Film Review: A Star is Born (2018)

Directed by: Bradley Cooper
Written by: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
Produced by: Bill Gerber, Jon Peters, Bradley Cooper, Todd Phillips, Lynette Howell Taylor

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There seems to be an unstoppable hype for this film since the release of its official trailer. Once Warner Bros. scrambled to move its release date from May to September and finally to October, they are obviously positioning this film to be an awards contender. And after months of anticipation, it is finally clear: A Star is Born is an accomplished, even enthralling, debut for Bradley Cooper the director featuring wonderful work from its stars, Cooper himself and Lady Gaga in her first leading role in film.

If you haven’t been informed of the film’s timeless story (it has been made four/five times already), here is a quick catch up: Jackson (Cooper), a musician quietly struggling with alcoholism, met Ally (Lady Gaga), a waitress working as a singer in a drag bar at night. They get caught up in a whirlwind romance that culminates in Ally’s first performance to a large audience. What follows is Jackson’s career decline while Ally’s is on the rise, challenging the love between them.

Bradley Cooper has crafted an assured directorial debut, giving some of the best first forty minutes of filmmaking this year. Moving with electric and pulsating energy, those minutes showcases the marriage of all filmmaking elements coming together. Those moments are of audio-visual amazement: razor-sharp editing, vivid cinematography, and immersive sound design all come together to capture the blossoming of this relationship. The craftsmanship is impeccable,and it is thrilling to witness. This is also where the writing is at its best: honest moments of romance and drama going so well with the subtle wit.

On a personal note, I cried tears of joy while the climactic musical scene “Shallow” came. Tears came as a result of experiencing a cinematic moment I haven’t witnessed for a long time. It is when the music, narrative, sound, visuals, editing, and emotions all come together and it just enveloped me with chills. Truly a moment of cinematic magic.

As the film progressed, the narrative slowed down but the film maintains its cinematographic gumption. The film editing proved to be more inconsistent, with questionable choices with rhythm and pacing. Not saying it is bad; it is the way for the story to go, but clocking in 135 minutes, there are certainly moments where the editing could be tighter.

Also, the narrative became more imbalanced. We are not talking about less screentime for either the two actors, it is about the focus of their separate storylines. While Cooper’s Jackson has juicy material with deeper struggles on alcoholism and falling out of fame, Gaga’s Ally becomes reduced to the minimally interesting backstage errands and the actual performances.

Bradley Cooper, as an actor, is fantastic in his multi-faceted work as Jackson. Knowing him from great performances in Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, American Sniper, and even Burnt, my senses were quick to notice what he has done to form this character: his body language beaten down by exhaustion, alcoholism, and deafness, the lower pitch of his speaking voice and speech patterns that recalls Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, and the textured singing voice.

This is nothing like he has ever done before. But right after noticing these, it all becomes second nature and just helped me understand his character. As Jackson reaches the lowest points of his life, Cooper lives up to the challenge and just breaks my heart as he desperately clings to his career, his relationships, and to Ally. This is beautiful work from Cooper.

Lady Gaga has become the biggest question mark of this year so far. Everyone knows she is a great musician with a spellbinding voice, but will her acting chops live up to this film? The answer is a resounding yes. Right from her first scene, she has shed her flashy and strong real-life personality. What is left is a different kind of strong: a woman with a grounded strength, accepting her defeat in life while not letting the fire within her go out. The moment she meets Jackson, she experiences a beautiful self-actualization and she finally gets the break she waited for.

What comes next is perhaps not the best material for her. As previously stated, the focus of her storyline pales in comparison to the emotional heft of Jackson’s. Gaga’s still all good, but the narrative shortchanged her of the material that could let her explore the more delicate nuances of her character. In fact, I would say these are the film’s least interesting parts of the film.

Good thing that when Jackson reaches the lowest of lows, it becomes a dramatic duet between the two. Jackson’s desperate breakdown is well-complimented by Ally’s well-meaning but helpless assurance and the two actors are simply heartbreaking to watch. By the film’s finale, Gaga wraps the story with a powerful rendition of “I’ll Never Love Again” and she is quite stunning. While the writing may not have fully maximized her acting skills, this film just excited me about her future acting career because I believe Gaga has so much to give if given the right role.

It was my instinct to write more about Gaga than Cooper because of my fascination with actresses in general, but make no mistake: they both nail their respective character beats and what is seen on-screen is perhaps one of the best cinematic romances in years. And of course, the soundtrack is a knockout.

The film has its imperfections, but it is very good, and when it is in its peak, it is memorable to witness. The film has proven itself to be worthy of retelling the classic story. The title refers to a star, but in reality, two stars are born: Gaga the Actress and Cooper the Director.

Grade: B+

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Could A Star is Born Win Picture, Actress, and Actor at the Oscars?

After the strong critical reception and the foreseeable box-office prominence, A Star is Born is poised to be a formidable contender in Best Picture, Actress, and Actor.

Bradley Cooper gets career-best reviews while Lady Gaga has the (no pun intended) ‘a star is born’ narrative that does well especially in Best Actress. The film itself, also produced, has been positively received since it premiered in Venice. This is probably even going to be the frontrunner in the Golden Globes where musicals have a separate category.

In fact, some pundits are even predicting that the film will win all three awards at the Academy Awards. But historically speaking, could the film pull off this feat? After some tinkering with the Academy Awards’ history, here are the stats that might go for or against the chances of A Star is Born winning these awards.

