Race at 200 mph to see Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari (Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Josh Lucas, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts) – In the early 1960s, auto racing wasn’t a very popular spectator sport in the U.S. except for the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  Richard Petty was emerging as the dominant driver in NASCAR.  Mario Andretti and Jackie Stewart roared out of Formula One and Indy cars in the mid-60s.

Ferrari, the Italian car maker named for its founder, dominated the luxury sports car market and Formula One racing.  No other automaker came close.  Henry Ford II couldn’t stand the idea that his family’s company, which produced millions of passenger cars and had been instrumental in helping win WWII against the Axis, including Italy, was playing second fiddle to a company it unsuccessfully tried to buy. Plus, Ford was about to launch the Mustang, the revolutionary sports car that would take the American market by storm and make Lee Iacocca, Ford’s marketing genius, a corporate superstar.

Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) was a race car driver who was named Sports Illustrated’s driver of the year in 1956 and 1957 before switching to Formula One, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959.  After his riding career was cut short by heart issues, he turned to designing race cars, to selling sports cars to rich people, and to modifying existing cars for racing.

As told in Ford v Ferrari, Iacocca approached Shelby to propel Ford into a viable competitor to Ferrari.  With an almost unlimited budget and a guarantee of independence, Shelby said yes, bringing his team, including his friend and driver/engineer Ken Miles (Christian Bale) with him.

Ford v Ferrari is more about the Shelby-Miles partnership and bromance than it is about two car companies going at it for prominence in racing.  It paints Ford II (Tracy Letts) as a despot and his executives, led by Executive Vice President Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), as meddling villains.  Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), a corporate survivor with a vision, is a notable exception although he, too, is as much a suck-up as everyone else in the executive suite.

The movie is excellent, especially if you like car racing.  It soars as it places the audience on the track and in the cockpit.  It also bogs down a bit there.  There have been plenty of movies about car racing, all of which attempt to give the audience a taste of racing at 200+ miles an hour.  Ford v Ferrari does this better than any other; it just does it for too long.  I can’t imagine the hours that Bale had to shoot tight close-ups leaning left and right, turning the steering wheel and changing gears, all while talking to himself.

Although secondary to the racing, director James Mangold makes a valiant attempt to humanize the story by exploring Miles’ relationship with his wife, Mollie (Irish actress Caitriona Balfe), and his son, Peter (Noah Jupe).  Miles’ passion for his family is only rivaled by his love of cars and racing.

As Miles, Bale predictably steals every scene.  Damon, to his credit, lets him.  As much as this is a buddy film, it is not the acting that makes FvF work; it’s the technical wizardry.  In addition to Best Picture, the film is nominated in Film Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing, not in any acting category or for direction.  This is an action-packed, fast-moving pic that grabs you while illuminating some sports history that only car race fanatics know.

The Aftermath

The Aftermath (Keira Knightly, Alexander Skarsgard, Jason Clarke) – Set six months after the end of World War II in Hamburg, The Aftermath follows a British colonel, Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke), who is leading the post-War occupation.  His wife, Rachael (Keira Knightly), is arriving by train to join him after not having seen him for a long time.  As the commanding officer of the occupying forces, Morgan expropriates the stately home of a local architect to live in.  The architect, Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard), is very polite and non-political but is now working in a non-professional job while caring for his rebellious, teenage daughter, Freda.


As the movie meanders along … very slowly … we learn that Rachael and Lewis’ son died in an air raid in England.  Likewise, Stephen’s wife, died in an Allied bombing.  All of these characters are scarred.  Rachael is bitter about her husband’s lack of attention on her and their grief.  Stephen is trying to cope with his own grief, his daughter’s frequent disappearance, and the loss of his house to the Allies.  Lewis is job-obsessed even though he has empathy for the people who have been displaced and whose city has been reduced to ruins.


When Colonel Morgan allows Stephen and Freda to remain on the top floor of the house, an incendiary dynamic is created.  Rachael wants no part of these Germans in her new home.  Stephen is livid when friends of the Morgans disrespect his ex-wife’s Steinway piano by pounding on the keys and singing raucous songs.  Freda is hanging with Hitler youth, most specifically an older teen who is living in the shadows, helping to lead protests, and trying to undermine the occupying forces.


