The Academy missed their goal of a 3 hour presentation, but only by 17 minutes! Ratings were up (over last year) and diversity was on full display, so it seems most can agree that things went pretty smoothly without a host. Despite some recent bungled decision-making, followed by a social media outcry which resulted in decision reversals, the Academy deserves credit for a fine presentation that featured more diversity than ever before. The days of #OscarSoWhite seem to be over.
I trust you didn’t come here to read yet another rant about why a certain award proves how out of touch the Academy is. Nope, I like movies and prefer to view the Oscars as a celebration rather than a political statement. By the time the final envelope was opened, all 8 Best Picture nominees had won at least one Oscar. Additionally, two other excellent films, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK and FIRST MAN, also won awards (Best Supporting Actress and Visual Effects, respectively). Spreading the major award love over 10 different films speaks not just to the diversity, but also the deep lineup of quality filmmaking during 2018.
As always, the ceremony provided some fun talking/debating/arguing points. Queen opened the show with Adam Lambert proving how remarkable Freddie Mercury’s voice was, while Brian May showed us he still plays a mean guitar. Best Actor winner Rami Malek fell off the stage after giving his speech. Fortunately, he wasn’t seriously hurt. Melissa McCarthy (and a puppet) and Brian Tyree Henry fully and elaborately committed to their duties as co-presenters of Best Costume. Despite not being present, the omnipotent Oprah made an appearance – via the montage of 2018 films (from her bomb A WRINKLE IN TIME), and we saw a live quasi-reunion of WAYNE’S WORLD with Mike Myers and Dana Carvey (sans wigs and head-bobbing). Spike Lee finally won an Oscar (Adapted Screenplay for BLACKKKLANSMAN), and then proceeded to bogart the microphone from his equally deserving co-writers, before throwing a tantrum when GREEN BOOK was announced as Best Picture.
Of course, the most Tweeted about moment came when Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga took the stage to sing their (now Oscar winning song) “Shallow” from A STAR IS BORN. It was a very intimate duet that, had there been one more verse, might have resulted in clothes being shed on stage. The aforementioned diversity resulted in the most presented Oscars for both African-Americans and Women, and with presenter Michael Keaton being the only white male to take the stage solo. Barbra Streisand (presenting BLACKKKLANSMAN rather than A STAR IS BORN) somehow escaped backlash after comparing herself to Spike Lee … see they are both from Brooklyn and like hats; although we aren’t sure if Babs greeted her superfan, nominee Richard E Grant. And poor Christian Bale – no way that room was ever going to vote for Dick Cheney, regardless of how remarkable his transformation and performance.
Olivia Colman (THE FAVOURITE) won the Best Actress Oscar over Glenn Close (THE WIFE). This was Ms. Close’s 7th Oscar nomination without a win, keeping her one ahead of fellow nominee Amy Adams (VICE). However, neither of them gained ground on songwriter Diane Warren whose nomination for “I’ll Fight” (RBG) was her 10th without a win. It should also be noted that Ms. Colman’s acceptance speech was the funniest, most charming and most heartfelt of the evening. In contrast to Ms. Close, Ms. Adams and Ms. Warren, Regina King was thrilled to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar with her first ever nomination (IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK). In a show of ultimate class, Congressman John Lewis presented Best Picture nominee GREEN BOOK, and we could be certain a man with his perspective and role in history, would not partake in any tantrum throwing.
Mahershala Ali (GREEN BOOK) won Best Supporting Actor for the second consecutive year, and Alfonso Cuaron won 3 Oscars (Best Director, Cinematographer, Best Foreign Language Film) for his autobiographical masterpiece ROMA. Also winning 3 Oscars on the night were BLACK PANTHER (Costumes, Production Design, Score) and GREEN BOOK; however, it was BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY with 4 wins that walked away with the most statuettes. Even those who are upset by GREEN BOOK’s Best Picture win must agree that it was a much smoother end to the evening than last year’s debacle and mix-up.
***Note: although there were a few political barbs tossed in throughout the evening, President Trump’s name was never mentioned on the broadcast. This allowed the focus to remain mostly on the nominees and the films … and the plug for the under-construction Academy museum (opening someday). .
Greetings again from the darkness. It is possible for a filmmaker to be “too close” to the material when undertaking a story that is somewhat autobiographical. It’s also possible, in that situation, for them to catch lightning in a bottle and magic on the screen – and that’s exactly what writer/director Alfonso Cuaron has achieved with this look back at his childhood home life. In his follow-up to GRAVITY, for which he won the Best Director Oscar, Mr. Cuaron has dedicated the film to Libo, his family maid/nanny during his youth in Mexico City.
Balancing artistry and everyday humanity like few other films, it takes us inside the home of a well-off family: Antonio (Fernando Gredigaga), the father-husband-doctor; Sofia (Marina de Tavira, the only experienced actor in the main cast), the mother-wife; Teresa (Veronica Garcia), the grandmother; the four kids; and two live-in maids, Adela (Nancy Garcia Garcia) and Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). There is no separating the human emotions from the near-poetic art form of Cuaron’s movie. It is unusually quiet, filmed mostly at midrange, and with no musical score. Yet, in the stillness and quiet, so much is happening.
The focus here is on Cleo. We hear many times how she is considered part of the family. Of course, she (and we) are reminded that’s only true to a certain extent as she is admonished for not cleaning up after the family dog or ‘wasting’ electricity in her living quarters by using the light in her tiny living quarters at night. First time actress Yalitza Aparicio brings a realism and accessibility to the role as the quiet, perpetually-in-motion maid/caregiver/nanny and she is mesmerizing to watch. Her duties include keeping the house clean, cooking meals, getting the kids up in the morning, getting the kids to/from school, and putting the kids to bed at night. What little scraps of time she has for a personal life are spent going on a date with the cousin of Adela’s boyfriend. Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) is a martial arts fanatic and just prior to their intimacy, he demonstrates his skills to her with a shower rod and literally nothing else.
