Saturday, December 18, 2021

Nightmare Alley (2021): Movie Review

Directed by
Guillermo del Toro

Nightmare Alley is a slow burn that, like one of Stanton Carlisle's shows, sets you up for a finale that takes your breath away and makes everything else worth it.

Based on a book that was already adapted into a classic film of the 1940's, Nightmare Alley is Guillermo del Toro's first directorial effort since his Oscar-winning efforts in The Shape of Water.  It tells the story of Stanton Carlisle, played by Bradley Cooper, who appears to have a questionable past when we meet him.  He stumbles upon a circus and finds a home among the illusionists and freak shows.  While there, he befriends a mentalist (David Strathairn) and fortune teller (Toni Collette) and begins to learn the tricks of their trades.  As Carlisle becomes confident in his abilities, he steps out on his own and starts his own show, however a partnership with a psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) leads him to possibly push his skills and abilities passed what he can handle.

This is probably Guillermo del Toro's most grounded film, as all the fantastical here is illusion.  It is a beautiful film, with great cinematography by Dan Laustsen.  The direction and visuals set the scene for the actors to give masterful performances, led by Bradley Cooper.  This is one of Cooper's best performances in awhile, and he draws you in as he discovers and becomes part of this wild world.  The rest of the star-studded cast are brilliant as well, from Rooney Mara to Willem Dafoe to Ron Perlman to Richard Jenkins to Clifton Collins Jr. to Tim Blake Nelson.  The standouts in the supporting group are definitely Strathairn, Collette, and Blanchett though.  All these performances draw you into the story and instantly have you invested.

The script and story definitely take awhile to get going.  It earns its 150 minute runtime by really taking its time setting the scene and the world this film is creating.  For the first hour or so, I was wondering where the movie was going and when the action was going to pick up.  It definitely gets more intriguing once it leaves the circus, but you can tell everything is building up for the final act.

Nightmare Alley was going to be made or broken by if it could deliver on the climactic ending.  A film like Christopher Nolan's The Prestige failed in not having the payoff it needed.  A film like Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men succeeded because of how it stuck the landing.  Luckily, the last 30 minutes are some of the best filmmaking, acting, and scenes of the entire year.  You are waiting the whole time for something to happen, but when it finally does, it still manages to shock no matter how inevitable it seemed.  My jaw was dropped as I saw each twist and turn leading to a final scene and final shot I could see coming, but that doesn't change how haunting it is.  It nailed the ending in a way only the instant classics do.

The more and more I think about this film, the more I think it is one of the best of the year.  At its worst, it is engaging and intriguing.  At its best, it's as good as film gets.  Some of the best actors in the world are showing why they have that reputation, led by Bradley Cooper.  Then there's Guillermo del Toro, who once again brings to life a story with classic themes in a way only he can.

Rating: 4 stars

Watch the trailer here:

Monday, December 6, 2021

Movie Review: Wolf (2021)

Directed by
Nathalie Biancheri

In what could have been a fascinating psycho-thriller, Wolf instead provides a snooze that was definitely better in concept than execution.

Wolf tells a tale of a hospital that specializes in conversion therapy, however not in the typical way we think of.  This hospital helps people who believe they are animals and convinces them they really are human and should act in a normal human way.  The main character we follow is Jacob, played by George MacKay, who believes he is truly a wolf.  Once in the center, he encounters others like him that think they are a German Shepherd, a panda, a horse, a parrot, a duck, a lion, and a wildcat.  The wildcat, played by Lily-Rose Depp, befriends Jacob and, despite their primal urges saying they should be enemies, they form a strong connection.  Running this hospital is "The Zookeeper," an evil taskmaster portrayed by Paddy Considine.  As Jacob struggles with therapy and whether to accept who he is or who he is told he should be, he considers escaping amidst punishments from The Zookeeper.  Depp's wildcat continues to give him support and company throughout his struggles.

This film has a wonderful premise and great intentions in using this to shed light on the concept of conversion therapy being used to force people into societal norms.  If this was the direction they were going to take this premise though, it would have been much better served as a short.  Nothing really happens in this movie.  There is no plot beyond the premise.  It was one of the longest 90 minute movies I have ever seen.

The one redeeming factor of the film, beyond the premise, is the performance by George MacKay.  In a bizarre follow-up to his breakout role a few years ago in 1917, MacKay gives a physically transformative performance as the boy turned wolf.  Watching him prowl the hallways and howl at the moon is fascinating to watch.  I think the director knew this was the best thing the film had because they overuse the visual to an annoying degree.  Lily-Rose Depp is fine as MacKay's partner as she shows she has her father's taste in non-glamorous roles.  Paddy Considine is over the top in an obnoxious way.  He thinks he's Nurse Ratched, but instead is out of control and almost cartoonish in his portrayal.  The only other standout in the cast beyond MacKay is Fionn O'Shea as the German Shepherd.  He fully commits and seems to truly understand what it means to be a dog.