As the story unfolds, Rachael and Stephen grow close.  Freda and Rachael bond since both play the piano.  As Lewis deals with the protests from the German people, he recedes further from his wife.  And then he realizes something is going on between his wife and his boarder.


Director James Kent, most of whose credits are TV related, builds an interesting but brooding story about a time period that, frankly, no one cares about: the aftermath of the War in Germany.  But the movie (and the book by Rhidian Brook on which it is based) is not only about the aftermath of the war.  It is about the aftermath of the death of the Morgans’ son and Lubert’s wife.  In the end, we wonder about the aftermath of the affair, too.


This art-house film has exceptional acting.  Keira Knightly has progressed from the gorgeous angel in Love Actually to one of the world’s best period actresses in Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, Anna Karenina and The Imitation Game.  Jason Clarke is one of the best actors no one knows, having star turns in Oscar-nominated films like Zero Dark Thirty and Mudbound as well as playing Ted Kennedy in the unseen film, Chappaquiddick.  Alexander Skarsgard comes by his acting chops naturally as the son of the always phenomenal Stellan Skarsgard.  Best known perhaps for his role in Big Little Lies or perhaps The Legend of Tarzan, TV’s True Blood or Straw Dogs, the younger Skarsgard is likeable with a hint of danger.


The Aftermath is not a feel-good film.  It is a character study about death, despair, and hope in the wake of the worst conflict in world history.

Oscar Winners: A Split Decision

The race was really tight – a split decision mostly among four films:
Green Book won the biggest award: Best Picture. Mahershala Ali won for Supporting Actor.  And the film also won for Best Original Screenplay.
Bohemian Rhapsody won the most Oscars with four: Rami Malek for Best Actor plus Film Editing, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing.
Black Panther won three: Original Score, Costume Design, and Production Design.
Roma couldn’t become the first foreign film to win Best Picture,  Instead, it won Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Foreign Language Film.
No other major film won more than one.  The Favourite won Best Actress.  BlacKkKlansman took Best Adapted Screenplay, winning Spike Lee his first Oscar.  A Star is Born won for Best Original Song for Lady Gaga and company.  Vice won Makeup and Hairstyling.  If Beale Street Could Talk won for Supporting Actress (Regina King).  RBG lost to Free Solo in the documentary category but that wasn’t a total surprise.
The biggest surprise was the upset in the Best Actress category as Glenn Close was passed over for the seventh time.  Amy Adams lost again.  She has six nominations without a win.  But don’t feel too sorry for them.  Their many nominations put them in rare company.
Here is a link to the winners:

