The 89th Annual Academy Awards

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It’s that time of year again; when the Film Sage releases, for the world to see, his take on the films nominated for this year’s Academy Award ceremony.  I have done this a few times now, so let’s just get straight into it.

KEY

* means that the nominated picture or individual(s), in my opinion, should not have been nominated.  (You will find that there are a lot of these).

Boldface represents my selections for winner and runner-up in each respective category.  These are not predictions.  These are my selections.

“Snubbed:” includes my list of films/individuals who should have been nominated in place of the asterisked (*) films.  Insofar as this post is concerned, I treat “snubs” as if they had actually been nominated in place of the asterisked (*) films, and are, therefore, capable of being selected as a winner or runner-up.  (In the case of Best Picture and Best Makeup & Hairstyling, there will be more “snubs” than asterisked [*] nominees; consequentially, the number of Best Picture nominees will be rounded up to 10 and the number of Makeup & Hairstyling nominees will be rounded up to 5).

Notes #(x):” includes any and all thoughts/observations that I want to include to explain myself as to my take on a given award category.  There is no limit to the amount of “Notes” that I may write for a given category, nor is there any rhyme or reason to the order or length of the “Notes.”  It is important to remember that the purpose of this blog is to instruct regarding my film theory and so the “Notes” are meant to tie this year in film into the greater structure and message of this blog.  For this reason, the “Notes” attached to Best Picture are always the most in-depth and, I apologize, lengthy.


SO, LET’S get into it:

