Oscar Picks: 15 Nov 2018

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born
The Favourite
First Man
Green Book
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star Is Born

Falling off: None
Rising star: Black Panther
The skinny: Though Green Book will come on strong after its Thanksgiving opening, right now it’s A Star Is Born that’s firmly in the lead. (Though to be fair, only it and First Man have opened.) With close to $200 million in domestic gross, strong critical support and the added benefit of being “the kind of movie they don’t make anymore,” it’s the one to beat. I’m still skeptical on Black Panther‘s chances. Yes, the demographics are changing. Yes, Logan got a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination last year. But that and more than a billion dollars in box office don’t mean it’s a sure thing.

Alfonso Cuarón on the set of Roma
Damien Chazelle, First Man
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Steve McQueen, Widows

Falling off: None
Rising star: Peter Farrelly, Green Book
The skinny: Bradley Cooper’s name is already etched on the DGA’s Best First Feature Award, but winning Best Director might be a bigger challenge, at least against these heavyweights. Though Jenkins and McQueen have yet to win, right now I think it’s Cuarón who has the edge, since Roma is a labor of love, in which he served as his own DP. You’re going to hear that detail a lot. But if Green Book is as big a hit as expected, a Farrelly brother might be nominated for multiple Oscars. Did a shiver just go down your spine?

Christian Bale in Vice
Christian Bale, Vice
Steve Carell, Beautiful Boy
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Ryan Gosling, First Man
Lucas Hedges, Boy Erased

Falling off: Timothée Chalamet (moved to supporting), Willem Dafoe
Rising star: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
The skinny: Christian Bale has completed another transformation. He and Cooper are locks, but no one else is guaranteed. This is the most competitive Best Actor race in a long time, so who knows who the other three will be. It could even be Rami Malek. He’s already an Emmy winner for Mr. Robot, and could be the lone Oscar nomination for Bohemian Rhapsody, a successful but disrespected biopic.

Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Viola Davis, Widows
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Felicity Jones, On the Basis of Sex
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Falling off: None
Rising star: Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place or Mary Poppins Returns
The skinny: I feel pretty confident in this slate, even though Paramount will make a pretty big push for A Quiet Place, which is a bit insane to me. If Emily Blunt can’t get nominated for Sicario, I don’t think she’ll get nominated for her other works this year, even if there are corollaries (Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark and Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins).

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What I Watched This Week: 4 Nov 2018

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Mac Finds His Pride” (B+) / season finale
It’s hard to know exactly how to grade this episode. Until its last act, it’s an odd mix of heartfelt character development and gross sight gags that don’t serve any purpose (and aren’t that funny). But its finale – a gorgeous, totally serious five-minute dance with Mac and an actual ballerina – is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen on TV, and not just this year. It’s a finale as jaw-dropping in its sudden left turn to the profound as Blackadder‘s last-ever episode.

The Good Place – “The Worst Possible Use of Free Will” (B+)
Ah, the fake clip show. Clever comedies know how to pull this off, because actual clip shows are the worst. Eleanor learns about her and Chidi’s romance during one of the reboots, which she brushes off as being pre-determined by Michael’s control of the Good Place. But it’s really to dismiss her feelings of vulnerability. It’s another emotional episode, getting to the core of why these characters are the way they are, and it’s something the show can only pull off having done so much great work leading up to this point. Plus, a new garbage state to mock: Arizona!

Homecoming – Season 1 (A- average)
Sam Esmail brings all his directorial tricks to a more complex and emotionally involving story. Julia Roberts makes her TV-star debut in an excellent drama that takes a couple episodes to get you used to its rhythms and style. But once it does, it’s an engrossing thriller that often intentionally messes with your head, leading to something familiar but totally different. (It also helped that I never listened to the podcast on which its based. I genuinely had no idea where it was headed.)

House of Cards – Season 6 (B average)
Thanks to Kevin Spacey being a horrible person, we’re denied the proper ending for this show. This delayed, abbreviated season tries to make the most of it, but even with Claire at the forefront, it dies as it lived: absurd, addictive, and never living up to its full potential.

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What I Watched This Week: 28 Oct 2018

This Is Us – “Kamsahamnida” (A-)
The sneaky great thing about this show is when it feels the most like traditional TV, where plot points occur just to fill time in an episode, is that there’s always a larger emotional point that’s they’re trying to make. And now that they’ve gotten more graceful in their metaphors, and the Big Three have more confidence, they almost all land now.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “The Gang Wins the Big Game” (B-)
As comedy, this is a disappointing episode. “The World Series Defense” this is not. But as a tribute to the other dirtbags of Philadelphia, finally getting a big win, it’s almost touching.

