Okay… tomorrow… Thursday… the 6 days into which well over $100 million in spending has been focused to get the majority of votes from 9,487 eligible Academy members.
Well… something like a majority. But you know, I don’t even want to go down that rabbit hole, as I don’t believe the mythology of preferential voting.
And I don’t want to tell you “what will win” or “what should win.” I know that some of you value my critical opinion, but that’s not really what Oscar is about.
It’s a nice list of movies this year. I’d be shocked if any one of them topped anyone’s Top 10 list for the 2020s come the end of 2029. Some of them will certainly be amongst that Top 10… but the very top? Not that kind of year. But some really good films.
Don't Look Up
Drive My Car
The Power of the Dog
West Side Story
Of the 5 films that were made by directors who would be considered legendary (Branagh still has time to achieve that status), these are nice pictures on their remarkable resumes. I expect that the completed Dune trilogy (or 2-parter, but I have a feeling they are going for 3) may become the thing that Denis Villeneuve is best known for… but for now, that status is premature. Is this year’s film in the Top 3 career best of Paul Thomas Anderson, Jane Campion, Steven Spielberg or Guillermo del Toro?
Guillermo is really the only one where there is likely to be any debate about this comment. He’s made 12 features. The Devil’s Backbone remains #1… easy. The Shape of Water won Best Picture. Pan’s Labyrinth win 3 Oscars with 6 nominations.
I adore Hellboy and Blade II. But truth told, I would put the black and white version of Nightmare Alley ahead of both. And for me, it might push Shape for my Top 3, but it would be a fight. I am still in shock about how much better I think the black & white version of the film is. It focuses the audience eye, eliminating the occasional feeling that del Toro was so in love with what he was shooting that he was trying to drown us in the richness of the image, making it hard to stick with a very clean narrative. But that is not the movie that was submitted to The Academy… so it doesn’t count. In color, Nightmare Alley is in that rumble with Hellboy and Blade II for The 2nd 3.
Spielberg… you have to be kidding! I count 10 Spielberg movies that are not only better than West Side Story, but which are not remakes or reboots. He did a beautiful job of directing. His team did great work, as always. And the material is A+ stuff, as it was 60 years ago… even with brownface. Some may like this version better, for all kinds of reasons. But there is nothing breakthrough about any of it. And for me, the changes made to the book and song placement are almost all ill-conceived.
PTA? This is only his 9th feature film. But Phantom Thread is on the top of my 2010s list… Boogie Nights is certainly in in my Top 10 of the 1990s. Masterpieces. So what is #3? Anderson’s work is divisive, loaded with love and hate. Inherent Vice, The Master, and Punch Drunk Love all have strong advocates and detractors. The Frogs still push some away from Magnolia, but damned if that movie is not simply stunning in scene after scene. I want to say that Tom Cruise’s near-monologue alone is singular, but Hoffman and Moore and Robards and Macy and Walters and I don’t want to leave anyone out, but the bar is so high in this film.
There Will Be Blood is his greatest film to many people. I am personally not its biggest fan, but again, such a rich vein of great moments. I may make fun of milkshakes, but I will never forget them and drinking them all up. Which leaves his first film, Hard 8/Sydney. I did a test screening, working for NRG, at the old NuWilshire in L.A. for the film in 1996 when it was still Sydney. It is still wildly underrated. And for me, it is his work that is most similar in many ways to Licorice Pizza. Scale is smaller. But it’s still a 3-hander, not an Valley Opera like so many of his films.
I am a big fan of Licorice Pizza. But not Top 3 PTA for me.
(Note: Ad placement in this newsletter is 100% on me. Not the distributor. I amused myself today.)
Jane Campion? Amazingly, Power of the Dog is only her 8th feature. Her first 2, Sweetie and An Angel at My Table were central to the independent revolution of the late 80s and early 90s. The Piano is a legendary film, taking home Oscars for Actress and Supporting Actress plus a screenplay win for Jane Campion herself.
