By Alex McPherson

Overlong, goofy at some points and deadly serious at others, not even a star-studded cast can save Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci” from mediocrity.

This true-crime drama, beginning in the late 1970’s, centers around Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), a confident woman born into a poor family in Northern Italy who profits generously from her stepfather’s trucking business in the present-day. She meets Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) at a glitzy party, and the two soon fall for each other.

Reggiani is attracted both to Maurizio and the Gucci company itself. Maurizio wants to distance himself from the spotlight and follow his own path. Soon enough, they’re married, to the anguish of Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), who’s aghast that his son would wed such a peasant.

Maurizio’s uncle, Aldo (Al Pacino), sees an opportunity to lure Maurizio back into the family business through Patrizia; he shuns his immature, resentful son, Paolo (an unrecognizable Jared Leto), who desperately wants to be recognized as worthy of the family name. As time progresses, Maurizio is reluctantly brought back into the fray, and Patrizia grows increasingly conniving as she seeks to make herself “successful,” no matter who gets in her way.

The soapy drama that ensues involves backstabbing, manipulation, and cold-blooded murder. Sadly, “House of Gucci” doesn’t develop its central players enough to make its narrative compelling from an outsider perspective, but there’s still some fun to be had in watching Gaga, Leto, and Pacino go all-out on their respective roles, cringe be damned. Contrary to what the film’s marketing indicates, though, this is a ponderous, disjointed, messy affair that — despite a few memorably over-the-top sequences — remains unfortunately dull.

At least the actors involved are up to the task. Gaga, carrying herself with gusto, lends a formidable power to the role of Patrizia, devolving into ferocious, animalistic mentalities as her greed envelops her. Frustratingly, Scott attempts to cover so much ground during the 2-hour-45-minute runtime that Patrizia’s arc is sped through, particularly regarding her infatuation with the Gucci brand early on and her slide into madness. With a thick Italian (Russian?) accent, eye-catching outfits, and a fiery temper, she’s entertaining to watch, but it’s difficult to ultimately care about what happens to her. Indeed, Patrizia is always dialed up to 11, for better and worse.

Carried by Gaga’s charisma, the other actors are seemingly unsure whether to ham-it-up or keep themselves down-to-earth. Irons has one delicious verbal takedown that wouldn’t be out of place in “Succession,” and Pacino exudes warm, fatherly vibes while scheming behind the scenes.

Driver’s Maurizio represents the voice of reason in most situations, and his emotional expression is considerably downplayed compared to the others. On the complete opposite side of the spectrum is Leto, whose go-for-broke approach calls to mind Tommy Wiseau of “The Room,” to uneven levels of success (there’s a scene where he pisses on a scarf). Salma Hayek leaves a positive impression as an unhinged, upper-class psychic.

This inconsistency extends to the film’s screenplay, co-written by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna. Highlight-reel lines like “Father, Son, and House of Gucci” are amusingly self-aware, but dry discussion of the company’s inner-workings is far less engaging. In terms of editing, “House of Gucci” also feels jumbled, cutting between scenes abruptly without giving each exchange a satisfying climax or providing viewers time to reflect as the film lunges forward. 

Stylistically, Scott misses an opportunity to capitalize on the peoples’ loony psyches. The image is often bathed in a muted, gray filter — perfect for Scott’s own, far superior “The Last Duel,” but out-of-place here — and only sometimes embraces the campiness inherent in the subject matter, inserting a few bluntly effective musical cues that put a smile on my face. 

Generally, “House of Gucci” seems unsure of what it’s trying to be. Brisker pacing, an hour-shorter runtime, and more focus on Patrizia in all her malevolent glory could have rendered it gleefully dark escapism. In its current state, however, viewers would be better off watching Scott’s criminally underseen epic “The Last Duel” instead.

