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 #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 #8

I’m going to be very lenient in the overseeing of today’s job, which is “BUY DISNEY PLUS”. It’s a perfectly good plan if you live in a house where a lot of Disney is going to be watched over Christmas, and it’s an even better one if some of you are under ten and/or isolating. If those things are not true of your household then I am happy for you to interpret this activity in any way you choose, though it should probably be film-or TV-based if you definitely want to score the point.

(There is a free online screeing of Mogul Mowgli this evening for BFI members, which I have decided will count as my contribution.)

There must be a million Disney Christmas songs, mustn’t there? But I couldn’t think of any, and the ones I found when I googled were sickly sweet and/or featured children wearing make-up, so instead we will go to a Disney-adjacent IP (I mean, of course Disney own the Muppets, because they own everything, but they’re not DISNEY-Disney) for an almost-rendition of Shchedryk, or The Carol of the Bells as it’s better known in English.

(If you hate this version, here is a nicer one.)

Advent activity #6

If you are my eighty-five-year-old neighbour then you have already done this twice, because you weren’t convinced by your first effort, but if not then today is the day to MAKE CAKE. I think technically this probably means Christmas cake, but I will allow any type of cake, or – in extremis – toast. I’m able to make very little since our oven went kaput last week and the people aren’t coming to fix it until Tuesday, so I will be spending my Sunday decorating the tree (that was supposed to happen yesterday, but the lights have also gone kaput; I am not having a good time, electronically) and listening to proper old-fashioned Christmas Crooner music, beginning with Doris Day’s version of Winter Wonderland. Most non-recent Christmas songs don’t come with a video, but this one does and it’s extremely Christmassy, so do take three minutes out of your day to watch as well as listen.

I May Not Always Be Right, But I Am Never Wrong: Oscars Predictions 2020

For the second year in a row I’m not staying up all night to watch the Oscars, although this year’s reason (I have a work-related call at 10am tomorrow) is less fun than last year’s (I was meeting kangaroos and the world’s biggest spiders at Taronga Zoo in Sydney). BUT that’s not going to stop me from making predictions, any more than is the fact that I still haven’t seen over half of the Best Picture nominees. That second fact doesn’t matter at all, of course, because the awarding of Oscars has nearly nothing to do with how good or otherwise a film or performance is, which is why Uncut Gems isn’t nominated for anything and Laura Dern will beat Florence Pugh in Supporting Actress.

Wait! I was going to leave the cynicism till later! For now I’m going to work my way up to the fun categories by beginning with the ones nobody cares about! So without further ado let’s agree that Makeup and Hairstyling is the least interesting category of all this year, and it’s also one in which a film without a hope anywhere else often wins, which is why my pick is Bombshell, for whatever the hey they did that made Charlize Theron look slightly, but also kind of not at all, like Megyn Kelly:

Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 18.16.04
Say, when I greenlit Charlize Angels this is not what I expected to see!

Personally, I’m sort of fine with people playing other people without looking much like them (a conversation I have already had with myself elsewhere), but if you’re going to make the effort then doing it in a way that isn’t horribly distracting seems like it should garner some sort of reward.

I also don’t care about Costume Design this year, but it seems like a good way to give Little Women some love, given that it’s not going to win any of the biggies (except, I think, Adapted Screenplay).

Let’s talk about the Shorts! Have you seen any of them? I haven’t, because they’ve made the Oscars a month earlier than usual and I thought I had longer than I did to get around to catching up with everything. No matter; I can draw on the wisdom of others here and advise you that the bookies’ favourites are Learning To Skateboard for Documentary Short, Hair Love for Animated Short (and having read about it, that’s the one I’m keenest to see) and Brotherhood for Live Action Short, and I see no reason to disagree with any of that.

Let’s talk about films we’ve seen! Editing, like Cinematography, is one of the awards that gives you a pointer for Best Picture, although because the latter category is calculated differently from all the others it’s not always reliable. But since we’re all obediently pretending that 1917 hasn’t been edited at all I think this is a straight win for Parasite. The former film will make up the difference by winning in VFX, and to be fair to it, although it is a silly film it does have some great effects and giving it to 1917 means not giving it to The Irishman; a decision of which I think we can all approve.

Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 19.10.46
Sam Mendes’ loving adaptation of the This Is Fine meme is heavily tipped to take home some glory

This year’s best Oscars fact is that Randy Newman, nominated for his score for Marriage Story, and Thomas Newman, likewise for 1917, are cousins. Isn’t that cool? But I think Hildur Guðnadóttir is going to win for Joker, because giving an award to a woman for a film about white male rage is a good way to get around the problematic-ness. (And because it’s a great score, but as we’ve established, that doesn’t matter.)