Oscar commentary and picks

Oscar time!  In the most lackluster year for quality movies in quite some time, Hollywood reached box office records thanks to a mother lode of comic book films, animated movies and a bunch of dreck aimed at teenagers and young children.  By and large, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does not reward such films, which by and large is good news.
However, 2018 was slightly different.  Black Panther, which broke box office records and featured an all-African American cast, was nominated for Best Picture and would have run way with the award for Best Popular Film if that new category hadn’t been delayed until next year.
Also, “made (mostly) for TV films” — those that only get a token theatrical release — have now been mainstreamed.  Most notably, this applied to Roma, the excellent black-and-white, artsy-fartsy film from Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, which Netflix took (almost) directly to a computer or TV near you.
Who’s going to win?
OK, let’s cut to the chase.  Rami Malek (actor), Alfonso Cuaron (director), Regina King (supporting actress), RBG (documentary), Mahershala Ali (supporting actor) and Roma (best foreign language film) are locks.
The Best Actor category is stacked with amazing performances. All of the nominees deserve to win.  Malek has won all of the contests so far, and he deserves to win the Oscar.  His portrayal of Freddie Mercury of Queen is uncannily good.  And he wasn’t even the first choice to play the part: Sasha Baron Cohen was.
For Best Director, Cuaron has won every pre-Oscar competition.  The Academy loves him.  Roma is a triumph of direction.  Filmed in b&w, it follows a year in the life of a maid/nanny in Mexico as she serves a well-to-do, dysfunctional family.  Pretty bland story, for sure.  But Cuaron’s photographic technique is so stunning that it blasts conventional norms. It will absolutely win Best Foreign Language Film and might even take the Best Picture prize.
Regina King was really good in If Beale Street Could Talk.  Since she played Cuba Gooding’s wife in Jerry McGuire, she has been a favorite of mine.  I don’t think that she deserves the Oscar over Rachel Weisz but she has won all the pre-Oscar stuff so she probably will win this category.  Besides, Weisz and Emma Stone will split the votes for their performances in The Favourite.
Mahershala Ali was transcendent in Green Book as the black pianist who performs in the south in the early ’60s with his racist bodyguard at his side.  This was my favorite movie of the year.  Playing off Viggo Mortensen, his co-star and nominee for Best Actor, Ali burst on the scene with his performance in Moonlight and more subtle turn in Hidden Figures.  He is quickly proving that he is in rare air as one of the best actors in the world.
How can RBG not win Best Documentary?  The real Notorious RBG is everyone’s favorite grandmother and perhaps the savior of our democracy.  She just conquered her third cancer.  And she is tantalizingly self-deprecating in this film.  Please, stay strong Ruth.
Almost locks
Glenn Close was brilliant in The Wife.  She is the most nominated actress not to have won an Oscar so this is the year.  She is almost the Susan Lucci of the Academy Awards.  But if she loses, it will be to Olivia Colman of The Favourite.  Colman is so pathetic, sickly, horny, and savvy as Queen Anne that she deserves the award.  Close was so full of closeted angst in The Wife that you expected her to scream at any minute.  When she finally explodes, you want to stand up and cheer.
“Shallow,” Lady Gaga’s song from A Star Is Born, has to win Best Original Song.  Why?  Because it’s Lady Gaga!  Plus, Bradley Cooper is a revelation as a singer.  Cooper should have been nominated for Best Director for the movie, too, because he had the guts to try this film for the fourth time and make it the best of the lot.  Their song will be sung live … and it should win.  The only reason I didn’t put it into the “lock to win” category is because all Academy members vote for this category, and I’m not sure if the old guard know who Lady Gaga is … except that she sings with Tony Bennett.
The Tight Race – Best Picture
This is the most open Best Picture race in recent memory.  As I wrote earlier, it is not unusual to have a couple of films in the discussion for Best Picture.  But there are as many as five of the eight films with a legitimate shot in this category.  Part of the dilemma is that this was a sub-standard year for quality films.
If you want to find negatives about each film, it’s easy. Green Book is just too neat, too canned, too predictable.  Black Panther, at its heart, is just another formula super-hero flick. The Favourite is too prurient, too unlikely, too dismissive of the men who dominated the times. BlacKkKlansmen is too political.  Vice is just a hatchet job that feels like The Big Short but just isn’t nearly as good. Roma is really pretty boring with the stupidest mating ritual ever. Bohemian Rhapsody is a jukebox musical that sanitizes and glorifies Freddie Mercury as more of a tribute than an honest biopic. A Star is Born is the fourth iteration of a film that is just a vehicle for Lady Gaga reminiscent of The Bodyguard.
On the other hand:
Roma — a common woman doing a common job is the “real” Mexico, this film is perfectly photographed.  It’s the story of an ordinary person and the troubled family she serves.  No frills; just great storytelling.
Black Panther — a history-making film proving that mass audiences will swarm to see a super-hero of color.  Great graphics, a charismatic star, and lots of action.
BlacKkKlansman — a funny, sickening story of a rookie black cop infiltrating the Klan that is more entertaining than preachy.
The Favourite — a fun, sexy period piece with three superb actresses who clearly enjoy their roles and tell an unvarnished story of Queen Anne and her proclivities.
Vice — a scathing, scary look at how Dick Cheney overwhelmed the Bush Administration with his view of the world.  Christian Bale is transformed into Cheney while Sam Rockwell imitates George Bush better than Bush does himself.
A Star is Born — The best of the four iterations of this story with the twist of revealing Bradley Cooper as a singer, director, and actor of substance.  And who knew that Lady Gaga could act and would take the make-up off.
Green Book — The best buddy film since Thelma and Louise and Driving Miss Daisy, this film shows us how far we have come … and not … in 50 years.  The two stars (Viggo and Mahershala) shine.
Bohemian Rhapsody — This deep dive into the rock group Queen and especially its lead singer, Freddie Mercury, is the finest musical biopic of its time.  Rami Malek inhabits the persona of Mercury, making all of us wish we had paid more attention to this rock super-group.
So who wins?  I am hoping for Green Book.  It is so much harder to make a great movie whose scope and budget are limited than it is to spend $250 million on a computer-driven film like Black Panther.  The actors carry the film yet the story is amazingly relevant and riveting.
If not, I am rooting for BlacKkKlansman because it is the most entertaining film of the year.  It tells a real story with humor, and exposes David Duke as a demagogue and an idiot.  I just wish Spike Lee had avoided taking the political shot at the end.
Roma is the likely winner because it is the most unique film of the year.  It passes several tests.  It is relevant — about Mexicans, who have been demonized by Donald Trump.  It is artsy — great photography shot in black-and-white, interesting characters, unknown actors.  It is revolutionary — distributed almost exclusively through NetFlix, one of the new media that has provided lots of jobs for Hollywood and saved the film industry.
If it wins, it will be the most successful foreign film since Life is Beautiful.
As to the other categories, who cares!?  The Academy was right to exclude them from the agonizingly long telecast, then bowed to the pressure from the big names.  So we’ll have to watch the opening with no host, see who wins one of the best supporting actor awards, have a quiet dinner, then turn the TV back on to watch the flood of awards we really care about at the end.
I vote for The Favourite for costumes, Vice for make-up, Green Book for original screenplay, BlacKkKlansman for adapted screenplay, and Roma for cinematography.  These are not predictions so much as they are my preferences.
Good luck with your Oscar ballots.  And enjoy your dinner while the winners in the technical categories drone on.  Where is Billy Crystal when we need him?
Here is a link to the Oscar nominations:

