Sunday, March 12, 2023

2023 Oscar Picks

 Every year, I pick my winners among categories where I've seen the majority of nominees.  These reflect only who I'd vote to give the Oscar to if I could, and not an attempt to predict who will win (though I may talk a little bit about predictions as well).  In the past my picks sometimes coincided with the Academy's selections, but they can easily diverge.  Last year, my picks matched the Academy's in only 6 of 15 categories.  In other words, they got a lot of things wrong.

If you read my Best Picture rankings, you'll know I didn't think much of the depth of filmmaking in 2022.  I was happy to see this be the year of the woman, though, as more Best Actress nominees came from Best Picture nominees than Best Actor (it's usually the opposite).  Overall, I'll have more gaps in the films I've seen than usual, so please bear with me.

Best Picture

If you read my Best Picture rankings, you know this is Everything Everywhere All at Once.  I can't stop talking about how original and how heartfelt it is.  An absolutely stellar job was done by all associated with this film.

Best Director

I have to give this to the Daniels.  They kept Everything Everywhere All at Once moving at all times and elicited wonderful performances from its cast.  Steven Spielberg and Martin McDonagh both did wonderful jobs as well, but I think the pair of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert takes this one for me.

Best Actor

I've not seen Brendan Fraser in The Whale, so while he has received boundless praise and accolades.  I would give my award to Austin Butler, who did a very good job with the little he's given in Elvis, with Colin Farrell my backup choice for The Banshees of Inisherin.

Best Actress

Incredibly strong category this year.  I've not seen Andrea Riseborough's performance, but the other four were stellar.  Ana de Armas is literally the only good thing about Blonde.  Michelle Williams was her usual talented self in The Fabelmans.  In another year, I'd give Cate Blanchett the nod for her very controlled performance as Lydia Tár, but this year is really Michelle Yeoh's year, as she portrayed so many dimensions (literally) as Evelyn Quan Wang.

Best Supporting Actor

The Supporting categories are a little weak this year.  I've not seen Brian Tyree Henry's work, but from the others, I'm pointing at Ke Huy Quan, who is simultaneously a well-meaning dad and long-suffering husband, a dashing secret agent, and a romantic lead.  He is the ultimate supporting actor, driving the plot forward for Michelle Yeoh's character.

Best Supporting Actress

I'm not a huge proponent of any of the nominees (I have not seen Hong Chau's performance in The Whale).  I'm constantly miffed that Angela Bassett was nominated over the much superior work of Viola Davis in The Woman King (Ms. Davis could have been nominated for either category for that role, but since she won Best Supporting for her much meatier role in Fences, I'll put her here).  I can see Stephanie Hsu winning for her performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once (or potentially Jamie Lee Curtis in a less power-packed role in the same film), but I think I'll give my vote to Kerry Condon, Colin Farrell's often frustrated sister in The Banshees of Inisherin.

Best Original Screenplay

I almost want to give this to Martin McDonagh for The Banshees of Inisherin, but Everything Everywhere All at Once was so imaginative that I think I have to give the nod to Daniels Kwan and Scheinert.

Best Adapted Screenplay

As a rule I discount nominations based on prior film franchise entries or on prior versions of the movie, so this is really a two-horse race for me.  I settled on All Quiet on the Western Front, where the screenwriters did a marvelous job capturing the novel's themes in a script that felt modern and moved things forward with consistency without inserting anachronism into a World War I tale.

Best Animated Feature Film

There was not a dominant nominee this year.  Marcel the Shell with Shoes On was difficult to sit through, so it comes in last in my rankings.  Puss in Boots: The Last Wish was incredibly well done but not really Oscar memorable.  Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio is memorable and well done, but I took issue with some of its structure.  I was pleasantly surprised by The Sea Beast, which was much stronger than I'd expected.  But my winner is Turning Red, which did a wonderful job capturing teenage angst and cultural pressures in an animated form.  Plus those cooking scenes were animated masterpieces.

