91st Academy Awards: Predictions and Choices

Here are my preferences and comments for the top eight categories for the 91st Academy Awards in a table format.  I’ll put the movies and performances I haven’t seen at the bottom, separate from the actual rankings.  For the predictions, rather than try to formulate my own as in previous years, I just put GoldDerby’s; you can find all their predictions here.  I made sure to watch every nominee for the Academy Award for Best Picture prior to the ceremony, which is today, February 24 2019.

 

Best Picture

Nominees by alphabetical order (the titles in bold were the ones I watched before the nominations were announced on January 22) Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest GoldDerby’s predicted winner
Black Panther A Star Is Born Roma
BlacKkKlansman Green Book
Bohemian Rhapsody Roma
The Favourite Black Panther
Green Book The Favourite
Roma Bohemian Rhapsody
A Star Is Born BlacKkKlansman
Vice Vice
I found the Best Picture field this year to be rather weak.  No film really stood out to me and most were middling or just plain bad.  I had low expectations going into A Star Is Born so it’s rather amusing and surprising that it managed to rocket its way to the top of my list.  It’s a good movie, but I think in a different year with a better field it wouldn’t have made it as my top pick.  Green Book, my previous favorite before I saw A Star Is Born, is a strong second, and Roma a strong third.  Black Panther, The Favourite, and Bohemian Rhapsody occupy the middle-of-the-pack just-okay territory, Bohemian Rhapsody barely qualifying thanks to a balls-to-the-wall final act that partially made up for a crummy first half.  I did not like BlacKkKlansman and I especially did not like Vice.

 

Best Director

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest GoldDerby’s predicted winner
Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman Alfonso Cuarón for Roma Alfonso Cuarón for Roma
Paweł Pawlikowski for Cold War Yorgos Lanthimos for The Favourite
Yorgos Lanthimos for The Favourite Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman
Alfonso Cuarón for Roma Adam McKay for Vice
Adam McKay for Vice Haven’t seen: Paweł Pawlikowski for Cold War
My rankings for Best Director pretty much follow my preferences for Best Picture.  I will say that Yorgos Lanthimos and Spike Lee both did decent, if not extraordinary, jobs, even if I didn’t particularly like their nominated films.  I wanted to see Cold War before the ceremony but I didn’t get to it.

 

Best Actor

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest GoldDerby’s predicted winner
Christian Bale for Vice Bradley Cooper for A Star Is Born Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody
Bradley Cooper for A Star Is Born Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody
Willem Dafoe for At Eternity’s Gate Christian Bale for Vice
Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody Viggo Mortensen for Green Book
Viggo Mortensen for Green Book Haven’t seen: Willem Dafoe for At Eternity’s Gate
Well this was a tough category for me to get through.  The four nominees I’ve seen were all really good and all about equally good, which made it hard for me to untangle them enough to rank them.  Bradley Cooper and Rami Malek both really impressed me, and at the end of the day I gave Cooper the slight edge because his performance really made me forget that the person on screen was actually Cooper rather than his character.

 

Okay, I know what you’re thinking – Christian Bale in third place?!  He melted into his role as Dick Cheney!  Well he’s a strong third, but he’s still a notch below Cooper and Malek, not just because of how strong Cooper and Malek were, but because I found some problems with Bale’s performance.  There were times when I thought he was overacting or exaggerating Cheney’s mannerisms (and you’ll see below that I have the same issue with co-star Amy Adams’s performance), and it took me out of the experience of watching Dick Cheney.  I might be thinking from bias since I’m much more familiar with Cheney than I am with Cooper’s and Malek’s characters, so I’m going to be more critical of how close Bale gets to the real thing (I’ve never actually seen anything of the real Freddie Mercury aside from the footage in Bohemian Rhapsody’s end credits).  Viggo Mortensen was really good and I would place him just slightly below Bale.

