Oscars 2017 Extravaganza!

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I’m not gonna watch the Oscars.  Never have, never will.  ‘Cause I ain’t got the time to sit around for four hours watching awkward moments and stupid jokes.  I’ll find something better to do, like I always have.

But something strange happened this year: I watched EVERY SINGLE FILM up for the Best Picture Award.  It sort of happened by accident, until I had like three movies left, and then it was like, “Okay, Greg, you can do this!”

Of course, the Academy Awards insists upon having nine freaking choices for Best Picture.  That’s beyond obnoxious: by the time I watched Hidden Figures, the last one I scratched off my list, I was absolutely sick of Oscar-type movies.  But then again, the Oscars have always been obnoxious: that’s why I don’t watch them.

The question for me has always been: why do we give a shit?  Why do we care what the members of the Academy think?  It’s been pretty common knowledge for a few years that they don’t watch all the films presented before voting; they vote not so much for the film itself, but the for the idea of the film they want to win; and they’re a bunch of asshole Hollywood power players.

So again: why do we care what they think?

I think, the answer, is: why not?  In this day and age, it’s hard to be above it all.  I can pretend like I don’t care when a movie I like get’s screwed over…I can go to a park and read a book and pretend it doesn’t matter to me.  But what does that accomplish?  What does it accomplish to bury my opinion in a book at a park?

I think it’s important to be ourselves these days, and express our opinions.  We’ve got a president who attacks us with his harebrained opinions every day…if we sit back and don’t say anything in response, the troll wins.  Of course, that asshole doesn’t have much to do with the Oscars…he’s said in interviews that he doesn’t have the attention span to watch movies to the finish (I wish I could think of something snappy to say here, but I’ve become weary of it all).

But of course, Trump’s shadow lurks behind the Oscars, as does the still simmering #OscarsSoWhite movement from last year.  And maybe that’s why I felt compelled to write my opinion on these moving pictures up for some awards.  So, if you’ve made it this far, maybe you want to stick around for a few more pages of my thoughts:

Best Picture Nominees:

I’m gonna do it backwards.  I’m gonna start with the Big Award, The Best Picture, and then move onto the little ones.

I’m gonna break down each movie, and what I think about it’s chances.  Here goes:

ArrivalArrival  was the most interesting film I’ve seen all year.  Hands down.  Nothing else came close to being as thoroughly thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating as Arrival was a film.

For those who haven’t seen it, some alien ships mysteriously appear in random places around the planet.  Planet Earth, that is.  And after some failed attempts at communication, a linguist is brought in to mingle with the scientists and communicate with the unknown life-forms.

The film is interesting because it opens our eyes to the fact that, really, we don’t understand what language is.  Or what its capabilities are.  As an ESL teacher, I think about language and its structure, its often arbitrary structure, every day.  And so it was a real treat for me to watch these life-forms from another planet try in vain to communicate with these lesser life forms in front of them, the humans.

Arrival is based on Story of Your Life, a short story by the legendary science fiction writer Ted Chiang.  It makes us think about things that are out of our realm of our imagining.  It’s amazing to see difficult to conceive ideas appear on the big screen.  

But I had one problem with it, something not mentioned by most of the amazing praise it received when it was released: it was a little bit slow.  Sure, there was an explosion, and some juicy bits of drama.  And as we approached the end of the movie, it seemed like the world might end.  And of course, there are enough dips and turns in the plot to tie one’s brain into knots.  But for me…the whole thing was just a little bit slow.  It was always more interesting than enjoyable, and I was never really worried about what might happen to the world at the end.

Either way, its odds on bookmaker sites are better than one might think.  But it doesn’t mean it has a serious chance of winning Best Picture.  In fact, of all the films up for Best Picture, this is the one that really, really just doesn’t seem to belong.

Hacksaw Ridge – I’m not sure who I dislike more: Mel Gibson the person, or Mel Gibson the moviemaker.  The Mel Gibson who made Braveheart, a bloated, self-righteous piece of crap that didn’t really tell the story of William Wallace, but rather told the story of Mel Gibson, actor-director-producer, playing a caricature of Wallace, which of course won Best Picture at the Oscars.  Or the Mel Gibson who once called a female cop who pulled him over “sugar tits.”  The Mel Gibson who once told an arresting officer, who happened to be Jewish, “Fucking Jews…the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.  Are you a Jew?”  Or the Mel Gibson who made the wildly anti-Semitic, grossly over-violent The Passion of Christ.  

