By Lynn Venhaus
Inspired by an adored golden-age movie musical 67 years ago, the stage version of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” has been updated to rework some of the more problematic portions of the plot for contemporary audiences.

While the Muny’s latest production tries mightily to breathe new life into one of the more neanderthal mid-century musicals, selling the macho characters is a pesky issue to overcome – even with a cast deep with exceptionally skilled dancers and singers.

Head of an all-male household in the mountains, Adam’s caveman way of thinking has influenced his uncultured backwoods brothers. However, they have their ‘teachable’ moments in the revamped book.

The focus on the uncouth siblings becoming more civilized around women – as they have zero experience with the opposite sex – is part of the show’s enduring charm.

They are tutored by their new sister-in-law, the dissatisfied yet determined townswoman Milly (Kendra Kassebaum). Though strong-willed, she is coerced into marrying Adam (Edward Watts) in a weak moment when he comes to town on a woman-hunt.

We can look it this as a ‘glass half full’ or a ‘glass half-empty’ experience.

After all, that is the period. The time is 1850, during the great migration to the Pacific Northwest on The Oregon Trail, when men still acted like women were property, and society felt marriage was in part a financial transaction.

In so many words, people didn’t discuss gender politics. Times, as they tend to do, have changed. But we are still evolving as a society, and theater must address the modern sensibilities to stay relevant. Musical theater, by virtue of its history, is forced to mirror those changes, and this discussion will be ongoing.

As we are painfully aware, during this 21st century, particularly in the last five years, with the #MeToo and #Time’s Up movements, the old-fashioned sexist attitudes on display in the old chestnuts are hard to get beyond. (Think of the abused women in “Carousel” and “Oliver!”). In the upcoming “Chicago,” we hear another side from fed-up females in “Cell Block Tango.”

Thankfully, among the improvements to “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” they have removed Adam’s song, “A Woman Ought to Know Her Place,” and Milly’s “One Man.”

Edward Watts and Kendra Kassebaum as Adam and Milly. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

They have added a feisty “I Married Seven Brothers” for a peeved Milly – a highlight for Kassebaum — and “Where Were You?” as a vehicle for Adam to vent his anger from his perspective.

Nevertheless, a musical that is based on a Stephen Vincent Benet short story, “The Sobbin’ Women,” which was shaped by an ancient Roman legend called “The Rape of the Sabine Women,” that’s just hard to spin – and swallow — these days. And the plot hinges on the other six brothers encouraged to kidnap women they took a shine to in town, so that is a controversial hurdle.

And despite a Herculean effort from the Muny’s creative team to focus on a battle of the sexes and bring out the personality and humor, the aggressive song “Sobbin’ Women” and some of the remaining dialogue are wince-inducing, even like nails on a chalkboard.

I know, I know – people generally go to musical theater to be entertained, to escape the realities of daily life and usually aren’t seeking enlightenment while enjoying song and dance. They are just fine taking a respite, blissfully unaware of the real world. They enjoy a bouncy, tuneful musical and take it all in stride.

That’s not me. So, this review is from my perspective. As a friend said, “Every musical is someone’s favorite.” I had to keep reminding myself: “Context.”

It’s like my inexplicable fondness for “Mamma Mia!” Everything screams silly, but I love it, and have seen it at least six times — reminds me of “Gidget” movies when I was growing up, comfort food for the soul.

Under a magnifying glass, many musicals can’t hold up to current scrutiny, but that debate will keep on keeping on.

Peruse a list of musicals from the 1940s through 1970s, and so many female characters are underwritten – typically waiting for a man to rescue her or change her life, which should be annoying to current generations.

Modern musical theater has hopefully moved beyond that. Maybe someday our princes will come, but none of that royal superiority, he’ll be on equal footing, and in the meantime, we’re following paths trailblazed by women who clamored to be heard.

Next week’s “On Your Feet!” will show a true partnership between a husband and a wife, Gloria and Emilio Estefan.

“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” isn’t the first musical to deal with deception – for starters, the list includes “Light in the Piazza,” “The Most Happy Fella,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (and ‘go!’), among others.

And bull-headed Adam and assertive Milly work on trust issues to advance the plot.

