All posts by Ben Sears

Ted Lasso: Season 3, “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” – TV Review

“(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea”

  • Creators: Jason Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt, Joe Kelly
  • Starring: Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham, Brett Goldstein, Nick Mohammed, Juno Temple, Brendan Hunt, Jeremy Swift, Phil Dunster, Sarah Niles

Grade: B

Warning: Reviews of Ted Lasso season 3 will contain spoilers.

Continue reading Ted Lasso: Season 3, “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” – TV Review

Seasons of Seasons: Star Trek Season 1, “The Alternative Factor”, “The City on the Edge of Forever” & “Operation: Annihilate!”

I don’t know what I expected these final installments of the first season of the show to look like. One of the great pleasures of the show is that you never really know what you’re going to get from week to week. With no overarching narrative for Roddenberry and the writers to work through, they’ve been free to tell whatever stories they can in whatever order they choose. We’ve seen a number of characters and storylines introduced that feel like perfect setup for future episodes (Mudd, Khan, the Klingons) and some of that can be felt in these episodes. While they’re not perfect episodes – altogether, they’re rather disappointing to end on – they at least set up their concepts in a way that’s consistent with the show and contain some dynamite plot elements.

Continue reading Seasons of Seasons: Star Trek Season 1, “The Alternative Factor”, “The City on the Edge of Forever” & “Operation: Annihilate!”

Ted Lasso: Season 3, “Smells Like Mean Spirit” – TV Review

“Smells Like Mean Spirit”

  • Creators: Jason Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt, Joe Kelly
  • Starring: Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham, Brett Goldstein, Nick Mohammed, Juno Temple, Brendan Hunt, Jeremy Swift, Phil Dunster, Sarah Niles

Grade: B+

Warning: Reviews of Ted Lasso season 3 will contain spoilers.

Continue reading Ted Lasso: Season 3, “Smells Like Mean Spirit” – TV Review

What Will Win, What Should Win, and What Should’ve Been Nominated at the 2023 Oscars

Hollywood’s biggest night is mere days away. The dust has settled on all of the precursors and guild awards, so there’s nothing left but the crying. Here’s a comprehensive list of predicted winners, what would win in a perfect world, and what should have received a nomination in each category.

Best Live-Action Short Film

  • Will Win: The last time a non English-language film won this category was in 2017. The only English-language nominee this year is An Irish Goodbye, which perhaps shows the odds are not in the film’s favor. But the short shares a few sentiments and humor with The Banshees of Inisherin, which bodes well for its chances. Emotionally complex and lovingly told, An Irish Goodbye would be a worthy winner.
  • Should Win: The Red Suitcase did the best not only at crafting an effective story within its limited runtime, but in establishing its director’s voice. It’s not only my favorite of the category, but one of the best of the short films overall.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: I missed out on seeing the shortlisted nominees, so I unfortunately can’t comment with any informed opinion on what should or should not have made the cut.

Best Documentary Short Film

  • Will Win: I’m reminded of previous Short Film winners like Two Distant Strangers or Skin, which bodes well for Stranger at the Gate. Though the film wasn’t my personal favorite, it concerns topical issues and has a strong narrative, which the Academy tends to favor.
  • Should Win: Yes, there are two Netflix nominees here, but the better of the two of them is The Elephant Whisperers. The documentary offers an eye-opening look at those that take care of elephants in rural India, and the unique relationships that emerge from them. Plus there’s adorable baby elephants.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: As Far as They Can Run was easily the best documentary short I saw all year. Equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful – sometimes both at the same time – the film depicted the Special Olympics program in Pakistan and the conditions that those with special needs must live with. It’s a life-affirming film that goes to show that anyone, regardless of their cognitive abilities, can thrive if given the right opportunities.

Best Animated Short Film

  • Will Win: The backing of Apple, the familiarity of a beloved children’s book, and voice talents the likes of which aren’t seen in this year’s nominees are a lethal combination here. It would be a surprise if The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse does not win. The film features an impressive animation style and its content will likely appeal to the soft-hearted Academy voters.
  • Should Win: Ice Merchants has a simple, stylistic approach to its animation and tells an emotionally rich story within its limited runtime. Animated shorts with no dialogue feel almost perfunctory at this point, but Ice Merchants uses its silence to great effect, letting its visuals tell the story, and using its quiet moments with greater purpose.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: One of the bigger absences on nomination morning was in Colman Domingo’s short New Moon. Not only does Domingo bring some credible star power to the category but it’s a solid story of Black youth and motherly love, which Domingo narrates with aplomb.

