I went into this documentary a little disappointed, as I thought it might be about the handsy priests who taught at my all-boys high school. But like the diver who narrates this incredible drama, I warmed to the man-humbled-by-nature plot quickly.
As animals, octopi have never enjoyed cuddly status. They had a YouTube moment when videos circulated showcasing their intelligence and cool morphing abilities, but from Alien’s face-hugger to Disney’s Ursula to every other Blumhouse production, the go-to strategy for creating the scariest monsters has seemed to be ‘add octopus’. Face, arms, crotch, no matter. As long as tentacles are involved, viewers will surely ink their pants.
Well, My Octopus Teacher seeks to right this terrible wrong, and does a wonderful job of it. It’s the closest I’ve seen a nature documentary come to a compelling 3-act relationship drama.
We first meet the male half of this heterocto couple, our narrator Craig Foster (which couldn’t be a more generic guy-in-a-relationship-movie name, not to mention the onomatopoeia of his craggy personality). He informs that he was raised on the stormy cape of South Africa, and we’re shown a town nestled in cliffs high above a coast of sharp rocks and angry waves -except for one little beach hut, which is off by itself right down by the waves, getting slammed and inundated. This was where Crag grew up, he tells us, and we are left to assume his parents were either the town outcasts or Popeye and Olive Oyl. Either way, he’s gotta be messed up.
After a stint filming native trackers in the Kalahari, now middle-aged Craig returns to his fraught cape, emotionally spent and disconnected. He finds a lot of ways to say he’d become an asshole without actually saying it, and when the only shot of his wife in the entire hour and a half is a blurry silhouette in a quick cut-away, we think, uh, yeah.
So he retreats back to the sea, free-diving in a kelp forest off the coast, and soon meets the better half of this relationship, a female octopus. To avoid triggering any assumptions of human/non-human hierarchy, he doesn’t give her a name. This is respectful and appreciated, though due to her pluckiness and ability to morph so easily into different roles I’m tempted to call her Saoirse. But I’ll follow Craig’s lead and refer to the octopus as ‘the octopus’ and use the pronoun ‘she’.
At first shy and skittish as any wild animal would be when a giant human gets up in its face, the octopus’ natural curiosity quickly gets the best of her, and soon she’s reaching out a tentacle to touch Craig’s hands and explore his face. He describes her as alien-like, but imagine the picture she’s forming of his huge plastic-and-glass eyes on skin as pliable as a jellyfish. It’s a match made in the Star Wars cantina.
After the meet-cute, we get the typical Act II: the guy’s stupid behavior scares the girl off, so he resorts to stalking her. The stunning underwater cinematography by Roger Horrocks has us forgetting that Craig is free-diving, which means he has to surface every two or three minutes, and he’s out there all day, every day. Time is shown via intermittent titles – Day 2, Day 24, Day 101, etc – and we realize Craig is obsessed, which he does admit. He thinks about the octopus even when he’s not in the water, even dreams about her, the details of which we are thankfully not given, as I’m thinking some combo of face-hugger and French kissing.
His efforts, though, do serve to make us fall as in love with the octopus as he has. Each new encounter illuminates more of her intelligence and the world she operates in, and as great acting is all in the eyes, so they say, we’re treated to many close-ups of hers, now open and inquisitive, now squinty and suspicious. She flirts and teases, she plays with a school of fish, she walks along the ocean floor on two tentacles, the others fanned out like a big hoop skirt.
As octopi are solitary, this plot doesn’t give Craig a romantic rival, but it does provide a deadly nemesis, and you probably guessed right – it’s a shark. This one is near blind and dressed in pinstripes, hence the name Pajama Shark, which, ok, best shark name ever. Pajama Shark is too small to threaten Craig, so the focus is all on her peril.
At the close of Act II, the shark has sniffed our octopus out. Because we’ve come to care so much about this being, this delightful and intelligent personality, the attack is harrowing, moreso than all those nature doc images we’re used to of lions felling a cute gazelle. My partner and I were yelling “Help her!!” to Craig, but he has vowed not to interfere with nature’s process. So like those parents desperate for Facebook fame who keep the video rolling as their toddlers tumble down stairs and crack their heads open, Craig films as the octopus gets a tentacle violently torn off.
Now he wonders if his relentless pursuit of her made her vulnerable, if her affection for him had her exposing herself in a way she wouldn’t normally have. A little late for the guilt, Crag. With the octopus injured and weak, he decides to break his rule and open some mussels for her. But she’s not having it.
Eventually she does recover, grows back her tentacle and returns to her routine, which now includes Craig. At the start of the film, he informed us that octopi only live a year, so by the time the title ‘Day 324’ comes up, we know to grab the box of tissues. One of the final shots is the octopus clinging to Craig’s chest as he gently strokes her, and I tell you, I haven’t cried that much since Old Yeller.
His year with the octopus leaves Craig with a renewed spirit, and the film ends with him speaking of the joy of watching his teenage son fall in love with the sea. Before she passed, our octopus had 500,000 babies, so we hold out hope for a sequel, where Craig’s son meets one of her children, and they fall in love too.
