Standing in the center of Times Square (literally, balanced on the thin curb dividing northbound and southbound Broadway with walkman and cellphone in hand), I thought of the now-middle-aged Madonna, 20 some-odd years earlier, ordering her cab driver to drop her off “in the middle of everything.” Had it really come to this? Failed attempts at securing guest-list status through industry connections for the pop iconâs invite-only Roseland gig in September of 2000 had led me to days of torture-by-radio and pathetic group strategery. The DJ finally disclosed the location of the giveaway and somewhere downtown Madonna fans were falling all over themselves, scurrying across streets and getting hit by cars, all while Z100âs street team secretly (and deviously) handed out tickets to random passersby, oblivious to the chaos. There was something unclean about the whole situation, but hey, it had been seven years since the performer had taken the stage proper, so it was worth a little blood and tears, right?
Thatâs what Madonna does best: the hunger she creates in the public is often more palpable than the art in her pop. Most new Madonna fans (a.k.a. Britney fans) probably canât even remember the last time she went on tour, let alone recall the groundbreaking theatrical tour-de-force that was 1990âs Blond Ambition, a show that bulldozed the boundaries of pop music and substantially raised the bar for its live interpretation. But itâs more than anticipation fueling the hunger for the epithet-denouncing Material Girlâs new Drowned World Tour. At this rate, weâll have to wait until lilâ Rocko starts dabbling in the new-new coke before Madonna puts on another show. (On second thought, that might not be too far off, but even then, sheâll be well into her fifties.)
So itâs not exactly a “farewell tour” but itâs certainly being treated as such (tickets priced at an unusually lofty $250 are going for thousands on eBay). Once again, critics and fans alike have sneered at the lack of classic tunes, and while complaints seemed unwarranted in the past (more than half of the material from 1993âs the Girlie Show pre-dated 1991), “La Isla Bonita” and “Holiday” are the only â80s-era songs to make the cut this time around. Always the most non-conformist of capitalists, Madonna fills the spaces between hits with edgier numbers like “Candy Perfume Girl.” In fact, album cuts comprise 50% of the showâs material. This show is for true fansâcritics (and hits) be damned. But who still cares about “Like a Virgin” anyway? Much more criminal is the omission of the brilliant “Like a Prayer,” the dramatic “Vogue,” and even, dare I say it, “Take a Bow.” Instead, the bulk of Drowned World is culled from last yearâs Music and 1998âs Grammy-winning Ray of Light (the tourâs name is lifted from the opening track of that album, inspired by J. G. Ballardâs apocalyptic novel, The Drowned World).
Like many icons before her, Madonna calls New York home (though she was born in the Midwest). When her show landed in the Big Apple on July 25, 2001, there was a certain sense of bittersweet “arrival” in the airâor maybe it was just the brutal humidity or the pre-show mist of dry ice that summoned more screams than your average afternoon at TRL. (Nonetheless, it was opening night in the biggest city in the world and Madonna later dedicated the very personal “Secret” to its residents, who, she informed the audience, “inspire the fuck outta” her.) After a dramatic and well-sung (albeit demure) entrance, Madonna and her gas-masked entourage moved into the high-energy thump of “Impressive Instant.” The simple ode of devotion is transformed into toxic infatuation thanks, in part, to a virulent and possessive dance routine.
And “Instant” only gives one a taste of the yarn Drowned World ultimately unravels. Like every satisfying trip to the theater, the show aims to convey a message while it entertains. Madonna is every ounce the performance artist, and her shows are as much about visuals as they are about the music, with exclusive videos, images, and montages littered strategically throughout five themed “segments.” The second segment opens with a stunning video performance of the track “Paradise (Not for Me)” while several nude dancers hang cocooned and writhing upside-down from a minimalist, gothic treescape. The interlude was no doubt designed to give the singer time to assemble her Geisha costume (full with 26-foot sleeves) in which sheâll emerge for the song “Frozen.” From there, she sinks forsaken at the foot of her lover/master during “Nobodyâs Perfect,” an act of penance and humility. The cycle of songs tells the tale of an abused woman and her indignant retaliation (the frenetic “Sky Fits Heaven” techno-battle incorporates martial arts and harnessed flying) and the characterâs ultimate liberation. “Mer Girl” dramatically interweaves her motherâs death, her daughterâs birth, and her fear of the man she “cannot keep,” while an image of her bruised face finally cracks a smile as the on-stage Madonna sings: “I ran and I ran…I keep running away.”
