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

The 2020 Bi-Czarries


The 2020 B0-Czarries: The Worthy, the Lost, and the Forgotten 
-- by FilmZ and Guy S. Malone, Researcher
Proofread by Marge Inovera and guarded by Dragan Armansky, Milton Security

Yes, it's time again for the real movie awards for real people: the 2020 "Bi-Czarries!" (pat. pending).  We don't assign an arbitrary limit on films and performances, and all genres are considered.  Where we do get arbitrary is with the categories (professional wrestling, zombie-comedies) and the fact that we don't really cover documentaries and animated films, except where they may fall in other categories.  And our choices are arbitrary. ... Arbitrary and capricious, if I'm being honest. ... Well, it is our list, now, isn't it?

BEST PICTURES

Simple criteria: movies we enjoyed in the sheer entertainment sense, like, we could handle repeated viewings, and those we appreciated in the sense that the art of filmmaking burst through.  We chose three "best films" of the year, and then the others we liked the most.  For your convenience, we rank-ordered the rest, breaking them into two categories: "Popular Films" and  "Indies and Hidden Gems."

BEST POPULAR FILMS

Three films stood a notch above the rest:

1 - JoJo Rabbit - A film I could watch over and over; Waititi's signature hilarity with true heart
2 - Parasite - Artistically, the best, most original film of the year
3 - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - Tarantino's riff on history, nostalgia, best since Pulp Fiction

The Rest of the Best (with comments on the non-Oscar nominated):

4 - Avengers: Endgame - (Kevin Feige brilliantly steered the MCU to this grand finale)
5 - The Irishman 
6 - 1917 
7 - Little Women 
8 - Knives Out  Daniel Craig's Southern-fried Poirot in the best mystery Agatha Christie didn't write
8 - Ford v Ferrari 
10 - Marriage Story 
11 - The Farewell - Alternately hilarious and heartwarming story of Chinese family covering a secret
12 - The Two Popes - Politics take a back seat to personal beliefs and conscience
13 - A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood - A fitting tribute to a man who heals through love

BEST INDIES AND HIDDEN GEMS
These films received less publicity and generated less money, but they are among the best of 2019:

Hidden Life - Terrence Malick's true story of an Austrian farmer refusing to serve Hitler in WWII
Booksmart - Olivia Wilde makes the last day of high school for two nerds fresh and hysterical
Motherless Brooklyn - Edward Norton tour de force detective story of corruption in 1950's NYC
The Mustang - Matthias Schoenaerts brilliant as a violent convict redeemed by equine therapy
Dolemite is My Name - Eddie Murphy loving, laughing riff on a 1970s Blacksploitation phenom
The Peanut Butter Falcon - Down Syndrome man escapes home to become a pro wrestler
The Last Black Man in San Francisco - A man squats in his family's ancestral home
Fighting with My Family - Two siblings dream of becoming professional wrestlers, one makes it
Midsommar - A fragile young woman and friends study a Scandinavian Nature cult
The Dead Don’t Die - Bill Murray and Adam Driver protect their small town from zombies
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PERFORMERS OF THE YEAR

Female Actor - Scarlett Johansson 
We could argue, with some justification that Johansson turned in the Best Lead as Nicole in Marriage Story; as JoJo's Mom, Rosie Betzler, in JoJo Rabbit; and as Best Ill-Fated Super-Hero Natasha Romanoff in Avengers: Endgame.  In addition to garnering awards nominations for two roles, no female actor was seen by so many misty eyes in 2019.

Actor - Adam Driver
What a year.  In addition to playing Scarlett's husband, Charlie in the rom-com Marriage Story,  Driver starred as Daniel Jones in the political history/drama The Report, as Bill Murrays's laconic deputy in the zom-com The Dead Don't Die,  and as emo-baddie Kylo Ren in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker, making us laugh, cry, love, and hate, all in 2019.

