by Dennis Cozzalio Feb 23, 2019

The Oscars are looming, in case you hadn’t heard. I spent last evening with a last-minute Oscar lightning round screening of Willem Dafoe’s Best Actor-nominated performance as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate, and in my best Gene Shalit voice I will tell you to go-go-Gogh grab it at a Redbox near you. Dafoe’s work towers over the other four nominees, and even gives Ethan Hawke’s tortured pastor in First Reformed, my choice for male performance of the year, a run for its money.

But truth be told, I’ve been spending the waning minutes before the Dolby Theater at Hollywood and Highland takes its place as the center of the universe tomorrow night (or tonight, if you’re reading this on Sunday), immersed in decidedly anti-Oscar bait, and if you don’t have any desire to submit yourself to watching Oscars this year you could do much worse than spending time with any or all of these three Oscar-allergic alternatives. Speaking of alternatives, in the last few days my daughters and I have traveled to a parallel universe (where, perhaps, movies like this win awards?) courtesy of Happy Death Day 2U, the inventive and energetic sequel to 2017’s unexpectedly nifty Happy Death Day, both of which rest squarely on the shoulders of the percolating comic talent of their lead, Jessica Rothe, who again navigates the treacherous landscape of an endlessly repeating day which ends, every time, with her own death. The sequel is, as one friend put it, more Real Genius (1985) than real horror, and it doesn’t quite measure up to the delicious blend of existential horror-comedy the first one managed. But fans of the first movie will likely be plenty diverted, as were we, by all the different spins Rothe can put onto waking up in the same place not-dead-after-all again and again and again…

Then we caught up with Overlord (“FROM PRODUCER J.J. ABRAMS!” shout the ads), which parachuted into theaters this past November as if on a stealth mission to make it into multiplexes and then avoid as many paying customers as possible before sneaking out a week later the same way it snuck in and marching straight to the closest streaming provider. The setup couldn’t be more videogame boilerplate: a group of soldiers on a mission to take out a communications tower behind German enemy lines during the last days of World War II find that there’s much more sinister things going on in (and beneath) that tower than just radio transmissions revealing Allied troop positions. And the trailers reinforce the perception of the movie as yet another tired entry in the zombie saturation fest that has been plaguing pop culture since long before The Walking Dead became a phenomenon. But Overlord’s scope is thankfully far more compact, and as a result more potent, than that of a full-on invasion of suddenly reanimated corpses roaming across the bombed-out French countryside. The movie is absurdly well directed (by one Julius Avery) and definitely benefits from low expectations and having flown relatively low and successfully under the radar. It’s also anchored by strong performances by Jovan Adepo and Wyatt Russell as the straight-up private and the cynical corporal leading the charge against they don’t exactly know what—Adepo hails from Denzel Washington’s adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences, and Russell, who you’ve seen in Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!, is every inch, every clenched tooth, his father Kurt’s son, complete with genetically inherited magnetism— and young actress Mathilde Ollivier as a girl seasoned by the horrors of war whose fellow villagers are mysteriously disappearing into the German-occupied “church” on the outskirts of town and coming back, if they come back at all, not quite the same as they once were. Even if you can guess where it’s going, and you probably will, Overlord has the power to surprise you with both its over-the-top gore and its restraint. Its sense of being rooted in a tradition of well-made horror handily elevates this picture above and beyond the usual fare aimed at the rowdy hooligans roaming the multiplex on a Saturday night, in relentless search of thrills far cheaper than the ones available here.

And speaking of the multiplex, my family and I were snowbound the weekend it opened and couldn’t get to a show house, but I’m happy to report that earlier this week my daughter Emma and I got to see The Prodigy with a packed, very appreciative and very attentive audience, and if the sound of screams, tension-release laughter and absolute quiet in all the right spots (no guarantee from a multiplex horror movie audience) is any indicator, then director Nicholas McCarthy’s new movie is a well-deserving success. Don’t let the release date fool you– this is not an early 2019 dump of a junk picture the studio is trying to earn back its money on. The Prodigy is a visually sophisticated and eloquent horror thriller whose chill perfectly matches the winter air. It’s a supernatural bad-seed melodrama with roots in lots of other pictures and influences (The Exorcist, The Omen, and directors like Mario Bava among them), but the movie’s ace-in-the-hole is how grounded it is not only in the horror, but also the parental nightmare at the root of the horror. Orange is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling is a young mother who can’t get a handle on the strange development of her young son, who showed incredible intellectual agility from the earliest moments but who now, at age eight (as embodied by Jackson Robert Scott, Pennywise’s first victim in the 2017 version of Stephen King’s It), is exhibiting some rather strange… tendencies.

To say more would be unfair, because of the three movies I’ve talked about in this post The Prodigy is the one that really delivers. Now, after three features, the film’s director, Nicholas McCarthy, is becoming a master of the slow burn– he knows the value of using the wide-screen frame to creep up to the terror. McCarthy is a true believer, a director who knows the genre inside-out and takes it seriously, but he doesn’t come across as either an overeager fanboy or a po-faced practitioner of the art of rubbing the audience’s faces in gruesomeness in order to ensure his credibility. (See French extreme horror.) McCarthy’s confidence here is remarkable. He manages to steal a jump-scare bit directly from Bava and spin it brilliantly in such a way that outdoes the maestro and puts the audience on the floor behind their seats. (At least I was.) And The Prodigy delivers one sequence that will surely endure among horror aficionados and, with any luck, mainstream audiences, a masterful buildup to a release that never comes– Schilling makes her way down a dark staircase and hovers near the entrance to an even darker room, its black entrance opening toward her like the maw of an abyss. Yet the cheap scream that a lesser director would pull out of his hat to cap a setup like this, like a desperate magician’s ragged rabbit, never materializes. McCarthy leaves the scream that wants to leap out stuck squarely in your throat, and the residual lingering on that dark room before the cutaway cements a lingering dread that never dissipates for the remainder of the movie. No plot spoilers from me. Just know that The Prodigy will get under your skin. See it in a theater, if you can.