Picture

  1. Arrival
  2. Fences*
  3. Hacksaw Ridge*
  4. Hell or High Water
  5. Hidden Figures*
  6. La La Land—winner
  7. Lion*
  8. Manchester By the Sea*
  9. Moonlight—runner-up
  10. Snubbed: Silence; A Bigger Splash; The Birth of a Nation; I, Daniel Blake; JackieO.J.: Made in America
  11. Notes #1: As I’ve done before, and as I alluded to in the “Key” above, I have one more snub than I have asterisked titles in this category, thereby rounding up my number of nominees to 10.
  12. Notes #2: In that vein, I wish I could have 11, 12, 13, 14, even 15 films.  I really, really liked Toni Erdmann. I ultimately decided, however, to replace it with Hacksaw Ridge, which, in turn, was in my top 10 up until the very last minute, until I replaced it with the O.J. Simpson documentary.  Do I regret these decisions?  Maybe.  Talk to me in a couple years.  There were still other films that I would have loved to include in the nomination race: Manchester By the Sea, The Jungle Book, and The Nice Guys, in particular.
  13. Notes #3: I loved Hidden Figures (much more than I initially thought I would), but unfortunately, it didn’t make my top ten.  It is no reflection on the quality of the film that I kicked it out of the running for this category.  The same thing goes for many other films that were nominated, including Hacksaw Ridge.  The movie was fantastic, but just doesn’t quite make the cut.  (If it’s any consolation, it was one of my nominees up until just a few days ago; when I finally finished ESPN’s magnum opus, O.J.: Made in America).  Fences, on the other hand, didn’t come close and, considering the reason why this blog exists, it is imperative that I explain why.  I enjoy theater, because I enjoy the layers and layers of theme, character, and story that you get from watching the lyrics of a script come alive from the lips of talented actors.  I do not, however, enjoy “filmed theater,” a pejoratively-labeled sub-genre coined by the great André Bazin, because I think it is a cheap perversion of an art form that exists on its own, transforming it merely into a channel through which another artform can exist.  Writing a poem on the back of a painting does the poem no artistic favor; and it desecrates the painting (no matter how beautiful the poem) by turning it into a piece of stationary instead of a work of art on its own.  In order, then, for a theatrical adaptation to work, it must be a cinematic work first and foremost.  Fences failed to do this.  The failure was not in the acting.  The failure was not in the script.  The failure was in the cinematographic decisions, editing, and production design.  More on this in “Notes #4.”
  14. Notes #4: In accepting her Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe, which she completely deserved, by the way (see below), Viola Davis said “It’s not everyday that Hollywood thinks of translating a play to screen. It doesn’t scream money maker, you know? But it does scream art. It does scream heart.” As I said above: sorry, Ms. Davis, but you’re wrong.  And this goes to the heart of Fences‘ demise as well as Moonlight‘s ascendance.  The difference between Fences and Moonlight: one was filmed theater, the other was cinematic theater. In Moonlight, you had the language of cinema telling a cinematic tale: Long-takes; montage; POV shots; lighting and shading techniques; sound, music, and script marrying the images on screen.  Sure, Fences had far better acting (perhaps the best acting of the year), but that doesn’t matter.  Cinema is the art at issue here, not acting.  Moonlight‘s scene in the ocean is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen since Malick’s The Tree of Life, it was at once a father-son moment, at once a baptismal scene, cleansing the characters and the screen (with the viewers), showing its characters as islands in the wavy water.  It was beautiful, well-filmed, and the perfect example of what makes film film.
  15. Notes #5: More on Moonlight—what an astounding, beautiful movie.  There is an obnoxious tendency in Hollywood to moralize with didactic, progressive pictures that, at all times, have a lingering politicization in the hovering background.  Moonlight, like 12 Years a Slave, was no such picture.  It was not a movie about a gay guy; it was a movie about a human who existed in the majestic (yet earthy) world of the film, a human who happened to be black and gay and bullied and insecure.  It was a story about coming-of-age in a world with preconceived notions of both masculinity (specifically) and humanity (generally).  At no time does the film preach or point fingers; it is empathetic to the world that it criticizes.  Its moral judgments are sure, but it speaks not in moral absolutes; it speaks, instead, with a beautiful language—the pluralistic marriage of sound, sights, and lyric.  It has more in common with François Truffaut’s masterpiece, The 400 Blows, than it does with other “black” and “gay” pictures like Selma or Carol.  And that is a good thing, because it stands as a much truer testament to the power of great cinema: through its appeal to art rather than politics or ideology, it builds bridges, rather than burns them.  Thank you, Barry Jenkins, for such a worthy inductee into the pantheon of great films.
  16. Notes #6: If Moonlight was so good, then why did I pick La La Land to win instead? Well, first of all, that speaks to how much I appreciated La La Land.  What makes it better than Moonlight?  Nothing.  It’s not.  I just preferred it, subjectively, because I thought it was just as good, and even more importantly, it is more rewatchable.  Many of the best movies I’ve ever seen, I’ve actually only ever seen once.  Some movies are just more rewatchable than others.  As I’ve stated before, when a movie marries art and entertainment tastefully, this movie is my favorite kind of film.  This is, perhaps, because film, no matter how much the artists aggrandize it, will always be the art of the masses, and can never be divorced from popular culture.  The role of a film in shaping popular culture is inextricably linked to its existence.  La La Land, like Moonlight, was a cinematographic masterpiece where its world, which was supposed to be a reflection of our own, became more an interpretation of our own.  It was an energetic tapestry of music and visuals; filled with heart and incredible editing as well as production design.  I believe that Damien Chazelle and Co. created, with La La Land, the type of iconic production design that lasts generations, creating sequences that will likely integrate into our cultural artistic psyche for the lasting future, not unlike what Bergman did in the The Seventh Seal, what Coppola did in The Godfather and what Gene Kelly did in Singin’ in the Rain.  Where Moonlight is the most haunting filmic experience of the year; La La Land is the most memorable: invoking the nostalgia of memory while creating all new memories.  For much the same reason I prefer Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris to Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series, I prefer La La Land to Moonlight.  I, however, have no qualm with a Moonlight victory, should such a victory occur.
  17. Notes #7: I’d like to address the snubbed pictures.  First, Silence.  How could this have happened?  Did members of the Academy, perhaps, think that it didn’t qualify because it was released too late?  Did they just not get the opportunity to see it?  Or, perhaps more indicting of our society as a whole, did they fail to appreciate its non-secularness?  One writer opined that Silence was Scorsese’s act of penitence for Wolf of Wall Street.  Perhaps that is so, but Scorsese, as devout Catholic, has planned to make this movie for decades.  As far as I am concerned, the winner of best picture this year is a three-way tie between Silence, La La Land, and Moonlight.  (Last year, I said there was a sort of four-way tie, so this stance is not unique for me).  I would have no issue with any film walking away with the award.  But, the fact that Silence did not even get nominated…I do take issue with that.  The Academy got it wrong.
  18. Notes #8: Following the victorious triumvirate I mentioned above, the fourth-, fifth-, sixth-, SEVENTH-, and EIGHTH-best movies of the year were also—gasp!—not nominated.  Three of these five snubs, I think, were a little more forgivable: A Bigger Splash was released way back in May to limited publicity, coming and going without much fanfare (despite huge critical acclaim); O.J.: Made in America is a predominantly made-for-TV nonfiction film with a limited theatrical release; and I, Daniel Blake was released in the United States to relative silence, the praise it received overseas never quite translating to stateside significance.  The fourth film of “next five,” however…I cannot forgive its exclusion.  The Birth of a Nation was dead before it even could be given a chance to compete: allegations of sexual assault emerged against the movie’s director, writer, and star—Nate Parker—just prior to its publicity tours and led to wide-ranging boycotts as well as cries of artistic hypocrisy.  (The film, which is based on a true story, contains a rape sequence that, historically, never happened; many rushing to conclude that Parker was not only condemning sexual assault while he, himself, had committed it, but also that he was profiting from its superfluous inclusion where he should, instead, be punished for committing it).  If we were to analyze the quality of a body of work, or a given work, or a given product, by the sins of its makers, then we would invoke inappropriate, non-probative, and irrelevant judgment mechanisms into our criticisms, thereby poisoning our ability to truly appreciate art was we see it.  Hal Holbrook, in October, wrote in defense of the film last October, and I recommend his piece be read.
  19. Notes #9: Instead of outright saying that they negatively reviewed the film because of Parker’s past, critics found themselves, with all the gusto of internet groupthink, using a different, unified alternative criticism.  They disagreed with the value of the plot.  Never mind that it was based on the true story of the Nat Turner rebellion.  Never mind that it was well-paced, thoughtful, and fully developed.  No, they decried its predictability as a slave-era period piece, calling it cachet, cliché, and every other form of French-based literary pejoration that they could use.  Similar criticisms were leveled toward La La Land (“I don’t like the film’s message;” “the story was predictable”), Allied (“this was no different than any other old spy movie”) and even Doctor Strange and Deadpool (“strip away all the style and humor, and they’re just the same ol’ superhero origin story that we’ve all seen a million times”).  Such criticisms miss the forest for the trees, and continue to misplace critical film evaluation.  Such criticisms do not square with my “A Slice of Cake” theory.  When I hear such emphasis placed on plot and message, absent any reference to ideas, style, photography or any of the other integral elements to great movies, I can’t help but wonder: would these critics have hated Casablanca, if it was made today? I think they would have, and, as such, I cannot agree with their opinions.  The criticisms especially fall short as applied, desperately, to The Birth of a Nation, as the critics clawed at rhetorical straws to find an excuse to hate the film on its merits.
  20. Notes #10: A Bigger Splash, other than having, perhaps, the best acting ensemble of the year, was the perfect example of the physical explosiveness that you can find in melodramatic film.  I, Daniel Blake, on the other hand, was a profound work in minimalism.  It was a dreadfully bleak picture, but was also the funniest movie of the year, and one of the most underrated.  It’s like Yimou Zhang’s The Story of Qui Ju meets Tati’s Playtime which, while acting as a fine example of the bleakness of the modernized world, perhaps unintentionally acts as a stunning rebuke of modern (progressive) bureaucratism.  It is the comedy of rage.
  21. Notes #11: The last “snubbed” film in my list of the ten best films this year was Jackie.  This may be a surprise to many, but I couldn’t help but be relentlessly engaged by this film.  Did you notice the camera technique in the conversations? The camera rests between the speakers, not triangulated to the side. Films don’t do that, except the films of Yasujirô Ozu.  Jackie is a good movie because of Natalie Portman, sure.  But it’s better because it tells its story in a language that is rarely spoken in Hollywood.  I’ll talk more about this later, in the Best Actress category.  I’ve already written enough in this section.

