Conor’s Comprehensive Oscar Guide: 2017

(Image from oscars.org)

Welcome to my “comprehensive” guide to the 2017 Academy Awards. I have seen every single nominated film. Yes. All of them. Including the shorts and the docs and the foreign stuff and Suicide Squad and yes, even 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. For those of you that have not seen all (or any) these films (or perhaps have but are curious about my thoughts), I’ve compiled all of my reviews right here for you. If a film is nominated more than once, the review is included with the first appearance of the film and not subsequent nominations.

At the end of all the nominees and my reviews are three lists:

  1. My Predictions (what I think will win)
  2. My “Shadow” Ballot (what I want to win)
  3. The “If Conor Ran the Academy” Ballot (films I think should have been at least nominated (and maybe won), but weren’t)

 

BEST PICTURE

“Arrival”

Solid performances anchored by Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, with Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg providing notable assistance. The way sound is used throughout is remarkable. A very well-shot film, with gorgeously framed shots that could be paintings (as they say).

AND it deals with some really cool complex stuff really well (vagueness because the less you know going in, the better). So, go and watch it. It’s very good.

“Fences”

Wow. A powerful, raw, emotional film anchored in incredible performances from Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, with the rest of the cast supporting in quieter roles, but still very well done.

It might feel a little talk-y and claustrophobic to those unaware of its origins as a play, but I felt it was remarkably engaging even with the main action essentially being dialogue. It’s not very cinematic and I think there’s a lot more that could have been done from that angle.

I couldn’t help thinking about the exploration of toxic masculinity that was happening throughout the narrative (with race and class lenses providing additional commentary and insight).

Anyway, a powerful film.

“Hacksaw Ridge”

The first 1/2-2/3 is incredibly uneven and slow and cheesy. The last 1/2-1/3 (once they’re actually in Japan) is much better. Andrew Garfield does a solid job (though I think his Silence performance is better than this one). Definitely don’t think that Mel Gibson deserves this nomination. There’s some narrative oddities relating to Garfield’s objector status that make some of his decisions less powerful or compelling the way the story is structured. Also, the way the film works with religion is somewhat baffling (Garfield’s religiosity, but the lack of explanation for some of it, the Japanese surrender sequence, Garfield’s fourth-wall breaking prayer to God/the audience, Garfield’s “baptism” after the Ridge, etc.).

Anyway, a good movie, but I didn’t love it. An intriguing story unevenly told. (To be fair, I don’t love war movies generally, so this isn’t really up my alley, though I am a fan of conscientious objectors.)

“Hell or High Water”

Most people seem focused on Jeff Bridges’ (or Chris Pine’s) performance, but for me Ben Foster was the stand-out and emotional core of the film. I liked the film quite a bit, but something didn’t quite resonate with me the way it seemed to for others. It’s well-made and tense and overall, a solid production. Yet, something just didn’t click.

EDIT: So, I saw most of this again (missed the first 20-30 min) and enjoyed it quite a bit more. I still love Ben Foster’s role and think he’s been robbed of recognition. There’s a lot of great mirroring and doubling that takes place that does some fascinating and insightful work. Maybe my 5th favorite after re-watching.

“Hidden Figures”

A very heart-warming film. Lots of good vibes with great performances from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae (who is hilarious). Also, Mahershala Ali is just charming in his small role here. The music has a great Gospel-inflected feel throughout the film (with nice use of actual Gospel standards for the soundtrack). I think this can do a lot of good in representing strong women of color (doing math!). An uplifting story with humor throughout.

“La La Land”

If you could bottle up pure joy and transform it into a film, the result would be La La Land. The opening sequence put a gleeful grin on my face that lasted throughout most of the film. A truly wonderful cinematic delight. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are perfection. The music (sung and otherwise) is beautiful and so so so catchy. The lighting and editing and camerawork are all breathtaking. Wow. (The “I Ran” scene is absolutely hilarious.)

I was pretty confident it was going to be good, but man, this was incredible. To borrow the words of another work of genius, La La Land is passionately smashin’ every expectation (and those expectations were pretty high).

So, yeah, do yourself a favor and bask in the pure, unadulterated delight that this is.

“Lion”

I was excited about this one because of Dev Patel (arguably the greatest part about The Newsroom), but was a bit skeptical given how the material seemed to lend itself to sentimentality. However, I was quite pleasantly surprised at the depth of emotion that the film conveyed without feeling sentimental and cheesy. I think in large part due to the focus of the film being quite different than I had anticipated based on the trailers and synopsis.

Definitely worthy of the many nominations it’s received. Though in addition to Dev Patel’s and Nicole Kidman’s strong performances Rooney Mara does great and Sunny Pawar and Abhishek Bharate are phenomenal as young Saroo and Guddu, respectively. Wow. They give absolutely incredible performances.

