Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2017 Oscar Predictions

It is time to get this done.  The precursors have spoken, I've seen nearly every one of these movies (so gut instinct is at play), and quite frankly I'm ready to get my Oscar morning present.  As I'm going to be on vacation for two weeks (we'll still have some posts, so keep tuning in), I wanted to make sure I got this out there for posterity's sake.  Without further adieu, my predictions for next Tuesday's Oscars (nominations listed alphabetically unless otherwise stated)...

Best Picture

Darkest Hour
Get Out
I, Tonya
Lady Bird
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Alts: Call Me by Your Name, Phantom Thread (I get two because of the weird 5-10 rule...otherwise I'll stick to one)

The Lowdown: I am going back-and-forth on CMBYN and I, Tonya.  Both have hit some precursors, but overall love for both seem a bit cool (CMBYN scoring Best Picture nods, but few other places, I Tonya seeming like an acting magnet more than a top prize one).  I'm going with I, Tonya because after Carol, I kind of wonder if (lacking peer pressure like with Moonlight) older Academy members just won't go for a gay-themed film.  The Post may end up being more War Horse than Lincoln, but it still makes it, and you're going to find I'm more bullish on Darkest Hour than other pundits are as we keep going.  Otherwise, I feel good about these.

Best Director

Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards...
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Jordan Peele, Get Out

Alt: Joe Wright, Darkest Hour

The Lowdown: I know this is a carbon copy of the DGA list, but honestly-this was the list I was expecting to put in prior to the DGA, so I'm just sticking with it.  Spielberg's shutouts at SAG and BAFTA indicate that while their gross may end up being fine for The Post (Hanks & Streep are box office insurance), they botched the awards release here, and I think will pay with this being one of his misses.  Mudbound I'm going to assume largely misses with Oscar as I think Netflix bias could still be an issue, and Guadagnino, Gillespie, & Wright all will have to settle for Best Picture shots, not a nomination here.

Best Actor

Timothee Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Alt: James Franco, The Disaster Artist

The Lowdown: I cannot kick the idea that something weird's about to happen here, where a name no one is talking about makes it in because this is SUCH a weak year.  In a normal year Chalamet would be struggling to make it based solely on his age and this year he seems a near-certain inclusion.  Kaluuya is getting this based on a weak year (it's an odd performance to get a Best Actor nomination), but with Franco imploding the week of voting, it's hard not to see him as the obvious replacement at the show-position (though it's worth noting that Franco imploded during voting, so he may well get a nomination as he was headed for one anyway).  I'm going to resist the urge to put a name no one is saying out-loud mostly because I can't think of one that has even a hint of momentum (Jake Gyllenhaal?  Hugh Jackman?  Christian Bale?), and figure that Washington has never missed when he's gotten in for SAG/Globes, and won't again this year.

Best Actress

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards...
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post

Alt: Annette Bening, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

The Lowdown: Four of these nominations I'd largely bet on: McDormand, Ronan, Robbie, & Hawkins.  I suppose you could make an argument that one of them shocks in a miss, but all seem too sensible on paper.  Streep is here based on her name alone, as the film itself has lost all sorts of momentum, and most mere mortal actors would have fallen by now, but she's still Meryl, and while there's lots of good contenders here, none of them seem like an obvious option.  Chastain is in a populist film (and could be the replacement, considering she hasn't been invited to the Oscars in a few years), Michelle Williams had a good press week during Oscar voting, and Judi Dench is always a threat (even though that BAFTA miss is bizarre).  That said, I think the surprise BAFTA inclusion of Annette Bening a year after she nearly made it could be a hint.  She's overdue for a trophy (I could see her being a dark horse to win if she's included), and she's playing a real person who is dying of cancer.  Could this be the surprise no one sees coming but everyone should?

Best Supporting Actor

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards...
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards...

Alt: Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me by Your Name

The Lowdown: The main question here is around Call Me by Your Name.  I'm convinced at this point that vote-splitting is hurting Stuhlbarg & Hammer, and that the late rise of Christopher Plummer gave the Academy the capability of snubbing them both (also worth noting-Steve Carell has done well this season for someone no one expects to make it here...perhaps they should?).  I initially included Stuhlbarg, but the "do the industry a favor" move of Plummer combined with the rise of Three Billboards makes me suspect that both CMBYN actors miss.

Best Supporting Actress

Hong Chau, Downsizing
Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Alt: Mary J. Blige, Mudbound

The Lowdown: While the late BAFTA blessings of KST and Manville (as well as the NYFCC citation for Haddish) do give us a few extra names, really we've seen the precursors gather around six women, and I'm sticking with them (you get the glory when you call the "out of left field" nomination, but by-and-large Oscar plays it safe and so am I).  For the odd-woman-out, I thought about making it Chau, but I'm going to assume that (until proven otherwise) Oscar won't go for Netflix, and Blige's part isn't that impressive (it's nowhere near as showy as Idris Elba a couple of years ago), so I'll guess she's the shock miss this season.  Anyone other than Janney/Metcalf wouldn't surprise as the miss on nominations morning, though.

Original Screenplay

Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards...

Alt: The Post

The Lowdown: What a jam-packed category.  In addition to this field, you have the populist hit The Big Sick (the sort of film that would usually be a slam-dunk here), The Florida Project (with that naturalistic dialogue, could be a hit), or simply a Best Picture contender like Darkest Hour.  I'm guessing that The Post's absence in precursors is people not responding to the film, otherwise the serious Spielberg film nearly always makes it for writing.  Expect a battle royale when it comes to who actually wins this, but for now these are my predictions.

Adapted Screenplay

Call Me by Your Name
The Disaster Artist
Molly's Game

Alt: Wonder

The Lowdown: With Original Screenplay hogging all of the glory, this is scant outside of CMBYN and Mudbound.  I'm going to include Molly's Game thanks solely to Sorkin, and will keep The Disaster Artist in if only because it's about filmmaking.  The final slot is truly a shot-in-the-dark.  I'm going with Logan because the WGA remembered it and maybe Oscar will want to put its stamp on it, but Wonder, Last Flag Flying, Victoria & Abdul...this list has a lot of left field opportunities for that final slot.

Animated Feature Film

The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent

Alt: The Big Bad Fox

The Lowdown: One of the biggest questions haunting this race is what will AMPAS's decision to open up voting to all voters in this field do to smaller films.  In a normal year, we'd assume that Loving Vincent, The Big Bad Fox, and The Breadwinner would be serious contenders in a weak field, but this year we may just go with films that Oscar voters saw like The Boss Baby and Ferdinand (perhaps even Despicable Me 3).  It's also worth noting that The Lego Batman Movie (a critical hit, more so than some of the above contenders), could make it if the bias against more flagrantly commercial flicks disappears when the full Academy votes (see also the past misses for The Simpsons Movie, The Adventures of Tintin, and The Lego Movie).

