Saturday, March 28, 2020

Jojo Rabbit



Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Archie Yates
Running Time: 108 min.
Rating: PG-13

★★★ ½ (out of ★★★★)

You can almost feel audiences and critics collectively cringe whenever a comedic film is released that tackles anything related to Hitler, World War II or the Holocaust. And understandably so, as these aren't exactly topics brimming with cinematic possibilities for parody and satire. It could also be the reason we've seen so few of them, with most confirming those fears in the worst possible way. It's one thing to fall flat on your face, but it's another entirely to miss the mark while managing to offend everyone in the process. And lately, doing that seems easier than ever. It took all of thirty seconds into Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit to realize it would be different, and maybe even a shorter time for me to know I'd love it.

The opening scene so perfectly lays the groundwork for what's to come, taking a tone and approach that immediately disarms the potential viciousness of the material without defanging it, letting us know we're in good hands. And how could we not be when sais scene involves a little boy getting some motivational coaching from his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf, before segueing into an opening credit sequence set to the German version of the Beatles' "I Want To Hold Your Hand."

Accomplishing even more than being awkwardly hilarious in the face of a seriously shameful piece of history, the film somehow effectively conveys a genuinely touching and light-hearted tale about friendship and tolerance in the face of pure evil. That it doesn't run from nor make light of these weighty issues in delivering this uniquely touching coming-of-age tale is what makes the end result so memorable.

Ten-year-old Johannes "Jojo" Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) lives with his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) in Nazi Germany during World War II. With his father serving abroad and his older sister having passed away from influenza, Jojo regularly coverses with an imaginary version of Adolf Hitler (Waititi), who provides him with encouragement and support, but mostly acts like a buffoon most of the time. But much to Adolf's pleasure, Jojo and his best friend, Yorki (Archie Yates) enroll in and attend the "Deutsches Jungvolk," a training camp for aspiring Nazi youths run by the one-eyed Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) and his no-nonsense instructor, Fräulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson).

After an unfortunate accident involving a hand grenade leaves Jojo badly injured with a limp and facial scarring, he's bedridden, aside from getting out to spread Nazi propoganda pamphlets around town. But while home, he makes a shocking discovery upstairs, finding a Jewish classmate of her late sister's, Elsa Koor (Thomasin McKenzie), hiding out. Jojo immediately threatens to turn her over to the Gestapo, until she warns him that his mother could be killed for hiding her. Frustrated, he then demands that she spill her "Jew Secrets," which he plans on compiling in a book to give Klenzendorf. With the war raging on, secretly housing a Jew becomes a major safety risk for Jojo and his mom, even as he starts to look beyond who he heard Elsa should be is to form a genuine friendship with their new houseguest, challenging every belief he thought hw had. 

Of the many obstacles the script (based upon Christine Leunens' bestselling novel, Caging Skies) would have in making it to the screen, you'd figure a big one would be getting audiences on the side of a ten-year-old, Hitler-worshipping aspiring Nazi. The young protagonist has to be presented and performed just right for all of this to work, and luckily, Roman Griffin Davis brings just the right mix of bewildered innocence and comedic flare to JoJo, playing him not unlike any other kid who clinges onto and absorbs whatever is put in front of him.

Growing up in Nazi Germany, it's essentially been drilled into JoJo's brain that the sun rises and sets on his hero Hitler, without ever a pause to consider why. The arrival of Elsa into his life gives him that pause, even as he initially has trouble recognizing it. And being ten, he can't be expected to know otherwise until shown, despite having a really positive role model in his feisty, free-spirited mother, Rosie. But at this point, under such an oppressive regime, there's only so much she can do to instill in him the diffrences between right and wrong without facing serious consequences. But hiding this Jewish girl in the house accomplishes that, even as she hopes Jojo won't discover it.

It might be possible to come up with a performance in Scarlett Johansson's career you feel is "better" than the work she does here as Rosie, but good luck naming one that leaves as much of an impact in as short a time. It's very much a supporting role, but she exhibits a comic timing and playfulness we're not accostomed to while still remaining completely in line with the darker edges of the material. And it's testament to how much she brings that when she eventually leaves the screen, her presence doesn't.

It's really the relationship between Jojo and his unexpected houseguest Elsa that gives the film its firepower, with the boy at first intimidated and even afraid of the older girl, if only on the basis of the awful things he's been taught about Jews. And she happily decides to play into it and mess with him a little until he's massively confused by the idea that she may not be so bad after all, flipping his previously limited worldview upside down.

When forced to see Elsa as an actual person rather than a label, Jojo likes her and feels obligated to protect her, leading to the film's most suspenseful scene, when the Gestapo, led by Captain Deertz (Stephen Mercahnt) arrive at the house, questioning Elsa's identity. It's moments like this where we're reminded just how serious this is and how high the stakes, with Thomasin McKenzie's performance during this extended sequence brilliant in how she must somehow create the illusion of maintaining composure while very subtly appearing ready to crack out from unimaginable dread and fear.

The narrative does take a turn, but other than to say we all know the outcome of the war and its ramifications, to give way how profoundly it impacts each of the characters is spoiling too much. But how Waititi's script manages to maintain its wicked sense of humor during the most dire of cirmcumstances continues to seep through even the most minor of details. Upending expectations mid-way through in such a way that it almost feels like a surrealistic fantasy, the story brings a whole new meaning to the notion of being "on the right side of history."

As with any art dealing with this subject, Jojo Rabbit still won't be for all tastes, but it probably comes closest to appealing to the mainstream that any movie broaching this controversial topic has. It's easy to understand its popularity, but the real thrill could be in putting someone with no preconceived notions in front of it and watching them gasp at amazement at what Waititi manages to pull off in the face of seemingly insurmountable material. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

Parasite



Director: Bong Joon-Ho
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Jang Hye-jin, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jung Ji-so, Jung Hyeon-jun, Lee Jung-eun, Park Myung-hoon, Park Geun-rok, Park Seo-joon
Runing Time: 132 min.
Rating: R

★★★★ (out of ★★★★)

If ever a film stood as the ultimate warning against the dangers of job recommendations, it's Parasite. A seemingly qualified candidate is hired, only to turn around and recommend their friend or relative, who in turn hears about another open position that someone they know would be perfect for. So on and so forth. Before long, an entire company, or in this case, an actual household, is overrun by a group of people who are all directly related in some way. Just replace the word "qualified" with "scammer" and you have a vague plot description of the first foreign film to win the Best Picture Oscar. And yet there's so much more, as an innocuous proposition evolves into a massive morality play unfolding over the course of two hours with darkly hilarious thrills and suspense, before making a detour into pure terror for its final act.

