Before I get to my picks: a public service announcement…
I just moved to New England, to a college town with plenty of avid filmgoers. I’ve met several people who have gone out of their way to see the nominees in Documentary and Foreign Film. Yet none of the locals I’ve met have heard of running Oscar ballots. People, this is one of the best things about an Oscar Party!
Whatever party you are going to, print out a few ballots and run a friendly, informal Oscar pool! It takes very little effort and adds a whole game layer to the experience of watching the telecast.
If you’re here, you already know that thinking about what films you think should and/or will win in each category and then watching to see if you are right is great fun! Let’s spread the love this Awards Season!
Best Picture – BlacKkKlansman Director – Alfonso Cuarón, Roma Lead Actor – Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody Lead Actress – Glenn Close, The Wife Supporting Actor – Mahershala Ali, Green Book Supporting Actress – Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk Original Screenplay – The Favourite Adapted Screenplay – BlacKkKlansman Animated Feature – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Best Foreign Language Film – Roma Best Documentary Feature – RBG Original Score – Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk Original Song – “Shallow,” A Star is Born Sound Editing – First Man Sound Mixing – Bohemian Rhapsody Production Design – The Favourite Cinematography – Roma Makeup and Hair – Vice Costume Design – The Favourite Film Editing – Vice Visual Effects – First Man Best Documentary Short Subject – “Period. End of Sentence” Best Live Action Short – “Skin” Animated Short – “Bao”
The documentary shorts are perhaps the least commercial of any of the Oscar categories, which also makes them one of the purest expressions of filmmaking you will ever witness. The love with which these films are crafted is something that knocks me over every time.
Using only archival film footage, this documentary shows a Nazi-inflected rally that took place at Madison Square Garden in 1939. Any parallels to more recent political rhetoric and rallies are left for the viewer to draw.
“Black Sheep” (27 minutes)
In this doc out of the UK, a son of Nigerian immigrants tells the story of his childhood in an all-white town and how he denied his own identity in order to survive. He falls in with a gang of racist hooligans and speaks with candor about his troubled relationship with his father. The super candid, first-person interview style reminds me of one of my favorite podcasts, Everything is Stories. Other than the interview, the story is illustrated with well-crafted re-enactment scenes.
“End Game” (40 minutes)
This Netflix-sponsored longer short takes you inside the decisions terminally ill patients, their families and their doctors are making regarding end-of-life care. The access is pretty incredible — kudos to the families and care providers for opening up in incredibly vulnerable situations. You see many different choices played out to different degrees and get a profile of a handsome hospice doctor who is bringing his own near-death experience to his practice.
“Period. End of sentence.” (25 minutes)
Menstruation is a taboo subject in India. Even having read about this and some of the groups that are currently working to make positive changes, this documentary was an eye-opener. It shows the problem through giggling interviews from men and women. Then it follows a group of women who start a business making pads and selling them door-to-door. The editing is fleet and the score is super-catchy. Honestly, I would have been happy to watch a feature-length version of this documentary. I’m hoping the filmmakers are working on it! This seems like exactly the kind of upbeat girl-power movie that could really have momentum in the awards season.
“Lifeboat” (35 minutes)
This doc follows an international team working for a German nonprofit called Sea Rescue. They do as their name suggests, plucking distressed refugees from overcrowded boats off the coast of Libya. It has interviews with refugees and it also shows the darker side, with 1 in 18 migrants who attempt the crossing drowning. We see a team whose job it is to collect the dead bodies that wash up on shore.
You hate to fault any documentary on such a critical subject, but this doc is probably the weakest in the technical categories, with much of the sound and camera work kept raw. I’m not sure how much that will affect the Academy voters. They could well overlook it, given the inspiring captain of one of the boats and other story elements that make this film well worth watching.
My Best Documentary Short Film Oscar Predictions
This is a great group of short films. I don’t know if my favorite short film of the year wasn’t eligible, or what, but I guess I don’t begrudge the committee that had to whittle things down.
The standouts for me were “Period. End of sentence.” and “End Game”. I could see “Lifeboat” also being in the mix. “Black Sheep” and “A Night at the Garden” were also great, don’t get me wrong. However, the former trio have a broader scope that I’m guessing will appeal to voters. My personal choice would be for “Period. End of sentence.” But I don’t vote.
The big wildcard is the Netflix name. Is it a help or a hindrance for “End Game” to open with that big red N? Some Academy members are on record as not liking the changes Netflix has been bringing to the industry. Also, HBO has won this award several times and it is a TV network, so it would be hypocritical of the Academy to hold Netflix’s quasi-TV status against it.
In the end, I think the fact that “End Game” is directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, two accomplished filmmakers who also happen to have directed a movie about the history of the Academy Awards a few years ago, will overcome any possible Netflix stigma. Not only is it an incredible movie, these are two guys who presumably have name recognition within the Academy.
