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My Predictions For The 2020 Academy Awards

To think that before 2020, the Academy was strict about having films viewed in theatres. Internet films were off limits. Then the pandemic happened. Most of the theatres were closed. Most films had to put themselves on online streaming services to have themselves viewed. The Academy became more forgiving in that aspect and allowed for more streamed films to be submitted as entries. The pandemic also caused the Oscars themselves to be delayed until the last Sunday of April. That also meant those other ‘influencer’ award shows would have to delay in compensation of the pandemic too.

Whatever the situation, I was able to see all eight Best Picture nominees. Yes, it involved signing up for more than one streaming service and renting movies on Youtube, but it had to be this year. Hopefully next year, I’ll be back in the theatres. As for this year, I saw them all and now I’m ready to make my opinions for the winners for the 93rd Academy Awards:

BEST PICTURE

Last year, Olly Gibbs did a similar picture of the Best Picture contenders. This year he does it again! I’ll bet most of you who have seen any of the Best Picture nominees most likely saw it through a streaming service. That seems to be the case this year. The favorites were seen through a wide variety of streaming methods like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ or Amazon Prime. For most, it was the only way to access any of the Best Picture nominees.

Normally I’d publish separate reviews of the various Best Picture nominees and include the link to the blog in my review. This was not the case that I reviewed them before Oscar day. Separate reviews will have to come later. In the meantime, here’s my take on the eight Best Picture nominees:

The Father: To make a film about dementia that’s watchable is a big challenge. Having a lead actor like Anthony Hopkins helps. However this is a unique story as it goes through the father’s life as he and his daughter are going through major changes in their lives. The father’s struggle with dementia gives hints to his past. It makes for a unique and telling story. However I don’t see it as having what it takes to win Best Picture.

Judas And The Black Messiah: This is the story of the Black Panther with a big following and the FBI agent who sets him up for his assassination. It’s to do about a powerful leader who had a love for his woman and the FBI who poses as the leader’s friend only to lead him to the fatal heist. This is an intriguing story that gives you a piece of history that is often overlooked. Also it provides insight on the secret that haunted the FBI agent until the end of his life. Excellent film worthy of Best Picture, but unable to contend due to the tightness of this year’s competition.

Mank: For those who like seeing films of the Golden Age of Hollywood, you’ll like seeing Mank. This is a film that focuses on Herman Mankiewicz, Hollywood scriptwriter and producer. It focuses on his messing with the political system, his difficulties in the Hollywood studio system and his struggle with alcohol. It presents a unique story for someone that should be presented as unlikeable as most of the Hollywood producers should be seen. This is a film with Best Picture marked on it, but a certain other film has better Best Picture clout.

Minari: There have been stories of immigrants in pursuit of the American Dream before. This is a unique story because it’s of Korean farmers seeking to pursue the American Dream in Arkansas in the 1980’s. It’s of a family that tries to pursue a better life, brings the grandmother over in hopes to build the family back up, and a son struggling with a heart condition. This is a very personal story from writer/director Lee Isaac Chung. It has Best Picture potential, but there are at least three other films that are seen as stronger contenders.

Nomadland: This is an introspective look at the modern-day American nomad. Desperation in an economy that failed them is what caused them to adopt this modern style of the nomad life. However it’s something that they don’t just simply get used to doing, but it becomes a lifestyle for all those involved. There is a central character named Fern who first appears she has no choice but to accept this nomad life. Even as things don’t get any better, she learns to make it her own life, embrace her experiences, and then be able to say goodbye to her own life. This is an excellent personal story that really caught a lot of people’s eyes. That’s why I make it my Will Win pick.

Promising Young Woman: This is definitely a film that’s been made with rage in mind. And good reason. When the #MeToo movement came out, it highlighted a lot of problems. This is a rape revenge film that focuses on a friend’s rape and the failings that went around her like the friend who wouldn’t believe, the college system that hides things for the protection of their reputation, the friend of the rapist who watched and did nothing. The film also focuses on the culture of misogyny that provokes date rape. Cassie is the central figure that first comes off like she is the one to put misogyny in its place and later tries to get revenge for her friend’s rape. I think it’s the Generation X-er in me that likes how this film is like a lightning rod on society. That’s why I call it my Should Win pick.

Sound Of Metal– This is a unique story of a drummer who goes deaf and doesn’t know how to struggle with hearing loss. His willingness to accept deafness and move on with his life or his desire for a hearing implant that will give him his old life back is the central part of the story. This is a very good story that relies on images and sounds to tell of the musician’s struggle and also of the new life he tries to get used to. Very good film. Also in a year where this year’s batch of Best Picture contenders have been commonly described as ‘a pack of downers,’ this is the most uplifting film without going too overboard in its uplifting moments.