Best Picture Race is Wide Open

Eight films have been nominated for Best Picture.  This is the most wide-open race in recent memory.  In most years, there are normally two movies with the inside track on best picture.  Last year, it was The Shape of Water and Three Billboards …”  The year before, it was La La Land and Moonlight.
But this year, there are probably five legitimate contenders among the 8 nominated films.
No Chance
Vice — Cynical, satirical, and devastating, this look at Dick Cheney is scary if only half of it is true.  Christian Bale was the early front-runner for Best Actor but is now likely to lose.  His spot-on impersonation doesn’t hide some of the shortcomings of this film.  No chance to win Best Picture.
BlackkKlansman — One of my three favorite films of the year, Spike Lee’s hysterical and scary story about a black cop that infiltrated David Duke’s Klu Klux Klan couldn’t have been more timely.  The fact that he beat us over the head with the relevance at the tale end of the movie made it blatantly political when it didn’t have to be.  I loved it but it won’t win Best Picture.
A Star is Born — This third remake is perhaps the best one with Lady Gaga and Director/Writer/Star Bradley Cooper showing off their singing talents.  Cooper’s transformation make him a deserving Best Actor nominee.  But the early hype for the film has been dashed during the award season so far.  Remakes aren’t chosen as Best Picture.
The Contenders
The Favourite — I’m tired of period pieces though this one has more touch of humor than most.  Driven by amazing performances by three fine actresses, it relegates the men to thin roles, a reversal from most Hollywood big movies.  In the #MeToo era, that makes this a possible Best Picture.  Along with Roma, it garnered an Oscar-leading 10 nominations.  It is a longshot but possible
Black Panther — The biggest, most expensive, most popular film to be nominated since Avatar, it has lots going for it: all almost all black cast, massive box office appeal, and a SAG award for best ensemble cast.  Unfortunately, it is just another formula super-hero film driven by computer graphics and special effects.  The old guard in Hollywood won’t vote for it, but it easily would have won Outstanding Popular Film if that category had been introduced this year.  It has a legitimate shot at Best Picture.
Bohemian Rhapsody — Much more than just another jukebox musical, this film is a spectacular biopic look at Queen and its lead singer, Freddie Mercury.  Rami Malek is magical, and the music is marvelous.  Bohemian Rhapsody won the Golden Globe for Best Drama, which may sway some voters.  It could win Best Picture under the voting criteria if the other films split the “political” vote.
Roma — Foreign films don’t win this category much, but Roma is one a roll.  Mexican Director Alfonso Cuaron is winning every award so far and the only question is whether his film can take Best Picture the way Life is Beautiful did.  Beautifully constructed and shot in black and white, Roma not only tells a story about the life of a servant who cares for a well-to-do, dysfunctional family, it would allow the Academy to send a political message about the “real” people of Mexico rather than the Trumpian view of rapists, drug smugglers, etc.  This has a real shot though it is not the Best Picture.
Green Book — My favorite film of the year, Green Book tells a true unknown story about an African-American musician who tours the south in the early ’60s along with his hand-picked, bigoted body guard.  The best “buddy flick” in years, Green Book features otherworldly performances by both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, both of whom were nominated for Oscars.  Timely in the age of Trump, it is a story of redemption and bravery, changing attitudes and hypocrisy.
Voting for this category is different than any other.  First, all of the Academy members vote unlike most of the others.  This means that actors dominate because 75-80 percent of all members are in the actor’s wing.  Next, voters rank their choices rather than vote for just one nominee.  The votes are then divided by the top picks.  It one film get 50% of the vote, it wins.  But that may never happen.  If not, the movie getting the fewest first-place votes is eliminated and those ballots are moved to those voters’ second choices.  This goes on until one film gets 50% of the vote.  As a result, the movie that is most “loved” may not win Best Picture.
If I had a vote, here is how I would have ranked the films:
Green Book
Bohemian Rhapsody
A Star Is Born
The Favourite
Black Panther

