Calleri column

Rami Malek in “Bohemian Rhapsody” is “the absolute best thing about the movie,” says movie critic Michael Calleri.

The run-up to this Sunday’s Academy Awards has been the stuff of gossip for months, what with the Board of Directors of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences changing their minds myriad times about many things.

There was a planned new award honoring “popular” films, which was mocked out of existence. Then there was the controversy over host Kevin Hart’s homophobic early-career jokes, and he was removed; therefore, no one is hosting this year.

The ABC television network demanded a shorter program. It wanted three hours and out, which meant it didn’t understand movie fans, myself included, who honestly and truly enjoy the show regardless of its length.

Four or five hours? Bring it on.

Historically, the first Oscar telecast aired March 19, 1953. It honored movies made in 1952, and this 25th-annual Academy Awards ceremony took place at the RKO Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, and the NBC International Theatre in New York City. Not only was it the first Oscars to be televised, but it was also the first time the show was held in Hollywood and Manhattan simultaneously. Comedian and movie star Bob Hope was the host.

The plan for a shorter broadcast this year included not televising four categories as they happened, with two key awards, Cinematography and Film Editing, at the top of the list.

A misguide idea

Apparently, nobody at ABC had ever taken a film course in college. Photography and editing are the essential building blocks of cinema. Without them, you have theater, which is not motion pictures.

Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney, Spike Lee, and Brad Pitt led the protest. This misguided idea went nowhere. The Academy re-considered its decision, and the presentation of all 24 categories will be shown live.

The Academy Awards are about movies, not advertising rates and the ridiculous belief that most people in the eastern United States go to bed at 11:00 p.m. Not me, that’s for sure.

There’s great fun to be had outguessing the 8,200 Academy voters. This is the most difficult year in ages to handicap the Oscars. My list, with some constant contenders, has been as messy as the chaotic plans for the Oscar telecast.

Last year I selected 22 winners out of 24 categories correctly. If I do as well this year, I should be advising the Academy.

If you are going to an Oscar party, or are participating in an Oscar pool, you will do quite well with my choices. Over the years, the worst I’ve ever done is 16 out of 24 correct. Usually I’m in the 17 to 21 range.

Bet on these

Here are the films I think the Academy voters will select. Many of these expected winners are my personal favorites, although not all are. In some cases, I’ve also included possible spoilers, so that you can make an informed choice.

The biggest question involves whether or not “Roma” will be the first movie in a foreign language to win best picture. What muddies the waters is whether or not it will also be named best foreign language film.

Regarding best picture, I think “Roma” will be the Academy’s choice. However, watch out for “Green Book,” which is hugely popular with older moviegoers, and the mega-hit “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which is a worldwide phenomenon.

The director winner will be Alfonso Cuaron for “Roma.”

Happily, the actress chosen will be Glenn Close for “The Wife.” It’s her seventh Oscar nomination, which includes the supporting category. She has more nominations without a win than any other living person, and she also holds the record for being the woman (living or dead) with the most overall nominations without winning.

Best actor goes to Rami Malek for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” who, as Freddie Mercury of the rock band Queen, is the absolute best thing about the movie. Christian Bale for “Vice” is the spoiler, but he’s fading fast.

Supporting Actress will be Regina King for “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The spoiler is Amy Adams for “Vice,” her sixth overall nomination with no wins.

Supporting Actor is likely going to be Mahershala Ali, who won in 2017 for “Moonlight.” It would be wonderful if my personal choice, Richard E. Grant, won for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

The Academy will probably honor Spike Lee for his Adapted Screenplay, co-written with three others, for “BlacKkKlansman.” Lee has never won a competitive Oscar; however, he did receive an honorary award in 2016. My personal choice is “Can You Ever Forgive Me,” written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty.

Original Screenplay seems set for “The Favourite.” My choice is Paul Schrader for “First Reformed,” which is his first Oscar nomination in a stellar 44-year writing and directing career.

If the voters don’t give “Roma” best foreign language film, it will go to “Cold War” from Poland.

Cinematography will go to Alfonso Cuaron’s black and white photography for “Roma.”

Production Design will probably go to “Black Panther,” with “The Favourite” being the spoiler.

Other Academy choices: Costume Design: “Black Panther,” Film Editing: “Vice,” Makeup and Hair: “Vice,” Original Musical Score: “If Beale Street Could Talk,” and Original Song: “Shallow.”

Also, Sound Editing: “A Quiet Place,” Sound Mixing: “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Visual Effects: “Avengers: Infinity War,” Animated Feature: “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse,” Documentary Feature: “Free Solo,” Animated Short: “Bao,” and Live Action Short: “Marguerite.”

For Documentary Short, the voters will select “Black Sheep,” which is a remarkable example of the merging of old and new media. The film was produced by a daily newspaper, The Guardian of London. How about that? The spoiler in this category is “Period. End Of Sentence.”

TWO NEW MOVIES: As the motion picture industry salutes its best work, “Never Look Away” from Germany, which is nominated for foreign language film and cinematography this year, and “Arctic” from Iceland, are both opening for your moviegoing consideration.

“Never Look Away” is written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who has won a foreign language film Oscar for his “The Lives Of Others.” He also wrote and directed “The Tourist” with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, but I’m not going to hold that awkward entry against him.

“Never Look Away” is an epic look at World War II and its aftermath through the eyes of Kurt Barnert, a young boy from Dresden, who is required to continue his life in communist-control East Germany until, as a young man, he plans to escape to the west before the Berlin Wall is erected. It revolves around Kurt’s dreams of being an artist. An aunt had instilled in him an enjoyment of modern art, which is condemned as “degenerate” by the Nazis.

The movie explores the enforced euthanasia of unwanted Germans from society, those with mental illness or birth defects. This aspect of Nazi rule is linked to Kurt’s past, and future, family in a manner that adds suspense to this ambitious and exceptionally successful film.

The acting is strong at all levels, especially from Tom Schilling as the older Kurt, Paula Beer as the love of his life, and Sebastian Koch as her father, a man with dark secrets in his heart. Saskia Rosendahl as Kurt’s cultured aunt is wonderful in a small role.

“Never Look Away” offers an intense and believable story over its 189-minutes, a length I never once felt. It’s highly recommended.

“Arctic” is essentially a one-person drama that is utterly gripping. A pilot of a crashed airplane is stranded in the snow, but he has managed to survive because of his outdoor skills and raw fish. He finds himself facing a crucial decision after a rescue helicopter has also crashed in the remote, rugged, snow-covered terrain, which includes a hungry polar bear. A woman occupant of the copter is barely alive.

The man, played by the great Danish star Mads Mikkelsen, must make a decision. Should he stay in the relative security of his downed plane and hope for rescue, or should he take the silent, injured woman (Maria Thelma Smaradottir) along with him on a trek through the unknown and hoped-for safety?

“Arctic” is directed by Joe Penna, who co-wrote the almost dialogue-free adventure with Ryan Morrison. The movie succeeds because we never once lose interest in a man’s struggle to survive.

We believe in the character because Mikkelsen is an extraordinary actor. We believe in the story because we must know what’s going to happen, and also because it’s presented with straight-forward realism and a perfect understanding of how to generate tension.

“Arctic” is completely satisfying.


Michael Calleri reviews films for Night & Day. Contact him at

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