There are a lot of filmmaking styles and techniques on display just in this small group of films, although the one style not seen is one where the documentarian takes center stage. These movies put their subjects at the center and they are all fascinating subjects.
This award will probably change the lives of the winners and possibly their subjects. The ABC producers could do a much better job of telling that story, but fortunately for you, you have a chance to see the shorts for yourself on a big screen and will have a rooting interest in a category that is too often overlooked!
The animated shorts program is always one of my favorites every year, with a great mix of big studio talent and up-and-comers — you’ll also see experiments with animation styles — like the 3D cell-shading that was done with Into the Spider-Verse — years before they filter up into big movies.
A bao is a Chinese dumpling and this PIXAR short follows what happens when a woman begins to treat a bao that she has made like her child. There is a gasp-inducing twist in the story. While the twist has been a bit controversial, I have to say that it worked great for me personally. This film definitely captured some of my own parental joys and frustrations.
“Late Afternoon” (10 minutes)
Coming out of Ireland, thus unsurprisingly evoking the 2D illuminated style of films like Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, “Late Afternoon” uses the power of animation to take you into the mind of an older woman who suffers from dementia. While the animation wasn’t as smooth as some of the other films, it was definitely visually impressive, transitioning like magic between reality, memory and fantasy. I caught some strong emotions with this one.
“Animal Behavior” (14 minutes)
This comedy short from Canada drops us into a world where a dog therapist is running a group therapy session with other animals. There’s a leech with attachment issues, a pig with an eating disorder and an ape with an anger problem, among others. The visual style reminded me of a cleaner Ren & Stimpy. While I liked the style, I wasn’t a fan of the writing. The animal jokes were pretty much what you would expect from the premise.
“Weekends” (16 minutes)
Set in 1980’s Toronto, this short written and directed by PIXAR Story Artist Trevor Jimenez follows a boy from a divorced home who sees two separate lives develop as he shuffles between parents. The style is 2D rough lines and blocks of color, almost like notebook doodles come to life, a definite descendent of Walt Peregoy’s work on 101 Dalmatians. It feels very personal, like stepping into someone’s childhood memories. Jimenez has a Vimeo channel with some nice documentaries on the making of “Weekends” that are well worth checking out.
I will say that the animation looks to be about 4 fps, i.e. very jerky. I don’t blame the filmmakers. This is how productions conserve their time and money — but the contrast with the smooth motion of the other shorts on the program is jarring — and that probably won’t help with Academy voters.
“One Small Step” (8 minutes)
Out of U.S. & China’s Taiko Studios, this incredibly-polished short follows a young girl who dreams of visiting the moon — and her father’s gentle support of that dream. You could say this story is a metaphor for chasing any dream ad astra per aspera, to the stars through difficulty. That’s something that might appeal to Academy voters if they see it in terms of chasing a dream of making movies.
The level of animation and the emotional storytelling are on par with something from PIXAR. Taiko was only founded in 2017, so this is a team that is probably working on something incredible that we still won’t see for a few more years. This short has me super hyped to see whatever they release next!
My Best Animated Short Film Oscar Predictions
While “Animal Behavior” and “Weekends” have their merits, I think the Academy voters are going to be looking hardest at “One Small Step”, “Late Afternoon” and “Bao”. All three do a fantastic job at tugging the heartstrings. My personal choice would be “Late Afternoon” — it made me blubber the hardest. I also love the way the medium of animation is used by the filmmakers to transition through time and space in a way that makes dementia seem natural and less frightening.
It is notoriously difficult to beat PIXAR in this category and “Bao” is a strong entry even among PIXAR shorts, both fresh in its concept and with all departments working at the highest professional levels. So while I think “One Small Step” and “Late Afternoon” have an outside chance, I would bet on PIXAR to take the statue again this year.
This is an incredible bunch of films and there two additional bonus films on the program that I was not able to review. All filmmakers, even ones without a particular interest in animation, will get something out of these films. “One Small Step” alone has me ridiculously excited about Taiko, a new animation studio that could potentially rival the titans we have now. Wow, this is an incredibly exciting time for the medium of animation!
I love the Academy Award short programs. You get to see a great range of films by up-and-coming talents, all with one-word titles. Okay, just joking about that last part. It just so happens that this year all the nominees are monophrastic.
I’ve been lucky enough to get an early look at all the films. My thoughts are below, along with my predictions for Academy Awards voting. But don’t take my word for it.
The shorts.tv program of all these films opens today, Feb. 6, in New York and Feb. 8 nationwide. For more information on where you can screen them, go here.
