Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Watch Yourself: "Us"

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While I've attempted to reveal too much about this film's twists, if you haven't seen the film yet and want to go in as cold as possible, go see it and come back later.

It's impressive that just two movies in director Jordan Peele's name has already become a brand, representing horror movies which are smart and socially conscious, familiar yet different Peele's name was already a brand based on his sketch comedy days with Key & Peele; but even so, transitioning to feature film-making with 2017's critically acclaimed Get Out, which won Peele the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, was quite a feat. Peele is in the position where he can pretty much do whatever he wants. But it is a mixed blessing to have that type of success early on. It's nice to have creative control in Hollywood- a place that's not always supportive of a director's vision- and not having to compromise your vision. However, you're put under a lot of pressure to live up to your early success. Film critics build you up but are equally ready to tear you down. Then there's the pressure to compromise for film critics instead of studio execs. Peele is already receiving comparisons to M. Night Shyamalan, and while Peele's new film Us has received extremely positive reviews, it's a film that's on shakier ground than his first- largely because it's a more ambitious and yes, Shyamalanesque venture, with some pretty big twists. It's a film whose denouement forces us to re-contextualise everything we've just seen, and is genuinely disturbing in its implications.

Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong'o), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), and two children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) are on a family vacation to where Adelaide once grew up. She once had a traumatic experience seeing her doppelganger in a mirror house,  which resulted in her not being able to speak for a time. Adelaide tells Gabe she still feels she's coming for her and soon enough, all the family's doppelgangers show up. The set-up is basic but what is revealed by the end of the film suggests a much larger mythology to the story. Like Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, Shyamalan's Signs and George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, we see a large scale event through the eyes of a small group of characters. This makes the terror more realistic due to its intimacy and limited knowledge concerning the events occurring around the country.   

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Peele doesn't explain everything about the story, which can be viewed as a significant flaw but I think Peele's lack of explanation adds to the film's nightmarish and mysterious ambience; he's a director more invested in creating atmosphere and staging horror sequences.With this film I sensed Peele wanted to strengthen and further his visual storytelling abilities. He's a skilled filmmaker, with a great eye for composition and framing. Mike Gioulakis (the cinematographer for It Follows and this year's Glass), clearly understands the horror genre. I love how he use shadow to make the doppelgangers appear as if they're part of another world. The film's editor is Nicholas Monsour, who worked on Key & Peele. He's just starting out in feature films and he has strong grasp on how to slowly pace a film while still having a certain dramatic momentum. 

Before the family of doppelgangers show up, Peele visually foreshadows them- the shadows of the family on the beach, the multiple rabbits during the opening credits. It's cheeky while still being spooky. Peele is adept at incorporating humour in to his films without undermining the uneasiness or weight of the story. I particularly liked the Home Alone reference, which reminds me that I'm getting older and younger kids may not even know what the hell Home Alone is. 

I'd be interested in seeing Peele a silent film due to how effectively he uses close-ups on actors' face, letting those faces tell the story. Peele also makes the doppelgangers being unable to speak, presenting them as primal, inhuman but still frighteningly human. 

Us asks what peoples' reaction would be to twisted mirror version of themselves. But more importantly, it asks what the doppelgangers's reaction would be, especially if they had it worst off than their double. And who is the "real" version, what defines individuality and personhood. The film also asks the timeless question of what happens when those who have been oppressed fight back. In Get Out, it was one individual- In Us, the retaliation is on an ever larger scale.    

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Nyong'o is great as Adelaide and her doppelganger, Red. She's fierce, vulnerable and maternal as Adelaide and as Red she's incredibly creepy but also deeply wounded by her past and what we eventually learn about her. The tragic implications of their backstories could form the basis of a whole other film. And like many horror films before it, Us's story is fueled by tragedy and trauma. Horror movies are- in a weird way- extreme therapy sessions for the audience and characters. Peele adds a twist to the catharsis experienced at the end, giving what at first feels like a typical ending a more complex and insidious layer. 

The more I've thought about Us, the more I've liked it. The film showcases the oppressed and the marginalised fighting for their piece of the world. Us is appropriately titled since it's such simple and universal word. I also take the title to refer to the doppelgangers talking: us- humans, people who deserve the same basic dignity as anyone else.  

The title also refers to us, the audience and our comfortable sense of identity. The film is about what happens our sense of identity is challenged. I'd say Peele is preparing us for but I think he's highlighting how it's already happening. We have to make room for each other. Like the aforementioned films I mentioned (The Birds, etc.) Us is about human survival but Peele subverts those films by having it about the supposed villains' survival. And Peele isn't merely preparing us for a revolution, he's clearly saying it's already begun.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

"The Times They are A- Changin:" Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" at 10

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Zack Snyder's Watchmen, adapted by David Hayter from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' seminal 1986 graphic novel of the same name, was released 10 years ago this month. It's often referred to as ahead of its time, just like  Moore and Gibbons' masterpiece, entirely different from anything before or after in the medium. And yes, I would say the same about Snyder's film, which stands out from any comic book movie before or since, even his own.

While the superhero genre had matured and deepened by 2009 with Spider-Man 2, and the one-two punch of Iron Man and The Dark Knight the year previously, the concept of adapting a dense and intricate work such as Watchmen was equivalent to adapting The Lord of the Rings- it was seen as impossible to do a successful film adaptation of Watchmen. I think this is because- as has been said in the past- Watchmen is a comic about the comic medium and uses the medium in a very specific way to tell its story. As such, any film version of Watchmen would have to be it's own thing. In his video on the film, "Iamthatroby" says the Watchmen film is a superhero movie about superhero movies. And I the film, while faithful to the overall plot of the graphic novel, has to be viewed in the proper context without judging it too much against the graphic novel. Having just re-watched it, I've come to love the film and think it's quite amazing. I never disliked it just that I needed a few watches for it to really click with me. And the fact it came out 10 years ago, when the idea of an Avengers or Batman/Superman movie was still a comic book fan's dream, is incredible.

