2019 OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS: DOCUMENTARY

Black Sheep: B
End Game: B+
A Night at the Garden: B+
Life Boat: A-
Period. End of Sentence: A-

black sheep Black Sheep, the single nominated documentary short not from the U.S., is a 27-minute film from the UK with a sensibility all its own. This one examines racism and its effects one one young black man in a rural British context. Cornelius Walker, fantastically lit with his face against a backdrop as he speaks directly into the camera, relates his mother and father moving him to the country after another immigrant child was stabbed to death in their London neighborhood. Cornelius was immediately met with racist abuse in his new small town, until he goes out of his way to emulate and fit in with the very kids who initially tormented him -- right down to bleaching his skin to make it lighter, and purchasing blue contact lenses. Much of this is recreated with very well executed flashbacks, but what is most compelling is present-day Cornelius wrestling with the evolution of his identity. This is a truly unique perspective, albeit with a strangely abrupt ending.

end game End Game, as you might imagine is rather sad: it's a 40-minute Netflix documentary about palliative care for terminally ill patients at a fairly posh medical facility in San Francisco. The cameras focus on about five different patients and the imminent challenges they face, although particular focus is put on two of them. In its way, even as it slightly evades clearly important questions of class and access to care (even with a fairly diverse group of subjects, one Iranian and another Asian American), it's the most emotionally affecting of these five short films.

a night at the garden A Night at the Garden, at a mere 7 minutes, is by far the shortest, and arguably the most haunting, of this year's documentary short nominees. It's simply seven minutes of footage of a 1930 "pro-American rally" that occurred at New York City's Madison Square Garden. With 20,000 people cheering as police beat a man who attempts to protest, and a huge number of them engage in Nazi salutes, this might as well be called 1930 Trump Rally. It's hard to watch, but creepily illuminating -- a reminder of a dark history for our nation, which is clearly not relegated only to the distant past, and of the need to endless vigilance.

The 34-minute Life Boat both the longest and pehaps the best of this bunch: a look at rescue missions in the Mediterranean by Sea Watch, a European nonprofit that rescues as many refugees as they can as they flee persecution, war, and worse from their native African and Middle Eastern countries. I really waffled between whether I thought this or Period. End of Sentence was the best of these five films, and somewhat reluctantly settled on this one, which is very effective at putting human, individual faces on people far too easily generalized, stereotyped or outright ignored by the media and the rest of the world. These people appear to be doing incredible, heartbreaking work.

period. end of sentence And that leaves the cleverly titled Period. End of Sentence, the likely winner of the Academy Award in this category -- and it would not be undeserved. With the help of students in a school who helped fund the project, a group of women in a village outside Delhi, India utilize one man's invention to mass produce sanitary pads at low cost. They then sell them at local markets, to a rural population for whom menstruation is such a taboo (the "biggest tabboo in India," says one man) that they know very little about it. This is the seed of a quietly feminist revolution and it is undeniably exciting to witness.

lifeboat

Overall: B+

2019 OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS: LIVE ACTION

Mother: B-
Fauve: B
Marguerite: A-
Detainment: B+
Skin: B

mother Mother is a 19-minute film from Spain that consists solely of a series of phone calls between a young mother, and the six-year-old son on the other line, whose dad has mysteriously left him alone on a beach in France. As it happens, this woman's own mother is in the apartment, so the two women are the only characters ever seen onscreen. (The boy is the only other voice heard.) The "story," such as it is, is simply this young woman becoming more and more hysterical as it becomes clear her son may have been abandoned and she cannot figure out exactly where he is. It ends with no resolution to speak of, leaving me to wonder what the point was -- to illustrate a typical mother's nightmare? Skilled performances notwithstanding, a short like this makes me wonder how slim the pickings are when film shorts are put up for Oscar consideration to begin with.

fauve Fauve is the second of two Canadian live action shorts up for contention this year, this one, at 16 minutes, the shortest of the bunch. A couple French-Canadian kids are just hanging out on abandoned railroad tracks, and, eventually, a surface mine. And basically, their youthful ignorance of nature and physics gets the best of them. I won't spoil what that means exactly, except to say that this one turns surprisingly dark. With again only three characters, though, this short does also illustrate how a little can go along way.

And then there's Marguerite, a 19-minute film, also French-Canadian, that gets my vote as the best of these nominees. Here we have only two characters: the title character, an elderly woman in need of daily in-home assistance, and her much younger woman caretaker. We see plenty of their routine before a phone call from her partner reveals the caretaker to be gay. The way Marguerite's face changes at this revelation made me slightly nervous, but it turned out to be something much more bittersweet than negative. Eventually, we learn what decades-old memories this triggers in Marguerite, and as she tentatively opens up to her caretaker, it becomes something quite moving -- and, in its way, a sad reminder of how different things were for people half a century ago.

detainment If you're looking for something truly disturbing, look no further than Detainment, a 30-minute film from Ireland about the youngest convicted murderers of the 21st century. Based on actual interrogation transcripts, two 10-year-old boys are interviewed separately about what they did with a random toddler they spontaneously decided to abduct from a shopping center and do heinous things to. Thankfully, none of the specific horrors are depicted onscreen; the story that unfolds here is how the two boys start off with total denials and conflicting accounts, until bit by bit, increasingly horrible truths come out. If nothing else, this one serves as a cautionary tale: never let your young child out of your sight for a second, no matter how harmless it may appear to be to do so.

skin Live-action shorts often have a "clever twist" at the end of them, especially American ones, and the 20-minute Skin is no exception. (To be fair, the real difference year is that only one of the shorts ends with such a twist.) When this one ended, foremost in my mind was to wonder whether the director was white or black: Guy Nattiv is a white guy. And, okay, it does seem difficult to imagine a black director creating a film this pointedly about a racist being taught a lesson. Skin has "white guilt" built into its DNA, albeit with more subtlety than usual. This film is generally competently made, although the final moment is about as predictable as it gets.

