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Sunday February 9, 2020

THE SHOW (*½ out of 4)
While the first emcee-less show last year seemed somewhat novel, this year it sunk to the level of mundane and had me yearning for a talented entertaining host or hosts who could attempt to move the latest 3 hour and 32 minute snooze-fest a tad more swiftly.  What saved my rating from sinking to a one-star review was the historic nature of this years 92nd edition.  An independent South Korean film, although universally critically acclaimed, utterly shocked the Dolby Theater audience and most Hollywood pundits when it took home four awards including three of the big five:  Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay (see Parasite director Bong Joon Ho above foundling those oscars).  For the first time in its history, a foreign language film (now labeled Best International Feature Film Award for the first time) won Best Picture as it stunningly upset the nearly overwhelming pre-show favorite, 1917, the World War I masterpiece from director Sam Mendes.  As he began receiving an unpredictable tsunami of accolades in the form of a golden statuette, I thought Bong Joon Ho would pull a muscle while practically using the stage steps as his own private stair-master.  It was almost a given that Parasite, the biting class satire, would win the Best International Language award; however, when it finally became time to name the Best Picture, it was a foregone conclusion what title was printed in the envelope.  I am certain that typical U.S. moviegoers who had not screened the foreign film ("UGH-you mean I have to read subtitles!") were scratching their head.  As I pointed out in my pre-show predictions column below, I wouldn't have been surprised with its win.  However, I firmly believe, overall, that 1917 was the superior film in so many respects.  Then why didn't it win the grand prize?   One possible theory expounded (including by a friend who is a voting Academy member) was voter backlash as a result of selecting only male nominees in the Best Director category.  (For the record, only five females have ever been nominated, with only one winning:  Kathryn Bigelow for 2003's The Hurt Locker).  There were a number of quality female directors this year who were all worthy of the accolade:  Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers), and Alma Har'el (Honey Boy), to name just a few.  So, was this the Hollywood elites giving the middle finger to the 57-member directors branch of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their apparent sexism?  Something to ponder.  

Once again, my annual apologies to Sergio Leone, as this breakdown will pretty much sum up the event through this reviewer's eyes:

THE GOOD . . . .

- If the producers next year decide to go back to host(s), they had the answer starring at them in the face right at the beginning of the extravaganza:  Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Kristen Wiig, and/or Maya Rudolph offered hilarious banter and delivery and, IMHO, should be seriously considered for 2021.  

- A rousing opening number was, unfortunately, not a portent of good things to come.  A musical smorgasbord headed by Harriet star Janelle Monáe along with Billy Porter and dancers garbed in fashions relating to nominated and snubbed films, entertained on and off the stage. It promised an equally lively show which, unfortunately, never came close to materializing.

- And, speaking of Monáe, we loved seeing her amazing recovery during the open when the middle button on her white shirt popped open.  Then smiled when she struggled to remove her black jacket, only to see it immediately fall to the floor when she placed it on the coat rack.  Despite the 4-10 second delay, nothing says live TV better then moments like that.   

- One of the few unexpected surprises was Eminem performing his song "Lose Yourself" from 2002's 8 Mile which was the first hip-hop song to win an Oscar.  Ironically, the performer failed to post in 2003 to perform the song (the first time in 14 years a winner didn't perform) believing he didn't have a chance to win.  The performance earned a standing ovation from most of the audience as there were a couple of priceless reaction shots including Scorsese who, incredibly, appeared to be falling asleep.

- The show was so chock full of musical numbers it seemed to mimic the Grammy's or Video Music Awards.  Better to have music in any form instead of bland intros and inane acceptance speeches.  

- Montages, montages, and more montages including nods to foreign cinema (a portent of things to come??), famous movie songs and the art of film making.

- Most speeches from the minor award recipients were, thankfully, relatively brief and required no annoying "get the hell off the stage" cue from the orchestra.

- This year's pop sensation Billie Eilish's touching rendition of "Yesterday" during the In Memoriam segment, accompanied by her brother Finneas O'Connell on piano.

I did pretty well with my 17 predictions (see my Pre-AA Ramblings column below) - missing on Best Director, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, and Production Design.  Although I hit on  14 of my 18 picks (77%), I had correctly predicted the "upset" winner for 3 of those 4 misses.  If we count those as winners in the final totals, that would raise it to 94%.  (That sound you hear is me patting my back.)

THE BAD . . . . 

- For those of you still awake at the end, there was an attempt to mercifully end the show by cutting off the acceptance speeches by Parasite producers when the audience began clapping and voicing in protest.  Mics and lights were then turned back on in order to give the winners their due and their final 15 minutes of fame.  

- Have you ever heard such a collection of forgettable nominated songs?? Even the winning song written by Elton John and his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin for Rocketman, for them, was mediocre at best but ultimately forgettable. 

- The way too long running time of 3 hours and 32 minutes was, for some reason, fifteen minutes longer than last year.  (At least it wasn't anywhere near the Whoopi Goldberg all-time 2002 record of 4 hours and 23 minutes!) 

- It seemed half of Hollywood were tapped as presenters, there were so many throughout the telecast.  I know they were trying to cover for the lack of an emcee; however, how do you explain that there were no introductions for song performers Randy Newman, Chrissy Metz, and even Elton John??!  Disjointed to say the least!

- The annual notable omissions from the In Memoriam segment included Luke Perry (who had a role in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), Oscar-nominated Michael J. Pollard, comedian Tim Conway, horror actor Sid Haig, Disney Channel star Cameron Boyce, Oscar nominated Valentina Cortese, Sue Lyons  and Carol Lynley - to name but a few.  However they did right a wrong from last year by including director Stanley Donen who died 3 days before 2019's telecast.  (For a complete list of who were and who weren't included, click here.)

THE UGLY . . . .

