Apple Watch is my Co-Pilot

March 26, 2018
My Apple Watch showing a boarding pass

Delta Boarding Pass on my Apple WatchThis past weekend I was in New England, in three weeks I’ll be in Cincinnati and then three weeks after that I’ll be in Toledo, Ohio. These seasons of back-to-back travel always make me think a lot about systems and tools to improve my trips.

I don’t know that anything has improved my traveling life more in recent years than my Apple Watch. This tiny little computer I carry on my wrist is an absolute necessity whenever I leave my home city now.

One of the Watch’s killer features for me is it’s role in turn-by-turn navigation. Shown off in the first demo for the device, Apple Maps on the Watch is perfect for navigating new cities. I used it to get around Boston this weekend by train and on foot. The transit directions do a good enough job of telling you the ideal stops to enter and exit trains.

It’s the walking directions that really make it indispensable to me though. I love getting a tap on my wrist telling me to turn at the end of the block without pulling out my phone. Not only does this keep my hands warm inside my gloves, it also keeps me from looking a tourist which is both reassuring and helpful. The last thing I’d want is to get my phone stolen while I’m on the road.

I’m also a huge fan of Apple Pay. As more stores in the US adopt contactless payments it keeps me from reaching for my wallet, but it also keeps my transactions encrypted while I’m in foreign territory. On this last trip I started using the Watch’s Wallet app for my boarding passes at the gate too, which was way more convenient than digging in my pockets or my bag for my phone.

And that leads me to playback controls. Being able to control music and podcasts on the watch while I’m walking through airports is satisfyingly convenient. I go back and forth between devices for these functions, but its nice to have multiple options when I’m in a rush or my phone is underneath a couple of layers of jackets.

As much as I love my Apple Watch there are still a few features I think it needs for it to be the perfect travel companion.

While playback controls are great, they only work when your bluetooth is on. Right now Apple Watch and iPhone both turn bluetooth off as soon as you turn on Airplane Mode. So you have to manually re-enable bluetooth to regain controls on the Watch. This seems like an easy fix that could have been resolved a while ago.

And speaking of playback controls, it’s mildly infuriating that Now Playing has to be open and the watch has to be awake for turning the Digital Crown to control volume. I’d love to just reach down and turn without even looking at the display.

Technically the charger is an accessory, but I’m bitter about the lack of quality third-party Apple Watch chargers out there. I’d love a more portable solution than the long USB puck and string. Something integrated into the side of a portable USB charger would be cool. The Twelve South TimePorter makes a good solution for most situations, but I still think something better should exist.

On the whole, I probably use my Apple Watch more when I travel than I do at any other time. It’s a great little companion and I love it more with every trip I take. I can’t wait to see where my watch and I go next.

Uplifting Content for when the Internet is Just Too Much

March 19, 2018
Apple's classic "Sad Mac" sums up a lot of current web content

Apple's classic "Sad Mac" sums up a lot of current web contentWorking on the web, it’s very easy to get sucked into a weird sort of hive mind. Drama echoes around the blogs and think pieces of the contemporary internet in tones of angry indignation like the halls of a high school.

From career defining burnouts like Logan Paul’s trip to Japan to wide-reaching bugs and scandals like the Heartbleed bug, our industry seems to be the first to know and the last to forget about all kinds of terrible stuff. The recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica and its shady practices surrounding the 2016 US Election and the UK’s EU Referendum are following a similar pattern.

All of these things are terrible in their own way and I don’t mean to minimize them at all.

I am feeling a bit jaded by the current state of affairs online though. We’re three months into 2018 and so far it is not looking like a great year to be a creative on the internet.

Or is it?

In light of some of the frustrating and depressing news on the net I’ve consciously tried turning my attention to lighter fare. And it turns out there’s still a lot of great uplifting stuff online.

