HOUSE OF GUCCI: Horse bits, loafers, Gaga too…House of Gucci we love you!

“Ay! I didn’t write this shit.”

As much as I adored Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest, I’ve always feared she scared good actresses away from camp. When it has been attempted, it’s left for supporting roles, like Meryl Streep’s arch stab at it in The Devil Wears Prada. But to go full Dunaway, you have to carry a film from beginning to end obsessively believing your absurd character can be presented as a real person. It requires a skilled actress to pull it off, and must be abetted by a laughably bad script, costumes that the actress has to battle for attention, and a director who doesn’t get that camp is happening right in front of his lens.

House of Gucci fills all these requirements, and Lady Gaga is full to bursting. The flashy performer, even in her subtler scenes, is a blast to watch, and she tries to keep you from ever looking around her or behind her. Because when you do, yikes, is this movie bad.

Ridley Scott is the aforementioned director, who handles this production like a stuffy old man trying to relate to his trans granddaughter. He’s just too straight for all this Gaga. Witness his choice for the opening scene: an unnecessary tease of Adam Driver’s character Maurizio Gucci right before he’s shot, something we all know is coming. The scene has no purpose other than structural, to bookend the film, because…that’s something true crime movies do?

If he’d understood what he was making, Scott would have opened with the next scene. A little Italian sports car zips into a dusty parking lot. Out steps Gaga, squeezed into a tight skirt and blouse and wearing big, cheap jewelry, which will become her theme. She struts past the wolf whistles from the truckers, acting embarrassed but clearly enjoying the attention. We instantly know who her character Patrizia Reggiani is and what she wants. And we instantly know Gaga is going to get everything she wants from this movie. How? She’s wearing 6-inch stilettos, flattering for her small stature but having nothing to do with the 1970 timeframe.

Gaga covers more of her contractual demands in the next scene, when she enters a 90s disco party surrounded by her gays. Meanwhile, it’s still 1970. Patrizia seems annoyed and restless, maybe because the blocking and camerawork are atrocious and Gaga is having PTSD from when she fell off the stage. She removes herself to the bar and meets Maurizio. Their banter is clumsy and poorly written, so Gaga is forced to plaster on an expression of shock that deserves its own sound effect (ka-boing!) when Maurizio tells her he is a GUCCI.

She spends the next scenes stalking Maurizio with a face that mixes desperation, awe and purple eye-shadow into a meme-worthy stew. Over the miscasting of geeky Maurizio into the body of hunky Adam Driver, Gaga lets you know Patrizia is no Hannah Horvath. The attraction is all about the Gucci name.

Now might be a moment to mention the accents, which run the gamut from “I’m not even trying this” Driver to “Letta me a-sound lika Mario” Jared Leto. These delightful speech impediments are the second-best campy thing in this movie. How campy? Imagine if Reba McEntire, Prince Charles and Charo were playing blood relatives. Now make them Italian and have Charo wear a Jaba the Hut costume.

Our Italian Prince Charles here is Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo Gucci, played by Jeremy Irons. He’s all snob, lives in the same fabulous Milanese Moderne house as I Am Love was set, and does get a few good zingers in, like when Patrizia thinks his Klimpt is a Picasso and he replies, “People have made worse mistakes.”. I wish I could say the same to Ridley Scott.

Patrizia’s nervousness in front of Papa Gucci is funny and relatable, and when she’s forced to mention her father owns a trucking business, Rodolfo knows that means mafia. He tells Maurizio to fuck her but don’t marry her. Driver gives a pointed speech to his father about living in the past that makes zero sense coming from empty-headed Maurizio. He gets cut off and has to work for Patrizia’s father washing trucks.

Maurizio and Patrizia marry in 1973, and the filmmakers choose to play George Michael’s Faith over the scene, one in a string of needle drops that try to trick us about the time period. It’s fine for Gaga and her stilettos to pretend it’s 10 years later than it actually is, because camp is timeless and 80s fashion is hilarious. But the movie is plagued by Scott’s insistence on showing the details of Gucci corporate machinations, so why is he lying about timing?

Now a Gucci, Patrizia throws her wrench into those machinations, and Gaga camps her way through it all, defying Scott’s tendencies. Whenever he takes her out of the picture to let the men talk, the movie flatlines.

Scott tries resuscitating these scenes with Al Pacino doing Scent of a Puttana in makeup that can only be described as ‘roasted to a crisp’, and Jared Leto as usual trying to create his own movie within a movie. His Paolo – a sad, insignificant Gucci heir – is so obnoxiously realized, so desperately trying to steal his scenes, that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Gaga put a hit on him. I’ll do it for free, Steph.

Pacino’s Uncle Aldo gets the ‘blue sweater’ speech, where he makes a sharp insight about fashion’s impact on culture after Patrizia is appalled that no one is doing anything about the Gucci knock-offs on Canal Street. If “New Jersey housewives” can feel some cache from walking around with a fake Gucci, Aldo says, it’s good for the brand. Patrizia, insecure about her own cache as a ‘Gucci’, can’t stomach this.

