Streaming Picks: April 2020

While I originally had intended to come back next week with a special post, I decided to end my sabbatical a little early to bring y’all some streaming picks, seeing as many of us are still quarantined. Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter, where I’ve been sharing a recommendation each day.

Top Picks
The Death of Stalin – Netflix 4/1
Parasite – Hulu 4/8
The Lighthouse – Prime 4/16

All three of these recent movies have some pitch-black humor running through them, despite also being about death and battles for supremacy. The former is Armando Iannucci’s brilliant satire of Soviet politics (but really about all politics) that’s as disturbing as it is hilarious.

Then, Hulu has the perfect birthday gift for me in the form of Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar winning masterpiece. It was one of the rare times the actual best movie of the year won Best Picture. And also might have been the last good thing to happen in 2020.

And if you want something perfect for your quarantine viewing: Robert Eggers’ follow-up to The Witch is a claustrophobic, madness-driven story of two lighthouse keepers and their head games. Turn off all the lights and get lost in the story.

Recent Selections
Hotel Artemis – Prime 4/1
Trapped: The Alex Cooper Story – Hulu 4/1
Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter – Hulu 4/1
Who Let the Dogs Out – Hulu 4/1
Angel Has Fallen – Netflix 4/4
Little Joe – Hulu 4/9
Les Misérables – Prime 4/10
Rambo: Last Blood – Prime 4/10
Vault – Hulu and Prime 4/14
Cunningham – Hulu 4/23
Abominable – Hulu 4/24

Coffee & Kareem – Netflix 4/3
Invisible Life – Prime 4/3
Money Heist: The Phenomenon – Netflix 4/3
L.A. Originals – Netflix 4/10
La vie scolaire – Netflix 4/10
Love Wedding Repeat – Netflix 4/10
The Main Event – Netflix 4/10
Tigertail – Netflix 4/10
Betonrausch – Netflix 4/17
Earth and Blood – Netflix 4/17
Legado en los huesos – Netflix 4/17
Sergio – Netflix 4/17
Selah and the Spades – Prime 4/17
Circus of Books – Netflix 4/22
El silencio del pantano – Netflix 4/22
The Plagues of Breslau – Netflix 4/22
The Willoughbys – Netflix 4/22
Extraction – Netflix 4/24
A Secret Love – Netflix 4/29
Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story – Netflix 4/29
Dangerous Lies – Netflix 4/30
Rich in Love – Netflix 4/30
The King: Eternal Monarch – Netflix TBD

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Blogging Sabbatical 2020

Few but Faithful Readers:

After writing so much about the best pop culture of the 2010s and 2019, and the Oscars of 1999, 2009 and 2019, I’m a little exhausted.

So I’m going to take a little break. Starting today, I won’t be posting any regular weekly coverage, including What I Watched This Week. I also don’t plan on posting anything of any sort until possibly around my birthday, when I’ll be dropping a long-delayed column on the best films of 1999.

Until then, you can follow me on Twitter (@kipjmooney), where I’ll still be letting my thoughts run free. And be sure to check out my work at College Movie Review and Central Track.

Thanks for your readership and support.

Kip Mooney

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Oscar Re-Do: 1999

Now that I’m far enough away from the years when I was growing up (*gulp*), here’s a little bonus to go along with my annual column. Winners in bold, then we break it down.

Al Pacino and Russell Crowe in The Insider
American Beauty
The Cider House Rules
The Green Mile
The Insider
The Sixth Sense

Should have won: The Insider
Not even nominated: Magnolia

While at the time it seemed to capture the suburban ennui of the ’90s, American Beauty has, for a variety of reasons, not aged very well. While 1999 is now widely accepted as the best single year for modern cinema, the Oscars at the time did a terrible job of capturing the depth and breadth of such an outstanding year from the smallest indie (The Blair Witch Project) to the enormous spectacle of The Phantom Menace. Part of my desire for chaos would love to see what would have happened had The Sixth Sense, a top-notch supernatural thriller from M. Night Shyamalan would have dominated the Oscars like it dominated the late-summer box office. Would his path have been the same? Making three more excellent genre films, then going to directors jail for four consecutive duds, then returning to his roots with low-budget horror? That’s an all-time great what-if. But after revisiting it, I have no choice but to give Best Picture to The Insider. The Oscars have flocked to docudramas and biopics, particularly in the last 25 years. If there’s an important topic or historical figure, rest assured they will get a movie, often a poorly written but well-acted one. But The Insider blows them all out of the water. There’s something about the urgency of the film and showing the human cost of doing the right thing that makes the ones that followed look like mere book reports.