The obligatory Cowgirl segment falls a bit flat if only because it follows the high-drama and acrobatics of the Geisha storyline. However, it found Madonna at her most talkative on this particular evening. She had been, for most of the show, distantly down-to-business. The performer sang a quaint mock-country western tune (convincing accent and all) about “taking lifeâs lemons and making lemonade” (she debunked press reports that the ditty was about cannibalism). A French-techno/acoustic revamping of the powerful “Youâll See” segued into the final, hit-heavy portion of the show. Not surprisingly, charged-up versions of “Music” and “Holiday” were the biggest crowd-pleasers of the evening. An amazing video montage of Madonna throughout the years distracted from the actual on-stage antics of “Music,” but her level of enthusiasm for being in front of an audience once again was never in question. Having the distinction of being the only song performed on every one of the pop starâs five tours, “Holiday” (updated here with a sample of Stardustâs “Music Sounds Better with You”) has seemingly become an old friend to Madonna and her longtime backup singers, Niki Haris and Donna DeLory. Itâs in these final, all-too-brief moments that Madonnaâs message comes in loud and clear. You know the words: something about coming together and having a celebration.
By the end of the night I realized I was witnessing one of the greatest performers of our time during the peak of, perhaps, one of her last great tours. Yet it wasnât difficult to play objective critic. Seeing pop royalty wield an electric guitar seemed bizarre yet oddly natural, and while her vocals were emotive and on-pitch throughout the show, she often seemed trapped in her head voice. The singerâs Spanish-inflected performances both on-stage and in the studio have always seemed authentic (or at the very least, genuine), but an electronic-infused Spanish version of “What It Feels Like for a Girl” and a stripped-down acoustic version of “La Isla Bonita” felt anticlimactic. Yet from its futuristic techno-lighting to a breathtaking black-and-white montage that recalls Ron Frickeâs cultural journey Baraka, the show was technically flawless, further evidence of the Big Mâs perfectionist blond ambition.
Though her cowgirl image is easily her least significant incarnation to date, Drowned World proves that Madonna is still unmatched in her ability to lift cultural iconography into the mainstream. The Geisha cycle is epilogued with hard techno beats and violent imagery taken from the groundbreaking Japanese anime film, Perfect Blue. The storyâs main character, Mima, a former pop star haunted by ghosts from her past, dreams of becoming an actress but resorts to porn gigs in her search for success. Those who thought Madonna hung up her handcuffs along with the notorious Sex book should look again closely. With its themes of chaos, dominance, and, ultimately, celebration, Madonnaâs Drowned World explores her ever-fervid intrigue with both imposed and pious restraint.
Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Song
Pundits and show producers didnât quite get the pop star-studded best song lineup that they were hoping for this year.
Pundits and show producers didnât quite get the pop star-studded best song lineup that they were hoping for this year, as Golden Globe nominees Taylor Swift and BeyoncĂ© failed to score nominations, though the formerâs 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 âGlasgow (No Place Like Home)â in Wild Rose was widely regarded among the yearâs best movie songs. In short, this is a category that feels more characterized by whatâs absent than whatâs 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 Spiegelâs 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 installmentâs âWe Belong Together.â Cynthia Erivoâs all but absent chances to win in the best actress category wouldnât 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 academyâs drama-queen wing to fall into line for Frozen IIâs âLet It Go II.â
However, when Elton John won the Oscar 25 years ago for The Lion Kingâs âCan You Feel the Love Tonight,â his lifelong songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, was absent from his side, as it was Disneyâs 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 Rocketmanâs peppy closing number â(Iâm Gonna) Love Me Again.â 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: â(Iâm Gonna) Love Me Again,â Rocketman
Could Win: âInto the Unknown,â Frozen II
Should Win: â(Iâm Gonna) Love Me Again,â Rocketman
Interview: Kantemir Balagov on Avoiding Artistic Stagnation with Beanpole
Balagovâs 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 filmâs vibrant hues belie the dour misery that bonds two friends, Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) and Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), even closer together in the wake of warâs 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 Mashaâs 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 filmâs 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 thereâs nothing like that in Beanpole, are you still in the film?
Yeah, absolutely. I hope Iâm in the film. I try to watch the world with my characterâs point of view, their eyes. Iâm [as] afraid as Iya and Masha to be alone. Thatâs kind of my fear and their fears. I try to share my experience with them. For me, theyâre 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 [Mashaâs love interest, played by Igor Shirokov] and the doctor are beanpoles. In Russian, beanpole is about height. But, for me, itâs 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. Theyâre all beanpoles in some way.
Youâre working once again with non-professional actresses. Is there a particular effect youâre looking to achieve with their less studied and self-conscious style?
Theyâre actresses, and they studied while shooting. For me, the most important thing is personality. I donât need the acting course. I need the personality first of all. Trauma and personality.
