March 27, 2022

OSCARS 2022—A REVIEW OF THE SHOW, 'CODA' AS BEST PICTURE, OTHER RESULTS AND THE WILL SMITH-CHRIS ROCK SHOWDOWN NO ONE CAN STOP TALKING ABOUT

Movie lovers unite, and movie people fight

Photos, courtesy: AMPAS

When Leonardo DiCaprio won the Oscar for The Revenant after so many years of people rooting for him to win Hollywood’s top prize, everyone celebrated his win, with admiration. That should have been Will Smith this year, who won his first Oscar, for King Richard, after being in the business for over 30 years. However, his Oscar-winning moment has been tainted because of a moment of rage that was completely uncalled for and excessive. Sure, Chris Rock was way out of line making that insensitive joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith’s baldness, and needed to be ticked off for his humor that was absolutely in poor taste. Will Smith should have said something in the moment, if he absolutely had to react right there and then, but resorting to violence to prove a point has backfired on him more than it proving whatever point he was trying to make. Firstly, hitting someone for anything, except in self-defense, is unacceptable. And now, it’s Chris Rock who’s being seen as the victim, and Will Smith is all but ‘canceled’, at a time that should be his to revel in. To make things worse, he went on to make excuses for his bad behavior by saying something about how people do crazy things for love. There were tears, and some amount of regret, sure, but he failed to express enough regret and make an acceptable apology. And as a Will Smith fan, I am disappointed. He should be being celebrated after his achievement, but he brought on this disapproval quite by himself. 

(Updated... Will Smith later posted a far more decent apology on social media. It might have been too little too late, and could be seen as a move for damage control. However, it's at least good that he made an apology directly to Chris Rock, and acknowledged the error of his ways, rather than just ignoring the incident and leaving images of him dancing at the after-parties as all that was on his mind after the incident.) 


MOVIE LOVERS UNITE—THE PALE TRIBUTES

What was celebrated at the 94th Academy Awards, in keeping with the theme of the year—‘Movie lovers unite’—were some iconic films of the past, and some not so iconic movies. Of course, there was the 60-year anniversary of James Bond, the 50-year anniversary of The Godfather, and 28 years of Pulp Fiction. It was very cool to see Uma Thurman and John Travolta doing a little jig, flanking Samuel Jackson. It was also impressive to see Hollywood royalty, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, taking the stage to celebrate The Godfather. It was also sweet when Jennifer Garner, Elliot Page and J.K. Simmons spoke fondly of their little Oscar-winning gem Juno. And it was nice to see Cinderella (Lily James) and Jasmine (Naomi Scott) welcoming Ariel (Halle Bailey) into the world of live-action Disney princesses. What didn’t quite work were the presentations themselves—most of them a little flat and insipid, lacking the celebratory energy that one might have liked in a showcase of Hollywood. Even the James Bond package lacked the excitement, and it all just felt very low-key. The ‘in memoriam’ section was padded with personal tributes and a dance performance, which seemed to be the wrong segment. That energy and enthusiasm should have been used literally anywhere else in the show. 


THE UNIMPRESSIVE HOSTS

To top that, the hosts—Wanda Sykes, Rebecca Hall and Amy Schumer—didn’t do too much to add value to the ceremony. They definitely had their hilarious moments with jokes such as the Golden Globe Awards being included in the ‘in memoriam’ package. There was the bit about Leonardo DiCaprio working to fight climate change to leave a better planet for his (much younger) girlfriends. The dig at the gender pay gap was funny—when they said that hiring three women to host was cheaper than hiring one man. It was also funnily point out how how the telling of women’s stories has been rare in Hollywood and how we’ve finally got a movie about the incredible Williams sisters’…dad! There was also Amy Schumer trying to cut the tension hosting the segment after ‘slap-gate’. 

Even Regina Hall hitting on a few eligible male guests was somewhat funny, but only to an extent. When she started objectifying them and explained how she would swab their mouths with her tongue, and when she asked Denzel Washington if his son John David was around, it started to get a little cringe-worthy. And then she even groped Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa chest-to-ankle. It was not appropriate, and not that funny either. Hopefully, they had the men’s consent at least. In fact, it might have been better to have the hosts just do the opening monologue and have them sit out the rest of the show. The little skit with Sykes dressed as Richard Williams from King Richard, Regina Hall as Tammy Faye and Amy Schumer as Spider-Man also fell flat. I had hoped the content of that skit would have been funnier and meatier than it was. Instead, it was as good as the women simply dressing up in some Halloween costumes and posting a funny picture taken together on Instagram. 