Acclaimed South Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho juggles numerous balls in the air, as hardly a minute passes where you don't at least consider that the whole picture could just collapse under the weight of its lofty ambitions. But it never does, continuing to gather steam as it rolls, adding more outlandish and exciting wrinkles to what feels like an international answer to moviegoers complaints that there are no original stories anymore.There's only one Parasite, and the longer you examine all its themes and implications, the harder it becomes to name another film that even slightly resembles it, domestically or abroad.

Its title would seem to say it all, but in this story of a poor family infiltrating the household of a wealthy one by posing as unrelated, but marginally qualified applicants, we're frequently challenged to examine the nature that parasitic relationship that develops by questioning who's really leeching off whom. Complicating matters is that both families seem to exist in a shade of grey, each with as many unlikable qualities as endearing ones. Clueless in some ways while perceptive in others. We laugh with and at both of them until it's evident that the entertainment each provides will have come to a screeching halt, and we're forced to take bets on who will survive. And more importantly, what the definition of survival even is in this scenario.

The Kim family live in a small basement apartment trying to make ends meet with their low-paying jobs as pizza box folders. But when son Ki-Woo (Choi Woo-shik) receives an offer from friend and  departing university student Min-hyuk (Park Seo-joon) to take over his job as English tutor to Da-hye (Jung Ji-so), the teen daughter of the wealthy Park family, Posing as a college student, Ki-Woo immediately impresses the smitten girl and her nervous, overprotective mother, Mrs. Park (Cho Yeo-jeong), who nicknames him "Kevin."

Ki-Woo's master plan is now set in motion, using the new position to help his family infiltrate the Park residence, with each recommending the other for various job openings within the house, all of which are created by their own manipulations. His sister Ki-Jung (Park So-dam) poses an "art therapist" to the Park's hyperactive young son, Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun), and after a couple of really clever ruses, Father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and mother Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) get themselves hired to replace Mr. Park's (Lee Sun-kyun) chauffeur and longtime housekeeper, Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun), respectively.

With little to no experience, they've found a way to assume these identities and weasel their way into the luxurious, Architectural Digest-ready home of the Park's. But it isn't as if this wealthy, but naive family isn't getting Kim's services in return, as the invaders will soon discover just how far they can take this ruse before being found out, and the potentially dangerous consequences for all involved. 

Once the offer is presented to Ki-Woo, it's off to the races and rarely does the film slow down for a beat to even process the wildness about to unfold, so much of its hilarity stemming from the Kim family's dedication to carrying this invasion out with exacting perfection. It's surprise just how cleverly they manage to displace the Park's live-in employees, but the glee they take upon conning these insulated rich folks.

From the second we meet the loud, scheming, abrasive Kims in their basement-dwelling apartment with a view of pedestrians peeing on the sidewalk, they're clearly established as a certain class of family that could only dream of attaining the lifestyle their eventual employers have. It's not necessarily because they're lazy or dumb, as all of them go many steps past merely "playing" the part required for them to gain the Park's acceptance and approval.

That all the Kims actually do the work and are pretty good at it serves to only complicate and challenge viewer expectations. But ultimately they prove incapable of curbing their more leacherous tendencies, arrogantly sinking too far into their own game to see all the potential roadblocks, one of which will eventually undo them. Horrible, but delightfully entertaining, it becomes harder to root against the Kims the more entertaining we realize they are, particularly during a memorable sequence involving the housekeeper's peach allergy. Everything they do is basically awful, but Bong Jonn-ho is so smart that he muddies the waters by making the Park's, if not equally as unlikable, still deeply flawed.

As the naive Mrs. Park, Cho Yeo-jeong gives one of the film's best and most broadly comedic supporting performances as a worrisome young mother too isolated in her enclave of wealth to question anything, or even know that you can. But at least she's involved, which is more than can be said for Mr. Park, so entrenched in his tech company that the quickest solution to any family problem is to throw money at it. Neither are bad people nor horrible parents, just incredibly clueless ones, making them sitting ducks for the Kims, who reside in greyer moral territory as characters.

They're all opportunists, but it's easy to believe Ki-Woo would have somehow found a way into this house with or without his friend's offer. Initially, he's extemely likable, but it's that likability he uses to his and his family's advantage, winning over Mrs. Park as a tutor and her daughter as his girlfriend, whom he steals right from under his friend. A case can be made that of all the Kims, he's the worst, so major credit to Choi Woo-shik for making him appear to be exactly the opposite.

As his sister, Park So-Dam's performance as Ki-Jung (a.k.a art teacher "Jessica") is captivating in the sense that she's the family member, as is commented, who most seems most at home in this rich world. And maybe the only one of the Kims you could imagine believably having that life under different circumstances. It begs the question of why she doesn't, or any of them don't, which is something the movie never runs from, nor pretends to necessarily have the answer to.

As their parents, Song Kang-ho and Jang Hye-jin first seem as if they're being dragged along for the ride, until the layers of their performances within performances start to unspool, particularly the former's as Ki-taek, whose goofy behavior masks a subtly turbulant relationship with his employer based on class and perception. It's reminder that no matter how well the Kims may seem to assimilate into this lifestyle, they'll never be able to shake the literal and figurative stench of their poverty. And the Parks, even unconciously, can't resist reminding them.

Bong Joon-ho's ultimate trick is the film's third-act pivot from extremely dark suburban comedy into pure horror, but its craftmanship comes from a perfectly calibrated tonal shift, with all the seeds previously planted to confirm that was the inevitable destination. It's almost become a cliche to say that a certain setting is a character, but it's rarely been truer than here as an almost agresssively modern house that's all visual artiface--beautifully sterile and open---reveals its hidden depths and secrets, much like the characters sharing space within it.