- Why oh why can't these people just accept their damn award instead of mounting their soapbox and politicizing?!  I suppose it is just a sign of the times - but personally I'm sick and tired of it.  A couple of examples: as excellent as Steve Martin and Chris Rock were, even they couldn't abstain, poking fun at the disastrous Iowa Caucus held days before, Brad Pitt mentioning John Bolton and the impeachment hearing, Josh Gad introducing Idina Menzel and quipping about climate change, American Factory co-director Julia Reichert and her call for unionization, Best Actor Joaquin Phoenix droning on about all forms of inequality, environmentalism and animal rights, and on and on it went.  They even showed a prerecorded video of environmental activist teenager Greta Thunberg.  Enough already!!  As Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais astutely stated to his audience in his opening monologue:  "You're in no position to lecture the public about anything.  You know nothing about the real world.  Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg".  BRAVO!!  This guy needs to host!

- Maybe this annual political turnoff to the viewing public is one of the main reasons for the Oscar's plummeting ratings as the final viewership totals tallied at 23.6 million viewers (which was 20% or 6 million viewers down from last year).  That is the lowest number in Oscar history. 



THE BIGGEST SURPRISE LOSER AWARD - The overwhelming favorite 1917 losing to the first foreign language film ever to win Best Picture

THE 2ND BIGGEST SURPRISE LOSER AWARD - Greta Gerwig who practically looked like a shoo-in for her amazing adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel, "Little Women" - especially after the outcry when she wasn't nominated in the Best Director category despite her film being one of the nine Best Picture nominees.  The winning selection of  Jo Jo Rabbit was equally baffling.  Gerwig was thrown a bone, however, for nabbing the Best Costume design.  Which leads us to . . .

THE #1 THROW A BONE AWARD - Greta Gerwig

THE #2 THROW A BONE AWARD - Galway-born Eimeer Noone.  After announcing that for the first time the orchestra would be led by a female, it turns out she was only allowed to conduct the orchestra playing excerpts from the five nominated scores (musical director Rickey Minor returned as the main conductor for his 2nd year.)  

THE LEAST SURPRISING WINNER AWARD - Elton John & Bernie Taupin for Best Original Song.  Their song "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again" from Rocketman was the best of a sorry lot.

THE 2ND LEAST SURPRISING WINNERS AWARD - (tie) Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood) and Renée Zellweger (Judy).

MOST ACCEPTANCE SPEECHES AWARD - Parasite director Bong Joon Ho (with 4:  Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film and Best Director.  


THE MICHAEL PHELPS MOST WINS IN ONE NIGHT AWARD - Director Bong Joon Ho with 4 (tied with Walt Disney all-time).

FUNNIEST ACCEPTANCE SPEECH LINE AWARD - Bong Joon Ho who, after receiving receiving his Best Director award, his fourth of the night, proclaimed at the end, "Thank you.  I will drink until next morning.  Thank you."

FUNNIEST PRESENTER LINE AWARD - Olivia Coleman, who won Best Actress last year for The Favourite, before presenting the Best Supporting Actor award, quipped, "It's a pleasure to be back. Thank you.  Last year was the best night . . .of my husband's life".

BEST HEARTFELT ACCEPTANCE SPEECH AWARD - Laura Dern, who concluded her emotional speech by thanking her famous parents, Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern, saying, "Some say never meet your heroes.  I say if you're blessed, you get them as your parents.  I share this with my acting heroes, my legends, Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern.  You got game.  I love you."  She was the first one of the three to win an Oscar despite Diane and Bruce having multiple past nominations.

MOST DISAPPOINTING ACCEPTANCE SPEECH AWARD -  Brad Pitt.  After finally winning a Oscar on his forth try, his usual wit and self -deprecation (see his Golden Globe speech for an example) was sorely missed.  Instead, it dissolved into a typical "snowflake" political jab at the end.

BEST SHOUT-OUT AWARD - Bong Joon Ho acknowledging Martin Scorsese when accepting the Best Director award stating, "When I was young and studying cinema, there was a saying that I carved deep into my heart which is 'The most personal is the most creative'.  That quote was from our great Martin Scorsese . . . When I was in school, I studied Martin Scorsese films.  Just to be nominated was a huge honor.  I never thought I would win".  The audience agreed by giving Martin a standing ovation.

2ND BEST SHOUT-OUT AWARD - Brad Pitt acknowledging Leonardo DiCaprio when accepting his Best Supporting Actor Award stating, "Leo, I'll ride on your coattails any day, man.  The view's fantastic".

BEST/FUNNIEST PRESENTERS AWARD - Kristen Wiig & Maya Rudolph presenting awards for Production & Costume Design, performed a hilarious medley reflecting their acting chops at the same time.  Hey Academy:  if Ricky cannot host, how about these two ex-SNL comedians whose impeccable talent & chemistry is undeniable?

BEST VISUAL JOKE AWARD - James Corden and Rebel Wilson recreating their characters from Cats.  (Note:  The film was, hands-down, the most disastrous movie of 2019.  It was so bad that even after it was pulled for re-editing after its initial release, the re-edited version failed just as miserably.  However, these two unfortunates from the cast did win this Jay B Cinema Diary Oscar Show Award - so all was not lost.)  

THE #1 WTF  MOMENT AWARD - Presenter Steve Martin while reviewing the list of Best Directors, referencing the lack of female nominees, said, "I thought there was something missing this year".  After a "pregnant" (excuse the pun) pause,  Chris Rock chimed in, to thunderous applause, "Vaginas!

THE #2 WTF  MOMENT AWARD - Renée Zellweger's Best Actress acceptance speech.  Her rambling disjointed speech included mentions of Neil Armstrong and Serena Williams.  Huh??

THE #3 WTF  MOMENT AWARD - Joaquin Phoenix's Best Actor acceptance speech included references to gender inequality, racism and queer rights.  He then fell completely off the cliff when he mentioned the artificial insemination of cows (whaaat??!). 

THE #4 WTF  MOMENT AWARD - The last thing the already over bloated show needed was a virtually unknown actor of color rapping a recap of what had already transpired.  Utkarsh Anbudkar, (I know.  Who??) did just that to the chagrin of everyone who just wanted to get on with the damn show.

