The 92nd Academy Awards: Review!

Last night’s Oscars ceremony was on the brink of teetering off the edge and into the dustbin of history when suddenly, after a long string of tired and predictable winners took the stage to repeat virtually the same speeches they had been using all throughout awards season, the event righted itself and took a wild turn: with the shocking upset victory of Parasite in both the Best Director and Best Picture categories, the 92nd Academy Awards were able to make a groundbreaking advancement in movie history.

As we knew going into the ceremony (which got off to a bad start, with the frigid temperature and heavy rain-showers forcing the celebrities into the building at breakneck speed), the field of candidates was dominated by white men – though the long list of snubbed women directors still managed to attend the ceremony, as names embroidered on Natalie Portman’s dress. But in some categories, the few diverse nominees were able to sneak in some surprising wins: Matthew Cherry took home a long-awaited Oscar for the adorable animated short Hair Love, which celebrates natural black hair; and Taika Waititi became the first indigenous filmmaker to win an Oscar, claiming the award for Best Adapted Screenplay for his anti-fascist satire, JoJo Rabbit. Bong Joon-ho and the crew of Parasite also won Best Original Screenplay and Best International Film, giving the South Korean drama a total of four wins: the most of any film last night.

Joker, the dark and dour supervillain story that danced into the ceremony with a whopping eleven nominations, only walked out with two wins, both in categories where it was expected to win: Best Lead Actor went to Joaquin Phoenix, thus making him the second actor to win an Academy Award for his portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime; and Best Original Score was presented to Hildur Guðnadòttir.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s joint work on “I’m Gonna Love Me Again” from the Elton John biopic Rocketman made them clear winners in the Best Original Song category, but the other contenders put on a good show: Idina Menzel, AURORA, and several Frozen II voice actresses from around the world sang “Into The Unknown”, while Cynthia Erivo and a chorus of back-up singers delivered a rousing rendition of “Stand Up” from Harriet. Then there was Randy Newman, with whatever the song was from Toy Story 4 (which somehow won Best Animated Feature in a year when Netflix’s Klaus was showing off the simple beauty of 2D animation). Three other musical numbers, unaffiliated with any film, were sprinkled throughout the ceremony: Janelle Monae and Billy Porter opened the night’s proceedings with a rousing, sparkly cover of “It’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood”, which also featured dancers dressed as characters from some of the past year’s snubbed films, including Us and Midsommar; Eminem made a surprise appearance to perform “Lose Yourself” to an audience who clearly had no idea how to react – and those that did, namely Idina Menzel and Martin Scorsese, soon found themselves trending for their shocked and disturbed expressions; and finally, young Grammy-winner Billie Eilish performed a moving cover of “Yesterday” while the In Memoriam tribute video played – a video which, as expected, left out a couple of notable deceased celebrities.

Politics were briefly addressed, with Brad Pitt throwing jabs at the U.S. Senate in his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (one of only two awards the critical darling picked up, the other being Best Production Design), and Joaquin Phoenix making time for a warning about the dangers of climate change, and the importance of environmentalism. But many of the winners and presenters were more concerned with poking fun at their own business – there was no more scathing example of this than when James Corden and Rebel Wilson, two prominent members of the cast of the box-office flop and movie monstrosity Cats, ironically had to present the award for Best Visual Effects to 1917 while wearing cat-suits and making sarcastic puns.

The major categories were looking like a straight-up copy-and-paste of the Golden Globes winners (to nobody’s surprise, Renée Zellweger won Best Leading Actress for her transformative role as Judy Garland in Judy, while Laura Dern closed out her award-season romp with a Best Supporting Actress award for her fan-favorite role as a divorce lawyer in Marriage Story: Netflix’s only consolation prize for being snubbed and soundly defeated in every other category), right up until Best Director. The award had been expected to basically throw itself into the arms of Sam Mendes, whose continuous-take gimmick for 1917 has been a subject of much debate this awards season (and had, just moments before, won Roger Deakins a Best Cinematography Oscar), but there was also room for Quentin Tarantino to eke out a surprise victory: but it was Bong Joon-ho who claimed this award, and then led South Korea to its first ever Best Picture win – Parasite, a drama about class divides and economic crisis, also made history as the first non-English feature film to win the highest honor at the ceremony. Bong Joon-ho’s fanbase, who call themselves the “BongHive” on social media, celebrated the film’s success around the world, while Joon-ho himself finally got to have the drink that he kept asking for throughout the night.

