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

Black Panther: Have We Turned the Corner?

Black Panther—Have We Turned the Corner? by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

This movie has already been dissected, parsed, and mythologized.  What is there to say that hasn't already been said?  So, let's start with the obvious: a Marvel film released in February will get a huge turnout, no matter the circumstances; that Black Panther is also the first with a predominantly Black cast brings an under-served audience to join built-in mad Marvel fans, propelling BP to historic heights.  The studio also struck a smart, respectful note, making BP the atypical stand-alone Marvel outing--not even a cameo from another Avenger.  Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole expand Stan Lee's original hero into a relevant modern-day morality tale in which even the antagonist has an understandable point.

Eons ago, a meteor crashed into the jungles of Africa, depositing the mother lode of vibranium, a rare metal of uncanny properties.  The peoples that inhabited this land soon learned the tremendous powers of vibranium, and as the metal enabled great technological advancements, the culture grew into the nation of Wakanda.  The people had the wisdom to understand the importance of hiding their wealth from imperialists and other exploiters, so they concealed their entire region within the the verdant forest. 

Flash to present day. After the assassination of his father, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) ascends to the throne to rule Wakanda to rule not only as King but also to serve and protect his nation as Black Panther.  Early on, the conflict is introduced by his friend W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), who wishes T’Challa to use Wakanda’s hidden resources to help oppressed people and assume its place as a world power.  A more immediate problem arises, though, when Wakanda is beset by a breach of secrecy: some vibranium has been stolen by arch-villain Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and will be sold to the highest bidder in Seoul.  T’Challa takes off, accompanied by Wakandan spy, and his true love, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira), the leader of his elite all-female security force.  Assisting them remotely is his kid sister and scientific genius Shuri (Letitia Wright).  At the Korean casino where the exchange is to occur, they spot CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), and everything becomes more complex.  The ensuing battle puts the strength and wile of all combatants, good and evil, on display.  It also serves as setup for the main conflict: between T’Challa and Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), once the innocent victim of a wrathful mistake by T’Challa’s father, now a fearsome enemy bent on revenge.

No doubt, Black Panther will go down as one of the unqualified hits of the 2018 movie year, and that success also emphasizes the box office clout for high "status" films produced by and starring Black artists (add Angela Bassett as T’Challa’s mother and Forest Whitaker as the shaman to the list).  The talent on display in front of and at work behind the cameras provide both role models and ideals to which children of all races can aspire.  How can one not welcome such success? 

As laudatory as this is, we should temper our enthusiasm with a dose of big-picture reality.  So many have written about A) what a great film Black Panther is, and B) how it represents a turning point in the acceptance of status films representing and produced by the Black community.  Let’s examine it: Regarding point A: how great is the film?  Well, it is a Marvel film, so it’s well-executed, has tremendous CGI, and the script has a just enough humor to show it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  But it IS a Marvel film, so it’s graded on an easier curve by many critics, most notably Entertainment Weekly (who has graded only one of 18 Marvel films below a B-) and the Rotten Tomatoes fanboy critics, who treat Marvel movies and Star Wars entries like they are Citizen Kane.  Like most Marvel movies, there is no real sense of imminent peril; in the case of BP, it’s because vibranium is so powerful and versatile, and Shuri’s genius so all-encompassing, that deuses are ex machina-ing all over the place.  And while a compelling antagonist is expected, especially as played by Jordan, it is a surprise that Wright and Gurira in support outshine Boseman and Nyong’o's leads.  And what Marvel movie worth its salt would be without a final battle that’s ten minutes too long.  As to point B, we would be more willing to see a turning point in acceptance of high stature Black films had last year's excellent Best Picture winner Moonlight earned more that a paltry $28 million domestic gross.  Times change, you say?  Not so much: the expected box office juggernaut expected of the Oprah Winfrey, Ava DuVernay treatment of the classic story A Wrinkle in Time never realized its potential.  So, have we turned the egalitarian corner with Black Panther? No, but it is a big step in the right direction.  Now, if T’Challa turns out to be one of the leads in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War
8.0 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale
7.5 out of 10 on an Awards Scale

Red Sparrow

Red Sparrow review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Upon leaving the theater, our own Captain HE gave the film a "nine out of ten" and later added in writing: "Riveting, well-acted, thoroughly entertaining with a fabulous cast. Here is a movie that does not rely on digital enhancements to carry a story. Jennifer Lawrence is formidable. Please try not to think of any parallels relating to current U.S. political situations. TRY!"