Breakout Actor - Florence Pugh
The 24-year-old started the year as Goth-girl professional wrestler Saraya "Paige" Knight in the comedy-drama Fighting with my Family and ended it playing Amy March, youngest of the Little Women.  In between, she played the troubled Dani in the Indie horror hit Midsommar.  If that's not range, I don't know what to tell you.
Note; Despite no formal acting training, the Oxfordshire, England native is set to follow-up an impressive 2019 and become a household name in May when she stars opposite Scarlett Johansson in the next Marvel blockbuster, Black Widow.  Her career eerily parallels that of Jennifer Lawrence, arguably the biggest female star of the 20-teens, and Florence Pugh could become the successor to J-Law of the 2020s.
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GREAT PERFORMANCES NOT OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED (listed 1alphabetically)

Lead Female Actor
Ana de Armas - Knives Out
Awkwafina - The Farewell
Annette Bening - The Report
Sienna Miller - 21 Bridges
Lupita Nyong'o - Us

Lead Male Actor
Daniel Craig - Knives Out
August Diehl - A Hidden Life
Eddie Murphy - Dolemite is My Name
Edward Norton - Motherless Brooklyn
Matthias Schoenaerts - The Mustang

Supporting Female Actor
Toni Collette - Knives Out
Jamie Leigh Curtis - Knives Out
Zoey Deutch - Zombieland: Double Tap
Gugu Mbatha-Raw - Motherless Brooklyn
Shuzhen Zhao - The Farewell

Supporting Male Actor
Alan Alda - Marriage Story
Chris Evans - Knives Out
Don Johnson - Knives Out
Kang-ho Song - Parasite
Ben Mendelsohn - Captain Marvel
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SHOULD-HAVE-BEEN-RECOGNIZED DIRECTORS
All of these folks also wrote the Screenplays for their films, BTW

Taika Waititi - JoJo Rabbit
Greta Gerwig - Little Women
Rian JohnsonKnives Out
Terrence Malick - A Hidden Life
LuLu Wang - The Farewell
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BEST DIRECTORS WITH THE WORST EDITING

Terrence Malick - It took him three years to whittle A Hidden Life down to a 2:54 runtime, thus scuttling both the film's chances at wide distribution and its awards consideration.  Hokey smokes!

Martin Scorsese - At a 3:29 runtime, make a decision: either it's a limited TV series, or a film on the big screen with an intermission.  Actually, it should have been on the big screen.
______________________________________________________________________

REALLY GOOD MOVIES THAT ARE HARD TO WATCH

Joker - The supervillain's origin story is unremittingly grim, but Joaquin Phoenix is amazing
The Lighthouse - Fascinating cinematography and acting take a back seat to body functions
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_____________________________________________________________________

SPECIALTY AND GENRE AWARDS

COMEDIES

JoJo Rabbit 
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood 
Knives Out -
Booksmart 
Dolemite is My Name - Eddie Murphy's comeback is a wild, profane ride
The Upside - Formulaic, but Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart, and Nicole Kidman are winning
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ZOM-COMS (ZOMBIE COMEDIES)

Zombieland: Double Tap - Zoey Deutch's hysterical turn ratchets up an already worthy sequel
The Dead Don't Die -  Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Tom Waits bring the weirdness
________________________________________________________________________

PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING IS INSPIRATIONAL

The Peanut Butter Falcon -  (See above)
Fighting with My Family -  (See above)
_________________________________________________________________________

DISAPPOINTMENTS

Rocketman - Genre-bending, but not like Bong Joon-Ho, more like Dolemite
Men in Black: International - They thought Chris and Tessa's charisma was transferrable
Tolkien - A fascinating man reduced to a mundane story
X-Men: Dark Phoenix - Not as bad a critics said, just not up to previous chapters' standard
Downton Abbey - All right for fans, but foreshadowing hit like a sledgehammer
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SCI-FI AND FANTASY

Avengers: Endgame 
Captain Marvel - We didn't think Brie could pull it off, but she and Samuel L. had chemistry
Joker 
Spider-Man: Far From Home - Don't let the teen-centered story fool you, it's fun and funny
Ad Astra - The problem was advertising; it's not an action film but rather a pensive study
Alita: Battle Angel - Ancient cyborg is revived and seeks to learn the origins of her power
Pokémon Detective Pikachu - Ryan Reynolds gives adults something to like
_____________________________________________________________________