The film's worldwide appeal is evident in just the strong foothold it's had in the U.S., winning its top cinematic prize and having rabid mainstream audiences lining up to see a subtitled South Korean picture. Much of that stems from so effectively hitting on a universal theme not entirely unfamiliar to each demographic in every nation across the board: class warfare. It's hard to watch without at least considering how American cinema has treated suburban privilege in films like American Beauty and The Ice Storm, or even a tv series such as Mad Men. Most exist in a vacccum unto their own, focusing on how badly the well-off have it, rather than exploring the viewpoint of those looking in from the outside. Parasite is all about how little regard the Kims would have for the characters in them, despite desiring everything their lives entail. 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Peanut Butter Falcon



Directors: Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnnson, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal, Thomas Hayden Church, Mick Foley, Jake "The Snake" Roberts
Running Time: 98 minutes
Rating: PG-13

★★★ ½ (out of ★★★★) 

Watching a film as simple and magical as The Peanut Butter Falcon is a reminder how often lesser movies with more tools at their disposal work to complicate things. It's easy to imagine nearly half a dozen versions of this same story, told in far clumsier ways, lacking the vision and intelligence that first-time writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz bring to it. When you say something is "feel-good" or "inspirational" that implies a lot of baggage most movies, indie or not, just aren't capable of carrying. This one carries it, subverting the potential cliches that come with a synopsis cynical audiences would likely be picking apart before they've seen the end result.

While it's been frequently and accurately described as a modern Twain-like fable in the vain of Huck Finn, it's greatest attribute is that it tells a straightforward story about real people in a certain section of America well. That may seem like a complete distillation, but it's transformative on its own terms. And in considering that, you can't help but be reminded of Ebert's mantra of a movie not being what it's about, but how. In this sense, it emerges as sort of a Fargo companion piece, wherein a completely different genre and setting, it accomplishes that same goal of absorbing us into its world and the everyday rythms of these characters' lives.

There's a scene midway that's essentially a baptism of sorts (in the movie's unusually offbeat way) and it's impossible not to view it as one, for both the film's audience and its actors, two of whom exit as different performers than when they went in. Or at least, emerge again as the performers we always knew and hoped they could be if just given the right material. Add to that a third performer making his acting debut who's as real as it gets since the filmakers supposedly made this for him, their friend. But we soon realize it's the other way around, with his performance ranking amongst the most wonderously engaging of the year.

Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a 22-year-old with Down syndrome living in a retirement home in North Carolina. With dreams of becoming a professional wrestler, he obsessively watches tapes of his favorite, the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Hayden Church), whose wrestling school he's determined to attend. After staging many failed escapes, with the help of his roomate Carl (Bruce Dern), he manages to sneak out of the home in the middle of the night, leaving his care worker and friend Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) in a panic.

Zak's okay, but hiding out in a small boat owned by troubled fisherman Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who's getting harassed by Duncan's (John Hawkes) gang of dangerous crabbers determined to make him pay for stealing from them and burning their equipment. A very reluctant Tyler eventually agrees to take Zak to the wrestling school on his way down to Florida, but they're being tailed, both by Duncan's gang and a determined Eleanor, tasked by the care facility to bring Zak home. As they sail North Carolina's Outer Banks en route to the school, Tyler bonds with Zak, even training him for his potential wrestling debut. But Eleanor has other plans, and isn't quite on board with the 22-year-old experiencing the independence Tyler has granted him on their journey.

Despite being a story that bucks convention and logic, it's brought to the screen in such an honest, no-nonsense style by Nilson and Schwartz that you rarely stop to consider any contrivances or manipulation. If those exist, it's pulled off so seamlessly that you'd hardly even stop to notice or care. It's just an enjoyable ride from start to finish, spent with two characters who develop this symbiotic friendship in which each has as much to learn from the other. And, if anything, LeBeouf's Tyler gleans more, starting their journey traumatized by the accidental role he had in his older brother Mark's (Jon Bernthal) death.

That traumatic event has pushed Tyler down the wrong path in a major way, but the unexpected arrival of Zak couldn't have come at a better time, as we slowly watch LaBeouf transform this troubled thief into a mentor and de facto big brother of sorts. Say what you will of the actor's off-screen troubles, but between this and the past year's far darker, but similarly affecting autobiographical Honey Boy, he's experienced a true resurrgence in 2019, channeling those challenges into deeply felt performances another actor without his history wouldn't have brought as much to. 

While not a moment rings false between Zak and Tyler, the appearance of Eleanor to bring him "home" allows the script to commentate on, but wisely not bludgeon us with, the issue of how much autonomy 22-year-old with Down syndrome should have. While he clearly doesn't belong in an old age home where he's nearly asphyxiated with structure, an equal argument can be made that the situations Tyler puts him in are dangerous despite going a long way toward building his self-sufficiency as an adult.

The great thing about Johnson's Eleanor is that she isn't presented as anyone less than having Zak's best interests in my mind. It's his spirit and determination that she still has to fully come around on. Much like LeBeouf, so much of Dakota Johnson's roles have been predictated on making her a "star,"  that's it's stripped away the early promise she showed as a character actress in projects like Fox's short-lived sitcom, Ben and Kate, and even her single memorable scene in The Social Network. Funny, sarcastic and likable, this brings her back to that, playing an everyday person questioning life while wearing her heart on her sleeve. It's neither complicated or showy, much like the material itself.

When they do eventually reach Zak's destination and come face-to-face with the Salt Water Redneck, it isn't what you'd expect. Rather than attempting to shoehorn the story into a pro wrestling atmosphere, the script seems to do the exact opposite in drawing that world into the one presented here, helping make its third act an unqualifiable success. There's a real believability trickling down from Thomas Hayden Church's frighteningly accurate turn as washed-up grappling veteran to the wrestler cameos from  Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Mick Foley, who fit so seamlessly into this that anyone unfamilar with either would think they cast two Florida locals in the roles.

Between the folky, bluegrass soundtrack and swampy settting, this is a film that very much exists in its own universe, yet one likely recognizable to everyday life for those residing in it. Whereas a lesser effort would go completely off the rails with its ending, the filmmakers know how unneccessary that approach would come off, instead only choosing to show only what's important, crediting its audience as smart enough to fill in the blanks. We don't need to know everything, or have our hands held throughout, as it most powerful moments rest less on what we see than the reassurance these three characters will remain together and be okay. With a high rewatch value, it's hard to imagine anyone disliking The Peanut Butter Falcon, making for an excellent indie film case study on just how much can be accomplished with what on the surface could have easily seemed to be very little.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Burning Questions from the 2020 Oscars




Do you cringe in fear each year wondering how they'll open the show?