Things bounce around from silly to boring (Paolo pees on Grace Kelly’s scarf; Rodolfo dies; Gaga wears a necklace of pearls so massive you feel sorry for the oysters; Patrizia frames Aldo for bank fraud; Jared tries to make “boof!’ happen) until Maurizio tires of Patrizia’s pushy ways. As the Italian feds raid their home, Maurizio sneaks out the back door (literally) and motorbikes his way across the border to Switzerland, which is all very Sound of Music. Now the hills are alive with the sound of murder, not because he left Patrizia and their 5-year-old daughter at the mercy of the feds, but because at Christmas he gave Patrizia a Bloomingdales gift card. What’s she supposed to do with that? Buy Sketchers? What a bastardo! He must die.

And as we know, he does. But first we get a scene that almost rewards us for getting to the end of this overlong film. Gaga, dressed like she’s auditioning for West Side Story and wearing chubby face prosthetics, sits next to her psychic and henchwoman Pina, played by Salma Hayek in a wig that was dyed pink, blowtorched and rolled in dirt. There have been some strange arrangements of hair put on top of Gaga through this film, but this Salma wig wins the grand prize. I’ll be seriously disappointed if I can’t find it at Spirit Halloween.

The ladies meet the hired guns, hand over the cash, and the rest is history. Gaga’s final words to the assassins are the same I would use in reference to her performance:

“Don’t. Miss.”

THE ETERNALS: Chloe Zhao takes Marvel to Nomansland

“Ok, beast from another dimension, you can’t attack until my weapon finishes rendering, deal?”

I always thought the comic book Eternals were boring. Their world felt built of rejected storylines from more popular titles and none of them had Wolverine’s chest hair. But even if you had more patience for them than my teenage self did, admit it, no one was waiting with baited breath for an Eternals movie.

The excitement came with the announcement that Chloe Zhao would direct it, like hearing Wes Anderson was going to do a Fast&Furious. Such a fresh sensibility brought to the genre! This was going to be different.

And…then I sat in an IMAX seat with broken springs to see another Marvel movie, one with broken springs.

Infusing the film is the feeling that from director on down, there’s a reluctance to treat anything the way a superhero movie does. Yet a Marvel film needs rote scenarios and plot points to work, so when no one wants to do them but they kinda have to, you end up with a lack of energy. Everyone seems like they’re just getting out of a long meditation before their scene, all beneficent stares and quiet talking.

Fundamental problem #1: The Eternals are super-powerful and immortal but have only been allowed – for 7000 years of human history – to help humans against one specific threat, creatures made of Twizzlers called Deviants. So from the get-go they’re ‘heroes’ who could have prevented billions of deaths but didn’t. While Captain Marvel was dealing with Thanos or Galactus or The Black Plague, the Eternals finished off the Deviants around 1500 AD and spent the next 500 years loafing in places with pretty sunsets, like where the van people from Nomadland go.

Salma Hayek is the leader and lives in South Dakota (see above). Frances McDormand is not there, though that is one couple I’d totally want to watch argue over how to plant seedlings. Salma is named Ajak, the first of several Greek mythology names we get that are misspelled to be cool. Her boss is a giant rock with six eyes called a Celestial.

Then we (slowly…) meet the infamously diverse cast. There’s Sersi (Gemma Chan), who works at a museum just like Wonder Woman. Sersi hooked up with Ikarus (Richard Madden, Robb Stark from GoT) when they first were sent to Earth 7000 years ago. They got married in ancient India – by Vishnu himself we assume – and then broke up 5000 years into the relationship. How the hell do you break up after 5000 years? What could possibly have happened? Did Sersi get a pimple during the Enlightenment?

Sersi has moved on to date Kit Harrington (Jon Snow from GoT). Sersi/Cersei doing both of the Stark boys is an in-joke that’s funnier than any of the actual jokes in the movie. The couple pal around London with Sersi’s fellow Eternal, Sprite, a teen who can’t age so can’t legally bone her crush Ikarus. Remember Kirstin Dunst in Interview with the Vampire? Same thing, so we’re expecting the worst from Sprite.

Ikarus shows up to save Sersi and Sprite from a Deviant (they’re back!) and they all go to consult Ajak. They find her dead, killed by a Deviant. Seems immortal just means you can’t die of old age, so you still have to get the COVID vaccine and avoid being impaled on giant beast tail spears. With Ajak gone, Sersi becomes the liaison with the Celestial boss, who reveals to her the nasty secret behind the Eternals 7000-year mission: he’s been using them to keep humans prospering toward overpopulation so he has enough of them to eat. It makes Thanos’ plan seem kind.