People really do have affection for the 1954 movie. It was nominated for Best Picture, losing the Oscar to “On the Waterfront,” but won Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. In 2006, the American Film Institute named it one of the best American musicals ever made, and in 2004, the Library of Congress’ U.S. National Film Registry selected it for preservation because of it being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

Many fans enjoy the nostalgia, the appealing leads – brawny Howard Keel as Adam and sweet girl-next-door Jane Powell as Milly, plus the gymnastic Russ Tamblyn as youngest brother Gideon, and foremost, those rousing dance numbers.

The Muny drew 6,907 patrons on opening night. This is the sixth time the Muny has produced the show. Taking a cue from a reworked version by the Goodspeed Opera House in 2005, brought in David Landay, an original co-writer of the stage play, to do some rewrites and editing. A female contribution may have been helpful too.

The script feels like whiplash. One minute, the women are acting empowered, and the next minute the guys seem in “Me, Tarzan, you Jane” mode. It’s like when people attempt to update Shakespeare by a couple hundred years, but don’t commit to a wholly new vision.

Oh well. Baby steps. Growth is good.

In recent years, the Muny has resurrected some of the creakier shows and presented versions with freshened books – most notably “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and “Paint Your Wagon,” both of which I enjoyed.

I was hoping this would be similar. Several members of the “Paint Your Wagon” production team have returned for this reboot, including director-choreographer Josh Rhodes and associate director-choreographer Lee Wilkins, along with music supervisor Sinai Tabak.

The music direction by Valerie Gebert is crisp. Additional arrangements and orchestrations are by Larry Blank and Mark Cumberland. That’s quite a collaboration.

The Muny was one of the first theaters in America to present the stage adaptation of the movie, back in 1978 during a pre-Broadway tryout. The new stage show didn’t make it to Broadway until 1982; its last year at the Muny was 2011.

The music retained from the movie, written by Saul Chaplin and Gene de Paul, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, includes “Bless Your Beautiful Hide,” “Wonderful Wonderful Day,” “Lonesome Polecat” and “Goin’ Courtin’.”

Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn wrote “Love Never Goes Away,” “We Gotta Make It Through the Winter,” and “Glad That You Were Born” for the stage show.

The maidens in The Quilt Dance. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

The show has always been considered a major dance vehicle, and five-time Tony Award winning choreographer Michael Kidd cemented his reputation through his robust barn-raising dance and his movements based on reality.

Kidd’s unpretentious style earned him Tony Awards in “Guys and Dolls,” “Can-Can,” “Lil Abner,” “Finian’s Rainbow” and “Destry Rides Again,” and lasting Hollywood admiration (check out Danny Kaye in “Knock on Wood.”)

His uncommon approach transformed frontier chores into rollicking dance numbers. He once said if he had made slobs in the woods break out in ballet, people would have ridiculed it.

And the Muny has assembled an outstanding dozen triple threats to portray the men and women going courting – the Pontipee brothers show off their muscular moves in “The Challenge Dance” at the church social while the maids-in-waiting demonstrate a graceful, sophisticated elegance in “The Quilting Dance.” The finale, “The Wedding Dance,” wraps everything up on an enthusiastic, happy note as a long winter has turned into spring.

Rhodes has emphasized the ensemble’s energy and spotlighted the athletic and acrobatic dances. He helmed an exhilarating “Newsies” in 2017 and has finessed these pieces with vigor.

Kassebaum, who grew up in St. Louis, was impressive as lovable and comical showgirl Adelaide in the 2019 “Guys and Dolls” (and won a St. Louis Theater Circle Award for that performance). She is an emphatic Milly, strong in voice and spirit.

Edward Watts, saddled with a distracting shaggy hairstyle, struggled with the push-pull of that stubborn barbaric character, but is assured in his commanding vocal numbers and a sturdy physical presence as the dominant hero.

The brothers, nowhere near as educated as the snotty East Coast-bred smart-alecks running the town, show plenty of spirit and ‘street smarts’ when they are struck by love and try to impress the town maidens.

Raised to think marriage is the end-all for their young lives learning how to cook, sew and clean, the women must play the stereotype common to the era. But here, they have a tad more gumption, individually attracted to the guys, no matter what their dads say.