Wolf doesn't know what it is as a film.  The trailer makes it feel like an exciting psycho-thriller.  What it actually thinks it is is somewhere between One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Shawshank Redemption.  Where it actually ends up is a character study that rides the line between subtle and boring.  The plot isn't compelling, it doesn't earn the payoff, and none of the supporting characters are strong enough to care about.  All this leads to an unimpressive, mediocre film that can't deliver on its promising premise.

Rating: 1.5 stars

Watch the trailer here:

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Movie Review: Encanto (2021)

Directed by
Jared Bush, Byron Howard, & Charise Castro Smith

As with any of the previous 59 Disney animated movies, Encanto shows a lot of heart, however this 60th film doesn't hit all the right notes as this movie you want to love falls just short.

Encanto tells the story of the Madrigal family, a family with extraordinary abilities that leads their small Colombian town.  At the heart of the family is the matriarch Abuela, who was given a magical candle as a young woman that has allowed for this magical family, and their magical house to exist.  She is stern and will do anything to protect her family's magic.  The main character of this story is Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), the one member of the Madrigal family that was not blessed with a special gift.  As she struggles to find her place in her family and her purpose for her life, there begins to be evidence that the family's exceptional gifts may be starting to fade.  Mirabel finds herself in a position to investigate and try to save her family and prove her worth.  The other star of the film is one that is never seen or heard directly as Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote all the original songs that are featured throughout the movie.

The strength of this film is the story, developed by the three filmmakers also credited with directing.  It is original, creative, and explores themes we can all relate to.  Another strength is the vocal talent, which is always strong in every Disney animated film (well, really any animated film these days).  This is led by Beatriz, who gives a wonderful performance and makes you want to see her lead a live action film soon.

With music brought to us by one of the hottest names in the industry in Lin-Manuel Miranda, it's impossible not to compare Encanto with some of his other efforts composing the music for animated films, like 2016's Moana or even Vivo, which hit Netflix earlier this year.  I loved Moana and was also a big fan of Vivo, in which he also leant his voice to the titular character.  I think Encanto is probably Miranda's weakest effort of these three films.  The songs are fine and fun, but none of them are really that catchy.  There's no "How Far I'll Go" here, which earned Miranda his only Oscar nomination to date.  The songs in Vivo are even much more memorable.  (Personally, I am rooting for "My Own Drum" to sneak out an Original Song nomination this year.)  If you are comparing, Encanto's soundtrack probably most closely resembles In the Heights.  It works better for a full musical like In the Heights than it does for the few songs that pop up in Encanto.  The second issue I have with the music is it doesn't seem to fit.  More than any other musical I have seen, I thought the musical numbers distracted and took away from the rest of the story.  They felt forced, and I think the film would've been better if they just weren't there.

Even though the music was distracting, I really did enjoy most of the movie.  It is an engaging story, beautiful to look at ... it's really a movie you want to love.  I would probably be giving this a thumbs up despite these flaws if it had stuck the ending.  It had some great ideas and had the makings of a great conclusion to the story, but instead it felt rushed, not fully flushed out, and really unexplained in what it was going for.  I think I know what it was trying to say, but it needed to take a little more time saying it.

I wanted to like Encanto, I really did.  There were just a few too many misfires in the execution for me to fully sign off on it.  It might grow on me with a re-watch (probably will), but I'm not there yet.

Now a message for Lin-Manuel Miranda.  I appreciate what you are doing and I love your music, but I think I speak for a lot of people when I say I would rather see the next Hamilton than the next Moana.

Rating: 2.5 stars

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Movie Review: Spencer (2021)

Directed by
Pablo Larrain

Every now and then, there is a portrayal of a real-life character that is so immersive and transcendent that it becomes impossible to separate the fact from the fiction; the person from the actor.  Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote and Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln are two prime examples of this so far in the 21st century.  Kristen Stewart in Spencer belongs in that category of brilliance.

