Scarlet Johansson is a Futuristic Robot in 'Ghost in the Shell'

Despite the whitewashing controversy over casting a white actress in a what was a very famous Japanese animated film and franchise, everyone involved in the movie is pretty unapologetic about it and it's headed for a big release on March 31st. Unfortunately, it'll probably also be a hit and do nothing to discourage studios from continuing to refuse to cast Asian or Asian-American actresses as leads in these properties. 

Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst Star in Sofia Coppola's 'The Beguiled'

Catching up on some of these summer movie trailers today. Sofia Coppola's films don't get much attention anymore, but I've always had a soft spot for them, having liked every movie she's made so far. This one is a remake of a 1971 Clint Eastwood vehicle and the creepy story is totally right for her sensibilities. Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell join old Coppola favorites Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning for the ensemble drama about a bunch of repressed Southern women who basically kidnap a Union soldier during the Civil War. It's coming out in June. Can't wait.

New Trailer for 'Kong: Skull Island' Ups the Action

This movie looks nuts. Looks like they're going for sort of a comedic, B-movie tone, with Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly providing the comic relief, but without a comedy director at the helm, that's a tricky balancing act. Either they pull it off and it's big dumb fun, or it's really, really bad. Who knows with this one, but it can't get much worse than Peter Jackson's 2005 Kong movie. Comes out next Friday, March 10th.

Bill Paxton 1955-2017

Some bad news this morning, as it was announced that Bill Paxton has died at the age of 61, from complications due to heart surgery. A longtime veteran actor who appeared and starred in many films since the 1980's, most memorably including Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), True Lies (1994), Apollo 13 (1995), Twister (1996), Titanic (1997) and A Simple Plan (1998). He starred in HBO's Big Love from 2006 to 2011 and was nominated for an Emmy for the 2012 miniseries Hatfields & McCoys. Most recently he'd guest starred on ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He is survived by his wife Louise and children James and Lydia.

2017 Oscar Predictions, Part Five: Director and Picture

So it’s time for the final predictions in the last two categories, which, unsurprisingly, are not that suspenseful this year.

BEST DIRECTOR

The 31-year-old director of 'La La Land' is the favorite to win the directing prize

The 31-year-old director of 'La La Land' is the favorite to win the directing prize

  • Damian Chazelle, La La Land
  • Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
  • Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By the Sea
  • Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

Barring some kind of heretofore unknown resistance to him based on his age perhaps, Damian Chazelle is poised to become the youngest best director winner ever. He won the DGA, BAFTA, Globe, everything. But if there is a second choice, it’s Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins, who would be the first African-American to win this award. It’s a possibility- lately there have been more and more splits in Director and Picture, which used to be rare. But Chazelle is the undisputed frontrunner.

Winner: Damian Chazelle

Alternate: Barry Jenkins

BEST PICTURE

'La La Land' looks set to walk away with lots of Oscars

'La La Land' looks set to walk away with lots of Oscars

  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • Hidden Figures
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Manchester By the Sea
  • Moonlight

There’s not much point in picking anything besides La La Land. I have it pegged to win eight awards- I don’t think it will get more than that, but that would be the highest trophy haul for a BP winner since 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire. I really don’t think this movie deserves that many Oscars, but the precursor tally is undeniable. I can’t even make an argument for anything else to win the big prize, since none of the guilds were split this year. Everything lined up for this movie- the guilds, the Golden Globes, BAFTA and the Critics Choice awards. It’d be amazing if anything else won.

Winner: La La Land

Alternate: Moonlight (the second most critics awards)

Dark Horse: Hidden Figures (the box office, cultural importance and affection for it as the public’s choice give it a slim chance)

2017 Oscar Predictions, Part Four: Acting

Today it’s time for the acting awards. The big ones, along with Picture, that everyone who watches the Oscars basically tunes in for. 

BEST ACTOR

  • Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea
  • Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Ryan Gosling, La La Land
  • Viggo Mortenson, Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington, Fences

This is a really close race, like 50/50 close. But after believing Casey Affleck had this for so long, I’ve now become convinced that Denzel Washington is going to take it. Mostly it’s because of the SAG award. The Best Actor winner at SAG has won the Oscar for the last thirteen years. That’s a pretty strong stat. Affleck dominated the critics awards, won the Globe and won the BAFTA (where Denzel wasn’t even nominated), but something keeps gnawing at me that the momentum has shifted. First of all, Denzel gives a fantastic performance in Fences, one of the very best of his career, so this is more than deserved, and yet it’s hard to win three Oscars. Here are literally the only people who’ve done it: Meryl Streep, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jack Nicholson, Ingrid Bergman and Walter Brennan. That’s it. He’s joining a very small club, but everyone knows he’s more than worthy of being on that list, so I don’t think that’s a big hurdle. Also, his performance is a showy, theatrical, dominant kind of acting versus Casey Affleck’s subtle, understated, quieter role. In the past, the Academy has always preferred the former to the latter. I think it will this time too.

