Every man’s worst nightmare: It’s Oscar time!

Well, that was a peculiar year, wasn’t it? No less so in Hollywoodland and environs than anywhere else, and although most of the films in contention for the 93rd Academy Awards were made in pre-Covid times, pretty much all of them have been released in the context of a global pandemic, which means the publicity circuits, audience buzz, box office takings and everything else that tells us in a normal year how well a film has been received are all shot to pieces. What I’m saying is that yes, I may only have seen half of the Best Picture candidates this year (Nomadland, The Father and Minari don’t have a UK release yet and even in lockdown I have better things to do than watch Mank), but if I get even more of my predictions wrong than usual it’s not completely my fault.

Let me get the categories about which I have zero idea over and done with quickly: the only one of the International Picture contenders I have seen is Another Round, but as it’s the one that’s certainly going to win, because Academy members have heard of Mads Mikkelson and will have made the effort to watch the film he’s in, even if they haven’t gotten around to all the others, that’s OK. I’ve gone one better with the documentary categories – Feature and Short – where I haven’t managed to see any of the nominees, and only partly because I spent most of April too ill to do anything but sleep, read and eat soup (I’m almost recovered now, thank you for asking). So I’ll go with a combination of bookies’ odds and experts’ views and plump for My Octopus Teacher for feature and Love Song For Latasha for short.

Soul will win for both Original Score and Animated Feature, but it doesn’t have a nomination in Original Song, which I expect to go to Leslie Odom Jr for Speak Now from One Night In Miami, because everybody loves Leslie Odom Jr and everybody loves Regina King, whose film it is, and I don’t think it’s going to win either of the other categories it’s nominated in (Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay).

I had a good time with this year’s Live Action shorts, but I can’t see the winner being anything other than Travon Free’s Two Distant Strangers which as well as telling a timely and eloquent story does so with a wit and a flair that doesn’t always make it into “issue-led” pieces.

I had what I’m going to call a reasonable time with the Animated Shorts, two of which are made by Pixar alumni and one of which, Erick Oh’s Opera, is such a dazzling technical achievement that I think it probably should win, but my pick instead is If Anything Happens I Love You which, although it has more than a hint of Raymond Briggs about it, is nonetheless sharp and fresh and heartbreaking. It’s currently available on Netflix, as are Two Distant Strangers, My Octopus Teacher and Love Song For Latasha.

I’m devastated to have to tell you that the Sound categories have been combined into one this year, so that I can no longer take pride in explaining the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing in a way that makes sense to nobody but me. There’s just one Sound prize now, and it will of course go to the film that’s all about sound; Darius Marder’s dazzling Sound Of Metal. In the other tech categories I am predicting Tenet for Visual Effects, Mank for Production Design, a double whammy for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in both Hair and Makeup and Costume Design, and a nod to The Trial of the Chicago Seven for Editing. I haven’t seen Nomadland because it’s not landing in the UK for another week but I’m tipping it for Cinematography based on not very much more than the trailer:

Original Screenplay is a clear choice between Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman and Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial Of The Chicago 7 but I think will go to the former on the basis that for the last couple of years Academy voters have seemed inclined to reward plucky experiments over accomplished rehashing of things we’ve already seen, and while TTOTC7 is a lot of fun, nothing about it is anything other than familiar. Adapted Screenplay is harder to call but everything I’ve seen makes me think this will be a winning year for Nomadland, here and elsewhere.

On to the big six! I am not expecting any surprises here, with supporting actress almost certain to go to Youn Yuh-jung for Minari on the basis that it’s a pretty lame list to begin with and even BAFTA ignored Olivia Colman in The Father, so there’s no chance Oscar won’t do likewise. Supporting actor is a stronger field, but Daniel Kaluuya‘s turn as Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah is so compelling that I think he’ll win overwhelmingly in this category, whatever Samuel L. Jackson says.

Actress is where I get stuck. Everybody loves Viola Davis, and she is terrific in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but it’s not a great film: like Fences, another film adaptation of an August Wilson play in which Davis featured and did win the Oscar, it’s very obviously a play which doesn’t quite successfully translate to celluloid. And Andra Day is incredible as Billie Holiday but again, little else about the film has left an impression on the world at large. With apologies to Vanessa Kirby who is a very good actor but I think is right out of contention on this one, Frances McDormand and Carey Mulligan both have good cases for a win for Nomadland and Promising Young Woman respectively, but I’m leaning towards Carey Mulligan, and I can’t quite say why. This is the prediction I’m least sure about.

Another point against Viola Davis is that Chadwick Boseman will certainly win Best Actor for Ma Rainey, because even though it’s not a great film, it was his last and he is excellent in it and he is the superhero of Hollywood’s hearts and there’s just not a chance that this prize will go anywhere else, even though Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal is revelatory, or would be if he isn’t always that good whatever you see him in.