Trial Of The Chicago 7: This is a historical film that comes at the right time. It was released at a time when there was, and still is, a lot of political turmoil in the United States. It’s about a group of men arrested and tried for taking a stand for what they believed in. It’s about a corrupt judge who constantly made the wrong decisions on others. It’s about a political system that’s all about keeping the order of things. Centrally it’s about a leader who needed to fasce his fears and muster the courage displayed by the others. Excellent retelling of a historical moment. Among one of the top contenders for the win, but this is the year for Nomadland.

BEST DIRECTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Chloe Zhao – Nomadland

Directors nominate the Best Director nominees. This Oscar category is known for its all-too-frequent exclusion of female nominees. The first was back in 1976: Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties. Since then, it’s been Jane Campion for The Piano in 1993, Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, for Lost In Translation in 2003, Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 for The Hurt Locker (which she won), and before this year, the last was Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird back in 2017. Five female nominees before the 2020 nominees were announced. This year made Oscar history as the first year two women were nominated for Best Director: Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell. The two female directors have the most talked-about films of this Oscar season: Nomadland and Promising Young Woman. It looks as though Zhao is poised to become only the second female winner of the Best Director category.

Also who knows after this year? Maybe in the future, two or three female Best Director nominees will become the annual norm.

BEST ACTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Most of us will remember Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa the Black Panther in the MCU. Since his death, there has been a lot of attention paid to a lot of his other works of the past. As 2020 was drawing to a close, the big focus was his performance as Levee Green in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. In fact it’s his performance as Levee that steals the show from Ma. It makes it more the story about Levee’s own struggle for fame and fortune and his inner hurt and struggles. His portrayal of Levee Green cuts deep to the core. Giving him the Best Actor Oscar is the best way to remember him.

BEST ACTRESS

Should Win and Will Win: Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Boseman may have stolen the film as Levee Green, but Viola’s performance of Ma Rainey helped give this film its powerful 1-2 punch. Davis’ character is both that of an entertainer whose beloved and a person subject to the same hurt and harshness a black woman in America gets. As she cuts her record Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, you can tell the wrath she feels towards her lifetime and her struggles are present in the story. That’s why I feel Viola deserves the Best Actress Oscar.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas And The Black Messiah

This year’s Oscars had a surprise with two Supporting Actor nominations for Judas And The Black Messiah. The nomination for Kaluuya was not a surprise as he won the Golden Globe for supporting actor. The nomination for LaKeith Stanfield was a surprise as it was felt Stanfield played the lead as Bill O’Neal. That had a lot of people wondering who’s the lead if O’Neal is supporting? I can’t answer that question. I will say that Stanfield didn’t get a single lead acting win or nomination so the Supporting Actor campaign was very successful here. Nevertheless the film belongs to Kaluuya for his performance of the late Black Panther Fred Hampton. He was very good at portraying Hampton both as a rebel with a cause and as a man with a lot of love.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Should Win and Will Win: Youn Yuh-jung – Minari

Youn Yuh-jung is an actress with an illustrious career in South Korea. Minari is pretty much the film where she’s introduced to North America. And it’s a great performance as a grandmother who first exhibits over-the-top behavior to becoming closer with grandson David to struggling with life after a stroke. She helped make the grandmother the central character of the story and it’s because of this I feel she should win here.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Should Win and Will Win: Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman

For a long time, Emerald Fennell was just another struggling actress. Her biggest success is in the British television series Call The Midwife. She also had good roles in film such as in Anna Karenina, Pan and The Danish Girl. Her first attempt at directing and writing was in the short film Careful How You Go. Promising Young Woman is her first attempt at a feature-length film and boy is it an eyebrow raiser. There have been ‘rape revenge’ movies before, but this is a film that doesn’t just get revenge on the rapist. It’s a story of one who has a reckoning of all those involved in her best friend’s rape like the friend that didn’t believe her, the college administration ‘protecting the boys’ futures,’ the lawyer who was menacing to the victim upon his client’s command, and the friend of the rapist who just watched and stood by. This is an angry film, but well written and well thought-out. Fennell’s feature went the furthest this year.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Should Win and Will Win: Chloe Zhao – Nomadland

For those that read Jessica Bruder’s book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, one would know it’s not a novel. It’s a set of stories of people that are modern-day nomads in America. Zhao was able to create a story of a fictional woman coming from an actual economic setback. She makes a nomad of herself because of the desperate times she was going through and of the people she meets along the way. It has a beginning, middle and end and it’s a story that is a reflection of life. That’s why Nomadland has to be the winner here.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Will Win: Soul

