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.


Monday, January 6, 2020

The Best (and Worst) Movie Posters of 2019


With increasing emphasis being placed on digital content and fitting thumbnails and screenshots of what would have been theatrically displayed one-sheets onto streaming sites, the role of the movie poster has evolved. If not for companies like Mondo churning out alternative and limited edition prints that have forced major studios to up their game, we probably wouldn't be experiencing the poster resurgence we are now.  Every time a comic artist or illustrator is hired to design something for a major or indie release, or their style is obviously present in other work, you can't help but think it's a win for the fans, artist and movie itself. Has it gotten repetitive at times? You bet, but the posters still look way better than when I started compiling this annual list in 2006. At the very least, there are definitely more of them when you take into account the sheer number of releases across a wide variety of viewing platforms throughout the year.

This shift is such that it had gotten to the point where I considered throwing out my rule and allowing "alternative" designs for contention since the line separating the two has gotten so thin. But then I thought better of it. Unofficial designs will always have an unfair advantage in that the artists don't often have to navigate their way through studio red tape and restrictions that result in a poor final product they're not even fully responsible for. Designing posters is immensely hard regardless, but the ability to post it online or in print without creative interference is a luxury. And it's one many artists utilize for exposure, banking that it leads to more financially substantive opportunites down the road.

The year in posters could have been better, but there's some really good work here, along with one of the better showings for horror in a while, with selections from that genre occupying nearly half of the the top ten. 2019 marks the first time my top pick was designed by a comic artist, fittingly reflecting that inescapable trend of more illustrated work, even as some bigger studios still remain reluctant to jump on board. It's also the deepest of deep cuts, with the little seen film debuting not long after I posted last year's list. I knew the design was something special when I first saw it in February and now it's held on for nearly a full 12 months to prove it. So, yes, the same rules apply. Only official theatrical one-sheets released during the 2019 calendar year (including those for 2020 films) can qualify. Runners-up, and everyone's favorite, the year's worst, are all listed below alphabetically And as usual, all images provided by Impawards.com. Just click to enlarge. Here we go...


The Best...

10. Once Upon a Time In...Hollywood


This one kind of grows on you. At first I wasn't crazy about seeing Pitt, DiCaprio and Robbie in giant floating head form, thought the whole design was just too overcrowded with detail and could take or leave the title treatment. But the longer you look at legendary illustrator Steven Chorney's impeccable rendering of Tarantino's magnum opus and likely Best Picture nominee, Once Upon a Time in...Hollywood, the more there is to appreciate. Sort of like the film itself. No one can accuse it of false advertising, as everything you see on this vibrant, highly stylized throwback to classic 70's and 80's movie posters is exactly what you get, if only in slightly more chaotic form.

Is this too much? Maybe, but it's hard to complain when the artwork's this good and formatted in a way that makes a great deal of sense. Not to mention all those details that make you want to rewatch all 2.5 hours of it right now. Bruce Lee, the Manson girls, Hullabaloo, Dalton and Booth in the '66 Coupe de Ville (love how it's speeding right off the page), the heroic Pitt pose, that unforgettable Sharon Tate image dancing over the title and, of course, Quentin Tarantino...actually on the poster! Not advisable, but few filmmakers have been as inseparable from their creations. Only he could get away with it.

Great use of orange and red popping the off-white background/border and the perfect teal color choice and location for the credits. And as much as big, floating heads can be an annoyance, they work as focal point, tying it all together. As much as I still contend the Robert Sammelin alternative 60's throwback design is so much better, that's not a knock on this one, which is an embarrassment of riches for the film's fans and just about anyone else who sees it.


9. (Tie)

Color Out Of Space




Daniel Isn't Real


Two inventively trippy horror designs both sharing an asthetic similar to last year's equally warped Mandy poster. What the begging to be blacklit Color Out of Space one-sheet has in common with it is annual Worst Poster mainstay Nicolas Cage, who seems to be turning some kind of corner of late. This is so appropriately psychedelic and crazy that it had to earn a spot here, finally answering the question of what you get when you cross Cage, legendary horror author H.P. Lovecraft and The Island of Dr. Moreau '96 director Richard Stanley. Complete with bright neon pinks and purples bleeding and bursting through the page, ready to suck your mind and soul straight out of your body. There's even a horse. When these kinds of trippy designs are artfully done, as this so clearly is by artist Matt Taylor, few can top them. Consider me sold.

