IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK Is a Heart-Changing Movie

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK Is a Heart-Changing Movie

I’m going to talk about myself for a bit.

I am a white man. I grew up in a predominantly white suburb of Dallas, Texas, called Plano. Plano is known for being affluent. My family was, by any measure around the world, well off. My mother’s mother was Mexican, but her nationality and ethnicity affected the culture of my childhood very little. I went to very good public schools for all of my life. I never got in trouble, and I always got good grades. I had to work for them, but not that much. I was made fun of a little bit in elementary school for having a stutter, but nothing traumatizing, and I always had plenty of friends.

My parents loved me and my sister well, and they worked hard to provide for us. The most uncertainty I’ve ever personally faced was when my father was laid off once. He found another job six months or so later. My sister and I traveled with my parents to a new part of the country every year. I’ve been to many of the states on family trips. We went to Disney World several times.

I knew I was going to college from a very young age. I attended the University of Oklahoma on a generous scholarship that waived out-of-state tuition, and my parents graciously paid for the rest, helping me with rent as well. I graduated relatively easily, found a job relatively easily. I have never wanted for anything. I have never experienced hardship. I have never suffered.

This isn’t a confession. Anyone who knows me knows these things about me, and most people who are close to me have heard me talk about how I know how easy my life is. I do not feel guilty about that. It’s not my fault.

Now I’m going to talk about If Beale Street Could Talk.


If Beale Street Could Talk is an uncommonly beautiful movie. The director, Barry Jenkins, made another uncommonly beautiful movie two years ago, Moonlight, and it won Best Picture at the Oscars against all odds. Moonlight is about one man, his childhood, and his self-discovery. If Beale Street Could Talk is about a couple, their journey into love, and perseverance.

Jenkins and his cinematographer, James Laxton (also: Moonlight), shot Beale Street differently from Moonlight. There are still Jenkins’s trademark close-ups that linger for what feels like too long, until you realize you’re finally seeing that person as a person and not a character. But the color palette is warmer. The sunlight plays a big role in several scenes, representing hope for a secure future in one scene when the central couple finally finds a place to live together. In another, the light finds its way into a room in streaks through the window, mimicking the bars of a prison.

This couple, played by newcomer Kiki Layne and Stephan James (John Lewis in Selma, Jesse Owens in Race), grew up in the same apartment complex in Memphis as close friends until, as young adults, they discover they love one another. Right after they find that place to live, Fonny (James) is arrested, accused of rape. Tish (Layne) knows it could not have been him; she was with him and a friend when the rape occurred. Tish also knows that she is pregnant, and she wants to keep the child. She wants them to be a family.

Much of the movie covers the efforts by Tish, her family, and Fonny’s family to prove his innocence. It flashes back to tell Tish’s and Fonny’s love story too, and the result is a movie that elevates you to the heights of passion and then pulls you back down into the muck of real life. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that this is not a hopeful movie. But it’s not hopeless either. What hope there is can be found in the characters’ inner strength, in their capacity for love that allows them to endure.


The story comes from James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, and many of his words make it into the film via voiceover or dialogue. Baldwin was an astute chronicler in essays of racism’s role in society during the civil rights era. If you like reading, I’d recommend The Fire Next Time. That’s a good starting point. If you don’t like reading, seek out the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, which places his words over images, a combination that works to keep the truth unburied.

Baldwin wrote about the plight of the black American and the willful ignorance of the liberal white American. Never before have I felt more alien to the former group and more shamefully a part of the latter group. Let me explain.

Tish and Fonny are no different from me in some respects. They have families who love them and would fight for them. They are smart. They are talented. They are normal. But if you go back and reread the first three paragraphs describing my life, my words are dripping with privilege and opportunities that I have always taken for granted.

Tish and Fonny are turned away from apartment complexes because of the color of their skin. White men assume a certain unspoken ownership over Tish’s body, demonstrated in a montage of the way different kinds of people approach her at the perfume counter where she works; it’s always the white men who grab her wrist without asking, bringing it up to their nose with an uncomfortable familiarity. Fonny goes to prison, not because he’s done anything wrong, but because he was the wrong black man on the wrong corner at the wrong time.

Herein lies my problem: I am very aware that I am privileged and that opportunities were granted me that would have been rare for an African-American man, and rarer for an African-American woman. I know this, and yet as I watched If Beale Street Could Talk I was struck to my core by how I still default to thinking I am where I am because I deserve it more than someone else. And when I see numbers about how many prisoners across the country are black (or a movie about a black man going to jail…), I assume it is because they all did something (maybe not the crime they were convicted of, but something) wrong.


If Beale Street Could Talk does not let you assume this about Fonny. There is a clear alibi, and you even watch it happen. The scene of Tish and Fonny with Fonny’s old friend, Danny (Bryan Tyree Henry), is the deepest scene in the film. Fonny and Danny talk around the edges of what life was like for Danny in prison. In a brilliant, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it performance, Henry communicates the horror inflicted on him with furtive glances and broken language. And I walk through most of my life in complete, willful ignorance of real people just like Danny, who have to wade through shit.

The scene in which Fonny is confronted by a white cop (played by Ed Skrein) boldly portrays the cop’s racism as purely evil. He’s one of the few white characters in the movie. A landlord played by Dave Franco seems like a good dude who treats Tish and Fonny like people. Fonny’s lawyer, played by Finn Wittrock, also seems like a good dude who, as he tries to help Tish and her family free Fonny, learns the system is just as evil as that cop. Baldwin said that black people are often placed in movies “to reassure white people…that though they have made human errors, they have done nothing for which to be hated.” Let me assure you, white people, we have all done plenty for which to be hated.

Read just a little bit of James Baldwin, and you feel seen. Watch If Beale Street Could Talk, and you feel known. I don’t feel shame for my privilege or my opportunities; I feel shame that I have internally taken credit for them my whole life. Jenkins has translated Baldwin to the screen beautifully, and it’s tearing out some rotten sections of my core. In 1962, Baldwin wrote an essay for The New Yorker that included this line: “Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.” I’m learning. I want to learn. I want to try.