There’s some very evocative and effective visuals and mingling of dreams/overlaying the past/visions/etc. that I found worked quite well to produce a haunting and spiritual feeling. Great film. And Sia’s song in the credits is quite catchy (the music throughout is solid).

“Manchester by the Sea”

Beautiful film (the cinematography, the way music is used throughout, the emotions evoked by the editing, the deeply human performances). Casey Affleck anchors a solid cast with a haunting, heart-wrenching performance (Michelle Williams does a great job as well and is particularly remarkable in a scene towards the end of the film (maybe her last scene? I’m not positive about that)).

I’ll be thinking on this one for awhile. The almost mundane, quotidian nature of the tragedy it plays out is striking and deeply moving. There’s a raw reality here that resonates.

“Moonlight”

Wow. A powerful, emotional wallup of a film. Reminiscent of Boyhood in its grappling with mortality and the human experience (though this time with a gay black boy/man as the protagonist). Incredible performances all around (Mahershala Ali! Trevante Rhodes! Ashton Sanders! Janelle Monae! Naomie Harris!) with expressive faces that convey incredible nuances of meaning (the subtlety of the acting is remarkable). The cinematography is phenomenal (James Laxton better be nominated at the least for his work here). The sound is masterful, with classical music woven into sequences in a way that provocatively juxtaposes worlds we typically don’t imagine meeting. This is one that I’ll be processing for some time. Watch it.

 

LEAD ACTOR

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”

Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”

Ryan Gosling, “La La Land,”

Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”

Wow. This was incredible. Heartfelt, moving, hilarious, heartbreaking. Viggo Mortenson is captivating. The music is wonderful and the final sequence with a cover of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” brought tears to my eyes (of just an overflow of all sorts of emotions). A story of family and belonging. Of grief. Of loyalty and love. Of finding or creating your place in the world. Something truly special.

Denzel Washington, “Fences”

 

LEAD ACTRESS

Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”

Isabelle Huppert is incredible and nuanced and frustrating and sympathetic. I can’t say quite the same for the film as a whole. It’s daring, that’s for sure. BUT it left me feeling very very very unsettled (some of which, maybe all of which?, is definitely intended). The way the film resolves just feels wrong (in like a morally objectionable sort of way) and still leaves me feeling sick. I just…can’t.

Ruth Negga, “Loving”

A powerful story that should be known. The film felt a little slow (perhaps due to expectations of the narrative centering on the legal battle aspect of the story), but is grounded in a great performance from Ruth Negga. Joel Edgerton and the rest of the cast are good too, but Negga’s performance blows them away. I was a little underwhelmed with it as a film overall (it’s not bad by any means, just not great), but it’s still definitely worth seeing given the story it’s telling.

Natalie Portman, “Jackie”

Natalie Portman is powerful in this performance (even if the accent is a bit odd and took some getting used to). The film seems to embody some of the attributes of Jackie Kennedy as portrayed in the film. It has an over-the-top, melodramatic-esque feel that drew attention to the spectacle and artifice of the film in a way that was interesting, but left the film less powerful as a whole for me (the music, the narrative structure, the cinematography all contributed to this feeling). Peter Skarsgaard is great as Bobby (though perhaps that’s just because I’ve always felt some kinship and admiration for Bobby, without any evidence that would justify that feeling). But the film is Natalie Portman’s show and she delivers.

Emma Stone, “La La Land”

Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Not a bad movie. Entertaining and decently well made, though I’m quite conflicted about the message of the film. Streep gives a good performance, though if any other actress had done what she did they likely would not have received a nomination.

There are some fun scenes, but for most of the film I felt a strong sense of discomfort (torn between laughing and feeling sorry for Madame Florence). Hugh Grant is solid in his role and Simon Helberg does quite well (Rebecca Ferguson has a strong presence in the relatively small role she has and I wish she’d been given more to do).

 

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”

Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”

Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”

Dev Patel, “Lion”

Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

Ummm. Did not dig this one. I’ll need to process it a bit more, but for now, not a fan. Michael Shannon is probably the best part about the film. It is well shot and the music is effective (maybe overly dramatic?). BUT it felt really pretentiously artsy and obscure for the sake of being artsy and obscure, when it didn’t need to be. It seemed to demand that you sacrifice all notions of “art” to its superior notion (starting with the opening credits, which will be enough to drive many viewers to turn it off or walk out and no matter of preparation can really ready you for). It does have lots of cinematic merit (and like I said, I’ll be processing it a bit, so my thoughts may change).