Actor in a Leading Role

  1. Casey Affleck—Manchester By the Sea*
  2. Andrew Garfield—Hacksaw Ridge*
  3. Ryan Gosling—La La Land*
  4. Viggo Mortenson—Captain Fantastic*
  5. Denzel Washington—Fences
  6. Snubbed: Ralph Fiennes—A Bigger Splash—winner; Nate Parker—The Birth of a Nation—runner-up; Dave Johns—I, Daniel Blake; Andrew Garfield—Silence
  7. Notes #1: If history was any indication, my regular readers could probably have anticipated that my picks for Best Actor in a Leading Role were going to be far different than what the Academy actually selected.  As it turns out, the Academy, in my view, has never been more wrong.  Not only were the two best performances of the year completely snubbed, but almost every single nominated turn was nominated at the expense of a more deserving performance.  This egregious error is enough reason for me to not even watch the ceremony this year.  (But, of course, I still will).
  8. Notes #2: Perhaps no performance this year was more of a privilege and more of an entertainment to behold that Ralph Fiennes’ performance in A Bigger Splash.  He was the lifeblood of the picture, and it was his “physical explosiveness” that gave the melodrama its pace.  To call Ralph Fiennes the “poor-man’s Daniel Day-Lewis” (which I have called him before), is not fair.  Fiennes is so much braver in his role selection, opting generally for the obscure and unafraid to be forgotten.
  9. Notes #3: Andrew Garfield may have been nominated for his performance in Hacksaw Ridge, but I believe that he deserved it more for his much more painful, engaging, and probably difficult role in Silence.  Either way, a pretty good year for him, wouldn’t you say?
  10. Note #4: I think it’s fantastic that Viggo Mortenson got nominated for Captain Fantastic.  He was wonderful in the role.  It ultimately came down to which of the three—he, Garfield (Silence), and Washington (Fences)—that I would exclude from my top 5 performances of the year.  At first, Mortenson was on the list at Washington’s expense, because 1) I didn’t like Fences and didn’t feel like rewarding it, and 2) Washington had played the role for years on stage already.  But, is it really fair to a person to punish their outstanding performance because the movie wasn’t very good and because he’s had good practice at the role?  It isn’t.  So, Mortenson is out.  Sorry, Aragorn.
  11. Notes #5: I am not terribly upset that Ryan Gosling was nominated.  He deserved it.  His piano playing was superb.  His personality, as always, was dryly classy.  He’s not in my top 5, though.

Actress in a Leading Role

  1. Isabelle Humpert—Elle
  2. Ruth Negga—Loving
  3. Natalie Portman—Jackie—winner
  4. Emma Stone—La La Land*
  5. Meryl Streep—Florence Foster Jenkins*
  6. Snubbed: Taraji P. Henson—Hidden Figures—runner-up; Sandra Hüller—Toni Erdmann
  7. Notes #1: Where Hidden Figures doesn’t make my final cut in the Best Picture race, I believe that it did, indeed, belong in the Best Actress race.  Henson’s snub, in my opinion, was quite egregious.
  8. Notes #2:  This is where I need to take a moment to praise the monumental work that was Jackie.  What made Natalie Portman’s role so great?  Is it her? Or is it the director elevating her with his camera?  It’s a little bit of both, and perhaps, even, should tilt in favor of those people behind the camera.  When you watch this movie, the camera is so incredibly close to Portman’s face that you may not be ready for it.  Even when she interacts with others, the camera treats the subjects like talking heads: all humanity is taken from the picture around Jackie Kennedy, placing her at all times as the sole human figure.  This is a profound cinematic technique, and I’m sure that’s how she and so many others felt and feel after losing their companion so tragically.  This is a unique biopic.  It is more an artistic interpretation than it is a recitation, yet Portman’s method acting keeps it grounded in some semblance of realism.  Clearly, her performance was elevated by the direction. Regardless, this the bravest and most demanding performance of the year, because the photographic decisions of the filmmakers centralize the focus on her face.  It is not unlike Dreyer’s focus on Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc or Ingmar Bergman’s prolonged focus on Bibi Andersson and Liv Ulmann in Persona.  Even if much of her greatness was the result of filmic decisionmaking, she rose to the challenge better than any other actor this year.
  9. Notes #3: I understand that we all love Meryl Streep.  But, to put her ahead of those snubbed in this year’s race makes me feel like the Streep-deference is really a passive form of idolatry.
  10. Notes #4: Roger Ebert wrote something very powerful when it came to Isabella Rossellini’s performance in Blue Velvet, a film that both he and I disliked.  “Rossellini is asked to do things in this film that require real nerve,” he said. “She is asked to portray emotions that I imagine most actresses would rather not touch. She is degraded, slapped around, humiliated and undressed in front of the camera. And when you ask an actress to endure those experiences, you should keep your side of the bargain by putting her in an important film.”  Isabella in Blue Velvet is very analoguous to Isabelle in Elle.  The movie was a pathetic excuse at sexual thriller, a sort of Unfaithful meets Fifty Shades of Grey meets The Last Metro.  Isabelle Humpbert, despite this film that doesn’t live up to the standards of its lead’s performance, carries it where she can, and oftentimes, greatly impresses.

Actor in a Supporting Role

  1. Mahershala Ali—Moonlight—runner-up
  2. Jeff Bridges—Hell or High Water—winner
  3. Lucas Hedges—Manchester By the Sea*
  4. Dev Patel—Lion
  5. Michael Shannon—Nocturnal Animals
  6. Snubbed: Liam Neeson—Silence
  7. Notes #1: I don’t understand why Dev Patel was nominated as Best Supporting Actor.  I suppose this is the politics of the Academy.  Lion was the year’s Weinstein darling, guaranteed a nomination like so many Weinstein films that preceded it.  Patel was one of the odd men out (looking in) on the Best Actor conversation, so campaigning for him as a “supporting” actor was probably the best way to make sure the film got a nomination.  I don’t know; maybe I am theorizing a conspiracy that was never really there.  While I think Patel was a lead actor, despite the fact that he doesn’t appear until the film’s second half, and, therefore, should not have nominated in either category, I must admit that if, indeed his role was of the supporting variety, then—yes—he deserved the nod.
  8. Notes #2: Because I never considered Patel as a supporting actor, my initial “Top 5” also included Steve Carrell for Café Society.  Because I won’t detract from Patel’s inclusion, however, Carrell is out.
  9. Notes #3: While Casey Affleck was not one of my selections for Best Lead Actor this year, I was not upset to see he was nominated.  He did a great job.  I do, however, dissent from Lucas Hedges’ nomination.  I don’t think he deserved it in the slightest.  I can think of several performances off the top of my head that deserved inclusion in his place: Kevin Costner (Hidden Figures), Armie Hammer (The Birth of a Nation), Simon Helberg (Florence Foster Jenkins), Ben Foster (Hell or High Water), Aaron Ekhart (Sully), Hugo Weaving (Hacksaw Ridge), George Clooney (Hail, Caesar!), Jeremy Renner (Arrival), and even Robert Downey, Jr. (Captain America: Civil War) were better in their supporting roles this year than Hedges.  I don’t mean to be mean.  I just think that the nomination was afar off.
  10. Notes #4: Like Best Picture, this is a two-man race.  It will ultimately come down to the two performances that I found to be the best of the year, Bridges in Hell or High Water and Ali in Moonlight.  It could go either way, but I give my vote to Bridges.

