By Lynn Venhaus
Ancient warriors look contemporary, but their secret is that they are immortal – well, sort of (you’ll see). This covert group of mercenaries has fought to save the world for centuries.

Action-packed, “The Old Guard” has a premise that propels you through caves, deserts, contemporary offices and centuries-old flashbacks. It’s quite the road less traveled.

The gang of four who make up this human shield of protection are: Charlize Theron as the leader Andy, who might be about 6,000 years old, give or take a few; Matthias Schoenaerts as her right-hand man Booker ; and Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli as Joe and Nicky, a gay couple with fierce loyalty.

When they are recruited for an emergency mission, it’s a set-up and their extraordinary abilities are suddenly exposed. Big Pharma wants to monetize their power but can they avoid detection? The tight-knit four are joined by a new soldier (KiKi Layne). This story is based on the graphic novel by Greg Rucka, who wrote the screenplay, and illustrated by Leandro Fernandez.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood displays her versatility, helming a massive blockbuster after more contemplative pieces “Love and Basketball” and “The Secret Life of Bees.”

Charlize has proven she is a formidable action star, in “Mad Max: Fury Road” and the highly underrated “Atomic Blonde.” And again, she is mesmerizing – long and lean, and a world of hurt and trouble etched on her face.

The quartet’s bond is special, and that sets this supernatural action movie apart – there is depth to the characters. After all, they have lived extraordinary lives.

They are joined by a reluctant Nile, a Marine stationed in Afghanistan. Kiki Layne, a rising star who was so good in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” holds her own here.

While the concept is intriguing, the dialogue is a letdown. It’s basic, even trite. The graphic novel author, Greg Rucka, adapted the screenplay, so it’s very by-the-book.

The film is also brutally violent, and the implement of choice is often assorted swords, so there is a great deal of slicing and dicing.

Blood-soaked and too long (2 hours, 5 minutes), “The Old Guard” isn’t perfect, but its selling points are good ones. And it sets itself up for a sequel. You know it’s coming.

Charlize Theron as fearless leader Andy in “The Old Guard”

“The Old Guard” is an action movie with supernatural elements — it is not a superhero movie. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, it stars Charlize Theron, Kiki Layne, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Harry Melling, Matthias Schoenaerts and Chiwetel Ejiofor. It is rated R for sequences of graphic violence and language, and has a run-time of 2 hr. 5 min. Available on Netflix as of July 10. Lynn’s Grade: B. A version of this review is in the Times newspapers online.

By Lynn Venhaus
We still have a race for Best Picture and Director, as we try to gauge the momentum going into Sunday. Will it be “Parasite” or “1917,” or will fading frontrunner “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood regain its luster? After all, Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood.

The 92nd Academy Awards take place Feb. 9, with ABC broadcasting red carpet live coverage at 5:30 p.m. and the ceremony underway at 7 p.m. CST. This year is the second in a row where there is no host, and it seemed to speed up the proceedings last year. We shall see.

The acting Oscars were apparently sown up weeks ago, as awards season began. If there is any movement, it may be in Supporting Actress, where newcomer Florence Pugh is coming on strong.

The shoo-ins this year? You can safely bet on “Parasite” as Best International Feature, Brad Pitt as Best Supporting Actor in “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” his fourth performance nomination (and he’ll likely give the best speech of the night) and Roger Deakins as cinematographer for “1917.”

Will there be surprises and upsets? Or will it be as the pundits predict? Only time will tell. Let’s just hope it’s a fun watch and deserving wins to put the finishing touches on 2019 in film.

And afterwards, we’ll have memes, fashion debates and acceptance speeches to remember.

Here are my picks for the 24 awards:

Best Picture

1917

1917, Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and Parasite

My original frontrunner, “Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood” has faded, and the big momentum is with either “1917” or “Parasite.” I think Oscar voters, with the older voting block, will go with the heart-wrenching World War I epic and be content for “Parasite” to win Best International Feature. While there is always the possibility of an upset, I think the massive endeavor “1917” is deserving.