 

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Viola Davis, “Fences”

Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”

Nicole Kidman, “Lion”

Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”

Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

 

BEST DIRECTOR

“La La Land,” Damien Chazelle

“Hacksaw Ridge,” Mel Gibson

“Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins

“Manchester by the Sea,” Kenneth Lonergan

“Arrival,” Denis Villeneuve

 

ANIMATED FEATURE

“Kubo and the Two Strings,” Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner

A gorgeous film, animation wise. (I’ve mentioned this before, but I adore stop-motion stuff.) I think the film does a great job using the form to play with ideas of creation and artifice (speaking about the animation of all the origami stuff throughout the film–the folding is fantastic and wonderful and it works in stop-motion in a way that I don’t think it would in other mediums or animation techniques).

It’s pretty funny and quirky and fun and adventurous and a little heartbreaking for most of the film and then the end happens. I’m not convinced that I hate it, but I’m definitely torn on the ethics and moral message being sent by the ending. So I’ll be thinking on that and would love to chat about it with people that have seen it. Convince me that it’s great. Or terrible. Or great and terrible, Voldemort-style. Whatever you’re feeling.

“Moana,” John Musker, Ron Clements and Osnat Shurer

Truly delightful. The music is great (“You’re Welcome” and “Shiny” with snatches of “How Far I’ll Go” will be stuck in my head for days), though with Lin-Manual in the mix, what else could you expect? Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson are both stellar. The animation is gorgeous, with some lovely and inventive sequences (the tattoos during “You’re Welcome” and melding of cgi and more traditional animation techniques in particular stand out). A warm, hopeful, human story.

PS Narratively, how they mix in an incredibly rich mythology without feeling overbearing and exposition-heavy, is remarkably impressive.

PPS I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much delight I got from the Kakamora (the coconut pirates).

“My Life as a Zucchini,” Claude Barras and Max Karli

wasn’t planning on seeing this when I left this morning, but when I saw I could squeeze in an Oscar nominee I hadn’t yet seen, I seized the chance.

It was lovely. I’m a sucker for stop motion animation and the quirky, whimsy that style conveys. A pretty heavy, yet simultaneously light and playful heartwarming children’s film. Some stellar voice talent for the English dubbing and an incredible sequence on a “haunted” carnival ride.

“The Red Turtle,” Michael Dudok de Wit and Toshio Suzuki

An absolutely beautiful film. Gorgeous animation. Some of the best use of sound I’ve seen/heard in all my watching. A film that seems far more concerned with evoking emotions than saying something (not just because there’s practically no dialogue). Mostly it’s just beautiful. The color is also used fascinatingly. 

“Zootopia,” Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer

An incredibly clever film. I was thoroughly entertained. The message of inclusion and understanding is also worth listening to.

 

ANIMATED SHORT

“Blind Vaysha,” Theodore Ushev

I really really really liked this one. The animation is beautiful and works really well to enhance the storybook vibe of the short. It was a bit more didactic than I prefer at the end, though that is in keeping with the children’s book/fable vibe that is present throughout the story.

“Borrowed Time,” Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj

WOW. This one is amazing. Beautiful and heart-wrenching. The way cuts and flashbacks are used to build tension for a very interior conflict is remarkable. There’s a moment in the middle-ish that floored me and took my breath away like a punch to the gut.

“Pear Cider and Cigarettes,” Robert Valley and Cara Speller

The aesthetic of this one really resonated with me. It felt like a graphic novel and I thought there were a lot of smart aesthetic choices to represent narrative events. It felt long (I mean it was roughly as long as the other 4 combined), but it may have needed that length to really drown you in the aesthetic (since narratively it’s pretty straightforward and perhaps underwhelming).

“Pearl,” Patrick Osborne

My least favorite, I think. The way music is used throughout is fun and a nice motif and there’s some clever parallel structure going on, but it just didn’t quite work for me (in part I think due to the blocky, kinda clunky vibe of the animation).

“Piper,” Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer

The Disney/Pixar entry, which has absolutely gorgeous and realistic animation. The details of the water and sand and feathers are astounding. It’s cute and fun.

 

BONUS

(not nominated, but shown with the nominated shorts)

“Asteria”

A fun, dark-humored, absurd sci-fi adventure that I laughed at quite a bit. Though no one else seemed to be laughing as much as me, so take that as you will.

“The Head Vanishes”

A quirky, kinda bizarre, but I think really lovely and moving film and aging and memory loss. Also quite funny.

“Once Upon a Line”

Remarkably clever. A fantastically innovative use of the form to tell the story. This one is a lot of fun, just so clever. And it avoids the cliches that it seems verging towards in the middle, which is always a plus.

 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

“Arrival,” Eric Heisserer

“Fences,” August Wilson

“Hidden Figures,” Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi

“Lion,” Luke Davies

“Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney

 

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

“20th Century Women,” Mike Mills

I really enjoyed this in all its meandering and vignette-like structure. There’s some inventive stylistic choices that worked for me. It felt sorta like Boyhood and Moonlight in its humanity (though probably not quite as artfully constructed as either of those two films).