Actress in a Supporting Role

  1. Viola Davis—Fences—winner
  2. Naomie Harris—Moonlight
  3. Nicole Kidman—Lion
  4. Octavia Spencer—Hidden Figures*
  5. Michelle Williams—Manchester By the Sea—runner-up
  6. Snubbed: Felicity Jones—A Monster Calls
  7. Notes #1: Initially, Michelle Williams was my winner here.  This was because I felt that both Ms. Davis and Mr. Washington shouldn’t be able to “double-dip” for re-performing their lauded performances in Fences.  I realized, though, the hypocrisy of that stance, and decided that both deserved not only nomination, but legitimate consideration for victory.  Ultimately, I gave the Lead Actor to someone else, but I can’t do that here.  The Best Supporting Actress role of the year was Viola Davis’.  It’s simple enough, as far as I’m concerned.  Williams was brilliant, and was the frontrunner for most of the year.  But, Davis’ post-Golden-Globes surge will probably result in a victory for her.

Direction

  1. Damien Chazelle—La La Land—winner
  2. Mel Gibson—Hacksaw Ridge*
  3. Barry Jenkins—Moonlight—runner-up
  4. Kenneth Lonergan—Manchester By the Sea*
  5. Dennis Villeneuve—Arrival*
  6. Snubbed: Nate Parker—The Birth of a Nation; Martin Scorsese—Silence; Ken Loach—I, Daniel Blake
  7. Notes #1: First of all, I’d like to apologize to Mr. Gibson.  He did a fine job in Hacksaw Ridge.  As a sort of quasi-auteur theorist, however, I did not watch the film and think “wow, what great directorial decisions!”  Gibson’s talent, like that of Michael Curtiz, Victor Fleming, Steven Spielberg, and others, is as a storyteller, who brilliantly puts stories on screen.  However, insofar as a given movie acts as a reflection of its maker, a “slice of cake” born of the worldview and creativity of the director, Hacksaw Ridge does not rise to the level of a directorial triumph.  Gibson’s nomination, like so many others throughout the history of the Academy, is more for technical achievement in cinematic creation, not so much for auteristic/artistic achievement, at least in my opinion.
  8. Notes #2: I initially wanted to give the victory to Barry Jenkins, as a sort of consolation prize to Moonlight since I gave the Best Picture award to La La Land.  However, consolation prizes are insulting, and, furthermore,my personal film preferences demand consistency, and I think that whatever film wins Best Picture should also, insofar as my opinions are concerned, win Best Director, particularly when the director is also intimately involved in screenwriting (as happened here).  You can’t say that a book is the best book of the year, and then give the best author of the year award to a different book.  It doesn’t make sense.  And, perhaps, a weaker, but still real, argument against Moonlight is that it seems to get worse as it goes, instead of better.  It never gets bad, but it gets less good.  The narrative slips from all the symbology and nuance into more realist fields, fields that are appreciated, but tonally inconsistent.  The magical cinematography of the first one and a half sections goes away (with a couple exceptions…water again), and the farther away from Ali’s performance you get, the more the acting fails to impress.  I’m getting a little nit-picky, I know.  But, such an issue didn’t happen with La La Land; as a matter of fact, it was the complete opposite.  The American in Paris-esque final ballet was one of the most triumphant cinematic experiences of the last decade, providing the best ending to any movie I’ve seen all year.  The film never lost track of who it was stylistically, and that, to me, is a sign of a director making a movie that is a reflection of self, with all the skills he has to his disposal.
  9. Notes #3: Manchester By the Sea has been somewhat shafted in my rankings this year.  Don’t take that as a slight against the film.  It’s got spectacular acting, remarkable photography, and a beautifully sad story of trauma, family, and community.  There were just, as in all years, better films that caused us, at times, to forget about or overlook deserving films.
  10. Notes #4: Martin Scorsese’s decision to make Silence will have monumental effects on how we view his oeuvre from here on out.  His directorial decisions in this film deserve more than a passing glance, and our understanding of his underpinning theories and ideas throughout all of his films needs to reevaluated, or, at least, challenged.  This film may turn out, from a film criticism history standpoint, to be far more significant than the Academy, clearly, was willing to acknowledge.
  11. Notes #5: Ken Loach created a film that is simultaneously one of the saddest, one of the funniest, and one of the most controversially political films of the year.  And he did it with a stylistic approach that is distinctively his own.  The whole film was, at its barest level, his, and he deserves recognition for making the most deceptively simple and perfectly multi-faceted comedy of the year.

Animated Feature

  1. Kubo and the Two Strings*
  2. Moana
  3. My Life as a Zucchini
  4. The Red Turtle
  5. Zootopia—runner-up
  6. Snubbed: The Jungle Book—winner
  7. Notes #1: The Jungle Book was not a live-action film, and it upsets me that people make it out to be just that.  99% of the film was animated.  For this reason, it was, undoubtedly, the best animated film of 2016.  As a matter of fact, I wanted to nominate it for Best Picture, period.  I didn’t however, because, try as I could, I couldn’t kick out the ten I selected.  (At the end of the day, Jungle Book ended up in my top 15).  With that being said, I walked in to The Jungle Book with incredibly low expectations; in that vein, it was the most surprising picture of the year (alongside, maybe, Jackie).  It was really good.
  8. Notes #2: When the nominees came out, I had only yet seen Zootopia and The Jungle Book.  I’ll admit, I was surprised when Finding Dory did not make the list, seeing as it had outstanding reviews and was the Disney/Pixar movie this year.  Neither Moana or Zootopia had the Pixar brand attached, so this year is somewhat unprecedented in the last twenty or so years.  Going in, I thought Finding Dory was going to be the best animated picture of the year.  As it turns out, it was not.  After watching the other films on this list though, I (still surprised, mind you) think that I actually agree with the Academy.  As a matter of fact, my objection to the exclusion of The Jungle Book from the nomination pool aside (on the technical question of whether or not it is actually an animated film), I think the Academy was exactly right.
  9. Notes #3: So, what’s the odd film out then?  If I’m going to take a stand regarding The Jungle Book, I’ve got to kick out a movie.  For me, it’s Kubo and the Two Strings.  Objectively, I can see why so many loved it and appreciated the animation.  And objectively, I can appreciate the animation too.  But subjectively, for some reason, it just didn’t resonate with me.  I didn’t like the animation, even though I appreciate its complexity and creativity.  But who am I to know?  The Academy has frequently elected films completely out of the left-field to win this category, so, at the very least, the predictive value of my pick should be suspect.