Gibson’s film Hacksaw Ridge is up for Best Picture.  It’s a war movie, and if there’s anything Gibson knows how to make through the medium of film, it’s war.  War, violence, love story, more war, more violence.  This is how Mel Gibson makes films.

And it works.  Mel Gibson is a wonderful director of violent films that tell the story of love and war.  To call him anything other than a genius at making these kind of films would be wrong.  Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Desmond Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist Christian who served as a medic with the U.S. Army during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II.  Despite being a conscientious objector to the war, he took part in the battle as a medic, and he saved the lives of 75 men who were wounded during the vicious fighting.  For his actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest medal a member of the U.S. military can receive.  He was the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor.

It’s a wonderful, gritty story, that deserves to be told.  And maybe Mel Gibson was the best to tell it.

But some things need to be kept in mind when watching it, things that become evident in the opening minutes of the film.  Two boys, two brothers, run through the woods of West Virginia: just boys being boys, being wild.  They run to the top of a cliff and start jumping around.  Two adults below, a husband and wife it’s assumed,  shout up to them: “Hey, you kids, stop it, that’s dangerous.”  It’s sound advice, considering they’re standing on top of a cliff.  But the boys don’t listen.  They jump and laugh, jump and laugh.  The husband below says: “Those boys are crazy.  Just as crazy as their father.”  This is the Mel Gibson hero: they’re crazy (stupid) and they just don’t care (stupid).  They’re not gonna let society hold them down.  Even if society tells them they’re nuts, they’ll show the world what’s what in the end.

Soon after this scene they come home and begin to wrestle in front of their drunken father.  The mother comes out, yelling at them not to fight.  “Let them fight,” says the father.  And then one boy, our future hero, takes a brick and smashes his brother’s face with it.  The parents freak out, and our little hero looks on with sad and confused eyes, like “Why would a brick to the face hurt my brother?  That’s strange.”  

Our little hero goes inside and sees a stitching of the Ten Commandments, because he lives in a very religious home.  And he sees the words “Thou Shall Not Kill,” the 6th Commandment, and he ponders it.  We don’t know what he exactly he thinks: does he think about his brother’s possible, looming death by brick?  Or does he think to himself, “Now that I’ve smashed my brother’s face with a brick, can I ever receive salvation?”  We, as the audience, don’t know.

His father comes in to beat him with his belt, but the mother intervenes: “What good will that do?” she asks, imposing her wise, non-violent womanly presence upon the men of this backwoods home.  And the father walks away.

“Don’t worry,” says the mother.  “Your brother’s going to be okay.”  And sure enough, he was.  And little Desmond Doss grew into the movie’s hero, choosing a wife for himself to goggle over in classic, awkward 1940s-era manner before he set off to the Army.

So, with all this mind, it’s important to remember: this isn’t your ordinary pacifist.  This is a pacifist who thought it was okay to smash a brick into his brother’s face.  This, by definition, is a Mel Gibson pacificist.

Manchester By The Sea  

Manchester by the Sea is a really good movie.  By all means, it’s really good.

Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, starring Casey Affleck in his first tour de force role, the movie is really, really good.  It tells a gritty story about real people with real problems.  Casey Affleck plays the role of perhaps the most misunderstood person in America today: a white, working-class male, a man marginalized by everything from the economy to crooked politicians to the Black Lives Matter movement.  White, working class males overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in November.  And a lot of people want to know: why?

Maybe some people think the answer lies in Manchester by the Sea.

And Manchester by the Sea does a really good job of doing just that: telling the story of a white, working class man who has to deal with the everyday occurrences of life around him.  What makes this movie so good is its style: when watching it almost feels like one is watching a documentary, as if a team of cameras and sound people are following around a real guy living a real life in a real town in America.

Of course, the real inspiration here are the classic Italian neorealism films of the late 1940s.  Rome, Open City by Rosselini, and Bicycle Thieves by De Sica, and so many more: the grittiness and realness of those films, filmed on the broken streets of post-war Rome, have been the model of realism in films for decades.  And really, that’s what Manchester by the Sea is: a tragic look at a tragic life through realism.