“House of Gucci” is a 2021 crime drama directed by Ridley Scott and starring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jared Leto, Jack Huston, Jeremy Irons and Salma Hayak. It is rated  R for language, some sexual content, brief nudity, and violence and is 2 hours, 37 minutes long. In theatres Nov. 24. Alex’s Grade: C

By Alex McPherson

An ambitious historical epic with powerful performances, hard-hitting action sequences, and an intelligent condemnation of systemic injustice, director Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” approaches glory, but falls slightly short of achieving it.

Based on actual events and taking place in 14th century France, the film, broken into three sections, begins with Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon, sporting an unfortunate hairdo), a valiant fighter serving under the cuckoo Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck). De Carrouges, having lost his first wife and child from the plague, sees an opportunity to father an heir and inherit a large dowry, which includes a huge swathe of land. He weds Marguerite de Thibouville (Jodie Comer), the daughter of a wealthy-yet-disgraced nobleman. However, through a series of political maneuvers, longtime friend Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) ends up possessing a large portion of de Carrouges’ new land, gets promoted to captaincy over him, and rapes Marguerite when she’s alone at home. De Carrouges files lawsuit after lawsuit, eventually requesting a last duel to the death. Retribution for Marguerite’s rape isn’t de Carrouge’s primary motivation — it’s his own pride and “honor” that’s at stake.

We then see the same events from Le Gris’ point of view: he observes as the handsome, fun-loving squire who parties with the Count and helps him improve his fortunes (Le Gris can read and handle basic accountancy). He betters his own lot in life by currying favors. In this version, de Carrouges isn’t a brave warrior, but a bumbling fool. It’s all rather smooth sailing for Le Gris who, after the assault, is reassured from the Count and the clergy that there’s no way that Marguerite’s claims will be taken seriously. 

Jump to section three, the most resonant of them all, and we watch the happenings unfold from Marguerite’s vantage point, getting a more intimate look at the horrible situation she’s become stuck in. She’s left feeling dehumanized and at the mercy of arrogant men whose final battle risks not only their lives, but her own as well.

Suffice to say, there’s plenty of anxious tension headed into the climactic confrontation, a bloody brawl that’s undoubtedly one of the best scenes of 2021. Beforehand, “The Last Duel” takes a creative approach to storytelling that fully fleshes out its subjects — the courageous Marguerite in particular. While Scott’s film isn’t especially profound in revealing that 14th century France was, in fact, horrendously unjust towards women, it slyly demonstrates how shifts in perspective can alter how we perceive the world, and the self-serving ways in which we might perceive ourselves.

Indeed, “The Last Duel” invites viewers to compare and contrast each party’s accounts of what took place, illustrating pertinent differences between them. Alterations in music, camera angles, and dialogue reveal the truth layer by layer, depending on who’s telling it, both serving to fill in narrative gaps and make the film feel decidedly stretched-out by the sword-clashing finale. The costuming and production design are incredibly detailed and period accurate, to be expected. The screenplay — co-written by Damon, Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener — highlights the egomania of de Carrouges and Le Gris, while occasionally throwing subtlety to the wind.   

This episodic structure wouldn’t work if the actors weren’t in top form, and luckily, the whole cast delivers. Comer, bringing to life Marguerite’s kindness, trauma, and steadfast bravery in facing a system designed to subordinate her, is wholly deserving of accolades come awards season. Until the final act, she’s mostly relegated to the sidelines, but she conveys Marguerite’s weathered fearlessness through her facial expressions alone, infusing the film’s final stretch with true emotional gravitas. 

Damon and Driver are similarly effective, albeit portraying more straightforward characters. There’s little redeeming either of them, no matter if we’re seeing through their eyes or not, but “The Last Duel” takes great lengths to show the patriarchal structures that inform their worldviews. Affleck almost seems like he’s in a different film, but it’s entertaining watching him embrace a demented frat boy persona as the Count, drunk on power along with alcohol.

Where the film stumbles involves Scott’s lack of restraint. Witnessing Marguerite’s assault — twice — comes across as exploitative rather than necessary. On one hand, “The Last Duel” paints similarities of Le Gris’ monstrous actions to the “playful” nights he enjoys with women in the Count’s chambers. On the other hand, when shown again through Marguerite’s frame of reference, it serves little purpose beyond shock value, fueling our anger leading into the titular showdown. In this case,“The Last Duel” uses her violation to artificially amplify dramatic stakes.

