An Unusual Show for an Unusual Year: Thoughts on the 93rd Academy Awards

by Ken Bakely

Jesse Collins, Stacey Sher, and Steven Soderbergh had an unenviable task in producing the 2021 Oscars. With the traditional templates for devising a ceremony out of commission, even down to the venue, they had to figure out a way to keep the show as glossy as possible while working within the circumstances. Soderbergh said that he wanted the ceremony to be like a movie, and as the evening began, it felt like we were getting just that, as presenter Regina King led us in a tracking shot through Los Angeles’s Union Station as an opening credits sequence rolled in the show’s cinematic aspect ratio (video above). In the ceremony’s main venue – the station’s former ticket lobby – attendees were seated at rows of tables, and presenters freely traversed the space, giving the show an intimate, improvisational, and yet elegant feel. In short, it was everything the Golden Globes wish they could be. The on-screen talent were poised and charismatic; the location was well-appointed. The show’s best moments arguably came when the close-up format allowed the nominees and winners more of a chance to shine. I don’t think a single speech was played off, which is good, because many of the speeches were insightful and worthwhile.

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BLOG: 2021 Oscar Nomination Predictions

by Ken Bakely

Though arriving later than usual, and after a year that defies simple description, it’s still time for the Oscars, and thus, time for me to predict what will get nominated in the major categories. With a few notable exceptions, it seems as if we’re currently in a position where we have a set of sturdy frontrunners in key races that could all become complete runaways if a couple more precursors go in the anticipated direction (and some are closer to that than others). 

For each category, I will rank the contenders based on how likely I think each prospective nominee is to get in next week. I’ll also include one potential spoiler (or two for Best Picture). Next Monday, after the nominations are announced, I’ll come back and edit this post, scoring my predictions and offering some comments on how I did (those notes will be in blue).

UPDATE (March 15): I have added my reactions and tallied my scores.

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The Year in Review – 2020

by Ken Bakely

Every year, I begin this post by spending a few paragraphs trying to summarize the last twelve months in film – the major changes and developments that seemed to define how we watched and discussed movies over the year that’s ended. It’s a bit of a silly game to play most years, but after 2020, it almost seems too ridiculous to try. Major titles, too numerous to count, were pushed to 2021 and beyond. Theaters have spent a majority of the year closed for business. For many months, film productions were shut down entirely. And because the only way that a title could safely reach a large number of people was through streaming, the mere nature of what it means to “release a movie” this year became a term up for discussion: there have been more streaming-exclusive titles this year than could have ever been imagined even ten months ago, filmed stage productions, and anthologies, like Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series. Certainly, many early awards voters and critics issuing their top 10 lists have been inundated with people who seem to have inexplicably fiery opinions on what can or cannot be considered a movie – and those individuals will find little respite in my list.

To reiterate a point I made earlier this week, when discussing the year’s films on the Film Pulse podcast, what’s the point of this kind of gatekeeping? Why should we be so regimented when it comes to discussing the art that meant the most to us as individuals? And in this of all years, why should we consider this to be such a salient point? The COVID pandemic has upended every aspect of human life, and the much-anticipated “return to normal,” which may come sometime next year as vaccinations continue to roll out, will still be very different – in ways large and small – than the world of 2019. And of course, there are ways in which this could be a good thing. But perhaps these are considerations that deserve more serious discussion by more qualified people than I can offer in this annual post. I can only express my hope that we are but months away from a time when we can safely gather together again – and in the context of this particular writing, that we can go to movie theaters, and that movie theaters will still be healthy and viable.

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BLOG: 2020 Oscar Nomination Predictions

by Ken Bakely

Off we go into another awards season. It seems like many of the categories at this year’s Oscars are defined by a set of heavy frontrunners, followed by one or two wild card positions, where any one of many contenders could sneak their way in on Monday morning. This makes it both fun and challenging to predict, as we try to read both the tea leaves offered to us by guild precursors, and intuition about where Academy voters’ tastes might lie, to make (at least somewhat) informed predictions of what this year’s nominations will look like. There are ample opportunities for excitement and surprise.

As always, I will be offering my nomination predictions in some of the top categories. For each category, I will rank the top contenders based on my perceived likelihood of the nomination, with one potential spoiler (or two for Best Picture, since there can be up to twice as many nominees there as in other categories). 

After the nominees are announced, I will go back and edit this column, tallying my scores and offering my thoughts. These additional notes will be listed in blue.

And with that, here we go.

UPDATE (January 13): My scores and reactions have now been added in blue.

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The Year in Review – 2019

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by Ken Bakely

Another year has gone by, as has another decade. While other, more seasoned critics can surely offer far more meaningful and detailed evaluations of the last ten years, it’s certainly apparent to me that the 2010s have ushered in wide transformations in how movies are made and viewed, and I will comment on one particular portion of that change in this column. But this isn’t a decade-best countdown – making a list for just one year provides me enough overthinking as it is – just a place to single out the movies of the past 12 months that have moved and impacted me the most. 

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A Host of Surprises: Thoughts on the 91st Academy Awards

by Ken Bakely

Throughout the tumultuous sprawl of this Oscar season – specifically in conjunction with the actual production of the Oscar ceremony itself – I’ve had a lot of changes of heart with past opinion. My belief that the show should be as short as possible was challenged when the Academy tried to grotesquely edit the program’s schedule to make that happen. The kind of time-cutting measures I once thought I wanted turned out to feel disastrous and unbecoming of an evening intended to celebrate all aspects of film production. But as reliably as the Academy introduced bad ideas, they seemed pretty consistent at walking them back after they incurred tremendous backlash. By the time Oscar Sunday rolled around, the only remaining question mark going in was the lack of a host. Countless jokes were made about the calamitous 1989 Oscars, the last to go without an emcee, and the embarrassing musical numbers used to fill up space that year. And as Sunday’s show began with an otherwise stirring performance by Queen and Adam Lambert – which ended up serving as an immediate reminder that Bohemian Rhapsody, an aggressively mediocre concert film directed by Bryan Singer, was nominated for five Academy Awards (and would go on to win four of them) – it felt like anything could happen.

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BLOG: Fyre Sale

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by Ken Bakely

It seems like some kind of bizarrely fitting joke – the kind of of-course onslaught that seemed to mirror the source material’s surreal slew of events – that two documentaries about the ill-fated Fyre Festival would premiere the same week. Watched in tandem, the collective surrealism of their anecdotes presents a distorted, funhouse mirror effect of the combined input of social media advertising, a voyeuristic pleasure that many took in watching the affluent-millennial-aimed music festival crash and burn, and the  delusions of grandeur that were behind the scheme in the first place. Both Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason’s Fyre Fraud, and Chris Smith’s Fyre, rightly paint the festival’s creator – venture capitalist Billy McFarland – as a con artist, but his actions are viewed differently in a broader spectrum, thus creating interesting fodder for how even the slightest changes in filmmaking approaches and access create radically different narratives. They present fascinatingly mounted investigations, but neither comes close to the sweeping conclusions that they aim for – though that’s not to say that they don’t each have their share of evocative achievements as they pursue their own ideologies, and have an odd synergy when taken together.

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