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Should Win and Will Win: Eric Messerschmidt – Mank

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Will Win: Ann Roth – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Will Win: My Octopus Teacher

BEST FILM EDITING

Will Win: Mikkel E. G. Nielsen – Sound Of Metal

BEST HAIR AND MAKE-UP

Will Win: Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

Will Win: Another Round (Denmark)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Will Win: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste – Soul

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Will Win: “Speak Now” – One Week In Miami

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Will Win: Donald Graham Burt & Jan Pascale – Mank

BEST SOUND

Will Win: Sound Of Metal

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Will Win: The Midnight Sky

SHORT FILM PREDICTIONS

For my reviews of the nominees and predictions for the wins for the various shorts categories, just click here for Animation and Live-Action and here for Documentaries.

JUST ONE MORE – TOP OSCAR UPSETS

Here are the six upsets I anticipate are most likely to happen. In category order:

  • Carey Mulligan for Best Actress in Promising Young Woman
  • Maria Balakova for Best Supporting Actress in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  • Lee Isaac Chung for Best Original Screenplay for Minari
  • Joshua James Richards for Best Cinematography for Nomadland
  • Time for Best Documentary
  • Tenet for Best Visual Effects

And there you have it. Those are my predictions for the winners of the 93rd Academy Awards. The Oscars ceremony promises to be like a film. We’ll have to wait and see!

VIFF 2020 Review: Father (OTAC)

The Serbian film Father is about a Serbian father (played by Goran Bodgan) who will fight to get his children back.

The Serbian film Father is not one of the more featured films of the Festival. However it is a unique film that’s worth seeing.

The film begins with a woman taking her two children to a construction plant. Her name is Biljana and she has a gasoline tank in her hand. She shouts out that she threatens to burn herself and her children unless she receives her husband’s overdue wages. The men there try to stop her, but she sets herself ablaze. The men are able to put her out in time and take her to the hospital.

Word not only gets to her husband Nikola. Word has also gotten to the child and family services in his region. The leader, Vasiljevic, is very suspicious of what type of father Nikola is and conducts people to investigate both the children and the house. Those who investigate the children ‘notice’ some flaws in them. Those who investigate the house point out how lacking it is in modern functions or how out of date it is.

Vasiljevic has made it clear that if Nikola modernizes the house, he could have his children back. This is frustrating enough as he has had no income for two years and he is constantly seeing his wife as she’s in the hospital. He does everything he can in the period of a few days, but Vasiljevic is still disapproving. His children are in foster care indefinitely and he’s not allowed to even see them. Before Nikola leaves, he is told by one man about how corrupt Vasiljevic is and how he has close associates of his in every village. Vasiljevic takes the children and puts them in the foster care of friends of his and skimming government money for this. Nikola’s made aware what Vasiljevic did is a common thing he does.

Although it’s difficult, especially as he wants to be by the hospital bedside of his wife, Nikola decides to make a 300 km trip to Belgrade and meet with social services to get his children back. Nikola has a friend with a computer draft him with a letter to the minister, pack fruit and stale bread, and set out on foot to Belgrade.

The trip is long and Nikola witnesses poverty and barren wasteland as he walks on. He comes across buildings that have decayed over time. He comes across stores that have been abandoned. He witnesses the best of people and the worst of people along the way. Some help him out while some steal or fight with him. He also develops a temporary friendship with a dog he met at an abandoned gas station he slept at. He also gets some help from truck drivers and ‘good samaritans’ who drive him.

When he arrives in Belgrade, he is brought to the very government office he needs to visit. He tries to meet with the minister, but is told he can only meet with him tomorrow. He has nowhere to sleep or to eat and leaves himself to sleep outside right by the entrance. As he is sitting out, a media team notices him and his story and will interview him for an evening news story. One person who saw the news and saw his story drives over to see him and gives him food.

The next day, he meets face to face with the minister. He heard his plea, he learned his story from the news. The minister tells him of the guidelines he will direct in order for Nikola to get his children back. A man drives him back to his town and to his home. However Nikola comes across an uncooperative Vasiljevic. Vasiljevic tries to act like Belgrade has no control over him and even demeans him of the story in the news. However Nikola has had enough. He demands to see his children, if not have them returned to him.

