BLOG: Get Out of the Water in Ebbing, Missouri – Thoughts on the 90th Academy Awards

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Jimmy Kimmel hosts the Oscars, live from the stage of the upcoming Broadway adaptation of Disney’s Frozen

by Ken Bakely

Despite eventually revealing an interior set that looked like if the live action Beauty and the Beast threw up on Norma Desmond’s deathbed hallucinations, there was surprisingly little bombast in Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony, even more astonishing when one remembers that it was the 90th anniversary show. Though the producers are certainly thankful that the evening went without a replication of last year’s infamous gaffe, they surely weren’t pleased to wake up this morning and discover that last night’s show is the lowest rated Oscarcast in recorded history. Many will inevitably argue that the decline in ratings is attributable to the “politicization” of acceptance speeches, but this is unlikely. Ebbs and flows in ratings are more directly correlated with the box office performance of the nominated films. The Academy should pray that Black Panther lands big with their members in Year 91.

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BLOG: Appendix to 2018 Oscar Predictions

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by Ken Bakely

NOTE: This piece is meant to be read as a supplement to my 2018 Oscar predictions, now live at Film Pulse.

When taken as a whole, this year’s race for Best Picture is as wide open as I can ever remember. This late stage gravitation to a handful of major contenders only occurred well after the start of televised precursors in January. The race appears so evenly matched that through the convoluted process of tabulating Best Picture votes (an instant runoff procedure), could we really be surprised if anything not named, say, Darkest Hour walked home with the prize?

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The Shape of Gold: 2018 Oscar Nomination Predictions

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by Ken Bakely

More than any other year since I’ve started following the awards season race, there has been a lack of consensus. To put it in more common terms, the 2017 awards derby is a madhouse. Even as the nominations close in, frontrunners have been few and far between. Ask five different prognosticators what will win Best Picture, and you’ll get five different answers.

But we still must muddle through the chaos and produce our predictions. And here are mine, as educated a guess as anyone else’s. Not only are good picks based on the films themselves, but from following the precursor awards (guilds, groups, Globes, etc.), and having an ear on the ground in the industry (you must have friends in low places, so to speak, or at least, know where to find the relevant chatter). As always, let me reprint my annual awards season mantra:

“To predict the outcome of awards shows, you don’t need to have seen all of the nominees, you just need to have seen awards shows before.”

I’ll be repeating my approach to this column from last year: instead of running through an exhaustive list of all 24 categories, I’ll stick to predictions for a handful of major races, providing more in-depth commentary for each one. Each category’s predictions will be ranked in order of how likely it is that each title or individual will be nominated. Every category will also have one or two “biggest threats” – potential, less likely nominees which could still find themselves in the mix on Tuesday morning.

UPDATE (January 23): I have added a “reaction” section to each category now, detailing my accuracy score and my thoughts on what ended up getting nominated. These comments will be in blue.

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The Year in Review – 2017

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by Ken Bakely

Another twelve months have come and gone. 2017 was an active and unpredictable year, much like any other, but the speed and uncontrolled nature through which information flows online, and into the media cycle, certainly amplified the intensity and confusion that surrounded a number of major events. The political turmoil and unrest that has marked prior years continued, and propelled the bickering therein.

So let’s be thankful for the power of art and creativity. Be it a TV show, book, movie, album, or something else entirely, these cultural works captured the zeitgeist, turning raw emotions into refined expressions, establishing a reference point for future generations. Whether you traveled to a theater to take in a live performance, took refuge in the air-conditioned auditoriums of your multiplex, camped out in front of your TV to binge watch the latest craze, or plugged in your headphones to listen your new favorite tunes, you participated in the pop cultural moment. And with the increased consciousness that we share when absorbing current events, even your media choices carried a message, in a year marked by demonstrations, movements, and calls for change the world over.

This year, I’m doing something different. Instead of counting down the top 15 movies I reviewed, I’m going to focus on 2017 titles, whether I reviewed them or not. Note that there are many titles I have yet to see, and so this list is only a snapshot of where my opinions stand as of December 31, 2017. There are four lists here: 10 favorites, 7 that I appreciated but didn’t love as much as everyone else, my 5 least favorite, and 3 “underrated” picks.

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BLOG: The Audience for Theaters

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by Ken Bakely

Off the news that last weekend (August 25 – 27) delivered the worst domestic box office returns in 16 years, heads have been spinning all over the industry. This particular example is justifiable: in addition to the usual end-of-summer slowdown, viewers across the country tuned into the latest “Fight of the Century” (a title which seems to be doled out at least five times in a decade), and the United States’ fourth largest city has been battered by flooding of biblical proportions. Simply put, the movies are at the very bottom of our collective priority chains. Next week is expected to be as bad, or worse. Should I belabor the point by adding that the eighth most popular title at multiplexes this weekend was a simulcast of the Mayweather/McGregor match?

But such poor numbers, while explainable in the moment, have made me think about ongoing trends which have changed how we perceive going to the movies. Once an unassailable pastime, right up there with baseball, our options have been divided up. Why drive out to a theater, spend $12 on a ticket, and sit with patrons who may not recognize basic public decorum? If you want a communal viewing experience without the hassle, consider how many people were watching and live-tweeting Game of Thrones this past summer. Think about the content available on streaming platforms. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu add new stuff all the time.