Although the film is ultimately uneven in execution, there’s still enough compelling characters to carry it through to its squirm-inducing conclusion. “The Last Duel” succeeds in demonstrating how the past informs the present, and the importance of recognizing how a core issue of the time — viewing women as property rather than human beings — continues in various insidious forms today. It’s also just a bone-crushing, suspenseful medieval thriller that prizes at least some brains over pure brawn.

Jodie Comer in “The Last Duel”

“The Last Duel” is a 2021 drama directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer. The run time is 2 hours, 32 minutes, and it is Rated R for strong violence including sexual assault, sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language. Alex’s Grade: B+

By Lynn Venhaus
My first thought was “What did I just see?” Then, “How am I going to put this into words?”

In present-day Los Angeles, Henry (Adam Driver) is a comedian/performance artist with a shock act who is in love with his opposite, Ann (Marion Cotillard), a beloved and beautiful opera singer. Always in the spotlight, their passion is lived out loud. They have a child together, Annette, a prodigy who can sing like her mother and becomes famous too.

Over time, I predict that “Annette” will gain a cult following and be debated in cinematic circles. For now, this unconventional film is a strange experience, haunting and disturbing –yet there is a willingness to applaud the artists’ ambition at work here.

People involved in this production have renowned reputations for beating to their own drummers. Visionary director Leos Carax, responsible for the strangest film I have ever seen, “Holy Motors” in 2012, an indescribable mix with nods to David Lynch and Guillermo del Toro, took the reins here. He recently won Best Director for “Annette” at the Cannes Film Festival.

Both his films have a trippy hallucinatory quality, although “Holy Motors” is more of a fever dream while “Annette” is akin to a nightmare.

The melodramatic story about love, passion and fame is from the idiosyncratic Sparks Brothers, aka Ron and Russell Mael, two of the most original musicians still at work 50 years later. They never want to repeat themselves, and as film students years ago, they have had a desire to make a film for years.

In the recent documentary about them, their fondness for the French New Wave of the late 1950s is mentioned and how it has influenced their work, which you can see here. For this film, they wrote the music and Russell wrote the screenplay.

This collaboration between eccentric artists would seem to mesh, but this appears disjointed in a brash, intended style and is too bizarre to embrace. It has the vibe of an experimental film, theater of the absurd and a pop opera concept album. Don’t seek answers to your questions because whatever you find mysterious will stay that way.

“Annette” begins with the cast and crew singing the earworm “So May We Start,” with Russell leading and Ron on keyboard, as the cast and crew morph into their duties by the number’s end on the streets of L.A. – Driver and Cotillard turn into Henry and Ann, the star-crossed lovers central to this grand operatic spectacle. This song’s a foreshadowing of the fine line between reality and fiction that the movie addresses with its alternative reality, hyper-reality appearance.

And off we go into a dark abyss. Suffice it to say it will be one wild ride, one you won’t soon forget.

As the famous couple, Driver’s and Cotillard’s characters in the public eye and the paparazzi are obsessed with them.

They are dubbed “Beauty and the Bastard.” Henry McHenry’s act is as an angry, aggressive, defiant man who antagonizes his audience, with back-up singers on stage. She is a world-renowned soprano, revered for her voice and ethereal beauty.

Henry’s self-destructive obsession, jealousy, resentment and massive ego are harmful to their relationship, especially when his career starts spiraling downward. His hostility eventually turns off his audiences. Ann, however, is a celebrity darling. Their lives are a crazy cyclone, comparable to the familiar “A Star Is Born” plot, which you know won’t end happily ever after.

They have a daughter, Annette, who is physically manifested by doll puppets. She will become a singing sensation with something to say. The wooden marionette is creepy.