THE BEST SONGS WERE THE BEST PARTS

The one aspect that was done well throughout were the performances. Although ‘We don’t talk about Bruno’ was a little underwhelming, the four Oscar-nominated songs were done really well. From Beyoncé’s powerful opening number ‘Be alive’ and the moving ‘Dos oruguitas’ to the mellow ‘Somehow you do’ and Billie Eilish’s haunting ‘No time to die’ were all wonderfully performed, and definitely high points of the show. Other highlights included some of the acceptance speeches, especially Troy Kotsur’s (supporting actor, CODA), Ariana DeBose’s (supporting actress, West Side Story) and Jessica Chastain’s (lead actress, The Eyes of Tammy Faye). Kotsur has been extremely charming through all his acceptance speeches this awards season, and his tribute to his father in his Oscar speech was very endearing. DeBose’s shout-out to dark-skinned and queer people who feel like they don’t belong was strong. And Chastain’s heartfelt speech, including condemning bigoted legislation was graceful and powerful. 


PRE-SHOW PRESENTATIONS FOR NO MAIN-SHOW GAIN

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see all the acceptance speeches in full, even if the producers did manage to edit the pre-show presentations and acceptances quite well into the main show. It was still lacking reaction shots and the winners’ complete moments basking in Oscar glory. What made it more frustrating was that these awards were given pre-show, to firstly ensure that the live program would end at three hours; and secondly, to make time in the live program for elements that would give it variety and attract a wider audience. The show ran for over three and a half hours anyway. And it didn’t even have anything special or particularly entertaining that’s been missing from the Oscars, to warrant the cutting out of eight categories or the extra time. Even the presentation of the technical categories was so lackluster. I’ve been missing the days when the presentations included clips from the behind-the-scenes show-reels, to offer a glimpse of what all went into the brilliant visual effects, the captivating production design or the arresting costumes that are recognized. And the BAFTAs did it so well this year—all the costume sketches, the green-screen clips, the sets in the making, the words on the scripts nominated, and so on. Sure, the BAFTAs also pre-recorded some presentations, but they kept their show to two hours, and they also have two more categories than the Oscars do. Overall, this year’s BAFTAs were much better than the Oscars. Even Rebel Wilson was a terrific host at the British film awards. 

THE IMPRESSIVE RESULTS AND CODA’S BIG NIGHT

Where the Oscars didn’t disappoint was the results—all deserved wins and no disappointing upsets. Yes, some movies won just one Oscar each—including frontrunner The Power of the Dog, the heavily nominated West Side Story, the beloved Belfast, and the acclaimed King Richard—but it was mostly expected. Dune took away the maximum Oscars of the year, with six. Even The Eyes of Tammy Faye won two. And the most loved film of the year won best picture of the year and two other Oscars. CODA has been such a refreshing change this awards season. 

While The Power of the Dog would have been a deserving best picture too, it was just nice to see a heartwarming, endearing, sincere and well-made film and story like CODA being appreciated and recognized. The Academy rarely goes for such crowd-pleasers, and I’m happy for the shift this year. It also marked the first best picture win for a streaming film, and it’s kind of interesting that that distinction is now held by Apple TV+ and not Netflix. 

All these wins were worthy of celebration, and I’ve been thrilled for all these good movies getting their due. If only people would talk about this more than the show-down of the century. Okay, fine, I get that it’s a huge deal and all. But for now, let’s just take one more look at all the 23 winners at the Oscars 2022.


ALL THE WINNERS

Best Picture

Belfast 

CODA | WON

Don’t Look Up 

Drive My Car 

Dune 

King Richard 

Licorice Pizza 

Nightmare Alley 

The Power of the Dog 

West Side Story 


Directing

Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza

Kenneth Branagh, Belfast

Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog | WON

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car

Steven Spielberg, West Side Story


Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye | WON

Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter

Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers

Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos

Kristen Stewart, Spencer


Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog

Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick…Boom!

Will Smith, King Richard | WON

Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth


Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter

Ariana DeBose, West Side Story | WON

Judi Dench, Belfast

Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog

Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard


Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Ciarán Hinds, Belfast

Troy Kotsur, CODA

Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog

J.K. Simmons, Being the Ricardos

Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog


Writing—Adapted Screenplay

CODA (screenplay by Siân Heder) | WON

Drive My Car (screenplay by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe)

Dune (screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth)

The Lost Daughter (written by Maggie Gyllenhaal)

The Power of the Dog (written by Jane Campion)


Writing—Original Screenplay

Belfast (written by Kenneth Branagh) | WON

Don’t Look Up (screenplay by Adam McKay; story by Adam McKay & David Sirota)

King Richard (written by Zach Baylin)

Licorice Pizza (written by Paul Thomas Anderson)

The Worst Person in the World (written by Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier)