When retired CIA operations director Jason Matthews wrote Red Sparrow and its follow-up books, Palace of Treason and The Kremlin's Candidate, he either knew some things before the rest of us did, or he was damn lucky in choosing the experiences he decided to fictionalize out of his 33-year career.  The CIA, of course, had to approve the book and the script, and they loved it, as described here:  The film seems like the script from the Robert Mueller investigation, and despite its "R" rating, the storyline and the fact that it stars Jennifer Lawrence and an amazing cast, its popularity should be through the roof.  Strangely, whereas most American films do much better in the US than they do overseas; Red Sparrow's foreign box office amounts to nearly twice its American earnings, even beating out Black Panther in some markets.  It is a strange scenario, but more on that later, now for the film:

Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) is a prima ballerina for the Bolshoi, famed and thus supported by the ballet company and the government.  During a performance one night, her male lead trips, falling on her with his full weight, shattering her leg. Her career ended, she is about to lose both her apartment and medical coverage, which assists her chronically ill mother (Joely Richardson).  Enter Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts), an administrator in the Russian intelligence service who makes her an unsavory offer. She’s to serve as a honey trap for a man of interest, an abhorrent offer to her, but she has no choice.  Vanya has other, more sinister plans, though, and the plan turns violent and bloody and forces her deeper into his clutches.

Cut to a dark and foggy park, and CIA operative Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), who is about to make an exchange with a Russian double agent, known only as Marble.  Unfortunately for them, the police unwittingly stumble upon their transaction.  Nate has to beat feet, scrambling frantically to the border where he has to ram through guards and leap into the American sector, his cover blown.  He is led to the offices of his handlers (played by a grim Sakina Jaffrey and a wry, amused Bill Camp) where he pleads for another chance.

Thus begins a double narrative: as Nate struggles to get back to the field, Dominika is "recruited" to enter Sparrow school where she will learn both world-class espionage and prostitution. Sparrow school students are uniformly young, physically strong, and beautiful.  Their curriculum is overseen by grim academy supervised by a severe Matron (Charlotte Rampling).  It is here where politically correct critics have taken issue as Dominika endures the extremes of punishment and degradation, but it is here where their myopic viewpoint becomes blurred.  The extremes to which Dominika is subjected become the springboard from which she takes control of her fate through sheer force of will and her nascent gifts—athleticism, intelligence, a brutal nature, and a preternatural gift of reading people's intentions.  She is well aware that she is a woman in a man’s world, but she doesn't beg sentimentality--even though Dominika is sentimental about her mother.  Matron certainly isn't sentimental; she dislikes Dominika's independent will, but she acknowledges her talent, and soon the former prima ballerina is sent into the field.

Vanya meets with his superior, Zakharov (Ciaran Hinds) and General Korchnoi (Jeremy Irons) and decide to send Dominika as a honey trap to entice Nash into revealing the identity of Marble.  Here, the narratives of Domenika and Nate combine and intertwine; we become witnesses to manipulation and double-crosses, games both are playing that we see but do not fully understand until all elements come together in surprising and satisfying fashion.

Red Sparrow is a blend of the Bourne films and John LeCarre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, much better than the fun but mindless Atomic Blonde.  Although it has action, it is not an action film. Rather, it is an old-fashioned spy film with intrigue that keeps the audience thinking, guessing, and on its toes through its full 2:20 runtime.  In other words, it predictable doesn't play well to many of the clickbait critics that infest Rotten Tomatoes.  Director Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) has not made a classic, but Red Sparrow is a damned good film.  Beautifully shot in Budapest, Vienna, and London, with a superior international cast that includes, in addition to those already mentioned, Mary-Louise Parker as another intrigue-peddler and Sergei Polunin as the Bolshoi male lead.  The romantic chemistry between Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Lawrence isn't there, but it might be even better that Matthias Schoenaerts' lascivious Uncle Vanya does spark with Dominika, a perversion that fits in with the whole seamy world of espionage.