Documentary Feature

City of Ghosts
Faces Places
Last Man in Aleppo

Alt: Strong Island

The Lowdown: I have only seen two of the shortlisted contenders here (Jane and Chasing Coral), and only really liked the former, so I don't have a lot to say here.  It's worth noting, always, that you can listen to the buzz and come up with a pretty strong list at the Oscars, and I suspect this is one.  Strong Island has a subject matter that normally would resonate (looking at racism in the judicial system), but I can't pinpoint which movie won't make it.  Expect this lineup, and probably a victory for Jane so they can bring Goodall onstage during the ceremony.

Foreign Language Film

A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
Foxtrot (Israel)
In the Fade (Germany)
Loveless (Russia)
The Square (Sweden)

Alt: Felicite (Senegal)

The Lowdown: I feel like this is lazy math, which is partially why I ended up going with Felicite as this category is famous for its wild cards, and the five I predicted are the most mainstream and obvious five choices.  It's Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, so anything could happen (A Fantastic Woman or In the Fade could both miss, quite frankly), but I'm going with this lineup as it feels like it's been destined for a while now.


Blade Runner 2049
Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
The Shape of Water

Alt: Mudbound

The Lowdown: I'm going to hope against hope that Mudbound misses here (my cause celebre for Oscar nominations this year), though it would obviously be cool to see a woman nominated, and with an ASC nomination Rachel Morrison is in the hunt.  I do think that the Cinematography branch will object to a Netflix movie being amongst the nominees, and go with something very distinctive like Call Me by Your Name (or perhaps a Best Picture nominee such as Three Billboards which inexplicably got in with BAFTA).  I have to say, in a year that Woody Allen wasn't a pariah it seems certain Wonder Wheel (which is GORGEOUS) would have made this list for legendary Vittorio Storaro, but not in 2017.

Costume Design

Beauty and the Beast
The Greatest Showman
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Victoria and Abdul

Alt: I, Tonya

The Lowdown: Loads of contenders here (amongst those not listed are The Post, Wonderstruck, Wonder Woman, and Murder on the Orient Express, all of which are designed by Oscar winners), but I want to say this is the five.  Victoria & Abdul missed with the Costume Design Guild AND BAFTA, which may make predicting it stupid, but I'm picking it over the recreations in I, Tonya if only because AMPAS loves their royalty porn, and this gives it to them in every inch of the picture.

Film Editing

Darkest Hour
Get Out
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Shape of Water

Alt: Baby Driver

The Lowdown: There is a a simple math when it comes to this category since the expansion of the Best Picture field-go with all of the serious/male-lead Best Picture contenders, and then throw in a populist action flick if there aren't enough.  This year, though, there are, which may mean that Baby Driver (or Star Wars, for that matter) will miss out on a nomination it might otherwise have received. If it makes it, probably Darkest Hour isn't as strong as I expected it to be.

Makeup & Hairstyling

Darkest Hour

Alt: I, Tonya

The Lowdown: Who the hell knows with this branch?  It's down to seven films (Ghost in the Shell, Victoria & Abdul, and Guardians 2), so expect really any combination, but lately they've made a point of nominating the worst film imaginable in this field, and that's probably Bright so I'm going with it if only because Makeup likes to torture me when it comes to the Oscar Viewing Project.  Also, I know a lot of people complain about this every single year, but why the hell do we only get three nominees here-literally every movie has makeup (not every movie has songs or visual effects), so why is this the only category to only get to have three nominees?

Production Design

Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
Darkest Hour
The Shape of Water

Alt: Victoria and Abdul

The Lowdown: Again, I'd wager that Victoria & Abdul would normally be a serious threat for a nomination (perhaps even a win), but its lack of love in precursors makes me wonder if people just aren't feeling the picture.  For that reason I'm keeping it (and clear contender The Post, whom I am assuming isn't anyone's cup of tea this year) out and putting in this lineup.  If someone gets kicked out, expect it to be Beauty as Disney is not great with Oscar campaigns outside of animation.

Visual Effects

Blade Runner 2049
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
War of the Planet of the Apes

Alt: The Shape of Water

The Lowdown: One of the rare categories I'm making a gut decision and going with someone out of left field.  Valerian bested a number of more likely contenders to make it to the shortlist, and The Shape of Water has pretty showy effects, but definitely not "the most."  It's entirely possible Planet of the Apes is on the outs as well (no one seems to remember that picture) or the practical effects of Dunkirk aren't gaudy enough, but my gut says Valerian somehow makes it into this field

Original Score

Darkest Hour
The Post
The Shape of Water
Victoria and Abdul

Alt: Three Billboards...

The Lowdown: Here is where I say that the disinterest in The Post and Victoria & Abdul are completely forgotten, as (unless 2016 is a new trend and not an aberration) this is the clubbiest of the Oscar branches, and it's hard to say no to John Williams and Thomas Newman.  Williams is always a threat to double-up (he does have Star Wars: The Last Jedi), and there's usually a first-timer (perhaps Jonny Greenwood for Phantom Thread), but I'm guessing that this is the list.

Original Song

"Mighty River," Mudbound
"Mystery of Love," Call Me by Your Name
"Remember Me," Coco
"This is Me," The Greatest Showman
"You Shouldn't Look at Me That Way," Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

Alt: "Evermore," Beauty and the Beast

The Lowdown: It is never wise to bet against Alan Menken at the Oscars, or really to assume anyone is set in-stone with this branch (Alone Yet Not Alone, anyone?), but I think that the mandatory nominations for the film just don't feel necessary this year.  I should also be going with The Star, but will the music branch feel the need to honor Mariah Carey as a songwriter?  That's why I'm going with my gut and assuming the moody musicians (Costello & Stevens) both score the final two slots alongside the most-likely trio.

Sound Mixing

Blade Runner 2049
The Greatest Showman
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Alt: Get Out

The Lowdown: It's going to be a massive bummer if my favorite aspect of Get Out (the sound) gets snubbed, but horror films aren't the draw here that big-budget action films and musicals are.  I should also probably be considering Darkest Hour, and it was in the hunt, but whom do you cut here?  Unless they're not really feeling Star Wars, this is probably the list.

