Dan's Picks for the 2020 Oscars

Another hostless year. A year where there has been no clear front-runner from start to finish. In Oscars, momentum in everything and right now that belongs to “1917“.

The Eight Major Categories

Best Picture

Its been a year of shifting momentum. From “The Irishman” to” Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and now to “1917”. If “1917” wins, it’s a good choice but not the year’s best movie.

Since the Academy went to as many as 10 nominees, they have switched to a rather convoluted ranked ballot system which can give us unexpected results in this category (Spotlight, Moonlight, Green Book). So even though “1917” is the odds-on fave, don’t at all be surprised if the acclaimed and much-loved (and probably better film) “Parasite” takes top prize and makes Oscar history. “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” and “The Irishman” seem to be out of the race. For the other five movies, the nomination is the award.

Dan’s Pick: “1917”

Best Director

Four of the five could win. Todd Phillips seems to be out. In recent years, its been fashionable to split Picture and Director, with Director going to technical achievement films. “1917” is a great film and a towering technical achievement, so this year, as much as I want Tarantino to win his first and as much as Scorcese deserves a second, Sam Mendes will win for “1917”. A very possible upset here would be Bong-Joon-ho for “Parasite”.  Mendes is not a foregone conclusion. And the direction in “Parasite” is nothing short of brilliant.

Dan’s Pick: Sam Mendes, “1917” (If QT wins, I will be elated!)

All four acting categories seem like foregone conclusions at this point and there are at least three nominees in each category that won’t even prepare a speech. HOWEVER!!! There are often upsets and surprises in these categories just when you think there is no race at all.

Best Actor

Its “Joker’”s to lose. Joaquin Phoenix has won everything up to this point and this really bizarre speech at the Globes has taken a back seat to his really great speech at the SAG awards. (“I stand on the shoulders of my favourite actor, Heath Ledger”). He is one of the most respected actors in Hollywood and if there is one thing they love, it’s a major physical transformation. He’s overdue.

Dan’s Pick: Jouquim Phoenix, “Joker

Best Actress

If there is a second thing the Academy loves, it is playing a real person. I have not seen “Judy” but by all accounts, Renee Zellweger nails it. She has been the front-runner since day one and won everything in the otherwise mediocre movie’s only nomination. That said, last year, Glenn Close was the front-runner from day one for “The Wife” and won everything in the otherwise mediocre movie’s only nomination and on Oscar night, Olivia Coleman pulled off the upset for “The Favourite”. If not Renee, then ScarJo in “Marriage Story”.

Dan’s Pick: Renee Zellweger, “Judy”

Best Supporting Actor

Brad Pitt has swept awards season, basically for playing himself. His character, stuntman Cliff Booth is the anchor of this film (as supporting roles often are for QT) and he plays it well. Its an insanely strong category, all five nominees are previous winners and 30 combined nominations, although Pitt has not won for acting. Possible upset, Joe Pesci for coming out of retirement for a wonderful, understated role as mob boss Russell Buffalino.

Dan’s Pick: Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Best Supporting Actress

A weak category this year with more people taking about J-Lo not being nominated rather than who was. Laura Dern’s career is on an upswing, she has prior nominations and is well-liked. I see this as once of three or four mortal locks. Laura is easily the best thing in this movie.

Dan’s pick: Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”

Original Screenplay

Two-way race for two truly original scripts. QT for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and Bong Joon-ho for “Parasite”. Two of the best movies of the year. This one’s a coin toss, but I see Quentin Picking up his third screenplay Oscar.

Dan’s pick: Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Adapted Screenplay

There some controversy of Greta Gerwig being left out of Best Director (and Todd Phillips being included). I am amongst “JoJo Rabbit”’s detractors. I get it, I just don’t think it was well executed. This seems to be a two-way, deadlocked race. Coin toss. I am going with Greta. Possible upset for very popular Taika Waititi for Jojo.