First, a message from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences:
Dear Black People (and gals of all colors),
The recent history of the Oscar nominations may have led you to believe that we at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had finally evolved (we hear you call it ‘woke’?) with the rest of popular culture. In the spirit of comradery and mansplaining, we should inform you that our seeming embrace of films like Moonlight, 12 Years a Slave and Black Panther was simply our way of thanking Obama for not ruining the economy. As for films about women we have recognized, they were mostly made by men. Gay men, admittedly, but there is still a penis involved.
This year, our roster of nominees has returned to a more familiar form. While we know that may not please everyone, we are a prestigious Academy, and we do not grade on a curve. As brilliant writer and proven money-maker Stephen King thankfully reminded us, the Art must always come first.
Little Women does have 6 nominations. We didn’t particularly like Little Women, but it was the only female film this year that did not scare us, and bones must be thrown, or else the nominees’ luncheon gets really uncomfortable. Unfortunately, we could not throw a bone to the film’s lady director, as the five slots were full with men who all made movies that glorified the highest expression of Art in film – violence and bloodshed. But please know that Mrs. Baumbach was #6 with a bullet!
We remain fully open to excellence from people of color (that’s ‘correct’, right?) and those with vaginas, and look forward to your attempts in the coming year.
Regards (but nothing more)
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away from Toy Story 4: Disney, next time Randy Newman hands you music, please throw it away.
Into the Unknown from Frozen II: China won’t recycle our trash anymore, so let’s use Oscar’s Best Song list!
I’m Standing with You from Breakthrough: These Christian-themed ‘inspirational’ films are what the term ‘god-awful’ was invented for.
Stand Up from Harriet: Oschoir: noun: a song that plays during the end titles of an Oscar-bait movie about overcoming hardship. Involves a gospel choir and uplifting lyrics that would have made Maya Angelou gag. Usage: “That song ‘Stand Up for Something’ from Selma was so Oschoir.”
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
(I’m Still Standing and Gonna) Love Me Again from Rocketman: This is one dismal Best Song list. Any of these could have been recorded in 1995 and you’d never know the difference. Elton John does his part by cobbling together his old chestnuts and putting them in Taron Egerton’s mouth.
Marriage Story: Oh, alright, if y’all insist…it started with Adam and me meetin’ cute at a driving range. He’d taken up golf for his role as Tiger Woods in Noah Baumbach’s On Course for Divorce, and I was trying out a new hobby after my woeful attempt at pottery, which Adam pretended to like (he’s such a good actor, LOL!). One thing led to another, and next thing you know, he breaks my nose in a fight over the subtext of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and pins it back together with an engagement ring!
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: I only got a rise during this film when Adam Driver or Oscar Isaac were on screen.
Little Women: 6; Old Men: 44
19-17: The score of the Superbowl? I didn’t watch because my mom told me JLo is a slut.
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
Joker: “Alexa, play Frank Sinatra, but ironically.”
MAKE-UP AND HAIRSTYLING
Angelina: Mistress of Evil: If you were wondering what Jennifer Aniston was doing before The Morning Show, she was in charge of naming Disney movies.
1,917: Number of times this movie ripped off Gallipoli.
Juker: Since both Judy and Joker are nominated for smeary clown make-up, I’ve combined them into one film, in which an amphetamined-to-the-gills Garland shoots Ed Sullivan in the face while singing ‘Come On, Get Happy’.
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
Bombshell: Imagine asking old pervert Hollywood bosses for money to make a film about old pervert Fox News bosses. Big surprise, there was no budget to do frame-by-frame computer effects to make lead Charlize Theron look like Megyn Kelly. It was all left to the make-up people, and their work was crazy exact.
The Irishman: When costumer Sandy Powell asked Scorsese what he wanted, he thought she was the lunch assistant and ordered a baked potato.
Once Up…on a Time in Hollywood: For authenticity, Lena Dunham wore her own dirty nightgown in this movie, which she claimed was the result of a bear trying to molest her. She later recanted, admitting it was just a bad night with a bag of Oreo thin mints.
Jojo Rabbit: Bedazzled Nazi uniforms. Tyrolean rompers that would make Wes Anderson jealous. Little touches of crazy added to things we’ve seen many times before was the strategy behind every aspect of this film, and made for the most memorable costuming on this list.
Little Women: Nicely done bridesmaids dresses won’t get you to the altar, when the altar is covered in blood.
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
Joker: An Oscar for a maroon suit from Buffalo Exchange. Wow. I need to change careers.
Joker: He’s a smoker and a midnight toker.
Once Upon a Time, in Hollywood: In this Tarantino fairy tale, 3 Little Pigs share a house off Laurel Canyon. They hear a wolf huffing and puffing at their door, and, assuming it’s the fisting escort they’d hired, invite him in. You can imagine what’s next, and imagine it to a Shirley Bassey b-side.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: And the Fall of JJ Abrams, hopefully.
Ford < Ferrari: Spoiler alert.
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
1917: Out of 2000, the number of male Academy members who will vote for a war movie, no matter how repetitive, over anything else. The other 83 are gay.
Ad Astra: Do not take Adastra if you are pregnant or nursing. Adastra may cause suicidal thoughts or feelings because you will never have Brad Pitt.
Joker: Remember how that serial killer in Silence of the Lambs danced with his junk tucked? Now think of Joaquin dancing as the Joker. Coincidence?