 

Best Actress

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest GoldDerby’s predicted winner
Yalitza Aparicio for Roma Yalitza Aparicio for Roma Glenn Close for The Wife
Glenn Close for The Wife Olivia Colman for The Favourite
Olivia Colman for The Favourite Lady Gaga for A Star Is Born
Lady Gaga for A Star Is Born Haven’t seen:

Glenn Close for The Wife

Melissa McCarthy for Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Melissa McCarthy for Can You Ever Forgive Me?
It’s funny – when I left the theater after watching Roma, I didn’t think much of Yalitza Aparicio’s performance, let alone jump to putting it in the Oscar-worthy category (this was before the nominations were announced).  But with this field, picking Aparicio’s quietly and somberly powerful performance makes sense, especially in contrast to the much more high-profile, obvious, and loud choice in Olivia Colman.  I would put Colman and Lady Gaga pretty close together but Colman gets the slight edge here just because of the range in her performance.  Honestly, I’m not sure if Colman should even be in the Lead Actress category as opposed to Supporting (more on this in the Supporting Actress comments).

 

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest GoldDerby’s predicted winner
Mahershala Ali for Green Book Mahershala Ali for Green Book Mahershala Ali for Green Book
Adam Driver for BlacKkKlansman Adam Driver for BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott for A Star Is Born Sam Elliott for A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant for Can You Ever Forgive Me? Sam Rockwell for Vice
Sam Rockwell for Vice Haven’t seen: Richard E. Grant for Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Let me get this out of the way: I think Mahershala Ali should’ve been in the Lead Actor category rather than Supporting.  He’s one of the two main characters!  Well, even discounting the importance and screen time he gets that far surpass what’s normal for a Supporting Actor, his performance really did impress me, far more so than his Oscar-winning turn in Moonlight.  Adam Driver also had a pretty weighty role for Supporting (an argument could be made for him being considered Lead as well) and the amount of acting he had to work with helped push him up the rankings.  The two Sams – Sam Elliott and Sam Rockwell – don’t feel like they really belong here.  Rockwell in particular seems rather out of left field; he was barely in the movie, and his performance was actually pretty weak by Sam Rockwell standards.

 

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest GoldDerby’s predicted winner
Amy Adams for Vice Emma Stone for The Favourite Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk
Marina de Tavira for Roma Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk
Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk Amy Adams for Vice
Emma Stone for The Favourite Rachel Weisz for The Favourite
Rachel Weisz for The Favourite Marina de Tavira for Roma
Let me get this out of the way: I think Emma Stone should’ve been in the Lead Actress category rather than Supporting.  She’s pretty much the main character! (And yes, I did copy and paste from what’s basically the same situation with Mahershala Ali for Supporting Actor.) If I were arranging the categories for Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz for The Favourite, I would probably put Stone as Lead, Colman as Supporting (or possibly Lead alongside Stone), and Weisz as Supporting.  Given how much she gets to work with, Stone really did play the role to the hilt and showed a great amount of range.  I was pretty torn between giving Stone or Regina King the top spot, and although I think King did a really great job, ultimately it was the amount of material Stone had to work with that pushed her to the top.

 

Amy Adams, much like her co-star Christian Bale, feels overacted and over-the-top at times in Vice, perhaps owing to the over-the-top overall feel of the movie (wow that’s a lot of uses of “over-“ in one sentence).  I’m also biased because I’ve seen much better from Adams (how was she not even nominated for Arrival?!) and much like the rest of the Vice cast, she seems to be underperforming (or perhaps misperforming?) in a way.

 

Rachel Weisz was good, but not extraordinary, in The Favourite.  The same goes even more so for Marina de Tavira in Roma; she did well, but I was very surprised she was actually nominated.

 

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest GoldDerby’s predicted winner
The Favourite Green Book The Favourite
First Reformed The Favourite
Green Book Vice
Roma Roma
Vice Haven’t seen: First Reformed
So this shouldn’t be a surprise given my Best Picture rankings, with one exception: how did Roma fall lower than Vice?  Well, even though I thought Vice was a garbage movie, its script did have a few noteworthy high points, and the majority of the dialog was fairly well-constructed.  And even though I thought Roma was a rather good movie, it wasn’t because of its script, which I actually think is rather sparse and unmemorable.

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest GoldDerby’s predicted winner
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs If Beale Street Could Talk BlacKkKlansman
BlacKkKlansman A Star Is Born
Can You Ever Forgive Me? BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk Haven’t seen:

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

A Star Is Born
A Star Is Born is my Best Picture top pick and I did really like its script, but it does get edged out by If Beale Street Could Talk. (If Beale Street Could Talk was not nominated for Best Picture, and I would’ve ranked it lower than A Star Is Born if it had been.) The voiceover narration by Tish Rivers in If Beale Street Could Talk was especially powerful, and made even more so by that gorgeous accompanying music (I’m not doing a breakdown for Best Original Score, but of the three nominees in that category I’ve seen, If Beale Street Could Talk is my top pick).