Was it a perfect ceremony? No. The event was downright predictable for most of its extremely long runtime, and there was a tired aura in the air: perhaps brought on by the bad weather, or an unmemorable red carpet walk. But did it also break new ground and pave the way for a greater acceptance of international filmmaking in Hollywood? Let’s hope so.

Ceremony Rating: 7.9/10

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77th Golden Globes Ceremony Review!

Appropriately, it was Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, a movie which celebrates a bygone era of film-making, that won big at the 77th annual Golden Globes awards last night, taking home three Globes in major categories. In many ways, the ghost of Hollywood Past was haunting the tired, slow-paced ceremony, which saw a mostly white and male ensemble of winners take the stage, during an event that felt unfocused and uninspired, barely held together by comedian Ricky Gervais, who looked bored to be hosting one of the most important events in the entertainment industry, and whose attempts to keep the audience’s attention off world politics felt sadly misguided.

Thankfully, his plea for political neutrality was steadfastly ignored by the majority of winners, many of whom took the stage to deliver impassioned speeches addressing a number of notable issues: from Best Actress In A Mini-Series Michelle Williams calling upon women to exercise their right to choose, Best Supporting Actress In A Series Patricia Arquette using her brief time onstage to demand that viewers vote in the 2020 U.S. elections, Best Actor In A Drama Motion Picture and animal-rights activist Joaquin Phoenix thanking the Golden Globes for serving an entirely plant-based dinner to the audience (a decision that was apparently met with mixed reactions), Australians Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett bringing attention to the deadly bush-fires currently raging across the country, and Best Actress In A Musical/Comedy Series Phoebe Waller-Bridge invoking the name of former U.S. President Barack Obama, who just recently included Waller-Bridge’s hit comedy Fleabag on his annual Presidential Favorites list. LGBTQ+ issues were at the forefront during Kate McKinnon and Ellen DeGeneres’ speech to honor the latter’s acceptance of the special Carol Burnett Award.

But in between these brief highlights, the ceremony still appeared outdated and backwards-thinking: outside of female-exclusive categories, women were handed a bare minimum of awards, with Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir being the exception to the rule, becoming the first solo woman to accept the award. People of color were also suspiciously absent from the proceedings, except as presenters – the exception in this case being Ramy star Ramy Youssef, and comedian Awkwafina, who became the first woman of Asian descent to win the Golden Globe for Best Actress In A Musical/Comedy. Small moments like these help to give the impression that progress is being made in Hollywood, but don’t make up for a list of nominees that is overwhelmingly representative of a long-gone period in Hollywood history – one of Gervais’ few on-point jokes was his callout of the all-male lineup of directing nominees, and his satirical suggestion that soon, Hollywood would go back to simply never hiring women directors: “problem solved”.

Anti-Disney and anti-Netflix sentiment ran strong at the ceremony, which witnessed an embarrassing turn of events for frontrunners Frozen II, The Irishman, Marriage Story and The Two Popes. Disney suffered their biggest loss of the night in the Best Animated Feature Film category, where they had not one, not two, but three nominees – all of which lost out to underdog Missing Link, a clay-mation movie from Laika Studios, in a move so shocking it even startled the Missing Link directors into near-speechlessness. Later, in the Best Original Song category, Disney was once again stunned by the surprise victory of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, who won for their work on “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” for Rocketman, beating out two Disney contenders, “Into The Unknown” and “Spirit” (both, admittedly, weak contestants). But Netflix’s film division was the biggest loser of the evening: going into the event, the main competition in both the Best Director For A Motion Picture and Best Drama Motion Picture fields had been The Irishman‘s Martin Scorsese versus Todd Phillips for Joker – but in both categories, it was neither man who took home the coveted prize, as Sam Mendes and war-drama 1917 won both times. That wouldn’t have been so humiliating if Netflix had been able to claim Best Supporting Actor In A Motion Picture (which they lost to Brad Pitt for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), Actor In A Musical/Comedy Motion Picture (which they lost to Taron Egerton for Rocketman), Actress In A Drama Motion Picture (which they lost to Renée Zellweger for Judy, despite strong competition from Scarlett Johansson), Actor In A Drama Motion Picture (which Joker star Joaquin Phoenix easily won, beating out Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce), or Screenplay Of A Motion Picture (an award that clearly belonged to either The Irishman or Marriage Story, but went instead to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood). Ultimately, only Laura Dern was able to carve out a small victory for the streaming service, winning the award for Best Supporting Actress In A Motion Picture for her fan-favorite role as a sassy, no-nonsense divorce lawyer in Marriage Story. A small win, but a win nonetheless, and one that Netflix Film desperately needed as they continue to fight against Hollywood bias.