Contender?: Yes. It’s on the edge of the nominee pool, but I think it will get nominated for Best Picture above movies like Bohemian RhapsodyFirst Man, and Mary Poppins Returns.

Regina King, who plays Tish’s mother, has several powerful scenes that have gotten her a lot of awards attention from the guilds, and she won the Golden Globe for Supporting Actress and gave an attention-grabbing speech. She’s in. I wish I could have included more about her in the post above, but her performance didn’t fit enough into what I wanted to write about.

The beautiful screenplay, beautiful cinematography, and beautiful score will also likely be nominated.

Unfortunately, I doubt Barry Jenkins will get a nomination.


Full List of 2018’s Oscar Contenders

Look, I know that Oscar season is exhausting. To counteract that, I’ve made an exhaustive list of all the Oscar-hopeful movies that will be a part of the conversation this year, so that you know what to prioritize if you care even an iota about the Academy Awards. They’re ordered from “most likely to be relevant” to “probably not relevant at all but maybe they’ve got a distant chance of being relevant.” I’m taking all the categories into account, not just Best Picture, so there’s a couple of movies near the top of this list that probably won’t make the cut in that category but will have such a high number of other nominations that their relevance is higher than, say, Green Book, which probably can’t expect many nominations beyond the highest profile ones.

I’ve already written about the movies on this list that came out in October, November, and December, so I may not have much new to say about those movies. Enjoy!

01A Star Is Born (in theaters now)

Likely nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Song, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

Long shots: Best Costume Design, Best Production Design

After a high-profile no-show at the Golden Globes, getting bested by Bohemian Rhapsody for Best Actor and Drama, by The Wife for Best Actress, and by Roma for Best Director, it may be tempting to write off Star‘s chances at Oscars. But don’t fall into that trap: A Star Is Born is still the favorite. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has no overlapping membership with the Academy, but all the Guilds (Writers, Directors, Producers, Screen Actors, etc.) do, and they’re recognizing A Star Is Born across the board. It’s a shoo-in for a lot of nominations. Now whether it wins a lot is another story…

02The Favourite (In theaters now)

Likely nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress (2), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design

The Favourite is the second, uh, favorite right now.

03Black Panther (Streaming on Netflix)

Likely nominations: Best Picture, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design, Best Score, Best Song, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects

Long shots: Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Black Panther has strong support across the board, especially from the craft guilds. A SAG nomination for the whole cast was especially helpful. It stands a great chance at having the highest number of nominations when all is said and done, and it will be the favorite to win none of them, unfortunately. But it will likely be the first superhero movie nominated for Best Picture. Richard Donner’s Superman and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight will pop some champagne in celebration.

Also, expect outrage from critics and fans alike if this doesn’t get nominated for Best Picture. I’ll be mad too, and a little surprised. The effort the Academy took to expand its membership also diversified its ranks as well, which means that a movie as significant as Black Panther for cinematic diversity that is also as good as Black Panther should get nominated. Even people who don’t like superhero movies liked Black Panther. Come on, Academy.

04First Man (In limited theaters now)

Likely nominations: Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects

Long shots: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay

First Man has largely fallen out of the race due to poor box office and middling reviews, but director Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic is so well-crafted, it will pick up nominations for some of the smaller awards. Claire Foy had herself a year outside First Man which has created good will for her that should result in recognition for her understated performance as Armstrong’s wife.

05Roma (Streaming on Netflix)

Likely nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Foreign-Language Film, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing

Long shots: Best Actress, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing

There were points during the lead-up to Oscar season at which critics declared Roma the frontrunner for Best Picture. That always seemed a tough sell to me; a black-and-white, Spanish-language film winning Best Picture for 2018? Unlikely. But this movie creates ardent supporters, so it might win everything else it’s nominated for, and it’s almost certain to win Best Foreign-Language Film.

06Mary Poppins Returns (In theaters now)

Likely nominations: Best Actress, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Score, Best Song, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects

Long shot: Best Picture

Much like First Man, initial Best Picture buzz has wavered after mixed reviews. But Emily Blunt seems like a lock, and it will get recognized in the craft awards as well. Director Rob Marshall (ChicagoMemoirs of a Geisha) always does well with his production design across the board.

07Vice (In theaters now)

Likely nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Long shots: Best Director, Best Supporting Actor

This is a polarizing movie, even more so than The Big Short. Enough people will love it that it will get nominated, but enough people will hate it that it won’t win much. Except, of course, Christian Bale, who seems destined to win Best Actor. Amy Adams also seems like a lock to get nominated, though unlikely to win, adding to her always-a-bridesmaid status; she’ll have 6 nominations without a win, getting close to the record for actors (8: Peter O’Toole). Adam McKay just picked up a Directors Guild nomination, so he may not be a long shot anymore. However, people don’t seem enamored with Sam Rockwell’s Dubya impression, so he’s probably out.

08If Beale Street Could Talk (In theaters now)

Likely nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Score

Long shot: Best Director

Some Oscar prognosticators seem to be leaving this out of the Best Picture conversation, but I think they’re underestimating the respect for Barry Jenkins throughout the Academy’s newest members. Last summer, the Academy extended an invitation to 928 new members in an effort to boost its diversity numbers. Those members barely raised the percentage of women or minorities in the Academy’s full roster, but these newest members are active in the industry right now, and much more likely to feel like there is a lot at stake in their right to vote for the Oscars. If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautiful movie from a director that has already leaped into the upper echelon. Those new members are not going to ignore this movie.