Dan’s pick: Greta Gerwig, “Little Women”

The Consolation Prizes

Best Animated Feature

Sequels have done shockingly poor since this category was announced and “Toy Story 3” already won. That said, with “The Lion King” remake left out, I can’t see how “Toy Story 4” does not win here. Its such a wonderful movie. “I Lost My Body” is also well loved and “Klaus” won the Golden Globes. “Toy Story 4” is the safe choice but by no means a lock.

Dan’s pick: “Toy Story 4”

Best Film Editing

1917” is a favourite to sweep top awards and technical awards but it not nominated here. That’s really odd, if you find these things odd like I do. “Ford v. Ferrari” has car race scene where, without skilled editing, it becomes a mess. “Parasite” and “The Irishman” have really amazing stories, skillfully edited. Watch the closing act of “Parasite” to see an example of incredible editing as they bring the plot lines to a conclusion. Coin toss here but …

Dan’s Pick: Jinmo Yang, “Parasite

Best Cinematography

Robert Richardson has filmed 9 Best Picture nominees. But I don’t think this is the year for this 4th win. Not a bad choice in the lot, all deserving. However, my favourite living Cinematographer elevated the single shot illusion past in “1917” from being a neat trick to an all-encompassing and visceral experience.

Dan’s Pick: Roger Deakins, “1917”

Best Costume Design

Tough call this year. Period Piece (“Little Women”) or War Movie (“1917” or “Jojo Rabbit”). As much as I love “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, Brad Pitt’s Champion spark plug-shirt does not deserve an Oscar.

Dan’s Pick: “Little Women”

Best Art Direction

Three strong potential winners here. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” for re-creating the city and set of 1969 Hollywood. “Parasite” where every set piece was built for the film. “1917” which strikingly re-creates trench warfare. Tough call.

Dan’s Pick: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Best Hair and Make-Up

This category expanded to five nominees this year. The crowning achievement seems to be turning Charlize Theron into Megyn Kelly and John Lithgow into Roger Ailes.

Dan’s Pick: “Bombshell”

Best Original Score

The music from “Joker” did not stand out all that much to me. I will have to give it another listen next time I see it. But it seems to be a mortal lock. I am not sure, may be the first woman to win in this category. Certainly, the first Icelandic composer.

Dan’s Pick: Hildur Guanadottir, “Joker”

Best Original Song

Rocketman” deserved a couple of more nominations, especially for Lead Taron Egerton. (I won’t go into how much better he was than Mr. Robot as Freddie). Elton has an Oscar for The Lion King and is well loved.  This would make his long-time writing partner an Oscar winner too.

Dan’s Pick: Elton John and Bernie Taupin, “I am Gonna Love Me Again” from “Rocketman”

Foreign Language Film

Mortal Lock

Dan’s Pick: “Parasite” (South Korea)

The Technical Categories

Visual Effects

De-Aging? CGI Lions? Space Battles? Superheroes? Battle Scenes? Every one of these movies is completely dependent on Visual effects in every last shot and they are all great. But “1917” seems poised for a sweep in these categories.

Dan’s Pick: “1917”

Sound Effects Editing

See above!

Dan’s pick: “1917”

Best Sound

See above and above

Dan’s Pick: “1917”

The Educated Guesses, literally. I have seen none. Going by Oscar pick sites.

Documentary Feature: American Factory

Documentary Short : Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (if you’re a girl)

Live Action Short: Brotherhood

Animated Short: Hair Love

My Updated Top 100 Movie List

Happy New Year and New Decade!!

(Scroll down for the list after commentary)

Five years ago today, I completed by Top 100 and posted the list here. Its time now to post the list again, with some shuffling and changes. Some movies haven’t aged as well, some have gotten better and some new additions.

“The Dark Knight” is now in my Top 20. I have seen it more than a dozen times and it gets better each time.

“Inglorious Basterds” just outside the Top 20.

Added two “Multi-Movie Entries”:

Toy Story 1-4 added at #34. A remarkable achievement with almost the same core cast and characters that have become part of the public concious.

Richard Linklater’s “Before” movies, the trilogy of Celine and Jessie. Wonderful films that tell the story of an impossible love.