Winner: Denzel Washington

Alternate: Casey Affleck

BEST ACTRESS

  • Isabelle Huppert, Elle
  • Ruth Negga, Loving
  • Natalie Portman, Jackie
  • Emma Stone, La La Land
  • Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

This one’s much easier. Emma Stone won the Globe, SAG and BAFTA, so I don’t think anyone can challenge her here. If there’s an alternate it’s Isabelle Huppert, who wasn’t eligible for SAG or BAFTA, so they haven’t competed against each other yet, but I don’t think most of the Academy will even watch Elle, and those who do will probably be very uncomfortable with it. If Huppert wins it’s a career award, which is deserved, but I’m not sure many in the Academy are as aware of her entire career in France as film critics are. Interesting to note that Emma Stone will be the first Best Actress from a Best Picture winner since 2004’s Million Dollar Baby. Usually Best Actor goes with Best Picture, this year it’s finally the opposite.

Winner: Emma Stone

Alternate: Isabelle Huppert

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
  • Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
  • Lucas Hedges, Manchester By the Sea
  • Dev Patel, Lion
  • Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Yikes. This one’s really hard, actually. Mahershala Ali did not dominate the precursors the way I expected him to. He won just about all the critics awards and the SAG, but the Golden Globe went to Aaron Taylor-Johnson from Nocturnal Animals (not even nominated for the Oscar) and BAFTA chose Dev Patel from Lion. Believe it or not, I think Patel has a really strong chance to win here. His role is much bigger than Ali’s, and lately the supporting awards have been going to people whose roles were clearly lead. Ali is also unknown, so fame wouldn’t put him over the top, while Patel was the young star of the one-time Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire, which was snubbed for any acting nominations back in the day. Plus, the industry seems to genuinely love Lion, which won the ASC award, was nominated for Scripter, and won screenplay AND supporting actor at BAFTA. If they want to give it something, this is the only place it’s likely to win. SAG is still a strong indicator, but given that supporting is where surprises tend to happen, and when they do, BAFTA is usually the place that predicts it, I think I may go ahead and choose Patel. It’s a bit of a risk though.

Winner: Dev Patel

Alternate: Mahershala Ali

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Viola Davis, Fences
  • Naomie Harris, Moonlight
  • Nicole Kidman, Lion
  • Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
  • Michelle Williams, Manchester By the Sea

This time I don’t think there’s any way Viola Davis loses. She’s won every single precursor, so she’s in great shape. As the first African-American actress to get three acting nominations she’s already made history, and she’s due for a win after being famously beaten by Meryl Streep for Best Actress in 2011. It’d be shocking if anyone else took this.

Winner: Viola Davis

 

2017 Oscar Predictions, Part Three: Screenplays, Editing, Foreign, Animated and Documentary

Okay, moving on! Today we get to some slightly bigger categories, like the screenplays, plus foreign, animated and documentary films. 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Kenneth Lonergan's script for 'Manchester By the Sea' has the edge in original

Kenneth Lonergan's script for 'Manchester By the Sea' has the edge in original

  • 20th Century Women
  • Hell or High Water
  • La La Land
  • The Lobster
  • Manchester By the Sea

I think this belongs to Manchester By the Sea, but that’s just going off the bulk of the critics awards. The truth is Moonlight competed in original in several of the big precursors and won (like the WGA), while the Golden Globe actually went to La La Land. So with Moonlight over in Adapted, this is kind of a shot in the dark. But Manchester was highly praised for its screenplay, it won the BAFTA, and I don’t think the Academy will go with La La Land in this category, so…I’m sticking with that.

Winner: Manchester By the Sea

Alternate: La La Land

Dark Horse: Hell or High Water (also won quite a few critics prizes for this)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

'Moonlight' has a lock on adapted screenplay

'Moonlight' has a lock on adapted screenplay

  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hidden Figures
  • Lion
  • Moonlight

Now this is Moonlight’s all the way. It won the USC Scripter award, which has guaranteed adapted screenplay for several years now, and the WGA, even if it was in original there. Lion won the BAFTA though, so if anything could beat it, it’d be that, but I don’t think it will.

Winner: Moonlight

Alternate: Lion

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

'Zootopia' remains the strong frontrunner in animated

'Zootopia' remains the strong frontrunner in animated

  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Moana
  • My Life as a Courgette
  • The Red Turtle
  • Zootopia

Zootopia swept the Annies, won the Golden Globe and most of the precursors, although Kubo and the Two Strings made a strong showing with critics, and just won the BAFTA, surprisingly. But with the enormous box office success of Zootopia plus the fact that the content of the film makes it one of the strongest anti-Trump statements AMPAS can make, I think it will win for sure.