09BlacKkKlansman (Available to rent or buy)

Likely nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay

Long shots: Best Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Score

I have a sneaking suspicion that BlacKkKlansman, after getting nominated, is going to rise up this list. In a wide open year with a shaky frontrunner (A Star Is Born, for various reasons, seems likely to wear on voters rather than grow on them), BlacKkKlansman ticks a lot of boxes. For one thing, director Spike Lee has historically been snubbed by the Oscars. For another, BlacKkKlansman was a relatively big hit this summer as counterprogramming. Also, the fact that it was made by black people, stars black people, and is about issues important to black people will appeal to Academy voters who want to shed the #OscarsSoWhite label once and for all (even though this, like Moonlight‘s win, would ultimately only move the needle a tiny bit, but that’s a different blog post). I’m not saying it’s going to win, but the conversation will heat up after the nominations are announced.

Also, prepare yourself for awkward conversations about how the star of the movie, John David Washington, who is great, did not get nominated, but his white co-star, Adam Driver, did. Driver is good in the movie, but it’s clearly Washington’s film. However, the Best Actor field is too crowded, and the Best Supporting Actor field is not. That won’t matter; people are still going to give the Academy the side-eye.

10Green Book (In theaters now)

Likely nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay

Long shots: Best Director, Best Film Editing

Hoo boy, lots of controversy around this one right now. It all started with star (and likely nominee) Viggo Mortensen using the N-word while explaining the impact of the movie (the context for his usage of the word is important, but also highlights his lack of self-awareness). Then the family members of the movie’s subject, Dr. Don Shirley, excoriated the movie for what they portrayed as lies about Dr. Shirley’s relationship with his family and with Mortensen’s character, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga. Some racist tweets from the co-writer of the film and Vallelonga’s son, Nick Vallelonga, were unearthed earlier this week, as were previous instances of public exposure from the film’s director, Peter Farrelly. And none of this includes the criticism’s of the film’s apparently simple handling of racism from the world of film critics.

Look, I haven’t seen Green Book, and enough people I respect, both film critics and not, have liked it that I’m doing my best not to judge it before I see it. For now, all I can do is judge the conversation around it, and the truth of the matter is, they could have won Best Picture and have mishandled this at every turn.

Mahershala Ali, who plays Dr. Shirley in the movie, is well on his way to winning Best Supporting Actor, and he’s acquitted himself well, apologizing directly to the family and focusing solely on celebrating Dr. Shirley’s life in his acceptance speeches. But a movie that won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF should have been positioned as a frontrunner.

Some publications are still trying, but no frontrunner has had this kind of controversy in…well, ever, at least in recent memory. The Oscar nominations in general have generated controversy, and movies have had minor grievances brought against them for claims of stealing ideas or lack of historicity, but those were relatively small compared to the controversies surrounding Green Book.

There’s still time. If they get through the next month and a half controversy-free and if the old guard finds it too appealing to pass up, it could still win. But for now, it looks like it’s just going to settle for nominations and will probably go home empty-handed- except for Ali.

11Can You Ever Forgive Me? (In limited theaters now)

Likely nominations: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay

Long shot: Best Picture

I think Oscar oddsmakers were expecting a little more support from critics’ groups and the box office, given Melissa McCarthy’s stardom. But this indie hasn’t gotten as much traction in either realm, so it’ll settle for some secondary nominations, with not much chance to win any of them.

12First Reformed (Available to rent or buy)

Likely nominations: Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay

This is the one movie I would be overjoyed for if it gets nominated and wins either of these awards. I may love Christian Bale’s performance in Vice when I see it, but I’m having a hard time believing that Bale deserves Best Actor over Hawke in this movie, who is at his career best. This is the boldest movie of the year, and I’m hopeful the odds are right and it picks up these prominent nominations.

13RBG (Streaming on Hulu)

Likely nominations: Best Documentary, Best Song

RBG looks likely to be the only Documentary nominee nominated for something else; in this case, it’s “I’ll Fight” by Jennifer Hudson.

14Isle of Dogs (Streaming on HBO)

Likely nominations: Best Animated Feature, Best Score

Wes Anderson’s latest animated movie isn’t his most beloved, but it’s a visual and aural feast, so it’ll be in the Animated Feature slate for sure. Alexandre Desplat will get recognized as well.

15A Quiet Place (Available to rent or buy)

Likely nominations: Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

Long shots: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Score

I’d love for Jim Halpert- sorry, John Krasinski’s debut film to get nominated in all the above categories. Emily Blunt, in particular, would be a wonderful choice for the Academy. But its highest chances are in its most prominent feature: sound, of course.

16Mary Queen of Scots (In theaters now)

Likely nominations: Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Long shot: Best Supporting Actress, Best Production Design

Before it premiered, Mary Queen of Scots appeared likely to land nominations for both Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, but after debuting as a more middle-of-the-road period piece, just craft awards will have to do.

17Bohemian Rhapsody (In limited theaters now)

Likely nomination: Best Actor

Long shots: Best Picture, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

Look, I get that it won the Golden Globe, but the Golden Globes and the Academy have no overlap in their voting bodies. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which runs the Globes, supposedly has around 90 members, all journalists from other countries. Somehow, their awards became a thing, but that thing is not predictive of Oscar wins. However, they can influence the Oscars by bringing attention to movies that would not otherwise receive it.

So yes, it’s possible that Bohemian Rhapsody will get a Best Picture nomination. It’s more possible today than it was before the Globes last week. But it’s still improbable.

But Rami Malek is a lock.

18The Wife (In limited theaters now)

Likely nomination: Best Actress

If there was a sure thing at the Globes last week, it was that Lady Gaga would win Best Actress in a Drama. It seemed as if the HFPA, with its obsession with celebrity, wouldn’t be able to resist putting Gaga up onstage. But they went with Glenn Close instead. All that means now is that Academy voters are even more apt to see the movie and nominate her performance. When she’s nominated, it’ll be her seventh nomination. She’s never won.

19Beautiful Boy (Streaming on Amazon Prime)

Likely nomination: Best Supporting Actor

Long shot: Best Adapted Screenplay

Beautiful Boy had higher aspirations, but Timothée Chalamet will be its only nominee. Of course, he has a leading role- just another example of category jiggling to ensure a nomination.