Added Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest”, wondering how I excluded it the first go around.

Added Adam Egoyan’s “The Sweet Hereafter”, an exceptional guy wrenching movie and the best Canadian film ever made.

Added three new from this Decade’s Top 10, “Spotlight”, “Arrival” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.”

As a result six movies (Avatar, Planet of the Apes (68), When Harry Met Sally…, Wall Street, Bell Epoque and Say Anything) fall off the list.

I am often asked for movie recommendations and this list is a great place to start.

My Top 10 Movies.

Dan’s Top 100 Movies (Jan 1 2020)

  1. The Godfather Part II (1974 – Coppola)
  2. Goodfellas (1991 – Scorsese)
  3. The Godfather (1972 – Coppola)
  4. Amadeus (1984 – Forman)
  5. Singing in the Rain (1952 – Donen)
  6. Pulp Fiction (1994 – Tarantino)
  7. Raging Bull (1980 – Scorsese)
  8. West Side Story (1961 – Wise & Robbins)
  9. A Fish Called Wanda (1985 -Chricton )
  10. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001,2002,2003 – Jackson)
  11. This is Spinal Tap (Reiner – 1983)
  12. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1983 – Spielberg)
  13. Citizen Kane (Welles – 1941)
  14. Fargo (1996 – Coen)
  15. Platoon (1986 – Stone)
  16. Casablanca (1943 – Curtiz)
  17. Vertigo (Hitchcock – 1958)
  18. Schindler’s List (1993 – Spielberg)
  19. The Dark Knight (2008 – Nolan)
  20. WALL-E (2008 – Stanton))
  21. Inglorious Bastards (2009 – Tarantino)
  22. Taxi Driver (1976 – Scorsese)
  23. The Empire Strikes Back (1980 – Lucas)
  24. Apocalypse Now (1979 – Coppola)
  25. Tootsie (1982 -Pollack)
  26. Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1974 – Gilliam)
  27. Moonstruck (1987 – Jewison)
  28. All The President’s Men (1976 – Pakula)
  29. Spotlight (2016 – McCarthy
  30. The Silence of the Lambs (1991 – Demme)
  31. A Clockwork Orange (1970 – Kubrick)
  32. Patton (1970 – Schaffner)
  33. Mississippi Burning (1988 – Parker)
  34. Toy Story 1,2,3 & 4 (1995, 1999, 2010 & 2019 – Pixar)
  35. The Color Purple (1985 – Speilberg)
  36. Midnight Express (1976 – Parker)
  37. Being There (1979 – Ashby)
  38. The Searchers (1956 – Ford)
  39. Dog Day Afternoon (1975 – Lumet)
  40. Breaking Away (1979 – Yates)
  41. Some Like it Hot (1959 – Wilder)
  42. Stop Making Sense (1984 – Demme)
  43. Nashville (1975 – Altman)
  44. Before Sunrise (1995) Before Sunset (2004) Before Midnight (2013) (Linkater)
  45. Smith Goes to Washington (1939 – Capra)
  46. Arrival (2016 – Villeneuve)
  47. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006 – del Toro)
  48. To Kill A Mockingbird (1962 – Mulligan)
  49. Robocop (1987 – Verhoven)
  50. Young Frankenstein (1974 – Brooks)
  51. High Noon (1952 – Zimmerman)
  52. Jaws (1975 – Spielberg)
  53. Bladerunner (1982 – Scott))
  54. Saving Private Ryan (1998 – Spielberg)
  55. The Third Man (1947 – Reed)
  56. Scarface (1983 – DePalma)
  57. The Up Documentaries (1966 to present – Apted)
  58. Do the Right Thing (1989 – Lee)
  59. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb (1964 – Kubrick)
  60. North by Northwest (1959 – Hitchcock)
  61. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017 – McDonagh)
  62. Alien (Scott – 1979)
  63. Aliens (1986 – Cameron))
  64. Duck Soup (1933 – McCarey)
  65. On The Waterfront (1954 – Kazan)
  66. The Departed (2006 – Scorsese)
  67. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992 – Foley)
  68. Die Hard 1988 – McTiernan)
  69. E. T. The Extra Terrestrial (1983 – Spielberg)
  70. City Lights (1931 – Chaplin)
  71. The Shawshank Redemption (1993 – Darabont)
  72. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1985 – Zemeckis)
  73. 2001 A Space Odyssey (1969 – Kubrick)
  74. The Little Mermaid (1992 – Clements/Musker)
  75. Psycho (1690 – Hitchcock)
  76. The Producers (1968 – Brooks)
  77. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986 – Allen)
  78. Hoop Dreams 1994 – James)
  79. Army of Darkness (1992 – Raimi)
  80. The Sweet Hereafter (1997 – Egoyan)
  81. The Big Lebowski (1998 – Cohen)
  82. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993 – Sellick)
  83. Bride of Frankenstein (1935 – Whale)
  84. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006 – Eastwood)
  85. Gravity (2013 – Cauron)
  86. The Wizard of Oz (1939 – Fleming)
  87. The Fog of War (2003 – Morris)
  88. Moulin Rouge 2001 – Luhrmann)
  89. Terminator 2 – Judgment Day (1991 – Cameron)
  90. Millers Crossing (1990 – Coen Brothers)
  91. 12 Angry Men (1957 – Lumet)
  92. 21 Grams (2003 – Innaratu)
  93. The Princess Bride (1989 – Reiner)
  94. The Philadelphia Story (1940 – Cuckor)
  95. Ghostbusters (1983 – Reitman)
  96. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004 – Gondry)
  97. Juno (2007 – Jason Reitman)
  98. Star Trek: First Contact (1996 – Frakes)
  99. The Breakfast Club (1983 – Hughes)
  100. The Blues Brothers (1980 – Landis)