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant) – Melissa McCarthy is one of America’s most liked actresses.  Known mostly for her zany roles in TV’s Gilmore Girls and later in movies like The Heat, Spy, Tammy and Bridesmaids (for which she was nominated for an Academy Award), McCarthy often returns to TV, most notably portraying Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live.  She stretched out to a more serious role in St. Vincent with Bill Murray, the actor whose early career looked most like hers. Both are the absolute best at playing serious parts with comedic overtones and that glint in their eyes that signals the audience that the comedian is still underneath the surface.


Can You Forgive Me? Is an exceptional small film based on the true story of Lee Israel, a semi-successful author whose career tanked after writing a couple of biographies.  McCarthy plays Lee as a pathetic, desperate, blocked writer who just needs a good idea and a break to jump back onto the best seller’s list.  She possesses virtually no social skills.  No friends.  A rotting apartment.  An agent (Jane Curtin – great to see her) who won’t return her calls.  Sounds like the author version of Tootsie but this isn’t a comedy.


McCarthy finds refuge in forgery when she accidentally finds a copy of a letter from Fanny Brice.  She sells it for some money to treat her ailing cat but then realizes that she can combine her writing skills with her desperation to create fake documents for money.  Surprisingly, there is a vibrant market for such letters.  Lee prospers … until she doesn’t.  When she finds out that she is being investigated, she turns to a new drinking buddy, Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), a gay Brit who seemingly has no job but who is terminally entertaining.  Jack becomes her courier and proves to be amazingly adept at getting even more money for the forgeries.  That works right up to the time that it doesn’t.


Lee and Jack are losers and loners in a world full of them.  They have nothing but they have each other.  Even that isn’t enduring for reasons you’ll find out.


Can You Forgive Me? is a really good independent film with first-rate performances.  Both McCarthy and Grant grabbed Oscar nominations even though the movie did not.  It is the sleeper movie of the year if you don’t count the foreign film, Roma.  By all means, find this gem.  (It is not playing in many theaters, but you can find it on Amazon Prime for $14.99.)

The Favourite

The Favourite (Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz) – Because I am not a fan of British period pieces, I didn’t want to see The Favourite despite good reviews and even though it starred two of my favorites in Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.  But when it was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, I felt an obligation to go.


Well, Rachel and Emma are wonderful, both playing cool, complicated and conniving characters. Both actresses are Oscar winners, and both are nominated for Supporting Actress for this film.  Incidentally, this is the third movie in five years starring Emma Stone to be nominated for Best Picture (Birdman, La La Land).


Olivia Colman is forever memorable as the sickly, mad, and enigmatic Queen Anne.  The monarch is complicated, repressed, demanding, infantile, uncertain, and sexually involved with Lady Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Weisz).  Through her influence over Anne, Sarah basically runs the country and exerts her considerable influence over the British government during its current war with France.  While her husband is serving in the war, Sarah placates and cares for Anne either out of duty or love; we aren’t sure.