Cinematography

Dune (Greig Fraser) | WON

Nightmare Alley (Dan Laustsen)

The Power of the Dog (Ari Wegner)

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Bruno Delbonnel)

West Side Story (Janusz Kaminski)


Film Editing

Don’t Look Up (Hank Corwin)

Dune (Joe Walker) | WON

King Richard (Pamela Martin)

The Power of the Dog (Peter Sciberras)

Tick, Tick…Boom! (Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum)


Sound

Belfast (Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather and Niv Adiri)

Dune (Mac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett) | WON

No Time to Die (Simon Hayes, Oliver Tarney, James Harrison, Paul Massey and Mark Taylor)

The Power of the Dog (Richard Flynn, Robert Mackenzie and Tara Webb)

West Side Story (Tod A. Maitland, Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson and Shawn Murphy)


Music—Original Score

Don’t Look Up (Nicholas Britell)

Dune (Hans Zimmer) | WON

Encanto (Germaine Franco)

Parallel Mothers (Alberto Iglesias)

The Power of the Dog (Jonny Greenwood)


Music—Original Song

‘Be alive’, King Richard (music and lyrics by DIXSON and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter)

‘Dos oruguitas’, Encanto (music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda)

‘Down to Joy’, Belfast (music and lyrics by Van Morrison)

‘No time to die’, No Time to Die (music and lyrics by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell) | WON

‘Somehow you do’, Four Good Days (music and lyrics by Diane Warren)


Production Design

Dune (production design: Patrice Vermette; set decoration: Zsuzsanna Sipos) | WON

Nightmare Alley (production design: Tamara Deverell; set decoration: Shane Vieau)

The Power of the Dog (production design: Grant Major; set decoration: Amber Richards)

The Tragedy of Macbeth (production design: Stefan Dechant; set decoration: Nancy Haigh)

West Side Story (production design: Adam Stockhausen; set decoration: Rena DeAngelo)


Visual Effects

Dune (Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor and Gerd Nefzer) | WON

Free Guy (Swen Gillberg, Bryan Grill, Nikos Kalaitzidis and Dan Sudick)

No Time to Die (Charlie Noble, Joel Green, Jonathan Fawkner and Chris Corbould)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Christopher Townsend, Joe Farrell, Sean Noel Walker and Dan Oliver)

Spider-Man: No Way Home (Kelly Port, Chris Waegner, Scott Edelstein and Dan Sudick)


Costume Design

Cruella (Jenny Beavan) | WON

Cyrano (Massimo Cantini Parrini and Jacqueline Durran)

Dune (Jacqueline West and Robert Morgan)

Nightmare Alley (Luis Sequeira)

West Side Story (Paul Tazewell)


Makeup and Hairstyling

Coming 2 America (Mike Marino, Stacey Morris and Carla Farmer)

Cruella (Nadia Stacey, Naomi Donne and Julia Vernon)

Dune (Donald Mowat, Love Larson and Eva von Bahr)

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram and Justin Raleigh) | WON

House of Gucci (Göran Lundström, Anna Carin Lock and Frederic Aspiras)


International Feature Film

Drive My Car (Japan) | WON

Flee (Denmark)

The Hand of God (Italy)

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (Bhutan)

The Worst Person in the World (Norway)


Animated Feature Film

Encanto | WON

Flee 

Luca 

The Mitchells vs. the Machines 

Raya and the Last Dragon 


Animated Short Film

Affairs of the Art 

Bestia 

Boxballet 

Robin Robin 

The Windshield Wiper | WON


Live-Action Short

Ala Kachuu—Take and Run

The Dress 

The Long Goodbye | WON

On My Mind 

Please Hold


Documentary Feature

Ascension 

Attica 

Flee 

Summer of Soul | WON

Writing With Fire 


Documentary Short Subject

Audible 

Lead Me Home 

The Queen of Basketball | WON

Three Songs for Benazir 

When We Were Bullies

March 25, 2022

THE OSCARS 2022—FINAL PREDICTIONS FOR THE 94TH ACADEMY AWARDS

It’s been one of the most interesting Oscar races in recent years, with frontrunners changing in a number of categories, and with a lot of talk around the relevance of the Academy Awards themselves. While efforts being made to make the show itself more appealing to a wider audience have been faced with a lot of disapproval, the new ‘Oscars Fan Favorite’ has garnered significant interest. One can’t be sure if a mass-appeal film, such as Spider-Man: No Way Home, will actually win the Fan Favorite vote, but one can be sure of a few wins this Sunday that are all but guaranteed. Here’s a round-up of the most predictable predictions, while I also take a stab at the categories that are still quite up in the air. 

THE MOST PREDICTABLE WINS

These are the most obvious ones. If any of these films don’t win, it would be quite a surprise. 