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: This was a very sound mixing of failure and pandering.
Ford x Ferrari ÷ generic Viagra = Dodge Viper
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
1917: 213 x 9
The Lion King: Big deal. There’s a cat on the internet that says “Well, hi!” without any special effects.
The Irishman: You’ve been to the Beverly Hills Hamburger Hamlet (RIP), Marty. You know old male actors are willing to get facelifts. You could have spent all that de-aging budget on editing.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: This is the last time we will hear from this particular franchise at the Oscars. Let us bow our heads, because we won’t be raising them to see anyone going up on stage. However, it’s overall Oscar tally is 38 nominations and 10 wins. Not bad.
Avengers: Endgame: Another franchise bowing out this year, but it never got the respect the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings/Hobbit ones did. The work of all those countless, talented special effects artists over the Avengers films should have been rewarded this year, but I guess bringing a comic book to life doesn’t compare to ripping off someone else’s film…
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
.1917: The aspect ratio for a 360-degree camera pan of a scene that you ripped off from someone else’s film.
Jojo Rabbit: Enjoy these nominations now, Taika, because as soon as you start doing Marvel films, you’ll never put on a tux again.
An Irishman: a joker and two popes walk into a bar. The Irishman molests the joker and the Popes send him to a remote parish in Chile.
Parasite: Every aspect of this movie was razor sharp, and creating relentless suspense without jump-scares shows masterful editing. But subtle work rarely wins here anymore.
Ford v Ferrari: Why did they cut the ‘s’ off ‘vs’? Was it too girly?
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
Joker: Oh, look, something else gets to win a technical award because voters thought 1917 was actually one single shot. Ha, Joke’s on them, and 1917.
The Irishman: This movie looks like no one told Marty to flip up the sun shades clipped to his glasses.
Jojo Rabbit: Wes Anderson slums it as a production designer? The Goldfinch could have used him, along with an entire different cast, crew, studio and source material.
Parasite: I love a house where the appliances are hidden better than the starving family in the basement.
Once Upon a Time in Holly…wood: No one recreates the years 1959 to 1973 better than QT.
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
1917º Kelvin: The temperature in hell. Bring your little handheld fan, Rush.
The Lighthouse: If you want to see want jizz looks like in black-and-white, you’ve cum to the right movie.
The Irishman: If you want to see what Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci look like in brown, you’ve come to the right movie.
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood: Filmed in the sunset glow of old ideas and the men who won’t let them go.
Joker: It takes a brave cinematographer to make something look this ugly.
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
19.17”: The height of an Oscar if you set it on top of a DVD of Gallipoli.
The Edge of Democracy: Get ready for the most downer Best Doc list in years. Here, a frightening and depressing look at Brazil constantly destroying its stabs at democracy.
The Cave: The Last Men in Aleppo, nominated here two years ago, was about the White Helmets, doctors risking their lives every day to help the residents of a Syrian town besieged by the Russian-backed Syrian army. Russian bots attacked the filmmaker via social media, suggesting he was tied to Isis and sinking the chance that this important film and the heroes it championed got Oscar recognition. It was criminal, and Oscar has a chance this year to make up for it.
Honeyland: This is about a greedy, stupid man abusing bees. #beetoo
For Sama: Another film focusing on the Syrian tragedy, this time centered around a female Syrian journalist. Do the right thing, Hollywood, give the prize to an important film about scores of people being murdered and left homeless everyday, instead of always focusing on American troubles, like…
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
American Factory: This is about GM and the plant workers whose lives they toy with in both Ohio and China. The sympathy should go to the Syrians or the bees, but none of them are Americans.
Klaus: The infamous Von Bulow patriarch gets the animated treatment. He’s making a list of poisons, and checking it twice!
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World: This was originally an educational film teaching adolescent boys how to jerk off in their closet.
The Missing Link: I believe this was a nickname Hannah used for Adam in Girls. I told Lena it wasn’t her best writing, because he doesn’t have the hair all over his body. Just in the best places, am I right, Hoho?
I Lost My Body: This is about a severed arm that escapes a hospital to search for its body. It is crazy clever, completely engrossing, and of course not made by a big American studio. Thank you, Netflix.
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
Toy Story 4: Hey, Buzz, if you really want to get to Woody, call him a self-congratulatory waste of cotton batting. I say this to Tom Hanks all the time and he haaaates it.
INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
Corpus Christi (Poland): Uh, news flash, Oscar. Corpus Christi is in Texas.
Honeyland (North Macedonia): There’s enough Macedonia to have a North?
No Room at the UN (West Palestine): Not nominated, but deserves recognition.
Peace Plan, LOL (East Israel): With a premise even Yahweh is rolling his eyes at, this wannabe masterpiece directed by Jared Kushner went over like Edward Norton’s directing career.
Pain and Glory (Spain): Proving to be the over-the-hill Catholic schoolgirl we always knew he was, Pedro Almodovar’s autobiographical movie has Antonio Banderas unable to resist prescription drugs but too timid to get it on with any of the hot men that come his way.
Les Miserables (France): Anne Hathaway’s wig from Les Miz stars in its own production, where it runs from the law after getting frosted tips.
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
Parasite (South Korea): The surest thing in a year of sure things.