Simon Helberg, who starred on TV’s “The Big Bang Theory” for 12 seasons and played the delusional singer’s accompanist in “Florence Foster Jenkins,” is a character only called The Conductor. He and Ann had a brief relationship before Henry, and he still carries the torch. He gives a passionate performance, demonstrating he has more range than we’ve seen before.

This world becomes more surrealistic, with blurred lines. But it does have hypnotic visuals.

While Driver has the showier, more ferocious role, he and Cotillard are both mesmerizing performers. She won an Oscar as Edith Piaf in “La Vie En Rose,” and has played a variety of emotionally complex roles since 2008. Her authenticity and earnestness inhabit every character. What’s so appealing in Ann is lightyears from Driver’s dour character.

It’s such a treat to see Cotillard on screen that it’s disappointing she hasn’t more to do.

Driver immerses himself so completely in every role that you can’t pin down his work, but his emotional honesty has always resonated. As the career-focused director in “A Marriage Story,” and as the commitment-phobe Adam in HBO’s “Girls,” he has not been afraid to be unsympathetic and venture into the negatives. Dude, he killed his father in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”! (Spoiler alert for a 6-year-old movie).

Next to Kylo Ren, this is the deepest dive into darkness yet. He tears it up as a mad man, an unchecked out-of-control bad boy. There seems to have been potential for a more interesting film that could have been developed about such a guy.

But the actors can only take a film so far if the material is thin and not fully developed, at least in a typical narrative way.

And there’s no way the gloom and doom can be lightened. Do not expect a traditional musical format – there are no optimistic song-and-dance numbers comparable to “Another Day of Sun” in “La La Land” or “Life’s a Happy Song” in “The Muppets.” Think of the major tragic operas, conjuring up as much pain and suffering as possible through big arias.

The film is certain to bring up the age-old conundrum – What is art? What does it all mean? And does it mean anything’?

We can understand, however, its take on bleak romance and drawbacks on fame as it rages about toxic masculinity. You don’t need a degree in Fellini to figure these things out.

However, the sung dialogue and repetitive songs are not strong enough to make us care more or enhance the plot, like “La La Land” did with its focus on two career trajectories.

“Annette” is a confounding, confusing, peculiar work that will be one of the most polarizing of the year. It is a difficult story to pin down, and perhaps on repeated viewings, more meaning can be unlocked – or not.

“Annette” is a 2021 musical directed by Leos Carax and starring Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard and Simon Helberg. It is Rated R for sexual content including some nudity, and for language and the runtime is 2 hours and 20 minutes. The movie is in theaters on Aug. 6 and streaming on Amazon Prime beginning Aug. 20. Lynn’s Grade: C.

By Alex McPherson
Whenever Edgar Wright releases a new film, my heart races with anticipation. After such classics as “Shaun of the Dead” and my all-time favorite, “Hot Fuzz,” I had high expectations for his new documentary about the difficult-to-describe pop band known as Sparks. The film, aptly titled “The Sparks Brothers,” isn’t as fine-tuned as his previous efforts, despite Wright’s stylistic touches and the likability of the subjects at its center.

“The Sparks Brothers” chronicles the rickety journey of brothers Ron and Russell Mael — two individuals passionate about staying true to their creative spirit, despite outside pressures. Growing up in Los Angeles with a love of music and French New Wave cinema, Ron and Russell were eager to make a name for themselves by walking paths less taken. As a result, their artistic “genius” — rammed into our heads by a huge group of interviewees, including Flea, “Weird Al” Yankovic, and Neil Gaiman — was often overlooked by record companies, nevertheless influencing a number of successful bands down the road. They have remained steadfast in their desire to create art, frequently layered with social commentary, that never panders to a given audience and remains beautifully unpredictable. Wright’s film, organizing their story by spotlighting specific songs from each of their 25 albums, aims to finally give them the recognition they merit.

An energetic, inspiring, yet overly glowing music documentary, “The Sparks Brothers” feels like a film made by Sparks fans for Sparks fans. Viewers previously unaware of the band, like myself, will likely leave the film with an urge to listen to some Sparks songs and not much else. Sure, perhaps Wright wasn’t aiming to “move” viewers, but when the two-hour mark rolls around, hearing the huge pool of interviewees gush about how much they love Sparks grows tiresome.