The event should have been high-stakes, especially with the amount of surprises, snubs and gasp-out-loud upsets that occurred, but low-energy humor from the host and presenters, coupled with slow, largely repetitive victories (winners often had to walk absurdly long distances to the stage, and a few nearly got lost weaving through the crowd, making the ceremony move even slower) made the 77th Golden Globes an unmemorable footnote in awards season history. Here’s hoping that the Oscars will repeat last year’s surprisingly effective no-host format, and give us a more rousing, entertaining, and relevant ceremony than the Globes was able to offer.

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“Joker 2” Drama Turns Nasty – What’s Going On?

Yikes. The movie that has been sparking universal controversy and uproar since its release in early October is still stirring up trouble, this time leading to a feud between two of the biggest entertainment news trades in Hollywood – quite appropriate for a movie about the Clown Prince of Crime.

"Joker 2" Drama Turns Nasty - What's Going On? 1
nytimes.com

This time, the inciting incident was an article by The Hollywood Reporter, which claimed that The Joker director Todd Phillips is looking to team up with star Joaquin Phoenix once again to film a sequel to the R-rated villain origin story which grossed over a billion dollars at the box office and is gaining slow traction in awards season races. Phillips and Phoenix had both previously discussed not wanting to do a sequel because it would ruin their artistic vision – that seems to have changed when the film crossed into the billion-dollar club, landing Phillips himself a paycheck somewhere in the range of $100 million. THR added that on October 7th, mere days after Joker opened in theaters, Phillips met with Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich and pitched an idea that Emmerich rejected: that Phillips should be given the ability to develop origin movies for an entire rogue’s gallery of classic DC Comics villains (THR specifically referenced the dictatorial Darkseid and power-hungry businessman Lex Luthor as possible examples). While Phillips’ idea appears to have been a bit too extreme for the studio, it is said he walked away from the meeting with the rights to “at least one other DC story”. All this seems pretty standard so far: it’s unsurprising that Phillips would want to direct a sequel to the smash hit, and it’s not even all that surprising that he thinks he’s entitled to take over the entire DC villain roster.

But soon after, Deadline fired back with a vicious piece that used the words “great click bait” to refer to the Hollywood Reporter’s earlier story. According to their sources, no Joker sequel is being discussed at this stage. And that’s not all. I quote: “the linchpin of today’s THR story – that a week after Joker’s opening, Phillips met with Warner Bros film chief Toby Emmerich to pitch a portfolio of DC character origin stories – is as flat false as earlier stories that Martin Scorsese contemplated directing the first Joker”.

Okay, this isn’t really relevant to the rest of the story, but this is what Martin Scorsese had to say about those “flat as false” rumors, in an interview with Variety earlier this month: “[I] thought about it a lot over the past four years…I decided that I didn’t have the time to do it”. Marty went on to complain about how he didn’t want to direct it because he didn’t feel comfortable making a movie about a comic book character, etc, etc, you’ve heard all that before, I’m sure.