And of course, there is Jennifer Lawrence.  You've heard us extol her talents loudly and often; allow Manolha Dargis, film critic of the New York Times to describe the actress's contributions better that we can:
"As she does, Ms. Lawrence goes all in, seamlessly meeting the movie’s physical demands — whether she’s dancing onstage or crawling in blood — while turning Dominika into a character who grows more real with each unreal scene. ...  It helps that Ms. Lawrence, like all great stars, can slip into a role as if sliding into another skin, unburdened by hesitation or self-doubt. Craft and charm are part of what she brings to this role, as well as a serviceable accent, but it’s her absolute ease and certainty that carry you through “Red Sparrow.” She was born to screen stardom, and it’s a blast to see where it’s taking her."

Unfortunately, it may not take her into the further exploits of Dominika Egorova.  In addition to the aforementioned critical obstacles others, some willful, some mere fate, have stood in its way.  Fate intervened when Red Sparrow's release put it up against the Black Panther juggernaut.  It didn't help that we are currently in a time when people are most sensitive about violence against women, despite the fact that RS is based on real-world events, and it shows its protagonist, Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) overcoming her plight and turning the table on the patriarchy (much like Lisbeth Salander did in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).  But those hurdles are matters of bad timing.  Willful human intervention created a perfect storm of opposition against Red Sparrow: First, on RS's opening weekend, the online ticketing hub MoviePass blocked subscriber's from purchasing tickets and still have offered no explanation. Still, film studios don't care about reasons or excuses, and they don't care how great a movie is or that it is headed toward $100 million overseas; their only concern is the domestic bottom line.

Still and with all, we heartily recommend Red Sparrow.  Our group loved it, so we will end with a comment from our own Serfing Dude, who left the showing calling it the best film we had seen in a while (and that included Black Panther and Annihilation): "It was better than I expected and I did anticipate it to be better than some of the critics were saying. It kept me guessing throughout and allowed for some clever surprises. It was an intriguing look at the spy game and given the present issues concerning Russia in the geopolitical realm, a very pertinent movie. The cast was outstanding, led by J-Law."
8.5 out of 10 for Artistic and Entertainment merit.

Films Released in 2017: A Final Word

Closing the books on 2017
-- by FilmZ and Guy S. Malone, Researcher, with contributions from the usual gang

Despite the fact that they took place nine weeks into 2018, last week's Academy Awards marked the end of Awards Year 2017 for Hollywood.  It was a sobering year, marked most notably by the Weinstein scandal and its aftershocks that shook the film industry to its core.  Out of the ashes has arisen a movement for gender equality in Hollywood that for the first time may go beyond lip service and become a commitment.  Aiding that is the reality that the top acting talent today is largely female; harming that is the reality that box office is still dominated by males.  Example: the Rock earns more per year than Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, and Emma Stone combined.  Now, we truly like the Rock and his movies, but please.  Still, we believe (hope?) the ripple effect will go far beyond the film industry and into society as a whole.

2017 also brought a revelation: we detested the black hole created when the Star Wars universe rebooted and hogged all of the holiday box office from better, but smaller, films, but we have to admit that there was one positive effect.  Some of the best and most enjoyable movies fled to the far reaches of the calendar.  Six of our top 15 films, including Get Out (February 24) and Dunkirk (July 21) came out at times usually reserved for dreck or popcorn fare.

Anyway, what follows are our Top-15 films of the year, followed by the best remaining films in separate categories, totally arbitrary ones (invented by the totally arbitrary Guy S. Malone, Researcher).  We do this year to year, based on the movies we have seen.*

* Disclaimer: We see around 50 movies a year, but our record for catching foreign films and documentaries hovers somewhere between embarrassing and abysmal (I will now don my cilice in repentance) so you won't see those categories here.  Also, in the land of King Scrapple, some of the best films zip through town so fast that by the time we get from the house to the theater they are gone.  For those, we call on the gang of movie serfs to apprise us.