Best Original Song

  • Will Win: Let me lay this out up front: the Original Song category is generally my least favorite from year to year, and this year’s list of nominees is no exception. That said, if RRR can’t be awarded anywhere else, it deserves to be for its show-stopping number “Naatu Naatu.” After a Golden Globe win in the same category against similar Oscar contenders, it was clear that the song, and by proxy, the film itself, had enough support to carry a win.
  • Should Win: RRR was three-plus hours of nonstop action craziness, and its song and dance sequence for “Naatu Naatu” was one of its highlights. That the choreography for the scene matches the “balls to the wall” attitude for its zanier action scenes is proof that the scene remains one of the best of the year overall.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: I’m not as thrilled when songs that are not used in the film proper are nominated, but “New Body Rhumba” from LCD Soundsystem for White Noise was one of the best. The dance sequence that accompanies it is equally outstanding, but the song stands well enough on its own. That the songwriting branch essentially name-checked Diane Warren’s number for a non-existent movie that could have taken its place is disheartening at best.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Will Win: When it comes to this category, the Academy values three things: old-age makeup, prosthetics, and recreations of famous people. Elvis has all three. The heavy prosthetic work in The Whale was indeed impressive, but aside from Brendan Fraser, there isn’t much more to point to in the film.
  • Should Win: The makeup work in All Quiet on the Western Front almost became a character unto itself, a visual symbol for the hell that each of the soldiers has gone through. Aside from its cinematography, it’s the craft that stands out most in the film.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: It’s not easy recreating the looks of one the most famous people in the world, and the makeup team for Blonde did just that to a stunning degree. Ana de Armas’ transformation into Marilyn Monroe was impressive when considering her natural look couldn’t be further from Monroe.

Best Costume Design

  • Will Win: If there’s one thing the Academy loves as much as period costumes, it’s in recreations of famous costumes. Without Blonde as a contender here, that leaves Elvis the room to sweep up a win. Elvis Presley’s costumes were iconic, and the team behind those – and those of Col. Tom Parker and everyone else throughout the changing midcentury – nailed the looks.
  • Should Win: The inventiveness of the costumes in Everything Everywhere All at Once was just a small part of its appeal, but it made a huge impact in selling the “anything goes” attitude of the multiverse. Any time a different version of Stephanie Hsu’s character entered the fray, you could see the delight in the film’s costume department on full display. But even its more understated costumes, like those of Yeoh and Ke’s alpha-verse characters, smartly underlines who these characters are fundamentally.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: Perhaps more than Viola Davis in the Best Actress race, I expected The Woman King to show up as a nominee here. Gersha Phillips’ varied costumes played into not only the time period but the specific characters who wore them. The costume designer’s branch typically likes to reward period films so a miss here was especially disheartening. Of all of The Woman King’s exceptional crafts, its costumes were easily the highlight.

Best Sound

  • Will Win: Maybe the booming explosiveness of the jets in Top Gun: Maverick are the sole reason for the film’s likelihood of winning, but try seeing the film with substandard audio and the experience will be diminished considerably. The film was an experience for the senses, and its sound was a large part of that excitement.
  • Should Win: Either Maverick or All Quiet on the Western Front would be worthy winners, but All Quiet had a wide variety of sounds in its arsenal. The gnashing, crunchy sounds in the battle sequences went a long way in complementing the harshness on display.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: The Academy’s refusal to acknowledge horror as a genre left Nope out in the cold, and Sound is just one of the categories where it should have contended. Jordan Peele’s film showed that sound is just one of many ways to generate scares, often cluing us into something terrible looming nearby. And the sound of the Jupiter’s Claim crowd screaming as it’s churned out by the alien is not something to be forgotten easily.

Best Film Editing

  • Will Win: From its frenetic world jumping to its kinetic action scenes, Everything Everywhere All at Once certainly had the most editing of 2022. And that’s typically what the Academy likes to recognize.
  • Should Win: If it’s not Everything Everywhere, don’t be surprised if Top Gun: Maverick pulls out the win here. The action scenes get the blood pumping and are easy to follow, and the film never lags in the quieter moments.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: This one is a no-brainer. Decision to Leave had the best, most creative editing of any film in all of 2022. Seamless transitions from scene to scene that worked within the themes of the film showcased Park Chan-wook’s distinctive visual style in a way that no other film measured up to last year.