MARGUERITE

Overall: B

2019 OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS: ANIMATION

Bao: B+
Late Afternoon: A-
Weekends: B
Animal Behaviour: B-
One Small Step: B+

[“Highly Commended]
The Wishing Box: B
Tweet Tweet: B

bao This year's set of animated shorts, better than average but falling short of particular greatness as always, starts with the one short many of us already saw, as it was presented last year prior to screenings of Pixar's Incredibles 2. It's an 8-minute short called Bao, American and about an Asian mother's evolving relationship with her son -- as represented by a dumpling. I think. Honestly this one went, at least in part, kind of over my head, although the animation is up to typical standards of Pixar excellence and still has charm to spare. Who knew a dumpling could be so adorable?

Late Afternoon, a 10-minute short from Ireland, proved to be my favorite of the bunch, alternately wistful an melancholy though it was. This one will hit particularly close to home for anyone who's had a family member suffering from dementia. Here, an elderly woman's mind washes back and forth between current reality and other eras of her life, as her grown daughter packs up the stuff in her home. The relatively rudamentary animation here is well suited to the subject, and is well rendered particularly as the old woman struggles to hold onto her memories, moving from joy to sorrow and back at regular intervals. The end result is something quite moving.

weekends The longest of this year's animated crop is the 15-minute Weekends, an American short detailing a young boy as he grows accustomed to visiting his father on weekends shortly after his parents' separation. Eventually each parent finds a new romantic partner, with varying results of which the child has limited understanding. The water color animation is very pretty, but the length of the story exceeds necessity.

animal behaviour I really wanted to love Animal Behaviour, the 14-minute short from Canada about several different animals in a group therapy session, as it's the kind of thing that's right up my alley. What's not to love about a group of characters so diverse it includes not only a dog, a cat and pig, but also a bird, a gorilla, a praying mantis and a leech? And they all have their own mental issues -- I just wish those issues had been explored with a little more cleverness. This one seems to coast a bit on its concept alone, although I will admit it still got a few good chuckles out of me.

one small step One Small Step is the one animated short nominee with two countries of origin: USA & China. This 8-minute short details the astronautical ambitions of a girl as she grows up struggling through school, at the expense of noticing the attentions and assistance of her cobbler father. He regularly mends her shoes, she regularly fails to notice until she has finally reached her goals and then it is too late. This one also has excellent animation, which is somewhat ironic given how little of the story calls for it as a necessity (as opposed to shooting it as live action). Honestly, the most deeply affecting moment is the clip during the end credits, with one of the directors so excited to hear his short was nominated he starts crying. Three of the nominated shorts feature clips of this sort at their end, it's always a nice thing to see.

photo Often these presentations feature five nominees of such short average length that several "Highly Commended" extras get tacked onto the end. This year there are only two, the first being Wishing Box, a 6-minute American short with impressively crisp animation and slightly lacking in substance. I pirate discovers his monkey can pull anything it wishes for out of an otherwise empty box, much of it fruit it wants to eat. Once the pirate's greediness gets the monkey on board (so to speak) with wishing for riches, a fairly predictable lesson is learned.

tweet tweet Tweet Tweet, a short from Russia, is arguably among the most intriguing of all the shorts here, and I would submit that it was more deserving of a nomination than, say, Animal Behaviour. Being intriguing does not mean it necessarily makes sense, however: the entirety of its run time features human feet on a tightrope that runs across the screen, along with a bird. There are clearly profound metaphors intended here, though I couldn't tell you what they are. The animation is excellent, though, and a lot of thoughts about both Russian history and of life and aging is packed into its twelve minutes.

late afternoon

Overall: B

ISN'T IT ROMANTIC

Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

Isn’t it Romantic wants you to think it’s a meta-send-up of typical romantic comedies, when really it’s a straight-up typical romantic comedy itself. In a way, it’s to its credit that it’s basically unapologetic about it; that’s kind of the point. This is a movie that has it both ways, has its comic cake and eats it romantically too, and basically gets away with it.

There’s also a strange aspect of Isn’t It Romantic, where it has some delightfully irreverent quips that made me laugh surprisingly hard, mixed fairly evenly with an almost slavish devotion to the very romantic-comedy tropes it’s ostensibly poking fun at. It all comes out to an average of general blandness in the end: the gut-busting quips barely falling short of being memorable; the tropes not quite overused enough to bog down the story completely.

To be sure, it’s fun to see an actor like Rebel Wilson as a leading lady, and kind of a kick to see the likes of her learning her lesson about shallowness when she initially pursues a relationship with the gorgeous Liam Hemsworth as opposed to everyman Adam Devine.