Directing

Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza

Kenneth Branagh, Belfast

Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car

Steven Spielberg, West Side Story

The chances of The Power of the Dog winning best picture are shaky at best, especially now with CODA gaining overwhelming momentum. However, Jane Campion has been the undisputed frontrunner for the directing prize. Moreover, the conversation has also been about how she’s the first woman to be nominated more than once in this category. And with Chloe Zhao’s win last year for Nomadland, there’s been a lot of talk about recognizing women filmmakers’ work. And Campion would certainly deserve this, for the compelling and captivating treatment and tone that she’s created with her film. 


Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog

Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick…Boom!

Will Smith, King Richard

Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth


This one will almost be like a career win for Will Smith, who’s been nominated twice before, but despite enjoying tremendous popularity has never been a frontrunner until now. For King Richard, he’s practically won all the major awards out there, and is clearly headed towards his first Oscar. 


Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter

Ariana DeBose, West Side Story

Judi Dench, Belfast

Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog

Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard

Ariana DeBose has won everything so far for her turn as Anita in West Side Story. She’s definitely taking home an Oscar for it as well, even if this is the only one that Steven Spielberg’s re-imagining of the classic will win. 


Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Ciarán Hinds, Belfast

Troy Kotsur, CODA

Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog

J.K. Simmons, Being the Ricardos

Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog

Like best picture and actress, the race for this award has also seen a significant change and quite suddenly at that. Kodi Smit-McPhee was an early favorite for equivalent categories, and even won the Golden Globe, among other wins. However the SAG Awards turned things around. With Kotsur’s win there, and subsequently at the BAFTAs and the Critics’ Choice, he’s now the frontrunner, and most likely to take home Oscar gold. With a large part of the Academy’s acting branch being voting members of the SAG, it seems like Kotsur has just the right kind of support he needs in the Academy. 


Costume Design

Cruella (Jenny Beavan)

Cyrano (Massimo Cantini Parrini and Jacqueline Durran)

Dune (Jacqueline West and Robert Morgan)

Nightmare Alley (Luis Sequeira)

West Side Story (Paul Tazewell)

Cruella’s costume design is an integral part of the film’s narrative, in addition displaying sheer creativity. The costumes not only steal the show by making a splendid visual impact, but even the interactive nature of some of them inspires awe. It’s an achievement in this field like one doesn’t usually see, and the Academy will recognize that.


Makeup and Hairstyling

Coming 2 America (Mike Marino, Stacey Morris and Carla Farmer)

Cruella (Nadia Stacey, Naomi Donne and Julia Vernon)

Dune (Donald Mowat, Love Larson and Eva von Bahr)

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram and Justin Raleigh)

House of Gucci (Göran Lundström, Anna Carin Lock and Frederic Aspiras)

The constantly evolving looks seen in The Eyes of Tammy Faye are what make this film such a strong contender. Aside from making Jessica Chastain almost unrecognizable, through various ages of the titular character that she portrays, the makeup on Andrew Garfield is also a strong accomplishment. It’s won several awards already in equivalent categories, including a BAFTA.


Visual Effects

Dune (Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor and Gerd Nefzer)

Free Guy (Swen Gillberg, Bryan Grill, Nikos Kalaitzidis and Dan Sudick)

No Time to Die (Charlie Noble, Joel Green, Jonathan Fawkner and Chris Corbould)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Christopher Townsend, Joe Farrell, Sean Noel Walker and Dan Oliver)

Spider-Man: No Way Home (Kelly Port, Chris Waegner, Scott Edelstein and Dan Sudick)

While Dune is nowhere close to the top in the race for best picture, we know that it’s going to win a bunch of technical awards. How many? One can’t be sure. But it seems like a couple of them are almost givens for Dune, including visual effects. Normally this is a category for which a popular film could earn an Oscar, but Dune checks multiple boxes this year. 


Sound

Belfast (Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather and Niv Adiri)

Dune (Mac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett)

No Time to Die (Simon Hayes, Oliver Tarney, James Harrison, Paul Massey and Mark Taylor)

The Power of the Dog (Richard Flynn, Robert Mackenzie and Tara Webb)

West Side Story (Tod A. Maitland, Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson and Shawn Murphy)

This will be another technical win for Dune. If the Academy had not combined sound editing and sound mixing into one sound award two years ago, there might have been a chance of West Side Story or No Time to Die taking away one of them. 