I wanted to share a short list of things that have been renewing my hope and excitement about the internet lately in the hopes that it might brighten your browser as well:

The Anthropocene Reviewed

Author, video blogger and podcaster John Green’s latest project is a monthly-ish look at the things humans have created or enabled in the world. Each episode includes historical rundowns of two topics which are then rated on a five-star scale. Topics range from Cholera to Diet Dr. Pepper. Like most things Green does, this podcast is smart and silly in a way that feels like it could only exist in the 21st century.

Cecil Robert

We’ve talked at length about the unique “music videos” of Cecil Robert on Dudes Brunch lately. This YouTube user’s unique ability to provoke an emotional reaction by placing music in desolate spaces is weird and wonderful. Some of the videos on this channel make me laugh, some make me want to cry, but all of them make me glad to live in a time where this kind of content is possible.

Africa by Toto Bot

It tweets lyrics to that one Toto song you like.

The Aunt Nancy

The impromptu resurgence and canonization of a stunt cocktail created on a goof for a podcast in 2003. John Gruber and Paul Kafasis discussed this at length on The Talk Show earlier this year and I can’t stop thinking about how weirdly charming  segment was. Also, the phrase “fistful of maraschino cherries” always brings a smile to my face.


I’m always looking for new fun little things from the internet. If you know some good ones, leave a comment.

Running the Streets

March 11, 2018
Running on the Beltline trail in Atlanta
Running on the Beltline trail in AtlantaI recently moved, and one of my favorite things about moving is finding new running routes in a new neighborhood. I love the way I’m not entirely sure which direction to take on the next turn, where I might run into a slight hill or which direction I should go to get home.
 
I started running six years ago at summer camp. Running the trails in the evenings after a long day’s work was a great release. And while I’ll always cherish those first runs and the friends who got me through those first miles its running the streets that really made me love running.
 
My first few runs in the “city” were evening jogs with Shaun Evans and Seth Alexander while I lived in Athens, Ohio. Founded in the early 1800s, Athens is full of winding hilly streets with cobblestone sidewalks and beautiful old houses. In my three years of running around Athens I learned every street in town.
 
There’s a uniquely intimate kind of knowledge you get about a place from running through it. It only takes one set of hard sprints for you to learn that there are five switchbacks on the way to the top of North Hill Drive. One bad fall and you’ll start memorizing all of the roots jutting up through the sidewalks on the west side. And you’ll learn it takes about one and a half noisy punk songs to get past Miller’s Chicken without stopping and blowing your whole workout on a greasy dinner.
 
Moving to Atlanta got made me excited for a whole new world of running route possibilities. A city this big was sure to have a great maze of streets to stride alongside. It didn’t disappoint. 
 
My first year in town I lived near Georgia Tech with its winding access roads and wide sidewalks. I was also on the edge of Midtown, Atlanta’s only true urban grid, where I could sprint short blocks. I was putting in some serious miles (for me anyway) and began training for a half marathon. As I started building longer routes I was learning more neighborhoods, passing more restaurants I wanted to try and memorizing more street names. One night on a long run on a new route I hit a crack in a sidewalk I’d never taken before and sprained my ankle. I was off the roads for about a month.
 
Last year I lived in Buckhead, near a short section of Atlanta’s Beltline Trail. I started running in races for the first time with some friends from work, but my new neighborhood made for some fairly boring training runs. It was a half-mile each way from my front door to the front gate of our apartment complex, and most of that was up-hill on the way out. I still managed to find a few fun side streets though, and I built a really consistent pace since I typically only had to wait for one crosswalk.
 
In my new place, I’m back in a neighborhood setting (the Old Fourth Ward) and still Beltline adjacent. My first few runs here have all been different. First, I took the Beltline to Ponce City Market for a simple, but beautiful 5k. The skyline views and street art make for great scenery. Next, I ran through the ornate old houses of Inman Park. Now I’m starting to explore some of Atlanta’s earliest side streets and seeing a lot of the same old architecture I remember from Athens.
 
Running the streets of a city/town isn’t for everyone. Stopping at the crosswalks definitely does break your momentum. There are more pedestrians to duck around than you’ll see on a good trail run. When I’m lacing up my shoes, though, it’s the variety and exploration that keep me excited to get out and hit the pavement. Plus, you really to get to know a city when you run a mile of its streets. 