Here are the stats, and this is gonna be long. Only for Oscar nerds and the curious. Winners are in bold.

There are 80 Best Actress/Actor nominees coming from the same film.

From this, 62 are from Best Picture nominees.

Out of the 62, only three won Best Picture, Actress, and Actor. They are:

  • It Happened One Night (1934) – Claudette ColbertClark Gable
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) – Louise Fletcher / Jack Nicholson
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – Jodie Foster / Anthony Hopkins

Take note: all of these films were the also the only Big Five winners (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay).

Four films won Best Actress and Actor but not Best Picture. They are:

  • Network (1976) – Faye Dunaway / Peter Finch + William Holden
  • Coming Home (1978) – Jane Fonda / Jon Voight
  • On Golden Pond (1981) – Katharine Hepburn / Henry Fonda
  • As Good as It Gets (1997) – Helen Hunt / Jack Nicholson

Five films won Best Picture and Actress but not Best Actor. They are:

  • Gone with the Wind (1939) – Vivian Leigh / Clark Gable
  • Mrs. Miniver (1942) – Greer Garson / Walter Pidgeon
  • Annie Hall (1977) – Diane Keaton / Woody Allen
  • Driving Miss Daisy (1989) – Jessica Tandy / Morgan Freeman
  • Million Dollar Baby (2004) – Hilary Swank / Clint Eastwood

Only one film won Best Picture and Actor but not Best Actress. It is:

  • American Beauty (1999) – Annette Bening / Kevin Spacey

Eleven (11) films won Best Actress but not Best Picture and Actor. They are:

  • Gaslight (1944) – Ingrid Bergman / Charles Boyer
  • Johnny Belinda (1948) – Jane Wyman / Lew Ayres
  • A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) – Vivian Leigh / Marlon Brando
  • The Country Girl (1954) – Grace Kelly / Bing Crosby
  • Room at the Top (1959) – Simone Signoret / Laurence Harvey
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) – Elizabeth Taylor / Richard Burton
  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) – Katharine Hepburn / Spencer Tracy
  • The Lion in Winter (1968) – Katharine Hepburn / Peter O’ Toole
  • Children of a Lesser God (1986) – Marlee Matlin / William Hurt
  • Silver Linings Playbook (2012) – Jennifer Lawrence / Bradley Cooper
  • La La Land (2016) – Emma Stone / Ryan Gosling

Six films won Best Actor but not Best Picture and Actress. They are:

  • Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) – Greer Garson / Robert Donat
  • The Philadelphia Story (1940) – Katharine Hepburn / James Stewart
  • The King and I (1956) – Deborah Kerr / Yul Brynner
  • Separate Table (1958) – Deborah Kerr / David Niven
  • The Goodbye Girl (1977) – Marsha Mason / Richard Dreyfuss
  • The Theory of Everything (2014) – Felicity Jones / Eddie Redmayne

Seven films won Best Picture but not Best Actress and Actor. They are:

  • Cimarron (1930-31) – Irene Dunne / Richard Dix
  • Rebecca (1940) – Joan Fontaine / Laurence Olivier
  • Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) – Dorothy McGuire / Gregory Peck
  • From Here to Eternity (1953) – Deborah Kerr / Montgomery Clift + Burt Lancaster
  • The Apartment (1960) – Shirley Maclaine / Jack Lemmon
  • Rocky (1976) – Talia Shire / Sylvester Stallone
  • The English Patient (1996) – Kristin Scott Thomas / Ralph Fiennes

Twenty-five (25) films did not win Best Picture, Actress, and Actor. They are:

  • A Star is Born (1937) – Janet Gaynor / Fredric March
  • Pygmalion (1938) – Wendy Hiller / Leslie Howard
  • The Pride of the Yankees (1942) – Teresa Wright / Gary Cooper
  • Madame Curie (1943) – Greer Garson / Walter Pidgeon
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) – Ingrid Bergman / Gary Cooper
  • The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) – Ingrid Bergman / Bing Crosby
  • The Yearling (1946) – Jane Wyman / Gregory Peck
  • Sunset Boulevard (1950) – Gloria Swanson / William Holden
  • A Place in the Sun (1951) – Shelley Winters / Montgomery Clift
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) – Elizabeth Taylor / Paul Newman
  • The Hustler (1961) – Piper Laurie / Paul Newman
  • Ship of Fools (1965) – Simone Signoret / Oskar Werner
  • Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – Faye Dunaway / Warren Beatty
  • The Graduate (1967) – Anne Bancroft / Dustin Hoffman
  • Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) – Genevieve Bujold / Richard Burton
  • Love Story (1970) – Ali McGraw / Ryan O’ Neal
  • Lenny (1974) – Valerie Perrine / Dustin Hoffman
  • Chinatown (1974) – Faye Dunaway / Jack Nicholson
  • Atlantic City (1981) – Susan Sarandon / Burt Lancaster
  • Reds (1981) – Diane Keaton / Warren Beatty
  • Missing (1982) – Sissy Spacek / Jack Lemmon
  • Broadcast News (1987) – Holly Hunter / William Hurt
  • The Remains of the Day (1993) – Emma Thompson / Anthony Hopkins
  • In the Bedroom (2001) – Sissy Spacek / Tom Wilkinson
  • American Hustle (2013) – Amy Adams / Christian Bale

Eighteen (18) films have Best Actress and Actor nominations but not Best Picture.

