OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2020


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

ORIGINAL SONG

I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away from Toy Story 4: Whoever at Disney keeps saying this to Randy Newman, please stop. 

Into the Unknown from Frozen II: Since China won’t do it anymore, Oscar’s Best Song list is where Hollywood is recycling its trash.

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 of the most dismal Best Song lists ever. 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. 

ORIGINAL SCORE

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: The only time anything rose in this movie was 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: Todd Phillips: “Alexa, play Frank Sinatra, but ironically.” Alexa: “Playing Irene Cara.” 

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 going around to old pervert Hollywood bosses asking for money to make a film about women taking down 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.

COSTUME DESIGN

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 was later forced to recant and admit 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. A pair of shoes that became a pivotal plot device. 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. 

SOUND EDITING

Joker: He’s a smoker and a midnight toker. 

Once Upon a Time, in Hollywood,: Before Brad and Leo signed on, this Tarantino film was about 3 Little Pigs who shared 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.

SOUND MIXING

Ad Astra: Do not take Adastra if you are pregnant or nursing. Stop taking Adastra if genital warts form into the shape of Brad Pitt’s finger, because, hey.

Joker: Now you’re gonna have that Steve Miller Band song stuck in your head. You’re welcome!

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  

VISUAL EFFECTS

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.

FILM EDITING

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 popes let the Irishman molest the joker and then 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’? 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.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

The Irishman: This entire 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 as well as 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. 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Lighthouse: If you want to see want jizz looks like in black-and-white, you’ve come 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 old men who won’t let them go.

Joker: It takes a brave cinematographer to make something 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.

DOCUMENTARY

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. It’s very now, but everyone’s focused on 1917, aren’t they?

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 being 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: Maybe I could deal with the innocent woman left destitute by the greed and stupidity of someone she trusted and helped, but when an entire colony of bees gets killed in the process, I just can’t. 

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.

ANIMATED FEATURE

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: When I was an adolescent, I wish I’d had an entire trilogy that taught me how to jerk off in my 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 storage room 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): This is about a molester who becomes a priest. Oh, sorry, I meant murderer who becomes a priest. My head was still in documentary.

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 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 well…

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 delaying 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 basically a pro basketball-player’s thumb. And now you know why I’ll never leave him.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Parasite: The category is called original1917. This is how original is done.

DIRECTOR

Todd PhillipsJoker: 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 ScorseseThe Irishman: Like your grandfather telling a story that takes forever and is only worth tolerating if you like him.

Quentin TarantinoOnce Upon a Time…in Hollywood: This feels like QT woke up from a nap on his Hollywood Hills balcony and took his sweet time getting up to throw some raw meat into a blender.

Bong Joon HoParasite: Every bit as perfectly choreographed as 1917, as shocking as Joker, as full of tragic resignation as Irishman, 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 Mendes1917: 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 The Kite Runner 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? 

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: It never bothered me when Mr Rogers hand was up King Friday. But when Tom Hanks does it, ew.

Anthony HopkinsThe 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 PacinoThe Irishman: Robert DeNiro was the Irishman. Al Pacino was Al Pacino.

Joe PesciThe 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 PittOnce Upon a Time…in Hollywood: Alright, finally! I can root for Brad with my head instead of my pee-pee.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Kathy BatesRichard’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 PughLittle Women: Not that documentary about the garbage-collectors strike in Tuscany. The actress who was the best thing in Little Women.

Scarlett JohanssonScarjo Rabbit: This movie is about Peter Rabbit’s hot new girlfriend. Due to the PG13 rating, Peter and ScarJo only kiss like rabbits.

Margot RobbieBombshell: 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 DernMarriage 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.

ACTOR

Antonio BanderasPain 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 DriverMarriage 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 PhoenixJoker: 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.

ACTRESS

Cynthia ErivoHarriet: 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 RonanLittle 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 ZellwegerJudy: 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.

BEST PICTURE

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 thought his violent ways have always been too 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.

Cooking With Paris: Paris Hilton finds a lane.

That’s hot.

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.

Welcome back, Paris, and bon appetit!

Cooking With Paris is on YouTube

OSCAR NOMINATIONS: White men won’t jump.

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. JokerThe Irishman1917 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.

Better luck next year? Doubt it.

Go Parasite!

OSCAR NOMINATION PREDICTIONS


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.

