No Guts No Glory – Oscar Predictions

The Oscars are my Superbowl and I throw a big party every year.  I follow the race for the entire year, reading especially Awards Daily to keep informed how the race is shaping up.  At my party, people fill out ballots and I run a contest (excluding me because that wouldn’t be fair.)  The one with the most right gets 2 DVD’s of movies nominated.  This year I’m giving Hell or High Water and Manchester By The Sea, as many movies are still in theaters.  The biggest loser also gets a prize – a giftcard to our local cinema with my admonishment – “Go see a movie already!”  I’m pretty proud that my son won his college Oscar party pool four years running with my giving him the skinny.  So here’s your rundown so you can win, if you have a party tonight.  For details down to the technical awards, again, check out Awards Daily because they track all the previous awards and the guilds leading up to the big night.

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Best Picture is easy.  It’s La La Land all the way.  There are nine nominees this year, and really 2016’s crop of movies was an embarrassment of riches.  It was simply a great movie year.  La La Land garnered a record matching 14 nominations, the same as All About Eve and Titanic.  It’s not a question of will it win, but rather how many Oscars it will win.  Being a musical, it’s got those categories sown up.  If you want to know why there are only nine nominees rather than the allowed ten, it’s the complicated preferential ballot system that the Academy uses.  It’s Byzantine in it’s complexity, and if they stick with it, it’s unlikely there will ever be a full 10, only 8 or nine as we’ve had since they instituted the new rules.

Best Director is also Damien Chazelle for La La Land.  He won the Director’s Guild and just about every other award possible through the awards season.  He’s a proven commodity because everyone also loved his first film Whiplash.

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Best Actress is Emma Stone for La La Land.  She won the SAG and many other awards along her way to tonight’s big win.  She is the heart and soul of La La Land.  It’s her story.  This category I had issues as to who won the five nomination spots.  I love Meryl Streep, and I admit I haven’t seen Florence Foster Jenkins, but really?  A record 20th nomination for her rather than a spot for Amy Adams for Arrival?  Or Annette Bening for 20th Century Women?  I am pleased that Ruth Negga got a nomination for the wonderful Loving.  The problem is there are only 5 spots.  Viola Davis got a Tony as lead actress for the play Fences, but they put her in the supporting category for the Oscars.  I love Emma Stone, and I’ll be pleased to see her come home with an Oscar tonight.

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As I mentioned, Viola Davis is a LOCK for Supporting Actress for Fences.  You can take that one to the bank.  As The Daily Beast put it, Just Give Viola Davis the Damn Oscar Already.  Can you believe she doesn’t have one yet?  When she starts with that snot crying, it’s over.

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Supporting Actor is likely the wonderful Mahershala Ali in Moonlight.  Oh man, I loved his performance as the tender father figure drug dealer Juan.  That swimming lesson scene!

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He probably sealed the deal with his moving speech at the SAG Awards – “I am a Muslim.”  He was also in the Best Picture nominated Hidden Figures and now I realize just how many wonderful supporting roles he’s done, like in House of Cards.

 

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Best Actor is the nail biter of the night.  Casey Affleck gave a career best performance as a man shattered by grief in Manchester By The Sea, but he’s been dogged by the scandal of the settlement he made in a sexual harassment case on another film.  Denzel Washington was a powerhouse in Fences, but he already has two Oscars.  They’ve split the awards this season.  Casey got the Golden Globe, but Denzel surprised with the SAG Award.  This one could easily go either way.  I’m betting on Casey Affleck.  Scandal didn’t shut out Roman Polanksi with Academy voters, so I’m betting he still gets it.

Adapted Screenplay I think is also where Moonlight gets some love.  Director Barry Jenkins took Tarell McCraney’s very personal play, and added experiences from his own childhood to the movie script.  I just listened this weekend to an incredible interview with both of them on Fresh Air, and I highly recommend you listen.  They grew up blocks from each other, and went to the same elementary school, but did not know each other as children.  They both had mothers who were addicted to crack cocaine.

Original Screenplay is Kenneth Lonnergan for Manchester By The Sea.  I think this is where the Academy voters reward the other films, rather than giving everything to La La Land.