One thing to notice about Manchester by the Sea is that there’s almost no music.  Again, realism, real life put to the silver screen.  One of the only times we hear music is loud, thundering, sad classical music, during the emotional climax of the movie.  And when the music comes, it drowns everything else.  The characters are muted.  All we hear is the music.  (In a lot of ways this recalls Ran, the 1985 war epic directed by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.  When the climatic battle scene occurs, all the audience hears is silence.)

The only problem with Manchester by the Sea is that it’s only really good.  It never becomes great.  At no point in this movie does make one feel like something special is happening.  That may be because Lonnergan stays so true to the realism of it all, the almost documentary-like style.  But the tragedy of the film is not enough to carry it to greatness by itself.
Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures is an excellent movie about the racism that was so prevalent in this country not very long ago.  And it’s an also excellent movie about three African American women (referred to as Negro women in the film) who helped to shape America’s history.  They were intricate in helping NASA to achieve so many of its goals during the Space Race.

It seems surprising to me that this story hasn’t been taken advantage of by Hollywood before now.  But, of course, the book that the screenplay was adapted from wasn’t even written until last year (it was actually written at the same time as the screenplay).  So maybe it’s more surprising to me that this amazing story has stayed unseen for so long.

This is the type of story that Hollywood absolutely loves.  It’s heart-warming, it’s true, it’s inspirational, and it’s easily made into a PG-13 movie that children can see.  And children should see this film.  Because the message in this movie is clear: no matter what obstacles are put in front of you, if you keep trying, you can always achieve your goals.

Much like Manchester by the Sea is very good, this movie is excellent.  It is an excellent movie that tells a wonderful story and should be inspiring to anyone who watches it.  And the odds makers are giving it pretty decent odds to win Best Picture, considering the competition.

One criticism some might give it is that it’s almost too perfect, too excellent.  It can feel a little Disney-esque at times.  But I don’t think this is a really fair criticism.  And it never really comes close to dipping into sappy, Disney territory.

Hidden Figures is a true story, and it’s a remarkable story.  Yes, we’ve seen this brand of anti-racism film before, but the difference here is that it’s remarkably good and original.  We’ve seen scenes similar to the one where Kevin Costner knocks the ‘Whites Women Only’ Ladies’ Room sign down, but I don’t think I usually get the amount of goosebumps that I did during similar scenes in other movies.  We’ve seen movies about racist times in the 1960s before, but not one about the subtle, read-between-the-lines racism at NASA during the Space Race.

Granted, Hidden Figures likely doesn’t have the fire power to win Best Picture.  But it’s a remarkable picture that proves that anyone can accomplish anything they put their mind to, no matter what horrible obstacles are put in their way.  If anything, this movie should be watched for that reason alone.

Lion

Lion is the only film that openly made me cry.  With about five minutes left in the film, the tears started pouring down my cheeks.  Shit, I thought.  I didn’t see this coming.  

Lion is an amazingly heartwarming movie that tells a true story, just like Hidden Figures and Hacksaw Ridge.  It’s based on the autobiographical story A Long Way Home, written by Saroo Brierley.  The story told is an amazingly uplifting, and yet incredibly sad, tale of a man’s journey through the first quarter of his life.  I don’t think I was the only one crying in the theater at the end: it was very difficult not to be moved by Lion.

And that’s why I don’t understand the not so good odds it’s getting on gambling websites right now.  Granted, Lion is an outsider.  It probably won’t win.  In fact, if it wins, it would be a shocker.  But right now it’s getting noticeably worse odds than Arrival and Hidden Figures.  In my opinion, it should be at least on par with these two films.

The Best Picture pick is always affected by the world, whether it be social issues, political issues, or both.  In 2008, when Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture, it seemed fitting that a movie that told the story of India would win.  It was America’s first real taste of Bollywood; it even had a Bollywood-esque dance during the ending credits.

Today, Lion just seems out of place.  We have our own problems here in the USA, and India and Australia are on the other side of the planet.  The focus on film in Donald Trump’s America seems to be on white working class males (Manchester by the Sea, Hell or High Water), being black in America (Hidden Figures, Fences, Moonlight), and just being in America (La La Land).  And for those reasons, Lion seems to be on the outside looking in.  

But it’s shame.  Because Lion was the only that openly made me cry.  

Fences 

For anyone who hasn’t seen or read an August Wilson play, you’re missing out.

August Wilson was one of the most powerful voices to ever be represented on the stage. And always, always, always, his plays were about being black in America.

