Sunday, March 10, 2019

THE 13th ANNUAL MURIEL (MUR13L) AWARDS



And the Muriel goes to...

Critics groups. The Film Independent Spirits Awards. The Oscars. Whew. Awards season is finally over, right? Well, yes and no. Because though they have been now fully announced, you may not have heard the results from the tallying of the 13th Annual Muriel Awards, and awards season is not truly over until Muriel has had her say-- Muriel, being the beloved guinea pig of awards founder Paul Clark, who decided to honor his beloved pet by naming these critic-based honors after her a decade and some years ago. Thirteen years, in fact, which is why Clark has taken to calling this year’s proceeding the Mur13ls.

It’s been my honor to participate in each of those 13 years, and to become familiar with some really good writers in the process. Because yes, if we’re lucky, we who vote sometimes get to write about some of our favorite nominees and winners along the way. That’s what this Mur13ls countdown roundup is all about. What follows is a listing of each 2018 Muriels winner, with a hopefully enticing excerpt from the piece submitted by an assigned critic to accompany the listing and a link to the page where the entire essay can be found. At the Muriels site, Our Science is Too Tight, you’ll also find stats on the runners-up for each category and listings of every movie that received a vote toward a nomination.

I’ve got two pieces in the awards this year, and we’ll get to those eventually. Right now, let’s start in the order the awards were rolled out over the past two weeks, before, during, and after the announcement of the Academy Awards. Because Oscar isn’t the only game in town. Plump and hairy to complement the gold man’s sleek, shiny design, Muriel is here to stay and getting better every year. And now the first Muriel Award goes to…


BEST DOCUMENTARY  Minding the Gap 
“Even as Liu confronts the abuse that all three subjects (himself included) suffered growing up, and the ways that that abuse has carried on into the next generation, he never loses sight of the excitement and beauty of skateboarding as an outlet for the three men (and others) to escape their problems and recapture some youthful innocence and enthusiasm. That through line, along with the genuine personal relationships among the three men, allows Liu to touch on issues of race, class and gender without ever coming across as heavy-handed or preachy.” (Josh Bell) 


“Nicholas Britell's score is crucial to the film's emotionally wide-ranging affect, with swooning cellos and jazzy trumpets alternating with subtly foreboding electronic drones and quietly doom-laden percussion. As entrancing as it is to hear Britell's music in context, however, it's even more illuminating to hear it in isolation, where one can appreciate the depth of the composer's imagination.” (Kenji Fujishima)


BEST YOUTH PERFORMANCE  Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

“Fisher's Kayla reminds all of us about our needy Eighth Grade selves. Watch her attempts to join in conversations with the more popular kids. Fisher's timing is absolutely expert in those moments. She also gives a great physical performance: slouched shoulders, that defeated walk, those averted eyes. Fisher helps the viewer experience everything Kayla feels--mostly frustration, social anxiety, fear, getting lost while surfing the web while hoping for likes, clicks, and shares (the way most people do on social media--eighth grade or not).” (Brian Wilson)
50th ANNIVERSARY AWARD  2001: A Space Odyssey 
“Everything about it feels enormous, demanding the biggest screen available. A single edit spans millions of years, suggesting a story about the entire history of the human race, or at least a topic as broad as ‘man's use of tools.’ Yet it ends intimately, with one man alone inside the vastness of space, of time, of his mind. Maybe.” (Vern)



BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE COUNTDOWN #5:  Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me? 
“It's a juicy, hammy role, perfectly suited to about half of all British actors of a certain age, but Grant knows exactly when to go over the top and when to play it close to the vest, which points to allow Jack's neuroses and insecurities to poke through the carefully crafted demeanor of a man who is already playing an outsize version of himself.” (Jeff McMahon) 

BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE COUNTDOWN #4:  Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

“Much like Weisz’ appearance in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, she is able to hold the states of ridiculous and serious at once, a tightrope of facial expressions, tone and restraint mixed with a precise understanding of the material and her body and camera in space: a pure artful display of cinematic acting. (As Lady Sarah), her vacillation between power and powerlessness- being in favor and out of favor-- is what makes Weisz’ performance so sickeningly irresistible.” (Donna Kozloskie)


BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE COUNTDOWN #3:  Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther

 “In virtually every shot, you can see the pain and anguish on his face. (To quote my friend and fellow film critic Sean Burns, Jordan hurts in this movie.) He doesn’t make Killmonger out to be just another, run-of-the-mill Marvel villain selfishly out to rule/destroy the gotdamn world. He’s a man who’s fed up with white supremacy (and the Black people who won’t do anything about it) and wants to launch a full-scale revolution so Black folk all over the world can finally have the upper hand. It’s not every day that the MCU gives us a heavy who inspired think pieces debating whether or not dude’s Evil Plan was actually all that evil.” (Craig D. Lindsey)


BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE (MALE): Steven Yeun, Burning 

“It’s the yawn. The yawn says so much about Ben, the way he doesn’t appear to give much away but has just told you everything. He lets it happen and locks eyes with the camera, no guilt about it but he’s not exactly sneering. It’s just a yawn that says ‘we both know I’m gonna get away with it.’ What is it? Anything he thinks he can get from you… He’s beatific and resigned, calm and sure of himself. He even leaves clues to his crimes lying around to vex his nemesis. He doesn’t care that you know everything about him.” (Scout Tafoya)


 

BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE (FEMALE):  Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk  

“As Sharon Rivers, Regina King lights If Beale Street Could Talk” with a maternal glow that serves as a port in the storm surrounding the lovers Fonny and Tish. Her beacon burns brightly, illuminating a path for not only her daughter but her future son-in-law as well. She is the quintessential mother, comforting and warm yet in command of a fierceness that protects her progeny like the strongest armor. Sharon’s chainmail has been forged in the fires of an unjust, unequal America; when her daughter faces similar injustices, Sharon shrewdly prepares for battle.” (Odie Henderson)



OUSTANDING BODY OF WORK:  Brian Tyree Henry 

"In 2018, Brian Tyree Henry had eleven credits on the IMDB, spanning film and TV with deliberate reach. If he had just had his turns in Atlanta, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Widows- that would have been enough to shame most careers as far as spanning genres and personae. But to start one day hearing colleagues at work talking about how great he was in Beale Street, and then hear the same thing from a bunch of teens talking about how great he was as Miles’ dad in Into The Spider-Verse later on in the same day; that doesn’t happen often. And it’s a testament to Henry’s tireless work ethic that it is happening.” (Jason Shawhan)



 25th ANNIVERSARY AWARD: Dazed and Confused  

"Keeping the political landscape of the era in the margins allows Linklater to elevate the emotional landscapes and keep focus on the more quotidian problems his characters are experiencing. Like getting Aerosmith tickets, finding a new location for the party, for the senior to find freshmen to beat, or for the freshman to find ways to fight back. What elevates Dazed beyond the average teen comedy is how deeply invested it is in these mini-dramas without overestimation their importance beyond the moment. As Linklater observes in the making of documentary, for teenagers 'the stakes are low, but it’s your life. So the stakes are actually pretty high.'” (Kevin Cecil)


BEST SCREENPLAY: Paul Schrader, First Reformed  

"It all has a touch of the personal; Schrader famously escaped into the cinema from a Calvinist upbringing indistinguishable to an outsider (or, indeed, many insiders) from systematic abuse, and while so many of his most famous protagonists spend seasons in various urban hells, First Reformed sees him return to small-town America, and struggle with his demons in the gray, wintry light of day. Home, where you can't blame being lost on being in a foreign land. Daytime, without darkness in which to hide. God shows His face when he feels like it, not when you want Him to.” (Danny Bowes)


BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE:  Support the Girls

"Lisa's struggle throughout the film is not that of a manager trying to ensure solid work from her employees but rather that of a mother trying to achieve social coherence within her work family. She's only kidding herself, and the chaotically amusing performances of the rest of Support the Girls' cast drive home that delusion. Haley Lu Richardson's perky Maci (picture King of the Hill's Luanne at the top of her class) is as winningly naïve as Shayna McHayle's Danyelle is guardedly skeptical. In particular, Danyelle's deadpan observation that she's 'pretty sure' it's illegal for Double Whammies to enforce an off-the-books max cap on how many black waitresses they're allowed to hire is note perfect, as is James LeGros as the restaurant owner who came up with that policy, dead inside and ruling like a despot what miniscule corner of the business world he can claim as his own. Double Whammies may not be the family Lisa seeks, but Support the Girls' cast comes as close as any movie's did this year." (Eric Henderson)