“Detainment” (30 min)
This is a British film, based on a true story and actual police transcripts. The case is an investigation of two 10-year-old boys who abducted an even younger boy. It’s grim subject matter, but the kid acting isn’t bad and the editing style is slick: a sort of collage of flashbulb memory moments. The main element is the interrogations of each boy and his parents. It gets repetitive after a bit, and when new details are added, it only gets more grim. Kudos to the filmmakers for sitting with the unfathomable questions that this case brings up, but man is this one grim.
“Fauve” (17 min)
This is also a film about two unsupervised boys that ventures into dark territory. After some aimless wondering, the boys find themselves at construction or mining site stuck in quicksand. I have to say, this is the most convincing and suspenseful quicksand scene I’ve seen on film.
It is a French language Canadian production, and the title “Fauve” has a particular meaning in French: wild and uninhibited. It also has the association with bright, imaginative colors, which plays a symbolic role in the film. I can’t help viewing this one through the lens of American politics, although the metaphorical situations that quicksand might stand in for are numberless.
“Marguerite” (20 min)
Marguerite is a spoon-collecting, pre-diabetic older woman who receives daily visits from a nurse, Rachel. When she learns Rachel is in a same-sex relationship, it kindles memories of her youth and a woman she once loved herself. This is a slow and beautifully-photographed story that builds toward a moment of great tenderness.
It’s another film out of Quebec, entirely in French, and makes me yearn for some of that high-quality Canadian healthcare. Because of the slow pace and the subject matter, the film will probably divide audiences. Stick with it. I have to admit, I was pretty sour on this one for most of the runtime but the performances of the actors in the final scene broke down my resistance and gave me some feels.
“Madre” (18 min)
As you may have guessed, “Madre” is a Spanish-language film. It continues the theme of children in peril. About to go out with friends, a mom gets a call from her 6-year-old son. He’s supposed to be with his father, her ex, on holiday but he’s been abandoned on a beach. What beach, where? The tension escalates beautifully in a 15-minute single take. While there are some other wrinkles beyond that, I will say that the story doesn’t fully resolve. This feels like the opening reel of a taut thriller.
“Skin” (21 min)
“Skin” is a none-too-subtle story about the cycle of racism. A young boy watches his father start a fight with a black man and then again becomes a witness to that man’s friends’ revenge. The ending is strong. To be honest, I’m just glad that the children depicted in the film come from loving homes with two parents.
My predictions for Oscar voting
This is a tough category to begin with, and the Academy voting body has changed quite a bit in recent years, making it even more difficult to predict.
The one that seems like a traditional Academy pick is “Marguerite”. It has an older protagonist and deals with the injustice of not being able to live your own sexuality. On the other hand, “Skin” is the one film here that tells a satisfyingly complete story at a pace that will hold the interest of all but the least patient viewers. “Madre” is the most commercial and the long take directing (and Spanish language) could appeal in a year where Roma is sweeping awards.
If I was voting, I might choose “Fauve”. It has a strong sense of sound, production design, kid acting, editing and cinematography. It’s also quite oblique in its storytelling. However, I think the ‘young boy in peril’ similarities will keep it from standing out in the front of mind from the competition, especially “Detainment”.
The largest block of voters is actors, so perhaps what will decide the vote is which short film Academy members will feel had the finest acting and the juiciest roles. In that regard, again I would put it between “Marguerite” and “Madre”. Both also had roles for two generations. “Marguerite” had more of a balance between the roles and more emoting without dialogue. So I guess I’ve talked myself into “Marguerite” as the favorite.
In any case, these are all films worthy of voting for and together they form a strong (if pessimistic about the future of our children) collective program. Any emerging filmmaker should consider checking out the theatrical run to see what their peers are up to.
Here are my snap opinions on this years Oscar nominations. If you’re wondering, The 91st Academy Awards ceremony will take place on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019 and for US viewers will air live on ABC beginning at 5:00 p.m. PST /8:00 p.m. EST.
I hope to come back with a more detailed analysis for filling out your office ballots in the days before the ceremony.
Performance by an actor in a leading role
Christian Bale in “Vice”
Bradley Cooper in “A Star Is Born”
Willem Dafoe in “At Eternity’s Gate”
Rami Malek in “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Viggo Mortensen in “Green Book”
I don’t know anything about Willem Dafoe’s performance, but it is never a shock to see his name. He’s a great actor and gives out a lot of positive energy on set, so I imagine he is well-liked within the Academy. Leaving that as a wild card, I think the big question here is whether the Oscar goes to Christian Bale for a full-body-plus-makeup transformation just one year after it went to Gary Oldman for a similar feat. I think Bale is just too good and too unrecognizable to ignore here, but maybe a contingent will be siphoned off by Rami Malek’s also-uncanny evocation of a real figure. No one seems to think Bradley Cooper or Viggo Mortensen have much of a shot, but if the tide is going for their movies that night, who knows.
Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Mahershala Ali in “Green Book”
Adam Driver in “BlacKkKlansman”
Sam Elliott in “A Star Is Born”
Richard E. Grant in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Sam Rockwell in “Vice”
Sam Elliott and Richard E. Grant would seem to be the old-timers who get bonus points for their body of work. The Academy also loves Mahershala Ali (who doesn’t?!). I think the favorite here is Richard E. Grant, provided the Academy actually watches Can You Ever Forgive Me? — a big if; it was a late-breaking film in this awards season.
Performance by an actress in a leading role
Yalitza Aparicio in “Roma”
Glenn Close in “The Wife”
Olivia Colman in “The Favourite”
Lady Gaga in “A Star Is Born”
Melissa McCarthy in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Glenn Close seems to be peaking and Lady Gaga seems to have peaked. That said, there is a lot of love out there for Olivia Colman (including from me) and it would be great to see her recognized for her unforgettable Queen Anne in The Favourite.
Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Amy Adams in “Vice”
Marina de Tavira in “Roma”
Regina King in “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Emma Stone in “The Favourite”
Rachel Weisz in “The Favourite”
Really sad that Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz will probably cancel each other out, but not sad that this one will likely go to Regina King. She is a force! This is one of the categories I would bet on today.
Best animated feature film of the year
“Incredibles 2” Brad Bird, John Walker and Nicole Paradis Grindle
“Isle of Dogs” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson
“Mirai” Mamoru Hosoda and Yuichiro Saito
“Ralph Breaks the Internet” Rich Moore, Phil Johnston and Clark Spencer
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
PIXAR usually wins this one, but my Spidey-senses are tingling this year. Spider-Man has been generating incredible buzz and praise for the bold animation style. Up against Disney and PIXAR sequels, a foreign film (which has a hard time getting votes from an Academy that has more friends among the domestic nominees) and Wes Anderson’s alienating and possibly culturally-insensitive Isle of Dogs, I think this web-shooter has a shot!
Achievement in cinematography
“Cold War” Lukasz Zal
“The Favourite” Robbie Ryan
“Never Look Away” Caleb Deschanel
“Roma” Alfonso Cuarón
“A Star Is Born” Matthew Libatique
The one thing most people dislike about The Favourite was the pervasive use of fish-eye lenses. It was a strong directorial choice, but the Robbie Ryan will probably suffer for it. (The movie is actually beautifully lit.) Really, I think the only choice here is Alfonso Cuarón’s double-duty lensing on Roma. It is odd to vote for a director in the cinematography category, but the movie looks that good. Clearly, he learned a few things when working with triple-winner Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki.
Achievement in costume design
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” Mary Zophres
“Black Panther” Ruth Carter
“The Favourite” Sandy Powell
“Mary Poppins Returns” Sandy Powell
“Mary Queen of Scots” Alexandra Byrne
I will be shocked if The Favourite doesn’t win here. Even up against herself with Mary Poppins, Sandy Powell’s work on The Favourite is just that good. Shout out to the other nominees, though, who also did outstanding work. Black Panther used costumes to not only create Wakonda, but the individual tribal identities within the society. Mary Zophres and Alexandra Byrne also did pitch-perfect period work with a certain gimlet eye.
Achievement in directing
“BlacKkKlansman” Spike Lee
“Cold War” Pawel Pawlikowski
“The Favourite” Yorgos Lanthimos
“Roma” Alfonso Cuarón
“Vice” Adam McKay
Thank god Spike Lee finally has a nomination in this category. I really hope the Academy gives him a statue as well, but I’m not holding my breath. I think this category is Cuarón’s to lose. The amount of directorial skill on display in Roma is staggering. Also cool to see the Academy recognize Polish master Pawe? Pawlikowski. Of course most of the best directing in any given year is in films not in the English language, but rarely does this category reflect it!
Best documentary feature
“Free Solo” Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin, Evan Hayes and Shannon Dill
“Hale County This Morning, This Evening” RaMell Ross, Joslyn Barnes and Su Kim
“Minding the Gap” Bing Liu and Diane Quon
“Of Fathers and Sons” Talal Derki, Ansgar Frerich, Eva Kemme and Tobias N. Siebert
“RBG” Betsy West and Julie Cohen
Two giant “snubs” here, as the documentary branch continues to make its own artistic choices. I applaud them, as long as they aren’t punishing the makers of Three Identical Strangers and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? for making money. The other big box office doc this year was RGB (well, relatively). That and the chance to send a political message makes it the favorite. However, Free Solo has been coming on strong at the end of the year. It also happens to be one of the most wrenching viewing experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve heard great things about Minding the Gap and know nothing about the other two nominees. This is a category where a few taste-maker Academy members will watch all the nominees and you’ll start to see a buzz develop around the lesser-known nominees pretty late if they are surging.