As a white guy in my 30s, I have zero experience with being black in America.  It doesn’t matter that I have black friends, or that I myself have written and performed in a play that deals with racism towards black people in America.  It doesn’t matter at the end of the day.  ‘Cause I don’t know shit about being black in America.

Dave Chappelle famously gave the first SNL monologue after Donald Trump was elected president.  People freaked out, like, “Wow, Dave Chappelle was so on point!”  And of course, anyone who knows Chappelle, who watched his show on Comedy Central back in the day, knew that he would be on point.  Because Dave Chappelle is perhaps the greatest comedic genius of the last century.  Yes, Dave Chappelle is a genius.  Go back and watch some Chappelle Show episodes.  It’s frightening how outdated they are, and at the same time, how amazingly current they are.  It’s as if he predicted the future.

Anyway, one of the most poignant things Chappelle said during his SNL monologue addressed the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Blue Lives Matter police movement that was a response to it.  What he basically said was:  “You don’t choose to be black.  You don’t pick your skin color.  If I could have traded my color in for white, I would have done that a long time ago.”

And as best as I can tell, as a white man in my 30s, that’s what being black in America is, and always has been.  It’s a disadvantage.

August Wilson once said in an interview that he wrote his plays to show white people what it was like to be black.  Not so much to show them the perhaps unnoticed glaring racism seen in Hidden Figures, but instead to show them the conversations black people had when white people weren’t around.  In most of his plays, it’s difficult to find white people who are flat out racist.  In most of his plays, there aren’t any white people.  But the disadvantage of being black in White America is always a backdrop to the conversation; it always shadows the movements of the characters.

Fences is maybe his most famous work.  It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987, his first of two.  It tells the story of a family in Pittsburgh in the 1950s, perhaps one of the most obviously racist decades in our history.  

For years Hollywood tried to make his plays into movies, and for years Wilson refused to oblige unless a black director was put in charge.  In 2005, Wilson tragically died of liver cancer.

And so here we are, twelve years later, and we have Fences on the screen, directed by none other than Denzel Washington, who also starred in it.  

All things considered, Fences is getting good odds on the gambling sites.  And I don’t care what people say about Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea…Denzel gave the most absolutely riveting performance of anyone on screen this whole year.  If he doesn’t win Best Actor, it will be a serious crime.

But like many playwrights, Wilson worked in mysterious ways.  The answers to his questions aren’t always clear.  Is Troy, the main character, a villain?  Or is he a hero, damaged by the society he lives in?  What about his son, always coming by to grab ten dollars?  Are we to believe that he really loves his father?  And what about the title?  Fences?  What was Wilson really referring to there?

Fences is beautiful, heady stuff.  But because it’s so heady, and because that’s not really what the Oscars is all about, this one doesn’t really have a chance at winning Best Picture.

Hell or High Water 

Hell or High Water is the most intriguing movie on this list.  

First of all, it seems to be out of place.  Much like Arrival, I don’t think it really should be on this list.  But because the Academy insists on putting up nine movies for the award, it’s here, for our consideration.

Hell or High Water is an absolutely fantastic movie.  I don’t know if it’s the best movie here, but it may be my favorite.  It’s gritty, but not in the Mel Gibson “let me smash a brick in your face” style.  It’s much more real, more…imperfect.

It’s also a movie that, much like Manchester by the Sea, focuses on the white, working class male.  But it does it in a different way.  Manchester by the Sea is by all means a sort of normal story.  Yes, it’s tragic, but the things that happen to Casey Affleck’s character could happen to any of us.  And Casey Affleck doesn’t do much about it.  He gets into some bar fights, he drinks some beers, he complains, but in the end, he rolls with the punches.

There ain’t no rolling with the punches going on in Hell or High Water.  Instead, after years of getting screwed over by the government, two brothers in Texas decide to take matters into their own hands.  They decide to rob banks in order to provide for their family.  It’s the type of movie that Tarantino might have made 10 years ago.  But unlike a Tarantino movie, it doesn’t feel like much fun for the characters.  It’s more like a heavy chore, a nasty job that has to be done.

This movie sits on its own: it’s its own little masterpiece.  If it voted, it probably voted for Trump, but not because it wanted to…it voted that way cause it didn’t want its gun taken away.  (In an early scene, an old man fires his gun at the bank robbers.  The point is made: guns make Texas a safer, better place.)  In contrast, if Casey Affleck’s character voted, he probably voted for Hillary, even though he didn’t like her.  And Desmond Doss, Mel Gibson’s hero, would have voted for Trump, if only to make abortion illegal again.