The fact such an ambitious undertaking was only Snyder's third feature is also impressive, though his first two films weren't safe bets either. His first, Dawn of the Dead (2004), was a remake of a horror classic and 300 (2007) was a largely visual effects adaptation of Frank Miller's epic graphic novel 300. That which made Snyder's name synonymous with highly stylized visuals and fidelity to the comic book source material. Also, Miller, like Moore, is one of the most important comic book creators of his time (both also contributed to the Batman mythos with Miller writing The Dark Knight Returns, a big influence on Snyder's Batman v. Superman, and Moore writing The Killing Joke.) So, it's not a surprise Snyder got the job bringing Watchmen to screen.

Watchmen takes place in an alternate 1985 where Richard Nixon has been able to retain power and is still President of the United States. This is also a world where costumed vigilantes have and still exist, though costumed crime-fighting has been made illegal. Former Nite Owl (Stephen McHattie), Hollis Mason, tells his successor Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson), also retired, that the earlier generation had it easier. Nixon pushed the younger generation out. I love when Mason calls Nixon a prick then adds "And to think I voted for that prick five times," to which Dan replies "Hey, it was him or the commies." This notion of voting for someone you don't like just to avoid someone who you like less can't help but remind of the attitude in the last American election.

Edward Blake, also known as The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a government agent and former Minuteman/Watchmen, is killed, which kicks off the action of the story. While in the graphic novel, the Comedian's is shown is brief flashbacks, the film opens with a stylized fight sequence establishes the film's action. While I've had a problem with the seemingly normal people in the comic world having super strength in the movie, I think I've come to view the action in this film in the proper context of it being a heightened reality, as well as calling attention exaggerated superhero action. The contrasts stylization with real-world brutality quite effectively.
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I think Morgan really nails the character. This is a guy who's a real bastard- he tries to rape Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino), kills a Vietnamese woman he impregnated during the Vietnam War, and killed JFK. But he's charismatic and somewhat sympathetic when he experiences an existential crisis. Morgan captures both the humanity and inhumanity of this man, and we can kind of understand why Sally went back to him and eventually had had his child, Laurie (Malin Akerman), the second Silk Spectre. This is perhaps the powerful and poignant aspect of both the comic and movie, that a woman could love a man who attempted to rape her. This is a complex emotional territory and I love Sally telling Laurie that she couldn't hate Blake because "he gave me you."

I want to talk about John Osterman/Dr. Manhattan because in many ways I find him the most fascinating character in the film. Osterman is a atomic physicist who due to a freak science accident is transformed in to a super-powered being named Dr. Manhattan after the Manhattan project. Dr. Manhattan isn't human but he's not quite a god either. Janey Slater (Laura Mennell), Osterman's former lover and fellow scientist, says Manhattan is a god to which says he doesn't believe in God and if he's real, he's nothing like him. Thinking about the character brought to mind the oft-quoted idea that God can't be both all powerful and all good; and if neither why call him God. Manhattan doesn't seem to be either all powerful or all good, eventually having a detached view of humanity and retreating to Mars.

When Blake kills the Vietnamese woman he blames Manhattan for not stopping it and says Manhattan is losing his touch with humanity, adding "God help us all," underscoring how Manhattan isn't God. Manhattan's purpose in the story is to explore how people would react to a super-powered being in the real world. Snyder would also explore this idea in Man of Steel and BvS, in which Lex Luthor does bring up the Problem of Evil (God can't be both all powerful and all good). And like Manhattan, Superman in BvS begins to lose faith in humanity.

But  there's something terrifying about Manhattan, he's not the hopeful figure Superman is. He's a deterrent to Russia starting a Nuclear War with the US but he also creates a kind of fear that would start a war. Manhattan is not all powerful, as Laurie tells him later, he's just going through the motions like a puppet. Nor is he all good- he doesn't prevent Blake's gunning down of a pregnant woman.

I think my favourite sequence in the film is  Manhattan's origin, beautifully edited by William Hoy, Snyder's editor on 300 and his follow-up to Watchmen, Sucker Punch (2011). Hoy  creates a nostalgic, dream-like feel that soon turns in to a nightmare when Osterman becomes Manhattan. I love how the flashback stars out with a warm look at the fair with Osterman and Janey. The scene cuts from Osterman's friend  Wally Weaver looking lively to Weaver dead in a hospital; this shot has a cold look. The scene in the science lab is also shot to look a little colder, foreshadowing Manhattan's personality and look. 

One of the major changes in the film is Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) making the world think Manhattan attacked New York City, preventing any nuclear conflict and bringing the world together in an Utopia. In the comic, it's a giant squid but I think-at least in the movie- Manhattan being the scapegoat works really well, tying everything back to the fear surrounding Manhattan. People are willing to accept Manhattan did turn on them. Veidt understands what will unite the world is the fear of something outside of humanity.
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What I like about Watchmen's ending is it's not about whether Veidt's actions are morally justifiable but what do the characters do in the aftermath of destruction? Do they preserve the lie that has brought peace or reveal the truth, which would mean all those people died in vain if the world went back to the brink of war. It's a no win scenario. Walter Kovacs/Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) doesn't compromise and I think it's incredibly appropriate he tells Manhattan to kill him; that's the only way he won't reveal the truth.

Rorschach reminds me of the Marvel Comics character The Punisher, in that he is committed to warring on crime and killing criminals without mercy. When he's arrested and interviewed by a psychiatrist, he tells of how he used to let criminals live until he found the killer of a young girl, brutally murdering with a meat cleaver. This is where- as Rorschach tells it- Walter Kovacs truly died and Rorschach was born. When his mask is taken off by the police, he screams for them to give him back his face. It's part of him, it is him. Rorschach's narration is reminiscent of Travis Bickle, the character portrayed by Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), due to his narration about the scum on the New York streets. My favourite shot in the film is when Rorschach goes in to the bathroom to kill Big Figure (Danny Woodburn). The door swings eerily and unusually back and forth as we see Rorschach move in for the kill- until we can only see Rorschach before the door closes. For a film with such brutal and explicit violence, this is an effective example of leaving it to the audience's imagination what happens.

Haley has to do a lot of acting with just his voice and body language. I think he absolutely embodies the character. When we see him without his mask, we see a man cold and detached but with much anger underneath the surface. It's only at the end when he tells Manhattan to kill him that we see him actually break down emotionally and cry. For me it's the most affecting emotional moment in the film.     