But I could easily replace the entire line-up here, and my top choice remains Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnificent collection of interlinked stories about Angelenos searching for connection and redemption. Yes, it’s extremely long and frequently tips into the absurd, but it’s one of the most moving films I’ve ever seen and the ultimate example of an auteur-driven film that 20 years later would be almost impossible to get made.

Michael Mann and Russell Crowe on the set of The Insider
Sam Mendes, American Beauty
Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich
Lasse Hallström, The Cider House Rules
Michael Mann, The Insider
M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense

Should have won: Michael Mann
Not even nominated: The Wachowskis, The Matrix

Michael Mann has been one of our finest craftsmen of entertainment for decades, yet this was his only Oscar nomination. I’d go one step further and give him the award, too. Not just for making such incredible films as Manhunter and The Last of the Mohicans, but for turning Jeffrey Wigand’s story into such a gripping thriller.

But none of the men nominated here compare to the vision and command of the Wachowskis, whose first Matrix film still blows minds two decades later. The film did clean up on Oscar night though, winning in all four of its nominated categories (Sound, Sound Effects Editing, Film Editing and Visual Effects).

Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story
Russell Crowe, The Insider
Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story
Sean Penn, Sweet and Lowdown
Kevin Spacey, American Beauty
Denzel Washington, The Hurricane

Should have won: Richard Farnsworth
Not even nominated: Matt Damon, The Talented Mr. Ripley

By now, we all know about the horrifying allegations against Kevin Spacey (and the even more troubling fallout), so let’s just agree to rescind that award. (Even without that, he’s still not the most deserving actor in this category.) While Denzel remains Denzel, and Penn is fine in an unremarkable Woody Allen movie, it’s really between Russell Crowe (to whom I’ve already given an Oscar) and Richard Farnsworth, the heart and soul of David Lynch’s utterly sincere and lovely The Straight Story. A stuntman for decades before he started doing more substantial roles, his final film is one of the most profound reflections of age and regret I’ve ever seen. The movie doesn’t work if he’s not as believable and likable as he is.

I’d swap out Penn for Matt Damon, a multiple nominee who’s somehow still taken for granted. As the titular con artist, he’s a mess of contradictions. He’s cold-blooded, yet driven by a desire to be loved. An incredible liar who’s most effective when he’s telling the truth. A nobody who wields more power than if he was a “real somebody.” It’s one of the most remarkable performances of the year.

Annette Bening in American Beauty
Annette Bening, American Beauty
Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds
Julianne Moore, The End of the Affair
Meryl Streep, Music of the Heart
Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry

Should have won: Annette Bening
Not even nominated: Reese Witherspoon, Election

I certainly don’t have anything against Hilary Swank, who’s doing great work in an extremely difficult film. (And, for what it’s worth, would not be asked to play that same role 20 years later.) But there’s something dead wrong about Annette Bening not having an Oscar. Her work in American Beauty is hardly my favorite performance by her (that would be 20th Century Women, for which she wasn’t even nominated), but she’s doing layered work in a script that keeps trying to make her a one-dimensional bitch.

And I love Meryl Streep, but Music of the Heart is easily her most forgettable film. I’d swap her out for Reese Witherspoon, making a name for herself as Tracy Flick, the ultra-driven straight-A student going up against the machinations of high school politics. It’s a star-making turn, edged out for so-so performances from great actresses.

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My Dream Oscar Ballot 2020

Once again, I’m going off the Academy’s eligibility lists, so several movies I would have considered for some awards aren’t represented here. I’ve also seen too few animated, foreign language and documentary films to fill out those categories, so I’m abstaining. So enjoy my much-improved lists from the Academy’s nominees.

Give Me Liberty
The Irishman
Knives Out
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once upon a Time… in Hollywood
Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Sam Mendes, 1917
Greta Gerwig, Little Women
Quentin Tarantino, Once upon a Time… in Hollywood
Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Céline Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once upon a Time… in Hollywood
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name
Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems

Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Lupita Nyong’o, Us
Florence Pugh, Midsommar
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

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Oscar Guide 2020

A shortened season hasn’t brought many surprises, but that doesn’t mean you should take many of these picks to the bank.

Dean Charles Chapman and George Mackay in 1917
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once upon a Time… in Hollywood

Will win: 1917
Could and should win: Parasite
Should have been here: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

The skinny: With wins at BAFTA, the PGAs, the DGAs, and the Golden Globes, 1917 is basically a lock. While Parasite did win the top prize at SAG (where it didn’t compete against 1917) and has a near-universal approval rating, do you honestly think the same Academy that gave Green Book Best Picture last year is going to turn around and give a foreign language film the top prize? I would love to see it, but it would be an enormous shock. They should have gone even further and nominated another foreign language film, but Portrait of a Lady on Fire sadly didn’t get love anywhere.

