2019 Oscar nominees' films guide by Mahshid Zamani

A Star Is Born

Year:  2018

Rated:  R

Released:  05 Oct 2018

Runtime:  136 min

Genre:  Drama, Music, Romance

Director:  Bradley Cooper

Writer:  Eric Roth (screenplay by), Bradley Cooper (screenplay by), Will Fetters (screenplay by), Moss Hart (based on the 1954 screenplay by), John Gregory Dunne (based on the 1976 screenplay by), Joan Didion (based on the 1976 screenplay by), Frank Pierson (based on the 1976 screenplay by), William A. Wellman (based on a story by), Robert Carson (based on a story by)

Actors:  Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay

Plot:  Jackson Maine (Cooper), a country music star on the brink of decline, discovers a talented unknown named Ally (Germanotta). As the two begin a passionate love affair, Jackson coaxes Ally into the spotlight, catapulting her to stardom. But as Ally's career quickly eclipses his own, Jack finds it increasingly hard to handle his fading glory.

Language:  English

Country:  USA

Awards:  1 nomination.

Production:  Warner Bros. Pictures

Website:  http://www.astarisbornmovie.com/

Show business is brutal, savage and can be dehumanizing, yet “ there is no business like show business"!

Perhaps that is why the love story between a rising star and a falling one never gets old. Apparently every other generation demands to have their own Star is Born movie! Although, I still believe that the George Cuker’s 1954 version ( Judy Garland / James Mason ) is by far the best amoung the four, yet Bradley Cooper's directorial debut is a pleasant surprise and we can be hopeful that "a star director is born” here.

The original film, written and directed by William Wellman in 1937 (Janet Gaynor/Fredrick March) is focused on an aspiring actor, the third version is centered around an ambitious singer and Cuker version is like a bridge between the first one and the third that is about a talented singer who becomes an Oscar winning actress.

From story point of view, Cooper’s remake is closer to the Frank Pierson’s 1974 (Streisand/ Kritofferson), but lukily for this generation of moviegoers, the spirit of his film is closer to Cukor’s masterpiece. Moving the film introduction setting to a drag bar is a great way of updating the story to the modern days but the main advantages of the movie is the performances of the leads: Lady Gaga manages to distance herself from her pop music persona and creats an original screen character. And Bradley Cooper generously let her shine and that's the beauty of his acting: he knows how to crawl to her shadow to show how his character-Jackson Main- is forced to be under her shadow. Cooper succeeds to entertain and please the audience and perhaps has delivered one of the best musicals of the last couple of decades, but I still rather listen to Edith Piaf’s La vie en rose. PS. The story of a mentor falling in love with his prodigy is the common theme between A Star is Born and Cold War but the two films share nothing otherwise and that can be a wonderful subject for comparing the approach of a Hollywood movie with the approach of an Eastern European film to the same subject matter.

Cold War

Year:  2018

Rated:  R

Released:  08 Jun 2018

Runtime:  89 min

Genre:  Drama, Music, Romance

Director:  Pawel Pawlikowski

Writer:  Pawel Pawlikowski (story), Pawel Pawlikowski (screenplay), Janusz Glowacki (screenplay), Piotr Borkowski (screenplay with the collaboration of)

Actors:  Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza

Plot:  In the 1950s, a music director falls in love with a singer and tries to persuade her to flee communist Poland for France.

Language:  Polish, French, German, Russian, Italian, Croatian

Country:  Poland, UK, France

Awards:  1 nomination.

A love story like no others.

A love story that exposes the crulty of the cold war and its impact on the lives of ordinary people as subtly as possible.

A love story that stays away from sentimentalism and penetrates to the characters’ souls. Cold War is a very well-crafted film with spectacular cinematography, impacable acting, an out of this world music. Its minimalistic screenplay considers the audience intelegent enough not to spell anything out. Pawet Pawlikowski’s film can be a benchmark for the directors who want to use the music world as the vessel to convey their story.

The movie makes “the problems of two little people “ actually amount “to a hill of beans in this crazy world” . This intense love story registers Wiktor and Zula’s romance in our mind next to Dr. Zhivago and Lara, Sam and Elsa, Jules and Jim, Michele and Alex, and many other immortal, great lovers. P.S. loved this line that immediately established Zula’s determined, independent and melancholic charecter :"my father had mistaken me for my mother, I took a knife and showed him the difference! “


Year:  2018

Rated:  R

Released:  25 Dec 2018

Runtime:  132 min

Genre:  Biography, Comedy, Drama, History

Director:  Adam McKay

Writer:  Adam McKay

Actors:  Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell

Plot:  The story of Dick Cheney, an unassuming bureaucratic Washington insider, who quietly wielded immense power as Vice President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.