Sound Editing

Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Alt: Wonder Woman

The Lowdown: The recipe for this list is always to take a carbon copy of the Mixing lineup, take out the musical, and substitute in an action film (they screwed this up last year with La La Land's outrageous nomination), but I think they'll get it right in 2017 with Baby Driver seeming like a more probable nominee than Wonder Woman, though you could make the argument that this is the best chance for either film to make the cut.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Shape of Water (2017)

Film: The Shape of Water (2017)
Stars: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Oscar History: A probable threat in all categories, including Picture, Director, Actress, and most visual production categories.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

My relationship with Guillermo del Toro is not uncomplicated.  The first film I ever saw of his was Pan's Labyrinth more than a decade ago, and I loved it.  It was one of my favorite movies of 2006, and I remember being in awe of the magical realism of the picture, and the way that it engaged an enchanting fairy tale with a grim reality in Franco's Spain.  But the years since have worn on this relationship.  I thought the Hellboy movies were mediocre at best, frequently trading on the "I'm a freak, but I'm beautiful" message a little bit too hard.  Crimson Peak was what used to be called a "hot mess," and Pacific Rim's most important contribution to cinema was this.  As a result, I went into his most critically-lauded picture since Pan's Labyrinth with some modulated trepidation.  The trailer was beautiful, the actors in it felt like they would fit del Toro's world but not be overwhelmed by it, and I was ready after a hard year to invest a bit more fully in a complicated fairy tale.  Unfortunately, while it's lovely to look at and has its moments, The Shape of Water continues the trend of movies I'm more indifferent to than swept away by when it comes to del Toro's cinematic output.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film centers upon Elisa (Hawkins), a mute janitor in the 1960's, working at a secret research facility at the height of the Cold War.  She lives a staid life, marked by routine (polishing shoes, hard-boiled eggs for lunch, and because this is a del Toro film, morning masturbation in the bathtub) and quiet friendships with her aging gay neighbor Giles (Jenkins) and her fellow, chatty janitor friend Zelda (Spencer).  One day, a new creature, played by Doug Jones (kind of similar to what a mermaid would be if it were 50% fish, 50% human, but if it was your whole body), is brought in by a sadistic colonel (Shannon), who takes a perverse shine to Elisa and enjoys torturing the creature.  The film unfolds with Elisa falling in love with the creature, trying to free him while the colonel is out to destroy him, and increasingly dominate her.

The movie functions as yet another strange fairy tale, and like most of del Toro's films, there are moments of visual splendor that are undeniable.  The magical realism is occasionally ridiculous (that entire sequence where they're floating in the bathroom defied physics in a way nothing else in the film does), but it's lovely to look at, and the sunset scenes are gorgeous.  The movie, though, suffers from too much plot, and performances that are all-over-the-map (okay, just Michael Shannon).  As the colonel, an actor who is rare on subtlety (and really has an imposing physical demeanor that doesn't allow for such things), his increasingly manic portrayal of a deranged and unhinged colonel is too much for even a film that suspends reality so frequently, and toward the end his cartoonish villainy has totally subsumed the picture.  Combined with a confusing performance from Michael Stuhlbarg (who can blame this more on the screenwriters, who make his motives nearly impossible to discover and his character resolution is left bloody on a pile of sand...literally), the film's plot is too sloppy for my tastes.

The rest of the performances fare better.  Spencer is such a winning screen presence she fares the best with this complicated material, giving Zelda a worn warmth that I responded toward.  Hawkins is getting the lion's share of the plaudits, but while it's a physically demanding role, I have to admit I wasn't as drawn to this work as I suspected I would be.  Her character is interesting, but she doesn't sink in the way you'd expect during the tougher scenes, particularly when she goes quickly from self-sufficiency and self-pity and back again.  And with all due respect, Richard Jenkins is not convincing as a gay man.  His plot is equally tragic to Elisa's, perhaps more so because he's left with nothing in the end of the film, but the script doesn't really care about that, and it feels an awful lot like the "sassy gay friend" trope in a film that has a pretty strong queer narrative otherwise.

All-in-all, I left unimpressed even if there's obviously something fascinating there.  Del Toro's going to continue to demand my ticket money if only because his visuals are too interesting for me to skip out (plus, he may well be headed to his "Oscar-friendly" phase after The Shape of Water), but I think that if this film can't get me to amour once again, I doubt I ever will for anything other than Pan's Labyrinth from his creative mind.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

5 Thoughts on the Arizona Senate Race

This week, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R-AZ) announced his intention to run for the open Senate seat vacated by Republican Jeff Flake, and on the heels of that announcement, it looks like Rep. Martha McSally will announce her intention to run for the Senate as early as Friday.  Arpaio's announcement comes as something of a surprise, as he is 85, and is only eligible to run for office thanks to a controversial pardon from President Donald Trump (Arpaio had recently been convicted of Contempt of Court), while McSally's decision is a clear demonstration of Mitch McConnell's attempt to hold this seat despite a probable blue wave that could help Rep. Kyrsten Sinema win the seat, making her the first Democrat elected to the Senate in Arizona since 1988.  I have been mulling over these developments in what may be the most interesting Senate race in the country, and since I'm guessing you're curious as to why I would describe it as that, let's do a list this Thursday of the major political quandaries poised by this race.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R-AZ)
1. Joe Arpaio is Uniquely Unqualified for the Senate...and Proof of the GOP's Problems in 2018

Joe Arpaio, should he win the primary, would certainly be the most uniquely unqualified major party candidate I can remember in recent history...certainly the most unqualified person to run for public office in a seat that was very winnable I can remember (worse, in fact, than Christine O'Donnell).  He cost Maricopa County, a Republican haven, $146 million in his racial profiling, and up until last year (when he lost his reelection battle) was arguably the most flagrantly racist person to currently hold public office in the United States.  Some will point to his age as a problem (he'll be 86 in November), making him older than the oldest currently serving senator (Dianne Feinstein is 83), and yet he'd go into the Senate as a freshman.  He's a convicted criminal, a bigot, and someone who's qualified for social security for decades.  In any rational world, he wouldn't get more votes than his immediate family members humoring him.  But an ABC poll commissioned this week put him at 29% of the vote, just two-points behind McSally and insinuated that if President Trump endorsed him (certainly a possibility considering his support of Arpaio in the past and McSally's refusal to endorse Trump in 2016) he might gain the lead.

Both-siderism is always a dangerous route in American politics, so it has to be said-this doesn't happen to Democrats.  Sure, we'll occasionally nominate someone too liberal for a seat, but we don't nominate racist, unqualified bigots for major federal office when it's a seat we could win (or currently hold), and yet in the past 18 months this has happened twice for the Republicans (first Trump, then Roy Moore), and Arpaio's poll numbers suggest that if he stays in the race until the primary (a question mark because of his age, criminal record, and the fact that it's always a possibility this is just a publicity stunt to scam people out of donation money), he could have a chance of besting McSally.  That the Republican Party will continually to humor such people and even nominate them for federal office isn't indicative of them "not being true Republicans," it's that the Republican Party is the party of Trump, Moore, & Arpaio, and those left holding the bag aren't acknowledging that the building is not only on fire, but a smoldering pile of ash.

Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ)
2. This Probably Helps McSally...But Certainly Helps Sinema

Arpaio's entry arguably hurts State Sen. Kelli Ward the most in this race, as he becomes the most famous Trump backer in the race, and also has her Bannon-backed right wing base splintered.  Ward was starting to look like a probable contender to beat McSally until Arpaio entered the race, as McSally seemed too anti-Trump to make it through a primary.  A split primary could help McSally on that front, since Ward/Arpaio have the same base-of-support, and McSally remains the best general election candidate of all those running, even in a wave (she seems inline with Arizona's tradition of electing center-right Republicans with congressional experience).  If he stays until the finish line, or damages Ward enough before he gets out, this could be a blessing in disguise for Mitch McConnell.

But lately blessings-in-disguise have been a horror show for Mitch McConnell (see also Trump, Moore), and Arpaio's in that same camp.  For starters, McSally now has two critics calling her a "liberal Democrat" in a primary where even a three-way split will require her to win over loads of Trump supporters.  It's entirely possible that McSally can hug the right in a way that they will never reciprocate, and it's also possible she'll have to deal with making political statements that will hurt her general election chances to win the primary.  Imagine that Joe Arpaio says "I think POTUS should fire Robert Mueller" or "Sessions Needs to Arrest Hillary Clinton" (it is not far-fetched to see him saying either, and trust me, I suspect if he stays in the race it will get a lot more incendiary than that). These comments would be anathema in a general election, and come back to haunt McSally, but it's possible that by not agreeing, she risks losing a Trump endorsement, which could go a long way to help Arpaio.  Lest we forget, former Sen. Luther Strange thought he had it made when he got two hard-right challengers in the Alabama Senate primary.  Then Strange saw one of those candidate's support crater, and ended up losing a primary to Roy Moore.  There's no guarantee that McSally will benefit here if the primary electorate simply just doesn't like her.

Which means the biggest winner this week might be Sinema.  The Democratic congresswoman has the primary to herself, and can just sit back and watch the Republicans tear each other apart while she collects a mountain of cash sending out mailers saying "Do You Want Joe Arpaio in the Senate?" to scared Democrats who are petrified of another Trump in Washington.  Provided Arpaio stays until the election, she'll either face a hard-right conservative with little general election appeal in a light red state (Ward, Arpaio), or a badly-bruised Republican opponent who will have had to run-to-the-right to win the primary (McSally).  Either way, this should help her chances of being the first Democrat since Dennis DeConcini to take an Arizona Senate seat.

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ)
3. McSally's Seat is Probably Going Blue

The second billing story in all of this is that the Democrats probably just got closer to winning the US House with McSally's announcement.  With the congresswoman officially getting out of the race for her suburban Tucson district, she leaves open a district that has been friendly to Republicans in the past, but took a sharp left turn in 2016, giving Hillary Clinton a win of five-points.  AZ-2 is one of several districts in the country that voted for back-to-back presidential losers (going for Mitt Romney in 2012, Clinton in 2016), but considering its voting history, is probably anti-Trump in a wave election where Trump is going to dominate the ballot.

This isn't to say that this is a lost cause for the Republicans, but historically it's very hard in wave elections to hold open seats that went for the other party's presidential nominee (Dave Wasserman pointed this out on Twitter, but in the last three midterms 0% of such seats were held by the opposing party in this case).  Republicans have a strong bench here (State Sen. Majority Whip Gail Griffin seems in particular like a good candidate), but the Democrats aren't slouches and have former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick as their prohibitive frontrunner.  I'd say that Democrats would have the edge here, particularly if our current political environment stays as toxic as it is for Republicans (and especially if Ward or Arpaio are dragging down the ticket), and that would get them one step closer to 24.  In a week where the NRCC saw the retirements of other Hillary-district Republicans (Ed Royce & Darrell Issa in California), officially losing McSally is another step closer to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

State Sen. Kelli Ward (R-AZ)
4. The John McCain of It All...for Republicans

Overall this sounds like a busy race, but one that you might quibble over whether it's the "most interesting Senate race of the cycle" as I alluded to above.  What makes it most interesting is that we could still have two Senate races in Arizona.  It feels indelicate to discuss, as ever, but Sen. John McCain's diagnosis of a serious brain cancer last year puts into play the fact that he might resign due to health reasons.  If this were the case, this entire field gets upended, but it's not entirely clear how that would affect either party, as it could go a number of ways.  We'll start with the Republicans.

Though she callously said McCain should resign (in part so she could get his seat), State Sen. Kelli Ward would be very tempted to head to a race that wouldn't feature Joe Arpaio, and could go over to McCain's seat.  This would cause McSally's advantage of splitting the vote to disappear, though it's also possible that McSally would be appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey to replace McCain, giving her at least a tertiary incumbency (which doesn't help much, but I do argue helps to a degree).  This would leave Flake's seat vulnerable to Ward or Arpaio getting the nomination, and it's doubtful Mitch McConnell would just hand over a seat to Sinema to focus on holding a seat he already has-that's a terrible chess move.  It's definitely possible that McSally wouldn't want the appointment (McCain's seat would have to stand for reelection in 2022, while Flake's seat gets until 2024), inviting someone like gubernatorial Chief of Staff Kirk Adams into the race as the interim senator, setting up two Tea Party vs. Mainstream GOP primaries that could end with the GOP having two solid candidates for the general, or more petrifying for the party, they could have Arpaio AND Ward as their nominees, inviting the real possibility that both seats flip in November.  Keep in mind that with Doug Jones' recent win in Alabama, the Democrats only need two seats to gain a majority, and they already have a very strong possibility in Nevada.  If they were to win both Arizona Senate seats (which is a stretch, but not implausible considering the players involved), they could afford to lose Nevada or (perhaps more likely) have some cover if someone like Joe Donnelly or Claire McCaskill didn't win reelection.

Captain Mark Kelly (D-AZ)
5. The John McCain of It All...for Democrats

I've read a lot of speculation about the impact for Republicans if McCain leaves office early, but not so much for Democrats, but the left also has a unique set of issues here.  For starters, Sinema is their best on-paper candidate in the state, and they got her into the race.  But if you open up a second primary, you're left with the deficit of finding another strong candidate, and this exposes a major issue Grand Canyon State Dems will have to encounter-they don't have a good bench.