The Best Films of the 2010's – The complete list

Here is the list of films that I believe were the best of the class of the 2010’s. They range from Sci-Fi to Political Commentary to Neo-Westerns to BioPics and everything in between.

In my Top 10, the Top Four really stood above the crowd and #1 and #2 could be interchanged easily. I went with Spotlight in the end because I view it as an important film as well as a great one.

In a few days, I will post my updated Top 100 films list with some shuffling and some new entries.

The Top 10

1              Spotlight

2              Arrival

3              Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

4              Gravity

5              Inside Out

6              Tree of Life

7              Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood

8              BlacKkKlansman

9              The Wolf of Wall Street

10           Logan

The Next 10

11           The Irishman

12           Whiplash

13           Parasite

14           Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse

15           Social Network

16           Toy Story 3

17           The Big Short

18           Argo

19           Hell or High Water

20           Get Out

Other 4-Star Films from the 2010s

                 Zero Dark Thirty

                 Prometheus

                 Mad Max Fury Road

                 The Hateful Eight

                 Dunkirk

                 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

                 Lincoln

                 Django Unchained

My Top 10 of the 2010's: #1 – Spotlight

#10 “Logan”

#9 “The Wolf of Wall Street”

#8 “BlacKkKlansman”

#7 “Once Upon a Time …in Hollywood ”

#5 “Inside Out ”

#4 “Gravity”

#3 – “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

#2 – Arrival

#1 Spotlight

Director: Tom McCarthy

Release Date: 01 Dec 2017

Cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, Live Schreiber

Oscars: 6 nominations, 2 wins (Picture, Original Screenplay)

#2 Critically acclaimed movie of 2015, #13 of the decade so far

Favourite Line: Walter Robinson: “We’ve got two stories here: a story about degenerate clergy, and a story about a bunch of lawyers turning child abuse into a cottage industry. Which story do you want us to write? Because we’re writing one of them.”

 Spotlight handles its subject matter with brutal frankness, but at the same time a delicacy and respect for the film’s (and real life) victims that is rare in any kind of movie. Religion-bashing has become fashionable and acceptable and it would have been an easy route for this film to take. Instead, Spotlight understands the difference between the system and the faith.