Wilson’s character, Natalie, gets mugged on the New York City subway and knocks herself in her attempt to run away. When she wakes up, after having spent most of the work day complaining to her assistant (Betty Gilpin) about how much she hates romantic comedies, she now finds herself in the middle of one. She figures out along the way that she must play the part of a romantic comedy leading lady, right down to her apartment suddenly becoming posh and huge, and being romantically pursued by a beautiful billionaire.

Before Isn’t It Romantic plunges Natalie into this fantasy universe, we are introduced to her living in her crappy Manhattan apartment, with a borderline mangy dog that won’t obey commands, and working in a dingy office as an architect with disrespectful colleagues. Natalie’s “real world” is just as much a part of the fantasy as the movie we’re watching, full of background and back story details that are all just as contrived as any romantic comedy.

The slight bummer of Isn’t It Romantic is its lost potential, and how, when it comes down to it, several of the very romantic comedies referenced by this three-writer script come to mind as definitively superior films to this one. Great romantic comedies are hard to come by, but this one doesn’t try all that hard to be one of them. It thumbs its nose at them with a wink, while riding on their coattails.

The players are all pleasant enough, at least, even if a lot of the scenes come across as a tad under-rehearsed. One thing this movie very much has in its favor is how brief it is — historically, a movie that clocks in at under ninety minutes is a bad sign, and this one is 88. For a movie like this, though, that turns out to be perfect, as far too many romantic comedies drag the story on for two hours and then some, with the humor spread thin as a result.

Isn’t It Romantic has its fun right out of the gate, with an opening scene featuring Jennifer Saunders as Natalie’s mom, who gets one of the funniest lines in the movie. It was apparently inevitable, though, with this movie following a by-the-numbers story arc, for it to sag a bit in the middle. The quips and gags start to dry up; there’s a slight bit of a slog; and then there’s a delightful song and dance number in a karaoke bar.

This movie isn’t quite revolutionary, but it works on its own terms. I just wish its terms aimed a little bit higher.

It’s not as hard to figure out as Natalie thinks it is.

It’s not as hard to figure out as Natalie thinks it is.

Overall: B

CAPERNAUM

Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B

You might call Capernaum the “feel-bad movie of the year,” which is perhaps not the best way to sell people on it. It’s absolutely worth seeing, though, even if it’s by virtue of its subtle defiance. Director and co-writer Nadine Labaki seems to be insisting we face the truth of what we’re doing to ourselves.

And it’s not in the manner you might expect. The story revolves around young Zain (Zain Al Rafeea, excellent in his resigned stoicism), who is so scrawny and small he appears much younger than his apparent twelve years of age. He doesn’t even know for sure how old he is; his parents don’t either. No one has any official papers to prove it, and his parents (played by Kawsar Al Haddad and Fadi Yousef) never bothered to care.

And therein lies the point: Zain is suing his parents. His reason? Because he was born.

When it comes to kids who are brought up in crime and squalor, this is honestly an impressively clever idea. Zain didn’t ask for this life, and he has no choice in having had it foist upon him. He’s currently serving five years in a juvenile jail for stabbing a man — or, as he says in court, “a son of a bitch.” This elicits giggles from people in the courtroom, and even from the movie’s audience. Then it slowly dawns on you what the true reason behind the attack may have been.

Zain has too many siblings. He still cares about them, especially Sahar (Haita “Cedra” Izzam), who he helps, in vain, try hiding the fact that, at 11 years old, her menstrual cycle has begun. Before long there is talk of marrying her off to the young man who lets them all live on his property rent free. Zain, understandably, doesn’t trust him. His and Sahar’s parents characterize it as a survival move, that they are doing Sahar a favor.

A rather long stretch of Capernaum — which, in the title credits, is translated as “chaos,” a colloquial use of the word that also doubles as the name of a doomed Biblical village — follows Zain after he gets fed up with his family and runs away, surviving on his on on the streets of Beirut. He is taken in by an Ethiopian woman, Rahil (Yardanos Shiferaw), working in Lebanon illegally and with her own infant in tow. Capernaum really takes its time with Zain’s day to day life, particularly the one he settles into with Rahil, and the infant he winds up having to take care of on his own.

Zain is just trying to make the best of his situation, with an even mix of resignation and determination. Once he moves from life with his family to life with Rahil, it becomes less certain who it was he stabbed. This is one of several details that don’t become quite clear until the end, with some creative editing that slightly plays with the story’s timeline and is also borderline contrived. The majority of the story is told in flashback, from relatively odd scenes in the courtroom in which Zain insists his parents should not be allowed to have more children. And we’re left to think about how right he is, whether it’s his Lebanese parents or parents in the world beyond.

Capernaum ends on a hopeful note, albeit one that is as bittersweet as it is emotionally affecting. The last image of Zain’s face will haunt you.

Nothing cute to see here.

Nothing cute to see here.

Overall: B+

THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART

Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B-
Editing: B-
Animation: B+

I would argue that calling this sequel The Second Part is at least partly misleading: after The Lego Movie (2014) and before The Lego Movie 2, we already got The Lego Batman Movie (2017) and The Lego Ninjago Movie (also 2017). I suppose since The Lego Movie 2 is the only one of these actually to be a direct sequel, but these movies clearly all inhabit the same universe, maybe it would be more accurate to call this one The Lego Movie 2: The Fourth Part.