15 BEST FILMS OF 2017:

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri - cool, bombastic crime thriller; best of the year

Dunkirk - Christopher Nolan's totally new take on the war film: nonlinear, with no stars

Get Out - Jordan Peele's breakthrough film stunned us with his satirical take on race relations

mother - Darren Aronofsky's Creation to Apocalypse allegory not meant for the popcorn crowd

Darkest Hour - Lily James and Ben Mendelsohn join Oldman as Oscar-worthy

Lady Bird - Greta Gerwig's coming of age film charmed the critical community and moviegoers

The Shape of Water - A treat for the senses; many liked because they ought to, but worthy of Oscar

Call Me By Your Name - Luca Guadagnino and James Ivory crafted a beautiful LGBT tale

The Post - Spielberg cake with Hanks, Streep, and a terrific supporting cast icing

- Scott Cooper and Christain Bale reunited in this simmering Western character study

Baby Driver - Don't judge a film by its title; Edgar Wright's hyperkinetic heist movie

The Big Sick - Culture clash, mortal stakes, and memorable performances elevate this rom-com

Detroit - Kathryn Bigelow excels in depicting war; the Algiers Hotel incident is war

The Phantom Thread - gorgeous film and performances, hampered only by a weird romance

Mudbound - Sundance darling was every bit the breakthrough that Get Out is, but less fanfare


Action/Adventure Recommended:
The Lost City of  Z- Historic drama with Charlie Hunnam as Amazon explorer Col. Percival Fawcett
American Made - Action-comedy with Tom Cruise as pilot Barry Seal, embroiled in Iran-Contra
Logan Lucky - Steven Soderbergh's rural Oceans 11 with the Charlotte Speedway as the mark
Wind River - Taylor Sheridan thriller; FBI agent and tracker investigate murder on a reservation
Good Time - Robert Pattinson, a small-time crook's crazy night, trying to get his brother out of jail

Science Fiction and Fantasy Recommended:

Blade Runner 2049 - Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins reunite in stunning fashion
The Last Jedi - the best Star Wars entry since The Empire Strikes Back (damning with faint praise)
Beauty and the Beast - Vivid, energetic live-action remake with Emma Watson, Dan Stevens
Personal Shopper - Olivier Assayas' moody ghost story, starring his muse Kristen Stewart
Okja - Young girl and fascinating beast defeat multinational capitalists in Joon ho Bong's fantasy
Kong: Skull Island - Kong meets Apocalypse Now, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson

Superhero Recommended:
Wonder Woman - Got a lot of early raves, but not enough to elbow into Oscar nominations
Logan - Original Screenplay nominee depicts end of an era with top X-Men Wolverine and Prof. X
Spider-Man Homecoming - Exciting, funny reboot with Tom Holland as the best Spidey yet
Thor: Ragnarok -  Laughs and action as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) saves Asgard from Cate Blanchett
Guardians of the Galaxy - A notch below the original, but still fun as the Guardians discover family

Films That Invoke the "mother! Warning": The following films will force you to think & question your belief system--they are NOT recommended for the popcorn crowd.
The Little Hours - Based on stories from the Decameron, Aubrey Plaza & Co are profane and funny
Ingrid Goes West - Aubrey Plaza again stretching boundaries, this time as a social media mental case
The Killing of a Sacred Deer - Yorgos Lanthimos' sins of the father parable is brutal and absurd
Beatriz at Dinner - Holds a mirror up to the ugliness of Ayn Rand capitalists and their sycophants
I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore - depressed woman recruits odd neighbor for retribution

The Meyerowitz Stories 79 - Finally, a good excuse to see an Adam Sandler movie, and no one did
Colossal 70 - Monster destroying Seoul psychically connected to US alcoholic (Anne Hathaway)
Their Finest - Propaganda film team boosts British spirits post-Dunkirk in this dramedy
LBJ 54 6.5 - Woody Harrelson as Pres. Johnson, driving through the Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Circle - Sci-Fi fun with Emma Watson as a worker bee for charismatically evil Tom Hanks

Disappointments (S
econd disclaimer: We only see movies for which we have decent expectations, so even our disappointments are great art when compared to a lot of stuff out there.)
The Florida Project - Willem Dafoe's presence almost (but not quite) overcomes obnoxious children
Murder on the Orient Express - With Branagh, this looked like a sure thing. Stick with the '74 version
Victoria and Abdul - Even with Judy Dench and production values, this remains pedestrian
Kingsman: The Golden Circle - could've gone Monty Python route, regrettably chose Transformers
Life - Alien reimagining has cool cast and flash, but somehow it turns out dismal
The Great Wall - Multiple strategic blunders; Matt Damon should've given this one to Casey Affleck

