Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Notscars: Predicting winners that aren’t even nominated


Oscar predictions that stick to nominated films are boring. No one wants to read another forecast of a sweep by The Revenant or some contrarian making a sleeper case for Bridge of Spies. Besides, the films the Academy overlooks in each category make for a far more interesting list than the ones they spend hours honouring, as evidenced by the blinding whiteness of this year’s nominees.

None of the following films or people are nominated for these respective categories, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to win.

Best Picture

Sicario

Much like my best blockbusters of 2015 list, which was mistaken for my list of favourite films, Sicario is misunderstood. The action set-pieces are visceral enough to make viewers believe they’re the point of the film, but it’s much more than another pro-American war screed.

If anything, Denis Villeneuve’s dark tone poem about the war on drugs is an indictment of America’s militaristic foreign policy, which Sicario strongly suggests leads to an unending cycle of escalating violence and a normalization – even commodification – of said violence. The eventual rationale for all of the bloodshed in the film is akin to trying to put a genie back in a bottle by shooting the bottle (and the genie).

When Emily Blunt’s protagonist raises moral and ethical objections, she isn’t doing so as a woman out of her depth in a man’s world, but as a person with strong convictions baffled by the inhuman machinations that surround her. We should all be as concerned as her – and Sicario – about actions committed in the name of concepts like freedom and democracy.

Director

Denis Villeneuve – Sicario

The most exciting part about Villeneuve’s rise to mainstream prominence is how his distinct cinematic voice remains uncompromised. Sicario’s undercurrent of tension and dread was mapped out in his earlier work, from Polytechnique to Enemy and Prisoners.

No detail is spared pulling the viewer into a world ruled by misdirection and brutality. Take the scene where an American convoy of SUVs barrels through Juarez. You feel every bump in the road when you ride along with a Mexican police escort, you feel the anxiety when the convoy comes to a screeching halt at the wrong time, and by the time the scene is over you’re left wondering how moral complexity can feel this thrilling. If this is a land of wolves, Villeneuve is the alpha.

Actor

Idris Elba – Beasts of No Nation

I considered putting Jason Segel here because his work as David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour deserves recognition, but #OscarsSoWhite, so I’ll go with the man who was called “too street” to be James Bond instead.

Yes, Abraham Attah gets top billing and his face on the poster for Beasts of No Nation, but the film runs on the energy of Elba’s onscreen presence. His potent combination of swagger and menace is all-consuming as cult leader and general of his child army, but he never loses sight of his character’s humanity, which makes his eventual downfall inevitable, tragic, and completely believable.

Supporting Actor

Benicio del Toro – Sicario

I could try to explain what makes this performance so timeless, but I’ll leave that to one of Benicio’s few lines from Sicario:

“You’re asking me how a watch works. For now, just keep an eye on the time.”

Actress/Supporting Actress

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor – Tangerine

Tangerine is the most un-Hollywood film to come out of Los Angeles: a charming tale about a day in the life of two transgender prostitutes, set to trap music and shot on an iPhone. If that sounds like a complete mess to you, Rodriguez and Taylor deserve a lot of credit for grounding the film with painfully human performances that are equal parts honest and absurd, and always engaging.

Original Screenplay

Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight

It’s not as though Tarantino is forging a new path with his latest film, in which he took many of the themes and ideas he has explored previously and crammed them into a cabin in a blizzard in the 19th century as part of a statement about the American dream. The Hateful Eight’s savage, lyrical dialogue works because for once Tarantino doesn’t seem like he’s trying to impress anyone (other than himself).

Adapted Screenplay

Donald Margulies – The End of the Tour

The End of the Tour is basically two writers in a car. It’s an interview at the end of a book tour. This film has no business being as poignant and touching as it is, and while a lot of that has to do with excellent performances Segel and Jesse Eisenberg, Margulies’ script captures the naturalistic flow of two articulate, flawed individuals trying to make sense of their worlds.

Documentary

Adam Curtis – Bitter Lake

Bitter Lake probably wasn’t even eligible to be nominated for an Oscar. It received no theatrical or broadcast premiere and was released exclusively online by the BBC, with no distribution or publicity outside of the UK. This is a problem, because Bitter Lake is a history lesson America desperately needs.

Taking its name from the location of the Quincy Agreement – when FDR traded security for oil with Saudi Arabia in 1945 – the archival collage documentary charts the course of Western foreign intervention (among other things) from the end of World War II to the 21st century, using Afghanistan as its fulcrum.


Bitter Lake (2015) – Adam Curtis Documentary… by forthedishwasher

Curtis has made a career out of shedding light on the hidden history of recent events, but none of his previous work feels as complete or as important as Bitter Lake. Do yourself a favour and watch it.