Cinematography

  1. Bradford Young—Arrival
  2. Linus Sandgren—La La Land
  3. Greg Fraser—Lion*
  4. James Laxton—Moonlight—winner
  5. Rodrigo Prieto—Silence—runner-up
  6. Snubbed: Jody Lee Lipes—Manchester By the Sea
  7. Notes #1:  It’s probably pretty nice to see me adding Manchester By the Sea into a category rather than taking it out.  Compared to Lion, which was, in all fairness, deserving of cinematographic recognition, Manchester was more serene and pristine in its photography.  Lion had some impressive panning sequences, several zoom-outs into heaven profoundly manifesting Lion‘s themes of physical distance and emotional proximity.  But, as a visual tale with equal emphasis on the relationship between location and family, the exhibition of beauty on parade in Manchester ultimately wins out.
  8. Notes #2: I’ve noticed, year-by-year, that a lot of American films have become more and more focused on beautiful cinematography.  This is a welcome trend.  I think that the uptick in digital technology as well as freelance photography in this world of social media and smartphone cameras has had the unintended positive consequence of pushing photographic cinema—as opposed merely to the preeminent cinema of method acting—more into the mainstream.  This is exciting and I feel like this year’s crop of films did a great job of showing the importance of good photography in film.
  9. Notes #3: Perhaps no film better showed the importance of good photography in film than Moonlight did this year.  You’ll notice earlier that I have, historically, hurled some harsh criticisms at many of the more “progressive” pictures of the last several years, decrying them for their arrogance, politicization, and didactics.  What was it, then, that separated Moonlight from that pack?  What made it so good at showing its world?  Besides Ali’s performance (and, sort of, Harris’), the acting wasn’t all that incredible.  The script was good, but not dominant.  The music was okay.  Ultimately, it was what made the movie a movie, as opposed to all other forms of art, that allowed Moonlight to communicate effectively.  It was the photography, pure and simple.

Costume Design

  1. Joanna Johnston—Allied*
  2. Colleen Atwood—Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  3. Consolata Boyle—Florence Foster Jenkins—runner-up
  4. Madeline Fontaine—Jackie*
  5. Mary Zophres—La La Land*
  6. Snubbed: Francine Jamison-Tanchuck—The Birth of a Nation—winner; Kym Barrett—The Nice Guys; Mary Zophres—Hail, Caesar!
  7. Notes #1: Allied was good.  So was Jackie.  So was La La Land.  But, I think that the eccentricities of The Nice Guys and Hail, Caesar! and the variety and scale of The Birth of a Nation deserved recognition instead.

Documentary

  1. Fire at Sea
  2. I am Not Your Negro
  3. Life, Animated—runner-up
  4. O.J.: Made in America—winner
  5. 13th
  6. Snubbed: None
  7. Notes #1O.J. is the first film that I’ve ever proposed be nominated simultaneously for best Documentary and Best Picture.  (Ignore the fact that my failure to do so in the past was a mistake [see The Act of Killing]).  It’s clearly the winner in this category in my book.
  8. Notes #2: See “Documentary Short,” Notes #1.  Fire at Sea was basically a thematic extension of what you had in many of the documentary shorts in its discussion of the European migrant crisis.  It was very good, though redundant, and not quite as good as its shorter counterparts.  Perhaps for that reason, I pick Life, Animated as the runner-up in this category.  A far more personal film, and I appreciated how it sheds light on the power of cinema while simultaneously acting as a piece of cinema itself.  You have to read more into my film theory, probably best discussed here, but it’s important to me to see the marriage of two important filmic mediums, the structuralist and the realist, marry in such a way where the realist becomes a medium through which the glory of the structuralist can be manifest.  All this, in the context of a young boy with autism sheds a humanistic light on the power of art and family to build communicatory bridges and touch hearts.  Others might think it less important than what is in the other nominees in this category.  But they just don’t get it.
  9. Notes #3: Which leads me to the other two candidates.  I don’t personally subscribe to critical race theory, opting instead to look at the reality of socialization, subculture, and the complex relationships between geography and self-actualization in determining the exact boundaries distinguishing modern race relations.  I can’t suspend belief (both in ideals and in reality) to legitimize the rhetoric of subscribers to that theory, and I especially can’t stomach the notion that my opinions are now automatically suspect due to my refusal to toe a line demarcated by such theorists (who so arbitrarily wield their rulebooks of political correctness).  If you want to see a documentary that fairly, realistically, and accurately depicts the race struggle in America, then watch O.J.: Made in America.

Documentary Short

  1. “Extremis”
  2. “4.1 Miles”
  3. “Joe’s Violin”—runner-up
  4. “Watani: My Homeland”—winner
  5. “The White Helmets”
  6. Snubbed: None
  7. Notes #1: “4.1 Miles” was about Afghani refugees being scooped out of the Aegean Sea by the Greek Coast Guard.  “Joe’s Violin” is about a nonagenarian Jewish refugee, a Holocaust survivor, who connects with a young girl in New York over a shared interest in the beauty and power of music. “Watani: My Homeland” is about a family of Syrian refugees who adjust to life in Germany.  The theme of the refugee is clearly in the forefront of this year’s crop of nominees.  The great thing that these films did this year was that they, unintentionally, coalesced into a single picture showing that the refugee theme is not a political one (though it has political implications…everything has political implications).  No, the the theme of the refugee is, instead, the theme of home, identity, and companionship.  It is the most profound human story that can be told, and documentary cinema is a profound way to tell it.
  8. Notes #2: “The White Helmets,” meanwhile, keeps us in Syria, but this focuses on the first responders to so many of the violent incidences that have marked Syria’s Civil War.  One could group “The White Helmets” into a group with “Watani” and “4.1 Miles,” but to do so would be a distraction into the political.  The best grouping, if you will, is of the three films listed in Notes #1.
  9. Notes #3: Thank heaven for Netflix.  It is beginning to be so much easier to get access to these short films, because so many of them use it as their primary platform for distribution.

Editing

  1. Joe Walker—Arrival*
  2. John Gilbert—Hacksaw Ridge
  3. Jake Roberts—Hell or High Water*
  4. Tom Cross—La La Land—winner
  5. Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon—Moonlight
  6. Snubbed: Maya Mumma, Ben Sozanski, and Bret Granado—O.J.: Made in America—runner-up; Sebastian Sepulveda—Jackie—runner-up
  7. Notes #1: Where Moonlight was a textbook of profound cinematography, La La Land was a case study of montage theory.  So much of the film’s energy and character was dictated by its editing.
  8. Notes #2: Jackie should have been nominated here.  Instead of cinematographic techniques, Jackie used juxtaposition and variety to tell the story of its heroine.  Indeed, the greatness of the film, and the greatness of Portman’s performance, hinged on the precise and artful decisions of its director accompanied by the technical workings of its editor.
  9. Notes #3: I would argue, insofar as technical achievement is concerned (as opposed to artistic achievement), O.J.: Made in America stands alongside La La Land as the most difficult editing task undertaken this year.  It mostly succeeded, and deserved recognition here.
  10. Notes #4: Before Arrival and Hell or High Water, I would pick, as a deserving sixth mention, the year’s Tom Hanks film, Sully.  The film’s overall quality was, for many, including myself, subpar.  However, the middle section of the film, Captain Sully’s flashback to the “Miracle on the Hudson” was very well done, particularly insofar as editing is concerned.  I would also entertain the idea of including Joan Sobel’s fantastic work in Nocturnal Animals, which acted as one of the most difficult and precise editing performances of the year. (It bears mentioning that Nocturnal Animals was on my original list of nominees in this category, until O.J. changed everything).
  11. Notes #5: So much of this category (and the Cinematography category, to a lesser extent), is confused and misunderstood.  Is this truly a category on editing, at least, from a filmic perspective?  If so, the decisions of the director are the most significant, not the decisions or skills of the editor; therefore, the director should be nominated.  However, there is already a Best Direction category, so it follows that this is a technical award.  Hence, the editor, not the director, is nominated.  If that’s the case, then, why were Moonlight, Hell or High Water, and Arrival nominated?  What about the more technically difficult films, like Captain America: Civil War, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, or Patriot’s Day?  In its naming of the categories, the Academy says one thing, but in its nominations, it says another.  This category will continue to baffle me.