Four movies and five years in, is no one experiencing “Lego Movie Fatigue”? It would seem in fact they are, what with this movie’s opening day box office pulling in 46% less the original film did in 2014.

It’s kind of too bad, honestly — while The Second Part is hardly a masterpiece, and there are periods that are strangely dull for a movie overstuffed with action, I actually did like this one at least slightly more than I did the original. It has something a little more interesting to say about how children breathe life into their toys, at least. In The Lego Movie, that idea felt swiped wholesale from the Pixar Toy Story movies. This time, Director Mike Mitchell expands that to consider how kids’ imaginations change as they get older.

More specifically in this case, the whole conflict between who we are supposed to regard as “the good guys” (voiced by Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman and Charlie Day) and “the bad guys” (voiced fantastically by Tiffany Haddish, and Stephanie Beatriz), arises as the result of a growing boy’s younger sister wanting to play LEGOS with him, and their competing imaginary ideas. Much like the far superior Toy Story 3, it gets into how toys are affected by their child owners starting to grow up. The Lego Movie 2 does offer a take all its own, exploring how adversarial ways of thinking can be made to work together.

As is typical with these movies, though, I just wish it had a bit more wit about it. This movie is all of an hour and 46 minutes long, but a good fifteen minutes could have been shaved off of that, saving a whole lot of unnecessary animation work and really tightening up the gags — many of which are pretty good. Movies like this, which clearly aim to pummel the viewer with both humor and action, start to fall flat when the wit dries up.

That said, within this particular series, I can’t help but say one thing I’ve said about all three that I saw: kids will love it. No young child who loves animated feature films and LEGO toys will feel like watching this was a waste of time. They may not re-watch it quite as much as they did previous “Lego Movies,” I suppose. And when it comes to holding the attention of the adults accompanying said children, it does a sufficient job, with plenty of funny pop culture references. It’s always nice, though, when a movie can do better than just be sufficient.

—But wait! One thing I will give this movie that’s way better than sufficient: its soundtrack. The Lego Movie 2, in fact, could be considered at least partly a musical, which at least one character refers to as “the universal language.” This movie has several super catchy songs, the best of which is literally called “Catchy Song.” And if there is any one thing that does indeed make this one worth seeing, it’s the songs.

Okay everybody get in formation . . . for more of this.

Okay everybody get in formation . . . for more of this.

Overall: B

WHAT MEN WANT

Directing: B-
Acting: B
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B-

Well, Mel Gibson is nowhere to be found in it, so What Men Want certainly has that going for it. Honestly, that being a point in its favor should not be underestimated.

Now, to be fair to everyone else who made that movie released in 2000, What Women Want was made far before anyone had any idea what a douche Mel Gibson would reveal himself to be. It was also slightly more realistic about how people think — although there should be an emphasis on slightly. In a male-dominated world, there’s arguably more to be learned by a man gaining the ability to learn what women are thinking, rather than the other way around.

In What Men Want, sports agent Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson, gleefully making the best of the role) is presented as a woman with her own lessons to learn about “connecting with men.” She’s self-involved and often selfish, although to this movie’s credit, she’s still presented as “likable.” That said, by and large, the men she comes across after bashing her head and then gaining the ability to hear everything they’re thinking, are themselves presented as innocent and pure of heart by default. In other words, this movie is pure utopian fantasy from every angle.

Sure, there’s a couple of men who are villainous. But these men exist only for that purpose: to be specific adversaries to Ali, as plot devices. If this script made any attempt to be at all realistic, probably half the men whose thoughts Ali heard thinking would be aggressively disgusting, somewhere on the spectrum of misogynistic to racist, and often both in equal measure. But then, that wouldn’t make for the fun, light-hearted movie director Adam Shankman (a white guy, incidentally) was going for here.

Now, some of these utopian elements are maybe not so bad — “be the change you want to see,” and all that. There is a couple of hints of real-world struggles we all know a woman like Ali Davis would face; in one scene, she challenges her boss to fire her, after he references “me too” and she suggests he’s only afraid to fire her because she’s a black woman. The fact that virtually none of her coworkers, <i>all</i> of them men in a male-dominated field, have any overtly bigoted thoughts about her, still places this story squarely in fantasy land.

I even have mixed feelings about Ali’s gay assistant, Brandon (Josh Brener — who is straight, though he’s fine in the part), who seems pointedly presented as a gay person who happens to be extremely knowledgeable about sports and is therefore qualified to be a sports agent. I like that the character is still relatively effeminate even within that otherwise “bro culture” context, although it does feel a little like the filmmakers are patting themselves on the back for how “progressive” they’re being. But as long as we’re talking about tokenism, I did like that among Ali’s core group of close friends, instead of there being one token black lady, there’s a token white lady (Wendi McLendon-Covey), although the running gag about her being a foul-mouthed Jesus freak is a little odd.

Ultimately, that is the biggest problem in What Men Want: none of its supporting characters particularly ring true, with the possible exception of Ali’s dad (Richard Roundtree). Ali herself comes closest of everyone in the film, but she otherwise lives in a universe of two-dimensional characters. This movie gave me a fair number of semi-consistent chuckles, but that’s not exactly the ringing endorsement a “fun comedy” would want. Ultimately this is just another throw-away, moderate amusement that no one is going to remember by next week.