Netflix launching Vertical Video Previews on Mobile

March 9, 2018

MacRumors reporting on a story from Variety

Announced on Wednesday at the company’s Lab Days press event in California, the upcoming feature will mean Netflix subscribers can watch 30-second previews displayed as vertical video on mobile devices.

I’m excited to see another major player embracing vertical video.

I’ll admit, I was a bit old fashioned at first and joined in the chorus of people telling everyone to turn their phones horizontal.

Now that publishers are actually creations content specifically for vertical consumption though its actually become a really interesting development in videography and editing. 

I wouldn’t want to watch a feature film shot vertically (yet, anyway) but I’m excited to see the format growing.

What I Learned from Having my MacBook Stolen

February 26, 2018
Apple logo on the exterior of a Mac
Apple logo on the exterior of a MacMy roommate and I have been excited to move for almost a month. We paid rent on two apartments this month just to get the place we wanted. Eight days before we were scheduled to move we went to a bar in our new neighborhood for trivia. While we were gone we had our apartment broken into and our computers stolen.
 
We called the police, an officer arrived quickly and he was very thorough while filing his report. After looking through the apartment he concluded that there were no signs of forced entry and we confirmed that the only things missing were the computers. His guess was that whoever it was had access to our apartment and knew exactly what they were looking for. After he left we fired up Find My iPhone, locked down our stolen Macs, set them to erase if turned on and went to sleep.
 
The next morning we filed insurance claims. Brandon’s documentation was fairly easy, he’d just purchased his iMac three or four months ago and still had the box and receipt. My MacBook Pro was purchased in 2014, so it was little more difficult. Thankfully after a quick phone call Apple found my original invoice and emailed to me.
 
Our next call was to U-Haul to book a truck to move us the hell out of that apartment. Over the next three days we moved everything we owned across town to our new place. I got my insurance claim accepted, purchased a new iMac and migrated my data over from a Time Machine backup.
 
This weekend was stressful, to say the least, and I would not wish the situation on anyone. In the event that it happens to you, here are a few cautionary elements to my tale of technical theft.
 

Document Everything

 
When it comes to leases, major purchases and insurance documents you should be keeping hard and digital copies of everything. Having searchable PDFs of our lease and insurance policies would have made the claim process a lot simpler, but the hard copies were a life saver.
 
Dropbox, Apple Notes and Evernote all have really solid document scanners built into their mobile apps. Take a few minutes on a rainy day and scan your important documents, you may need them some day.
 

Pay for Renters’ Insurance

 
Paying $15 each month ended up saving me $1,300 on a new Mac this week. And because my insurance covers my possessions at replacement cost the payout was for the price of a new machine rather than the value of my four-year-old one. There have been enough advancements in computers in the last four years that I’m actually getting a decent little upgrade out of this too.*
 

Keep Back-Ups

 
A lot of my non-techie friends roll their eyes at the obnoxious old hard drive I keep at my desk. It spins up every three or four hours and when it does it is loud. However, as I type this my new iMac is restoring all of the data that was on my old MacBook from the night before it was stolen. Repurposing an old hard drive for Time Machine or a similar back-up solution will save you a ton of time and headaches if this happens to you.
 
I store all of my active documents (current projects, raw podcast audio, receipts, etc.) in Dropbox, so all of that will come down from the cloud pretty fast. My music library and photo library are backed up through Apple Music and iCloud Photo Library respectively so those will be back soon enough too.
 
My concern coming out of this burglary is that the thieves could have easily snatched my Time Machine drive when they took my MacBook. Needless to say, I’ll be looking into cloud-based back-ups this week.
 

Use Find My iPhone/Mac

 
Find My iPhone/Mac is turned on during the setup of every Apple product, and I’m assuming similar solutions exist for Android. This was crucial because it allowed us to remotely wipe our machines as soon as the thieves turned them on.** We all leave a lot of digital fingerprints behind on our devices and the last thing you need after losing a laptop is having your identity stolen. 
 