Song is going to Elton John and Bernie Taupin, obviously, for (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again from Rocketman, which you saw five times in the cinema and you’re not ashamed to admit it. It’s only an OK song but Elton is unstoppable, especially since they won the Golden Globe and he told us it’s the first award he and Bernie have ever received jointly, which is a story the Academy are going to be more than pleased to crown with a happy ending tonight, even though Elton is apparently Skyping in for his live performance. (Meanwhile Beyoncé and Taylor Swift aren’t showing up at all, despite having been nominated, presumably because they know as well as we do that they aren’t taking the little gold man home.)

Would you like me to explain again the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing? Try this: if a film was an album, Sound Editing would go to whoever wrote the album, and Sound Mixing would go to whoever produced it. It doesn’t much matter in this instance because both of them will go to 1917, although I think Ford vs Ferrari is in with a shout too, because the Academy likes it when films reproduce difficult-to-find sounds, and 1960s race car engines are that (I imagine).

1917 will also take Cinematography in a deserved win for likeable dude Burt Bacharach Roger Deakins, who having managed a record thirteen nominations without a win between 1994 and 2015 is now going to make it a brace after winning two years ago for Blade Runner 2049. Everything comes to those who wait.

I keep thinking that Quentin Tarantino’s next film can’t possibly piss me off as much as the last one did, and then being wrong. Now, I will admit to having fallen asleep during part of the middle three hours of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood so I may not be best-placed to judge it, but where I think it stands the best chance outside of Best Supporting Actor (which is nailed on for Brad Pitt) is in Production Design, because even I, asleep and pissed off though I may have been, couldn’t help admiring the gorgeous evocation of Old Hollywood, and if there’s one thing we know Hollywood loves, it’s films about Hollywood.

Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 19.12.27
What do you fancy doing tonight? Well, I thought I might brutally murder some burglars. Hey, that’s a great idea!

The odds for Documentary Feature are heavily in favour of American Factory and it probably will win, because it’s the first feature film from the Obamas’ production company, and for some reason nobody objects to giving prizes to Netflix-distributed films, which it is, in the smaller categories, but I’m going to stick my neck out and predict a win for For Sama because it has (deservedly) won every other documentary prize going, and I want you to see it more than I want you to see any of the others.

Animated Feature is super boring this year! Nobody wanted a Toy Story 4 and even the fact that it’s quite good does not justify its existence. I think it will win, but it will be a grudging, “go on then, if you must” win rather than a joyful one, which maybe means we’re getting closer to the time when Disney doesn’t win this category (though they will make up for it by winning all the others, so we don’t really get a net gain).

You can’t nominate a film for Foreign Language Picture and Best Picture and not give it the first one, so that’s an easy win for Parasite. Bong Joon-ho will also, I think, win Original Screenplay, so let’s hope he’s got someone with him who can carry at least one Oscar so that he has a free hand for greeting people with at the afterparty. Adapted Screenplay is tougher, because I think a lot of people really like Jojo Rabbit (maybe as many as hate it!) and even more people really like Taika Waititi, but I think even more people than that really like Greta Gerwig and feel bad that she isn’t nominated in Director, so I’m predicting a slim win for Little Women. (We never find out what margin anything wins by, so that “slim” is redundant, but I’m leaving it in anyway.)

On to the only categories you’re interested in! The acting awards have all been sewn up for months and will go to Joaquin Phoenix, Renee Zellweger, Brad Pitt and Laura Dern, though eye would give them to Adam Sandler (who isn’t nominated), Cynthia Erivo, Tom Hanks and Florence Pugh (I would give Florence Pugh all the prizes for everything, even for Midsommar which is a bad film in which she is great).

Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 19.33.21
Florence shown here being told the news that while her rage is white enough to qualify for Academy recognition, it isn’t anywhere near male enough to win.

There’s less clarity in the Picture and Director categories, although the bookies will tell you otherwise. 1917 is by far the favourite for both, and I think Sam Mendes will indeed pick up Director (twenty years after he last did it, also for a Quite Bad film), but I think (and hope) that Parasite will dive in and take Best Picture. Here’s why:

  1. It won the SAG Ensemble Award, which means it’s the film that actors love the most, and actors form the biggest segment of Academy voters.
  2. Everybody likes it, which means that voters who rank a no-hoper like Jojo Rabbit or Ford vs Ferrari top will have it at second or third in their list and their vote will eventually be transferred to it.
  3. It’s the best film on the list (though obviously this isn’t relevant).