Rorschach does get the last laugh, so to speak, since his journal will be discovered by a newspaper employee. The film ends with the question of not only will the truth be revealed but what are the consequences? Will humanity go back to the brink of or will it enter a new status quo? It's also a question of personal responsibility and what choice an individual feels he/she should make. Is a world of peace more important than our own feelings of morality? And how do we deal with knowing a dark truth, what does it do to our conscience?

I know one criticism of the film is Veidt being too sinister, telegraphing he's the villain, as opposed to his depiction in the comic. I believe Veidt is intentionally being played up as the villain because the surprise of the film is his plan not be rooted in villainy. He's attempting to make the world a better place. His villainous demeanour is a red herring. Veidt is set up as an archetype, an archetype that's subverted by film's end.

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I also want to mention Larry Fong, who I think is a fantastic cinematographer. He creates a diverse palette for this, as I mentioned when I talked about the Manhattan origin scene. Some scenes have a warmer look, others colder. There are scenes and shots that reflect an "old-timey" representation of the past, and more urban, gritty scenes. We also  have cosmic stuff with Manhattan on Mars. What's impressive is it all blends together, forming a cohesive world.

The title sequence is a great example of this, as we travel through history, showing us the Minutemen's origin in the 40s, to Manhattan meeting JFK in the early 60s and the emergence of the new Watchmen. There's both happiness and tragedy in this sequence. It's  a brilliant piece of visual storytelling.

Another sequence I think is wonderful is Mason's death. After Nite Owl and Silk Spectre break Rorschach out of prison, some goons think it was the former Nite Owl who did it. They attack Mason who fights back and from his POV we see him imaging the attackers as his former enemies from his time as Nite Owl. The music is stirring until it cuts out when Mason is killed with a trophy, signifying the emergence of brutal reality in to the scene.

Snyder is one of those rare blockbuster auteurs, filmmakers who are making personal and artistic films on a large budget. Instead of relying so much on a formula, movies like Watchmen operate outside of the box. I've come to appreciate Snyder as a filmmaker more since Man of Steel. I'd go as far as listing him as one of my favourite working directors. Watchmen foreshadowed similar themes Snyder would explore later on in MoS and BvS, including the idea of a super-powered, God like being among us.

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It's appropriate that Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin" plays over the opening credits since Watchmen is about the past and nostalgia. And the perception of superhero cinema has changed over the years. With the deluge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, Watchmen shines a little brighter because it's so distinct from other superhero films. Like BvS, it's a grower, and one now I would rank amongst my favourite comic book films.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

On M. Night Shyamalan, "Unbreakable" and "Glass"

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Warning: Spoilers for Unbreakable The Village, Split and Glass Follow.

In the nearly 20 years since 1999's The Sixth Sense M. Night Shyamalan's career trajectory has been as dramatic, twisty and unusual as any of his films; he's gone from critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated auteur to a filmmaker whose name in a movie trailer elicited laughs from audiences. In recent years he's made a moderate comeback. He's a cautionary tale of how early success can be a mixed blessing, especially when your ego goes unchecked but also an example of perseverance in the face of intense criticism. I have a nostalgic soft spot for Shyamalan since Signs (2002) was a big deal for 13 year old me, even though I acknowledge the flaws of its ending. I've always liked his combination of European formalism and familiar genre tropes, resulting in what could be called Art-House Blockbusters, more The Exorcist (1973) and Rosemary's Baby (1968) then other genre films that were coming out in Shyamalan's hey-day.

I'd argue Shyamlan's best film is his follow-up to The Sixth SenseUnbreakable (2000). The film tells the story of a seemingly ordinary man named David Dunn (Bruce Willis), who becomes not the sole survivor of a horrific train accident but is miraculously unharmed. He is contacted by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a man who has "brittle bone disease," making his bones easily breakable, placing him on the opposite end of the spectrum from David. Elijah believes comic book characters walk the earth and that David is one of them. By film's end David has accepted his identity as a superhero. It's also revealed that Elijah caused the train accident as well as other acts of terrorism. 

While Unbreakable was overshadowed at the time by The Sixth Sense, in the years since its stature has risen. I actually think its twist ending is even better than the former's ending. For me, what makes Unbreakable's ending brilliant is how it's not simply a villain reveal; it's about finding one's purpose. As Elijah tells David, "Now that we know who we are, I know who I am." Elijah says he should've known he was the villain since as a child the other kids called him "Mr. Glass." Elijah is such a sympathetic character that the ending becomes oddly touching. Despite Elijah's horrific acts, when he says "I wasn't a mistake," it's deeply moving. At his best Shyamalan is able to communicate the deep sadness within his characters with a simple line. 

Shyamlan had discussed the possibility of a Unbreakable sequel for years and in 2017 he snuck in a secret sequel in to theatres with Split, about a man named Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) who has over 20 different personalities including a hidden one called "The Beast," who has superhuman abilities, and is compelled to kidnap three teenage girls. Kevin is on the run at the film's end and in a post-credit scene Willis shows up to basically say "Hey, it's a sequel to Unbreakable."

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Glass is the third part of Shyamlan's trilogy, and picks up not too long after Split. David, now being called the "Overseer" online is attempting to find Kevin, who has kidnapped more young women. David eventually finds Kevin but is arrested along with Kevin and placed in the same psychiatrist hospital as Elijah. Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) believes the three men are under the delusion they are superheroes and wants to convince them they're normal people. 

Doubt is a major theme in this film, how the power of it can prevent us from accepting who we truly are. It's eventually revealed that Staple is part of a global conspiracy to prevent the world from ever learning about super-powered beings. She says the Clover Organization doesn't take sides. They're not pro-hero or pro-villains. This revelation expands the scope of this universe and while I wish there was more build up and background regarding this organization- and it doesn't completely fit in with my mental image of Unbreakable, I think it does thematically fit the world Shyamalan has built for his characters. In a more realistic universe the concept of superheroes would be threatening and there'd be attempt to eliminate or cover-up their existence. 

It's also revealed that Kevin's father died in the same train accident that David survived. It's a huge coincidence I think it works it's supposed to be an amazing display of fate. I also believe it's supposed to parallel the scene in Watchmen where Dr. Manhattan discovers Laurie is the daughter of Silk Spectre and The Comedian. It's also Shyamlan saying because of Elijah's illness, because of simple chance, that everything has led to this moment. How fate brings us together has always been one of Shymalan's thematic and emotional concerns. The ending of Signs was all about seemingly coincidental details that had deeper meaning and purpose. Willis' child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe in The Sixth Sense failed to understand his patient Vincent Grey was seeing the dead, which led to Vincent killing him. Malcolm then comes back as a ghost to help another child, Cole Sear deal with the same ability. And if David had never been on the train, Elijah may have never found his opposite. 

