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« Harvey Weinstein Expelled From the Academy | Main | Podcast: Battle of the Sexes, Beach Rats, and mother! »

Brief Takes: Blade Runners, Tennis Stars, Feisty Queens, Fish Men

In an effort to break out of my silence -- October is my favorite month so why has it been so hard? -- micro thoughts on 5 Oscar hopefuls I meant to review but didn't. Whoops. Please to discuss in the comments.

Battle of the Sexes  (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)
The story of Billie Jean King's (Emma Stone) famous 1973 match with Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) and her efforts to make women's tennis viable in a sexist industry

: A timely well-crafted look back to the beginnings of a gender war that's depressingly still raging and a soupçon of queer romance to give it unique personality. Dayton & Faris's light touch is the right choice for this briskly-paced but delicately felt recreation of a pivotal American moment. Emma Stone is perfection as the heroic tight shouldered athlete at the center. Just discussed on the podcast. B+
Oscar Chances: This one could go either way. Much will depend on how smart Fox Searchlight is at selling it to voters. Though maybe don't bet against Emma Stone returning to Best Actress; she's very burrowed into King's skin but still as sunny as Emma Stone.

Blade Runner 2049, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, Victoria and Abdul and the Shape of Water are after the jump

Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve)
"K" (Ryan Gosling) attempts to uncover the mystery of buried replicant bones ... which leads him to Deckard (Harrison Ford) long in hiding.

: Villeneuve has injected the 1982 classic's rain-soaked existential sadness into his blood but hasn't managed to absorb its ambiguous throughline or edgy eroticism. They're both greatly missed but the amazing craftsmanship is truly something to behold. There's nothing here to match Rutger Hauer's Oscar-worthy work as Roy Beatty in the original film but a wonderful array of character faces and the aforementioned design hold the camera rapt throughout. Top notch, if unnecessary, fan fiction though it's unlikely to inspire 35 years worth of discussion which will then prompt another sequel in 2052. B
Oscar Chances: Could be a major contender in tech categories. I'm doubtful it's a Mad Max Fury Road, though, as some excitable pundits have been suggesting.

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool (Paul McGuigan) 
A young actor (Jamie Bell) recalls his turbulent affair with Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening), when the movie star returns to his life with very bad news.

: Not quite the duet you are expecting. The film is more Peter Turner's story (Jamie Bell rises to the challenge with best film performance) as he grapples with a career that's going nowhere, dating an older woman who is also a temperamental former movie star. Curiously the film rarely finds its way into Gloria's headspace. That's saved up for one riveting setpiece where the tables are turned on your feelings about their faltering romance. Occassionally buoyant (Bell & Bening dancing to disco music is bliss) but more often sad and intricately moody. If I hear this compared to My Week With Marilyn one more time, I'll scream. It's better in nearly every conceivable way, from casting to control of tone to performances. B
Oscar Chances: A shot at Best Actress but the terrible release date (December 29th now? UGH) does not bode well. 

Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro)
A mute cleaning woman (Sally Hawkins) falls in love with a fish-like humanoid imprisoned in a government testing facility. She attempts to enlist her hesistant friends (Octavia Spencer & Richard Jenkins) to help her rescue him.

: You can see what del Toro is up to from the very first frames; The Shape of Water's magic is perhaps too mechanical. But this is a small gripe that we'll file next to another minor one (Michael Shannon, pull it down a notch or three) and the big one "why are you focusing on plot when the character beats are this extraordinary!?"  Still, whatever small reservations, this is a rare magical experience aimed at adults and looks and sounds delicious. Bonus points for its warm love of its characters and the surprisingly sex-positive point of view.  B+
Oscar Chances: A major threat for nominations in virtually every category but for the one's it's ineligible for (Best Actor, Song, Foreign Film... that sorta thing)


Victoria and Abdul (Stephen Frears)
Her Majesty Mrs Brown... several years later with a new "inappropriate" friendship for the government to freak out over. She's incorrigible in that way.

: Smarter than you'd expect -- the film is acutely aware if perhaps too glib about the charges of "colonial propaganda" that will be hurled at it. Despite its redundancies (in some respects it's the same few scenes over and over again)., it's quite watchable with beautiful costumes, enjoyably broad performances, and enough humor to classify it as a historical comedy rather than a historical drama. But the only reason anyone is going is to see the Dame Judi Dench show and she delivers. In that respect you'd have to give it a higher grade than our  C+ 
Oscar Chances: A possibility, though no sure thing, in both Costume Design and Best Actress

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Reader Comments (25)

Agreed that the plottiness of SHAPE OF WATER distracts from what makes it so special.

I'm scratching my head a bit on what about BR2049 is leaving people so floored, narratively speaking. Speaking as a Deakins fanboy, even his images feel disconnected no matter how staggeringly rendered they are.

VICTORIA AND ABDUL however is a great movie to compare to MY WEEK WITH MARILYN with its 9000 tones and ghastliness lol

October 14, 2017 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

RE: Michael Shannon take it down a BF had the best observation on him the other day. Michael Shannon characters always seems to have a completely different inner life than the writer, director or audience might assume that character would have. I like that.

October 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCorey

Stone and Dench are not out yet Stone could do a victory lap for a deeply felt,warm,accurate performance,I was never impressed with Stone before this role and would take back both nominations to give it to her for this,they adore Dench and this maybe one of the final times to give her a nod,strange she became our generations Geraldine Page and the UK voting block is huge if Streep and Winslet don't work out dose this help Bening,Robbie or Ronan.