Winner: Zootopia

Alternate: Kubo and the Two Strings

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

'The Salesman' rides momentum

'The Salesman' rides momentum

  • Land of Mine
  • A Man Called Ove
  • The Salesman
  • Tanna
  • Toni Erdmann

This category got kind of upended after the muslim ban situation, when it looked like director Asghar Farhadi would be banned from entering the country for the ceremony. That immediately launched his film The Salesman into top contention to win this award, and rightfully so, to be honest. Farhadi will not be attending in protest now, but I still think his film will win. Toni Erdmann had won the majority of precursors here, but in truth Farhadi’s film is more accessible narratively, and with him being a past winner for 2011’s A Separation, I don’t see how he doesn’t win this, with the chance to make such a huge statement by giving it to him.

Winner: The Salesman

Alternate: Toni Erdmann

BEST DOCUMENTARY

'OJ' still has the edge

'OJ' still has the edge

  • 13th
  • Fire at Sea
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • Life, Animated
  • OJ: Made in America

OJ: Made in America is the frontrunner, having won almost all precursor awards, including the DGA and PGA documentary prize. But somehow I feel like this category isn’t necessarily sealed. This film is still facing the longstanding controversy over whether it should actually count as a movie or a television series, despite the fact that it was released in theaters briefly to qualify it for Oscar consideration. And Ava Duvernay has engaged in an enormous campaign for her film 13th, which just won the BAFTA. Meanwhile, I Am Not Your Negro has acquired major buzz and acclaim after being recently released in theaters. So, I’ll stick with OJ, but I’m feeling a little shaky about it.

Winner: OJ: Made in America

Alternate: 13th

Dark Horse: I Am Not Your Negro

BEST EDITING

'Arrival's best chance to win is in editing

'Arrival's best chance to win is in editing

  • Arrival
  • La La Land
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • Moonlight

This is where I’m going to take a risk. Best Picture frontrunners are always formidable here, but for some reason I feel like La La Land won’t necessarily win this one. Hacksaw Ridge could be the likely alternative (and it won the BAFTA), but I also think Arrival is possible, since it won the ACE Eddie for drama feature, and it’s unlikely to win anywhere else (and they do like the movie, having given it eight nominations). I’m taking a huge risk and going with Arrival for this one. But I really think all three movies are in the running here.

Winner: Arrival

Alternate: La La Land

Dark Horse: Hacksaw Ridge

2017 Oscar Predictions, Part Two: Costumes, Sets, Music, Cinematography, Makeup

More techs! Today it’s time to suss out costumes, sets, makeup, music, etc. These can go to either the Best Picture frontrunner in a sweep or to a movie that stands out really spectacularly in its own category, no matter the quality of the overall film. Let’s dive in.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

The cinematography of 'La La Land' remains the frontrunner 

The cinematography of 'La La Land' remains the frontrunner 

  • Arrival
  • Lion
  • La La Land
  • Moonlight
  • Silence

The ASC award (cinematography guild) went to Lion, but the BAFTA went to what’s thought to be the Oscar frontrunner, La La Land. I’d stick with La La Land on this one, for the beautiful shots and lighting.

Winner: La La Land

Alternate: Lion

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

The art direction for the epilogue is where the production design comes in

The art direction for the epilogue is where the production design comes in

  • Arrival
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Hail, Caesar!
  • La La Land
  • Passengers

This used to be known as art direction, but it’s all about the sets. As I stated the other day, the guild went to three different films, but La La Land was among them, and BAFTA chose Fantastic Beasts, which certainly has the MOST set decoration. If they’re at all wanting to spread the wealth, I think Fantastic Beasts is where they would go in this category. But the safe bet is to stick with La La Land again.

Winner: La La Land

Alternate: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

The recreation of Jackie Kennedy's wardrobe seem to set it apart from the rest

The recreation of Jackie Kennedy's wardrobe seem to set it apart from the rest

  • Allied
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Jackie
  • La La Land

Now this is a category I think probably won’t go to La La Land, since contemporary costumes never win. The fanciest period costumes almost always take this award, no matter the quality of the overall movie. I think Jackie has the upper hand, having won the BAFTA and the Critics Choice award here.