Best documentary short subject
“Black Sheep” Ed Perkins and Jonathan Chinn
“End Game” Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
“Lifeboat” Skye Fitzgerald and Bryn Mooser
“A Night at The Garden” Marshall Curry
“Period. End of Sentence.” Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton
Your guess is as good as mine.
Achievement in film editing
“BlacKkKlansman” Barry Alexander Brown
“Bohemian Rhapsody” John Ottman
“The Favourite” Yorgos Mavropsaridis
“Green Book” Patrick J. Don Vito
“Vice” Hank Corwin
Wow. This is a real murderers row of editors who are absolutely at the top of their game. The Academy tends to vote for the flashier, cut-heavy movies in this category, which hurts Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody. (Those editors can console themselves with the fact that they shaped nominated performances.) Total guess here, but some of the editorial choices in The Favourite (rabbit dissolve! rabbit dissolve!) will be too edgy for Academy tastes, leaving Vice and BlacKkKlansman as the edgy-but-safe choices. It will probably go to Hank Corwin, who continues to explore with Adam McKay this stream-of-conscious, Kuleshovian non-sequitur style that was already brilliantly done in The Big Short. Very worthy, but for me a Spike Lee joint is incomplete without the editing of Barry Alexander Brown. BlacKkKlansman manages to collage all of cinema history — and tell a funny, suspenseful and poignant story. Basically every possible editorial and emotional cinematic mode is displayed and done to perfection. Having working in feature film editorial and also, at one point, interned for Spike Lee, I certainly have a bias here. But dammit, just give some hardware to BAB!
Best foreign language film of the year
“Cold War” Poland
“Never Look Away” Germany
Duh. Only one of these is nominated for Best Picture. The voters could and should throw a curveball and vote for another film here. But I doubt they will.
Achievement in makeup and hairstyling
“Border” Göran Lundström and Pamela Goldammer
“Mary Queen of Scots” Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher and Jessica Brooks
“Vice” Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia DeHaney
When I saw Vice, I knew I had seen the winner for Best Makeup. Not to take away anything from the other nominees. Also, this category could easily support five options. Off the top of my head, the makeup in Black Panther, The Favourite and Bohemian Rhapsody would all be worthy. This is a category general home viewers can actually understand, and the Academy should consider giving in more oomph!
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
“Black Panther” Ludwig Goransson
“BlacKkKlansman” Terence Blanchard
“If Beale Street Could Talk” Nicholas Britell
“Isle of Dogs” Alexandre Desplat
“Mary Poppins Returns” Marc Shaiman
I don’t have a strong read on this category. Mary Poppins seems like the music-based option here, but it is also based on music from the original film. I have heard some praise from musician types of Terrence Blanchard’s score for BlacKkKlansman, but I have no idea if any of that talk filters through to the Academy voters. Alexandre Desplat is probably the most recognizable name here — he’s won twice, including just last year.
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
“All The Stars” from “Black Panther” Music by Mark Spears, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth and Anthony Tiffith; Lyric by Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, Anthony Tiffith and Solana Rowe
“I’ll Fight” from “RBG” Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns” Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyric by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” Music and Lyric by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” Music and Lyric by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch
“Shallow” — another safe early bet.
Best motion picture of the year
“Black Panther” Kevin Feige, Producer
“BlacKkKlansman” Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Raymond Mansfield, Jordan Peele and Spike Lee, Producers
“Bohemian Rhapsody” Graham King, Producer
“The Favourite” Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday and Yorgos Lanthimos, Producers
“Green Book” Jim Burke, Charles B. Wessler, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly and Nick Vallelonga, Producers
“Roma” Gabriela Rodríguez and Alfonso Cuarón, Producers
“A Star Is Born” Bill Gerber, Bradley Cooper and Lynette Howell Taylor, Producers
“Vice” Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Adam McKay and Kevin Messick, Producers
Remember this category has ranked voting, so one must think in reverse. The movies that get the least votes here are probably Vice, Green Book (assuming the Academy spurns Golden Globe opinions) and Bohemian Rhapsody. Where do those voters put their next top votes? Maybe A Star is Born? If I had to guess, it is between that and Roma. But who knows, maybe everyone decides Black Panther is their second-favorite movie? The Favourite and BlacKkKlansman, my two picks here, by the way, seem too divisive to win in a ranked ballot. But ya never know.
