Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

2017 Academy Awards Prediction Results


Fourteen right and ten wrong.  Extrapolated out over a major league baseball season, I guess I would be relatively happy, but this was my worst year yet since I have been picking.  Of course, I did pick several upsets that didn't pan out, and I guessed in a few categories that I typically (and conveniently) avoid. 

Still, it was a tough year all around.  Gold Derby, the film site that holds an Oscar prediction contest every year, has around 10,000 entries, and usually, one or two entries will be perfect or near perfect.  This year, the winner predicted only 20 of the 24 categories.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          PICKS I GOT RIGHT
DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)



ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:  Manchester by the Sea - Kenneth Lonergan

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:  Moonlight - Barry Jenkins (story: Tarell Alvin McCraney)


OJ: Made in America




ORIGINAL SONG: "City of Stars" (La La Land)




BEST PICTURE:  I chose La La Land
Moonlight won

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:  I chose Denzel Washington (Fences)
Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) won

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: I chose Toni Erdmann (Germany)
The Salesman (Iran) won 

FILM EDITING:  I chose Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge won

SOUND EDITING: I chose Hacksaw Ridge
Arrival won

SOUND MIXING: I chose La La Land
Hacksaw Ridge won 

COSTUME DESIGN: I chose Jackie
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them won 

MAKEUP: I chose Star Trek: Beyond
Suicide Squad won

SHORT FILM, LIVE ACTION: I chose Ennemis Interieurs
Sing (Mindenki) won


The White Helmets won

2017 Academy Awards Guesses

2017 Academy Awards Guesses

I'm not really a critic.  Critics earn exorbitant sums to make predictions about who will win the Academy Awards.  The word "prediction" is meant to ascribe some level of expertise.  Truth be told, they are, at best, educated guesses.  I watch movies, I research; I make guesses, ergo: educated guesses.  For free.

Again, the Academy proves its myopia by not looking far enough back into 2016 to see Hail, Caesar!Love and Friendship, Eye in the Sky.  And when Oscar expanded to a potential ten film nominees, its intention was to recognize crowd-pleasing blockbusters (and to increase the TV ratings for its awards show).  So, where are Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool, and Doctor Strange And as much as I respect Meryl Streep, are we going to keep an honorary slot open for her every year?  Amy Adams (Arrival), Kate Beckinsale (Love and Friendship) and, Annette Bening (20th Century Women) were all worthy, but the biggest slight is that Taraji P. Henson's inspiring performance in Hidden Figures was overlooked.  

On to my picks: La La Land, with 14 nominations is expected to dominate the Academy Awards, and I believe it will.  By my reckoning, it will land eight Oscars, although my guesses that it will lose two categories in which it is favored could be wrong.  The only other multiple winners I see are Fences and Moonlight, each with two. Among the other top contenders, single awards could go to Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, and Manchester by the Sea.  

Here are my picks:

A hotly contested horse race, with a Moonlight win a distinct possibility.  For a while, it looked like Manchester by the Sea was the frontrunner, but it has faded while Hidden Figures has closed fast.  The other contenders are deserving, but Academy voters have preferences and prejudices: Arrival (Sci-Fi) and Hell or High Water (Western) faced genre bias; the screen treatment of Fences varied little from its stage version; Hacksaw Ridge had to overcome Mel Gibson's pariah status; Lion was simply a cut below the top contenders.

DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) is a close second, and it wouldn't be a shocker if he won. Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) screenwriting was better than his directing. Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge) is just happy he is no longer in artistic exile.  And my personal favorite, Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) has served notice he will be a regular contender.

Natalie Portman (Jackie) was considered a sure bet a few months ago, and Isabelle Huppert (Elle) has some sympathetic backing for one of the best in a lifetime of excellent performances.  Ruth Negga (Loving) stunned Cannes, and Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins) received the annual Mery Streep honorary nomination.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE: Denzel Washington (Fences)
Picking a minor upset here.  Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) is the favorite, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he won, but Denzel is at his best.  As contenders, Ryan Gosling (La La Land) is multi-talented and charming; Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) shows conviction; Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) is mesmerizing.  A tough pick.