Best Original Score

  • Will Win: John Williams’ last collaboration with Spielberg isn’t memorable enough, and Volker Bertelmann’s score for All Quiet on the Western Front is too divisive, leaving the door open for Justin Hurwitz to win, in spite of a lack of overall nominations for Babylon. And, for what it’s worth, Hurwitz’s score is easily the best element of the film.
  • Should Win: Justin Hurwitz’s score for Babylon went all out, matching the chaotic energy while fitting within the jazz age time setting. Hurwitz’s previous win for La La Land will go a long way in voters’ minds.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: Michael Giacchino delivered one of the best scores of 2022 for The Batman, one that instantly distinguished itself as establishing a distinct mood for the film. That it was left off the shortlist and wasn’t even considered for a nomination is as baffling as just about anything. Giacchino has composed a number of memorable scores but his music for The Batman is a thumping, exciting backbone for the film to rest upon.

Best Production Design

  • Will Win: Elvis‘ production designer Catherine Martin has won in this category for two of Baz Luhrmann’s last three films, so she goes into Oscar night with a large target on her back. But the Academy loves recreations of Old Hollywood, and Babylon has that in spades.
  • Should Win: Consider one of the opening scenes of Babylon where Margot Robbie’s Nellie tours through a sprawling grouping of silent film sets in production, and the varied creations within them, and the immense attention to detail throughout the film. The film overall may be a mess, but there’s no denying the impressive crafts on display throughout Chazelle’s magnum opus.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: No animated film has ever been nominated for its production design, but Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio would have been a wonderful stat-breaker. The film brims with life at all the wonderfully realized details and textures, giving it an abundance of unique traits that fits within the story.

Best Visual Effects

  • Will Win: Never bet against James Cameron, and never bet against his visual effects team, especially with the envelope-pushing Avatar: The Way of Water. No other film justified its bloated budget or runtime as much as this, and no other film will even come close to beating it.
  • Should Win: If you put any money down on a single category on Oscar night, make it here. For anything other than Avatar: The Way of Water to win would be one of the biggest shockers in Oscar history.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: Not that it really needed more nominations, but a nod for the visual effects of Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been well deserved. Especially considering its effects budget was less than the budget of most films overall and was done with a team of just five people.

Best Cinematography

  • Will Win: James Friend may not be a household name like Roger Deakins or Darius Khondji, but Friend’s cinematography helped make All Quiet on the Western Front a powerful statement. Friend’s win at BAFTA and ASC sealed the deal, especially when Deakins and Khondji are the only representatives for their films (Empire of Light and Bardo, respectively).
  • Should Win: Nearly every frame of All Quiet on the Western Front is worthy of being framed on a wall. It’s no wonder the film cleaned up in craft nominations, and it all starts with the visual style of the film.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: Aside from Avatar: The Way of Water, no other film in 2022 justified its big screen appeal like Top Gun: Maverick. Russell Carpenter’s camerawork helped to make the film not only an exciting action spectacle but added to the “you are there” verisimilitude of the plane sequences. The film was favored not only for a nomination but a win in the category, so a miss here was one of the most egregious snubs of nomination morning.

Best International Feature

  • Will Win: Without Decision to Leave standing in its way, the path was all but cleared for All Quiet on the Western Front. Not to mention the Best Picture nomination, which is as clear an indication as you would need of the Academy’s support for the film.
  • Should Win: In a relatively weak year for International Feature nominees, no other films challenge All Quiet on the Western Front. There are certainly worthy films but Edward Berger’s war epic stands above the rest because it’s an all-around feat of filmmaking and storytelling.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: Korean auteur Park Chan-wook delivered his most accessible film to date with Decision to Leave, a film that most considered a lock to receive a nomination. Unfortunately, outside of the phenomenon of Parasite, no Korean film has ever even been nominated at the Oscars.

Best Documentary Feature

  • Will Win: Will the Academy go for the follow-up from a previous winner (All the Beauty and the Bloodshed), the fantastically assembled nature doc (Fire of Love) or the one directly by a previous winner (All the Beauty and the Bloodshed)? None would be much of a surprise, but Navalny is both a poignant character study and a reflection of our world today.
  • Should Win: I was not prepared for how much I would be floored by All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. Perhaps my own biases as a photographer factored into that, but Poitras has smartly assembled a film about counterculture and one of its most celebrated figures as she rattles the cages of the world’s institutions.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: Perhaps the Academy simply isn’t ready to nominate films about the pandemic. That seems to be the best explanation I can come up with for the snub of Bad Axe. David Siev’s cinematic memoir depicted not only the unexpected struggles of an Asian-American restaurant in the heart of Trump country but an engaging look at his family, warts and all.