With ads billing it as being "From The Producers of Mandy," Jock's subtler, but no less head-trippy (literally!) one-sheet for director Adam Egypt Mortimer's imaginary childhood friend horror entry Daniel Isn't Real won't be mistaken for Drop Dead Fred anytime soon, at least going by this disturbing image of star...Patrick Schwarzenegger? Apparently Cage has some competition in the crazy department, and if this poster's any indication, junior's off to a solid start. It's eerily similar to the Wounds runner-up one-sheet below, only far superior, taking that design to greater heights with the melting face imagery, oddball color choices and glowing title treatment. In terms of encapsulating a film's conceit in a single image, this one's hard to beat, and even more hypnotizing to look at.   


8. In Fabric (Both Versions)





Speaking of a head trip, this pair of creatively artsy posters for Peter Strickland's horror film about a cursed department store dress has achieved the unthinkable in actually making me curious to see a movie about a killer item of women's clothing. That first one by design firm La Boca is all about what the movie is while still holding enough back to really pique your interest. From the creepy stark white mannequin head set against the vibrant pinks, yellow and orange background to the flowing red dress protruding out of a cracked skull, it goes over-the-top in a completely original way.

Its quad poster counterpart designed by Julian House takes inspiration from 70's and early 80's fashion mag ads, and boy does it ever exactly resemble one, right down to that captioning that accompanies the ripped image and a content table to the left cleverly listing director Q and A tour dates. It's also impressive whenever a studio's marketing team bothers to have a consistent title treatment across the board to brand their film, as this does.Title credits looking as if they're appearing over a piece of fabric isn't something you see everyday. Then again, neither is a movie about murderous clothes.


7. Midsommar


If you've seen Ari Aster's Midsommar, then you already know that the follow-up to his already divisive and disturbing Hereditary is even more divisive and disturbing. While it isn't a breezy watch for various reasons that may include cliff jumping, public orgies, and burning bear suits, it's not easily forgotten. Neither is this official one-sheet by InSync Plus, which takes the Funny Games route of capturing the film's most infamous image in extreme close-up, as Florence Pugh's embattled Dani, with tears streaming down her face, gets crowned "May Queen." Don't even ask since I wouldn't know where to begin. But I loved the movie, at least so far in it being possible to "love" such an ordeal.

It's nice for A24 to be in a position where a film's visuals, color palette and imagery are so distinctive that this is all that's necessary to get the job done. If I knew nothing about this, the compelling photo would be enough to make me very curious. It presents a lot of questions, but that's why it works, revealing just enough, but not too much. This whole presentation really delivers exactly what you'll get: The most challenging of cinematic experiences. The image's haunting simplicity hits you right in the face, completely aligned with the emotionally discomfort it's attempting to sell, as hard a sell as that may be. Let the festivities begin.



6. Blow The Man Down


Amazon Films' beautifully illustrated poster for 2020's Blow The Man Down arrives early, and according to its synopsis it centers around sisters (played by Morgan Saylor and Sophie Lowe) covering up a crime that leads them into the "underbelly of their salty Maine village." And metaphorically speaking, this artful design (again from La Boca) does a really admirable job of visually conveying all that information on a single sheet.

The stylization of the sisters as mermaids is inspired, as is the clever touch of one of them holding that blood-dipped knife. Great use of colors and shading with the sea faring green and blue over the tan background, reflecting a very New Englandy vibe. That regal-looking font used for the title must have a name that's currently escaping me, but it looks so seamlessly married to the image that you'd be forgiven for thinking this poster is instead a new alternative paperback cover for a Herman Melville novel.


5. The Last Black Man In San Francisco (Both Versions)


 

Another year, another Akiko Stehrenberger masterpiece. Joe Talbot's critically hailed The Last Black Man in San Francisco has a pair of really striking designs from the amazing artist that have populated every best poster list I've seen, with particular enthusiasm for that first one, an off- kilter illustration featuring its writer, star and main character, Jimmie Fails. The vague synopsis describes it as the story of a young man "who searches for home in the changing city that seems to have left him behind." Supposedly, that logline doesn't come close to doing the film justice, but something tells me these designs come a whole lot closer.