If you are a betting person, this is the where you push your whole stack of chips.  For Davis to lose here would be a major upset.  Naomie Harris as the drugged-out mother  in Moonlight is Davis's major competition.  Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea) has perhaps the scene of the year but isn't given much else to do.  Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) and Nicole Kidman (Lion) are familiar names but are not in contention.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
A most competitive race: Jeff Bridges' (Hell or High Water) grizzled Texas Ranger has a lot of industry support, same with Dev Patel's (Lion) emotional search for his roots; Michael Shannon's (Nocturnal Animals) literally and figuratively sick lawman is a scene-stealer, and 20-year-old Lucas Hedges' orphaned teen in Manchester by the Sea is outstanding. 

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Manchester by the Sea - Kenneth Lonergan
Oscar likes drama, so here is a chance for an upset to break the La La Land stranglehold.  Hell or High Water makes the Hollywood-friendly political statement.  The Lobster is a little too freaky for Academy sensibilities, and 20th Century Women won't make it in 2017.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Moonlight - Barry Jenkins (story: Tarell Alvin McCraney)
Any of the nominees would be a worthy winner: the trippy, O. Henry-esque Arrival; Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning Fences; the revelatory and inspirational  Hidden Figures; and a young man's incredible discovery of his roots in Lion.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Toni Erdmann (Germany)
The Salesman (Iran) has recently gained ground and could win.  A Man Called Ove (Sweden) has a puncher's chance.  Others are Land of Mine and Tanna.

Kubo and the Two Strings would be my choice; it's a beautiful film and story, but it's hard to beat a blockbuster. Or two--Moana is there, also (but I can't find Dory anywhere).  My Life as a Zucchini and The Red Turtle fill out the category.

The clear favorite, with13th, Fire at SeaI Am Not Your Negro, and Life, Animated in contention.

I would pick Lion.  All of the nominees are good (ArrivalMoonlight), although I would have replaced Silence with Hell or High Water.

VISUAL EFFECTS:  The Jungle Book
Doctor StrangeKubo and the Two Strings, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story are strong contenders, but it is mind-boggling that Passengers was not nominated and Deepwater Horizon was. 

This is my biggest upset pick over the favored La La Land juggernaut.  Arrival is precision crafted and timed.  All contenders--Hacksaw RidgeHell or High WaterMoonlight are the others--would be a valid choice n this category.  

SOUND EDITING: Hacksaw Ridge
I'll take the experts' word for it.  With La La Land threatening, and ArrivalDeepwater Horizon, and Sully smiling politely as they are acknowledged.

Now, Hacksaw Ridge is hoping for the upset, as 13 Hours and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story joining Arrival for smiles to respectful applause. 

Thanks for participating, JackieLionMoonlight, and Passengers, but the position has been filled.

ORIGINAL SONG: "City of Stars" (La La Land)
Another opportunity for an upset.  "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" may split the La La Land vote, opening the way for Lin-Manuel Miranda's quest for an EGOT (Emmy, Tony, Oscar, and Grammy Award wins) with "How Far I'll Go" (Moana) or everyone's friend Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling" (Trolls).  In that company, "The Empty Chair" (Jim: The James Foley Story) feels like the red-headed step-child.

La La Land is the runaway favorite here, although the contenders, ArrivalFantastic Beasts and Where to Find ThemHail, Caesar!, and especially the vastly underrated Passengers are all more imaginative.

I'm predicting another upset in yet another category where La La Land is the favorite.   Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is appropriately Potter-esque, while Allied and Florence Foster Jenkins nail the period and place.

MAKEUP: Star Trek: Beyond
What an odd set of nominees.  A Man Called Ove represents the foreign film market.  I'm still shaking my head with my jaw dropped so saliva is spraying the room in my shock and disappointment that Suicide Squad was considered for anything.

NB: The following are sheer guesses which I probably shouldn't post at all, but I will anyway, with my greatest respect to all of the short subjects out there:

Others: Blind VayshaBorrowed TimePear Cider and CigarettesPearl

SHORT FILM, LIVE ACTION: Ennemis Interieurs
Others: La Femme et le TGVSilent NightsSing (Mindenki)Timecode

Others, 4.1 MilesJoe's ViolinWatani: My HomelandThe White Helmets 

Lion Review

Lion Review

Some of the best films this Oscar season have been melodramatic, and Lion is no exception.  Lion is Director Garth Davis's first feature film, but the guess here is that his career trajectory is about to take a sharp rise.  His realization of Saroo Brierley's autobiographical "A Long Way Home"--adapted for the screen by Luke Davies--vaulted from sleeper to must see in a matter of weeks and arrives as one of the top films of the year, raising hopes for the Weinstein brothers that they might again find themselves on the Academy Awards dais on February 26.