 

 TWOFER: BEST DIRECTION AND BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Alfonso Cuarón, Rom

“Roma is a deeply mythological film, too, that connects Cleo with some primal elemental force that bridges Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The very first shot of the movie shows the sky and an airplane reflected on water, water Cleo is using to scrub the floor of the drive. She tracks down Fermin, her child’s father, to a vast field of dirt. There’s a forest fire at the celebration the family attends with their affluent friends. The film climaxes in the surf, before it bookends everything with Cleo ascending to the rooftop of the house, like she’s the mediator between the sky and the other elements.” (Christianne Benedict)



 BEST CINEMATIC BREAKTHROUGH: Boots Riley, Sorry to Bother You 

Sorry To Bother You spends its last third twisting itself into one odd metaphor after another about capitalism and the damage America’s classism and racism wreaks. If it starts to lose its footing in the final 20 minutes and goes from being laser-guided and consistently entertaining to gratuitously odd, it still feels far more together than superficially similar cult films like Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales. Alex Cox’s Repo Man became a hit among ‘80s punks for offering the same basic sensibility and politics. Here’s the equivalent for a new generation." (Steven Erickson)



10th ANNIVERSARY AWARD:  Wall-E 

"This visionary animated film that may well be regarded one day as one of the greatest of all animated features, stretches the boundaries of the form, and of art in general… The film has its level of cynicism, and there’s a hopelessness that recalls A.I. Technically and in its painstaking attention to detail it may well be the most accomplished of animated films. It is an exhilarating film of great physical beauty and wonderment, yet like all great art, its heartbreak is palpable.” (Sam Juliano)


 

 BEST EDITING:  The Other Side of the Wind 

“Welles and Murawski mix together 35mm, 16mm, and 8mm segments, variously shot in black-and-white and color, freely and seamlessly, in addition to switching aspect ratios between the 1.37:1 of the faux “documentary” footage of the party and the 1.85:1 of the film-within-the-film. It is an enormous credit to the skill of both editors (and the numerous other people involved) that this all registers not as simply as a cute formal device, but as a conscious configuration of the play between cinema and reality. And of course, it is a vital element in establishing the complex, almost free-jazz rhythm that the film takes on from almost its opening frames and carries through to the final shot — which, itself, is a post-production “fabrication” that, as paired with the closing lines, stands as one of the most enigmatic yet potent images in recent memory.” (Ryan Swen)



 
 


BEST LEAD PERFORMANCE COUNTDOWN #5: Thomasin Harcourt Mackenzie, Leave No Trace 

“Mackenzie’s considerable achievement here is to navigate viewers, with invisible technique and a depth of empathy that would be the hallmark of any far more seasoned actress, into an understanding of experience as this emerging young woman understands it, an understanding whose source can be traced directly to Mackenzie’s countenance and the way she occupies space, both in the frame and in her ever-new environment. By the time Tom declares to her father that ‘the same thing that’s wrong with you isn’t wrong with me,’ the movie has fulfilled its unhurried journey toward sublimity, with myriad opportunities for its audience to appreciate the nuanced, rarified air of a soul discovering itself, asserting independence, breathing in the world.” (Dennis Cozzalio)


BEST LEAD PERFORMANCE COUNTDOWN #4: Toni Collette, Hereditary 

“The obvious and easy thing would’ve been to push Annie’s brittleness, to intimate darkness and fragility as Annie shares her various traumas. Collette is smarter than that, playing the moment as pragmatic and, though she’s reluctant to open up, clear-eyed about her own baggage. There are many horror stories about broken people who are preyed upon by monsters; what sets Collette’s Annie apart is that she’s a flawed but self-aware person who tries, even before all hell breaks loose, to take care of herself. And she’s no less doomed because of it.” (Andrew Bemis)



BEST LEAD PERFORMANCE COUNTDOWN #3:  Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Towards the end of the film, she gorges herself on blue cake, takes a short break to puke, and then continues stuffing the cake in her mouth, sitting wide legged on the floor. It's a repulsive, darkly funny tableau. Yet even in that moment, Colman doesn't allow viewers to forget that it's a real, complex person sitting there. And that not knowing whether or not to laugh is kind of the point.” (Hedwig van Riel)