None of the 18 have won both Best Actress and Best Actor.

Out of the 18, three films won Best Actress but not Best Actor. They are:

  • Hud (1963) – Patricia Neal / Paul Newman
  • Dead Man Walking (1995) – Susan Sarandon / Sean Penn
  • Walk the Line (2005) – Reese Witherspoon / Joaquin Phoenix

Three films won Best Actor but not Best Actress. They are:

  • A Free Soul (1930-31) – Norma Shearer / Lionel Barrymore
  • The African Queen (1951) – Katharine Hepburn / Humphrey Bogart
  • Leaving Las Vegas (1995) – Elisabeth Shue / Nicholas Cage

Thirteen (13) films did not win both Best Actress and Best Actor. They are:

  • The Guardsman (1931-32) – Lynn Fontanne / Alfred Lunt
  • My Man Godfrey (1936) – Carole Lombard / William Powell
  • Mourning Becomes Electra (1947) – Rosalind Russell / Michael Redgrave
  • A Star is Born (1954) – Judy Garland / James Mason
  • Wild is the Wind (1957) – Anna Magnani / Anthony Quinn
  • Days of Wine and Roses (1962) – Lee Remick / Jack Lemmon
  • This Sporting Life (1963) – Rachel Roberts / Richard Harris
  • The Great White Hope (1970) – Jane Alexander / James Earl Jones
  • The China Syndrome (1979) – Jane Fonda / Jack Lemmon
  • Educating Rita (1983) – Julie Walters / Michael Caine
  • Ironweed (1987) – Meryl Streep / Jack Nicholson
  • What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993) – Angela Bassett / Laurence Fishburne

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Fun Fact: The other two versions of A Star is Born (1937 and 1954) have also been nominated for Best Actress and Actor.

Do you think this year’s version will win Best Actor? Or Best Actress? Or Best Picture? Or all those three?

Final Predictions: 70th Primetime Emmy Awards

This is the first time I’m predicting the Emmys, honoring excellence in television. The show will be on September 17, 2018 on NBC.

On the drama side, I’m all rooting for The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown, as well as Stranger Things, This is Us, and Westworld. In comedy, with Veep out of contention for now, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is my pick.

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DRAMA CATEGORIES

SERIES – This is a tough race. The Handmaid’s Tale and Game of Thrones seem like the frontrunners, but watch out for The Crown.

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
  2. Game of Thrones (HBO)
  3. The Crown (Netflix)
  4. The Americans (Showtime)
  5. Stranger Things (Netflix)
  6. Westworld (HBO)
  7. This is Us (NBC)

LEADING ACTRESS – This feels like a five-way race, but I believe Moss will still prevail with that powerhouse submission. But this is a close race: from Foy down to Maslany, all have their narratives that make sense for a win. And don’t count out Wood: Westworld has its fanbase, and with a tight race, Wood could prevail with 17-20% votes.

  1. Elisabeth Moss – The Handmaid’s Tale – “The Last Ceremony”
  2. Claire Foy – The Crown – “Dear Mrs. Kennedy”
  3. Keri Russell – The Americans – “The Summit”
  4. Sandra Oh – Killing Eve – “I Have a Thing About Bathrooms”
  5. Tatiana Maslany – Orphan Black – “To Right the Wrongs of Many”
  6. Evan Rachel Wood – Westworld – “Reunion”

LEADING ACTOR – Here’s where I’m pulling for a surprise win. Brown is the repeat winner, but his submission this year is not as strong as last year, and This is Us‘ season is more dramatically focused on Ventimiglia. That might cause a vote split, and Rhys will most likely benefit from it.

  1. Milo Ventimiglia – This is Us – “The Car”
  2. Matthew Rhys – The Americans – “START”
  3. Sterling K. Brown – This is Us – “Number Three”
  4. Jeffrey Wright – Westworld – “The Passenger”
  5. Jason Bateman – Ozark – “The Toll”
  6. Ed Harris – Westworld – “Vanishing Point”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS – I made the vote-splitting argument in Leading Actor, but not here. Even with Bledel and Dowd as past winners for Handmaid’s, Strahovski arguably the MVP of the season and benefits from an almost-lead character. Or Dowd could easily repeat. Or if vote-splitting does happen, Newton and Kirby would benefit.

  1. Yvonne Strahovski – The Handmaid’s Tale – “Women’s Work”
  2. Ann Dowd – The Handmaid’s Tale – “June”
  3. Thandie Newton – Westworld – “Akane no Mai”
  4. Vanessa Kirby – The Crown – “Beryl”
  5. Lena Headey – Game of Thrones – “The Dragon and the Wolf”
  6. Alexis Bledel – The Handmaid’s Tale – “Unwomen”
  7. Millie Bobby Brown – Stranger Things – “Chapter Four: The Pollywog”

SUPPORTING ACTOR – Meh. The potent performances here (Harbour and Smith) are leads, and the best contenders I’ve seen are unrecognized: Justin Hartley in This is Us and Noah Schnapp in Stranger Things. Everyone seems to predict Harbour, or maybe they will default go with Dinklage. But be warned: Joseph Fiennes could happen. The Handmaid’s Tale never lost an acting award. I’m predicting it as a surprise win.