THE 2020 OSCAR TWITTER TAGLINE AWARD- The return of #OscarsSoWhite.  After its official end last year, it came back with a vengeance.  Martin and Rock made comical reference to the nearly all white acting races:  Rock credited Best Actress nominee Cynthia Erivo for doing "such a great job in Harriet hiding black people that the Academy got her to hide all the black nominees." He followed that by recognizing the snubbed critically acclaimed Eddie Murphy vehicle Dolemite Is My Name by asking Cynthia "Is Eddie Murphy under the stage?" Martin then noted that there was indeed progress since the first ceremony 91 years ago saying, "in 1929 there were no black acting nominees" with Rock adding "Now in 2020, we got one."

BEST JOHN TRAVOLTA REFERENCE AWARD - Frozen 2 star Josh Gad introducing Idina Menzel referenced Travolta's mangling of her name at the 2014 Oscars when Travolta introduced her as "Adele Dazzem".  Gad introduced Menzel by proclaiming:  "The iconic and brilliant Idina Menzel, pronounced exactly how it is spelled, is our Elsa." 

Janelle Monáe.

Roger Deakins (1917).  After missing out on his first 13 nominations, it is now two wins in a row for the great cinematographer.

THE ACTING CLEAN SWEEP AWARD -  All four acting award winners (Zellweger, Phoenix, Dern, & Pitt) won Golden Globe, Critics' Choice, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA awards.  This was the second time, with the first being in 2018 when Francis McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), Allison Janney (I, Tonya) and Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) accomplished the feat. 


Bong Joon Ho appears just as surprised as most of us as he
 receives his Best Picture Oscar from presenter Jane Fonda

 Bong Joon Ho and gang celebrate their Best Picture Oscar
for "Parasite"

The opening number ensemble performers

Janelle Monáe & Billy Porter

 Non-hosts Steve Martin & Chris Rock

 Best Supporting Actress Laura Dern ("A Marriage Story")

 Best Actor Joaquin Phoenix ("Joker")

 Pop singer Billie Eilish singing "Yesterday" during
the In Memoriam tribute  

  Best Documentary winners for "American Factory"

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt share
a bromance moment 

 Best Supporting Actor Brad Pitt ("Once Upon A Time In

Best Actress Renée Zelleger ("Judy")

Best Adapted Screenplay winner Taika Waititi ("Jo Jo 

 Idina Menzel (center) with chorus performing the nominated 
song from "Frozen 2"

Idina Menzel

 Original song winners Elton John & lyricist Bernie Taupin

 Production and Costume Design introducers Maya Rudolph (l)
& Kristen Wiig  

 Original Score winner Hildur Guðnadóttir ("Joker") 

Presenters James Corden & Rebel Wilson introducing the 
Best Visual Effects Award

Eminem belting out his 2003 Original Song winner 
"Lose Yourself"

Martin Scorsese thoroughly enjoying Eminem's performance


- For the second year in a row, the 92nd Academy will be presenting as host . . . . no one.  Yup, the Hollywood snowflakes loved so much the absence of controversy last year after Kevin Hart was
unceremoniously dropped at the last minute that they decided to continue this new "tradition".  For those of you who looked forward to having someone (usually a comedian) do a 5-10 minute skew job to the acting elite seated in the first couple of rows, you'll have to be content on checking out the brilliant Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes in early January.  (Billy Crystal lamented as such on Jimmy Kimmel's show last Thursday.)  So, count on the opening to be just as boring as the rest of the snoozefest.  Maybe something totally unpredictable will happen; say, the wrong winner being announced, an uninvited streaker, etc.  

- All five nominated songs will be performed by the nominees.  And for those who missed this years Grammy Awards (judging by the final numbers, that would be most of you), for some reason, six-time 2020 Grammy winner Billie Elish will perform despite not having a song nominated.  I guess The Academy is trying to increase its ratings by pulling in the youth lobby.

-There will be an Oscar telecast first when Eimear Noone will be the first woman to conduct the orchestra.

- Announced stars to grace the podium include:  Mahershala Ali, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig, Tiffany Haddish, Tom Holland, Margot Robbie, Emma Stone, Steve Martin, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sandra Oh, Keanu Reeves, Chris Rock, Ray Romano, Kelly Marie Tran, & Rebel Wilson.

- Here is an amazing coincidence to ponder:  Writer/Director Noah Baumbach probably drew inspiration for his Best Picture nominee Marriage Story from his own failed marriage to Jennifer Jason Leigh.   He is in competition with his current flame (since 2011), and mother of his child as Greta Gerwig's Little Women is also vying for the top award.  That is an Oscar first for couple directors.  2008 was a close call in this category when Katherine Bigelow and James Cameron were nominated.  Close because their divorce happened 18 months earlier.  Interestingly, Laura Dern acts in both of Baumbach's and Gerwig's film.  And both directors are up for writing awards, albeit different categories.  Neither garnered a Best Director nom, however.

- Although comic book films have had trouble collecting the golden statuettes over the years, could this be the breakthrough year?  Joker leads the way with eleven noms this year and, although it will not probably win Best Picture, Joaquin Phoenix is the likely winner for the Best Male Actor award (see my predictions below).

- If you haven't noticed, and for those of you who care, The Academy is under fire once again for totally snubbing women in the Best Director category.  Most notable:  Greta Gerwig for Little Women which has been universally praised by audiences and critics.  Maybe also expanding the nominees in this category is the answer to quell the negative chatter.

- Did you happen to notice the relatively early telecast date of this years program?  Normally reserved for around the end of February, the organizers opted for the second Sunday in hopes of better ratings for this the official end of the awards season.  Good luck with that.

- Scarlett Johansson is the twelfth actress up for two acting awards in the same year:  Best Actress for Marriage Story and Supporting for JoJo Rabbit.  Although competent in both, I don't anticipate her winning for either (see below).  (For the record, none of the other eleven has won both awards in the year.)

- After missing out after fourteen straight nominations for Best Cinematography, the great Roger Deakins is poised to win two in a row (he won in 2018 for Blade Runner 2049).  He is a virtual lock this year for 1917 (see below).