WRITING: ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Two Popes: Godly men ignore abuse.
Joker: Abused man becomes violent.
The Irishman: Violent man gains power.
Little Women: (How’d they get in here?)
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
Jojo Rabbit: An innocent survives a world taken over by violent men. Then he becomes an altar boy, and we’re back to the top of the list.
WRITING: ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
1917: The original screenplay for 1917 was called Gallipoli.
Knives Out: Oh, just wait until I get to Best Actor…
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Yes, Academy, things were so much better back in those days. It’s hippies what ruined Hollywood, not rapey studio bosses.
Marriage Story: God, our honeymoon, don’t get me started. Adam was all into Alaska, so he could catch spawning salmon in his teeth. I reminded him I was vegan and that pea protein burgers don’t spawn (until they’re in your stomach), so he called me a snowflake, which is a huge trigger word for me, and he knows that. He knows that! We ended up cancelling the honeymoon, and just stayed home with our favorite pastime, which is comparing how much longer Adam’s big toe is than mine. You have to see it. It’s like three basketball-player’s thumbs. And now you know why I’ll never leave him.
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
Parasite: The category is called original, 1917. This is how original is done.
Todd Phillips, Joker: With the refreshing exception of Bong Joon Ho, every director on this list loads us onto a studio tour bus and throws stuff at the windows so we gasp. Scorsese and Tarantino take the longer route, to make sure we feel reverence for their history before we get the cheap thrills. Phillips and Mendes drive right to the stunts and don’t let up for a second, lest we get bored and realize their narratives are either cliché, or in this case, contradictory.
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman: Like your grandfather telling a story that takes forever and is only worth tolerating if you like him.
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood: Here’s what this movie feels like: Quentin T is pacing around on his deck, looking out over Hollywood, for like three hours, deciding whether he’ll go to Formosa Cafe or Chasen’s for dinner. Then it’s too late so he just throws some raw meat in a blender.
Bong Joon Ho, Parasite: Every bit as perfectly choreographed as 1917, as shocking as Joker, as tragically resigned as Irishman, and as darkly funny as OUATIH. And its presentation of the human condition is more nuanced, original and relevant than any of them. But too many voters will see all that as a screenplay triumph – a prize Bong will certainly get – so they can give Director to the guy who speaks the King’s English and spent more time with the cameramen and editors than the writer and actors.
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
Sam Mendes, 1917: It’s sad when technical proficiency with bombast trumps emotional proficiency with people. And it’s hard getting so pissed off at the director of American Beauty and Skyfall, but why did he have to pick this project at a time when it’s especially crucial that big-budget movies tell fresh stories?
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: How long did it take for poor King Friday to get used to Mr. Roger’s hand jammed up him? And now he’s gotta have Tom Hanks doing it?
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes: One Pope, Two Pope; Young Pope, New Pope! This one talks to God the most; this one lets abusers coast. Say, what a lot of Popes to roast!
Al Pacino, The Irishman: Robert DeNiro was the Irishman. Al Pacino was Al Pacino.
Joe Pesci, The Italian American: “Would my nonna have been a better cook if she ever bothered to leave her kitchen? No.” Says Joe Pesci when asked to play someone born outside the 5 boroughs.
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood: Alright, finally! I can root for Brad with my head instead of my pee-pee.
Kathy Bates, Richard’s Jewells: Bates plays a mother who keeps her son from date-raping by smashing his nuts with a meat-tenderizer. Along with Uncut Jims, the Adam Sandler comedy about a gay doctor searching England for uncircumcised men named James (there are a lot), this has been an oddly genitalia-obsessed year for movies.
Florence Pugh, Little Women: Florence Pugh is not a documentary about a garbage-collectors strike in Tuscany. She’s an actress. And the best thing about Little Women.
Scarlett Johansson, Scarjo Rabbit: This movie is about Peter Rabbit’s hot new girlfriend. Due to the PG13 rating, Peter and ScarJo only kiss like rabbits.
Margot Robbie, Bombshell: Always a solid, likeable actress, I used to feel the acclaim for Robbie was graded on her curves. But her two big scenes in Bombshell rose well above anything else in this rather flat, procedural movie.
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
Laura Dern, Marriage Story: Adam didn’t like that I wanted to keep my maiden name, but I said Fritz Driver sounds like a tool you use to put Ikea furniture together. We compromised on Fritz W. Driver, thanks to our lawyer, Renata Dern, who is brilliant and overdue for an Oscar.
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory: You know him as Melanie Griffith’s arm candy, but did you know he was also a talking pussy?
Jonathan Pryce,The Two Popes: They say this is the ‘long overdue’ narrative this year, but, um, does anyone remember this guy from a movie? Pirates of the Caribbean? He was in that, somewhere. Glengarry GlenRoss? He’s on the cast list. Evita? Was he Madonna’s back-up dancer?
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood: Leo, when you’re done yelling at hippies, can you clear up this ellipsis business for me? It’s after ‘in’ on the posters, but grammar-police writers keep putting it after ‘time’, and Google takes it out altogether!
Adam Driver, Marriage Story: I told Adam that looking like a cross between Attila the Hun and a minotaur is why I married him, and that Noah would think he has presence. Well, I was right, and he’s taken this role all the way to Oscar’s door. Good job, honey!