Editing:  La La Land

Documentary Feature: O.J.: Made in America  – Can an 8 hour mini-series be considered a film?  I guess so, because it’s won everywhere else.  I’ve watched about half of it and it is like reliving that time all over again for me.

Cinematography: La La Land

Animated Feature: Zootopia.  Kubo with Two Strings could upset, but I think the diversity message of Zootopia will particularly resonate with Academy voters.

Costume Design: Jackie.  The costumes were just stunning, but Fantastic Beasts may pull ahead here, as fantasy films usually have an edge in this category.

Makeup and Hair: Star Trek

Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

Production Design: Arrival  I loved the look of this movie, and I hope it gets at least one Oscar here in this category.

Musical Score – La La Land  Duh.

Best Song – I’m wavering on this one.  La La Land has two nominations, and City of Stars probably will win, but maybe the Hamilton love sweeps Lin an Oscar for How Far I’ll Go in Moana, which I watched last night.  I give it to City Of Stars, and I’m glad Lin is set to perform his song tonight at the ceremony!

Animated Short: Piper  You can buy all the nominated shorts for $5.99 to watch on Google Play which I did on Friday night.  Piper is the best, and it’s Pixar, but I really liked the fascinating Pear Cider and Cigarettes.

Foreign Language Feature: The Salesman  Whether it’s actually  the best of the lot, I have no idea as I’ve not had a chance to see any of them, but with the director being blocked from attending through the EO Muslim Ban, I think voters will send a political message by giving this one the win.

The other categories, I’m just guessing.  Sound Mixing and Editing I never know what they are exactly, to be honest.  Maybe Sound Editing to La La Land, and Mixing to Hackshaw Ridge as war movies tend to win with their complex soundscapes.

Check out this Awards Daily post for a full rundown of the odds for each category.

I can’t wait to see this little guy from Lion on the Red Carpet in a few hours!  He’s been the star of the moment with his thumbs up pose.

 

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Ezra – A Malayalam Horror movie about a Jewish dybbuk that I found hilarious

ezraA new Prithviraj movie is worth a 40 minute drive, and his latest is Ezra which finally came to a few US theaters this weekend (it released in Kerala on Feb. 10).  Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood and I met to see a matinee, and the movie was playing at a theater that doesn’t usually play Malayalam movies, so there was a sparse crowd.

I didn’t see the 2012 horror film The Possession, but remembered the trailer with the family finding an antique box that turns out to house a dybbuk, an almost demon like spirit that possesses the body of a living person (from Jewish folk lore).  The Yiddish word that dybbuk is derived from is “cling”.  There was even a handy featurette for the The Possession movie explaining dybbuks:

 

The Malayalam film Ezra, directed by Jay K, is not a direct copy of The Possession but it is obviously inspired by it.  The Possession film, in turn, is inspired by The Exorcist, as the possessed person is a young girl.

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In Ezra, the possessed person is Prithviraj’s young wife, played by Priya Anand, who buys the dybbuk box while shopping for their new house in Kerala.  The couple have moved to Kerala from Mumbai for Prithviraj’s job with a nuclear facility.  Priya has a strained relationship with her parents because she married a Christian.  The box has ended up in the antique shop, because the last Jewish person has died in Cochin.  One of the most ancient Jewish diaspora communities in the world used to be in Kerala, but as this article says, the numbers are down to the double digits.  That last Jew dying releases the curse put on the dybbuk in the box.

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I don’t generally seek out horror films.  They’re not my thing, but it’s Prithviraj.  Horror movies don’t need to have a big budget to be scary.  This one relies on the usual dark haunted house kind of jumps and scares.  It’s just not tight enough of a movie.  There’s a lot of excess time spent establishing that Prithviraj and Priya are a loving couple (song montage!), and then a lengthy back story on how the dybbuk got in the box.  Jay K has used a lovers prevented from marriage story which is similar to the one in The Dybbuk Russian/Yiddish play from early in the 20th century, but he makes it interfaith, to mirror our modern couple.

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Yes, that’s a real hamsa Jewish amulet still used to ward off the evil eye.