Hell or High Water doesn’t want to make friends with either of these other two films.  Or any of the other films up for Best Picture.  It doesn’t give a shit about who votes for it, or what the hell any of the other movies are about.  

It only cares about the gritty story it has to tell. It holds its middle finger high and tells the rest of America, “I’m from Texas, I own a gun, I make inappropriate jokes at times, and I’m violent.  You can all go to Hell.”

I love Hell or High Water.  But it doesn’t seem to belong here.  It doesn’t know how it got here in the first place.  It’s gonna hang out at some parties, eat some hor d’oeuvres, and then hit the road and get the hell away from these Hollywood-types.  

La La Land

Ahh, La La Land.  How I love thee so.  If I could write a love poem about you, it would go something like this:

La La Land,

I love you,

I love the way you sing,

Will you sing to me…please?

Yeah…or something like that.  Let me tell you about my experience with La La Land.  It went like this:  A week or so before I saw it, I saw Moonlight in the theaters.  Which was amazing.  I hadn’t been moved like that by a film in a long, long time.

A week or so later, the Golden Globes happened.  And some movie I hadn’t seen, a musical, about Hollywood, called La La Land, pretty much swept the awards.  And it was going head-to-head on most categories against Moonlight, this film, this beautiful film, that I had just seen and had just moved me so strongly.

My reaction was strong: how could they?  A musical?  About white people and jazz?  How could this possibly beat Moonlight, such an incredibly powerful film?

There was one notable thing, though: Moonlight won Best Drama, which, of course, is the biggest prize of the night.  La La Land, the darling with all the Globes, wasn’t in that category.  It won Best Musical/Comedy.

And so as I watched the Twitterverse blow up, with #goldenglobessowhite hashtags floating around, I wondered to myself: what the hell is with this movie?  It’s just some musical?  Is it that good?  It’s obviously not a drama, and Moonlight won that award.  So…what is this movie?”

So with all of that in mind…I saw La La Land.

And I was completely blown away.  The opening to the film, which takes place on an LA Highway, is beyond mesmerizing.  And it just goes from on the there.  This movie uses colors and sounds in ways that other directors simply don’t know how to do.  I don’t care of this wasn’t his first film: this was Damien Chazelle’s Citizen Kane moment.  He is officially the Wonder Kid of Hollywood, the new Orson Welles, the Kid Genius.

La La Land is one of the most riveting and exhilarating films to watch.  If there’s an anecdote to Trump’s America, this is it.  It screams at you: “Don’t look at the darkness!  Here, look to the light!  The colors!  The music!”  

And sure…La La Land has its faults.  It has faults that will probably doom it to #OscarsSoWhite anger.  Namely, it focuses on a white jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) who doesn’t understand why the black jazz musicians he plays with (namely, a band leader played by the amazing musician John Legend) don’t understand what he’s trying to do musically.  This is playing with fire.  It seems like a head scratcher as to why Gosling’s character isn’t black; but maybe it isn’t.  Hollywood is still a very white place; and a white movie star like Gosling still sells a lot of tickets.  And this is where those ugly warts appear on this movie.  This movie is a celebration of music and life: but it also, in its own way, steals an art form, jazz, which was created by African Americans; and it makes into something white and beautiful, sort of like how Elvis was singing the Blues to white high school girls.

La La Land will probably win Best Picture.  And when it does, it will be deserved.  Because it’s a lovely film that should be seen by all.  But it also makes it plain to see that Hollywood, and the Academy, is still a very white place, a place that will remain white for a very long time.

Moonlight

And finally…my pick for Best Picture.  Moonlight.

You just read what I had to say about La La Land.  Yes, I love La La Land.  And yes, I do think it will probably win Best Picture.  (The oddsmakers certainly do…it’s the heavy favorite right now.)

But if I had a vote on the Academy, I’d vote for Moonlight.

I’d vote for Moonlight because of its sheer power.  When you look at the list of Oscar winners over the years, there’s a lot of power to be seen.  Last year’s Best Picture winner, Spotlight, portrayed the story of a newspaper trying to remove child molesters from the Catholic church.  Power.  In 2013 12 Years A Slave won for telling the story of a free black man with a family sold into slavery.  Power.  In 2009 The Hurt Locker won for showing us the different ways that war affects different men.  Power.  In 1991 The Silence of the Lambs won when a woman locked minds with a cannibalistic killer.  A year later, in 1992, Unforgiven won when Clint Eastwood showed us all what it really is to kill man, demolishing the genre of Western as we knew it in the process.  And a year after that, in 1993, Schindler’s List won for telling the true story of a how a high ranking Nazi decided to save as many Jews as he could as the world around him fell apart.  Power, power, and power.

Of course, power doesn’t always win.  In 1998 Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan.  For the life of me, I can’t understand how this happened.  

Forrest Gump, in my opinion, deserved to win in 1994, because it became a national icon of a film almost overnight.  But The Shawshank Redemption was surely a more powerful movie.  

In 2012 The Artist swept the hearts of the judges.  But it wasn’t necessarily power that did it.

I guess my point is that the Academy does appreciate power in movies.  They’ve shown that through the years.  But they don’t always give the award to the most powerful movie there.

Moonlight deserves Best Picture.  It deserves it, just like it deserved Best Drama at the Golden Globes.  It deserves it because its story is so powerful.  It deserves it because it tells the story of a boy who becomes a man in a brutally tough world, the crime ridden streets of Miami.  It deserves it because like an August Wilson play, it shows the plight of a black man up against an impossible situation, a world in which crime is everywhere, white people are nowhere but also everywhere all at the same time, and a world in which his mother is a demon bent on her own destruction.  

It deserves Best Picture.  In a perfect world, Moonlight would win Best Picture, and Damian Chazelle would win Best Director for La La Land.  But who knows if that will happen.

Just like Chiron in Moonlight, the odds are stacked against this one.  Only the Academy really knows what will happen.  

Well, now that I finished all that, here are other thoughts:

 

Best Director:  Damien Chazelle, La La Land

To film the opening scene to La La Land, writer/director Damien Chazelle had sections of the 105 and 110 freeways in L.A. shut down.  Some people might call this a director overstepping his bounds.  I call it a director being just ballsy and audacious enough to pull off something genius.

That alone makes him the deserved winner of this one.  I think Moonlight is the Best Picture, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Damien Chazelle is the best director.

 

Best Actor, Denzel Washington, Fences

Right now on betting websites, Casey Affleck is the favorite to win Best Actor.  Let me tell you something: if Casey Affleck wins, it will be an absolute crime.

Much like the movie he’s in, Manchester by the Sea, Casey Affleck’s performance is really good.  It’s really, really good.  But it’s never great.  I’m sorry; it just isn’t.

To be fair, the role doesn’t really call for greatness.  Because it’s shot in such a realistic manner, Affleck plays it perfectly: he doesn’t over act, and he doesn’t come out of character.  He’s perfect.  But that doesn’t mean he deserves to win Best Actor.

If Denzel Washington doesn’t win for playing Troy in Fences, it would just be absurd.  Troy is one of the most powerful characters that August Wilson, one of the greatest playwrights of our time, ever wrote.  And not only does Denzel absolutely dominate this role, he also directs the film, which should be considered.

Denzel absolutely murders this role.  He sings the words of Wilson like no one else could.  When he gives his monologue about his father, one of the darkest, scariest monologues you’ll ever hear, the hairs on the back of my neck rose about a mile high.

If Denzel Washington doesn’t win, it’s time to start getting out the #OscarsSoWhite protest signs and hitting the streets.

 

Best Actress – Blank

Sadly, I missed all of these films except La La Land.  So I have no idea.

 

Best Supporting Actor – Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Right now the oddsmakers have Mahershala Ali as the favorite, and I think that’s right.  He’s only in one third of the movie, which I thought might make it tough for him.  But he’s such a pivotal character in those opening 40 minutes or so that he just can’t be ignored.  His presence is missed on screen when he’s gone, which of course is the point, and makes the movie that much more powerful.

When he gives his monologue on the beach to Little Chiron about the moonlight in Cuba, it’s beyond mesmerizing.  It’s entrancing.

Jeff Bridges did a fine job in Hell or High Water, and the oddsmakers aren’t giving him much of a chance, but he could pull off an upset.  But if he did, I don’t think it would be right.  This should belong to Ali.