If the nominees are Arpaio and Ward, this might not matter-it could be a warm body principle.  But Republicans have DOMINATED state politics for years, and there aren't a lot of options outside of Sinema.  It's possible that Rep. Ruben Gallego could run, as he's a young Democrat and might help balance Sinema in terms of statewide turnout by upping the crucial Latino/Hispanic population sectors of the state, but he's also much to the left of the state as a whole, and could struggle, particularly against someone like McSally if she ends up being his opponent; it's also worth noting that Gallego might want to work his way up the House leadership instead.  Rep. Raul Grijalva has the same issue with being too liberal, and Rep. Tom O'Halleran leaves a Dem-held Trump district open.  Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick or Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton could run, but both are already frontrunners in their House seats, and would they want to make a gamble run for the Senate when they have a much better shot at the House (and in Kirkpatrick's case, run the risk of looking like she's office-shopping)? And finally there's Mark Kelly, who as the husband of Gabby Giffords (who has a strong military profile) would be an attractive option, but has never run for public office in his own right and has so far been resistant even when he would have had a cleared field (like the 2012 Senate race).  It's probable one of these people is the nominee should a race occur, but which one?  And will they be able to overcome their faults in a once-in-a-lifetime sort of race?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Rachel Morrison, Oscar, and a Defense of Netflix Bias

Rachel Morrison on the set of Mudbound
Yesterday, history was made with the nominations by the American Society of Cinematographers. Arguably the classiest precursor (they usually pick really craft-specific nominees and rarely buy into some of the "nominate the Best Pictures!" mentality that AMPAS Cinematographers' branch latches onto), their nominations this year were once again films that it's hard to argue have Cinematography in mind for their nominations, and in fact many of them are the best featured cinematography of the year.  The nominees are: Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049), Hoyte von Hoytema (Dunkirk), Dan Laustsen (The Shape of Water), Bruno Delbonnel (Darkest Hour), and Rachel Morrison (Mudbound).  This is a cavalcade of Oscar favorites and newcomers to the Academy.  You have Roger Deakins battling it out for yet another contest (this would be his 14th Oscar nomination should it land, and he's yet to win...he's also my favorite working DP give-or-take Emmanuel Lubezki, so know that I will be rooting for him even if I haven't decided who my top pick for the year here is).  Von Hoytema has an achievement to be marveled at, filming this on celluloid in a world of digital (which is a wonder considering the beauty of Dunkirk).  But most newsworthy of all is Rachel Morrison's nomination.  With this citation, she is the first woman ever nominated by the ASC for Cinematography of a Film, and it's very possible that she carries this over to the Oscars, where she will be the first woman nominated in this category, the last of the non-gender-specified categories to break down that barrier.  Historically four out of five of these will be nominated for the Oscar, and while I want to in the year of #MeToo say that I'm rooting hard for Morrison, I can't and it bums me out to no avail not to be cheering for the (likely) first female nominee here.  Mudbound shouldn't be in contention here from a pragmatic standpoint, and it's partially because I subscribe a bit to the oft-maligned Netflix bias when it comes to the Oscars.

My antipathy for Morrison's work isn't because of her gender (the Oscars should have nominated a woman a long time ago, and the ASC should really do something about trying to promote more women into the DP's chair, as their gender ratios on this front are horrific), and everything to do with how and why I love the movies.  If you'll recall from my review of the film, I didn't particularly like the movie.  It plays like a picture with too much script, that would have functioned better as a miniseries, and got lost in its adaptation (it is a near-lock for an Adapted Screenplay nomination, much to my chagrin, but we'll get to that when we do the 2017 OVP).  But the cinematography has inexplicably been cited, and unless you're one of the very few people who watched this movie in a movie theater, I'm at a loss for what you're seeing.

It is foolish to assume that your film will always be seen the way you intended it to be.  After all, cinematographers must contend with the fact that their movie could be viewed for the first time on the big-screen, a giant TV, a laptop, or even a mobile phone.  But in a weird coincidence, I saw all of these movies at least how the production company intended for me to see them, with the first four listed above on a big-screen (in the case of Dunkirk, on an iMAX 65mm cut), and with Mudbound on a laptop, as is the purpose of Netflix.  Unlike Amazon, who has made a point of releasing its films on big-screens, not losing any of the filmic luster of pictures like Manchester by the Sea, Wonderstruck, and Wonder Wheel, Netflix only releases qualifiers.  Unless you're in the right neighborhood at the right time in LA (or want to shell out $15 at your local Landmark for something you can watch for free from your bed), your best bet to see a movie like Mudbound is on a laptop.

And the reality is that this isn't ideal, certainly not for what Morrison had in mind for the wide, grey-and-brown tinted shots of this picture.  Sure, all of the other nominees will be seen on a DVD or a streaming device at some point, but if you initially wanted to see them on a big-screen, that was the intention.  Mudbound's wide shots don't have as much impact when you're looking on a 13" laptop, and while performances still work the same in such a venue, technical categories like Visual Effects or Cinematography don't play the same way.  There is no comparing this movie's experience to the aerial shots of Dunkirk or the wide expanse of scanning Las Vegas in Blade Runner 2049, and it's not because Morrison doesn't have the talent to do so, she just doesn't have the venue.  No film that is seen primarily on a small-screen is going to be able to compare to one made for a larger one when it comes to Cinematography, and I hope that Oscar remembers that.

Because the reality is that when it comes to film, Netflix bias is okay.  We're taught that bias is a bad thing, but really here it's more placating to reality, and the reality is that an immersive movie experience, one that fully encapsulates the artist's vision, is best saved for the big-screen.  You don't have distractions around you, and you get to see a picture in giant, expansive color.  The spectacle of a movie, whether it's the aqua wonder of The Shape of Water or the stern, winding bunkers of Darkest Hour are more compelling on a big-screen than a small.  It's impossible to see every film, every time on the big-screen, but you should try to make it at least your first rendezvous because it's always going to be better (it's why even for non-spectacle films, I tend to prioritize seeing them at a movie house).  Catering to facility shouldn't be what AMPAS is trying to do, it should be about rewarding art.  And while it may be philistine to say that a new format to create art within isn't capable of achieving the same effects, Mudbound proves it isn't.  You have a talented DP with beautiful screening opportunities and a unique style, and it all becomes lost because the screen is shorter than my head.  AMPAS shouldn't stand for this, and for an artistic platform that turns the wonder of movies into the convenience of television.  So I hope Morrison eventually gets her nomination, and I hope that we start seeing some watershed moments for women within the Cinematographers' Branch...but I also hope that Oscar is wise enough to skip Mudbound for this category, as it's not worthy and would open a floodgate that doesn't need to be breached.

Molly's Game (2017)

Film: Molly's Game (2017)
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Oscar History: It scored nominations at the Globes for Best Actress & Screenplay, both of which could happen for Oscar, though I feel like this might be a more Globe-friendly film that Oscar-favored.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

As a critic, you have to learn a bit to judge on a curve, because most people who finally make it to the big-screen are relatively talented.  Unless you have an exception like a pop star who tries their hand at acting, is no good at it but is too famous not to keep trying (I stand behind my assessment that Justin Timberlake gave the worst performance of any actor this year that I've seen in Wonder Wheel, and I am already girding myself for having to see A Star is Born with the notoriously wooden Lady Gaga), most actors these days are strong enough if they get to headline a major motion picture to at least not embarrass themselves.  There are exceptions every year (Lily Collins in Rules Don't Apply last year comes screaming to mind for some reason, as does John Malkovich in Deepwater Horizon), but by-and-large it's pretty rare for an actor to be giving a heinous performance in a major motion picture if they are a trained professional.