And it’s too bad, because it does have some winning performances, and certainly a great lading lady in Taraji P. Henson. It gets bogged down in its script-by-committee: aside from the three writers of the 2000 film receiving credit on this one, this updated script was itself written by another four people (two white guys, two women of color). And although the diversity is necessary and to be commended, it’s not enough on its own to make this movie particularly great.

It’s not exactly awful either, though — What Men Want is palatable for as long as it’s in front of you, in spite of its tendency toward over-the-top diversions. It does seem to represent a transitional time in Hollywood that reflects some turns in the right direction, broadly speaking. That just means there will be more near-misses that get an E for effort. (Or, I guess in this case, a B-.)

what men want.jpg

Overall: B-

THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD

Directing: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+
Special Effects: A-

I guess it may be time for me to stop expressing amazement when a movie is released in 3D and it’s actually done well. They Shall Not Grow Old marks the second time in about as many months that I saw a film I would insist is best seen in 3D (the other being, amazingly, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). It was perhaps inevitable that technology would advance soon enough to make it worthwhile in the most talented of hands.

A lot of 3D remains a waste of time, mind you — especially if it’s a blockbuster retrofitted with it just to put a pointless premium on ticket prices. Ten years ago, Avatar worked better in 2D, at least in my opinion — most everyone else was wowed by its 3D effects. Perhaps James Cameron’s upcoming sequels will push the format forward by another leap. Given his less than stellar record as a script writer, I’m not holding my breath for a transcendent experience.

So how does They Shall Not Grow Old fit into all this, then? First of all, it’s the first truly impressive documentary I’ve seen in 3D since Pina (2011) — and, like that film, I must stress that the full effect of the experience won’t be nearly the same on a home television screen, I don’t care how large your screen is. Holding the reigns this time is director Peter Jackson, who has a pretty good history of jaw-dropping, cutting-edge special effects. Well, he did with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, anyway. He went in some slightly misguided directions with King Kong (2005) and really went overboard stretching The Hobbit into a trilogy (2012, 2013, 2014), with seriously diminishing returns.

With this far shorter, far more tightly edited documentary — clocking in at a trim 99 minutes — Jackson really gets back on track. It’s cut down from 100 hours of original footage of World War I, archived by London’s Imperial War Museum, which asked him if he could do something original and unique with it. Smartly leaving out any interviews with historians and instead including audio exclusive to remastered tapes of soldiers who lived it, the footage and the testimonials are a visual and oral history exclusively by those who were there.

That would have been compelling on its own, but Jackson’s film crew went many extra miles in restoring this footage, from correcting the wide variety of film speeds (at that time, all camera footage was shot using a hand crank), to cleaning up the scratching on the pictures, to — perhaps most importantly — colorizing all of the footage from in the trenches.

Some of you might think, Big deal. I’ve seen colorized movies before. Not like this, you haven’t. This is very detailed, painstaking work. Now, I won’t say it’s perfect, and I will even say that the effects here will easily be seen as dated not very many years from now. More projects of this sort will be far more convincing as these techniques develop. As it stands now, this is still unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. In essence, it’s both imperfect and amazing. This footage brings a vividness to the memory of the first World War not seen in decades.

And, given how much World War II overshadows it historically in virtually every single way, it’s kind of easy to forget the true, global significance of World War I — or, as it was known at the time, “The Great War.” It lasted from 1914 to 1918, so it can take a moment to register: oh, right — that war ended a hundred years ago. As it happens, production of They Shall Not Grow Old started in 2014, the centennial anniversary of the war’s start; production finished on the centennial of its finish. This movie is very well timed.

It begins with the naive hopes of incredibly young men volunteering to serve, many so eager to join that they would lie about being the minimum age of nineteen — some of them as young as fifteen. In a sort of dark nod to The Wizard of Oz, the black and white converts to color when things get really horrible: the footage of life in the trenches. By the end of the war, disillusionment has long been set in; there is pointed commentary on there not being any particular celebration when the war was declared over. After all that death — much of which is seen here, a lot of it disturbing, hence the R rating — there is only exhaustion.

The overall effect, especially when seeing many shots of men posing for then-novel motion picture cameras, smiling and unsure of how to compose themselves, is haunting. This is a story of hope turning to naiveté turning to disillusionment turning to complete emotional detachment. I’m not sure Peter Jackson intended this, but it vaguely feels like a harbinger of things us as audiences already know is to come in the world for these people, their society.

The world has changed a truly massive amount in the past 100 years, more so than in any other century prior. Some things never change, though, and the horrors of war is one of them. They Shall Not Grow Old — the title itself more of a dark cloud than a nod to nostalgia — brings a historical record of it to life in a way never seen before.

A post-technicolor look at life in the trenches.

A post-technicolor look at life in the trenches.

Overall: B+

STAN & OLLIE

Directing: B-
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B-

Maybe John C. Reilly has been too busy to do the lower-tier types of promotion for Stan & Ollie, as he has not appeared on any of the several movie-related podcasts I listen to. Steve Coogan has, though. I heard at least two podcast interviews with him in the past two months, talking about this movie, making me wonder when the hell it will open locally in Seattle, or if maybe it came and went and I somehow missed it. To be fair, one of those podcasts was WTF with Marc Maron, which John C. Reilly had already been interviewed on, about two and a half years ago. And — oh, look: Reilly has also been on NPR’s Fresh Air himself, just last month. But that counts more as a radio show, yes?