20Eighth Grade (Available to rent or buy)

Likely nomination: Best Original Screenplay

Support from the critics groups, Directors Guild (Best Film First-Time Directing), and Writers Guild should bring this wonderful movie a nomination for its screenplay.

21Incredibles 2 (Available to rent or buy)

Likely nomination: Best Animated Feature

Long shot: Best Sound Editing

The current Animated Feature favorite, though it’s definitely not my favorite. It’s good, but it doesn’t live up to the original.

22Cold War (In theaters now)

Likely nomination: Best Foreign-Language Film

Long shot: Best Cinematography

Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski directed one of my favorite movies of 2014, that year’s Best Foreign-Language Film winner, Ida. He’ll get his second Oscar nomination for this critically beloved romance.

23Burning (In limited theaters now)

Likely nomination: Best Foreign-Language Film

This South Korean submission has gotten a lot of attention for the supporting performance of Walking Dead alum Steven Yeun, though he stands no chance at a nomination. The movie should get in.

24Capernaum (In limited theaters now)

Likely nomination: Best Foreign-Language Film

Lebanon had its first movie nominated in this category ever last year (The Insult), and it’s well on its way to its second with this drama that made a splash at Cannes.

25Free Solo (In limited theaters now)

Likely nomination: Best Documentary

I wish I had gotten to see this in theaters. By all accounts, it’s a breath-taking account of one man’s attempt to scale the El Capitan Wall in Yosemite.

26Minding the Gap (Streaming on Hulu)

Likely nomination: Best Documentary

Critics have raved about this film about a skateboarding community in Rockford, Illinois. The trailer looked a little like a show you might find on an obscure cable channel that only programs reality shows. But director Bing Liu has been feted all over the place in celebration of the movie, so maybe there’s more to it.

27Mirai (Unavailable)

Likely nomination: Best Animated Feature

Critically acclaimed, but it doesn’t have a ton of buzz. A lot of times, one anime film will get pushed to the top of the crop for marketing reasons rather than just based on quality. That’s not to say the movie isn’t good. But there aren’t a lot of animated movies release every year, so sometimes the field of nominees is less solid than you’d expect.

28Ralph Breaks the Internet (In theaters now)

Likely nomination: Best Animated Feature

Again, people like this movie but don’t love it. Can’t be all killer, no filler when your choices are limited. Disney tends to get in anyway.

29Shoplifters (In limited theaters now)

Likely nomination: Best Foreign-Language Film

Two of the best movies of the last ten years, Still Walking and After the Storm, were directed by Shoplifters director Hirokazu Kore-ada. I haven’t seen this Japanese submission yet, but critics are calling it his best yet.

30Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (In theaters now)

Likely nomination: Best Animated Feature

This would be my pick for Best Aniamted movie of the year over Incredibles 2. It’s got a shot.

31Three Identical Strangers (Available to rent or buy)

Likely nomination: Best Documentary

Documentary filmmaking has hit something of a renaissance. Unlike the Animated Feature category, this one has been crowded of late. Ten years ago, a movie like this one, about triplets separated under fascinating circumstances, could win. Now, it’ll have to be content just to be nominated.

32Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Available to rent or buy)

Likely nomination: Best Documentary

It probably won’t win, but everyone I know who’s seen this paean to the one-of-a-kind Mr. Rogers loves it unequivocally.

33Ready Player One (Streaming on HBO)

Likely nomination: Best Visual Effects

Long shot: Best Sound Editing

Steven Spielberg has a habit of switching between “high-brow” and “low-brow” fare. One of those gets nominated for the big Oscars, the other settles for Visual Effects nominations.

34Avengers: Infinity War (Streaming on Netflix)

Likely nomination: Best Visual Effects

There was a time when Marvel movies could only hope for Visual Effects nominations. This year should see the end of that, but not for Avengers: Infinity War.

35Crazy Rich Asians (Available to rent or buy)

Long shots: Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design

I’d be all for this movie getting more love from the Academy. Romantic comedies are an art form, as much as they’re dismissed, and Crazy Rich Asians is among the best of them. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to get anything at all.

36Widows (In limited theaters now)

Long shots: Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing

Had Widows received better marketing and made more at the box office, it would still be in the conversation. It’s certainly good enough to compete with any of the movies above it in these categories and would be a worthy Best Picture nominee.

37Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (In limited theaters now)

Long shots: Best Costume Design, Best Production Design

A disappointing movie will probably end up disappointed when nominations are announced. Enough of the competitors for the top awards will compete in the craft awards too that movies like Fantastic Beasts won’t be able to break through.

38At Eternity’s Gate (In limited theaters now)

Long shot: Best Actor

Willem Dafoe reportedly gives a stellar performance as Vincent Van Gogh, but its profile isn’t high enough.

39Hereditary (Available to rent or buy)

Long shot: Best Actress

The horror movie of the year really only had a shot with Toni Collette’s superb performance, but the field is too crowded.

40The Death of Stalin (Streaming on Showtime)

Long shot: Best Adapted Screenplay

I’ve heard this comedy from Armando Ianucci, the creator of Veep, is hilarious, and he’s been nominated before for In the Loop. But most of the frontrunners for the top awards qualify for this category and will fill its ranks.

41Destroyer (In theaters now)

Long shot: Best Actress

Nicole Kidman is an Academy favorite, but this indie thriller from Karyn Kusama hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention.

42Leave No Trace (Available to rent or buy)

Long shot: Best Adapted Screenplay

There have been shouts of sexism over director Debra Granik’s (Winter’s Bone) exclusion from the conversation, but it may come down to not enough people seeing the movie.

43Crime + Punishment (Streaming on Hulu)

Long shot: Best Documentary

This look at arrest quotas in the NYPD could still break through. The Documentary committee has been known to feature lesser-seen fare like this in the eventual nominees over more popular movies.