Our trio go get the two biggest casting newsmakers – Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjani. Kumail’s character Kingo has become what is supposed to be the biggest Bollywood star of all time, but instead of getting a desperately needed injection of some crazy fun, a scene with hundreds of dancers on a lavish set, we get a dozen harem girls in an airplane hangar and Nanjani acting like a kid forced to dance at a bar mitzvah, purposely being silly and not doing the moves right. Nanjani’s laziness in this scene is indicative of the film’s attitude toward embracing the beats of a superhero character. If you accept a role where you have to go pow!pow! with your fingers so they can draw lasers on them later, get into it! Did Nanjani just take this role as an excuse to get ripped (which he is and I’m not complaining about that)?

Angelina Jolie bit into Malificent with gusto, but like Nanjani she’s toothless here. Granted, in every action scene she has to pose and wait for a CGI artist to Etch-a-Sketch her weapons into her hands real time, but in the non-fighting scenes be Angelina fucking Jolie. Purr in someone’s ear, arm wrestle, push a guy against a wall and bite his lip. If Jolie can’t bring sex and edge to a film, something is fundamentally wrong.   

Ditto for Bryan Tyree Henry. He’s a milquetoast inventor named Phastos, and making that character type gay takes major points away from this movie’s casting wokeness. Not to mention that the Eternals directive is to not interfere in the affairs of humans other than killing Deviants, yet Phastos gives humankind major advancements like the plow and the steam engine and Ralph Lauren safari chic for Angelina. In one flashback scene we find him crying in Hiroshima because he ‘inspired’ the atomic bomb. What did he think they were going to use it for, gender reveal parties?

The premise of otherworldly beings deciding to spare the destructive human race because “humans feel love and joy and hope (ugh)” has been trotted out more times than you can count, and Zhao could have avoided executing it so on-the-nose. But she Marvel-ed the shit out of that cliché, while avoiding giving us the clichés that make a Marvel movie fun.

In parts, it’s nice to have her meditative take on the proceedings. The cinematography is pretty, and does have more texture than typical Marvel. The way she lets characters be is also less typical for a superhero film, but it rarely works when the script is hewing too close to formula and the cast is so mismatched in acting style.

There is a dinner scene that’s supposed to be one of those where the superheroes let loose and joke around. These scenes work in Ironman and Avengers because we feel these are actually the actors themselves having fun with each other, people who’ve been working together for a few months and become close. The version of this in The Eternals is awkward to watch. It’s meant to feel more naturalistic than scripted, but it’s all conversation lulls and stumbling banter between actors who don’t seem to have even met before the scene. And the one big joke is that the host Eternal is serving his friends beer made from his spit. That’s funny? I mean, if Captain America had made it I might use it as lube, but it’s still not funny.

The Eternals ends up drifting in and out of your interest, because as in her other work, Zhao stands back from her subjects and tries to let them unfold in their own rhythm, present their authenticity.

Unfortunately for Zhao, there’s nothing authentic about the Marvel universe. Movies can fake reality, but they can’t make reality out of the fake.

NO TIME TO DIE: James Bond goes down in herstory.

“I don’t care if your car is being shot up by 14 assassins, James, we need to talk about my feelings!”

*Spoilers, people!

As a pop cultural phenomenon that’s been going strong for seven decades, nothing compares to…well, Cher, bitch, but let’s talk about our second-favorite ageless septuagenarian diva, James Bond, who has a new movie out.

No Time to Die is promoted as the final appearance of Daniel Craig’s version of James, but as with Cher, we know not to trust that. I mean, how many Knives Out sequels can he do before we start screaming for him to get back into his Speedo’s?

Plus, this movie feels like the James Bond version of a ‘Cherwell’ concert. It’s chock full of references to the Bond canon, from the original Aston Martin to a secret submarine bunker to Louis Armstrong on the soundtrack. Bond even orders the ‘shaken not stirred’ martini, which Craig’s Bond rudely kicked to the curb in his very first outing, for a Heineken and their sponsorship millions.

If we could turn back time, which a movie can, the story starts with a flashback to the childhood of Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), for whom James retired his 007 to settle down with at the end of the previous film, Spectre. Their relationship was so bland and the Spectre plot so weak that everyone involved really should have moved on. There are plenty French lesbian movies for Seydoux to be in.

Does James believe in life after love? Madeleine doubts this, so takes him to a structurally impossible Italian cliff town where his great love Vesper Lynd is buried because she drowned in Venice and female corpses aren’t allowed to leave Italy, other than Sophia Loren when she goes to Cannes. Pouty Maddy demands that James go say goodbye once and for all, but when he visits Vesper’s crypt, it blows up in his face. Everyone who’s ever tried to visit an ex while in a new relationship will sympathize.

What follows is the first of the big action set pieces we go to these films for. Like the evening dress slit up to the pudenda we know someone will wear in every Bond film, these action scenes are all the same in concept but give us just enough of a new design to elicit a fresh ‘wow’.

James thinking his new lover is so jealous she’d blow up his already-dead ex and try to take him out in the process would normally not make sense, but factor in that Craig has given his Bond layers of angst and paranoia previously not allowed in the invincible Bond character. So he puts Ms. Seydoux on a train to Bond girl oblivion and holes up in his Jamaican house, which has no walls. It’s nice to think Bond has gone eco, and sweaty clothes clinging to Daniel Craig is worth the popcorn in my lap, but for an assassin who has decades worth of targets on his back to live so exposed, uh, come on.