THRILLERS

Joker 
The Lighthouse - Photographed like Nosferatu, lit like Caligari; moody study of insanity
Us - Not as strong as Get Out, but a creepy original with a scary good Lupita Nyong'o
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CRIME

Joker 
Knives Out
Motherless Brooklyn 
The Report - Fact-based political thriller that counterpunches Zero Dark Thirty
21 Bridges - Intense police procedural with Chadwick Boseman and a terrific Sienna Miller
_____________________________________________________________________

INTERNATIONAL FILMS

Parasite - Of course
Honeyland - Macedonian documentary that sides with nature over predatory capitalism.

Oscar Predictions: 2020


OSCAR PREDICTIONS: 2020 
-- By FilmZ and Guy S. Malone, Researcher
Results kept in a roll of 24 Copenhagen Snuff cans, guarded by Dragan Armansky, Milton Security

On Sunday, February 9 at 8:00 PM, the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California.  Once more, we have been denied press passes (I told Guy S. Malone, Researcher, that sheer Calvin Klein number he wore would get us banned).  So, like most of you, we will be watching it on our local ABC TV affiliate.

To increase your joy (if not knowledge), below we have predicted the winners with the prescience of Nosferatu (some of you would have preferred Nostradamus, but you get what you pay for).  Anyway, for each category we give brief intros, our picks to win, potential upsets or something like that, and then the est of the nominees in alphabetical order.


BEST PICTURE:
Four films are in the running for Best Picture, none of which is my personal favorite of the year (JoJo Rabbit), though, admittedly all are among my favorites. And the winner will not be the movie many people believe is truly the best this year: Parasite.  Why?  Because Parasite will win the "International Film" category.  Last summer, I thought Once Upon a Time in Hollywood would be the frontrunner, and it's still up there, though it has lost some steam, as has The Irishman, which loses some power by its sheer length and the fact that it only had a limited theater release.  No, in this horse race, one film came around the December backstretch and passed the rest to win by a nose at the finish line.

Winner:
1917

Possible upsets:
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Parasite

The rest:
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
_________________________________________________________________________________

LEAD ACTOR:
For a time in December, many thought Joker was going to clean up at the Oscars but rarely has a film lost so much steam so fast.  Still, this is one category that's a near lock.

Winner:
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

The rest:
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes
_________________________________________________________________________________

LEAD ACTRESS:
All performances are rave-worthy, but only one has led start to finish and only one is given an outside shot.

Winner:
Renee Zellweger, Judy

Maybe:
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet

The Rest:
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
_________________________________________________________________________________

SUPPORTING ACTOR:
We've liked Brad Pitt's performance ever since the summer, and then Joe Pesci came out of retirement and blew us away.  Still, when two performers are nominated from the same film--Pesci and Pacino from The Irishman--they usually split votes.

Winner:
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Second among equals:
Joe Pesci, The Irishman

The rest:
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
Al Pacino, The Irishman
_________________________________________________________________________________

SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Laura Dern's performance jumps off of the screen, but this is a tough one to call, as Scarlett Johansson is both funny and endearing, and I would have picked her if she wasn't splitting votes with her Best Lead Actress role in Marriage Story.  Relative newcomer Florence Pugh is their equal but not yet known well enough (this is her J-Law in Winter's Bone breakout).

Winner:
Laura Dern, Marriage Story

But don't be shocked if it's:
Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit

The rest:
Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Florence Pugh, Little Women
Margot Robbie, Bombshell
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DIRECTOR:
Tough call here, as the field is stuffed with great work--and as much as we hate to bring up folks who weren't nominated, Greta Gerwig (Little Women) and Taika Waititi (JoJoRabbit) are equally worthy.  In reality, it comes down to two: Sam Mendes for his epic undertaking and Bong Joon Ho, for his most original spellbinder.  We're thinking Hollywood sticks with the traditional epic.