 - If odds-on favorite Renée Zellweger wins Best Actress for Judy, it will mark sixteen straight years since the winner will not have her picture nominated for Best Picture. 

- Thirty-three-year-old Cynthia Erivo would be the youngest EGOT (Emmy Grammy Oscar Tony) winner if she accepts the Oscar for one of her two nominated categories:  Best Actress (Harriet) and co-writer of the nominated song "Stand Up".  Robert Lopez is currently the youngest who completed the foursome at age 39. 

- If newly-knighted Sir Sam Mendes wins Best Director for 1917, it would have been a record 20 years between  directing Oscars.  He won in 2000 for American Beauty.  The great Billy Wilder currently holds the record with a 15-year gap between The Lost Weekend (1945) and The Apartment (1960).

- The Best Animation category began in 2001, and only one film's sequel won:  Toy Story 3.  This years Toy Story 4 could win and, if so, would be the second animated sequel to win and in its own series to boot.

- The phenomenal Parasite is the first South Korean movie to be nominated in the Best Picture category and the sixth film to be nominated in both the Best Picture and International Feature categories.

- Trying to recall the last motor racing film to be nominated for Best Picture?  RushGrand Prix??  Days of Thunder???  Nope.  Ford v Ferrari is the first of its genre in this category.  

-  Streaming service Netflix fully touted last years Roma, which lost out to eventual Best Picture winner Green Book.  This year it went all out with films The King, Dolemite Is My Name, The Two Popes, Laundromat, The Irishman and Marriage Story.  Despite the latter two vying for the top Oscar, neither are expected to win but signals Netflix now as a major player in years to come.

- Now that Roger Deakins has shed King Kong off his shoulders with his win in 2018, it is time to cross our fingers and toes for perenial loser Dianne Warren who has entered the fray with her 11th nomination without winning for her song "I'm Standing With You" (Breakthrough).  She is currently the most nominated woman without a win.  Glenn Close will be rooting against her Sunday night.  And speaking of nominated songs, Elton John is hoping for his second, 25 years after winning for "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" (The Lion King).

- One of the biggest upsets in AA history was Judy Garland not winning in 1954 for A Star Is Born.  So sure she was of winning, Garland had a camera crew surrounding her hospital bed to record her speech as she had just given birth to Joey Luft.  The Oscar instead went to Grace Kelly (The Country Girl).  Should Zellweger win (as expected) it will have been decades after Garland's death for the Acadamy to have given an indirect recognition to her incredible talent and legacy.

My prediction record last year:  11 out of 17 correct - missing out on Lead Actress, Feature Documentary, Short Documentary, Original Screenplay, Film Editing and Costume Design.  To my credit, though, five of the six winners in these categories I had listed as "upset possibilities" while completely missing on only one:  Feature Documentary (Free Solo).  

Now, the envelope, please . . . 


What will win:  1917
Upset Possibility:  Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Extreme Upset Possibility:  Parasite
What should win:  1917
Overall, another rather mediocre year for films.  In fact, 1917 is the only nominated movie (see below) that I would rate a four star (out of four) rating.  That said,  I would be shocked if films #4-8 in my list below win the top honor.  The front runner has to be Sam Mendes' war masterpiece which has already won numerous BP awards, including Golden Globe and BAFTA.  A true technological marvel, 1917 also has all the ingredients of a truly great film:  a simple premise expertly told that will hold ones attention throughout, great photography, memorable score, as well as excellent acting and direction.  However, I can't leave out this years amazing Cannes Palme d'Or winner, the South Korean Parasite.  Bong Joon Ho's uniquely layered social drama will almost assuredly receive the International Feature Film Award but, as pointed out above, will only be the 6th to be nominated in both categories.  Nevertheless, the powerful film would not surprise if it won the top prize.  Therefore, I listed it as an extreme upset possibility.  I couldn't leave out as an upset possibility Tarantino's homage to old Hollywood in the late 60's as The Academy voters love to vote for any film that glorifies themselves.  Although Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is worthy of winning consideration, a 30-45 minute cut, for me, could have made it more of a worthy contender for #1.  Although the disturbing but excellent Joker could claim the top spot, I can't see the voters going for the controversial comic book character taking home the golden statuette.  The voters nod, instead, will award Joaquin Phoenix's acting chops (see below).
As for the other nominees, here are my quickie reviews:
   Little Women - pretty but ultimately empty
   The Irishman - waaaaay too long
   JoJo Rabbit - peculiar satire with a kinder and gentler Hitler 
   Marriage Story - too depressing, typical and unoriginal

FOR THE RECORD:  here are the nine nominated films I personally rated from best to least: 
(1)   1917
(2)   (tie) Parasite
(3)   Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
(4)   Little Women
(5)   The Irishman
(6)   JoJo Rabbit
(7)   Ford v Ferrari
(8)   Marriage Story

Who will win:  Sam Mendes (1917)
Upset possibility:  Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood)
Extreme Upset Possibility:  Bong Joon Ho (Parasite)
Who should win:  Sam Mendes
Anyone who has read my past AA columns knows my feelings on this:  the best picture has to be directed by the best director.  They naturally go hand in hand.  But, if you are an Academy voter, not so fast.  This year, though, the formula should hold true.  The seamless 1917 is truly a marvel and accolades should be bestowed on the top person in charge of this astonishing production.  Again, the voters might acknowledge Tarantino or even Bong Joon Ho, but my rubles are all on Mendes.

Who will win:  Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Upset possibility:  None
Who should win:  Joaquin Phoenix
One of two virtual locks of the night.  The late Heath Ledger deservedly won a Best Supporting Oscar for his unforgettable portrayal of the Joker in Christopher Nolan's 2008 masterpiece The Dark Knight.  Joaquin's portrait is even more unforgettable.  Phoenix occupies nearly every frame of the Joker's origin story of how he became one of Gotham's most feared citizens.  More a psychological study than a Marvel comic film, Arthur Fleck will stay with you long after you exit the theater.  If Joaquin doesn't win, it would rival Judy Garland's loss at the 1955 Academy Awards (see my thoughts above).

