The “experts” seem to think the race for the Best Picture Oscar is down to a handful of hopefuls, while the Best Actor and Best Actress awards appear to be locked up for an uncanny performance in a biopic and a career achievement award for an American treasure who is way overdue.
We put “experts” in quotes, because no one really knows what’s going to happen at the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 24 (ABC, 8 p.m.). And obviously, just writing about movies doesn’t make you an expert (this column being a prime case in point).
So we here at Insider Louisville decided to ask members of the Louisville film community their thoughts about the big awards at the Oscars, as well as picks for any additional category that caught their attention in 2018. This is in no way an exhaustive or scientific poll — we just wanted to get the opinion of local folks who create, exhibit and love films.
Our panel includes:
- Madelyn Carey of Film Liberation Unit, a student group that screens films at the UofL Floyd Theater
- Dean Otto, curator of film at Speed Cinema
- Remington Smith, a local filmmaker and professor at UofL
- Stu Pollard, a Louisville native, film producer and co-founder of Lunacy Productions
- Soozie Eastman, executive director of the Louisville Film Society (BTW, LFS is hosting an Oscar watch party, complete with an auction of a bottle signed by Jennifer Lawrence, at Cooper & Kings on Sunday night.)
- Jeris Johnson, a production designer at Videobred
- Ken Hardin, Insider Louisville’s decidedly non-expert movie writer
Madelyn Carey: “Roma”
I am of the belief that the noblest thing a film can do is inspire love and empathy. “Roma” simply overflows with it. Director Alfonso Cuaron, inspired by the life of his own childhood maid, captures life’s ups and downs for domestic worker Cleo and the family she cares for. The deceptive simplicity of the story swells until, finally, it crashes like an ocean wave in a stunning culmination of hope and heartbreak.
It left me speechless, then it left me endlessly grateful for the people in my life who have been there for me, even while bearing the load of their own existence. For all of this and more, “Roma” is the undisputed masterpiece in this Oscar season’s lineup.
Soozie Eastman: “Roma”
Not the easiest film to watch, but this incredibly emotional film is the front-runner heading into Hollywood’s golden night.
Stu Pollard: “A Star is Born”
In a year where it feels like the vote is split across almost every category except Best Song (Lady Gaga will win that for sure) and Best Foreign Language Film (“Roma,” same), this one will at least make for an exciting watch due to the sheer unpredictable nature of things. “A Star is Born” was once a major favorite, and now it feels like a bit of a dark horse. I like those odds. Plus it was a crowd-pleaser, killed at the box office, and Bradley Cooper went to Georgetown (my alma mater).
Jeris Johnson: “Roma”
The narrative itself overall captured a storyline we don’t get to see often, if not ever. A period piece that places us in Mexico during the time of revolution. Alfonso gives us a dive into his past with this personal work, and it’s definitely a raw and passionate feel.
Soozie Eastman: Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”)
Coming off of his Globes and SAG wins, I think he has Best Actor locked.
Stu Pollard: Rami Malek
This seems to be his year. While the film is a bit uneven (it is undeniably fun), his performance, and transformation, is pretty damn impressive — to put it mildly.
Jeris Johnson: Rami Malek
I didn’t get to see any performances by Freddie Mercury growing up, but from the looks, persona and seeing side-by-side comparisons of the two, he embodied this role.
Madelyn Carey: Lady Gaga (“A Star is Born”)
“A Star is Born” is a timeless tale that reinvents itself with the time it is remade, and each iteration has featured a larger-than-life icon in its titular role. 1954 gave us Judy Garland in a role that, despite enormous praise, infamously did not win the Academy Award (Groucho Marx famously called Grace Kelly’s victory over Garland “the biggest robbery since Brinks”).
In the 1976 version, Barbra Streisand famously played the lead. It makes sense that 2018’s answer to Judy Garland was Lady Gaga, perhaps the only true heiress to Garland’s gutsiness and Streisand’s spunk. The Lady’s combination of raw emotion and towering star-power may earn her the Oscar that Judy Garland never received and so deserved.
