainly weren’t betting the farm on any male ingénues.
On the other hand, it sure feels like spry 56-year-old Brad Pitt, who opened his acceptance speech at last night’s SAG Awards with a joke about having a Tinder profile, had this award in the bag the moment his Marlboro Man-ish handyman hopped atop his buddy’s roof to fix the antenna in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, whipping off his shirt to reveal a tawny, fully-abbed torso that scarcely seems to have aged in the nearly 30 years since he seduced the country in Thelma & Louise. He, as Leonardo DiCaprio’s co-lead, has a lot more to do throughout than just doff tees, but the “I’m still here” virility of that moment embodies the entire film’s love letter to old-guard masculinity in Tinseltown.
Not that anyone’s reading too deeply into it, not when there’s good old-fashioned awards numerology to fall back on. Within minutes of the nominations being announced, Oscar Twitter jumped on the fact that the best supporting actor slate this year is composed of acting winners from 1990 (Joe Pesci), 1991 (Anthony Hopkins), 1992 (Al Pacino), and 1993 and 1994 (Tom Hanks). Fewer pointed out that Pitt was also a nominee in 1995 for 12 Monkeys, losing out to the now-canceled Kevin Spacey. Which makes it seem all the more poetically like the stars are lining up when Pitt wins for a film whose finale proposes a rousing bit of alternate, corrective history in which the “good” guys obliterate the “bad” ones.
Will Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Could Win: Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Should Win: Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood