Sunday, February 26, 2017

OSCAR 2017 - Pre-Show Thoughts & Predictions & Rants

OSCARS 2017 Thoughts and Predictions:

2016 was somewhat of a mixed-bag year for movies (especially for movies in the prestige, Oscar-bait category), which makes this year's Oscars feel slightly underwhelming on paper. The good news? The Oscars finally got diverse this year: movies about minorities are finally being recognized - with fantastic films like Fences, Moonlight, and Hidden Figures getting major Oscar love. In this post-Trump era, in which our government is comprised of white-nationalist, alt-right racists - the diversity represented in film's most prestigious awards ceremony is encouraging and much-needed. That said, the less encouraging thing is that the Oscars still feel too much like a political campaign rather than a pure reflection on what was good and what was great in the past year. Once again, outstanding films that were too genre, too indie, or too under-campaigned-for by big studios were shut out. It's a shame, because I genuinely loved this year's shoe-in favorite, La La Land. But I also get the weariness people feel when it seems like one movie is predestined to win it all. Also - so ... Hollywood has already forgiven Mel Gibson? Come on. This guy spewed the most vile hate-speech this side of a KKK rally, and has done little to make the case for a full exoneration. No major studio should be working with him. Hacksaw Ridge's nomination for Best Picture, in my mind, sours this year's Oscars. Meanwhile, any film fan worth his or her salt knows that some of 2016's best films included the likes of The Witch, Green Room, 20th Century Women, The Handmaiden, Hail Caesar!, Sing Street, and Hello, My Name Is Doris. But ... and this is not all that unexpected, given the Oscars' track record ... those films were snubbed.

Speaking of movies that got ignored ... here are my Top 10 OSCAR SNUBS for this year:

1.) The Witch - Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Anna Taylor Joy), Best Director (Robert Eggers)

- Horror movies have occasionally been nominated for Oscars, but it's still rare. That said, if any recent horror movie felt genuinely "Oscar-y," it was THE WITCH. It was not just a great, bone-chilling horror film - but a meticulously-assembled period drama and a hyper-relevant allegory about paranoia and division. In an age of modern-day witch-hunts, it's a shame that The Witch isn't getting wider recognition (it did, however, win two Independent Spirit awards). Also - Anna Taylor-Joy in this delivers a breakthrough performance ... as much as Hailee Steinfeld did in True Grit or Jennifer Lawrence did in Winter's Bone. She should have been nominated.

2.) Annette Benning - Best Lead Actress for 20th Century Women.

- Annette Benning kills in 20th Century Women, in an absolutely tour de force performance. Did the Oscars really give Meryl Streep a nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins over this? I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the timing of the film's release - but again, this is where the Oscars are fundamentally broken. Let critics and journalists vote on the nominees, not Academy members who only see the movies that have been fed to them by studios long before ballots are due.

3.) Captain Fantastic - Best Picture

- It was nice to see Viggo get a Best Actor nom for this one. But, really, why not a Best Picture nom as well? Captain Fantastic was one of 2016's most affecting, memorable films. It should have been in the mix.

4.) Best Director - Tom Ford for Nocturnal Animals

- Here is why I feel strongly about this: no film sequence in 2016 had me more on the edge of my seat than Nocturnal Animals' harrowing roadside abduction sequence. I could barely breathe. That's some masterful directing by Ford, and it should have been recognized.

5.) Green Room - Best Picture, Best Director (Jeremy Saulnier)

- Classic example of a grindhouse-y genre film that should have been nominated but wasn't, because it was directed by someone other than Tarantino. Well guys, it's time to start talking about Saulnier as a new-era Tarantino. Sure, this is only his second film - but La La Land is Chazelle's second film, so ... In any case, the fact is that Green Room is a master-class in tension-packed filmmaking. It's a white-knuckle thriller that kicks all kinds of ass.

6.) Hail, Caesar! - Best Picture, Best Director (The Coen Bros.), Best Original Screenplay

- The Oscars' biggest bias? Comedy. The Coen Bros make The Big Lebowski, and it gets zero Oscar love. They make No Country For Old Men, and it gets Oscar noms left and right. Both are masterpieces, but for whatever reason Oscar never awards comedy - even when it comes from two masters like the Coens. Hail, Caesar is a great film, a deeply layered film, and another example of how The Coens are cinematic geniuses.

7.) Hello, My Name Is Doris - Best Picture, Best Leading Actress (Sally Field)

- Speaking of comedy ... this film features perhaps the greatest Sally Field performance of her storied career, and no recognition? It's funny, moving, unique - brilliantly scripted by the great Michael Showalter. So where is the love, Oscar? Can no one other than Woody Allen or Wes Anderson get nominated for quirky comedy?