 

Paul Wellstone and Being Respectful to Conservatives

Sixteen years ago today, Senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash. It wasn’t until after that happened that I knew who he was. I came to learn more about his life, his extraordinary body of public service, the compassion he felt for everyone, and the conviction with which he held his beliefs, and I have since considered him my number one political hero.
 
One of the great things about Paul was that he was as far left/liberal/progressive as it got in U.S. politics, but he was never mean or nasty or anything but friendly and congenial toward his conservative colleagues. He showed that it was very much possible to hold his own principles and beliefs while still being respectful towards those who disagreed with, rather than vilifying them. Being a strong liberal didn’t require being mean to conservatives. Nor was being mean to conservatives an automatic qualifier for being a strong liberal. Paul showed us that.
 
I bring this up now because lately there’s been a rash of incidents where individuals on the left (in a general sense) have been confronting and harassing conservative politicians and Trump administration officials in public spaces not normally reserved for political business, such as restaurants. They have been loudly yelling at these politicians, and in one recent case, a politician’s property was stolen. On social media, these incidents have, from those ostensibly on the left, generally received praise and have been justified based on all the bad governance these politicians have been responsible for. Furthermore, those who speak out against this kind of behavior (namely, me) have been labeled as being “moderate”.
 
I heartily condemn this kind of behavior, including any verbal or physical harassment of any politician or government official, just as I would if it were directed toward those on my side politically. It’s wrong no matter who it’s directed towards. Knowing what I know about Paul Wellstone, I think he would have been very unhappy about this sort of thing happening as well. And the idea that this would make me or Paul Wellstone “moderate” is laughably ridiculous. I hardly agree with conservatives on anything, and neither did Paul. But like him, I find a way to focus on the ideas and policies that need to be championed or criticized, rather than the individuals. That’s something a lot of my fellow leftists really need to learn to do.
 
Let’s look to Paul Wellstone for guidance on how to be principled about ideas while still retaining our humanity and our compassion for all individuals, even our political opponents.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Won

Wow.

I haven’t been posting much about politics lately (haven’t had the time, energy, and spirit, really) but I have been following the elections, of course, especially the ones involving liberal and progressive candidates running in Democratic U.S. House and U.S. Senate primaries.  Just as in election cycles past, the road through this election season has been littered with the corpses of campaigns of promising liberals.  These liberals could have and should have been the future of the Democratic Party, but for a Democratic Party too centrist, too anti-government, too backwards-thinking, too dependent on corporate money, and too enthralled in corporate ideology to do the right thing and be the party of the people again.

To me, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was slated to be another sacrificial progressive lamb at the altar of the corporatists who still very much control and run the Democratic Party.  Especially since her particular would-be corporatist butcher was Representative Joseph Crowley, number 4 Democrat in the U.S. House and the undisputed mob boss of the Queens Democratic Party, who was outspending her 10-to-1.  Ocasio-Cortez was, in order of importance, very liberal, compassionate, earnest, dynamic, and – yes, I’ll say it, sue me – stunningly beautiful.  In a just world, she would be a big part of the future of the Democratic Party.  Instead, in this world, she would just show up as a minor bump in Crowley’s otherwise smooth renomination and reelection.  June 26 2018 would be yet another election night where I tune into the news to get my regular dose of electoral disappointment.  I would just check to make sure that all my favorite candidates went down in crushing defeats before I go to bed, where liberal victories at the polls and a truly liberal Democratic Party can actually exist in my dreams.

Then June 26 2018 actually happened.  I load up the news to find that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her race – and by a hefty 57-43.  This was easily the best political news I got since Bernie Sanders somehow overcame a 23-point polling deficit to win the 2016 Michigan Presidential primary.  Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t just one more liberal candidate who started way behind only to finish way behind.  She wasn’t yet another no-chance progressive I supported who would get her requisite 30-70 drubbing prior to a swift and orderly disposal into the dustbin of history.  I didn’t have to spend another Election Night completely defeated.  I was still mostly defeated, to be sure – Dylan Ratigan lost his primary, for instance – but not completely defeated.  Like a starving mouse clinging to a fortuitous bread crumb, just for once, I got to have one victory to celebrate.  Let me have this one.