Harris Milgrim is a standout as second-oldest brother Benjamin, and lithe Carly Blake Sebouhian’s beautiful movements and ballet-training are noticeable as Martha.

The seven brothers. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

The limber Pontipee lads include Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva as Caleb, Ryan Steele as Daniel, Garett Hawe as Ephraim, 4-time Muny vet Kyle Coffman as the tempestuous Frank, and Brandon L. Whitmore as Gideon.

The supple refined city girls are Leslie Donna Flesner as Dorcas, Shonica Gooden as Sarah, Sarah Meahl as Ruth, Mikayla Renfrow as Alice and Kristin Yancy as Liza.  

Michael Schweikardt has provided majestic mountains to convey the grand open spaces and dense forests for the topography while video designer Caite Hevner’s striking work on the changing seasons and the Echo Pass avalanche are spectacular. Schweikardt’s multi-floor log farmhouse is masterful in levels and details.

While some shows like the culturally inappropriate “Flower Drum Song” have unofficially been ‘retired,’ the jury is obviously still out on this show. The passionate performers carry this one here over the threshold

A look back can be a step forward in some instances. The Muny has put a tremendous amount of effort in making this production palatable for its multi-generational audience. Yet, the outdated debate will continue.

As Thursday’s opening night rainout indicated, patience is a virtue. Not to be a Debbie Downer, this isn’t a step backwards, but some of us are ready to move on.

The company of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” Photo by Phillip Hamer.

“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is at 8:15 p.m. through Wednesday, Aug. 18, at the Muny outdoor stage in Forest Park.

The shows remaining are Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Aug. 12 – 18), On Your Feet! (Aug. 21 – 27) and Chicago (Aug. 30 – Sept. 5). For more information, visit muny.org. 

Tickets can be purchased in person at the box office, online at muny.org or by phone by calling (314) 534-1111.

To stay connected virtually and to receive the latest updates, please follow The Muny on their social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Muny Photos by Phillip Hamer.

By Lynn Venhaus

After the longest awards season ever and the weirdest movie year of all-time, we reach the finish line with the Oscars Sunday night.

People may gripe about the 93rd Academy Awards for several reasons, but you can’t say it is not going to be memorable. It might even be historic – there are a few records certain to be broken.

With 70 women nominated — the most ever – and a record two women in the directing category, we may see only the second woman win Best Director – and the first woman of color nominated. In 93 years! More on this in the category sections.

The show starts at 7 p.m. CST on ABC, coming to us live from the Los Angeles Union Station – and trains will be coming and going – and the Dolby Theatre. The previous award shows this season have involved taped segments and some Zooming, and ratings have tanked.

But producers claim this show will be different.

“The Oscars are not a webinar,” stated producer Steven Soderbergh, a filmmaker and Oscar winner for “Traffic.”

The Oscars, usually in February since 2004, pushed film eligibility to Feb. 28 and the awards for April 25, with some other groups doing the same, pandemic and all. What has shifted is the Big Mo, because movies like “Judas and the Black Messiah” came out later and Daniel Kaluuya went to the top of the list for Best Supporting Actor (even though he is a lead, but this isn’t the first example of category fraud and won’t be the last). I call this the second round, because many critics’ groups announced earlier.

After all the other awards – I am not counting the Golden Globes because we need to have a serious reckoning with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – frontrunners have definitely emerged.

What has transpired with the Screen Actors Guild, other guilds (DGA, WGA, PGA), BAFTA (British awards), Independent Spirit Awards and the critics groups – I belong to the Critics Choice Association, Alliance of Women Film Journalists and St. Louis Film Critics Association – is either shoo-ins, like Kaluuya, “Soul” for Original Score and “Sound of Metal” for Best Sound, or tight nail-biters, such as Best Actress and Best Song.

It is easy to get cynical about the year that was, with movie theaters struggling and few blockbusters enticing folks out of their homes during a global pandemic, but I have seen many good movies streamed into my living room. I am OK with independent films and small-scale storytelling. I have seen nearly 170 films since the public health emergency forced a shutdown. I

After months of staying at home, I saw “Tenet” at the IMAX but have not returned to a movie theatre since then. Now that I am vaccinated and a COVID-19 survivor, I intend to go back. I miss that whole experience of “going to the movies.” It will be so satisfying when we can all watch a movie with an audience. I will never take it for granted again, and has been such a big part of my life since my youth.

The eight movies nominated for Best Picture are worthy and would be praised in any year: “The Father,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Mank” (more for technical brilliance), “Minari,” “Nomadland,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Sound of Metal” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” “Da 5 Bloods” should be there.

My top 6 of the year were “Nomadland,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” “Da 5 Bloods,” “Minari,” “Promising Young Woman” and “Soul.” “Sound of Metal” was no. 11.

Now, every year, when I predict the Oscars, I overthink it. Some years are better guesses than others. And really, until that envelope is opened, one never knows (except for Price Waterhouse Coopers, the accounting firm that tabulates.

Currently, there are 10,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Best Picture ballot is the only one where voting is different – it is a preferential ballot, where voters rank 1 through up to 10 (this year, 8). The winner must receive 50 percent of the vote plus 1. That is why we’ve had several upsets in recent years (“Moonlight” over “La La Land,” “Green Book” in 2019 and “Parasite” in 2020.

Without further ado, here are my predictions in all 23 categories, based on personal preferences and gut feelings, along with or the ‘conventional wisdom” of prognosticators and Oscar-metrics (yes, that is a thing).

BEST PICTURE
Will Win: Nomadland
Should Win: Nomadland
Could Win: Minari

BEST DIRECTOR
Will Win: Chloe Zhao “Nomadland”
Should Win: Chloe Zhao
Could Win: She’s won 40+ awards; it really is hers to lose

BEST ACTOR
Will Win: Chadwick Boseman “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Should Win: Chadwick Boseman
Could Win: Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”

BEST ACTRESS:
Will Win: Tough call but I am going with Carey Mulligan “Promising Young Woman”
Should Win: Carey Mulligan
Could Win: Frances McDormand “Nomadland” or Andra Day “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Will Win: Yun-Jung Youn “Minari”
Should Win: Yun-Jung Youn
Could Win: Maria Bakalova “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya “Judas and the Black Messiah”
Should Win: Daniel Kaluuya (but it’s not a lead)
Could win: Paul Raci “Sound of Metal”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Will Win: Emerald Fennell “Promising Young Woman”
Should Win: Emerald Fennell
Could Win: Aaron Sorkin “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Will Win: Floran Zeller “The Father”
Should Win: Floran Zeller “The Father”
Could Win: Chloe Zhao “Nomadland”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Will Win: Joshua James Richardson “Nomadland”
Should Win: Nomadland
Could Win: “Mank”

BEST EDITING
Will Win: The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Should Win: The Trial of the Chicago 7
Could Win: “Sound of Metal” or “The Father”

BEST MUSIC SCORE
Will Win: Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, “Soul”
Should Win: “Soul”
Could Win: “Mank”

BEST SONG
Will Win: “Speak Now” One Night in Miami
Should Win: “Fight for You” Judas and the Black Messiah
Could Win: “Lo Si” The Life Ahead

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Will Win: Mank
Should Win: Mank
Could Win: The Father

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Will Win: Tenet
Should Win: Tenet
Could Win: Mulan

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Will Win: Soul
Should Win: Soul
Could Win: Wolfwalkers

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Will Win: My Octopus Teacher
Should Win: Crip Camp
Could Win: Time

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE
Will Win: Another Round
Should Win: Quo Vadis, Aida
Could Win: Collective

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Will Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Should Win: Mank
Could Win: Pinocchio

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Will Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Should Win: Emma
Could Win: Mank

BEST SOUND
Will Win: Sound of Metal
Should Win: Sound of Metal
Could Win: Mank

DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Will Win: A Concerto is a Conversation
Should Win: Love Song for Latasha
Could Win: Colette

LIVE ACTION SHORT SUBJECT
Will Win: Two Distant Strangers
Should Win: Two Distant Strangers
Could Win: The Letter Room

ANIMATED SHORT SUBJECT
Will Win: If Anything Happens I Love You
Should Win: If Anything Happens I Love You
Could Win: Opera

By Alex McPherson

Alex’s Picks and Predictions for the 2021 Oscars

Well, dear readers, the 2021 Academy Awards are nearly upon us. How unbearably exciting. Although most of my favorite films of 2020 were snubbed — “First Cow,” “Bacurau,” “Da 5 Bloods,” and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” among them — there’s still a fine crop nominated this time around. Below are my picks and predictions for most of the categories. Please keep in mind that, as a recently graduated University student perpetually hunting for a paying job, I haven’t had time to watch every nominated film, and as such, I have omitted categories that I couldn’t weigh in on effectively. Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, let’s begin.

Best Picture:

  • The Father
  • Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Mank
  • Minari
  • Nomadland (prediction)
  • Promising Young Woman (pick)
  • Sound of Metal
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

My personal picks for “Best Picture” are “Sound of Metal” or “Promising Young Woman” — two thought-provoking, eminently well-crafted experiences supported by outstanding performances from Riz Ahmed and Carey Mulligan, respectively. I never officially reviewed “Promising Young Woman,” but the film’s genre-blurring style and controversial ending have stuck in my mind ever since I watched it. “Minari” is pretty damn good as well. Sheesh, I suppose that I enjoy all the nominees on some level. 

Anywho, director Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” will most certainly take top honors. A well-acted, atmospheric, and resonant endeavor, Zhao’s film nevertheless became slightly too predictable for my taste in its latter half. 

Best Director:

  • Thomas Vinterberg
  • David Fincher
  • Lee Isaac Chung
  • Chloé Zhao (prediction; pick)
  • Emerald Fennell

In keeping with her film’s awards season spark, I predict Chloé Zhao to win for “Nomadland.” Zhao, who also wrote and edited the film, is a prime choice for this category. Lee Isaac Chung and Emerald Fennell also stand out among the nominees. However, I wasn’t on set for any of these films, so who am I to judge?

Best Actor:

  • Riz Ahmed (pick)
  • Chadwick Boseman (prediction)
  • Anthony Hopkins
  • Gary Oldman
  • Steven Yeun

Every nominated actor gave a superlative performance, rendering my personal choice an arbitrary one. Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of Levee Green in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is undeniably powerful (my prediction to win), but I’d have to go with Riz Ahmed as Ruben in “Sound of Metal.” A complex and massively conflicted character, Ahmed imbues Ruben with a soulful edge that renders him one of the most memorable and empathetic protagonists in recent memory.

Best Actress:

  • Viola Davis
  • Andra Day
  • Vanessa Kirby
  • Frances McDormand
  • Carey Mulligan (prediction; pick)

I haven’t seen “The United States Vs. Billie Holiday” or “Pieces of a Woman” yet (sue me), but I’m still confidently choosing Carey Mulligan’s performance in “Promising Young Woman” as the hopeful winner here. A shattered, sardonic soul fueled by grief, Cassandra is always a compelling presence. Mulligan’s portrayal captures her turbulent emotions with searing impact. Who will actually take home the Oscar, though? No clue, really. There isn’t a clear frontrunner going into the ceremony. 

Best Supporting Actor:

  • Sacha Baron Cohen
  • Daniel Kaluuya (prediction; pick)
  • Leslie Odom, Jr.
  • Paul Raci
  • Lakeith Stanfield

Good grief, what an outstanding collection of performances. Paul Raci’s portrayal in “Sound of Metal” is first-rate, but I’m picking Daniel Kaluuya’s masterful turn as Chairman Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah” as deserving of the trophy. Kaluuya gives a dynamite performance — conveying Hampton’s authoritative grandeur, but also quieter moments of reflection and intimacy. There’s little doubt in my mind that he won’t walk out empty handed. He should have been nominated for the “Best Actor” category, though. Hmph.

Best Supporting Actress:

  • Maria Bakalova (pick)
  • Glenn Close
  • Olivia Colman
  • Amanda Seyfried 
  • Yuh-Jung Youn (prediction)

Besides the strange nomination of Glenn Close for her over-the-top performance in “Hillbilly Elegy,” this is a highly contested category. I loved Yuh-Jung Youn’s performance as the grandmother in “Minari,” but Maria Bakalova’s fearless work in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” deserves all the accolades. It’s a downright impressive feat of acting and bravery, and she is most definitely my choice for this category. Even so, I predict Yuh-Jung Youn to win due to her previous awards showings.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  • Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (pick)
  • The Father (prediction)
  • Nomadland
  • One Night in Miami
  • The White Tiger

I’d have to pick the zany, oddly emotional screenplay for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” as my preference here. I can definitely see Academy voters going for “The Father,” because of its theatrical structure and the ways it attempts to subvert viewer expectations of what’s really going on in Anthony’s daily life. 

Best Original Screenplay:

  • Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Minari
  • Promising Young Woman (pick)
  • Sound of Metal
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 (prediction)

Academy voters will probably side with Sorkin’s quippy, rapid-fire dialogue in “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” While that film’s script is definitely enjoyable, I find the incisive, darkly comedic screenplay of Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” far more compelling. Chock full of memorable sequences and shocking twists, it forges a path all its own.

Best Cinematography:

  • Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Mank
  • News of the World
  • Nomadland (prediction; pick)
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

The cinematography of “Nomadland” is richly textured, conveying both the ruggedness of Fern’s lifestyle, but also utilizing her environment as a symbolic representation of her personal journey over the course of the film. “Mank” also features expert camerawork, but its presentation lacks the variety and thematic weight of the former.

Best Editing:

  • The Father (prediction)
  • Nomadland
  • Promising Young Woman (pick)
  • Sound of Metal  
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

There’s something to be said for all these nominees — each of the films has a different feel, and their editing accounts for that. Yorgos Lamprinos’ (not acclaimed director Lorgos Lanthimos) editing in “The Father” is especially noteworthy for the ways it manipulates and intentionally obfuscates the proceedings to immerse viewers into Anthony’s declining mental state. We never quite get our footing on reality in any given moment.

Best Production Design:

  • The Father (pick)
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Mank (prediction)
  • News of the World
  • Tenet

I admire how “The Father” manipulates Anthony’s environment to reflect his disorientation and the passage of time, but Academy voters will in all likelihood choose the meticulous attention to detail of David Fincher’s “Mank.” I wouldn’t be upset by that winning — the film has extremely high production value, but a lackluster screenplay supporting it.

Best Original Score:

  • Da 5 Bloods 
  • Mank
  • Minari (pick)
  • News of the World
  • Soul (prediction)

It’s difficult to choose a favorite here — I’ve frequently revisited “What This Mission’s About” from Terrence Blanchard’s score for “Da 5 Bloods” — but my personal pick is Emile Mosseri’s score for “Minari.” Incredibly emotional and moving, Mosseri’s compositions perfectly complement the film’s poignant story of the American Dream. I’m predicting Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor, and Atticus Ross to win for “Soul” because of their previous awards momentum, as well as the musical contrast they create throughout the film. Side note: I bet “Soul” wins “Best Animated,” too, because it’s Pixar.

Best Original Song:

  • Fight for You
  • Hear my Voice (prediction)
  • Husavik (pick)
  • Seen
  • Speak Now

I don’t feel particularly strongly about any of these nominees, but I’m choosing “Husavik” from “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” as my favorite for its strangely poignant, multilingual lyrics, with in-your-face sentimentality that’s kind of infectious. “Hear My Voice,” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” will doubtless emerge victorious — it’s simple, blunt, and fits in nicely with previous winners.  

Best Sound:

  • Greyhound
  • Mank
  • News of the World
  • Soul
  • Sound of Metal (prediction; pick)

The sound design in “Mank” is impeccable in how it evokes films of the “Citizen Kane” era, but “Sound of Metal” should win this category, unquestionably. Utilizing innovative techniques to depict Ruben’s hearing loss, it becomes a character itself as his story unfolds.

Best Documentary Short Film:

  • Colette
  • A Concerto is a Conversation
  • Do Not Split (pick)
  • Hunger Ward
  • A Love Song for Latasha (prediction)

This category was, yet again, a frustrating decision. Each of these nonfiction gems are stylistically distinct, but deeply poignant and immersive in their own ways. I was particularly gripped by the raw, uncompromising “Hunger Ward” (about the ongoing conflict in Yemen), and “Do Not Split” (an up-close-and-personal look at the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong). “A Love Song for Latasha,” documenting the life and murder of Natasha Harlins, will likely win. Presented in a mesmerizing, vivid fashion. “Love Song” is incredibly moving and would absolutely be deserving of the Oscar. 

Best Live Action Short Film:

  • Feeling Through
  • The Letter Room
  • The Present
  • Two Distant Strangers (prediction; pick)
  • White Eye

An amazing collection of short films, I predict and really hope that “Two Distant Strangers” — about a young black man trapped in a time loop where he’s always killed by the same cop, no matter how he acts — wins the Oscar. A brilliant, heartbreaking film, it’s extremely relevant to today’s climate and remains absolutely essential viewing for anyone with a Netflix account.

Best Animated Short Film:

  • Burrow
  • Genius Loci
  • If Anything Happens I Love You (prediction; pick)
  • Opera
  • Yes-People

This year’s batch of nominated animated shorts was an eclectic one, filled with varying tones, styles, and subject matter. The inventive construction of “Opera” and the twisted, fever-dream beauty of “Genius Loci” stand out in particular. Alas, my personal pick is the heartbreaking gut-punch of a film, “If Anything Happens I Love You.” Focusing on two emotionally distanced parents reeling from their daughter’s death, the film is profoundly well-made, and a prime example of doing less with more. The topic of gun violence is, sadly, ever-relevant, and this film is unflinching in confronting the grief left in its wake.

 

Cinema St. Louis and St. Louis Public Radio are proud to co-present Best of Shorts, a virtual screening of a selection of the award-winning short films from the 2019 Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) and 2019 Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase. In addition to the films, the event will feature an interview with Marshall Curry, director of “The Neighbor’s Window,” which won this year’s Academy Award for Best Live Action Short.

The program will be streamed for free at 7 pm Friday, July 31, on St. Louis Public Radio’s Twitch channel. Register for the event at stlpublicradio.org/events/.

Twitch is a live-stream video platform owned by Amazon. It’s like YouTube, but all the videos are live, so the experience is different at any given time. Twitch’s popularity started with video gamers and e-sports players, but many people join Twitch to chat or to live stream events.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has long sanctioned SLIFF’s shorts competition as a pre-screening event for the Academy Awards. The winners in four categories of SLIFF’s juried shorts programming (Best of Fest, Best Animation, Best Live Action, and Best Documentary) are eligible to submit their films directly to the Academy for Oscar consideration.

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The following short films will be screened during this event:

Bodies Like Oceans

KC Cory, U.S., 2019, 13 min., documentary, adult content (language and nudity)

A dreamy portrait of photographer Shoog McDaniel, a self-described queer fat freak, whose work with fat bodies in nature transgresses reality. Best Documentary Less Than 20 Minutes at the 2019 Showcase.

Charon

Cullen Parr, U.S., 2019, 12 min., documentary

A profile of Myron Dyal, a California artist with temporal-lobe epilepsy who creates striking paintings, drawings, and sculptures inspired by the visions he has during his seizures. Best Documentary Short at the 2019 SLIFF.

Grab My Hand: A Letter to My Dad

Camrus Johnson & Pedro Piccinini, U.S., 2019, 5 min., animated narrative

A touching and personal exploration of the relationship between the filmmaker’s father and his best friend. Best Short Short at the 2019 SLIFF.

Miller & Son

Asher Jelinsky, U.S., 2018, 21 min., live-action narrative

A transwoman mechanic runs her family’s auto shop during the day and expresses her femininity at night, but an unforeseen event threatens the balance of her compartmentalized life. Best Live Action Short at the 2019 SLIFF.

The Neighbors’ Window Oscar winner for Best Live Action Short

The Neighbors’ Window

Marshall Curry, U.S., 2019, 20 min., live-action narrative, adult content (language and brief nudity)

A middle-aged woman with small children has her life shaken up when two free-spirited twentysomethings move in across the street. Academy Award winner as Best Live Action Short and Best of Fest Short at 2019 SLIFF.

St. Louis Superman

Sami Khan & Smriti Mundhra, U.S., 2019, 28 min., documentary, adult content (strong language)

A profile of Bruce Franks Jr., the 34-year-old battle rapper, Ferguson activist, and former Missouri state representative. Academy Award nominee as Best Documentary Short and Best Local Short at 2019 SLIFF.

Two

Emre Okten, U.S., 2019, 6 min., animated narrative

Two robots discover the value of their friendship as a decades-long mission to the sun comes to an end. Best Animated Short at 2019 SLIFF.