In a poor village in the Indian hinterlands, five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and older brother Guddu find menial jobs to help their mother, Kamla (Priyanka Bose) support their family.  One day, after much cajoling, Guddu agrees to take Saroo to find work.  They hop a train, and at one of the stops, they become separated.  The tired child sneaks aboard another train to nap, and when he awakes, the train is on the move to Calcutta, where he debarks, a waif alone amid uncaring, even hostile, throngs.  He seeks help, but his strange dialect and childish mispronunciations render him a hopelessly lost street child who eventually ends up in an orphanage.  It is there, when Saroo's future seems bleakest, that he hits on his first stroke of luck: a loving Australian couple, Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) want to adopt him.

Cut to adult Saroo (Dev Patel), a driven, but good-hearted college student studying hotel management who woos and wins a classmate, Lucy (Rooney Mara).  At a party one night, Saroo relates his history, and another Indian student puts a bug in his ear about using Google Earth to find his village.  The suggestion that he might find his birth family germinates into an obsession to the young man caught between worlds, where his original identity has been torn away.  It frightens his family and alienates Lucy.  They are his rock and compass, and they successfully bring Saroo to earth without the use of Google, and they get to share in his quest for closure.

As the credits roll, we note the physical likenesses the actors bear to the people upon whom the films is based.  Luckily, casting the likes of Kidman, Mara, Wenham, and Bose brings far more than resemblance; they are uniformly excellent--genuine and sympathetic.  Saroo's story in India is innately cinematic, and the family bonding and courting scenes in Australia are touching. Conducting Google research, however, is not compelling, so Davis must use his estimable skills to flesh out that part of the film.  The music swells and Patel teeters on the edge of madness--and annoyance--as the melodrama kicks in. It is in these minutes we become aware that the story is stretched a bit to cover the length of a feature film, and perhaps that is why the ending reaches a level of satisfaction, but not the tearful catharsis for which it aims.  But that is forgiven in the story of little Saroo and the performances of Pawar and Patel.  Garth Davis has a background in cinematography, and his collaboration with Director of Photography Greig Fraser is at times nightmarish, at times dreamlike, always immersive, and maybe the best shot Lion has at winning an Oscar.

Sidenotes on Sunny Pawar: He does not speak English, so he had to learn his lines phonetically.  Given that, the fact that he so wonderfully acts out his role is remarkable.  Also, on current events note, Sunny originally was denied a visa to attend Lion's premiere.  The Weinsteins had to appeal to Homeland Security to get Sunny through.  Apparently, eight-year-old Indian children present a threat of which I was unaware.

8 out of 10

Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Manchester by the Sea Review

Manchester by the Sea

As an auteur, Kenneth Lonergan has shown his eclectic writing chops on such films as Analyze This, Gangs of New York, and You Can Count on Me (Oscar nomination), and even though MbtS is only his third directing stint, his experience as a cross-genre storyteller stands him in good stead in Manchester by the Sea.  The seed of the story came from an idea John Krasinski ran past Matt Damon.  Damon loved it and originally wanted to direct and star, with Lonergan writing the screenplay.  As time passed and schedules clogged, it became Lonergan's baby, with Damon's pal Casey Affleck in the lead.

In this slow burn drama, Lee Chandler (Affleck) has known love, loss, and, mostly, grief. People experiencing grief are supposed to move through stages; suffice to say, on his road to healing, Lee has run into a pile-up of "guilt," "anger," and "depression," beyond which he can't even see.  Lee is a building custodian who rushes back to Manchester when he learns of the sudden death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler).  At the reading of the will, Lee learns Joe has set a stipend aside for Lee to care for his 16-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), but he has to move back to Manchester. For reasons yet to be revealed, Lee cannot bring himself to this, though he does agree to watch over Patrick until other arrangements can be made, a choice Patrick logically interprets as rejection.