Animated Recommended:
Coco - Runaway animated hit of the year
Ferdinand - Classic children's tale finally brought to the big screen
The Breadwinner - Strong-willed Afghani girl provides for her family
The LEGO Batman Movie - The LEGO movies are always better than we expect
Loving Vincent - The visually stunning oil-painted film covers for an OK story

Oscar Predictions - 2018


Debated with more than a little bloodletting by the regular gang:
FilmZ and Guy S. Malone, Researcher, and our West Coast Correspondent-the inimitable Babz.
With snide comments and nothing constructive from Serfing Dude, DonSwedanya, Ambrose Woolfinger PhD, Prof. Quincy Wagstaff, Captain Lou HE Albano, and Baron Wolf von Kreiderheim.

Dolby Theatre at the Hollywood & Highland Center
Sunday, March 4, 2018.
ABC TV Network: Red Carpet 6:30PM to 8:00PM, Oscar Telecast 8:00PM to 11:00 (and beyond)

All right, kids, not much has changed since our report a few weeks ago.  Usually, events clarify, and our predictions become more accurate in the months and weeks leading up to the Oscars, and while some frontrunners have emerged, other categories remain as muddy as they looked in November.  It's important to note that we are reporting who we expect to win, not who we want to win.  We will editorialize a bit, but our own selections for the best of 2017 will come in a week or so.

A bit of orientation to the selections below.
THE CATEGORIES appear in all caps and bold.
Who we think "Will Win" appears in Bold.
Who we think "Should Win" follows.
Finally, the rest of the nominees appear in alphabetical order.  In the major categories, we added a few notes.

Here we go:

Down to the wire, The Shape of Water is in the lead with Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri breathing down its neck.  So are we choosing?  On the one hand, artsy voters will go for the fantastic, fabulous (as in fantasy-fable) The Shape of Water, but Guy Malone, Researcher, argues that people only rave about it because they think they should.  Voters who like cool crime drama and sardonically funny dialogue will go for Three Billboards. This will go down to the wire like the La La Land/Moonlight race last year.  Let's hope the results this year are a little less chaotic.

Will Win:
The Shape of Water

Should Win:
Dunkirk - Christopher Nolan's masterpiece re-imagined the war film
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri - The movie you'll always stop on when channel surfing

The Other Nominees:
Call Me By Your Name - Acclaimed art house movie suffers because of Moonlight's win last year
Get Out - Some are picking the original horror/social commentary to surprise
Lady Bird - Crowdpleaser is beloved, but the coming-of-age movie can't beat the big guys this year
Phantom Thread - Gorgeous and well-acted, PTA film is more appreciated than loved--and weird
The Post - Spielberg (cynical) Oscar grab exceeds its grasp

With McDonagh inexplicably omitted from the Directors race and Christopher Nolan unfairly forgotten, we have the opening to honor Del Toro.  Babz, though, thinks his award is well-earned after she read of his engineering of the love scene between Elisa and the Creature in the water-filled bathroom, and the overall fabulous beauty of the film.

Will Win and Should Win: 
Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape Of Water)

The Other Nominees:
Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread) - the auteur is always respected, rarely loved
Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) - a well-earned nod for a first solo outing, NOT a politically-correct nom
Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) - Alas, poor Chis, July favorite, March second place
Jordan Peele (Get Out) - another debut for a unique surprise, also NOT a politically correct nom

After the festivals, Sally Hawkins was the front-runner, but then came the precursors ...

Will Win:
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Win:
Sally Hawkins (The Shape Of Water) - runner-up Sally deserved Best Supporting Actress in '12 for Blue Jasmine, and in '18 she is left at the altar again.

The Other Nominees:
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) - her publicists should get an award for flogging this to a nomination
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) - beloved actress comes in third for a role that is in her wheelhouse
Meryl Streep (The Post) - the "Honorary Meryl Streep slot"

No real frontrunners emerged until Darkest Hour release, and then Oldman's transformative Churchill raced to the head of the pack.

