A child in peril is the fetish du jour of AMPAS’s Short Films and Feature Animation Branch. This year, only a single nominee in the live-action short category doesn’t see a child, or children, at the center of some deadly bit of business, and that short, Marianne Farley’s Marguerite, is a marvel of restraint. It follows no particular genre blueprint, content only to deliver a concise impression of an ordinary life wilting away, of a woman who, in the throes of a dementia that’s slowly erasing her memories, comes to be haunted by the sexual desire she was never able to consummate. And it culminates in a gesture of love so graceful that it feels like a salve for the anxieties stirred up by the other nominees.
Almost every other short in this category sets about locating that ostensibly perfect sweet spot between the genre exercise and the message movie. The worst of the lot for how quickly it goes off the rails is Vincent Lambe’s Detainment, which is based on the transcripts of the police interrogation of the two British boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, who murdered two-year-old James Bulger in 1993. Exploitatively constructed so as stoke the interest of those who may not be familiar with this case, the short also hackily pulls aesthetic inspiration from music video tropes that were going out of fashion by the time Collective Soul’s “The World I Know” was in heavy rotation on MTV in 1995. Seemingly haunted at once by the ghosts of Joan Crawford and Susan Hayward, Ely Solan, as Jon Venables, gives a tour de force performance, but he can’t save Detainment from its finger-wagging didacticism.
After that, Jeremy Comte’s Fauve is practically a palate cleanser. The short brings to mind Damien Odoul’s Deep Breath for the way it muddies the boundary between fantasy and reality. It’s classically constructed, full of long shots of vivid, almost alien-like landscapes hiding secret dangers, but throws out a few striking aesthetic curveballs, like a slow dissolve between scenes that reveals one of film’s main characters to be walking across an almost impossibly ridged landscape. The symbolism of Fauve’s final shot is too on the nose and, given that this is at heart an existentialist parable, somewhat ill-fitting, but Comte’s film is still practically a master class in saying more with less about the essential truth of its characters’ lives.
The child in danger is never seen in Mother, only heard over the telephone by his mother, who tries frantically to save him from an uncertain threat. The short, which director Rodrigo Sorogoyen has already expanded to feature length, swings mostly in the direction of being a genre exercise, and it’s impressive in no small part for making the audience think it isn’t one for the better part of its running time. Throughout, the film evinces a coolheaded sense of aesthetic control, even after the mother (stunningly played by Marta Nieto) comes to fully understand how imperiled her son is, before ending on an unnerving note of ambiguity that, unfortunately, is instantly compromised by a cringingly self-pleased credit sequence.
And then there’s Skin, the starriest short in the category, and whose title alone announces where it lands on the minimal-maximal spectrum. In an unnamed town in the Deep South, a black man smiles at a young white boy, leading to the black man’s beating at the hands of the boy’s father and his white-supremist buddies. In the aftermath of the black man’s near-death, the film, which director Guy Nattiv also recently expanded to feature length (A24 plans to release it at some point in 2019), catches glimpses of the main character’s almost ordinary—some would say “very fine”—life. And then a shocking backlash is kicked into motion that leads to a twist ending that feels as unsettling as it is confused. It’s a manipulative message movie that seeks to deliver (cheap) genre thrills, and in 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, that sounds like a winning combination.
Will Win: Skin
Could Win: Mother
Should Win: Fauve
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