BEST PICTURE 

(LOCKS)

1917

The Irishman

Marriage Story

Joker

Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood

Little Women

Parasite

(BENCH)

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

BEST DIRECTOR

(LOCKS)

Martin Scorsese: The Irishman

Quentin Tarantino: Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood

Sam Mendes: 1917

 (BENCH)

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

(LOCKS)

Parasite

Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood

Marriage Story

(BENCH)

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

(LOCKS)

The Irishman

Joker

Little Women

(BENCH)

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

BEST ACTRESS

(LOCKS)

Renee Zellwegger: Judy

Scarlett Johansson: Marriage Story

Charlize Theron: Bombshell

(BENCH)

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 

BEST ACTOR

(LOCKS)

Joaquin Phoenix: Joker

Adam Driver: Marriage Story

Leonardo di Caprio: Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood

(BENCH)

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

(LOCKS)

Laura Dern: Marriage Story

Margot Robbie: Bombshell

Jennifer Lopez: Hustlers

(BENCH)

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

(LOCKS)

Joe Pesci: The Irishman

Al Pacino: The Irishman

Brad Pitt: Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood

(BENCH)

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

CRAFT CATEGORIES

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

1917: Back in the trenches with the Hollywood warmongers

Hermes Trenches 1917 collection available exclusively through Dreamworks. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

The good news: Spielberg has finally taken a break from WWII movies. The bad news: now he’s going to wring every drop of blood from WWI. His Dreamworks production company has just served up 1917, with a Gallipoli-meets-Saving Private Ryan plotline co-written and directed by the smart and tasteful Sam Mendes. Et tu, Sammy? How about all you straight boomer-guy directors stop BSing about how war films “serve to remind us of the horrors of armed conflict” and just admit you get off on the spectacle of it. On the strategies and the machines and the heroics…and the death.

Yes, military recruitment commercials go to pains to present modern soldiering as akin to mastering a video game, but we all know that it still involves brothers and daughters and friends on the ground getting killed, maimed or psychologically damaged. Does a film showing how comparatively primitive early 20th-Century warfare was move the needle in any direction? 

Trailer overkill has us entering 1917 knowing the full measure of the plot: It’s WWI, infamous for trench warfare, and two young English soldiers are charged with hand-delivering a message to a battalion across enemy lines, a message that could prevent 1600 men, one of whom is the brother of one of our protagonists, from being slaughtered in a German trap. The only thing we don’t know going in (unless you saw Gallipoli) is if our two boys succeed, which, based on these filmmakers mumbled and disingenuous messaging, is beside the point. War is ugly, all you lot back at home, and it’s ugly whether you win or lose.

Before we can say “Billy, don’t be a hero!”, our boys are off, pushing their way through the narrow trenches, which isn’t made any easier by the steadycam operator on their heels. 1917 was sold to us on its technical virtuosity, on how the movie is one continuous shot following our actors ‘real time’. Well, sorry for the spoiler, but the technique is not done any more innovatively than we’ve seen already in movies like Birdman. There are plenty convenient moves past vertical elements to allow for unseen cutting, and at one point the movie knocks out one of the kids so it can use a minute of black screen to represent the passing of several hours. 

It does all look fantastic. This is Sam Mendes, of American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, so the cinematography and production design are both so good they actually distract from the effort at realism with the grime and the gore. There are parts that feel more like the boys are on a tour of environmental art installations than a war zone. The German trenches are built of board-formed concrete walls worthy of Le Corbusier and sandbags stacked so perfectly it looks like an over-zealous Gap manager just passed through. A scrapyard of abandoned weapons has an undulating wooden path through mounds of huge artillery shells, the brass still shiny. And I have never seen a village so artfully bombed out as the one here. Throw down an Oushak rug and stretch a gauzy sun shade and you’re on the cover of Elle Décor.

Along with the highly-crafted look, we get action that is meant to not just impress us with the one-shot conceit, but to give us the experience of a theme park ride, because Speilberg. I can already hear the Tom Hanks intro VO: “But this isn’t Star Wars, ladies and gentlemen, this was a real war!” Our heroes go through the following on what is supposed to be an afternoon in a five-mile stretch of Northern France: barely escaping a collapsing tunnel (holy Indiana Jones!); running from a crashing plane that decides to crash exactly where they’re standing (Indy again!); ambushed frequently by German soldiers popping out of nowhere (yikes!); swept up in rapids and carried over a waterfall (oooh!); climbing over rotting, bloated bodies to get to shore (gross!). It’s all effective as far as keeping you engaged, especially the incredibly-choreographed sprint through a swarming battalion amidst explosions (the money shot from the trailer), but is it all taking us anywhere we haven’t been in 50 other war movies?