Elijah's plan is to make Staple and David believe he and Kevin are going to attack a building about to be unveiled. Elijah's real end game to capture on video a fight outside the hospital between David and the Horde (the name given to Kevin and his personalities). 

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Glass reminds me of Shyamalan's 2004 film The Village, which set itself up as a "creatures in the woods" thriller set in the 1800s that would climax with a confrontation in the woods between Joaquin Phoenix's character Lucius and the monsters. It not only doesn't deliver that climax but also reveals the village is in a park in modern day Philadelphia. It was created by people who wanted to escape the horrors of 20th Century life.) At the end of the film the status quo is maintained whereas Glass' ending has the truth revealed to the world about superheroes. 

Glass sets us up for a big climax similar to that of The Avengers, and I'd argue Shyamalan structures this film similarly to that first Avengers film. Both have a middle act where the characters are all in one location, interacting with each other and being psychologically played with by the villain, the villain in this case being Staple, not Elijah. The film is in someways an anti-narrative, building up towards something that never comes and I feel the disappointment in the film from many comes from how David is killed off unceremoniously, drowned in a puddle. But I'd say that's Shyamalan's intention, to disappoint you, to make you feel bitter towards the tragedy and reality of superheroes in the real world. Usually it's the superheroes are maintaining the status quo but here it's the presence of superheroes that ultimately challenge it. 

The film leaves us with the question of what happens when the truth is revealed. Will it cause more harm than good, will it cause chaos? I think what's truly important is these men existed- and they deserve to have their stories known. Elijah's mother (Charlayne Woodward) David's son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), and Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor Joy), who formed a connection with Kevin while being held captive, are the ones who spread the video. I believe Shyamalan is saying those closest to us are the ones who will ultimately tell our stories, good or bad. Mrs. Price turned Elijah on to comic books, which led to his actions, so its appropriate she show the world a live action comic and continue on his legacy. And while Shyamalan broke out with The Sixth Sense, this trilogy may be his most lasting legacy as a filmmaker.     

Sunday, 16 December 2018

"Superman" 40 Years of Believing a Man Can Fly

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Richard Donner's Superman was released 40 years ago and it's arguably the greatest superhero film of all time. It's certainly the one to which all subsequent superhero films are most indebted; not just because it was the first large-scale superhero film but due to its indelible images, music and performances that left their imprint on audiences' imaginations, including the creators behind future superhero films. One can see Superman's D.N.A in something even as singular as Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man (2002). Christopher Nolan has acknowledged it's influence on his approach to Batman Begins (2005) and Kevin Feige, architect behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has said its the constant reference point for the films. Its casting of major stars Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman also led to the early Batman films utilising big name actors for its villains. I would argue Superman and the original Star Wars- released a year and a half earlier- helped shape movie culture in to what it is today.

Superman (who was created Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) made his original appearance 40 years earlier in Action Comics #1 in 1938, so the film is at the exact mid-point of the character's history. It re-contextualised the character after nearly half a century of stories and defined many peoples' idea of the character since then. Instead of drawing inspiration solely from the comics, Donner used other films and genres as references. The early scenes on Krypton are reminiscent of other 70s sci-fi films, Clark Kent's teenage years feel like something out of Norman Rockwell and John Ford. When Clark gets to Metropolis, the scenes at The Daily Planet invoke His Girl Friday (1940) and Hackman's Lex Luthor is like a Bond villain. 

Donner's versatility as a director remains underappreciated. This is the man who went from The Omen (1976) to Superman, and eventually the Lethal Weapon franchise. He reminds me of Robert Wise, who also had an eclectic career, and Donner's old-school approach was beneficial to the film. Superman needed a classic approach rather than an "auteur's" touch.    

Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather, wrote the screenplay, with Leslie and David Newman, and Robert Benton coming in to do re-writes. It's important to note the screenplays for Superman and Superman II (1980) were written at the same time, with the first movie originally envisioned to end on a cliffhanger. The two films were filmed simultaneously but Donner was fired during work on Superman II. This was due to his poor relationship with the producers, father and son team Alexander and Ilyka Salkind. Richard Lester, director of the Beatles first film, A Hard Day's Night (1964), was brought in to finish Superman II. 

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Returning to the screenplay, the film's structure is not a conventional three-act structure. Instead, it's a series of short films that tell an overarching story. The first film is the Krypton prologue. We witness Kal-El's (Clark/Superman's Kryptonian birth-name) father Jor-El sentencing General Zod (Terence Stamp) and his co-conspirators, who planned a coup, to the Phantom Zone. This version of the Phantom Zone, which is like a floating mirror prison, is its most frightening depiction in the Superman mythology.

We've come to accept acclaimed actors appearing in superhero films as a given. However, having Brando play Superman's father was significant casting for its time. It helped lend credibility to the film as a serious production. Production designer John Barry, who won the Oscar for his work on Star Wars,establishes a sterile and cold society which won't listen to Jor-El's reasonable conclusion that  Krypton will explode

I like how the sentencing of the trio to the Phantom Zone leads naturally to the discussion of Krypton's destruction. The Phantom Zone is a "living death" as Trevor Howard's Elder says but, as Jor-El responds, it's at least a chance at life, since everyone on Krypton will die. When baby Kal-El's ship flies through space, it passes by the prisoners. It's a darkly comic moment that thematically connects Kal-El and the other Kryptonians. They're survivors floating through space.

The second film is Clark's ship crash-landing in Smallville. He's discovered and adopted by Martha and Jonathan Kent (Phyllis Thaxter and Glenn Ford). We then flash forward to Clark as a teenager. It's a testament to Ford's performance that in his short screen time he makes him such a warm and likable character, a good man who Clark clearly respects and after which he will model himself. After Jonathan's death of a heart attack Clark discovers the Kryptonian crystal Jor-El stored in his ship and will help him unlock the secrets of his heritage. I think my favourite scene in the whole film is Clark's goodbye to Martha in the field, which invokes John Ford's The Searchers (1956). Thaxter, whose screen time is also short, gives a achingly touching performance. 

