Oscar Ballot 2020 (If I had a Vote)

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The Oscars are my version of the Superbowl, and after frantically filling in my blind spots this past month, I’ve, for the 3rd year in a row, been better than most actual voting members of the Academy and watched every nominated film. In preparation for tonight’s show, allow me to share what I’d vote for in all 24 categories.

Visual Effects – The Lion King

While I did not especially care for the impact the visuals had on the recreation of The Lion King, I can’t deny that they were impressive. The animated photo-realism is a technical marvel even if the film falls flat.

Costume – Little Women

The costume design in Little Women is both gorgeous and serves as a detail to explain the class differential between the characters.

Makeup and Hairstyling – Bombshell

The three leads in Bombshell go through great transformations through their hair and makeup. Charlize Theron’s transformation into Megyn Kelly is particularly eerie in it’s accuracy.

Production Design – Parasite

Both houses in Parasite are wonders of production design. The contrast between the dirty basement dwelling and the modern million dollar household plays well to the themes of the film.

Sound Editing – 1917

The war sounds in 1917 are immersive in their accuracy. Each bullet and explosion fell real.

Sound Mixing – 1917

Similarly, the mixing in 1917 is excellent. The blending of quiet stealth moments with loud action scenes create great contrast. Where the mixing stands out the most is late in the film when a song slowly crescendos as Lance Corporal Schofield staggers through a forest.

Original Song – (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again (Rocketman)

I feel somewhat weird voting on the music categories, because I don’t have the objective knowledge to judge them like I do with film, but of the songs nominated, I liked “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” the best so it get’s my vote.

Original Score – Joke

I did not like Joker, and I do not think it’s a very good movie. That said, Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score is magnificent. Eerie and foreboding while still being extremely melodic and captivating, her score is the highlight of the film and in a perfect world would be the only Oscar it received.

Editing – Parasite

By cutting back and forth from planning to scheme, Parasite‘s tension is amplified cementing it in the thriller genre.

Cinematography – 1917

The most obvious of the categories, Roger Deakins “one-take” 1917 is impressively beautiful. The night scene in particular is some of the best photography I’ve seen.

Short Film, Live Action – A Sister

This was probably the weakest category this year, but A Sister was a worthy winner. A really tense portrayal of a car ride gone wrong, and the lengths women need to go to be safe.

Short Film, Animated – Kitbull

Was I won over by a cute cat video? Yes, yes I was.

Short Film, Documentary – Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)

A strong category this year, but the joy of watching the Afghan girls learn to skateboard and find confidence made this my pick.

Documentary Feature – For Sama

My favorite film nominated for any Oscar this year, For Sama‘s framing of the film as a gift for the director’s baby Sama brought a personal flare that left me shaken by it’s power.

Animated Feature – I Lost My Body

A young man trying to find meaning in life and a severed hand searching for it’s body all backed by great animation and a stellar score make it the best animated feature of the year.

International Film – Pain and Glory

Yes Parasite is amazing and will undoubtedly win, but Pain and Glory is the best movie Almodóvar has ever made and it’s extremely personal story is in my opinion the best international film of the year.

Adapted Screenplay – Little Women

Previous adaptations of Little Women have always struggled with the condensing of two books into one movie resulting in subsequent three act structures. By telling the story non-linearly, Gerwig managed to be freed of that issue in a beautiful way.

Original Screenplay – Marriage Story

Marriage Story is getting the most recognition for it’s acting, and while all the nominated performances are amazing, the underlying screenplay gave them a superb starting place.

Supporting Actor – Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

When watching Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Brad Pitt stands out as just having a lot of fun. Be it cruising through the streets of late 60’s LA, brawling with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), or beating up members of the Manson family while high on acid, Pitt’s presence is always enjoyable.

Supporting Actress – Laura Dern (Marriage Story)

Dern as the cutthroat Lawyer with a sugar coated exterior is the best performance in a film filled with best performances. Her sympathy for Johansson’s Nicole is endearing, but her shrewdness sneaks through when she goes on the offensive in court. All together, an intricately balanced performance.

Lead Actor – Antonio Banderes (Pain and Glory)

Banderes’s performance as the aging and pain ridden Salvador Mallo, a not so subtle Almodóvar stand-in, is subtle in it’s brilliance. He’s tortured by the demons in his past, but he internalizes them letting them destroy his life. The Oscar will undoubtedly go to the flashy Joaquin Phoenix performance, but if you’re looking for the best acting and not the most acting, it should be Banderes.

Lead Actress – Renée Zellweger (Judy)

Renée Zellweger was so good as Judy Garland that I find myself singing the movie’s praises when really she’s the only reason to see it. That said it is worth seeing just for her performance.

Director – Bon Joon Ho (Parasite)

Parasite is the most meticulously put together film of the year. It has the strongest auteurial voice. The tension and intensity stem directly through Bon Joon Ho’s decision at the head of the film.

Picture – Marriage Story

Not the best movie of the year (though I did have it at number three), but between an immaculate screenplay, and strong performances through out, Marriage Story is the movie I recommend to people over almost anything else released this year. It’s personal and emotional and would be a worthy winner of the Best Picture Oscar.

Atlantics: Desperation through lack of Agency

#52FilmsbyWomen: Week 2

I was without a computer for a few weeks so forgive me as I play catch-up on a few weeks.

Atlantics (2019, Mati Diop)

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People do desperate things when life gives them no other option. These gambles rarely work but are a way to regain some amount of agency when the systems that oppress are too strong.  The poverty that affects many citizens of traditionally colonized countries and strict patriarchal law are two such systems that serve as the setting for Mati Diop’s Atlantics.  Told through the guise of a supernatural drama, at its heart, Atlantics is a story of people struggling with their lack of agency.

Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) is a young woman and the cusp of losing her agency. She has a group of friends who are disrespected by her family and a secret love in Souleiman (Traore), but in the near future she is expected to forgo those joys. Instead of being with people who bring her joy, she is betrothed to a different man, Omar. Omar’s wealth offers a promise of future stability and a reprieve from poverty. Conversely it would require her to leave her life, and the one she loves behind.

Souleiman likewise struggles with debilitating external oppression. He works as a construction worker building a tower for the wealthy. When the contractor refuses to pay his workers for the job they’ve done, Souleiman is forced to take a risky chance simply to survive. He and his fellow workers board a ship heading for Spain in hopes of finding work, leaving their loved ones including Ada behind.

With Souleiman acting in desperation and leaving, Ada gives into her situation. She marries Omar and accepts that her life as she knew it is over, and yet even in her resignment, she continues to lose agency.  When her past relationship with Souleiman comes public, her father and husband force her to go to the doctor and take a virginity test. Humiliated, she, like Souleiman, chooses to act in desperation leaving the financial backing of her husband and parents to try to survive.

Director Mati Diop uses her characters to reflect reality, and thus denies them a perfect fairytale ending.  Souleiman never returns for Ada because he dies when his ship sinks en route to Spain. His gamble failed. Only through supernatural means are Souleiman and his crew able to find some form of vengeance against the rich contractor who refused to pay them.  Ada likewise has a bittersweet ending. She finally has control over her life, but she had to leave behind any support systems she’d ever known.  Atlantics is a tragic film because even accepting supernatural help, the systems the oppressed Ada and Suoleiman were too strong for any other outcome.