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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The 91st Annual Academy Awards: Nominations, Surprises, Snubs

Crazy Rich Snubs

By Chris Sabga

As I've done for the past several years, I will go through the nominees and then analyze what I feel are the "Silver Screen Surprises" for each of the main categories.

Which nominations – and snubs – surprised me? 

And the Oscar goes to...


Best Picture

"Black Panther"
"BlacKkKlansman"
"Bohemian Rhapsody"
"The Favourite"
"Green Book"
"Roma"
"A Star Is Born"
"Vice"

Surprises: I expected "Crazy Rich Asians" to be nominated for Best Picture, but not only did it fail to make an appearance in this category, it was completely shut out of the Oscars in general. What happened?

There was minor intrigue about whether "Black Panther" would actually get a Best Picture nomination after a "Most Popular Movie" Oscar was briefly considered – seemingly for this movie – only to be scrapped after massive backlash.

Will this be a three-way contest between "Black Panther," "BlacKkKlansman," and "Green Book" – or will "Roma" sweep in and spoil their chances?

"Roma's" inclusion is a huge victory for Netflix – and streaming in general – as the film received only a tiny theatrical release and was seen by most viewers at home. Theater owners have reason to be worried.

Lead Actor

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

Surprises: This is possibly the least surprising of all the categories, but the actual winner might be a surprise in what is sure to be a tightly-contested race.

There was no chance in hell of Steve Carell scoring a nomination for "Welcome to Marwen" – a movie disliked by both viewers and critics (except me) – but he did the impossible and turned a very strange character into a sympathetic one. I think history will judge his performance kindly.

Lead Actress

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

Surprises: Not that I expected it, but Elsie Fisher was superb in "Eighth Grade" and more than deserved a nomination. Then again, I can understand the hang-up about not wanting to ruin a child actor's life by giving her too much too soon. That would be even worse than middle school.

Supporting Actor

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

Surprises: Sam Elliott wasn't expecting to be nominated, so I wasn't expecting it either.

Supporting Actress

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

Surprises: Meryl Streep wasn't nominated for "Mary Poppins Returns." She's always nominated. Okay, I'm only kidding – somewhat!

As I mentioned above, "Crazy Rich Asians" is nowhere to be found this year. At the very least, Michelle Yeoh should have had this category sewn up.

Director

Spike Lee, "BlacKkKlansman"
Pawel Pawlikowski, "Cold War"
Yorgos Lanthimos, "The Favourite"
Alfonso Cuarón, "Roma"
Adam McKay, "Vice"

Surprises: Bradley Cooper was widely expected to be among the nominees in this category for "A Star is Born," but I guess a star wasn't born in this case.

Animated Feature

"Incredibles 2"
"Isle of Dogs"
"Mirai"
"Ralph Breaks the Internet"
"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse"

Surprises: Don't be surprised when "Spider-Man" wins.

I'm not sure "Welcome to Marwen" would even be eligible for this category considering that it has live action sequences too, but I personally found the animation impressive.

Original Screenplay

"First Reformed"
"Green Book"
"Roma"
"The Favourite"
"Vice"

Surprises: Bo Burnham was robbed – I guess the writing in "Eighth Grade" wasn't "flashy" enough for the Academy?

Best Documentary Feature

"Free Solo"
"Hale County This Morning, This Evening"
"Minding the Gap"
"Of Fathers and Sons"
"RBG"

Surprises: It's not a good day in the neighborhood, as the Mr. Rogers documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" was surprisingly snubbed.
_____

Other thoughts: Kevin Hart was originally scheduled to host the ceremony, until he stepped down after old homophobic jokes of his surfaced. No one replaced him. Why? Probably because it's a thankless job with very little upside, especially with the way ratings have steadily declined over the years. The show is a slog to watch at the best of times, so how will it work without a host to break up the monotony? Kevin Hart would have done a good job, but he botched his "apology" tour with a series of clumsy foot-in-mouth non-apologies and justifications. Not even Ellen's endorsement could save him. The question now becomes, who will save us from four-and-a-half hours of self-congratulatory mind-numbing boredom.
_____

The rest of the categories and nominees are: 

Adapted Screenplay

"The Ballad of Buster Scruggs"
"BlacKkKlansman"
"Can You Ever Forgive Me?"
"If Beale Street Could Talk"
"A Star Is Born"

Animated Short

"Animal Behaviour"
"Bao"
"Late Afternoon"
"One Small Step"
"Weekends"

Cinematography

"Cold War"
"The Favourite"
"Never Look Away"
"Roma"
"A Star Is Born"

Best Documentary Short Subject

"Black Sheep"
"End Game"
"Lifeboat"
"A Night at the Garden"
"Period. End of Sentence."