The Lee-Patrick relationship becomes the body of MbtS, and it provides the thin rays of humor that stem the oppressive pall cast over the film's mood and gray winter setting.  From Patrick's take on Lee's inability to connect with other people (unless it's a left hook after one or twelve too many beers) though Lee's dismay at Patrick's girlfriend juggling and millennial techno-geeking, they build a grudging bond. If that relationship is the body, the tragedy of Lee's past is the soul, which we learn from glimpses through silent fugues into his past--brother Joe's failing health, Lee's failed marriage to Randi (Michelle Williams), and that tragedy.  As Lee looks inward, Patrick reaches out.  He's been in contact with his estranged mother Elise (Gretchen Mol) and has accepted her invitation to meet, over Lee's objections, and a strange afternoon that includes a Matthew Broderick sighting ensues.

Days pass, and it seems that the horrible reminders that Manchester brings are abating.  Lee is growing closer to Patrick and offering hints that his own personal barriers are breaking down.  Then, he and Randi have a chance meeting.  The scene that follows is one of the most powerful and wrenching moments set to film this year.  It is an event so impactful that it is decisive not only to the story, it influences our perception of the film itself as a work of art.

Manchester by the Sea is a justifiably esteemed screenplay, intricately woven to reveal the events that motivate behaviors when we need to know them, toggling back and forth from flashback to present day, yet not allowing us to predict where it is going.  It is said Kenneth Lonergan spent three years on this story--the script was on the 2014 Blacklist--and the cast put in extended time on rehearsals before they began filming.  Casey Affleck's interpretation is a restrained, yet deep performance--his Lee is uncomfortable in his own skin, and he makes everyone around him equally uncomfortable.  Lucas Hedges sells his role as a grief-stricken teen who is still self-centered enough to go on with his normal life.  Michelle Williams is excellent, as always, and her scene on the street with Affleck bursts with raw emotion.  Having said that, at a 2:17 runtime, Lonergan translates the page to screen about 17 minutes too leisurely, and the wintry emotional tone is a shade too dark.

8 out of 10

Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Moonlight Review

Moonlight is a tribute to the quest for human connection in a part of America that has been, at best, ignored, and more often demonized by the power structure of our country.  It is too simple to call it a coming of age story of an African-American male through three stages of his young life--child, teen, and young adult--because Moonlight is transcendent.  It would be more accurate to say Writer/Director Barry Jenkins' work is a triptych, painted on the scorched canvas of Miami's mean streets that takes one young man from isolation to identity.  Time will tell if it is a masterpiece, but the film, based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's autobiographical play, "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" understands that sometimes less is more; what is unsaid shouts louder than words.

Chapter one: "Little" Chiron (Alex Hibbert) is a ten-year-old boy who lives in fear: at school, he is dogged by bullies; at home, his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) is a self-absorbed addict.  While hiding out one day, he is discovered by Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer, who takes him home to meet his companion Teresa (Janelle Monae). They see something in the child's sad, soulful eyes that elicits compassion, and soon Juan becomes a father figure, a relationship culminating in a moving scene where Juan teaches Chiron how to swim, a symbolic baptism in the waters off of Miami beach, a few blocks yet a world away from the desolation and desperation of his neighborhood.
Chapter two:"Chiron" is a teenager (Ashton Sanders)--tall, slender, still quiet.  Paula's addiction worsens, so Chiron goes to Teresa to do homework and get a decent meal.  Bullies still stalk, and he is still alone, except for his childhood friend Kevin (Jharrel Jerome).  At a time of life when egos are fragile, masculinity and status are often tested by sexuality and aggression, but Chiron remains a sensitive observer until the peaceful sands of Miami Beach bring an awakening and the hostile high school brings a reckoning.
Chapter three: "Black" reveals Chiron, a young man (Trevante Rhodes) who is now a drug dealer in Atlanta, pumped up and intimidating from his "grills" to his cold stare.  But in unguarded moments his eyes retreat to soulful sadness and uncertainty.  One night, his old friend Kevin (Andre' Holland) calls, hoping for a redemption.  Chiron accepts, and their reunion brings a verbal pas de deux in a scene, at once tense and tender, that fittingly frames Moonlight.