It could go the other way, with Bong Joon-ho taking Director and 1917 taking Picture, which historical-statistically is likelier (a foreign language film has never won Best Picture; everybody loves Bong Joon-ho and they do give Best Director to foreign language films, as they did last year with Roma; the Academy likes films about heroes which look like they were hard to make) but I think the split, at least, is likelier than not, despite what the odds are saying.

Did you skip straight down to the bottom in the hope there’d be a straightforward list without any of the flannel around it? You’re in luck, though I don’t really see why I should oblige you if you’re so uninterested.

Picture Parasite
Director Sam Mendes
Actor Joaquin Phoenix
Actress Renee Zellweger
Supporting Actor Brad Pitt
Supporting Actress Laura Dern
Adapted Screenplay Little Women
Original Screenplay Parasite
Foreign Language Film Parasite
Animated Feature Toy Story 4
Documentary Feature For Sama
Production Design Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Cinematography 1917
Sound Editing 1917
Sound Mixing 1917
Original Song Rocketman
Original Score Joker
Visual Effects 1917
Editing Parasite
Documentary Short Learning To Skateboard
Animated Short Hair Love
Live Action Short Brotherhood
Costume Design Little Women
Makeup and Hair Bombshell

(I had to write that table in HTML because WordPress doesn’t have an “insert table” tool any more! The things I do for you.)

Advent Song for December 14: Step Into Christmas

I said yesterday that I don’t listen to much music, which is true but it means that when I have a few days of listening to something obsessively, which I do do, it always ends up as that year’s top song on my Spotify history. The only song to have topped the list in multiple years is ABBA’s My Love, My Life, which I snobbishly lost interest in slightly after it featured in Mamma Mia 2 (which I haven’t seen) but it is an incredible song and you should listen to it today if you don’t know it.

This year that slot is occupied by Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road which I listened to over and over again after it was used to dazzling effect in the opening credits sequence for Rocketman, the part-biopic, part-musical-fantasy version of Elton’s life which came out earlier this year. I should admit that I was also a bit obsessed with the film; an obsession which petered out a little after I read his autobiography (also this year; the Elton John publicity machine has excelled itself promoting his goodbye tour which yes, I am also going to) and discovered his actual life was quite a lot funnier and more interesting than the movie (but you should still see the movie).

Anyway this isn’t one of my absolute favourite Christmas singles, although the interlude at 1:57 is glorious, but I do love the video, so today you must watch as well as listen, please. (Nothing in particular happens; it’s just Elton doing Elton.)

Today’s good news should serve as a reminder, among other things, that everything going to shit here doesn’t mean everything going to shit everywhere. In Mexico, some of the poorest families in the state of Tabasco are starting to move into flood-resistant 3D-printed houses which can be built for $4000 in 48 hours. Back when I thought I might be interested in academic research in the future of housing on a planet with reducing resources and an increasing population, I don’t think I’d have ever imagined this as a possibility. (In the event, I got a job in a bookshop instead.)

Advent song for December 13: I get knocked down, but I get up again

…but maybe not just yet. I am amazed and inspired by the people who, mere hours after the worst possible election outcome, are already planning and campaigning for what’s next. I will get back up again, but as of today I’m officially ignoring the real world and retreating into two weeks of friends, family and food, ready to face 2020 with a new vision (see what I did there) and resolution (and again).

And music, of course. Most of the year I don’t really listen to music, because I can’t do that and something else at the same time and there’s almost always something else to be doing. (It’s why I like film scores and soundtracks so much, because you can listen to them and watch a film at the same time.) But at Christmas I am all about the music. This morning my brother Will sent the siblings a Spotify link to an album of the carols we used to listen to when we were small, and I have shut out the worst of today by being transported back to the nineteen eighties (which has happened in more ways than one, I suppose). So I’m going to swap today’s planned song with one I had earmarked for next week and bring you back in time with me to 1982 and the original (Peter Auty, not Aled Jones) version of Walking In The Air. It’s not exactly happy, given how The Snowman ends, but it makes ME happy, so it still counts.

Advent song for December 22: Christmas In L.A.

What sort of a Christmas person are you? Are you fully prepped and settling in for a weekend of mince pies and mulled wine? Or are you thinking about making a start on your Christmas shopping? I hope it’s the former, because you will need to pay this video your full attention for its entire five minutes and twelve seconds in order to appreciate everything about it. If their video for Boots was beautiful, The Killers’ collaboration with Dawes (and Irving Berlin) three years later, its video featuring Owen Wilson and Harry Dean Stanton and filmed, animated and edited by students at Brigham Young University, is the shining pinnacle of their charitable Christmas efforts and it really deserves not to be on in the background while you do something else, so make yourself a hot chocolate with marshmallows in, turn the volume up high and settle in.