I received an email the day after my MacBook Pro went missing saying that the machine had been powered on and immediately wiped itself clean of all user data. That was the most satisfying email I’ve gotten in months.

 *I’m going from a 2.6 GHz Intel i5 in my 2014 MacBook Pro to a 3.0 GHz i5 in my 2017 iMac with the same stock RAM and a 1 TB HDD instead of a 256 GB SDD.
 
** The only frustrating part of setting this up is that it basically guarantees you won’t get the GPS blip of where your device has been taken. Since we knew ours were insured it was easier to just wipe them than try to recover them.

Make Facebook Useful Again

February 11, 2018
Facebook Thumb

Facebook ThumbAs you can probably tell from recent posts on this blog, I’ve been thinking a lot about Facebook lately.

You can call it wishful thinking, but I’ve been seriously trying to get back to a place where Facebook is a useful social tool.

Remember the early-ish days of Facebook? Let’s call it 2007-2012 or so, back when we actually used to share our lives there and talk to each other about the things we posted? I’m not saying that no one does this anymore, but my friend group certainly doesn’t.

I think there are a lot of reasons for this, but here are just a few:

Marketers Ruin Everything

As the brash social media influencer Gary Vaynerchuk has taken to saying, marketers (like Vaynerchuk) ruin everything. We, the public, join a platform and enjoy its intimacy and novelty until the advertisers find out about it. Then the tug-of-war begins. 

How many ads can a user stomach before they leave a site? How can ads look more like content and less like ads? How can we boost engagement? How can we lower CPMs? And so on and so forth…

Facebook, in particular, has been ruined for a lot of people by marketing. The wealth of data on the site has made it a gold mine for advertising technology to exploit. Facebook, the corporation, has (in my opinion) been a bit too eager to sell their data in the name of profitability. It’s beginning to hurt their credibility and drive their users to contribute less to the site.

The Attention Competition

When users get tired of Facebook, either because of ads or because the novelty has worn off, there are now plenty of other networks courting their attention. It wasn’t long ago that Facebook’s only real competition was MySpace. Now there’s more competition with a wider variety of features and innovations than Mark Zuckerberg probably ever anticipated.

In the past, Facebook’s band-aid fix to competition has been to buy it up or rip it off. The company is well known for cramming the features of other popular apps into its products. In doing so, they make their core product bloated and fail to do any one thing really well.

Stories are much better on Snapchat (and even Instagram) than they are in Messenger. I don’t know anyone who uses the Facebook Camera that lives to the left of the News Feed in their mobile apps. And don’t even get me started on Facebook Watch.

The competition for public attention is fierce, but spreading themselves thin seems to have taken Facebook’s eye off the ball. I don’t think I’m on Facebook to buy used furniture or watch viral videos. Didn’t I join this site to keep up with my friends?

The Long Tail of “Friendship”

A lot has been written about how Facebook has changed as more people join it. Gone are the days when you could post a rant about your ex without them or their friends or their family or your family seeing it. Everyone is on Facebook now. 

And even though it’s not literally everyone it feels like functionally everyone. Most people you meet are probably on Facebook, and they would probably be willing to add you as a “friend.” But when your roommate, your mom, your boss, the barista at your local coffee shop and everyone you went to high school and college with are all “friends” the term starts to lose meaning.

Anything you post has to be acceptable to all of those audiences. The algorithm decides which of your various connections see your content. The more people react to your post (positively or negatively) the more people see it. If you get into a political argument with a distant cousin, all of your friends follow the action blow-by-blow. If you get engaged, everyone you’ve ever known sends you their “Congratulations!”

What deserves to last?

All of those posts and comments also last as long as your account does. “On This Day” has made us all painfully aware of the cringe-y garbage we’ve shared over the years. And if anything we share can resurface at any time, that begs the question, “What deserves to last?”

The pressure to post things that paint us in our best light is higher than ever and so is the pressure to not waste peoples’ time. You don’t want to be the “friend” that gets unfollowed for sharing too much stuff, but you don’t want to be a digital hermit either.