Okay, so back to the Oscars. With precious few hours left, I’ve decided to once again participate in the ritual public humiliation of Oscar predictions. You should be forewarned though: As they used to say on the pinball machines of my youth, these predictions are for your amusement only. In fact, some may get more amusement out of them than others, and that’s okay—I am nothing if not one to be laughed at. So with that as my lead, it’s probably redundant to suggest that the following predictions are probably not your best bet for winning the office Oscar pool—the last time I won it myself, with my awesome powers of precognition, was 15 years ago. And if some of you do choose to use these guesses as a template in the expectation of big cash prizes, let me be the first to say, “I told you so.” Here we go.


In this year of all years, smack in the middle of a “national emergency,” even though it’s not close to being my own pick I won’t be upset to see Cuaron’s movie hold center stage.

Winner: Roma

Should win: BlacKkKlansman

Spoiler: Black Panther


It’s career achievement time.

Winner: Glenn Close, The Wife

Should win: Olivia Colman, The Favourite (sadly, she doesn’t seem to be one any longer)

Spoiler: Lady Gaga, A Star is Born


Bradley Cooper should learn the lesson that if he’s going to win a Best Actor Oscar, he’d be better off to impersonate an actual person, like Dick Cheney, or Freddie Mercury, or Vincent Van Gogh, or even a mook like Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, rather than a fictional guy like Norman Maine (or a real guy like Sam Elliot). Oh, well…

Winner: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

Should win: Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate

Spoiler: Christian Bale, Vice


This year Oscar will coronate King.

Winner: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Should win: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Spoiler: Emma Stone, The Favourite


Can Mahershala Ali overcome the prevalent refrain of “he already got his”? Yeah, I think so.

Winner: Mahershala Ali, Green Book

Should win: Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman

Spoiler: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?


He/she who bets against Mexico in this category is either a Greek or Polish national, or more probably someone who hasn’t been paying attention too closely over the last few months.

Winner: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Should win: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

Spoiler: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman


Despite the Writer’s Guild of America win for Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, I think the Oscar race is a close call between Spike Lee et al. and Barry Jenkins. The winner will be the guy “they” really want to give an Oscar to.

Winner: Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott, Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz, BlacKkKlansman

Should win: (I threw a dart and it landed on) Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

Spoiler: Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk


The sweep will continue unabated here.

Winner: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Should win: Paul Schrader, First Reformed

Spoiler: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara, The Favourite


Adam McKay! Kidding!

Winner: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Should win: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

Spoiler: Ain’t gonna be no spoiler in this category.


Winner: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse

Should win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse

Spoiler: Ain’t gonna be no spoiler in this category


Winner: Bao


Winner: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Should win: Robbie Ryan, The Favourite, with a shout-out to Bruno Delbonnel (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) and Benoit Delhomme (At Eternity’s Gate), who have no business being on the sidelines here.

Spoiler: Lukasz Zal, Cold War


Winner: Ruth Carter, Black Panther

Should win: Ruth Carter, Black Panther

Spoiler: Mary Zophres, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs


Winner: Free Solo

Should win: Of Fathers and Sons

Spoiler: RBG


Winner: Black Sheep


I’m betting on the maverick sensibilities of the Academy membership to—What the hell am I saying?

Winner: Roma

Should win: Shoplifters

Spoiler: Cold War


Winner: Hank Corwin, Vice

Should win: Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman

Spoiler: Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman


Winner: Marguerite


Winner: Vice

Should win: Vice

Spoiler: Ain’t gonna be no spoiler in this category.


Winner: Terence Blanchard, BlacKkKlansman

Should win: Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk

Spoiler: Ludwig Goranson Black Panther


It’s the only win this overhyped machine can’t possibly lose.

Winner: “Shallow,” A Star is Born

Should win: “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Spoiler: Ain’t gonna be no spoiler in this category


Wakanda forever?

Winner: Black Panther

Should win: Black Panther

Spoiler: Roma


Winner: Bohemian Rhapsody

Should win: A Quiet Place

Spoiler: A Quiet Place


Winner: Bohemian Rhapsody

Should win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Spoiler: Black Panther


Zzzzzzzzzzz….Whoops! I’m sorry. Carry on.

Winner: Avengers: Infinity War

Should win: Uh…. Avengers: Infinity War

Spoiler: Ready Player One


Enjoy the Oscars. And promise not to read these predictions on Monday and make fun of me.

About Dennis Cozzalio


Dennis Cozzalio has been writing his all-purpose, agenda-free film criticism blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule since 2004. Cozzalio studied film at the University of Oregon in the late ‘70s and currently resides in Glendale, California where he lives with his wife and two daughters. He spends his (precious little) free time writing, cooking and trying to reconcile himself to a new reality weighted more toward catching up on movies at home, where distractions abide, and less in the overpriced, chatter-infested environs of 21st-century cinemas. His favorite movies include Nashville, The Lady Eve, Once Upon a Time in the West, Fellini Roma, His Girl Friday, Dressed to Kill, Amarcord and 1941, and he thinks Barbara Stanwyck can do no wrong.

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