Did this not disappoint?

When Janel Monae walked onto the Mr. Rogers set, did you think ABC was staging another one of their live primetime reenactments?

Did she just really dress up as the May Queen from Midsommar?

Did Midsommar really just get a musical tribute at the Oscars?

Is this actually happening?

Can you pinch me now, please?

Should I take everything back I ever said about the Oscars?

Did most of the audience at home probably have no clue what the hell was happening?

Why aren't they showing Florence Pugh's reaction?! 

Shouldn't Midsommar have been nominated for...everything?

Or at the very least, costume and production design?

Is this the next best thing?

Can you believe I didn't review it?

Shouldn't we rectify that?

Or at least the best thing since Michael J. Fox showed up with Seth Rogen in a DeLorean?

Weren't those also costumes from Dolemite, Queen and Slim and Us?

Noticing a pattern?

Could the Academy possibly be apologizing for something?

Shouldn't Chris Rock be announced as the star of the upcoming Saw spinoff?

Did you remember Regina King won last year?

And for what?

Wasn't Brad's speech kind of a downer?

Impeachment hearings...really?

Were you thinking, "wait until Joaquin takes the stage?"

Did you know this was Pitt's second Oscar?

And that the other was for producing Moonlight?

Will an animated feature ever be nominated for Best Picture again?

First of many Kobe mentions?

Are Star Wars fans still whining about Kelly Marie Tran?

After delivering that line about reloading Keanu's Matrix, should we blame them?

Shouldn't he have been introduced as the star of the upcoming Bill and Ted Face the Music?

Did we just hear Keanu read the Parasite script?

And wasn't that awesome?

Does any movie have more heat behind it right now than Parasite?

Are you glad they chose the Joker stair scene as its screenplay clip?

Is Taika Waititi the first director playing Hitler in his own movie to win a screenplay Oscar?

Shouldn't Shia LeBouf been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Honey Boy?

Isn't it The Neighbor's WINDOW?

Do you think the winners even care?

The Conners is still on?

Wasn't rewarding Once upon a Time in Hollywood's incredible production design the absolute right call?

Weren't Maya Rudolph and Kristin Wiig kind of insufferable?

Didn't it look like Billie Eilish agreed? 

Well, at least Greta Gerwig kind of won something...right?

Is Chrissy Metz delivering an Adelegram?

Tony Hawk?!

Is Florence Pugh the new Jennifer Lawrence?

Anyone surprised by Laura Dern's win?

Did you think "this is probably gonna be good" when she took the stage?

And wasn't it?

What if I told you five years ago you'd hear, "I'd like to thank Netflix" during an Oscar acceptance speech? 

After pitching a perfect 11 for 11 Oscar game so far, was I instructing no one to speak to me in the dugout?

Isn't it surprising they haven't done a movie song montage before?

Not a question but...La Bamba!

Didn't you just know I'd mention Huey Lewis and the News' brilliant "The Power of Love" from Back to the Future?

Is Eminem really on stage right now performing "Lose Yourself?"

Isn't it one of the best choices ever for Original Song?

Isn't that Mekhi Phifer line great?

Isn't it a shame they bleeped out three quarters of the song?

Didn't Scorsese look confused?

Wasn't it interesting to discover who in the audience were Eminem fans?

Am I looking at YOU, Brie Larson and Gal Gadot?

Isn't it fitting one of those damned sound categories ruined my streak?

Has anyone's scorecard ever survived those categories?

Am I kind of relieved I missed one?

Can I breathe now?

Doesn't Randy Newman have just the right voice for the types of songs he performs?

Does that make him the Bob Dylan of movie soundtracks?

Shouldn't Julia Louis Dreyfuss and Will Ferrell host (if we still had hosts)?

Are they rushing through the categories so quickly that it's becoming difficult to tell which they are?

It took this long to open an Academy museum?

Haven't they been talking about it for the past twenty telecasts?

Not a question but...Zazie Beetz!!

Doesn't "making good time" seem to be a top priority on this year's telecast?

Are you hoping that doesn't tastelessly apply to the In Memoriam segment?

Shouldn't we have known Rebel Wilson and James Corden would come out dressed as Cats?

Did those costumes look better than the CGI in the movie?

Did Sandra Oh just take a dig at Netflix?

Wait, did those makeup artists really just win an Oscar for "transforming" Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman into beautiful blonde Fox News anchors?

Did that International Feature Film award just insure that Bong Joon Ho won't be returning to the podium later?

Why should the best foreign and animated films be jettisoned off into their own categories?

Can you believe that song was Rocketman's sole nomination?

Remember when Taron Egerton was being talked about as a serious Best Actor contender?

Does anyone under the age of 55 still watch American Idol?

Is it strange that I haven't heard of Taika Waititi until this year?

After that whole intro, didn't you just know who'd be winning Best Original Score?

Has there ever been two more intrinsically linked creative collaborators than Elton John and Bernie Taupin?

When Bong Joon Ho was somewhat shockingly announced as Best Director, did you become a little less sure Parasite wasn't winning the big one?

Wasn't it cool of him give shout-outs to Scorsese and Tarantino?

Doesn't seem like we just saw Billie Eilish on an awards show, like last weekend?

Wasn't that a haunting "Yesterday" cover?

Um, Luke Perry? 

Has this show moved at a fast clip or what?

Are we getting used to this no host thing?

Remember when Olivia Colman beat Glenn Close for Best Actress last year?

Did Colman's likability just remind us why?

Were you wondering which Joaquin Phoenix we'd get tonight?

Did you soon realize we'd be getting shy, nervous, babbling Joaquin?

As far as cause speeches go, wasn't it at least a little less painful than you expected?

How many Oscars would River Phoenix have by now?

Who ever thought we'd see Renee Zellweger on that stage again...accepting an Oscar?

Do you remember her talking with that much of a twang?

Am I the only one who still thinks Anne Hathaway could crush it as Judy Garland?

Who's that woman they introduced as Jane Fonda?

How many years in a row can I miss Best Picture?

Does this win mean that everyone can hate on Parasite now?

Are 1917 tribute sites popping up online as we speak?

Does this prove Parasite was so good that even the Academy couldn't deny it?

Were they really going to close the curtain on them?

Did you see Tom Hanks and Charlize Theron's reactions to it?

At this hour, who even cares how long they go?