  1. Joseph Fiennes – The Handmaid’s Tale – “First Blood”
  2. Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones – “The Dragon and the Wolf”
  3. David Harbour – Stranger Things – Chapter Three: Will the Wise”
  4. Matt Smith – The Crown – “Mystery Man”
  5. Mandy Patinkin – Homeland – “Species Jump”
  6. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – Game of Thrones – “The Spoils of War”

DIRECTING – Another category where vote split might happen. Podeswa is the bigger (overdue) name from the Game of Thrones, but Beyond the Wall (I heard) has the big battle scene. I’m hesitating to go with Handmaid’s to take this with a more low-key episode compared to, say, its season opener. Damn it, I’m going with Podeswa.

  1. Jeremy Podeswa – Game of Thrones – “The Dragon and the Wolf”
  2. Kari Skogland – The Handmaid’s Tale – “After”
  3. Alan Taylor – Game of Thrones – “Beyond the Wall”
  4. Stephen Daldry – The Crown – “Paterfamilias”
  5. The Duffer Brothers – Stranger Things – “Chapter Nine: The Gate”
  6. Jason Bateman – Ozark – “The Toll”
  7. Daniel Sackheim – Ozark – “Tonight We Improvise”

WRITING – This is where I think Handmaid’s will lose. Or not? I have no idea. I’m going with The Americans‘ famous series finale.

  1. The Americans – “START”
  2. The Handmaid’s Tale – “June”
  3. The Crown – “Mystery Man”
  4. Killing Eve – “Nice Face”
  5. Game of Thrones – “The Dragon and the Wolf”
  6. Stranger Things – “Chapter Nine: The Gate”

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COMEDY CATEGORIES

SERIES – People say it’s Atlanta. I’m going Maisel.

  1. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
  2. Atlanta (FX)
  3. Barry (HBO)
  4. GLOW (Netflix)
  5. Black-ish (ABC)
  6. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
  7. Silicon Valley (HBO)
  8. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

LEADING ACTRESS – Again, Maisel.

  1. Rachel Brosnahan – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – “Thank You and Good Night”
  2. Tracie Ellis Ross – Black-ish – “Elder. Scam”
  3. Pamela Adlon – Better Things – “Eulogy”
  4. Allison Janney – Mom – “Phone Confetti and a Wee Dingle”
  5. Lily Tomlin – Grace and Frankie – “The Home”
  6. Issa Rae – Insecure – “Hella Great”

LEADING ACTOR – First, I thought of going with Hader. But then, Glover is in THE comedy episode of the season.

  1. Donald Glover – Atlanta – “Teddy Perkins”
  2. Bill Hader – Barry – “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast, and Keep Going”
  3. Larry David – Curb Your Enthusiasm – “Fatwa!”
  4. Anthony Anderson – Black-ish – “Advance to Go (Collect $200)”
  5. Ted Danson – The Good Place – “Dance Dance Resolution”
  6. William H. Macy – Shameless – “Sleepwalking”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS – I’m predicting McKinnon, though I’m not confident. I can easily see Borstein (frontrunning series), Metcalf (industry fave), or Mullally (allegedly a strong submission) winning.

  1. Kate McKinnon – Saturday Night Live – “Host: Bill Hader”
  2. Alex Borstein – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – “Doink”
  3. Laurie Metcalf – Roseanne – “No Country for Old Women”
  4. Megan Mullally – Will and Grace – “Rosario’s Quinceanera”
  5. Betty Gilpin – GLOW – “Debbie Does Something”
  6. Zazie Beetz – Atlanta – “Helen”
  7. Aidy Bryant – Saturday Night Live – “Host: Chadwick Boseman”
  8. Leslie Jones – Saturday Night Live – “Host: Donald Glover”

SUPPORTING ACTOR – I’m going with the overdue industry favorite.

  1. Henry Winkler – Barry – “Chapter Four: Commit … to YOU”
  2. Tony Shalhoub – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – “Thank You and Good Night”
  3. Brian Tyree Henry – Atlanta – “Woods”
  4. Louie Anderson – Baskets – “Thanksgiving”
  5. Kenan Thompson – Saturday Night Live – “Host: John Mulaney”
  6. Titus Burgess – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – “Kimmy and the Beest!”
  7. Alec Baldwin – Saturday Night Live – “Host: Donald Glover”

DIRECTING – As I’ve said, Teddy Perkins is the comedy episode of the year. But if Maisel emerges as victorious, it’ll be easy for Sherman-Palladino to get this.

  1. Hiro Murai – Atlanta – “Teddy Perkins”
  2. Amy Sherman-Palladino – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – “Pilot”
  3. Donald Glover – Atlanta – “FUBU”
  4. Bill Hader – Barry – “Chapter One: Make Your Mark”
  5. Jesse Peretz – GLOW – “Pilot”
  6. Mike Judge – Silicon Valley – “Initial Coin Offering”
  7. Mark Cendrwoski – The Big Bang Theory – “The Bow Tie Asymmetry”

WRITING – Maisel should get this easily. That was a FANTASTIC pilot.

  1. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – “Pilot”
  2. Barry – “Chapter One: Make Your Mark”
  3. Atlanta – “Alligator Man”
  4. Barry – “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast and Keep Going”
  5. Atlanta – “Barbershop”
  6. Silicon Valley – “Fifty-One Percent”

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LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE CATEGORIES

LIMITED SERIES – After the Creative Emmys, Versace feels unstoppable.