Best Director

Sam Mendes, (Photo by Richard Goldschmidt)

Sam Mendes, “1917”; Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”; Todd Phillips, “Joker”; Quentin Tarantino “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” and Bong Joon-Ho, “Parasite”

I am in the “Sam Mendes is a genius” camp but Bong Joon-Ho’s work in “Parasite” is worthy too. Both are innovative, visual artists. I’d like a tie, like Critics Choice Association. I’m going with Mendes, as he won Directors Guild of America, the big prognosticator.

Joker

Best Actor

Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”; Leonardo DiCaprio “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”; Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”; Joaquin Phoenix “Joker”; Jonathan Pryce “The Two Popes.”

Hands down, Joaquin Phoenix. He gave us pathos as he showed Joker’s pain behind the façade and made his descent into madness frightening. Nobody is more fearless working in film today. Adam Driver would be a close second for his acting showcase in “Marriage Story.”

Judy

Best Actress

Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”; Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”: Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”; Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”; Renee Zellweger’s “Judy.”

Not a fan of Renee Zellweger’s “Judy” but she has won all earlier awards, and I see no reason why she wouldn’t. However, my pick would be the radiant Saoirse Ronan for “Little Women.” If there is an upset, Scarlett Johansson – finally nominated – would be a worthy winner for her tour de force in “Marriage Story.”

Best Supporting Actor

Ozark’s own Brad Pitt

 Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”; Anthony Hopkins, “The Two Popes”; Al Pacino “The Irishman”; Joe Pesci “The Irishman”; Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.”

Perhaps the only sure thing Oscar night, Brad Pitt is a lock as stuntman Cliff Booth. He’s not just deserving but overdue. Besides, he’s certain to give the best speech of the night, given his track record this awards season.

Best Supporting Actress

Kathy Bates “Richard Jewell”; Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”; Scarlett Johansson, “JoJo Rabbit”; Florence Pugh, “Little Women”; Margot Robbie “Bombshell.”

While I think the acting Oscars have already been nailed down, this might be the upset category. Laura Dern as the shark lawyer in “Marriage Story,” obsessed with winning at all costs, is my pick, and she was also terrific in “Little Women,” but Margot Robbie’s ambitious Fox News staffer could edge her out or first-time nominee Scarlett Johansson could finally get Oscar love as the mom in “JoJo Rabbit.”

Best Adapted Screenplay

Greta Gerwig, “Little Women”;  Andrew McLaren, “The Two Popes”; Todd Phillips, “Joker”; Taika Waititi, “JoJo Rabbit”; Steve Zaillian “The Irishman.”

My favorite is Taika Waititi for the sharp social satire “JoJo Rabbit,” but the revered Steve Zaillian’s adaptation of “The Irishman” could be the film’s only win for its masterful storytelling.

Parasite

Best Original Screenplay

Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, “1917”; Noah Baumbach, “Marriage Story”; Rian Johnson, “Knives Out”; Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”; Bong Joon-Ho and Han Jin Wan, “Parasite.”

Best Cinematography

1917, The Irishman, Joker, The Lighthouse, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

What Roger Deakins did with “1917” is remarkable and propels him to his second win in three years. He had been snubbed for decades for his tremendous work in Coen Brothers’ films, then started working with director Denis Villeneuve a few years back – and finally won in 2018 for “Blade Runner 2049.” What he achieved with making “1917” appear to have been shot in two takes is incredible.

Best Editing

Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Joker, Parasite.

How can “1917” be omitted here? I think a bone should be thrown to crowd-pleasing “Ford v. Ferrari.” This film was a challenging shot, and the editors captured both the thrill and danger of endurance racing.

Best Production Design

1917, The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Parasite.

For its meticulous research and replica of 1969 Hollywood, it must be “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” However, the house in “Parasite” and all the trenches and realistic war landscape in “1917” make the case for those films.

Best Music Score

1917, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.