8.) Sing Street - Best Picture, Best Original Song

- Okay, WTF Oscars. Sing Street was one of 2016's most delightful, uplifting, original movies - an infectious 80's-rock inspired musical that had me downloading its original tunes and playing on repeat. AND IT WASN'T EVEN NOMINATED FOR BEST ORIGINAL SONG?! I mean, what?! Did Oscar voters even *hear* the insanely awesome "Riddle of the Model" --?! This one is up there with La La Land for 2016's best musical, yet it got no love. Shame, Oscars - shame!

9.) The Handmaiden - Best Picture, Best Director (Chan-Wook Park) Best Foreign Language Film

- It's weird enough that Elle was nominated for Best Leading Actress but not Best Foreign Language Film. But the real travesty is that The Handmaiden - maybe the best film yet from legendary director Chan-Wook Park - got zero Oscar love. I mean, it's just baffling. The film is gorgeously shot, incredibly acted, and absolutely unforgettable. It's funny too how Hollywood seems eager to remake Park's films (the Spike Lee version of Oldboy, anyone?), but can't seem to nominate them for Oscars.

10.) Edge of Seventeen - Best Picture, Best Leading Actress (Hailee Steinfeld)

- Teen movies are another genre that rarely get noticed, but when they're this good - why not?! Edge of Seventeen is probably the best coming-of-age teen movie since Juno (which did get a Best Picture nom in 2007), but was pretty much ignored by the Academy. Steinfeld is fantastic in this, and the film is funny, smart, sad, and all-around great. Should've been nominated.



Should Win: Hell or High Water

- It won't win. But Hell or High Water was my pick for Best Film of 2016. It had it all - an amazing script, a great cast, harrowing action, social/political relevance ... I loved this movie. I was glad to see it get a Best Picture nomination, but my guess is it feels too "genre-y" for most Oscar voters.

Will Win: Moonlight

- My sense is it's a two-horse race between Moonlight and La La Land. But I'm going to bet on the slight underdog here. Oscar voters, I think, will ultimately recognize just how unique of a film Moonlight is - a meditative drama about a gay black man trying to rise up out of a broken home and make something of himself? I mean, how often do you see that in an Oscar nominee? I finally watched Moonlight this week, and it truly is the real deal - an amazingly shot, superbly acted movie that shows us the power of films to create empathy and a sense of commonality. I think it will win. And if it does, it will be deserving.


Should Win: Tie: Denzel Washington (Fences) / Viggo Mortenson (Captain Fantastic)

- Both of the above performances were powerhouses, so it's hard to pick a favorite. Denzel was a force of nature in Fences - it's a theatrical, memorable, earth-shaking turn from the legendary actor. Viggo, meanwhile, was quietly incredible in Captain Fantastic. Such a multilayered, complex role - you both love and hate his hippie character. Not many other actors could have pulled it off.

Will Win: Denzel Washington (Fences)

- Casey Affleck was probably the favorite originally (and he is pretty great in Manchester By the Sea), but it feels like, for various reasons, the tide has turned to favor Denzel. But after seeing Fences, I can't really argue. See above for why.


Should Win: Natalie Portman (Jackie)

- I'm not sure why, but Jackie seems to be flying under the radar. It's an incredible film, and it's up there with Black Swan as the best-ever Natalie Portman performance. I've heard people call it a horror film, and it's not a far-off-the-mark assessment. Portman brilliantly plays Jackie Kennedy as a person torn between a need to uphold a specific public persona and a person who knows that that persona is mere facade. This was, perhaps, the single best performance in a film in 2016. And by the way, I say that also having loved Isabelle Huppert in Elle, Ruth Negga in Loving, and Emma Stone in La La Land.

Will Win: Emma Stone (La La Land)

- I think this is where the La La Land hype will be too strong to stop. I actually think that Emma Stone is awesome in La La Land - how many other young actresses could have pulled off what she did? I also think that, in general, Emma Stone is the real deal, acting-wise. Anyways, though Portman should win, and if not Portman, Huppert, I am guessing Stone will edge them out since she may be viewed as having "carried" La La Land. 


Should Win: Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

- Like any film/TV nerd, I'm a huge fan of Michael Shannon. The guy can do no wrong, and he always brings an unparalleled intensity to any part he plays. Actually, it's weird, because he was so great in Midnight Special in early 2016, yet there's another movie that got totally ignored by the Oscars. Anyways, Shannon is one of those guys who should probably *always* be nominated, yet never is. So it's awesome to see him get some recognition for his ultra-badass turn in Nocturnal Animals as a broken-down lawman with nothing left to lose. I mean, he flat-out owns in the movie, and while Aaron Taylor-Johnson was also good, it was baffling that Johnson (and not Shannon) got a Golden Globes nom. The right man was picked here.