Achievement in production design
“Black Panther” Production Design: Hannah Beachler; Set Decoration: Jay Hart
“The Favourite” Production Design: Fiona Crombie; Set Decoration: Alice Felton
“First Man” Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Kathy Lucas
“Mary Poppins Returns” Production Design: John Myhre; Set Decoration: Gordon Sim
“Roma” Production Design: Eugenio Caballero; Set Decoration: Bárbara Enríquez
Oh man, this is a tough one. If any movie screams Production Design Oscar it is The Favourite. However, think of all the cool Afro-future designs in Black Panther and all the specific and nostalgic work done in Roma. It’s really hard to say which way the Academy will swing here.
Best animated short film
“Animal Behaviour” Alison Snowden and David Fine
“Bao” Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb
“Late Afternoon” Louise Bagnall and Nuria González Blanco
“One Small Step” Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas
“Weekends” Trevor Jimenez
“Bao” is the PIXAR short here, and they usually win. It was a bit divisive among regular filmgoers, but I think the Academy will, um, eat it up.
Best live action short film
“Detainment” Vincent Lambe and Darren Mahon
“Fauve” Jeremy Comte and Maria Gracia Turgeon
“Marguerite” Marianne Farley and Marie-Hélène Panisset
“Mother” Rodrigo Sorogoyen and María del Puy Alvarado
“Skin” Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman
Your guess is as good as mine. I have not read about much less seen any of these.
Achievement in sound editing
“Black Panther” Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker
“Bohemian Rhapsody” John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone
“First Man” Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
“A Quiet Place” Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
“Roma” Sergio Díaz and Skip Lievsay
These are all very worthy nominees and all have a strong argument for why they should win. Roma and First Man will be harmed by all the people watching on their stereo mix DVD screeners. They could still win, but I think A Quiet Place and Bohemian Rhapsody jump out here. Both are movies where sound is central. Quiet Place isn’t nominated in mixing, but that may actually help concentrate its votes here.
Achievement in sound mixing
“Black Panther” Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor and Peter Devlin
“Bohemian Rhapsody” Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin and John Casali
“First Man” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Ai-Ling Lee and Mary H. Ellis
“Roma” Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan and José Antonio García
“A Star Is Born” Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Jason Ruder and Steve Morrow
Again, all outstanding pieces of work. When I think of these films in terms of mixing, I think of how Rami Malek’s voice was blended with a Freddie Mercury sound-alike so well in Bohemian Rhapsody. That said, Black Panther has the action film bonus. The Academy likes to reward all the detailed mixing involved when a movie has boatloads of sound effects. The one they should really reward for that is Roma. Roma also has the advantage of having Skip Lievsay as part of the team. The man is a legend and has shockingly only won once before (Gravity) despite being the Meryl Streep of audio.
Achievement in visual effects
“Avengers: Infinity War” Dan DeLeeuw, Kelly Port, Russell Earl and Dan Sudick
“Christopher Robin” Christopher Lawrence, Michael Eames, Theo Jones and Chris Corbould
“First Man” Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles and J.D. Schwalm
“Ready Player One” Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer, Matthew E. Butler and David Shirk
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” Rob Bredow, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Dominic Tuohy
Black Panther and Aquaman are being called snubs here, but both had loads of effects that were rushed, not due to any fault of the effects team. The same could be said for Solo and Infinity War, though, so I don’t blame them for feeling slighted. This category has been difficult to predict lately, sometimes going to the most obvious effects extravaganza, sometimes going to subtle story-based uses like Ex Machina. I personally haven’t seen First Man or Christopher Robin, but it seems like they could slot into the latter category. In terms of effects extravaganzas, Ready Player One seems like the most likely Academy choice, although personally I was not a fan of the avatar character designs. Still, it had that sequence where the characters enter The Shining which had everyone talking. No other effects were praised so much this year.
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
“BlacKkKlansman” Written by Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
“If Beale Street Could Talk” Written for the screen by Barry Jenkins
“A Star Is Born” Screenplay by Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters
Two of these are also nominated for Best Picture. This isn’t always a category that follows the Big Papa, but if it did, look for BlackKklansman with its delicious dialogue to take it over the more conventional A Star Is Born. If the voters decide to spread the love, I think Beale Street is in a good position.
“The Favourite” Written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
“First Reformed” Written by Paul Schrader
“Green Book” Written by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
“Roma” Written by Alfonso Cuarón
“Vice” Written by Adam McKay
My sense is that Nick Vallelonga and maybe Green Book entirely is toxic at this point, due to the tweets controversy. Roma and Vice don’t strike me as strongest in terms of their screenplay. That leaves The Favourite which has some acerbic and witty period dialogue and Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, which was sadly shut out in other categories. I would give it to First Reformed but I think The Favourite will be the favorite… unless everything is coming up Roma.
I have just completed a cross country move from California to Massachusetts. It was a tough decision, because it meant leaving behind my Hollywood editing career, at least for now. But it means my daughter will be growing up in a lovely area and closer to family.