When Antonio and Sofia announce to the kids that dad will be attending a conference in Quebec “for a few weeks”, we as viewers understand what this means, even though the kids don’t. Spending time with his mistress means Sofia and Grandma Teresa must manage the house … but of course, as always, the bulk of the burden falls to Cleo. When Cleo finds out she’s pregnant, Fermin dumps her – leaving both Cleo and Sofia as abandoned by men. It’s fascinating to watch this unfold, and contrast how the two women react and cope. The dialogue is secondary to the situations in the film, but there is a great line of dialogue after the men leave: “We women are always alone.”
From a cinematic aspect, Cuaron’s film is a delight to watch – reminding at times of the classic Italian and French films of years past. Since his first film in 1995, Cuaron has frequently collaborated with (3 time Oscar winning) cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, but this time Cuaron wears multiple hats as writer/director/cinematographer/co-editor/producer. This is his movie – and his most personal one – from top to bottom. Working closely over the years with Lubezki has influenced Cuaron’s camera work … it’s stunning. He uses wide, initially static shots with slow pans – just the way we see in real life. And just like in real life, what he shows us is sometimes mundane and at other times various degrees of emotional. The remarkable opening credit scene could be quickly described as Cleo mopping the dog mess from the garage floor. But of course there is much more. We also see the reflection of planes flying overhead and hear only the sounds of everyday life. It sets the stage for the entire film.
This is 1970-71 Mexico City, so in addition to Cleo getting the kids to and from school, the street riots – some quite violent – play a role, as does the incessant sound of dogs barking in the background. Cleo’s trip to the delivery room is filmed with real doctors and nurses, while a later trip to the beach offers yet another gut punch … and both sequences maintain the overall feel of authenticity. Lest you think this is just another “small scale” indie, Cuaron goes big a few times – the street riot, a mass martial arts training session, and the beach trip. His film is a story of class and family, making it more than just a thing of celluloid beauty. It also brilliantly captures the essence of life’s emotions: the “bad” with two men who ignore their responsibilities, the “normal” with kids being kids, and the “good” with seeing Cleo become such a vital and beloved part of the family.
Greetings again from the darkness. Gravity is a visually stunning film that creates a you-are-there-in-space feeling unlike any other. That said, hopefully you aren’t expecting yet another in the seemingly endless stream of unadulterated praise fests for Alfonso Cuaron’s critically beloved and audience pleasing film. While the mass appeal is certainly understandable, I’ve never been one to sit back and accept the surface value.
There are two elements for discussion here: the visually stunning and technical marvel from a filmmaking perspective, and the emotionally-manipulating and somewhat emptiness of the narrative story-telling and characters. On the technical front, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a more impressive film. It is simply breath-taking, especially when seen in the format it should be seen … 3D IMAX. Rarely, if ever, has space seemed more real, more beautiful and more ominous. From the extended opening take (Cuaron is known for his long takes), to the numerous shots of Planet Earth (from dominating the screen, to reflections in helmet shields), we are drawn in to the space walking and perils of Kowalski (George Clooney) and Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). Even Carl Sagan and his “pale blue dot” musings would admire these space-based visuals of our home planet.
From an entertainment viewpoint, the film works as a high-stress, thrilling space mission gone bad and ultimate survival story. What left me feeling a bit distracted and hence, quite annoyed, was the often eye-rolling dialogue seemingly designed to force our connection with the Clooney and, especially, Bullock characters. I prefer to experience my own emotions in both real life and in movies … obvious cues and manipulating tugs through weak character development drives me away from, rather than towards the desired connectivity. My issues with the film are not related to the numerous scientific issues identified by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and astronaut Buzz Aldrin. This is all explained away by Mr. Cuaron’s statement that the film is “not a documentary“. If we can be cool with Forrest Gump creating the smiley face, we can accept that Sandra Bullock can navigate her way between space stations with a fire extinguisher. What I can’t be cool with are cheap writing ploys that tell me I must feel a specific emotion at a particular time for a certain character.
Despite this, it’s tough to argue against the technical marvel and thrilling (computer generated) experience created here. The 3D adds depth of field and adds a touch of realism, rather than the gimmicky tricks we often see with the format. With only a couple of jarring exceptions, Steven Price’s score is minimal and complimentary to the quietness of space. Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men) re-teams with Cuaron for the extraordinary look (with probably numerous technical Oscars on the way). Some of the symbolism was a bit overdone – recurring umbilical imagery for the re-birth, but it’s done to ensure no viewer misses the point. Finally, I got a kick out of Ed Harris’ voice coming from Mission Control (think back to The Right Stuffand Apollo 13).
I would encourage you to seek out the largest screen with the best sound … 3D IMAX is greatly preferred. Yes, it will cost you more than you should pay for a movie ticket, but the payoff is significant. This one won’t be the same on your ipad or even your home theater system. It’s the first step forward in movie technology since Avatar. If you can sit back and let the movie guide you, perhaps you will avoid the frustrations I experienced.
**NOTE: Although many critics have already proclaimed this the best picture of the year and are saying Sandra Bullock is a shoe-in for Best Actress, I will not be onboard with either. I found it fascinating and would even label it a “must see”, but truly great movies have characters and stories that draw me to them.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you have access to a theater with a huge screen and great sound system – preferably 3D IMAX
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you miss its theatrical run … watching it on your laptop or ipad 6 months from now will be time wasted