Hail to the Champs!

Washington D.C.’s long national nightmare will finally end this fall.

The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November perhaps will also relieve pent up frustration, soothe shattered souls and finally allow District residents some peace and closure.

But here I refer only to Halloween—the exact date Game 7 of the World Series falls on this season.

On that last day of the season—seven months and two days after it began—the Washington Nationals will claim its first ever Fall Classic and the nation’s capital’s first since 1924.

Hail to the champs!

Want to know how your favorite squad will fare? Check out my team-by-team predictions and get the first glimpse of an exhilarating 2018 postseason, including a Game 163 between the Cardinals and Diamondbacks, an extra inning Wild Card game and the foretelling of all American League postseason series going the distance.

As for my Bold Prediction of the Year: For the second straight season no team will finish with an 81-81 record.

Last year’s sagacity:

‘The Milwaukee Brewers will exceed all expectations, expediting their rebuilding process, and finish with an 81-81 record, earning their skipper, Craig Counsell, manager of the year.’

And the award(s) goes to . . .

NL MVP: Bryce Harper, RF, Washington Nationals
AL MVP: Mike Trout, CF, California Angels

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

NL Rookie of the Year: Ronald Acuña Jr., CF, Atlanta Braves
AL Rookie of the Year: Shohei Ohtani, SP (and more!), California Angels

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Madison Bumgarner, SP, San Francisco Giants
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Zach Britton, RP, Baltimore Orioles

NL Manager of the Year: Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers
AL Manager of the Year: Mike Scioscia, California Angels

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Oscar Scorecard

Major kudos to host Jimmy Kimmel—who each day I find more and more charming—and the Oscar producers for the way they handled the entire evening (#MeToo) but specifically the awarding of best picture. It was smart, funny and oh so classy, especially allowing Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to right last year’s wrong (which, remember, was not at all their fault). And the movie called warmed my heart.

But before we delve any further into the night that was, here is a breakdown of my selections and the evening’s winners in alphabetical order:

Category Predicted Winner Actual Winner
Adapted Screenplay Call Me by Your Name Call Me by Your Name
Animated Feature Film Coco Coco
Animated Short Film Dear Basketball Dear Basketball
Best Picture The Shape of Water The Shape of Water
Cinematography Blade Runner 2049 Blade Runner 2049
Costume Design Phantom Thread Phantom Thread
Directing Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Documentary Feature Faces Places Icarus
Documentary Short Subject Edith + Eddie Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Film Editing Dunkirk Dunkirk
Foreign Language Film A Fantastic Woman (Chile) A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
Lead Actor Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Lead Actress Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Live-Action Short Film DeKalb Elementary The Silent Child
Makeup and Hairstyling Darkest Hour Darkest Hour
Original Score The Shape of Water The Shape of Water
Original Screenplay Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Get Out
Original Song ‘Remember Me’, Coco ‘Remember Me’, Coco
Production Design The Shape of Water The Shape of Water
Sound Editing Dunkirk Dunkirk
Sound Mixing Dunkirk Dunkirk
Supporting Actor Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Supporting Actress Allison Janney, I, Tonya Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Visual Effects War for the Planet of the Apes Blade Runner 2049

I correctly predicted 19 of 24, including all six of the major awards.

For comparison purposes, in previous years I missed eight (including picture and lead actor last Academy Awards), six and nine. My finest moment came in 2014 when I accurately predicted a ridiculous 23 of 24 Academy Award winners, missing only . . . costume design.

Finally conquering the meddlesome sound mixing and editing categories (Dunkirk all the way!), it was the documentaries (both short and feature length) and live action-short that proved my bugaboo.

I thought the Academy would award War for the Planet of the Apes for its incredible work, but I can’t complain that the Oscar went to the breathtaking Blade Runner 2049.

The final miss, though, was a painful one. Originally I had Get Out penciled in as my original screenplay winner (acknowledging its unlikely path to victory in any other category) only to secret it out at the last second in favor of Martin McDonagh’s more brash and obvious Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Lesson learned.

My greatest call was also the toughest: best picture. Overjoyed to see Guillermo del Toro’s magical The Shape of Water take home the top prize. What a beautiful, beautiful movie.

More high—and low—lights from a fine Oscars, still fresh and relevant in its ninth decade:

Best Speech: Two words: Frances McDormand.

Worst Speech: Thankfully none really stick out. And congrats to costume designer Mark Bridges for winning a brand new jet ski for the shortest speech for his Phantom Thread Oscar.

Best (electric) Moment: Gotta go with Frances again . . . but I was oh so happy for Allison Janney. Here’s hoping she celebrated by bringing back The Jackal!