44Early Man (Streaming on HBO)

Long shot: Best Animated Feature

Aardman has had Oscar success in the past with Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, and Early Man could still get in based on that goodwill.

45The Guilty (In limited theaters now)

Long shot: Best Foreign-Language Film

This Danish thriller is getting an American-made remake with Jake Gyllenhaal, which might be enough to draw attention to it, but probably won’t be.

46Hale County This Morning, This Evening (Unavailable)

Long shot: Best Documentary

An acclaimed documentary about a black community in Alabama would be a welcome addition to the slate of nominees, and there’s still a shot for the Sundance standout with the unpredictable committee.

47Never Look Away (Unavailable)

Long shot: Best Foreign-Language Film

German movie from the director of former winner The Lives of Others, Holocaust links in the story, distributed by Disney…any other year, this would be a lock by its measurables alone, but this is a crowded category.

48Shirkers (Streaming on Netflix)

Long shot: Best Documentary

Again, the Documentary category can be a little unpredictable, but this Netflix original is probably out.

49Smallfoot (Available to rent or buy)

Long shot: Best Animated Feature

This Warner Bros. release probably wasn’t quite popular enough to get enough attention from the category’s committee. Speaking of popularity, if you’re wondering why runaway hit The Grinch isn’t on this list, it’s because the committee didn’t include it on its shortlist. *shrug*

50Tito and the Birds (Unavailable)

Long shot: Best Animated Feature

I know nothing about this movie, and I’m not convinced the Academy does either.

51Ant-Man & the Wasp (Available to rent or buy)

Long shot: Best Visual Effects

It’s on the shortlist, but they’re going to go with the much higher profile and higher degree of difficulty Avengers: Infinity War. Also, someone needs to talk to Marvel Studios about how all their posters have the same design.

52Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Streaming on Netflix)

Long shot: Best Song

The Coen brothers have had a lot of success with Oscar, but usually not with movies as quirky as this anthology Western. It’s only shot is “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” by folk artist Willie Watson and actor Tim Blake Nelson.

53Border (Unavailable)

Long shot: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

This Swedish Cannes standout didn’t make the Foreign Language shortlist, probably because it’s absolutely batshit crazy, but it did make this one. It would be kind of awesome to see it compete against movies like Vice and Mary Queen of Scots.

54Boy Erased (In limited theaters now)

Long shot: Best Song

Higher aspirations in the beginning for acting and screenplay nominations have given way to merely making the shortlist for Troye Sivan’s song with Jónsi, “Revelation.”

55Colette (Available to rent or buy)

Long shot: Best Costume Design

Period pieces like this one with a high-profile star like Keira Knightley can at least count on consideration for these craft awards, but Colette has barely made a dent in the conversation.

56Dumplin’ (Streaming on Netflix)

Long shot: Best Song

If it weren’t for its Dolly Parton song, “Girl in the Movies,” the Academy would have paid no attention to this down-home Netflix original.

57Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Available to rent or buy)

Long shot: Best Sound Editing

Here’s your annual reminder that stunt people do not have a category at the Oscars, which makes no sense. A movie like Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which has a visceral nature to its action scenes that relies on stunt work and which is entirely different from the kinds of action you find in movies like Avengers and Ant-Man, deserves special recognition. As it is, maybe Mission: Impossible will sneak into the race with a sound award.

58Solo: A Star Wars Story (Available to rent or buy)

Long shot: Best Visual Effects

I actually liked Solo, but not many people agreed with me, least of all critics. The Academy doesn’t seem to have put much stock into it either.

59Stan and Ollie (In theaters now)

Long shot: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

I think John C. Reilly is one of the more underrated actors working today, so it would have been nice for him to get more attention for this biopic of the famous comedy duo. The movie didn’t get that attention, and it probably won’t make it into this category either, even if it was shortlisted.

60Suspiria (Available to rent or buy)

Long shot: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

I’d very much like for Suspiria, a movie I haven’t seen but which looks like an absolutely crazy film, to be an Oscar nominee. Its only chance is here.

61Welcome to Marwen (In theaters now)

Long shot: Best Visual Effects




Every time I love a movie, I struggle with how to write about it, or even with how to tell other people about my love for it in everyday conversation. When it comes to writing about it, a blog post that can be boiled down to “MOVIE GOOD” doesn’t really suffice. And when it comes to everyday conversation, I don’t want to overhype a movie I love; I want other people to love it too, so I naturally want to temper their expectations.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has to be one of the most hyped movies of the year. I’ve had a friend tell me it’s already in their Top Five Movies of All Time. I’ve seen tweets declaring it the best superhero movie ever made. Forbes (Forbes!) called it a masterpiece. The Washington Post put it above Black Panther on their Best of 2018 list. These are all fine opinions, but not if you want tempered expectations.

Spider-Verse follows the origin story of Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), an Afro-Latino boy who debuted in the comics in 2011 as a Spider-Man in an alternate universe from the Peter Parker we’ve known and loved since the 1960s. The origin story told in this movie is very different from the one in the comics; the multiverse played no part in Morales’s comics origin. But in Spider-Verse, mob boss Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) is trying to access other dimensions and accidentally brings other Spider-People into Morales’s world, including a Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage, who is absolutely perfect), a Spider-Pig (John Mulaney), an anime Spider-Girl (Kimiko Glenn), and some version of Peter Parker (Jake Johnson). You can see why Spider-Verse is being praised for its inclusivity; having a big cast of characters that embraces diversity will do that.


Maybe that cast of characters and the concept of multiple universes sounds silly to you. It certainly did to me when the trailer debuted. I’ve read the Spider-Verse comic book storyline (by writer Dan Slott), and it was wonderful, but also convoluted, occasionally confusing, and super-nerdy. I didn’t expect the concept to translate to the screen well, and the trailer didn’t hint at any levels in the storytelling or animation at all, focusing instead on a couple of jokey scenes that weren’t all that funny out of context.