As stated at the start, Spencer is a "Fable based on a true tragedy" brought to us by director Pablo Larrain, most known thus far for bringing us a similar female biopic 5 years ago in Jackie.  Just like his last profile, Spencer is also featuring one of the most prominent women of the last century in a moment of crisis.  Unlike Jackie, this new film features specific events that are nowhere near as public.  Kristen Stewart portrays Princess Diana as she spends three days with the royal family over Christmas at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England.  During these three days, she is fighting against tradition, expectations, a toxic marriage, and a prying public eye.  The is starting to affect her both mentally and physically, as she seems to constantly be on the verge of a breakdown while also fighting body image issues and an eating disorder.  Timothy Spall plays Major Alistar Gregory, a former soldier hired by the queen for "security" from the paparazzi, but seems more interested in making sure Diana stays in line.  The only characters that appear to be concerned for her are the head chef Darren (Sean Harris) and personal dresser Maggie (Sally Hawkins).  She only feels like herself when she is able to spend time with her two young boys, William and Harry.

The vibe of this film is not quite what you may expect.  It is very quiet, meditative, and introspective.  Not a lot happens in this film as you simply get an opportunity to experience life through the eyes of this very public and complicated woman.  With that said, Spencer finds a way to be engaging in almost a hypnotic way.  This is thanks to two things: Larrain's masterful direction and Stewart's monumental performance.  By prominently featuring the scenery and many long, uncut takes, Spencer at times feels like a relative of Gus Van Sant's death trilogy of the early 2000's (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days), especially when you consider Larrain's recent announcement that he plans to complete this trilogy of his with Jackie and Spencer being the first two installments.  The comparison works best with Last Days as you have the profile of a secluded, tragic character.  However, where Van Sant's profile of Kurt Cobain failed, Larrain's profile of Princess Diana hits on almost every level.

Then there is Kristen Stewart.  Never has she disappeared more into role.  I think her performance is heightened to another level when you see some of the parallels between the Diana story being told and her own personal story of fighting norms and what people expect of her.  Those that pay attention know Kristen Stewart is a good actress, but those that don't still see her as the moody Twilight teen.  Much like her Twilight costar Robert Pattinson, Stewart has had to rebuild her credibility and reputation through small, independent films like Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper.  Now she is ready to show the world how talented she really is, and what a talent she shows!  She is not one you think of as an obvious choice for the Princess of Wales, but now I can't think of anyone else.

More than just a showcase for Stewart, Spencer is a brilliantly crafted film featuring a tale of one of the most tragic figures and stories of our time.

Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, October 10, 2021

2022 Oscar Predictions: October 10

 It has been a full 10 months since my last predictions, and a lot has happened since then. We still don’t have a lot of clarity about Oscar eligibility, but the box office is back up and running, which is great to see. We also have a title for the previously named “Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Project”, which became “Soggy Bottom”, which is now even weirder with Licorice Pizza. We also have trailers for basically every contender, and a lot of them have made their festival debuts. Check out my updated predictions, and see how much has (or hasn’t…) changed!


The Predicted Five

1. The Power of the Dog - Jane Campion - Jane Campion has won in the Original Screenplay category before, and this looks like an old fashioned kind of movie that the Academy goes for from time to time. It is also a sweeping movie that will benefit from being seen on the big screen, which will benefit this Netflix movie and maybe push it over the top.

2. Nightmare Alley - Guillermo Del Toro, Kim Morgan - The industry just loves Del Toro. This is a remake of a forgotten 1947 noir, so while it might not be typical Academy fare, it seems pretty secure to be in contention in this category. It has a stellar cast, and it isn’t one of the more indulgent Del Toro projects.

3. The Tragedy of Macbeth - Joel Coen - The Coens are always nominated, but can the solo project by Joel Coen be treated the same way? It looks phenomenal, but the only thing that gives me pause here is that Shakespeare adaptations rarely ever get screenplay love. But they are rarely done by Joel Coen.

4. Dune - Jon Spaights, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth - The movie seems to be divisive with its initial screenings. The screenplay appears to be incredibly complex, so especially with that writing group, we are looking at a significant contender here.

5. The Humans - Stephen Karam - This is an ensemble piece from a first time director, but when you have such talented actors saying your words, that usually bodes well for screenplay chances. It is based on Karam’s play, which is usually not a great sign, but the source material isn’t as well known as so many other play adaptations that we get nowadays, so it can still be seen as fresh and original.

Others in contention

6. CODA - Siam Heder - The movie is pretty corny, but it was a monster hit at Sundance and everyone appears to be blown away by it. The representation in the film is significant, but it will need a resurgence to rise back up at the end of the year.

7. The Last Duel - Nicole Holofcener, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck - This could be a foolish pick at this point, but the name recognition and admiration for Ridley Scott could keep this in the running. I imagine the script, especially with how they wrote it, is pretty impressive.