Best Animated Feature

  • Will Win: The Academy loves Guillermo del Toro. (Just look at the overperformance of Nightmare Alley last year.) But his take on Pinocchio will win not just because of the name attached to it; it’s a unique retelling of the classic tale that goes beyond the family-friendly sheen that Disney has put on it. At times you simply have to marvel at the stop-motion animation because it’s so seamless and wonderful you almost forget how it was put together.
  • Should Win: I have to set aside my love for Marcel the Shell With Shoes On and recognize that the Academy at one point did not consider the film animated because of the prevalence of live-action elements. (Of course, if I had my ballot, the film would be a Best Picture nominee.) So if I have to go with something else, it would be Turning Red. Domee Shi’s semi-autobiographical film was the best of the Disney/Pixar crop this year, focusing on an under-represented demographic with loads of humor and heart.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: It’s baffling that Henry Sellick has never received an Oscar, despite his incalculable contributions to stop-motion animation. Wendell and Wild may have been divisive upon its release and was done no favors by Netflix, who essentially forgot it existed once Pinocchio started taking over. Still, Sellick’s fingerprints are all over the film to the extent that few other animated films saw in 2022.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Will Win: Maybe this is just wishful thinking, considering the nosedive that Women Talking took in the lead-up to nomination morning, but Sarah Polley’s work in adapting the novel of the same name is one of the best pieces of adaptation of the year. The dense subject matter and character work all come together to create a righteous, emotional film.
  • Should Win: The abundance of nominations for All Quiet on the Western Front was a bit of a surprise, but its nomination here is well deserved. Erich Maria Remarque’s novel is expanded upon by Edward Berger, Ian Stokell, and Lesley Paterson and gives more depth to the increasingly hopeless situation faced by the German soldiers. Even a novel that’s almost 100 years old can be updated to feel relevant again, and it all starts with the screenplay.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: For all its messiness – intended and otherwise – White Noise deserves some credit for bringing Don DeLillo’s novel to life. Even more so considering it’s long been thought to be unadaptable, a dense set of ideas and dialogue about the American condition. Noah Baumbach’s most ambitious film was a thrill from beginning to end, even with its pacing issues, throwing out complex themes and homages to some of our greatest filmmakers.

Best Original Screenplay

  • Will Win: This is unexpectedly one of the toughest categories to predict. Martin McDonagh is a known commodity amongst the Academy and the writers’ branch. But Daniels has the wind at their backs with a surging momentum for their film, and a win at the Writers Guild (where, because of bizarre WGA rules, The Banshees of Inisherin was ineligible). The Academy tends to reward wholly original works, and nothing this year was more original than Everything Everywhere All at Once. Consider this another win for the war chest.
  • Should Win: From its opening minutes, TÁR establishes itself as intricately plotted and researched. Todd Field’s screenplay is not only a beautifully nuanced character study but a beautifully executed piece of world-building. It’s no wonder the internet legitimately thought that Lydia Tár was a real person.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: Jordan Peele managed to make a familiar action sci-fi film with layers upon layers of thematic weight. Paying homage to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and many other Hollywood spectacles while including dense ideas about the Hollywood machine, and fame in general, Peele’s screenplay may have been too complex for the Academy but was rich and smart nonetheless.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Will Win: This is the only acting category where the winner has been pre-determined almost since the beginning. Ke Huy Quan will deservedly walk away with his first Oscar for Everything Everywhere All at Once, and I for one cannot wait to see him accept it. Here’s hoping that Ke continues to get work for his capable work here, and we don’t have to wait decades to see him on screen again.
  • Should Win: Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn is the main focus of Everything Everywhere All at Once but Ke Huy Quan’s Waymond is the film’s bleeding heart, providing the sticky sweet emotional backbone the film needs whenever it feels like it’s getting too silly. What looks at first like a goofy nobody slowly becomes much more layered and nuanced, and an argument could easily be made that Ke gives the film’s best performance overall. Both of the men from Banshees – Barry Keoghan and Brendan Gleeson – are fantastic, and I love Brian Tyree Henry’s improbable nomination, but a win for Ke would make me the happiest on Oscar night.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: The slow inevitability that none of the actors from Women Talking would receive nominations wasn’t a surprise but still hurt nonetheless. As the only male speaking role in the film, Ben Whishaw injects a level of heart and hope to keep the darkness from becoming too overwhelming.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Will Win: If anybody tells you that they know who’s winning this category, they’re lying to you (present company excluded, of course). A different winner has been crowned at each of the precursors (Golden Globes, SAG, & BAFTA) and none of the typically discriminating factors – save for Bassett’s lack of a Best Picture nomination for her film – apply. So, given the Academy’s growing international appeal, I’ll go with Kerry Condon for The Banshees of Inisherin.
  • Should Win: Three acting wins for Everything Everywhere All at Once seems impossible. Much as Academy sentiment has carried Jamie Lee Curtis forward, it’s Stephanie Hsu who gives the outstanding female performance of the film. She’s the impetus for the action, and navigates every universe’s changing facets.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: At one point during awards season, the nominees could have been overtaken by the women from Women Talking. Whether it be Claire Foy or Jesse Buckley or Rooney Mara or even Judith Ivey, the film featured an overabundance of powerful performances. (My vote would have gone to Foy.) But as the film’s reception began to tank, so did its chances for any acting nominations.