Ken Hardin: Lady Gaga
I am going to be solidly behind any actress who cut her teeth in Robert Rodriguez post-grindhouse flicks. Seriously, Gaga is absolutely remarkable and brings substance to the female lead in a version of the oft-reprocess yarn that could have been overwhelmed by Bradley Cooper’s broken persona.
Best Animated Feature
Remington Smith: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse”
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse” should win best animated feature. It’s the closest we’ve come to actually visualizing the comic book format into moving pictures, which on its own is a filmmaking feat. But it also has a great story featuring one of this year’s best soundtracks, not only making it one of the best movies of 2019, but one of the best superhero films, period.
Best Foreign Language Film
Dean Otto: “Shoplifters”
The failure of institutions to protect children is a theme that has crossed over a few of the Oscar-nominated films this year, including “Capernaum,” “Detainment” and “Border,” but Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters” approaches the subject with such grace and humanity.
In the film, he shows how a family of little means grows to accept a new member who is neglected by her birth mother. This generous act is at conflict with traditional laws, but the chosen family is the clearly more powerful structure for raising a child. Without a doubt, Kore-eda’s strongest work to date. His only real competition is “Roma,” but I feel that may be saved for Best Picture.
Best Documentary Feature
Soozie Eastman: “RGB”
As a docu-filmmaker, it might be obvious why this is my chosen add-on category. I think “RGB” is going to win because of popularity and recognition — it’s a great film, so no complaints, but “Of Fathers and Sons” is the most eye-opening, gut-wrenching doc I have seen this year. The filmmaker going undercover to capture such a dramatic, tragic film leaves me in awe of his commitment to this story and to his career.
Best Documentary Short
Stu Pollard: “Black Sheep” (Ed Perkins and Jonathan Chinn)
This falls more in the “Who I want to win rather than who I think will win” category, but I went to USC with Jonathan Chinn back in the ’90s. He DP’d the first advanced project I worked on as a film student (I was a boom op), and while I haven’t kept in touch with him, I recall him being a great guy when we were in school together. I know most Oscar watchers are not very invested in the doc short category. But this year I will be rooting for a fellow USC alum to bring that one home.
Best Production Design
Madelyn Carey: “The Favourite”
“The Favourite” is a near-flawless movie, and this is helped in part by the wonderful eye of production designer Fiona Crombie. Queen Anne’s claustrophobic palace is as gilded and regal as it is garish and almost nauseating. Despite mostly adhering to conventions of its 18th century setting, Crombie manages to create an environment off-kilter enough to fit snugly in the surreal canon of director Yorgos Lanthimos. It is truly genius.
Ken Hardin: “Black Panther”
There were several beautifully designed films last year, and the sense of magical realism that permeates the everyday settings of “Roma” is a distinctive accomplishment all its own. But for raw inventiveness, the nod goes to Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart for “Black Panther” — particularly for how seamlessly their sets accentuated Ruth Carter’s lavish wardrobe designs. Sometimes, more is more.
Snubs that Really Irked Us
Even worse than last year, nearly none of the films that I would consider best were nominated in any category, other than “Black Panther.” “Sorry to Bother You” should have beat out “BlacKKlansman” but didn’t have the financial backing to make a campaign. “Annihilation,” “First Reformed,” “Mission Impossible Fallout” — some of this year’s best in cinema, nowhere nearly represented as much as they should be (if they are at all).
How the hell did Toni Collette not get a nod for “Hereditary”? Sure, the film itself failed to play out to the initial critical hype — it’s actually a competent but unremarkable genre exercise that jazzed up a lot of folks who don’t get the genre. But Toni Collette is absolutely transcendent as the tortured mom. She’s always amazing. She carried “Krampus,” for pete’s sake. The Academy had better not make Toni Collette wait Glenn Close years to get her statue.