Will Win and Should Win:
Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)

The Other Nominees:
Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) - talented, charismatic 22-year old is top challenger
Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread) - excellent performance in a weird movie
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) - a bit of a surprise, but well-deserved
Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.) - the great actor probably didn't expect this himself

When the awards season started, it looked like a race between Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf.  Janney is beloved and has kicked butt with the precursors, and her bombastic, over-the-top villain is favored over Metcalf's nuanced perfection.

Will Win:
Allison Janney (I, Tonya)

Should Win:
Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird) - nuanced perfection was not showy, but she is the heart of Lady Bird

The Other Nominees:
Mary J. Blige (Mudbound) An excellent turn didn't meet enough eyes.
Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread) Dynamic portrayal just arrived too late to the party
Octavia Spencer (The Shape Of Water) Always good, but this isn't award-worthy

A more competitive category than it might seem on the surface, with Sam Rockwell having won most of the precursors, but at that time he wasn't running against another actor from the same movie (Woody Harrelson), who could split votes.  Or against an octogenarian who saved his film.

Will Win and Should Win:
Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) - good-cop/bad cop rolled into one; to be that nasty, that despicable, and yet so sympathetic is one tour-de-force.

The Other Nominees:
Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) - Top challenger singlehandedly lifted his film
Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) - his best performance ever
Richard Jenkins (The Shape Of Water) - one of three outstanding supporting actors in his film
Christopher Plummer (All The Money In The World) - filled in with aplomb after Spacey scandal

Babz calls this one as the lock of the day for James Ivory, the oldest nominee, aside from Agnes Varda (Faces, Places).   You will remember him from the years of Merchant-Ivory fame (A Room With a View, Remains of the Day, Howards End). In his adaptation, he captures the innermost thoughts of Elio (Timothee Chalamet), according to Babz.

Will Win and Should Win:
James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name)

The Other Nominees:
Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Disaster Artist)
Screenplay by Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green; story by James Mangold (Logan)
Aaron Sorkin (Molly's Game)
Virgil Williams and Dee Rees (Mudbound)

Guy Malone, Researcher, understands that the critics and Hollywood, in general, are smitten with Get Out, and so is he, but this award is going to Jordan Peele as recognition of his fine work, not because it is the best screenplay. 

Will win:
Jordan Peele (Get Out)

Should Win:
Guillermo Del Toro and Vanessa Taylor; story by Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape Of Water), or
Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

The Other Nominees:
Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick)
Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)

Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049) is the most-nominated Cinematographer in the Academy’s 90-year history (18), Rachel Morrison (Mudbound) is the first woman ever nominated in this category, and Hoyte Van Hoytema's achievements in Dunkirk are astounding.  Deakins has been robbed a few too many times; this is a pick of my heart as well as my head.

Should Win and Will Win:
Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049)

The Other Nominees:
Bruno Delbonnel (Darkest Hour)
Hoyte Van Hoytema (Dunkirk)
Rachel Morrison (Mudbound)
Dan Lausten (The Shape Of Water)

I, Tonya is a bit of a surprise, considering some of the clunky skating sequences, but a good argument can be made for the rest.  A sliver above all, though, are Dunkirk and Baby Driver.  It's a race to the wire between those two.

Will Win and Should Win:
Lee Smith (Dunkirk)

The Other Nominees:
Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos (Baby Driver)
Tatiana S. Riegel (I, Tonya)
Sidney Wolinsky (The Shape Of Water)
Jon Gregory (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Anyone who has seen the close-ups of Gary Oldman as Churchill has to favor Darkest Hour.

Will Win and Should Win:
Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick (Darkest Hour)

The Other Nominees:
Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard (Victoria & Abdul)
Arjen Tuiten (Wonder)

Well, here's a no-brainer; in a period film about haute couture in 1950s Britain.

Will Win and Should Win:
Mark Bridges (Phantom Thread)

The Other Nominees:
Jacqueline Durran (Beauty And The Beast)
Jacqueline Durran (Darkest Hour)
Luis Sequeira (The Shape Of Water) (Dark Horse)
Consolata Boyle (Victoria & Abdul)

All great candidates, but this is arguably the most stunning aspect of a film that garnered 13 nominations.