His wish is granted and he hugs his daughter with no problem, but the son is embarrassed of him. Nikola pleads to him, but the son finally hears his word. As the children are led away Nikola, tries to stop them from hurting his children, and is able to hug his son, as he looks onto the foster family with mistrusting eyes. Nikola returns to his house, only to learn everything is stolen by the neighbors. He goes over, gets everything, and has everything ready for the start of his goal.

It’s a story that has a lot to say. I’ve never lived in Serbia so I don’t know what the laws are in terms of family. However this does have a lot to tell about corruption in Serbia the filmmaker knows about. Interestingly the corruption of the social services does seem to resemble how the US government has been like under the Trump administration. We see it as a case of an honest man being messed around by a dishonest system. Even how Vasiljevic tries to act like Belgrade has no control over him and he can do what he wants does remind us of Trump as well; a leader’s false sense of invincibility and how they think they can abuse power all they want.

The 300km trip to Belgrade is a telling story. Nikola sees poverty all around him. We see Belgrade as a city that’s been working to modernize itself, but the film makes it appear like the rural lands have been neglected or overlooked and people like Nikola caught in the middle. One notable scene is that scene of Nikola seeing a group of villagers, just as impoverished as him, engaging in a folk dance and holding a Serbian flag. It looks like it’s sending a message how people in even the poorest of areas seem to still have the sense of Serbian pride. They may hate the government or the system, but they love Serbia. Even that scene of Nikola being driven by a man with many Orthodox religious artifacts sends a message of the Serbian people.

SPOILER WARNING: Do Not Read This Paragraph If You Don’t Want To Know The Ending. The ending scene is also very key. Right after Nikola is done seeing his children for that brief reuniting, a woman who works for Vasiljevic is willing to give him some associates who could help. I think that sends a message that even people who work for the system are forced in their job to do things they don’t want to do, but have to because it’s their job. That ending scene where Nikola learns his house has been robbed by the villagers, but retrieves all his belongings by going to all the houses and taking them without a single one resisting also sends a message that his struggle is their struggle too. That scene at the end where he is sitting at the dinner table with no food, but the plates for all four set up, also sends a message of his next goal of bringing back his whole family and he will stop at nothing to achieve it. Just like he did on that trip to Belgrade.

This film is another great work for Srdan Golubovic. He first achieved international renown in 2001 with his 2001 film Apsolutnih sto. Two of his films, 2007’s The Trap and 2013’s Circles, were Serbia’s submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. This film which he directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Srdjan Koljevic and Ognjen Svilicic is a good work as it tells a story of a man and also sends a message too. It comes across as a story telling of the Serbia Belgrade forgot over time while at the same time telling of a father’s love and his willingness to do what it takes to get his family back. The acting of the main protagonist Goran Bodgan is excellent. Most North Americans will notice the Bosnian actor as Yuri Gulka from the Fargo series. Bodgan does an excellent job of speaking volumes of his character and his story without saying a lot. The supporting actors, both young and old, also did a very good job in the roles they had. The cinematography of Aleksandar Ilic is also excellent and is all critical to the storytelling.

Father has had a good run in the film festival circuit. It won Best International Narrative at the Calgary Film Festival and was a Best Film nominee at the FEST International Film Festival and the Minsk Film Festival. It was also a nominee for Best Balkan Film at the Sofia Film Festival.

Father is a film with the common motif of a long trip and people met along the way. Nevertheless it is a good story that has a lot to tell about Serbia, and even mirror the world as a whole.

VIFF 2012 Review: Stories We Tell

Stories We Tell was one film that was added to the VIFF at the last minute. I was expecting this to be more of a live-action film but it turned out to be a documentary to my surprise. And quite an intriguing one.

The documentary is directed by famed Canadian actor/director Sarah Polley. The documentary first appears to be her father, siblings and other friends and loved ones talking about her mother Diane Polley, from her career as an actor and a singer to her work in a Montreal play around the time her pregnancy with Sarah was starting (April 1978) to the abortion that wasn’t to the birth of Sarah to Diane’s death. All of those involved tell their story with reenacted images appearing in the style of Super-8 home movies. Some even receive direction from Sarah in telling their story and Rebecca Jenkins is cast to play Diane in the Super-8 re-enactments and fake television footage.

After more than half an hour, you think it’s a chronology of the Polley family, or at least the mother. It turns out to be a lot more: a ‘family secret.’ After the death of her mother, Sarah began to question her birth father. Could it really be Diane’s husband Michael Polley or was it another man? It even became a bit of a family joke at the dinner table when Sarah was a young teenager. Eventually the jokes died down and Sarah did some serious business about it. She learned about the actors her mother was acting within that play. She tried to look up one whom many in her family joke as the father but it’s not. Later she learns through conversations of those with the play and through a paternity test her father was Harry Gulkin, Canadian actor and film producer.