  1. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
  2. Godless (Netflix)
  3. Patrick Melrose (Showtime)
  4. Genius: Picasso (Nat Geo)
  5. The Alienist (TNT)

LEADING ACTRESS – Ugh, okay.

  1. Laura Dern – The Tale
  2. Michelle Dockery – Godless
  3. Jessica Biel – The Sinner
  4. Sarah Paulson – American Horror Story: Cult
  5. Regina King – Seven Seconds
  6. Edie Falco – Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders

LEADING ACTOR – Criss walks away with a bravura performance, unless Legend spoils it.

  1. Darren Criss – The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
  2. John Legend – Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert
  3. Benedict Cumberbatch – Patrick Melrose
  4. Jesse Plemons – Black Mirror: USS Callister
  5. Jeff Daniels – The Looming Tower
  6. Antonio Banderas – Genius: Picasso

SUPPORTING ACTRESS – I don’t know if it’s an actual prediction or a wishful thinking: I want Judith Light to happen. But if someone’s to spoil, it’s wither Wever or Cruz.

  1. Judith Light – The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story – “A Random Killing”
  2. Merritt Wever – Godless – “The Ladies of La Belle”
  3. Penelope Cruz – The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story – “Ascent”
  4. Sarah Bareilles – Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert
  5. Adina Porter – American Horror Story: Cult – “11/9”
  6. Letitia Wright – Black Mirror: Black Museum

SUPPORTING ACTORVersace will split. It’s either the standout from an overperformer (Superstar) or with an Emmy favorite (Daniels in Godless).

  1. Brandon Victor Dixon – Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert
  2. Jeff Daniels – Godless – “An Incident at Creede”
  3. Finn Wittrock – The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story – “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
  4. Édgar Ramírez – The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story – “Ascent”
  5. Michael Stuhlbarg – The Looming Tower – “9/11”
  6. John Leguizamo – Waco – “The Strangers Across the Street”
  7. Ricky Martin – The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story – “The Man Who Would Be Vogue”

DIRECTING – I could easily see David Lynch going for a surprise win.

  1. Ryan Murphy – The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story – The Man Who Would Be Vogue”
  2. Scott Frank – Godless
  3. David Lynch – Twin Peaks
  4. Edward Berger – Patrick Melrose
  5. David Leveaux and Alex Rudzinski – Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert
  6. Craig Zisk – The Looming Tower – “9/11”
  7. Barry Levinson – Paterno

WRITING – Hmmm.

  1. Black Mirror: USS Callister
  2. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story – “House by the Lake”
  3. Godless
  4. Twin Peaks
  5. Patrick Melrose
  6. American Vandal – “Clean Up”

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OTHER CATEGORIES

VARIETY SKETCH SERIES: Saturday Night Live
VARIETY TALK SERIES: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
REALITY-COMPETITION PROGRAM: RuPaul’s Drag Race
DIRECTING FOR A VARIETY SPECIAL: The Oscars
WRITING FOR A VARIETY SPECIAL: Michelle Wolf: Nice Lady

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What are your predictions?

Academy Award for Best Actress: Class of 2018

If there’s any reason to be excited about the 91st Academy Awards, it is definitely not the cringe-inducing introduction of the “Best Popular Film” nor the blatant disrespect to film craftspeople by relegating the less popular categories to pre-edited clips during commercial breaks. Seriously, shame on ABC for putting these profit-driven pressures to the Oscars and shame on the Academy for giving in and not becoming steadfast in its supposed commitment to film awareness and appreciation.

As a queer film school alumnus, these are the categories that always interest me:

  • Best Picture, for becoming a reflection of the strength of the field of contenders vis-à-vis the over-all pulse of the Academy’s current membership;
  • Best Directing, for rewarding the visionaries of cinema;
  • Best Original/Adapted Screenplay, for shedding a light on this writer’s craft;
  • Best Foreign Language Film, for celebrating the diversity of cinematic voices around Europe the world (they’re making strides these past years);
  • Best Documentary Feature, for putting a spotlight on these courageous artists who does an almost-journalistic method of filmmaking.

And of course, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

Yes, Supporting Actress also gets some of my love, but Leading Actress category most likely reflects the state of the mostly male-driven film industry in its efforts to represent stories of different kinds of women. We should be past the time when we only see women as whores, wives, or witches. History has suppressed stories about women, and now more than ever, it is very urgent to tell female-driven stories in all platforms.

That is perhaps the reason why I was drawn to television. Remember when I started my own project here called Beyond the Ballot: Women in Film and the Academy Awards?

It was supposed to be my exploration of the female lead roles in the past years, but then I gradually leaned towards witnessing complex roles for women in television. Needless to say, I am emotionally invested in the Best Actress Race at the Emmys.

Going back, I have read some comments saying that this year for female leads in film is thin compared to last year. Truth be told, there has been an embarrassment of riches for female leads in contention since 2015 (and I would even dare say 2014).

After watching my first film of 2018: Björn Runge’s The Wife starring six-time Academy Award nominee Glenn Close, I knew I had to go back to my first love which is Best Actress in film.

Sony Pictures Classics did the right thing of holding back the film from its 2017 premiere at TIFF to its release this weekend (the film was screened a week earlier in the Philippines, giving me the chance to see it). And it must be said: Glenn Close is glorious in this film. Though the film struggles to catch up with her greatness, she owns this film, and it would be a satisfying win given the performance and the overdue narrative. She is rightfully the early frontrunner of this race.