Leaving aside that glaring error in Deadline’s reporting, the lack of professionalism from the respected trade is shocking and dismaying – is this the malevolent work of the Joker at play, turning Hollywood news agencies against each other? Is it an act of pettiness on Deadline’s part, because THR broke the story first? The bigger, more important question is: which one is actually right? Is Todd Phillips going to be placed in charge of the DC’s villains department or not? Will we have to endure several more years of Joker-induced chaos?

Not long after Deadline’s article came out, poor little Variety showed up with their own piece, which is basically being ignored by everybody: in it, they say that the truth lies somewhere in the middle: Phillips has met with Toby Emmerich to discuss a sequel to Joker, but no other DC villain origin films are being planned, and Phillips would be too busy directing Joker 2 (if true) to direct those other films, anyway.

As of right now, that’s all I have to say about this strangely chaotic story. But I’m posing the question to you, dear readers: what’s really going on at the DC right now, and who’s directing what? Would you be interested in a Joker sequel? Would you be interested in origin stories for other DC villains? Share your thoughts and theories in the comments below!

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Robert Downey Jr. Passes On Oscar Opportunity!

As the 2020 Oscars race heats up, and more and more actors throw their hats into the ring for a chance to take home the gold, we can be assured of one thing: Robert Downey Jr., the star of Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame, won’t be among the contenders at next year’s ceremony.

RDJ has been one of the most talked-about and hyped-up candidates for the Best Actor award, but despite the anger and outrage of fans, despite all the petitions in the world, the veteran actor has made it clear that he is not going to make a move for the prize: in a recent interview with Howard Stern, Downey rather vaguely suggested that he didn’t feel it was the right thing to do. “There was some talk about [an Oscar campaign], and I said, “let’s not”.”

Robert Downey Jr. Passes On Oscar Opportunity! 2
grist.org

Downey didn’t give any specific reasoning for his choice, and it seems particularly surprising given how hotly anticipated his campaign already was in the media: Avengers: Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo, along with Iron Man director Jon Favreau, had both publicly given Downey their support in the race, and millions of Marvel fans were completely behind the idea. Whether or not the Academy Awards would have recognized Downey’s position as the figurehead of one of Hollywood’s biggest and most fortunate film studios for the past decade is a question we now have no way of answering: but why? What could have inspired Downey to back away from the finish line when it seemed so close?

Well, obviously, his choice could be entirely personal. It’s possible he has better things to do with his time than try to win a shiny gold trophy. But it’s also possible that Downey recognizes an unfortunate trend in modern Hollywood, and has made his choice to avoid courting controversy and stirring up trouble: what I’m trying to say is that the Academy Awards simply might not want to give such a prestigious award to the star of a superhero movie.

The discussion we are having now has been the subject of a great number of essays, articles and opinion pieces in the past few days: it started a long time ago actually, but acclaimed director Martin Scorsese’s recent comments have made everyone sit up and take notice yet again. While promoting his new film The Irishman, Scorsese claimed that, despite having never watched a Marvel movie (he “tried”, to be fair), he believes that the films are “not cinema”, adding that “Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” Scorsese’s controversial comments quickly riled up the internet – Marvel directors and actors responded in various different ways, from James Gunn being “saddened” to Samuel L. Jackson bluntly pointing out that “Everybody doesn’t like his stuff either”. As for Downey himself, he was cool about the whole subject, saying that, while Scorsese’s insult “makes no sense”, he still respects and appreciates the director’s opinion. But he’s also not going to intentionally upset the other filmmakers and Academy members who agree with Scorsese, by campaigning for an Oscar. Because there are others: many others, in fact. And The Hollywood Reporter has turned a spotlight on them in a fascinating new article published just today.

The article has nothing to do with Robert Downey Jr., or even Scorsese: instead, it’s about another comic book movie making headlines right now – that being Joker. A gritty, realistic approach to the genre (and unabashedly inspired by the works of Martin Scorsese, in fact), the supervillain origin story has generated plenty of Oscar buzz already, with critics praising Joaquin Phoenix’s intense performance. But today, Academy Award voters were asked to anonymously contribute their opinions on the film, and on the genre as a whole: and their responses confirm that Scorsese is not alone in his beliefs. Several stated that comic book movies hold zero interest for them, with some even pointedly referencing Scorsese’s comments in their rebuttals of the film – and as for the one who said that we live in an age of “sanitized, shrink-wrapped cinema”, well, I don’t know if he was referring specifically to comic book movies, but I can’t imagine his opinion of those is good. Some of them didn’t even have plans to see the film at all, or were reluctant to see it for a variety of reasons; some logical (security concerns), or illogical (comic book movies suck).