This is a nostalgic war picture produced by Dreamworks, so some soldier will joke about another soldier’s mother fellating him. One will come across a lovely French girl hiding in a bombed village. Someone we like will miraculously escape every bullet fired directly at him so he can return home to the people in the faded sepia photograph he keeps close to his heart.

And another we like will die a heroic death, the kind of death that endlessly fascinates the men who make these movies. Here’s a thought for your hundreds of millions of production dollars, guys: make movies about how we STOP wars, instead of forever wallowing in everything that’s so awful about them.

1917 is currently in theaters nationwide.

#movies #moviereviews #ratedfritz #1917 #oscarnoms

Little Women: Frances Ha unwinds in 19th Century Massachusetts.

“But I’m wearing a strapless red organza gown to the premier, Timothee. Give it a rest.”

In honor of her new Broadway musical, I’m going to have Alanis Morrisette sum up Little Women:

It’s a Christmas pudding, When you’re already stuffed

It’s a late party guest, When you’ve just had enough

It’s a glass of Veuve, After cheap wine’s made you drunk

It’s a reverent adaptation, From Greta Gerwig (who’d a thunk?!)

Isn’t it ironic?

Unlike so many other Oscar-bait films this season, Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women wasn’t premiered by a streaming service or at a prestigious film festival. Short clips were teased out tastefully through the fall and the film opened to holiday movie-goers in theaters crowded with franchise blockbusters and kiddie fare.

The irony is that this recent fall’s Netflix Oscar-bait and buzzy festival darlings turned out to be really good, satisfying the typically-wanting end-of-year hunger for an intelligent, resonant film. Little Women is that, but in light of the films this year that have forced debate about pressing issues or presented familiar subjects – and actors – in strikingly new ways, it feels a bit…little. When Joaquin is in one corner doing contortionist tricks and Scarlett and Adam are having a fight people are filming on their phones and Martin is on the sofa mesmerizing all the acolytes, the interesting but neurotic chatterbox you bumped into in the kitchen isn’t the person you’re going to remember in the morning.

The line is that Gerwig’s restless energy makes Little Women feel more ‘modern’, but Louisa May Alcott’s story was always modern. What Gerwig does is deliver an accomplished and respectful film that would have been just as accomplished without her playing with the timeline or pushing the March sisters into each other – literally and figuratively – as much as she does.

Jo March is probably the closest thing to a Gerwig character in classic literature, so Alcott really did the work there. Gerwig simply runs with it, and pulls in her alter-ego Saoirse Ronan to bring this umpteenth Jo to life. Which Ronan does terrifically of course, because she’s an actress with infectious energy, but she also goes deeper than many portrayals by leaning into the underlying neurosis of Jo, her desperate need to be liked as a person and respected as a unique voice. 

The other place Gerwig most leaves a signature distinct from Alcott is in youngest sister Amy. She makes the character’s narrative arc more dramatic, giving us a March sister as interesting as Jo. This – not the timeline hopscotch or the camerawork or the styling – is what shows Gerwig to be as good a director as she is an actress and writer. It helps that she has Florence Pugh to make Amy mature in such a consistent and believable way.

It does feel like Gerwig went into this film most attracted to Jo and Amy, and didn’t bring the same level of examination to the rest of the characters. She approaches the other sisters, Meg and Beth, with little more than due diligence. Luckily, Eliza Scanlen, who plays doomed Beth, is an actress capable of expressing an inner life even when given few lines and scant screen time. Emma Watson’s Meg, though, is left flailing and one-dimensional.

Laura Dern playing sweet and deferential is not the Laura Dern we’ve been jonesing over lately, so you kind of wish someone else had been stuck in the mother role. She gets to say Marmee’s most famous line – “I’m angry every day of my life” – but Gerwig doesn’t let her bring any Renata Klein to the delivery, even though Alcott would have probably loved Renata.

Then there’s Timothee Chalamet, Gerwig’s crush. He’s perfectly cast as dreamy, frivolous Laurie, a character Alcott clearly never liked and didn’t want to shackle her heroine Jo with. By matching Laurie with a more interesting Amy, Gerwig chooses to avoid the dump-on-Laurie path Alcott probably wanted to go down if not for her 19th-century manners.

Gerwig also caves on another male character. Jo’s boarding house admirer and eventual husband, Friedrich Bhaer, has been transformed from a portly 40-ish German to a hot young Frenchman. This can’t be excused as ‘moderniizing’ the story. In fact, it’s the opposite. Alcott didn’t want Jo to marry, but gave readers of the time what she felt they wanted (typical Louisa/Jo, needing everyone to like her). It was a reluctant cop-out, and by turning Friedrich so traditionally handsome, Gerwig doubles down on that cop-out, giving audiences a more romance-movie match for a Jo played by an actress whose ethereal beauty is not commensurate with the way Alcott portrayed her Jo.