Sam Mendes on the set of 1917
Sam Mendes, 1917
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Todd Phillips, Joker
Quentin Tarantino, Once upon a Time… in Hollywood
Bong Joon Ho, Parasite

Will win: Sam Mendes
Could and should win: Bong Joon Ho
Should have been here: Greta Gerwig, Little Women

The skinny: Even when I initially thought Once upon a Time… in Hollywood would win, and even when I thought there might be a path for Parasite to shock the world, I always thought Mendes would pick up his second Oscar here. A DGA win confirms it. Still can’t believe Todd Phillips got nominated here, especially when Little Women is 10 times the film Joker is, but here we are.

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once upon a Time… in Hollywood
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

Will win: Joaquin Phoenix
Could and should win: Adam Driver
Should have been here: Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems

The skinny: I don’t think a big Joker sweep is possible, despite it leading in nominations. But this is a definite lock. Phoenix is long overdue, and he’s the best part of this dreadful movie. I’ll just pretend it’s a win for The Master instead. And most of the Academy was never going anywhere near a movie as wild as Uncut Gems, so I wasn’t that surprised Adam Sandler’s name wasn’t called.

Renée Zellweger in Judy
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renée Zellweger, Judy

Will win: Renée Zellweger
Could and should win: Saoirse Ronan
Should have been here: Lupita Nyong’o, Us

The skinny: This has seemingly been locked up since August, when Judy premiered at Telluride. But if any category is due for a shake-up, it’s this one. Unfortunately, the year’s best performance wasn’t even nominated, as Lupita was ignored. But picking who could upset here is extremely difficult. If it’s anyone else, I think it’s Saoirse Ronan, already on her fourth nomination. But it could also be Scarlett Johansson, giving her best performance to date in Marriage Story. (Though double nominees have often struck out as of late.)

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Oscar Re-Do: 2009

You know the drill. Winners in bold, then we break it down.

Eli Roth in Inglourious Basterds
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

Should have won: Inglourious Basterds
Not even nominated: The White Ribbon

“I think this might just be my masterpiece.” It’s a huge flex to end your film that way, but Tarantino was pretty much right on the money. I prefer Jackie Brown, but it’s hard to argue with this revisionist take on World War II. It’s horrifying, hilarious and has so many scenes that make me downright giddy that I’m amazed I didn’t rank this at No. 1 back in the day. There are some other very good films here (including the winner), along with some head-scratching choices (a guarantee given the expanded slate), but this is clearly the winner of 2009.

But I don’t know how there were 10 slots available and they gave one to The Blind Side when The White Ribbon was right there. Obviously, the former is a lot more pleasant to watch. But it’s not even in the same league as Michael Haneke’s black-and-white horror show about a village of the damned (spoiler: the kids grow up to be Nazis). Sadly, it continues to be relevant.

Kathryn Bigelow on the set of The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels, Precious
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Tom Ford, A Single Man

While I would have loved a Tarantino victory (which may never come), the historical importance of Kathryn Bigelow’s win here is too much to make a case against. She was already a stellar director, and only the fourth woman to ever be nominated here. It was a long overdue achievement, even if her best film was yet to come.

And while I’m not a fan of Precious as a whole, I won’t quibble with Lee Daniels’ nomination here. (Somehow, he was only the second African-American nominated in this category.) But if there was room, I would have wanted to see first-timer (and fashion designer) Tom Ford nominated for his lovely, powerful adaptation of A Single Man.

Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Matt Damon, The Informant!

I had long believed Firth and Bridges should have swapped Oscar wins, with Bridges winning for True Grit. But with a decade of perspective, I can’t quite defend that. Bridges’ turn as Bad Blake in Crazy Heart is more than just a career achievement award. That role embodies what makes Bridges great: a flawed but big-hearted non-conformist. He makes mistakes but owns up to them too.

I’d remove Morgan Freeman’s Oscar bait-y turn as Nelson Mandela in Clint Eastwood’s bland Invictus (along with Damon’s own nomination as Supporting Actor) and slot him in here for his outstanding work in Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! As Mark Whitacre, a seemingly straight-arrow corporate man blowing the whistle on his own company, he’s transfixing, especially when he’s clearly not in control of his own brain.