After Clark spends some 12 years learning from Jor-El in the Fortress of Solitude, Christopher Reeve finally enters the film as the adult Clark. Some pretty famous actors were considered for the role of Superman, including some odd choices- Nick Nolte, James Caan- and some understandable ones- notably Robert Redford. Reeve was practically an unknown actor at the time but the decision to go with an unknown- as I mentioned in my piece on Romeo & Juliet- allowed the audience to accept Reeve as the character without associating him with other characters he played. Reeve not only looked like the character but he was a strong actor who had screen presence. He also made us believe that people would never suspect bumbling Clark Kent was actually Superman. 

Reeve's portrayal of Superman has a reputation in certain circles as being boring but I feel his performance is charismatic, witty and sexy. He made this character flesh and blood in a way I don't think he'd been before on screen. And yes, he's old fashioned but he has to be so there's a strong contrast between him and the modern world he occupies. Costume designer Yvonne Blake, who died earlier this year, deserves a lot of credit for creating a Superman suit that was simple but iconic, as well as functional.

This is also the rare superhero film where the male is the object of allure rather than the woman. It seems fitting Zack Snyder became the heir to the franchise since he's also fascinated with the masculine body. 
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Margot Kidder's performance as Lois Lane is also key to the film's success. She and Reeve have instant chemistry as both Clark and Lois and Superman and Lois. We understand why Clark would be attracted to her and respect her. Clark places himself in a weird love triangle with himself. He has a great night with Lois but then reverts to the Clark Kent persona, seeing Lois still occupied with thoughts of Superman. In a great moment he almost reveals his identity to Lois, changing his posture, taking his glasses off, changing from Clark to Superman and back again seamlessly.

I honestly love Gene Hackman's performance as Lex. I know for many he doesn't match the image they have of the character but his portrayal makes sense in the context of what I mentioned earlier- which he's essentially a Bond villain. And I do think he's true to comic-book Lex's megalomaniacal nature. Hackman is just broad enough with delving in to camp- and the dynamic between him and Superman in their one big scene together is well-defined.  

I will say I don't like the reversal of time ending, which was originally intended for the ending of Superman II (and was restored in the 2006 Richard Donner Cut version of the film) and I think it would've worked better as the conclusion of a two film story. The "Can you read my mind?" voice-over also undermines the flight scene with Lois and Superman.

I realised I talked this long with mentioning John Williams' majestic and triumphant score. I'd say the Superman theme is still the definitive superhero theme, aided by the visually stunning credits sequence. Williams' scores imbue in me a deep sense of nostalgia. The music for the film is whimsical, romantic, and filled with a sense of awe.

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The film is dedicated to the film's cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who died only a few months before the film's premiere. He photographed Stanley Kubrick 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Roman Polanski's Tess (1979), for which he won a posthumous Oscar, his second after Cabaret (1972). Unsworth creates a distinct look for each world of the film, from Krypton to Smallville, to Metropolis, stressing how the film is largely about the different worlds Clark/Superman inhabit.  

Clark/Superman doesn't have a traditional character arc. The film is more about the world around Superman and its reaction to him, as well as his purpose on Earth, which to inspire the good in people. Superman remains an important pop culture figure because of his innate goodness and the importance of hope in dark times. Superman lives on because it's such a happy and hopeful film, even with its darker moments. Reeve and Kidder are no longer with us but they live on in their performances, which are as timeless as the performances from classic Hollywood. To them, Donner, and the rest, thank you.  

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Shakesepeare on Film: "Romeo & Juliet" (1968)

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Released 50 years ago, Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet can appear old-fashioned to modern day eyes but it was a departure from previous Shakespeare adaptations in several ways. One, it wasn't star-driven as was usually the case with Shakespearean adaptations. 1935's A Midsummer Night's Dream (dir. Max Reinhart) featured James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland and Mickey Rooney, among others. 1953's Julius Caesar (dir. Joseph Mankiewicz) had Marlon Brando playing against type as Mark Antony. And we can't forget Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles' films, which were  showcases for their talents as filmmakers and actors.    

Zeffrielli forego typical star casting and went with largely unknown actors: Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who at 16 and 17, respectively, were much closer to the actual age of Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers than Leslie Howard, 43, and Norma Shearer, 34, were in George Cukor's 1936 film. After Olivier and Welles' personality driven films there's something significantly more humble about Hussey and Whiting's performances. And even the supporting characters are played by actors who weren't huge stars. This was an early role for Michael York, who plays Tybalt; he had previously been in Zeffirelli's film adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, released one year previously, and which did feature two big stars in Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. York would go on to star in Cabaret (1972) and Logan's Run (1973).

What also set Zeffirelli's film apart was the rawer sense of realism. Gone was the British storybook quality of Olivier's Henry V (1944) and Richard III (1955), and Welles' impressionism, replaced with an authentic Verona. There's a distinctly Italian feel to the film that separates it from both the previous Hollywood and British adaptations.  

While Hussey and Whiting had previous acting experience, these where their first major leading roles Having unknown actors gets rid of any association with any previous roles and allows the audience to just see Hussey and Whiting as the characters/. It also helps they truly feel like they've walked off from the page. We can't know what image Shakespeare had in mind when he was writing these characters, but it wouldn't be surprising if they looked like Hussey and Whiting. They give naturalistic performances whilst not losing the poetry of Shakespeare's language. 

Let's talk about the balcony, scene, perhaps the greatest love scene in Western literature, and how Zeffirelli stages it. He isolates Romeo and Juliet throughout the early parts of the scene, never having them in the same shot, waiting until later when Romeo climbs up a tree to bring them together in a shot. At the beginning of the scene we see Juliet through a shot of Romeo's POV. And even when the shots aren't strictly POV, we're kept at a distance from Juliet.

We get medium close-ups on Romeo's face during this section, which adds to our association with Romeo's perspective. We're eventually put in Juliet's perspective when we get POV and high angle shots of Romeo. Zeffirelli ends the scene perfectly, with Juliet on the balcony in the left hand corner of the shot and Romeo on the ground in the right hand corner. They're together emotionally but not yet married and still having to part from each other.  