Previously, I thought it was a battle between the Newman generations – Randy for “Marriage Story” and Thomas for ‘1917.” But now I’m in support of Hildur Gudnadottir winning for “Joker.’ From Iceland, Gudnadottir won the Emmy and Grammy for HBO’s “Chernobyl” and the Golden Globe and BAFTA for “Joker.” She’d be the first solo woman to win this Oscar, and I can get behind that.

Best Song

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away Again,” Toy Story 4; “I’m Going to Stand with You,” Breakthrough; “Into the Unknown,” Frozen II; “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” Rocketman; “Stand Up,” Harriet.

After much debate — and enjoying the Panic! At the Disco version of “Into the Unknown” a lot, I’m now resigned to Elton John winning for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” his fourth nominated song but his first with longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin.

Best Costume Design

Little Women

The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

“Little Women,” of course.

Bombshell

Best Hair and Makeup

1917, Bombshell, Joker, Judy, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
 
“Bombshell” for making the actresses look uncannily like the Fox women they portray, and for turning John Lithgow into a convincing Roger Ailes.

Best Sound Mixing

 1917, Ad Astra, Ford v Ferrari, Joker, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

“1917” is the likely winner but “Ford v Ferrari” would be a justifiable winner.

Best Sound Editing

1917, Ford v Ferrari, Joker, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.

Ditto as to what I said about sound mixing.

Best Visual Effects

The Avengers Endgame

1917, The Avengers; Endgame,” “The Irishman,” “The Lion King” and “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.”

“The Avengers: Endgame” was so smooth and seamless, and the CGI not overdone, that I can’t imagine another movie winning. But there is that ninth little movie in a galaxy far, far away.

Toy Story 4

Best Animated Feature

The Hidden Link, How to Drain Your Dragon, I Lost My Body, Klaus, Toy Story 4.

The fitting and grand finale to one of my all-time favorite franchises, Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” should win, especially since “Frozen II” was snubbed. But Laika’s “The Missing Link” is adorable and the final chapter of “Dragon” is its most captivating.

Best International Feature

Corpus Christi, Honeyland, Les Miserables, Pain and Glory, Parasite.

The safest bet is South Korean’s “Parasite.” What a genre-bending masterpiece – its mix of comedy, drama, thriller and horror is one that will linger in your head for days.


Best Documentary Feature

American Factory, The Cave, The Edge of Democracy, For Sama, Honeyland,

Without the magnificent “Apollo 11” even nominated, I’ll give “American Factory” the edge, although “Honeyland,” about ancient beekeeping traditions in has a lot of love (which I don’t share).  Netflix’s “American Factory” is about a re-opened plant in Ohio now owned by Chinese businessmen, and the culture clash that develops. It is produced by Michelle and Barack Obama’s company Higher Ground.

Best Documentary Short

In the Absence, , Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone if You’re a Girl, Life Overtakes Me, St. Louis Superman, Walk Run Cha Cha.

As much as we’d love to see “St. Louis Superman” get national attention, it does have a questionable ending – and really, “Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone If You’re a Girl” appears to be headed for the win.

Best Live-Action Short

Brotherhood, Nefta Football Club, The Neighbors’ Window, Saria, A Sister.

This is one of those Oscar pool contest busters –usually the wild card. Although I’ve read “Saria” is gaining traction, I’m going with “The Neighbor’s Window” because, while its less of a gut-punch than the others, it seems the most unconventional. Overall, it’s a really depressing bunch.

Best Animated Short

Dcera, Hair Love, Kitbull, Memorable, Sister.

Often whatever Pixar short is before Disney’s blockbuster is the safe choice, but the studio didn’t put anything before “Toy Story IV” or “Frozen II.” Pixar’s “Kitbull” is hand-drawn and about the friendship of a kitten and an abused pitbull. Adorable, right? But “Hair Love,” about a dad’s effort to braid his daughter’s hair, which was shown before “Angry Birds 2,” is my choice for the gold.