Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

28 January 2017

Oscar Noms 2017: 1 of 13

Every year in the weeks leading up the Academy Awards ceremony, I post my thoughts on all of the nominees, although I exempt myself from the documentaries because I don't really like documentaries all that much. For me that means 52 films this year (5 more than last year). This is a strange year in many ways, but perhaps the most normal in recent memory.

A while ago I posted an elaborate set of reasons for why I still pay attention to the Oscars, I want to amend this in light of a philosophy I developed regarding the foreign language films:

If you have a desire to complain about movies that were snubbed or passed over or whatever, here's what I will say: if there are movies that you loved that you are sad didn't get nominated, comfort yourself by reminding yourself that you've already seen those movies! Use the Academy, instead, to draw your attention to movies you haven't seen. Even when the Academy creates a mess, they're still going to point us toward some great movies. For example, my absolute favorite movie for 2016, Embrace of the Serpent, was mostly on my radar because it was nominated for Foreign Language Picture last year.

A good chunk of the films in my top 10 for the year were passed over (American Honey, The Innocents, The Handmaiden, Midnight Special), but some of them scored a nomination or two (Captain Fantastic, 20th Century Women, Nocturnal Animals), and two were nominated for Best Picture (Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight). In short, there is lots to appreciate here, even if the Academy and I don't always agree. And this year, there is more to be happy about then ever. The nominees this year are more diverse than ever, and the nominated class of 2017 is going to look more like it should than it has in a long time.

I will go film by film beginning with the movies most beloved by the Academy this year. If the nominee has been nominated for Oscars previously, he or she will be listed next to his/her name in parentheses).

This year's nominees:

La La Land
14 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Damien Chazelle
  • Actor: Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson)
  • Actress: Emma Stone (Birdman or the Unexpected Value of Ignorance)
  • Original Screenplay: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)
  • Cinematography: Linus Sandgren
  • Film Editing: Tom Cross (Whiplash)
  • Production Design: David Wasco & Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
  • Costume Design: Mary Zophres (True Grit)
  • Score: Justin Hurwitz
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
  • Song: "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)"
  • Song: "City of Stars"
Director: Chazelle
Cast: Gosling, Stone, John Legend, Finn Wittrock, JK Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt

The Academy clearly loved this movie – 14 nominations ties the record held by All about Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997) for the most nominations any film has received – and there is actually lots to love about this movie. For me, the whole is not quite as good as the sum of its parts, but this is by no means a bad movie. In fact, it is very good. There are just a lot of better things out there. My chief problem with La La Land is that it is peddling a bunch of romantic nonsense. For the folks behind La La Land, all you need are dreams, and you can succeed. In fact, the film jumps forward five years in order to skip over all of the actual work needed to succeed in any field. La La Land wants only dreams – and it runs for the Hollywood Hills as soon as it's time to get down to business. In any case, 2016 was a rough year of all of us and maybe the Academy just needs a little singing and dancing to get them through, you know? If they want to pretend that Los Angeles is like a musical comedy, then, well, can we really blame them? Musical comedy is certainly preferable to the orange hellscape of corruption that is the United States government. But let's talk about each nomination in turn, because it deserves all of its sound nominations and its song nominations. And if the singing is terrible, Justin Hurwitz' score is gorgeous and totally makes up for that; I listen to it all the time. Production design, cinematography, and editing are indeed all well-deserved nominations. I am less sold on the above-the-line nominations (director, picture, actor, actress), Chazelle, Gosling, and Stone are all hard workers and none has ever won before, so it's hard to be mad about any of this. In fact, if you look at the list of collaborators above, you will find only won Oscar winner – Tom Cross. This is a strong team, and I am happy for them, even if the awards sweep on February 26th is going to mean for a less interesting telecast than usual.
Will Win: Picture, Director, Actress, Cinematography, Film Editing, Production Design, Costume Design, Original Score, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Song ("City of Stars")
Could Win: Actor, Original Screenplay
My Rating: #28 out of 84


Moonlight
8 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Barry Jenkins
  • Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins & Tarrel Alvin McCraney
  • Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali
  • Supporting Actor: Naomie Harris
  • Cinematography: James Laxton
  • Film Editing: Joi McMillon & Nat Sanders
  • Score: Nicholas Britell
Director: Jenkins
Cast: Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome

This movie is absolutely great, and I am so happy that it has received so much love. I have already written about it here, so I won't go into it again. When I saw Moonlight, I immediately thought that there was no way the Academy was going to pay any attention to it at all, and I have been continually surprised by the love showered on it by the establishment and by audiences everywhere. This is fabulous. It's an excellent movie and deserves its accolades. It is one of my favorite films of the year. Note, too, that this is a group of first-time nominees in every category. I think we should be most surprised by the nomination for Nicholas Britell, but his score is beautiful, and this is a very exciting choice by the music branch, who, it must be admitted, made lots of good choices this year. Moonlight is probably only going to win two statues on the 26th, but many many more people are going to see this movie because of these trophies, and that will need to be good enough.
Will Win: Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay
Could Win: Picture, Director, Cinematography, Film Editing
My Rating: #9 out of 84

Arrival
8 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Denis Villeneuve
  • Adapted Screenplay: Eric Heisserer
  • Cinematography: Bradford Young
  • Film Editing: Joe Walker (12 Years a Slave)
  • Production Design: Patrice Vermette (The Young Victoria) & Paul Hotte
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
Director: Villeneuve
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma, Mark O'Brien

On one hand, it is a surprise that the Academy loved this movie so much. It showed up in a few more categories than it was expected to show (film editing, production design, screenplay), but everyone thought Amy Adams was a lock for a nomination. She is excellent in this movie, and was fully deserving of a nomination (particularly because of her great work in Nocturnal Animals, as well), but she was, apparently, not enough people's favorite actress of the year this year, and she missed out on a nomination. It was the weirdest surprise of nomination morning. Still, Arrival showed very well, even if I don't think it will go home with any statues, and everyone should be proud. This is an excellent movie with a strong feminist strain. It's a bit of a mystery film, as well as a science-fiction film, but more than that it is a feminist rallying cry, asking us to let go of traditional ideas and rethink language, as well as time, from the perspective of collaboration and circularity. I enjoyed this quite a bit, and I've been recommending it to everyone.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
My Rating: #20 out of 84