Okay, because it’s me, I have to include the bad side – the reverse silver lining, if you will – involved with this otherwise exhilarating good news.  The media analysis right now is focusing a lot on the district being heavily Latino and choosing a Latina over a white person.  Ocasio-Cortez ran mainly on the issues but she did bring up her Puerto Rican heritage and the fact that her majority-minority district has never had a non-white Representative.  In my own state of Texas, Sema Hernandez, a liberal Latina Democrat running against Beto O’Rourke, carried most of the counties in the heavily Latino Rio Grande Valley.  I voted for Hernandez because she was the more liberal candidate, but I can’t help but think that voters in the Rio Grande Valley went with her based on her ethnicity rather than ideology or issues, and I can’t help but wonder if the same thing happened with Ocasio-Cortez.  Let me be clear: I do not want voters to vote primarily based on race or other non-substantive factors (like gender, which also could’ve helped Ocasio-Cortez), even if it so happens to help the candidate I’m supporting.  Ideology and issues come first and are far more important than whatever intangible feeling of “representation” voters may get from having someone of their own ethnicity in office.  How will liberals feel when a liberal white man loses a race to a more conservative person of color because of race or ethnicity?

That said, I’m elated that Ocasio-Cortez was able to win her race by running a strong campaign based on the idea of a government that truly represents and helps ordinary people.  This is especially important after years and years of watching just about every liberal candidate I supported lose – and usually very badly – in competitive primaries.  2018 wasn’t much different, until now.  Now, we have a victory that gives us a little crack of hope.  We liberals can run on a liberal message and liberal positions on the issues and win uphill battles.  And we need to do just that in a thousand other races if we’re going to take the Democratic Party back from the corporate elites and make our politics work for the people.

P.S. And then there were two: liberal candidate and Kenneth Huang endorsee Ben Jealous won his primary too.  I didn’t expect this one.  Jealous was slightly behind Rushern Baker in most of the recent polls and of course in this world we live in the progressive always loses.  Nope, not this one!  He’ll get to lose in the general election to unfortunately popular Republican Governor Larry Hogan, but for this night, let me have a second victory to celebrate.

Life Update at 31

Last year, when I turned 30, I wrote a blog post about how old and sad I felt.  It was more for myself than anything else since I didn’t expect anyone to read it (and I’m not really expecting anyone to read this post either), but to my surprise I got a fair amount of feedback on Facebook.  I appreciated everyone’s concern and good intentions, but no one told me anything I hadn’t already heard before.  Really, there’s not much one can actually say in these kinds of situations to make anything better.

Since then, life has improved, if only just a little bit.  Old pests went away, only to be replaced by new pests.  My job got better before it got worse and then a little bit better again.  I have gone out and seen more of Austin over the past month, in this narrow band of time in the year when it’s not too hot and not too cold.  I’ve made a few trips to see other places outside of Austin as well.  I’m still poor and unmotivated and plagued by a bunch of life problems that probably wouldn’t be present if I weren’t poor and unmotivated.  Life still feels like a baseline of dull nothingness with some small pleasures here and there: seeing a good movie, eating a good dish, exploring a new place.  I think about my past less and less and some of it is starting to be forgotten, but the changes the past has left on me are still here to stay.

I’m 31 years old now and I’m resigned to being in a not good place for some time.  I’ve always had two selves in me and I’m stuck with the worse self for now.  A part of me wants to do better but vague desire doesn’t go far.  It’s not ambition, and I don’t have the will in me to act on it, especially not when I’m still treading water trying to keep my life together.  I hate thinking about or hearing about possible plans for my future, because I know it’s just more difficulty and stress for possibly nothing.  The most I can do right now is try to make my life a little bit better day by day so that I can keep improving down the road.  Maybe one day I’ll reach a point where I have enough stability in my life that I can set my sights higher.  But if nothing else, over the past two years I’ve learned how hard life can be, in a way that I never knew before, and not just for me, but for lots of other people in similar economic and financial and social and mental situations as I am.