Since they hadnât 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 didnât 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, youâve gravitated toward telling womenâs 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.
Itâs impossible to discuss your films without colors, especially blue in Closeness and greenâas well as yellow, to a lesser extentâin Beanpole. Whatâs 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 realityâto 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 didnât want them to look miserable in the frame. I want them to look decent, so thatâs why we tried to create some beautiful frames. Like art frames.
Itâs 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 Iâm a huge fan of Magnum photos, the agency created by Henri Cartier-Bresson with Robert Capa. In the color photos, thereâs some rhythm of the colors. Itâs 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 âheroes werenât only on the front linesâ feels like such a summation of Beanpoleâs missionârevising history to accommodate the substantial contributions of women. Is it meant to echo forward into the present at all?
Frankly speaking, I didnât intend to make a movie that resonated with today. I started to think about it in 2015, and itâs 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 todayâs events.
The press notes point out thereâs no imagery of Stalin or communism at all in Beanpole. What was the rationale behind thatâto make the story more universal?
Cinema, for me, is a tool of immortality. I think those people donât deserve immortality, in my view.
It makes the film feel not necessarily universal, but itâs not quite so bound to specifics of the time. Itâs applicable beyond the immediate context.
Yeah, I think so. We didnât want to hitch it to a certain period. We wanted to create a universal story.
Whatâs 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 fragileâone touch and itâs going to break.
Youâve frequently referred back to the advice of your mentor Alexander Sokurov. Now that youâve made two films of your own, are there any areas where youâve 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, youâve said that you feel like youâre 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?
Itâs hard to describe. Itâs you who will decide.
Donât put that pressure on me!
I was so curious, I asked Sokurov when I was studying whatâs the difference between stagnation and an authorâs signature. He said to me that you should find it on your own, I donât have the answer for you.
I get the sense that artists tend to look for stories that inspire you, and you all donât 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.
Thatâs 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. Iâm afraid of that. Iâm 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. Iâm really curious about games. I would like to direct a game. Iâd like to make a film from a game, like The Last of Us. Iâm 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.
Weâre 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 weâd at least get one of those categories correct. But seemingly every day of this accelerated awards season hasnât only increasingly solidified 1917âs frontrunner status for best picture, but also pointed to the possibility of it lapping up almost as many Oscars as Slumdog Millionaire, so weâre 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 wasnât 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 guildâs inception in 1994.)
But weâre 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 latterâs 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 weâre giving the edge here to Sam Mendesâs war horse, which will be lapping James Mangoldâs 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, heâs not up against anyone playing a real-life individual.
Weâve reached the halfway point of our rolling Oscar prediction coverage, and I think I speak on behalf of Ed and myself when I say weâre 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 (weâve 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 itâs a rule that, incidentally, is only rivaled in rigidity by what Ed mentioned last week when predicting RenĂ©e Zellweger at the beginning of this yearâs marathon: âThereâs nothing more unwavering than Hollywoodâs support for actors playing real-life individuals.â
Luckily for Joaquin Phoenix, whoâs going to win the Oscar, heâs not up against anyone playing a real-life individual. Sure, heâs 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 AlmodĂłvar 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. Heâd have the award even if he wasnât playing Jokerâs 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 weâre 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 categoryâs 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 Childrenâs March and A Note of Triumph.
There isnât a single dud in this bunch, but a few feel only half-formed. Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khanâs 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 brotherâs deathâand, simply, living while blackâhas come to shape Franksâs 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 Samuelsonâs gripping Life Overtakes Me, the only short in this category with Netflixâs 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 doesnât 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 Kamâs In the Absence plays out like a ghost story, and itâs 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 doesnât 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 Koreaâs former president, Park Geun-hye. Still, if we have any reservations about our favorite short in this category, itâs over the way it risks leaving some with the impression that the Sewol disaster was largely responsible for the disgraced politicoâs downfall.
Now, for those who couldnât read between the lines of this postâs first paragraph: Bet against a message of hope, as we did in the past when we didnât 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 Sandstedtâs 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 Andreichevaâs 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. âI donât want to grow up so I can skate forever,â 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 donât walk away from this short without understanding the risk of simply seeing that girlâs 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 Youâre 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 theyâre just liberal enough.
If last yearâs slate in this category reflected, as Ed pointed out, children in peril as the âfetish du jourâ for the academyâs shorts committee, the trend certainly didnât carry over into this year, with only one nominated film dealing with such subject matter. That said, itâs characteristic of this particular categoryâs history in that itâs among the most galling, sermonizing screeds nominated for any Academy Award this year.