Best (awkward) Moment: Eugenio Derbez, announcing eventual best song ‘Remember Me’ from Coco, remarking that ‘In the afterworld, there are no walls.’ A funny and apropos line—if the audience had been paying attention. Instead: silence.

Biggest Upset: Icarus winning feature documentary. Although really it’s Jane not being nominated at all.

Biggest Disappointment: #noregrets

Worst Dressed: Lots of contenders ranging from Emma Stone (who was my best dressed last year) to Salma Hayek. But I’m going to force myself to choose somebody usually very well put together and of whom I am a huge fan:

AFP PHOTO / VALERIE MACONVALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images

Best Dressed: Saorise, Lupita and Jennifer all rocked the red carpet but two ladies stood a head above:

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

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The Year in Movies

Before I get to my annual missive to the Academy, has there ever been a better year for science fiction and comic book-inspired movies? It all started with a dark, dense, enthralling tour de force, Logan, that looked like no other X-Men movie. Then Wonder Woman forever altered the superhero game and Atomic Blonde piled on the badassery; excellent reboots of Spiderman and an intriguing new Kong; a fascinating sequel-prequel in Alien: Covenant; the long-awaited—you can put Harrison Fordand Ryan Gosling in the same movie?!— follow-up to Blade Runner; a Marvel movie masquerading as a top notch comedy; The Shape of Water, a beautiful and breathtaking inter-species romance and the final thrilling chapter of the most underrated trilogy of all-time: War for the Planet of the Apes.

Did I forget something? Oh, right: The Last Jedi.

Add action movies to the mix and The Fate of the Furious, Baby Driver and the one of the most extraordinary movies I’ve ever seen, Dunkirk, make this an historical year at the movies.

And with the phenomenal Black Panther, 2018 is off to a rousing start!

In the previous three iterations of the below exercise I disagreed with seven nominations three years ago, three two years ago and just two last time. This campaign that number doubled to four, though one, Saorise Ronan (who I absolutely adore!), was only shunted aside because I needed to make room for the criminally underrated Jessica Chastain in the Aaron Sorkin-helmed Molly’s Game.

As explicated in my Snubs and Surprises post I’m most passionate about Holly Hunter’s exclusion from the best supporting actress race. She ranks third on my list, ahead of Mary J. Blige and Octavia Spencer, pushing Phantom Thread (I always want to write ‘Phantom Menace’ instead!) actress Leslie Manville off the proverbial podium.

Not to pile on the very good Thread but I also preferred Steven Spielberg’s directing over Paul Thomas Anderson’s and Hostiles was easily one of the best movies of the year.

Here is a category-by-category breakdown of this year’s nominees:

Oscar Nominees: Supporting Actress

Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Leslie Manville, Phantom Thread
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Nick Wood’s Top Five

  1. Allison Janney, I, Tonya
  2. Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
  3. Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
  4. Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
  5. Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Oscar Nominees: Supporting Actor

Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Nick Wood’s Top Five

  1. Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  2. Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  3. Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
  4. Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
  5. Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

Oscar Nominees: Lead Actress

Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Meryl Street, The Post
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Saorise Ronan, Lady Bird

Nick Wood’s Top Five

  1. Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  2. Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
  3. Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
  4. Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
  5. Meryl Street, The Post

Oscar Nominees: Lead Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name

Nick Wood’s Top Five

  1. Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
  2. Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
  3. Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
  4. Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
  5. Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Oscar Nominees: Best Director

Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread

Nick Wood’s Top Five

  1. Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
  2. Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
  3. Jordan Peele, Get Out
  4. Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
  5. Steven Spielberg, The Post

Oscar Nominees: Best Picture

Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Nick Wood’s Top Five Nine 

  1. Dunkirk
  2. The Shape of Water
  3. Hostiles
  4. Darkest Hour
  5. Lady Bird
  6. Get Out
  7. The Post
  8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  9. Call Me by Your Name

With the top movie of 2017 now whittled down to three—Wonder Woman, Dunkirk and The Last Jedi—by my three previous posts let’s finally get to the moment you all have been waiting 364 days for . . . 