James is lured out by his BFF, CIA agent Felix Leiter. Let’s remember that Felix gave James ten million of our hard-earned tax dollars to gamble with in Casino Royale and call him what he is – an enabler. Felix needs James because in all this time there hasn’t emerged on the scene a single agent strong enough to match James’ prowess.

And this movie makes sure that includes the newly deputized 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch). She’s a dark lady with a heart of stone, maybe because she’s forced to wear a brown slacks and blazer combo to signal she’s not a ‘Bond girl’. But more likely it’s because she’s completely sidelined plot-wise, just like a Bond girl. She always shows up late to the party, usually just to Uber James to his next appointment. And the few ass-kicking scenes she does get are not given the same verve as the ones given the other female characters. Ana de Armas, wearing the afore-mentioned high-slit gown, gets to perform Swan Lake with an automatic weapon. Nomi gets to push a henchman off a catwalk. In slacks.

The hype about the Bond franchise moving into the future with a woman of color as our new 007 appears to be a nothing more than a gimmick for a single film, as Nomi, overwhelmed by James’ bravery toward the finale, asks M to give James his old number back, which M does, just before James dies. What’s the MI6 rule regarding this? I certainly wouldn’t want that cursed number back, Nomi.

Like all the solid Bond films, No Time to Die understands the mechanics that make this franchise work, and delivers the action and locales and plotting we expect. And Daniel Craig understands what has made his portrayal of Bond more interesting. He is constantly sneaking off the pedestal the franchise tries to put James Bond on. He brought a vulnerability that is not supposed to be part of Bond’s DNA. He’s lost as many fights as he’s won. Triumphs were never clean and never final, as his Bond’s deepest injuries were emotional.

It is Craig who made a character formerly presented only as callous, ruthless and misogynistic killable. Both in the context of this film and outside of it, he wants us to do what few mega-franchise stars ever wants their audience to do – let him go. Move on as film fans, let him move on as an actor, let the franchise move on creatively.

The jury is out on how much the filmmakers agree with this. Nothing about No Time to Die suggests a truly fresh take is to come. There’s clear resistance to casting Bond as other than male, from both the filmmakers and the franchise’s core audience. Even when they’re as well-done as Salt, female-led spy flicks just don’t get the respect they deserve.

I smell an opportunity for the next Cher re-invention: No Time to Turn Back Time. Never mind who plays Bond when Cher is the villain stealing cheekbones from all the women in Scandinavia! Bang Bang!

CRUELLA: The de Vil wears Prada.

“Darling, Harley Quinn wishes she had Disney money.”

Actually, she wears McQueen, Galliano and Westwood.

Though Disney’s new 101 Dalmatians origin story Cruella is set in the London fashion scene of the 1970s, the visual inspiration is drawn from the darlings of edgy Brit fashion of the nineties and noughties. Anachronistic, yes, but fitting. Like Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood, who appropriated the DIY street fashion of London’s post-punk youth and coutured it into looks a wealthy fashionista would wear, Disney has been selectively appropriating darker tones from other genres and studios to make their family fare more appealing to mature film fans. 

Cruella is the latest step in the perfecting of this strategy, and it’s enjoyable if you just sit back and accept how it works. You know what punches are going to be pulled (violent deaths can only be alluded to; no blood, nudity, fucks, etc) so the surprise comes in watching how well many of them land. And as Disney has so many sacred cows in their IP, it’s refreshing to see them do a reboot. 

The last time we saw Cruella de Vil was in the 1996 live-action version of 101 Dalmatians (and in the awful follow-up but even Disney wants to forget that). Both were before Disney got sexy, so we had Glenn Close pulling from her bag of silent-movie crazy-face to keep the classic villainess one-dimensional enough for an eight-year-old to understand and, more importantly, laugh at. 

No one can laugh at Emma Stone’s Cruella. Neither she nor the script allow it. This is not a Cruella ripe for getting Nickelodeon slime dumped on her for the kiddie’s amusement. She is fully in control of the story. In fact, she narrates it. 

With plot-driving triumphs aplenty and set-backs easily overcome, you might think this Cruella has been given too easy a path. But again, this is Disney. And it’s Disney taking cues from The Devil Wears Prada, a movie that’s become a cult classic with the exact audience Cruella is aiming for. It’s an audience that wants to see a young heroine with a relatable talent – in both cases the ability to look great in clothes – challenge an older icon to prove she’s worthy. And by the end give that elder the metaphorical slap in the face she had coming.

No one’s going to argue that Cruella is a brilliant film, or that it doesn’t have tedious aspects (the needle drops are relentless). However, the script is tight and full of details worthy of a good heist movie, gives us two big finales, and gives Emma Stone enough opportunities to strut past the expected beats of a Disney character. 