Winner:
Sam Mendes, 1917

Could easily win and get no complaints:
Bong Joon Ho, Parasite

The rest:
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Todd Phillips, Joker
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
_________________________________________________________________________________

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
Conventional wisdom favors The Irishman.  We love what Taika Waititi did with JoJo Rabbit, though, bringing his brand of heart and soul to the comedy, an incredible high-wire act that worked.  And we adore Greta Gerwig's treatment of Little Women,  She took a story no one thought needed another retelling and brought a faithful adaptation, lending a 21st-Century fem-power that also gave nuance to the characters, especially Amy, who is often portrayed as a simple villain.

Winner:
Jojo Rabbit - Taika Waititi

Another second among equals:
Little Women - Greta Gerwig

The rest:
The Irishman - Steven Zaillian
Joker - Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
The Two Popes - Anthony McCarten
_________________________________________________________________________________

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
One could make an argument for any of these to win, though our personal favorite--Knives Out--probably won't.

Winner:
Parasite - Bong Joon-ho, Jin Won Han

But Hollywood's love of stories about Hollywood could prevail:
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - Quentin Tarantino

The rest:
1917 - Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Knives Out - Rian Johnson
Marriage Story - Noah Baumbach
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CINEMATOGRAPHY:
Last year, in his 13th Academy Award nomination, Roger Deakins finally won for Blade Runner: 2049.  When he wins this year for his single-shot brilliance in 1917, no one can say it's because he was due.

Winner:
1917 - Roger Deakins

The rest:
The Irishman - Rodrigo Prieto
Joker -Lawrence Sher
The Lighthouse -  Jarin Blaschke
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - Robert Richardson
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ANIMATED FEATURE:
UPSET SPECIAL: The smart money will bet that many voters haven't watched the screeners and with a jerk of the knee will vote for Toy Story 4 over Golden Globe favorite Missing Link and guild sweeper Klaus.  We will show faith in humanity.

Winner:
Klaus - Sergio Pablos

But don't listen to me:
Missing Link - Chris Butler

The rest:
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World - Dean DeBlois
I Lost My Body -  Jeremy Clapin
Toy Story 4 - Josh Cooley
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DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
SECOND UPSET SPECIAL: Two possibilities here, the favorite, American Factory, the economic/cultural clash between Rust Belt traditionalism and Asian tech and the upstart, Honeyland, about environmental preservation and neighborliness.  We're going for the one nominated in two categories: here and Best International Film

Winner:
Honeyland - Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov

Odds-on favorite:
American Factory - Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar

The rest:
The Cave - Feras Fayyad
The Edge of Democracy - Petra Costa
For Sama - Al-Kateab, Edward Watts
_________________________________________________________________________________

INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM:
Parasite, the genre-bending original, arguably the best film regardless of qualifiers, is the only choice here.

Winner:
Parasite - Bong Joon Ho

The rest:
Corpus Christi - Jan Komasa
Honeyland - Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov
Les Miserables - Ladj Ly
Pain and Glory - Pedro Almodovar
_________________________________________________________________________________

PRODUCTION DESIGN:
We love the re-creation of late-1960s Hollywood, especially with the Tarantino-added easter eggs in ads and playful references to his other films and his own life.

Winner:
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh

The rest:
The Irishman - Bob Shaw and Regina Graves
Jojo Rabbit - Ra Vincent and Nora Sopkova
1917 - Dennis Gassner and Lee Sandales
Parasite - Lee Ha-Jun and Cho Won Woo, Han Ga Ram, and Cho Hee
_________________________________________________________________________________

FILM EDITING:
I'm always amazed then a Scorsese film gets nominated for editing.  As good as it is, The Irishman, at a 3:29 runtime, is way too long.  Now that we have that gripe out of the way. Outside of that, there are two realistic candidates.  Going with my heart here.

