Musings on 2021 Oscars – The Good, The Bad + the WTF

It’s Oscars Sunday and I actually don’t feel as overwhelmed as I had been as year’s past as I actually remember Oscars is on tonight so I had time to prepare and set up my laptop downstairs instead of scrambling to live tweet, ahah. Now, I wish I had timed my laundry on time as I still had to pick up my load during commercials! Nothing like mundanity of real life to go with all the glitz and glamour! 😀

I have to say though that I quite like the more low-key ceremony with tables so people can social distance… it feels more relaxed, cozy and intimate. But unlike the Golden Globes, still no drinks, ha! I also like the fact that the song performances were shown before the actual telecast to cut time, and the fact that they were done outdoors are pretty cool as well. This is actually my favorite song nominated this year… written by the legendary Diane Warren!

 

I love Regina King doing the opening monologue wearing one of my favorite Oscar dresses of the night! I expected Minneapolis would got a mention… wish it were for another reason though. In any case, if you missed it, here’s the video: 

THE GOOD

First Oscar went to a woman, yay!!

Incredible that Emerald Fennell won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for her feature directorial debut Promising Young Woman –  similar to Diablo Cody who won for JUNO in 2008. But she also directed AND produced the film, all while she was pregnant, wow!!

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Two more women won within the first half hour, both for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom!!

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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020): Viola Davis as Ma Rainey. Cr. David Lee / Netflix

Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson won for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling AND Ann Roth won for Best Achievement in Costume Design!


I’m still kicking myself that I haven’t seen MINARI, yet! But Yuh-Jung Youn didn’t just win for her performance in Minari, but for having the most adorable Oscar speech of the night! Her expression when her name was called is priceless!!


Chloe Zhao is having a moment… the woman is such a force that I know this is just the beginning for her!!


The phenomenally talented Trent Reznor + Atticus Ross are double nominees tonight for MANK and SOUL. I’ve only seen the latter and I absolutely LOVE the score for SOUL, so yeah!!


Nomadland and Chloé Zhao making all kinds of history tonight just made my heart soar!!! One of the only two Best Picture nominees I saw on the big screen before it was actually released. Thanks to Twin Cities Film Fest!!


[Added 4/26] – Since I posted it right after the ceremony ended. I went to bed hoping I’d see a video of Sir Anthony Hopkins‘ Oscar speech. Well here it is… the Welsh thespian is as gracious as ever, even paying tribute to fellow nominee Chadwick Boseman who everyone thought would’ve won this year.


THE BAD

  • What’s with Brad Pitt not helping Yuh-Jung Youn from her podium when the 73 year-old woman clearly could use some help… and even if she didn’t, it would’ve been the chivalrous thing to do.
  • I’m not crazy with the fact that they didn’t show clips of the nominees, only a few categories including Best Picture were shown clips.
  • I didn’t care for the trivia bit, overall it just felt awkward and they could’ve given more time to other things we actually care about.
  • They’re rushing through everything in the final hour… especially during what’s supposed to be a solemn IN MEMORIAM sequence. It’s egregious to rush THAT sequence, but it’s especially terrible given how many people we lost in 2020.
  • What’s with the BEST PICTURE being presented before the Best Actor + Actress announcement?? The Best Picture has always been the last award of the night, that is tradition. I mean WHY?? It doesn’t exactly save time to change the order and it just didn’t feel right. I feel like they also didn’t allow the winning team, in this case NOMADLAND, to bask in this achievement somehow.

THE WTF

Now, this category isn’t automatically bad… they’re just completely out of left field!

Ok so I haven’t got around to seeing Judas and the Black Messiah but happy for the talented Daniel Kaluuya. He was rambling quite a bit in his speech but hey, that made for one of the funniest moments of the night!


Well, expect a new Glenn Close meme coming on Monday, folks!! I guess this is one of the fun things that came out of the whole trivia bit.


Though I was flabbergasted that I did not hear Chadwick Boseman‘s name called in the Best Actor category who deserved the post-humous nomination NOT because he’s gone but because he gave an outstanding, heart-wrenching performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom… but no, I’m not going to complain that Anthony Hopkins won (or worse, getting mad at the actor for winning like some people on Twitter – SMH) I was in awe of his performance depicting a man suffering from dementia in The Father… and the fact that he wasn’t even campaigning at all during award season just showed what a gracious person he is. He didn’t even appoint anyone to accept the award on his behalf!


Last but not least…

Now, I don’t think anyone saw it coming that Frances McDormand would win Best Actress!! I mean, despite my love for Nomadland, I didn’t think Frances’ performance was out of this world the way Viola Davis and Carey Mulligan did in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Promising Young Woman, respectively.


Ok I’m hoping Marvel is listening!!


In conclusion…

Heh, what a night! Despite some historic wins that made me happy, the ceremony itself is bonkers!! There are just too many weird things… some of the speeches went on way too long (wish someone cut off the last bit of Kaluuya’s speech), and some barely got enough time in. Again, the announcement weird switcheroos made no sense at all… and what’s with the abrupt end after they realized Anthony Hopkins weren’t present?? At the very least they could’ve shown a clip of his performance?? Something??