Language:  English

Country:  USA

Production:  Annapurna Pictures

One thing is clear about Vice, the form matches the content: This is a bad film about a bad person!

Not sure how the film got the best picture nomination. Perhaps like Chaney who got away with his crimes, this film also got away with its flaws!

The comic approach of the film towards one of the darkest chapters of American history (that had worked perfectly for Adam McKay in Big Short) is the major weakness of the movie. The film’s introduction is long and boring, and by the time film gets to the point, the audience has fallen sleep! Christian Bale’s acting (method acting with the help of make up) is totally wasted.

The film's documentary style is incoherent, the fast-cut montage is ponitless and the Brechtian distancing effect (actors talking directly to the camera) that again was beautifully executed in Big Shorts, is annoying here.

For our generation who lived under the terror of Dick Chaney's ruling and saw our world being destroyed on his watch, this biopic parody does not provide the catharsis we needed, as we already lived through a tragedy.

PS. It is really hard to write about a film that we dislike when it's centered around the life of a man whom we dislike even more! But I had promised Sebastian that I will write a note on this film. Also Carly’s comment on Roma, obligated me to post this mini review.


Year:  2018

Rated:  R

Released:  21 Nov 2018

Runtime:  135 min

Genre:  Drama

Director:  Alfonso Cuarón

Writer:  Alfonso Cuarón

Actors:  Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta

Plot:  A year in the life of a middle-class family's maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.

Language:  Spanish, North American Indian, English, Norwegian, Japanese, German, French

Country:  Mexico, USA

Alfonso Cuarón's Roma is a neorealist film that depicts life’ s most dramatic moments in the most non-dramatic way.

There are couple of few shocking sequences and scenes that gives you chills! One of them -that everyone can agree on -is the sequence of Cleo giving birth to a stillborn child and one of the scenes that is quiet grotesque is when the older maid in the village showing Cleo the trophy dogs’ heads on the wall! The film remains as objective as possible with a very complicated actors blocking and constant camera movement. Watching Cuaron’'s first experience as a cinematographer is a treat to the eyes and has brought him a well deserved Oscar nomination in this category too.

It's believed that the film is autobiographic, wether that is acurate or not, it is obvious that as a child growing up ina well-to-do family, Cuaron has diligently observed the struggle of disadvantaged Mexicans in 1971. The year has another significant that Cuaron makes sure to remind us of: Corpus Christi Massacre that left over 120 students dead in Mexico City, Cleo observes the massacre through a window of a furniture store when she sees the father of her unborn child is beating up the students to death. At the end film captures family and Cloe reaching to a closure, in a magnificent frame..

The Favourite

Year:  2018

Rated:  R

Released:  21 Dec 2018

Runtime:  119 min

Genre:  Biography, Comedy, Drama, History

Director:  Yorgos Lanthimos

Writer:  Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara

Actors:  Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Delves, Faye Daveney

Plot:  In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah, governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.

Language:  English

Country:  Ireland, UK, USA

DVD:  12 Feb 2019

Production:  Fox Searchlight Pictures, Film4 and Waypoint

Website:  http://www.foxsearchlight.com/thefavourite/

Another Oscar nominee that I'd missed :

“The Favourite”, is a very entertaining, dark comedy by the Greek filmmaker , Yorgos Lanthimos. This period film has a unique approach to the life and reign of Queen Ann of Great Britain and explores her relationship with two women, both of whom were her favourites and as a result were rivals. The predatory characters (like the characters in his other film Lobster) are fascinating to watch.This is a farce for sure but a very cynical and bitter one. 100% worth watching!


Year:  2018

Rated:  R

Released:  10 Aug 2018

Runtime:  135 min

Genre:  Biography, Crime, Drama

Director:  Spike Lee

Writer:  Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee, Ron Stallworth (based on the book by)

Actors:  Alec Baldwin, John David Washington, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Robert John Burke

Plot:  Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer from Colorado Springs, CO, successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan branch with the help of a Jewish surrogate who eventually becomes its leader. Based on actual events.

Language:  English

Country:  USA

Trying to catch up with the last year films before Oscar ceremony.

Had missed this jewel: Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is a wonderful film, full of energy, with brilliant sense of humor, very timely , to the point and of course very skillful. This is Lee’s best feature film during the last decade. Highly recommend it!

Black Panther

Year:  2018

Rated:  PG-13

Released:  16 Feb 2018

Runtime:  134 min

Genre:  Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Director:  Ryan Coogler

Writer:  Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole, Stan Lee (based on the Marvel comics by), Jack Kirby (based on the Marvel Comics by)

Actors:  Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira

Plot:  After the events of Captain America: Civil War, King T'Challa returns home to the reclusive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country's new leader. However, T'Challa soon finds that he is challenged for the throne from factions within his own country. When two foes conspire to destroy Wakanda, the hero known as Black Panther must team up with C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross and members of the Dora Milaje, Wakanadan special forces, to prevent Wakanda from being dragged into a world war.

