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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BLOG: 2019 Oscar Nomination Predictions

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by Ken Bakely

Another year, another awards season. And this one has been particularly chaotic: from upset wins to wide arrays of controversies, it’s impossible to tell exactly who or what is in the lead for many of the big prizes in this year’s Oscar race. But tomorrow, the nominees will be announced and we’ll know who our finalists are. As with every year, I’ve compiled some predictions for the top categories. They’re ranked by my estimated likelihood of nomination. Listed are my predicted five (or ten for Best Picture), plus one possible contender that could upset (or two for Best Picture).

Without further ado, let’s get started.

UPDATE (January 23): Like last year, I have added my accuracy score and initial thoughts on the final nominees to each category. Continue reading

The Year in Review – 2018

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by Ken Bakely

You can’t say that 2018 was a particularly relaxing year. But looking at the year’s pop culture, it was certainly one that showed how better representation can wield positive results that have clear social value and make a strong mark on the cultural discussion, as movies like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians proved. Female directors and/or directors of color were at the helm for many of 2018’s most acclaimed features: from films as varied from If Beale Street Could Talk to Sorry to Bother You, and Shirkers to Madeline’s Madeline, this year took big steps in employing a wide diversity of voices and perspectives in filmmaking. Certainly more work is needed on this front, but it will be exciting to see what more progress can be made in the years to come. As Hollywood Reporter writer Rebecca Sun pointed out, diversity isn’t a passing trend or buzzword: it’s a reality that has simply been ignored for too long. And even though this year has dealt its share of dismaying setbacks for all the leaps forward made, I thought I would use this post as an opportunity to celebrate what has been accomplished on film, and what gives me hope for a brighter future.

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BLOG: For Your Consideration – 5 Underseen Movies from 2018

by Ken Bakely

As the end of 2018 draws near, critics everywhere are drawing up lists and countdowns to commemorate the year in movies. While I plan to compile a traditional top 10 list,  I still have a few 2018 releases to catch up on, and so I’m not ready to debut it just yet. However, I would like to take this opportunity to share capsule reviews on five movies from the past year that I didn’t have the chance to write full reviews for, but would strongly recommend seeking out before you fill out your own retrospectives for the year. They’re listed in alphabetical order.

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BLOG: What Makes the Kids Alright

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I’m about to talk about two recent coming of age movies, and neither of them are Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. Though I do mention it a few times, it’s not the primary focus of this column, and the sole purpose of this image and caption is to remind you to watch Lady Bird if you have not already.

by Ken Bakely

I’ve recently caught up with two of 2018’s most discussed coming of age films – Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon and Vince Marcello’s The Kissing Booth – and, beyond the notion that the quality of the two films are intensely disparate, it provides a point of interest in the contemporary thematic and aesthetic expectations of movies about teenagers.

There’s a misconception that movies about, and made for, teenagers are a one-size-fits-all proposition. Looking at them from a more literal level, yes, they’re mostly set in high school, about tumultuous social relationships, and carry a gentle set of problems; depicting the low-stakes, high-tension rapid gossip spread through locker-clad hallways that anyone who’s graduated thanks God that they no longer have to deal with. And when Lady Bird, a classically molded coming of age movie which carries the format to such ecstatic heights that it rode its way to a Best Picture nomination, has caused such a splash in the film world, perhaps there’s a bit of subconscious attention directed to what this subgenre means.

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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 flowed online – and into the media cycle– amplified the intensity and confusion that surrounded 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 and 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, 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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