Winner: Jackie

Alternate: Florence Foster Jenkins (the 1920’s outfits are pretty dazzling in this one)

BEST HAIRSTYLING & MAKEUP

'Star Trek Beyond' holds a claim to best makeup over 'Suicide Squad'

'Star Trek Beyond' holds a claim to best makeup over 'Suicide Squad'

  • A Man Called Ove
  • Star Trek Beyond
  • Suicide Squad

BAFTA’s no help on this one, since it went with Florence Foster Jenkins (which I really thought would get nominated here, to no avail), so I’m gonna say Star Trek. They won’t want to give Suicide Squad an Oscar, right? And most voters won’t have seen A Man Called Ove, because it’s a foreign language film (sad, but true).

Winner: Star Trek Beyond

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

The 'La La Land' score has it in the bag

The 'La La Land' score has it in the bag

  • Jackie
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Moonlight
  • Passengers

This one is an easy win for La La Land, an original musical. It’s taken every precursor in this category.

Winner: La La Land

Alternate: Lion

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

'City of Stars' leads the pack for original song

'City of Stars' leads the pack for original song

  • “The Empty Chair,” Jim: The James Foley Story
  • “Audition,” La La Land
  • “City of Stars,” La La Land
  • “How Far I’ll Go,” Moana
  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls

I’m guessing this is going to “City of Stars,” since it’s the main song of the movie. I do think the Moana song has a chance, since it’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, but as I learned with the Lady Gaga debacle last year, the voters don’t see who the singer is on the ballot and just check off the movie. So there you go. Too bad- the actual best song in this category is the Justin Timberlake Trolls one, as it’s the only popular hit of the bunch.

Winner: “City of Stars,” La La Land

Alternate: “How Far I’ll Go,” Moana

 

2017 Oscar Predictions, Part One: Effects, Sound and Shorts

Alright, it’s prediction time! With the Oscars this Sunday, it’s time for my annual try at getting the picks right, which is always a hit and miss affair. Two years ago I did the best I’ve ever done, last year was dreadful. Hopefully it swings back around again. I feel pretty confident about La La Land taking the lion’s share this year, but as always it’s harder to pick out the places where they might go somewhere else. As usual, we start with the techs, and today that’s the sound and effects awards, along with the three short categories.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

The visuals in 'The Jungle Book' have secured the visual effects prize

The visuals in 'The Jungle Book' have secured the visual effects prize

  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Doctor Strange
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • The Jungle Book
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

This one is going to The Jungle Book, which has won the effects award just about everywhere, including BAFTA and the Visual Effects Society. It’s a pretty easy call.

Winner: The Jungle Book

BEST SOUND MIXING

Sound mixing always goes to a musical...

Sound mixing always goes to a musical...

  • 13 Hours
  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Ugh. Every year I bemoan the fact that they can’t just combine the two sound categories into one, and call it Best Sound. Come on, doesn’t that sound logical to everyone else? As it is, whenever there’s a musical nominated in the sound mixing category, it always wins, so it has to go to La La Land.

Winner: La La Land

BEST SOUND EDITING

...while sound editing usually goes to an action movie

...while sound editing usually goes to an action movie

  • Arrival
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Sully

This one’s actually trickier. Normally the two sound awards go hand in hand, so this could easily be La La Land’s as well, but the sound editing award has split in the past, and when it does it usually goes to a big loud action movie if there is one. This time I think that’s Hacksaw Ridge, so I’m tempted to do the unwise thing here and predict a split.

Winner: Hacksaw Ridge

Alternate: La La Land

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT

Syrian rescue workers in 'The White Helmets'

Syrian rescue workers in 'The White Helmets'

  • Extremis
  • 4.1 Miles
  • Joe’s Violin
  • Watani: My Homeland
  • The White Helmets

I haven’t seen any of the shorts this year, so I’m kinda flying blind. I’m going by subject matter only. And I think given what happened with the Syrian rescue workers who were the subject of The White Helmets, and the fact that they are now coming to the Oscars only after that awful travel ban was lifted, gives that film the upper hand (and rightfully so- statements need to be made this year).

Winner: The White Helmets

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT

A conversation about immigration is the subject in 'Ennemis Interieurs'

A conversation about immigration is the subject in 'Ennemis Interieurs'

  • Ennemis Intérieurs
  • La Femme et le TGV
  • Silent Nights
  • Sing
  • Timecode

I’m totally in the dark on this one. Gonna go with Ennemis Interieurs, due to the fact that it’s about immigration in France, and the timeliness will give it the edge.

Winner: Ennemis Intérieurs

BEST ANIMATED SHORT

Pixar's 'Piper' is the frontrunner

Pixar's 'Piper' is the frontrunner

  • Blind Vaysha
  • Borrowed Time
  • Pear Cider and Cigarettes
  • Pearl
  • Piper

Disney/Pixar almost always rules the day here, so gonna have to go with Piper, although Pearl and Pear Cider and Cigarettes are highly acclaimed as well.

Winner: Piper

Alternate: Pear Cider and Cigarettes