Haven't they done a decent job condensing the telecast and moving it along these past two years?

Was anyone watching to notice?

Isn't it great to have a Best Picture winner that everyone actually seems to love?

Who thought the the Oscars could ever end before midnight?

Saturday, February 8, 2020

2020 Oscar Predictions



Well, this one really snuck up on us. The shortened Oscar season resulted in a mad scramble to get all the films released and seen within an increasingly shrinking window, culminating on February 9, when the 92nd Academy Awards telecast takes place from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. And now here we are. With less time for backlash to develop, smear campaigns to ensue and front runners to lose or gain footing, it'll be impossible to fully assess the implications of these unusual circumstances until it's over. But the bigger question might revolve around just how far the Academy's come in their goal of restoring relevancy to its brand and bringing more eyeballs to the telecast. While last year boasted box office heavy-hitters like Bohemian Rhapsody, Black Panther and A Star is Born, this one features better films (such as Joker and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) that also happened to be gigantic hits as well.

With films like The Irishman and Marriage Story, 2019 also saw the first real display of awards dominance from Netflix and other streaming services, which are now becoming the go-to destination for contemporary adult dramas. While there are still complaints the Academy hasn't done enough to diversify and the battle to hold on to its stodgy traditions is playing out in real time with the 1917 vs. Parasite showdown, it does remain one of the few awards shows that make it about the movies. And despite still being too long by half, the decision to go hostless has recently led to a tighter, more watchable telecast that's been more undpredictable than usual, especially in the Best Picture race. My predictions are below, along with an analysis of some major categories. And of course, I'm retaining the option to make any adjustments until the show begins. There's a good chance I'll need to. 


*Predicted Winners
 
Animated Feature Film:
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I Lost My Body
Klaus
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

Animated Short Film:
Dcera
Hair Love
Kitbull
Memorable
Sister

Documentary Feature:
American Factory
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama
Honeyland

Documentary Short Subject:
In the Absence
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl)
Life Overtakes Me
St. Louis Superman
Walk Run Cha-Cha

Live Action Short Film:
Brotherhood
Nefta Football Club
The Neighbors’ Window
Saria
A Sister

International Feature Film:
Corpus Christi
Honeyland
Les Miserables
Pain and Glory
Parasite

Film Editing:
Ford v Ferrari (Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland)
The Irishman (Thelma Schoonmaker)
Jojo Rabbit  (Tom Eagles)
Joker (Jeff Groth)
Parasite (Jinmo Yang)

Sound Editing:
Ford v Ferrari (Don Sylvester)
Joker (Alan Robert Murray)
1917 (Oliver Tarney, Rachel Tate)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Wylie Stateman)
Star Wars: The Rise of SkyWalker (Matthew Wood and David Acord)

Sound Mixing:
Ad Astra (Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson and Mark Ulano)
Ford vs. Ferrari (Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Steven A. Morrow)
Joker (Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic and Tod Maitland)
1917 (Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler and Mark Ulano)

Production Design:
The Irishman (Bob Shaw and Regina Graves)
Jojo Rabbit (Ra Vincent and Nora Sopkova)
1917 (Dennis Gassner and Lee Sandales)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh)
Parasite (Lee Ha-Jun and Cho Won Woo, Han Ga Ram, and Cho Hee)

Costume Design:
The Irishman (Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson)
Jojo Rabbit (Mayes C. Rubeo)
Joker (Mark Bridges)
Little Women (Jacqueline Durran)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Arianne Phillips)

Original Score:
Joker (Hildur Guðnadóttir)
Little Women (Alexandre Desplat)
Marriage Story (Randy Newman)
1917 (Thomas Newman)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (John Williams)

Original Song:
“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” Toy Story 4
“I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” Rocketman
“I’m Standing With You,” Breakthrough
“Into the Unknown,” Frozen 2
“Stand Up,” Harriet

Makeup and Hairstyling:
Bombshell (Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan and Vivian Baker)
Joker (Nicki Ledermann and Kay Georgiou)
Judy (Jeremy Woodhead)
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Paul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten and David White)
1917 (Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis and Rebecca Cole)

Visual Effects:
Avengers: Endgame (Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken and Dan Sudick)
The Irishman (Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda-Fauser and Stephane Grabli)
The Lion King (Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Elliot Newman)
1917 (Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler and Dominic Tuohy)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach and Dominic Tuohy)

Cinematography:
The Irishman (Rodrigo Prieto)
Joker (Lawrence Sher)
The Lighthouse (Jarin Blaschke)
1917 (Roger Deakins)
Once Upon a Time in...Hollywood (Robert Richardson)

Adapted Screenplay:
The Irishman (Steven Zaillian)
Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi)
Joker (Todd Phillips, Scott Silver)
Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
The Two Popes (Anthony McCarten)

This is a typically strong field that when closely examined does reveal a clear-cut favorite. The Irishman will best be remembered for Scorsese's direction and the performances rather than Zaillian's sprawling screenplay. It acually still has a better chance at Picture than here, despite those odds having also waned considerably in the past month. We all know what Joker's winning and The Two Popes in a non-starter, so it comes down to whether Waititi's Jojo Rabbit script made enough waves to displace the more polarizing Little Women as frontrunner. Strangely, it could have, as the Academy's opportunity to honor the popular, talented Greta Gerwig with her first Oscar and make amends for overlooking her in the Director category may have to wait. While Little Women always seemed bound to walk away with something, eleventh hour surges for Jojo and Parasite have hurt its chances.

Original Screenplay:
Knives Out (Rian Johnson)
Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)
1917 (Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, Jin Won Han)

Some really big contenders here, but only one screenplay voters will be falling all over themselves to coronate. Knives Out's reward was this nomination. 1917 will be collecting other hardware left and right, but it's hard to remember the last war film that won a screenplay Oscar. Baumbach seemed like a lock for Marriage Story at one point, but it's lost a lost of its buzz quickly in this truncated season. Parasite, on the other hand, is peaking at just the right time, making it entirely possible it pulls off the upset. But Tarantino is synonomous with writing awards, having taken home two Oscars already. The consensus is that if OUATIH doesn't win anything else (which it will), we're at least likely to get another one of his crazy acceptance speeches for this category. But I'm not so sure. It's a very close call and a win for Parasite could be a sign of bigger things to come late in the telecast. Or not.