“The Sparks Brothers” is, thankfully, a much more self-aware documentary than most others I’ve seen, filled with Wright’s signature quick-cuts and sight gags that usually put a smile on my face. He incorporates archival footage, stop-motion animation, and staged reenactments to visualize anecdotes during Spark’s tumultuous history. For example, to complement discussion of Spark’s beginnings, we see shots of a colorful bird spreading its wings, and shots of doors being shut in people’s faces when they struggle to get signed. These moments don’t necessarily add poignancy to the proceedings, but their charm helps keep the film moving when the runtime threatens to derail my interest.

It doesn’t hurt that Ron and Russell are excellent interview subjects, each with a dry sense of humor that fits perfectly among the characters in Wright’s filmography. Russell, the more traditionally handsome, outgoing one, is effectively contrasted with Ron, who dons an Adolf Hitler/Charlie Chaplin mustache and retains stoic facial expressions. They seem inseparable, sticking together through challenges, even when they dip in popularity and end up abruptly abandoning those they collaborate with. While we don’t get an in-depth look at their personal lives or their songwriting process, their desire to create songs that challenge and entertain is admirable.

Anecdotes about mishaps onstage, their love lives, and unfortunate cinematic involvement are amusing, albeit not especially compelling from an outsider perspective. When specific songs and album covers are discussed, on the other hand, “The Sparks Brothers” is considerably more appealing. The surprising themes of “Tits” and the stylistic subversion of “Kimono My House” are enlightening. I wish “The Sparks Brothers” contained more of this deeper analysis, and spent less time on famous interviewees repeating themselves about how godlike the band is. A tight, 90-minute cut is in there somewhere, but two-hours-and-twenty-minutes is really pushing it. Maybe Wright’s excess matches those of the Mael brothers themselves, though, marking their big-screen treatment with the showmanship they deserve (at least until their new project alongside Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, and French director Leos Carax releases later this year).

When the dust has settled, “The Sparks Brothers” feels somewhat superfluous, but remains passably engaging through to the end. Watching the film in two sittings could provide a more satisfying experience, but I’m eager to add Sparks to my playlists, so perhaps that’s good enough.

Sparks_By_Anna_Webber_9 c Ron Mael and Russell Mael star in Edgar Wright’s documentary THE SPARKS BROTHERS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Anna Webber / Focus Features

“The Sparks Brothers” is a 2021 documentary directed by Edgar Wright. It is Rated R for language and runs 2 hours, 15 minutes. Alex’s Grade: B-. The film is in theaters June 18.


By Lynn Venhaus
We still have a race for Best Picture and Director, as we try to gauge the momentum going into Sunday. Will it be “Parasite” or “1917,” or will fading frontrunner “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood regain its luster? After all, Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood.

The 92nd Academy Awards take place Feb. 9, with ABC broadcasting red carpet live coverage at 5:30 p.m. and the ceremony underway at 7 p.m. CST. This year is the second in a row where there is no host, and it seemed to speed up the proceedings last year. We shall see.

The acting Oscars were apparently sown up weeks ago, as awards season began. If there is any movement, it may be in Supporting Actress, where newcomer Florence Pugh is coming on strong.

The shoo-ins this year? You can safely bet on “Parasite” as Best International Feature, Brad Pitt as Best Supporting Actor in “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” his fourth performance nomination (and he’ll likely give the best speech of the night) and Roger Deakins as cinematographer for “1917.”

Will there be surprises and upsets? Or will it be as the pundits predict? Only time will tell. Let’s just hope it’s a fun watch and deserving wins to put the finishing touches on 2019 in film.

And afterwards, we’ll have memes, fashion debates and acceptance speeches to remember.