The Worst Movies of the Year

  1. The 15:17 to Paris
  2. The Mummy
  3. The Snowman
  4. Girl’s Trip
  5. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

The Best Movies of the Year

11. Lady Bird
10. Wind River
9. Get Out
8. Hostiles
7. War for the Planet of the Apes
6. The Shape of Water
5. Molly’s Game
4. Logan
3. Wonder Woman
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
1. Dunkirk

Greenbacks

Breaking it down even further:

Best Movie That Made the Most Amount of Money: Star Wars: The Last Jedi ($619,117,636 in domestic earnings since its release)
Best Movie That Made the Least Amount of Money: Call Me by Your Name ($17,045,988)

Worst Movie That Made the Most Amount of Money: The Mummy ($80,227,895)
Worst Movie That Made the Least Amount of Money: The 15:17 to Paris ($35,003,216)

Editor’s note: United States dollar figures courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo and current as of March 4, 2017

Best Movie I Haven’t Seen (Yet): Mudbound
Worst Movie I Will Never See: The Emoji Movie

Movie Quote(s) of the Year: “When I think of her, of Elisa, all that comes to mind is a poem, made of just a few truthful words, whispered by someone in love, hundreds of years ago: ‘Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with your love. It humbles my heart, for you are everywhere.’” (Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water)

“Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long.” (Hugh Jackman in Logan)

Four categories back by popular demand:

Very Good Movie That I Thought Would Have Been Worse: Thor: Ragnorak
Movie That Should Have Been Much Better: The 15:17 to Paris

Most Overrated Movie of the Year: For the third year in a row, none, thankfully.
Most Underappreciated Movie of the Year: Hostiles

And now some more fun categories:

Best Book Adaptation: Murder on the Orient Express
Best Musical: The Shape of Water

Most Romantic: Tie: The Shape of Water and Call Me by Your Name
Least Romantic: Get Out

Most Exciting Movie: Dunkirk
Least Exciting Movie: The Snowman

Best Year—Female: Gal Gadot
Best Year—Male: Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name, Lady Bird and Hostiles)

Crystal Ball

Every year I peer into the future to ascertain this year’s crop of future Hollywood stars. Here are examples of previous predictions:

Actress: Janelle Monáe, Alicia Vikander, Felicity Jones, Shailene Woodley, Imogen Poots, Samantha Barks
Actor: Mahershala Ali, Emory Cohen, Jack O’Connell, Joel Edgerton, Dane DeHaan, Theo James
Director: Barry Jenkins, Tom McCarthy, Ava DuVernay, Marc Webb, Rian Johnson, Ryan Coogler

One notable highlight: The first year I did this, 2011, I chose a then not-well-know director Ryan Coogler as my first future directing star. Not sure if you’ve heard, but he just made a little movie called that just surpassed $500 million domestically . . . Black Panther!

Another highlight: Choosing Shailene Woodley and Joel Edgerton as future stars in 2013.

Next ‘It’ Actress: Kathryn Newton
Next ‘It’ Actor: Fionn Whitehead
Next ‘It’ Director: Can’t say Greta Gerwig anymore so . . . Chloé Zhao!

Secret Weapon

Need last minute help with your Oscar pool? Below is how things will go this evening on the 90th Academy Awards. I’ve amended some of my predicted winners (*) which I previously made before the actual nominations came out:

Animated Short: Dear Basketball
Animated Feature: Coco
Cinematography: Blade Runner 2049
Documentary Short: Edith + Eddie
*Documentary Feature: Faces Places
Live Action Short: DeKalb Elementary
Costume Design: Phantom Thread
Film Editing: Dunkirk
Foreign: A Fantastic Woman
Makeup and Hairstyling: Darkest Hour
Production Design: Shape of Water
Screenplay (adapted): Call Me by Your Name
Screenplay (original): Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Score: The Shape of Water
Song: ‘Remember Me’, Coco
Sound Editing: Dunkirk
Sound Mixing: Dunkirk
Visual Effects: War for the Planet of the Apes

But those are just fillers. Now for what you really care about—the awards that will make-or-break your chances of going home with some booty tonight:

Supporting Actress: Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Lead Actress: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Lead Actor: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Director: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
*Picture: The Shape of Water

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The Final Films

The previous two posts—‘The First Dozen’ and ‘Penultimate Pictures’—have now brought us to this: the final 12 movie reviews of the 2017 Oscar campaign. And like the last published installment, these films are so very hard to rank, especially considering the disparate genres on display.

These dozen films were enjoyed between Thanksgiving (Darkest Hour) and four days (Phantom Thread) after Valentine’s Day.

Let the debating begin:

Please check back in a couple hours for the stupendous and always exhilarating movies of the year. Entertainment Weekly calls it a ‘can’t-miss’!

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Penultimate Pictures

The first installment of my look back through the films of 2017 featured a dozen movies I saw between the Oscar telecast and mid-June. Three films—Wonder Woman, Logan and Get Out—all have a great shot in being included in my prestigious year-end best pictures while one (The Mummy) certainly will be relegated to the opposite end of the cinematic spectrum.