Gabourey Sidibe in Precious
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Should have won: Gabourey Sidibe
Not even nominated: Alison Lohman, Drag Me to Hell

I’d argue it’s basically impossible not to like Sandra Bullock. She’s basically the female Tom Hanks, a reliable actor who’s so delightful, it’s easy to overlook her duds. And while she’s easily the best part of The Blind Side, the most Southern White Christian mainstream movie to ever exist, it’s hard to compare that charm offensive to the brutal, gripping work of newcomer Gabourey Sidibe. While Mo’Nique rightly got a lot of acclaim as the world’s worst mother, Sidibe is the reason the film works (when it’s not speeding at 100mph into melodrama). She’s absolutely heartbreaking as the teen mom and victim of relentless abuse from both parents, making us hope for escape right along with her.

It would have never happened in a million years, but if the Academy gave a damn about horror movies, it couldn’t have ignored Alison Lohman’s tremendous turn in Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell. If she hadn’t voluntarily left the industry, she could have had a great career as a scream queen. She’s terrific here as the loan officer pressured to be ruthless, earning a curse for her unkindness. If only the people who caused the financial crisis were similarly punished.

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What I Watched This Week: 26 Jan 2020

The Outsider – “Que Viene el Coco” (A-)
Even without gruesome violence, this episode is the most unsettling yet, because all the stories about boogeymen are real. The plot similarities to It Follows are fine considering that’s one of the best horror stories of the last decade. King’s spin (with Price’s dialogue) is even more sinister.

Curb Your Enthusiasm – “Side Sitting” (B)
Had some pacing issues. (There’s something to be said for a tight 28 minutes vs. a meandering 36.) But it still had me in stitches, even as it was skirting up to the line of of insensitivity.

Schitt’s Creek – “Maid of Honor” (A-)
An episode that truly had it all, even if the Stevie-Alexis storyline was the only one with any emotional heft. But back-to-back references to John Carter and The Love Guru made this one of my favorites.

The Good Place – “Whenever You’re Ready” (A) / series finale
A truly satisfying wrap-up to this show and these characters I loved so deeply. There were some perfect echoes of the show’s first season in the endings for Jason and Michael, and Chidi’s monologue about waves in the ocean just absolutely wrecked me. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to this show, but it was the right time for it to leave.

Grace and Frankie – Season 6 (B+ average)
A bit of an improvement from a hit-or-miss Season 5, as almost every character matured in mostly believable ways. That finale dropped a lot of cliffhangers to be resolved in its final season, but they didn’t do anything to diminish my anticipation.

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Streaming Picks: February 2020

Top Picks
Good Time – Netflix 2/11
The Farewell – Prime 2/12
The Last Thing He Wanted – Netflix 2/21
Mister America – Hulu 2/13
For those whose first introduction to the Safdies was Uncut Gems, might I suggest this even wilder film that preceded it? It’s also about a man who keeps pushing his luck further than it can possibly go, and it resulted in Robert Pattinson’s best performance to date.

The Farewell is Lulu Wang’s delicate, devastating and often hilarious family drama that was ignored by the Academy. It’s terrific, but might be a little raw to watch right now if you (like me) have recently lost a family member.

I’ve been anticipating Dee Rees’ follow-up to Mudbound for a while now, but a February release date gives me a little bit of pause since it was long thought of as an awards contender. Still hoping for great things in this thriller about a reporter (Anne Hathaway) tracking an arms dealer, her dad (Willem Dafoe).

And while On Cinema at the Cinema is not to everyone’s taste, Mister America is an often hilarious spin-off of that show, with Tim Heidecker trying to take his con artist character into the biggest con of all: politics. It doesn’t exactly have anything profound to say about our system, but it’s an interesting alternate history where a complete buffoon who got into a race out of pettiness was instantly laughed out of the room.

Recent Selections
Adam – Hulu 2/1
Ms. Purple – Hulu 2/1
Where We Go from Here – Hulu 2/2
A Madea Family Funeral – Hulu and Prime 2/2
Jallikattu – Prime 2/2
Faith, Hope & Love – Netflix 2/4
#cats_the_mewvie – Netflix 2/5
Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story – Netflix 2/5
Angel of Mine – Hulu 2/6
David Crosby: Remember My Name – Hulu 2/6
Wrinkles the Clown – Hulu 2/6
The Ballad of Lefty Brown – Netflix 2/7
Alive – Hulu and Prime 2/9
Polaroid – Netflix 2/9
Q Ball – Netflix 2/11
Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Hulu 2/12
Racetime – Hulu 2/14
Radioflash – Hulu 2/14
Villains – Hulu 2/14
Danger Close – Prime 2/15
47 Meters Down: Uncaged – Prime 2/16
Ice Princess Lily – Prime 2/21
Girl on the Third Floor – Netflix 2/22
Full Count – Netflix 2/23
Every Time I Die – Netflix 2/25
Run the Race – Hulu and Prime 2/25
The Angry Birds Movie 2 – Netflix 2/27
After the Wedding – Hulu 2/28