8. The Lost Daughter - Maggie Gyllenhaal - The movie is getting some raves in its early screenings, and while actors-turned-writer/directors doesn’t always pan out on the first film, Gyllenhaal appears to have material that is more in the Greta Gerwig category than most.

9. House of Gucci - Becky Johnston, Roberto Bentivegna - The movie looks abysmal, but sometimes these really dressed-up Hollywood movies hit at the Oscars regardless. Johnston was nominated for The Price of Tides 30 years ago, but other than that there isn’t much to speak of for these writers. It will all depend on reviews.

10. Passing - Rebecca Hall - The movie is very likely too small, but it has gotten a really warm reception at festivals. Similar to Maggie Gyllenhaal, she is a really respected actress making her first film. They could reward her in this category pretty easily, given the soft competition.


The Predicted Five

1. Belfast - Kenneth Branagh - It is the frontrunner in a lot of ways. Branagh has an amazingly wide range of Oscar nominations, but this is one category he hasn’t gotten into yet. It is called “Branagh’s Roma”, which bodes well for its Oscar chances. He has never won. I expect that to change this year.

2. Licorice Pizza - Paul Thomas Anderson - The trailer is something to behold. PTA has gotten nominated for weirder material like Inherent Vice. This seems like his epic coming-of-age tale that could be ignored completely, or it could be showered with nominations in every category. Or somewhere in-between. It is impossible to prognosticate.

3. Don’t Look Up - Adam McKay, David Sirota - Adam McKay has developed an Oscar track record recently that is hard to ignore. The movie looks so weird, but the cast is stunning, and it feels like a nominee in this category at the very least. It is somewhat reminiscent of American Hustle.

4. The French Dispatch - Wes Anderson, Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola - The reviews are both encouraging and troubling. It doesn’t sound as easily accessible as Anderson’s previous few features, but it also has gotten raves. He is beloved by the industry, and this is also a chance to give yet another nomination to a member of the Coppola empire (Schwartzmann).

5. Mass - Fran Kranz - This is one of the most beloved movies from Sundance. It was immediately named a contender in every category, and especially with the talky nature of the film, it seems like a surefire contender for screenplay love.

Others in contention

6. Titane - Julia Ducournau - The Cannes winner title could mean something, or it could be a movie that no one really ever sees. This movie is going through its theatrical run, and it is pretty wild. It seems like it would have been a contender for this category maybe 10-15 years ago, but now it really just depends on if anyone remembers it (or cares) in a couple months.

7. Being the Ricardos - Aaron Sorkin - This movie seems destined to be a disaster, but Aaron Sorkin can really do no wrong in the eyes of the Academy. Even his lackluster film a year ago got several nominations. I can’t predict him getting in, but the movie could easily surprise. The cast is predictably top notch.

8. The Card Counter - Paul Schrader - He got his first nomination for maybe his worst screenplay. This seems even more indulgent, but he has to be mentioned.

9. Spencer - Steven Knight - I feel like I mention it every year, but he still only has one nomination way back in 2003. He writes a lot of buzzed movies, but biopics are always a tough sell in the Original Screenplay category. The movie has gotten pretty much universally positive marks, however.

10. The Hand of God - Paolo Sorrentino - This film wasn’t previously on my radar, but Sorrentino has won an Oscar before in the Foreign Film category. The movie won big at Venice, which always helps. It is yet another personal coming-of-age film, and it has a Netflix release. There is always a foreign film in the running in this category.

11. The Worst Person in the World - Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt - This also could be the big foreign film hit that contends in the screenplay category. Trier has made some tremendous films over the years, but this one hit pretty hard at Cannes. We’ll see what kind of release it gets.

12. King Richard - Zach Baylin - He is a first-time writer. The film has gotten absolute raves, which is interesting considering the trailer looks like really basic stuff. The movie is being pushed hard, so it has to be in contention.


The Predicted Five

1. Judi Dench - Belfast - She always needs to be mentioned. This is more of a default winner, which is probably what happened when she last won in 1998. She will be singled out in most reviews because she is Dame Judi Dench, and I’m thinking this is the most likely winner from the film.

2. Ann Dowd - Mass - She has somehow never been nominated. This seems like close to a lock at this point, especially because the movie is an actor’s film, and she is one of the most consistently rewarded actresses out there, mainly for TV. She will get her nomination in the near future.

3. Ariana DeBose - West Side Story - She has the show-stealing part that won Rita Moreno her Oscar 60 years ago. I predicted this nomination almost 24 months ago. I can’t back down now!

4. Marlee Matlin - CODA - She won an Oscar 35 years ago, and this is really her first legitimate chance at a second nomination. She doesn’t have the best moments in the movie, but she is the most famous actor in it and the easiest way to recognize the indie hit.