The story about searching for the truth of her birth father is seen and heard from the various angles interviewed for the movie: Sarah, her four siblings, Michael Polley, Harry, Harry’s daughter from a previous marriage, and castmates of that fateful Montreal show. The interviews are real in their retelling of the story but some interview dialogue is dramatized for the sake of the film. Possibly to show how a story that happens turns into a story told. I think that was the point Sarah was trying to get across in this is how people take the experiences of their lives and turning them into stories. That explains why we see Sarah giving those she interviews direction at times.

One thing about this documentary is that despite the re-enactment of events on Super-8 film (which had me fooled into thinking they were actually home movies) and the facts being told dramatically by some of the interviewees is that the drama does stop. There is a point where Michael does admit that there was a time in the late 70’s when the marriage seemed to be going dry: he had ambitions of being a playwright but settled on becoming an insurance salesman. He even confesses he told Diane during that time it’s okay for her to romance another man. Another point near the end, Michael cuts away from his cheery personality and his ability to laugh off the situation into showing the hurt he feels knowing he’s not Sarah’s biological father. It’s like that for all the others interviewed too where they all have a calm face or are smiling when they tell the story throughout but it’s near the end when they’re deep in thought that the hurt comes to them. You can see it in their faces.

This is not just a documentary that exposes a family secret of a popular Canadian celebrity. It’s also about Sarah’s relation to the people around her, both family and friends. New people came into her life after learning the truth. Most of her personal relations with others remained unchanged. She still has a healthy relationship with her siblings from her mother’s side as well as the father she always knew. She also has developed a healthy relationship with her biological father and her daughter: people that just came into her life years ago. Another angle of the documentary is it shows how despite laughing off the story, there are still some that feel hurt knowing the truth about the story. Siblings she always knew as full-siblings are now half-siblings. Even the half-siblings from her mother’s first marriage are hurt knowing the truth. The father has hurt behind the laughter. Harry occasionally thinks of the years he missed seeing Sarah grow up.

The thing that surprises me most about this is how successfully the family and others involved were in their ability to keep it secret and away from the media. We shouldn’t forget that this was all happening when Sarah was a public figure. The first secrets were unraveling during her days as Sarah Stanley in Road To Avonlea. It accelerated just as she was becoming the it-girl of Sundance in the late 90’s. The truth was finally revealed just as she was making a name for herself as a director in Away From Her. If this secret had been let out earlier, this could have put a big dent in her career and her image as ‘Canada’s Sweetheart’ during her child actor days could have been tarnished. It’s good to see the family and those who knew the truth kept quiet about this and that only Sarah herself could allow this to be exposed through this film only now. In a world that’s tabloid-obsessed and loves celebrity scandal, it’s good to see this was kept quiet enough to give Sarah the privacy she wanted.

THREE BITS OF TRIVIA: First, Diane Polley was a casting director for two made-for-TV movies of Anne Of Green Gables: the Canadian novel series the family drama Road To Avonlea was spun off of. Second, Diane died only three days after the pilot episode of Road To Avonlea was aired across Canada. Third, Sarah notes on the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) website that at least two journalists knew of the story for years but respected her wishes to keep it private and for her to be the first to let the truth out.

Once again, Sarah can add another accomplishment to her resume. She has already accomplished television acting as a child, movie acting as a teenage adult, directing and scriptwriting just years ago and now documentary director. It’s interesting how back during the late 90’s, Sarah turned her back on Hollywood in an attempt to be taken more seriously despite being referred to as the Sundance it-girl. It was a risky move that has paid off over the years. That’s something to admire especially since we’re in a time when people are mostly willing to become famous however they can, even if it doesn’t involve talent at all.

This is one documentary I saw at the VIFF that works well as a big-screen film. I myself saw it at the 1100-seat Vogue stage theatre in Vancouver. However this is one documentary that would best draw a crowd with Canadians or those into arthouse films. Those are the filmgoers who recognize Sarah best.  Outside of that, it’s still a documentary that can touch one who may have a similar story like this in their own family. For the record, American film company Roadside Attractions has purchased the film and plans to release it in the US in early 2013. No word yet on Canadian theatrical release. It’s all in the hands of the NFB.

Stories We Tell is an amusing and touching documentary about the retelling of a family secret within Sarah Polley’s family. It’s as charming and witty as it is intimate, touching and even heartbreaking. Definitely worth seeing.