BEST LEAD PERFORMANCE (FEMALE):  Regina Hall, Support the Girls 

“Everybody knows a Lisa. You may have never worked in a ‘breasturant’ like Double Whammies but you probably worked with a Lisa. Familiarity helps with such a character but what makes Regina Hall as Lisa the glue in Support The Girls, and how her acting differentiates from her previous role in Girls Trip where she was also the lead and the glue of that ensemble, is that she is being crushed under the weight of modern capitalism and caught in her middle management position.” (Caden Mark Gardner)


BEST LEAD PERFORMANCE (MALE):  Ethan Hawke, First Reformed  

Hawke shows Toller as empowered by the past and traditions of his church and faith. Reverend Toller and First Reformed Church are both imperfect, weakened vessels through Schrader’s film, but Hawke enlivens both in his performance, by becoming a man with purpose.” (Caden Mark Gardner)


BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #10:  Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski) 

"Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess took place at a programming convention; Results was a romcom about personal trainers; and here's another oddball comedy, this one set at a Hooters-inspired sports bar. As in those earlier films, Bujalski's jokes play with the codes and quirks of his chosen milieu. The waitresses have to tease their clientele, but can't get too overt. ‘There is an art to this,’ says Lisa, the harried manager, to a new hire. She's having a bad day at work, juggling duty and compassion; most of the film spans from her morning commute to the end of her shift. (Not all of it, though, as the jam-packed screenplay has some structural surprises in store.)” (Alice Stoehr)


BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #9:  BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)

“Lee arranged for this film to be released on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the tragic Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a counter protester, Heather Heyer, was killed. The movie ends as a tribute to Heyer, and we’re left with the horrifying thought that this shit is still happening with the flames being fanned by the asshole in the highest office in the land.” (Daniel Cook Johnson)



BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #8: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel and Ethan Coen)

“In The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, death doesn’t just hang in the air, it’s something so close it takes on a tactile quality. It’s so inevitable that even the one victory the film allows isn’t so much because the character won his prize, but because he skirted death (for now). We’re all sharing a stagecoach ride to the end, and we all have a story about how we got there. Exploring this truth through the eyes of Buster Scruggs’ eclectic characters, the Coen Brothers present something that’s as thrilling, resonant, and meaningful as anything they’ve ever done.” (James Frazier)



BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #7: The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles)

"I could talk all day about what makes The Other Side of the Wind such a major and vital piece of work, and one that proves that, even thirty-plus years after his death, Orson Welles still has plenty to teach all filmmakers who care to pay attention. But there's nothing I could say that the film itself couldn't say twice as well as I ever could. I'll just say that, with all the garbage that the world had to offer in the year 2018, it also gave us a brand-spanking-new Orson Welles movie. And that, like the fella said, ain't nothin'." (Paul Clark)



BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #6: Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
“If this is indeed his rumination on what makes a family, you couldn't make a much stronger argument for the Shibata family being a loving aspirational goal - a bulwark of security and support guarding against the shit and horror of the real world. But everyone has something to hide, and one aspect that ultimately makes Shoplifters feel so emotionally draining is the way Kore-eda, under the surface, was weaponizing that warmth.” (Steven Carlson)

 BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #5:  Zama (Lucrecia Martel)

Zama is the personification of complex as it is both dreary & beautiful. I’m not usually one for hyperbolic statements, but this is one of the best films I've seen in years.” (Marcus Pinn)



BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #4: Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)
“In her 2015 Dissolve interview with film critic Tasha Robinson, Debra Granik, commenting on her documentary Stray Dog (2014) about a Vietnam veteran, notes the richness of the things she wished her documentary had time to cover: ‘There could have have been a whole film that could have gone much more in-depth on therapeutic discussion, on what it takes to manage PTSD, or to face ghosts, and figure out how to live the next chapter of your life.’ Leave No Trace, Granik’s third feature-length narrative film, is, perhaps, a beautiful expression of that other film that Stray Dog did not have the space to be… The entire film is a quiet one; Granik gives her actors very little dialogue, but frames them, with beautiful work from DP Michael McDonough, in such a way that their faces and bodies communicate the emotion, the things that cannot be said but only deeply felt. Granik trusts the images to do the talking and allows room for the eloquence of silence. An unassuming but assured answer to the frantic editing and frenetic images that so often fill our cinema screens, Granik offers us space to breathe and feel, to learn to love our characters and feel with them their complicated emotions.” (Melissa Tamminga) 


BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #3: If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)
“Perhaps the biggest injustice of last week’s Oscar telecast wasn’t that Green Book, a movie where a walking Italian stereotype teaches an African-American gent how to eat fried chicken, won Best Picture over BlacKkKlansman and Black Panther, movies directed by African-American filmmakers that handled race and racism in a far more insightful, challenging, entertaining manner. (Don’t get me wrong — seeing Driving Miss Daisy 2.0 win was still fucked up.) It was that If Beale Street Could Talk, the latest from writer/director Barry Jenkins, wasn’t even in the running.” (Craig D. Lindsey)

BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #2:  Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)
“There’s a clear intention behind the use of the space inside the frame in Roma. Most of the time the characters are relegated to the background, so we get the time to fully explore the surroundings, trying to capture any period detail (or fault in it), expanding upon the ambience, helped through the impeccable sound design (which puts the camera as a physical entity where the ears capture sound as much as a person in that position is able to). This isn’t because the period detail or the sets are more important than what’s happening to the characters that inhabit them, but because those objects and sounds inform of the choices they end up making. It speaks of their social, racial and gender positions inside society. But it’s not an explicit dig by Cuarón to make these apparent or obvious, as he just decides to make a portrait of the normalcy of that moment.”

BEST PICURE COUNTDOWN #1:  First Removed (Paul Schrader)
“Among (Schrader’s) often brutal oeuvre I think he’s finally made a film which could be accurately described as exquisite, without betraying any of the rage and paranoia and unsettled psychological terrain that has earmarked both his finest and even his most flawed work. That word ‘exquisite’ should in no way imply preciousness, as if anyone describing Schrader’s work could ever make room for that adjective. First Reformed is a tormented consideration of faith (and the lack thereof), the difficult possibility of transcendence, and the seemingly even more difficult act of holding ostensibly opposed impulses of hope and despair in balance without completely losing one's shit. Which, of course, makes it a perfect piece with Schrader’s long-expressed vision and a perfect movie for our particular moment.” (Dennis Cozzalio)
*************************************

Saturday, February 23, 2019

THREE OSCAR-ALLERGIC ALTERNATIVES, plus ACADEMY AWARD PREDICTIONS v. 2019


 

The Oscars are looming, in case you hadn’t heard. I spent last evening with a last-minute Oscar lightning round screening of Willem Dafoe’s Best Actor-nominated performance as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate, and in my best Gene Shalit voice I will tell you to go-go-Gogh grab it at a Redbox near you. Dafoe’s work towers over the other four nominees, and even gives Ethan Hawke’s tortured pastor in First Reformed, my choice for male performance of the year, a run for its money. 
But truth be told, I’ve been spending the waning minutes before the Dolby Theater at Hollywood and Highland takes its place as the center of the universe tomorrow night (or tonight, if you’re reading this on Sunday), immersed in decidedly anti-Oscar bait, and if you don’t have any desire to submit yourself to watching Oscars this year you could do much worse than spending time with any or all of these three Oscar-allergic alternatives. Speaking of alternatives, in the last few days my daughters and I have traveled to a parallel universe (where, perhaps, movies like this win awards?) courtesy of Happy Death Day 2U, the inventive and energetic sequel to 2017’s unexpectedly nifty Happy Death Day, both of which rest squarely on the shoulders of the percolating comic talent of their lead, Jessica Rothe, who again navigates the treacherous landscape of an endlessly repeating day which ends, every time, with her own death. The sequel is, as one friend put it, more Real Genius (1985) than real horror, and it doesn’t quite measure up to the delicious blend of existential horror-comedy the first one managed. But fans of the first movie will likely be plenty diverted, as were we, by all the different spins Rothe can put onto waking up in the same place not-dead-after-all again and again and again…
Then we caught up with Overlord (“FROM PRODUCER J.J. ABRAMS!” shout the ads), which parachuted into theaters this past November as if on a stealth mission to make it into multiplexes and then avoid as many paying customers as possible before sneaking out a week later the same way it snuck in and marching straight to the closest streaming provider. The setup couldn’t be more videogame boilerplate: a group of soldiers on a mission to take out a communications tower behind German enemy lines during the last days of World War II find that there’s much more sinister things going on in (and beneath) that tower than just radio transmissions revealing Allied troop positions. And the trailers reinforce the perception of the movie as yet another tired entry in the zombie saturation fest that has been plaguing pop culture since long before The Walking Dead became a phenomenon.
But Overlord’s scope is thankfully far more compact, and as a result more potent, than that of a full-on invasion of suddenly reanimated corpses roaming across the bombed-out French countryside. The movie is absurdly well directed by one Julius Avery and definitely benefits from low expectations and having flown relatively low and successfully under the radar. It’s also anchored by strong performances by Jovan Adepo and Wyatt Russell as the straight-up private and the cynical corporal leading the charge against they don’t exactly know what—Adepo hails from Denzel Washington’s adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences, and Russell, who you’ve seen in Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!, is every inch, every clenched tooth, his father Kurt’s son, complete with genetically inherited magnetism— and young actress Mathilde Ollivier as a girl seasoned by the horrors of war whose fellow villagers are mysteriously disappearing into the German-occupied “church” on the outskirts of town and coming back, if they come back at all, not quite the same as they once were. Even if you can guess where it’s going, and you probably will, Overlord has the power to surprise you with both its over-the-top gore and its restraint. Its sense of being rooted in a tradition of well-made horror handily elevates this picture above and beyond the usual fare aimed at the rowdy hooligans roaming the multiplex on a Saturday night, in relentless search of thrills far cheaper than the ones available here.