Foreign Film

Sebastian Schipper – Victoria

It’s easy to forget Victoria is one continuous shot over two hours long once the film sucks you into its dizzying world of Berlin nightlife and youthful overconfidence. The less said about the plot, the better. Just be ready for a trip.

The Greatest Oscar Trolls of All Time


We all love to hate the Oscars, and who can blame us? It’s an evening that combines the insider back-slapping of an awards ceremony with the suffocating cultural dominance of the Super Bowl, all glossed in a smarmy veneer of tradition and prestige. At least the Golden Globes offer the possibility of drunken celebrity antics as a distraction, but the Academy Awards are as self-serious as they are inescapable.

Despite all this hate, very few people receive that golden opportunity to share it with the world during the Academy’s special night. It’s not enough to simply be nominated or appear on stage; you have to actually win an award (or host the show) to have enough of a chance to tell everyone where they can stick their golden statuettes. Those who make it that far tend to have an affinity for the Oscars, either on merit (taste is a fickle mistress), or because they can’t ignore the career-bolstering prospects of winning one.

Unless your name is Marlon Brando, whose career needed absolutely no help when he won Best Actor for his portrayal of Vito Corleone in The Godfather. Instead of accepting the award (or even attending the ceremony), Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather to lecture the film industry and America in general about the mistreatment of indigenous cultures. While Leonardo DiCaprio attached a similar message to the end of his Golden Globes acceptance speech for The Revenant, Brando’s grand gesture remains the gold standard of Oscar trolling.

None of these other examples reach Brando’s level, but they are all admirable efforts, each of which I will rate on a scale of 1-10 Brandos.

The Refusal Club

Brando wasn’t the only person to refuse an Oscar. He wasn’t even the first. Screenwriter Dudley Nichols refused to accept an award for writing The Informer in the 1930s in solidarity with the writers strike at the time, and George C. Scott famously refused in 1970 when he won for Patton, stating he didn’t feel he was in competition with other actors and referring to the ceremony as a “meat parade.”

Both of these refusals are admirable, but aside from the Scott’s meat parade comment, they lack the misanthropy and schadenfreude of a good troll, so I’m going to give them 5/10 Brandos.

Redgrave And The Z-word

Vanessa Redgrave got creative with her trolling when she won Best Supporting Actress in 1978, going after an issue close the heart of the film industry – the Israel/Palestine conflict – rather than the film industry itself. Redgrave’s open support of Palestinian rights put her at odds with many of her peers, and her nomination for a film that had nothing to do with the Middle East drew loud protests from the Jewish Defense League.

Redgrave was the first Oscar winner of the night. Apparently, she thought putting all her opponents on blast would set the right tone for the rest of the ceremony.

The highlight of Redgrave’s rant is the incendiary “Zionist hoodlums” remark, which is the kind of easy-bake troll phrase that would inspire millions of angry tweets if someone said it this Sunday. Regardless of whether or not you agree with Redgrave’s politics, getting up and saying those words in front of that audience takes some serious lady-balls, which is why I give this 8/10 Brandos.

Franco Phones It In

The Oscars are about as cool as Hillary Clinton, but they’re always finding convenient ways to ignore how hopelessly out-of-touch they are with young people. The Academy ignored the issue again in 2011 by picking two youthful actors out of a hat, selecting James Franco and Anne Hathaway as hosts and setting the stage for what can only be described as a high-art performance of longform Oscar trolling by Franco.

There’s no point of comparison for Franco’s career trajectory, aside from maybe a drunken sparrow with a clipped wing. His acting resume his filled with indie detours and vanity projects, and the list of colleges he has attended rivals his blockbuster filmography. Every time Franco is on the cusp of superstardom, he sidesteps it in a way that seems incredibly ill-advised, but follows its own internal logic. He’s basically a film industry Kanye West, only he gets more leeway because he’s white.

Franco entered the 2011 the Oscars as host and a nominee for Best Actor, with his starring role in that summer’s Planet of the Apes reboot looming on the horizon. Everything was looking up, which made it the perfect time for Franco to tear it all down and deliver a dismissive middle finger to those in the industry who saw him as the next mindless rom-com heartthrob or superhero action figure stand-in.

Or maybe he was really stoned. We’ll never know.

It’s not that Franco didn’t want to be there so much as he just wasn’t there at all. His demeanour suggests someone whose focus was far away from the teleprompter, or Los Angeles county for that matter. Franco mumbles while looking at his shoes, steps on punchlines, and glances around with a facial expression that’s equal parts bemused, bored, and blissful, all while Hathaway flails around in a desperate attempt to counter his apathy.

Refusing the hosting gig would have simply left the spot open for a young celebrity likely eager to make a good impression, but ostensibly buying into the Academy’s cynical appeal to coolness allowed Franco to sabotage the awards from the inside by becoming the living embodiment of dead air and leaving a massive hole in the proceedings when they needed him most.

9.5/10 Brandos.