I do have a point here, which has two angles. First, the promotion of Stan & Ollie has seemed appropriately old-school, for a movie about Hollywood comic superstars who had been at the peak of their careers in 1937 — 82 years ago. The most widely consumed promotional appearances at that time, no doubt, would also have been on the radio. Now, podcasts are the 21st-century’s answer to radio, essentially free radio on demand, and for the first time, I literally went to a movie solely because of a guest on podcasts supporting this project.

Curiously, I had never once seen a movie trailer for this film, and I go to the movies usually multiple times a week. Who’s behind the promotion of this movie, anyway? Do they even know what they’re doing? I might not even have known this movie existed but for podcasts, or maybe just checking to see what was playing at local theaters.

It usually doesn’t bode all that well for a movie to get a February release date, as it happens. And to be honest, as sweet at Stan & Ollie is — it’s not bad — it still seems fitting. This movie focuses on the waning, later years of Laurel & Hardy’s careers. As in, when their biggest fans were themselves getting on in age. And that was in 1953. How many twentysomethings alive today even know who these guys are?

And therein lies the challenge: sure, it’s possible to make a great movie that resonates with younger audiences even if it’s about largely forgotten movie stars. It’s all in the telling. The very slight issue here is that Stan & Ollie is presented as though made for those audiences that were getting older. In the fifties.

That said, the performances are fantastic, and arguably alone worth watching the movie. John C. Reilly dons a lot of prosthetics to become Oliver Hardy, only recognizable if you look for him in the eyes, and listen to his relatively distinctive voice. Steve Coogan, a consummate character actor, fades more easily into the role of Stan Laurel, although being a native Brit, his attempt at an American accent comes in and out at points.

Ultimately, Stan & Ollie is a sweet testament to enduring friendship, a tale of these two men attempting to keep things going even after resentments about career moves made sixteen years prior, when they were at the peak of their career, in 1937. Director Jon S. Baird, however, can’t seem to move the action far beyond inert. There’s a great scene that commands attention a little more than halfway through the film, in which the two nearly come to blows at a reception, and for a moment I got a little excited that, well, things would actually get exciting. The potential fizzles.

Most of the rest of the time, Stan & Ollie is filled with nostalgic warm fuzzies, and is not interested in much beyond that. It becomes the kind of biopic that will understandably remain of interest to audiences who are already fans of the real people the characters are based on, but I struggle to imagine anyone with only a cursory familiarity with them finding this story all that compelling. It’s a competently told, very well-acted biopic that is pleasantly meandering at best, and listless at times.

It’s about as thrilling as it looks.

It’s about as thrilling as it looks.

Overall: B

I'd Like to Thank the Academy

(And the nominees are . . .)

This year, ten nominations each for Roma and The Favourite, both leading the pack -- I can live with that. Eight nominations for Vice gets something more akin to "whatever" from me, but at least the Academy doesn't seem to be too far out of line with my thinking generally this year. Well, except for one particularly notable snub: no nominations whatsoever for Eighth Grade, which just happens actually to be the best film of 2018.

This is all subjective, of course, and we're all just passing time with this crap. But I've been doing it for years and years, and I'll never stop! Also, if a superhero movie must be the first ever to be nominated for Best Picture, Black Panther is the one to do it. It won't win and it doesn't deserve to, but it sure as shit deserves a nomination; I was way of the possibility that it wouldn't.

There's actually a surprising number of nominees I haven't seen this year. A couple I've never even heard of. As usual of course I have seen the vast majority, so let's get into it.


Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity's Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: Many months ago, I would not have said this was a tough one -- it's toucher now, only because Bradley Cooper's momentum has waned. And this year, the SAG Awards have yet to happen, so making this prediction today is a lot trickier than it will be a week from now. That said, considering the competition, if pressed, I would still predict Bradley Cooper. If not him, at the moment, it looks like it's close to a toss-up between him and Christian Bale.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: My vote since the moment I saw A Star Is Born has never wavered from Bradley Cooper, whose transformation is astonishing -- honestly, even more so than Christian Bale's, even though it's not as flashy and attention-getting.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: How have I not even heard of At Eternity's Gate, let alone seen it? Perhaps it's unfair to declare a performance I have not even seen should not win, but this is a movie that has not in any way been in the national conversation. It simply makes the least sense for that one to win.


Actress in a Leading Role

Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: I feel like this is the one race that nearly every year has the greatest competition, packed with great performances. Many people seem to think Glenn Close will win, largely because she has more nominations without a win than any other actor alive today, but it seems telling to me that The Wife has no other nominations. So this really is a tough one. I'm leaning toward Melissa McCarthy, but I'm probably wrong.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: And this may be sheer bias on my part -- because I actually feel Melissa McCarthy deserves the win.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: I love Lady Gaga, but her performance in A Star Is Born was fine -- not great. She should get the Oscar for Best Song.