What is also means is more time to work on this site! And since I’m not actively working in the film industry, I can be freer with my opinions. Expect some hot takes to get spicy!
I’m hoping to do more in-depth interviews with interesting filmmakers, review more books and equipment, increase the frequency of the link posts and have some hot editorial commentaries on today’s pressing issues in the world of movie making.
Tell me, what kind of filmmaking coverage would like to see more of here in 2019 — a.k.a. the year of Bladerunner, Akira and The Island? Leave a comment below.
ScienceDaily: ‘Good guys’ in superhero films more violent than villains – This is a sad statistic, but maybe not as bad as it seems on the face. A lot of bad guy violence is prevented by the heroes, or happens off screen. Still, you should think when designing a movie hero, especially for kids, how that hero uses — or doesn’t use — violence to win the day.
So @shannonandswift's appreciation of The Lost Boys sent me down a rabbit hole of revisiting pre-CGI genre films to look at how they built scope and scale from usually modest budgets. Ready to come with me on a deep dive? Let's go…
Let Werner Herzog bring the Bond franchise to its natural conclusion. Three hours of 007 behind a desk, wondering what it all meant. Global order is an illusion; there is only chaos, entropy and despair. Outside the wind howls, whipping the laurel bushes.
Oscars Won’t Televise All Awards, Adds Popular Film Category – Hollywood Reporter – Now that everyone is done venting about this, let’s talk objectively. Adding a ‘Popular Film’ category is obvious pandering and probably won’t increase viewers, at least after the first year. Leaving out the “boring” awards would probably increase viewers at the margins, but at the cost of alienating technical members. The Oscars is strong enough to survive. The main solution may be for ABC to realize that viewership is cratering, even for big live events. They are not going to make as much on their investment as initially predicted.
YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:
“I’m rich! I don’t mean money-wise. I mean that I have figured out how to never be around assholes at any time in my personal and professional life. That’s rich. And not being around assholes should be the goal of every graduate here today.”
Actor, producer, writer and director (…and more!) Andre Correa recently got in touch to tell me about the making of his short film, “Help Wanted” (trailer below). Andre has a strong philosophy of filmmaking that allowed him to make an almost 30-minute film for $4000! He responded via e-mail — his responses have been lightly edited. I was blown away by how he was able to pull this off!
Making the Movie: Tell me a bit about yourself. How did you get interested in filmmaking?
My background is in acting, and I also owned my own business before moving to California. I moved here to study acting, but I really hated how little control I had over my new line of work — that’s when I started to study screenwriting. The ability to create my own scripts gave me more freedom. I always wanted to produce my own work too, or at least some of it, but ironically enough I never wanted to direct.
You can say that I was always into storytelling. Even as a child, I used to put up plays when we had visitors.
Where did the idea for “Help Wanted” come from?
“Help Wanted” stemmed from the fact that I had just finished writing a feature script that I couldn’t afford to shoot and from a friend at the time asking me to write a scene for a demo reel. I can’t write a scene without knowing what happens before it or after it… So that ultimately became “Help Wanted”.
How did you go about raising funds? IMDb lists $4000 as the budget. Is this correct — and, if so, how on earth did you manage to make a nearly 30-minute film for that small a budget?
I maxed out every credit card I had. I also reached out to past donors from other projects; family helped a lot. One of my cousins is a producer on the film due to his generous donation. I just didn’t want to be stuck in that state of looking for the money. I mean, there are so many filmmakers waiting for that.
Talk a bit about casting. Did you always know you would play the lead? How did you find the supporting cast?
I knew I was going to be Lenard and originally my friend was going to play my sister in the film: Miriam. But, during the course of pre-production and rehearsal, it became very clear that our visions for the project were very different. So, to make a long story short, I lost both my co-star/co-producer and location (her house was going to be Lenard’s house) all in one swoop. And that was the best thing that ever happened to the film!
Originally we were going to shoot on the iPhone — that had some serious limitations. But yes, the whole movie cost about $4,000. I was also keen on buying my gear vs. renting it. That was a huge benefit. Now I own gear that I will use multiple times in multiple projects.
I think people liked the script. That’s why we got so much free labor. This thing could easily cost ten times as much if I had to pay for everything. I’ll give you an example: Sound guys cost a lot. We ended up shooting for 20 days. I know I couldn’t afford to pay for a sound guy on set, so three months prior to the film I learned how to run production sound. Then I trained my staff on how to do it. That was only one way in which I saved money.
This is one of the things I’ve learned the hard way: Everyone on your team has to be replaceable. Someone else should be able to resume the work with no downtime. Otherwise, you become a hostage to that person, to their schedule, to their demands.