Best Actor

  • Will Win: When it comes to acting, the Academy loves few things less than a performance of a real-life figure. So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Austin Butler will likely win for his performance in Elvis. As much as musician biopics are increasingly not my cup of tea, Butler was a steadying force throughout all of Baz Luhrmann’s chaotic energy.
  • Should Win: Paul Mescal’s nomination is one that generally doesn’t happen. Not only is Aftersun a smaller, more independent film, but Mescal’s performance is far from the showy work that the Academy typically doesn’t recognize. It’s a beautiful, mostly internal performance and would make for one of the best acting wins of recent years.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: I have no qualms about any of this year’s nominees; regardless of how I felt about their films overall, they were all led by terrific performances. But if I was given a magic bullet to put anyone in the list of nominees it would be Adam Sandler in Hustle. Sandler has continued to churn out solid dramatic work in the past few years and his performance in the basketball drama went above and beyond what we’ve come to expect from him in sports-centric Happy Madison films.

Best Actress

  • Will Win: It’s hard to believe we’re still saying that Cate Blanchett could give a career-best performance when she’s already won two Oscars, and been nominated for several more. But such is the case with her work in TÁR, deftly navigating Lydia Tár’s prickly personality and her darker side while still making her endlessly watchable.
  • Should Win: Blanchett’s two Oscars is mostly what’s working against her almost inevitable win. Michelle Yeoh’s performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once was just as layered and nuanced, a steady force for all the wackiness and drama that the film needs. Yeoh has made a formidable career abroad and in the US, so to reward her here would be long overdue.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: For neither Danielle Deadwyler or Viola Davis to receive recognition for their stunning work in Till and The Woman King, respectively, was one of the biggest disappointments on nomination morning. Deadwyler was simply unforgettable in Till in portraying a mother’s grief and righteous anger, especially during the one-take courtroom scene. Outrage at Oscar nominations is usually not worth investing in, but here it’s deserved.

Best Director

  • Will Win: The winner of the top prize at the Directors Guild awards is almost always assured a win here, meaning Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan are the likeliest winners. And they’ll be worthy winners; it’s hard to imagine anyone else pulling off what’s on display in Everything Everywhere All at Once.
  • Should Win: Each of the Best Director nominees wrote their own films (Spielberg is the one “outlier”, co-writing The Fablemans with Tony Kushner). In other words, each of the nominees were the creative force behind their films, and it shows in the way their films were executed. But Todd Field deserves some recognition for his direction in TÁR. Field’s insane attention to detail and research is just part of why the film was more than the sum of its parts.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: Perhaps it’s because I’m still riding high from seeing it in the theaters, but S.S. Rajamouli deserves all the credit for what he did with RRR. Not only for creating one of the most bananas action films in recent years, but in keeping up the pace and ratcheting up the set pieces over the course of three hours is no small feat.