A lot of the ephemeral nonsense we used to share, from selfies to sandwiches, is moving to networks like Snapchat that don’t have the same level of permanence. This makes sense. In six years, no one will care what you had for lunch, right?

The problem becomes figuring out what deserves to an entry in our permanent timeline. I have no idea, and it doesn’t seem like most other people do either. 

I was out with friends this week and there was a longer-than-average pause when someone suggested we take a group photo. This felt weird even as we’d been sending photos and videos to Snapchat all night. Looking back through my archive that night I realized I only have maybe a dozen photos of myself with these friends from the two whole years I’ve lived in Atlanta. 

Compare that to the earlier days of Facebook, when I carried around a digital camera and took and posted photos of everything. I’m not saying I want to go back to posting dozens of duck-faced selfies every weekend. I just realized I miss having more permanent records of the fun and meaningful things I’ve done since joining Snapchat and sharing Stories on Instagram.

Make Facebook Useful Again

My quest then, is to make Facebook useful again. I want to spend less time looking at ads, find ways to ignore the bloated features, prune down the number of “friends” I follow and share more of my actual life.

I haven’t completely lost hope in Facebook, but I do think it has lost its way. And maybe we have too.

Creativity in Podcast Advertising

February 5, 2018

From Wired’s Podcast Listeners Really Are the Holy Grail Advertisers Hoped They’d Be:

For starters, it means you don’t need to worry that your feed will become populated with shows nearly identical in structure and length as podcasters rush to optimize around the new data—the doomsday podcast equivalent of, say, pivoting to video.

This article has been blogged near to death at this point by podcasters and advertisers alike. However, I think many people have missed this key section.

One of the big fears of increased interest in the podcasting medium has been that showstopper will become same-y as advertisers gain more influence. The current analytics seem to show that this will not be the case.

Anyone who ventures past the NPR and Gimlet Media realm of podcasting should hopefully know that by now. Shows like Maximum Fun’s My Brother, My Brother and Me have done a fantastic job of integrating ads into the content for years. Nate Dimeo, of Radiotopia’s  The Memory Palace, recently supplemented his advertising supported content with a residency at The Met.

Podcasters across the industry are playing with form, show structure and monetization models in a way unlike the infamous “pivot to video” of four or five years ago. It gives me a lot of hope for podcasts as a medium and generally makes me skeptical of pieces like the above from Wired.

Instagram Finally Allows Post Scheduling

January 30, 2018

From the Instagram Business Blog:

Today, we’re introducing new features to the API, such as allowing businesses to schedule posts, view posts they’ve been tagged in and view other business profiles.

I am over the moon excited about this. It’s honestly been my biggest complaint about Instagram since I started working in the social media industry.

Instagram themselves don’t seem to be all that excited though. The post on Instagram’s own blog doesn’t include a single quote from their leadership team. Instead it includes this quote from the CEO of HootSuite:

The scheduling and publishing of Instagram content has been the number one request for our 16 million customers…Hootsuite is excited to partner with Instagram to make this happen.

Telling isn’t it?

And the Oscar goes to: My Picks for the 90th Annual Academy Awards

January 28, 2018
The Oscars logo

The Oscars logoThe nominations for the 90th Annual Academy Awards (aka the Oscars) were announced this past Monday and since I live with a film student and hang out with a bunch of nerds I’ve become pretty invested in this year’s awards.

I’ve seen six of the nine films nominated for Best Picture and a larger number of the nominees in general this year than usual for me. In fact, I’ve probably watched more movies in the last year than in any other year of my life.

It’s been a great year for film, but it’s honestly kind of a strange year for the Oscars. This year’s major nominees seem like a bit of a motley group compared to years past. Some popular categories, including Best Actor in a Lead Role, have surprisingly weak nominee pools. 