And speaking of the multiplex, my family and I were snowbound the weekend it opened and couldn't get to a show house, but I'm happy to report that earlier this week my daughter Emma and I got to see The Prodigy with a packed, very appreciative and very attentive audience, and if the sound of screams, tension-release laughter and absolute quiet in all the right spots (no guarantee from a multiplex horror movie audience) is any indicator, then director Nicholas McCarthy's new movie is a well-deserving success. Don't let the release date fool you-- this is not an early 2019 dump of a junk picture the studio is trying to earn back its money on. The Prodigy is a visually sophisticated and eloquent horror thriller whose chill perfectly matches the winter air. It’s a supernatural bad-seed melodrama with roots in lots of other pictures and influences (The Exorcist, The Omen, and directors like Mario Bava among them), but the movie’s ace-in-the-hole is how grounded it is not only in the horror, but also the parental nightmare at the root of the horror. Orange is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling is a young mother who can’t get a handle on the strange development of her young son, who showed incredible intellectual agility from the earliest moments but who now, at age eight (as embodied by Jackson Robert Scott, Pennywise’s first victim in the 2017 version of Stephen King’s It), is exhibiting some rather strange… tendencies. 
To say more would be unfair, because of the three movies I’ve talked about in this post The Prodigy is the one that really delivers. Now, after three features, the film’s director, Nicholas McCarthy, is becoming a master of the slow burn-- he knows the value of using the wide-screen frame to creep up to the terror. McCarthy is a true believer, a director who knows the genre inside-out and takes it seriously, but he doesn’t come across as either an overeager fanboy or a po-faced practitioner of the art of rubbing the audience’s faces in gruesomeness in order to ensure his credibility. (See French extreme horror.) McCarthy’s confidence here is remarkable. He manages to steal a jump-scare bit directly from Bava and spin it brilliantly in such a way that outdoes the maestro and puts the audience on the floor behind their seats. (At least I was.) And The Prodigy delivers one sequence that will surely endure among horror aficionados and, with any luck, mainstream audiences, a masterful buildup to a release that never comes-- Schilling makes her way down a dark staircase and hovers near the entrance to an even darker room, its black entrance opening toward her like the maw of an abyss. Yet the cheap scream that a lesser director would pull out of his hat to cap a setup like this, like a desperate magician's ragged rabbit, never materializes. McCarthy leaves the scream that wants to leap out stuck squarely in your throat, and the residual lingering on that dark room before the cutaway cements a lingering dread that never dissipates for the remainder of the movie. No plot spoilers from me. Just know that The Prodigy will get under your skin. See it in a theater, if you can.
*****************************************
Okay, so back to the Oscars. With precious few hours left, I’ve decided to once again participate in the ritual public humiliation of Oscar predictions. You should be forewarned though: As they used to say on the pinball machines of my youth, these predictions are for your amusement only. In fact, some may get more amusement out of them than others, and that’s okay—I am nothing if not one to be laughed at. So with that as my lead, it’s probably redundant to suggest that the following predictions are probably not your best bet for winning the office Oscar pool—the last time I won it myself, with my awesome powers of precognition, was 15 years ago. And if some of you do choose to use these guesses as a template in the expectation of big cash prizes, let me be the first to say, “I told you so.” Here we go.