Supporting Actress:
Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
Florence Pugh, Little Women
Margot Robbie, Bombshell

She's due. No one in this category has a chance of upsetting Laura Dern for Marriage Story, an Oscar that seems as locked up as any other in recent memory. Even in a category historically famous for upsets, there's little to no chance of us getting one here. Kathy Bates is superb in Richard Jewell but Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, and Margot Robbie have to be considered the only "threats" because of the year each had, turning in potentially nominatable performances in other highly praised films. In Johansson's case, she's even a double nominee for Lead Actress. Pugh's Little Women work stands out as the best received of the bunch, and given the Academy's penchant for rewarding newcomers in this category, she has the least worst shot at beating Dern. But she won't. While Dern's performance in Marriage Story won't be called the most exciting or interesting of her career, it's solid enough, and that's what matters to voters looking to reward a likable person for a great career. In other words, they love her and it's time.

Supporting Actor:
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
Al Pacino, The Irishman
Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

This is Pitt's to lose. Pacino and Pesci will cancel each other out for The Irishman, with most believing that latter made a more meaningful impression in a true comeback performance. Despite being two of our most respected actors, the fact that the inclusions of Hanks and Hopkins seems odd is probably a sign their films don't have nearly enough support. For many, myself included, Pitt's performance as stuntman Cliff Booth in OUATIH is one of their favorites of the year, tapping into the actor's charisma and likablity like no other role before it. Combine that with him already being long overdue for a statue, this arguably qualifying as a leading role and a guaranteed acceptance speech of the night, his chances are looking pretty great. 

Lead Actress:
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renee Zellweger, Judy

An unusually weak field this year, with Renee Zellweger a likely de facto winnner for the already fogotten Judy. The only "it's a thrill just to be nominated" contender is Cythia Erivo, who many feel took Nupita N'yongo's slot for Us. There's no question that the latter is a more compelling selection and probably would have made this a more intriguing race. As it stands, it couldn't be worse, with the very, very liberal Academy unlikely to honor Charlize Theron for playing Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly. And Bombshell's lost a lot of heat anyway. For voters, it may still seem too early to reward Saorise Ronan, but an upset's still possible. Scarlett Johansson's so good in Marriage Story, to the point that it might be my favorite performance of hers. But while it's hard to be dismissive of what feels like the most substantive work in the category, the Academy will probably find a way. They'll vote for the well-liked Zellweger, making a comeback playing a legendary movie star in a biopic. The perfect recipe for an Oscar win if there ever was one.  

Lead Actor:
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

No need to drag this out. Joaquin Phoenix, possibly our generation's greatest actor, will become the second performer in history to win an Oscar for the playing the Joker. Or more accurately, mentally ill, failed standup comedian, Arthur Fleck. And what a performance it is, as it's likely even his fellow nominees would have a rough time making the case he isn't deserving, regardless of anyone's feelings on the polarizing film. Banderas and Pryce squeezed their way in here, with little seen, but well regarded turns in Pain and Glory and The Two Popes, respectively. That's where their journeys end. Leo's great but it'll be Pitt's night. That leaves Adam Driver, Phoenix's most serious competititon. A month ago, this was closer, but Phoenix has really pulled away as Marriage Story faded into the background. In any other year, Driver would probably win. And it's a good bet he eventually will. Just not now. 

Director:
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Todd Phillips, Joker
Sam Mendes, 1917
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Bong Joon Ho, Parasite

You'd think the Academy wouldn't resist the temptation to reward Martin Scorsese working at the peak of his powers in the twilight of his career, delivering an essential meditation on time and regret with The Irishman. But that's not exactly how they work. And boy is that movie long. Plus, in their minds, they already gave him his Oscar. The groundswell of industry support behind Phillips' direction of Joker, and the movie in general, was far greater than anticipated. So there's that. While a Tarantino victory for Original Screenplay (or even Best Picture) seems likelier than a win here, he has to still be considered a top threat, as does Bong Joon Ho, who's really come on strongly of late and has a legitimate claim on this prize with Parasite. We'll see if there's a split with Picture and Director, but you still have to go with Sam Mendes for 1917, knowing the Academy's historical affinity for war films and their likely appreciation of him telling a deeply personal family story that also connects on a universal level. 

Best Picture:
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Parasite

And then there were nine. Most were surprised, but elated, that Ford v Ferrari made it in. Same with JoJo Rabbit, and to a slightly lesser extent, Little Women. The Irishman and Marriage Story have lost some of their luster heading into a race where momentum means even more than usual. With its 11 nominations, Joker should be the odds-on favorite, and while I'd absolutely love to see it win, there's still that fear it's just too polarizing to get the number of votes necessary to pull this off. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is just as deserving, if not more so, but despite it being about movies, it may not be widely beloved enough by voters put off by the ending.  

1917 and Parasite are more up the Academy's alley and if the Foreign Film category (recently renamed International Feature Film category) didn't exist, then the suddenly red hot Parasite would become the first foreign language Best Picture winner. It still might, but my money's on the same obstacle that befell Roma last year, costing it the trophy. This is why it might be a good idea to eliminate that and the Animated Feature category, so those designated genre films can get a fair shot at the big prize.

Oscar traditions die hard, so put your money on the late-blooming 1917, which gives voters yet another reason to engage in one of their favorite pastimes: honoring a war film. It's something they haven't done since The Hurt Locker over a decade ago so we're due to take our vitamins. It's only drawback is the noticeable lack of an editing nomination, but even that isn't the dealbreaker it once was. Not being able to comfortably predict this outcome should only make the show that much better. In a virtual dead heat with Parasite, 1917 seems to be the likeliest and safest bet. Whether that translates into a win remains to be seen.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Richard Jewell



Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde
Running Time: 129 min.
Rating: R

★★★ ½ (out of ★★★★) 

Early in Clint Eastwood's Richard Jewell, we're introduced to a man who behaves with absolute purpose and certainty. Someone so sure of what he's doing that nothing could possibly get in the way. Despite being mocked for his weight, called a "rent-a-cop," and generally laughed at and disrespected by everyone with whom he comes in contact, he just plows forward like it doesn't bother him at all. Of course, we later find out it very much hurts him, as it would anyone, but his loyalty to upholding the law takes precedence. In other words, Richard Jewell saved many lives in Atlanta's Centennial Park at the 1996 Olympics by doing what's he's always done: pay attention.