Annette Bening is phenomenal and worthy of recognition for her performance. Elle Fanning, Lucas Jade Zumann, and especially Greta Gerwig are excellent additions. Glad it at least received a screenplay nod. It did feel like Jamie was more of a central role than I’d anticipated (for a film called 20th Century Women), but that could have been my male perspective overly drawn to the male character. Anyway, definitely not for everyone, but I enjoyed it. Hilarious, sad, and heartwarming. Kinda like life.

“Hell or High Water,” Taylor Sheridan

“La La Land,” Damien Chazelle

“The Lobster,” Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou

A blistering, striking film. Bizarre, but worthwhile. It’s like someone took my nightmarish, twisted versions of a singles ward from the deepest, darkest corners of my mind and created a dystopian, bleak but wickedly dark humored film. Insightful to the state of relationships today, as well as more broad insights into the function of societal pressures.

“Manchester by the Sea,” Kenneth Lonergan

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

“Arrival,” Bradford Young

“La La Land,” Linus Sandgren

“Lion,” Greig Fraser

“Moonlight,” James Laxton

“Silence,” Rodrigo Prieto

A thoughtful film about faith and its varied expressions. The sound design used throughout is incredible, exclusively (or almost exclusively) composed of diegetic sound. There’s a lot to chew on here, particularly for religious persons (and if you’ve seen it, I’d love to chat about it).

There’s a bold choice towards the end that I think pays off, though I think the film gets a bit heavy-handed after that (for the last thirty minutes or so) and probably could have ended earlier, but that’s just quibbling. And it’s Scorsese’s movie, not mine.

 

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

“13th,” Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick and Howard Barish

Woah. Heavy stuff here. I knew some of this on some level, but having it all presented like this was powerful (and an interesting companion to Moonlight). A well-done documentary. Some bits were a bit heavy-handed/forced/overly extreme, but with understandable reason.

“Fire at Sea,” Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo

Very well done. It felt less didactic than the other documentaries (and most documentaries), with an explorative, almost objective feel–as though it was simply presenting how life is on the Italian island of Lampedusa. There’s some poignant scenes and some absolutely breathtaking cinematography (the underwater, scuba diver sequences–especially the one at night with the storm, the night shot of the lighthouse/outpost raising the gate for the helicopter, the shot towards the end of the moon with the clouds/smoke rising in front of it).

Also, the use of sound–silence or almost silence with small breaks of diagetic sound, the return to the radio station and that music, etc. Well done.

“I Am Not Your Negro,” Raoul Peck, Remi Grellety and Hebert Peck

It took me probably 20 minutes or so to settle into the tone and feel of this, but once I did, wow. There’s a lot of compelling visuals mixed with very dense and literary narration. The music used is great and the film overall is very emotionally evocative. I feel like this is a largely pathos driven presentation, which could seem like a criticism, but isn’t. It works very well and deals with complex issues in a fascinating, grounded, personal way. Quite good.

“Life, Animated,” Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman

A moving film about a man with autism and the love and support of his family as he navigates life using animated Disney films. The animated “Land of the Lost Sidekicks” sequences are gorgeous and wonderful.

There’s a simplicity, but deep human goodness present throughout the film that is touching and beautiful. A testament to goodness being able to come from difficult circumstances. A powerful story well told.

“O.J.: Made in America,” Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow

This is incredible. A fantastic piece of film, though I think it’s unfair to categorize it as a film with its nearly 8hr running time. Far more like a mini-series than a movie, so I hope it doesn’t win purely because I think it’s cheating.

That aside, wow. An in-depth and insightful view at O.J. himself and at the culture that surrounded his trial and the racial concerns that were heavy in the air. There’s a lot of contextual work here that is fascinating and provides an engaging narrative for understanding what happened during the trial.

Be warned there’s a lot of graphic material, also I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so much anger while watching something (towards an individual, failing legal institutions, injustice, racism, etc.) and I’m not really prone to anger. Anyway, a remarkably well-done work. I couldn’t help but wonder about how class (or you know, O.J.’s inordinate fame and wealth) fit into the picture (that could have been because as I watched the fifth and final part this morning I had just read some marxist theory for class).

 

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

“4.1 Miles,” Daphne Matziaraki

A nice companion to Fire at Sea. I found it less moving than that film (partially due to length constraints, but also due to some of the choices I think). Not my favorite. A heartbreaking story, but not a great short.

“Extremis,” Dan Krauss

Devastating. An insightful, emotional, and heartbreaking look at end-of-life decisions. The shortness works really well to create a sense of urgency and abrupt nature of the process for the families that are shown. The cinematography works well and it’s just generally quite well done. Powerful and emotional without feeling melodramatic.