The 12 films below were seen in the theatre between July 9 (The Big Sick) and November 24 (Murder on the Orient Express) and they are extremely difficult to rank. To wit: An astounding nine of them have a real chance at finishing in my top 11 movies of the year.

After much agonizing here is how I ultimately decided to order these fine films:

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The First Dozen

Following up on last year’s successful run-up to my favorite annual blog post, The Year in Movies, I thought it cool to once again take a chronological trip down memory lane to see how we got to this moment in cinematic history.

Last year I saw 62 Academy Award eligible films while this year that number is down to a surprisingly low 37.

First up, ranking the once odd slate of post-Oscar films—formerly a mishmash of over-budget, sure-to-disappoint Hollywood fare; silly horror movies; video game adaptations; and at least one of every other genre but now some of the best movies of the year—and early summer blockbusters.

And for the most part they did not disappoint!

Without further ado here is a best-to-worst ranking of the 12 movies I saw from the Oscar  telecast in Australia (Miss Sloane) until the end the middle of June (The Mummy) back in Washington, D.C.:

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Snubs and Surprises: A Breakdown of the Oscar Nominations

History said one thing. My gut another. And in that timeless debate I chose . . . poorly.

More on that in a moment.

Of the 25 nominations for acting and directing, I got 21 correct, including all five best actress nods. Add in my ‘sleeper’ and ‘dark horse’ selections and that number rises to 23. I also rightly identified seven of the nine best picture candidates.

Pleased? Yes. Filled with regret? Absolutely.

About that fateful decision: ever since I saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri I’ve been touting Woody Harrelson’s best supporting actor candidacy. And yet it had been since 1992—when Warren Beatty’s Bugsy earned both Ben Kingsley and Harvey Keitel Oscar nominations—that two actors were honored for the same film in a supporting role.

And yet . . . my final decision before publishing was switching Harrelson and Call Me By Your Name’s Armie Hammer.

Even worse: Earlier that day I finally saw Luca Guadagnino’s sun-drenched summertime sojourn. It was excellent. Michael Stuhlberg was riveting for the third time—The Post, The Shape of Water—in best picture nominees this year! Timothée Chalamet was splendid. And Armie Hammer was merely . . . very very good. To my mind, though, he didn’t come close to equaling the empathy and compassion you feel for Woody Harrelson’s Willoughby, the police chief of the titular town.

As for my other three misses, two were courtesy of that pesky Phantom Thread.

Word to the wise: Never bet against Paul Thomas Anderson. The There Will Be Blood auteur is an Academy fave and he has done it again in what Daniel Day-Lewis has sadly said is his last film as an actor. Anderson earned a best director nod (I had Three Billboards’ Martin McDonagh) and his new muse, Leslie Manville, took Holly Hunter’s spot for The Big Sick.

My other mistake was easy to see coming. I knew James Franco was a risky selection for both the crazy role he inhabited and, in the wake of the #MeToo revolution, Academy voters had presumably finally started to not differentiate between what happens on and off screen.

Knowing his precarious nature, I figured he’d be replaced by the Platonic nice-guy and consummate great actor. He was. But instead of Tom Hanks for The Post it was Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq. I can go either way with Franco and love both Washington and Hanks, so despite me opting for the former, I have no bone to pick here with the Academy.

The James Franco and Paul Thomas Anderson nods are very unusual for another reason—rarely is there a nomination named that I don’t have an actor or director in either my top five or listed as a ‘sleeper’ or ‘dark horse’. (In fact I don’t remember any instance of that occurring.)

While I seriously considered Washington for the prize, I thought Hanks or Jake Gyllenhaal (playing a Boston Marathon bombing survivor in Stronger) would have more support. Ditto for Steven Spielberg helming The Post and Guadagnino directing Call Me By Your Name.

In this era of an indeterminate amount of best picture nominees, Oscar prognosticators like me require a Herculean effort to get both the number and exact films correct.

So given the very surprising exclusion of I, Tonya, I was pleased to successfully name seven: Call Me By Your Name, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, The Post, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. (I erroneously thought The Big Sick and The Florida Project would make the cut.)

And as mentioned in my prediction piece, I thought Joe Wright’s scintillating Darkest Hour was extremely underrated and certainly one of the best films of the year. As for Phantom Thread? Can’t wait to see it!

Finally, among my apéritifs replete with predicted winners, only the documentary Jane—in a major head scratcher—was shockingly excluded.

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