One note: I haven’t seen Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, for which Michael Shannon is up for this award.  I’ve heard it’s good, and Michael Shannon is always amazing, so who knows.  But I really hope Mahershala Ali wins.

 

Best Supporting Actress: Naomi Harris, Moonlight

Right now, the odds on favorite to win this one is Viola Davis for Fences.  Much like Denzel Washington, she took the powerful words of one of the most masterful playwrights of our times and did something special with them.  She was absolutely wonderful.

But despite her being so good, and being the bookmakers’ favorite at this time, I wouldn’t vote her.  My vote would go to Naomi Harris for Moonlight.  Naomi Harris was an absolute force on the screen, and much like Mahershala’s Ali character, she dominated the screen in the first third of the movie.

But if Ali’s character was a symbol of good, despite being a drug kingpin who sold crack, Harris’s character was seen a symbol of lost hope and despair.  And, hidden through the facade of loving mother, especially in the early parts of the movie, she’s seen as something downright sinister, something evil.

Of course, much like an August Wilson character, you need to ask yourself: what is the source of this evil?  Is she just a horrible person, a horrible mother?  Or is it her surroundings, and the country she lives in, the people she meets, the opportunities she hasn’t had, that makes her who she is?  She plays this character with the same force that Mo’Nique played the mother with in Precious, and of course Mo ‘Nique won the Oscar for her role.

Naomi Harris can only be described as ferocious in the way she played the mom of Chiron in Moonlight.  I think she deserves the Oscar.

(Side Note: Octavia Spencer was also nominated for this award for her role in Hidden Figures.  She did a wonderful job, as did Janelle Monae and Taraji P. Henson.  But as controversial as it may seem, especially since race is such a major player in these awards now, I think Kirsten Dunst should get credit for the job she did in Hidden Figures.  She plays a wildly unlikeable, racist-who-doesn’t-realize-she’s-racist bitch to the fullest.  I’ve heard over the years some people claim that Kirsten Dunst can’t act.  Well, go watch Hidden Figures and come back to me and tell me that.)

Best Original Screenplay: La La Land

A lot of times, if a movie is lucky, it won’t win Best Picture, but it will win Best Original Screenplay.  This usually happens because either the Best Picture is an adapted screenplay, or the Best Picture screenplay simply loses to another one.  In 2011 Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris beat Best Picture winner The Arist.  In 2000, Almost Famous beat Best Picture winner Gladiator.  In 1995 The Usual Suspects beat Best Picture winner Braveheart (Thank You!).  In 1992 The Crying Game beat Best Picture winner Unforgiven (I’ve never seen The Crying Game, but now I feel I have to, because Unforgiven is one of the best goddamned films ever made, so The Crying Game is either amazing or an undeserved winner that needs to be trashed for winning).

Either way…sometimes the Best Picture script is in the Best Original Screenplay category and doesn’t win….but it’s not that frequent.  In recent years the following movies have won both awards: Spotlight, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker, and Crash.  And that’s just in the last few years.

I don’t see an upset happening here.  The Lobster is weird and quirky, and weird and quirky can win this category.  Manchester by the Sea is really good.  And I absolutely love Hell or High Water.

But none of them should beat La La Land for Best Original Screenplay.  If they do, write up some #OscarsSoNonMusical signs and hit the streets.

 

Best Adapted Screenplay – Arrival

The Best Adapted Screenplay award is similar to the Best Original Screenplay in that if the Best Picture award is part of the group, it usually wins, but not always.

This year my vote for Best Picture, Moonlight, is part of the Best Adapted Screenplay awards.  But if I had a vote with the Academy, I wouldn’t vote for it.

Nor would I vote for Lion, which brought tears to my eyes.

Nor would I vote for Hidden Figures, a very moving film about the struggle against racism that three African American women had to face to help NASA put astronauts into space.  

Nor would I vote for Fences, a Pulitzer Prize winning play adapted into a screenplay by the author himself, August Wilson.

Nope.  My vote would go to Arrival.

You may remember Arrival as the movie that I called interesting but slow, a film that didn’t deserve to be among the Best Picture candidates.  My mind hasn’t changed about that.

But as an adaptation, the degree of difficulty has to be taken into consideration.

Arrival is adapted from the short story by Ted Chiang titled Story of Your Life.  Not only was a two hour script adapted from a short story (no easy task), but a lot of things had to be changed to make it work on the screen.  Linguists from universities had to be brought in to help analyze the script.  An incredibly smart short story, written by an incredibly intelligent smart story writer, had to be changed in a way that would make sense to the viewer while not compromising the story.