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I also love how the duel between Tybalt and Mercutio  (John McEnery), which leads to Mercutio's death. The fight starts out as "fun and games-"with McEnery's performance encapsulating Mercutio's volatile jokester quality- until Mercutio is stabbed  by Tybalt. Romeo and the other Montagues and Capulets don't realize Mercutio has been fatally wounded, which underlines how despite the Montagues and Capulets constantly fighting, the idea of someone being killed as a result hasn't occurred to the anyone. There's a real intensity to the fight between Romeo and Tybalt, accentuated by Reginald Mills's editing. Mills was Oscar-nominated for his work on Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes (1948), and also edited several of their other films, including 
A Matter of Life and Death (1946), and Black Narcissus (1947).

The film was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, and won two, for Pasqualino De Santis' lush cinematography and  Danilo Dontali's costume design, which contrasts the two families. Dontali would win a second Oscar for Federico Fellini's Casanova (1976).

Nino Rota's score was un-nominated but contributes vastly to the film's romantic power- the love theme being of the film's most recognizable aspects.

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Zeffirelli crafted what's arguably the definitive version of this story of woe, capturing two impossibly beautiful actors playing two people whose love probably couldn't last, who almost did need to die for their love to remain pure. Friar Laurence believed Romeo and Juliet's marriage would bring together the Montagues and Capulets but it's ultimately their death which stops the violence. It's this cruel irony that proves Friar Laurence correct in a sense- but at a great and tragic cost.  

Saturday, 3 November 2018

The Boogeyman: "Halloween"

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Mild Spoilers Below

What's most impressive about the Halloween franchise is its status as a franchise at all. John Carpenter's original 1978 film was so simple and mystique-indrenched; the idea of making sequels was counter-intuitive. Halloween's ending is so haunting in its implication evil never dies, that Michael Myers presence will always be felt by families of his victims. Despite the film's supernatural undertones regarding Michael the film feels grounded in everyday reality. And there's no explanation as to why Michael killed his sister Judith and the other babysitters, with only Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) surviving. The last image of Laurie in the film is her crying after being saved at the last moment by Michael's doctor, Doctor Loomis (Donald Pleasance), who shoots him out a window (and then sees Michael's body has disappeared) Laurie has survived but she's been scarred by the horrific murders Michael committed.

The latest chapter in the franchise, simply called Halloween, takes this final shot of Laurie and asks how this night would've affected her 40 years on. The film cleans the slate, asking us to ignore everything post the original film, nixing the twist that Laurie and Michael are half-siblings. and gets back to the more grounded reality of the original, with Michael being caught that night and locked up for 40 years. Laurie is still traumatized by her encounter with Michael, which has complicated her relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). I'll admit I was surprised when it was announced the film would be a direct sequel to the original, with the franchise's major twist being gone. But now I do think it was a smart choice to ignore the sequels and just tell a story about the the legacy of trauma on a family.

I will say, I'm mixed on the overall film. I feel there's some good and even great stuff but the film feels like it should've been better given the pedigree. This feels a little too much like just another Halloween sequel. However, I think it's a good horror film and with some distance from expectations and a re-watch down the line, the film will likely come across a little bit better.  

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We're introduced to both Michael and Laurie through the perspective of two British journalists/podcasters, Dana Haines (Rhian Rees) and Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) who are investigating Michael and Laurie. The introductory scenes with Michael and Laurie are bookends to the main credits; The film parallels victim and victimizer in several ways. The first is how neither gives the two any information. Michael doesn't speak even when Aaron shows him his mask. Laurie, while she does speak to Aaron and Dana, doesn't offer any "fresh insights" or  sympathy towards Michael. Aaron and Dana want to be objective but Laurie doesn't believe Michael is someone who should be understood. 

The other way in which Laurie and Michael are paralleled is they're both prisoners. Michael is in jail  whereas Laurie has made herself a prisoner of her trauma and anger, locking herself in her house, equipped with a security system and basement full of weaponry. We learn Laurie trained Karen from a young age to defend herself. I couldn't help but be reminded of Sarah Conner, who prepared her son for the robot apocalypse. Except in this case, the situation is more realistic- Karen isn't the only hope for mankind, just another person who- in Laurie's mind- could fall prey to the horrors of the world. Karen tells Laurie in one scene that the world is a wonderful place, which a little naive and I'm not Karen entirely believes it. 

While Laurie may have been too extreme a mother, she has a point that the world isn't safe. Laurie knows firsthand that your normal way of life can veer off in to a nightmare. The film does appear to want to have it both ways: to show Laurie as someone who wasn't a fit mother while still arguing the value of her teachings. Because of Michael, Laurie's relationship to her child was irrevocably changed. And we eventually learn that Karen has taken in her mother's lessons and his her mother's daughter.

Allyson is caught between her mother and grandmother, an unwilling observer to that relationship. Laurie comes to Allyson's school to give her the money Aaron and Dana gave her for the interview. Laurie is the grandmother who'd like to have more of a relationship with her granddaughter but the rift between her and Karen makes it difficult.

The film urges us to ask the question one of its characters puts forward: Is what Laurie went through comparable to the other horrors of the world?; but we have to understand what happened to Laurie would always be a part of her. Laurie hopes Michael does eventually escape so she can kill him. Maybe if she kills him, she can finally be at peace. Thankfully the film doesn't offer an easy answer but does suggest only through shared hardship can the Strode women truly heal their wounds. 

On the night he's being transferred to a new facility, the bus he's on crashes. There's a subplot involving the "new Loomis" Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) and his fascination with the relationship between Laurie and Michael. While the brother/sister connection is gone the film still is curious about the metaphysical connection between the two, how Michael was affected by the murders he committed and not killing Laurie. This subplot could've been developed a little more. His eventual motives and plan remain vague even by film's end.

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I think the film would've been better if it just focused on the three Strode women instead of the teenage stuff, though I could've watched a whole movie with Vicky (Virginia Gardner) and the kid she babysits, Julian (Jibrail Nantambu). That kid was a hoot and Gardner makes Vicky in to a genuinely likable young woman. Matichak's reaction while confronting he boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold) is also surprisingly authentic. However, the teenage stuff in the original was used to contrast with Michael's presence throughout but here it all feels like a distraction from the more appealing story involving Laurie, who sometimes drifts in to the film's background. 