The big two will, I think, go to Chloe Zhao and Nomadland, because the people who love it really love it, and nobody seems to hate it, which means people will have it floating around their top three and it will slip through ahead of Promising Young Woman, which some people hate, and The Father, which nobody loves. The only chance of an upset here is if The Trial of the Chicago 7 emulates its SAG Awards victory and takes Best Picture, which I think is possible but not probable.

I’m not staying up to watch tonight, so I will check in tomorrow and award myself points depending on how close I get, with a celebratory Monday night gin martini if I get the big six right. It’s not like I’ve got anything else to do.

Here’s the complete list:

PictureNomadland
DirectorEmma Zhao
ActorChadwick Boseman
ActressCarey Mulligan
Supporting ActorDaniel Kaluuya
Supporting ActressJoun Yuh-jung
Original ScreenplayPromising Young Woman
Adapted ScreenplayNomadland
CinematographyNomadland
Production DesignMank
EditingThe Trial of the Chicago 7
Costume DesignMa Rainey’s Black Bottom
Hair and Make upMa Rainey’s Black Bottom
VFXTenet
SoundSound of Metal
ScoreSoul
SongSpeak Now from One Night In Miami
International FeatureAnother Round
Animated FeatureSoul
Animated ShortIf Anything Happens, I Love You
Documentary FeatureMy Octopus Teacher
Documentary ShortLove Song For Latasha
Live Action ShortTwo Distant Strangers

Advent activity #24

There is no instruction behind door number 24 on Edie’s advent calendar: it simply says IT’S CHRISTMAS EVE!, which is true. You probably have either much too much to get done today or nearly nothing to do at all, and in either case you can accompany the doing of it with a Christmas Eve playlist which I have made just for you. It’s a bit wistful in tone, which seems right for Christmas 2020, and it features four acoustic guitar tracks by Will Moore, who is also Edie’s dad (and my brother), which means we’re still sticking approximately to the theme.

The rest of the songs are ones you know (well, you’ll know them all, just not necessarily these versions) and we begin with the John Denver/Muppets version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, which is GUARANTEED to make you smile. The video is lovely and below, but listen on Spotify too because the sound quality is much better and the piano is beautiful . (I always said Rowlf was the most talented Muppet.)

Merry Christmas to you, and remember – one day soon we all will be together, if the fates allow; until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.

Advent activity #23

Today is our last BREAK day, which is good timing because everyone needs a break from time to time and I definitely needed one today, although I woke up feeling bright-eyed and cheerful for reasons I can’t necessarily explain but am not going to interrogate too deeply. Take it where you find it, that’s what I say.

And where we find it today is with everybody’s other favourite band: the wonderful Erasure, who have never done anything that wasn’t brilliant and perfect, and this rendition of Gaudete, a track previously featured on these pages in a better-known version by Steeleye Span, is no exception. Even better, it’s taken from a 2013 Christmas album, Snow Globe, which I can’t really believe I didn’t know about, but I also don’t think I did, and now I’m going to listen to the whole thing for the rest of the day. Rejoice!

Advent activity #22

In sharp – and if you are a believer in a supreme being, clearly intentional – contrast to yesterday, I had a horrible day today. But about halfway though it a wise friend reminded me that, as Tom Hanks advises us, this too shall pass. And it has, or at least the feeling-rubbish has passed, even though the situation that prompted it (which is very boring and money-related) is not yet entirely resolved.

I think I may have left it too late to MAKE CHRISTMAS CARDS FOR MUM AND DAD but I did post them one. I’m never sure whether the sending and receiving of Christmas cards is a thing that us Generation X-ers are supposed to be over, what with us all having multiple ways to talk to each other already and the obvious waste of paper, but it’s still magical to get something through the post that is hand-addressed to you and that isn’t boring, and so I am still doing it. If I didn’t send you a Christmas card this year it’s either because we don’t know each other or I don’t have your address, and in either case if you send it me I will gladly add you to my list for next year.

Anyway, at least we can have an on-point song here from formerly-biggest-star-in-the-world Jim Reeves. It even has bonus crackling vinyl noises, for additional old-timey pointage.

Advent activity #21

I was struggling a bit this morning, what with the relentlessly doomy tone of the news and the feeling that while it’s OK to feel blue in general, the last week before Christmas has always been my happiest time, even when I was generally doing badly, and feeling blue this particular week was NOT FAIR.

And as I was sitting feeling sorry for myself the doorbell rang and it was a neighbour whom I last saw when he was in the middle of a combined mental health and housing crisis and I almost didn’t recognise him, not just because he’d had a shave and a haircut for the first time since I’ve known him but because I’ve never seen him outside his front door before, his agoraphobia having prevented it for just over six years. I got to know him during lockdown #1 because I started shopping for him, so he had come round not just to drop off a Christmas card and a bunch of flowers, but to ask me whether I needed anything from the shops, which he was so pleased to be able to do that I conjured up a need for lemons just to be able to join in. (I always need lemons, more or less.)