Best Animated Short Film

An Ostrich Told Me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe It was very imaginative and told a complete story.  My second place slot is filled with a tie between The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, a great adaptation of children's literature, and Ice Merchants, which told a beautiful story of a father and son dealing with loss.

Best Live Action Short Film

I didn't get to see An Irish Goodbye and The Red Suitcase because they're not on streaming (fix this please, Hollywood), and I suspect The Red Suitcase will win based on what I've heard.  However, of the three nominees I did see, I'd go with Ivalu, which told a beautiful, tragic story of a native Greenland girl searching for her sister.  It will make you cry and hit something at the same time.

Best Original Score

It's difficult to go against John Williams, especially in his next to last film, but Volker Bertelmann's score for All Quiet on the Western Front stays with you.  It is not just musical accompaniment, it's a sound landscape matching the visuals on the screen.  It's the kind of score you can listen to separately from the film and still feel the same visceral sensations.

Best Original Song

If there's any justice, "Naatu Naatu", the only song to actually have a role in its movie, should win for the criminally undernominated RRR.  However, if the Academy poo-poos that distinction and wants a more Grammy-esque award, I'd look to "This is a Life", the lovely work from Ryan Lott, David Byrne, and Mitski.

Best Production Design

I think you have to give this to All Quiet on the Western Front for its amazing recreation of the World War I battlefield.

Best Cinematography

Having not seen Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths or Empire of Light, I'm at a bit of a disadvantage.  However, the staging of All Quiet on the Western Front, the subtle zoom in shots used throughout, and the incredible tracking shots during action sequences wins this category for me.

Best Visual Effects

It's easy to go the Avatar direction, but I did not see the movie (and now never have to), so I will look instead at the other nominees.  The Batman was my early favorite for this, as it served up some amazing shots.  But then Top Gun: Maverick was nominated, and I'm partly giving it my vote for its incredible visual effects work and partly in protest that its stunning cinematography didn't get a nomination of its own.  Perhaps that's because the nominating groups assumed that the incredibly practical shots it captured were actually visual effects, and if so, I'll reward the film for it here.

2022 Best Picture Rankings

It's that time of year again! After viewing (almost) all the Best Picture nominees, I rank them based on my assessment of their worthiness for the Best Picture award. Note that this is not a prediction of who will win, but rather a statement of how I would vote if I could and how I'd rank the also-rans. Every year is a little different in terms of the collective quality of the films. Sometimes there's a battle royale of multiple highly deserving works, and those are the best years (think Boyhood and Birdman in 2014). Sometimes there's a wide swath of worthy films, but no clear standouts that are going to live in our collective memory forever (think 2015, when Spotlight captured Best Picture but isn't mentioned much today, but neither are any of its major competition). 

This year, the quality at the top is really limited to one obvious winner, the middle tiers are well populated, but the depth is very bad, with three films I question whether they should have been nominated. Here we go. 

 10. Avatar: The Way of Water

Avatar 2 won’t be coming to streaming before the Oscars, and it’s just not worth dragging myself to the movie theater for what I fully expect to be a b-movie with fancy graphics like its predecessor was, so this will be brief. After watching the original, I felt insulted that people actually talked about it being a Best Picture favorite, and was prepared to be mad at the results at the 2010 Oscars. Thankfully, the Academy had the good sense to reward The Hurt Locker in what was in retrospect a very weak year for film (seriously, Up probably should have won, which gives you an idea of how weak the slate was -- as well as how excellent that particular Pixar film was). 

The second installment only has a 76% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which while good compared to most films, is very weak for Oscar consideration. The first film disguised a hackneyed script and weak cast with very pretty graphics, and the ads for the sequel indicate little has changed. The fact that director James Cameron has little respect for the peoples whose story he rips off with his white savior complex just makes things worse, turning the Avatar franchise into the indigenous slaughter equivalent of what Crash was for race relations. Hollywood really needs to stop embarrassing itself by making and then pouring accolades on these naive, tone-deaf insults. 