5. Kirsten Dunst - The Power of the Dog - Everything that I have heard implies that Dunst is the standout in the stellar cast and will receive her first nomination. Sometimes it doesn’t always go that way for really popular mainstream actors like Dunst, but if the movie is the kind of contender that it appears to be, then she could emerge as one of the favorites to win.

Others in contention

6. Aunjanau Ellis - King Richard - A lot of reviews have singled her out. If Will Smith needs a running mate, then she can definitely get swept in.

7. Toni Collette - Nightmare Alley - It’s hard to judge which of the actors in this movie will stand out, but it is safe to think that several will be in contention. Colette hasn’t gotten nominated in over two decades, despite being one of the most consistent and hardest working actors out there. Maybe this is finally her return ticket.

8. Rooney Mara - Nightmare Alley - Mara is becoming an industry favorite, and her teaming with Guillermo Del Toro feels too good to be true. She looks outstanding in the trailers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a foregone conclusion when awards start getting handed out.

9. Ruth Negga - Passing - She is a past nominee, and she has gotten glowing reviews for the period piece. She likely needs to secure a SAG/BFCA nomination to actually get her second Oscar nod, but it is possible.

10. Meryl Streep - Don’t Look Up - She is Meryl Streep, so she has to be mentioned. She is likely not any sort of focus in the film, but it really doesn’t matter when you’re the Oscar queen.

11. Martha Plimpton - Mass - I have seen some reviews that say she is best-in-show. She is more of a TV actress, but those lines are blurred nowadays. If the movie is a true Oscar hit, then she could be nominated here or in lead.

12. Jayne Houdyshell - The Humans - She won a Tony for the role, so we know where the spotlight will be in the film. She is a relative unknown compared to the 5 other actors in the film, but sometimes that doesn’t matter.

13. Glenn Close - Swan Song - This is really just out of principle. She is going to win one at some point. It won’t be for this movie, which actually does sound interesting. It’s a sci-fi drama, and it is the debut feature by an Oscar-winning short filmmaker.


The Predicted Five

1. Bradley Cooper - Licorice Pizza - He has been trying to win an Oscar for years, and somehow this feels like his best chance. It would be ironic because I’m sure that was never his intention when signing on for this movie, but he looks like he brings it from the trailer, and voters will jump at the opportunity to reward him.

2. Richard Jenkins - The Humans - Everyone loves Richard Jenkins. He has received the most glowing reviews for the play adaptation, which is surprising because he is never one to play up anything. This is a surefire third nomination for Jenkins, and it just might be his time to win.

3. Jared Leto - House of Gucci - Evidently, they love him. He was nearly nominated last year for a movie that most people pretty much hated. The Oscars love their weight gains/fat suits. His voice is unrecognizable. He might be the most likely nomination for the film if the reviews are trash.

4. Jesse Plemons - The Power of the Dog - Plemons is somewhat absent from all the rave reviews of the film, but he has built up so much goodwill over the last decade, and this is his meatiest role in a big Oscar contender that he has had. Once awards start to trickle out, Plemons will start popping up and snag his first nomination.

5. Willem Dafoe - Nightmare Alley - I can’t imagine an actor who more fits the Guillermo Del Toro atmosphere than Dafoe. He is becoming a regular in awards races, and while I don’t know exactly what his part entails, I’m getting out ahead of this one by saying he is a near lock for something no one has seen yet.

Others in contention

6. Corey Hawkins - The Tragedy of Macbeth - Doesn’t it just seem like it’s his time? I couldn’t quite pull the trigger to put him in the top 5, but he is a tremendous actor who also had In the Heights this year, and he plays Macduff in the Shakespeare adaptation. He can steal the show, which will guarantee him a spot if he’s going to upstage the 5 Oscars of Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington.

7. Jason Isaacs - Mass - The movie is a contender for all the acting categories. He is another one of those faces that is in everything and never singled out. He could be the Richard Jenkins of this year and become a name audiences remember.

8. Ciaran Hinds - Belfast - He has been in dozens of great films, but he is always left off shortlists because his co-stars always outshine him. This is his best chance at a nomination yet, and as it gets closer to awards season, he could become a real threat to take the thing.

9. JK Simmons - Being the Ricardos - He plays the Hollywood producer of I Love Lucy, which could be a throwaway part or it could be something that Simmons can really sink his teeth into. He is always in Oscar movies, but he still has just one nomination/win.