“Joe’s Violin,” Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen

A fairly simple story that seems in some respects unremarkable, but is quite moving. A story about the power of music, shared human connections, surviving, finding and making beauty in the face of tragedy, and (to borrow a scriptural phrase) how by small and simple means, great things are brought to pass.

Well made with nice and fluid transitions from present to past making interesting and moving juxtapositions.

“Watani: My Homeland,” Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis

Another one that I should revisit at some point because the subtitles from the German were not great and I missed quite a bit I think. However, this was still a pretty powerful story and, I thought, moving with some striking visuals (notably the kids ducking and moving for cover when a plane flies overhead in Germany, or maybe Turkey).

“The White Helmets,” Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

Powerful, hopeful, inspiring, devastating. There’s a lot going on here and it’s incredibly moving. Also heart-wrenching. The sense of humanity and hope maintained in the face of such senseless violence is remarkable and empowering. It’s also lovely to see the religious (specifically Islamic) motivations for these people’s acts of sacrifice and rescue. Definitely worth watching.

 

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

“Ennemis Interieurs,” Selim Azzazi [France]

Devastating. But a quiet sort of devastation. This one is really really good. I think my pick for the best. The two main actors are incredible (Hassam Ghancy and Najib Oudghiri). A powerful film.

“La Femme et le TGV,” Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff [Switzerland]

Also delightful. Touching and funny and human. Jane Birkin is incredible in the central performance. Very good.

“Silent Nights,” Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson [Denmark]

A moving story of compassion and refugees. Very well acted.

“Sing,” Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy [Hungary]

A charming story that starts somewhat tragic, but gets to a moving, clever climax.

“Timecode,” Juanjo Gimenez [Spain]

A delightful short. Reminiscent somewhat of the music video for “Weapon of Choice” by Fatboy Slim, starring Christopher Walken (and directed by Spike Jonze!), though far more grounded than the music video is. Anyway, delightful.

 

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

“A Man Called Ove,” Sweden

Delightful. A charming film about a crotchety old man and learning to feel and love after loss and heartache. There’s a lot of hilarity here in a remarkably mundane/quotidian, but extraordinarily detailed and particular sort of way. Not like the absurd, quirky/whimsy of Toni Erdmann, this is much more grounded. There’s also a pretty dark-humored streak that runs throughout the film that I LOVED, but may be a bit much for some people. An interesting and effective use of flashbacks and dream-like sequences.

“Land of Mine,” Denmark

I think this is a pretty powerful film with a powerful story. The music and sound generally is used to great effect. There’s a lot of striking images and I think solid performances. However, my viewing experience was not ideal (I was distracted by a number of things and given the limited availability of the film it was a bit choppy and the subtitles were low quality and there were two layers of them, one of which was delayed by 3-5 minutes). Anyway, I’ll need to watch this one again under more favorable circumstances.

“Tanna,” Australia

I enjoyed this quite a bit. It is gorgeously shot (especially all the sequences around the volcano). There’s a lot of interesting questions raised about tradition and progress and individual and communal loyalties that I found quite fascinating and insightful in relation to my Mormon experience.

The first film ever shot entirely in Vanuatu (a South Pacific island), starring non-professionals. It was developed with the Yakel tribe who star in the film. So, that’s pretty cool.

“The Salesman,” Iran

I really really liked this. The acting is fantastic, it’s beautifully constructed (weaving in some classic lit with Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman), and thought-provoking. There’s a lot of interesting work done to play with empathy and your sympathies as an audience, that challenges your sense of what’s right in very productive and provocative ways.

I feel like this deals with some of the same themes as Elle, but far better (I could be totally misreading Elle and it may be unfair to compare the two, but I couldn’t help myself). This is also far less graphic than Elle, which probably plays into that.

If I’d seen this before making my top 10 of 2016, I think it would’ve made it on that list.

“Toni Erdmann,” Germany

Delightful. A charming story about a father and daughter that introduces some interesting tension with emotion and a lot of quirky humor. Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek are both extraordinary. It’s kinda wacky (well, really wacky) and silly and perhaps a bit low-brow, but also touching and good fun.

Sound is used really well throughout the film, with silences and pauses emphasized in powerful ways.

 

FILM EDITING

“Arrival,” Joe Walker

“Hacksaw Ridge,” John Gilbert

“Hell or High Water,” Jake Roberts

“La La Land,” Tom Cross

“Moonlight,” Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon

 

SOUND EDITING

“Arrival,” Sylvain Bellemare

“Deep Water Horizon,” Wylie Stateman and Renee Tondelli

A decent movie. Performances are serviceable. Some emotional moments (though they felt a bit like emotional cheap-shots to me). The way the film is bookended felt like it promised certain things that were not delivered (and felt generally a bit slipshod and awkward). There are some shockingly good effects (particularly throughout the main explosion/breakdown sequence).