Makeup & Hairstyling

  1. Eva von Bahr and Love Larson—A Man Called Ove
  2. Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo—Star Trek Beyond
  3. Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher NelsonSuicide Squad
  4. Snubbed: Douglas Noe and Andrea C. Brotherton—The Birth of a Nation—winner; Noriko Watanabe—Silence
  5. Notes #1: As in all years, I nominate five films in this category instead of the typical three.  I’ve yet to hear a reason why the Academy only nominates three.
  6. Notes #2: This is the second year in a row where the Academy has nominated a foreign-language film in this category.  And, again, the Academy got it right.  The making-up of this curmudgeonly old man in A Man Called Ove was very well-done.  I couldn’t even tell that the make-up job was mostly manufactured.
  7. Notes #3: Ultimately, I’ve got to go with The Birth of a Nation in this film, because the authenticity of the faces was so compelling.

Original Score

  1. Mica Levi—Jackie*
  2. Justin Hurwitz—La La Land—winner
  3. Dustin O’Halloran and HauschkaLion
  4. Nicholas Britel—Moonlight*
  5. Thomas Newman–Passengers*
  6. Snubbed: Fernando Velázquez—A Monster Calls—runner-up; Rupert Gregson-Williams—Hacksaw Ridge, Gary Lionelli—O.J.: Made in America
  7. Notes #1: I’ve thrown a lot of praise at Jackie in this post, but I’ve got to throw some shade now.  I can’t call what Mica Levi did in that film as a great original score, particularly at the expense of other deserving scores like those snubbed, or even at the expense of other films like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Arrival.
  8. Notes #2: I’ve made a lot of reference to Original Score in both an essay on movie music and in past Academy Award posts.  However, I want to say some more.  There is a lot of contemporary scoring today that is primarily ambiatic in nature; and a lot of this does exactly what it is supposed to do from a filmic perspective.  However, like editing and cinematography, a lot of these are subject to the decision of the director.  The question then, is what is the Academy looking for?  These must be technical awards, because the artistic decision-making is ultimately at the bequest of the director.  This is even more troubling in this particular category, however, because musical composition is not exactly a technical achievement.  I, therefore, focus my analysis on primarily on what is the best stand-alone score.  It may be a little old-fashioned, because I’m going to go in with a little preconception or bias toward the works of, say, John Williams, then I am toward the works of a Mica Levi.
  9. Notes #3: Speaking of John Williams, there is a palpable difference to Star Wars when someone other than him is scoring the film.  Very palpable.  For those who want to criticize the works of John Williams as “knock-off” material; just watch Rogue One (or the post-Azkaban Harry Potter films), and you’ll see that people can’t “knock-off” his work all that well.  His style is clearly his own.
  10. Notes #4: “If Only There Could Be Six (or Seven)”—I would keep Moonlight and then throw in Michael Higham and Matthew Margeson for their work in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
  11. Notes #5: La La Land, as a film, was fantastic, as good as most any movie musical you’ll ever see (much better than Chicago, I might add).  As a musical, however, it wasn’t perfect by any stretch.  There weren’t enough lyrical songs, they weren’t important enough, and its stars weren’t exactly incredible singers (except for John Legend).  It’s score, however, was incredible.  From Mia and Sebastian’s theme to the score that played as they danced in the stars, Justin Hurwitz made lasting standards of movie score in La La Land.
  12. Notes #6: As was a lot of my O.J. considerations, I decided at the last minute to supplant Nicholas Britel’s nomination with Gary Lionelli.  It came down to the homophony of Britel’s piano versus the noir-ish jazz of Lionelli’s saxophone.  Perhaps it was Lionelli’s evocation of Taxi Driver and Chinatown, but I went with the sax.

Original Song

  1. “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”: Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul—La La Land
  2. “Can’t Stop The Feeling”: Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan SchusterTrolls
  3. “City of Stars”: Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul—La La Land—winner
  4. “The Empty Chair”: J. Ralph and StingJim: The James Foley Story*
  5. “How Far I’ll Go”: Lin-Manuel Miranda—Moana—runner-up
  6. Snubbed: “Start a Fire”: John Stephens, Justin Hurwitz, Marius de Vries, and Angelique Cinelu—La La Land
  7. Notes #1: There is no James Bond movie this year to steal the award from more deserving candidates (I’m looking at you, Sam Smith).  Hopefully, there won’t be any surprises like last year.
  8. Notes #2: So…which La La Land song will win?  It certainly seems like the Academy is telegraphing a victory in this category.  But, there’s also a chance that Lin-Manuel Miranda (the new American darling) will get a victory with a much-deserving Disney ballad.  I suppose that the recent awards success of “Can’t Stop This Feeling” (JT) as a pop single might also make this interesting.  You can’t ever count out the Academy’s infatuation with Sting, either.  “The Empty Chair” is actually a very good song, and an important one because it accompanies an important story, but it didn’t strike me as a particularly long-considered or deliberated song.  Rather simple, perhaps not meriting quite the same distinction as the other songs here mentioned.
  9. Notes #3: Academy rules limit the amount of songs from a single film to two.  I think that is a dumb rule, so I throw in “Start a Fire,” because John Legend deserves it.  However, admittedly, if I were to keep the rules and only limit La La Land‘s nominations to two, then “The Empty Chair” would stay.  Like I said above, it’s a good song.