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BLOG: Window Seat — The Harmony of Rear Window

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by Ken Bakely 

NOTE: I run an Oscar predictions contest every year, and the winner gets to select one film for me to review. This year, Rear Window was suggested. While writing, this piece started out as a traditional review, with a star rating and all, but slowly transformed into a more specific, contextualized essay. As a result, I’ve excised many aspects of my reviews, such as a detailed plot synopsis. This piece assumes that you’ve seen the movie, or are at least familiar with it. However, there are no spoilers.

If someone was going to remake Rear Window, I could only see one “in” – one reason to approach this content and try to rebuild it. Perhaps the one angle which Alfred Hitchcock did not take, but could prove intriguing, is to go deeper into the restrictions of its setting. The film takes place entirely within the line of sight of L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart), a photographer who finds himself strung up in a wheelchair. He’s spent the past several weeks confined to his apartment, staring out the window into the courtyard, where four other buildings meet. It’s a hot summer, and everyone has their windows wide open. You can see right in. He becomes convinced that one of his neighbors has committed a murder. Soon his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) and nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) have been roped into his suspicions, and poke and prod on his behalf, as paranoid whims give way into increasingly precarious situations.

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BLOG: Fixing the Oscars — Shortened Principles

by Ken Bakely

NOTE: This will either be a stand-alone blog post or the start of a multi-part series detailing various suggestions for improving the Oscars. Whether or not there are sequels will depend on my enthusiasm for writing them and the web traffic performance of this installment.

I’ve made no bones about my distaste for the Academy Awards themselves. In that respect, I’m in good company, but I seem to be in more of a minority when it comes to my criticism for the structure of the ceremony itself. I consider myself something of a casual award show viewer, in the sense that I focus on the “major” ones: those that can be specifically named as synonymous with their industries, and don’t contain the word “choice” in the title. The Oscars seem to always stand out as the most endless of all of them. The Globes, Emmys, Tonys, and Grammys are usually pretty good at fitting into their allotted timeslots. Oscar ceremony producers seem to use the scheduled end time as a 30 minute warning.

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BLOG: Dancing in the Moonlight — Thoughts on the 89th Academy Awards

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A last-second correction is made at the Oscars.


by Ken Bakely

Between this and the Super Bowl, 2017 is a confusing year for people who turn off their TVs early.

The circumstances surrounding Moonlight winning Best Picture overpower the surprise that comes from the very notion of the film taking the trophy: this was, in any case, a tremendous upset. Every prognosticator, myself included, had predicted a victory for La La Land. Yet as the night went on, with the movie losing several categories seemingly tailor-made for it (sound awards and editing, etc.), a weakness emerged. But nobody could have foreseen how it all ended.

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Finals for Finalists: The 2017 Oscar Nomination Predictions

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by Ken Bakely

Has it really been a whole year? The Academy Award nominations are upon us yet again. Before we kick things off, let me reprint my yearly awards season mantra:

“To predict the outcome of awards shows, you don’t need to have seen all of the nominees, you just need to have seen awards shows before.”

I’m going to try something a little different this year. Instead of running through an exhaustive list of all twenty-four categories, I will stick to predictions for a handful of major races, providing more in-depth commentary for each one. Each category’s predictions will be ranked in order of how likely it is that each title or individual will be nominated. Every category will also have one or two “biggest threats” – potential, less likely nominees which could still find themselves in the mix on Tuesday morning.

UPDATE (January 25): I have added a “reaction” section to each category now, detailing my accuracy score and my thoughts on what ended up getting nominated. These comments will be in blue.

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The Best of 2016

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by Ken Bakely

We have arrived at the end of yet another year. As many have noticed, being able to finally close out 2016 and its seemingly endless stream of death, global turmoil, and mass uncertainty, is a satisfaction far more relishing than anyone could have anticipated. One can only hope that next year will bring better fortunes, but we’ll have to wait and see. Regardless of all that happened over the past twelve months, I still find it helpful to use this space and remember all of the great movies that I reviewed this year. Films can provide catharsis, an escape, or any other imaginable emotion. The power of art is undeniable and unsinkable. Right now, that’s an especially important thing to remember.

Note that for a film to be eligible for inclusion on this list, it needs to be a movie reviewed by me in 2016 (either here or at filmpulse.net, the other site where my writing appears.)  This means that movies released before 2016 are eligible, and if I didn’t review a particular film, even if it came out in 2016, it doesn’t count. I’ve done my due diligence this year and made sure to write reviews of all of the best movies I’ve seen in the past twelve months, so they’re all pretty much eligible.

One thing that I noticed this year is that I’ve given out far fewer three-and-a-half star ratings than I normally do. While four-star films are a rare occurrence, and there was only one this year, I usually don’t have much trouble with the classification right below it. I’m not sure if this was because I was a tougher critic than normal (which I don’t think was the case), or maybe that I just didn’t see as many movies that outright wowed me. Nevertheless, I’m still satisfied with this list, and would encourage you to check out any of the titles which catch your eye. Let’s get started.

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