Unlike such previously slated diatribes as That Wasnât Me or One Day, however, Bryan Buckleyâs 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 canât be fully counted out. But itâd be a lot easier to get in the filmmakersâ corner if it didnât 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 havenât 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 Girardâs A Sister gave us major dĂ©jĂ 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 Piatâs Nefta Football Club and Marshall Curryâs The Neighborâs 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 muleâan actual mule, that isâwandering around because the pink headphones his handlers (LyĂšs Salem and Hichem Mesbah) placed on him are playing not Adeleâs âSomeone Like You,â which would cue the trained animal to return home, but Cheik Hadel. One of the two boys recognizes the muleâs stash for what it is, but the other one presumes itâs 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 Neighborâs 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 shortâs milieu offers every opportunity to lean right into the brand of snarky irony that this category favorsâthe womanâs 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 neighborhoodâthe film remains almost doggedly like a âwe all want what we cannot haveâ teleplay updated for Gen Xers. Still, in that it validates the struggles of the worldâs haves, itâs very much in play.
But weâre tempting fate and picking Meryam Joobeurâs Brotherhood as the spoiler. It centers around a Tunisian patriarch (Mohamed GrayaĂą) whose oldest son (Malek Mechergui) comes back after years spent in Syria, with a new wife (Salha Nasraoui) whose face-hiding niqÄb all but confirms the fatherâs suspicion that the son has been recruited by ISIS. Itâs a minor miracle that the film doesnât come off as one big finger wag, in part because it comes at the whole âworld is going to hell in a handbasketâ angle by highlighting mankindâs universal failure to communicate. Equally miraculous is that its shock finale doesnât resonate as a hectoring âgotcha,â but instead as a proper outgrowth of its reactionary main characterâs failure to live up to his own, presumably, liberal identification. Post-Green Book, it never hurts to let this academy feel as though, unlike Brotherhoodâs doomed father, theyâre just liberal enough.
Will Win: Brotherhood
Could Win: The Neighborâs 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, weâve 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 outrĂ© 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 weâre given pause by the fact that, even though this is only the third time since 2002 that the studio doesnât have a film in the lineup, two nominees here could be described as âDisney-adjacent.â
One of those, Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliverâs 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 yearâs Oscar nominees alongside John Cho, provides the voice for this short about a black father who learns to style his daughterâs hair in the absence of the girlâs 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 Mustoâs recent chat with one such voter has us convinced more than ever that guilt isnât the average academy memberâs chief motivator. Besides, Hair Love faces stiff competition from another Disney-ish, hit-âem-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 shortâs 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 outrĂ© nominees. Siqi Songâs beautifully textured Sister doesnât lack for memorable images, but my favorite is the one where the brother at the center of the short pulls on his giant baby sisterâs outie-cum-Silly-String-umbilical-cord until the child shrinks down to size. This is an at once idiosyncratic and somber meditation on Chinaâs one-child policy, but it left one of us wondering, in the wake of Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhangâs 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 academyâs more liberal members would take more than just the âI had fingerprints four weeks after conceptionâ 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 Kashcheevaâs expressionistic use of stop motion is haunting, even if the short, amid so much abstraction, doesnât 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-FranĂ§ois Le Correâs confluence of styles (there are shades here of the âpsychorealismâ that won Chris Landreth an Oscar in 2005 for Ryan) is in profound conversation with the idea of dementia as a destructuring agent. Weâre 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 weâre 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
Itâs 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 hasnât yet been ratified, and thus wonât 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 donât.
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 Singerâs violent blitzkrieg of a film and simply misremembered hearing explosions throughout, thatâs not the vote of an informed electorate.
From our perspective as prognosticators, though, itâs 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 weâve carbon-copied our predicted winner in both categories only to see them split (even three ways, as in 2012, when Les MisĂ©rables 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 thingâs 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 yearâs top two contenders here are arguably the exact same pairing. While 1917 is still considered by many to be a frontrunner for best picture, weâre 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 didnât 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 Laikaâs 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 wonât appeal to the academy at large, this categoryâs 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 didnât predict Anthony Hopkins to get nominated here, thinking that the Golden Globesâs 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 Storyâs Alan Alda, is a year older than Hopkins, so we certainly werenât betting the farm on any male ingĂ©nues.
On the other hand, it sure feels like spry 56-year-old Brad Pitt, who opened his acceptance speech at last nightâs 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 buddyâs 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 DiCaprioâs co-lead, has a lot more to do throughout than just doff tees, but the âIâm still hereâ virility of that moment embodies the entire filmâs love letter to old-guard masculinity in Tinseltown.
Not that anyoneâs reading too deeply into it, not when thereâs 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 âgoodâ guys obliterate the âbadâ 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