Tuesday, January 24, 2017

2017 Oscar Challenge!!!

Participate in the AlmostSideways 9th Annual Oscar Challenge! See how your predictions match up with several other Oscar viewers, including each of our site contributors. You have until the day of the ceremony on February 26th to submit your picks. Check back during the ceremony as well for live updates on everyone's score.
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Oscar Challenge Link: HERE

Reactions to the Oscar Nominations: 2017

Image result for oscar trophyIt was a fairly uncontroversial nominations announcement this morning. The one thing that stuck out to me, however, is how horrible the pre-produced segment was to unveil the invitees. On paper, it should have worked. Seeing past nominees talk about what it was like to hear about their nomination and what the Oscars mean to them should have been interesting, but it was jumbled and really random when the disembodied voice announced categories in no particular order. Also, being on the west coast, it was at 5AM, so it didn’t air during Good Morning America. It aired during local news, so they had no idea what to do. They talked over the segment because it looked like a commercial of sorts and really ruined it. Stick to the press conference, AMPAS. Stop trying to be hip. Traditional is not always bad. Tradition is what sets your awards show apart. Don’t mess with that. However, it was still much better than the Seth MacFarlane announcement four years ago. Anyway, check out my gut reactions to this year’s nominations below!

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Predicted: 9 for 9
Reactions: This was the easiest group of BP nominees to predict since I have been in the business. This seemed very predetermined. It was clear that these were going to be the top 9. It was just a matter if 8 or 9 would get nominated. Hell or High Water and Hidden Figures were right on the edge, but they both had a wide enough fanbase within the industry to get in. This award has already been decided. La La Land, leading the way with a record-tying 14 nominations, cannot be beaten.
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Preliminary prediction: La La Land

Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Denis Villeneuve - Arrival
Predicted: 5 for 5
Reactions: It was almost expected that Garth Davis would sneak in there after the DGA nomination, but Hacksaw Ridge was way too traditional for the Academy to overlook. This is Gibson’s first nomination since he won this award in 1995. The other four nominees have never appeared in this category. Villeneuve has finally hit the big time. His rise to A-list director has been as brief and seamless as anyone I can ever remember.
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Preliminary prediction: Damien Chazelle

Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences
Predicted: 4 for 5
Reactions: I went with a shocker and predicted that Gosling would get left out in favor of Joel Edgerton, but that obviously didn’t happen. This is a pretty good group. Mortensen’s movie was garbage, but he did give a really good performance. Garfield was arguably nominated for the wrong movie, but supposedly nobody connected with Silence in Hollywood. This is Affleck vs Washington.
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Preliminary prediction: Casey Affleck

Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
Predicted: 4 for 5
Reactions: While looking over this category in the past few weeks, I thought that under normal circumstances that Amy Adams could be vulnerable. I didn’t predict her to get snubbed, but Negga seemed like a nominee. I just couldn’t see whose place she would take. Huppert’s Golden Globe win cemented her status as a shoo-in nominee. Streep is always in. Portman and Stone are the frontrunners. Amy Adams is one of the Academy favorites who is nominated as often as she appears in serious films. She also had Nocturnal Animals, which should have strengthened her case. This is a confusing snub. I’m stunned, especially since it was the second most nominated film and a Best Picture nominee. This would be like if Sandra Bullock was snubbed for Gravity.
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Preliminary prediction: Emma Stone

Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
Predicted: 3 for 5
Reactions: The Golden Globe winner was snubbed for the first time since 1975, when that actor’s co-star ended up winning the Oscar. Sound familiar? Shannon can’t win this award, but it is an interesting trend, if you can call it that. I missed Shannon and Hedges in favor of Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Hugh Grant. Grant’s snub is a bit of a head-scratcher. His performance was pure Oscar stuff, and he has never been nominated before. He got all of the important precursor citations. Maybe category fraud did him in, seeing as he was nominated for Best Actor at the GG. Hedges is a bit of a surprise as well. His movie is obviously beloved by actors, and he did give a really nice performance, but for him to be singled out in this category is quite an achievement. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s snub clears the way for Ali to win this without any real competition.
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Preliminary prediction: Mahershala Ali

Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
Predicted: 5 for 5
Reactions: This was the most pre-ordained set of nominees since 2006 Best Actress. Nobody else really had a realistic chance of getting in.
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Preliminary prediction: Viola Davis