10. Kodi Smit-McPhee - The Power of the Dog - He has received the best reviews in the movie, but it is always a long shot for young actors to get the nod over much more established actors. He has given a bunch of fantastic performances at this point, but he could get the Paul Dano treatment and still be left on the outside while his costars are always recognized.

11. Al Pacino - House of Gucci - We don’t really know how much screen time he will have, but he is Pacino and will steal some scenes in all likelihood.

12. Jeremy Irons - House of Gucci - Same as Pacino.

13. Richard E Grant - Everybody’s Talking About Jamie - Grant got swept in for his first nomination in 2018, and everyone seemed to just be thrilled for him. He is one of those beloved character actors who could get a few of these before it’s all said and done. This might not be the project, but it is worth mentioning.


The Predicted Five

1. Kristen Stewart - Spencer - I am hesitant to put her here, even though everyone is calling her a lock for a nomination. She has given several Oscar caliber performances, and none of them got any awards traction because there’s still that bias. The Princess Diana thing has also been done so well on The Crown that this will need to be astonishing. Apparently she is amazing, but I can’t say I feel good about predicting this.

2. Frances McDormand - The Tragedy of Macbeth - She really can win a 4th Oscar and I don’t think anyone would complain. She will likely create a Lady Macbeth that will ruin anyone else’s chances of ever making that character work on screen again.

3. Jodie Comer - The Last Duel - All of the reviews, regardless of how positive, have raved about Jodie Comer. She is beloved for her TV work, and this could be the Olivia Colman type of coming-out party for American film audiences.

4. Catriona Balfe - Belfast - She isn’t exactly a household name, and I really am not sure about if she is leading or not, but this seems like an easy nomination playing the mother character.

5. Lady Gaga - House of Gucci - Gaga actually appears to have a really interesting character and accent to play with in the film. If the movie isn’t any good, then it won’t matter. But if it has solid reviews, look for an easy nomination for the past nominee in this category.

Others in contention

6. Olivia Colman - The Lost Daughter - She could be a default nominee once again, but she is getting some of her very best reviews for this film. She just won a few years ago, easily could have won last year, and she is maybe the most beloved actress out there right now. Just see her Emmy win this year.

7. Penelope Cruz - Parallel Mothers - The movie seems to be another great one by Almodovar, more in his Talk to Her vein. Cruz has always been his best performer, and she makes a run at a nomination every few years, it seems like. If this is an International Film nominee, then this becomes almost likely.

8. Jessica Chastain - The Eyes of Tammy Faye or The Forgiven - Chastain is always around the awards game, but she has gotten snubbed a disturbing amount of times. Neither of these movies are necessarily juggernauts, but they showcase the amazing spectrum of her talent. One is a dressed-up biopic, and the other is a performance piece book adaptation. She could get in for either, but the reviews are lacking in both cases.

9. Nicole Kidman - Being the Ricardos - Playing Lucille Ball will give her every chance to show off. She is nominated for most everything she does. Even if the movie is trash, she will be a contender because of the optics and the Sorkin dialogue.

10. Jennifer Hudson - Respect - She will need a boost to get back in the race. Everything I have read has said that she is good enough to get her second nomination, but the problem is that the movie was lackluster. The Golden Globes would ordinarily give this kind of movie a boost, but that likely isn’t relevant anymore.

11. Tessa Thompson - Passing - She has been knocking on the door for a few years. I expect her and Negga to almost be a package deal. If the movie is a sleeper hit on Netflix, then they both could be real players by the end of the year.

12. Beanie Feldstein - The Humans - I really don’t know if she’s lead or supporting, but she is top of mind right now with her fantastic portrayal of Monica Lewinsky playing currently. If she is the lead and shows off her range, then she could get swept in. It would also mean that the movie is a real contender for the top prizes.


The Predicted Five

1. Andrew Garfield - tick, tick...Boom! - The trailer looks amazing for this. No one can get enough of Lin-Manuel Miranda, and this is his directorial debut. Garfield is fascinating casting for this film, and it may be overstating to say he is the frontrunner, but I love his underdog chances. It is a Netflix release.

2. Joaquin Phoenix - C’mon, C’mon - If you want a more scaled-back performance from Phoenix, here you go. Even though he doesn’t care one bit about awards and screwed up the end of the Oscars earlier this year, he is still right there in the running every time he appears on screen.

3. Will Smith - King Richard - He appears to be a lock for a nomination, giving a really similar performance to his last nominated performance in The Pursuit of Happyness. He is among the most beloved actors of all time, it is only a matter of time before he wins one.