But Little Women delivers. If the relentless busy-ness of the first half bothers you, the second half will make up for it. The scrums of hoop-skirted little ladies jockeying around tight parlors in short scenes are phased out, and characters are paired off more to allow them, and us, some room to breathe. The scenes where both Jo and Amy move Laurie into the position they want him in are cracking – sharp and smart and heartbreaking in subtler ways than the expected tear-jerkers surrounding Beth’s demise. 

Little Women is equal parts bouncy and grounded, sharp and soft. Like Alcott did with readers, it tries to give movie-goers everything they want. Yet Alcott did leave places in her story for readers to insert their own interpretations, and this is something you’d have expected Gerwig to take advantage of. She certainly champions Jo’s iconoclastic independence, as Alcott did and as every other adaptation focuses on. That’s easy, and we have more and more cinema bringing strong, independent women to the fore. But what’s behind women who don’t show these qualities? In Alcott’s time it was safer to present an independent woman as a quirky literary creation than to critically examine women like Meg, who couldn’t, even when given the opportunity, break free of traditional thinking, or Amy, who looks soberly at the limits put on her gender and accepts them as inevitable. In light of Amy’s complaint that her painting skills are not ‘genius’ enough for her to be independent of men, you can argue that Alcott’s take-away was that Jo could behave as she wanted because she was blessed with artistic talent at an exceptionally high level. A modern idea in 1868, yes, but Greta, it’s 2019 now. Alcott would have welcomed insight from a more evolved era, that could have made her little women even bigger.

Little Women is currently in theaters nationwide.

#movies #moviereviews #ratedfritz #littlewomen #oscarnoms

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: Hyper-jumping with nowhere to go

“Really, Chewy? I figured Poe was the top.” Photo courtesy of Disney Studios

THIS IS A SPOILER REVIEW

Let’s admit it. Disney is brilliant. Diabolically so, but still. The grand introduction of their new streaming service came in the form of The Mandalorian, a space opera styled both narratively and visually with the simplicity of a classic western. It gave us a stoic, Eastwoodesque anti-hero and Baby Yoda, a character that is arguably the most marketable creation yet to come from the franchise. 

Meanwhile, over on their Star Wars movie lot, they had devolving hack JJ Abrams grinding out the finale to a beloved franchise with an unnerving frenzy clearly meant to distract from the script’s lack of imagination, joy, art, love – you name it. You have to assume this is a calculated strategy: to send out the old Star Wars in as uninspired a way as possible, so we’re even hungrier for something fresh on Disney+.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens with scenes so blatantly designed to sell theme park rides that it taints everything to come. I get that Galaxy’s Edge is a flop, but using the swan song of a series that built the sci-fi fantasy genre to boost park attendance is callous and disrespectful as hell. 

We hyper-jump back and forth from the Millennium Falcon hyper-jumping and tilt-a-whirling through space obstacles to Rey zipping and light-sabering her way through training course obstacles. Everyone crashes together and immediately starts riffing so fast and furious that nothing lands. Nothing from the entire opening ever lands, which is a warning for what’s to come.

It seems Emperor Palpatine has survived being tossed into space from the second Death Star in Episode VI. Considering that from its beginning Star Wars made the Sith one-dimensionally villainous, there’s no sense of heightened threat to this return. He still plans to obliterate planets and gain ultimate power, and he’s not even doing so in gold lamee and cool special-effect rotting skin like Snoke, so tell us again why you’re interesting, Emperor? 

Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is there with him, and then not in the rest of the movie nearly enough. So we’re left to get our good acting and hot man-ness from Oscar Isaac’s Poe.

Next we’re at the rebel base, and one of the Hobbits from Lord of the Rings begged to be on set, so there he is. Due to toxic fans, Finn’s Asian lady sidekick/fake love interest has been sidelined, so our band of heroes is now Rey, Poe, Finn, Chewy and C3PO. They have to find a map to where Palpatine is so Rey can kill him. First stop: Burning Man!

Only this movie wishes it had the imagination of Burning Man. The planet Pissona, named for what Abrams is doing to this franchise, is meant to feel like a walk through a third-world market – the beings look like either shrimp or pigs and there’s lots of colored powder being tossed about, which was popular in stock photography what, 5 years ago? Lando Kalrissian joins them, some Dora the Explorer-level clue-finding business happens, and Kylo Ren steals Rey’s mala beads in one of their psychic tete-a-tetes. He doesn’t wear them, because you don’t wear mala beads over a black turtleneck unless you’re going to your aunt’s friend’s art show at an organic café in Sonoma.

