What I Watched This Week: 24 Mar 2019

Documentary Now! – “Any Given Saturday Afternoon” (A-) / season finale
This is what was missing from “Long Gone.” This episode, about three former bowling champions competing for one last tournament has all the gags and all the pathos. Bobby Moynihan, Tim Robinson and Michael C. Hall all score at previously unknown levels of comedy. But it’s Kevin Dunn as the beleaguered network producer trying to juice some drama out of this boring pastime that steals the show. There’s also a treasure trove of little details, especially in the names of the sponsors, including that the league was bought in 2003 by Pets.com.

A.P. Bio – “Toledo’s Top 100” (B+)
Patton Oswalt throws 100mph in a rare episode that focuses on him, as he’s named into the top 10 most eligible bachelors in Toledo, while Jack is all the way down at 86. There’s also a thwarted student-teacher romance subplot that skates right up to the edge of the line, but reels it back in. It helped that the kids were already awkward and uncomfortable.

A.P. Bio – “Wednesday Morning, 8 A.M.” (A-)
The show switches up its structure for a near-real time exploration of Jack’s attempts to get his special chair back from the hot lady in accounts payable. In doing so, the show delivers its best episode to date, setting up a potential romantic interest for Jack that actually could work.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Therapist” (B+)
David Paymer is excellent as the killer shrink, as is Cameron Esposito as Rosa’s new girlfriend. Terry being insecure about pleasing his wife in bed feels a little out of character, but at least it gives us some primo Hitchcock and Scully content.

Documentary Now! – “Long Gone” (B)
The show went political and absurd when it should have gone melancholy. Well-executed stylistically but its not that funny when it clearly wanted to be.

This Is Us – “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” (B+)
The show explores the dichotomy between simple childhood relationships and extremely difficult adult relationships. Pulling Randall and Beth apart is certainly not a storyline I enjoy, but its raw emotions – and the performances of Sterling K. Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson – make it engrossing.

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What I Watched This Week: 10 Mar 2019

Crashing – “Mulaney” (A) / series finale
As a season finale, it’s perfect. As a somewhat abrupt series finale, it’s still pretty satisfying. While I’m sad the show is ending on what is clearly not its own turns, especially since it took a leap this season, this is about as good an ending as one could hope. In that respect, it reminded me of the dearly departed Togetherness.

This Is Us – “The Waiting Room” (B-)
In creating an episode where everyone’s annoyed and on edge, we as the audience are also annoyed and on edge. At least the last five minutes, in which Kate and Toby touch their newborn son while communing with Jack from beyond the grave, are spectacular.

Documentary Now! – “Searching for Mr. Larson” (B+)
As a huge Far Side fan, this was pretty great. Fred Armisen gives arguably his best performance yet on this show as the incredibly pathetic documentarian. But the absolute dead-on one line from the actor playing his dad gave me the biggest laugh.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Gintars” (B+)
Ike Barinholtz crushes it, guest starring as the biological father of Nikolaj, who loiters at the 99 until Boyle agrees to let him see the boy. It’s the details that sell this one, like Gintars’ head-to-toe denim, his poorly conceived Gap knock-off (GAPE) business, and that he spends his days watching Mad About You on Latvian Hulu.

A.P. Bio – “Nun” (B+)
Funnier than the premiere, and proving Lynn Shelton should direct a horror movie soon. And what’s this? Something resembling another emotional breakthrough for Jack?

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What I Watched This Week: 3 Mar 2019

Crashing – “The Christian Tour” (B)
The stuff on the tour is great, but the break-up and subsequent roasting by a quartet of female comedians feels a little tacked on.

This Is Us – “The Graduates” (B-)
A towering performance from Mandy Moore is undercut by the show repeating dramatic plotlines. We’ve already been through Kevin’s drinking and Kate’s pregnancy risks and Randall’s insistence that his political ambitions are more important than Beth’s dreams. Running this all back feels like lazy, panicked writing. Hopefully we’ll get some emotional breakthroughs before the season is out. Spinning its wheels for four more episodes sounds like a drag.