Actor in a Supporting Role

Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: Given the sheer number of nominations for Vice, the unlikelihood of all others in this category, and his legitimately incredible performance as George W. Bush, I think Sam Rockwell has the edge here.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: Upon further reflection, among these five, I think Sam Rockwell gets my vote as well.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: I actively avoided seeing Green Book, as its production has been uncomfortably problematic in far too many ways: its cliched white perspective without bothering to get the story from the family of the black man it was based on; its writer's own bigoted comments (directly aligning himself with Donald Trump, no less); its portrayal of a gay man, just to name a few. Mahershala Ali is a great actor who has done great work -- he deservedly won an Oscar for Moonlight only two years ago -- but even without having seen this movie, I feel I know enough to conclude this is not a particular film that needs to be rewarded.


Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: I have no idea! I'd want to give The Favourite the edge, except that it has two nominees in this category, which could split the vote. This is now Amy Adams's sixth nomination with no win, which could give it to her.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: I'm leaning toward Rachel Weisz here, but . . .
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: . . . I'd be fine with anyone in this category winning, really. Marina de Tavira's nomination was a genuine surprise; I'm not sure anyone was predicting acting nominations for Roma besides Yalitza Aparicio as the lead. And really, all five of these women are great. That said -- well, Emma Stone did win for La La Land only two years ago. She doesn't need to win for this. (Rachel Weisz also already has an Oscar, but it's been longer since she last won, in 2006, for The Constant Gardener.)


Animated Feature Film

Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: I feel like this is a close call between Isle of Dogs and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. If critical response has any sway at all, it'll likely go to the latter.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: Much as I did genuinely love Incredibles 2, for once I am not rooting for the Pixar film. Spider-Man is where it's at -- and I say this as someone who avoids superhero movies as a rule! This one is exceptional in far more ways than any of the others, though: the story, the animation, the themes, everything.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: I don't know, Mirai, I guess? This answer is completely unfair since it's the one nominee I did not see. But, I hate anime. And Spider-Man deserves it, god damn it!


Cinematography

Cold War, Łukasz Żal
The Favourite, Robbie Ryan
Never Look Away, Caleb Deschanel
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
A Star Is Born, Matthew Libatique

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: I'll bet my head on a spike that Roma will win this award.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: Roma for the win! Not enough people saw this movie, but probably enough members of the Academy did. And, true to form for Alfonso Cuarón movies, the cinematography is jaw-dropping.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: I truly loved virtually everything else about The Favourite, but the one thing I disliked about it was its fishbowl-lens cinematography, which I found persistently distracting. I could only get past it after seeing it three times. Even though I am clearly in the minority on this point, cinematography would be the single award I think that movie does not deserve.


Production Design

Black Panther
The Favourite
First Man
Mary Poppins Returns
Roma

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: This is always a hard one to predict. Maybe The Favourite will get this one, since the production design detail of Roma -- which is itself intricate and extensive -- gets a little lost in the black and white cinematography. And The Favourite was shot in opulent, vast palaces that really added to the tone of the story.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: I think I just convinced myself The Favourite should win.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: Mary Poppins Returns was fun, but ... come on.


Costume Design

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Mary Zophres
Black Panther, Ruth Carter
The Favourite, Sandy Powell
Mary Poppins Returns, Sandy Powell
Mary, Queen of Scots, Alexandra Byrne

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: I think I'm going to declare The Favourite as having the edge here as well. It's possible Mary, Queen of Scots actually deserves it, but only two nominations, that movie isn't likely to win anything.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: I actually think Black Panther also has a legitimately decent chance in this category, and you know what? If Black Panther wins any Oscar at all, it should be for its intricately African-inspired costume designs.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: Seeing three nominations for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a little jarring; I did not expect it to get any, in spite of knowing it did get a very limited theatrical release just to qualify -- thereafter, though, it seemed merely to be a Netflix original streaming movie. Who ever expects Oscar nominations for such things? The times, they are a-changin'. It doesn't deserve this award, regardless. I mean, the cowboy outfits are nice and all, but they're still just cowboy outfits.


Directing

Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Yargos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: Conventional wisdom already says this will be another year with a split between Best Director and Best Picture, and in this category more than any other, Alfonso Cuarón is the one to beat. I was surprised to see a second foreign language film in this category (Cold War), but for that one, the nomination itself is the award.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: Honestly? For every film here except for Roma, I feel that had they not been nominated for Best Director, that would have been fair. Only a Roma exclusion would have been a stunning snub. Roma is the only truly deserving winner here.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: I'm going with Adam McKay and Vice. I'm most surprised by his even being included here -- what is with the love for that movie, anyway? It's all right, but also fails to justify its own existence beyond acting parlor tricks. Christian Bale as Dick Cheney is impressive, and also it's not fun to watch the story of Dick Cheney.


Film Editing

BlacKkKlansman, Barry Alexander Brown
Bohemian Rhapsody, John Ottman
The Favourite, Yargos Lanthimos
Green Book, Patrick J. Don Vito
Vice, Hank Corwin

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: Hey, what! Roma isn't even nominated here. That's odd. I do think movies being in any way polarizing hurts its chances, even for a lower-tier award like Editing. And you know which is the only one of these films that is not notably polarizing in any way? The Favourite.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: The Favourite also gets my vote.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: Green Book. Don't give that whitewashing movie any awards!