They escape Pissona ona ship that we know is old because it has…cobwebs! The art department is just doing such a crack job on this $300-million-dollar film!

The next clue is on a planet named something like Kathy Najimi, and they used the set of the town in The Hobbit that the dragon attacks, so maybe that’s why the Hobbit’s around, even though he’s not in this sequence. But Keri Russell is, and we get our hopes up that she’ll bring her spark to this worn-out team. Alas, Poe pissed her off in the past by running away before they had sex (Disney is trying to act all cagey about Poe’s sexuality, but they don’t have the stomach for the ruse, as we’ll see at the end), so she’s a no-go.

Our Keri-less team sneaks onto a Star Destroyer to get the captured Millennium Falcon back, and there we get the only truly fresh element in this whole movie – a Storm Trooper actually lands a shot! Poe gets wounded with absolutely no consequence to himself or the proceedings.

Rey sneaks into Kylo’s chambers – where there is no bed, so don’t get your hopes up – and sees her past. Her mother was Villanelle from Killing Eve! And again we are teased with an actress who could have made things interesting but is only stunt casting.

My vibrating phone wakes me up in time to see that the sniveling ginger Empire lackey from the first two films in this final trilogy is a spy for the rebels, but he’s only helping them because he’s jealous of Kylo. How’s that for a compelling motivation? After helping our heroes escape, he pulls the ole “shoot me in the arm so it doesn’t look suspicious” move, but his superior Richard E Grant has seen all the movies that this happens in so shoots the ginger for real. Don’t worry, he comes back to life in the sure-to-be-dismal Peter Rabbit sequel.

Where are we now? On a storm-tossed planet where we meet Finn’s new fake love interest who rides a horse that the art department glued a Halloween mask to so it can be an alien horse. The map to Palpatine is in the wreckage of the Death Star out in the stormy sea so Rey catamarans over to get it. Adam Driver is waiting, and he continues to press for a relationship, which, come on Rey, you can change him! Isn’t that 6-foot, heaven-inches of broad-shouldered brooding worth it? No, says Rey, and they fight. Leia sacrifices herself from light-years away to force-distract her son so Rey can kill him. Yes, both Leia and Kylo are now dead! Get those last two berths in the Solo family crypt ready. We must be nearing the end.

But wait! Rey seems to have heeded my advice and force-heals Kylo, an act of kindness that exorcizes evil Kylo Ren from gentle Ben Solo. To make sure this sticks, Han appears – but he doesn’t glow blue because only Jedi ghosts do that – and he and his now good son repeat their climactic scene from Episode VII, word for word, only this time instead of sabering the life out of his dad, Kylo-now-Ben tosses his cool cruciform lightsaber into the sea, where it gets lodged in a turtle’s throat, and now we’ve got Greta Thunburg to answer to, never mind Palpatine. Nice Ben does not do for my pants what Mean Kylo did, so for me the trilogy ends here.

We still have to rid the galaxy of Palpatine, though, so off Rey goes. Oh, PS, we found out in the last sequence that she is actually Palpatine’s granddaughter, a fan theory we saw coming from 200 parceps away. Again, any effort to make this final SW surprising or original is non-existent.

Does she kill him? Of course. Does she do so in any kind of inspired or clever way, like, for instance, how Kylo dispatched Snope? Of course not. 

I’ve always felt the most valuable asset of this trilogy has been Adam Driver. The only resonant image we walk away with from this final movie in our beloved series is Driver’s face as he gives his life to save Rey. The scene throws back to Ben’s grandfather Darth Vader’s sacrifice to save Luke, and Driver is an actor with the caliber to convey his character’s entire storyline – in essence the series’ entire storyline – through a silent glance. After everyone else spent this trilogy running around spitting out hacky lines, Driver closes all nine Star Wars by closing his eyes.

We do get one last nod to something we’ve been teased with through the VII-IX trilogy. Because Disney can’t bring itself to have Poe and Finn show that their love is more than platonic, the film shows two female rebels kissing during the celebration, then cuts immediately to Finn and Poe spotting each other and running madly into an embrace.

It’s an ending Major Pete might be comfortable with, but for fans looking forward to a kiss-off we’ve been waiting so long for, all we get is a cold shower.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is now in theaters nationally.

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