 Production Design:

  1. Patrice Vermette and Paul Hotte—Arrival—runner-up
  2. Stuart Craig and Anna Pinnock—Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  3. Jess Gonchor and Nancy Haigh—Hail, Caesar!
  4. David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco—La La Land–winner
  5. Guy Hendrix Dyas and Gene Serdena—Passengers*
  6. Snubbed: Geoffrey Kirkland and James Edward Farrell, Jr.—The Birth of a Nation
  7. Notes #1: I can see where Passengers gets the nomination here, and I’m not terribly upset by it.  The digital and literal creation of the space-bound cruiseliner was clever and the most enjoyable part of the film; the ship itself took on a life and character of its own, not unlike the Millenium Falcon, the Black Pearl or the Discovery One. As a matter of fact, that is probably the most disappointing part of the movie.  The film had every chance to be a modern Vertigo, its moral ambiguities informing a delirious anti-romance; but instead, the film turned into an empty-headed Titanic remake.
  8. Notes #2: As much as I think the production and art design in Passengers deserves some recognition, I replace it here with Kirkland and Farrell’s work in The Birth of a Nation.  Multiple sequences urge me to go here, including the placement of the final battle of the rebellion, the plantation scenes, and the baptism sequence.  All of this was very well angled, planned, and executed.
  9. Notes #3: I think Hail, Caesar! was one of the weaker Coen brothers films if only because it didn’t have any lasting power.  It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t special.  However, it was still a great time, a fun romp through Old Hollywood.  I’m glad it at least got mentioned here, and it was well deserved: a lot of the setpieces in the film are complex, stylish, and well-trod throughout the film’s choreography.
  10. Notes #4: Is there really a chance for anyone else to beat La La Land here?  This might be the most open-shut case of the year.  The ballet sequence at film’s end was, by itself, enough to crush out any chance of a dark horse contender, let alone all the other tremendous set pieces throughout the course of the film.  As I said earlier in this post, the work done on this film in terms of production design is, if anything, what separated the film from Moonlight in my judgment.  La La Land will live on in the cultural conscience for generations because of its creative accomplishments in manufacturing an image and bringing that image to life.
  11. Notes #5: If La La Land had never come out this year, then the winner here would have to be Arrival.  It’s production design was not beautiful or visually-stunning, but it was tremendously well-planned and an elemental part of the film’s successes.
  12. Notes #6: I also want to praise Fantastic Beasts here. The movie was thoroughly mediocre, BUT, I was absorbed, interested, engaged, and enthralled by those “fantastic” scenes in the briefcase full of magical creatures.  This was the sort of imaginative surreality that breathed life into the original Harry Potter works, and I think that those designs, alone, merited the film a nomination.

Animated Short

  1. “Blind Vaysha”
  2. “Borrowed Time”
  3. “Pear Cider and Cigarettes”
  4. “Pearl”
  5. “Piper”
  6. Snubbed: None
  7. Notes #1: I’ll be honest, I watched far less of the movies in the running for this year’s awards season than I did last year.  (I’ve been watching too much sports this year, I guess).

Live-Action Short

  1. “Ennemis Intérieurs”
  2. “La Femme et le TGV”
  3. “Silent Nights”
  4. “Sing”
  5. “Timecode”
  6. Snubbed: None
  7. Notes #1: See my Notes for “Animated Short” (above).

Foreign Language Film

  1. Land of Mine
  2. A Man Called Ove
  3. The Salesman
  4. Tanna—runner-up
  5. Toni Erdmann—winner
  6. Snubbed: None
  7. Notes #1: As I noted in my “Animated Short” comments, I didn’t watch nearly as many movies this year as I have in years past.  I, however, was able to see a few foreign language films, including Toni Erdmann, Elle, A Man Called Ove, Fire at Sea, and parts of Tanna and The SalesmanElle wasn’t nominated here, and thank goodness for that.  Neither was Fire at Sea. Toni Erdmann was fantastic, and should win based on my limited exposure to foreign cinema this year.  It was easily the best foreign language film of the year (the best foreign film, in any language, being I, Daniel Blake).  It was certainly one of the year’s best comedies, alongside A Bigger Splash, Daniel Blake, and The Nice Guys.  It was funny, touching, and just crazy enough to work.

Sound Editing

  1. Sylvain BellemareArrival—winner
  2. Wylie Stateman and Renée TondelliDeepwater Horizon
  3. Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright—Hacksaw Ridge
  4. Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou MorganLa La Land *
  5. Alan Robert Murray and Bub AsmanSully*
  6. Snubbed: Josh Gold, J.R. Grubb and Trey Turner—Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—runner-up; Dan Laurie and Sharon Mills—Captain America: Civil War
  7. Notes #1: Rogue One should have been an easy nomination, since Star Wars continued its iron grip on all things “sound” in modern cinema.  Especially since La La Land was nominated…not sure what that was all about.
  8. Notes #2: It’s interesting that, of all the myriad superhero films that came out this year, not one of them got a sound editing nomination.  Captain America was the best of all of them when it came to the creation of new sounds and the development/modernization of old ones.
  9. Notes #3: Arrival‘s sounds were the best of the year.  Arrival wins.

Sound Mixing

  1. Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La HayeArrival*
  2. Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter GraceHacksaw Ridge
  3. Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow—La La Land
  4. David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart WilsonRogue One: A Star Wars Story—winner
  5. Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth—13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi*
  6. Snubbed: Petur Hliddal, Tom Johnson, and Juan Peralta—Captain America: Civil War—runner-up; Tom Fleischmann and Chris Navarro—Silence
  7. Notes #1: Again, Cpatain America should have been nominated.  And again, its quality was made all the more evident by comparing it with the other “Team-up” films.  One really realizes that, with so much going on the screen at one time, the film that is able to layer everything properly and artfully is the one that comes out on top.  Captain America did that this year, and deserved a nomination.
  8. Notes #2: La La Land shouldn’t have been nominated in Sound Editing (the creation, development and manipulation of sound), but deserved its nomination in Sound Mixing (the layering and compiling of sounds to the cohesiveness of the screen).  Musicals, particularly the good ones, tend to do this.  HOWEVER, the film was far from perfect in this regard, and this is possibly the largest criticism that can be hurled at the film: sometimes the vocals were too quiet, particularly in the opening sequence.  It was good enough to get a nomination, but not good enough to get a win.
  9. Notes #3: Arrival was a masterwork of sound editing, but it did not have the technical difficulties in the sound mixing department to merit a win here.
  10. Notes #4: In Arrival’s place I put Silence.  Why?  This might be a little elitist/presumptuous/artsy of me, but Silence was a masterpiece of diegetic score without having any real score throughout the movie, replacing score, instead, with the sounds of nature.  The tagline of the film is “Sometimes silence is the deadliest sound,” which is a profound irony because the overarching theme of the movie is that “God is in the silence.” This dichotomy of danger and salvation informs the thematic crux of the entire picture, so the moments of silence are of great importance.  There is no real silence though: you hear the sounds of nature filling in the gaps (usually between wails, screams, and other sounds of human suffering).  Silence should have been nominated, not for technical achievement, but for profound artistic achievement.