Hell or High Water – Taylor Sheridan
La La Land – Damien Chazelle
The Lobster – Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan
20th Century Women – Mike Mills
Predicted: 4 for 5
Reactions: Mike Mills making it in was a bit of a surprise. I had him ranked 8th. Captain Fantastic had everything going for it, and its quirky indie script was one of the most consistently singled-out elements of the film. I went with that instead. I love that I was right about The Lobster. It is such an unusual and beautiful movie. This will be a close call. La La Land won the GG in an upset. On paper, Lonergan should have this, but Hell or High Water is just sitting there waiting for an upset. Sheridan is the best young screenwriter in the business.
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Preliminary prediction: Manchester by the Sea

Arrival – Eric Heisserer
Fences – August Wilson
Hidden Figures – Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi
Lion – Luke Davies
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins, Tarell McCraney
Predicted: 4 for 5
Reactions: I decided to ride the wave of the Golden Globes and BAFTA by predicting Nocturnal Animals to get the fifth spot. Hidden Figures was left off my list by just a hair. No real surprises here. Moonlight being shifted to this category makes it a real battle between that and the previous frontrunner Arrival.
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Preliminary prediction: Moonlight

La La Land
Predicted: 4 for 5
Reactions: I had Hacksaw Ridge securing a spot over Lion. It is not an egregious omission, but it just shows how much the Academy really loved Garth Davis’s film. Worthy of noting: this is the only nomination that Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Silence received. It is a bizarre case in the industry and one that I will never fully understand. Its cinematography was too good to ignore, though.
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Preliminary prediction: La La Land

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land
Predicted: 3 for 5
Reactions: The real surprise of the nominations was the love for the critically panned Passengers, which will also appear late in the nominations. I missed out on that and Hail Caesar! in favor of Café Society and Jackie. La La Land is going to win this, and it deserves to.
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Preliminary prediction: La La Land

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
La La Land
Predicted: 3 for 5
Reactions: I missed out on Fantastic Beasts and Allied. I predicted The Handmaiden (shut out) and the exquisite costumes of Love & Friendship. I must say, if there is one of these artistic categories that La La Land has a chance to lose, it is this one.
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Preliminary prediction: Jackie

Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours
Predicted: 4 for 5
Reactions: I missed the surprise inclusion of 13 Hours in favor of the more traditional choice of Sully. This seems about right. Traditionally, this category is won by action movies or musicals. We have the best of both worlds, and this could be an interesting race. Usually, this category goes hand-in-hand with Sound Effects Editing, but a musical cannot win that category.
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Preliminary prediction: Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Predicted: 5 for 5
Reactions: This is exactly how it should be. Worthy of noting is that Manchester by the Sea was left off, which is usually the nail in the coffin for its Best Picture chances. That was until Birdman bucked the trend, and of course if there is a criticism of Lonergan’s film it’s that it is too long. This should be a walk for La La Land.
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Preliminary prediction: La La Land

Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Predicted: 3 for 5
Reactions: I missed Sully and La La Land in favor of Rogue One and The Jungle Book. La La Land is officially the first musical to ever be nominated in this category, and I cannot figure out how it did it. It makes absolutely no sense.
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Preliminary prediction: Hacksaw Ridge

Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Predicted: 3 for 5
Reactions: I missed Deepwater Horizon and Kubo. I predicted Fantastic Beasts and Arrival to get in. This is really weird. Arrival was an absolute lock to win this category, but somehow it gets left off. It was nominated in all of the important categories, and yet its two shoo-ins Best Actress and Best Visual Effects are snubbed. In favor of an animated movie? Wow. I was not even aware until recently that it was even eligible. I don’t know what to think of this category…
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Preliminary prediction: The Jungle Book

A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad
Predicted: 1 for 3
Reactions: This is a complete miss on the part of the Academy. They supposedly went with strictly obvious makeup work and ignored hairstyling. I predicted Deadpool, which I thought would win, and Florence Foster Jenkins. I missed Suicide Squad (of course) and Star Trek. This is always a little quirky and they have no problems giving the award to bad movies.
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Preliminary prediction: Suicide Squad

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” – La La Land
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Trolls
“City of Stars” – La La Land
“The Empty Chair” – Jim: The James Foley Story
“How Far I’ll Go” – Moana
Predicted: 3 for 5
Reactions: Justin Timberlake, Oscar nominee. Nice. I missed “The Empty Chair” and Trolls in favor of the songs from Gold and Hidden Figures.
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Preliminary prediction: “City of Stars”

La La Land
Predicted: 3 for 5
Reactions: I missed Passengers, as expected, and Moonlight in favor of The BFG and Nocturnal Animals. La La Land is winning this.
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Preliminary prediction: La La Land

Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
O.J.: Made in America
Predicted: 3 for 5
Reactions: I had The Eagle Huntress and Weiner in over Life, Animated and Fire at Sea. This is a great category and a good reflection of America right now. It is really relevant, and it is good to see O.J. breaking through. The Documentary voters seem to be ahead of the game in blurring the lines on what makes a movie “Oscar-worthy”. They were the first to really embrace streaming, and now we have a TV miniseries nominated. I love it.
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Preliminary prediction: O.J.: Made in America

A Man Called Ove
The Salesman
Toni Erdmann
Land of Mine
Predicted: 3 for 5
Reactions: I had Paradise and My Life as a Zucchini in over The Salesman and Tanna, which I have never heard of. In most people’s prognostications, Toni Erdmann is the frontrunner, but it doesn’t feel like an Oscar winner.
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Preliminary prediction: Land of Mine

Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Predicted: 4 for 5
Reactions: I had The Little Prince in over My Life as a Zucchini. I hate my brain seeing trends. I mixed up My Life as a Zucchini’s categories just because that is how they handled Waltz with Bashir in 2008. Whatever. This category has been over for months.
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Preliminary prediction: Zootopia

Overall predictions: 80/107; 74.77% (75.47% in 2016)
Without the last 5 categories: 64/82; 78.05% (79.01% in 2016)
On the Big 8 categories: 38/44; 86.36% (83.72% in 2016)

It’s amazing how similar my predictions are every single year. You would think that I would get better over time, but the lack of predictability is something that I have always loved about the Oscars.

1. Andrew Garfield
2. Justin Timberlake
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3. Mahershala Ali
4. Denis Villeneuve
5. Isabelle Huppert
6. Ruth Negga
7. Taylor Sheridan
8. Barry Jenkins
9. Naomie Harris
10. Yorgos Lanthimos

1. Amy Adams for Best Actress
2. Arrival for Best Visual Effects
3. Silence in all relevant categories
4. Nocturnal Animals for Best Adapted Screenplay
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5. O.J.: Made in America for Best Film Editing
6. Florence Foster Jenkins for Best Makeup/Hairstyling
7. Aaron Taylor-Johnson for Best Supporting Actor
8. Love & Friendship for Best Costume Design
9. Finding Dory for Best Animated Feature
10. Hugh Grant for Best Supporting Actor

What are your thoughts on the nominations? Whose snub was most egregious? Stay tuned for our 9th Annual Oscar Challenge!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Zach's Fearless NFL Predictions 2017: Conference Championships

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            In 2004, the Boston Red Sox broke baseball’s biggest curse, the grossly unpopular “President” was reelected, and the Patriots, Steelers, and Falcons were playing in their Conference Championship games.  Jump to 12 years later: The Chicago Cubs just broke baseball’s biggest curse, the grossly unpopular President was “elected,” and the Patriots, Steelers, and Falcons are playing in their Conference Championship games. 
            Obviously, a few things are different – instead of the Donovan McNabb-T.O. Eagles squaring off against the Falcons, it is Aaron Rodgers’ Packers team playing in Atlanta; instead of the President lying to people on State of the Union addresses, the President lies to people through Twitter; and Brady and Roethlisberger are no longer the league’s squeaky-clean young guns.  But for old time’s sake, let’s grab that iPod with the latest Moby album downloaded on to it, clean up your MySpace page, and get as excited for this weekend’s slate of NFL action as you were for Pedro’s campaign for class president.

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Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons (-4)
Sunday, January 22, 3:05pm EST, Fox.