9.5 What should have been nominated instead: Prey 

If the Academy wanted to honor a genre film with indigenous overtones, they should have considered Prey. Easily the best Predator sequel ever (and honestly, I'd put it over the original by a mile as well), Prey treats its subjects with respect, features a largely Native American cast, tells a taut story, features a dog that can act rings around the likes of Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington, and has incredible cinematography (with some of the best lit and filmed night action sequences I've seen in a long time). It is far from perfect and suffers from not having the same visual effects budget as Avatar, but in terms of quality of film, it's arguably a stronger candidate than the bottom three of the actual nominees. 

9. Elvis 

Elvis has some good points to it, but largely it's one of the weakest non-franchise entries into the Best Picture race in recent memory. It has absolutely zero nuance or complexity. Austin Butler does a good job with what he’s given, but his Elvis is a perpetual victim to whom things happen, with no agency in his own story. Ray and Walk the Line (which ironically had a much more human Elvis for the five minutes he appeared on screen there) were much better films because they looked at their protagonists with relatively unflinching eyes, exploring the various failings of their subjects. This film just uses Elvis as a punching bag for its star antagonist, Colonel Tom Parker. 

Seriously, you'd never tell he was a drug addict except for two scenes in which he acts nothing like the rest of the film.

Speaking of which, this is easily the worst performance of Tom Hanks’s career. Between his inability to keep the Colonel’s voice consistent, the embarrassing fat suit, and the sheer lack of subtlety, the entire endeavor is just a boondoggle. The plastic looking animated characters Hanks played in The Polar Express showed more expression. 

I guess even great actors have serious misses.

I've never been a Baz Luhrmann fan, as I find his films sacrificing substance for style. Elvis does not change that thinking. 

8. Top Gun: Maverick 

I honestly enjoyed watching Top Gun: Maverick and appreciate its good qualities, but it's just not a serious contender because of one fatal flaw: its script. It’s a great technical movie with some very good performances, but given the story takes the mission from Star Wars, the climax from Iron Eagle, its opening act from The Right Stuff, and then structures it all using the skeleton of the first Top Gun movie, it’s not exactly bursting with originality. Sequels need to take a cue from classics like The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back and realize the path to greatness is to capture the spirit of the original, not replay it note for note. 

Note to Hollywood: please stop making your sequels note for note remakes of the original.

However, there are some excellent things to appreciate about the film. It is shot beautifully, with easily the most stunning aviation scenes ever put on film. It very much deserved its nomination for visual effects, and I am surprised it wasn't also recognized for its cinematography. 

It also features a largely strong cast, with Miles Teller and Jennifer Connelly doing well playing off of Tom Cruise. Say what you want about Cruise, he is one of those actors that never takes a film off and never loses intensity -- you could ask him to spend a film miming being trapped in an invisible box or walking against the wind holding an invisible umbrella and he would still bring his A game. It would be interesting to see him act opposite Denzel Washington at some point. 

He has made some interesting life and work choices, but you can't say he doesn't give it his all.

Overall, Top Gun: Maverick I could see being honored as the last film onto the slate, a nod to the movie that helped save the year's box office from the doldrums of Hollywood's COVID years. The fact that it's above two other films on this list is kind of embarrassing. 

7. Triangle of Sadness 

Triangle of Sadness is a quirky black comedy in apparently the year for quirky films and black comedies. 

Triangle of Sadness is largely about power dynamics and what our "civilized" society values versus what an unstructured society values. The luxury cruise that takes up much of the movie's run time is populated with some of the most useless rich people you'll ever encounter: arms dealers who've clearly never left their offices to experience the warfare they support, Russian oligarchs proud to let everyone know they deal in "shit", and influencers who are not so much wealthy as just prone to receive things for free if those things can somehow be associated with their pouty lips and rock hard abs online. 

Absolutely useless.

After dozens of minutes subjected to the whininess, casual empty philosophizing, and just shear uselessness of the cruise guests, you're ready to see something bad happen to them. Yet after the ship experiences a major disaster, the formerly powerless and now quite important staff becomes no less insufferable and self-oriented. Triangle of Sadness is not kind in its view about the human condition. 

It's kind of a copout that the nicest one in this photo is also the prettiest.