Foreign Film

Capernaum, Lebanon
Cold War, Poland
Never Look Away, Germany
Roma, Mexico
Shoplifters, Japan

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: I am actually including this category for the first time in roughly a decade this year, because for once I have actually seen most of them! Well, two out of three. I haven't even had a chance to see Capernaum yet, even though it's opening locally soon; also, what the hell is Never Look Away? Hmm, apparently a three-hour German romance about a tortured soul. Whatever, Roma is winning this award. Unless . . .
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: What are the odds that Roma wins both Best Picture and Best Foreign Film? Pretty much zilch, I would think -- and, in the absence of Eighth Grade, among the nominees, Roma truly deserves to win Best Picture. And if that should happen? Cold War should win Best Foreign Language Film. It actually is very good.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: Honestly I could not see what the big deal was with Shoplifters. It was fine, but hardly Oscar-worthy.


Makeup and Hairstyling

Border
Mary, Queen of Scots
Vice

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: Border? What the hell is that? -- oh, right, I nearly forgot: this actually did play locally and I never went to see it. Its main characters are borderline disfigured, hence the makeup nomination. It was a very small, Swedish movie that got almost no attention outside critic circles. Therefore, given the massive transformations of both Christian Bale and Sam Rockwell, Vice is sure to win this one.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: Much as I hesitate to throw any awards at Vice, it probably does deserve this one. Maybe Border does too, but I skipped that one.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: Mary, Queen of Scots seems too on the nose for this award these days, to be honest. Both the other nominees clearly deserve it more.


Music (Original Score)

Black Panther, Ludwig Goransson
BlacKkKlansman, Terence Blanchard
If Beale Street Could Talk, Nicholas Britell
Isle of Dogs, Alexandre Desplat
Mary Poppins Returns, Marc Shaiman

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: I bet anything this one will go to Black Panther, which is packed with nuanced, meaningful details in all sorts of its production elements -- not least of which is its score.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: Black Panther should get it. I'd be fine with If Beale Street Could Talk winning, but there is no question Black Panther had the greater reach, and deservedly so.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: I won't go so far as to say any of these movies is patently undeserving, but I will say Mary Poppins Returns is least likely to get it, and that's fine.


Music (Original Song)

"All the Stars," from Black Panther, Music by Mark Spears, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth and Anthony Tiffith; Lyric by Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, Anthony Tiffith and Solana Rowe
"I'll Fight," from RBG, Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
"The Place Where Lost Things Go," from Mary Poppins Returns, Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyric by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
"Shallow," from A Star Is Born, Music and Lyric by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt
"When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings," from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Music and Lyric by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: If "Shallow" from A Star Is Born does not win this award, I will saw off my left arm.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: Given its context in a great movie with great music about musicians, "Shallow" also deserves to win this.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: So I went online to refresh my memory of "What a Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings," and . . . no.


Visual Effects

Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: This one's hard. First Man is the only one of these movies for which I gave a solid A grade to its special effects, but that movie has so few nominations, who knows? And most of the others were much bigger blockbusters and therefore seen by many more people. I'm going to call this one for Avengers: Infinity War, which, at the very least, had far better effects than the dismal Avengers: Age of Ultron.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: First Man is without question the most impressive movie among these, in terms of its visual effects.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: Ready Player One can fuck right off with its visual effects that were average at best. Why is it even nominated? Just having countless effects shots should not be considered a qualification!


Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
BlacKkKlansman, Written by Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
If Beale Street Could Talk, Written for the screen by Barry Jenkins
A Star Is Born, Screenplay by Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: This award often goes to movies with no chance of winning other awards. Does that narrow it down? By that metric, at least after disqualifying The Ballad of Buster Scruggs for its unusually brief theatrical run, I suppose the award will go to Can You Ever Forgive Me?
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: I'm going for Can You Ever Forgive Me? here, but would also be perfectly happy with A Star Is Born, whose script spoke to me and made me feel seen in totally unexpected ways.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs's six chapters are far too all over the place to be deserving of this award.


Writing (Original Screenplay)

The Favourite, Written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
First Reformed, Written by Paul Schrader
Green Book, Written by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
Roma, Written Alfonso Cuarón
Vice, Written by Adam McKay

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: This one comes down to Roma and The Favorite, and considering the belabored pacing of the former, I think the latter actually has the edge in this category.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: Much as I really want to reward The Favourite here, upon further reflection, Roma may actually be the most deserving. Its script is far and away the most nuanced of these five.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: Oh have I mentioned, "fuck Green Book"?


Best motion picture of the year

Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

WHO I THINK WILL WIN: This is so hard to say, because a foreign film has never won this award before. I'll be happy to be wrong, but the alternative being A Star Is Born, I still think that's the most likely winner, and I'd be happy with that as well. It really spoke to me personally in pleasantly surprising ways.
WHO I THINK SHOULD WIN: My #1 movie of the year (Eighth Grade) and my #2 movie (Blindspotting) both criminally received zero nominations -- but, my #3 movie was Roma, and that one received ten. Being forced to choose between these eight movies, Roma is the only choice to make here.
WHO I THINK SHOULD NOT WIN: Hello, Green Book! That movie winning this year would be the most tone deaf thing the Academy has done since Crash won Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain in 2006. Lucky for everyone alive, there's no chance whatsoever that movie will win this award this year.



(Nominations for documentary feature, documentary short, animated short, live action short, sound editing, and sound mixing were also announced, but I don't know enough about them to make any worthwhile observations.)

The 91st Academy Awards telecast will air on ABC Sunday, February 24 at 5 p.m. Pacific Time. .