            As I noted last week, Aaron Rodgers is the Best Football Player On The Planet right now, and when a player reaches that level of hotness (think Terrell Davis in 1998, Ray Lewis in 2001, and Richard Sherman in 2014), he is virtually impossible to stop on the field.  And based on their regular season performance, this Atlanta Falcons defense seems anything but up for the challenge.  They gave up 406 points in 16 games; the Jaguars, Bears, Colts, and Redskins each surrendered fewer points.  They were also particularly weak against the pass, ranking in the league’s bottom-five in pass yards and touchdowns.  With the exception of their Week 14 win against the Rams, the Falcons never forced more than 2 turnovers in any game all season.
            All that being said, Atlanta looked surprisingly tough last week against the Seahawks.  Yes, Seattle was banged up, playing 3000 miles away from home, were only one untimely holding penalty away from taking a 10-point lead; but the Falcons got to Russell Wilson all day, forcing him to make errant throws while virtually eliminating the Seahawks’ ground game.  Green Bay’s rushing attack is even more abysmal than Seattle’s at this point, and if Rodgers doesn’t have time in the pocket, the Packers’ receiving corps – perhaps playing without Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams – may have difficulties racking up big numbers.
            Green Bay’s defense looked solid through a quarter and a half of last week’s win in Dallas, but was completely incapable of stopping the Cowboys in the second half. Look at the Cowboys’ drives beginning right after the Packers took a 21-3 lead: Touchdown, field goal, interception, touchdown, touchdown, field goal.  Ladarius Gunter seemed hapless against Dez Bryant on every play, and the Packers’ Nickel defense really couldn’t stop Ezekiel Elliot (the only thing preventing a 200-yard rushing day by Zeke was Jason Garrett’s play-calling).  With their best player in the secondary now hobbled (Morgan Burnett), it’s tough to imagine this unit slowing down Matt Ryan and Julio Jones at home.
            A lot of people seem to think this game will be a shootout, with the winner ultimately determined by which team holds on to the ball last.  This is probably a good bet, since neither team has scored under 30 points since December 4.  The Falcons have the better offensive threats at receiver and runningback; they have the healthier and more aggressive defense; they’re certainly not intimidated by any defense at home, and especially not the Packers; they have the playoff revenge factor; and they have the feel-good story (who would have imagined the final game at the Georgia Dome would witness the Falcons clinching a Super Bowl berth?)  
            So yes, there’s a lot of reasons to like the Packers – 540 reasons, in fact, since that was the total number of points they scored in the regular season, good for 8th best all-time.  Want to know why I’m picking the Packers?  You guessed it – this guy.  At the beginning of last week’s divisional game, Troy Aikman observed that Aaron Rodgers “just had that look in his eyes.”  Of course, that’s a laughably vague statement, but if there was ever a player you could say that about – and back it up through fact rather than speculation – it is Rodgers.  Playing against him for 60 minutes is terrifying.  It leaves you horrified, dazed, and traumatized.  There’s simply nothing you can do to stop it.  Take out his two best receivers?  He makes ridiculous last-second throws to Jared Cook. Take away his running game?  He has a converted wide receiver and big white fullback not named “KUUUUUHN” picking up 5 yards a carry – that is, when he isn’t using his own legs to pick up first downs.  Try to strip-sack him?  Good luck with that.
            I’ll be the first to admit that for every reason to pick the Packers in this game, there are five or six reasons to take the Falcons.  But there isn’t any more compelling reason to pick one team over the other except for that Aaron Rodgers happens to play for one of the teams.  Going into the season, few people thought Atlanta would be hosting the NFC Championship game; even fewer people thought the Packers would be here on November 20, after consecutive blowouts by the Titans and Redskins.  But when Aaron Rodgers gets that look in his eyes, everyone knows what’s going to happen.

Prediction: Green Bay 37, Atlanta 31

Playoff Doppelgänger: 2012 NFC Championship Game, San Francisco 28, Atlanta 24.  Perhaps the most crushing of Atlanta’s many postseason disappointments.  The Falcons led 24-0 at halftime, with Matt Ryan on pace to throw for approximately 6800 yards and 42 touchdowns.  Then Colin Kaepernick led a scintillating second half comeback (no electrical malfunction required), Jim Harbaugh went into McEnroe mode, and the Falcons blew yet another chance at immortality. 

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Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots (-6)
Sunday, January 22, 6:40pm EST, CBS.