It’s a bit messy, where the film meanders a bit too much and approaches its central theme quite slowly at first. It’s the kind of film that I would have pegged as one of the last films onto the slate, as there was room for one more and this was different and crafted well enough to merit consideration. However, given it’s better than a third of the films nominated, there goes that theory. It’s one of those films that I enjoyed watching but doubt I’ll ever be in the mood to rewatch. 

6. All Quiet on the Western Front 

All Quiet on the Western Front is a perfectly competent war movie and adaptation of a classic in modern literature. Having said that, it's not the most memorable war movie nor the most amazing adaptation of a classic in modern literature. It suffers from coming on the heels of the masterful 1917 and the incredibly well crafted Dunkirk, because in comparison, it's just not that advanced in its filmmaking. 

That doesn't mean that it's not a worthwhile film, though. It tells the story of German schoolboys who happily go off to war and of course learn quickly that war means horror, not adventure. It is the kind of story that makes Pippin and Merry and their evolution (from joining Frodo's quest on a lark to being wizened veterans who realize at the end that only Frodo and Sam understand what they've seen and done) my favorite thread of the Lord of the Rings books (sadly, the movies make the unwise choice of having Pippin and Merry fall in with Frodo and Sam by pure happenstance instead). 

"Yes, yes! Let's go off to war!  It'll be a lark!"

The robbing of innocence that war subjects its participants and bystanders to is not only universal, it's key to the themes of the film. New recruits die en masse for underestimating the dangers present. Soldiers are faced with weapons that they'd not even dreamed of, participate in brutal hand-to-hand combat that leaves them shaken, and blanch at a fate of being permanently crippled. Even the impending armistice brings no safety, as the soldiers are imperiled by the brutality of the enemy, the incompetence of their own leadership, and even threats from the local civilian population tired of being taken advantage of. 

Nothing ends well in war.

War is hell, and All Quiet on the Western Front communicates that ably. 

5. Women Talking 

It’s hard to picture a movie feeling taut and stressful when it primarily consists of a group of people sitting in a space talking. But when the topic at hand revolves around whether a group of Mennonite women should escape the Bolivian enclave where they’re kept illiterate, often abused by their husbands, and frequently raped by other members of the community, or whether they should stay and fight for their rights while keeping their families together, let’s just say the stakes are raised. 

From a structure and dramatic foundation perspective, the closest I can come to this movie is Twelve Angry Men. But instead of deciding the fate of another, these angry women are deciding their own fates, as well as those of their daughters. The fact that it revolves around systematic sexual assault and the ongoing denial by the church elders of the assaults actually happening — in the post-MeToo age nonetheless — makes this film a complete gut punch. 

It is saddening how simultaneously naive and worldly these girls are due to their circumstances.

As such, I can appreciate the craft that went into making it and be glad that I experienced it while also never wanting to see it again. It’s a fantastic film, but it’s not the kind of movie you want to view just for a laugh. This one sticks with you for awhile. 

What makes this all the more awful is the film, while purely fictional, is inspired by the very real rapes and denial that happened to a real-life Mennonite enclave. In that case, the perpetrators were actually arrested, tried, and convicted rather than bailed out by the men of the fictional enclave. As a result, I don’t believe a decision like the one dramatized here occurred. But the film will keep you on edge about what decision will be made, and even more so, whether the women be safe in enacting their decision. 

Rooney Mara really needs more star turn opportunities.

Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, and Sheila McCarthy do much of the heavy lifting, with McCarthy and Foy on extreme ends of the question being debated and Mara roaming the space in between. Frances McDormand plays a big part in the trailer to add her star power, but actually a very small bit part in the film itself. 

4. Tár 

Tár is a great character study and an absolute tour de force by Cate Blanchett. It has a real intelligence to it, providing a master class on classical music and conducting to the audience. 

Tár emphasizes to you the cues that composers use to communicate their intent and message to the listener, and this property is mirrored in the use of nonverbal cues to communicate character intent and thoughts to the viewer. The film trades in unspoken glances and posture as a communication medium that overdubs the dialogue. 