The Emma given the real hurdle is Ms Thompson. The script puts her Baroness so much in the mold of Miranda Priestly that Thompson has nowhere to swing but for the fences. She’s there to be so awful a person that Cruella’s own narcissism seems tame by comparison, and it leaves a performance that’s fun to watch but a style of cartoonish that doesn’t match the graphic novel tone of Stone and the rest of the production.

Neither Emma, though, can compete with the real star of Cruella – the costumes. This might be a drawback to some, but to me, uh, yes, costumes can be a character. Just ask Daniel Day Lewis and his Oscar nomination. I’ll admit that Cruella’s 70s time period makes no sense, with the Baroness doing nothing but New Look silhouettes from 1950 while wearing Elsa Peretti cuffs from the future, and Cruella donning newsprint dresses and bondage-light while obsessing over a Victorian bauble that looks like it came out of a vending machine, but it is all done so over-the-top you have to respect. And it crescendos with a dress designed so diabolically that it eats other dresses! Who isn’t going to see this movie just for that, and invite Hussein Chalayan? 

Look, I love a challenging film, but I’m finally getting to go back into my beloved theater after 14 months. Do I want to celebrate that by watching a family struggling to grow squash, or Emma Stone mugging all over London in fabulous outfits? Factor in that I am gay…

Cruella will be on Disney+ soon, if you still can’t get yourself into a theater. 

ALL ABOARD FOR OSCAR PREDICTIONS!

Don’t miss the train, Oscar!

First, a message from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: 

Dear film-starved pandemic masses,

Despite reports to the contrary, we at AMPAS, the guardians of quality in filmed entertainment, have been just fine during this pandemic. While you’ve been digging through scraps on Netflix, we’ve been putting the finishing touches on our new, bazillion-dollar Museum of Oscar History. The housing crisis faced by the costumes from How Green Was My Valley and Seymore Felix’s Best Dance Direction Oscar has finally been solved. You’re welcome.

We have also done a bit of soul-searching during these times. Once we were told that ‘streaming’ is not a sexual act best done on rubber sheets, we felt for the poor cinephiles who have had to risk carpal tunnel syndrome to find anything decent to watch. So giving Netflix and Amazon Studios a total of 47 Oscar nominations helps fans feel that at least some of their couch time wasn’t wasted, and we will of course go back to shunning streaming services when our movie palaces reopen. (Please don’t mention the Cinerama Dome. It’s still painful.)

Secondly, and more importantly according to our au peres, we gave nine nominations to people of color in the acting categories, when eight would have been sufficient to reflect the US population. Good luck with the bitchy hashtags now, Antifa. 

Some say that because streamers are crucial to the very survival of movies, the Academy has been forced to recognize the artistic merit of the more diverse films they make and show. But it is not our fault that traditional studios have avoided films about Black activists or White people who live in vans. The Academy does not make the films. We simply deem them important.

We hope you’ll admire our diverse and admirably depressing slate of nominated films and performances as much as we’d like you to. After the ceremony, don’t forget to visit our new Oscar Museum. It’s conveniently located next to the La Brea Tar Pits, where eons ago – even before silents –  big, unwieldy dinosaurs got trapped in tar and were slowly eaten alive by nimbler creatures. So just turn left onto Wilshire from Fairfax, and ignore the irony.

ORIGINAL SONG

Io Si from The Life Ahead: ‘Io Si’ is Italian for “I will”. It was Diane Warren’s response when an Italian reporter asked if she’ll always be nominated for an Oscar no matter how banal and repetitive her music is.

Hear My Voice,Speak Now, Fight for You: Talking about repetitive, this year’s onslaught of indistinguishable message songs join recent nominees I’ll FightStand Up, and Stand Up for Something. If these filmmakers cared about getting a great piece of political music rather than trying to win over Oscar voters like Diane Warren, they’d get Lil Nas X or Run the Jewels instead of the guy from Hamilton.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Husavik (Hometown) from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga: Is the movie too silly for Oscar, yes, but the final act culminates in this deftly made pop ballad, a Bjork/Celine Dion lovechild with lyrics like “where the whales can live cause they’re gentle people”.

ORIGINAL SCORE

Minari: You’re the innocent little nominee this year, aren’t you, Minari? So allll those baby chicks you were molesting and tossing into buckets were perfectly articulated animatronic puppets? On your budget?

Mank: A male mink. Who’d best steer clear of Minari.

News of the World: Tom Hanks plays a 19th-century Confederate man who reads news to illiterate people. It’s nice to know that 150 years later, Tucker Carlson is carrying on the tradition.

Da 5 Bloods: Spike Lee added another great film to his wholly original illuminations of race issues, one which will join the list of shoulda-been Best Picture winners that weren’t even nominated. Here he has a Black Trump-loving veteran return to Vietnam to reunite over a lost comrade and search for buried gold. Lee gets that a spoonful of adventure helps the medicine go down, but Oscar wanted a needle in its arm this year.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Soul: The only one here that’s actually about music, so duh.

MAKE-UP AND HAIRSTYLING

Pinocchio: It’s best to put this nominee as far away from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom as possible. 