            Every Patriots fan knows that Tom Brady historically feasts upon the Steelers; look no further than the 2001 and 2004 AFC Championship Games, in which Brady carved up the Steelers defense on two separate occasions.  If you’re looking for a more recent example – say, from an era after the creation of YouTube – there are numerous examples too, although strangely enough, for two quarterbacks who have appeared in nine of the past 15 Super Bowls, this will only be their second playoff meeting.
            Let’s run down the case for the Steelers first.  Pittsburgh hasn’t lost a game since November 13, and have basically gotten healthier every week.  The defense in particular has stepped up in those last nine games; they’ve forced 18 turnovers and have allowed only one 100-yard rushing performance (Isaiah Crowell, playing against Steelers’ backups during Week 17).  Through two playoff games, Le’Veon Bell has rushed for 337 yards; that’s the second-most rushing yards of any player during a single postseason since 2000.  The most rushing yards?  338, by Jamal Lewis in 2000.  In spite of that greater emphasis on the running game, Pittsburgh’s pass offense hasn’t really skipped a beat either.  During the winning streak, Roethlisberger is still averaging over 200 passing yards a game, and Antonio Brown is still being left wide open by clueless secondaries.
            On top of having the league’s two most explosive offensive threats, the Steelers have played a tougher schedule than the Patriots, and even when they lost to New England in Week 7 – a game with Landry Jones starting at QB – they had few issues moving the ball against the Patriots’ defense.  But this is January at Foxboro and since the Steelers’ quarterback is not named Joe Flacco or Mark Sanchez, history suggests that Sunday’s game will be an uphill battle for the NFL’s evil empire.
            The truth is, in spite of Pittsburgh’s and New England’s winning steaks (nine and eight straight games, respectively), both of these teams come into the AFC Championship with issues.  The Patriots looked soft for much of last week’s game against the Texans; maybe they were thinking ahead to this week’s game, or maybe the bye week took away their athletic edge.  Brady completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions, and the running game was non-existent; in spite of this, the Patriots scored “only” 34 points and won by 18.  But this was against Brock Osweiler, let’s not forget.
            And like many of their previous playoff games (Super Bowl 43 and the 2010 AFC Championship game come to mind) the Steelers got a first half-lead, took their foot off the peddle, and barely hung on in the fourth quarter for a win they may not have deserved.  To be clear, they couldn’t score an offensive touchdown in spite of nearly 400 yards of offense and first downs at will; in fact, I only remember one time they were even in the red zone.  This leads us to the Achilles Heels of Brown and Bell – they’re not great at finding the end zone.  Unless it’s a 50 yard crossing pattern, Brown is simply too undersized to be a viable target inside the 10, and Bell has never scored more than 8 rushing touchdowns in a single season.
            We know Belichick’s major defensive philosophy – give up yards in between the 20 yard lines, but barrel down in the red zone.  This is why year after year, the Patriots defense gives up a surprising amount of yards but very few points.  I also believe that New England’s rush defense is substantially better than Kansas City's; Andy Reid was clueless for three quarters and only in the fourth did he use more than four defensive ends to block at the line of scrimmage.  Belichick will make adjustments quicker, and with one major exception, the Patriots have historically lights out against the run in January.
            I have to pick New England here, but two things do give me pause.  The first goes back to something I mentioned earlier – the 2016 Patriots had a filthy easy schedule.  Six games against the Dolphins/Jets/Bills, then the Rams, 49ers, Cardinals, Browns, and the Texans twice.  The most impressive quarterbacks they beat all season were probably Carson Palmer in Week 1 and Joe Flacco in Week 14.  The Patriots had an insanely easy schedule in 2011 too, and even though they reached the Super Bowl, they can thank Billy Cundiff for that.
            The other thing that gives me pause is Gronkowski’s absence.  With the exception of last week, New England has been winning games due in most part to their running game.  Brady hasn’t had to make downfield throws.  But if the Steelers get an early lead, how much faith do we really have in Brady’s receivers other than Julian Edelman?  Bennett, Amendola, and Mitchell are all listed on the injury report, and James White’s impression of Shane Vereen isn’t quite perfect just yet.  Since Gronkowski’s injury in Week 10, there hasn’t been a moment when Patriots fans have thought, “Man, I really wish Gronk was in the lineup.” If that moment doesn’t come this week, expect it to come in Houston in two weeks.
            In spite of those misgivings, Brady is the better quarterback, Belichick is the better coach, the Patriots have the better defense, and they are overall a better team.  If New England takes an early 10-0 or 14-0 lead and Pittsburgh is forced to throw, we know that Big Ben can quickly get generous in serving up desperate interceptions. With the unearthly talents of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, the Steelers will always be in the game, but knowing Belichick’s dissatisfaction with last week’s subpar performance, the Patriots should be able to take care of business, as always.

Prediction: New England 30, Pittsburgh 20

Playoff Doppelgänger: 2003 AFC Championship, New England 24, Indianapolis 14. The Colts were also coming off a win in Kansas City, and there were question marks about how New England would defend Indy’s specular offensive threats.  The Patriots answered those questions in their opening drive, when they calmly marched 65 yards for a touchdown without much resistance.  This Sunday, watch the Patriots’ opening drive – it will tell you everything you need to know about the eventual outcome of the game. And just for the record, Bill Belichick would make a better President than the one elected by 26 percent of the populace. 

Disagreements? Comments? Not enough anger directed at Foot Locker employees? Write them below!

Last Week: 3-1
Overall Record: 7-1