Music—Original Score

Don’t Look Up (Nicholas Britell)

Dune (Hans Zimmer)

Encanto (Germaine Franco)

Parallel Mothers (Alberto Iglesias)

The Power of the Dog (Jonny Greenwood)

Hans Zimmer’s soundtracks have always been favorites of many and as a composer he’s been on the Academy’s radar for many years, with 12 nominations altogether. However, he’s won this only once, for The Lion King (1994). This year, his haunting soundtrack for Dune has become a favorite and a frontrunner, and he will win again, after 27 years.


Music—Original Song

‘Be alive’, King Richard (music and lyrics by DIXSON and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter)

‘Dos oruguitas’, Encanto (music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda)

‘Down to Joy’, Belfast (music and lyrics by Van Morrison)

‘No time to die’, No Time to Die (music and lyrics by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell)

‘Somehow you do’, Four Good Days (music and lyrics by Diane Warren)

The last two James Bond songs—‘Skyfall’ and ‘Writing’s on the wall’—have won this, and ‘No time to die’ has been gaining similar momentum. ‘Dos oruguitas’ could upset the three-for-three 007 wins, but it seems unlikely.


Animated Feature Film

Encanto

Flee 

Luca 

The Mitchells vs. the Machines 

Raya and the Last Dragon 

Encanto is a hot favorite, and has particularly picked up a lot of acclaim for its choreography and production of ‘We don’t talk about Bruno’ among other things. It’s a beloved film, and is also being praised for its technical achievements, so it seems like a sure-shot.


International Feature Film

Drive My Car (Japan)

Flee (Denmark)

The Hand of God (Italy)

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (Bhutan)

The Worst Person in the World (Norway)

Drive My Car is nominated for best picture, directing and screenplay. It would be a huge upset if it doesn’t win international feature.


LESS PREDICTABLE WINS

These will be the more interesting ones. One can’t be too sure with these categories. Best picture particularly is going to a real nail-biter this year.

Best Picture

Belfast 

CODA 

Don’t Look Up 

Drive My Car 

Dune 

King Richard 

Licorice Pizza 

Nightmare Alley 

The Power of the Dog 

West Side Story 

The Power of the Dog could win this, no doubt. It could maintain its spot as the frontrunner since the beginning of this awards season, right to the end of the race. A few weeks ago, it was all but guaranteed, even though Belfast and West Side Story were also in the conversation. However, it was around the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards that everything changed. The cast of CODA won the ensemble award there—often considered as an equivalent of best picture—and the Apple TV film was being seen as a challenger to the Netflix’s Power of the Dog at the Oscars. To further gain on Netflix’s contender, CODA won last week’s PGA (Producers Guild award) in their best picture-equivalent. Now a PGA winner can lose out on the top prize at the Oscars. It has happened (1917 vs. Parasite, La La Land vs. Moonlight, The Big Short vs. Spotlight in recent years). While I still doubt that a lot of the Academy members will vote for CODA as their first choice, the preferential ballot for best picture could work in its favor. A lot of voters must have put it down as their second choice and as the films at the lower end of that ballot get eliminated, CODA could definitely win the majority over The Power of the Dog. It would certainly be fun to see an Apple film win a best picture Oscar before Netflix, who have had movies contending for at least three years now. Besides, it’ll be refreshing to see a simple, nicely-made film that’s heartwarming and moving winning the top prize for a change. Though I’m still amazed that it’s become the one to beat. The Power of the Dog winning now would be the upset, even though it definitely could, and would deserve it even. Any other movie winning here would be a huge shocker.  


Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter

Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers

Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos

Kristen Stewart, Spencer

This might be the most interesting race this year. While Kristen Stewart was a strong early favorite, garnering Oscar buzz in the early days of this awards season, Nicole Kidman gained momentum with her Golden Globe win. Subsequently, Stewart was shut out from the SAG Award nominees—where there’s significant overlapping of voting members with the Academy. Olivia Colman then took the lead as a frontrunner, and Kidman’s potential declined. Things changed dramatically overnight when Jessica Chastain emerged as the winner in this category at SAG, and she has been a strong frontrunner since then, and even won the Critics’ Choice. While Chastain continues as a favorite, going into the home stretch of the Oscars, Stewart seems to be gaining again in conversations taking place online. Can Stewart win? Will the increasingly international Academy award Chastain for playing someone who’s not really known outside America? One does wonder, but I think this will go to Chastain, even if Academy voters might think of it as more of a career win than for this role itself, which she’s excellent in, no doubt. Can there be an upset, sure! Anything’s possible here, but I have a feeling it’ll be Jessica Chastain’s year to be crowned best actress. 


Writing—Adapted Screenplay

CODA (screenplay by Siân Heder)

Drive My Car (screenplay by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe)

Dune (screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth)

The Lost Daughter (written by Maggie Gyllenhaal)

The Power of the Dog (written by Jane Campion)

This is a tough one. If The Power of the Dog was a shoo-in for best picture, CODA would be winning this for sure. But with CODA’s fate almost sealed as the best picture, this could go to underdog Power of the Dog. However, the Academy has been known to award smaller, human-interest stories when it comes to screenplay, and I think CODA fits that bill better here, even if it does also win best picture. 