Despite the fact Jewell was railroaded and vilified by both law enforcement and the media to no end, there will be those accusing Eastwood of pedaling a right-wing agenda with his heroic depiction of this protagonist. And that's mainly because he fits the profile of an eccentric white male loner, as much now as even then. But if viewing the film through a political lens is eerily reminiscent of assumptions made about Jewell at the time, here's something scarier: Everyone still thinks he's the Olympic Park bomber. To this day. Well over a decade past his death. That fact alone should grant Eastwood as much creative freedom as he wishes.

Legally exonerated, but never acquitted in the public's eyes, Jewell's somehow taken this crime to his grave as its perceived perpetrator. There's a reason this movie isn't called Eric Rudolph. That eventually revealed bomber wasn't an exciting enough suspect for the media, nor was he an easy layup for the FBI. But disregarding the physical impossibility of Jewell having committed the crime and producing no forensic evidence linking him, they pushed forward anyway. So while the media and law enforcement get some rough treatment from Eastwood, it definitely isn't unwarranted. It's the director's best film in ages, but also a brilliantly told story made all the more remarkable for happening, its effects still rippling through our culture to this day.

It's summer 1996 when 33 year-old aspiring law enforcement officer, Richard Jewell (Hauser) moves in with his mother, Bobi (Kathy Bates) in Atlanta after a decade of bouncing around in various jobs such as a law office supply clerk and campus security guard. Given the chance to work security detail at Centennial Park on the eve of the Olympics, Jewell signs on, figuring that at least his mom will get a front-row seat to see her favorite singer, Kenny Rogers. Despite feeling ill the night of July 27th, Jewell reports for duty, and while chasing off some drunk teens, discovers a suspicious-looking backpack under a bench he suggests be investigated. After initially dismissing his serious concerns as nonsense, an explosives expert confirms the presence of a bomb before it detonates, injuring many and killing one.

By finding the device and helping to clear the area, Jewell is understandably celebrated by the media, his face plastered on every news program and a book deal being fast tracked. But when FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) suspects Jewell as the possible bomber with a "hero complex," his leaking of that info to fiesty Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter, Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) causes the security guard's life to unravel. With the FBI attempting to manipulate Jewell into confessing, he turns to an old friend to represent him, lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), the only person at his old supply clerk job who treated him, as Richard calls it, like a "human being". Both have their work cut out for them, as Jewell's name is dragged through the mud, devastating his mother, who still couldn't be prouder of her only son.

Adapted from Marie Brenner's 1997 Vanity Fair article,"American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell," (a far better title by the way) Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray do a masterful job making a very clear distinction. This may be a simple man, but he's not simple-minded, as demonstrated in his ability to spot a threat that law enforcement officials with far more experience couldn't. And that might be the story of this guy's life, as he's constantly been overlooked and underestimated due to his appearance, weight, eccentric demeanor or the fact he lives with his mother. But for Hamm's rigid agent Shaw, those traits read as the criminal profile for a serial bomber.

Similar to the feeling of certainty Jewell exhibited in his investigation of the mysterious bag that night, Shaw's equally sure he found his man. But it's different, driven by a preconceived hypothesis about Richard that he's desperate to prove correct. It's a fascinating study in how people are falsely accused of crimes, with Shaw arranging and rearranging details in the investigation so it fits, as if he's trying to convince himself. While as confident he's doing the right thing as Jewell was, the key difference is that he's dead wrong.

Paul Walter Hauser was the ideal selection to play Richard Jewell and one of those rare, magical choices for a reality-based role that make the best case possible for why Oscars should be given out for casting as well as performances. Despite recent high-profile work as Harding bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt in I, Tonya and adult recruit "Stingray in YouTube's Cobra Kai, there's still an anonymity associated with him you just wouldn't get with any supposedly bigger name. And because Jewell's story revolves so much around us discovering this regular guy unwillingly shoved into the spotlight, anyone else would have seemed like a distraction. Aside from a considerable physical resemblance, Hauser completely disappears into Jewell as if the infamous security guard's been exhumed from a 1996 newscast. But the brilliance in his work comes when Richard calls upon the same strength he exhibited in the park scenes to hold himself (and his mom) together as public humiliation begins chipping away at his loyalty to the justice system.

Much of the action takes place in only two locations, with Eastwood first transporting us into the mileu of Centennial Park that night in July, with all the excitement and nervous energy surrounding the city on the cusp of the XXVI Olympic Games. We trail Jewell throughout, leading right up to and including the tragic event, witnessing his warnings of danger falling on deaf ears until action's eventually taken. And you could just as easily imagine brushing this guy off given that he's playing a hunch (albeit one based on knowledge and experience) that happens to end up being correct.

The rest of the action essentially takes place in his mom Bobi's apartment, which becomes Richard's own personal prison, as the pitchfork-wielding media descend upon their residence. As attorney Watson Bryant, Sam Rockwell reliably provides whatever comic relief exists in this re-telling, while also making you empathize with his blunt, straightforward character's exasperation with Jewell as a client. The honest, transparent qualities he admires in his friend are exactly what make him so difficult to represent, opening his mouth at the most incriminating times to state personal details better left unsaid. Soon, his job becomes to just simply shut Richard up before he serves himself up to the FBI on a platter.

For as much pain as Richard endures, it's his mother Bobi who seems to suffer most, earning her eventual designation by Watson as the 113th victim of the Olympic Park bombing. There are so many great, little details in Kathy Bates' performance as this proud mother whose entire reality is upended over two days. There was hardly enough time to process her son becoming a hero known around the world, fulfilling every dream she had for him in law enforcement, before he's scapegoated by the media and FBI as their lead suspect.