Curtis is honestly great here, bringing a lot to the film beyond what's just in the script. The scene where's she waiting in her car outside of the facility from where Michael is being transferred displays Laurie's torment from what happened all those years ago and Curtis really sells it. Laurie could've just stayed home but she needed to see him, to drink in that pain and anger.

Greer remains a wildly underused actress, though she gets a great moment near the end which is one of the best payoffs I've seen in a horror movie in some time. Again, I wish we spent more time with Laurie and Karen, since it's supposed to be the emotional core of the film. For me, their relationship didn't affect me as deeply as I would've desired. 

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I realize I've talked this much without mentioning the film's director, David Gordon Green. Green has had a peculiar career, starting out as indie auteur whose films George Washington, All The Real Girls and Undertow earned him comparisons to Terrence Malick. He then moved on to directing the stoner comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness before returning to indie dramas, including last year's Oscar hopeful Stronger with Jake Gyllenhaal. Green clearly doesn't wish to pinned down and directing a direct sequel to a horror classic is another indication of this desire. Green equips himself pretty well to the horror genre; the opening sequence/cut to credits was enough to get me hyped for the rest of the film and the bathroom sequence is another standout. Gordon homages Carpenter without feeling like he's aping him too much. Speaking of Carpenter, he returned to score the film along with his son Cody Carpenter. And it's a strong composition, with "Halloween Triumphant" being a standout. 

Returning to what I said before, Halloween is a good horror which will definitely benefit from some distance from the expectations inherent to a film of this kind.. The film's strong performances and fine craftsmanship make this a respectable sequel, though I think could've been even deeper and more haunting.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Looking forward to Oscars 2019

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I have a love/hate relationship with the Oscars, or more specifically a love/disappointed relationship, where I always hope for a more exciting Oscar race but have to settle in for a lot of foregone conclusions, particularly in the acting race. I find this time, early in the Oscar season, to be the most interesting and exciting. where there are still wild cards and still a guessing game around who's going to make in to the top five. I wanted to give my overview what I think is going on in the major categories. So, let's start with the big prize, Best Picture.

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Best Picture

The two films poised to battle it out for Best Picture appear to be Bradley Cooper's directorial debut, A Star is Born, the latest version of this story- the last being the 1976 film starring Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand- and Damien Chazelle's follow up to La La Land, First Man, the true life story of Neil Armstrong's journey to the moon. I sense people will be either team A Star is Born or team First Man. I feel First Man is getting stronger reviews but A Star is Born may end up doing what La La Land notoriously almost/kind of did, win Best Picture.

On the less traditional side of things, Yorgas Lanthimos' films have been too odd to find their way in to the Best Picture race (though he was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for The Lobster), his latest film, The Favourite, which sounds like a combination of Barry Lyndon and All About Eve, has the potential to be his first Best Picture nominee. The film takes place in the 18th Century and concerns the rivalry between Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and servant Abigail (Emma Stone) over Queen Anne's (Olivia Coleman) favouritism.

Alfonso Cuaron's latest film Roma has received rave reviews and is being called his most personal work to date. If it were to be nominated it'd be the first film on Netflix to garner a Best Picture nomination.

Steve McQueen's Widows sounds like a more mainstream and traditionally entertaining film than we've come to expect from the director, albeit one with a social conscious akin to his previous work. With comparisons to The Departed and the Ocean's movies, this could make it in to the race.

Barry Jenkins' follow-up to his Best Picture winner Moonlight is If Beale Street Could Talk, based on James Baldwin's novel. The film is getting glowing reviews, with Jenkins being commended for translating Baldwin's prose to cinema. Furthermore, it's being called another sensitive and beautiful love story from the director.

Beautiful Boy, based on the true story of a father facing the reality of his son's drug addiction is getting mixed reviews, with most of the praise going towards Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet's performances. However, the relatability of the subject matter could push it in to the Best Picture line-up.

The other ''Boy'' movie this year is Boy Erased. It's also based on a true story, about a 19 year boy outed to his parents as gay and sent to conversion therapy. The film is getting strong reviews and is actor Joel Edgerton's follow up to The Gift. Thankfully he's not going through a sophomore slump.

Backseat, a comedy-drama biopic about former Vice-President Dick Cheney is still a wild card with no trailer and a late December release date. Adam McKay directed it and while it could be another The Big Short (for which McKay was nominated for Best Director), it also could be another W. (Oliver Stone's George W. Bush biopic.)

Then there's the question of Black Panther. I'd argue The Dark Knight is still the closest we've gotten to a superhero film nominated for Best Picture and it'd probably get nominated if it came out this year. While horror, sci-fi and fantasy have been nominated and even won Best Picture the superhero genre still hasn't broken through, though it's been rewarded in other areas- most significantly, Heath Ledger's posthumous win for his portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight. Black Panther is already seen as a game-changer since it's a  predominantly black superhero film; it's cultural impact will certainly be an advantage.

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Best Director

Bradley Cooper could join Robert Redford and Kevin Costner as actors who've won Best Director for their a directorial debuts. Damien Chazelle could also wind up as the young two-time Best Director winner but voters may not want to give him so much so soon.

Alfonso Cuaron could Ang Lee himself in to another two-time Best Director winner without the film for which he's nominated winning Best Picture, which would mean four of the six past winners would be the same two men. Alejandro G. Inarritu won back to back Oscars for Birdman and The Revenant, with Cuaron winning for Gravity just before him.

Even if Yorgas Lanthimos gets in, I don't the Academy is itching to give him an Oscar. Barry Jenkins or Steve McQueen could become the first Black director to win the Oscar. And Ryan Coogler can't be underestimated either for Black Panther

Joel Edgerton could be a surprise inclusion for Boy Erased though the screenplay and performances will likely get most of the attention.

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Best Actress

Lady Gaga appears to be the front-runner at this point for A Star is Born, playing a role which also garnered Judy Garland an Oscar. The fact Gaga will likely also be nominated for Best Original Song could lead academy members to vote for her in that category instead. If Glenn Close gets nominated for The Wife, it'll be her 7th career nomination and fourth for Best Actress. She's arguably the most overdue actress in Hollywood; even if she's the film's only nomination- like Julianne Moore in Still Alice- the good will towards her and overdue narrative could finally snag her the prize.