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker: If it wasn’t for Joaquin showing off, I’d be polishing Adam’s golden boy in the fancy port-a-potty outside Elton John’s party come Oscar night.
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet: The Academy can only see black female performances through Rosa Parks-colored glasses. If you’re not oppressed, abused, or work with a broom, you’re not Oscar material.
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women: Baby Streep strikes again (nomination #4 at 25 years old), playing another character who ruins hearts and lives then pretends it’s not her fault. Whoever’s making the Susan Collins biopic (The Handmaid’s Tale IV: Ofmitch), we’ve got your actress!
Charlize Theron Bombshell!: “Sean Penn used to make me dress like Fidel Castro and put my cigar out on his nipples.”
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story: When Adam and I double d’ed with Scarlett and Colin recently, I told her, “You are the only Best Actress nominee who didn’t have copious amounts of filmed or written material to help you craft your character. Renee got to watch Meet Me in St. Louis 400 times, which I do for fun.”
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:
Renee Zellweger, Judy: Renee has gotten so much praise for this movie that she’s decided all her movies from now on will be called Judy. Next up, the famous TV judge, who in this version only tries cases about botched plastic surgery.
Ford v Ferrari: Bookending this Best Picture list as most-likely and least-likely to win are two films that indicate the Academy’s old white man taste still rules. This film had an underlying theme of individual v corporation, but it was still all about men swinging their dicks around.
Little Women: It’s ‘Height-Challenged’ Women, Greta, jeez. And you wonder why you weren’t nominated…
Marriage Story: Maybe Adam outgrew me. Hell, maybe I outgrew him. Maybe I didn’t want to live in his 6’3”, broad-shouldered shadow anymore. Maybe I needed some light for myself. But dammit, best-friend-played-by-Busy-Phillips-or-Judy-Greer, I still miss him.
The Irishman: Pissed off at being asked by young whipper-snapper studio suits why he needed 3 ½ hours to tell yet another gangster story, Marty stormed over to Netflix, took every million they threw at him, then shit on Marvel for crowding his franchise film out of theaters for their franchise film.
Jojo Rabbit: Silly fascists, swastikas are for kids! And for voters who want something different but not with subtitles.
Joker: However you feel about the movie, at least it dares to go new places. I’m talking to you, Irishman and 1917.
Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood: Surprised to find Quentin Tarantino in the #3 sweet spot that preferential voting always leaves? He’s not. By calming down and taking aging Academy voters on a leisurely drive through a Hollywood they all miss so much – with two big, likeable movie stars at that – he’s made fans of those who felt his non-stop violence was always a bit much. If Parasite’s porridge is too cold (in other words, ‘intelligent’) and 1917’s too hot (grabbing all the awards way too fast), OUATIH could be just right.
Parasite: Clever, surprising and executed flawlessly, Parasite’s genre-bending social commentary has chalked up considerable wins in lead-up awards. But there are old fuck Academy members literally publishing articles that insist the Best Picture must always be an English-speaking film. This is America, and subtitles are for foreigners and commies with 20/20 vision.
AND THE BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR IS NOT:
1917: Talk about 2020 vision, and lack of it. 1917 is nostalgia, wartime heroics, British accents, and the kind of far-fetched thrills and chills typically relegated to Indiana Jones movies (surprise, this is produced by Spielberg). It also cheats by using an impressive filming technique to distract us from the fact that it follows the EXACT same plot as Gallipoli, right down to the callous English high-ups treating the enlisted men as target dummies. Since the Academy has such a hard-on for killing, I suggest they do it to the Oscars. At this point, gay as I am, I wouldn’t miss them.
From the moment they all hit the culture scene, like bugs on a windshield that somehow peel themselves up and flit off shinier than before, Paris Hilton and the Kardashian/Jenner gals have appeared cut from the same entitled, vapid, self-obsessed, etc. cloth.
Where they diverged is that opposed to the Kardashian ladies, who drove themselves to be multi-millionaire entrepreneurs, Paris always seemed to just be trifling with anything she did. She came off as the ‘old money’, the blonde, European-rooted American (named Paris…), with soooo much family riches at her disposal she had no need to make anything work for personal financial gain. Meanwhile, the Kardashians repped the ass-busting second-generation immigrant narrative, not resting on the comfort their father provided but making their own fortunes and community-property-ing with celebrities who in turn had their own fortunes.
Paris had her own reality show. She recorded an album or two. She licensed products. She took pocket change to appear at clubs. She toyed with boyfriends who were hot first, their wealth just a bonus if applicable. Then, as the KarJennians took over the world, Paris receded, with a nonchalant wave of her hand. “That’s all just too much work,” she seemed to be saying, “and I don’t need to work.”
Yet boredom is a persistent devil with the idle rich who once enjoyed seeing themselves move around (barely) on a little screen. So Paris is back with her latest trifle, Cooking With Paris. This time, however, she’s got a keeper.
Paris has always winked at her dumb rich girl persona, never enough to appear to be criticizing herself, but enough to let her fans know the way her money allowed her to behave was not normal, not something they could really ever understand. Her milieu was palatial homes, sprawling pools, private jets, roped-off VIP dens.