Will Win and Should Win:
The Shape Of Water

The Other Nominees:
Beauty And The Beast
Blade Runner 2049
Darkest Hour

There is support for War for the Planet of the Apes, but one film stands above.

Will Win and Should Win:
John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover (Blade Runner 2049)

The Other Nominees:
Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick (Guardians of The Galaxy 2)
Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus (Kong: Skull Island)
Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan, Chris Corbould (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)
Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon and Joel Whist (War For The Planet Of The Apes)

Another competitive category; one could make an argument for any of these films, but FilmZ believes the linting, yet haunting melodies of TSoW perfectly capture the mood of the film.

Should Win and Will Win:
Alexandre Desplat (The Shape Of Water)

The Other Nominees:
Hans Zimmer (Dunkirk)
Jonny Greenwood (Phantom Thread)
John Williams (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)
Carter Burwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Conventional wisdom says, always go with the song from the blockbuster musical or the one from an animated feature.  This year the category has both.  Coco's song, "Remember Me," is favored; we think the Academy rewards High Jackman's movie.

Will Win:
"This is Me" by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (The Greatest Showman)

Should Win:
"Remember Me" by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Coco)

The Other Nominees:
"Mighty River" by Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson (Mudbound)
"Mystery of Love" by Sufjan Stevens (Call Me By Your Name)
"Stand Up for Something" by Diane Warren and Lonnie R. Lynn (aka Common) (Marshall)

Along with Sound Mixing, Dunkirk aural component immerses us in the desperate reality of war.  Baby Driver is a close second.

Should Win and Will Win:
Richard King and Alex Gibson (Dunkirk)

The Other Nominees:
Julian Slater (Baby Driver)
Mark Mangini and Theo Green (Blade Runner 2049)
Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira (The Shape Of Water)
Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)

See comment in Sound Editing above.

Will Win and Should Win:
Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker and Gary A. Rizzo (Dunkirk)

The Other Nominees:
Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin and Mary H. Ellis (Baby Driver)
Ron Bartless, Doug Hemphill and Mac Ruth (Blade Runner 2049)
Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern and Glen Gauthier (The Shape Of Water)
David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Stuart Wilson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)

Loving Vincent is the first film done completely in oil paints, Ferdinand is adorable, but it won't overcome Coco.  While the absence of The LEGO Batman Movie is a surprise, the inclusion of Boss Baby is an absolute shocker.

Will Win and Should Win:

Other Nominees:
The Boss Baby - Huh??
The Breadwinner - Could steal it in an upset
Ferdinand - Cute film, perhaps in another year
Loving Vincent - First feature done with oil paints; great idea, middling story

Babz really disappointed us here because we rarely stray beyond the English-speaking world to follow films.  Luckily, we heard so much about Daniela Vega's stunning star turn we can at least make a semi-educated guess.  We have no idea who should will, but we will say ...

Will Win:
A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

The Other Nominees:
The Insult (Lebanon)
Loveless (Russia)
On Body And Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

A few weeks ago, we were convinced Last Men in Aleppo would win, but Guy Malone, Researcher has convinced our board to change our vote to honor the oldest Oscar nominee, 89-year old Director Agnes Varda for her cinematic journey through France.  In our collective ignorance, we accede to his expertise:

Will WinFaces Places

The Other Nominees:
Abacus: Small Enough To Jail
Last Men In Aleppo
Strong Island

In these turbulent times of school shootings, it's likely that the Academy will recognize a harrowing, based-on-true-story one.

Will Win:
DeKalb Elementary

The Other Nominees:
The Eleven O'Clock
My Nephew Emmett
The Silent Child
Watu Wote/All Of Us

Ambrose Woolfinger, Don Swedanya, and Serfing Dude picked this one, basically because they like basketball, and because they offered nothing else except snide political commentary.

Will Win:
Dear Basketball

The Other Nominees:
Garden Party
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

Captain HE and Baron Kreiderheim were given one thing to do, and they think that Hollywood people can identify with traffic jams.

Will Win: Heaven Is A Traffic Jam On The 405

The Other Nominees:
Edith + Eddie
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

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