The first employs a neat visual trick to show the leaning, dislocated knit-hatted protagonist trying to exist in a city that's quite literally going in a different direction. And if you love borders like I do, here's a great one, surrounding an illustration that's justifiably been praised as a more of a museum piece than a movie poster. The red and tan color scheme used on both makes for an intriguing, rarely seen combination.

I  actually prefer the second poster, especially after discovering it was originally just an image of Fails, with Stehrenberger having to squeeze Jonathan Majors' Montgomery and the rest of the cast in at the studio's request. But you'd never know it given how completely natural it all looks. For many, these were the best two one-sheets of the year in a landslide. While I'm not quite THAT high on them, it's really hard to knock the choice.


4. The Lighthouse


Count me among the few cinephiles who have yet to see Robert Eggers' polarizing horror drama, The Lighhouse, about two lighthouse keepers (played by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) trying to keep their sanity living on a mysterious New England island during the late 19th century. Supposedly, it's pretty insane, but this is some poster for it by P+A, visually reflecting the film's distinctive black and white. And it looks great.

It's hard to even imagine this in color since its monochronastic style creates such an interesting contrast with the crashing waves, cloudy skies, and the centerpiece lighthouse of the film's title. The whole marketing campaign for this was really strong, utilizing the same succesful design throughout with the seagull-focused version seen below in the runners-up, and another, featuring its two stars. The italicized tag line, "There is enchantment in the light," couldn't be more cruelly ironic, though it wouldn't be difficult getting fooled into really believing so while looking at this beauty, easily one of 2019's most iconic poster images.


3. Echo In The Canyon


Here's something we've seen before, with one of those famously popular, kind of timeless, caricatured chaos posters that have been executed very well and poorly throughout the years, recently attempted in '19 with this  Booksmart photoshop disaster. This wonderfully illustrated throwback from artist Mark Stutzman shows how it's done, better capturing the mood, feeling and emotion behind L.A.'s historical Laurel Canyon music scene (featuring The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas) than Jakob Dylan's surprisingly dull documentary, save for Tom Petty's final interview.

We could go into all the cool little details hiding within this collage (grimacing sun, Jackson Browne flanked by groupies) but we'd be here all day. It's more than merely an homage to a specific style of poster, but the genuine article. While fully recognizing this style of poster won't be for all tastes, it's impossible to deny that the many musicians depicted have never been better drawn or caricatured. The layout's impeccable, right down to the disappearing border and teal title treatment. If only the actual film were an eighth as entertaining as this one-sheet, which sets the bar pretty high, advertising the transcendent experience I wish was delivered on screen.


2. The Peanut Butter Falcon


It's hard not to love everything about this oddly-colored, delightfully swampy InSync Plus one-sheet for the low-budget indie drama, The Peanut Butter Falcon, which also takes a familiar concept and twists it enough to seem new and exciting. Illustrator Oliver Barrett does a sensational job depicting stars Shia LeBouf, Dakota Johnson and newcomer Zachary Gottsagen (love the "introducing" credit) that it doesn't even matter how small their names are. We feel like we already know them.

Sure, it would be easy to complain about the small type (directors Tyler Nelson and Michael Schwartz's credit is basically unreadable), but it's really the kind of bold stylistic choice we hardly see on posters anymore, freeing up a ton of negative space. It also draws attention to that that memorable, well chosen quote ("The Sweetest Damn Film Of The Decade") in the corner opposite those festival laurels. The distressed stylization of the title is perfect and if the fake fold approach has recently become a clumsy, overused gimmick, it's fresh again here, rarely executed as well or subtly as is. I've yet to see the acclaimed film about a young man with Down Syndrome who escapes his care home in hopes of training to become a pro wrestler, but the poster already has me optimistic it'll deliver. The best ones do that.


1. Starfish



When I first saw these posters for A.T. White's overlooked "cosmic horror" drama Starfish early last year, my first thought was that these were heading to the 2019 Best Poster List, and likely pretty high. Now here we are. But for those keeping track, it's that bottom one designed by Toronto-based comic illustrator, Cameron Stewart (Batgirl, Fight Club 2) that grabs the highest honors.

The top teaser one-sheet is almost equally a sight to behold, with its beautifully extreme, soft focus close-up of star Virginia Gardner (the scene-stealing babysitter in 2018's Halloween and star of Marvels' The Runaways), whose character Aubrey is left a mysterious cassette tape following the death of her best friend, and must follow clues to navigate its meaning in a post-apocalypic world.
The layout's amazing, with the clean white border occupying so much of the page, highlighting that unforgettable shot, while drawing further attention to the Ralph Steadman title treatment (aka the Fear and Loathing font), which we don't see often, but remains one of the absolute best when well-utilized. For consistency's sake, it was the right call to have it on both.