I’m excited for the Academy Awards though, it’s kind of like the Super Bowl for culture nerds. And since the Grammy’s are basically meaningless now, it’s really the only award show that I try to pick winners for. So here are my projections for most of the categories and some honorable mentions that I really just wanted to write about.

Best Picture

My Pick: Lady Bird

I haven’t seen Lady Bird. I really want to, but it seems like most people have already seen it and I just haven’t found a good opportunity to go to the theater. With nearly unanimous acclaim from both critics and audiences I honestly don’t see how this couldn’t win. Lady Bird has been so well-loved it broke the all-time record for positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. It would be nuts for the Academy not to choose this film, especially after the debacle of last year’s Best Picture announcement.

Honorable Mention: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Of the Best Picture contenders I’ve seen, Three Billboards is probably the best overall film. It’s a great look at how grief and trauma affect individuals and communities. It’s also way funnier than a movie about the aftermath of such a violent crime should be. The whole cast does a great job of making Ebbing, Misouri feel like a lived-in community, but Frances McDormand dominates this film in a way I haven’t seen in a long time.

Directing

My Pick: Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk

Not all art is emotionally and physically affecting, but Dunkirk absolutely was for me. The anxiety of this film totally worked on me. The sequences involving sinking boats were totally nerve-wracking. Nolan’s vision of this pivotal battle in the second world war focuses in on the lives of individuals on and around the battlefield and the fear they feel.

Honorable Mention: Guillermo del Toro — The Shape of Water

I’m not normally a fan of Guillermo del Toro, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Below the surface of this film’s surprisingly conventional love story are some really interesting questions about personhood. The story is immersive and well paced like a great novel. The acting is superb and the world feels surprisingly believable. The Shape of Water is an impressive example of the craft of filmmaking.

Original Screenplay

My Pick: Get Out — Jordan Peele

Get Out is one of the only movies that I re-watched this year. A lot has been said about Jordan Peele’s unique blend of horror, humor and social commentary. What blows me away about this screenplay though is how subtly the foundations for the twists are laid throughout. Peele has proven his long-form chops after an impressive history in sketch comedy.

Honorable Mention: The Big Sick — Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani

I really need to see The Big Sick. Nanjiani and company have gotten a lot of praise for the film, but its had some strange distribution making it a bit hard to find. I can see this winning, but without having seen it I’m still rooting for Get Out.

Adapted Screenplay

My Pick: The Disaster Artist — Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber

In the spirit of full disclosure, I kind of love The Room. I’ve watched it four times now,  and probably will a half dozen more times. I’ve been excited about The Disaster Artist all year and it definitely lived up to my expectations. The brothers Franco embody Sestero and Wissaeu well, but the credit must go to Neustadter and Weber for an impressively concise screenplay. They cover a lot of ground, yet The Disaster Artist never really feels rushed. There’s a loving and positive feeling about this movie, even in scenes where it lets you laugh at the character’s complete ineptitude.

Honorable Mention: Call Me By Your Name — James Ivory

I think Call Me By Your Name has a better chance of winning than The Disaster Artist, but I didn’t find the screenplay quite as impressive. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fantastic movie. I just think it’s strengths lie more in the actors performances than the screenplay.

Actor in a Leading Role

My Pick: Gary Oldman — Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill is too good. The hair and makeup team make it almost impossible to see his natural face (more on that below), but he still manages an emotionally stirring performance. He brings a legend to the screen in a performance that feels at times larger than life, but grounds the role in more intimate moments. Darkest Hour feels a little broad (and at times tone deaf) in comparison to Dunkirk, but Oldman blows the doors off in the lead role.

Honorable Mention: Daniel Kaluuya — Get Out

Kaluuya had a lot of work to do in Get Out. He handles a meaty part really well for a young-ish actor in a complex situation. I’d root for him if he didn’t have to contend with the likes of Gary Freaking Oldman in this category this year.