Who will win:  Renée Zellweger (Judy)
Upset possibility:  None
Who should win:  Renée Zellweger
The other virtual lock.  Voters love to honor depictions of Hollywood legends.  In this case, Zellweger's uncanny representation as Judy Garland is more than well deserved and should have her mounting the podium at The Dolby Theater.  I realize that last year everyone (including myself) was predicting Glenn Close was finally going to win.  Instead, Olivia Colman won and she promptly gave one of the more unforgettable speeches in Oscar history.  However, Zellweger's competition is not nearly as formidable. 

Who will win:  Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood)
Upset possibility:  Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
Who should win:  Brad Pitt
Pitt almost could have been put in the Best Actor category.  Nonetheless, his placement here almost guarantees an Oscar.  Brad gives, arguably, the best performance of his career as the hulky 60s  Hollywood stunt man who may have thwarted one of the most notorious crimes of the 20th century.  But my personal favorite might be Joe Pesci who returns after a 9-year hiatus portraying a mobster in Martin Scorsese's epic crime drama surrounding the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.  Pesci's memorable low-key effective turn makes him a clear standout in the star-filled ensemble cast.

Who will win:  Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Upset possibility:  Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Who should win:  Florence Pugh
Pugh plays the passionate Amy March in the Louisa May Alcott classic and her character possibly resonates more than her sister Jo, the central character.  Pugh's commanding presence is crucial in driving the narrative every second she is on the screen.  Although Dern's portrayal as Scarlett Johansson's lawyer is spot-on, it is Pugh who doubtless will prevail Sunday night.

What will win:  Parasite (South Korea)
Upset possibility:  None
What should win:  Parasite
There has not been a better International film all year - and, quite possibly could include the U.S.  So, lets go out on a limb and declare Parasite the clear winner in this category as 1917 will more than likely be too strong an entry for it to receive Best Picture honors.  It is quite a tribute, though, for this first time South Korean nominee to be in the final list of nine and the voters will recognize its excellence here.

Who will win Toy Story 4
Upset possibility:  Any of the other four nominees
Who should win:  Toy Story 4
This is a tough one.  When it comes to awards, Hollywood does not like sequels.  Sure, Toy Story 3 is a prime exception.  So, can we count on the voters to reward yet another sequel in this splendid Pixar series?  I'm saying yes - but with reservations.  Some of the other films have won awards this season while ignoring TS4.  So, based on the overall franchise and track record of Pixar, it is always hard to pick against them; so I am going out on a limb predicting TS4 wins while still acknowledging that this is a wide open field.

What will win:  American Factory
Upset possibility:  Honeyland
What should win:   American Factory
If there is one Netflix recognition at the AAs it will probably be given to American Factory which has been raking in the doc awards this season.  The film, about a Chinese billionaire who takes over an abandoned American GM factory is the likely winner.  Yet, since this category is usually one of the toughest to forecast (this was the only category of my 17 predictions last year that I completely missed), my upset pick here is Honeyland (which has also been nominated in the International Feature Film category) about a family of beekeepers in the Balkans.  
Who will win:  Roger Deakins (1917)
Upset possibility:  Robert Richardson (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood)
Extreme upset possibility:  Jarin Blaschke (The Lighthouse)
Who should win: Roger Deakins
This one is easy.  One of the major "stars" in 1917 is the cinematographic genius of Roger Deakins, which is in full display as he incredibly captures the essence and horror of war.  There have been several critics of the "gimmick" of the continuous one-shot which literally puts the audience inside the cramped bunkers and battlefields of northern France.  I predict that the difficulty of his visual recreation of the horrific milieu on screen will no doubt be a subject of many future film classes.  Nevertheless, since Deakins has been ignored many times before, if there is an upset, one can't ignore Robert Richardson's beautiful recreation of old Hollywood, or Jarin Balschke's stark black-and-white photography in The Lighthouse.  Still,  it would be a real shocker if Deakins loses.

Who will win:  Greta Gerwig (Little Women)
Upset possibility:  Taika Waititi (JoJo Rabbit)
Who should win:  Greta Gerwig
Despite the many numerous iterations of Alcott's timeless story of the March sisters, Gerwig's powerful interpretation is innovative and fresh and should be acknowledged by The Academy - especially after all the clamoring that ensued when she wasn't placed on the Best Director list.  Yet, if there is surprise, I will guess it would be Taika Waititi whose Nazi satire adapted screenplay won a Writers Guide Award,  

Who will win:  Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won (Parasite)
Upset possibility:  Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood)
Extreme upset possibility:  Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story)
Who should win:  Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won 
Yet another tough category to predict.   That being said, I would definitely hand it to the twisty original script by Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won which takes the viewer on an unforgettable roller coaster ride as it comments on the distinct class division existing in South Korea.  The script contains an equal mix of humor, drama and horror that makes it truly memorable.  Nevertheless, Academy voters may give this award to Tarantino (who is already a two-time winner in this category) or to Baumbach who created a biting and realistic insightful script about marriage, divorce and those lawyers.  And I really loved the ingenuisness of director Rian Johnson's script for Knives Out.  Unfortunately, I felt this film would play better and be more suited for the Broadway stage.  So in the final analysis, it is Ho and Won's script that clearly stands out.

Who will win:  Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland (Ford v Ferrari)
Upset possibility:  Yank Jinmo (Parasite)
Who should win:  Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland
Those incredible racing sequences gives Ford v Ferrari its visual impact and I can't see any other nominee winning.  But Yank Jinmo's skillful editing that helps propel the tension in Parasite could nudge the award his way if enough Academy voters steer away from the racing genre.

Who will win:  "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again" (from Rocketman; Music by Elton John and Lyric by             Bernie Taupin)
Who should win:  "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again"
Rooting for:  "I'm Standing With You" (from Breakthrough; Music and Lyric by Dianne Warren)
Sir Elton John is the clear winner here with his and Bernie's song that was sung as a duet between Elton and lead actor Taron Egerton and which played over the end-credits.  However, I will be secretly rooting for Ms. Warren to finally get her long deserved award - even though it has virtually no chance.

