History Was Made Last Night: A Recap of the 2020 Oscars (AKA: PARASITE STOLE THE SHOW!)

Where do I begin??

Well…it certainly has a happier ending than LOVE STORY…and the movie in question was light years better than the saccharine LOVE STORY.

After months of wishing and hoping that the Academy would finally break the unfortunate distinction of never honoring a film not in the English language, they finally did so last night by rewarding PARASITE, a South Korean film by director Bong Joon-ho that I have been going on and on and on and on about on social media for what seems like an eternity now.

I was predicting PARASITE to win Best Picture…but I knew that it might have been slightly based on my heart rather than my head. I knew it was definitely possible because it did win a couple of key awards (SAG Ensemble and the WGA for its Screenplay) but it seemed like the overwhelming amount of awards were going to 1917…thankfully the passion for PARASITE that seemed to be peeking through ended up paying off!

I will come back to that magnificent film in a moment.

As for the ceremony itself, it was kind of all over the place. I think not having a host helps but they still have people doing extended bits while presenting and they let Steve Martin and Chris Rock do a monologue at the beginning…after a while, as is often the case, you just beg them to stop because you just want to get past the Sound and Shorts Awards because you want to go to bed at a decent hour since you need to get up by 6am and yet you are obsessed with the results.

Most of the winners were expected…particularly the four acting wins. For me personally, I would have only voted for one of the winners…that being Joaquin Phoenix. I am definitely TEAM JOKER and felt he was phenomenal in this role…and it should’ve been his 2nd Oscar in my eyes because I would’ve given him the win for THE MASTER.

Renee Zellweger should feel lucky because she was part of one of the weakest Best Actress lineups in recent memory. I don’t even have a favorite in that category so I really didn’t care who actually won. As for her performance, I thought there were certain mannerisms she nailed as Garland but the explosive volcanic performance people kept describing just wasn’t there. She seemed too subdued and polished to be Judy Garland…especially the same Judy Garland who would be dead within a year of when the film took place.

Brad Pitt winning is another case of a co-lead winning in Supporting at the expense of a more worthy Supporting performance…and in this category, I think Pacino and Hanks were more worthy than him. It isn’t a bad performance at all…it is just more of a pure movie star/charisma performance and it was a way for the Academy to acknowledge Pitt with an Oscar for his acting (he already won as a Producer). He has been around a while so it serves almost like a career award.

Speaking of career awards, we then have Laura Dern. I have expressed my love for Laura Dern often and I have been so eager for her to be able to add an Oscar to her list of numerous awards….but the problem is that there is NOTHING to her performance in MARRIAGE STORY. All she comes across as is a lightweight version of her BIG LITTLE LIES character Renata Klein, which IS a fantastic performance…and even her big “money scene” in which she discusses the differences between mothers and fathers plays incredibly false to me. It does teeter a line between being overwrought and well-written but her delivery of it sort of makes it feel less real and more staged. On a superficial level, I will just pretend this award was for her work in David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE. Who would I have voted for among the nominees? Florence Pugh for LITTLE WOMEN.

The Screenplay awards provided some great moments. For Adapted Screenplay, Taika Waititi won for JOJO RABBIT, a film he also directed. With this win, he becomes the first person of Maori descent to ever win an Academy Award. While I had significant issues with some of the choices and structure in the final third of the film, I do enjoy his work usually so I don’t begrudge him the win even if I probably would’ve voted for Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of LITTLE WOMEN.

The Original Screenplay category was the make or break it moment for PARASITE. Even though it had forward momentum winning the WGA (without Tarantino, since he wasn’t eligible) and BAFTA, there did seem a good chance Tarantino would pull off the Oscar win…thankfully, that didn’t happen and that was going to be the first award Bong Joon-ho would win last night. While PARASITE wasn’t exactly a movie that wowed with its dialogue, it really scored based on its premise and structure and seamless ease of tonal shifts…which that comes all back to Direction.

Going into the Oscars, it was Sam Mendes who was favored to win for 1917 as he had the flashier direction (one-shot gimmick, war battles, etc…) but Bong Joon-ho’s delicate touch in being able to make a movie like PARASITE work was astonishing. The fact that he ended up winning was a HUGE but very deserved upset. The only Directing award he won all season was the Critics’ Choice Award in a tie with Mendes, who won the Globe, DGA, and BAFTA. It is one of those out of nowhere upsets that very few people even forecasted.

Once Bong won Director, it seemed like there was no way that PARASITE would lose Best Picture…though I was still on the edge of my seat, thinking that somehow they would end up giving it to 1917 still or, god forbid, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD…but in rewarding PARASITE, the Academy finally broke the mold by giving it to a Foreign Language film and it also became the first movie to win TWO Best Film awards in one evening.

That actually brings me to my next topic of discussion: the idea of a film winning twice.

Some people have made comments about how a film shouldn’t be able to win Best Picture if it is a Foreign Language Film because it has its own category, which just had a name change this year to Best International Film. This is the same situation if we ever got an Animated movie that would come close to winning the top prize (which is now the next big hurdle for the Academy to now tackle…we need more animated movies with the punch of UP, WALL-E, and TOY STORY 3).

We’ve seen in the anonymous ballots released by the press that some Academy members expressed this belief that not only should a film not be able to win both, but there seems to be people who love to take an almost xenophobic attitude in that American films should only be recognized…and it is that kind of thing that makes me even more thrilled about how well PARASITE did.

It almost feels like a case of Idiotic Elitism. It is one thing if you are pretentious and dismiss any kind of popular film but I feel like this case of being strictly for American films and not wanting to honor or even watch foreign films is kind of ludicrous.

Maybe that makes me my own form of elitist but I feel like so many great films aren’t seen or acknowledged because they aren’t in the English language…so the fact that the passion received by PARASITE was able to propel it to a win is nothing short of extraordinary.

With that, the Movie Award season has come to an end and it ended on such a high note after all of the predictability we had been getting. Pretty soon, there will be people online already discussing this year’s films and what could be up for Oscars…in many ways, some people already have.

Instead, I am just going to take a step back and bask in the glow of this historic win.

To paraphrase Bong Joon-ho last night during his 2nd od 3 acceptance speeches (since he didn’t speak when the film won Best Picture), “I will be drinking”…out of celebration of course.

2020 Oscar Winner Predictions….Bored, and Yet Hopeful

Well…this is it. After countless award shows were cramped into the month of January, we are now approaching the Academy Awards which will be airing this Sunday February 9th. This year, everything is being held a lot sooner than normal which sort of made for an interesting process in terms of what films and performances were getting nominated…but sadly, it seems to have caused less time for certain films and performances to possibly gain momentum over the repeated frontrunners (particularly in the acting races).

There is more suspense (if you can call it that) in the Best Picture and Screenplay races…although there are certain films that seem to have gripped a stronger hold on those races.

So here are my final predictions for the top categories and they will be ranked in the order that I feel they actually have a shot of pulling off the win.

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BEST PICTURE:

#1-Parasite

#2-1917

#3-Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

#4-Jojo Rabbit

#5-Joker

#6-The Irishman

#7-Marriage Story

#8-Little Women

#9-Ford v. Ferrari

-As I have said before, I feel like the fact that my unabashed love for PARASITE is somewhat clouding my judgement here…but I am not alone on this prediction. With the way the Best Picture race has often gone in recent years, some films have managed to pull off mildly to completely surprising upsets (such as SPOTLIGHT, MOONLIGHT, and GREEN BOOK)  thanks to the preferential ballot. PARASITE currently has guild support in that it won the SAG Ensemble award along with the Writers Guild Award for Original Screenplay…which is also the same awards SPOTLIGHT pulled off even though that year the PGA went to THE BIG SHORT and the DGA went to Alejando Innaritu for THE REVENANT. There does seem to be a lot of passion for PARASITE which makes me think that it could still pull this off…but predicting 1917 may be safer. It won the Globe, PGA, DGA, and BAFTA and it doesn’t hurt that director Sam Mendes seems to be a lock for his award…and also, it isn’t a foreign language film which still hasn’t pulled off the big win. Some of the older and more conservative voters may scoff at PARASITE for that reason and think “Well it is going to win Best International Film so I don’t think it deserves Best Picture”…which, to me, is stupid. If it is the Best Film of the Year…it should win the freaking award. I suppose there is a chance HOLLYWOOD could still pull this off but it would be an upset/comeback all at once…and I would frankly be livid. In the case of JOKER, it may have gotten the most nominations but it will probably walk away with 2-3 wins but nothing more. MARRIAGE STORY has one win that seems pretty guaranteed but it is very likely that THE IRISMAN may go home empty handed which seems crazy considering many people (including me) considered it to be a big front runner up until the Globes.

WHO WILL WIN: Parasite

WHO COULD WIN: 1917

WHO SHOULD WIN: Parasite

WHO WAS SNUBBED: Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Farewell, Pain & Glory, Uncut Gems, Us

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BEST DIRECTOR:

#1-Sam Mendes, 1917

#2-Bong Joon-ho, PARASITE

#3-Quentin Tarantino, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

#4-Martin Scorsese, THE IRISHMAN

#5-Todd Phillips, JOKER

-I can commend Mendes for his work here as he does a very good job staging this one-shot war epic…but it also comes down to how you like your direction: sprawling and majestic…or intricate and cunning. In this case, I obviously would vote for Bong Joon-ho over Mendes but I don’t think Mendes’ win would necessarily be undeserved. The only way I could see Tarantino pull this off is if people feel incredibly sentimental about the fact he has never won an Oscar for Directing (he has two for Screenplay)…but frankly, that would be a travesty. This isn’t his best work (not that that has stopped Academy members before) and he is also not worthy because he comes across as an entitled prick. His stone faced glares after he lost his two big BAFTAs to Mendes for Director and Bong for Screenplay turn me off and he doesn’t have the film to back up that kind of ego. Scorsese and Phillips winning would be major upsets in my opinion though I admire their work more than I did Tarantino’s.

WHO WILL WIN: Mendes

WHO COULD WIN: Bong

WHO SHOULD WIN: Bong

WHO WAS SNUBBED: Greta Gerwig, LITTLE WOMEN; Robert Eggers, THE LIGHTHOUSE; Celine Sciamma, PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE; Pedro Almodovar, PAIN & GLORY

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BEST ACTOR:

#1-Joaquin Phoenix, JOKER

#2-Adam Driver, MARRIAGE STORY

#3-Antonio Banderas, PAIN & GLORY

#4-Leonardo DiCaprio, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

#5-Jonathan Pryce, THE TWO POPES

I don’t really need to spend a lot of time here. Joaquin Phoenix has this sewn up and anyone else pulling this off would be a major upset at this point. Driver and Banderas, in particular, are wonderful and worthy of recognition but I feel Phoenix is just simply the best and he has the awards clout to back it up. DiCaprio and Pryce were good but I almost wish Eddie Murphy, Taron Egerton, and Adam Sandler gained more traction in this race.

WHO WILL WIN: Phoenix

WHO COULD WIN: Anyone else would be a shocker.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Phoenix

WHO WAS SNUBBED: Adam Sandler, UNCUT GEMS; Eddie Murphy, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME; Taron Egerton, ROCKETMAN

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BEST ACTRESS:

#1-Renee Zellweger, JUDY

#2-Scarlett Johannson, MARRIAGE STORY

#3-Saorise Ronan, LITTLE WOMEN

#4-Charlize Theron, BOMBSHELL

#5-Cynthia Ervio, HARRIET

This is not a great category. Last year, Best Actor felt like a desolate space but this year seems like the Actresses got short shrift…although this category is missing the likes of Alfre Woodard for CLEMENCY, Awkwafina for THE FAREWELL, and my personal choice, Lupita Nyong’o for US…and even though she had no shot at all, Florence Pugh was worthy of a nom for her chilling work in MIDSOMMAR. Ever since JUDY came out at the end of September, Zellweger seemed to have the narrative and the critical praise and buzz to make her the frontrunner…and as it turned out, that buzz stuck through despite the fact she didn’t really have a presence at the major critic awards…that was actually Nyong’o who stood out the most. I don’t have anyone in this race that I am passionate about in any way…which is exactly how I felt with Best Actor last year. I am a proud member of the Judy Garland fan club so I was going to be extra critical of Zellweger’s performance…and while I appreciate the effort and the fact she did seem to immerse herself in studying her, I still feel the performance came off as too smooth and polished for the fact that it was occurring during the final year of her life.

WHO WILL WIN: Zellweger

WHO COULD WIN: I honestly don’t see anyone upsetting at this point.

WHO SHOULD WIN: I honestly don’t care…maybe not Erivo.

WHO WAS SNUBBED: Lupita Nyong’o, US; Awkwafina, THE FAREWELL

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

#1-Brad Pitt, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

#2-Joe Pesci, THE IRISHMAN

#3-Al Pacino, THE IRISHMAN

#4-Tom Hanks, A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

#5-Anthony Hopkins, THE TWO POPES

Pitt is basically locked to win this for what is essentially just a co-lead/star power performance. It isn’t that he is bad but I just don’t really think there is anything in his performance that makes him such a candidate for sweeping through the season. Pesci and Pacino both give interesting performances in THE IRISHMAN; the former is out of his retirement of sorts and gives an against type performance that is subtle but menacing while the latter is his usual larger than life self and he served as the true soul of that movie. Tom Hanks may not exactly look or sound like Fred Rogers but his demeanor and mannerisms felt nearly overwhelming in how they captured the essence of that wonderful man…but the tide isn’t going in his direction. Hopkins barely even made this lineup in my opinion, and he is another co-lead…and based on some early reports from Sundance regarding his performance in Florian Zeller’s THE FATHER, there is a good chance he may be back next year swinging for the gold in Best Actor.

WHO WILL WIN: Pitt

WHO COULD WIN: Another boring case where I just don’t see it happening anymore…prove me wrong please!!

WHO SHOULD WIN: Honestly….Pacino or Hanks among this list.

WHO WAS SNUBBED: Song Kang-ho, PARASITE; Willem Dafoe, THE LIGHTHOUSE

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

#1-Laura Dern, MARRIAGE STORY

#2-Scarlett Johannsen, JOJO RABBIT

#3-Florence Pugh, LITTLE WOMEN

#4-Margot Robbie, BOMBSHELL

#5-Kathy Bates, RICHARD JEWELL

I feel like I am turning my back on someone I love, but I still think the fact that Laura Dern has been sweeping for this performance in MARRIAGE STORY (including winning a couple of very reputable critics’ awards) is kind of proof of how this whole process is overtly political. Dern is a very beloved and respected actress who more than deserves an Oscar…and part of me will still love that I will be able to call her “Academy Award Winner Laura Dern” as of this Sunday…but she simply doesn’t deserve it for this performance. It isn’t that it is a bad performance…but she is essentially just playing a milder version of her famed Renata Klein character from BIG LITTLE LIES…and even her big “Oscar scene” where she talks about the differences between mothers and fathers comes across as too forced and mannered. I get that some of it may have been how she was directed, but it left me cold. Her closest competition was originally thought to have been Jennifer Lopez for HUSTLERS but she ended up getting left out which has angered quite a few people…and now there seems to be some prognosticators practically digging for any reason to find a potential upset in the acting races. Some have brought up the idea of Johannsen winning for JOJO RABBIT because she is double-nominated this year and in many cases when this has occurred, that contender often would win Supporting…though this hasn’t happened the last couple of times this occurred. Florence Pugh is also seen by some as a last minute surge passion pick but I really don’t think the tide is going to go her way…sadly. Margot Robbie has no shot although I do think she was also better than Dern…and admittedly, I haven’t seen RICHARD JEWELL so I can’t comment on Kathy Bates’ performance yet.

WHO WILL WIN: Dern

WHO COULD WIN: I guess if we want to have wishful thinking, then Johannsen or Pugh.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Pugh

WHO WAS SNUBBED: Pretty much any of the women from PARASITE

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

#1-Parasite

#2-Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

#3-Marriage Story

#4-1917

#5-Knives Out

I am hoping that the fact that PARASITE won the WGA and especially the BAFTA will give it the needed boost to push it over the edge to win the Oscar but there is one person who gives me much concern: Quentin Tarantino. He already has two Oscars for Screenplay and the only reason he didn’t win the WGA is because he never became a member of the guild…therefore, no nominations allowed. The question will be if he has enough support to pull off an upset here considering his film did have some momentum previously. Frankly I would be appalled if he pulled it off. I don’t foresee the other 3 pulling it off…and there was a time when it seemed like MARRIAGE STORY was the expected frontrunner and then that film’s awards chances dropped so fast aside from Dern’s sweep. It does still have its passionate fans but it does seem to have its fair share of detractors who found the film to be somewhat exaggerated and fake. KNIVES OUT does have a lot of fans but it is very rare for a film to win a Screenplay Oscar without a corresponding Best Picture nomination…and even rarer when the only nomination it has is for its Screenplay. I personally consider the nomination for 1917 as a coattail nom. The script has its merits but it also has moments that come across as too slight or too cloying (particularly one moment involving milk)…and I think the structure of the script doesn’t always work thanks to the one continuous shot gimmick, which didn’t exactly always impress me.

WHO WILL WIN: Parasite

WHO COULD WIN: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

WHO SHOULD WIN: Parasite

WHO WAS SNUBBED: Booksmart, The Lighthouse, Pain & Glory, The Farewell, Uncut Gems…those were more worthy than 1917 or HOLLYWOOD

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

#1-Jojo Rabbit

#2-Little Women

#3-The Irishman

#4-Joker

#5-The Two Popes

This was a category that originally didn’t seem to have much of consensus and many thought THE IRISHMAN would win sort of as a default…especially when it was thought to have been a Best Picture frontrunner. Then…LITTLE WOMEN won the Critics Choice and USC Scripter Awards and some thought maybe she would win as something of a consolation for the fact that she got snubbed for Director and also didn’t win either award for LADYBIRD two years ago…and it also didn’t hurt that she sort of revitalized LITTLE WOMEN with a non-linear approach which was often refreshing though not always successful. Things were shaken up again when JOJO RABBIT then pulled off the wins at WGA and BAFTA. The wins that LITTLE WOMEN won have a track record for being solid precursors but so do JOJO RABBIT’s…maybe even a tad more so. Despite how divisive the latter is, it does seem to have more key support and buzz so I am expecting it to carry the day here. JOKER and THE TWO POPES have almost no chance here in my eyes.

WHO WILL WIN: Jojo Rabbit

WHO COULD WIN: Little Women

WHO SHOULD WIN: Probably Little Women…I feel like there was a significant flaw in JOJO RABBIT’s story that almost hurt the movie completely for me despite its good qualities.

WHO WAS SNUBBED: Not as many strong contenders this year to be honest.

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As it stands, the Oscars this year are mostly void of any real suspense. I feel like the Screenplay races are fairly locked (though I am more nervous about Original Screenplay), the acting races seem all but assured to go to Phoenix, Zellweger, Pitt, and Dern, and Director seems pretty secure for Mendes. Picture is perhaps where we could see something big happen, because the “smart” choice would be 1917 but there does seem to be this groundswell of passion building for PARASITE…it just has the Foreign Language Film hurdle to overcome which is a major hurdle. Frankly, I am just ready for Sunday because in some ways, this season has been overly boring but I am also on such a tightrope hoping that PARASITE can pull it off that I am just ready to let the whole thing just drop.

A Review of Bong Joon-ho’s PARASITE: Yes, Virginia…It IS a Masterpiece

It is never fun to have something hyped up to the point of it being almost impossible for the product to attain that status for yourself…and frankly, I may not be doing it any favors here. Nevertheless, I am going to say exactly what I feel: PARASITE lived up to the hype for me.

I also feel like PARASITE is a film that greatly benefits from knowing as little about it as possible going in aside from perhaps the barest general synopsis.

I have chose not to spoil anything in terms of the progression of the plot as I hope some of you will read this who haven’t seen it and be compelled to seek it out. I’m taking THE CRYING GAME promotion angle because that film gained a lot of notoriety for its secret plot twist which was bolstered by the likes of late film critic Roger Ebert: “See this movie…and then shut up about it”. For the record, the plot twist of THE CRYING GAME is just a small moment whereas PARASITE’s journey is a master class in how to completely upturn your movie in such a way that you marvel in how writer/director Bong Joon-ho set it up.

Let’s get the synopsis out of the way first.

We meet the fairly poor Kim family: the father Ki-Taek (Song Kang-ho), the mother Chung-sook (Chang Haye-jin), the son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), and the daughter Ki-jeong (Park So-dam).

They live in a semi-basement apartment while struggling to make ends up working various temporary low paying jobs.

When Ki-woo’s friend Min-hyuk plans to study English abroad, he both gifts the family with a Scholar’s Rock which legend says will bring them wealth while also telling Ki-woo that he wants him to pose as a University student so he can take over his job as a tutor for the young Da-hye, the teenaged daughter of the wealthy Park family. Min-hyuk is in love with Da-hye and feels that Ki-woo would be better for her than actual college boys whom he feels would take advantage of her…though one may wonder if perhaps Ki-woo’s poverty of sorts may make him seem like no threat to steal his dream girl.

Ki-woo, based on his friend’s recommendation, gets the job and manages to gain the affection of Da-hye. Then comes his master stroke: What if I can get my whole family to pose as sophisticated skilled workers and get them hired to work for the Park family?

We then watch through various schemes as the Kim family, acting as though they are unrelated to each other, usurp jobs within the Park household such as Ki-taek becoming their chauffeur, Ki-Jeong becoming an art therapist for their troubled young son Da-song, and with a little more resistance (and in a brilliant sequence involving a script written by Ki-woo and with the help of peaches), they manage to oust the long-serving housekeeper Moon-gwang so that Chung-sook can take the position.

With all of this set in place, the Kim family is now living in the lap of luxury. The Parks have planned a big camping trip leaving the house unattended so the Kims decide to take advantage and stay in the house and talk about how they are on their way to a better life….until a rainstorm and a visitor ringing the doorbell sends everything down the drain.

PARASITE is a movie with a message that doesn’t feel preachy and it is also a movie that manages to blend multiple genres so effortlessly that I think the film should be exemplary of how films can be more than one thing.

It is also a movie that knows how to move in terms of pace and rhythm as writer/director Bong Joon-ho is known for being very meticulous in story-boarding his films in the same way as Alfred Hitchcock loved having his films planned out as such…and this movie takes a lot of inspiration from Hitchcock while feeling very much of its current time…but it is done in such a way that I feel like this movie will stand the test time and be looked back upon with great admiration.

The cast is also quite remarkable with the standouts for me being Song Kang-ho, Park, So-dam, and Cho Yeo-jeong, who plays the matriarch of the Park family: Yeon-gyo. Considering these actors are basically unknown to most audiences outside of Korea (unless you were following Bong’s past films as he has frequently used Song Kang-ho), it kind of adds an extra dose of realism to the story that may not have been apparent to those who may have seen these actors a lot before.

As of this writing (January 2020), PARASITE is being seen as a dark horse in the Oscar race for Best Picture with the tides seeming to move towards Sam Mendes’ “one-shot” WWI epic 1917 and Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist take on events during the summer of ‘69 in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

I will be honest by saying I’ve not seen 1917 yet. It recently just got released into theaters so it has been hard for me to get to a screening but I HAVE seen Tarantino’s movie which, frankly, I find overrated and I would be displeased if it takes the top prize.

I’ve already expressed in another blog post how PARASITE is suffering from the stat that no foreign language film has ever won the Oscar for Best Picture and that it is even somewhat of a hurdle to actually get nominated. PARASITE could benefit from this underdog status in the same way MOONLIGHT did because it seems to have very few detractors which could help it on the preferential voting ballot at the Oscars (which it helps to get many votes within the top 3).

As it stands, it won’t matter if PARASITE loses the award. Most people won’t care and many probably will forget about wins the Oscars a month after they happen. The only thing I’d hope for if PARASITE wins is that more people would be compelled to see it which did slightly help MOONLIGHT after its big win overtaking the overrated LA LA LAND.

As I wind down here, I’ll try my best to express why I love PARASITE but it’s hard to do so without getting too detailed in its full plot…but I hope some of the vague descriptions will help intrigue you to see it.

There is a certain wit and a certain bleakness that manages to mix and match so beautifully in this film. The contrast of how certain events (such as a rainstorm) are seen by these two families come straight down to horrific consequences and first world problems…and it’s even more interesting when the horrific consequences are challenged by something that’s perhaps even more below the surface.

It all builds up to a climax that was staged and structured so perfectly that I was left in awe…and then an ending that felt so right for the journey we just went on.

I don’t want to spoil PARASITE. I will also repeat what I said in a Facebook status when I first saw the film back in December: “I don’t care if you don’t want to read subtitles. Go see PARASITE.”

The negative bias against not wanting to read subtitles has deprived a lot of people from seeing truly stunning films over the years and that even dates back to the world of Bergman and Fellini to name just two of dozens of auteur filmmakers.

The Academy Awards are certainly a “local” voting body as Bong Joon-ho recently said and he’s right. They don’t truly honor the best in cinema when they barely even acknowledge films from other countries (roughly a dozen foreign films have been nominated for Best Picture in 92 freaking years of the Oscars….that’s appalling).

PARASITE is a brilliantly written, directed, structured, acted, edited, designed masterpiece…and not only is it my favorite film I’ve seen this past decade but it is probably in my top 5 of greatest films I’ve seen since the turn of the new millennium…and maybe after I’ve sat on it more, I wouldn’t be shocked if it IS my favorite film of the last twenty years.

Hyperbole be damned.

The Oscar for Best Picture: A Rambling About Its Biased Flaws

It couldn’t please me more if I will be able to look back at this blog post on Monday February 10th and say “Yay! This post is even more dated than ever because PARASITE pulled off the big win!” It would be like I am Fraulein Schneider receiving the gift of a pineapple from Herr Schultz …or it will be even more strengthened by the fact that Hollywood just doesn’t want to acknowledge a Foreign Language Film as the Best Picture of the year.

In its 92 year history, the Academy Awards have only nominated ELEVEN Foreign Language Films for Best Picture (12 if you count BABEL or 13 if you count THE ARTIST but since that was a silent film that only featured two lines of English dialogue, I don’t consider it). That number is STAGGERING….especially considering not a single Fellini movie ever got nominated for Best Picture…and that Bergman only managed it ONE TIME with CRIES & WHISPERERS which is obviously a great film though not as fantastic as many of his snubbed efforts.

Here are the Foreign Films that DID get nominated:

1938-Grand Illusion

1969-Z

1972-The Emigrants

1973-Cries & Whisperers

1995-Il Postino (The Postman)

1998-Life is Beautiful

2000-Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

2006-Letters from Iwa Jima

2012-Amour

2018-Roma

2019-Parasite

While I might not have personally nominated some of these, I do applaud that they were able to make it in. There are two movies here that did come close to winning based on precursor guidance: CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON and especially ROMA.

In the case of ROMA, it was considered the frontrunner for 2018 but it ended up losing to the safer, boilerplate, white savior biopic known as GREEN BOOK. The preferential ballot seemed to hurt ROMA however I also feel the bigger reason that ROMA got the shaft was because it was a Netflix film…and the negative bias over that is huge right now…and it probably plays a factor in how movies like THE IRISHMAN and MARRIAGE STORY have been underplaying at most of the precursors so far in terms of major wins.

Still, it feels incredibly disingenuous to have an Academy that pushes a ceremony upon a worldwide audience and tries to pass it off as being the best of world cinema when hardly any foreign films get nominated…and none have won. Even Foreign Language performances, though more likely to get nominated, rarely win.

One might say, “Well, Anthony, art is subjective. Just because you say that more foreign films deserve to be nominated doesn’t mean they deserve to be”. Yes, thank you prick, I get that…but a lot of foreign films get passionate reviews from critics year after year and does filmgoers who see them often find themselves in love with what they see…and as time passes, those films often get listed on Best Films of All Time Lists.

Since 2000 alone, here are a sampling of foreign films I ranked as my favorite film from that particular year.

2000: In the Mood for Love

2006: Pan’s Labyrinth

2007: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

2009: The White Ribbon

2019: Parasite

And that isn’t counting others that may have ranked in my top 5 on any given year…movies like Michael Haneke’s AMOUR or THE PIANO TEACHER or Edward Yang’s YI YI or Pedro Almodovar’s TALK TO HER or Alfonso Cuaron’s Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN…just to name a few.

It is a certain truth about the Hollywood Award system that I’ve always known but somehow it never truly latched onto me until I got older. Now, I am at a point where I feel like it is just a pressing an issue as the lack of diversity in terms of ethnicities in the acting categories and a lack of women being recognized in the Directing category….which that is a WHOLE other ordeal that would deserve a lengthy debate.

For example, 2018 was a rather terrible year for film and the fact that a film like BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY could do well at these award shows despite its rather horrible critical pedigree while a foreign film like SHOPLIFTERS goes fairly unnoticed is appalling…and even genre bias with American films. A brutal horror film like HEREDITARY mostly went unnoticed during awards season and while it may have been a stretch to expect it in Best Picture, Toni Collette’s work in that movie was masterful to say the least…but once again, genre bias would warrant a whole other post.

So, yes…Foreign Films get the shaft often…so that bring us to PARASITE.

PARASITE is a South Korean film about a lower class family that sneakily tries to assimilate themselves into the house of a wealthier family as their employees. It won the Palme d’Or at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and has managed to get an impressive 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes (which isn’t a perfect system but whatever)…it does seem to have an overwhelming amount of support from film buffs and it seems to be highly respected across the board.

That respect, along with the fact that it isn’t a Netflix movie, is what is giving me hope that PARASITE could still pull this off.

As of now, the Best Picture race is considered to be between 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Parasite. Each of these movies faces a hurdle that is typically considered detrimental to a film winning.

HOLLYWOOD missed an editing nomination. This doesn’t seem like it would matter but in the past 40 years, only TWO movies have won Best Picture without having the editing nomination: ORDINARY PEOPLE (which, I mean, makes sense) and BIRDMAN (because they felt it didn’t warrant it as it was meant to look like one shot).

Another movie to miss out on editing is 1917, which is in the same boat as BIRDMAN that way, but 1917 has another big hurdle: no acting nominations. In the last 40 years, only three movies have won Best Picture without having at least one acting nomination: THE LAST EMPEROR, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING, and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.

That also bring us to PARASITE because while it DOES have an editing nomination, it doesn’t have acting nominations…add in the foreign language history and that makes it seem a little trickier.

Now I am going to discuss each film individually and sort of explain why they are the current frontrunners:

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD: Things will become clearer once the PGA announces their Best Picture winner this weekend, but as of this exact moment, I predict this film as the main frontrunner. The primary reason for that is that it was a pretty solid success and it seems to have great support in the industry because they always love when a film about themselves comes along…I mean, look at something like ARGO which made Hollywood out to be heroes. So far, HOLLYWOOD has won the Comedy Globe for Best Picture and the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Picture…along with Screenplay wins at both (which wasn’t entirely expected). It also helps that Brad Pitt is a frontrunner to win Supporting Actor because acting wins always look good with a Best Picture win. Then there is the fact that Tarantino has never won a Directing Oscar nor has any of his films won Best Picture. Unless the DGA throws us a curveball and gives him Director there, I doubt the tide will go that way…but honoring his film as a whole along with yet another screenplay win may tide them over.

1917: This late-game changer has burst in with its Best Picture-Drama and Best Director wins at the Golden Globes along with Sam Mendes tying with PARASITE’s Bong Joon-ho for Director at the Critics’ Choice Awards. While it does have those two big hurdles against it that I mentioned earlier, it does still have a good chance of cleaning up the tech awards and getting a lot of those voters on its side. Throw in a Best Director win with that and you could have a Best Picture winner like TITANIC that won a slew of tech awards and a Directing win (and 1917 even has a Screenplay nomination unlike TITANIC).

PARASITE: Even though it should be more than just the underdog, I think PARASITE is just the underdog but it does still have a path to victory. There is a chance that PARASITE could still come back in with a last minute surge victory if it happens to win the PGA…and even more so if Joon-ho wins DGA. My hope is that it could win both and I also hope it can pull of a Screenplay win at the WGA. The other place it could win a key award (though it won’t be as pressing) is the SAG Ensemble Award. One film’s trajectory that gives me some hope is that of SPOTLIGHT’s. In the season it won, its closest competition were two somewhat polarizing movies: THE REVENANT and THE BIG SHORT. The former won the DGA while the latter won the PGA and SPOTLIGHT managed to squeak out a WGA win and a SAG Ensemble win….and then took home the top prize at the Oscars seemingly benefitting from the preferential ballot system as that film probably got more top ranked 1-2-3 votes as opposed to its biggest competition. I feel like PARASITE could benefit from this kind of voting strategy but it still hurts that it is a smaller foreign film. It feels like uncharted territory even though we just went through ROMA last year.

Honestly, I can’t tell if it is just my love for PARASITE that is clouding my judgement here but I just feel like the fact the film has universal praise and seems to have enough key support that it seems like it would be the most likely to pull it off especially since HOLLYWOOD seems to have its own share of detractors. 1917 is the missing piece here because it is still so new to the game and it is hard to tell if it will have legs at PGA…and it doesn’t seem like it will be as polarizing a film as HOLLYWOOD.

The one big thing about 2019 is that it was a very solid improvement over that of 2018 in terms of film content…but even so, a lot of great films are still going unnoticed this awards season even if the quality of the films being singled out are better than last year’s derby.

French film PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE didn’t gain as much traction outside of most Foreign Film categories…and the surreal sophomore effort of Robert Eggers, THE LIGHTHOUSE, seemed like a film that was going to be too weird for the Academy…who only barely acknowledged David Lynch in the past. We also have other movies that seemed to have more widespread praise from critics and audiences alike but never gain traction, even over more polarizing films that do get recognition like JOKER (which I support that recognition). We have movies like UNCUT GEMS, PAIN & GLORY, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, KNIVES OUT, and THE FAREWELL to name a few that haven’t gotten a significant boost and the variety in terms of genres would be more welcomed at the Oscars.

The other thing about this year is the shortened award season. The Oscars are being held February 9th, which means all the other award shows are cramming their ceremonies to be held this month or the week before the Oscars in February to ensure it all gets done and they can make their marks first. One of the things that seemed potentially promising at first is that various voting bodies couldn’t really act like sheep and copycat other ceremonies based on their nominations…and at first, it seemed like it could work out as such. However, what ended up happening is the shorter voting period has led to voters seemingly just sticking with the same films and performances…and I suppose you could say that this happens year after year.

It is a process that I still get fascinated by and enjoy following even though I feel so jaded by it knowing it truly isn’t the end all be all and that the films people will love and the performances that stand the test of time will do so…politics and campaigning carry the day with awards…but these are also the people that awarded CRASH over the likes of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and GOODNIGHT AND GOOD LUCK…so that will be their legacy.

2020 Oscar Nominations-PREDICTIONS

It is that time of year again. After the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, we fall right into the politically charged popularity contest that is Oscar Season in Hollywood…and a lot of that feeling permeates the entire world…for those who care. It seems like less and less of the general public even care about the Oscars these days. You can’t really blame them…even though I feel like some of them would probably wish lesser quality films were nominated as opposed to the better fare that actually does slip in…though that isn’t to say I often agree with the Oscars, the voting body that gave us these films as Best Picture winners:

BRAVEHEART

THE ENGLISH PATIENT

GLADIATOR

A BEAUTIFUL MIND

CRASH

To name five just in the last 25 years alone.

There are also people out in the world who truly adore those movies…and while I may laugh at that prospect, that opens up a whole other issue: ART. IS. SUBJECTIVE.

Awards may try to honor the best of the best but why should a group of a couple of thousand film professionals with certain special interests have the final say on what is the best?

Despite all of that, I still find myself being intrigued by the award season and watching how various factors can shift buzz in favor of a film or a performance in such a swift manner that you didn’t even realize that now this particular film or performance has the means of going all the way.

As of this writing, it is Wednesday January 8th, we are less than a week away from the announcement of this year’s Oscar Nominations, honoring the “best of the best” in film for 2019.

The following are my predictions for only the major categories: Picture, Directing, Acting, Screenplays. Before I go into Best Picture, just keep in mind that their method of voting in this category is based around a preferential ballot/sliding scale so the amount of films could range from as little as 7 or as much as 10. Most years tend to yield 8-9, so I will list my top 10 selections of what I think could get in.

BEST PICTURE:

#1-Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

#2-1917

#3-Parasite

#4-The Irishman

#5-Marriage Story

#6-Jojo Rabbit

#7-Joker

#8-Little Women

#9-Knives Out

#10-The Two Popes

-I feel like this has been a very open and crazy race so far this year. Back in early December, I would’ve told you that the race was close between THE IRISHMAN, PARASITE, and MARRIAGE STORY but now I feel like MARRIAGE STORY has no shot at winning and that THE IRISHMAN is now more of a dark horse…and of note, both are Netflix films so that could be playing into some of the ill will towards them both being shut out at the Globes (minus the Dern supporting win for STORY). I still think PARASITE could make a comeback…but it still has an uphill battle considering it is a Foreign Language film…and that is an infuriating statistic. After the Globes, 1917 got a much needed boost thanks to its surprise wins for Picture-Drama and Director (PARASITE wasn’t eligible in Picture there but it did lose Director which many expected it to win). Plus, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD won the Comedy Globe (as expected) and managed a semi-surprise win for Tarantino in Screenplay which was another portent that could show tides could turn in its favor. I don’t feel fully confident making an actual prediction in this category until the Producers Guild of Americas announces their winner on the 18th.  They’ve actually managed to predict major changes in the season trajectory like awarding eventual winners THE KING’S SPEECH, THE SHAPE OF WATER, and GREEN BOOK over THE SOCIAL NETWORK, THREE BILLBOARDS, and ROMA respectfully. Even then though, this seems like it could be a very close race regardless…which is exciting considering the acting races seem like foregone conclusions at this point. My favorite of these is definitely PARASITE and I do think it has a shot to win, especially if it does end up winning PGA and DGA…but right now, I almost feel like we could see Tarantino have his first Best Picture win which isn’t my ideal scenario but then again, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is better than the five past winners I mentioned earlier so I guess that’s a plus.

BEST DIRECTOR:

#1-Bong Joon-ho, PARASITE

#2-Sam Mendes, 1917

#3-Quentin Tarantino, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

#4-Martin Scorsese, THE IRISHMAN

#5-Greta Gerwig, LITTLE WOMEN

-I will put it this way: My prediction of Gerwig is both a combination of me thinking it is a solid possibility and me also hoping they will acknowledge a female director in this category…but there is a very good chance that won’t happen. Frankly, the top 4 I listed are locked to the point where I would actually be floored if any of them missed out. Todd Phillips for JOKER, Taika Waititi for JOJO RABBIT, Pedro Almodovar for PAIN & GLORY, and Fernando Merielles for THE TWO POPES have a chance to grab the fifth slot…and another female director, Lulu Wang of THE FAREWELL could possibly slip in…especially if her film can slip into Best Picture which is a slight possibility though the signs haven’t been pointing to it. A lot of predictions from prognosticators have been singling out Bong Joon-ho, which I LOVE that idea…but now, it almost seems like Sam Mendes could have traction with his big war epic 1917 and then there is Tarantino who has yet to win a Directing Oscar. I feel like Scorsese needs to win the DGA to stay relevant in the race but the thing about Scorsese (as much as I like him and his film), is that his work doesn’t feel that original or fresh. It just seems like a typical Scorsese movie…and I could say the same for Tarantino as well. Bong Joon-ho may have his staples but I feel like his work on the film just felt so alive and vibrant. Even if PARASITE does unfairly lose Best Picture, I think there is still a good chance it will grab a director win as of this writing.

BEST ACTOR:

#1-Joaquin Phoenix, JOKER

#2-Adam Driver, MARRIAGE STORY

#3-Antonio Banderas, PAIN & GLORY

#4-Taron Egerton, ROCKETMAN

#5-Leonardo DiCaprio, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

-I do firmly believe that Phoenix will win this award even if some people in Hollywood loathe his attitude and how he is willing to call out this whole process for its political/populist shame. Most actors seem to acknowledge his genius and even those who disliked his film still seem to think he was fantastic. Aside from him, I think Driver is the only lock in this category…the other three slots are up for grabs but I do think after his Globe win over DiCaprio and his surprise SAG nom, Egerton will end up slipping in. I do think DiCaprio’s popularity will help him slip in since he is also in a Best Picture frontrunner. As for Banderas, he was snubbed at SAG (though they have a tendency to snub Foreign-Language performances) and he got snubbed at BAFTA (which often has the tendency to be racist)…but I feel he may have enough critical goodwill (though that doesn’t matter as much anymore) not to mention the fact that he has yet to really get this kind of attention for a role could translate into something of a career recognition nomination…even though the performance itself warrants the nom. It is possible we could see these other men slip in: Eddie Murphy for DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, Jonathan Pryce for THE TWO POPES, Adam Sandler in UNCUT GEMS, and Robert DeNiro in THE IRISHMAN…but I feel like it would be mildly surprising to see those names pop up…though Pryce would be the most likely of those four.

BEST ACTRESS:

#1-Renee Zellweger, JUDY

#2-Scarlett Johannson, MARRIAGE STORY

#3-Charlize Theron, BOMBSHELL

#4-Saoirse Ronan, LITTLE WOMEN

#5-Lupita Nyong’o, US

-Renee Zellweger may have an Oscar already, but she now has a comeback narrative and a performance that has gotten raves even though her film was only received with lukewarm reviews at best. She plays Judy Garland…and as someone who worships the legend of Judy, I wasn’t necessarily blown away by her performance. It was a capable performance…even a good performance…but I just feel like the film material hurts her. She seems poised to sweep the televised precursor awards and her only stiff competition seems to be Johannson, whose best chance at changing the game was winning the Globe, which she lost. Charlize Theron has the whole “SHE TRANSFORMED HERSELF!” angle yet again but the role doesn’t seem to be that great plus there is the added con of voting for someone playing Megyn Kelly…and her film essentially flopped….but I feel like she is in. The sad reality of the rest of the race is that it feels like the last two slots are going to be a bloodbath between Saoirse Ronan and…the women of color. It seems a shame that it feels like it always comes down to POC battling it out for a slot. Cynthia Ervio has a shot but she is battling a lack of passionate widespread support; Lupita Nyong’o does have the critics behind her and a SAG nom but her film being of the horror genre certainly affects her; and then there is Awkwafina, who won the Comedy Globe but has no SAG or BAFTA nominations. One contender who seems to be out and never got much traction for her small film CLEMENCY is Alfre Woodard…yet another POC who is getting the shaft. Right now though, it seems like Zellweger has it.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

#1-Brad Pitt, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

#2-Joe Pesci, THE IRISHMAN

#3-Al Pacino, THE IRISHMAN

#4-Tom Hanks, A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

#5-Song Kang-ho, PARASITE

-We have another case of category fraud as Brad Pitt is basically co-lead with DiCaprio…but it’s a charismatic performance and he has yet to win an acting Oscar so it seems like everything is moving in his favor…and it doesn’t hurt that he is in a major frontrunner for Best Picture. I feel like critics were more inclined to like Pesci over Pacino (I preferred the latter), but since both have Oscars and it seems like THE IRISHMAN’s chances have been slipping for the top two prizes, I think these two are going to just have awards via their nominations. Tom Hanks hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar since 2001 for CAST AWAY despite having a couple of instances (especially CAPTAIN PHILLIPS) where he seemed to be on the verge of getting recognized. I think he will finally slip in here playing a beloved icon that only adds to the typical love Hanks himself gets by the public. The last slot is something of a wild card….the safe bet would probably be Anthony Hopkins for THE TWO POPES, but I am following the trend that perhaps someone from PARASITE will slip in an acting race a la the ladies from ROMA last year…and the person with the best chance is Song Kang-ho, who has gotten the most buzz plus major critics awards. However, if he gets snubbed, I almost feel like that will be an additional blow to PARASITE’s chances…unless they manage to pull off PGA and DGA wins.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

#1-Laura Dern, MARRIAGE STORY

#2-Jennifer Lopez, HUSTLERS

#3-Margot Robbie, BOMBSHELL

#4-Scarlett Johannson, JOJO RABBIT

#5-Florence Pugh, LITTLE WOMEN

-I feel like this race is weak this year…and it is allowing a beloved veteran actress to end up sweeping for a performance that is basically a watered down version of a character she plays on a HBO series. That would be Laura Dern, whose character of Nora, the divorce lawyer in MARRIAGE STORY, feels like a Renata Klein 2.0 but not an updated version. It isn’t that her performance is bad…it is actually quite solid, but there is nothing (in my opinion) that truly warrants an Oscar. I think the fact that it IS Laura Dern is the reason she is getting this attention. If the role were played by essentially anyone else…especially a much lesser known actress, no one would be paying attention. I say this as someone who adores Laura Dern and would love the chance to call her Academy Award winner Laura Dern…and I will admittedly be thrilled to do so when it happens…but for the performance itself, she is not worthy. I don’t think anyone has a good shot at upsetting her at this point. If Johannson manages this additional nom, I could see a certain push to reward her but I highly doubt it…and I could see Robbie being a potential close contender. The thing about Lopez is that she may have the most acclaimed performance out of the contenders in some ways…but the award many people expected her to take was the Globe…and she couldn’t even win that. Dern has this locked…and the only way I could see her as being vulnerable is if she loses SAG. If she were to win SAG and lose BAFTA, I think she’d still win the Oscar. My last slot choice is Pugh, whom I don’t feel confident about. All season, the internet kept touting her and she kept missing awards (Globe and SAG)…but I feel like this is going to be a tossup and since I am predicting LITTLE WOMEN to do a little better at the Oscars, I will throw her in…though it is possible we could see one of the following: Nicole Kidman for BOMBSHEELL, Kathy Bates for RICHARD JEWELL, Zhao Shuzhen for THE FAREWELL, and Annette Bening for THE REPORT….it sort of reminds me of last year when the last slot was so up in the air that we ended up getting a major surprise nomination for ROMA’s Marina de Tavira. My dream scenario is that one of the PARASITE ladies could somehow sneak in here.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

#1-Parasite

#2-Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

#3-Marriage Story

#4-1917

#5-Knives Out

-I feel like the top 3 are locks…and depending on how the tides turn for 1917, it could be strong here too. It is possible that KNIVES OUT could be replaced by BOOKSMART…though I am opting for KNIVES OUT since it has received a little more consistent notice at awards…stranger things have happened, however. Originally, I felt MARRIAGE STORY would take this award…and it would be a worthy selection…and I thought PARASITE had a strong shot since it was also the most original and intriguing screenplay by far. Now, I am not so sure what will happen. The Globes threw a curveball in giving Screenplay (which combines Original and Adapted) to ONCE and while they aren’t always the strongest indicator, they did give it to GREEN BOOK last year which went on to win the Oscar. While Tarantino could be considered overdue for a Directing win, he already has two Screenplay Oscars…but at this point, it seems like he is a frontrunner to win again.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

#1-The Irishman

#2-Little Women

#3-Jojo Rabbit

#4-Joker

#5-The Two Popes

-I think this category is interesting in that there seems to be no general consensus. I think THE IRISHMAN is out front due to its somewhat more prominent status of being a frontrunner…or as of this moment, a dark horse. It also has pedigree in that the writer is Steven Zallian, who is already an Oscar winner…but the film is also not exactly one that screams “Wow! What a screenplay!” Due to that, I wouldn’t be surprised if maybe something else gains traction here, especially if LITTLE WOMEN does well with nominations and they want to honor Greta Gerwig with something…especially after she lost both of her nominations for LADYBIRD in 2018. Something crazy could happen here…and I also feel like these 5 films, particularly the top 4, have a strong chance of getting nominated for Best Picture. This is an important stat because it is very rare in recent years for a film to win a Screenplay Oscar if it doesn’t have a Best Picture nomination to go with it. The last time an Adapted Screenplay won without a corresponding Best Picture nomination was GODS & MONSTERS back in 1999…and in the case of Original Screenplay, it is the same deal in that ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND was the last to pull it off in 2004. Last year is actually a good example of this phenomenon because for most of the season, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK seemed like a strong winning candidate for Adapted and then it ended up getting snubbed for Best Picture…suddenly, the Oscar-less Spike Lee for BLACKKKLANSMEN seemed viable due to its corresponding nomination for Best Picture…and it DID actually win.

IN CONCLUSION:

-Best Picture, Best Director, and the Screenplay categories are still open races in my eyes as of this moment. The acting races, however, seem pretty much locked. At this point, I feel like anyone else winning but Zellweger, Phoenix, Dern, and Pitt would be a surprise so we will see if the Critics Choice, SAG, and BAFTA throw us any curveballs…though like I said, I think Dern still wins even if she loses BAFTA which I think could possibly happen. I guess we will see what happens with the nominations this coming Tuesday. After we get through the remaining precursor awards, I will post my final predictions for the Oscars within a week or so of that ceremony, which will be February 9th. I may put up a reaction post but that will depend on if something shocking really stands out for me with the nominations.

Toy Story 4: The Unnecessary Sequel

**There will be spoilers if you don’t want to hear anything about the 4th film**

A random diversion in topic considering I have been posting my various lists of best films over the past few decades…not to mention I watched TOY STORY 4 a few months ago so this isn’t exactly something brand new I just watched.

I do want to preface that on a basic level, I actually thought TOY STORY 4 was a good movie…in fact, I actually liked it more than TOY STORY 2 in terms of comparing it to the other films…but I also feel like we honestly didn’t need this film.

Do we honestly need ANY sequel?

As expected, that’s a loaded question. Some sequels are necessary if they are part of a series and not only that, those films can even build upon the original and be just as good or even a little better in some ways, like THE GODFATHER PART II or THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK or, to sort of bring it back to my current topic, TOY STORY 3.

Here is a private admission: the TOY STORY movies weren’t exactly favorites of mine as a kid. I definitely really liked them but I never returned to them often.

The first one came out in 1995. I had just turned 7 years old and was starting 1st Grade. At the time, the digital animation was a major selling point and it certainly worked…plus I was around the age of the Andy character so I seemed like the perfect demographic.

What I didn’t appreciate at the time due to my young age was how remarkable the screenplay was. The dialogue crackled for an animated movie and it is no wonder that it ended up becoming the first animated movie to get an Oscar nomination for it screenplay.

TOY STORY 2 came out in 1999 when I was in 5th grade. Despite the fact that this particular version got rave reviews to the point that people called it superior to the original and one of the best movies of that year (even winning Best Musical/Comedy Picture at the Golden Globes over the brilliant BEING JOHN MALKOVICH), I never connected to it on the same level.

Then came TOY STORY 3, which came out in 2010 right before I was slated to begin my senior year of college. By that point, I felt that a sequel wasn’t necessary and I felt it was a step back for Pixar, which had just released the stunning WALL-E in 2008.

Once the reviews for the movie came out, I was floored. People were saying it was even better than the first two and that it was worthy to win Oscars.

I became curious then….

This isn’t a review about TOY STORY 3 and I’m already rambling about it so I’ll try to keep this part brief.

Needless to say, TOY STORY 3 blew me away. It felt so well written and I loved the concept of Andy going off to college and the toys potentially being given away…and, another full disclosure, I have probably sat through the movie half a dozen times at least and I sob at the end.

TOY STORY 3 was the perfect sequel that had the most emotionally satisfying ending imaginable. What a way to go out!!

Then they announced TOY STORY 4….

Since the third film had been such a success in my eyes, I was willing to give a 4th film the benefit of the doubt.

Like I said, I quite enjoyed the 4th movie. It even had a sense of humor about it that was quite brash compared to the other 3 films and its setting which prominently featured an old antique shop and a glitzy carnival made for some really wonderful locales and shots to show off how much digital animation had improved since the original in 1995.

At the end of the third film, Andy gives his toys to a young girl named Bonnie just as he is about to drive off to begin college. One of the major things he said to Bonnie was that he really wanted her to take care of Woody…especially since she already had a connection with him and seemed to want to keep him despite Andy’s intentions to not part with him for sentimental reasons.

The 4th film completely unravels this sweet side by having Bonnie completely ignore Woody and often having him remain in the dusty closet with other toys she doesn’t particularly care about.

This development is something that has gotten a lot of criticism even though it probably seems like a crazy nitpick since Bonnie is a young child who probably has the attention span the size of a grain of rice.

However, at its core, it sort of cheapens the emotional bond that Andy and Bonnie briefly share over Woody in the third film.

TOY STORY 4 is basically a film about identity. Woody went from being a child’s best friend to now being cooped up in a closet…and at the expense of a toy that Bonnie made on her first day of school: a spork with googly eyes and pipe cleaners for body parts that she named Forky.

Forky, being a spork, has his own identity crisis: he feels he is meant for the trash and not for any other means so Woody, still trying to be there for Bonnie despite her neglect, is constantly trying to prevent Forky from, to put it in a very dark way, essentially committing suicide.

Bonnie and her parents are about to go on vacation and are driving an RV. Bonnie brings all of her toys but at one point, Forky dives out the window and Woody goes after him. Knowing that they will be stopping at a campground that night, Woody intends to walk back to them with Forky…which does occur…however Woody ends up encountering Bo Peep, a character that had been missing from the 3rd film and had been a love interest for Woody in the first two.

She had been given away previously (which we saw in a flashback at the beginning of the movie) and in the process, she became a lost toy…but not only that, she is now a toy in survival mode who tries to save other toys and often spends time hanging around the antique shop where she was originally left behind.

I hadn’t really planned on going to in depth this review…if I can call it that….although I guess it would be semi-pointless if I didn’t do some form of a review.

What I do want to get to is the ending, which is Woody actually choosing to stay behind with Bo Peep and becoming a lost toy, never to see his friends again.

On one hand, this seems to be what Woody wants and for that, we can be happy for him since he destiny for being Andy’s friend was fulfilled and he doesn’t share that bond with Bonnie…but…this still goes back to that moment where Andy has Bonnie promise him that she would take care of him.

Would Andy be that upset if he found out? Who knows what would happen with that…but I just feel like the fourth movie cheapened the emotional punch of TOY STORY 3.

I know I’m not alone with this thought process but I also know that perhaps those of us who are thinking it are being way too critical at the same time.

As it stands, my initial reaction upon completion of TOY STORY 4 was positive though somewhat empty…even though they were aiming for a similar feel to that of its predecessor.

It’s a good film in its own ways…but in the most basic and blunt of descriptions, it’s unnecessary.

Volume #4: The Best Films of the 1990s

The 1990s are hot right now. Each decade seems to bring on a passionate push of nostalgia towards a decade from the past and it seems like the 1990s are particularly popular because:

1) Millennials primarily come of age in the 90s so they are looking back at their childhood/adolescence.

2) The decade almost represents the last time things seemed, on perhaps a superficial level, to be great before the tragedies of events like 9/11 in 2001 and the impeding wars and…god help us…the presidency of Donald Trump, which still seems like some sort of ridiculous nightmare come true.

The 90s were not perfect, but I also get the nostalgia factor…and a lot of things changed that decade with the onset of the Internet and Hollywood being taken over by the act of campaigning for awards, led by that lecherous troll known as Harvey Weinstein of Miramax Studios. 

I also feel like despite Miramax being horrible, they did bring indie filmmaking to a more prominent light in some ways to an extent that you could almost call them the A24 of the 90s.

The 90s were an improvement on film from the 80s and it gave us quite the array of content to choose from. Honestly, the more I think about this decade, the more I realize how much it gave us in terms of quality material. Sure, it may not have been on the level of the 1970s, but the amount of great films were still quite the embarrassment of riches…and I feel like so many films are going to be left off of here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Beauty and the Beast

Groundhog Day

Quiz Show 

Red

Boogie Nights

#10-Schindler’s List (1993-Steven Spielberg)

-I will be honest in saying that I have an erratic opinion when it comes to Spielberg as a director. I certainly can’t deny his pop culture appeal and I will definitely own up to the fact that he has made some of the most entertaining films ever made (JAWS is easily one of the most rewatchable movies to have come out of Hollywood), but Spielberg has a problem in that he can just be too saccharine for his own good. Frankly, his adaptation of THE COLOR PURPLE, while solid for what it was, just felt unworthy of the material and I feel like it is a project he shouldn’t have tackled. In the case of Schindler’s List, it is a topic of immense importance but it is also a topic that he feels deeply connected to due to his heritage: the Holocaust. Sure, the film is quite possibly the most uplifting film you can find about the Holocaust since it involves a man who tries to save as many Jewish people as he possibly can from extermination, Spielberg doesn’t shy away from the gritty brutality of this truly senseless and horrific event. You could argue that maybe he was still too sugary at times…perhaps that is true…but the film is still incredibly difficult watch…and it is very well made. And as a final postscript, it is a crime that Ralph Fiennes lost the Oscar for his performance as Amon Goeth. Considering he was an unknown at the time, it is remarkable how brave and relentless he is playing such a despicable human being…and yet, he imbues him with such charisma thanks to his great presence as an actor (and especially how sexy he was back then) that I almost resent how he made me feel….a truly lecherous and captivating performance of someone so vile and evil.

#9-Barton Fink (1991-The Coen Brothers)

-After giving us two great indie classics in the 80s with BLOOD SIMPLE and RAISING ARIZONA, the Coen Brothers were on the fast track to showing us that they would be the face of fantastic indie cinema going in the 90s. They began the decade with 1990’s MILLER’S CROSSING and then followed that with their truly masterful and underrated Barton Fink, a film that basically defied genre before many people were able to truly except genre-hyrbid movies. Barton Fink is played by the very eclectic character actor John Turturro, and he is a playwright who is hired by a Hollywood movie studio to write screenplays…and all the while, he strikes up a friendship with Charlie Meadows (played by the brilliant John Goodman), an insurance salesman who happens to be his neighbor in the run-down Hotel Earle in which they are staying. The film contains a lot of Coen Brothers’ favorites within its eclectic ensemble along with newcomers who would soon become famous in their own right: Michael Lerner, Judy Davis, John Mahoney, Tony Shalhoub, and Steve Buscemi…and a lot of the story beats in this movie show great texture and originality that more than proved the worth and brilliance that the Coens would bring to Hollywood. Is it a buddy movie? Is it a film noir? Is it a horror movie? It’s everything, really.

#8-Secrets & Lies (1996-Mike Leigh)

-Many have called Mike Leigh the British Equivalent of Woody Allen…and I would say that is something of a fair assessment but Mike Leigh is also his own beast…and he is typically way more dramatic than Woody Allen (and he does drama better than Allen, who can often be off the mark in that genre). Mike Leigh actually shares a similarity with another brash Jewish funnyman: Larry David. This isn’t to say they are similar in content, but rather in how they construct a piece. Larry David is known for his work (more recently) on CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, an absolutely brilliant HBO series, in which he writes an outline for every episode and then has the actors improvise the dialogue based on that. This is how Mike Leigh loves to make his films: extensive outlines but then lets the actors give life to the characters with dialogue…and it basically always works out well in the end. With Secrets & Lies, a black optometrist named Hortense, played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, finds out following the death of her mother that she was actually adopted and she chooses to search for her birth mother. She discovers it is actually a white working-class woman named Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn, in a role that should’ve won her the Oscar), a very meek and somewhat odd woman who lives with her other illegitimate daughter Roxanne, with whom she doesn’t have the best relationship. A lot of the film simply delves into Hortense trying to quietly form a relationship with Cynthia (it is sort of implied that perhaps she was born out of rape, which makes this uncomfortable for Cynthia) while watching Cynthia’s family with their own struggles, which includes the insufferable Roxanne along with Cynthia’s brother and his wife, who are struggling to conceive a child. It is a movie that simply felt real and uncomfortable in the best possible ways.

#7-Ed Wood (1994-Tim Burton)

-In many ways, I feel like this is a highly atypical choice for a list like this…and I often feel like this film isn’t discussed in the same way other Tim Burton movies are. Actually, that is another thing: Tim Burton movies aren’t typically on lists like these. Well, in my mind, this has been the crown jewel of his career thus far and it is his most underrated film which also contains one of the best performances of Johnny Depp’s career before he eventually fell down a rabbit hole…or got sucked up into his own ass….one of the two. Ed Wood is based on the actual director Ed Wood, who was often considered the worst director of all time due to his incessant string of low budget sci-fi/horror films…and also his certain penchant for keeping up with his desire to live as a transvestite while also maintaining relationships with women. Perhaps the best remembered aspect of this movie by the general audience is that of the Oscar winning performance by Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi, which is a true triumph on how to be theatrical on film and not come off as over the top. The movie may have bombed back in 1994, but it still remains a highlight to the say the least in my book.

#6-The Silence of the Lambs (1991-Jonathan Demme)

-The massive success of a movie like The Silence of the Lambs is rather surprising. I don’t necessarily mean the box office receipts but the fact that this rather grizzly suspense/horror/thriller film ended up joining the likes of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST as the only three films to win the top 5 Oscars is quite the fascinating feat. Up till then, The Silence of the Lambs was the first and it still remains the only film of its genre to actually WIN the Oscar for Best Picture. What is it about this movie that worked so well for genre bias to actually step aside and have it be crowned the best movie of 1991? The obvious answers lie in the iconic performances by Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, not to mention a very solid script and direction…but I feel like it is simply a film that proves you can make magic out of what may seem like the least prestigious of topics: a rookie FBI agent consults an imprisoned cannibalistic psychiatrist in order to try to get his insight on how to catch a serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill, who is kidnapping women and then skinning them. Yeah, sounds like the least typical topic for a film that went on to achieve Oscar success in a way that few films have…but the results are simply spellbinding. It is a film that met the great combo of pop culture icon/critical darling.

#5-The Truman Show (1998-Peter Weir)

-The Truman Show came out at a time where I was starting to become OBSESSED with movies as an art form and for that reason, I think it will always hold a special place in my heart. Jim Carrey was essentially going the Tom Hanks route in that he had been known for his comedic performances but here, he was taking something of a more dramatic approach…and this still remains one of his best efforts. I feel like the storyline of this film seems more relevant in today’s society because it taps into the obsession of how entertainment engulfs all of us and it is one man: Christof (played by Ed Harris) who decides to take an abandoned child, put him in a massive studio, and then have the entire world watch him grow up on hidden cameras with hired actors portraying his friends and family…and having those people do product placement to avoid cutting away to commercials. It was a fantastic concept…and so jarring to some that psychological breaks have occurred where people are convinced they are living out their own Truman Show scenario.This is another one of those films that seemed to be on the cusp of getting nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars only for it to be snubbed along with, more famously, Jim Carrey getting snubbed…yet another example of the Academy royally screwing up. Lastly, out of all of the films on this list, it is the one that I just happened to see again most recently and it still holds up remarkably well.

#4-Being John Malkovich (1999-Spike Jonze)

-Continuing the trend of quirkier or edgier material getting snubbed, Being John Malkovich followed the path of getting nominations for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress while missing out on Best Picture…while the Academy nominated the syrupy THE CIDER HOUSE RULES and the gritty piece of fluff that was THE GREEN MILE in its stead. Sure, it sounds like a ridiculous concept: a portal that actually allows someone to enter the brain and be able to control the mind of actor John Malkovich. It is a truly original concept that was destined to fail…but we weren’t that familiar with the mind of writer Charlie Kaufman and what he was able to achieve with such outlandish concepts. The cast is phenomenal in this with the ensemble being led by John Cusack and a great supporting cast of Catherine Keener, Cameron Diaz, and John Malkovich himself…and we’d eventually see a lot more brilliance from Kaufman and Jonze going into the new millennium as well see a film from each of them on my upcoming lists for the next two decades.

#3-Three Colors: Blue (1993-Krystof Kieslowski)

-You haven’t quite seen raw and emotional heartbreak like when you are watching the luminous Juliette Binoche close herself off from the outside world while coping with the death of her husband and young son in an automobile accident…and all of that heartbreak is mainly internalized because we only see her actually cry twice in the film. Juliette’s Julie was married to a famed composer and it is implied that she actually helped him with his compositions…which she tries to destroy any evidence of his work or the life she had by selling of their possessions and moving to a new home…but one piece of music in particular will become key to eventually leading her out of her shell, and she will soon develop both intimate and platonic friendships along the way. This film was made by Polish director Krystof Kieslowski, who sadly passed away in 1996, and he isn’t as well remembered today…but before he died, he made this film trilogy based on three colors: BLUE, WHITE, and RED. My favorite of these is BLUE while RED got an honorable mention from me (WHITE is good in its own right though it doesn’t hold up to the other two in the grand scheme)…and a lot of that is due to the journey of this character, the performance of Binoche, and the dreamy atmosphere that Kieslowski gives us which matches the “Blue” that is its title. 

#2-Goodfellas (1990-Martin Scorsese)

-With his Netflix epic THE IRISHMAN currently in the midst of an award season in which it is one of the main Oscar frontrunners as of this writing, a lot of talk has been heaped upon it comparing it to Scorsese’s earlier mobster film GoodFellas, which was also based on a true story surrounding the life of Henry Hill, who began assisting the mob as a teenager before becoming part of the group itself and eventually going into Witness Protection to avoid getting whacked. THE IRISHMAN has been described as the calmer and more mature version of Goodfellas…and that may be true, but there is a certain sharpness and vitality to his earlier effort that still makes me view it as the crown jewel of his career…or maybe strictly based on his mob movies. The interesting thing about Goodfellas is that it simply doesn’t care what we think of these people and it never once asks for our sympathy…and even with the character of Karen (played by Lorraine Bracco), we may feel bad for her at times but she clearly chose this life…even owning up in narration that the fact that Henry handed her a bloodied gun after beating a guy that got fresh with her, it turned her on tremendously…so much so that the next shot is them getting married. The film practically got shut out on Oscar night at the expense of the expansive and overrated white savior movie DANCES WITH WOLVES, which was the directorial debut of actor Kevin Costner…and it made for the second time Scorsese lost the award to a lesser directorial gig by an actor (though Redford’s film ORDINARY PEOPLE was actually fantastic whereas Costner’s film is…fine…at best). The one Oscar win that Goodfellas did get is that of Supporting Actor for Joe Pesci, who played the hot-headed and despicable Tommy DeVito, which gave us the now iconic “Funny how? Like a clown? Do I amuse you?” scene. Pesci is fantastic in this film and it also probably didn’t hurt that he starred in the biggest film of that year giving an over-the-top comedic villain performance: HOME ALONE. Lastly, Goodfellas contains a very famous one-shot take of Ray Liotta and Lorraine Braccoentering through the back door of the Copacabana and zig-zagging through a busy kitchen and eventually a tight dining room area….that scene was worthy of Best Director award alone but no, let’s give it to Kevin Costner because it seems so important. Sigh….

#1-Fargo (1996- The Coen Brothers)

-“This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”

That is how FARGO begins…and guess what? That statement was a bold-face lie! Instead, Fargo was simply the brainchild of the brilliant Coen Brothers who have already appeared on this list and they too struck gold and gave us their best film to date. While they did get inspired by some actual criminal events, they tried to stick with their own true outline on the basis that if an audience thinks it’s a true story, they can get away with more than if they actual realized it was fiction. Much like their other films, Fargo has a dark comedic edge which is not often the kind of movie that the Academy goes for…and thus, they went with the movie they seemed more inclined to like: the dull but beautiful looking THE ENGLISH PATIENT (my #8 selection SECRETS & LIES was also nominated though left the ceremony empty-handed…Fargo at least managed wins for Original Screenplay and Best Actress-Frances McDormand. The true lead of the movie is that of William H. Macy as Jerry Lundegaard, and he is stunning in this. Jerry owns a Oldsmobile dealership in Minneapolis and after failing pay back a $320,000 loan he took out in which he used non-existent cars as collateral, he is told by shady mechanic of his to contact two small-time criminals and with them on board, they stage a kidnapping. Jerry’s father-in-law is wealthy but he can’t just ask him for money so the plan is for these guys to kidnap Jerry’s wife, request ransom from his father-in-law, and then upon herreturn, Jerry will give them $80,000 and a car for their efforts. Needless to say, things go wrong and we get to watch as things crumble for Jerry and we get Frances McDormand in one of her most charming performances as a very pregnant police chief who is determined to crack the case. Fargo is a very intricate movie not just due to the script but also its performances. The reason the movie works so well is because of the perkiness of McDormand but also the unbelievably layered performance of Macy because while we may hate him, we also oddly enjoy watching him and you do perhaps care about him slightly thanks to the affability Macy gives him, but in the end, he deserves to face comeuppance for this…and the Coens do choose to go for a bleaker ending…at least in terms of Jerry…but we do know Marge and her husband are about to become parents and we can end on that happy note. 

IN CONCLUSION:

The 90s were a very vibrant decade and a lot of the sensibilities from the 90s seemed stemmed in how filmmaking was sort of becoming in the 70s….not to mention, there was a rather big push for 70s nostalgia back then just like we are getting a lot of 90s nostalgia now. The biggest thing about the 90s for me still remains the true beginnings of Indie filmmaking getting a more prominent push and eventually having those films gain an audience in the wake of premium cable. I do think, however, that the 90s were the true beginning of some of the more questionable political tactics that allowed for campaigning for awards to become the commonplace that it is today…which I brought up earlier as that was an effort that was passionately begun by the horrible studio head honcho Harvey Weinstein. While they helped push indie movies of theirs to the front of the line, a lot of their efforts helped shame the idea of awards and Hollywood more than it already had been. In truth though, awards don’t matter other than for promotion…and the average film goer isn’t going to remember what was voted as Best Picture of 1995 (for the record, it was BRAVEHEART and I loathe that movie…)…so in the end, just love what you love…and I still enjoy awards season coverage mainly because it can be fascinating to watch the trends form and it can be fun to root for the films and performances you love…and maybe on a sadistic level, one may love to complain about the snubs. Everyone is in love with their own opinion after all…

Volume #3: The Best Films of the 1980s

There is something rather fascinating about the 1980s. I feel like a lot of the sensibilities we feel in our pop culture today stem from how things evolved in that decade from entertainment all the way up to the effect that politics had on society, particularly that with the Presidency of former actor/Governor of California Ronald Reagan…and what a horrific reign that was.

People either seem to really love the 80s or hate the 80s for a lot of its entertainment offerings. I am more inclined to say I love it rather than hate it, but it is certainly true that the quality of film dipped after coming off such a high in the 70s.

The 80s definitely did have its fair share of fantastic films when you dig through the constant barrage of slasher movies…and I also feel the 1980s brought us more films of a lighthearted nature that were willing to be mentioned alongside the heavy-hitting dramas that tend to permeate these kinds of lists. Let’s see what you think of the following:

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

The Elephant Man

Atlantic City

Hannah and Her Sisters

Sophie’s Choice

When Harry Met Sally

#10-The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985-Woody Allen)

-When Woody Allen made this film, it was actually something of a departure not just because of its setting outside of New York or how it took place in a different time period (the 1930s), but because it was only the second time in his career up to that date that he chose not to appear as a character in one of his films. I think this was a wise decision as he didn’t really fit as any of the characters plus it gives the film an extra dose of whimsy without him there to sort of pull us out of it.

#9-Cinema Paradiso (1988-Guiseppe Tornatore)

-After having something of a slump for the previous decade, Italy’s film industry got a boost of sorts when Cinema Paraidso was released to passionate raves at the Cannes Film Festival and began new resurgence in their film output. The reason I personally love this movie is not that far removed from the general critical consensus: it feels like a true love letter to cinema, and it also pays great homage to the works of Federico Fellini in particular. The story revolves around famed Italian film director Salvatore Di Vita who is grappling with a past that seems all too typical at first: a distant relationship with his father. The remarkable thing about Cinema Paradiso is that it wasn’t so much a story of distance due to disagreement but rather distance due to love. Sal’s father, Alfredo, runs a movie theatre during the 1950s and teaches his son how to run the movie projector…he also witnesses the horrors of censorship when a local priest demands that several feet of film be cut from the reels that depict romance/kissing…and soon after, young Sal has to deal with his own heartbreak when a relationship he longs to have doesn’t pan out…which leads to his father telling him he must leave this small town and never return or write to anyone….he has dreams that are worth more than what he and this town can provide him. The ending, which Sal returns to the town for his father’s funeral, his a famous moment in which Alfredo left him a film reel that contains all of the romance/kissing scenes that the local priest demanded be cut years before…and Sal watches with tears in his eyes. Simply put: a film about cinema and love…and yes, it is, indeed, a paradise.

#8-Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988-Robert Zemeckis)

-Although movies like MARY POPPINS utilized the technique first, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was the first film to truly perfect the concept of putting live action sequences and animation on the screen at the same time with seeming ease. The final result was a triumph that managed to ignite the box office and critics with the same fervor but of course…the Oscars didn’t bite aside from a couple of technical wins. Private Detective Eddie Valiant (played by the underrated Bob Hoskins) is vowing to never help “Toons” again after one of them kills his brother Teddy during a bank robbery investigation…which sets up that “Toons” move about and act in their own films just as we humans do in this world. Things end up taking a drastic turn Valiant ends up having to exonerate a Toon named Roger Rabbit, who is being accused of killing a wealthy businessman. With his beginnings with this film and particular the first film in the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy, Robert Zemeckis proved himself to be a great director that was worthy of being Steven Spielberg’s protégé…though a lot of that vitality would disappear once he fell down the rabbit hole of FORREST GUMP in the 90s.

#7-Fanny & Alexander (1983-Ingmar Bergman)

-It may be a drama about the death of a father…and it may deal with child abuse at the hands of a new stepfather…and yes, it may seem a little more conventional than his previous efforts…but damnit, if anyone is going to make a “conventional” film feel like pure art, it is going to be Ingmar Bergman. In what was intended to be his final film before he retired, Fanny & Alexander tells the story of the two titular siblings who are coping with their mother’s new marriage to the rather strict Bishop who takes to abusing Alexander in particular for his vivid imagination. When their mother, Emilie, refuses to stand for this abuse and requests a divorce, the Bishop Edvard tells her it would be considered desertion and the children would then remain in his custody….and thus begins a battle of wills for her to maintain custody of her own children despite the efforts of this new horrific man in their lives. In some ways, Fanny & Alexander feels lighter and more hopeful than Bergman films typically do…and it also just goes to show that he COULD make the kind of films that might’ve gotten him more praise and attention if he really wanted to…but he didn’t…and he stood his ground…and with this film, he did manage to get another Oscar nomination for Best Director along with another win for Best Foreign Language Film…but it was the best film of 1983 in my eyes. Much like his SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE ten years prior, this film actually began as TV Miniseries that ended up getting cut down for a theatrical release first before the original lengthy version was seen. That version has since been seen theatrically and is one of the longest films ever made at 312 minutes. Either version is fantastic but once again, I recommend the original full version if forced to choose.

#6-Ordinary People (1980-Robert Redford)

-One of the biggest complaints among those who know the history of the Oscars is how Ordinary People beat RAGING BULL for the Oscar. At the time, the latter wasn’t as strongly received but I do agree that DeNiro deserved his Oscar and I think Scorsese should’ve won Director. However, ORDINARY PEOPLE is unfairly treated and I feel it more than deserved its win…plus its emotional punch is certainly a major plus. I have always been a sucker for the domestic drama as a genre where dysfunction reigns supreme, and here, not only is there extreme discomfort, but we get Mary Tyler Moore cast against type and she is fantastic as a cold and emotionally distant mother who can’t cope with the fact that her favorite child died in a boating accident while the other son, Conrad (the brilliant Timothy Hutton) managed to live and then tried to commit suicide out of guilt since he couldn’t save his brother. All the while, Donald Sutherland is there as the warm and giving husband Calvin and then, in another stroke of casting genius, Judd Hirsch is the blunt psychiatrist who is tasked to help Conrad cope. Robert Redford ended up winning the Oscar for directing this and while he did a fine job, he wasn’t my first choice. Having said that, he showed great instinct with his casting choices and then…for better or for worse, he started a trend of actors turning into directors which led to the likes of Warren Beatty, Richard Attenborough, Kevin Costner, and Mel Gibson winning Oscars (and only Beatty deserved his but I digress…). I will always defend and stand by Ordinary People and it does seem to be getting a better reputation in recent years…which makes me happy.

#5-Tootsie (1982-Sydney Pollack)

-I feel Tootsie is a movie that isn’t often mentioned when discussing the best films of the 1980s but it is also a film in which I rarely hear a negative word mentioned about it. In fact, I feel like most film fanatics think it should’ve won Best Picture over GHANDI (unless you really loved E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL). While SOME LIKE IT HOT is often considered the granddaddy of men in drag in film, I feel like Tootsie represents a more interesting take on the concept because Dustin Hoffman’s character of Michael Dorsey finds out more about himself and becomes a better human being while acting as an alter-ego, Dorothy Michaels. Hoffman gives what may be my favorite performance of his career as Dorsey, a very temperamental actor who can’t find work until he decides on a drastic whim to go audition in drag for a female role on a daytime soap, a role he learned about when his friend Sandy (deliciously played by Teri Garr) tried to get the part but was denied an audition strictly based on her look….then he gets the part. A recent musical adaptation for Broadway which was adapted for modern times proved that a lot of what made the film work can’t really be done as well nowadays (not to mention an incredibly disappointing score by the typically brilliant David Yazbek), but for the early 80s, Tootsie was close to perfection.

#4-My Dinner with Andre (1981-Louis Malle)

-1981 was a great year for Louis Malle, a film director that doesn’t get a lot of discussion nowadays. Truthfully, his other film from that year (ATLANTIC CITY, which got an honorable mention) was of a success in terms of what he brought to the screen. In the case of My Dinner with Andre, he was helped by the fact that we got a passionate debate between Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn which made for a film that was so invigorating even though it took place entirely at a dinner table at the Café des Artistes (though it wasn’t actually filmed there). However, Malle’s contribution can’t be ignored…and these two men are brought to life with such vigor that you never thought watching two men at a table could be more rewarding than say…most of the films that were nominated for Best Picture that year (which happened to include ATLANTIC CITY, which deserved its nomination).