Winner:
Ford v Ferrari - Michael McCusker, Andrew Buckland

Pretty much a toss-up:
Parasite - Jinmo Yang

The rest:
The Irishman - Thelma Schoonmaker
Jojo Rabbit - Tom Eagles
Joker - Jeff Groth
_________________________________________________________________________________

VISUAL EFFECTS:
Only one, IMO

Winner:
Avengers Endgame

The rest:
The Irishman
1917
The Lion King
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
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SOUND EDITING:
Really only two contenders in the Sound Editing and Sound Mixing categories.  Let's say:

Winner:
1917 - Oliver Tarney, Rachel Tate

Could upset:
Ford v Ferrari - Don Sylvester

The Rest:
Joker - Alan Robert Murray
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - Wylie Stateman
Star Wars: The Rise of SkyWalker - Matthew Wood, David Acord
_________________________________________________________________________________

SOUND MIXING:
Like the Sound Editing category, two possible winners.  Since I'm guessing here, let's flip the script for this one.

Winner:
Ford v Ferrari

Could upset:
1917

The rest:
Ad Astra
Joker\
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
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ORIGINAL SCORE:
My brain says one, my heart says another.  [And again, I am flabbergasted that Star Wars gets yet another nomination for John Williams 1977 refry, refry, refry, refry, refry, refry, refry, refry.]

Winner:
Joker - Hildur Guðnadóttir

My heart:
Little Women - Alexandre Desplat

The rest:
Marriage Story - Randy Newman
1917 - Thomas Newman
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - John Williams
_________________________________________________________________________________

ORIGINAL SONG:
We really wanted to like Rocketman; we really didn't, but a lot of people did, and a win here is their way to honor the film and Sir Elton.

Winner:
“I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” Rocketman

The rest:
“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” Toy Story 4
“I’m Standing With You,” Breakthrough
“Into the Unknown,” Frozen 2
“Stand Up,” Harriet
_________________________________________________________________________________

MAKEUP and HAIR:
Bombshell has been getting the press for this, I guess because they made Charlize look like Megyn, which she does anyway.  But the field just isn't that strong this year.

Winner:
Bombshell

The rest:
Joker
Judy
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
1917
_________________________________________________________________________________

COSTUME DESIGN:
Never bet against a period piece here

Winner:
Little Women - Jacqueline Durran

Could Upset:
Jojo Rabbit - Mayes C. Rubeo

The rest:
The Irishman - Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson
Joker - Mark Bridges
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - Arianne Phillips
_________________________________________________________________________________
*** NOTE: 
I never get the short film categories right, so pay absolutely no attention to my picks below.

ANIMATED SHORT:

Winner:
Hair Love - Matthew A. Cherry

The rest:
Dcera - Daria Kashcheeva
Kitbull - Rosana Sullivan
Memorable - Bruno Collet
Sister - Siqi Song

DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT:
Learning to Skateboard ... is more than a catchy title; it's a touching, and at times amusing story, of a courageous initiative to bring self-esteem, education, and empowerment to the most at-risk people in Afghanistan: young girls

Winner:
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone - Carol Dysinger

The only serious competition:
St. Louis Superman - Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan

The rest:
In the Absence - Yi Seung-Jun and Gary Byung-Seok Kam
Life Overtakes Me - Kristine Samuelson and John Haptas
Walk Run Cha-Cha - Laura Nix

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM:
Flip a coin.

Winner:
The Neighbors’ Window - Marshall Curry

The rest:
Brotherhood - Meryam Joobeur
Nefta Football Club - Yves Piat
Saria - Bryan Buckley
A Sister - Delphine Girard

A Hidden Life


A Hidden Life -- a review by Captain HE
(with connective tissue, written by Guy S. Malone, Researcher, because, truth be told, sometimes Captain HE's brilliance has to be translated into English)

"...the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."
-- George Eliot

How many know who Franz Jägerstätter is?  Hands?  We certainly didn't until he became the protagonist of Terrence Malick's newest film about Jägerstätter (played by August Diehl), a conscientious objector who refused to sign a loyalty oath to Adolf Hitler and fight for the Nazis in World War II.  Franz and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) have an idyllic life, raising their three daughters on a lush farm outside St. Radegund, a village nestled in the picturesque Austrian Alps.  Franz and Fani thresh grain together on golden fields, lift their children to pick apples in sun-dappled orchards, dance and drink beer with villagers at local festivals, and pray devoutly every day.  Suddenly, the thunder of warplanes herald events that will change their lives forever. 