4. Caleb Landry Jones - Nitram - He won Best Actor at Cannes, and he is one of those actors who is always in quality projects. The movie looks and sounds absolutely wrenching, and sometimes the highlight of those movies goes all the way. It is a longer shot, but we have to keep it in mind.

5. Peter Dinklage - Cyrano - Everything I have heard about this just screams that Dinklage is getting his first nomination. It is directed by Joe Wright, who obviously has his ups and downs, but Dinklage is beloved. He might get the TV actor treatment, but he is more than that.

Others in contention

6. Benedict Cumberbatch - The Power of the Dog - He is the star of the film, but he disappears into the background of most of his starring roles...or the movie just isn’t that great. If the movie is in for a sweep, then he could be a default nominee, but those kinds of things happen more in the supporting categories. He is right there in the running, but I can’t pull the trigger just yet.

7. Denzel Washington - The Tragedy of Macbeth - He is the title character, but he doesn’t always get recognized. He is right there in the running, but he will have to really go for it to walk away with the movie in that cast. This category is absolutely loaded with actors of his caliber, so he can’t just walk into the top 5.

8. Adam Driver - House of Gucci / The Last Duel -  He has these two movies, neither of which on paper should get him a nomination, but at this point when he makes a movie we need to pay attention to its Oscar chances. They are both directed by Ridley Scott, oddly enough. I expect a vote split or simply neither movie to be in contention for much of anything, but he needs to be mentioned.

9. Leonardo DiCaprio - Don’t Look Up - He has been nominated for his last three movies. He looks to not be taking himself too seriously in this, but since he is Leo, he will gobble up votes regardless.

10. Michael B Jordan - A Journal for Jordan - Denzel Washington’s directorial efforts are hit-or-miss, but Michael B Jordan is going to get in the Oscar game sooner or later. It looks like a really sincere performance, but it will need to really sweep everyone off their feet.

11. Matt Damon - Stillwater - The movie got great and horrible reviews. Audiences were mixed as well. What people aren’t mixed on is the sheer brilliance and disappearing nature of Damon’s performance. This almost feels like a National Board of Review winner that completely revitalizes the film’s chances.

12. Jamie Dornan - Belfast - This will be an interesting gauge to see just how popular the movie can be. If he gets swept in with all these A-listers around, then the movie could be a foregone conclusion sweep in every category.


The Predicted Five

1. Jane Campion - The Power of the Dog - Campion is one of the most accomplished female directors, and this seems like her most accessible film to date. She is also a previous nominee in this category. There is some clamoring to reward her, which I find a little strange considering her most mainstream movie was In the Cut, but I’ll take it. It’ll make me look like a master prognosticator.

2. Denis Villeneuve - Dune - He has taken the mantle of being the most popular director with both audiences and scholars. The movie is visually breathtaking, so I have a hard time imagining this being left off of every artistic/technical category, which means this is happening regardless of how it is received.

3. Guillermo Del Toro - Nightmare Alley - He is also in the running for this category because of his lavish colors and sets. It is really a case of most unique directing, and this movie looks fabulous. It could potentially be like Crimson Peak, but it looks much more easily digestible than that.

4. Kenneth Branagh - Belfast - He has always been a respected director, even though recently he hasn’t really been taking it seriously. This is Branagh going back to his roots, shooting in black-and-white, and pouring his heart into an autobiographical movie. This is a lock.

5. Steven Spielberg - West Side Story - Spielberg always has the Best Picture nominee, but the director category is a bit more elusive for him. This movie has been so hyped up, I can’t think that he is going to screw it up. The pure scale of it should vault him into this category for the first time in almost 10 years.

Others in contention

6. Paul Thomas Anderson - Licorice Pizza - I’m not ready to put him in the Best Director category just yet, but it could become a shoo-in if reviews are unanimous. I expect it to be treated a bit like Almost Famous and get respectable nominations, but left off the ones that make it a threat to take the top prize.

7. Adam McKay - Don’t Look Up - He got nominated for Vice, which just shows how he can really do anything at this point and be a contender. The movie could be really good, or it could be absurd and leave everyone cold. I expect somewhere in the middle.

8. Joel Coen - The Tragedy of Macbeth - The movie looks really minimalist, which doesn’t bode well for his chances in this category. If the movie sweeps everyone off their feet then that won’t matter, but it will be an uphill climb to pass up the more visually striking directorial efforts.

9. Pablo Larrain - Spencer - The movie could be like Larrain’s Jackie and only get in a couple places, but this movie seems more well-rounded. If the movie is more than just the one-woman show, then he could be a real threat in the way Stephen Frears was in 2006 for The Queen. He has his Foreign Language Film nomination already, so he isn’t exactly a newcomer.