I have several issues with Ezra.  I did jump a few times, but it wasn’t scary enough for me, and the narrative should have been tightened up.  Horror films shouldn’t be two and a half hours long.

But the biggest thing is that the movie made me laugh, which I don’t think was the intention.  I didn’t grow up Jewish, but my husband is, and I’m on the board of our synagogue.  The way the rabbis and the Jewish people in this movie dressed made me giggle hysterically.

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For someone who only knows Jews from Seinfeld and Woody Allen movies, I guess dressing up rabbis in Catholic bishop vestments seemed perfectly logical.  How else are Mayalalis to know that the rabbis characters are clergy if they don’t have white priest collars?   And the tallit (the prayer shawls) are worn in the movie like sari scarves wrapped this way and that.

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For the record, rabbis in the US generally just wear suits and the small yarmulke skullcap, but Hassidic rabbis, who practice Kabbalah (mystic Jewish faith) would look like the below, and I actually found a Chabbad rabbi in Kerala.  Jay K, Google is a wonderful tool.

The exorcism scene made me laugh the hardest, because they had to drag in 10 random Jewish tourists to complete the ritual (yes, many Jewish prayers need a minyan of 10 Jewish men, so that’s real).  It was the random tourist thing with their weirdly draped prayer tallit that made me guffaw.  That, and the HUGE shofar horn the rabbi had to blow.

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Prithviraj, I love you, but your red eyes were much scarier in Stop Violence.

I have another bone to pick.  The flashback for the dybbuk’s story goes back to 1941, and Ezra’s father actually says that the Jews want to take over the world.  Argh.  Let’s think a moment just what was happening to the Jews in 1941.  Again, smh.  That deserves a double Seth.

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There were some Jewish touches they got right, like an older rabbi gives a priestly blessing over some kids, a hand gesture familiar to Star Trek fans, because Leonard Nimoy used the Cohen hand position for Spock:

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I could see how The Possession would have been creepier just because a child was the one possessed.  I wouldn’t urge you to race out to the theater to catch Ezra.  It’s not Prithviraj’s best, and it’s not the greatest horror film.  It’s an okay timepass once it comes on streaming services.

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Running Shaadi -Fantastic Rom Com with some fresh faces

http-%2f%2fo-aolcdn-com%2fhss%2fstorage%2fmidas%2fbafcd286fb08688cd59882f7f9020aba%2f204779235%2fscreenshot2017-01-06at6-19-49pmMargaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood let me know that I HAD to go see Running Shaadi which I don’t remember hearing anything about before.  I went in barely glancing at the poster, and not even seeing a trailer.  I haven’t yet seen Pink, so this was my first Hindi film with Taapsee Pannu.  (Just looking her up, I forgot she was in the wonderful Telugu film Mr. Perfect with Prabhas, as that movie is all Kajal to me.)  But you can’t imagine my delight that the lead male actor in Running Shaadi is Amit Sadh.

When I saw Sultan last summer, I was really taken with Amit Sadh, who plays the MMA promoter who convinces Salman to come out of retirement.  I remember thinking to myself, Who is that?  I want to see a movie with him as the lead!  Wish granted!  Evidently, he was also in Sonakshi’s Akira, which I will be seeking out directly, and I had forgotten he was in Kai Po Che.

Running Shaadi reminded me in some ways of Vicky Donor, in that it’s an under the radar movie that deals with some serious topics in an amusing and ultimately very sweet way.

running-shaadi-com3_I was completely blown away by what happens in the very first 5 minutes or so of the movie.  I have never seen a rom com start this way, but I won’t spoil it for you.  Just know that the film begins with Amit working for Taapsee’s father in the family sari shop.  Taapsee is in pigtails and her high school uniform and goes to Amit with an impossible situation.  He is the only one she trusts to get her out of this jam.

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Taapsee gives Amit a sweet kiss on the cheek afterwards, and you can just see how dumbstruck he is.  They start dating at that point, but once she goes to college, he feels a gulf coming between them as she gains new sophisticated friends.  He constantly thinks that he is not worthy of her, as he is an orphan that her father took a chance on and gave a job long ago.  It’s a familiar filmi trope, poor orphan boy in love with the rich girl, but I love where this movie takes it.