Sordo – Netflix 2/3
Honey Boy – Prime 2/7
Horse Girl – Netflix 2/7
The Coldest Game – Netflix 2/8
Camino a Roma – Netflix 2/11
To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You – Netflix 2/12
Isi & Ossi – Netflix 2/14
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon – Netflix 2/14
System Crasher – Netflix 2/21
Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution – Netflix 2/27
All the Bright Places – Netflix 2/28
La trinchera infinita – Netflix 2/28

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2019 in Review: Box Office Report

SURE-FIRE HITS – The Kings of the Box Office (All Disney Edition)
Avengers: Endgame ($858.3 million)
The Lion King ($543.6 million)
Toy Story 4 ($434 million)
Captain Marvel ($426.8 million)

SURPRISE SUCCESSES – They got there through word-of-mouth or succeeded where others failed
Us ($175 million)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ($141 million)
*Knives Out ($115.7 million)
*Hustlers ($104.9 million)

CONSOLATION PRIZES – Didn’t do so hot here, but made up for it overseas
Hobbs & Shaw ($173.8 million) – made $585.1 million outside North America
Detective Pikachu ($144.1 million) – made $287.6 million outside North America
Alita: Battle Angel ($85.7 million) – made $319.1 million outside North America
The Wandering Earth ($5.8 million) – made $693.8 million outside North America

DISAPPOINTMENTS – Movies that should have done better
The Secret Life of Pets 2 ($158.2 million) – previous film made $368.3 million
Godzilla: King of the Monsters ($110.5 million) – previous film made $200.6 million
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($105.8 million) – previous film made $257.7 million
The Angry Birds Movie 2 ($41.6 million) – previous film made $107.5 million

FLOPPIEST FLOPS – These cost a lot and didn’t come close to returning their investment
Dumbo ($114.5 million) – cost $170 million
Dark Phoenix ($65.8 million) – budget not reported, but possibly as much as $200 million
The Goldfinch ($5.3 million) – cost $45 million
Lucy in the Sky ($319,976) – cost $27 million

LOW-BUDGET VICTORIES – Low-cost, high-yield successes
Escape Room ($57 million) – cost $9 million
The Curse of La Llorona ($54.7 million) – cost $9 million
Ma ($45.3 million) – cost $5 million
Overcomer – ($34.7 million) cost $5 million

Doctor Sleep made $180 million less than It: Chapter Two.

(all grosses through Dec. 31, 2019)
*still in release

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2019 in Review: The Best Performances – Film

It was a stellar year for film acting, even if only one of these performances was nominated for an Academy Award.

Ensemble in a Comedy

The cast of Knives Out
Knives Out
As epic a cast as has ever been assembled for a murder mystery, each member of the Thrombey family is evil in their own way, even if they’d like to think they’re not as bad as the others. Anchored by outsiders Daniel Craig (hamming it up) and Ana de Armas (giving her best performance to date), the cast keeps each of their greedy morons frighteningly human.

Actor in a Comedy

Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name
Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name
Murphy has had a lot of great comedic turns over the years, but none of his creations were as deeply felt as his interpretation of Rudy Ray Moore. Larger than life but still deeply human, he makes you laugh, but also touches your heart in his vulnerable scenes.

Actress in a Comedy

Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron, Long Shot
While she got all the acclaim for her sympathetic portrayal of Megyn Kelly in Bombshell, she’s much better in Jonathan Levine’s political rom-com as the driven Secretary of State finally letting her guard down and falling in love with a jaded reporter (Seth Rogen).

Supporting Actor in a Comedy

Brad Pitt in Once upon a Time in Hollywood
Brad Pitt, Once upon a Time in Hollywood
It’s hard to believe anyone who looks like Brad Pitt would ever get “left behind,” yet a man of 50 who looks better than most of us ever will is completely convincing as an ex-stuntman whose best years are long behind him, but has found some sort of zen anyway.

Supporting Actress in a Comedy

Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers
Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
Her introduction, set to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” is among the best for any character in recent years. Your eyes are glued to her from then on, as she burns through roles from scene to scene: mentor, mother hen, ringleader and finally destroyer. She’s never been better, but hopefully more filmmakers give her parts that let her show what’s she’s capable of.

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