It appears Coleman will go lead for The Favourite. If Gaga and Close split, Coleman could come up the middle and win. 

Yalitza Aparicio is getting tons of praise for her performance in Roma. She's a pre-school teacher who was discovered by Cuaron for this film. She'll perhaps end up taking the exciting newcomer slot in the Best Actress race.

Melissa McCarthy is also in contention for her dramatic-comic performance as real life literary document forger Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me? McCarthy was nominated in Best Supporting Actress for her breakthrough performance in Bridesmaids and is due to make a return for an against type performance.

Julia Roberts is building up buzz as the mother of a drug addict attempting to stay clean in Ben is Back, though the mixed reaction to the film may hurt her chances.

Nicole Kidman's performance in Destroyer- as a LAPD detective who is dealing with a past case that still haunts her- sounds like the kind of transformative performance which garners Oscar nominations and this probably the case where the performance is the film.

I have Felicity Jones in On the Basis of Sex, the Ruth Bader Ginsberg biopic, outside the top five. I have a feeling the film may not be that good and Jones appears to be miscast.

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Best Actor

Cooper has been nominated twice in this category and once in Supporting Actor. His performance in A Star in Born is said to be his best. And having such a big hand in bringing this film to the big screen- directing the film and writing his own songs- could help him win this category. The Academy clearly likes him and it feels he'll walk away with something come Oscar night.

Ryan Gosling is also looking at his third Best Actor nomination for playing Neil Armstrong in First Man. While Claire Foy has gotten most of the acting praise as Janet Armstrong, as with La La Land, the love for the film could carry him to a nomination.

Willem Dafoe, who was an early front runner in Best Supporting Actor for The Florida Project last year- before Sam Rockwell gained momentum- could be receiving his first Best Actor nomination and fourth overall nomination as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity's Gate. I see Dafoe ending up as the overdue actor in this category, and sentiment left over from last year will also help.

Christian Bale playing Dick Cheney is the type of performance the Academy still leans toward (see Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour), though a movie about Cheney is a tough sell.

Jason Reitman's The Frontrunner, starring Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart, the senator caught in a sex scandal during the 1988 Presidential Election, has received mostly lukewarm reviews, with most praise given to Jackman. This feels more like a Golden Globe/possibly SAG nominee than a Oscar-nominated one.

Steve Carell stands a chance of getting his second Best Actor nominee for playing the father of a drug addict in Beautiful Boy. A very different kind of role than his previous nominated turn in Foxcatcher, the film sounds like it's using Carell's every-man likability to good use.

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Best Supporting Actress

Foy is perhaps the Alicia Vikander of this year, the one to beat for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Janet Armstrong. Emma Stone is probably her closest challenger if she campaigns in this category and not lead. However, will the Academy want to give her a second Oscar so soon? I feel she'll end up like Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle the year after she won Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook. If Amy Adams-playing Lynne Cheney- gets a nomination, she'll either ride the overdue wave or have to wait another year for an Oscar. Regina King is getting great reviews for her performance in If Beale Street Could Talk. I think the veteran actress is on her way to her first nomination.

Elizabeth Debicki is said to be a standout in Widows so look out for her possibly getting her first nomination as well.

Nicole Kidman could see herself returning to his category for Boy Erased, two years after getting nominated for Lion. 

It sounds like Rachel Weisz may be the one the of the trio from The Favorite without a nomination but I wouldn't count her out completely.

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Best Supporting Actor

Likable veteran actor Sam Elliot has never been nominated but that could change with his role in A Star is Born. This category likes to honour veterans and I could see him winning, given this feels like less competitive category this year.

Timothee Chalmet is still perhaps too young to win but his performance in Beautiful Boy could make him another Timothy Hutton.

Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya has gotten comparisons to Javier Bardem's portrayal of Anton Chigurh for his performance in Widows, which has gotten me even more excited to see the film; though, like Debicki, we'll have how Widows fares as the race goes on.

Richard E. Grant is said to have great chemistry with McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and he's already considered a likely nomination, along with Ben Foster in Leave No Trace.

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Best Original Screenplay

I'd love to see Boots Riley get nominated for his truly original and bizarre Sorry to Bother You. The Lobster was nominated in this category, so I can't see why this can't.

Speaking of The Lobster, The Favourite may end up being the favourite to win in this category. A Best Picture nominee is often honoured in at least one of the screenplay categories a Best Picture nominee. Cuaron could also win here for his Roma screenplay.

Eighth Grade is one of the year's best reviewed films and this category is its best shot at a nomination.
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Best Adapted Screenplay

First Man could win here, especially given it was written by Josh Singer, who won Best Original Screenplay for Spotlight. Jenkins could also win his second in this category for If Beale Street Could Talk. But if the love for A Star is Born is strong this may be another category it takes in a sweep.

Writer/director Nicole Holofcener has never been nominated for an Oscar; winning for her Can You Ever Forgive Me? screenplay could be the upset that's actually not that upsetting.

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Best Cinematography

If Cuaron were to win in this category for Roma, it'd be the first black and white film to win since Schindler's List.

Linus Sandgren is going for his second nomination and win after La La Land with First Man. Robbie Ryan, who has been working since the early 90s, is looking at his first nomination and possible win for The Favourite

James Laxton, who photographed Moonlight, will again be facing off against Sandgren for If Beale Street Could Talk.

And of course, A Star is Born will also be contending in this category. Matthew Libatique hasn't been nominated since Black Swan. It'll be a welcome return and he might end up winning.

Other Categories

Best Film Editing:
First Man
A Star is Born
If Beale Street Could Talk
The Favourite

Best Costume Design:
The Favorite
Black Panther
Mary Poppins Returns
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald
Mary Queen of Scots

Best Sound Mixing/Editing:
First Man
A Star is Born
Black Panther
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Ready Player One

Best Score:
First Man
The Favourite
If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Visual Effects:
First Man
Ready Player One
Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Make-up/Hairstyling:
Black Panther
The Favourite
Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Queen of Scots

Best Production Design:
Black Panther
The Favourite
Mary Poppins Returns
First Man
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald

So, those are my thoughts on how the race is shaping up. Though of course it's still in the race. So, what are your thoughts on the Oscar race. Comment below and let me know.