2017: An Oscar Primer
I’ve got a few more . . . ummm, minutes before showtime, let’s talk Oscar nominees! There are 9 nominees for Best Picture next year, 1 more than the last 2 years, just like the 2 years before that. Here they are:
Arrival – Several giant alien ships suddenly appear at various points around the globe, and Amy Adams is a linguist who presents humanity’s best hope of understanding what they want before various militaries with itchy trigger-fingers do something rash. This is the kind of sci-fi movie that we don’t see enough of . . . brilliantly made at every level and full of big ideas. It has 8 nominations: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing.
Fences – A working-class African-American family in the 1950s struggles with various events as the patriarch works to master the demons of his past and present. This is based on an acclaimed play, and it really shows, but that does nothing to detract from the power of the writing and of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis’s performances. The movie has 4 nominations: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay.
Hacksaw Ridge – Based on the true story of World War II combat medic Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to win a Medal of Honor. Doss’s commitment to nonviolence led him to enter battle unarmed, but his courage saved the lives of dozens of wounded men. It’s an incredible story, and an idea (the power of nonviolence and the value of life) that is very close to my heart. It’s a shame that the film ultimately couldn’t rise above a fetish for more violent forms of heroism, which ultimately undercuts what it ought to be about. This film has 6 nominations: Best Director, Best Actor, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing.
Hell or High Water – Two brothers on the verge of financial disaster execute a carefully-planned series of bank heists in small towns across West Texas. Meanwhile, a Texas Ranger on the verge of retiring follows tenaciously in their wake. I adored this film, in part for its perfect understanding of the hard country in which it is set, but also for the excellence of its performances and the tension it maintains throughout. It has 4 nominations: Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing.
Hidden Figures – In 1960s Virginia, as NASA scrambles to catch up with the Soviet space program, three African-American women play significant behind-the-scenes roles in America’s success. This is rousing, crowd-pleasing stuff that’s very satisfying and fun to watch, and gives well-deserved recognition to people who have long been denied it, even if it didn’t all quite go down quite as triumphantly as the movie suggests. The movie has 3 nominations: Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay.
La La Land – An aspiring actress struggling to make it in Hollywood finds romance with a talented jazz musician battling to find popular appreciation for a fading art form, and musical sparks fly. Light and fluffy and super-enjoyable, this throwback to old-school Hollywood musicals is tailor-made for Oscar appreciation, but don’t let the backlash effect of excessive adulation convince you that it’s not a fine little film in its own right. It has a stunning 14 nominations, tying with Titanic and All About Eve for most-nominated film of all-time: Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song (2 nominations), Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing.
Lion – A small boy in rural India falls asleep aboard a train and is carried hundreds of miles from home with no idea of where he is from or how to find his family again. Adopted by an Australian couple, he is a grown man before he can begin to try and track down the life he lost. This is a powerful and incredibly emotional viewing experience, though it’s weighted down by an unnecessarily draggy middle section. The film has 6 nominations: Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score.
Manchester by the Sea – When his older brother dies, a man who fled a tragic past is forced to return to the small town where he grew up to take charge of his teenage nephew. This is what they used to call a “male weepie,” and it’s certainly effective at that. Well-acted, well-written . . . but you’d better be in the mood for it. It’s got 6 nominations: Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay.
Moonlight – A young boy growing up in a tough neighborhood struggles with issues of identity, family, drugs, bullying, and crime. It’s really something to see a film like this get this kind of attention. It’s a film that didn’t speak to me like some films do, but one that I was really happy to hear about and to see. Top-notch. The movie has 8 nominations: Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score.
The other nominees I’ve seen:
–Jackie, 3 nominations. I enjoyed this more than I expected to. Natalie Portman is amazing in this role, and while I found the structure a bit off-putting at first, it ended up being highly effective.
–Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, 2 nominations. It’s not the best Harry Potter movie ever, nor is it the worst. I’m not sure I have much more to say about it than that. It’s entertaining, but not great, and I’m not sure where this franchise goes from here.
–Kubo and the Two Strings, 2 nominations. I’m extremely sad that this movie didn’t get more notice, and that it’s unlikely to actually win any awards. This is definitely one of my top favorite movies of the year, and I would have nominated it for several additional categories.
–Moana, 2 nominations. Disney’s strong run of traditional animated classics continues with this Polynesian romp. Great characters, great musical numbers, and just an all-around good time.
–Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 2 nominations. Star Wars is back in a big way, and though this movie didn’t give me as much pure joy as last year’s The Force Awakens, I think it might be the better film. I liked it a lot.