These quiet moments throughout the film are everything the dialogue lacks in terms of emotion.

Blanchett does a terrific job walking the tightrope between making her character too sympathetic and too villainous. There are some interesting parallels that are really contrasts between her character and J.K. Simmons’ portrayal of the professor/band leader in Whiplash. Both are classic examples of the adage that you’re never the villain in your own story, though Tar is a billion times more subtle. 

Fortunately, Blanchett doesn't throw a piano at a wall.

Overall, I see why Tár was at the top of so many "Best of" lists for 2022. It just seems a bit decompressed, and I question if it couldn’t have been more effective with a tighter running time. As a result, it stands just outside the top ranks of my selections. 

3. The Banshees of Inisherin 

The Banshees of Inisherin is the first of three films I'd seriously consider for the Best Picture Oscar. 

It is not an important film, but takes its spot due to its superb craftsmanship and stellar performances. The cinematography is stunning, using the landscape of its Irish island setting as an effective canvas on which it paints its tale. All four acting nominations were well earned, with perhaps Barry Keoghan's being the iffiest. The film's story benefits from all of this craft, and it's an interesting, multi-faceted one. So dark and yet so light at the same time. 

I mean even the animals fit the canvas quite well.

Deep down, the film is about the relationships that people have, in all their complexity. You can love and hate someone at the same time, and the people of Inisherin have reason to do both with regularity. A friend can be one's greatest asset and greatest annoyance at the same time. A young man can be both creepy and sweet at the same time. A brother can be the center of one's world and the thing that holds you back. A man can be an abusive bully and a caring father at the same time. We are complex, broken animals, and that brokenness can intermingle with others' in interesting, endearing, and terrifying ways. Banshees embraces all aspects of that complexity in a wonderfully interpersonal story. 

Even the problematic relationships like this one are important.

2. The Fabelmans 

The Fabelmans: So. Fucking. Delightful! Why do I get the feeling that there was more truth to this than most films that explicitly state “Based on a True Story”? 

I normally rag on Spielberg’s endings, which I think often last a scene or two (or in the case of Ai, a whole bunch) too long, but this one was perfect! 

Michelle Williams is as incredible as she always is. How did she become our generation’s Meryl Streep? Sadly, her excellence and her character’s range of emotions throughout the film overshadows the quiet, strong excellence of her co-star Paul Dano. It’s become apparent that a lot of Spielberg’s films are love letters to his father, and from this film, I can kind of see why. 

Such a great job by these two.

And Gabriel LaBelle. Holy cow, in the couple of hours of screen time he has, he morphs into the Steven Spielberg that made Jaws so incredibly. And I kind of want to see a Fabelmans sequel now, showing that start to his career. 

The casting was an amazing bullseye on this one.

This is really what filmmaking should be about: about craft, and emotion, and above all joy at what you’re doing. The fact that you can palpably feel it is a testament to the skill and artistry of Spielberg. It deserves all the accolades it’s received. 

1. Everything Everywhere All at Once 

I think the best way to describe Everything Everywhere All at Once is if someone took drafts of scripts for Being John Malkovich, The Matrix, Turning Red, and Brainsmasher, randomly shuffled the pages together, shot it, and somehow made it work. It is easily the most creative film we've seen in the Best Picture category in many years. 

I can only imagine the joy the people who made this film had while making it. It is creativity unbridled by constraints of "what should happen", but done in a way that holds together quite well. The film has no end of absurdist moments that seem to have had no boundaries placed upon them, and that freedom allows a film that runs well over two hours to seem like a snap of the fingers compared to competing movies with surprisingly shorter runtimes. 


The focus of the film is the intertwined forces of family and fate. Are we the sum of our decisions, or are we something more, defined by our inextricable bonds with each other? It is from this exploration that Everything Everywhere All at Once gets its greatest strength: its heart. It makes the case for acceptance and vulnerability and, in the end, just accepting love as it is. As a result, the film finds deep emotion from things as absurd as a man and his raccoon, two women with hot dog fingers, and most importantly, two rocks sitting side by side on the edge of a cliff. 