October 14, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Chris Feil: Yeah, I'm not expecting to join "the chorus" exactly on Blade Runner 2049. I probably won't think it's "bad", but Villeneuve overindulges Deakins, resulting in the only times I've seen BAD cinematography from him. It's gorgeously bad cinematography, but, still, bad. Prisoners was a hammy melodrama shot and edited like Mindhunter and Sicario was a very plot oriented movie where, admittedly gorgeous, shot choices actually obscured the plot turns.

October 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Poor Annette Bening : another year, another late December release, another dying buzz ...... She deserves better distribution and better campaigns .... She deserves the gold.

October 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClement_Paris

The most recent movie I saw, and the one I'd say, no hesitation, is the best horror movie (yeah, sorry Get Out) PERIOD this year? The Direct to DVD and Netflix release, Cult of Chucky.

October 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I so wanted to love Blade Runner 2049, but it’s so long and pointless. The camera shots go forever with nothing happening except some special effect that is ultimately empty. Ryan Gosling feels boyish. I was left wondering what an effective editor could do to shorten up the film and make it good.

October 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

I'm still not over the fact that they're not releasing The Wife this year.

October 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

In 1982, we rushed out to see Blade Runner in the movie theater on the first day. But there were lines around the block and we couldn't get in, everything was sold out. We had to wait a couple of days before we could get in, and we loved it.

But when I went back to see it again about a week later, the theater was almost empty. Then there were reviews about how the movie was slow, boring, didn't have much of a story, the acting was neglible, and the movie was a flop.

It only got two Oscar nominations, for art direction and visual effects. Nothing for cinematography or score, or supporting actor for the wonderful Rutger Hauer, and Harrison Ford wasn't apparently "really acting".

Now the new Blade Runner, equally wonderful in a different way, seems to be getting the same dismissive reaction. Other than cinematography, it's slow, it's boring, it doesn't have much of a story, the acting is negligible, it's a flop. Hardly any kudos for the excellent supporting turn by Harrison Ford, and Ryan Gosling apparently isn't "really acting".

Let's appreciate things now, instead of years later.

October 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLongtime moviegoer

Thanks for these fantastic capsule reviews Nathaniel! (and also for the many grade updates on the review page - yay!!!)

I co-sign everything you mention about Battle of the Sexes, so glad non-tennis-superfans enjoyed it as much as I did!

I'm more enthusiastic about BR2049 though, possibly because I thought it was an impossible task and was super impressed how it succeeded being it's own movie... opening up the world significantly does take away from the character focus (a strength of the original) that many may have preferred, but you can't please everyone I guess. I'm keen to see it again in theaters to see if my enthusiasm can be sustained.

October 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDrG

I'm surprised Battle of the Sexes has not done better at the box office; I wonder if it needed better numbers to get Oscar attention.

October 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Why is Film Stars released so late in the US??!! Its UK release is a much better date of mid Nov.
Most critics in US seems dismissive of it, but the critics in UK luv it!!! Singling out esp Bell & Walters (Bening was great as usual).

I tink it will fare betta at the BAFTA, maybe a nod for Bell & Walters too. SPC needs to buck up on getting Bening the Oscars!!

October 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

I also don't know why BATTLE OF THE SEXES isn't a bigger hit. I mean it's doing JUST FINE, but I know while tennis isn't the big sport it once was in America, the moment in the film was a big cultural event.

If I was playing analyses and resorting to unfair generalizations, I'd say maybe men didn't want to see a movie so stacked against them (even though I thought Carrell's caricature of a character was actually played with a lot of heart and Stowell is a frickin' saint) and women just aren't into sports movies (even though there's SO MANY good women relationships here and Stowell is SO hot). Anyways, everyone, go see it.

Everyone should also see BR2049. I cannot wait to see FILM STARS and SHAPE OF WATER.

October 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Was Ridley Scott sleeping when he saw the final cut of "Blade Runner 2049" ?

October 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Glad for your input as usual, Nathaniel. You provide good analysis on many of the films, especially ones many of us are not sure about.

I was wondering if Stone could follow up her Oscar win with a repeat nomination, but it seems as if audiences are "cool" on the film, and I think that unfortuneately, Oscar voters will go for other nominees since Stone just won. This is probably only because there are SO many contenders this year. Nevertheless, people seem to think Stone is better than her perf in La La Land.

Good to see Bening is at least in contention again this year. That Oscar seems so evasive towards her. I don't know what SPC's strategy is, but at least the film being out a few weeks in the UK will give both her and Bell some visiibility. Reviews for her and Bell (and the film) have been great in the UK, and I suspect it will come off with some BAFTA nods as it seems to be a good fit for BAFTA. Awards chances for AMPAS will tell as the film continues to open.

October 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRobert J.

I thought that Blade Runner 2049 expanded on the themes and world building of Blade Runner quite a bit. The best thing about it is that, most of it doesn't look CG! Wished it had find new audiences but judging from its B.O. numbers, it failed to do that. Interestingly the international B.O., while not great, is much better than domestic.

October 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterguest

If Glenn Close don't win the Oscar this year due to the changes release date, then it had better be Annette's turn!

October 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

I'm surprised Battle of the Sexes has not done better at the box office; I wonder if it needed better numbers to get Oscar attention.

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