Hillbilly Elegy: A nomination for Amy Adams’ widely-ridiculed wig proves that memes are now Oscar bait.

MANK: Make America Not Kommunist. New caps and tees, now at the Mar A Lago boutique!

Emma: Anya Taylor-Joy plays the most slappable Emma yet in this 115th remake.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: An actress like Viola Davis can disappear into a role without help, but the make-up here wiped out any traces of her left.

COSTUME DESIGN

Pinocchio: In this twist on the classic tale, Italy’s Mayor Rudolph Guipetto crafts a blow-up doll whose mouth hole tightens when she says “you’re a brilliant lawyer!”. 

Moolan: A cow disguises herself as a bull so she finally can stop having a fistful of semen jammed up her rear. But, alas, she accidently wanders into Minari.

mank: short for ‘movie wank’, which is when a shitty guy gets the girl because he’s ‘grown’.

Emma: Big deal. If you want to see a girl in a corset throw shade, watch Drag Race.     

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: I don’t know what was going on under Ma Rainey’s dress, but it was impossible to tell where Viola Davis ended and Ma Rainey began.

SOUND

Soul: Ok, no. If you don’t have an entire production team sitting under a tent while a grip holds a boom mike in 110-degree heat for an actor doing 40 takes, you do not belong in this category.

mankverb: to express gratitude by fondling someone’s neck and telling them they’d look better in heels. Usage: Governor Cuomo manked his aide for her hard work on the campaign.

Greyhound: Unfortunately, this is not about Tom Hanks getting on a bus that goes over a cliff. 

News of the World: This isn’t the production during which Tom Hanks caught the virus. That was Philadelphia.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:       

Sound of Metal: Besides a great lead performance, this film’s best achievement was giving aural life to the sounds experienced by someone losing their hearing.

VISUAL EFFECTS

The One and Only Ivan: Talking animals dolittle for me.

The Midnight Sky doesn’t sparkle much when the biggest star stays on the ground.

Love and Monsters: A giant alien bug movie that doesn’t have Casper Van Dien taking a shower is not a giant alien bug movie I need to see. 

Mulan: Star Wars and Marvel were off the table, and Wonder Woman’s biggest visual effect was her running up a down escalator, so this race is wide open for Samurai Yentl.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Tenet: I don’t like movies that make me do math, but I do know that (x)plosions times (y)do people worship Christopher Nolan = visual effects Oscar.  

EDITING

Promising Young Woman: The trailer promised a young woman would be cutting some penises off, which didn’t happen, so no editing Oscar for you.

The Trial of the Chicago 7: I don’t know how this director is considered so smart when he didn’t even recognize Borat snuck into his film. 

Nomadland: The story of Jesus’ birth told by the Wise Man who brought disposable diapers. 

Sound of Metal: This was also the name of a TimeLife compilation CD from 1988. My favorite was Dokken’s cover of I Wanna Dance with Somebody

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

The Father: Editing played a crucial role in telling this story of a mind caught in dementia, so this is where the film – favored by the Academy’s older voters – is strongest against its competition. 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Ten it!: When a high-five isn’t enough, Ten it, dude! 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottoms: The follow-up to Ma Rainey’s Black Tops.

News of the World: Murder Hornets Sue Entomological Society For Slander. “It’s called ‘colonizing’,” said spokeshornet, “and you Americans are in no position to be labeling us”.

The Father: Like the editing, the set design was integral in putting us inside the character’s deteriorating mind. But Oscar is in the mood to spread the love in this year everyone got slammed, and this and cinematography are the categories for the old guard to reward Mank, which is not favored anywhere else.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Mank: The Hearst Castle sets must have emptied every prop house in Hollywood, not to mention massive builds like the pyre scene where we meet Marion Davies. The film is as much an homage to behind-the-scenes craftspeople as it is to the golden age of Hollywood.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Trial of the Chicago 7: See? Today’s Bernie bros have it easy.

Judas and the Black Messiah: The team behind The Wiz brings us this remake of Jesus Christ Superstar with an all-Black cast. 

News of the World: This is the Queen album that has ‘We Are the Champions’, a song this movie’s cinematographer will not be singing.

Nomadland: This category comes down to filmmaking that captured natural beauty… 

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Mank: …or filmmaking that manufactured pristine, air-brushed images. Should we ask the Kardashians which of these Hollywood prefers?  

DOCUMENTARY

The Mole Agent: This is the elderly-abuse movie that doesn’t have Rosamond Pike in it. 

Time: Shot by a filmmaker who’s held onto her sense of art-school experimentation, especially in the brilliant editing,Time makes it appear as if this filmmaker has been following her subject – a woman fighting her husband’s excessive incarceration – for 20 years.

Crip Camp: The Blood Camp is on the other coast.