Documentary Now! – “Waiting for the Artist” (A)
Cate Blanchett shines as a parody of performance artist Marina Abramovic. It’s one of the show’s most hilarious and detailed episodes, and also is the rare one to have a genuine emotional core.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Golden Child” (B+)
Plenty of great antics from everyone, but while Lin-Manuel Miranda is positioned as the scene-stealer, as usual, he’s so great he makes someone else shine, in this case Melissa Fumero, showing tremendous range after her dramatic outing last week.

A.P. Bio – “Happiness” (B) / season premiere
Funny to be sure, but lacks the, eh, urgency(?) of the first season. It’s sweet, but a little predictable. But Paula Pell and Patton Oswalt make a great duo. If any show gets dropped because of the absolutely insane amount of shows in April, this will be it.

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What I Watched This Week: 24 Feb 2019

The Oscars (B+)
After all the debacles, this hostless show made for pretty good television, moving along briskly with no segments that leave you thinking, “When is this going to be over?” (Well, except for that excruciating speech by the hair and make-up team from Vice.) Shame about the Best Picture winner, though.

Crashing – “The Viewing Party” (B)
Like Atlanta‘s “Helen” last year, this is a deeply uncomfortable relationship-in-crisis episode that still has some strong moments. Emo Philips showed up for a set, and it was glorious, but he’s the only delightful part of the show, as things are awkward to a degree that’s unsettling.

True Detective – “Now Am Found” (B+) / season finale
About as satisfying as it could be, though there’s no big takedown of the bad guys. Everyone’s dead or too old to prosecute. My wife called the main twist, but the second one no one saw coming. (Although now I’m questioning if that was even real.) We’ll have to live knowing that we as the audience knows the truth, but that its characters never will.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon – “February 25, 2019” (A)
Even though I don’t have automatic seething rage at the mere mention of his name, even I’ll admit his shtick has worn thin. So imagine my surprise that Fallon used the occasion of his fifth anniversary hosting the show to turn in a brilliant, self-deprecating homage to The Larry Sanders Show. Every other late-night host (except maybe James Corden) is more daring night-to-night, but this one-off is one of the boldest things among the wide open sea of shows in a long time.

Documentary Now! – “Original Cast Album: Co-op” (A)
The rare piece of art that lives up to the breathless hype that’s surrounded it for months. John Mulaney is absolutely incredible as a Stephen Sondheim stand-in in this Company parody. The original doc is all but impossible to see, but this reverent and uproarious spoof might be the show’s lasting legacy.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “He Said, She Said” (A-)
This show doesn’t do issue episodes unless it knows it can pull it off. They succeed again with this episode about a tough case – headed up by Peralta and Santiago – in which they have to bring down a serial sexual harasser and attempted rapist without any physical evidence in the boys’ club of Wall Street. It’s extremely well-done, even if laughs have to take a backseat.


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Streaming Picks: March 2019

Top Picks
Tapeheads – Prime and Hulu 3/1
This mostly forgotten ’80s comedy has a very strong but very tiny cult, of which I am a part. It’s a delightful, goofy and clever buddy picture with John Cusack and Tim Robbins as wannabe music video directors. This one has been hard to find in the past, so definitely check it out if you’re a fan of either’s career.

Foreign Language Film Spotlight
Shoplifters – Hulu 3/14 (Academy Award nominee)
The Lives of Others – Netflix 3/15
A Separation – Netflix 3/15
Cold War – Prime 3/22 (Academy Award nominee)
But if you’re looking for something more highbrow, I recommend all these foreign language films. Shoplifters and Cold War were two strong contenders from Japan and Poland, respectively, that were no match for Roma. The latter two won the award in their years, The Lives of Others in a major upset over Pan’s Labyrinth. I wouldn’t call any of these happy movies in any way, but they’re all moving, with a lot to say about the past and present of their home countries.

Recent Selections
Ouija House – Hulu 3/1
Christopher Robin – Netflix 3/5 (Academy Award nominee)
Where Hands Touch – Hulu 3/5
I Can Only Imagine – Prime and Hulu 3/8
The Party’s Just Beginning – Hulu 3/11
Acrimony – Prime and Hulu 3/12
Colette – Prime 3/12
Free Solo – Hulu 3/13 (Academy Award winner)
No Way Out – Hulu 3/15
Speed Kills – Prime 3/16
Tea with the Dames – Hulu 3/16
Divide and Conquer – Hulu 3/17
Assassination Nation – Hulu 3/18
The Last Race – Hulu 3/21
A Cam Life – Hulu 3/26
Monsters and Men – Hulu 3/27
The Domestics – Prime and Hulu 3/29
Chef Flynn – Hulu 3/30
Outlaws – Prime 3/30