BEST PICTURE 

In this year of all years, smack in the middle of a “national emergency,” even though it’s not close to being my own pick I won’t be upset to see Cuaron’s movie hold center stage.

Winner: Roma

Should win: BlacKkKlansman

Spoiler: Black Panther

BEST ACTRESS

It’s career achievement time.

Winner: Glenn Close, The Wife

Should win: Olivia Colman, The Favourite (sadly, she doesn’t seem to be one any longer)

Spoiler: Lady Gaga, A Star is Born

BEST ACTOR

Bradley Cooper should learn the lesson that if he’s going to win a Best Actor Oscar, he’d be better off to impersonate an actual person, like Dick Cheney, or Freddie Mercury, or Vincent Van Gogh, or even a mook like Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, rather than a fictional guy like Norman Maine (or a real guy like Sam Elliot). Oh, well…

Winner: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

Should win: Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate

Spoiler: Christian Bale, Vice

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

This year Oscar will coronate King.

Winner: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Should win: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Spoiler: Emma Stone, The Favourite

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Can Mahershala Ali overcome the prevalent refrain of “he already got his”? Yeah, I think so.

Winner: Mahershala Ali, Green Book

Should win: Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman

Spoiler: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

BEST DIRECTOR

He/she who bets against Mexico in this category is either a Greek or Polish national, or more probably someone who hasn’t been paying attention too closely over the last few months.

Winner: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Should win: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

Spoiler: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Despite the Writer’s Guild of America win for Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, I think the Oscar race is a close call between Spike Lee et al. and Barry Jenkins. The winner will be the guy “they” really want to give an Oscar to.

Winner: Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott, Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz, BlacKkKlansman

Should win: (I threw a dart and it landed on) Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

Spoiler: Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The sweep will continue unabated here.

Winner: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Should win: Paul Schrader, First Reformed

Spoiler: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara, The Favourite

BEST DIRECTOR

Adam McKay! Kidding!

Winner: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Should win: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

Spoiler: Ain’t gonna be no spoiler in this category.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Winner: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse

Should win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse

Spoiler: Ain’t gonna be no spoiler in this category

BEST ANIMATED SHORT

Winner: Bao

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Winner: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Should win: Robbie Ryan, The Favourite, with a shout-out to Bruno Delbonnel (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) and Benoit Delhomme (At Eternity’s Gate), who have no business being on the sidelines here.

Spoiler: Lukasz Zal, Cold War

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Winner: Ruth Carter, Black Panther

Should win: Ruth Carter, Black Panther

Spoiler: Mary Zophres, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Winner: Free Solo

Should win: Of Fathers and Sons

Spoiler: RBG

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT

Winner: Black Sheep

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

I’m betting on the maverick sensibilities of the Academy membership to—What the hell am I saying?

Winner: Roma

Should win: Shoplifters

Spoiler: Cold War

BEST FILM EDITING

Winner: Hank Corwin, Vice

Should win: Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman

Spoiler: Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT

Winner: Marguerite

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Winner: Vice

Should win: Vice

Spoiler: Ain’t gonna be no spoiler in this category.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Winner: Terence Blanchard, BlacKkKlansman

Should win: Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk

Spoiler: Ludwig Goranson Black Panther

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

It’s the only win this overhyped machine can’t possibly lose.

Winner: “Shallow,” A Star is Born

Should win: “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Spoiler: Ain’t gonna be no spoiler in this category

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Wakanda forever?

Winner: Black Panther

Should win:  Black Panther

Spoiler: Roma

BEST SOUND EDITING

Winner: Bohemian Rhapsody

Should win: A Quiet Place

Spoiler:  A Quiet Place

BEST SOUND MIXING

Winner: Bohemian Rhapsody

Should win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Spoiler: Black Panther

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Zzzzzzzzzzz….Whoops! I’m sorry. Carry on.

Winner: Avengers: Infinity War

Should win: Uh…. Avengers: Infinity War

Spoiler: Ready Player One

************************************

Enjoy the Oscars. And promise not to read these predictions on Monday and make fun of me.

***********************************