My Octopus Teacher: Not about the handsy priest who taught algebra at my high school, but instead a love story between a free-diver and an octopus. It’s the tear-jerker of the category, with stunning cinematography, but it’s not political in a very political movie year.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Collective: A movie about the Romanian press pounding the country’s ruling party, whose capitalism-embracing, culturally-conservative ideology relates to our Republicans. Despite the exposing of their deep corruption and blatant moral bankruptcy, the party is overwhelmingly reelected. This will strike anyone with Trump PTSD and nagging fears about 2024, so, all of Hollywood except John Voit.    

ANIMATED FEATURE

Over the Moon: The movie equivalent of those badly-translated Chinese product slogans.

Onward: I wish. American animation just repackages the same ‘Believe In Yourself!’® message over and over. This one has fairies, and not the kind who lip sync.

A Shawn the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon: I get my quota of clay sculpting watching The Great Pottery Throw-Down.

Wolfwalkers: Thank god the animation branch keeps these more flowing, illustrative animation styles alive in this category, but it would be nice if any of them would ever actually win over another fucking Pixar movie. 

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Soul: Another fucking Pixar movie, and no, it is not breakthrough just because they finally put a Black character in the lead. Pixar is the Amazon of animation, and unlike that behemoth, we do have other choices, Oscar. 

INTERNATIONAL FEATURE

The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia): And promptly fell apart.

The Man Who Kept His Skin But Sold Everything Inside Of It (Columbia, District of): The title of Mitch McConnell’s new autobiography.

Better Days (Hong Kong): Don’t count on it, Hong Kong. 

Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina): While her double-named sister nations, Trinidad and Tobago and Sao Tome and Principe, relax on their tropical beaches, ugly sister Bosnia and Herzegovina is still obsessing about the war that Bill Clinton fucked up.

Collective (Romania): This and Another Round are both nominated in two categories. But a Best Director nom (Another Round’s Thomas Vinterberg) trumps a Best Documentary one.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Another Round (Denmark): If you don’t believe that Europeans are more evolved than we are, this movie shows four guys who determine to stay drunk all day, every day, yet never steal a goat, drunk text, or storm their seat of government.

WRITING: ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Dangerously ignorant voices are hard to silence, but with one scene Sacha Baron Cohen put the final nail in Rudy Guiliani’s coffin. 

One Night in Miami: was all it took for me never to go back to Miami. 

The White Tiger: It takes longer to find this film on a Netflix scroll than it does to get through Mumbai on a cow.

The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost: Where the hell were y’all last year? Was there a lockdown in heaven?

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Nomadland: The careful process involved in keeping this film as authentic as its source material is just one of the outstanding achievements of Nomadland.

WRITING: ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Minari: This film teaches us that with enough Mountain Dew, anyone can achieve the American Dream.

Sound of Metal: There were a tad too many missteps in this script, starting with the movie couple’s goth metal band being called Blackgammon. 

Judas and the Black Messiah: Do they play Blackgammon?

The Trial of the Chicago 7: This is Aaron Sorkin’s category, and there are a lot of people who love any courtroom drama, but an ‘original’ premise it is not. 

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Promising Young Woman: Any movie that has Jennifer Coolidge asking a pediatrician “Do children have different parts than adults?” gets my vote.

DIRECTOR

Thomas VinterbergAnother Round: This pattern of having a unexpected foreign-language director sneak into this category is proof of how large the Academy’s foreign membership has grown. Now, we just need their quirkier taste to start making winners, not just outlier nominees.

Lee Isaac ChungMinari: The beautifully observed intimate moments show how universal it is for a wife to want to punch a stupid husband.

Emerald FennellPromising Young Woman: Emerald fennel is a condiment used to flavor revenge served cold.

David FincherMank: Fincher is a craftsman first, so storytelling is not his strongest suit, and it shows in the lulls this gorgeous-looking movie goes through. 

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Chloe ZhaoNomadland: One of the few sure bets this year, as (besides deserving it) she’s up against a little known European; two young, new directors with plenty career ahead of them; and an older, white man whose work, though highly accomplished, is slick and cold compared to Nomadland.

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Lakeith StanfieldJudas and the Black Messiah: Chances: Definitely no. The main star of this film is in the same category.

Paul RaciSound of Metal: No. His role lacked a juicy scene where he gets to act all over the place.

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7: Not likely. He’s viewed as a writer and comedian more than a dramatic actor.

Leslie Odom JrOne Night in Miami: Slight possibility. He was singled out from a strong cast, for what qualities I honestly don’t know, as I thought the Cassius Clay character was more memorable. But as Sam Cooke he gets to sing, and Oscar has a soft spot for singer biopics.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Daniel KaluuyaJudas and the Black Messiah: Almost certain. The movie’s gotten a reputation as a story you should appreciate more than you might actually enjoy watching, but Kaluuya’s striking screen presence is the ‘worth it’ element.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Maria BakalovaBorat Subsequent Moviefilm: Definitely no, but I wish a performance like this could ever win an Oscar. For an unknown, foreign actress to steal the attention from such a boisterous, iconic film character with her own wholly original comic persona is an achievement as big as any on this list.

Amanda SeyfriedMank: No. Though she does it very well, adding smarts and spunk to the classic Hollywood ingénue has been done a LOT.