Best Live Action Short Film

"Detainment"
"Fauve"
"Marguerite"
"Mother"
"Skin"

Best Foreign Language Film

"Capernaum"
"Cold War"
"Never Look Away"
"Roma"
"Shoplifters"

Film Editing

"BlacKkKlansman"
"Bohemian Rhapsody"
"Green Book"
"The Favourite"
"Vice"

Sound Editing

"A Quiet Place"
"Black Panther"
"Bohemian Rhapsody"
"First Man"
"Roma"

Sound Mixing

"Black Panther"
"Bohemian Rhapsody"
"First Man"
"Roma"
"A Star Is Born"

Production Design

"Black Panther"
"The Favourite"
"First Man"
"Mary Poppins Returns"
"Roma"

Original Score

"Black Panther"
"BlacKkKlansman"
"If Beale Street Could Talk"
"Isle of Dogs"
"Mary Poppins Returns"

Original Song

"All The Stars" from "Black Panther"
"I'll Fight" from "RBG"
"Shallow" from "A Star Is Born
"The Place Where Lost Things Go" from "Mary Poppins Returns"
"When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings" from "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs"

Makeup and Hair

"Border"
"Mary Queen of Scots"
"Vice"

Costume Design

"The Ballad of Buster Scruggs"
"Black Panther"
"The Favourite"
"Mary Poppins Returns"
"Mary Queen of Scots"

Visual Effects

"Avengers: Infinity War"
"Christopher Robin"
"First Man"
"Ready Player One"
"Solo: A Star Wars Story"

Monday, January 7, 2019

Review: Welcome to Marwen

The (Second) Life and Art of Mark Hogencamp

By Chris Sabga


Release Date: December 21st, 2018 – U.S. • Rating: PG-13 • Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama • Running Time: 116 minutes • Director: Robert Zemeckis • Writers: Robert Zemeckis, Caroline Thompson • Cast: Steve Carell, Merritt Wever, Leslie Mann, Falk Hentschel, Matt O'Leary, Patrick Roccas, Alexander Lowe, Eiza González, Leslie Zemeckis, Gwendoline Christie, Stefanie von Pfetten, Janelle Monáe, Neil Jackson

"I decided I'm not going to lie in my second life. I always tell the truth and tell people who I am, because why should I be afraid to tell you who I am?"

– Mark Hogencamp (from his book Welcome to Marwencol)

"Welcome to Marwen" is a weird movie. Not just original (which it certainly is) and not just unique (although it also is), but weird. But then, art is often weird, and so too are artists. 

Mark Hogencamp was a cross-dressing alcoholic nearly killed outside a bar for talking about wearing women's shoes and left brain-damaged and amnesiac after the attack. It's a role that could possibly have only been played by Steve Carell. In almost any other actor's hands, Hogencamp's odd/unique/weird/fill-in-the-blank personality traits would have dominated the performance – but Carell focuses on the humanity and sweetness inherent in the real-life Hogencamp. 

As the movie begins, the viewer is thrust into the middle of a World War II dogfight. However, it quickly becomes apparent that something is amiss. It's clearly Carell flying the plane, but he looks like a doll! And the aircraft looks like something from a model kit. The background seems kind of artificial as well. 

Welcome to Marwen.

Marwen is a fictional WWII-era town in Belgium comprised solely of dolls and the miniature locations built to host them. It's the brainchild of artist and photographer Mark Hogencamp and the home of the heroic Hogie – the doll that serves as his alter-ego. Also residing there are several Nazi soldiers who are repeatedly killed and come back to life like characters respawning in a video game, the Women of Marwen who oppose them every step of the way, and the enigmatic Deja Thoris – the Belgian Witch of Marwen.

Are you still reading this?

Yeah, it's easy to see why "Welcome to Marwen" sharply divided critics and didn't light up the box office, but certain viewers will certainly find a lot to like here. I was one of them, for reasons I'll get into later in this review.

In actuality, Hogencamp's visual art and storytelling are conveyed through stunning still photographs of the dolls he customizes and the models and sets he painstakingly builds. In the film, they're brought to life through a series of ambitious animated sequences. Interspersed throughout are scenes of Hogencamp's bleaker reality, where it becomes clear that every character in Marwen is based on someone he knows (Janelle Monáe of "Hidden Figures" appears in one such dual role, and his real-life attackers take the form of Nazi officers in Marwen). 

Roberta (Merritt Wever) is the owner of the hobby shop in town Mark uses to build Marwen. She has clearly taken an interest in him, but the feeling is either not noticed or mutual. Then a new neighbor moves across the street – Nicol "without the e" (Leslie Mann) – who Hogencamp is instantly smitten with. It isn't long before she becomes Marwen's newest resident.

Readers of the book Welcome to Marwencol and viewers of the documentary "Marwencol" will notice several major changes typical of a "based on a true story" Hollywood production, but I was able experience "Welcome to Marwen" on its own terms because I saw the first film and read the book after.

Director Robert Zemeckis (probably best known for "Back to the Future" and "Forrest Gump") does an outstanding job of portraying Mark Hogencamp's fictional world through animation, just as Hogencamp himself does through his artistic photography. Creative types will tell you that there's a whole world living inside their heads – which only comes out through their writing, drawing, painting, photography, or whatever their preferred art form happens to be. "Welcome to Marwen" brings that process to life. It's not a perfect movie or one I could ever blindly recommend, but if you consider yourself a creative person, "Marwen" will probably speak to you.