And these are Academy voters: the men and women who will decide who takes home the biggest awards in the entertainment industry. Are they biased? Yes, some of them are undoubtedly biased. A large number of them might be voting against movies that they haven’t even watched. Are they right in their condemnations of modern cinema – do superhero movies deserve to be called cinema at all, or are they nothing more than flashy merchandising ploys? That’s for you to decide. But imagine if Robert Downey Jr. were to step into this arena and even try to launch a campaign for Best Actor. There’s a strong chance he wouldn’t win, and his efforts would most likely be laughed at behind his back – the fact that Joker is still considered by many to be an Oscar darling, even after the reactions from those voters, just goes to show how badly superhero movies are usually treated by the industry. As frustrating as it is, the Academy’s electoral process is not fair; not by a long shot. Downey is probably better off steering far clear of all these shenanigans, and instead focusing on the things that matter to him – such as his plan to help clean up the environment using high-tech robotics.

So that’s that: Downey has made his choice. The Academy will probably end up nominating Joaquin Phoenix for Best Actor in his stead, but it’s not a sure bet that he’ll win either. Avengers: Endgame, which is up for several other awards (including Best Picture and Best Director) is also an underdog going into this highly competitive fight to the death. And so we have to consider whether or not Black Panther, which won a considerable number of Oscars at this year’s ceremony, really was a fluke after all: did it signal a change, as we all thought at the time, or was it merely a cheap publicity stunt?

I leave the question for you to answer: how biased is the entertainment industry against comic book movies? Could RDJ have won an Oscar, if he had run? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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“Birds Of Prey” Official Trailer!

Harley Quinn is back and better than ever in the first trailer for Birds Of Prey, which sees her and a few of the other emancipated women of Gotham getting together to wreak havoc on the city with glamour, glitter and gunfights. DCEU fans have been eagerly anticipating this first official trailer for weeks, and now, finally, we have it. So does it live up to expectations?

I say, yes. The movie looks absolutely crazy, but in the best way possible: irreverent, reckless, and irresponsible, Margot Robbie’s take on the character of Harley Quinn is a far cry (a canary cry? bad Birds of Prey pun, I know) from her comics counterpart, one of Batman’s most dangerous and sinister villains – but she’s possibly better. And without any Batman in sight, Quinn is free to roam through Gotham on roller-skates, robbing, vandalizing and basically having a good time – she compares her crime spree to a sleepover party at one point in the trailer, and even suggests that she and her henchwomen should order pizza.

In fact, Harley Quinn’s only companions these days are two very large hyenas, and the other women in the Birds of Prey team, who get about ten seconds of screentime each in this trailer – though that’s more coverage than they’ve gotten in the film’s promotional material, which has focused exclusively on Harley herself. Black Canary, Huntress, Renee Montoya and Cassandra Cain, the other members of the group, look a bit more like extra cannon fodder for fight scenes, as does, rather surprisingly, the villain Black Mask (played by Ewan McGregor!). So while the full title of this movie is (*clears throat*) Birds Of Prey And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn, you could probably lop off the first part of that hefty moniker without much issue. This is Harley’s world, and, for better or worse, the supporting cast is just passing through it.

Nevertheless, the fight scenes, in which the other Birds of Prey will probably have their few and far-between moments to shine, look spectacular and dazzlingly unique. We’ve got chase scenes through shopping centers, roller-derby action sequences, and one peculiar but beautifully shot dance hall fight in which Margot Robbie gets to channel her inner Marilyn Monroe for a musical number. There’s humor, wit, and empowerment. Harley, armed with her oversized mallet and psychotic impulses, is officially back in business, and ready to take down the patriarchy.

And you know what? I’m kind of here for it.

Trailer Rating: 8/10

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