The cast is fantastic in pulling the emotional tapestry together and making it as real as can be in the midst of all the madness. Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis have both had career renaissances now in their silver years, and Ke Huy Quan has mounted an acting comeback for the ages with his supporting role. 

The cast, like the family they play, are amazing and brilliantly unique.

I imagine with the success of Everything Everywhere All at Once, there will be inevitable copycats, as Hollywood often looks to superficial trappings rather than the heart of a film when making decisions. But I hope that this will prediction will prove incorrect. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a singular achievement in creative film making and should stand alone unsullied by inferior copies.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

2022 Oscar Picks

Every year, I pick my winners among categories where I've seen the majority of nominees.  These reflect only who I'd vote to give the Oscar to if I could, and not an attempt to predict who will win (though I may talk a little bit about predictions as well).  In the past my picks sometimes coincided with the Academy's selections, but they can easily diverge.  Last year, my picks matched the Academy's in 10 of 15 categories.

Last year was strange and this past year still didn't see the film industry recover.  How else do you explain a Best Picture slate that didn't feature a single Best Actress nominated performance?  I did at least do my Best Picture rankings, as opposed to last year when the slate was a little too weak to warrant commenting on every film.  However, due to a number of factors, this list will be a bit odd this year, which I'll explain along the way.  Let's get to it.

Best Picture

If you read my Best Picture rankings, you know that I went with The Power of the Dog.  Of the nominees, it was the least flawed, with strong performances, good direction, and beautiful cinematography.  It would not win against most prior Best Picture winners, but this is not an ordinary year.

Best Director

This is a tough one, because all of the directors did wonderful jobs.  Kenneth Branagh showed his mastery of craft in Belfast.  Ryusuke Hamaguchi made three hours of driving and talking compelling.  Paul Thomas Anderson made a technically wonderful movie of a very problematic script.  And Steven Spielberg Steven Spielberged all over West Side Story.  But my choice here is Jane Campion for adapting The Power of the Dog.  Her choices were spot on, and she made a fantastic film with few blemishes.

Best Actor

I think it's easy to exclude Javier Bardem and Denzel Washington because neither performance was their career best.  I've heard rumblings for Will Smith, and while he was fantastic, it was a bit of a layup given Richard Williams was written as the Will Smithiest of Will Smith roles.  Benedict Cumberbatch was excellent as Phil Burbank, part bully, part manly cowboy, part scared/scarred child.  But my statue would go to Andrew Garfield, who did it all in Tick, Tick... Boom!  He sang, he made us laugh, he made us cry, he showed us wonder.  It was truly a great performance and not just handing an award to an actor for singing (<cough>, Emma Stone, <cough>).

Best Actress

I'm a bit stuck, because I did not see four of the five nominated performances, and don't plan to anytime soon.  I'd rather miss a great performance than watch anything to do with Tammy Faye Bakker, for example.  I'd normally skip a category I haven't seen most of the nominees for, but this is Best Actress, and Nicole Kidman really did a wonderful job inhabiting Lucille Ball, so I'm going to give her my award a bit by default and a bit by merit.

Best Supporting Actor

All of these performances were quite good, but Troy Kotsur stands out.  Not only did he have the role that did the most heavy lifting for his film, playing the deaf father balancing between worrying about losing his daughter and proud of the adult she's turning into, but he also had to connect with audiences despite not using a language most viewers know.  There was not a time that we didn't know and connect with what his Frank Rossi was thinking and feeling, even if we didn't know ASL and didn't read the subtitles.

Best Supporting Actress

I didn't see The Lost Daughter so can't comment on Jessie Buckley's performance.  Even so, I don't know how I could hand this to anyone but Ariana DeBose.  Anita is a role made for stars, and she managed to elevate it further.  I can see a world in which Aunjanue Ellis wins for King Richard, but DeBose's performance across the board was lights out.

Best Original Screenplay

This is a very weak category this year.  I've not seen The Worst Person in the World.  Adam McKay's script for Don't Look Up is hamhanded.  King Richard is quite good, but fails to deviate from its hero worship of its subject.  Licorice Pizza is, well, problematic.  So I think Belfast wins here for me by default.  If it doesn't win, I'll hope that the Academy picked King Richard, since it's less noxious than the other nominated films I watched.