Will Win: Dev Patel (Lion)

- This is a tough one to predict. Part of me thinks Mahershala Ali could get it, as the guy has been on an incredible roll lately. But having watched Moonlight, his part just didn't feel substantial enough for an Oscar. And ... I still have not seen Lion. But my sense is that Dev Patel - so great in movies like Slumdog Millionaire - really knocked it out of the park. So he's my pick, but it's a toss-up.


Should and Will Win: Viola Davis (Fences)

- Easiest pick of the night. Viola Davis was fantastic in Fences, and had a couple of scenes that were absolutely chill-inducing. While I liked some of the other performances in the category, Davis here is in a class of her own. Meanwhile, she's a super well-respected and loved veteran who has earned the admiration of her peers. She'll win it.


Should and Will Win: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

- Chazelle deserves this one. The guy has made two features (Whiplash and La La Land), and both are incredible works of cinema. The guy can direct like nobody's business - and, already, he's a master of combining images and sound to create mesmerizing, kinetic, hypnotic worlds that exist in some sort of hyper-real dreamscape. To me, what separates La La Land from your run of the mill movie musical is its surreal, breathtaking direction. You've got to appreciate it. Chazelle should and will win this one. And I can't wait to see what he does next.


Should Win: Hell or High Water

- Loved this screenplay. Reminded me of old-school, dialogue-driven movies like Five Easy Pieces. I mean, how about that scene where Jeff Bridges and his partner pull in to some ramshackle southern-fried restaurant and try to order from their cantankerous waitress? Gold.

Will Win: Manchester By the Sea

- My preference is Hell or High Water, but I'll also acknowledge that Manchester had a hell of a screenplay, and that Kenneth Lonergan is a hell of a writer. He makes Manchester sad-as-hell but also gives it moments of raw hilarity. He gives it literary depth but also a stunning realness. He's the kind of autuer writer-director that Hollywood is lucky to have, and so I believe they will reward him for his singular vision here.


Should Win and Will Win: Fences

- Maybe Moonlight will take it, but I've got to think that Fences - adapted from a play and dependent in full on its pairing of powerful words and performances - will win here. Fences' dialogue is rich and colorful, full of memorable anecdotes, rants, arguments, and soliloquies.


Should Win: Moana

- Moana was the best traditional Disney animated musical in years - to me, it was up there with the all-time classics. Gorgeously animated, it had memorable songs, an empowering message, and incredible visuals. It was my pick for the Best Animated Film of 2016.

Will Win: Zootopia

- So of course, Moana will not win. Instead, Oscar voters will likely reward the even-more-woke Zootopia, which had an ambitious premise that strove to be an allegory for racial prejudice. But to me, Zootopia overreached and never fully nailed the central metaphor. It was a strange tonal and stylistic jumble. Moana, elegant in its simplicity, was the superior film.


Should Win: TIE: Doctor Strange or Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

- Doctor Strange wowed me with its trippy, Steve Ditko-esque visuals. Rogue One wowed me by having the most life-like CGI'd human character to date, bringing Peter Cushing back from the dead so that Tarkin could torment the galaxy once again.

Will Win: The Jungle Book

- But, given some of the moral questions that including CGI-recreated dead actors in a film inevitably raises, my guess is that Oscar voters will opt instead for the easier-to-praise talking animals of The Jungle Book, which was also one of 2016's biggest box office successes.


- Should and Will Win: La La Land


- Should and Will Win: La La Land


- Should Win: Hail, Caesar!
- Will Win: La La Land


- Should and Will Win: Piper


- Should and Will Win: 13th


- Should Win: ?
- Will Win: Watani: My Homeland


- Should Win: ?
- Will Win: Silent Nights


- Should and Will Win: Tony Erdmann


- Should Win: Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
- Will Win: La La Land


- Should and Will Win: Star Trek Beyond


- Should Win: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
- Will Win: La La Land


- Should and Will Win: Arrival


- Should Win: Jackie
- Will Win: La La Land


Should Win: How Far I'll Go (Moana)
Will Win: Audition (The Fools Who Dream) (La La Land)

So, there you have it. I'm always hesitant to do the whole "Should Win / Will Win" thing, because I'd rather just root for my favorites, and not speculate too much on how things will play out based on politicking, etc. My guess though is that La La Land, Moonlight, and Fences will dominate most of the major awards - though who knows, there is always the chance for a curveball or two. As always though - remember that the Oscars are not the end-all, be-all of films. They are fun to watch, and fun to speculate on - but ultimately you can't buy too much into the backlash for the winners, and you also have got to look elsewhere to find a lot of the best films from a given year.

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