Who will win:  Hildur Guðnadóttir (Joker)
Upset possibility:  Thomas Newman (1917)
Who should win:  Hildur Guðnadóttir
Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir's haunting electronic score effectively emphasized the dread that follow Joaquin's character into madness.  It is one of the most impressive aspects of Joker and her score is a standout in this category which is chock full of skillful composers.  My second choice is the emotive score by the accomplished Thomas Newman (Randy's brother and who has been nominated 14 times without a win!) whose underlying symphonic composition permeates 1917 and had me linger until the final end-credit.  But, it is Guðnadóttir's effecting composition that underscores the images on the screen and made them even more indelible.

Who will win:  Jacqueline Durran (Little Women
Upset possibility:  Arianne Phillips (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood)
Who should win:   Jacqueline Durran
I'll go with the obvious choice and pick the earliest period film on the list.  Even though The Academy surprised last year with the costume design from Black Panther, and it was nostalgic looking at the 60s threads created by Arianne Phillips for Tarantino's flick, I am picking the exquisite garb created by Jacqueline Durran for Little Women.

Who will win:  Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson (1917)
Upset possibility:  Paul Massey, David Giammarco & Steven A. Morrow (Ford v Ferrari)
Who should win:  Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson
Although the sound of racing cars is crucial to Ford v Ferrari, the myriad of sounds in 1917 was crucial in placing the audience in the center of the soundscape that the protagonists faced - whether it is footsteps, bullets, bombs, crashing airplanes, waterfalls or raging rapids. The sound mixing here was absolutely crucial in how affection the World War I drama unfolded.

Who will win:  Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration:  Lee Sandales (1917
Upset possibility:  Lee Ha Jun; Set Decoration:  Cho Won Woo (Parasite)
Who should win:   Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration:  Lee Sandales
Each of the complex set pieces designed in 1917 were so realistic that it allowed me to explore their intricacies while never believing they were unnatural.  The contrasting set designs in Parasite is a long shot to upset.

Who will win:  Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler, & Dominic Tuohy (1917)
Upset possibility:  Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelso Sepulveda-Fauser & Stephane                     Grabli (The Irishman)
Who should win:   Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler, & Dominic Tuohy
For the record, this has always been one of the toughest categories for me to predict.  The visual effects needed to be 100% realistic in 1917 and, to me, mission accomplished in spades!  There was much made of the groundbreaking deaging techniques used in The Irishman but there also was much debate on how successful it was in portraying the mostly senior cast as younger men.  I'm thinking this could be a big night for Sam Mendes' tour de force.


2019 Double Exposure (Investigative Film Festival & Symposium)

(The following coverage of the 2019 Double Exposure/Investigative Film Festival appears online at Film Festival Today)

Five years and, hopefully, counting.  The noteworthy Double Exposure/Investigative Film Festival is thriving as co-directors Diana Jean Schemo and Sky Sitney and the nonprofit investigation news organization 100Reporters continue their excellent film festival that premiered in the fall of 2015 in the nation's capital.

Despite losing a day (I was told a religious holiday fell on what would have been a Wednesday Opening Night), the festival jam packed those four days with nine memorable documentaries, two Shorts programs, ten  symposiums held over two days and nine separate workshops on the third day.  The organizers even added two new programs entitled "Crossing Borders" and "The Art of Exposure With Halcyon House Fellows".  Finally, A DX Access and DX Pitch (where "registered participants in Double Exposure have found funding for projects, distribution deals, new homes for their work and jobs") and Docs In Progress Pitch ("where six pitching filmmakers present their projects to a panel that includes representatives from across the documentary industry") were held over two days.  (A complete topic list can be found on the Double Exposure website.)

A user friendly festival footprint continued with Opening Night being held at The National Portrait Gallery, the closing night film screened at The National Geographic Museum and all remaining seven films and Shorts Programs at The Naval Heritage Center.  For the first time, the Eaton Hotel was the site for the remainder of the programs stated above.

This years impressive film lineup included the U.S. premiere by Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple, "Desert One".  A fascinating post-film panel discussion with film subjects involved with the failed 1979 effort to rescue the American hostages during the Iranian revolution kicked off the festival in grand style (refer to my honorable mention below).  Also notable was my personal favorite the festival's Centerpiece presentation of  the brilliant "Citizen K" by the talented and prolific Alex Gibney (reviewed below); and the Closing Night Film "The Cave" by Academy Award nominee Feras Fayyad ("Last Man In Aleppo") about an underground hospital in war-torn Syria. 

The relevance of Double Exposure cannot be overstated as investigative reporting in today's volatile political and social consciousness seems to be at the forefront of today's explosive headlines.  As aptly stated by Diana Jean Schemo and Sky Sitney in their opening letter to attendees, "Public awareness of investigative reporting's importance for a vibrant democracy has never been more urgent - particularly in Washington, epicenter of the assault on verifiable truth. . . Investigative journalism cannot survive as a spectator sport.   It requires public awareness and active support.  That has proved more critical than ever, particularly here and now."  To this end, the co-directors successfully continue to offer journalists and the public at large a unique wide selection of offerings and activities that help filter out the noise and focus on the truth.