–13th, 1 nomination. This is the only documentary nominee I’ve managed to see, and it is fantastic and highly-recommended. It has become even more relevant in the months since it was released. Everyone should see this movie.
–20th Century Women, 1 nomination. Did it not strike anyone as odd that a movie like this ends up failing the Bechdel Test by centering so much of itself around a male character? I liked it fine, and the writing and performances are certainly excellent, but it didn’t do a lot for me otherwise.
–Doctor Strange, 1 nomination. A very enjoyable and non-traditional superhero film, it is (kind of) the only one of this year’s superhero movies to score a nomination, and deservedly so.
–Hail, Caesar!, 1 nomination. Thank goodness this was at least nominated for something. This was the funniest movie of the year, and another classic from the Coen Brothers.
–The Jungle Book, 1 nomination. As live-action Disney remakes go, this is fine. It didn’t really do much for me, but it was solid, and certainly deserves at least a nod for its visual effects.
–The Lobster, 1 nomination. This is razor-sharp satire that is totally brilliant, but its so biting that I found it almost unbearable at points.
–Silence, 1 nomination. Definitely the most-overlooked film of this Oscar season, I suspect that this will eventually be remembered as one of many Oscar bloopers, and as one of Scorsese’s best films.
–Star Trek Beyond, 1 nomination. This film was so much better than the last one in the series. I found it extremely enjoyable, if not truly great.
–Sully, 1 nomination. This felt like a really good movie while I was watching it, but it was ultimately pretty slight and somewhat forgettable. I’d watch it again and enjoy it again, but it doesn’t feel terribly significant.
–Zootopia, 1 nomination. This is my least favorite of the 3 animated film nominees that I’ve seen, but I still really really liked it. I think in another year, it’d be a strong pick, but I think it was far from the best this year.
The nominees I still want to see:
–Allied, 1 nomination.
–Captain Fantastic, 1 nomination.
–Elle, 1 nomination.
–Florence Foster Jenkins, 2 nominations.
–I Am Not Your Negro, 1 nomination.
–Jim: The James Foley Story, 1 nomination.
–Life, Animated, 1 nomination.
–Loving, 1 nomination.
–My Life as a Zucchini, 1 nomination.
–Nocturnal Animals, 1 nomination.
–O.J.: Made in America, 1 nomination.
–The Red Turtle, 1 nomination.
–Suicide Squad, 1 nomination.
–Trolls, 1 nomination.
All the foreign film nominees.
The nominees I can take or leave:
–13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, 1 nomination.
–Deepwater Horizon, 1 nomination.
–Passengers, 2 nominations.
The non-minees, neglected movies that made me ask, “What happened?”
–Tower, My favorite film that wasn’t nominated. This should have been nominated for Best Documentary, and it could have been nominated for Best Animated Film, among others. It’s a riveting, powerful film and you should check it out.
–Love & Friendship, This is my favorite Austen adaptation of all time. It’s hilarious and brilliant and I can’t believe no one noticed that Kate Beckinsale was massively snubbed when she wasn’t nominated.
–10 Cloverfield Lane, This was maybe the biggest surprise of the year. First, it was so odd that it existed, and second, it was such a shock that it was so good.
–Green Room, Maybe it’s not weird that this wild B-movie thriller didn’t get a nomination, but it was a really great film nonetheless.
–The Edge of Seventeen, This was such an enjoyable, charming film. I really can’t believe it didn’t get more attention, or any nominations.
–Midnight Special, At least Jeff Nichols wasn’t entirely ignored, thanks to Loving, but this was a great film as well.
–Finding Dory, What happened, Pixar?! How did they get shut out of awards consideration with this massive success? It wasn’t their best film, certainly, nor was it superior to Finding Nemo, but it absolutely deserved a spot on the list.
–Queen of Katwe, Really charming, winsome film that I hardly heard about after it was released. A shame that it apparently sank without a trace.
–The Nice Guys, This was a huge amount of fun and had a really sharp script.
–Weiner, I’m extremely surprised this incredible political documentary didn’t score a spot on the documentary list.
Captain America: Civil War, I’m not sure I’d have nominated this for anything, although I did like it, but I am surprised it didn’t get a nomination for anything.
There are actually many other great films this year that I look forward to seeing, and that I expect could have been on my non-minees list, but I’ve done a lousy job keeping up this year, so this is where we’re at. The beginning of the ceremony is upon us now, so it’s time to switch over to the commentary and see how this plays out. I’m expecting to be disappointed this year, but you never know. We’ll see what happens soon!