When the queen’s disgraced distant cousin, Abagail (Stone), arrives, everything changes.  Abagail, relegated to the kitchen, wants to redeem herself and be a Lady again.  She impresses Sarah when she concocts an herbal salve to ease Anne’s pain following a bad case of gout. Soon, she is helping the queen in more ways than one, ingratiating herself and scheming to replace Sarah.


The Favourite is carried by these three female outstanding performers.  Unlike most films of this period, the roles are reversed with dominant female characters, rendering the male characters somewhere between irrelevant and subservient.  The film is helmed by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose most notable film was 2015’s The Lobster, which featured Weisz and Colman. The Favourite couldn’t be further from The Lobster but, in its way, it is just as creative.  The costume and production design are fabulous, almost certainly award worthy.  The dialogue is witty, a touch boorish, occasionally stiff, and always snappy.


But sometimes great components don’t add up to a great movie.  This is one of those times.  The Favourite is not one of my favorites of the year.  The story is contrived and somewhat predictable.  The sets overwhelm the screen.  The film never seems to hit a consistent stride.  In some ways, this plays like a sex farce.  I half expected them to break into song like a Monty Python film.  That would have been welcome.


When the film finishes with unreadable credits due to the inexplicable type faces and treatments Lanthimos uses throughout the movie, I was just glad it was over.  Of the eight Best Picture nominees, this is near the bottom of my list.

Black Panther

Black Panther (Chadwick Bozeman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman) – There is a reason I don’t go to comic book movies.  They are all the same.  I have seen the Superman movies, the Batman movies, Dick Tracy, and even one of the Iron Man films.  That is enough.  D.C. Comics and Marvel have made way more money from these movies than they ever made from the sale of comic books.


Black Panther is apparently unique among these in part because the cast is overwhelmingly African American.  The cast is exceptional.  Chaz Bozeman is one of the great talents among actors today.  Lupita Nyong’o is far more than another pretty actress in Hollywood.  Daniel Kaluuya was fantastic in Get Out and will be a star for years to come.  It’s too bad that they are wasting their considerable talents in a super-hero, animation-driven, computer graphics-burdened film.


I know, I know: these are the movies that kids pay to see.  At $1.3 billion in box office receipts, Black Panther is more than a hit.  It is a mega-spectacular.  And who am I to denigrate this genre of film?  I am pleased that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has established an entire category of awards for such movies. They deserve their category.  After all, they are among the most expensive to make.  They employ thousands of people.  They give God knows how many actors jobs.  And most of all, they showcase the technological advances that define our world today even though they are rapidly killing independent films.


Black Panther is entertaining for most.  It put me to sleep 15 minutes in.  There is our hero (Bozeman) who is designated king.  There’s a challenger who loses; another one that wins.  Our hero is saved.  His enemies are vanquished.  There are chases and more chases; battles and more battles. Truth and justice prevail. To its credit, the movie showcases almost as many females as male warriors.  The film proves that audiences will show up regardless of race or gender.  But substitute Ant Man, Spiderman, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, or a dozen others and it is all the same.  Formula, formula, formula.


Whether Black Panther should have been nominated for Best Picture is a really fine question.  If Black Panther, why not a whole lot of its predecessors?  I think it has to do with image and ratings! The Academy Awards has been losing viewers for years.  The explosion of other awards shows has rendered the most important among them as anti-climactic.  With the actresses and other dignitaries showing up at all of the other events, the Oscars have been rendered just another fashion show.  And then there was the rampant lack of representation of minorities that threatened the Academy.  And then, there was Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey et al.  And this year, it is Kevin Hart.


What does this have to do with Black Panther?  It is the breakthrough: the first super-hero film to be nominated for Best Picture.  Avatar proved that graphic-heavy, technology-driven films could be worthy of Oscar nods, but Black Panther proves that computer-laden art is now driving Hollywood.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody (Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, Tom Hollander) – Queen was a rock band that is perfectly emblematic of the era between the singer/songwriter and disco ‘70s and the glam and slam music of the ‘90s.  Freddie Mercury rounded Queen into an eclectic, unpredictable force that transcended hard rock and pop.  He and his bandmates produced hits and anthems that were equally hard rock and lyrical ballads.


Bohemian Rhapsody feels more like The Doors than Jersey Boys.  It tells the story of an iconic band with exceptional performances. No attempt is made to duplicate Queen’s sound because all of the songs are expertly lip synched.  The good news is that we hear Queen unvarnished.


Rami Malek is mesmerizing as Mercury, the mercurial outsider whose sexual proclivities and onstage presence often overshadowed his musical genius.  By no means was Mercury the only talent in Queen.  Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) were both outstanding musicians (they were among the producers of the film).  More importantly, they were committed to breaking musical barriers and experiment with different musical genres.  Malek, with a little help from prosthetics, embodies Mercury.  Loving, obsessive, excessive, effeminate, theatrical and reckless, Malek’s Mercury dominates every scene.


Director Bryan Singer, who is drawing headlines for two decades of sexual misconduct rather than this excellent film, explores Mercury’s relationship with his parents, his bandmates, his soulmate (played exquisitely by Lucy Boynton), and various partners.  He gives us glimpses into the origin of such classics as We Are The Champions, Another One Bites The Dust, Somebody to Love, Love of My Life, We Will Rock You and, of course, Bohemian Rhapsody.  As with many of my favorite films, this one is a flashback.  We start and end at the famous Live Aid concert for Africa in 1985 at which Queen performed.


I wish I had seen this movie before now.  It truly belongs in the discussion of Best Picture.  It is easily one of the best films of the year.  Malek’s performance makes him the frontrunner for best lead actor.  The fact that he doesn’t sing as Mercury may hurt his chances but probably not.  As good as Bradley Cooper is (and it’s a very impressive performance); as great as Christian Bale captures Dick Cheney (it is uncanny in both mannerism and voice); Malek is incredible.  Having won an Emmy for Mr. Robot, Malek doesn’t fit any acting stereotype.  His casting here is inspired.  His performance is transformative.


If you love the music of Queen, do see this film.  If you don’t, see this film.  It deserved the Golden Globe Awards it won.


Roma (Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira) — Alfonso Cuaron is one of the most highly acclaimed international directors and writers, having won Best Director for Gravity and having been nominated for Academy Awards in the writing and adapted screenplay categories for that film and Y tu mama Tambien.  The first Mexican and Hispanic-winning director in Oscar history, he weaves a slow-moving tapestry about a maid and the upper middle-class family she serves in the Roma section of Mexico City circa 1970.


Essentially, we spend a year with Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a shy, efficient domestic who is beloved by the family’s children.  She, her sister and mother have served the family for years with all of the good and bad such familiarity breeds.  The husband/father, a physician, is rarely around, and we subsequently find out he is about to leave permanently.  The mother, Sofia (Marina de Tavira), one of the worst drivers in history, is loving but distraught about her husband’s departure.  She treats Cleo alternately as a daughter and a servant, often depending on her mood.


As we follow Cleo, we see the bustling, less affluent part of Mexico City.  We learn she has a boyfriend who is obsessed with martial arts as evidenced by a scene where he demonstrates his training skills with a curtain rod while standing completely nude in front of Cleo in an almost primal mating ritual (it was this scene that gave the film its R rating).


When Cleo realizes that she is pregnant, the movie’s pace moves from glacial to meandering.  Fearing she will be fired, Cleo tells Sofia in a really touching scene where Sofia becomes maternal toward her young servant.  Cleo heads out to find the father, which turns out to be a bad idea.  Sophia finally tells the kids about their father’s mysterious absence.  And at the denouement, Cleo is rushed to the hospital when her water breaks prematurely.


What makes Roma stand out among all the foreign language films produced in 2018 are the things most moviegoers ignore: photography, sound and art direction.  Shot all in black-and-white, the camera techniques strike me as very special.  The sounds are very natural, thus very un-movie-like.  From the opening sequence of a tile floor with occasional water splashing to the closing credits with natural sounds as we stare at the sky, the film strikes me less as a great cinematic achievement than a well-made, human story.  Gaining 10 Oscar nominations, including all of those technical categories as well as  acting nominations for both women, for director, writing and best picture, Roma is not particularly special.  Also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, it ought to win that category but be an also-ran for Best Picture.  It is presented in Spanish with English subtitles.


Finally, please note that Roma is a Netflix production so you won’t find it in theaters.  Like Mudbound last year, Roma establishes a new tradition of non-traditional films making it into Oscar consideration despite only being available for home viewing.  This also raises a question I posed earlier this year about what makes a movie a movie.  Apparently, it isn’t that you have to go to a theater to see it any longer.