Budapest – Netflix 3/1
River’s Edge – Netflix 3/1
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind – Netflix 3/1
Your Son – Netflix 3/1
Juanita – Netflix 3/8
Lady J – Netflix 3/8
Walk. Ride. Rodeo. – Netflix 3/8
Triple Frontier – Netflix 3/13
Burn Out – Netflix 3/15
Dry Martina – Netflix 3/15
Girl – Netflix 3/15
Paskal – Netflix 3/15
Mirage – Netflix 3/22
The Dirt – Netflix 3/22
15 August – Netflix 3/29
Bayoneta – Netflix 3/29
The Highwaymen – Netflix 3/29

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Oscar Re-Do: 1998

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’ll break it down.

The cast of Saving Private Ryan
Life Is Beautiful
Saving Private Ryan
Shakespeare in Love
The Thin Red Line

Should have won: Saving Private Ryan
Not even nominated: The Truman Show

That a movie as nice but trifling as Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture is a testament more to Harvey Weinstein’s aggressive campaign tactics than the film’s enduring legacy. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch, but it’s only thought of fondly by people who already thought it was better than Saving Private Ryan. I do not understand those people. Even though Ryan has some issues itself, and it’s often cited as one of the best movies ever by the kinds of people you don’t want to talk about movies with, its only competition is another World War II movie – somehow three were nominated this year, along with two films set during the reign of Elizabeth I – and thus I’m splitting the difference in this re-do. That all the Best Picture nominees are period pieces speaks to how little the Academy at the time seemed to care about movies that spoke to the here and now. The Truman Show would have been a better nominee here than Elizabeth. It remains such a unique creation, and should have picked several other nominations, including Best Production Design, Best Original Score and Jim Carrey for Best Actor. But more on that later.

20 years later, Saving Private Ryan stands tall because it’s Spielberg at his prestigious best. Schindler’s List may be more deeply felt and better acted, but the Omaha Beach scene alone is Spielberg’s finest achievement as a director. Yet because he’s already got one, I can’t let this opportunity go by without honoring another director, one who probably won’t be getting one any time soon.

The Thin Red Line
Roberto Benigni, Life Is Beautiful
Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan
John Madden, Shakespeare in Love
Terrence Malick, The Thin Red Line
Peter Weir, The Truman Show

Should have won: Terrence Malick
Not even nominated: Alex Proyas, Dark City

The only camp I do understand is the people who prefer The Thin Red Line to Saving Private Ryan. I don’t necessarily share that view, but taken together, these are among the very best films about the American experience in World War II. They also encompassed just about every actor in Hollywood, even if it’s just for a moment. The Thin Red Line is more lyrical and abstract, but no less devastating. It’s far less traditional but just as impactful. What I wouldn’t give for a five-hour director’s cut.

And frankly, I always forget that John Madden was actually nominated for Shakespeare in Love. So I’d rather have Alex Proyas up there, whose fascinating dystopia in Dark City was, in the words of the late great Roger Ebert: “one of the great modern films. It preceded The Matrix by a year (both films used a few of the same sets in Australia), and on a smaller budget, with special effects that owe as much to imagination as to technology, did what The Matrix wanted to do, earlier and with more feeling.”

Edward Norton in American History X
Roberto Benigni, Life Is Beautiful
Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan
Ian McKellen, Gods and Monsters
Nick Nolte, Affliction
Edward Norton, American History X

Should have won: Edward Norton
Not even nominated: Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski

This is a really excellent category. I didn’t hate Benigni’s win then or now. It was his peak as an actor and director. Not so for Hanks, McKellen or Nolte. But here’s where things get dicey. Edward Norton truly gave the best performance of anyone in 1998 in American History X. He is so magnetic, so terrifying, and eventually so broken that you’ll never forget the film (even if it’s got a lot of issues). But 20 years later, the prospect of a person winning the Oscar for playing a charismatic Nazi is so problematic I don’t know where to begin. (But if you’re an illiterate statutory rapist, the Oscars are down with that.)