In Cooking With Paris, our princess of excess has plopped herself into a much more accessible world, stilettoing into a kitchen that could easily be in a meager $400,000 builder house in a gated community outside Atlanta. It’s clearly not a kitchen she knows, as we find out quickly. She proceeds to launch into a cooking demonstration, tilting on a line between innate obliviousness and knowing self-parody with comic deftness that her previous work has only suggested. It’s too real to be silly, too silly to be real.
It looks like one of the things Paris has been doing while out of the spotlight, besides inventing the term ‘sliving’, is growing her hair. It’s verging on crazy-lady, Crystal Gale length, its severe straightening having less to do with current trends and more to do with someone whose hair is a brand ID and can’t be altered. Her fingerless leather gloves and rainbow-motif sweater say she’s still tough but girly.
She’s here in this unfamiliar kitchen to show us how to make her “infamous lasagna”. Now, either that’s a euphemism for what we can all guess, or her lasagna has actually done something memorably naughty, like gave Kim Kardashian diarrhea.
It does feel like Paris was purposely kept in the dark about the set-up, so that she has things to play off. (Smart.) Her assistant had to have known how clumsy it would be for Paris to dump those big lasagna noodles into a pot of water, and Paris reacts by complaining that she wasn’t provided with pre-cooked noodles and that we all should make things easier on ourselves and use the pre-cooked. Which btw never achieve the right texture, so, in case you were thinking about actually following Paris’ cooking advice, don’t.
After apologizing to the sponsor for dissing their dry noodles (“Sorry, Barilla”), she gets her cheese together, or rather she gets a packed Saturday night at Olive Garden’s worth of cheese together. As she pulls out tub after tub of ricotta, all you can imagine is the time you’d spend sitting doubled over on the toilet, wondering if the same happened to Kim. After pointing out that she is actually using way too much cheese, she adds an egg and shaves mozzarella into the vat of lactose. She explains that the gloves are to protect her fingers while grating, even though the gloves are fingerless. There’s some suspense as her trepidation grows noticeably while the mozzarella wedge gets smaller and smaller…
Now comes the slapstick, also presented deftly. It’s time to “tan” the meat, a fraught twist of a cooking term if there ever was one, so she plops and squeezes pounds of ground-up animal (she earlier called alternative cheeses abnormal, so vegans beware) into a way-too-small frying pan, on a burner that’s only two settings are “blaring hot” and “simmuh”. What comes next is the first of many LOL moments: her salting technique. It’s kind of like throwing a handful of darts all at once. Some will hit the board, but most will fly all over the room. And she does this with the pour spout fully open, so the amount of salt that does go on her meat is shocking. She owns up to the salty debacle, and shows us a practical way of dabbing the excess off the meat. Wet the towel with water from a plastic bottle though, she notes, because who knows what’s in the sewers under this strange kitchen. She could be in Guadalajara for all she knows.
While the meat is tanning, she searches for the proper utensils. Not that she’d know what they were, as in her assessment, spoons are “brutal”. This kitchen is purposely set up for comedy, as the cooking tools have been placed in drawers on the opposite side of the island from the range, forcing Paris to walk back and forth every time she needs something brutal, which is clearly tiring her out. She fishes out three different kinds of spatula, two metal and one “I have no idea what this is”, proving she’s never made a cake. She then – and here my disbelief is taken to another level – jabs at the pile of meat with all three utensils at once, double fisting two of them. She does soon discard one, and soon after that her wrists get tired. She takes a break to open the jars of tomato sauce while someone off-camera deals with the meat.
Oh, look, what’s this in the pantry? Is it basil or oregano to season the meat? No, it’s Himalayan salt, which Paris thinks “sounds cool”. So onto the already heart-attack-level-sodiumed meat that goes, along with precisely 11 grinds from a pepper mill. I thought she’d make a Spinal Tap joke, but forgot it’s Paris Hilton.
All this cooking gets a girl dewy, so she takes a break to spritz herself with her Unicorn mist. This is a too-obvious comic move, and thus a narrative misfire.
But she’s back, spotting an errant onion and garlic on the counter and realizing she was supposed to chop them up for the sauce. It’s too late now, besides this is already starting to bore her. “I’ve decided this lasagna will not have onion or garlic,” she announces officially, then puts on big sunglasses which were intended to keep her mascara from running while she chopped the onion, which she will not be doing now, but whatever. Useless accessories have always been part of her brand.
The meat is attacked again, this time with a barbeque burger flipper and a potato masher. Then the sauce is added to the already too-full pan. She gets to use her famous catchphrase “that’s hot” when she tries to move the pan, so if there was any doubt everything was leading Paris to this show, it is now dispelled.
It’s time to put it all together. She starts with the meat sauce, then layers upward with the noodles. She expresses severe disdain for the noodles that rip – “don’t use those, they ruin everything” – and spreads on the cheese, again reminding us that it’s way too much and we should not use this amount. Thou dost protesteth too much, Paris. Am I sensing you and your infamous lasagna may currently be in a lawsuit with Kim over a ruined La Perla thong?
As she dumps her final layer of meat slop and tops with more cheese, she tosses us her last nugget of culinary wisdom: people think lasagna is hard to make, but it’s really fun and easy. Well it’s harder than making, like, toast or something.