10. Wes Anderson - The French Dispatch - His films are always really flashy in their direction and visual style. If it is a soft Oscar year, then he could get another nomination here like he did in 2014. It will be an uphill climb, though. His movies are always held back by never having standouts in the acting categories.

11. Fran Kranz - Mass - This could be stretching the film’s actual potential a bit, since it seems like a really basic film in its visual dynamics. However, the film could be a frontrunner once the thing is seen by wide audiences. If it can dominate in SAG nominations, then the director could be brought along.


The Predicted Ten

1. The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion) - I am sticking with my pick from January to be the frontrunner at this point. It would be somewhat strange to have a second straight meditative western-ish film winning Best Picture, but it is almost without competition Netflix’s most decorated film in the running. Early word on the film isn’t unanimous, but that doesn’t always matter.

2. Belfast (Kenneth Branagh) - Everyone is crowning this the frontrunner after its TIFF performance, and while it is probably the odds-on favorite, I just can’t put it up there yet. I’m stubborn.

3. Don’t Look Up (Adam McKay) - This is a tad high to put the film, but the overall list of Oscar bait films is lacking this year. It is a black comedy, which probably eliminates it from competition to win, but it can easily secure a nomination if it lives up to half its hype.

4. West Side Story (Steven Spielberg) - Until the film comes out, I can’t bring myself to take it out. I am skeptical of the film’s overall chances, but the pedigree and scope of the film just seem like a can’t-miss.

5. Mass (Fran Kranz) - The movie will need to do well at all the precursors. There is no star power in it, which would be a somewhat unprecedented Oscar favorite, but the Sundance momentum still does mean something from time to time.

6. Spencer (Pablo Larrain) - The movie is among the most hyped films internationally. It will have to battle with Belfast for the British vote, which is always a factor. I expect a strong showing from this film.

7. Dune (Denis Villeneuve) - This is a pretty safe spot to put it. From the moment the movie was first announced, it seemed like this was happening no matter what. Now that people are realizing just how weird the source material is, it might not be quite the contender we think. But there will be enough fans for it to get in the Best Picture race.

8. The Tragedy of Macbeth (Joel Coen) - I am a little skeptical if this is going to be recognized outside of the performances, but the pedigree and cast is just too impressive to ignore. It could be just a nice experiment or it could be a full blown contender in the way Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V was. We will have to see how Apple handles their first major Oscar movie.

9. Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson) - This movie seems to be the most anticipated film of the year for every cinephile, which is both an attractive place to be and a dangerous place to be. It is PTA’s passion piece, but the trailer could be misleading. I think he has enough fans to push it through at this point.

10. Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro) - This grabs the final spot. The movie isn’t the strongest contender because it really looks like a dressed-up genre movie, but that doesn’t always hold the Academy back. It can’t win, but you can be assured to see it mentioned all over awards season.

Others in contention

11. CODA (Sian Heder) - There is going to be an indie darling in the race somewhere, and I wouldn’t ordinarily put something like this up there, but audiences are charmed by the movie and it could have the legs to last throughout awards season.

12. The French Dispatch (Wes Anderson) - The movie will need to be the indie hit that his past few movies have become for this nomination to happen. They oddly held onto this movie throughout the last year, so that could bode well for its eventual box office potential and awards recognition.

13. House of Gucci (Ridley Scott) - I guess it has to be mentioned here. There are a ton of potential below-the-line nominations that it could get, as well as a handful of potential actors that could be singled out. Scott isn’t always on his game, but this could surprise.

14. King Richard (Reinaldo Marcus Green) - The director doesn’t have a strong track record yet. He had a small indie film and a Mark Wahlberg flop this year. The material is obviously really appealing, and the actors are going to bring it. It will need to be a phenomenon and a huge box office film to show up in the Best Picture race.

15. tick, tick...Boom! (Lin-Manuel Miranda) - It is a Netflix movie, a musical, a Miranda film, and it stars the frontrunner for Best Actor. It is also a biopic, a seemingly culturally relevant storyline, and no one has seen it yet. Keep an eye on this one.

16. The Lost Daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal) - The movie has the right kind of mid-December release to be in the running. I’m not sure about how many nominations the film can pick up to boost its profile, but it is certainly worth keeping an eye on here.

17. The Humans (Stephen Karam) - Play adaptations are never the easiest sell for the Academy, unless they are musicals. I really think this has a chance to be different, but it will really need to make waves upon its release. It seems more like a performance piece than anything else.

There’s my predictions! Did I miss anything? What is my craziest stab? What are your predictions in the major categories? Let’s discuss in the comments!