That credits really pop on Stewart's piece with that blood stain trail, along with its refreshingly to-the-point tag line, "A Girl. A Mixtape. And The End Of The World." Besides the illustration working as a vibrant piece of comic pop culture art, it's also an excellent visual distillation of the film's themes, managing to convey Aubrey's lonliness and isolation as she lays in a fetal postition next to her retro Walkman, trapped in a circular prison of cassette tape. If anyone was still on the fence about checking this out based on its description, this should quickly convert them, presenting the low-budget indie as an absolute must-see. Despite having far lower visibility and attention than most of the year's releases, Starfish boasts an illustrated poster that makes the best case possible that movie art is still very much alive and well, impactful as ever.



Runners-Up (Alphabetical)...






 








 
























































































































































































...And The Worst


It must seem like kicking a puppy to call this poster one of the year's worst, but it is, and I'm willing to bet that the late, great Fred Rogers himself, who always encouraged imagination and creativity in all who watched him, wouldn't care for this. We know he deserves better than Tom Hanks photoshopped onto a porch. And the title treatment is indescript enough to have been taken from an Ivory soap package. Hopefully, the actual film doesn't follow suit, but this is just assembly-line laziness reeking of "let's just get a poster (any poster!) out there" syndrome. 



As awful as that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood poster is, there's a special corner of disgrace reserved for this eyesore, that reimagines one of our nation's worst tragedies as a mid-90's NBC miniseries, complete with airbrushed floating heads (among them an unrecognizable Dean Cain) and a White House engulfed in Challenger flames. Has anything worthwhile ever followed the words, "The Untold True Story?" But at least the "S" in the title glistens. Disaster indeed.




Oh, Netflix. There sure is a lot going on here, and none of it the least bit interesting. The film is actually actually is pretty good, but you'd never know it looking at this overstuffed layout with too much text, too many faces and one really poor-looking reflection. Even just using an Efron as Bundy mugshot would have accomplished a lot more than this.




What's worse than another mindless, uninspired action vehicle starring Will Smith?  One that stars two Will Smiths of course. But wait, the Smith on the right lacks facial hair and appears significantly younger through the magic of CGI. It's the Fresh Prince vs. Hancock. Strap yourself in.



Do you think Martin Scorsese saw this? It's a legitimate question since he's known for wanting to be as involved as possible in every stage of his film's release, including the marketing and promotional materials. For my own peace of mind, I'll just continue to believe that some Netflix executive with a grudge went behind his back as  he was editing down the 10-hour film and photoshopped some images of  De Niro, Pacino and Pesci onto a generic background. It's the only explanation that fits.



If The Peanut Butter Falcon poster threw up all over the page, you'd imagine it looks something like this. The worst part is that you can't even tell what happened here, making it difficult to fully assess or articulate its many flaws. Is it illustrated? Photoshopped? It's like someone went into their collection of Dutchboy paints and intentionally chose the most visually discomforting color combination possible. My eyes hurt.



Rather than write something about this, I'll leave it up to you. Whatever caption you choose will undoubtedly contain more information than we get on this theatrical poster (?) for Just Mercy. It looks like the back page for one of those promotional pamphets or press books the studio sends out to the media. Though that might be giving it too much credit.   





THE WORST ASPECT OF THESE POSTERS FOR THE LONG SHOT ISN'T THE INSANE AMOUNT OF GIANT UGLY TEXT AND QUOTES, BUT THE FACT THAT THE TITLE IS BURIED IN IT.



There were few 2019 movies I was looking forward to more than Clint Eastwood's Richard Jewell so it's a shame there's only this poster exists to hold me over. What a disappointment. Such a compelling story and this is what they came up with. Cutting and pasting actors into a crowd. Did you spot Jon Hamm? It's tougher than finding Waldo. Bates and Rockwell might literally be glued in as part of a school project. Olivia Wilde was recently being removed from the poster due to controversy surrounding her character, but since she's barely visible to begin with, it must have been easy. Even if I could appreciate what they were going for here, some color, like a red border around that title, sure would have helped its cause. The good news is that the movie has to be better than this... right?