Terrence Malick has come out of the woodwork more in the past ten years (four feature films and six documentaries/shorts) than he did in the first 40 years of his career (four films, one short).  Many feel his past ten years have been uneven, indulgent even, though we believe 2010's The Tree of Life is a masterpiece, and the main thing keeping  A Hidden Life from that level is its hefty (and indulgent) 174-minute runtime.  That length blunts the power of the message and the central theme. Perhaps, he sees this as his magnum opus and was unwilling to pare it down. Personal letters exchanged between Franz and Fani, the primary source material around which Malick crafted the screenplay almost became secondary.  Jörg Widmer's sweeping and magnificent cinematography, depicting the beauty of God's creation, coupled with the continuous examination of man's reason for existence was the core of the story.  James Newton Howard's score, which infuses classical strains that also incorporated Radegund's church bells, switching scythes, buzzing from the sawmill, cow and sheep bells, and other natural sounds emphasize the pastoral ambiance Malick was surely going for.

The all-abiding faith of Franz and Fani is their rock, the foundation that provides the strength that sees them through the worst that war can inflict on them.  And that faith is tested throughout.  Sadly, that faith commitment is not seen in the local priest and bishop (Michael Nyqvist, in his last role); they are exposed, as is the Church, in the tolerance/fear of Hitler's regime. The central characters continually referenced Christ and His persecution, their faith in God and the purpose of man's existence, hoping for salvation from their existential hell. Some scenes illustrate this, the sharing of vegetables, the doubling of the grain, the love and forgiveness of family, the sharing of bread in the prison yard. But, ultimately, like Christ, Franz must suffer because collectively, man can't overcome himself. He must continually start over, he must rebuild and replenish the land. The struggle continues.

The film would provide an excellent complement to a philosophy or Western Civ course. Through spiritual symbolism juxtaposed with Church survival tolerance, Franz's life brings the true meaning of spiritual freedom. He references this in his refusal to sign the loyalty oath to gain his freedom from prison. "I am already free" he replies.  And it is Fani's innate goodness that brings the ascendance of the species through the female drive to replenish and rebuild.  Franz's mother, who always disapproved of Fani, finally says" He changed when he met you."  The seasons change and Nature rolls inexorably on, proof that our lives make hardly a ripple in the world   The only mark we make is on other people, and even that, as the George Eliot quote says, is "unhistoric", "a hidden life."  Any film that makes one think and share and postulate to such an extent is a great film.  HE rates A Hidden Life 9.0 on an Artistic Scale, with it's meandering (not quite glacial because we can see it move) pace making it 7.5 on an Entertainment Scale.  Let's make it:
8.5 out of 10

Quick Hits on Some Awards-Contending Films


Quick Hits on Some Awards-Contending Films -- by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Late-December and early-January are crunch times for keeping up with films.  Too many awards contenders released in a rush, compete with our desire to spend time with family and our latent but ever-present procrastination.  If I were one given to making apologies, one would be inserted here; the above explanation will have to suffice.  Anyway, here are the movies we saw in the past few weeks, rank-ordered from best to not the best:

Little Women
Greta Gerwig adapted and directed.  At first, we were a bit leery about yet another adaptation of this story, but we should have learned from Lady Bird.  Gerwig is brilliant; her adaptation brings new life with the subtle twists she gives to the characters: her take on Jo, interpreted with Saoirse Ronan in mind is fresh and vibrant, but equally impressive was Amy, the youngest sister, whom Gerwig recreates as a complex young woman whose ambition isn't seen as odious but rather as a strength.  Casting Florence Pugh in the role was inspired.  She also draws Emma Watson's best as Meg, the oldest, and Eliza Scanlen as sweet Beth.  A stellar supporting cast includes Laura Dern as the little women's mother, Timothée Chalamet as their charming and rebellious neighbor, "Laurie;" James Norton as Meg's tutor husband John; Chris Cooper as Mr. Laurence, Lois Garrel as Friedrich; Meryl Streep as Aunt March; Bob Odenkirk as Mr. March; and Tracy Letts as Mr. Dashwood.
9.0 out of 10