(Spoilers Ahead) But like I said you have to judge on a curve, as there are certainly performers that are consistently more talented than others, and few actors working today are as talented as Jessica Chastain.  I would argue that in terms of combining movie star charisma, chameleon-like acting ability, and just general watchability, Chastain might be the most electric actor currently working in movies.  Like Meryl Streep in the 1980's or Al Pacino in the 1970's, every performance is something to behold.  It might not always be the best performance of the year (she should have, by my estimation, at least three Oscar nominations at this point, however, and probably one trophy), but no one's more consistent.  Which makes Molly's Game a true conundrum as the combination of Chastain's impossibly strong ability as the lead and Sorkin's intense flare for auteurist writing seeping through in the script makes this seem like a good movie.  How could it not be?  It sounds good, the lead performance is compelling-isn't that what makes a movie good?  But beneath the pleasant surface, you quickly find the fault-lines that not even a performer like Chastain can save.

The film focuses on Molly Bloom (Chastain), a former Olympic skiing prospect who, after an injury and a rough relationship with her father, finds herself hosting a high-stakes poker game for her jackass of a boss.  She is aided by a Player X (Cera, who is terrific as he sends up what is clearly Tobey Maguire in this role), a movie star who is so famous that guys will come and want to lose tens of thousands of dollars to him.  The film's first half unfolds well, albeit with us knowing that Molly will fall as we're flashing to the "present" where she's under arrest for connections to the Russian mob.  Watching the different stories that came out of her card table are fascinating, and Chastain well-manages Molly's big city dreams and her shock at how seedy men with unlimited amounts of money can be.  In many ways it's stealing from GoodFellas, but really-at this point what crime movie isn't stealing from GoodFellas, and it does it better than most.

The movie, though, flails under the pressure of too much plot in the second half.  Sorkin is too good of a writer to not keep the grandiose speeches coming (though he also can't miss the "big heart" moments, like the one between Chastain and Costner-as-her-father late in the picture is drowning in corniness), and Chastain seems tailor-made as a performer to deliver his gigantic "I am a walking thesaurus" soliloquies, but the connection to the characters seem lost without a director to tamper down Sorkin's showing off.  Chastain plays Molly as largely a saint with a drug problem, someone who is ridiculously smart but somehow is to be believed that she didn't know the Russian mob was into her game to the degree that it was, and who was more than willing to break the law (repeatedly) with little consequence because other guys in the game were doing much worse.  It's a problem because it's hard to forget that this is real-life, and in real-life it's hard to imagine that Bloom, whip-smart and clearly driven, didn't have some inkling of what was happening in these games and perhaps got off because she was the smallest fish in this pond and wasn't worth the effort when you're talking about violent criminals.  Her morality and code of not naming names never gets across, considering so often she's cutting corners late in the film, and blaming it solely on the drugs feels like a cop-out.  Chastain's biggest weakness is that (perhaps for legal reasons, considering this is based on Bloom's book) she can't land these huge moments because it takes too big of a suspension-of-belief to assume that our intelligent protagonist was so strung out on cocaine and Adderall that she wasn't able to see the obvious criminal implications in front of her but was able to spout off the witty bon mots of a Noel Coward character.  Here Sorkin's brilliance gets in the way of his plot (not an uncommon problem for his works), but it makes the movie ring false, and totally undercuts his big "all I have is my name" speech from Chastain.  As a result, the plot and the climax don't work.  The writing and Chastain are solid, but if they can't land the plot it doesn't matter-Molly's Game is all flare and no soul, and casting the best actress in Hollywood can't buy Sorkin an ending to a movie he doesn't know how to finish.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Why Oprah Shouldn't Be President

Oprah Winfrey
It occurred to me in the hubbub around Oprah Winfrey's incredible speech at Sunday night's Golden Globes that the Democrats likely would never have a "Donald Trump" that looked like Donald Trump.  Trump is the epitome of the Republican Party's trajectory in recent years.  He's a businessman in a party that favors capitalism and the opinions of the successful more than anything else.  He's a straight white male in a party that increasingly and more glaringly favors all three.  He eschews political correctness and examples the American Dream of wealth, a beautiful wife, a happy home, and continued success.  These are all, to Democrats, mirages, and hiding some of the hateful messaging behind him, but it's proof why he's so teflon to a certain core of his supporters-he's basically an incarnation of everything Republicans have been striving to want in a candidate, and though when they got him he ended up being a disaster, he's so clearly their dream guy that they can't let it go.

Many people in recent months have written about how Mark Cuban or Mark Zuckerberg or Tom Steyer could pull a page out of Trump's playbook and run as a brash-talking billionaire, waltzing into the Democratic Primary in the exact same way, but this feels like it's an idea that A) lacks creativity and B) ignores some basic tenets of the Democratic Party's belief system.  The Democratic Party's base, were they to come up with a candidate in a lab, would be someone all-inclusive, who likes strong progressive ideals but also appeals to the masses.  They might be rich, but they would have become rich by building people up, rather than down.  They would be a beacon for disenfranchised people, particularly women, communities of color, and LGBT people.  They would be someone who clearly cared about issues that matter to us, and would, in a way that Trump speaks to millions of Americans in a level they feel is their own, have a way of connecting with the average American voter in a way that traditional politicians can't.  They would be someone we dream of being, but have no hope of ever becoming.  In other words-they'd be Oprah.

I realized this because I wouldn't be won over by Mark Zuckerberg or Mark Cuban.  They're too cut-for-the-same-cloth like Trump.  They're rich, straight, white men who have been rich so long they have no concept of what it's like to be poor or even middle-class.  They talk down to crowds, and don't have the experience where I'd trust their acumen without some sort of political experience to back it up.  What I forgot was, if there was going to be a Donald Trump, someone that appealed to at least the core base of Democrats, they would have to be someone who, well, appealed to me.  I'm a dyed-in-the-wool member of the Democrats, and have been my whole life.  If a candidate may make you want to put on your rose-colored glasses, they'd have to be a candidate that would at least get me to try to start making excuses over their faults.  They'd have to be a candidate that objectively has a lot of similarities to Trump in terms of lack of political experience, celebrity status, perhaps even a bit of cult of personality, but whom I would be offended by being compared to Donald Trump.  Oprah Winfrey is perhaps the only non-politician in America who could make me do that.

I love Oprah Winfrey.  Few people don't, and certainly few people on the left don't.  More than pretty much any figure in American culture, Oprah Winfrey is one of those celebrity's I listen to, respect, and who can help formulate my opinions.  I have read every book club entry she's selected in at least the past ten years, I subscribe to her newsletter, and watch her interviews.  Her speech on Sunday moved me to applause in the middle of my living room, and I trust her judgment.  Her life, patience, and determination is what I strive to achieve in my everyday life.  Winfrey is a billionaire, but in the way that the right feels about Trump, is a billionaire who feels like they "know me."  Her shows and sense of understanding of other people, thanks to a charisma largely unparalleled in modern life and the interviewing-skills of a Pulitzer Prize-winner, is impossible to resist.  While not all of them would feel the same way, few people on the left, few Democratic base voters, would claim to actively dislike Oprah Winfrey.  And her Globes speech proved that she can rally the troops.