The movie is a retelling of the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered and published and damning series of Pulitzer Prize winning articles, outlining systematic abuse in the Boston Archdiocese. How the victims were most often boys; poor, fatherless and vulnerable. The reporters digging into the story are themselves life long Bostonian and mostly Irish-Catholic, so the seismic effect of this story on their own lives, communities and cities is not lost on them.

Liev Schreiber plays Marty Baron, the Executive Editor of the Boston Globe at the time. Spotlight refers to the name of the special investigative team, lead by Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton). The team is assigned to further investigate the sexual assault allegations of six priests in Boston that appear to have been covered up by the church. Baron insist that this is not about an individual, its about “the system”, from the top down, that let it happen.

On the surface, Spotlight is an engaging procedural movie, documenting the research, interviews, court appeals and anonymous tips that lead to the story. On a deeper level, it’s shows the life long effect on the victims, their guilt, anger, needle tracks on their arms, their desire for answers and closure.

The Oscar winning original screenplay by director Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer is as close to perfect as a movie gets. It wastes not a scene or a line. It does not trivialize or sensationalize the subject matter and is singularly focused on the story. It holds company with “All the President’s Men” as one of the great films about investigative journalism. And like “All the President’s Men”, Spotlight is an equally entertaining and important film.

Side note: Michael Keaton achieved the rare feat of having the lead role in back to back best pictures, Birdman in 2014 and Spotlight in 2015. When the real Walter Robinson saw Keaton perform as him, he quipped “To watch Michael Keaton become me on film, makes me want to apologize to many people I have interviewed.

My Top 10 of the 2010's: #2 – Arrival

#10 “Logan”

#9 “The Wolf of Wall Street”

#8 “BlacKkKlansman”

#7 “Once Upon a Time …in Hollywood ”

#5 “Inside Out ”

#4 “Gravity”

#3 – “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

#2 – Arrival

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Release Date: 01 Dec 2017

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whitakker

Oscars: 8 nominations,, 1 win (Sound Editing)

#4  Critically acclaimed movie of 2016

Favourite Line: Louise Banks” “Now THAT’S a proper introduction”

The best Science Fiction movie of the decade. And it is Science Fiction in its truest sense.

Don’t for a second get me wrong. I love big, flashy space operas and super-hero movies. I never miss one. Arrival does not have laser weapon fights or warp drives. It tells one ever expanding story while it narrowly focuses on another. It challenges viewers, demands conversation and is the best First Contact movie ever made.

The genre of first alien contact films is littered with the likes of Independence Day – movies about giant hideous creatures with no motive other than jumping out from behind things and eating humans. Arrival starts with the mysterious arrival of twelve oblong space crafts hovering above Earth at seemingly random locations.

Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a world-renowned linguistics expert who is tapped by the military to open a line of communication between humans and the “heptapods”, seven-legged octopus like creatures that inhabit the space crafts.

As the movie expands to show the larger effect of the arrival – global distrust, attack or not, governments disagreeing in potentially deadly ways – the movie also focuses down on Louise’s tragic past and grief. The film uses a non-linear time line and requires at least a second viewing.

There are excellent movies that give you a Hollywood ending, where every is safe, the long-lost lovers reunite, there are cheers and parades and you leave the theatre happy with all questions tied up nicely. This is not one of those films. Arrival leaves you in deep and philosophical discussions about alien life, origin of the species, love and loss and so much more.

Of all movies I saw in the 2010s, Arrival had the greatest impact on me from an intellectual perspective. No movie made me think more about who I am and what I would do in the same situation. I have seen it three times now and like all great films, it gets better every time.

There aren’t nearly enough movies like this one.

My Top 10 of the 2010's: #3 – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

#10 “Logan”

#9 “The Wolf of Wall Street”

#8 “BlacKkKlansman”

#7 “Once Upon a Time …in Hollywood ”

#5 “Inside Out ”

#4 “Gravity”

#3 “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Director: Martin McDonagh

Release Date: 01 Dec 2017

Main Cast: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson

Oscars: 7 nominations, 2 wins (Actress, Supporting Actor)

#7 Critically acclaimed movie of 2017

Favourite Line: Mildred Hayes (talking to a deer near the site of her daughter’s death):

“Hey baby… Yup, still no arrests. How come I wonder? ‘Cause there ain’t no God and the whole world’s empty, and it doesn’t matter what we do to each other? I hope not. How come you came up here out of nowhere lookin’ so pretty? You ain’t trynta make me believe in reincarnation or somethin’ are ya? ‘Cause you’re pretty but you ain’t her… She got killed. Now she’s dead forever. I do thank you for comin’ though. If I had some food I’d give it to ya. All I got is some Doritos, ‘n’ they might kill ya, they’re kinda pointy… Then where would we be?”

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is at the same time a study of grief, guilt, revenge, justice and healing. It’s a complex film that combines drama, police procedural and truly dark comedy in perhaps the best script of the decade.

Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes. Its has been seven months since her daughter’s brutal rape and murder and the police trail has ran cold and there seems to be no effort to find those responsible. Mildred decides to take matters into her own hands and starts by renting three old billboards outside of town. In giant black letters on red background they say “Raped While Dying”. “ And Still No Arrests”. “Why Chief Willoughby?”

The movie follows several strands of the story. The towns reaction to the billboards. The effect they have on her son and his attempt to get back to a normal life. The conflict with an overtly racist, dim witted cop (Sam Rockwell) and the relationship between Mildred and the chief (Woody Harrelson).

Rockwell and McDormand both won Oscars and both were richly deserved but its Frances McDormand as Mildred that is the key and centre to this exception film.

She is angry. Frustrated. Determined. She will not budge from her plan or her mind set. But at every moment, you can see behind her eyes, her biting her lip and know that at any moment, this character is ready to collapse in grief and give up.

The script offers wonderfully unique characters and a disquieting, unexpected ending that is at the same time, spot on perfect. It’s a clinic in acting and there is not a single bad choice from writer/director Martin McDonagh. It will have a place in my top 100 and be a movie I will watch many more times.

My Top 10 Films of the 2010's: #4 – "Gravity"

#10 “Logan”

#9 “The Wolf of Wall Street”

#8 “BlacKkKlansman”

#7 “Once Upon a Time …in Hollywood ”

#5 “Inside Out ”

#4 “Gravity”

Director: Alfonso Cauron

Release Date: 04 Oct 2013

Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris (voice)

Oscars: 10 nominations, 7 wins (Director, Editing, Cinematography, Score, Sound, Sound Effects, Visual Effects)

#2 Critically Acclaimed Movie of 2013, #9 of the decade so far

Favourite Line: Ryan Stone: “I hate space!”

Gravity had to be seen on the big screen, preferably in I-Max. I saw it three times in theatres, 2 regular one I-Max, and each time was a gut wrenching, exciting and visceral experience. I have since seen it on TV and its good, but lacks the punch of the theatrical experience.

It’s a brief 91 minutes and a perfect length. It following the story of a small group of astronauts who find themselves in the path of some space debris that destroys the International Space Station and leaves them, apparently, stranded. There is not much story, its more about the experience.

Gravity was almost never made. It went through numerous casting changes and had trouble securing financing. The end result was 7 Oscars and one of the highest grossing movies of 2013.

The film is anchored by Sandra Bullock’s career best performance. The opening scene of the movie is a dizzying 12 ½ minute tracking shot that required precise movement and choreography that was as physically demanding as anything you will see on the screen. Its great work and a role that 9 others passed on before her.

Gravity tells a simple, single story in close to real-time. Its compact running length is one of its great strengths. Running the film too long would have reduced its impact.

Gravity already sits in my Top 100 films (a revised list is coming out soon) and will remain there. I greatly admire the use of CGI to serve the story, Alfonso Cauron’s tenacity in stick with the project for 4.5 years and it ranks amongst the most impactful theatre experiences I have ever had.