1917 
Sam Mendes' film is garnering a lot of awards and even more nominations.  Like 2015's The Revenant, it is a triumph of cinematography (Roger Deakins should win another Oscar), depicting a simple tale of man's odyssey through the harshest of conditions. In World War I, two young British soldiers (Dean Charles Chapman and George MacKay) are tasked with a seemingly impossible mission: cross no-man's-land to deliver a message that will prevent 1,600 men (including one of the soldiers' brothers) from walking into a deadly trap.  Along the way, they meet a variety of British stars in cameos: Colin Firth, Andrew Scott, Mark Strong, and Benedict Cumberbatch.  One of the year's best.  See it on the biggest screen you can find.
9.0 out of 10

The Farewell
A comedy-drama, starring Awkwafina as Billi, a New Yorker who learns that her grandmother, Nei Nei (Shuzhen Zhao) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and according to Chinese custom, the family decides to keep her in the dark. As a cover story to get the family together, they schedule a wedding.  The film is not getting the recognition it deserves, in part because of its late summer release date; it is a gross injustice, though, that this funny, touching film has received recognition neither in the Best Picture nor the Best International Film categories.
8.5 out of 10

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Based on the true-life friendship between Fred Rogers and Esquire magazine writer Tom Junod, it tells of writer Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) assigned to write a profile of American hero, Mr. Rogers (Tom Hank).  Lloyd considers the story a puff piece and originally sets out to Pittsburgh to expose the myth, his cynicism stoked by his own deep resentment of his own father (Chris Cooper).  His wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) cautions, "Lloyd, please don't ruin my childhood."  When he meets Mr. Rogers, he finds his cynicism met with unrelenting kindness and acceptance, his hostility with empathy.  And slowly, friendship--and healing--come. Christine Lahti, Enrico Colantonio
8.0 out of 10

The Two Popes
A look at the transition of Roman Catholic authority from conservative Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) to progressive Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce).  It delves into the life of Francis, flashing back to his life as young priest Jorge Bergoglio (Juan Minujin) in Argentina and how it forged his beliefs.  Moving forward he is called to the Vatican where Benedict is about to abdicate--almost unheard of in the Church.  The two men, coming from conflicting worldviews, seek common ground, or at least understanding.  While the story skims over recent serious problems in the Church, it does provide insightful dialogues into the personal character of each man, performed beautifully by Pryce and Hopkins.
7.5 out of 10

The Lighthouse
Grizzled old lighthouse keeper Thomas (Willem Dafoe) takes on a young apprentice Ephraim (Robert Pattinson) must share a four-week stint on a remote rock off the New England coast in the 1890s.  Thomas acts the martinet, giving Ephraim the worst tasks as their relationship flows from hatred and fear to drunken camaraderie on the way to insanity.  Robert Eggers tints his dark fantasy with the blackest of humor and various bodily excretions.  We recommend The Lighthouse with caution, largely for the expected excellent performances and for Jarin Blaschke's cinematography, which is presented in almost a square aspect ratio on-screen and in stark black and white, almost reminiscent of classic horror films, like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
7.0 out of 10



2020 Oscar Nomination Predictions


2020 Oscar Nominations Predictions (Guesses, Preferences..) -- FilmZ & Guy S. Malone, Researcher

The 2020 Academy Awards nominations come out on Monday, January 13, so we've had to hustle and submit our picks to Gold Derby before we even had a chance to write reviews of late-release movies we've been rushing out to see.  What you see below are our predictions--plus guesses, and in some cases, wishes--for names and titles that will be called out on Monday.  We admit some are reaches, but they are picks from the heart rather than the mind (we'll save cold-blooded objectivity for when it counts (besides, not all of the data is even in yet).

Each category that follows is ranked from most-to-least likely, in our opinion.

BEST PICTURE
The Academy can nominate up to ten films in the Best Picture category; the real guessing game is how many.  We think ten are deserving and they will pick between seven and nine, but only the first five listed below are shoo-ins.