Here are my picks for the 24 awards:

Best Picture


1917, Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and Parasite

My original frontrunner, “Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood” has faded, and the big momentum is with either “1917” or “Parasite.” I think Oscar voters, with the older voting block, will go with the heart-wrenching World War I epic and be content for “Parasite” to win Best International Feature. While there is always the possibility of an upset, I think the massive endeavor “1917” is deserving.

Best Director

Sam Mendes, (Photo by Richard Goldschmidt)

Sam Mendes, “1917”; Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”; Todd Phillips, “Joker”; Quentin Tarantino “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” and Bong Joon-Ho, “Parasite”

I am in the “Sam Mendes is a genius” camp but Bong Joon-Ho’s work in “Parasite” is worthy too. Both are innovative, visual artists. I’d like a tie, like Critics Choice Association. I’m going with Mendes, as he won Directors Guild of America, the big prognosticator.


Best Actor

Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”; Leonardo DiCaprio “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”; Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”; Joaquin Phoenix “Joker”; Jonathan Pryce “The Two Popes.”

Hands down, Joaquin Phoenix. He gave us pathos as he showed Joker’s pain behind the façade and made his descent into madness frightening. Nobody is more fearless working in film today. Adam Driver would be a close second for his acting showcase in “Marriage Story.”


Best Actress

Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”; Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”: Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”; Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”; Renee Zellweger’s “Judy.”

Not a fan of Renee Zellweger’s “Judy” but she has won all earlier awards, and I see no reason why she wouldn’t. However, my pick would be the radiant Saoirse Ronan for “Little Women.” If there is an upset, Scarlett Johansson – finally nominated – would be a worthy winner for her tour de force in “Marriage Story.”

Best Supporting Actor

Ozark’s own Brad Pitt

 Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”; Anthony Hopkins, “The Two Popes”; Al Pacino “The Irishman”; Joe Pesci “The Irishman”; Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.”

Perhaps the only sure thing Oscar night, Brad Pitt is a lock as stuntman Cliff Booth. He’s not just deserving but overdue. Besides, he’s certain to give the best speech of the night, given his track record this awards season.

Best Supporting Actress

Kathy Bates “Richard Jewell”; Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”; Scarlett Johansson, “JoJo Rabbit”; Florence Pugh, “Little Women”; Margot Robbie “Bombshell.”

While I think the acting Oscars have already been nailed down, this might be the upset category. Laura Dern as the shark lawyer in “Marriage Story,” obsessed with winning at all costs, is my pick, and she was also terrific in “Little Women,” but Margot Robbie’s ambitious Fox News staffer could edge her out or first-time nominee Scarlett Johansson could finally get Oscar love as the mom in “JoJo Rabbit.”

Best Adapted Screenplay

Greta Gerwig, “Little Women”;  Andrew McLaren, “The Two Popes”; Todd Phillips, “Joker”; Taika Waititi, “JoJo Rabbit”; Steve Zaillian “The Irishman.”

My favorite is Taika Waititi for the sharp social satire “JoJo Rabbit,” but the revered Steve Zaillian’s adaptation of “The Irishman” could be the film’s only win for its masterful storytelling.


Best Original Screenplay

Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, “1917”; Noah Baumbach, “Marriage Story”; Rian Johnson, “Knives Out”; Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”; Bong Joon-Ho and Han Jin Wan, “Parasite.”

Best Cinematography

1917, The Irishman, Joker, The Lighthouse, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

What Roger Deakins did with “1917” is remarkable and propels him to his second win in three years. He had been snubbed for decades for his tremendous work in Coen Brothers’ films, then started working with director Denis Villeneuve a few years back – and finally won in 2018 for “Blade Runner 2049.” What he achieved with making “1917” appear to have been shot in two takes is incredible.

Best Editing

Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Joker, Parasite.

How can “1917” be omitted here? I think a bone should be thrown to crowd-pleasing “Ford v. Ferrari.” This film was a challenging shot, and the editors captured both the thrill and danger of endurance racing.

Best Production Design

1917, The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Parasite.

For its meticulous research and replica of 1969 Hollywood, it must be “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” However, the house in “Parasite” and all the trenches and realistic war landscape in “1917” make the case for those films.