Best Picture

  • Will Win: Could a film as goofy and experimental as Everything Everywhere All at Once be crowned the Best Picture? (I was truly racking my brain trying to figure out when the Academy crowned a comedy with its top prize.) This was my lingering question throughout awards season, but the film has not missed at the precursors when given the opportunity. After winning the top prizes at PGA and SAG, a win for any other film would truly be shocking.
  • Should Win: For my money, there isn’t a weak link amongst the 10 nominees this year (for the record, my least favorite is Elvis). Whether the Academy wants to make a statement about the state of movies or culture or politics in 2022, or just keep it old school and reward something in the vein of past Best Picture winners like The King’s Speech or Gladiator or Spotlight, it could pick just about any of the films and nothing would be off-base. So, for the sake of brevity, let’s go with Everything Everywhere All at Once.
  • Should’ve Been Nominated: The Woman King is exactly the kind of traditional period epic that would have cleaned up at the Oscars in the 90s, full of rich characters, exciting action, and precisely rendered details. We’ll never know exactly why the film was snubbed overall (but, let’s face it, the writing’s on the wall), but it would have certainly made for a great Best Picture nominee.

Seasons of Seasons: Star Trek Season 1, “This Side of Paradise”, “The Devil in the Dark” & “Errand of Mercy”

Who has been the MVP of this first season of Star Trek? Captain Kirk is the traditional hero, the brash, handsome, fearless leader that sci-fi properties have relied upon since their inception. We’ve seen him take charge and solve a situation numerous times throughout the season, including a few times in this installment. But Spock is clearly the character that Roddenberry and the show’s writers are most fascinated by; it’s no accident that Nimoy is the one holdover from the show’s dropped pilot episode. With Spock, you have a wholly original creation, a blank slate and a black sheep amongst the Enterprise’s humans.

Continue reading Seasons of Seasons: Star Trek Season 1, “This Side of Paradise”, “The Devil in the Dark” & “Errand of Mercy”

Seasons of Seasons: Star Trek Season 1, “Return of the Archons”, “Space Seed” & “A Taste of Armageddon”

Sandwiched between two fairly solid Star Trek episodes is perhaps one of the most important entries of the entire original series to date. Even a neophyte Trekkie like myself had known of the legendary Khan in Star Trek lore, so my ears certainly perked up when Ricardo Mantalban stated his name. Of course, I had no idea of the context between his rivalry with Kirk or how it started, so to see that and have additional information for what’s to come was about as thrilling as anything I’ve seen this season.

Continue reading Seasons of Seasons: Star Trek Season 1, “Return of the Archons”, “Space Seed” & “A Taste of Armageddon”

Every 2023 Oscar Nominee Ranked

54. Tell it Like a Woman (Best Original Song)

For the longest time, even the most die-hard Oscar watchers doubted the very existence of Tell it Like a Woman. The film barely had an IMDb page on nomination morning, much less a website or viewing availability. But after finally viewing the film, I can confirm that the film itself is the least interesting part about its lore. What’s most surprising about the film’s lack of quality is that it boasts an incredibly likable and popular cast, including Jennifer Hudson, Marcia Gay Harden, Eva Longoria, and Cara Delevingne, among others. Anthology films rarely work – especially when each part comes from a different voice – but it’s as if the creative forces banded together to make the most basic, shallow films possible. Female empowerment is a great idea, but I assume the working title for Tell it Like a Woman was something like #GirlPower. The nominations for the 95th Oscars revealed a lot of things about the Academy and what they value, and the most telling is that they will reward songwriter Diane Warren every single year she is eligible, regardless of whether they’ve actually seen the film or not, and Tell it Like a Woman is the strongest evidence to support that theory.

53. The Martha Mitchell Effect (Best Documentary Short)

I’ve always had a unique fascination with the Watergate scandal and everything it unearthed in American politics, and I imagine I’m not alone. Which is why it’s understandable to make a documentary about one of its lesser-known figures, Martha Mitchell. Unfortunately, The Martha Mitchell Effect unfolds as little more than a standard-issue Wikipedia entry masquerading as a film. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for the filmmakers to connect Martha Mitchell, and how she was treated, to the politics of today (gendered, social, and governmental). Instead the film offers little more insight than what could be gleaned from a US history class or an episode of the first season of the Slow Burn podcast.

52. The Flying Sailor (Best Animated Short)

You don’t often see an animated film, regardless of its length, that’s based on a true story. Such is the case though with The Flying Sailor, which is inspired by the real-life Halifax explosion in 1917. The explosion causes its titular subject to re-examine his life and his own mortality as he faces his impending doom. A mixed bag of animation quality and styles ultimately leads to a middling film that could have been better.