Language:  Swahili, Nama, English, Xhosa, Korean

Country:  USA, South Africa, South Korea, Australia

Awards:  14 nominations.

DVD:  15 May 2018

Production:  Marvel Studios

Website:  https://www.marvel.com/movies/black-panther

The comic book of Black Panther was published when the United States was divided because of civil right movement, and the film version of it came out last year when the country was( is?) suffering again from constant divisive remarks from the leadership.

Therefore, it is not far from accuracy to say Ryan Coogler is making a political statement with his recent film. Black panther is the first super hero movie that has received Oscar nomination for the best picture but it’s also the first Marvel movie that is bluntly political. Almost every scene and line is reminding us of a current social/political incident: When T'Chaka comes back to overthrow Killmonger, only women resist Killmonger and fight for T’Chaka to come back (refers to wonen’'s march and women resistance after 2016 election) when Killmonger makes hateful remarks, the female general says” you can’t be a king because you are full of hatred” (refers to we know who).

One might argue that films that are made as a reaction to current political affairs, can easily fade away in the coming years but I believe Black Panther will be always considered as one of the best Supehero movies because Coogler succeeds to take the film to another level, beyond a political film and even beyond a super hero movies.

Though the film remains loyal to many traditional elements of a super hero film, yet it gives more depth to this genre in every aspect: characters are multi layered, the villain is one of the most interesting and sympathic villains of all time, the female characters are strong and intelegent, the action scenes are choreographed masterfully, and is visually rich and vibrant. I believe Black Panther will be the favorite super hero film of many generations to come.

Green Book

Year:  2018

Rated:  PG-13

Released:  16 Nov 2018

Runtime:  130 min

Genre:  Biography, Comedy, Drama, Music

Director:  Peter Farrelly

Writer:  Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly

Actors:  Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, Sebastian Maniscalco

Plot:  A working-class Italian-American bouncer becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South.

Language:  English, Italian, Russian, German

Country:  USA

DVD:  19 Feb 2019

Production:  Universal Pictures

Website:  https://www.uphe.com/movies/green-book

This modest road movie is made in the tradition of Hollywood comedy-dramas that are missing from today's mainstream cinema.

Peter Farrelly has utilized the successful formulas of Capra's films without being afraid of using clichés. Any serious movie goer can easily predict how each scene of the film will end. Yet, this does not deduct from the film’s charm. The heartwarming (true) story of two opposite characters becoming buddies, along with witty and sharp dialougues and brilliant performances are among the reasons for Green Book's distinction.

The journey of the two mismatched people, who learn from each other while experiencing the racial issues, ends on Christmas night. This classic ending is another example of successful execution of cliché in Green Book; in the spirit of Christmas, all the misery and agony of the charecters miraculously melt away.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Year:  2018

Rated:  PG-13

Released:  02 Nov 2018

Runtime:  134 min

Genre:  Biography, Drama, Music

Director:  Bryan Singer

Writer:  Anthony McCarten (story by), Peter Morgan (story by), Anthony McCarten (screenplay by)

Actors:  Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy

Plot:  The story of the legendary rock band Queen and lead singer Freddie Mercury, leading up to their famous performance at Live Aid (1985).

Language:  English

Country:  UK, USA

DVD:  22 Jan 2019

Production:  20th Century Fox

Website:  http://www.bohemianrhapsody.com

This mediocre biopic is another Oscar nominee for the best picture this year.

The film desperately lacks the complixity of Fredy Mercury's life and personality. Rami Malik’s acting which has got him an Oscar nomination, is overrated and shallow.

It is understandable for Fredy Mercury (who was brought up by a traditional zorosterian Parsi family) to avoid acknowledging his sexuality for the longest time, but it's not understandable nor acceptable for a film made in 2019 to have the same fanatical perception of his life as a gay man. There are several scenes to prove this but one of the most obvious ones, is when Fredy throws a big party but his band leave the party, saying "this is not our scene" and the mise en scène is totally supporting the band’s decision on “not accepting Fredy as who he is”.

When Fredy meets his future partner, James Hutton, after that party, Hutton tells him "come and find me when you liked yourself". It appears that the filmmkers could have benefited from Jame’s advice by making this film when they have accepted that Fredy was gay and no unfortunate event that happened in his life was a result of that!

P.S. I covered all the films nominated for 2019 best picture's Oscar (plus one!). Mission accomplished!