Another film that felt a bit confused as to what story it wanted to tell (everyday heroes, bp is evil, environmentalism, safety first, trauma, legal fallout, legal injustices, etc.), which definitely hampered its effectiveness.

“Hacksaw Ridge,” Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright

“La La Land,” Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan

“Sully,” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

Not a great film, but some great moments. The scene towards the middle of the film once the plane has landed on (in?) the Hudson and everyone is evacuating had me in tears and feeling all sorts of emotions that I still can’t really identify. Tom Hanks is fine, Aaron Eckhart does well.

 

SOUND MIXING

“Arrival,” Bernard Gariepy Strobl and Claude La Haye

“Hacksaw Ridge,” Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace

“La La Land,” Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

I liked it, quite a bit. Lots of good stuff going on (Felicity Jones is, unsurprisingly, incredible, Donnie Yen is great, Diego Luna is pretty solid especially early on, Alan Tudyk is a delight, if at times feeling like he was part of a different movie).

It’s gorgeous and fun to have a different vibe, but it seemed to be missing something and I’m not quite sure what that is. Also, in as non-spoiler-y a way as possible: VADER. That’s what I’m talking about.

I wanted some more character development and exploration of the provocative themes that are hinted at throughout the movie, but still a fun ride.

“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth

While the main events are not focused on the politics, the framing of the story and surrounding events are definitely political (and in some key scenes are, if not flat out wrong, heavily contested). Politics aside, it’s not a *terrible* movie. The sound mixing is good (though I’m not an expert in that area I’d be surprised if there wasn’t another more, or at least equally, worthy contender).

The performances are fine for the most part. However, despite my love for John Krasinski, he is simply unbelievable in this role. I buy his connection to Roone and the emotional moments with his family are solid, but I just can’t believe that he’d be a military contractor dude (or whatever his technical position is).

Also, there’s a lot of funky lens flare-y royal blue lines all over the screen.

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

“Arrival,” Patrice Vermette, Paul Hotte

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” Stuart Craig, Anna Pinnock

The MAGIC is back. Wow. It was lovely. So many magical creatures and awesome magic world-building stuff. Awesome. In addition to visual wonder and awe, the performances are solid (Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, and especially Dan Fogler).

Powerful themes (that seem particularly resonant now). A bit darker than I was anticipating. Brought back the magic of the books–that sense of transportation and wonder. (Also, everyone looks incredible–all the long overcoats are classy classy classy.) The jazz riffs in the music work well to build the atmosphere too.

“Hail, Caesar!,” Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh

An absurd, absolutely delightful film. LOVED it. A movie about movies that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but explores some of the oddities of the film world and film’s place in our world. The performances are stellar and the film is packed with stars often in relatively minor roles, showing up for a scene or two. The film meanders and doesn’t neatly tie up all the loose ends, but still comes to a satisfying resolution. Also, some interesting ideas about religion and faith that I found quite poignant in the hilarity.

“La La Land,” David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco

“Passengers,” Guy Hendrix Dyas, Gene Serdena

The music is quite effective throughout the film and there’s a lot of gorgeous design (some is quite fun and imaginative and cool). The movie isn’t terrible, though there are lots of problematic pieces and some really lackluster elements.

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence each have a great scene (Pratt’s heartbreaking sequence before Lawrence wakes up and Lawrence’s rage after learning the circumstances of her coming out of hibernation), but besides that are pretty flat. They do the best they can, but they’re written poorly, without much (if any) motivation or understandable backstory.

Perhaps the greatest flaw though is that the film can’t quite decide what it wants to be. It’s a romantic drama dealing with some interesting ethical questions that devolves into pretty run of the mill sci-fi ‘save-the-ship!’ antics that ignore the ethical questions in quite troubling ways (with some uncomfortable implications).

Passengers: Being with a Selfish, Stalker, Life-taker (“Murderer”) is Better than Being Alone

 

ORIGINAL SCORE

“Jackie,” Mica Levi

“La La Land,” Justin Hurwitz

“Lion,” Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka

“Moonlight,” Nicholas Britell

“Passengers,” Thomas Newman

 

ORIGINAL SONG

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” “La La Land” — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” “Trolls” — Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster

A fun movie. I went in with absolutely no expectations and wasn’t disappointed. The music is enjoyable for the most part, though I still think Sing Street should have got a nomination over this.

I probably won’t go out of my way to watch it again, but it’s a decent way to spend 90min with an animated movie. There’s some cool animation techniques though.