#3-Amadeus (1984-Milos Forman)

-I always love it when a great play becomes a great film, especially when the playwright themselves can rework the material so it can done on a more thematic level. Peter Shaffer more than exceled here adapting his 1980 Tony Award winning play Amadeus to the big screen, which tells the story of one particular legend around the death of famed child prodigy turned classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart…in this case, that his death was actually brought upon by a bitter rival of his, lesser known composer Antonio Salieri. On Broadway, Salieri was played by Ian McKellan while Mozart was played by Tim Curry…..what a fucking duo that is! For the film, Czech director Milos Forman opted to cast one relatively unknown stage actor (F. Murray Abraham) as Salieri and Tom Hulce, an actor primarily known for his performance in the raucous comedy ANIMAL HOUSE, as Mozart. Both of these actors would primarily focus their careers on the stage after this except for a few scant film appearances, but for this film, Forman did manage to find gold with them. Told through the backdrop of an elderly bitter Salieri narrating the history to a Priest following his attempted suicide, we watch as Salieri explains his history and connection to Mozart, whom he considered a juvenile vulgarian, and how that would lead to him causing his death. It would go on to sweep the 1985 Oscars and managed to become quite the success despite the expectation that people wouldn’t care about such a stuffy story…but it ISN’T a stuffy story…and yes, it is basically hearsay but it is damn good hearay with a stellar script, lush direction, gorgeous designs, and fantastic performances…even a young Cynthia Nixon shines in a brief role proving what a wonderful character actress she would soon become.

#2-Do The Right Thing (1989-Spike Lee)

-It took nearly 30 years for Spike Lee to win an Oscar after the controversial snubs he received for Best Picture and Best Director for his work on Do The Right Thing, a very tense tale about racial divides on a steamy hot summer day in then rather seedy Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, or is it is more commonly called, BedStuy. The film that won Best Picture that year was DRIVING MISS DAISY, a film adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning Off-Broadway play that revolved around the growing friendship between a wealthy Jewish widow and her African-American driver in the segregated South. While a nice film, it was certainly something of a very bland take on race relations. Then you have GREEN BOOK, the movie which won Best Picture of 2018…and pretty much immediately became one of the more derided winners in recent memory. Why? It was one of those “white-savior” movies in which a white person, often racist, ends up turning around and becoming a savior for civil rights due to their friendship with someone who is black…and it just so happening to be another moving about driving someone (in this case, Dr. Shirley, a cultured pianist, who was performing in the segregated south and he happened to be black). Once this win occurred, Spike Lee (who had won Screenplay for his film BLACKKKLANSMAN) reportedly tried to leave the theatre in a huff only to be reprimanded to return to his seat (which the fact that security did that to him is appalling). The truth is even Lee’s movie wasn’t my favorite from that year…but his crown jewel still remains Do The Right Thing. Everything that is wonderful about the vibrancy which is Spike Lee’s talent as a filmmaker is on full display here…and for an added touch, he plays the film’s lead opposite the recently deceased Danny Aiello as a racist Pizzeria owner with whom he ends up challenging. The film should be seen and experienced by everyone…and it will always remain one of the most glaring and unforgivable snubs the Academy ever gave to a film.

#1-Blue Velvet (1986-David Lynch)

-After the opening credits, we get an iconic opening montage of various dreamlike shots of small town suburban America as Bobby Vinton’s song “Blue Velvet” plays to set the tone. It all seems like some kind of fever dream of a colorized “Leave it to Beaver” world and then we see a man suffer a stroke and then a metaphor of dirty things beneath the surface as the camera pans into the grass as we watch worms squirming about. If I were to pick one movie that left a profound and somewhat indelible impression on me from the moment I first saw it, it would probably be Blue Velvet. Having said that, this might be the most flawed film to be given the honor as my top choice for the best of a decade. So why does it get that honor then? David Lynch is the most well-known and respected surrealist filmmaker to have come out of Hollywood and despite the fact that he is capable of writing his own scripts, a lot of his films rely on the story and the atmosphere rather than the dialogue…and while this film does have its fair share of memorable dialogue, it also suffers from some odd structural pacing near the end (more than likely due to Lynch having to cut the film down from nearly 4 hours to 2 hours) and, something else that is a staple with Lynch, erratic performances which can sometime be fantastic or fairly weak…or both. While this isn’t as overly apparent as it often is in his other movies (ex: MULHOLLAND DRIVE where you get a stunning performance by Naomi Watts and then a horrific performance by Billy Ray Cyrus), you do get scenes where I feel like the sincerity doesn’t quite come across, like Kyle MacLachlan’s “Why are there people like Frank?” speech followed by the corny monologue from Laura Dern…and yet we have Dennis Hopper as one of the most despicable villains ever captured onscreen, Frank Booth….and that is a performance that should’ve won him the Oscar. Blue Velvet is a mystery that swirls around a woman…which is essentially a staple that Lynch revisits again multiple times (the TWIN PEAKS franchise, LOST HIGHWAY, MULHOLLAND DRIVE, and INLAND EMPIRE)…and a young man who becomes obsessed with unlocking the clues to it. Despite its very blunt and abrasive nature, Blue Velvet is also something of a good selection if you wanted to have a good gateway into the world of Lynch. The storyline/script is fairly straightforward so unlike a movie like ERASERHEAD, LOST HIGHWAY, or MULHOLLAND DRIVE, this movie seems like a good blend of his surrealist style while also being accessible in terms of how the story is presented…even though it is film that created a firestorm of controversy upon its release due to its sexual content, particularly a scene in which Dennis Hopper brutally assaults Isabella Rossellini, who endures the abuse (which she actually seems to like) in order to keep her husband and young son alive while they are held hostage by Hopper’s character. A movie as polarizing as Blue Velvet is why I find film criticism so fascinating because it can show how people find brilliance in different places…and sometimes, it may take a passage of time for you to grow to appreciate it. I think British film critic Mark Kermode, who actually said he despised the film when it came out, said it best, and this is a slight paraphrase: “I didn’t hate Blue Velvet because it was a horrible film. I hated it because it was a very good film…and I was not good enough for it”. It made people angry…as it should have…it did its job.

IN CONCLUSION:

The 80s didn’t feel like an artsy decade and I feel like a lot of my films here are either more populist or based on pure entertainment value…but in the end, I do love these films and I think that it was a very interesting decade to follow the genius we got doused with during the 70s. Going into the 1990s, I feel like indie movies begin to slip into the forefront and we see another uptick in high quality foreign films as well. It is certainly a very eclectic decade before the general quality in film would dip post-2000.

Volume #2: The Best Films of the 1970s (AKA: The Best Decade for Film EVER…BY FAR…)

People always talk about “The Golden Age of Hollywood” and how it typically refers to the 1930s-1940s. I get it…it was the early years and a lot of legends were formed…but I have never been that drawn to that particular area in which many films often felt too docile when confined to the censorship process known as The Hays Code, not to mention a lot of issues with Hollywood itself ranging from women getting shafted, minorities getting shafted, and also the quality of acting could often come across as too bombastic by today’s standards.

By the 1950s (as I stated in my last essay about the 1960s), World Cinema outside of the United States was taking off tremendously due to not having as many restrictions on content. Thus, we were able to get films by the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Akira Kurosawa, and Francois Truffaut to name a few…and a lot of their films made ours look completely ridiculous in comparison. I mean…put something like a Douglas Sirk movie up against anything by any of these men and you’d probably die laughing…with all due respect to Douglas Sirk.

American cinema did eventually grow into its own by the end of the 1960s but it was the 1970s that brought us up as equals in my eyes…and with that, I find the 1970s to be my favorite decade for cinema quite easily. It is such an embarrassment of riches that I don’t even know where to begin…and because of that, I am already going to break my rule of limiting myself to 10 films, plus 5 honorable mentions. Instead, I am going to take a suggestion from my friend Tommy at the TV based blog “That’s Alls I Know” and do a list where I still do a top 10 but I mention a film that bares some kind of connection to it so it is practically like I am giving you Buy One Get One Free Top 10 lists.

However…because the 70s are such a goldmine. I am going to go crazier than I will on any of the lists….those others will be sticking to my “Top 10/Honorable 5” template.

For this list, I will be listing a two honorable mentions for each year of the decade and then also two per year for my top 10, so essentially this will be like a top 40 list. To keep the content down to a readable amount, I will still only discuss my Top 10 (….20) at length.

So with that in mind…let us begin!

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

1970:

Patton (Franklin J. Schaffner)

Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson)

1971:

The Hospital (Arthur Hiller)

Fiddler on the Roof (Norman Jewison)

1972:

The Emigrants (Jan Troell)

Sounder (Martin Ritt)

1973:

American Graffiti (George Lucas)

Badlands (Terrence Malick)

1974:

A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes)

Chinatown (Roman Polanski)

1975:

Jaws (Steven Spielberg)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Milos Forman)

1976:

Small Change (Francois Truffaut)

Face to Face (Ingmar Bergman)

1977:

3 Women (Robert Altman)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg)

1978:

Midnight Express (Alan Parker)

The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino)

1979:

Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola)

Breaking Away (Peter Yates)

__________________________

I am still going to further break my template by still sticking to the year by year format. Two films per year will be discussed.

__________________________

1970:

M*A*S*H (Robert Altman)

-I was never an avid viewer of the TV series adaptation of M*A*S*H though I do respect it very much. I also feel like the film version was also quite the unique little gem as it contained the Altman staple of having a strong ensemble at its score while also maintaining such a bleak and dark comedic tone. Plus, as the movie begins and you hear the haunting title tune, “Suicide is Painless” (which an instrumental version would be used as the TV theme), you are left dumbstruck by the very cold lyrics…even more so when you realize they were written by Altman’s 14 year old son Mike.

Women in Love (Ken Russell)

-While not as discussed nowadays, WOMEN IN LOVE was such an interesting film…and it doesn’t just have to do with the nude wrestling scene between Alan Bates and Oliver Reed. Led by an Oscar winning performance by the brilliant Glenda Jackson, this film was based on the D.H. Lawrence and was adapted by novelist, playwright, and gay rights activist Larry Kramer, who just so happens to be one of the most fascinating people to have walked the earth in my opinion. I have always been a sucker for British settings and this very droll and dreary atmosphere set around two different love stories has always been a guilty pleasure of mine.

———-

1971:

A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick)

-Based on a brilliant novel by Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange was set in the futuristic hell-scape known as…hmmm…1995…and revolves around a rather repellant group of thugs known as the Droogs, who go around beating and assaulting both men and women, or as it is termed: “Ultra-Violence”. This group is led by Alex, played by a maniacal and oddly fascinating Malcolm McDowell, and eventually he will get captured and put under an experiment known as the Ludovico Technique to try to rehabilitate him…but does it actually end up working? In many ways, this film was Kubrick at his most vibrant and colorful. The atmosphere of this film is so rich and disturbing, and it also helps that Alex is a fan of classical music which also gets something of an update with many pieces being played on a synthesizer…most memorably a very robotic rendition of “Ode to Joy” and a cartoonish sped-up sex scene accompanied by “The William Tell Overture”. Also, who can forget McDowell’s rendition of “Singin’ in the Rain” as he and his friends plan to assault a woman right in front of her tied up husband? It is an uncomfortable film that was controversial at its time…and still packs a punch today…but it is also brilliant despite its uneasy nature.

The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdonavich)

-Of all of the New Hollywood directors that would come into vogue during the 70s, Bogdonavich was the one that took the hardest fall and is often forgotten about…and frankly, I can understand why. After The Last Picture Show, he only made one film that I truly loved which was 1973’s PAPER MOON and maybe a couple of solid efforts like 1985’s MASK with Cher. However, this film was more than worthy to stand with the films of his colleagues from this decade: a sleek but gritty black & white filmed tale about a small Texas town called Anarene set in 1951. With a great ensemble that was filled with a who’s who of actors that are now legends but were unknowns then, we follow two friends played by Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges whose choices will end up affecting various people around them. For example, Bottoms’ character Sonny has an affair with his Football coach’s wife Ruth because she is suffering from feeling alone in light of her husband’s closeted homosexuality. This is one of those films that doesn’t benefit from a lengthy discussion as it is better served by simply watching it. Character driven storylines can be hard to describe…so how about you just go watch it if you haven’t seen it?

——

1972:

The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola)

-An atypical choice, but if the shoe fits. I actually have had a rather erratic history with this film and its sequel in that I always admired them but never exactly LOVED them. It wasn’t until I recently revisited both of them (the third installment will never be worth my time) that I decided I was wrong in not loving them. The films feel close to perfect and they are so magnificent in the way they are presented that they are in a class by themselves in terms of being mentioned with mobster movies; they feel like they are worth more than that. One of those rare movies that seemed to have hit the right notes in terms of critical and audience admiration.