The silliness makes sense, because Lego Movie creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller are involved. Lord wrote the story and was involved in the screenplay, and Miller helped Lord produce it. Three relative newcomers directed Spider-Verse: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman. They shot Spider-Verse at 12 frames per second instead of the usual 24, and eschewed the motion smoothing that Pixar made popular in CGI movies. 12 fps was the way old animated movies did things, and it helps give the look of the movie a sharpness and contributes to the feeling that you’re inside a comic book.

But the silliness doesn’t betray the story at hand. Miles Morales, who in a short time became one of the most beloved Marvel characters in the comic books, is a different kind of superhero. His origin story is different too. Of course, there’s the spider biting him and giving him supernatural powers; that part we know, and the movie plays with the idea that we’ve heard Peter Parker’s origin story a million bajillion times (and that origin stories are getting tired even apart from Spider-Man). But unlike Peter, Miles has both his parents in a good family, and he doesn’t lack confidence in his identity. Like Peter, he looks up to his uncle, but his uncle is the black sheep of the family. There are good themes about belonging while remaining true to yourself that other origin stories don’t communicate quite as effectively.


So we’ve established that everything in this movie works. Now, do I add to the hype and risk raising your expectations too high, or do I temper your expectations and give you a nice, level-headed, even-keeled perspective?

Oh, I’m adding to the hype for sure.

Look, this movie didn’t go straight to my Top Five movies of all time. And I still think Black Panther is the better and more significant movie, so you won’t see it above Black Panther on any of my lists (of course, anything can change before the Bummys in September). But I felt during Spider-Verse the way I felt during Black Panther or Mad Max: Fury Road or even Moonlight: that this is a cinematic experience I’ve never had before, and it matters.


It matters that Miles is an Afro-Latino boy who isn’t portrayed as an “other” in his own story. It doesn’t matter in a checking-a-box kind of way, but in a real, tangible way. Kids that look like Miles are going to watch Miles becoming a superhero, and they are going to believe they can achieve things they never would have before. If no adult in their life gives them the benefit of the doubt, they will see Miles’s story, and it will leave a mark on their expectations for themselves. That matters.

It also matters that Spider-Verse looks nothing like any other superhero movie, or any animated movie for that matter. There’s hand-drawn animation over the CGI and thought bubbles popping up. The action scenes are in fluorescent colors as dimensions are colliding together. They mix styles of animation as Spider-Ham (animated like the old Chuck Jones cartoons) and the anime Peni Parker join with the more conventionally animated Miles, Gwen, and Peter. It’s fun to look at in a way that feels unlimited. You’re reminded that the possibilities are endless for movies that embrace animation to its fullest.

The possibilities aren’t really endless, right? I’m a cynic as often as I’m a romantic, so it’s hard for me to believe that there isn’t a limit to what animation can do, or what empowered people can achieve. But for the duration of Spider-Verse, I believed, and it laid the foundation for me to continue believing. That’s what truly special movies can do.

Top Albums You Won’t Find on 2018’s Top Ten Lists

Every year I go through the most underrated movies and albums of the year. I couldn’t find enough movies I’ve seen that fit my criteria (on less than 3 top ten lists), so I’ll just do an albums post this year. Less work for me, less reading for you, everybody wins.

I tried to avoid albums that ended up in my Tentative Top Tens post, but I couldn’t help putting one of them here, since I was pretty surprised at the lack of recognition it’s been receiving from Christian music publications.


Colter Wall, Songs of the PlainsFor someone who gets compared to Johnny Cash a lot, Colter Wall sounds very little like Johnny Cash. Those comparisons are well-meant, I’m sure, but just because an artist has a spare, low sound doesn’t make Cash the best point of reference. A better point of reference is Wall’s fellow Canadian, Gordon Lightfoot. They both have a penchant for simple melodies and casual details in their story songs. Plains is transporting, the only album from 2018 that’s likely to make you forget where you’re listening to it.


Mark Lee Townsend, 1919: The Ballad of RexfordYou may not have heard of Townsend, but if you grew up in church in the ’90s, you have definitely heard something with his fingerprints on it. He was the guitarist for dc Talk and produced a lot of Relient K’s 2000s output. He’s also had a couple of bands that he recorded with throughout his career, but 1919 is his first solo record, a tribute to his late father’s life and faith. The album plays almost like the soundtrack to a musical, and it jumps from genre to genre pretty seamlessly. If you like Relient K’s “Deathbed,” this is basically that song spread out over an album without losing any of its power.


Natalie Prass, The Future and the PastThis was a really well-reviewed record when it was released in June, but it seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle here at the end of the year. Prass’s first record, a self-titled one from 2015, leaned more into folk stylings and was more content to rest in a softer register. The Future and the Past is a big step forward for Prass’s sound, adopting a funkier style and addressing the world’s ills head-on in her lyrics. I think Future is just as bold a record as Mitski’s Nobody, an album that appears to have broad consensus as one of the best albums of the year, though I found it underwhelming. For me, Future was one of the most impressive and unexpected albums of the year.


Rae Sremmurd, SR3MM: I get why SR3MM didn’t feature on a lot of top ten lists. It’s far from cohesive, sprawling out over three distinct albums, a solo album for each of Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi with one from the duo. There’s nothing on here with the immediacy of “Black Beatles,” and the run length (almost 2 hours!) doesn’t help. But this is Rae Sremmurd at the top of their game, crafting hook after solid hook. Even if there aren’t any hits, SR3MM is ultimately rap’s best duo doing their thing for over 90 minutes, which is hard to beat.


Sandra McCracken, Songs from the ValleyThere’s not really a good place to go for Christian music coverage. Christianity Today used to be the best, before they dissolved that department, but it left a void that no place has filled with anything resembling quality writing. So I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that McCracken’s Songs from the Valley had trouble competing with the likes of Lauren Daigle or TobyMac in a segment of the industry where you don’t get any attention if you don’t get played on the radio. But very few albums weighed as heavily on my heart as this one. McCracken’s always been an ace songwriter, for herself and for others, but she’s topped herself with her most intimate songwriting yet on Valley.