Best Adapted Screenplay

I did not see The Lost Daughter.  Of the others, The Power of the Dog, CODA, and Drive My Car are all very strong contenders, and I can think of reasons to give the award to each of them.  However, I think I'll go with The Power of the Dog since the final result was so stellar.  But I won't be upset if the Academy opts for either CODA or Drive My Car.

Best Animated Feature Film

This year was odd in that the floor was very high (no How to Train a Dragon film franchise nominations) but there were no knockout films (no Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse) either.  I could make reasonable cases for Encanto (best example of a classic CGI animated film with a brilliant soundtrack), Flee (an incredible documentary that was drawn in order to protect the anonymity of its subjects), and The Mitchells vs. the Machines (highly imaginative and stylistic).  I think I'll be old school and select Encanto, because the story is good and the songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda are absolutely stunning.

A Quick Note About Categories I Didn't Pick

I normally don't pick the Best Documentary Feature or the Best International Feature categories, but I have seen two nominees in each.  For Best Documentary, I saw Flee and Summer of Soul, and both of them were amazing.  I can't imagine having to pick between those two, even without knowledge of the other nominees.  For Best International Feature, I saw Flee and Drive My CarDrive My Car seems the no-brainer here, but I've also heard amazing things about The Worst Person in the World and of course Flee was amazing.  I'll look forward to seeing what the Academy does.

Also, I normally pick among the nominated short film categories.  However, this year they did not release the collected short films prior to the Oscars like they have in other years, and I've been slow to return to the movie theater during this late stage of the pandemic.  So I've not seen any of the Live Action or Documentary short films.  C'mon Hollywood, get these films out to the largest audience possible next year!

Best Animated Short Film

Of these nominees, I haven't seen Boxballet, but really the previews I've seen doesn't think it would change my mind.  This year was very odd, because so many of the films were extremely dark.  I honestly never want to see Bestia again.  Of those, only Affairs of the Art had any charm.  The Windshield Wiper told some interesting tails of love or almost love, but the whole of it didn't hold together well.  My pick is Robin Robin, an absolutely charming and technically proficient film from Aardman.

Best Original Score

Surprisingly, I liked the Don't Look Up score.  Encanto's instrumental score is very good, but I have a hard time separating it from Lin-Manuel Miranda's song writing.  I thought I was going to go with Jonny Greenwood's The Power of the Dog score, which was moody and yet surprisingly easy to listen to multiple times over, but there are a few too many dissonant moments for me to go with it.  I think I'll ultimately give my award to Germaine Franco for Encanto.

Best Original Song

I'm rooting for Lin-Manuel Miranda to complete his EGOT with a win for "Dos Oroguitas", but I'm confused as to why this was the selection from Encanto to get nominated instead of "We Don't Talk About Bruno".  "Dos Oroguitas" is a fine song, but it's very traditional and straightforward, compared to the complex structure of "We Don't Talk About Bruno", which also happened to sit at number one on the charts for several weeks.  So I'm rooting for Miranda to win, but that's not actually the song I'd pick.  I get a little annoyed at the overly abundant love that the entertainment world gives Beyoncé such that even her less than stellar work gets extreme praise, but her "Be Alive" really captures the spirit of King Richard so well.  I don't know that it's an upset to give her the award, but it is well deserved.

Best Production Design

This is a really strong category, and I can see any of the five nominees taking home the statue.  I've in fact changed my mind five times while typing this.  But I'm going to go with West Side Story in the end.  Unless I change my mind again.

Best Cinematography

I hate the fact that Greig Fraser is even nominated for the dark mess that is half of Dune.  I think I'll go with Ari Wegner for The Power of the Dog, though really I could see most of the nominees winning.

Best Visual Effects

Here's where Dune really deserves its nominations.  The visual effects team did an outstanding job bringing the world of Arrakis to life.  Too bad the script, direction, cinematography, and acting didn't live up to it.