To me, there is really no choice except to go with Arrival.  It might be one of the best adapted scripts ever written.

 

Best Animated Feature – Zootopia

Sadly, I haven’t seen Moana, which I’ve heard is very good.  But I have seen Zootopia, and it seems like a winner.  It’s a very good movie with a very strong message that should be seen by everyone.  It’s very relevant to the world we live in today.

 

Best Foreign Language Film – The Handmaiden (illegal move, not a valid choice)

Sadly, I haven’t seen any of the films listed here by the Academy.  I’ve heard Toni Erdman is really good, so maybe that will win.

But I am curious…how the hell did The Handmaiden not make the cut here?  The Handmaiden, directed by Park Chan-wook of South Korea, is absolutely spell-binding.  It’s also told in two foreign languages, Korean and Japanese.  I’m confused as to why it’s not here.

Best Documentary Feature – blank

I haven’t seen any of these.  I very much want to see I Am Not Your Negro.

 

Best Documentary Short – blank

These were playing at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, but I missed them.

 

Best Live Action Short – blank

These were playing at the Kendall Square Cinema, but I missed them.

 

Best Animated Short – blank

These were playing at the Kendall Square Cinema, but I missed them.

 

Best Original Score – Moonlight

I guess this goes to La La Land…right?  But I remember the music of Moonlight as being haunting, just like the movie…so I’ll go with that.

 

Best Original Song – La La Land

La La Land has two songs in this category.  I think it’s going to be a battle between those two…unless La La Land fans split the vote, leading to a surprise victory by Moana or Trolls…you never know….

 

Best Sound Editing – La La Land

Because sound plays such an intricate part in La La Land, I don’t see how any of the other films can beat it here.

 

Best Sound Mixing – La La Land

Again…La La Land is a musical.  I don’t see how it could lose this one.  I mean, maybe Rogue One sneaks in with a win…but I don’t see that happening.

 

Best Production Design – La La Land

 

Hail Caesar! is in this category, and the productions design on that movie was wonderful.  I loved Hail Caesar!, and I would love nothing more than for it to win an Oscar.  But I don’t think it will happen, and I don’t think it’s deserved…the colors presented in La La Land are so amazing, is deserves this award.

 

Best Cinematography – La La Land

This is pretty similar to the Best Director award, which I think it’s firmly in La La Land’s fist.  If it wins Best Director, how does it not win Best Cinematography?

Best Make-Up and Hairstyling – blank

Hey!  A category without La La Land!  Sadly, or maybe not sadly, I haven’t seen any of these films (I heard Suicide Squad was awful).  I don’t know if want to a movie that had such bad reviews to win, so maybe one of the other two films here will win.

 

Best Costume Design – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I haven’t seen Fantastic Beasts.  In fact, I’ve only seen one film in this category…La La Land.  But here’s the thing: the production, directing, script, sound, music, it was all amazing in La La Land.

But costumes?  I’m not so sure.  And that’s why I think another film should probably win here.

Fantastic Beasts seems like a film with good costume design, so maybe that will win.

 

Best Film Editing – La La Land

Again, because music and sound is such a prominent part of this film, and those components make up a large part of the editing process…I don’t see La La Land losing this one.

 

Best Visual Effects – Doctor Strange

Sadly, I haven’t seen Rogue One, which I’ve heard is very good.

Because I haven’t seen Rogue One, and because the only movie I’ve seen in this category is in fact Doctor Strange, I have to go with Doctor Strange.

But it’s not just a default pick.  Doctor Strange, to me, was an okay movie.  If I was grading it, I would give it a B.  It was mildly interesting and entertaining, though I think it was always doomed to that fate: the origin story of a somewhat quirky Marvel character was always going to be a little bit awkward (of course, it made over $600 million…so how awkward was it, really…?)

Either way, as so-so as it was as a movie, the visual effects were pretty amazing.  Doctor Strange is the most psychedelic of the Marvel characters, and he didn’t hold back…at times I felt like I was watching a Pink Floyd concert happen.  

So yes…I’d give my vote to Doctor Strange for Best Visual Effects.

And that’s it.  I’ve finished….now it’s time for me to sit back and not watch the Oscars tonight.  Tell me how it goes!

Best,

Greg