However, the race is far from over. There are a lot of possible contenders, from expected Best Picture players to potential longshots, this year should prove to be an exciting year for Best Actress. Therefore, precursor awards should not feel lazy preordaining a selected few just because they feel the need to predict the ultimate winner at the Academy Awards.

As of August 17, 2018, here are my predictions for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role:

PREDICTED NOMINEES (a combination of educated and wildcard guesses):

01. Glenn Close – The Wife
02. Lady Gaga – A Star is Born
03. Viola Davis – Widows
04. Kiki Layne – If Beale Street Could Talk
05. Toni Collette – Hereditary

SOLID CONTENDERS (if all of these fare well, look at here for the alternate choices):

06. Saoirse Ronan – Mary, Queen of Scots
07. Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
08. Nicole Kidman – Destroyer
09. Olivia Colman – The Favourite
10. Carey Mulligan – Wildlife
11. Emily Blunt – Mary Poppins Returns
12. Felicity Jones – On the Basis of Sex
13. Emma Thompson – The Children Act
14. Judi Dench – Red Joan
15. Keira Knightley – Colette

IN THE MIX (definitely in the hunt for the nomination):

16. Julianne Moore – Gloria Bell
17. Margot Robbie – Mary, Queen of Scors
18. Maggie Gyllenhaal – The Kindergarten Teacher
19. Taraji P. Henson – The Best of Enemies
20. Sandra Bullock – Bird Box
21. Michelle Pfeiffer – Where is Kyra?
22. Rachel Weisz – Disobedience
23. Emma Stone – The Favourite
24. Emily Blunt – A Quiet Place
25. Renee Zellweger – Judy

POTENTIAL LONGSHOTS (never count them out; I once had Natalie Portman in Jackie as a longshot, and look where she ended up):

26. Kristen Stewart – JT Leroy
27. Mary Elizabeth Winstead – All About Nina
28. Keira Knightley – The Aftermath
29. Charlize Theron – Tully
30. Thomasin McKenzie – Leave No Trace

31. Julianne Moore – Bel Canto
32. Hilary Swank – What They Had
33. Claire Foy – The Girl in the Spider’s Web
34. Penelope Cruz – Everybody Knows
35. Elsie Fisher – Eighth Grade
36. Rachel McAdams – Disobedience
37. Julia Roberts – Ben is Back
38. Rosamund Pike – A Private War
39. Dakota Johnson – Suspiria
40. Constance Wu – Crazy Rich Asians

41. Elizabeth Debicki – Vita and Virginia
42. Kathryn Hahn – Private Life
43. Chloe Grace Moretz – The Miseducation of Cameron Post
44. Gugu Mbatha-Raw – Fast Color
45. Amanda Seyfried – First Reformed
46. Jessica Chastain – Woman Walks Ahead
47. Andie McDowell – Love After Love
48. Chloe Sevigny – Lizzie
49. Anne Hathaway – Serenity
50. Natalie Portman – Annihilation / Rooney Mara – Mary Magdalene

Did I miss any other possible Best Actress contenders?

BEYOND THE BALLOT: 1994 and Women in Film

As you may know, the purpose of this Beyond the Ballot series is to study the female leading performances in film in relation to the representation in film as well as its reflection to the Academy Awards.

Here is a quote from an older post:

And I would want to see: are those “weak years” a result of lack of good performances of women in film? Or perhaps good roles for women? Or perhaps it’s the laziness of the Academy to look for outside-the-box choices to fill the final five? Or perhaps the laziness of Hollywood to even make films with women at the center? Or maybe the critical reception at time affected it (remember: majority of film critics are white male) Part of me thinks there is a smidge of sexism in these claims, but we’ll see.

I’ve decided that I want to discuss a particularly interesting year in women in film: 1994. Commonly tagged as one of the weakest years of Best Actress as the Academy Awards, it is safe to say that it interests me endlessly how that year got the tag weakest.

As a matter of fact, I have always been interested in this Best Actress year. Perhaps a post from The Film Experience triggered it again.

It must be immediately said that Toni Collette in Muriel’s Wedding is not included in this discussion due to her film being eligible the following year.

However, we must talk about Linda Fiorentino’s performance in The Last Seduction. Only ineligible due to a technicality, this performance is still talked about today as one of the contenders disappointingly ruled out due to a (fair) eligibility rule.

To see the complete Reminder List of Eligible Productions released by the Academy on 1994, click HERE.

First, we must take a look at the performances recognized by the Academy:

Jodie Foster – Nell

Jessica Lange – Blue Sky (WINNER)

Miranda Richardson – Tom & Viv

Winona Ryder – Little Women

Susan Sarandon – The Client

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Now, here are the performances who got key nominations (though this doesn’t necessarily mean they had closer chances of getting nominated than the rest):

Meryl Streep – The River Wild (Globe Drama nom, SAG nom)
Jamie Lee Curtis – True Lies (Globe Comedy win, SAG Supporting nom)
Robin Wright – Forrest Gump (Globe Supporting nom, SAG Supporting nom)
Meg Ryan – When a Man Loves a Woman (SAG nom)
Jennifer Jason Leigh – Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (Globe Drama nom)
Geena Davis – Speechless (Globe Comedy nom)
Andie MacDowell – Four Weddings and a Funeral (Globe Comedy nom)
Shirley Maclaine – Guarding Tess (Globe Comedy nom)
Emma Thompson – Junior (Globe Comedy nom)