Glenn CloseHillbilly Elegy: Slight possibility, but at this point, it’s hard to feel the ‘she’s overdue’ sympathy anymore. Close appears to be choosing roles based on their Oscar potential, with little concern for the parts of the script that aren’t hers. Albert Nobbs and The Wife were mediocre films at best, and Hillbilly Elegy is plain bad. To give her an overdue Oscar for this would be a cruel joke both to Close and the rest of the nominees.

Olivia ColmanThe Father: Strong possibility. 2019 was the year of Olivia Colman on the big screen, and in 2020 she owned the small one. She’s as hot as a royal funeral right now, but she did just get an Oscar in a bigger category.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO: 

Yuh-Jung YounMinari: Strong possibility. Minari ntroduced us to a lot of things: chicken sexing, Korean produce, and this wonderful actress, who juiced a sleepy plot to its dramatic climax.

ACTOR

Gary OldmanMank: Definitely no. You don’t get another Oscar this year, Gary, but you do get my undying gratitude for keeping Tom Hanks out of this category.

Steven YeunMinari: Definitely no. A lovely, quiet performance rarely wins Oscars, and it doesn’t help to have the movie stolen by your mother-in-law.

Riz AhmedSound of Metal: Slight possibility. Ahmed combines aggro musician with desperate puppy dog and does it all in a sleeveless tee. 

Anthony HopkinsThe Father: Possible upset, but will the Academy chance another clumsy PR misstep by letting an old white guy who was supposed to be retired take this Oscar from a young Black man whose career was tragically cut short?

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: Highly likely. This is not a giveaway due to his premature death. His performance was like watching a bottle rocket bounce off the walls before it explodes, and was the only thing that broke the movie out of its stagey confines.

ACTRESS

Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman: Definitely no. She explodes into the movie’s opening, then has her presence wet-toweled by a dour script and a director who thinks anyone wants to see Shia LeBoeuf’s penis.

Andra DayThe United States vs Billie Holiday: Unlikely. Just because Rene won last year for her solid mimicry of a music icon doesn’t mean it applies here. This movie was worse than Judy, and agreeing to a butt-fucking scene for shock value doesn’t tend to get an actor rewarded.

Frances McDormand, Nomadland: Slight possibility. She’s always brilliant to watch, but is this gruff, plain-talking character so different from her 3 Billboards gruff, plain-talking character?

Carey MulliganPromising Young Woman: Strong possibility. This was a difficult character to make likeable. She wears a perpetual pout, is dismissive to friends and family, and her revenge mission is misguided. But Mulligan makes you root for her by slowly revealing the depth of the wound that keeps her so agitated.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO:

Viola DavisMa Rainey’s Black Bottom: Strong possibility. It’s highly unusual to have both lead acting winners come from a movie that wasn’t nominated for any other major award. But McDormand has two Oscars already, and the other nominees come from films that got a lot of critical knocks, despite their terrific performances. 

BEST PICTURE

Every movie on this list, except Nomadland, is angry about something. We all have pent up pandemic frustration, so the question is: do Academy voters want to dwell on it, or move on?

Promising Young Woman: Depressed over her friend’s date rape and subsequent suicide, a woman lures men into potential date rape scenarios so she can scold them. Angry at: frat boys; parents who want grown children out of their house 

Sound of Metal: A recovering junkie musician becomes depressed when he starts to go deaf and is abandoned by his recovering suicidal girlfriend. Angry at: cochlear nerve; drum kits

Judas and the Black Messiah: An FBI agent infiltrates the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers to bring down its powerful leader Fred Hampton. Angry at: systemic racism; another nominee wearing the same character

The Trial of the Chicago 7: A senile, biased judge presides over the trial of the men accused of fomenting the riots during the Democratic National Convention in 1968 Chicago. Angry at: judicial system; Bernie Sanders not being president

The Father: A old man descends into dementia. Angry at: mortality; walls; people who keep changing into other people

Minari: A Korean immigrant drags his wife and young son to rural Arkansas so he can fulfill his dream of farming, only to lose everything in a fire. Angry at: irresponsible husbands; paneling

MankCitizen Kane screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz fights with director Orson Welles and pisses off political power-broker/Trump surrogate William Randolph Hearst. Angry at: right-wing media: people who expect something they paid you for 

AND THE BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR IS:

Nomadland: Nomadland has been the Best Picture frontrunner since it came out. Why? Because it has a tone unlike anything else this year. Yes, it showcases a small segment of the population whose lives can be romanticized by those who will never have to worry about living that way, which is 99.99% of the Academy. But the sentiment of finding a way through, and making peace with, trauma is universal. The other nominees spent their run time crushing its characters with that trauma, and while catharsis happens in the last act of most, as movie storytelling demands, Nomadland is catharsis from beginning to end. Those who find it inspiring rather than depressing are those more focused on being positive (however unrealistic) as they come out of pandemic trauma. Few would choose living in a van and traveling the American West to find peace, but it’s the sentiment that counts.