Merry Christmas 2018

Every year I write a post about the Christmas music I loved from this year and from years past. I changed the format last year, because I hadn’t listened to as many new Christmas albums as I would have liked. This year I’m back to the usual format (three new albums, two old albums), because I’ve had a constant IV of new Christmas music pumping into my veins. If you’re wondering why I look more red and green than white lately, this is why.

New Favorites


116, The Gift: A Christmas CompilationFor those unfamiliar, the 116 Clique is a loose collective of rap and R&B artists associated with Reach Records, the home of Lecrae and Trip Lee. There are no traditional Christmas songs here; rather, the tracklist is made up of songs that take a phrase or a line from classic Christmas hymns and carols and then interpolate that into a fresh hip-hop version with an R&B hook. I tend to gravitate to soul versions of Christmas carols anyway, so this was easy listening for me. Of course, bits of truth about Advent and Jesus’s coming are sprinkled throughout, more than your average Christmas album, so it ends up being an all-around edifying listen.

Favorite song: “Silent Night” by Crystal Nicole or “O’ Come” by CASS, nobigdyl. & Tedashii, I can’t decide


JD McPherson, SOCKSLike The GiftSOCKS is an album full of originals rather than the usual suspects. McPherson, an Oklahoma artist specializing in rockabilly, is uniquely positioned to write original Christmas songs, since his style of music sounds classic anyway. You can tell from the artwork that this is going to be a cheeky album, and McPherson doesn’t disappoint. The title song captures the inevitable disappointment of a Christmas morning filled with practical gifts, and “Hey Skinny Santa!” implores Mr. Kringle to start eating so he can be fat by Christmas. There’s not much earnest Christmas spirit on SOCKS, but it’s never anything less than a rollicking good time.

Favorite song: “Claus vs. Claus (feat. Lucie Silva)”


John Legend, A Legendary ChristmasLegend is criminally underappreciated by critics. His last big hit album, Love in the Future, was pretty middle-of-the-road, but the album after that, Darkness and Light, was a better album that adventured more into funk than its predecessor. Musically, A Legendary Christmas is between those two albums. The standards are all pretty straightforward, which is fine on a Christmas album, but his covers of “What Christmas Means to Me” and “Purple Snowflakes” don’t bring anything new to the table. However, the originals are lively and funky, and his mash-up of “Merry Christmas Baby / Give Love on Christmas Day” is as good as it gets. That’s the John Legend I want, and there’s a sizable helping of him on this record.

Favorite song: “Wrap Me Up in Your Love”

An Old Favorite


Frank Sinatra, A Jolly Christmas from Frank SinatraBesides Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, there is no more classic Christmas album. Sinatra, the premier interpreter of standards in all of pop music history, makes every song clean and clear, bringing the right amount of gravitas and levity in the right places. Some of the songs are their best versions, including “Mistletoe & Holly,” “The Christmas Waltz,” and, of course, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” I may write a post just about that last song someday, that’s how deeply I love it.

A New Old Favorite


The Ventures, The Ventures’ Christmas AlbumIf you know anything about the Ventures, then you probably know exactly what a Christmas album by them would sound like. They’re best known as the performers of the original Hawaii Five-O theme song. All of their songs are instrumentals, but they were a big influence on rock music, pioneering the use of several different kinds of guitars in the genre. Their Christmas album feels like what Ethan Hunt or James Bond would listen to if they were psyching themselves up for a Yuletide mission. They make fun use of some sound effects, but it’s by and large a purely guitar album, which at Christmastime is just fine by me.

Tentative Top Tens for 2018

These lists will inevitably change by the time I release the official Bummys next September (fingers crossed!). But many of these movies and albums will remain near the tops of my lists. Here are my initial impressions of what the best movies and albums of this year were, along with a couple extras at the bottom:



1. Paddington 2: I get the sense that people scoff at my love for this movie, just because we have a dog named Paddington, but I promise you this movie transcends its children’s movie status and achieves the sort of transcendence I crave in films.
2. Annihilation:
 This is as good as science fiction gets, putting masterful special effects in the service of a beautiful story with rich themes, and taking a bold risk in the last few scenes that risked alienating its audiences.
3. First Reformed:
 This one hit me deeply, getting at the challenge of maintaining faith in your Creator while the world falls apart around you.
4. Black Panther:
 This is the one action movie of the year that got to a higher level of significance while still putting on a cracking good show.
5. Mission: Impossible – Fallout:
 I thought this would be higher, because it truly is a masterpiece of an action movie, but it turns out to have just missed a certain bar for me that the four above it cleared.
6. Sorry to Bother You:
 Unlike any movie I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I’m not sure I can say much more if I don’t want to ruin it for you.
7. Hereditary:
 This is a horror movie, but it also turns all of your expectations of what a horror movie should be on their heads.
8. BlacKkKlansman:
 As visionary as Spike Lee movies come, in the guise of a comedy.
9. Avengers: Infinity War
This could be higher on level of difficulty alone, but the kind of movie it is eschews depth of any kind- which is fine! Just means there’s a cap on how high it can get on a list like this.
10. A Star Is Born:
What an achievement, instead of what could have been just a melodrama, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga deliver a great melodrama.