I don't know if Oprah Winfrey will run for president.  I honestly doubt anyone does (perhaps not even Winfrey herself knows).  But it's easy to see what would be deficits for other candidates not being a problem for Winfrey, in the same way that they weren't deficits for Trump.  Winfrey obviously has no elected political experience, and is unmarried but lives with her boyfriend.  She has pitted fights against people that normally would be a problem in an election (specifically the agricultural industry in the 1990's), but probably wouldn't be punished too harshly for it.  She's not a progressive in the Bernie Sanders sense, but more one in the Obama mold.  Her politics, I would imagine, are not that dissimilar to a Biden or Hillary Clinton, quite frankly, and she's likely to be less for and idea like free college considering her own-your-future philosophy on her show.  This is speculation, of course, as Winfrey hasn't met the gamut of the DC press corps and her views aren't always publicly announced, but if Trump could sustain a teflon sheen, I suspect so could Winfrey.

But the fact that the two share such similarities also illustrates another problem with their connection-that they both lack political experience.  Trump ended up being a great candidate not in the sense that he ran a great campaign, but in the sense that he won.  This is one of the few times where Trump's "the winners write the rules" mentality probably works, as American politics has become so base in recent years that the winner winning is all that matters in terms of their campaign.  But Trump has been a terrible president, because he wasn't prepared for the hardships of the job, the demands of the job, and the wave of backlash that would meet his world.  Though Winfrey has a stronger obvious work ethic, it's foolish to believe that she also doesn't have something of a veneer of celebrity to her name.  Winfrey hasn't always been in a position of power like Trump, so this might not be a shock to her system (she grew up an impoverished black girl in Tennessee, and has written about her struggles as a woman and person-of-color, things that Trump cannot possibly understand as the white son of a multi-millionaire), but she's been rich for a long time, and adored for nearly as long.  Certainly Winfrey would struggle when she eventually couldn't pass a bill through Congress that was a promise, and the backlash that would ensue.  She's not magic, despite some meme-protestations, and this would happen.  A woman that is treated as a near religious figure in some sects of the population might have issue with suddenly moving to 41% approval ratings (which would inevitably happen), and with the demands of being the leader of a political party.  This is not to mention that Winfrey's personal politics, particularly when it comes to human rights and women's rights, might make for a struggle when negotiating with countries like Russia or China.  It's marvelous for liberals to imagine Winfrey in charge of something like our healthcare system or our education system, but less so when it comes to imagining her trying to negotiate with countries with poor human rights records that nonetheless are vital to avoid a recession.  All-in-all, we would find out that Winfrey is mortal, just like Trump and all those before her, and that we'd be left with someone in office who, however insanely talented, doesn't have the experience required to be president without a stronger foreign policy acumen.  I've had one president learn on the job, and while I have more confidence in Winfrey to admit her shortcomings, I feel like we need an established progressive voice with government experience to be our nominee.  Let's not take the wrong lesson that Trump could win away from celebrity candidates, but instead the right lesson that celebrity candidates do not make strong presidents.

5 Thoughts on Last Night's Golden Globes

We have not discussed the Oscars very much in recent days, partially because I'm not quite sure how to handle this year's awards season, and partially because I'm not entirely sure I'm feeling this year's awards season to begin with.  It always bears some repeating to those who know me in real life as an Oscars hounds, but the Oscars are in some ways a means to an end.  Don't get me wrong, they are one of my favorite nights of the year, and more importantly Oscar nominations are probably my favorite day of the year, but that's because I love the movies.  I don't love awards shows, exactly (I rarely watch, say, the Emmys anymore and never watch the Grammys), but I love movies and the Oscars are one of the few times of year that people around me want to talk about good movies, so of course it's like my Christmas in that regard.  That being said, the campaign of Oscar season is upon us, and while I'll have my predictions up around Sunday or Monday of this week (I'm going on vacation next week, so I'll want this to be done in advance), I figured with the Globes happening Sunday, I'd weigh in on some of the major races and what (if any) impact the Golden Globes had on this year's ceremony.

1. The Best Picture Trophy is Still Up for Grabs

I was texting my brother about this Sunday night, but I do still feel like the Best Picture trophy is up-for-grabs.  It is commonly assumed that the winner of the Globes Best Picture also wins the Oscar, and that may have been true in the 80's/90's, but only five out of the last twelve Globes ceremonies have crowned the eventual Oscar winner (Slumdog Millionaire, The Artist, Argo, 12 Years a Slave, and Moonlight, for the curious), so in one of the most wide-open races in recent history, I don't know that the film that will win the Oscar necessarily emerged last night.

Now, don't get me wrong-these were big wins for Lady Bird and in particular Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  The former had very strong competition in the form of Get Out and I, Tonya, both in the hunt for the Oscar (the former being my prohibitive favorite up until last night), while Three Billboards put itself in a great place for the rest of the season.  With Three Billboards, one could argue they now are the frontrunner simply because it's a strong possibility to win the SAG Best Cast award, making it appear like a runaway train of sorts.

But don't discount that the Oscars like their Best Pictures a bit more traditional, and though it stars Frances McDormand, this movie is not a Coen Brothers film.  This is the rare moment, perhaps, where a delayed campaign strategy could work out for The Post.  Spielberg is a big deal with the Academy, and with the sheen largely off of Dunkirk (I honestly wonder if Nolan is fretting over whether he'll be excluded once again), the two-time Best Director winner's flick is almost exclusively going to appeal to an older, more conservative bloc of voters that still likely dominate AMPAS voting (it's hard to get a gage on such things since they don't release membership numbers very often, but I'd assume that even a burst of diversity in recent years isn't going to shift the Oscars overnight).  It's also worth noting that Get Out is still a threat considering it's the film that most captured the zeitgeist this year, and that helps.  But this race isn't over, even if Three Billboards got at least something of a leg-up last night.

2. Best Actress is Also Anyone's Guess

Honestly, the one person who could have won last night and cemented the Best Actress race felt like Margot Robbie.  I haven't seen I, Tonya yet (it's on the agenda for Saturday, along with The Post as I all but wind down Oscar season), but Robbie had pretty much everything going for her in this race.  She's deglam, right in the sweet spot in terms of age for Oscar (AMPAS tends to honor women in their 20's and Robbie is 27), she's playing a real person, she's in a Best Picture contender that won't actually win Best Picture, she's incredibly beautiful, and she clearly really wants to win.  Some of those appear surface-level sexist because they are, but reality is an important thing to acknowledge in politics, and recent winners like Jennifer Lawrence, Brie Larson, and Emma Stone show that Robbie would be in their wheelhouse.