Actress in a Leading Role

My Pick: Sally Hawkins — The Shape of Water

I’m honestly not sure if I’m backing the winning horse here, but Sally Hawkins blew me away in The Shape of Water. She acts 95% of the movie in American Sign Language and shares many of her scenes with an amalgam of motion capture and CGI. She’s emotive with her facial expressions and signing in a way that drew me into a movie that might have otherwise pushed me away. The sequence where she asks Giles to speak her signing aloud is probably the most moving moment of film I saw this year.

Honorable Mention: Saoirse Ronan — Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan has gotten a ton of (presumably) well-deserved hype for Lady Bird. I haven’t seen it so I can’t speak to her performance, but she seems to be many people’s favorite.

Actor in a Supporting Role

My Pick: Sam Rockwell — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I usually hate Sam Rockwell, which is probably just a result of effective type casting. He plays a lot of characters with very punchable faces. His role as Jason Dixon in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Misouri isn’t much of a departure there. Dixon is extremely unsympathetic for most of the movie, and even when he turns things around you’re still not sure you’re supposed to like him. He’s a strange foil to Harrelson’s Chief Willoughby, but I found him to be the second most fascinating character (behind France McDormand’s Mildred, of course).

Honorable Mention: Woody Harrelson — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Woody Harrelson was good as Chief Willoughby in Three Billboards, but the performance didn’t stand out in the same way Rockwell’s did. This part felt like a pretty boilerplate Woody Harrelson role, much like Rockwell’s Dixon, but I’m not sure he brought as much to it.

Actress in a Supporting Role

My Pick: Allison Janney — I, Tonya

Having only seen the trailers for I, Tonya I feel pretty confident in Allison Janney’s chances at taking home the Academy Award in this category. She’s well-known, well-respected and playing a role right up her alley.

Honorable Mention: Octavia Spencer — The Shape of Water

Octavia Spencer did a good job Zelda Fuller in The Shape of Water, but the part felt too similar to other roles she’s played to really impact me. Her best scene, in my opinion, was the brief glance we got into her relationship at home with her husband. She complains about him in many other scenes as a device for comic relief, but seeing more of their relationship first hand might have elevated this role for me.

Animated Feature Film

My Pick: Coco — Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson

I think Coco is probably Pixar’s most visually stunning movie. With each outing they improve one technical element of their software stack that allows them to tell a richer story. This time around it was processing more animated objets on screen than ever before. From massive crowd shots to a beautiful bridge made out of flower petals, Coco includes some of the largest set pieces in Pixar history. It’s story, by contrast, is intimate, familial and personally touching. The original music created for the film is great, the art style is a welcome change of pace and the characters are extremely lovable. Coco is my new favorite animated film.

Honorable Mention: The Boss Baby — Tom McGrath, Ramsey Naito

Can we just admit that this got nominated for the lulz and the dank memes?

Cinematography

My Pick: Dunkirk — Hoyte van Hoytema

There is not a bad shot in Dunkirk. If it’s not beautiful it’s claustrophobic or frenetic. Hoyte van Hoytema manages to capture land, sea and air combat in ways that feel novel despite the war film genre’s extensive baggage. I saw Dunkirk in the theater, but I’d also love to see it in digital 4k. It’s a beautiful film.

Honorable Mention: Blade Runner 2049 — Roger A. Deakins

Deakins did a hell of a job here. For a film with so many synthetic and computer generated elements, Blade Runner 2049 feels, at points, like you could reach out and touch it. The vehicle sequences especially feel like the fully realized version of a vision and a world we only got a glimpse of in the original.

Production Design

My Pick: Blade Runner 2049 — Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola

Though it was definitely well shot, I think the production design of Blade Runner 2049 is really where it shines. It has all the flying cars and holographic billboards of the original, but it adds new layers with drones, elaborately animated AI assistants and a gorgeously run-down futuristic casino. The holographic Elvis was a little tacky, but I’ll let it slide since Elvis himself was a little tacky. Like 

Honorable Mention: Darkest Hour – Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer

It’s good looking World War II movie. Not much else to say.

Visual Effects

My Pick: Blade Runner 2049

The visual effects of the original Blade Runner were ahead of its time, and while 2049 isn’t quite as trailblazing it is still breathtaking. The cityscapes are massive, the CGI characters have impressive texture and depth. This movie is basically three hours of amazing effects.

Honorable Mention: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians 2 looks like a comic book in the best possible way. All of the colors on Ego’s planet are extremely vibrant, everything from the lasers to the explosions are rainbow colored. While the plot of this movie isn’t nearly as interesting as its predecessor the visuals have definitely taken a big leap forward.

Film Editing

My Pick: Baby Driver — Paul Machliss, Jonathan Amos

This was the fastest and most fun movie I saw all year. Baby Driver moves at the breakneck pace you’d hope for in a heist movie. The real secret to the film’s success is the timing of its music cues. Edgar Wright, as per usual, chose a soundtrack that serves as a character element throughout the film. The editors do a fantastic job of timing their cues to make that soundtrack feel like its pushing the film forward.

Honorable Mention: Dunkirk — Lee Smith

I’ve mentioned before that Dunkirk had some seriously affecting sequences and the editing was definitely a key element of that. It could take this Oscar, and it would deserve it, but I’d rather see the statue go to Baby Driver.

Costume Design

My Pick: Darkest Hour — Jacqueline Durran

Period costuming gets a lot of praise, but it seems well deserved in this case. Darkest Hour looks great, and Jacqueline Durran’s costuming is a big part of that.

Honorable Mention: The Shape of Water — Luis Sequeira

There’s a lot of good period costuming in The Shape of Water as well, but I think Darkest Hour is more likely to take home the Academy Award.

Makeup And Hairstyling

My Pick: Darkest Hour — Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick

The transformation of Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill for Darkest Hour is incredible. I remember seeing the trailer for the film before Dunkirk over the summer and honestly not believing it was Oldman under all of that makeup. It’s pretty believable throughout most of the movie. The only things that gives Oldman away are his eyes.

Original Score

My Pick: Dunkirk — Hans Zimmer

Much like his score for Inception, Zimmer does a lot with a little in Dunkirk. Very sparse instrumentation is used to great effect in tense scenes creating a discomforting anxiety. It’s sometimes hard to distinguish non-diegetic score from diegetic airplane engines, and that just ratchets up the intensity of many of the beachfront scenes in Dunkirk.

Honorable Mention: The Shape of Water — Alexandre Desplat

I really love Desplat’s scores including this one for The Shape of Water. He captures a wide range of emotional beats while maintaining a consistent feel throughout the film. There are also some great iconic character themes and motifs.

Original Song

My Pick: “Remember Me” — Coco, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez

There are so many things to love about Coco, but the one that’s stuck with me the longest is “Remember Me.” I saw the movie once, three months ago, and this song is still stuck in my head.

Sound Editing

My Pick: Star Wars: The Last Jedi — Matthew Wood, Ren Klyce

If and when a Star Wars movie is up for an Academy Award its probably for something to do with sound. The franchise has a tradition of immersive sound design and The Last Jedi is no exception. From hyperspace explosions to coins rattling inside of a droid, Episode VIII was a conically complex film that somehow never felt overwhelming to the ears (though the plot certainly was a bit much at times).

Honorable Mention: Dunkirk — Richard King, Alex Gibson

Another movie with a lot going on aurally, Dunkirk did a great job of making its battle sequences feel impactful without going over the top.

Sound Mixing

My Pick: Baby Driver — Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin, Mary H. Ellis

You just can’t talk about Baby Driver without talking about the effective use of soundtrack. There’s music throughout most of this movie, but it’s always used in service to the plot or the development of the characters. The mixing makes all of that possible. At no point is it hard to understand who’s saying what or what is going on, even over the crash of cars or the blaring of Baby’s headphones.

Honorable Mention: Blade Runner 2049— Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill, Mac Ruth

Blade Runner 2049 sounds great, but it looks much better.


So that’s a nearly exhaustive list of my picks for this year’s Oscars. It’s been a great year at the movies and I’m excited to see how it all pans out, but I’m also really glad to have seen so many good films this year. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this good about an award season lineup.