As the film unfolds, Barry Jenkins channels the best of Terrence Malick, blending cinematography (James Laxton), sound (Nicholas Britell), and story into visual artscape.  Under his direction, the gifted young Hibbert/Sanders/Rhodes trifecta brings integrity rather than mimicry to the three stages of Chiron's story.  The supporting cast is exceptional, most notably Mahershala Ali (Mockingjay I&II, Hidden Figures) and Naomie Harris (Spectre) as the most significant adults in Chiron's young life.  The editing is crisp, flowing from vignette to vignette with smooth transition and pace.  It took several days for Moonlight to marinate in my mind before I wrote about it, but each subsequent reflection furthered my endearment and appreciation for this beautiful film.

9 out of 10

Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Hidden Figures Review


On the surface, Hidden Figures should have been a mild cinematic curiosity, revealing a little-known chapter of our space program.  Thanks to Director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent); his Oscar-nominated screenplay adaptation with Allison Schroeder of Margot Lee Shetterly's book; and the performances of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures is a fast-rising darling of the awards season.  It's a fact-based, time capsule look at the US of the late-1950's and early-1960s, a dramatic and fearful time, starting with the Soviet Union's Cold War victories of Sputnik, Laika, and Yuri Gagarin and America's fitful, desperate efforts to catch up.  On a personal level within that scientific and geopolitical drama, we see the sociological drama of the continuing fight for civil rights when some states saw fit to ignore federal laws demanding integration and equality.

Sassy Mary Jackson (Monae), nerdy Katherine Goble (Henson), and crafty Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) are best friends, working in a pool of African American mathematicians, or "computers," at the NASA Space Lab at Langley.  As much as the US is in a race for space, these women are in their own races: Mary wants to be the first Black female engineer; Dorothy, the de facto supervisor of the "computers," wants to achieve relevance; and Katherine, the true genius of the group and a widowed mother of three girls, just wants to prove herself and remain employed.  That is problematic; their jobs will become defunct when the giant IBM electronic computer is set up.  With encouragement from Mary's Polish immigrant supervisor, Paul Zielinski (Olek Krupa), she battles the courts for the right to attend college for a master's degree.  Dorothy jousts with her boss, Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst,) to help all of the women in her care as she learns the language of electronic computing.  The strongest thread follows Katherine, who is assigned to work with, and against, the best and brightest mathematicians--all men, all in white shirt and tie--in a lab that will plan the first US manned space flight.  The top math-man is Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), a skeptical and jealous rival, who tries to keep Katherine under his thumb and away from Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), NASA manned space flighty chief, whose monomaniacal rivalry against the Russians won't allow for second best.   

Away from work, the women and their families socialize at each others' home and at church.  They know each others' quirks and foibles, and they play on them as they tease and bond.  To this end, Dorothy and Mary have taken on the task of matching Katherine with tall drink of water newcomer to their church, National Guard Col. Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali).  With love and humor the women and their families support each other at home and at work; with grace and bulldog tenacity they overcome personal, social, and professional obstacles; and with brilliance of mind they help drive NASA toward John Glenn's (Glen Powell) first US Manned space flight.

It is rare that an audience breaks into spontaneous, enthusiastic applause at the end of the film, but that happened at Hidden Figures.  It is unabashedly inspirational, and it has its sappy moments, but the marvelous cast and stirring score--provided by the unlikely but inspired grouping of Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, and Benjamin Wallfisch--drive the story with power and conviction. It's the best we have seen Kevin Costner in years, Kirsten Dunst is a beautifully cold bureaucrat, and Mahershala Ali is a strong but sensitive suitor (and a breakout star--the actor, who played Boggs in the Mockingjay films, has been nominated for Supporting Actor in Moonlight).  But Hidden Figures belongs to the three co-stars: Janelle Monae proves (as she does in Moonlight) that she has a future in film; the dependably excellent Octavia Spencer earned an Oscar nomination for her role as Dorothy. Among these stars, the brightest is Taraji P. Henson.  Henson's performance is at once touching, humorous, and strong.  She has a scene with Kevin Costner that alone should have earned her an Academy Award nomination, but, unfortunately, she was overlooked.   The film, however will not be. As the awards season enters the final stretch, Hidden Figures is closing strongly on the Best Film front runners La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, and Moonlight.

9 out of 10  
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