Personally, I prefer The Portrait of a Lady. This is Nicole Kidman’s best work ever… greatly because it was the best script she’s had. Also, it was just before she was 30 and she had grown beyond her work as a younger beauty and still was not worrying about maintaining her beauty, so there was an effortlessness that I was floored by. Shortly after, she had her greatest run of films with Eyes Wide Shut, Moulin Rouge!, The Others and Birthday Girl. She gives a wonderful performance in The Hours, but she got behind the nose and has never quite come back out, Rabbit Hole (which she also produced) being the exception. She is still a great beauty and that young enthusiasm is still there in real life. But the acting has become more mannered, which works, but is not my favorite version of her on screen.
But I digress…
Campion then fell out of favor with her Vagina Duologue, Holy Smoke and In The Cut. I have a love for the oddball Holy Smoke, which has Keitel as a deprogrammer and stars Kate Winslet as the brainwashed. This was her 2nd follow-up to Titanic, the first being a film from Scottish indie director Gillies MacKinnon called Hideous Kinky that I found charming, but which flopped. These films declared that Winslet would not chasing superstardom so much as looking for challenging work. But the sequence in which Kate’s character pees herself on-camera (still not sure if it was her or not), locked down the perception of the film. Put Holy Smoke in Sundance, any year, with no one knowing who made it or who the star was and it’s one of the sensations. But the weight of The Piano and Titanic raised the stakes too high for it to carry.
In The Cut didn’t even get as much room to breathe at Holy. Meg Ryan had been the adorable It Girl and her turn to Hard R sex was seen as a desperation move by a crazily cute actress turning 40. Ruffalo was already very well liked… but he seemed to be beside the point. The title was too close to obscene mispronunciation (sometimes intentional). Too indie to be mainstream and too mainstream to be indie. Died during the TIFF premiere.
Campion wouldn’t make a feature film for 9 years. Bright Star is a beautiful film, but it never really got its footing in America. It didn’t get a major U.S. distributor, so Bob Berney and Bill Pohlad’s new distribution company, Apparition, took it out. I actually quite like the films they distributed. But their biggest hit was The Young Victoria, which did $11m domestic. They were shuttered in 2010.
And now, Power of the Dog emerges after 12 years without a feature. She Exec Produces 2 seasons of Top of the Lake, directing 8, during the hiatus.
Okay… so maybe this can qualify in her Top 3. Wouldn’t fight anyone on that. An amazing artist and an amazing career.
And just for the record… Denis Villeneuve… Dune is his 10th feature, his 6th in English. I feel like ranking it gets an Incomplete without the rest. But Arrival and Sicario are my current #1 and #2. I love Blade Runner 2049, though I acknowledge that some people felt it was too long. It certainly is Top 3 and might push the other 2 films for me. And Prisoners is amazing and underrated. Incendies was a phenom in Foreign Language back in 2010.
Here’s a fun Oscar party fact. Roger Frappier, who is a nominated producer of The Power of the Dog, produced Denis’ first 2 features, Maelstrom and August 32nd on Earth. He is also the producer behind Denys Arcand.
As far as the other half of the Best Picture nominees - Belfast, CODA, Don't Look Up, Drive My Car, and King Richard - I suspect that only Drive My Car will still be the kind of movie they teach at film school in a decade or so (along with a few from the last year that didn’t get nominated). But the length and language are, in spite of a lot of critical love and a DGA nomination, likely to make it a top competitor for the win.
I suspect that many will watch these films on streamers in a decade and laugh and cry and have a very nice time.
Next Tuesday night, all of the powers that be, seeking to move voters around to their side of the 10-sided chess board, will lose all of their power over this season. It’s a bittersweet moment. All so happy to stop after 8 long months of this particular season… but all so sad not to have a chance to change one more vote, even if they are behind the obvious winner.
And so it goes… happy voting!!!
Okay I have an Oscar question I can’t find the answer to and maybe you know. Has there ever been a movie that has one in more than two acting categories? Like, As Good As It Gets won two, as did The Fighter. But has any movie won more than two?