(1)  Citizen K (**** out of 4 - 128 minutes)  
Writer/director Alex Gibney has numerous nominations 
 and awards on his resumé, 
including two Best Documentary Feature Academy Awards for Enron:  The Smartest Guys in the Rooms Side (2006) and Taxi to the Dark Side (2008).  The D.C. premiere of his latest, a brilliant captivating profile of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil oligarch (and perhaps the richest man in Russia) who created Russia's first commercial bank and who became a political protester in today's post-Soviet Russia, is this reviewer's early pick on making the Academy's short list.  Pointing out the corruption in the Putin regime, Khodorkovsky became the biggest thorn in Putin's side.  As a result, he lost his assets and his liberty when thrown in a Siberian jail for ten years.  Upon release, he did a political about-face by founding Open Russia, a pro-democracy initiative advocating democracy and human rights.  He later exiled to London in 2015 after being charged with the murder of a small-town Siberian mayor in 1998 who had charged him with tax invasion.  With that as a background, this space is not nearly large enough to depict the numerous directions Gibney takes to cover the historical timeline and personalities involved.  The viewer will be left with countless ideas, pro and con, making it difficult to ascertain motives that would ultimately provide answers on Khodorkovsky's villainy or innocence.  This is a decision the filmmaker correctly leaves to the audience as there are many shades of gray here in this convoluted story of power and greed.  Documentaries that ventured past the 90 or so minute mark, more so than not, tend to lose focus as well as the average viewer's attention.  However, Gibney here is masterful in generating so much interest and entertainment that the 128 minutes literally flew by.  Editor Michael Palmer is instrumental in keeping the narrative streamlined that is terrifically complemented by a appropriately thrilling soundtrack provided by Robert Logan and Ivan Guest.  (Of special note is the opening of drone images over the Yukos oilfields accompanied by Zbigniew Preisner's dramatic "Song for the Unification of Europe" musically pounding the visuals.)  Gibney's most satisfying work to date, the Amazon-produced Citizen K started a limited U.S. roll out beginning November 22 and will eventually be streamed over Prime Video.

(l to r)  New York Times Washington investigative
correspondent Mark Mazzetti and director Alex

(2)  Bedlam (**** out of 4 - 128 minutes)`
As the poster exclaims, a film that is "an intimate journey into America's mental health crisis" doesn't exactly scream riveting entertainment.   However, to this reviewer's
pleasant surprise, director/co-writer Psychiatrist Dr. Kenneth Paul Rosenberg's engrossing, compelling and relevant doc ended up as my second favorite at the festival.  The timing could not be more appropriate as currently there exists an increasing homelessness problem plaguing several of our largest cities.  According to a Harvard study, 45 per cent of these folks suffer from mental illness, and some would argue the problem is mainly or partly due to local government's inability to adequately deal with the mentally ill.  Dr. Rosenberg spent five years documenting the issue and neatly intertwines his film into two parts.  There is a more general look at the treatment of those inflicted with the insidious disease.   As one expert points out, treating mental illness is, "a 150-year-old disaster".  The most severely inflicted went from being warehoused in frightful institutions to now where their final destinations are either the ER, prison, or the city streets.  After presenting a brief history of the treatment of the mentally ill, Dr. Rosenberg directs his focus mainly to LAC USC (Los Angeles County University of Southern California Medical Center).  Here we are introduced to a Psychiatric resident and an ER Psychiatrist as well as three individual case studies.  Their individual medical treatments as well as their ups and downs over the course of several years hammers home the frustrations faced by the medical community in trying to deal with what is really an incurable disease.  In the second part, as if these case studies aren't heart rendering enough, the director introduces us to his own personal connection, and the reason he entered the field of psychiatry.  His older sister Merle, developed Schizophrenia at the age of 20 and later committed suicide.  Her story lands a strong emotional punch that clearly illustrates his anguish and overall punctuates the sorry state of the afflicted and the incredible challenges health professionals are faced to help them.  Bedlam features strong editing by Jim Cricci, wonderful camerawork by Director of Photography Joan Churchill and an effective score by Dannt Bensi & Saunder Juriaans.  The film had its D.C. premiere at the festival and is currently scheduled to be televised next April 13 on the PBS Independent Lens series.

(l to r)  Director Dr. Kenneth Paul Rosenberg and 
moderator Susanne Reber, executive editor and 
co-founder of Reveal

(3)  Bellingcat - Truth in a Post-Truth World (**** out of 4 - 88 minutes)
In today's era of "fake news" comes the D.C. premiere of this eye-opening film from Dutch director Hans Pool which practically plays like a spy thriller.  With misinformation and questionable sources from the media and governments plaguing our everyday news, there is some comfort knowing there are people out there who are constantly in search of the truth in our "breaking news" universe.  Bellingcat, an online investigative journalism website was founded in 2014 by British journalist and former blogger Eliot Higgins when he began investigating the use of weapons in the Syrian war.  Specializing in fact-checking and open-source intelligence (OSINT), the group has investigated such worldly events as the 2014 shooting down of the Malaysian MH17 plane over Ukraine, the Russian spy poisoning in the UK and identifying assailants during the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va.  One of the group was even able to pinpoint the location where free lance report James Foley was beheaded utilizing the video of the event.  What sets this group apart is their use of unorthodox methods of investigative journalism which includes satellite photos, Google Earth, social media, public databases and obscure digital downloads off The Internet.  The name "Bellingcat" is derived from a children's tale ("Belling the Cat") in which a mouse plans to tie a bell to the neck of a cat but is unable to enlist the aid of someone brave enough to do it.  However, unlike the mouse in the story, Eliot's group is scattered around the world and dedicated to unmasking falsehoods and deceptions without fear of being "eaten" by powers much greater than themselves.  The forensic methods these citizen journalists use is nothing short of engrossing and will hold ones interest throughout the 88 minute running-time and will have you marveling at their dedication in establishing true facts behind today's explosive headlines.  The film is currently seeking distribution in the U.S.

Film subject Christiaan Triebert and moderator Claire
Wardle, who leads the strategic direction and research
for First Draft and is co-founder of Eyewitness Media 


Desert One  (*** 1/2 out of - 108 minutes)
The opening night film and U.S. premiere of the latest from Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple (1976's Harlan County, USA and 1991's American Dream) superbly chronicles the failed 1980 Delta Force mission to rescue the 52 American hostages taken in 1979 during the Iranian Revolution and who were held for 444 days.  The botched mission resulted in the deaths of eight soldiers and likely cost President Jimmy Carter the election in the fall of 1980.  Her nuts and bolts approach details like never before the incredible behind-the-scenes 40-year-old event.  Kopple obtains interviews with many of the principals (including hostages) and uses archival footage, military documents and effective animation (to illustrate the unfilmed nighttime fiasco), in order to thoroughly investigate the operation as well as commenting on its significant historical and political impact.  The director even gained a major coup by obtaining a fascinating present-day interview with the 94-year-old ex-president.  The U.S. theatrical release date has yet to be announced; however, since Desert One was produced for the History Channel, it will eventually appear on that cable station.