There's this indelible moment when Bobi's watching Tom Brokaw report on the story and asks why HE'S saying these terrible things about her son. And she means that literally, expressed with the utmost sincerity and confusion. It's as if Brokaw saying it has just made things more painfully real for her. And with just that short line, Bates conveys that Bobi is very much her son's mother, trusting and holding dear those who earn her respect and loyalty. Even if it's a TV personality. In many ways it represents the ultimate betrayal, as if this case has now officially infiltrated everything in their lives, including the trusted Tom Brokaw. If he's turning against Richard, the situation must truly be hopeless.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution's Kathy Scruggs was a real person and apparently well-respected journalist who's depicted here as sleeping with FBI agent Shaw in exchange for the info that Richard Jewell is their prime suspect. Hamm's Shaw is supposedly a composite of numerous federal agents working on the case so his character's let off the hook, while Scruggs, who passed away in 2001, is a little different in that she's an actual reporter referred to by name and shown having traded sex for tips on a story. Or did she? Whether this was some kind of exchange or they were in a relationship could have been easily distinguished by giving her more screen time that further fleshed out the character. Instead, we get a snapshot that doesn't provide a clear indication either way. And since she doesn't really warrant an expanded role in the context of the story Eastwood'strying to tell about the media, the better answer was probably just not using her name at all. It makes very little creative difference, but it sure did garner a great film the wrong kind of publicity, which is cruelly ironic in itself.

 Eastwood clearly cares very little about sugar-coating anything, and like Jewell himself, will forge ahead and do what he wants, regardless of whatever the current cultural climate dictates he should. It's hard not to respect that when the results are this good, while still recognizing why Scrugg's family would have a big problem with it. For what it's worth, Wilde plays Kathy well enough, which in this case means that she's a nasty, brash reporter who will do anything for a lead. And yet for all the controversy surrounding this real-life reporter's somewhat monstrous depiction, she went with a story from a valid source that she had every reason to believe was true, regardless of her methods in obtaining it. Eastwood never holds her to the same standard as an FBI agent who leaks classified information related to a bombing.

Jewell's only crime was misplaced faith, perhaps guilty of being too trusting, naive and compliant. In the film's most gut-wrenching scene, we find out that his biggest fear actually wasn't what would become of him, or even his mother, but those in law enforcement who could eventually find themselves in a position similar to his on that night. And because of this debacle, opt to say and do nothing. Then 9/11 happened. As it turns out, Richard Jewell may have been on the right side of history all along, patiently waiting for the rest of us to catch up with him.

Monday, January 13, 2020

2020 Oscar Nominations (Reaction and Analysis)



So, the 92nd Academy Award nominations were announced early this morning by John Cho and Issa Rae and, as per the norm, there were some snubs and surprises. Less so than usual, but a fair amount just the same. You can read the entire list here. The bigger news was that these nods are a reflection of an extremely shortened awards season, in many ways lacking the ups and downs and twists and turns we normally get leading into announcement morning. Or to further put it into perspective: Here we already are on January 13th and the host-less telecast airs from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood on February 9th in just a few weeks. That's not only the smallest window in Oscar history, but the quickest turnaround for certain Academy voters who no longer have the time or luxury to base the entirety of their decision-making process on what others do. And after riding an upswing in ratings from last year's blockbuster-heavy show, it may be time to put up or shut up for them. How did AMPAS do this year? Well, here are some of the big takeaways...

-Joker leads the pack with a total of 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Director (Todd Phillips), Actor (Joaquin Phoenix). Original Score (Hildur Guðnadóttir) and even that coveted Film Editing nod, which is thought of as a must if you want to take home Best Picture. We knew the film could potentially clean up this morning, but this is clearly a best case scenario and MUCH better than anyone anticipated.

-The currently peaking 1917 and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood trail with 10 nods, including Picture and Director (Sam Mendes and Quentin Tarantino respectively). Even though Joker just upped its odds, these two are still considered the favorites for the top prize due to their more Academy-friendly subject matter.

-Looks like we've got 9 Best Picture nominees again this year.

-Joaquin Phoenix is a lock. No one can touch him right now.

-Similarly, Judy's Renée Zellweger probably has Best Actress wrapped up, albeit with far less competition.

-In a minor surprise, Cynthia Erivo got in for somewhat poorly received Harriet. But considering the Academy's long-standing love for movies about historical heroes, maybe not.

-Whether or not you feel they're each in the appropriate category, Pitt and DiCaprio are in, with Pitt more than likely to win for Best Supporting Actor.

-In a surprise, but not exactly a shock, Robert DeNiro doesn't get in for The Irishman, as most of the attention this season has been focused on co-stars Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, both of whom are nominated for Supporting.  

-This is as good a chance as Tarantino will ever have at winning Best Director.

-With multiple nominations for The Irishman, Marriage Story and The Two Popes, Netflix becomes the year's most nominated studio. Who would have thought?  Well, besides everyone.  

-Ford v. Ferrari is kind of surprisingly one of them, without being recognized for much else outside of the sound categories.

- Despite Parasite earning a Best Picture Nomination, does its presence (and likely win) in the Foreign Film category pretty much guarantee it can't possibly win the Big Prize?

-Sorry, but I wouldn't consider the Academy failing to nominate J-Lo for Best Supporting Actress in a movie about strippers a "snub." At least not by their standards.

-Taron Egerton not scoring a Best Actor nod for Rocketman is most definitely one, especially coming off a bunch of precursor notices and Rami Malek's win for Bohemian Rhapsody still fresh in minds. Or maybe that's the problem?

-No Lupita Nyong'o for Us, though for some reason the exclusion doesn't feel like a shock given the Academy's rocky relationship with sci-fi and horror. It seems like just the kind of performance they'd overlook, ridiculous as that seems.

-Presumable lead actress lock Awkwafina overlooked for The Farewell, as the film's ignored for just about everything else as well, highlighting the divide that still exists between critics and voters.  

-No Adam Sandler for Uncut Gems or Eddie Murphy for Dolemite, but good luck finding anyone who predicted they'd get in. The former just peaked too late, making him maybe the biggest casualty of this shortened season.

-Knives Out didn't make the impact many were hoping, earning only an Original Screenplay nomination for Rian Johnson.

-The never-nominated Scarlett Johansson becomes a double nominee for both Marriage Story (Lead) and JoJo Rabbit (Supporting).

-Speaking of potential double nominees, the guessing game's over. Margot Robbie gets her Supporting nod for Bombshell instead of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. 

-Richard Jewell may have flopped at the box office, but Kathy Bates still gets in for Supporting, as most suspected she still would. But Laura Dern has this race in the bag for Marriage Story.

-While Greta Gerwig may have gone un-nominated for directing Little Women (a snub currently causing an uproar), the film's haul of six nods (including Best Picture, Best Actress for Saoirse Ronan and Supporting Actress for Florence Pugh) is probably better than anyone expected. But if it's okay, I'll just continue pretending Pugh was nominated for Midsommar instead.