Some were saying that whoever directed the event must have been convinced Chadwick Boseman would win Best Actor, and that’s why they re-arranged so that his category is last. Well if that is the case, that’s just a terrible decision that proves to be a disservice to everyone.


Oh, speaking of my predictions I posted on Saturday, I only got 14/23 categories I predicted correctly. That’s actually pretty good considering I haven’t seen SO many and mostly these are based on gut instincts, ahah.


So did you watch the Oscars? Well, what did YOU think?

FlixChatter Review – Judas and The Black Messiah (2021)

The script of the life of Fred Hampton has been floating around Hollywood for many years but it never got made into a film until now. Hampton was one of the leaders of the Black Panthers movement and the youngest of the group back in the 60s and his assassination by the FBI is well known and that’s probably the reason the film of his life has had trouble making it to the screen. Maybe, because of our current political climate we’re living in now, his life story is finally being told, and I think it’s more relevant than ever.

The film starts out with an interview footage of the real Bill O’Neil in 1989 and then flashes back to 1968 when the young O’Neil (LaKeith Standfield) poses as an FBI agent to steal cars from locals in Chicago. One night, his antics got him arrested and while being held in the interrogation room, an actual FBI agent named Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) showed up and offered a chance to turn his life around. Since O’Neil likes to pretend to be someone he’s not, Michell offers him to be a mole for the FBI.

He tells O’Neil that the Black Panthers are terrorist groups, and he’s needs an inside man to be his eyes and ears in order to bring them down. Of course, O’Neil doesn’t have a choice, if he doesn’t take the deal then he goes to prison. He reluctantly accepts the offer and goes undercover and meets Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), a young charismatic leader of the Chicago Black Panthers division. Once O’Neil became part of Hampton’s group, he realized that the Black Panthers aren’t the people that Michell told him about. They’re a group that tries to give a better life to the black community in the rough part of Chicago. But because O’Neil doesn’t want to go to prison, he keeps feeding the FBI information about the Panthers’ activities that eventually led to Hampton’s assassination.

I actually watched a documentary about Hampton’s life a couple of years ago, so I knew the story and while I’m sure some of the events has been alter for dramatic purposes for this film, it’s still pretty accurate account of what happened. The screenplay is written by Will Berson and Shaka King, the latter directed the picture. It’ a well written story and I wish the actual film is longer. At only 2 hours long, I feel there’s so much we don’t know about Hampton and O’Neil and I would have liked to see more of their lives explored in the film. I’ve never seen any of King’s work but I’m very impressed with what he did with this film. The only negative thing I see here is how he depicted the FBI director Hoover (Martin Sheen in poorly prostatic makeup), he’s like a cartoonish Bond villain and I don’t think that’s very accurate.

Performances were excellent. Standfield, who I think looks a lot like a young Dave Chapelle, is very good as the conflicted person who sees the Panthers as a group of peaceful activists who wants to better the lives of black people. But he knows that he can’t back out of a deal he’d made with the FBI. Kaluuya is excellent as Hampton, a passionate man who sees himself as peacemaker but knows what the authority sees him as a threat. Dominique Fishback (who was terrific in Project Power) continues to impress me with her performance, here she plays Hampton’s lover. As mentioned earlier, I wish the film were longer, so we get to see more of their relationship. Plemons is always good, and he’s great here as the father figure to O’Neil. He uses O’Neil to impress his bosses at the FBI and also advances his career. At first, he acted like a friend to O’Neil but when he didn’t get what he wanted, he became a very nasty person who holds a lot of power.

This is probably one of the better films I’ve seen in the early part of 2021, I just wanted it to be a bit longer. I feel it’s too condensed, but it’s very well made with great performances by the lead actors.

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So have you seen Judas and the Black Messiah? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Black Panther (2018)

I had been looking forward to write a review of this film since I saw it a week ago. By now practically everyone has seen this film, as it broke all kinds of box office records. Normally I don’t really care for numbers for a big tentpole films like this one, but I am thrilled for the success of Black Panther because simply it’s a terrific film that deserved to be seen on the big screen.

The film’s storyline is set just right after the events in Captain America: Civil War (a film I also admired a lot) where T’Challa, the then heir of a fictional African country Wakanda, lost his father. The young King of Wakanda returns his technologically-advanced and supremely wealthy home. It isn’t easy to be king however, as his ascend to the throne faced many challenges. Unlike many superhero films where the villains are mostly maniacal figure hell-bent to rule/destroy the world, T’Challa’s advisory turns out to be a personal one.

I won’t go into too much details about the plot as it’s best to go into this blindly as I did. The story takes place mostly in Wakanda, but it started off in a familiar urban setting in Oakland, California. I love how relatable the story is, and you truly feel for the dilemma of the characters involved. Rich in vibranium, the indestructible metal that’s used to make Captain America’s shield, Wakanda isolated themselves from other African nations and posed as a Third World country. Run by the King’s sister Shuri, her state-of-the-art tech lab would make even Tony Stark and Bond’s Q envious! This is a country that truly can stand alone in the universe and would never need any other nation’s help in any way. Therein lies the dilemma. Why doesn’t it help other nations and fellow Africans in need? The themes of refugees and the role (and responsibility) of a powerful nation is so fitting given the current global refugee crisis.