So let’s all feel a bit better about ourselves and talk about Jeff Bridges. As the Dude – or His Dudeness, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing – he created an instantly iconic portrayal of hippie malaise, a guy who was way too comfortable smoking pot while rich white guys took over the world he thought he lived in. But this aggression will not stand, man. Taking victories where he can, and his lumps when he has to, he kinda sorta uncovers a mystery involving the Big Lebowski (David Huddleston), but gets kicked out of Malibu, impregnates the man’s daughter (Julianne Moore) and drinks enough White Russians to kill a man of less fortitude. Yes, his performance might be overlooked now because some insufferable fans have elevated him to messianic levels, but this is Jeff Bridges’ finest hour.

Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth
Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth
Fernanda Montenegro, Central Station
Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love
Meryl Streep, One True Thing
Emily Watson, Hilary and Jackie

Should have won: Cate Blanchett
Not even nominated: Jennifer Lopez, Out of Sight

Gwyneth Paltrow is radiant in Shakespeare in Love, but she’s got nothing on Cate Blanchett in her breakout role. She’s got all the passion, all the strength, all the hopelessness of being caught between machinations beyond her control. It’s a star-making role. Yes, she’d get some more chances in the future, but this should have been a moment of literal crowning. (It also helps that Blanchett used her acclaim to keep taking challenging roles, while Paltrow used her status to become a high-end con artist.)

And who knows what would have happened if J. Lo had been nominated here. Maybe she would have kept working with directors who knew how to use her, instead of just being the go-to for so-so rom-coms. As Karen Sisco, she’s sexy, smart and fearless. If she had stuck with films like this, Selena and The Cell, maybe she wouldn’t have been the dominant pop culture figure she was in the early 2000s, but she might be recognized as one of our best actresses (when given the right material).

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What I Watched This Week: 17 Feb 2019

The Simpsons – “The Clown Stays in the Picture” (B+)
A funny diversion episode, where we learn of Krusty’s ignominious time as a director of a sci-fi epic, during which Homer and Marge served as grunts. It’s a lot of fun, and will feel especially timely when Denis Villeneuve’s Dune crashes and burns next year.

Crashing – “Mom and Kat” (B+)
Pete’s mom gets an absolutely killer final line, but before then it’s a sharp battle of wills between her and Kat, both of whom are more right than they seem to the other.

True Detective – “The Final Country” (B+)
An excellent penultimate episode that keeps raising questions as it answers them. It ties into Season 1, but I like my wife’s theory: That Julie was taken not as part of a pedophile ring, but as part of a sad, twisted desire for Edward Hoyt to replace his lost daughter and continue to keep his family together.

This Is Us – “Our Little Island Girl” (A-)
We finally get some backstory for Beth, explaining with mere looks and hesitations why she is the way she is. When this show is devoted to subtle, effective storytelling, you see why it’s one of the highest-rated shows on television.

Documentary Now! – “Batsh*t Valley” (B+) / season premiere
Owen Wilson is a delight as the goofy shaman/informant, but the real revelation here is Necar Zadegan as his second-in-command who usurps his power and turns the cult into a group of demons, terrorizing the nearby Oregon town by giving them all pink-eye, turning the only repair shop into a juice bar, and re-naming the town Ra-Sharir’s Butthole.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Honeypot” (A)
To me, the funniest episode of the season. The entire spy plot – “like a Thomas Cruise film” – is just aces. I was crying laughing. The show also features jokes about the importance of physical media and Ryuichi Sakamoto, as well as Scully’s single funniest moment.

Russian Doll – Season 1 (A-)
A prickly but open-hearted take on the horrors of addiction, selfishness and getting older. The only way out of hell is to help each other, and the only salvation from annihilation is accepting help from others.

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My Dream Oscar Ballot 2019

This Oscar season has been crazy, and as I’ve covered before, there were a lot of egregious snubs this year. So here is how my nominations ballot would have looked. For the purposes of this, I’ve limited myself to the Academy’s rules, guidelines and shortlists. So that means I can’t honor Mandy in the Original Score category, I have to put Thomasin McKenzie in the Supporting Actress category, and my beloved “Hearts Beat Loud” isn’t even a nominee in the Original Song category. But I have seen a lot more films this year, so I’ve added some categories I typically haven’t seen enough films to fill out.