1917
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
The Irishman
Parasite
Joker
JoJo Rabbit
Marriage Story
Little Women
Knives Out
Ford v Ferrari


DIRECTOR
Mendes and Tarantino are locks, Bong and Scorsese and likely, and Waititi is our wish bolstered by his out of left field nomination from the Directors Guild. A lot of experts say Todd Phillips (Joker) nabs the fifth spot, though we feel if Waititi can't make it, we would like to see Greta Gerwig (Little Women) break through.

Sam Mendes - 1917
Quentin Tarantino - Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
Bong Joon Ho - Parasite
Martin Scorsese - The Irishman
Taika Waititi - Jojo Rabbit


ACTRESS
Zellweger has been the clear favorite for months.  Scar-Jo gave her best-ever performance, but does she carry the AMPAS loyalty that Theron and Ronan do, and Awkwafina has our love for her funny but touching performance.

Renee Zellweger - Judy
Scarlett Johansson - Marriage Story
Charlize Theron - Bombshell
Saoirse Ronan - Little Women
Awkwafina - The Farewell

ACTOR
Phoenix is the one to beat. Driver keeps showing his chops, DiCaprio in his standard performance and Banderas portraying a soul-searcher all have puncher's chances.  Egerton is excellent, but no way does the Academy award a rock star portrayal two years in a row.  Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes), Eddie Murphy (Dolemite is my Name), and Christian Bale (Ford v Ferrari) have outside shots.

Joaquin Phoenix - Joker
Adam Driver - Marriage Story
Leonardo DiCaprio - Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
Antonio Banderas - Pain and Glory
Taron Egerton - Rocketman


SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Most lists include Margot Robbie (Bombshell and/or Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood), but we just don't get it, especially when one sees the performances of the women below, and you could add Zhao Shuzhen (The Farewell) too.

Laura Dern - Marriage Story
Jennifer Lopez - Hustlers
Florence Pugh - Little Women
Scarlett Johansson - JoJo Rabbit
Annette Bening - The Report


SUPPORTING ACTOR
Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse), Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes), or Jamie Foxx (Just Mercy), could break in here with no raised eyebrows.

Brad Pitt - Once Upon a Time ...  in Hollywood
Joe Pesci - The Irishman
Tom Hanks - A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Song Kang Ho - Parasite
Al Pacino - The Irishman
 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
For the rest of the categories, we will just list picks with no comment

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The Irishman - Steve Zaillian
Jojo Rabbit - Taika Waititi
Little Women - Greta Gerwig
Joker - Todd Phillips & Scott Silver
The Two Popes - Anthony McCarten


ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Parasite - Bong Joon Ho & Han Jin Won
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood - Quentin Tarantino
Marriage Story - Noah Baumbach
Knives Out - Rian Johnson
1917 - Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns

CINEMATOGRAPHY

1917 - Roger Deakins
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood - Robert Richardson
Ford v Ferrari - Phedon Papamichael
Parasite - Kyung-Pyo Hong
A Hidden Life - Jörg Widmer

FILM EDITING

1917
Ford v Ferrari
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
Parasite
Joker

COSTUME DESIGN
Little Women
Rocketman
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
Dolemite Is My Name
Downton Abbey

MAKE-UP and HAIRSTYLING

Joker
Rocketman
Judy
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Dolemite Is My Name

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
The Irishman
1917
Little Women
Jojo Rabbit

SOUND EDITING

Ford v Ferrari
1917
Avengers: Endgame
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Ad Astra

SOUND MIXING

Ford v Ferrari
1917
Avengers: Endgame
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Rocketman

VISUAL EFFECTS

Avengers: Endgame
1917
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
The Lion King
Alita: Battle Angel

ANIMATED FEATURE

Missing Link
Toy Story 4
Frozen II
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I Lost My Body

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Apollo 11
Honeyland
American Factory
The Biggest Little Farm
One Child Nation

INTERNATIONAL FILM

Parasite
Pain and Glory
Atlantics
Honeyland
Les Miserables

 
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