51. Blonde (Best Actress)

As a film, Blonde is awful. But for the Oscars to reward Ana de Armas for her fearlessly committed performance, I have nothing to complain about. Even the various crafts, like the costumes or the production design or the cinematography or makeup/hairstyling work, could have and should have received Oscar nominations. The fault with Blonde lies in Andrew Dominik and his shallow – and, too frequently, distasteful – depiction of Marilyn Monroe. The film could have been an enlightening way to right the wrongs of Monroe’s life, but instead Dominik doubled down on her suffering or reduced her internal desires to the lowest common denominator. I have no doubt that Ana de Armas will be an Oscar nominee again. It’s simply a bummer that her first nomination had to be for Blonde.

50. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse (Best Animated Short)

This film is likely winning its category, and its backing by Apple TV+ is a major factor, not to mention the A-list talent attached to it. Of course, it’s based on the acclaimed children’s book by Charles Mackesy (who co-wrote and co-directed the adaptation). Producers include JJ Abrams and Woody Harrelson, plus voice talents of Gabriel Byrne, Tom Hollander, and Idris Elba. But there’s something hollow about The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse that I couldn’t get on board with. When the main thrust of your animated film’s dialogue is weighty existential platitudes about believing in yourself or supporting a friend, you’re putting your thumb on the scale of the audience’s reaction that doesn’t feel completely genuine. Nevertheless, the animation is solid, matching the ink-drawn style of the book. Perhaps I’m being a grump about this one, and perhaps a second viewing would change my opinion. But there are better, more genuine contenders among the animated short film category.

49. Night Ride (Best Live-Action Short)

Night Ride certainly feels like it’s trying to say something profound but needs more consistent writing to actually get that message across. It’s a film about marginalized people finding commonality, but feels too slight because of its varying tones. A young woman, who’s also a little person, inadvertently commandeers a tram on a snowy night, picking up passengers along the way. One of those passengers happens to be a trans woman who’s harassed after flirting with another man. The film looks nice enough with some snappy editing, but by the time the credits rolled, I didn’t feel all of what the film was wanting me to feel. Perhaps these issues could be fixed with a longer runtime but as it stands, Night Ride is a misfire.

48. Stranger at the Gate (Best Documentary Short)

I have no doubt that the creative minds behind Stranger at the Gate set out to make an informative documentary about a little-known community about the transformative power of empathy. But there’s a darker message within the film that rings hollow the more you pick it apart. Stranger at the Gate chronicles the story of a man, driven to extremism and violence against the Muslim community, and how he eventually found acceptance within it. My initial reaction to the film was mostly positive, but after considering the film’s unspoken message that minorities must be overly accommodating to people that wish them harm, rather than the structures that create that harm in the first place, quickly sank my feelings overall.

47. Le Pupille (Best Live-Action Short)

Le Pupille benefits from increased visibility on Disney+, not to mention its producer Alfonso Cuarón, sporting a unique visual style. At times borrowing from Wes Anderson’s filming style and color palette, the film stands out from this year’s Live Action Short nominees. It’s the only film of the nominees that’s set in the past, and it deals with children as the main protagonists. Specifically, a group of children at an Italian orphanage during WWII. Credit to writer and director Alice Rohrwacher for centering the dramatic conflict not on whether the plucky youngsters will get adopted, but on the interior and exterior conflict within them. The film has its moments, and features some natural performances, but could have used some kind of dramatic inertia to justify its 38-minute runtime.

46. An Irish Goodbye (Best Live-Action Short)

Unfortunately for An Irish Goodbye, The Banshees of Inisherin was released in the same year. Or it could be fortuitous for its Oscar chances, coasting on a wave of Irish goodwill. Either way, the film is a perfectly capable short film that shares a handful of thematic similarities to Martin McDonagh’s film. It’s about Turlough and Lorcan, two brothers, one mentally handicapped and played brilliantly by James Martin, who have to decide how to move on after their mother’s death. Turlough, the older, more practical brother, wants to sell the family farm but Lorcan wants to stay. Directors Tom White and Tom Berkeley inject a good amount of humor to prevent it from getting too dour – something all too common amongst the shorts categories.

45. Ivalu (Best Live-Action Short)

Part travelog, part heartbreaking portrait of a family, Ivalu is a product of rural Greenland but contains sentiments that translate beyond its remote origins. It’s the story of a girl in search of her older sister all by herself – her family’s concern is mostly absent – who suddenly goes missing. She visits all the locations they used to run away to when things got difficult, which brings up fond memories. There’s an underlying darkness revealed by the end of it, but Ivalu could have easily expanded on the emotional fallout from the events depicted. Still, it’s gorgeously shot and takes full advantage of Greenland’s countryside, and star Mila Heilmann Kreutzmann handles her role with tenderness. If this is most people’s first encounter with Greenlandic film, it’ll be a solid entry point.