“City of Stars,” “La La Land” — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

“The Empty Chair,” “Jim: The James Foley Story” — Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting

This was a pretty solid documentary. The song’s fine (though like I said about Trolls, definitely should not have edged out any number of songs from Sing Street). An interesting and tragic story well told. I’m glad I checked this out, since I probably would not have without my Oscar Nom completist streak.

“How Far I’ll Go,” “Moana” — Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

 

MAKEUP AND HAIR

“A Man Called Ove,” Eva von Bahr and Love Larson

“Star Trek Beyond,” Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo

An entertaining, space action romp. Not as good as the 2009 reboot (maybe better than Into Darkness? My feelings on that one seemed to shift pretty dramatically with each viewing and I haven’t seen it for awhile, so hard to compare). I still think the casting was pretty spot-on all around, with all the major players doing great work. The villain felt a little whatever, just your run of the mill, bland, bitter space-dude. There’s a nice balance of hand-to-hand combat and space battles (with some crazy stuff early on against the Enterprise). The music that’s featured in the trailers and felt totally out of place, takes a fitting role in the film (that I think retroactively makes the trailer better, not great, but better). Sure, there are lots of kinda coincidental things that come together for everything to work, but it was fun.

“Suicide Squad,” Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson

An absolutely spectacular mess of a movie. There’s a lot going on and some weird plot contrivances, but it was fun. The soundtrack is top-notch (and used with Guardians of the Galaxy-style precision, though less diagetic overall). Margot Robbie is frightening and wonderful and magnetic, Viola Davis is cold and ruthless, and Will Smith is solid. Ridiculous and it knows it. Handles its large cast of largely unknown supervillains pretty well, with some goofy, but quite-fitting intro sequences (complete with stats and info alongside the characters in the typeface used throughout the marketing campaign). Not amazing, but it rampages about with style and that’s worth something.

 

COSTUME DESIGN

“Allied,” Joanna Johnston

A remarkably underwhelming film. It was alright, but I just wasn’t enthralled with it.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” Colleen Atwood

“Florence Foster Jenkins,” Consolata Boyle

“Jackie,” Madeline Fontaine

“La La Land,” Mary Zophres

 

VISUAL EFFECTS

“Deepwater Horizon,” Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton

“Doctor Strange,” Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould

One of the most visually inventive films I’ve seen. Period. It’s like Inception meets that trippy tunnel sequence from Willy Wonka meets Speed Racer meets Yellow Submarine (on a purely visual level). So that was AWESOME. They open strong with this and keep upping the ante in interesting ways that play with some of the possibilities and leave you hungry for more of what they can do.

Unfortunately, the characters felt a little flat (with the villain having one of the most empathetic moments in the film, which if you know how flat Marvel villains are is quite a statement). They weren’t *bad*, just unremarkable. Motivations were fuzzy, people were inconsistent or underutilized or unexplained. And the general narrative arc for the characters felt well-trodden and unsurprising (it works, but you’ve seen it before). Tilda Swinton is pretty phenomenal in her role (though it’s not without complications of white-washing and other things). Benedict Cumberbatch does a fine job (his American accent is a bit weird and he’s giving a heavily RDJ-inspired performance), but wasn’t the stand-out I was hoping for.

However, it’s still a good movie and one worth watching. The visual inventiveness is definitely worth the ride, even with familiar, unsurprising narrative elements. Also, this is the most overtly spiritual of the Marvel films (in a mystical sort of way) and it explores faith crisis in some interesting ways.

“The Jungle Book,” Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon

Entertaining. Bill Murray is the highlight. Christopher Walken is Christopher Walken (with a hilarious cowbell gag), but an awkward semi-musical number. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is quite impressive, particularly for a child. Idris Elba was hit and miss for me. Scarlett Johansson as Kaa was an interesting choice that didn’t resonate with others, but I think the otherworldly qualities of her voice worked well for the hypnotic effect the film was working to produce.

“Kubo and the Two Strings,” Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould

 

 

PREDICTIONS

BEST PICTURE: La La Land

This seems like La La Land’s to lose. It might with some of the backlash it’s been facing, but I don’t think that backlash is coming from enough of the voting population to matter. Also, it’s usually a bad idea to bet against Hollywood’s self-love. Particularly when that love is portrayed in such a gorgeous, technically well-crafted marvel such as this.

LEAD ACTOR: Denzel Washington, Fences

Casey Affleck felt like a lock until a week or so ago and could still pull it out, but Denzel seems to have the momentum. This one feels like 50/50 either way though.

LEAD ACTRESS: Emma Stone, La La Land

She almost definitely has this in the bag. Natalie Portman’s faded dramatically and Stone has a lot going for her and rounds out a kinda flatly written character.