Cabaret (Bob Fosse)

-For many years, the Broadway musical adaptation of this was my absolute favorite…and it still ranks among my top 10 of all time. You would think that this film wouldn’t be something I would be drawn to considering how much it drastically differs from the stage version…which includes completely cutting out the character of Herr Schultz and reducing Fraulein Schneider to a single line. However, since Fosse’s vision for the film was quite the visual feast, I am able to view it as its own beast…and you sort of have to when you realize that the character of Sally Bowles went for an English woman who didn’t exactly have the most pleasant singing voice to…an American played by Liza Minnelli who was definitely her mother’s daughter.

——

1973:

Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Bergman)

-Before MARRIAGE STORY and KRAMER VS. KRAMER, there was SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE which did not gain any kind of award season traction at the time (not that it would’ve gotten a lot of attention anyway) due to the fact that it actually began as a 6-part TV miniseries in Sweden. The plot is simple: Marianne (Liv Ullman) and Johan (Erland Josephson) are married but over a 10-year period, we watch their marriage disintegrate. We get such themes as affairs and abortions which may seem commonplace today in film or TV but were not for the faint of heart back then…at least not for American audiences. While I do love the theatrical cut, which runs 168 minutes, I do feel it is best to seek out the full original miniseries which is available on The Criterion Collection. Bergman may often have been made fun of for being such a bleak and depressing filmmaker but he was simply a genius who was beyond worthy of praise.

Day for Night (Francois Truffaut)

-Not as many people discuss Truffaut on the same level as they do Bergman or even Fellini. Most remember Truffaut for his occasional acting, like his stint in Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Day for Night is about the making of a French film and the drama that goes on behind the scenes with its cast and crew, with particular praise being given to Valentina Cortese, whose performance as Severine is one for the ages. The film they are making is a melodrama called “Je Vous Presente Pamela” or rather “I Want You to Meet Pamela”…and a lot of the behind the scenes drama matches the heightened nature of the film.

——

1974:

The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola)

-I feel like I said a lot when discussing the first film, but this film does add the interesting angle of Robert DeNiro as young Vito and how he came to prominence as a mobster in NY after migrating alone from Italy when his mother is brutally murdered right in front of him…something we get to watch him avenge later on. We also watch Al Pacino as the legendary Michael Corelone further grow from something of a blank canvas to a menacing and ruthless mob Don who took on a darker approach than his father.

The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola)

-Coppola was on a roll in the 70s…something he sadly didn’t continue beyond the decade. In many ways, I feel like this is his most underappreciated film and perhaps my own personal favorite of his work. Gene Hackman, a brilliant actor who was known for his very brash performances, brings it down tremendously as the awkward and subtle Harry Caul, a surveillance expert who ends up getting an audio recording of what he believes is someone getting murdered. Thus begins him trying to solve this mystery while becoming obsessed and paranoid beyond belief. The interesting “life imitating art” angle of this film is that a lot of the equipment used in the film was similar to that used during the Watergate scandal which was purely coincidental…but it did help get the film more recognition…and it was recognition well deserved.

——-

1975:

Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet)

-Based on a real life bank robbery that occurred in 1972 at Gravesend, Brooklyn, DOG DAY AFTERNOON is a film that contains one of, if not, my personal favorite performance of Al Pacino as Sonny, a desperate man who robs a Chase bank with his accomplice Sal (the late John Cazale) in hopes to obtain funds to help his partner Leon get a sex-change operation. The film’s hot and intense setting make for perhaps the greatest film that is based around a hostage situation. Movies like this one are basically the prime example of how the 70s were filled with the early prototypes of the “anti-hero” which has now become far more commonplace in film and TV today…and while it was based on a true story, the angle of the character Leon (based on transwoman Elizabeth Eden) is such a unique and bold additional that made the film feel more alive and also helps the film pack a punch even in today’s society.

Nashville (Robert Altman)

-This is often considered the crown jewel of Altman’s career and it probably was his greatest achievement. A movie like Nashville feels unique as the world of Country music doesn’t often get much traction in cinema…especially nowadays. In fact, living in New York, I feel like country music is so underplayed and laughed at that I don’t even know who some of the biggest stars are in that genre anymore. Things were different back then and I do feel that Altman was able to capture such a fascinating tone for this film, which would revolve around the build-up to a gala for a populist outsider running for the Republican nomination for President….that really hits close to home doesn’t it? This ensemble is fantastic, particularly the memorable work by Lily Tomlin, Barbara Harris, Henry Gibson, Karen Black, and Ronee Blakley. It is a film that most film fanatics always cite as a true classic masterpiece but it still doesn’t seem to have the widespread fame that other films from that era have.

—–

1976:

Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese)

-There is the Woody Allen lens of New York and there is the Martin Scorsese lens of New York…and it just goes to show how differently one can view the city. Scorsese has said before that while he loved a lot of Allen’s work, he found his version of NYC “extremely foreign” to him. Allen did live in something of a bubble in his Upper East Side apartment/eventual Brownstone…but I feel like the real grittiness of New York was always well captured by Scorsese. This was a New York that was dripping with crime and grime; a city that was struggling after rather erratic mayoral reigns from the likes of John Lindsay and Abe Beame…and with that, we get one of the most famous anti-heroes of all-time: Travis Bickle, played by Scorsese favorite Robert DeNiro. Bickle is a Vietnam vet who drives a taxi and…he is blatantly racist and has no social grace at all…and yet somehow, you get why he is so angry at the world. NYC is a cesspool and he ceases to have change by cleaning up the streets (not sure though how much he would take to the Guiliani-fied New York though). A lot of his drive begins with his failed relationship with a woman named Betsy played by Cybil Shepard…a failure that is essentially his own doing…and then his quest to be a hero by trying to impress and save a young teenage prostitute played by Jodie Foster by considering to assassinate a political figure (another moment that hits close to home) and eventually, murdering her pimp and others whom he feels are trapping her. TAXI DRIVER remains one of Scorsese’s most powerful and memorable films…and I think it also holds up tremendously well, even if the NYC it shows feels like it disappeared over 2 decades ago.

Network (Sidney Lumet)

-Along with DR. STRANGELOVE, which was featured on my Best of the 60s list, Network is easily among the best depictions of satire ever captured on film…and the sad thing is, it actually feels more relevant today and seems more like it could actually happen than it did in 1976. Lumet does a great job directing this film but it is certainly helped by the magnificent and passionate script by Paddy Chayefsky, who was basically the Aaron Sorkin of his day. At its core, Network revolves around the fictional UBS Television Network which ranks last in the ratings behind CBS, NBC, and ABC. One major push from the executives is to fire News anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) who then announces on the air that he plans to commit suicide due to this development since being an anchor was all he had to live for. From here, ratings begin to take off while a programming executive named Diana (a crazed and brilliant Faye Dunaway) steps in and essentially uses this man’s nervous breakdown to build up the network’s ratings all while having an affair with Max (William Holden), the news division president and Howard’s oldest and dearest friend. A lot of what NETWORK says is true about society and how it feels like corporations are the true being of how the world works. The film may be a satire, but it is also an extremely disturbing mirror to how our world really is.

—–

1977:

Annie Hall (Woody Allen)

-Often considered to be the defacto answer for the triumph of his career, Annie Hall was a major stepping stone for Woody Allen, who went from making farcical comedies like SLEEPER and BANANAS to this little film which quietly told the story of a love affair that eventually didn’t work out all while being funny without resorting to punch lines…it all came from character beats and relatable situations. The script for the film is fantastic and as for a performance, Woody Allen has never been better…and Diane Keaton creates such an indelible character with Annie Hall that you can’t help but fall in love too. When I first saw this movie, I found it to be highly overrated…I was only 13 or 14 years old…but I revisited it in college and that is when I fell in love. Some may bemoan that it beat out STAR WARS at the Oscars but screw that….ANNIE HALL beats that in a cakewalk.

Eraserhead (David Lynch)

-After beginning a career in art/sculpture and then progressing to really surreal short films, David Lynch spent five years making this 90-minute film with help from AFI grants and donations by Sissy Spacek and her husband Jack Fisk about a rather peculiar man named Henry (played by Lynch favorite Jack Nance) who ends up courting a girl across the hall who ends up giving birth to a deformed baby…or whatever it may be. I can’t really discuss this movie….it is a movie that needs to be seen. Lynch is notorious for making his films be heavily reliant on visual imagery and interpretation and he often won’t share his opinions on the content. He once referred to Eraserhead as his “most spiritual film”. When asked to elaborate, he bemusedly just said “No.” In a decade that took so many bold chances, the surreal nature of this film never gets mentioned as much as it should. I get that it may not be for everyone but I fell in love with its eerie and trance-like tone. It is simply a masterpiece and, perhaps, the crown jewel of surrealist cinema.

———

1978:

Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick)

-Another entry in the “Film That Received a Mixed Response When it was released” group that has now become highly regarded was true cinematic achievement….and it also must be said that DAYS OF HEAVEN is in contention of being one of the most beautiful, stunning, and visually arresting films ever made. Its legend become some prominent that many film fanatics waited with baited breath for 20 years before Malick released another movie: THE THIN RED LINE. The reclusive Malick is a genius and this film remains his finest achievement to date. It revolves around Bill and Abby, played by Richard Gere and Brooke Adams, two lovers who travel to the northern Texas panhandle to harvest crops for a wealthy farmer. Things become sticky when Bill encourages Abby to marry the farmer, played by the late great actor/playwright Sam Shepard, after he falls in love with her and he admits he is dying. Bill says he will pose as Abby’s brother so they can eventually gain an inheritance upon his death…which leads to inevitable disastrous results. It is a true tragic piece that deserves to be seen by everyone.

AN UNMARRIED WOMAN (Paul Mazursky)

-I was going to say that the 70s were a strong decade for mature comedies but then I realized…the 70s were strong in pretty much every genre! However, a movie like AN UNMARRIED WOMAN is a gem because it helped tie in to the Sexual Liberation movement of women in the 70s but also showed that women didn’t necessarily need men in their lives…even if this film does have our lead find love eventually. Jill Clayburgh, who was primarily known as a stage actress prior to this film, gives an absolutely fantastic performance as Erica, a woman whose life is turned upside down when her wealthy stockbroker husband lives her for another woman. It may sound like a typical plot you’ve heard many times before but this movie was a pioneer for this kind of story and it also captures a late 70s NYC in such an indelible and gritty way. You could say it is a something of a slightly darker companion piece to Rhoda being divorced by Joe on the sitcom RHODA at that time, which was met mostly with apathy by the viewing public…however film was a different ballgame. It may not be as well known to the masses today, but I still think this is a very important and well made film.

—–

1979:

All That Jazz (Bob Fosse)

-Joe Gideon (played by Roy Scheider) essentially IS Bob Fosse…and Fosse is willing to put himself through the ringer with this film as we watch Gideon coast through his hectic schedule while consuming an abundant amount of drugs and alcohol and having tons of sex…and it is also aided greatly to real life by Fosse casting his real life mistress Ann Reinking as his girlfriend in the film. The film also takes on a surreal approach by having the Fosse/Gideon character hallucinate talking to Angelique, who is dubbed an angel of death, played by Jessica Lange in only her second film role. As someone who loves the world of theatre, a movie like ALL THAT JAZZ was essentially made for me…and it also doesn’t hurt that upon seeing the film, Stanley Kubrick was quoted as saying that the film was the best film he felt he had ever seen…that is HIGH praise indeed coming from perhaps the most meticulous and perfectionist director to have ever lived.

Being There (Hal Ashby)

-Considering this is the last film I will be discussing for the 70s, I also feel like I am still leaving out so many worthy films for even just 1979…like KRAMER VS. KRAMER, ALIEN, THE LIFE OF BRIAN, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES….but I decided to give a nod to Being There, which was based on the Jerzy Kosinski novel about a simple-minded man named Chance (Peter Sellers in his final film role before dying in 1980), who has spent his life tending to a garden of an old wealthy man and has yet to leave the property. His whole life is gardening along with whatever he has learned through his main social source: the television. When his wealthy benefactor dies, the lawyers of their estate seize the property and Chance naively tells them he has no stake in the home and he must vacate. Eventually, he finds himself in the home of Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas, in an Oscar winning performance), an elderly advisor to the President of the United States and his much younger wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine). From here, the film dissolves into a series of misunderstandings which leads Chance (or as people end up referring to him: Chauncey) to becoming a prominent member of the aristocratic society that the Rands are involved in. There is something so whimsical about BEING THERE that is so fetching and a lot of that has to do with the performance of Peter Sellers, but the whole film just feels like a dream…with an ending that is rife for interpretation in a way that felt ahead of its time.

IN CONCLUSION:

So yes, as expected, I ended up listing 40 films while discussing half of them and I still feel like another dozen or so could’ve been mentioned with deserving fanfare. The 1970s were the pinnacle of cinema, if not for the whole world, at least for here in the States. So many iconic films and directors came into prominence then while the quality and content of the films became so much more substantial that it was hard to believe that just a decade prior, we were still living in a world when you couldn’t so much as swear in a movie without a lot of scandal. The 1980s will have films that I love but nothing will come close to the vitality that was achieved in the 70s.

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