Visual Effects

  1. Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton—Deepwater Horizon
  2. Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould—Doctor Strange—winner
  3. Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan LemmonThe Jungle Book
  4. Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad SchiffKubo and the Two Strings
  5. John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould—Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—runner-up
  6. Snubbed: None
  7. Notes #1: Marvel needs to win this year; Doctor Strange was a visual extravaganza of color, action, and character. The studio has never won an Academy Award, and I think that his might be the best chance it has to win yet.
  8. Notes #2: The Visual Effects Guild Awards might have thrown a wrench in Doctor Strange‘s victory, because it seems to show that The Jungle Book is trending hard and heavy.  I think, though, that if one film deserves to be knocking on the door, it should be Rogue One.  What Rogue One did with character-recreation with CGI (Leia, Tarkin, and others), regardless of whether or not you liked it, has potentially forever changed the way people make movies.  It was a technical achievement that was, in many ways, unmatched in this year’s crop of films.
  9. Notes #3: Good job, Academy.  I don’t have any issue with the five you picked.  No snubs here.

Adapted Screenplay

  1. Eric Heisserer—Arrival*
  2. August WilsonFences*
  3. Allison Schroeder and Theodore MelfiHidden Figures*
  4. Luke DaviesLion*
  5. Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney—Moonlight—winner
  6. Snubbed: Alain Page and David Kajganich—A Bigger Splash—runner-up; Joe Russo and Anthony Russo—Captain America: Civil War; Joe Cocks and Martin Scorsese—Silence; Maren Ade—Toni Erdmann
  7. Notes #1: August Wilson passed away, far too young, even at 60, 12 years ago.  He did not write the screenplay for Fences, but neither did anyone else.  He wrote the play, Fences, 32 years ago, as part of his magnum opus, The Pittsburgh Cycle.  The people who put the film onscreen (Denzel Washington and others) did not adapt the screenplay. They merely took the play and re-performed it in front of booms and cameras.  This is the complete opposite of what this category should be focusing on, and Fences, then, should not have been nominated.
  8. Notes #2: A Bigger Splash is, truly, one of the most snubbed films of the year.  Between Mr. Fiennes’ not even meriting a mention in the Best Actor category to its receiving no love in Best Picture, it’s clear the Academy was going to snub it here.  That is unfortunate.
  9. Notes #3: A Bigger Splash is matched in its “snubbery” by Silence, which at least got one nomination, but was so undeniably one of the best picture of the year (by any measurement), that the one nomination was almost more a consolation prize, an insult, than it was a measurement of the film’s quality.  Scorsese worked for years adapting this screenplay from one of his favorite books, and poured his soul into its execution.
  10. Notes #4: Moonlight wins.  Easy.
  11. Notes #5: The writing awards are artistic awards, not technical awards; but most people would agree that there is a blurred line between the two, and frequently, great technical achievement cannot be described in any way other than on artistic terms.  My decision to include Captain America among the list of snubs is meant to reflect this line and give credit where credit is due: as far as technical achievement is concerned, I remain shocked that the movie did so well with so many characters, and so many stories, and so much pressure, to give a taut, engaging, and enduring picture; truly, Captain America is one of the best popcorn flicks I’ve seen in years and deserves recognition here. (It might also be noted that I thought Deadpool might have deserved a nod here as well, but I ultimately selected Captain America).  In a year where Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman fell completely flat (with less of a burden to begin with), I think we can see just how much of an achievement Captain America was.
  12. Notes #6: A true 11th-hour replacement: I picked Maren Ade for her work on Toni Erdmann over Eric Heisserer’s work on Arrival.

Original Screenplay

  1. Taylor SheridanHell or High Water
  2. Damien ChazelleLa La Land*
  3. Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippo—The Lobster*
  4. Kenneth Lonergan—Manchester By the Sea
  5. Mike Mills—20th Century Women*
  6. Snubbed: Paul Laverty—I, Daniel Blake—winner; Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi—The Nice Guys—runner-up; Jared Bush and Phil Johnston—Zootopia
  7. Notes #1: The two funniest movies of the year (I, Daniel Blake and The Nice Guys) were not included in this category (and one of the other funniest movies of the year, Zootopia, was also denied entry).  I, as has been documented well in this blog, put a lot of stock on good comedy, because it has a special power as a “Slice of Cake” when used right.  I, Daniel Blake was the best example of the power of satire this year: it was utterly hilarious despite being utterly depressing.  It was a completely unveiled slap in the face of leftist British bureaucracy, even initiating vitriol from members of the state.  Simultaneously, it was an appeal to the sentiments of the welfare state, calling for a more human approach to service and care.  I loved the movie, and am quite disappointed that its timing, distribution strategy, and nation of origin resulted in complete absence from the Academy nominations.
  8. Notes #2: The other “funniest movie of the year,” The Nice Guys, was a refreshing and magnificent quasi-noir adventure.  In a year when Allied; Hail, Caesar!Café Society; and others attempted to provide an homage to Golden Era Hollywood pictures, it was The Nice Guys that truly married entertainment, photography, and style.
  9. Notes #3: I didn’t like The Lobster.

So, there we have it. This year, as you might be able to tell, there were really three films that were, for all intents and purposes, tied for first place: Silence, Moonlight, and La La Land.  If you can only watch three movies this year, I would recommend these three.

Ultimately, once all my changes are taken into account, the movies with the most nominations were: La La Land with 10 nominations; Silence with 8; Moonlight with 7; The Birth of a Nation with 6; Arrival with 4; and I, Daniel Blake and O.J.:Made in America with 4 each. Tied for eighth place is a plethora of films: A Bigger Splash, Jackie, Hell or High Water, Toni Erdmann, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Hacksaw Ridge, Manchester By the Sea, Lion, and Captain America: Civil War (with 3 nominations apiece).

The big winners of the “night” are: La La Land with 6 wins; and Moonlight and The Birth of a Nation with 2 wins apiece.  There are no other multiple winners.  Surprisingly, the third member of the triumverate, Silence, has no wins, though it does have one more nomination than Moonlight did.

(Real quick aside.  I, for personal enjoyment, made a list of all the movies I saw this year and ranked them.  Of my top 25 films of the year, I was able to find a nomination for all of them—but one.  Deadpool, I’m sorry).

Anyway, that’s that.  I hope you enjoyed this year’s analysis of the upcoming 89th Academy Awards.

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One thought on “The 89th Annual Academy Awards

  1. Pingback: The Academy Award Archives | A Slice of Cake

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