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

He’s incredible and I love him and he gave a glorious speech at the SAGs and Moonlight will probably get far less love than it deserves, so may it at least get this.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Viola Davis, Fences

There’s ugly crying and then there’s snot crying. Give her the Oscar already.

BEST DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

He’s young. He’s hip. He loves Hollywood. He’s charming. He’s incredibly gifted and incredibly talented.

ANIMATED FEATURE: Zootopia

A well-made, beautifully animated, critically loved film that also happens to have a resonant and relevant political allegory? Yeah, Oscar-winner written all over it.

ANIMATED SHORT: “Piper”

Pixar made, seen by loads of the Academy, gorgeous, and it seems like people didn’t really like most of the others.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Moonlight, Barry Jenkins

Again, a place to reward Moonlight without stealing from La La Land. Arrival could offer some competition, but probably won’t beat out Moonlight.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan

Maybe the only award that Manchester will get, which is also a shame. But the writing is phenomenal. Absolutely gorgeous scripting here (helps that he’s a former playwright).

CINEMATOGRAPHY: La La Land

Beautifully shot and the likely Best Picture winner, so it’ll probably take loads of the below the line stuff.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: O.J.: Made in America

Even though it’s crazy long and arguably TV, not a movie, it’s remarkable and will probably win.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT: “The White Helmets”

A powerful, politically relevant story that also happens to have been optioned for a feature-length film by George Clooney.

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: “Sing”

Happy ish and fun, but also maybe a political allegory?

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: The Salesman

Controversy from the travel ban and the director’s (Asgar Farhadi) boycott of the Oscars, along with it being a phenomenal film have probably cemented its place as the winner.

FILM EDITING: La La Land

See “Cinematography.”

SOUND EDITING: Hacksaw Ridge

A place to reward Hacksaw Ridge and a category that frequently allows more action-type flicks to get some recognition.

SOUND MIXING: La La Land

See “Cinematography.”

PRODUCTION DESIGN: La La Land

See “Cinematography.”

ORIGINAL SCORE: La La Land

See “Cinematography.” Also, it’s an original musical, so it better win this.

ORIGINAL SONG: “City of Stars”, La La Land

See “Cinematography.” And it’s a musical. The only possible downfall is that it is competing against itself, which may sufficiently split ballots to let something else slip in.

MAKEUP AND HAIR: Star Trek Beyond

Probably won’t be A Man Called Ove, and the Academy would be a laughingstock for granting Suicide Squad the win. Also, the 2009 Star Trek reboot film won in this category.

COSTUME DESIGN: La La Land

See “Cinematography.” Also, Emma’s yellow dress.

VISUAL EFFECTS: The Jungle Book

It’s like close to 100% visual effects, looks decent, and was filmed in L.A., so probably has it in the bag.

 

10/14 for La La Land, not quite record tie-ing or breaking.

 

SHADOW BALLOT

(What I would *love* to see win)

BEST PICTURE: Moonlight OR Arrival

LEAD ACTOR: Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

LEAD ACTRESS: Ruth Negga, Loving

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Viola Davis, Fences

BEST DIRECTOR: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

ANIMATED FEATURE: Kubo and the Two Strings

ANIMATED SHORT: “Borrowed Time”

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Arrival

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: The Lobster

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Silence

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: O.J.: Made in America

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT: “Watani: My Homeland”

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: “Ennemis Interieurs”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: The Salesman

FILM EDITING: Arrival

SOUND EDITING: Arrival

SOUND MIXING: Arrival

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Hail, Caesar!

ORIGINAL SCORE: Jackie

ORIGINAL SONG: “How Far I’ll Go,” Moana

MAKEUP AND HAIR: Suicide Squad

COSTUME DESIGN: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

VISUAL EFFECTS: Doctor Strange

 

DREAM BALLOT

(What I’d want to win that wasn’t nominated)

BEST PICTURE: The Lobster

LEAD ACTOR: Andrew Garfield, Silence

LEAD ACTRESS: Viola Davis, Fences

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Sunny Pawar, Lion

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women

BEST DIRECTOR: David Farrier & Dylan Reeve, Tickled

ANIMATED FEATURE: NA

ANIMATED SHORT: “The Head Vanishes”

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: NA

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Swiss Army Man

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Hail, Caesar!

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Tickled

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT: NA

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: NA

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: NA

FILM EDITING: Silence

SOUND EDITING: Swiss Army Man

SOUND MIXING: Silence

PRODUCTION DESIGN: The Lobster

ORIGINAL SCORE: Arrival

ORIGINAL SONG: “Drive It Like You Stole It,” Sing Street

MAKEUP AND HAIR: Swiss Army Man

COSTUME DESIGN: Hail, Caesar!

VISUAL EFFECTS: Swiss Army Man

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