But the problem is that I, Tonya still lacks the prestige one normally associates with this category, and Robbie still needs momentum & an acknowledgement from another awards show that this is worthy of Oscar's credibility.  Unlike some of the other women in this category, she's never won a statue and can't get in on name alone for the win-people are going to have to give the okay to Oscar that she's worthy of this honor ahead of time.  Without a Globe nomination, she's going to have to take bets on SAG doing that for her, otherwise she'll likely be a bridesmaid this season with AMPAS.

Which means that we have a wide-open race, leading off with last night's winners Frances McDormand and Saoirse Ronan.  McDormand, one could argue, would also be a frontrunner, albeit one who clearly hates being in that room (that she was at all proves she's out to win this thing this year), but McDormand already has an Oscar and that's going to hurt her a bit against Ronan, who would be on her third nomination in another Best Picture contender, and like Robbie is beautiful and in her twenties.  Ronan has to contend with playing a role that would be basically unprecedented to win Best Actress (though they skew young with this category, when was the last time someone won for playing a teenager onscreen...if ever?).  The SAG Awards could still throw a monkey wrench into this lineup (Sally Hawkins, anyone?), and if The Post takes off Meryl's always a possibility.  And it's still not out of the question that Judi Dench bests any of these five women with her contingency at the Oscars and makes a seemingly five-person race a four-person race (Dench won't win).  But Margot Robbie missed her shot at a stampede Sunday night, and as a result we might not know the winner of Best Actress until Oscar night.

3. The Supporting Categories Feel About Right Here, Don't They?

While two categories got less predictable, two others felt more solidified.  While nominations in Best Supporting Actor & Actress are still anyone's guess (both have about eight names that feel in the hunt), the winners at the Dolby in a few weeks sure seem like they'll look like Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell.  They gave big speeches, and the audience seemed to really like both wins, showing that this might be a rally behind two longtime character actors who have always felt Oscar-adjacent, even if they've never been given the roles that would catapult them to such recognition until now.

Rockwell is arguably the less solid of the two, if only because he was the underdog before last night (I've been saying for months that Janney is winning this trophy).  He's still got to defeat Dafoe at the SAG Awards and one could argue that he might split the vote with his costar Woody Harrelson, who is getting enough awards press that I wonder if he might be up for Oscar (he's nominated at the SAG Awards).  But Rockwell is more publicly gregarious than Dafoe and while the latter leans into the subtle, Rockwell goes for the gusto and Oscar has proven that they like such things.  Rockwell's also in a film that probably will be a major Oscar Best Picture contender so they'll want to honor it somewhere even if they don't go with the top prize; that might be Best Screenplay, but Supporting Actor is an easy place to do it.  Plus, he's basically the co-lead in the film, and he's worked with virtually everyone in Hollywood-I'd say he's the out-front frontrunner right about now.

Janney, on the other hand, is impossible not to love.  She's incredibly famous but never won these kinds of film awards, she's shooting for the rafters in I, Tonya, and she's going to give great speeches all season long.  Yes, she's missed out at the critics prizes, but that didn't matter the second CJ Cregg stepped on-stage and everyone was reminded why we love watching Janney win prizes.  Metcalf is a very good actress, and could still gain plaudits based on that, but she's not as famous as Janney & she's not playing as bawdy of a character.  I'd be absolutely stunned if Janney doesn't steamroll through this season, as it was always going to be Metcalf looking over her shoulder from the pole position considering their roles and celebrity statuses, not the other way around.

4. Gary Oldman's Past Comes Back to Haunt Him?

I think when it comes to Best Actor, last night probably cemented Oldman's march to the Oscar.  This is the sort of Oscar-bait role that no one can ignore, and it's not like James Franco is winning for The Disaster Artist (I mean, right?).  However, it's worth noting in the environment of #MeToo and #TimesUp, that Oldman's publicist could become the hardest-working person in show business in the next few weeks, and that may impact this race more than anything else.

After all, Oldman's record with women and with avoiding controversy is hardly spotless.  In his 2001 divorce proceedings, his then-wife Donya Fiorentino alleged that Oldman beat her with a phone receiver (allegations that Oldman vehemently denied).  Oldman also has a long history of defending unfortunate actors (Mel Gibson being at the top of that list), and using incendiary language when it comes to persons of color, LGBT communities, women, and Jewish people.  Frequently these are meant to come from more an academic than an accusatory angle (saying "what if I used term X" rather than "you are an X" situations), but it still tows a line that could be rife for digging up in a press that seems to cater to such controversies.

I'm not saying these things should factor, but it's easy to assume that they could.  One could argue that it might not matter-Mel Gibson was an Oscar nominee just last year, and last year's Best Actor winner Casey Affleck also has a questionable past.  But perhaps what will matter most for Oldman is if no alternative emerges.  Franco, one could argue, has similar potential demons in his closet, Kaaluya is very young & based on his dour expression last night is wholly uninterested in this celebrity cavalcade, and Washington/Hanks/Day-Lewis all feel like bridesmaids, not brides.  About the only contender that could give him a run-for-his-money is Timothee Chalamet, who is very, very young to win an Oscar for Best Actor (in Best Actress, this would be a different conversation).  As a result, Oldman may be in a situation where he simply can't win, particularly if CMBYN misses in Best Picture.  But I'd be stunned if these past incidents don't become a conversation.

5. Greta Gerwig is Getting Nominated

For all of the wonder of Oprah's speech (I'll go there tomorrow if I have time), no non-competitive winner may have made a bigger impact on the Oscars last night than Natalie Portman.  Following Winfrey's speech, Portman snuck in a cut about the Best Director field, stating before Ron Howard started the list of nominees that these were "the five all-male nominees."  In a year that has focused intently on honoring the voices of women, it cannot be denied that the bosses on film sets are still predominantly men, as is evidenced by no female nominees this year.

I think that Hollywood and the director's branch is going to take note of that and nominate the one viable contender in their field (sorry, Ree Dees, but Netflix bias is too much to overcome here): Greta Gerwig.  She headlined a film that is almost certain to be nominated for Best Picture, and has proven even with one picture that she has an auterist voice that could be the markings of a new, great filmmaker.  Oscar has been resistant to women nominees for Best Director in the past, and despite their penchant for actors-turned-directors, have been particularly averse to actresses-turned-directors, ignoring the likes of Barbra Streisand, Angelina Jolie, and Jodie Foster in the past (yes, Sofia Coppola is technically under this lens, but even in 2003 few thought of her as an actress and more as a writer).  Streisand herself said the fact that she is the only woman to have won Best Director at the Globes is ridiculous, and I quite agree (and I think AMPAS will too).  Oscar loves nothing more than self-congratulations, and while this is doing the bare minimum (most directors with Gerwig's profile and Best Picture contender would make it), they'll still take the applause, and Gerwig will get her nomination.