The next batch of performance were not cited in other major awards, but whose films have been nominated for an Academy Award in other categories, implying that the film was indeed seen by Academy members:

Helen Mirren – The Madness of King George (nominated for Supporting Actress)
Irène Jacob – Three Colors: Red (Best Director + 2 other noms)
Jessica Tandy – Nobody’s Fool (Best Actor nom)
Melanie Lynskey – Heavenly Creatures (Best Original Screenplay nom)
Kate Winslet – Heavenly Creatures (Best Original Screenplay nom)
Sandra Bullock – Speed (Best Sound Effects Editing win + 1 other nom)
Julia Ormond – Legends of the Fall (Best Cinematography win + 2 other noms)
Isabelle Adjani – Queen Margot (Best Costume Design nom)
Jodie Foster – Maverick (Best Costume Design nom)
Chien-Lien Wu (Best Foreign Language Film nom)
Glenn Close – The Paper (Best Original Song nom)
Cameron Diaz – The Mask (Best Visual Effects nom)

These are the performances from past winners and nominees that may have been in the conversation:

Alfre Woodard – Crooklyn
Annette Bening – Love Affair
Geena Davis – Angie
Jessica Tandy – Camilla
Judy Davis – The New Age
Judy Davis – The Ref
Julie Walters – Just Like a Woman
Juliette Lewis – Natural Born Killers
Kathleen Turner – Serial Mom
Lena Olin – Romeo is Bleeding
Marisa Tomei – Only You
Meg Tilly – Sleep with Me
Meryl Streep – The House of the Spirits
Michelle Pfeiffer – Wolf
Sigourney Weaver – Death and the Maiden
Susan Sarandon – Safe Passage
Whoopi Goldberg – Corrina, Corrina
Winona Ryder – Reality Bites

Here are the rest of the performances eligible that year. I’m sure this is incomplete because I haven’t gone through all the films eligible that year:

Alberta Watson – Spanking the Monkey
Bridget Fonda – Camilla
Bridget Fonda – It Could Happen to You
Bridget Fonda – The Road to Welville
Crissy Rock – Ladybird, Ladybird
Debra Eisenstadt – Oleanna
Demi Moore – Disclosure
Emmanuelle Seigner – Bitter Moon
Gong Li – To Live
Guinevere Turner – Go Fish
Jada Pinkett – Jason’s Lyric
Jean Yanne – A La Mode
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hudsucker Proxy
Julianne Moore – Vanya on 42nd Street
Julie Delpy – Three Colors: White
Karen Sillas – What Happened Was…
Lara Flyn Boyle – Threesome
Lauren Velez – I Like It Like That
Madeleine Stowe – Blink
Madeleine Stowe – China Moon
Mary Stuart Masterson – Radioland Murders
Mia Farrow – Widows’ Peak
Natalie Portman – Leon: The Professional

Have I forgotten any other performances that must be included?

Is 1994 really a weak year for women in film? Or was it overhyped by critics as such? Or was eventual nominees a result of lazy voting that does not reflect the actual quality of performances that year?

I am seriously thinking of taking a look at a lot of these performances, the Oscar nominees included. We will see.

BEYOND THE BALLOT: Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep in Marvin’s Room (1996)

I wasn’t intending to do this as my first post for Beyond the Ballot, but being able to watch this film twice mad me realize it would be a nice start.

Marvin’s Room is a very 90s comedy-drama that is all about watching two acting legends act together, and it delivers. The film embodies its dramedy sensibility to extremes, and it is not always rewarding. Gwen Verdon’s character is mostly used for laughs, and I find her character to be the weakest link of the group. Here’s what I said about the film in my tweet/Letterboxd account:

Thank heavens for delicious sororal dynamics, meticulously crafted by Keaton/Streep, for pre-Titanic beauty of DiCaprio. Contains both broad heart-tugging & gritty specifics. These overcome the recurring (if unapologetic) sentimentality. Very 90s.

I am going to review Keaton and Streep individually.

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DIANE KEATON

ROLE: Bessie Wakefield, a caring daughter with leukemia
AWARDS: Academy Award (nom), SAG (nom), BFCA (nom)

Diane Keaton plays the daughter of his bedridden father (played by Hume Cronyn) and his fragile aunt (played by Gwen Verdon). As she does her best to take care of both, she comes to terms with her own disease that will force her to reconnect with her estranged sister.

On paper, Keaton gets the baitier role: the cancer-inflicted sister. However, she also has the burden of maneuvering her character through the screenplay’s broader dramedy strokes.

Take her first scene with her father and aunt. It hastily jumps between heartwarming drama and unsubtle humor. The tonal shifts are erratic and sloppy, to say the least. From her aunt’s self-admitted uselessness to the father’s malfunctioning bed, the scene roughly succeeds in fully nailing both.

But here’s an interesting thing about that scene, and this applies to most of her performance: Keaton lays out the humanity of her character so well, avoiding scenes from becoming an embarrassing tonal mess. It is her earnest character work that grounds each of her scenes with sincerity despite the film’s persistent preoccupation to push the dramedy hard (perhaps too hard on occasion).