You won’t get a usable lasagna recipe out of Cooking With Paris, even though it’s wrapped in a graphics package that attempts legitimacy, puts up ingredients before it begins, and has a big sponsor. What you’ll get is a fine piece of meta comedy, and Paris Hilton in her Playboy-Bunny-meets-Ivanka-Trump prime. She invites us to send in what we’d like her to cook next, and oh, the possibilities!
She has so many places to go with this show. If she can’t even sprinkle salt properly, how will she handle steaming, sifting, rolling dough? What gloves will she wear to chop herbs? Will she accidentally impale one of the zoo of small creatures dashing around underfoot? Who will lose a finger when she tries to split an acorn squash? Dare she attempt a reduction?
Cooking With Paris is done in a way that no drag queen or SNL writer could possibly make funnier. As long as she keeps the tone in this comic sweet-spot, she’s got a winner, an infinitely more watchable 15 minutes than any two minutes of the tired Kardashians. In fact, let’s bet how long it takes one of them to copy this formula.
Jury selection in the Harvey Weinstein trial may have just begun, and the presidential election is still months away, but over in Hollywood the verdict is in. More than ever this year, Oscar’s Best Picture list is full of white men making the world a worse place.
A psychopath inciting anarchy. Mobsters killing a liberal president. The war that birthed the global military industrial complex. Old Hollywood players pining for the days when women knew their place. Joker, The Irishman, 1917 and Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood lead the race with a whopping 41 nominations amongst them. Throw in those Two Popes absolving each other for turning a blind eye to rampant abuse and you’re up to 44. And other than a bloody finger wag from 1917, these movies seemed more concerned to sympathize with the bad behavior than condemn it.
And where are the women and people of color we’ve been hearing Hollywood is finally woke to? Did not a single female or race-centric film other than Little Women stand up in quality to Ford v Ferrari? The female-centric stories or female-lead productions that did get more than a nod here or there – Little Women and Bombshell – only scared up 9 nominations total. And Harriet stands completely alone as the only race-centric film on any list other than documentary or shorts. Us and Clemency were so much better as films, and both had lead female performances entirely more nuanced than the lone one recognized by Oscar. But Harriet was a slave and the other two roles were modern, professional black women, so we see how that goes. And keeps going…
Marriage Story, written by a man, looked at family with an unforgiving, angry lens. Lots of noms there, and deservedly so due to the fantastic acting. The Farewell, written by a woman, looked at family with sweet humor and fresh insights on cultural differences, and not even a writing nomination. Hustlers, a critically-lauded female take on a very male genre, got nothing. And though Portrait of a Lady on Fire was excluded from Best International Film by a technicality in France, the Academy ignored its stunning cinematography – by, you guessed it, a woman – to nominate the murky Irishman and Joker.
There were a few bright spots.
Parasite was expected in Best International Film, Director and Screenplay, but it also cracked categories like editing and production design, signs that it’s as serious a contender for Best Picture as Roma was last year.
Jojo Rabbit and director/writer thank-god-he’s-around Taika Waititi got lots of love, negating the ‘how-dare-you-make-light-of-Nazism’ trolls.
Scarlett Johansson, double nominee!
Though Little Women didn’t get acknowledgements many hoped for, Florence Pugh, who was the film’s standout, got a Supporting Actress nomination.
The amination branch continues to acknowledge greatness even when it doesn’t come from a big American franchise. I Lost My Body was one of the best films of the year, live or animated.
Clint Eastwood’s grumpy Republican voting block was shut down. Nothing but one nod (to acting great Kathy Bates) for his lying, incel-baiting movie Richard Jewell.
Jewell’s snub, though, is more about the film’s alignment with Trump talking points than it is a sign that voters are moving away from these men who need to just hang it up and enjoy their Jackson Hole chalets.
Studios like A24 and Neon, and streamers like Netflix and Amazon, are giving us more and more daring and innovative and inclusive films, films that look at the same subjects the big movies do but in more incisive ways and from fresher angles. Yet every year, almost none of this is reflected in the Oscar nominations. If Academy voters won’t even acknowledge the smaller films and performers, why should anyone expect theaters to do so? Spread the love, Hollywood. You can still shower plenty enough praise on your icons while carving out a few spaces for The Last Black Man in San Francisco and Waves and Honey Boy.
Tomorrow morning is the morning everyone in Hollywood waits the whole year for – the crack-o-dawn announcement of the filmmakers, actors and craftspeople the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have collectively deemed responsible for the year’s best work.
With the glut of excellent productions from streaming studios like Netflix and Amazon jumping into an already crowded pool, there’s been less room than ever for smaller players to gasp some rarified air, so expect fewer surprise nominees. The suspense will be in which of those already lauded in their categories get left out due simply to the limit of 5.
Following are my guesses at the nominees. The ‘locks’ are those sure to get nominated, and the ‘bench’ are the group from which the other nominees will likely be drawn, with notes on the issues voters may have in mind when deciding.
Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood
Jojo Rabbit: polarizing, but director Waititi is a proven money-maker on the franchise side
Harriet: with many race-issue films falling flat this year, this is the only one that held a little momentum from critics and audiences
The Two Popes: lots of love from critics and guilds, but it would be a third Netflix film in Best Picture, and it’s hard to see Hollywood stomaching that
Ford v Ferrari: Oscar likes lots of testosterone in the Best Picture race to prove the men are still running things
Martin Scorsese: The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino: Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood
Sam Mendes: 1917
Greta Gerwig: Little Women: with 3 white men and their white-men-filled movies as locks, voters will almost surely put Gerwig in. But Little Women hasn’t been blowing up the guild or critics awards, so it could be another year the Academy gets slammed for it’s non-inclusion
Bong Joon Ho: Parasite: would the Korean director of one of the years most respected films be considered salve for the wound of not nominating Gerwig?
Todd Phillips: Joker: the 3 locks plus Gerwig and Bong make a much more interesting group, and the direction isn’t what everyone most remembers about Joker
Noah Baumbach: Marriage Story: though his film is certainly top five in most voters mind’s, he’s that director who can be left off because he’ll have a writing nomination. And if he’s left off for Gerwig, it’s still all in the family.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood
Jojo Rabbit: this is a category that accepts polarizing films more readily than Best Picture
Booksmart: Eighth Grade won this last year, and this film is an even better example of a fresh, unflinching look at this genre
Knives Out: hard to imagine a light farce getting a spot over these others, but it was more popular with audiences than anything here
1917: a film whose success is lead more by its directorial bravado than its script, but there could be a huge 1917 wave that this rides
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Two Popes: one of those simple plots where dialogue is crucial, and a place to recognize this if it’s left off Best Picture
The Farewell: gotta work more women into the top-tier categories, and this was widely liked. But the writers guild did not consider this adapted, so it could have trouble with Oscar as well
Hustlers: if Farewell gets knocked out on a technicality, this could represent for the ladies
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: this film was expected to do more than just a Hanks nomination, so here’s the only place that could happen
Renee Zellwegger: Judy
Scarlett Johansson: Marriage Story
Charlize Theron: Bombshell
Saoirse Ronan: Little Women: the closest to being a lock on this bench, but again, Little Women – and Ronan – have been left off of important EOY lists, notably SAG
Cynthia Erivo: Harriet: she’s on almost all the critics and guild lists, but if Academy voters only make room for one POC here, there were better performances…
Lupita Nyong’o: Us: the fact that people – and SAG – are remembering her when her movie came out so long ago bodes well
Awkwafina: The Farewell: after her Globes win and lovely acceptance speech, voters may jump on the buzzy optics of a hip Asian performer on their list
Joaquin Phoenix: Joker
Adam Driver: Marriage Story
Leonardo di Caprio: Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood
Jonathan Pryce: The Two Popes: there’s an unusually low number of Brits on the acting lists this year, and The Academy loves the elder Shakespeareans for the air of quality they lend
Christian Bale: Ford v Ferrari: perennially lauded, no matter the film, and this one is a potential Best Picture nom
Robert DeNiro: The Irishman: oddly absent from most other best-of-year lists, maybe due to being overwhelmed by his two supporting players. But he’s DeNiro, and better here than he’s been in a long time
Eddie Murphy: Dolemite Is My Name: the ‘he wants it too much’ narrative is rude, and voters need to finally recognize his range
Adam Sandler: Uncut Gems: a huge long-shot, but one with a hype machine working overtime, and he plays a basketball-loving hustler, which describes so many Hollywood players
George MacKay: 1917: if there’s a 1917 wave, he could ride into a category that he really shouldn’t be near
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Laura Dern: Marriage Story
Margot Robbie: Bombshell
Jennifer Lopez: Hustlers
Florence Pugh: Little Women: like lead Ronan, she didn’t make the SAG cut, but Oscar is likely to recognize the film more, and she’s the best thing in it
Scarlett Johansson: Jojo Rabbit: the Oscars love a double nominee, and she’s on fire lately
Kathy Bates: Richard Jewell: older voters won’t like to completely snub Clint Eastwood, and this has shown to be the only place other lists felt comfortable recognizing his problematic film
Zhao Shuzhen: The Farewell: one of those delightfully unexpected ‘woke’ nominations that lets Oscar pat itself on the back
Nicole Kidman: Bombshell: far and away the least impressive of the trio that lead this movie, but Academy voters love Kidman even when she’s far in the background (Remember Lion?)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Joe Pesci: The Irishman
Al Pacino: The Irishman
Brad Pitt: Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood
Tom Hanks: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: everyone’s favorite actor playing everyone’s favorite childhood hero, but the movie was a downer for many, so I’m not locking him
Jamie Foxx: Just Mercy: recognized by SAG even though the film was late-breaking and below the radar, and with #Oscarslookingsowhiteagain…
Anthony Hopkins: The Two Popes: this could be the surprise multi-nominee this year, but again, the too-much-Netflix issue…
Willem Dafoe: The Lighthouse: never count him out. He’s been nominated the past two years for scrappy indie films almost no one saw, so like Kidman he has a strange hold on voters
The films grabbing the most multiple nominations here should be:
The Irishman: Cinematography, Production Design, Score, Editing
1917: Cinematography, Production Design, Score, Editing, Sound, Sound Mixing
Joker: Cinematography, Production Design, Score, Editing, Costume Design
Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood: Cinematography, Production Design, Editing, Costume Design
Little Women: Production Design, Score, Costume Design