Writing—Original Screenplay

Belfast (written by Kenneth Branagh)

Don’t Look Up (screenplay by Adam McKay; story by Adam McKay & David Sirota)

King Richard (written by Zach Baylin)

Licorice Pizza (written by Paul Thomas Anderson)

The Worst Person in the World (written by Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier)

I believe Belfast should win here. It’s a sweet and moving film, and a story that surely resonates with a lot of people today, given the anti-war sentiment surrounding Russia’s war on Ukraine, and especially the stories about Ukrainian refugees. It hasn’t gained enough momentum for a best picture win, but the Academy voters will want it to win one of the major categories, and screenplay is the best bet. An upset for Belfast could be Licorice Pizza, which seems to be a favorite, even though I believe it’s the most overrated Oscar contender this year—maybe even the worst best picture nominee. Some are saying that Don’t Look Up’s chances are also good, but I think the Academy will go to Belfast for this.  


Cinematography

Dune (Greig Fraser)

Nightmare Alley (Dan Laustsen)

The Power of the Dog (Ari Wegner)

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Bruno Delbonnel)

West Side Story (Janusz Kaminski)

West Side Story should win here. It could be The Power of the Dog’s, since that movie’s appeal was so much about its visuals, which gave it that mesmerizing quality. However, I think it’ll be Dune, as a part of its sweep of technical categories. 


Film Editing

Don’t Look Up (Hank Corwin)

Dune (Joe Walker)

King Richard (Pamela Martin)

The Power of the Dog (Peter Sciberras)

Tick, Tick…Boom! (Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum)

Dune could win here as well, continuing its technical sweep. But if the Academy wanted to recognize King Richard for something other than Will Smith—considering that it is also a best picture nominee—it would be in this category, because of all those crisp tennis scenes. 


Production Design

Dune (production design: Patrice Vermette; set decoration: Zsuzsanna Sipos)

Nightmare Alley (production design: Tamara Deverell; set decoration: Shane Vieau)

The Power of the Dog (production design: Grant Major; set decoration: Amber Richards)

The Tragedy of Macbeth (production design: Stefan Dechant; set decoration: Nancy Haigh)

West Side Story (production design: Adam Stockhausen; set decoration: Rena DeAngelo)

I would probably pick West Side Story or Nightmare Alley, for the detailing of its art direction and set design. However, the imagining of Dune’s production design alone could win them this one. Executing those sets with perfection and convincingly creating that world with its nuances should definitely put Dune through.


Oscars Fan Favorite

Army of the Dead

Cinderella

Dune

Malignant

Minamata

The Power Of The Dog

Sing 2

Spider-Man: No Way Home

The Suicide Squad

Tick, Tick…Boom!

Considering that Spider-Man: No Way Home was such a huge success, breaking box-office records and being a point of conversation for so many for so long, one might think that this one’s in the bag for the Sony-Marvel film. However, one can’t underestimate the fan-base of Camilla Cabello and their support for Cinderella. Being the only movies also nominated for best picture, Dune or The Power of the Dog might also make it here, if it was mostly fans of the Oscars and typical Oscar fare who took the trouble to vote. What makes this harder to predict is that this is a first, so there’s no pattern to base guesses on. I think I’ll just go ahead and put down Spider-Man for the win (though not technically an Oscar win, since this is not an award; just a fun activity that they’ve initiated this year).


OTHER PREDICTIONS

These are based on the conversations taking place about these categories and films. I haven’t seen any of them to be able to comment on which ones might deserve their wins the most. 


Animated Short Film

Affairs of the Art 

Bestia 

Boxballet 

Robin Robin 

The Windshield Wiper


Live-Action Short

Ala Kachuu—Take and Run

The Dress 

The Long Goodbye 

On My Mind 

Please Hold


Documentary Feature

Ascension 

Attica 

Flee 

Summer of Soul 

Writing With Fire 


Documentary Short Subject

Audible 

Lead Me Home 

The Queen of Basketball 

Three Songs for Benazir 

When We Were Bullies

January 20, 2022

THE ‘HOW I MET YOUR FATHER’ STORY BEGINS—A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW

Should you give this reboot a shot? Based on the two episodes it premiered with this week, I think there’s enough to make it worth watching. Here’s why…