Keaton also excels in keeping her character from being overly precious. Bessie is written as a selfless and caring martyr who has given up her life to her father and her aunt. There is even a scene where she opens up to Lee about her former lover, further demonstrating she lost her chance of romance. In these moments where the film turns the energy a bit down (the film tries to pump up emotions constantly) where Keaton lets her subtle emotional journey work.

Keaton knows the planned tearjerking moments of the film would not work if she has not laid out the completeness of her character. Her dynamic register of emotions, especially with Streep, make for the film’s more exciting character moments. She gets to portray the different shades of Bessie. Her character is no saint just because she is in an awful condition; her flaws as a sister and an aunt to Lee’s sons become more evident, causing her to be defensive.

In these moments, Keaton humanizes Bessie. She is as flawed and messy as her sister Lee, even if she maintains a composed and dignified facade. In her struggle with leukemia, her abrupt confrontations with mortality bring out her worst fears, and it is palpable. Keaton realizes the beating heart of her character and it shows her skillfulness in bringing out the best of the character who is clearly the emotional centerpiece of this film.

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MERYL STREEP

ROLE: Lee Wakefield Lacker, a strong-willed single mother
AWARDS: Golden Globe Drama (nom)

Meryl Streep plays the abrasive single mother who balances reconnecting to her estranged sister Bessie and his problematic son Hank (played by Leonardo DiCaprio).

In a way, Streep’s lack of the Oscar nomination: throughout most of the film, her character steps back from emotionality (which perhaps made Keaton a more obvious pick). Instead, her character’s maternal edginess brings the more abrasive moments in this soft-hearted film. It also just shows the embarrassment of riches of leading actresses in 1996 (more on that in the future).

Her first scene shows how her no-bullshit attitude. Lecturing another woman in the salon about how one should have a positive outlook. Streep owns the bluntness of her first scene and spins it to make it part of her character. She is an experienced woman, perhaps hardened by mistakes and heartbreak. Little she realizes that this is the springboard for her bigger problems: her son burns down the house and she must go back to help her sister with cancer.

Her trip back to her family would force Bessie to confront several issues. Streep maintains the edgy nature of her character. However, she expertly pulls back the layers to her character, the reasons why she maintains a tough exterior. She compensates her insecurities with a resilient face so as not to show others how injured her character is. This is where Streep’s deftness comes in: she smoothly shows the transition of her character vis-à-vis her relationship with her family.

I am still decoding Streep’s depiction of Lee’s affection for Bessie. They come to terms that they were never close, and the pretense is slowly peeled away and what is left is their honesty. We see Streep through her scenes with Keaton her own emotional journey as Lee reconnects with Bessie: the moments of discomfort, joy, and pain are all wonderfully crafted by Streep. What is also striking is the required restraint when she is with Keaton. Streep understands Lee’s place in relation to Bessie, and the drama is grounded in clear-eyed honesty.

And inasmuch as Streep does wonders with Keaton, she also does the same with DiCaprio. She plots the trajectory of Lee’s relationship with Hank with clarity. From cluelessness of Hank’s actions to a tough love meant to discipline him, Streep manages to clearly illustrate this emotional beat of the film, always making it clear that Lee’s love for Hank, though flawed, is sincere if not easily visible.

It is quite ironic that in two years’ time, Streep will also play a cancer patient (and get an Academy Award nomination) in 1998’s One True Thing. However, Streep cleverly manages to hand the spotlight most of the time to Keaton in service of the film. This move makes sense, and Streep manages to create emotionally honest moments without attempting to steal the attention from Keaton. It is a tough act to maintain one’s place in a story without demanding attention, and Streep achieves this balance.

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In both performances, Keaton and Streep give each other so much to create an engaging relationship dynamic that maximizes each other’s strengths as an actress. Both turn in lived-in performances which delightfully surprised me given how casting both suited and challenged each of them. It is a remarkable actress-actress work that feels emotionally resonant and honest.

For their respective performances, Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep both get:

69 Years of Meryl Streep

It’s Queen Meryl’s birthday!

If you know me, you know how much she means to me. One of the biggest inspirations in my life. An artist that has continually raised the standards of her craft.

I couldn’t articulate enough how much she means to me, as much as she does to millions of filmgoers around the world.

I am happy to be living in a time when she is still continues give her life to film.

I would love to meet her someday.

Meanwhile, to celebrate her birthday, here is a rundown of her 21 Academy Award nominations. (She has the most nominations for an actor, by the way).

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The Deer Hunter (1978) as LindaKramer vs. Kramer (1979) as Joanna Kramer

The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) as Sarah/Anna

Sophie’s Choice (1982) as Sophie Zawitowski

Silkwood (1983) as Karen Silkwood

Out of Africa (1985) as Karen Blixen

Ironweed (1987) as Helen Archer

A Cry in the Dark (1988) as Lindy Chamberlain

Postcards from the Edge (1990) as Suzanne Vale

The Bridges of Madison County (1995) as Francesca Johnson

One True Thing (1998) as Kate Gulden

Music of the Heart (1999) as Roberta Guaspari

Adaptation. (2002) as Susan Orlean

The Devil Wears Prada (2006) as Miranda Priestly

Doubt (2008) as Sister Aloysius Beauvier

Julie & Julia (2009) as Julia Child

The Iron Lady (2011) as Margaret Thatcher

August: Osage County (2013) as Violet Weston

Into the Woods (2014) as The Witch

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) as Florence Foster Jenkins

The Post (2017) as Katherine Graham

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Which Meryl Streep performance is your favorite?