The Good Place – “A Fractured Inheritance” (A-)
Some have called this episode disjointed, but I’ll be damned if this episode didn’t get me choked up. I really wasn’t expecting this season to reckon with the ways we’re our parents’ children – or how much our flaws are a mix of their raising and our failure to fix them.

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Streaming Picks: November 2018

Top Picks
The Adventures of Tintin – Prime 11/1
eXistenZ – Hulu 11/1
The Other Side of the Wind/They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead – Netflix 11/2
The first two are underrated gems from the well-regarded careers of Steven Spielberg and David Cronenberg, respectively. The Adventures of Tintin is sadly the only chapter in what was to be a motion-capture trilogy based on Tintin serials. It’s visually stunning, a grand adventure movie and avoids a lot of uncanny valley problems. eXistenZ is Cronenberg’s prescient dark comedy about the dangers of virtual reality and gaming, featuring great work from Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh. But the big deal is of course The Other Side of the Wind, an unfinished film from Orson Welles. Now it’s been restored and “finished,” or at least assembled. A new work, even a minor one, from one of the greatest directors ever is cause for celebration. Its companion documentary (They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead) is a behind-the-scenes look at the troubled production.

Recent Selections
Boo 2! A Madea Halloween – Hulu 11/1
Fair Game (Director’s Cut) – Netflix 11/1
Wonder – Hulu 11/2
Larger Than Life – Hulu 11/3
An Ordinary Man – Hulu 11/3
Under the Tree – Hulu 11/8
The Children Act – Prime 11/10
Bigfoot – Hulu 11/13
Keepers of the Magic – Hulu 11/13
Killer Bees – Hulu 11/13
The Christmas Calendar – Hulu 11/15
Dust 2 Glory – Hulu 11/15
Gotti – Prime 11/15
Luis & the Aliens – Hulu 11/15
Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams – Prime 11/16
McQueen – Prime 11/17
Siberia – Prime 11/17
Aliens and Agenda 21 – Hulu 11/20
Damascus Cover – Hulu 11/21
Loving Pablo – Prime 11/21
Downsizing – Prime and Hulu 11/24
Sleepless – Prime 11/30

Angela’s Christmas – Netflix 11/1
The Holiday Calendar – Netflix 11/2
Outlaw King – Netflix 11/9
Loudon Wainwright III: Surviving Twin – Netflix 11/13
Oh My Ghost – Netflix 11/13
The Crew – Netflix 11/15
May the Devil Take You – Netflix 11/15
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Netflix 11/16
Cam – Netflix 11/16
The Princess Switch – Netflix 11/16
Sabrina – Netflix 11/20
The Christmas Chronicles – Netflix 11/22
A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding – Netflix 11/30
Happy as Lazzaro – Netflix 11/30
Rajma Chawal – Netflix 11/30
The World Is Yours – Netflix 11/30
Tiempo Compartido – Netflix 11/30

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What I Watched This Week: 21 Oct 2018

The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXIX” (B+)
Follows the typical set up – two mildly amusing stories and one dud – yet I found myself a lot more weak to its charms. It’s not great, but very funny. All three shorts parody popular movies, plus the weird and wonderful opening bit, where Homer defeats Cthulu in an eating contest.

This Is Us – “Toby” (B+)
An episode called “Toby” should probably focus more on him and less on the other two subplots, plus an extended flashback. Still, it featured typically exceptional work from Chris Sullivan (my pick for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series last year), and all the Pearson kids seemed to be reasonable for once!

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Charlie’s Home Alone” (B)
Funnier in its first half, which is almost beat-for-beat Home Alone. Though its second half, which comes close to parodying The Revenant, earns more points for being unrelentingly gross.

The Good Place – “The Ballad of Donkey Doug” (B+)
The perfect combination of stupid and sweet. Donkey Doug (aka Jason’s dad) sacrificing himself so Jason can escape the cops is so beautiful, especially for a show that walks such a fine line between smart and stupid.

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What I Watched This Week: 14 Oct 2018

Harvey Birdman, Attorney General (B+)
Its parody is a little too on-the-nose, yet it’s also more equipped to mock our current absurd situation than more political shows. If they want to do one of these every year or so, I’m on board.

This Is Us – “Vietnam” (A-)
A really great episode, though the fact that the confrontation doesn’t happen, and it’s just a set-up for a subplot for the rest of the season is a little frustrating. Even so, Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Angarano are doing great work, and I’m looking forward to seeing them the rest of the season.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “The Gang Does a Clip Show” (B)
I’m generally against clip shows as a rule, but at least this episode does some very clever things with it. It’s not Community’s Paradigms of Human Memory (what is?), it does a lot of fun, occasionally twisted, often brilliant things with it, at least in its back half.

South Park – “Tegridy Farms” (A-)
Not the show’s sharpest satire, but easily one of the funniest episodes I’ve seen in years, up there with “Sarcastiball” and “Butters’ Bottom Bitch,” where it takes an absurd situation at the school and keeps ratcheting up the insanity until it becomes something so silly it’s sublime.

The Good Place – “Jeremy Bearimy” (A-)
The first great episode of the season, with Michael explaining what’s really going on to all of them, leading our quartet to their own breakdowns/regressions, then the realization that being good and kind and encouraging other to do act the same way *does* matter, even if it doesn’t seem like it. It’s yet another new direction for the show. Let’s see if they can pull it off.

Flight of the Conchords: Live in London (B+)
The new songs are great, and of course I loved the old songs. Wish they would have done “A Kiss Is Not a Contract,” which would have been perfect for this era we’re in, but you can’t get everything you want. Best addition: the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (aka one cellist with an afro and a surprisingly angelic voice).

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Too Early for This: Oscar Picks – 15 Oct 2018

The Favourite
First Man
Green Book
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star Is Born

Falling off: Beautiful Boy; Mary, Queen of Scots; On the Basis of Sex
Rising star: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
The skinny: The movie that wins the People’s Choice Award at TIFF can almost certainly count on a Best Picture nomination. That means that Green Book, which hearkens back to the racial dynamics of Driving Miss Daisy (not to mention Hidden Figures or The Help), is your new front runner for the moment. Now, critics have almost uniformly said the performances of Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali elevate it above what you would expect of an historical drama from one of the Farrelly brothers, but we’ll see if it’s more of the same. A Star Is Born, which didn’t even make the top three at TIFF, is right behind it.

Damien Chazelle, First Man
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Steve McQueen, Widows

Falling off: Yorgos Lanthimos
Rising star: Spike Lee, Black Klansman
The skinny: Two rematches (Chazelle vs. Jenkins, Cuarón vs. McQueen), plus newcomer Bradley Cooper for the fourth version of a popular story. If Spike Lee can finally get an overdue nomination, this might be the most diverse slate this category has ever had.

Christian Bale, Vice
Timothée Chalamet, Beautiful Boy
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Ryan Gosling, First Man

Falling off: Joaquin Phoenix
Rising star: Robert Redford, The Old Man and the Gun; Clint Eastwood, The Mule
The skinny: Bale swaggered in with a killer trailer for Vice (previously titled Backseat). Packing on more than 100 pounds, he’s the clear leader, though he’ll be facing off against a group of former nominees who have never won before. And there are two octogenarians in what might be their final performances fighting for the geriatric slot: Redford and Eastwood. Both are in roles tailor-made for their particular set of skills, but The Mule has the edge since way more people will see it.

Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Viola Davis, Widows
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Felicity Jones, On the Basis of Sex
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Falling off: Saoirse Ronan
Rising star: Nicole Kidman, Destroyer
The skinny: Ronan falls victim to no one having seen her period piece yet (which is also hurting co-star Margot Robbie at the moment). So she’s off the board while Lady Gaga hollers her way into the line-up. With such great reviews, she now seems like the only lock alongside Felicity Jones. Mixed reviews for Destroyer mean Nicole Kidman could have enough support from enough people to be nominated again. But this may be a case like The Paperboy, where great notices and some precursor awards don’t translate to a nod for work in a film that won’t have broad appeal.

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What I Watched This Week: 7 Oct 2018

This Is Us – “Katie Girls” (A-)
I didn’t quite love Kate’s anesthesia hallucinations, but any time the show focused on the fundamental decency of Jack, it becomes one of my favorite things on TV. And look at that, Kevin gets an emotional scene that works.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “The Gang Solves the Bathroom Problem” (A-)
For the second time this season, the show has taken a topic that seems spectacularly ill-conceived for its particular brand of humor, yet turned it into one of the funniest episodes of the year. It’s not as crazy as the Time’s Up episode, but it does everything the show does best, namely showing how awful everyone in is in their own unique, horrifying ways.

