As Ed pointed out yesterday, we’re in the middle of “a year where every AMPAS wing is taking to a film that in some way—confrontationally, naïvely, or otherwise—to how America is backsliding on race by the day.” Like BlacKkKlansman, Marshall Curry’s seven-minute A Night at the Garden, which consists entirely of footage from a little-known pro-Nazi rally that took place in New York’s Madison Square Garden in early 1939, explicitly depicts the parameters of that descent by linking the past with the present.
During the rally, German American Bund political leader Fritz Kuhn addressed a crowd of 20,000, sarcastically denigrating the media’s coverage of him, whipping the crowd up as a protester storms the stage and is dragged away by nationalists and police officers. Though terrifying throughout, Curry’s presentation restricts its intertitles to describe only the events depicted, and so A Night at the Garden’s on-the-nose “Do you see?!”-ness ends up triple-underlined. It’s hard not to imagine even the most receptive audiences being well past the point of being worried fascism can happen here again. We know. It’s here already.
So what of the ways the rest of the world is backsliding on race? Is it worth pointing out that Liam Neeson is, at the end of the day, an Academy member, and likely not an atypical one? Ed Perkins and Jonathan Chinn’s Black Sheep is, in this slate, both the most easily digestible statement on racism and also the most stylistically sentient. But even more importantly, it tackles the subject in the manner that Oscar voters and Nick Vallelonga clearly find the most useful: by downplaying the societal and instead focusing on the personal.
And since the prejudice depicted in the film is British, not American, one could see at least a few American voters being relieved at the chance to reward anti-prejudice sentiment for once without having to put it through the Woke-O-Meter. All snark aside, Black Sheep—which depicts mostly through flashback how a Nigerian boy responded to white prejudice by wearing blue contact lenses, internalizing racism and becoming his worst enemy—is a pitch-perfect Errol Morris emulation, even if that approach works best when there are other talking heads adding to the question of truth or fiction. And, like previous also-rans The Reaper and Last Day of Freedom, it may be too aestheticized for the room.
Far more straightforward are a pair of nominees that revisit topics already covered in this same category two years ago. Skye Fitzgerald and Bryn Mooser’s Lifeboat is a redux of 4.1 Miles, reporting on marine rescue attempts amid the migrant crisis—in this case focusing on mainly Libyan asylum seekers. The footage in 4.1 Miles was a great deal more harrowing, even if Lifeboat seems to be making a deliberate choice to show only one successful rescue mission, albeit bookended by shots of the waterlogged bodies of those who weren’t as lucky.
Meanwhile, End Game, which revisits the ethical and spiritual questions surrounding the end-of-life care previously covered in Extremis, boasts the Oscar-winning pedigree of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. While Extremis struck a fine balance between inquisitive and empathetic, End Game seems to have more plates spinning than it knows what to do with, and the perspective winds up skewed heavily toward one patient and how her understandably indecisive family members weigh palliative options. That focus comes at the expense of all the others on their deathbeds, to say nothing of the matinee-idol doctor who lost three limbs and is now trying to help terminal patients establish “a relationship” with death.
In the same sense that the unambiguous you-go-girl-ism of RBG will likely carry it to a win in the feature documentary category, the winningly well-meaning Period. End of Sentence. feels the most like a winner in 2019. As the title coyly suggests, it details the efforts of a group of Pakistani women to produce and sell their own biodegradable sanitary pads and fight against the stigma of menstruation. Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton depict their subjects soaking up a lot of cultural baggage but staying remarkably resilient while they break down outmoded superstitions. And despite the preponderance of giggles they’re met with by townspeople, compassion and unwavering medical seriousness carry the day. By the end, empowered and gainfully employed, woman after woman muses that she’s actually the stronger sex, and who in the Academy would dare argue otherwise?
Will Win: Period. End of Sentence.
Could Win: Black Sheep
Should Win: Black Sheep
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay
This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.
On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)
Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.
As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.
Will Win: Green Book
Could Win: The Favourite
Should Win: First Reformed
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
For appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore, one film has the upper hand here.
Given what Eric wrote about the sound editing category yesterday, it now behooves me to not beat around the bush here. Also, it’s my birthday, and there are better things for me to do today than count all the ways that Eric and I talk ourselves out of correct guesses in the two sound categories, as well as step on each other’s toes throughout the entirety of our Oscar-prediction cycle. In short, it’s very noisy. Which is how Oscar likes it when it comes to sound, though maybe not as much the case with sound mixing, where the spoils quite often go to best picture nominees that also happen to be musicals (Les Misérables) or musical-adjacent (Whiplash). Only two films fit that bill this year, and since 2019 is already making a concerted effort to top 2018 as the worst year ever, there’s no reason to believe that the scarcely fat-bottomed mixing of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody will take this in a walk, for appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore.
Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: A Star Is Born
Should Win: First Man
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing
If it were biologically possible to do so, both Ed and I would happily switch places with A Quiet Place’s Emily Blunt.
If it were biologically possible to do so, both Ed and I would happily switch places with A Quiet Place’s Emily Blunt, because we’d much rather give birth in a tub while surrounded by murderous blind creatures than have to once again write our predictions for the sound categories. As adamant as we’ve been that the Academy owes it to the nominees to air every category, which they agreed to after an extended “just kidding,” it might have given us pause had the sound categories been among the four demoted by Oscar. But no, we must now endure our annual bout of penance, aware of the fact that actually knowing what the difference is between sound editing and sound mixing is almost a liability. In other words, we’ve talked ourselves out of correct guesses too many times, doubled down on the same movie taking both categories to hedge our bets too many times, and watched as the two categories split in the opposite way we expected too many times. So, as in A Quiet Place, the less said, the better. And while that film’s soundscapes are as unique and noisy as this category seems to prefer, First Man’s real-word gravitas and cacophonous Agena spin sequence should prevail.
Will Win: First Man
Could Win: A Quiet Place
Should Win: First Man