They break up and he impulsively calls his uncle and finally agrees to the arranged marriage his uncle has wanted with a young Bihari girl.  He quits his job and has an idea to start a business helping couples run away and marry the person they want, when their families are against it.  He and his pal, played by debut actor Arsh Bajwa, start RunningShaadi.com (the .com was censored out constantly!) and they have to ask Taapsee for help as she has a credit card to secure the domain name.

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They help out all sorts of couples, inter-religious, intercaste and even a same-sex couple.  There is a wonderful undercurrent social message to this whole film, that of course love marriage is best, and the young people should be able to marry whoever they want.  The schemes to help the couples get quite elaborate and amusing, but their “disguises” are pretty ridiculous.

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Taapsee comes to Amit asking for his help for her own running shaadi.  Amit asks who, and rejects that she’s joking when she immediately answers with you.  Then she tells him she wants to marry her college classmate Shunty, and he demands that they meet.  He goes through with the plan, and while they drive all night to the rendezvous point, Amit can’t help but look longingly at the sleeping Taapsee.  She then reveals that it was all an elaborate ruse to force him to marry her.  Zing!  I loved this twist that she just takes her fate in her own hands, and forces the issue.

Her family chases after them, and the three of them are on the run.  Taapsee gets injured and Amit is driven almost mad that he might lose her.  He is so caring with her while she heals that I was ready to swoon.  She goes out to buy condoms, and my jaw was about on the floor that that scene was in the movie.  Fist bump up in the air for that touch!

But oh noes!  Her family finds them again, and they must escape to Amit’s uncle’s, and that leads to dealing with the fact that Amit is still set to have his arranged marriage.

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They figure out quickly that his intended bride doesn’t want to marry him either, and there’s an elaborate plot to give Amit his own Running Shaadi.  When Amit and Taapsee  finally are able to show each other how they feel, it was perfectly sweet, sexy and meaningful.

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I absolutely adored this Rom Com.  It was one of the best Hindi romantic comedies I have seen in years.  I loved that it tackled some meaningful issues, and has a strong female lead who goes after who and what she wants.  Taapsee wasn’t the best actress ever, but Amit Sadh was just wonderful in this.  I cannot wait to see more films from him.  This is a debut directorial film for former cinematographer Amit Roy.  He also wrote the script which I thought was simply fantastic.  Running Shaadi may exit quickly from theaters, but if you don’t catch it there, it’s definitely one to seek out on Netflix or ErosNow.  Hindi movies with fresh actors can struggle to make a splash, but I will guess this film will gather fans over time.  There was just almost no marketing for it, and the songs weren’t anything special to give it that pre-release push either.  The film was only two hours and has just a couple of montage songs, and that was the only thing I had wished for — that it had more and better music numbers.  I will definitely be buying this film on DVD to watch again and again.

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Jomonte Suvisheshangal – Dulquer Salmaan in a sweet family drama

What spurs me to drive 40 minutes to the only theater in Chicago that shows Malayalam films? – a new Dulquer Salmaan movie!  A woman stopped me as I walked out of the theater, “Do you like Malayalam films?” I told her of course and that I’m a big Dulquer fan.  She was incredulous and asked me if I understand Malayalam.  Not a word, I replied.

The trailer for Jomonte Suvisheshangal [Jomon’s Gospels], as with many Malayalam films, doesn’t tell you much about the film.

Like me, they probably assume that viewers don’t need to know much more than Dulquer looks good in a film very different in tone from Kali and Kammatti Paadaam.  Jomonte Suvisheshangal, a film you can safely bring the entire family to see, was also probably a refreshing change of pace for Dulquer from the intense acting in 2016’s Kali and Kammatti Paadaam.

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With bad news coming at us in America like a fire hose, it was just what I needed to go see a sweet family film starring Dulquer.  He’s getting a bit old to play the spoiled young man, it felt like a bit in the first half.  Just in looks though.  He acted it perfectly.  Dulquer was very much a mazik in the first half.  That’s a Yiddish word for someone mischievous, especially a young person.  He constantly got into trouble, but would just kiss his father after being scolded, “You still love me!”