Bikram:  Yogi, Guru, Predator  (*** out of 4 - 86 minutes)
Cult leaders have taken many forms over the years.  From extreme examples such as Jim Jones and David Koresh to much subtler forms where a charismatic leader grabs hold of folks who are willing to follow doctrines and activities that others would label abuse.  Bikram Choudary clearly falls into the latter category.  Director Eva Orner recounts his rise and "fall" by detailing a journey that began in the early 1970s when he left Calcutta for Beverly Hills, California where he established a global hot yoga fitness empire.  Great wealth and celebrity status followed until 2005 when deeply nefarious sexual abuse and unconventional methods allegations began to surface - along with lawsuits being filed which became national headlines.  Orner includes victim interviews as well as those from devout followers who still believe in this heinous excuse of a human being.   However, in the end, I was ultimately left unsatisfied and frustrated and only felt the need to head to the nearest shower.  The film, which had its D.C. premiere at Double Exposure, is currently available on Netflix.

Bully, Coward, Victim.  The Story of Roy Cohn  (*** out of 4 - 98 minutes)
Yet another doc (Where's My Roy Cohn was released last September) on the legendary and controversial lawyer, directed by Ivy Merropol, the granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  Cohn came to prominence when he prosecuted the Rosenbergs who eventually were executed in 1953 for stealing atomic secrets and passing them on to the Soviets.  Cohn then added to his notoriety as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare in the 1950s.  From there, he became a New York-based power broker and eventually a personal lawyer and mentor to Donald Trump.  There is much much more to this enigmatic figure (his cousin David Lloyd Marcus stated, "He was the personification of evil")  that Merropol carefully explores, including his closeted homosexuality (Cohn succumbed to aids in 1986), that makes this an overall compelling film.  The HBO-produced film, which had its D.C. premiere at this festival, is still making the festival circuit and will eventually be shown on the network in 2020.

Dark Suns  (** out of 4 -154 minutes)
One of the more depressing over 2 1/2 hours that I've ever spent in a theater seat is the D.C. premiere of this documentary by Julien Elie chronicling the murderous crimes, corruption and overall lawlessness in Mexico since the 1990s.  Too numerous talking heads will relentlessly pound this theme into your brain. And by the time the last reel where cameras follow distraught mothers searching in desolate mountain locales for any remains of their missing loved ones, I'm certain few patrons will still be there for the closing credits.  Excruciatingly slow, Dark Suns will have you wondering why anyone would ever want to venture to the country south of the U.S. border.  There has been no distribution date established as of this writing.

The Cave  (** 1/2 out of 4 - 90 minutes)
The U.S. premiere and closing night film is the latest from Oscar nominee Feras Fayyad (2017's Last Men in Aleppo) in which he focuses on the Syrian War between 2016 and 2018 taking his cameras into a subterranean hospital and observing the workings of the courageous men and women tending to victims below a war ravaged country.  Using cinema vérité, the director concentrates mainly on pediatrician and managing physician Dr. Amani Ballour and a couple of her female colleagues as they work under the most horrific cultural and social circumstances.  One can truly admire the danger Fayyad and his crew faced during the chaotic filming.  However, the constant repetition of bombing, followed by White Helmet led search-and-rescue mission, followed by the barrage of images of children suffering every wound imaginable had such an overwhelming monotonous and ultimately numbing effect that those 90 minutes of running time seemed much longer.  The documentary had a limited U.S. theatrical release beginning October 18.   

The Preppy Murder:  Death in Central Park  (*** out of 4 - Parts I & II: 86 minutes)
The world premiere of the first two installments of the AMC 5-part docuseries directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sunberg (Joan Rivers - A Piece of Work & The Devil Came on Horseback) investigates the notorious 1986 murder of Jennifer Levin by her handsome prep school friend Robert Chambers.  Chambers quickly admitted to the crime, saying she died as a result of rough sex.  The salacious story grabbed national headlines - occurring well before the existence of the current-day social media explosion where such cases NOW seem almost common place.  Based only on the first two episodes I screened, the doc is generically told with the usual interviews and reenactments but is still certain to hold ones interest considering the subject matter.  However, it is hard to discern how much padding may have ultimately been used to fill five segments.  The series began on AMC on November 13 and is currently available for streaming and on-demand.


Director Barbar Kopple (l) introduces her 
"Desert One" as festival co-creators and 
co-directors Diana Jean Schemo and 
Sky Sitney look on

Filmmaker Barbara Kopple (in red) with film
subjects and participants


"Bikram:  Yogi, Guru, Predator" director Eva Orner 
appearing at the Q&A via Skype from The Hamptons 
Film Festival

(l to r) Radio & multimedia producer and series host of 
ESPN's 30 For 30 podcast on Bikram; moderator and Double
Exposure co-director & co-producer Sky Sitney

(l to r) "Bully, Coward, Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn,
director Ivy Meeropol; Michael Meeropol, father of the
director & son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg; moderator 
Dan Friedman, Mother Jones staff writer

Q&A for "Dark Skies" with Maureen Meyer, Director for 
Mexico and Migrants Rights at The Washington Office on 
Latin America (WOLA) and PBS Public Editor, Ricardo 
Sandoval Palos

(l to r) "The Cave" producer Sigrid Dyekjær; Director Feras
Fayyad; moderator Diana Jean Schlemo, Double 
Exposure co-creator and co-director

(l to r) "The Preppy Murder: Death In Central Park" 
directors Annie Sundberg & Ricki Stern

UPCOMING:  My annual pre-Academy Award Random Thoughts and Predictions column including what will win and what should win