So now I am feeling buoyed and every time I look at the flowers I smile, which is excellent timing because today’s task is to MAKE PRESENTS FOR MUM AND DAD, which I am going to suggest you interpret as an instruction to give something – a cup of tea, a phonecall, the gift of having hung out the laundry before they remember to do it – to someone important, because it might make them smile like D’s visit has me.

And if you need a smile yourself, here’s Doris Day:

Advent activity #20

Today’s activity is one we had coincidentally already planned to do anyway, and it is WATCH CHRISTMASSY FILMS. We are saving Daiteiden no yoru ni and It’s A Wonderful Life for the 24th because that is when they are both set, so today we will be choosing between Last Christmas, which was fairly universally panned last year but which seems likely to hit about the right sort of note for 2020; Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey which you will find on Netflix and two Agatha Christies, because Agatha Christies are always Christmassy: the never-bettered 1980 Angela Lansbury/Elizabeth Taylor version of The Mirror Crack’d (look at that cast!) and the 1945 adaptation of And Then There Were None which I have never seen but which will certainly be the spookiest of all, and so should be saved for last.

We might also watch Bernard and the Genie, which is what happens when Richard Curtis makes a good Christmas film instead of a godawful one. It’s hard to find, but some thoughtful soul has posted the whole thing on YouTube.

We won’t be watching Hamilton because along with Spike Lee/David Byrne’s American Utopia we’ve already watched it too many times during lockdown, but I will watch, and so should you, this video of Leslie Odom Jr, aka Aaron Burr, and his gorgeous version of O Holy Night.

Advent activity #19

This is late because I accidentally spent most of the day asleep – which is what happens when you are still post-viral but pretending not to be during the working week in order to seem competent (this is just my latest trick in this line). This means that as I write this Boris Johnson has already cancelled Christmas, making it a slightly harder ask to bring comfort and joy, but Edie comes to the rescue here because today’s task is to EAT MINCE PIES, and if there’s one thing we can all agree helps, it’s edible Christmas treats. I don’t have mince pies because I’m fussily making them myself even though there’s only the two of us here, but I have just eaten half a bag of chocolate coins, which I think counts, and for supper we are having roast chicken with pigs in blankets, and I suggest you do the same, or whatever version of it perks you up the soonest.

It also gives me an excuse to include the lyrics as well as the video for today’s song, because they are perfect for today:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yuletide gay
Next year all our troubles will be miles away

Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were near to us
Will be dear to us once more

Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now

Advent activity #18

Some of us may have already started on today’s job, but in case you haven’t, this is your official dispensation to EAT LOTS OF CANDY, which also means I finally get to share with you the advent calendar that my dad has made for my mum this year, using the set of drawers that for the other eleven months of the year is employed as a storage space for screws, categorised by size and type. (Everyone’s dad has or had one of those, right?)

I am not keen enough on chocolate to need or want a chocolate advent calendar, but I have been enjoying my daily piece of cheese; never more than yesterday, when I had a piece of Mexican cheese studded with jalapeño pieces that made my eyes water in a good way. I should like to update you on today’s species of cheese, but I haven’t opened it yet and Alciona the cleaner is downstairs which means I am banned from going down. Sorry.

Instead you’ll have to make do with Perry Como, who if you listen carefully is singing here about candy canes, which makes him the perfect accompaniment to today’s gastronomic-indulgence-of-your-choice.

Advent activity #17

Today is another BREAK day and coincidentally it’s also another birthday, so I got birthday girl Georgia to pick today’s song, and since as a generous and loving parent she recently spent two hours – in the evening! – at a virtual school Christmas concert I thought she would definitely enjoy this crowdsourced rendition. I miss carol concerts and school plays, don’t you? A Zoom nativity is not the same thing at all, however hard it tries, especially in a year when for the first time ever a Morgan has been given a STARRING ROLE, as Joseph.

Best bit of this: the DUM-DUM-DUM at 1:46 (which is repeated at the very end, which is how all Christmas carols and probably all songs should end), and the key change right after it.

Advent activity #16

If you didn’t get a chance to MAKE UP NICE STORIES yesterday, don’t worry because today you get to DRAW NICE PICTURES. Or, if you’re not in the mood for that, you can instead look at nice pictures from three of my favourite Twitter art accounts:

Tiggy Chadwick draws and paints to order, as well as her own fabulous stuff, and has an Etsy shop here

Patrick Onyekwere draws stunning portraits in biro

My old university mucker Ella Johnston is a magpie, creating art inspired by everything from birds to rice paper (she is the only artist whose work features three separate times on my walls), and has a whole website here which you should also visit on your afternoon coffee break.

The closest I have come today to making a nice picture is spilling some pink nail polish on my leggings, resulting in an interesting tie-dye effect, but again, if you are six or thereabouts I think you should go right ahead and make a nice picture of your own.

I can’t think of a song which is even slightly related to making pictures, but I am Christmas Zooming with my schoolfriends this evening even though we have all admitted to being slightly too tired and stressed for it. So to cheer them, me and you up, here’s Mariah.