The opening of HOW I MET YOUR FATHER (HIMYF) immediately took me back to McLaren’s, where we spent so much time with Ted and Robin and Lily and Marshall and Barney in HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (HIMYM). It was a pleasant surprise to find that they decided to use the title theme from the mothership, albeit a different version of it. Yes, it lacks the energy of the original ‘Hey beautiful’ by The Solids, but it still serves as a link to that universe, setting the tone for this reboot. This simple, but effective detail was lacking in other recent revivals/reboots/sequels—GOSSIP GIRL, DEXTER: NEW BLOOD, AND JUST LIKE THAT…


Speaking of which, the missing feature in the SEX AND THE CITY revival, Kim Catrall shows up in HIMYF, in 2050, looking as fabulous as Samantha Jones. It was another pleasant surprise, since we were probably expecting only a voiceover of the actress playing the older Sophie, like the late Bob Saget’s, as the older Ted Mosby. There are probably reasons why they’re not showing us Sophie’s son. But let’s not get into spoiler territory. 


The show then takes us into a very different Sophie’s life in the present day. I think they could have done more align the younger and older versions of Sophie, with a few common traits, even if a person can change significantly in 28 years. In 2022, she takes an Uber, on her way to a big date with a Tinder guy that she’s been looking forward to. In the cab, she meets Jesse and Sid—the Uber driver and his best friend—like the start of the great friendship between Robin and the gang in the original series. We subsequently meet the others, Sophie’s best friend and roommate, Valentina; Valentina’s new boyfriend, Charlie; and Jesse’s sister, Ellen. And we see the new McLaren’s—Sid’s bar, Pemberton’s. The showrunners decided against featuring McLaren’s from the original as the new gang’s hangout, so as to differentiate this show, even if they have established a different link with HIMYM. Again, let’s avoid spoilers. Also differentiating this show is the assortment within the group, which naturally reflects 2022. While the original show had all white, heterosexual, cis-gendered people in the main cast, this group is more diverse, including one LGBT person. They’ve also avoided the one jarring element from the original show that has not aged well at all—a Barney Stinson-esque character—which must have been a no-brainer.


It actually works in the reboot’s favor to have some of the soon-to-be-friends just getting to know each other, because the actors don’t seem to have immediate chemistry as one might have hoped, and like we saw in the original. And the stiffness doesn’t seem intentional, as several interactions seem quite strained. It will probably take a few episodes, if not an entire season for them to loosen up and find their grooves with each other. This doesn’t necessarily help the humor in the show at the outset, with some punchlines falling a little flat. Yet, I see potential, even if it’s not instantly captivating beyond the nostalgia factor. There’s a certain honesty in the stories that the show is trying to tell. At the heart of it, it’s being set up as a coming-of-age story of this group of inevitable friends, with a heavy dose of romantic comedy. Moreover, the formulaic format, which goes back to FRIENDS and shows that came before, can work well. And beyond the friends-become-family theme of the show, like the original, it has the hook of how the lead character met the co-parent to their child/ren. There is a bit of a spin on that hook, which keeps things a little fresh, while staying true to the original concept, and also taking the style forward.

The multi-camera sitcom style—‘taped in front of a live studio audience’—has become something of a dying art, and it’s nice to see an attempt at it, even if the laugh track doesn’t seem to be from a live audience. Yet, the familiarity of sets that are very evidently soundstages, and the confinement of the action are quite comforting—something that will be nice to sink into every week, at least for the next eight weeks.  


Hopefully there will be more than just the 10 episodes of the first season. It would be unfortunate if they have to rush into revealing who the father is, because a show like this is more about the journey than the destination, especially since it will probably take the entire first season for these characters and actors to really gel. I’m not invested in them yet, but I am looking forward to seeing more of them and how they settle into sweet spots of being more natural with each other. With the small nuggets of information we’ve already received about these characters, the show is being set up to really flesh them out. And I think that will be worth watching. It may not be the next best comedy, but it could definitely become a nice, enjoyable series that’s like comfort food, but hopefully not as predictable. 

January 10, 2022

THE ‘DEXTER: NEW BLOOD’ FINALE—A FITTING CONCLUSION

Spoiler alert: Please read on if you’ve seen the finale of DEXTER: NEW BLOOD, or if you don’t care about spoilers

The DEXTER fan in me was terribly sad when Dexter Morgan’s fate was finally revealed in Sunday’s finale of the revival series, but it was definitely a fitting conclusion, as it tackled a very big part of the central character’s journey

 

When it was announced that DEXTER would be revived, a part of me was glad that we would get a chance to see a conclusion different from what we saw with the end of the original series back in 2013. However, I was more thrilled as a fan of the show, and the captivating world it used to take us into season after season. Sure, the last couple of seasons were quite messy and lacked the quality and sharpness of the first few years, but it was still an entertaining ride, right to the end. The end itself though was way too much of a downer—the darkest part being the death of Debra Morgan, who was my favorite part, and arguably, the heart of the show.

