Friday, February 22, 2019

Wrestling's 'Family' wins, but will our quick 'Green' Oscar picks score, too?

Just a few days before Sunday night's 91st Academy Awards ceremony (see my ever-intrepid choices below), a movie about professional wrestling surprisingly might touch hearts, if not exactly the minds of Oscar voters this time next year.

Pugh quickly learns the ropes with a bodyslam effort to become WWE star "Paige." 
"Fighting with My Family," based on the life of former WWE Divas Champion "Paige" Bevis (changed to Knight for the film), nicely chronicles her rise to the top of the wrestling ranks with her own style but maybe not a lot of polish.

Florence Pugh (already a stalwart as 2016's "Lady Macbeth") portrays the what-you-see-is-what-you-get youngest child of punk-like parents (Nick Frost and Lena Headey). They run a rough and tumble grappling troupe in Norwich, England, and young Paige (still going by her given name of Saraya in those bad ol' days) learns to rock and wrestle with the best of them.

Suddenly, next thing we know -- after writer and director Stephen Merchant credibly establishes the Knight brood as a mostly loving bunch -- a WWE talent scout calls in Saraya and close-knit brother Zak (a rather likable Jack Lowden) for a local tryout.

The rest becomes some arresting history, not to mention a "Rocky" tale that happens to be produced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, whose own couple of brief scenes add some sizable heft to the proceedings. So does Vince Vaughn, as scout-turned "coach" for the tough, if sensitive Paige and her fellow rassling rookies.

Obviously, Merchant, a consistent writing and creative partner to Ricky Gervais, deserves ample credit, too, for juggling family emotion, the outlaw spirit of a "fake" sport, and the continuing message that appearances don't always tell the entire story in any walk of life.

Rated "PG-13": crude and sexual material, language throughout, some violence and drug content; 1:48; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

And now, as promised, the envelopes please for our 30th consecutive (or something close to that) annual Oscar choices:

Look for Close to win it all for giving her all as "The Wife."
Best Actress: Though "The Wife" debuted in the fall of 2017 at the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival, it wasn't until it opened here last September that I wrote: "The Oscar already could be Glenn Close's to lose." And, after her sparkling acceptance speeches at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, etc., she seals the deal for good Sunday.

Best Actor: Rami Malek ("Bohemian Rhapsody"). Queen front man Freddie Mercury lives again in the form of dancing, prancing and (even a bit of) singing Malek, whose showcase performance easily will prove enough to turn back Christian Bale's Dick Cheney caricature in "Vice."

Best Supporting Actress: Regina King ("If Beale Street Could Talk"). The stirring role of strong, supportive mom -- in a movie based on James Baldwin's 1974 novel -- finally brings Academy Award gold to a performer somehow never nominated before.

Ali's 'Green Book' work might be the easiest choice of Oscar night.
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali ("Green Book"). Way back when, we also wrote, "Look for Mahershala Ali, who already owns a supporting Oscar for "Moonlight," to win another one for his sensitive portrayal of (musician) Don Shirley." Now, it would produce the evening's biggest shock waves if he did not.

Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron ("Roma"). His only other real competition might be Spike Lee ("The BlacKkKlansman"), who remains a (very) long shot at best.

Best Picture: "Green Book," in a bit of a surprise. Like only a few others, I am not a major fan of  Roma," which remains Oscar night's darling going in. However, because I have been a huge "Green" booster since a September viewing in Toronto, there's no giving up the ghost just yet. Besides, a foreign film never has grabbed Best Picture honors, and instincts say it won't happen this year, either.

And, a few more surefire winners: Animated Feature, "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse"; Foreign Film, "Roma"; Documentary, "Free Solo"; Cinematography, "Roma"; Best Song, "Shallow" from "A Star is Born"; and Best Score, "Black Panther."

Finally, a couple of reaches at attempting to get it "write": Best Adapted Screenplay ("Can You Ever Forgive Me?") and Best Original Screenplay ("Green Book"). You're on your own with the rest.

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