44. Haulout (Best Documentary Short)

Haulout contains what could be the most surprising cinematic reveal of any film amongst the batch of nominees. What starts out as a simple film about a man in isolation pans over to show that he’s very much not alone. The film shows the harsh and unpleasant reality of the life of a biologist studying walruses, and the effects that climate change has had on them. But where the film succeeds is in its minimalism, eschewing any talking heads or on-screen text and telling its story only through the sparse notations of its human protagonist. Nature documentaries are commonplace in the Documentary Short category, and Haulout is a worthy nominee, less for its subject matter and more in its storytelling technique.

43. How Do You Measure A Year? (Best Documentary Short)

Jay Rosenblatt’s second Oscar nominated documentary short in two years is just as personal as his first. It’s much more simple than When We Were Bullies but retains the same emotional complexity. In a kind of real-life take on Boyhood, Rosenblatt set out to interview his daughter on her birthday every year since she was 2 to ask her the same set of questions, including “what do you want to be when you grow up” and “what’s your greatest fear.” The results aren’t anything terribly surprising. We see her go from a spunky toddler whose favorite thing is lollipops, to a restless teenager who loves sleeping, to a more mature, self-aware young adult. Anyone with kids will connect with How Do You Measure a Year?, a microcosm of the evolution that our greatest accomplishments go through; I just don’t know how much it will resonate beyond Oscar season.

42. Close (Best International Feature)

Most of the elements within Close are solid, if not great. From the performances of its cast – especially lead Eden Dambrine – to Frank van dan Eeden’s cinematography to Valentin Hadjadj’s score, and more. But something within director and co-writer Lukas Dhont’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama feels hollow, a collection of moments and sentiments we’ve seen in plenty of other films before. Not to mention, after the inciting incident around the 45 minute mark, the film simply feels like it meanders for the remaining hour, without adding much new to say. The film will surely elicit a deep emotional reaction if you’re invested enough in the material, but without that, Close isn’t close enough.

41. The Elephant Whisperers (Best Documentary Short)

I like nature documentaries as much as the next person. And The Elephant Whisperers is a more than capable entry, which generally sees at least one nominated film per year. The documentary short deals with a remote village in South India as it takes care of orphaned, sick, and abandoned elephants. It’s an intimate look at how the elephants’ caretakers view these creatures not just as another animal to look after, but as members of their own family. They learn and grow together, and director Kartiki Gonsalves shows how the elephants do the same. But The Elephant Whisperers doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from other documentaries of its ilk, some of which are similarly available on Netflix.

Cocaine Bear – Movie Review

Cocaine Bear

  • Director: Elizabeth Banks
  • Writer: Jimmy Warden
  • Starring: Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, Brooklynn Prince, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Margo Martindale, Ray Liotta

Grade: B

Movie titles can be deceptive. Sometimes the title has nothing to do with the content of the film or can only tangentially relate to its themes. That’s not the case with Cocaine Bear, the latest big studio horror comedy that’s designed for a quick cinematic high in the first quarter of the year.

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Seasons of Seasons: Star Trek Season 1, “Tomorrow is Yesterday” & “Court Martial”

When dealing with almost any sci-fi show, you’re bound to run into an episode or plot arc that deals with time travel. I figured it would be just a matter of time before Star Trek dipped its toes into the sub-genre, but wasn’t sure how long I would have to wait. Given the recent stretch of expansive episodes we’ve seen, Tomorrow is Yesterday fits right in, and it’s a worthy addition to the season. In fact, both episodes in this installment see Star Trek fit familiar genre tropes into its ecosystem, both yielding fantastic results.

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Seasons of Seasons: Star Trek Season 1, “The Squire of Gothos” & “Arena”

One of the enduring themes throughout Star Trek, and a good deal of sci-fi, is in how we, as humans, are an inferior species, both technologically and mentally. It’s not only a way to build out the universe within the show, but a smart but subtle way to criticize the world of its time, whether it be for national politics or a war or a culture clash – and the 60s certainly had no shortage of all three of these. It plays into both episodes this week, creating tension in different ways that we’ve seen versions of already this season, but the execution is handled in mostly fun ways.

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