The Good Place – “The Snowplow” (B+)
The show charges ahead, ending with yet another twist. Whether this turns out to be another brilliant example of painting itself into a corner, it can’t help but feel a little bit like it doesn’t even know what it’s doing. So I’ll just have to trust Michael Schur that it will be worth it.

American Vandal – Season 2 (A- average)
I was a big fan of the first season, so I expected this follow-up to be very funny and very clever. What I was not expecting was a season of television that explored identity and alienation in the social media age. A more sincere show might have come off as corny, but couched in jokes about poop, it has even more of an impact.

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What I Watched This Week: 30 Sep 2018

This Is Us – “A Philadelphia Story” (B)
Tries to do way too much, including some necessary flashbacks to ’98 and some unnecessary ones to Randall’s dad pre-reunion. But that last moment, as Randall here’s a devastating off-hand comment from Kate (via Kevin) as the Fox fanfare plays, is perfectly done.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “The Gang Gets New Wheels” (B)
Would have been much better if this was just “Dennis Loses His Mojo.” The other subplots are funny, but spreading each member of the Gang out on his/her own adventure dilutes the best and funniest story.

The Good Place – “The Brainy Bunch” (A-)
Yes, it felt a little weird, with all the events happening on Earth, but I find Adam Scott as the evil Trevor so irresistible, I was in stitches the entire time. And yet again, the show upends the rules we just thought we were used to, as Janet and Michael defy the entire system.

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Streaming Picks: October 2018

Top Picks
Mulholland Dr. – Prime and Hulu 10/1
22 July – Netflix 10/10
You Were Never Really Here – Prime 10/26
If it took you several tries to get through David Lynch’s failed pilot/fever dream, you’re not alone. But it’s a magnificent work that’s scary but not a horror movie, and erotic but not an adult film.

Paul Greengrass returns to his intimate roots in this account of the terrorist attack in Norway in 2011. This certainly won’t be an easy watch, but it will be rewarding.

Finally, Joaquin Phoenix is scary good as the hitman with PTSD, who rescues girls from sex trafficking and extracts violent revenge on their captors. It’s a disturbing but powerful film, anchored by its terrific lead performance.

Recent Selections
Beacon Point – Hulu 10/1
Bees Make Honey – Hulu 10/1
Beta Test – Prime 10/1
Capture – Hulu 10/1
Charlotte – Hulu 10/1
Cocaine Godmother – Hulu 10/1
Game Changers – Prime 10/1
Go Against the Flow – Prime 10/1
Good Enough – Prime 10/1
How to Get Girls – Hulu 10/1
It Ain’t Pretty – Prime 10/1
Life of Significant Soil – Prime 10/1
Saving Banksy – Prime 10/1
September Morning – Prime 10/1
Never Goin’ Back – Prime 10/2
Dheepan – Hulu 10/3
RBG – Hulu 10/3
Truth or Dare – Netflix 10/3
The Gospel According to Andre – Hulu 10/4
Lowlife – Hulu 10/6
Night of the Living Deb – Prime 10/6
A Prayer Before Dawn – Prime 10/6
Pyewacket – Hulu 10/6
What We Become – Hulu 10/10
The Quest of Alaine Ducasse – Hulu 10/11
The Strangers: Prey at Night – Prime 10/11
The Yellow Birds – Prime 10/13
Bleeding Steel – Prime 10/14
The Miracle Season – Hulu 10/14
Birthday Girl – Hulu 10/15
Slice – Prime 10/18
Black Water – Prime 10/20
Daddy’s Home 2 – Prime and Hulu 10/25
Bad Samaritan – Prime 10/25
Racer and the Jailbird – Hulu 10/29
Westwood – Prime 10/31

Malevolent – Netflix 10/5
Private Life – Netflix 10/5
Super Monsters Save Halloween – Netflix 10/5
Apostle – Netflix 10/12
Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil – Netflix 10/12
Feminists: What Were They Thinking? – Netflix 10/12
The Kindergarten Teacher – Netflix 10/12
Gnome Alone – Netflix 10/19
Illang: The Wolf Brigade – Netflix 10/19
The Night Comes for Us – Netflix 10/19
Been So Long – Netflix 10/26
Dovlatov – Netflix 10/26
Jefe – Netflix 10/26
Gun City – Netflix 10/31

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