There is even a mid-credit scene that seems to directly address the current administration with its message about building bridges instead of barriers in times of crisis. The film doesn’t shy away from the current political climate, yet somehow it isn’t preachy and the story is still organic within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s admirable in and of itself the fact that the plot fits perfectly within MCU but yet manages stands alone and in many ways, be ahead of the pack. Because the conflicts are so personal to our hero, even when the action sequences are huge and bombastic, it never overpowered the story and there are real human lives at stake.

Let’s talk about the fantastically-diverse ensemble cast that made this film so great. From its intro in Captain America: Civil War, I already loved Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, but here we get to see his dramatic chops. The charismatic actor’s got an effortless regal vibe about him, plus he looks just as spectacular as a monarch as he is a superhero! He’s surrounded by a phenomenal cast, from veteran actors like Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett, to relatively-new-but-accomplished young stars like Michael B. Jordan, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, current Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, and Danai Gurira. I have to admit I had a gleeful smile watching two of the Tolkien white guys, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman, reunited in this movie. The latter had more to do here and he provided some of the comic relief along with Wright’s Shuri.

Kudos to writers Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole for writing a villain who is multi-dimensional and someone we actually empathize with. Jordan displayed a layered performance as well as a towering physical magnetism as Erik Killmonger. Both he and Boseman are such strapping [read: hot] lads that their fight scenes are quite breathtaking to behold, but the action actually mean something instead of just a gratuitous display of destructive force [*cough* Man of Steel *cough*]. The filmmakers also created a conflict that has political/cultural significance that raises the stakes, yet keeping it grounded with human emotion.

I’d say the film might pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors, considering the number of female characters with a real arc instead of used merely as accessories. The real MVPs are Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, T’Challa’s love interest and a Wakandan spy, and Danai Gurira as Okoye, a Wakandan general of the all-female special forces. Gurira’s army of bad-ass women easily give Wonder Woman‘s Amazonians a run for their money. So gratifying to see SO many heroic women of color on screen who are strong in terms of physical strength as in their intellect and resolve. Nakia is an especially inspiring character worthy of the King’s love and admiration, and Nyong’o has an amazing screen presence. Forget Black Widow, I’d love to see a spinoff with Nakia and Okoye in their own standalone Marvel movie!

This is what I called ‘fun with substance’ kind of movie, which is what Marvel has excelled at by hiring indie filmmakers to helm their blockbusters. The film showed off the huge $200 mil budget in terms of visuals and action set pieces, but the best part of it is still the story and its characters. But man, what a feast for the eyes it truly is! Apparently Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige spent more $$$ on this film to get the wealthy-beyond-measure world of Wakanda just right (according to Vulture). The towering skyscrapers, the hi-tech trains/spaceships, not to mention the incredibly rich costumes that would hopefully earn Ruth E. Carter some Costume Design nominations. They look stylishly-futuristic while still honoring its tribal African roots.

I love that Black Panther has a ton of girl power both in front and behind the camera. Its cinematographer Rachel Morrison has just broke new ground as the first female DP ever to be nominated for an Oscar (for Mudbound)! Her stunning visual work here is quite Oscar-worthy as well. There’s such colorful vibrancy in this film that’s complemented by the lively score by Coogler’s longtime collaborator Ludwig Göransson.

I could go on and on about how much I loved this film. The stakes felt real and there were moments of genuine sadness, but it also didn’t forget to have fun because hey, it’s still a superhero movie. I LOVE the exhilarating car chases that shows off Black Panther’s prowess. Basically the entire scene in Busan, South Korea is just so freaking cool! I mentioned Shuri reminds me a bit of Bond’s Q, well, some of the action scenes here at times feels like a Bond film but thankfully without the male chauvinism aspect.

Now, it’s not a perfect film as there are some pacing issues and some parts seemed to go on longer than necessary. But really, those are really small quibbles in a largely masterful work by director Ryan Coogler. He’s joined a growing number of indie filmmakers like the Russo Brothers and Taika Waititi who’ve stepped up to the task of making such quality superhero films for Marvel. I’m glad that they now have a fruitful career ahead of them, as I want to see more of their work.

Diverse representation alone doesn’t make a film automatically good. But Black Panther did the diverse cast justice by giving them something worthy to do in a well-written, thought provoking film. And THAT is definitely something worth praising about. I hope Hollywood would finally realize that racial diversity and inclusion does pay at the movies! It may not be the first black comic-book-based movie, but it certainly the biggest and best one to date.

A friend from work put it best, ‘Forget about Marvel universe, give me a Wakanda universe!’ Hey I’m down with that! #WakandaForever


So have you seen ‘Black Panther’? Well, what did you think?