 

No revival was going to bring her back to life, but DEXTER: NEW BLOOD did a pretty good job of including her. It was a simple but very effective way to bring Jennifer Carpenter back as Deb—using her as the voice of reason in Dexter’s mind, just like Harry Morgan had been through the original series. Moreover, Dexter’s imagining of his late sister was very true to who she was—blunt, sharp-tongued, and always saying it like it is. In fact, Debra’s retorts in Dexter’s mind were significantly more entertaining and fun than Harry’s ever were, and imaginably so, since he was more about the code, while Debra was more about calling Dexter out on his nonsense. It was a perfect refresh to the tool that was used to shed light on the protagonist’s state of mind. And it worked especially in this revival, because there were several moments in it when Dexter conveniently twisted the code in order to suit his urges, while slipping off the wagon, after ‘staying sober’ for so many years.

This was also what led us to question whether one could really root for this Dexter, who lacked a sense of process and slickness, which was what made him such a fascinating anti-hero to root for earlier. In that sense, we could already see the flaws in Dexter that Harrison would eventually see, and begin to question his new-found ‘dark-passenger’ bond with his estranged dad. That, I’ll admit was a little too rushed towards the end of the season. In just a couple of episodes, we went from Dexter telling Harrison the truth, to Harrison leaning on his dad, to Dexter making him view the gruesomeness of his kills and Harrison becoming disillusioned in the end. It was a rich turn of events, and was the right way to go in terms of what was to happen, even if the how of it was expedited a bit too much.


The Harrison angle itself was the best possible hook for a revival series, especially if it wasn’t going to bring back any of the original series’ characters. With Debra dead, of course, there wasn’t much else to bring back. However, Harrison was a link to Dexter’s past that could not be severed, despite a decade between the father and son. And the damaged nature of Harrison as he begins to understand the man that he’s growing into was a perfect way of bringing this character into the revival. Jack Alcott’s extremely sincere and endearing portrayal made the character work almost instantly when he first arrived in Iron Lake. And it probably even helped us suspend our disbelief when father and son all too conveniently slipped into a regular life and routine, after barely touching upon Dexter’s abandonment. Harrison’s need to belong and his desperation for affection and family probably overrode his desire for answers. And then, the show quickly shifted focus to him being more concerned about his darkness than about how his father left him. It’s not like they forgot about it completely, but it was ignored for the most part. 


Thereafter, the mirroring of a complicated father-son bond in the whole Kurt Caldwell storyline might have been a bit on-the-nose, but in retrospect, it was simply a driver as ‘big bad’ storyline that actually wasn’t the focus of the series at all. Still it wouldn’t have hurt if the villain had been a little more compelling and captivating while they were at it. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that Caldwell as a character was among the weakest DEXTER villains we’ve seen in all nine seasons of the original and the revival combined. Hence, it was almost a relief that his story was put to rest before the finale.

The finale itself was intense, and brought out the best in Angela as a character who was a formidable part of the revival. And it was effective conclusion to the series that was essentially about a very damaged and complicated father-son relationship. Harrison seemed horrified upon seeing Dexter chop up Caldwell more than anything he had already seen, and one got the feeling that he was questioning whether he could really relate with his father, who had probably revealed too much too soon. And Dexter’s killing of Logan did seem like it would be the most off-putting thing for Harrison. Was killing his dad a difficult thing and a bit extreme for Harrison to do? Definitely, but he did have some darkness, a violent streak, and had begun to understand the ‘code’. So it wasn’t too far-fetched, especially if you think of what humans are capable of doing in the heat of the moment, when they’re not necessarily thinking straight (remember when Deb shot LaGuerta?). Even Dexter acted recklessly in killing Logan, but it was clear that he’d been thrown by the mention of Batista, and wasn’t exactly thinking strategically. It was all just the situation getting away from these characters.


Is it possible that Harrison would regret killing his father, even though Dexter pretty much gave him his blessings? Absolutely. There’s a lot to unpack with that character still. While he may have got some closure about his father and the abandonment, he’s still to come to terms with who he is, after he understands it completely, and make peace with what he’s just done. So there is potential for NEW BLOOD to continue. The obvious way forward would be for Harrison to embrace some kind of a dark passenger, while Dexter becomes his voice of reason. However, after he realized how much he disapproved of his father’s actions, would he continue to embrace the darkness and the killer within? That would be a tricky path to tread, if at all there might be more. I’d be up for it, even if I’m not sure what a continuation of this story might look like without the now late titular killer doing what he does.

Rest in peace, Dexter Morgan.