Best Music Score

1917, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Previously, I thought it was a battle between the Newman generations – Randy for “Marriage Story” and Thomas for ‘1917.” But now I’m in support of Hildur Gudnadottir winning for “Joker.’ From Iceland, Gudnadottir won the Emmy and Grammy for HBO’s “Chernobyl” and the Golden Globe and BAFTA for “Joker.” She’d be the first solo woman to win this Oscar, and I can get behind that.

Best Song

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away Again,” Toy Story 4; “I’m Going to Stand with You,” Breakthrough; “Into the Unknown,” Frozen II; “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” Rocketman; “Stand Up,” Harriet.

After much debate — and enjoying the Panic! At the Disco version of “Into the Unknown” a lot, I’m now resigned to Elton John winning for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” his fourth nominated song but his first with longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin.

Best Costume Design

Little Women

The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

“Little Women,” of course.


Best Hair and Makeup

1917, Bombshell, Joker, Judy, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
“Bombshell” for making the actresses look uncannily like the Fox women they portray, and for turning John Lithgow into a convincing Roger Ailes.

Best Sound Mixing

 1917, Ad Astra, Ford v Ferrari, Joker, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

“1917” is the likely winner but “Ford v Ferrari” would be a justifiable winner.

Best Sound Editing

1917, Ford v Ferrari, Joker, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.

Ditto as to what I said about sound mixing.

Best Visual Effects

The Avengers Endgame

1917, The Avengers; Endgame,” “The Irishman,” “The Lion King” and “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.”

“The Avengers: Endgame” was so smooth and seamless, and the CGI not overdone, that I can’t imagine another movie winning. But there is that ninth little movie in a galaxy far, far away.

Toy Story 4

Best Animated Feature

The Hidden Link, How to Drain Your Dragon, I Lost My Body, Klaus, Toy Story 4.

The fitting and grand finale to one of my all-time favorite franchises, Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” should win, especially since “Frozen II” was snubbed. But Laika’s “The Missing Link” is adorable and the final chapter of “Dragon” is its most captivating.

Best International Feature

Corpus Christi, Honeyland, Les Miserables, Pain and Glory, Parasite.

The safest bet is South Korean’s “Parasite.” What a genre-bending masterpiece – its mix of comedy, drama, thriller and horror is one that will linger in your head for days.

Best Documentary Feature

American Factory, The Cave, The Edge of Democracy, For Sama, Honeyland,

Without the magnificent “Apollo 11” even nominated, I’ll give “American Factory” the edge, although “Honeyland,” about ancient beekeeping traditions in has a lot of love (which I don’t share).  Netflix’s “American Factory” is about a re-opened plant in Ohio now owned by Chinese businessmen, and the culture clash that develops. It is produced by Michelle and Barack Obama’s company Higher Ground.

Best Documentary Short

In the Absence, , Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone if You’re a Girl, Life Overtakes Me, St. Louis Superman, Walk Run Cha Cha.

As much as we’d love to see “St. Louis Superman” get national attention, it does have a questionable ending – and really, “Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone If You’re a Girl” appears to be headed for the win.

Best Live-Action Short

Brotherhood, Nefta Football Club, The Neighbors’ Window, Saria, A Sister.

This is one of those Oscar pool contest busters –usually the wild card. Although I’ve read “Saria” is gaining traction, I’m going with “The Neighbor’s Window” because, while its less of a gut-punch than the others, it seems the most unconventional. Overall, it’s a really depressing bunch.

Best Animated Short

Dcera, Hair Love, Kitbull, Memorable, Sister.

Often whatever Pixar short is before Disney’s blockbuster is the safe choice, but the studio didn’t put anything before “Toy Story IV” or “Frozen II.” Pixar’s “Kitbull” is hand-drawn and about the friendship of a kitten and an abused pitbull. Adorable, right? But “Hair Love,” about a dad’s effort to braid his daughter’s hair, which was shown before “Angry Birds 2,” is my choice for the gold.