Black Panther
The Favourite
First Man
First Reformed
If Beale Street Could Talk
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Alex Garland, Annihilation
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Damien Chazelle, First Man
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma

Christian Bale, Vice
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Ryan Gosling, First Man
Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here

Toni Collette, Hereditary
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Rosamund Pike, A Private War

Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther
Jesse Plemons, Game Night
Steven Yeun, Burning

Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Tilda Swinton, Suspiria
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

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Oscar Guide 2019

If I was confused last year, this year I’m completely and utterly lost. The only things I’m sure about are “Shallow” winning Best Original Song and Roma winning Best Foreign Language Film. Any of this year’s other frontrunners losing to another nominee wouldn’t shock me in the least.

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Green Book
Black Klansman
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
A Star Is Born

Will win: Green Book
Could and should win: Roma
Should have been here: First Man

The skinny: At first it seemed like A Star Is Born had this thing locked up back in October. There was no big controversy it had to weather. The rest of the field just caught up with it. Green Book was all but anointed when it won the People’s Choice Award at Toronto, but its tepid box office and mixed reviews laid it low. Then history showed up, as the Shirley family claimed it was a wildly inaccurate depiction of Don and Tony’s relationship, and then we got treated to not one but two gross matters of public record resurfacing from director Peter Farrelly’s past, as well as co-writer Nick Vallelonga’s. It was dead until it won Best Picture at the Golden Globes. Black Panther finally got its Best Picture nomination, as well as the big prize at the Screen Actors Guild. And Roma won Best Picture at the BAFTA Awards. So who’s going to win? I honestly have no idea. I hope it’s Roma, but it’s a foreign-language film financed by Netflix. Despite several foreign-language films getting nominated (even as recently as 2013), one has never won Best Picture before, and there’s a contingent – though who can say how large – of voters that views Netflix as the enemy. But I think Green Book weathers the storm to take the big prize. Its base of (mostly older) voters probably doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the optics of awarding such a backward-looking choice, and despite the vitriol on Twitter, the group of people who have it dead last on their ballots is small, meaning it probably takes it the provisional win.

Alfonso Cuarón on the set of Roma
Spike Lee, Black Klansman
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

Will win: Alfonso Cuarón
Could and should win: Spike Lee
Should have been here: Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

The skinny: I went back and forth, but I’m not going to overthink this. Alfonso Cuarón won the Directors Guild of America Award. He’s going to win again. I still think Spike could pull it off, but he’ll likely be honored elsewhere. If Spike did win, it would be the first time since 2003 the DGA winner was nominated for the Oscar and lost. (And that time it was another great director who’d never won the Oscar before.)

Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

Will win: Rami Malek
Could and should win: Christian Bale
Should have been here: Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

The skinny: These performances all have some merit, but they pale in comparison to Ethan Hawke’s work in First Reformed, so what does it matter? Malek has been on a tear on the awards circuit, mostly as a vehicle to honor a movie liked by general audiences (who made it a massive worldwide hit) but loathed by critics. I’d rather it be Bale, who’s actually saying something with his performance, or even Cooper, the only nominee here who created a character from whole cloth.

Glenn Close in The Wife
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Will win: Glenn Close
Could and should win: Olivia Colman
Should have been here: Rosamund Pike, A Private War

The skinny: I don’t think Glenn Close’s work in The Wife is among the five best leading actress performances of the year, or even among the top 10. But I’m still rooting for her to claim her long overdue Oscar. She’s currently 0-for-6. But would I be upset if Olivia Colman won? Absolutely not. She’s giving the best performance of these five nominees as Queen Anne, drowning her sorrows in lesbian trysts and cake. But how good was 2018 for leading actress roles? So good you could swap out all five with these ladies: Toni Collette, Elsie Fisher, Regina Hall, Rosamund Pike and Charlize Theron.

Mahershala Ali in Green Book
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, Black Klansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice

Will win: Mahershala Ali
Could and should win: Richard E. Grant
Should have been here: Steven Yeun, Burning

The skinny: Ali’s a great actor, getting a much-deserved win in this category just two years ago. He’s probably going to win an Emmy this fall for his excellent work on this season of True Detective. And he’s probably going to win again, as far and away the best part of Green Book. But oh, how glorious it would be if Richard E. Grant won. He and Sam Elliott probably cancel each other out, as both are great character actors, killing it for decades in the same roles, finally nominated for roles that showcased what they do best.

Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk
Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Will and should win: Regina King
Could win: Rachel Weisz
Should have been here: Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace

The skinny: It’s a two-person race between Regina King, who missed some key nominations here and there, and Rachel Weisz, a previous winner. Weisz might be canceled out by Stone, so I think that means King’s got this. But it’s basically a coin flip at this point.

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Oscar Re-Do: 2008

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

Dev Patel and Freida Pinto in Slumdog Millionaire
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: The Dark Knight

I have absolutely no problem with Slumdog Millionaire. It was my favorite movie of 2008 at the time, and is still the most vibrant of these five nominees, which features David Fincher, Ron Howard and Gus Van Sant at their most prestige-y, and one of the worst movies ever to be nominated for Best Picture. So no, I don’t understand the complaints about the “false uplift” or “poverty porn” of this genuinely moving film.

But of course I have a problem with the Academy not nominating The Dark Knight. Even as the shine of Christopher Nolan’s Chicago crime epic – with occasional appearances by Batman – has dimmed over the years, there’s still never been a good reason as to why the second-biggest movie ever (at the time) wasn’t nominated, especially when the line-up includes The Reader, which no one saw (at the time), and no one ever talks about or thinks about. The backlash was so bad, the Academy expanded their Best Picture field the next year. But still wasn’t until this year that a comic book movie was actually nominated. As critic Guy Lodge put it, at the very least it would have shut up a lot of annoying online people who lament that they never take comic book movies seriously.

Loveleen Tandan and Danny Boyle on the set of Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant, Milk
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

Should have won: Loveleen Tandan
Not even nominated: Tarsem, The Fall

Since all five directing nominees matched here, the only thing I have to add is that Danny Boyle needs to share this award with Loveleen Tandan, the woman who co-directed much of the film, yet he didn’t think in his acceptance speech. It was a black mark on an otherwise exceptional night for the film, which won eight of its 10 Oscar nominations.

I’ll save my thoughts on The Reader for later, but suffice it to say, Stephen Daldry doesn’t belong here. I’d once again find a spot for Tarsem, who used his clout and busy commercial directing schedule to his advantage, calling in his cast and crew to gorgeous locations across the globe to be able to bring his twisted fairy tale to life.

Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Should have won: Mickey Rourke
Not even nominated: Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino

It’s been 10 years, and nothing’s changed. Sean Penn is totally fine as LGBTQ rights icon Harvey Milk, but he’s got nothing on the pain and realism of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. Within the film and as a performance, he truly left it all out there.

I don’t think I’d necessarily take off any of these five performers, since they’re all doing solid work, in most cases the best parts of their respective films. But Clint Eastwood always knocks out the “older actor grappling with his legacy” roles, even if he’s done it at least three times since Unforgiven, including Million Dollar Baby (2004), where he was nominated, and here and The Mule (2018), where he wasn’t.

Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Should have won: Anne Hathaway
Not even nominated: Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy

I’m still baffled at the Academy success of The Reader. This is a poorly executed tearjerker/tragic romance/courtroom drama that requires us to empathize with an illiterate Nazi statutory rapist, played by Winslet in what is clearly a supporting role. She’s by far the best part of the movie, and she was well overdue at this point, but this is a case where she won for the wrong movie. I’d have happily given it to her in an actual tragic romance: Revolutionary Road, but the Academy went with the one of the worst movies it’s ever nominated.

So if Winslet wasn’t getting it for the right movie, they should have turned to a slightly younger actress. Anne Hathaway might have won a few years later for Les Misérables, but she still has yet to top her performance as Kym, a still-broken woman trying to act put together for her sister’s wedding. Rachel Getting Married is an uncomfortable movie for anyone who’s experienced a family member struggling with addiction, but its realism will mean it’s remembered far longer than The Reader.

Speaking of which, Michelle Williams isn’t exactly underrated at this point. She’s been nominated for four Oscars now, but somehow hasn’t won. I already sung her praises a few years ago, but she at least deserved a nomination as the anchor of Wendy and Lucy, Kelly Reichardt’s absolutely heartbreaking adaptation. With her dog Lucy as her only companion, Wendy slowly fades from society, slipping in and out of sanity.

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