Here is an example. Tarun [Hansen] was not the original d.p. for “Help Wanted”. The original guy was going to bring his lights, his crew, and some fancy camera. So I automatically became dependent on him. It was now his movie because since it was mostly his gear, he was going to shoot it the way he wanted. This was a horrible experience that resulted in some horrible footage – none of which we used, and the loss of a full day of production. That’s why I bought all my gear, and now if someone doesn’t work well with the team, they are gone.
The main issue is that each team member can be a ‘point of failure’ in your organization. The more team members, the more possible points of failure. That’s why good people are so important to your team, and they should be cherished. My advice to other indie filmmakers is to keep your team as small as you can. That’s a lot easier to manage. Get people who can wear multiple hats and are not bringing their ego and agendas to your set.
The use of the camera is very controlled. How did you work with d.p. Tarun Hansen to come up with the style of shooting the film?
I’m the kind of director who frames his own shots and I have very specific vision of what I want. Tarun was great, we have an excellent working relationship. There is no ego, we both want to make the film be as visually compelling as it can be.
We had every shot pre-visualized using Star Wars figures. I also had all the camera movements I wanted and listed out so when I was on set he could execute the plans we made beforehand. I still needed to act in the film so figuring things out on set just was not an option.
Can you talk a bit more about how that visual vocabulary applies to a movie about a veteran with PTSD?
I wanted to convey the sense of someone being stuck. Not by him being defeated or moody but solely by circumstances outside his control. So, in the beginning, we show that his day-to-day life, the things most people take for granted, are huge obstacles for someone who suffers from PTSD. We show how lonely he is. There are many shots where the camera shows Lenard being trapped in the frame and I don’t reveal his face until the audience is given a good sense of his world and who he is. Only then have they ‘earned the right’ to see the fallen hero, only after they have entered in his world.
Tell me about the production. What were some challenges you faced to get the movie shot?
I think it was not knowing what I didn’t know. Originally we were going to shoot for five days. That became 20 days. I didn’t know how long things would take to set up. So for the first week, we were racing against the clock and that is a recipe for disaster.
I ended up throwing away at least two days of footage because it was garbage. We had to later come back and reshoot many scenes. Lesson learned.
In terms of post-production, how long did it take to edit the movie.
It took a very long time to edit the film because I was working with someone who was only working on it 1-2 times per week. I wasn’t familiar enough with Adobe Premiere to try to edit alone.
If I have to be honest, this was very frustrating because I really needed to be done and I was available to work on it 24/7. In a good week, we would put in 8 hours and there were weeks when we didn’t meet at all. But the good thing about spending time with your editor is that you learn. So now I feel much more comfortable with Premiere Pro. I actually cut the trailer that’s on Amazon now myself.
Is it difficult to be objective in the cutting room when you are the writer, director and star of a project?
I can be very objective. I always try to destroy my work. If it survives me, then maybe it has a chance out there. Having a second set of eyes in the editing room was very valuable, though. There were some issues that I didn’t have a solution for at the time, and Matt [Dushkes] did. Matt is a very talented editor who also worked very well with me. So, he deserves a ton of credit for his talent too.
Tell me about the festival run for the film and premiering it in Los Angeles.
I wanted to have our own premiere. That was very important to me because I rather control the venue. In a film festival, you don’t get any ticket sales. We did. Not a lot, but a bit to soften the cost of the film.
Your distribution strategy was to get the movie onto VOD and it is now available on Amazon Video. Tell us a bit about how you pulled that off and what you learned in the distribution process.
Amazon has a new service call Amazon Video Direct where filmmakers can sell their films on the Amazon store. This was very appealing to me because it cuts out all the middleman associated with distribution. iTunes and the others are a bit more complicated and costly. And, you have to go through an aggregator.
Who are some filmmakers that you admire and how did their work influence “Help Wanted”?
Believe it or not, I study lots of anime. Paprika, by Satoshi Kon comes to mind. I find it that ‘cartoons’ are easier to deconstruct. It’s easier to see where to cut and the composition of the shot.
I also looked at House of Cards and Black Mirror on Netflix. M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable and The Village were also huge influences.
What is your advice for someone who wants to make movies?
Go to law school.
But seriously, pre-pay for time on set. If you have the choice between shooting with the RED for three days or with the Canon 5D mk IV for six days. Go with the six-day option. I’m so happy with the shots we got when we were able to slow down. It made all the difference. The average viewer, the person who will likely buy your film doesn’t know the difference between the RED and the Canon. But, they know the difference between something that looks rushed and something that looks good.
Thanks to Andre for the interview. You should note that this film was really made for less than $4k considering some of the funds went to buy equipment that can be used on future films. Amazing!
You can find more about the making of “Help Wanted” on Andre’s YouTube channel. The film, as mentioned above, is available for rental or purchase on Amazon.
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