1. Brandi Carlile, By the Way, I Forgive You: I’d be worried about Carlile’s recent Album of the Year nomination making this album uncool, but it was already about as uncool as you get. Earnest, simple, melodramatic folk music abounds on this album, and it’s everything I could want.
 It’s just effortless for Beyoncé and JAY-Z now. Everything they touch turns to gold.
3. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer:
 No album gave me more fun than this one from Monáe, who has found her sweet spot of Prince-style eccentricity and funk.
4. Robyn, Honey:
 The Swedish songstress had leaned darker as her career progressed, but she’s perfected melancholy pop you can dance to on her comeback album.
5. Sandra McCracken, Songs from the Valley:
 She’s long been one of my favorite singer-songwriters, but Songs from the Valley was McCracken dealing with the grief and suffering following her divorce, and it’s cathartic.
6. Courtney Marie Andrews, May Your Kindness Remain:
 I can’t get enough of the alt-country ballads from this former Jimmy Eat World stalwart. Her voice is unparalleled in Americana.
7. Ariana Grande, Sweetener
Far be it from me to expect the Grammys to get anything right, but it is outrageous that Ariana Grande’s best album yet, which really is a perfect pop album, didn’t get nominated for Album of the Year, considering its quality and the fact that it’s one of the biggest hits of the year.
8. Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy:
 I didn’t think I’d like Cardi’s album, chalking “Bodak Yellow” up to catching lightning in a bottle, but she proves to be a singular talent on every song. No one-hit wonder here.
9. The Gray Havens, She Waits:
 I liked the Gray Havens, a husband-and-wife folk duo from Illinois, after their first two albums, but they’ve reached a new level on their most recent album, pushing them into the upper echelon of Christian artists working today.
10. Various Artists, Black Panther: The Album:
I’m glad no one told Kendrick Lamar that these sorts of movie marketing gimmick albums are supposed to be terrible, because he curated a real winner from front to back.


Best Book I Read

The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz: The modern American church culture emphasizes non-fiction more than fiction, which needs remedying. A good place to start: this novel following three pastors in three different time periods in the same little Swedish parish. The nature of showing the same parish spanning different periods of time means the book has a lot to say about faith and congregations sustaining through tragedy and the grinding away of time.


Best Comic I Read

Silver Surfer by Dan Slott: The Silver Surfer is a hard character to take seriously, and not just because he rides a surfboard through space (the ’60s were crazy, y’all). But somehow Slott (who also wrote the Spider-Verse storyline that’s been adapted into the new Spider-Man animated movie that is apparently a big hit) makes it work. He gives the Surfer a human love interest to travel through space with and takes full advantage of serial comics’ episodic nature by telling literally any story he wants about the different planets they visit. The diversity of aliens and civilizations they encounter and the free reign Marvel gave Slott to do whatever the hell he wanted result in one of the most poignant comic books I’ve read so far.

WIDOWS Is a Success in Every Way but the Box Office

WIDOWS Is a Success in Every Way but the Box Office

A heist movie doesn’t have to be interesting beyond the heist. The great heist movies usually double down on their entertainment value. Ocean’s Eleven, probably the most recognizable of the genre, goes all in on the wit and charm of its cast and its screenplay. Heat, maybe the most technically proficient heist film, reveals its hand from the very beginning, relying on the gravitas of its star power (Al Pacino and Robert De Niro face off! Fireworks ensue!). And other movies, like A Fish Called Wanda, fold, giving the heist plot over to the cast’s high jinks.

Widows, on the other hand, is impeccably written and takes itself very seriously. Director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) makes the case that a thrilling heist film can double as social commentary and deliver an actual emotional payoff for its characters. The movie lacks the lightness common to other movies in this genre, but McQueen makes up for it with a deftness of touches throughout the movie. There’s dark subject matter here, but he uses several cinematic flourishes to keep you on the edge of your seat rather than off it walking out of the theater.

Viola Davis stars as Veronica, the widow of the leader of a gang of thieves (Liam Neeson), who wants the wives of the rest of the gang (also killed in the same police incident that killed Veronica’s husband, Harry) to carry out the next heist Harry had planned to pay off the last person Harry stole from. Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki are two of the other widows, each of them wanting the money from the heist so they can make their own way in the world after their husband’s deaths. Brian Tyree Henry also stars as Jamal Manning, an ambitious Chicago politician who lost $2 million in Harry’s botched last heist. He and his brother (a chilling Daniel Kaluuya) threaten Veronica if she is unable to get them the money paid back.


Colin Farrell also plays a role as Jamal’s sleazy opponent in an upcoming alderman election, Jack Mulligan, standing for the privileged white sector of Chicago politics that wants to keep power while actually representing a ward populated by black neighborhoods. There’s a much-celebrated long take in which Mulligan gets in a car after leading a poorly attended event in a black neighborhood and the camera follows the car from a poor area of town to Jack’s obviously wealthy neighborhood, clearly portraying the thin divide between the two versions of Chicago. The movie has more on its mind than just a heist, also dealing directly with the effects of police brutality and the brutal lengths to which women have to go to succeed in a man’s world.

Widows works on nearly every level. I was taken out of the movie a bit by Farrell’s shaky Chicago accent, but everything else landed for me, including a twist in the middle of the movie that changes the entire tenor of Veronica’s quest for some semblance of justice. It also worked for critics; Widows has a high score of 84 on Metacritic (a better aggregation of critic opinions than Rotten Tomatoes), and most of the critics I’ve read felt about the same as I did. Awards pundits were predicting Viola Davis would compete for Best Actress this awards season and that maybe the movie itself might land some big nominations as well, if it was even a little bit commercially successful.


Well, it wasn’t. Audiences aren’t going to see Widows, and the audiences that are going to see Widows aren’t raving about it. You can usually look to marketing as the culprit in a case like this; audiences aren’t enticed by the trailer or the movie they see isn’t the one that was advertised to them. But that’s not the case for Widows. The trailer is a pretty good indication of the kind of movie you’re going to get: not quite an action movie and not quite a straight drama. I’m not sure what angle would have gotten more eyeballs on the screen; maybe the trailers could have played up the political subplot in an election year?

It’s really a shame, because Widows is one of the smartest studio movies of the year. Given that its studio, Twentieth Century Fox, guided The Hate U Give (a similarly thrilling, socially aware film) to a successful run, you’d think they could have done better by Widows. But some movies are destined to go under the radar and then rise to the top over time. That’s what Widows feels like to me: it’s got the makings of a slow-burn, cult favorite. Eventually, it’s going to be on listicles of the best heist movies next to Ocean’s Eleven and Heat. It deserves that company.