A perfect example is in the clip below.  He badgers his father, Mukesh, for a motorcycle, “Petrol is so expensive!” and his father relents saying that he won’t give him cash, just have the shop send him the bill.  Then he rolls up in the most expensive bike possible, costing 18 lakh.

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No one in the family feel they can count on the irresponsible spoiled Jomon.  He misses his sister’s wedding, can’t seem to pass his MBA exam, and spends his days running errands for the family.  His father tries to get Dulquer involved in one family business after another, the most hilarious his stint supervising their bus fleet, enjoying all the female attention he gets.

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Not much happens in the first half except a flirtatious romance with a rich girl, played by Anupama Parameswaran of the Premam films fame.   That gives us the one non-montage song sequence in the film.  The machinations of Dulquer’s family to get him attached to this rich girl I found quite amusing.  Innocent plays Dulquer’s uncle who relishes matchmaking to try to unite with this wealthy family.

(On a petty note, I don’t think that super skinny jeans style is flattering on Dulquer!)

And then, right before the interval, everything in the family comes crashing down.  Mukesh has taken a bet on a business expansion, putting even the family home and cars in a money lender’s name.  While the rest of the family just heaps scorn on the family patriarch, Mukesh, Dulquer is the one to take him in the middle of the night away from it all to safety.

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I have not yet seen what Margaret told me is Nivin’s very similar son-coming-of-age film, Jacobinte Swargarajyam.  This film is very much a story of the relationship of a son and his father.  I don’t think I’ve seen the actor Mukesh in another film yet, and I really thought he was fantastic.  He has some very emotional moments as he goes from powerful businessman, to a crushed man who tries to help his son by making him a tiffin lunch.  Both Dulquer and Mukesh are terrific actors, and were very believable as loving father and son, each hiding painful truths from the other.  In the second half, Dulquer has to really grow up and become the man of the family.  He is betrayed by a close friend and learns how to succeed through hard work and moxie.

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Unlike the superficial romance in the first half, he gradually comes to get to know a prickly young Tamil woman, Aishwarya Rajesh, from his job selling textiles.  She doesn’t have time for his slick ways, but he gradually wins her over, daring her to smile.  “God wants us to smile at least once a day.”  This is one of his many pronouncements.  Her boss puts her in a tight spot keeping a rich French client happy, and she turns to Dulquer in desperation.  Like Dulquer, she lives alone with her father.  I wish their romance had been fleshed out a bit more, but what was there was very nice to watch.  I wasn’t completely happy with the ending to their story, which involved a prank on Dulquer’s father, Mukesh.

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Does Dulquer learn the value of hard work and create a company out of nothing with his friends and win the big client?  Does he reunite his father with the rest of the family after proving just how responsible he can be?  What do you think?  While the story can be predictable, I found the journey a welcome time pass, especially with the warm father-son relationship portrayed by Dulquer and Mukesh.  I was also fascinated at an inside look at the textile industry in India!

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Margaret and I saw this film together, and her review has a very interesting take on Dulquer’s character’s expressions of love contrasting with the rest of the family’s obsession with commerce and money.

 

Totally Gnarly Notes – Excellent!

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Wayne’s World which is actually set in my home town of Aurora, IL.  Excellent!  Party On Wayne!

These two are too cute!

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How La La Land reworks Casablanca.  Why A-List actresses avoid Rom-Coms – is it the curse of Katherine Heigl?  Speaking of Rom-Coms, here’s a list of 34 of the best Rom Coms of the past decade and where to stream them.  Move over Spielberg and Scorsese, there’s some new kids taking over the town.  Where you can stream some of the Oscar nominated films this month.  Hasidic actor conquers Sundance.  Model trains!  The history of The Black List.  Cards Against Humanity is looking for a very special new employee.

Not to get TOO political…. but Lin-Manuel Miranda has made us a Spotify Playlist.  11 Essential movies about refugees and immigrants (I need to see A Separation!) This twitter account takes me to a welcome alternate reality:

Speaking of Hidden Figures, these girls dressing up for their school project brings me such joy:

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Have you seen La La Land yet?  Those of us in Chicago have STRONG feelings about it: