I Don’t Have A Vote: The 89th Annual Oscars – You are ruining Everything

oscars

89th Annual Oscars – You’re Ruining Everything

Save us, Jimmy Kimmel. Save us.

This year, with all that’s going on in the rest of the world, we need movies more than ever as a distraction. Awards shows in the modern era normally have a certain amount of politics thrown in, but Meryl Streep’s  flatulent performance at the Globes really ruined it for a lot of people, including our entire house. One can hope they don’t hand her a microphone this year, but this is unlikely.

My heart was set even further asunder when I saw how good a speech can be. George Kennedy is not everyone’s first thought as an Oscar winner. And that also included George Kennedy.

Could you imagine anyone winning the award Post Halle Berry handling it with such grace? It beats talking about saving the planet from climate change and then flying off in a lear jet to go spend time on one’s yacht any day.

My wife wants to skip it. My youngest daughter wants to watch Jimmy. So do I. Looks like we’re going to have to rely on our DVR so we can cut the crap and enjoy the crappy spectacle.

As a result of that one complete overindulgence, I nearly lost the will to tell you what I liked best this year. This is as close to forcing it as writing comes for me. There was some good things in the movies this year though, and I think we need to talk about it.

My pick for the best in film this year is a lot closer to what the Academy picked this year. I can almost see it from here when there are no clouds at night. It’s somewhere behind Pluto.

So I will give everyone my take on who I would have won the awards. Often it’s someone who isn’t on the board, and that is okay. This follows with who I think should win of the nominees. I hope you find some way to enjoy some movies that may not be mentioned at all tonight.

Best Film:

I gave my highest rating to Hacksaw Ridge, Fences,  The Girl With All The Gifts, Loving and Captain America: Civil WarArrival and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story almost got there, too. That’s a pretty good year. Of these films, the one that I think accomplished the most is McCarthy’s take on an apocalyptic vision. In under two hours we see one of the most brilliant philosophical musings about moving forward as a species ever placed in such a humble package. If you haven’t seen it and you can stomach a zombie film that discusses and understands Schrödinger’s Cat, you should.

Of the nominees:

I need to go with Fences. It’s the best of those films. La La Land will likely win. Most winners for best picture ended up being just above average (at ***1/2 stars) for me.

Best Director: 

Arrival accomplished the most amazing thing this year in its approach to sci-fi. We have as many heady subjects going on as are occurring in The Girl With All The Gifts, and most importantly, Villeneuve works carefully with his team to avoid any of the tropes that we see in even the best sci-fi. It’s lone weakness of circular logic is insignificant when one considers we are going back to the most basic form of communication to ponder some of the deepest philosophical and heart-wrenching truths of human existence. His work here, along with an incredibly dense (if short) career’s worth of work places him just above McCarthy.

Of the nominees: 

Villeneuve. Gibson has created a powerful film that seems at once of its time and timeless, but I have to defer to the power of Villeneuve’s simple choices.

Best Actor:

Andrew Garfield has a great performance as a man driven by impulses that many can’t understand. Denzel Washington has the kind of vulnerable performance that he’s never done before. My favorite performance of the year is Ryan Gosling in…The Nice Guys. I spent much of La La Land realizing how good he had been and subsequently went home and watched it again. His range therein moves from incomparable weenie, to overwrought widower, horrible father to great father. If there were ever a performer that completely absorbed Shane Black’s vision, this is it.

Of the nominees:

Garfield may never be nominated again, and it would be nice to see him win. But there is no way he was better than Washington.

Best Actress:

Sennia Nanua has what I consider the most memorable and poignant performance of the year. Her journey from complete innocence to an understanding of her role in the advancement of humanity is one that I will not forget.

Of the nominees:

I am so hopeful that Ruth Negga wins this category for Loving. Her performance is the best of those that I saw. What I have seen of Huppert’s performance in Elle intrigues me. WeMissE has me thinking I need to watch this film today. But dear God, whatever you do, don’t give this to Streep.

Best Supporting Actor: 

Russell Hornsby and Stephen Henderson keep coming to my mind for their divergent takes on the sons of Troy Maxson in Fences. Both present incredibly resonant reactions to a father who is different to both of them and continues to change. I didn’t expect to be so enamored with their bit roles, but they really help to bring the story into focus with their performances. No one can take this award from Mahershala Ali, though.

Of the nominees: 

Ali.I love Shannon. He really made chicken salad here. Bridges is great here, too. But he’s done this guy before, even if the ending of this film pushes him to another level.

Best Supporting Actress:

There really can be no other discussion beyond who is second best. Davis has this award locked and she deserves it. This is a performance of the ages.

Of the nominees:

Davis. Just don’t thank Meryl Streep.

Best Original Screenplay:

Hell or High Water has about the best ending of any film this year. The only one that was better is Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s Rogue One A Star Wars Story. It’s remarkable achievements include creating a cast of original characters, making A New Hope‘s weaknesses disappear, and adding to the mythology while detracting the dorkiness factor. It’s truly a remarkable achievement in a series I had given up on seeing a good script from.

Of the nominees:

La La Land has a good script, but of this group, the best one I have seen is Hell or High Water. Sheridan is on a roll.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

This truly is a race between Fences, The Girl with All the Gifts and Arrival. The difference here is that the former is almost entirely word for word from the original. There is no real adapting, because it is perfect the way it is. Arrival is has had some work done, but then there is that circular logic thing. I enjoy both of them so much, it’s literally a tossup. Either of them will not be forgotten. My pick is The Girl with All the Gifts. It’s an extraordinary story that could be understood by kids as well as adults, even if the subject matter can be gruesome.

Of the nominees: 

Same here, though I give Arrival a slight edge since Wilson has already taken home some pretty impressive accolades (including 2 Pulitzer Prizes, one for this) and he would not be around to pick up the trophy, since he passed 12 years ago.

Best Cinematography:

Arrival and La La Land are both fantastic in this category. Simon Duggan’s work in Hacksaw Ridge is extraordinary. The work that stands out for me is Ben Davis’ seamless blend of effects and imagery in Doctor Strange. It’s one thing to push forward the incredible work done in dimensional photography in Inception. It’s quite another to completely replicate the remarkable comic book look shot for shot.

Of the nominees: 

This is one category I think La La Land should win.

Best Animated Film:

Moana is another in the long line of Disney Princess films that will resonate for generations. Sure it misunderstands the purpose of promoting a woman is to make her look good without denigrating men, but damn the visuals are exquisite and the songs are catchy. Zootopia is a really good movie too, but it’s preaching so much, the good stuff is harder to detect while trying to weave out the bad. For this reason, I have to go with the art of Kubo and the 2 Strings.

Of the nominees:

Kubo

I don’t know if I will ever stop watching this celebration of movies. As bad as it usually is each year, it’s still the best thing we have to mark the passage of a year in the age of film. It really helps if Jimmy Kimmel is on his game, though. We need him more than ever this year.

 

 

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WeMissE’s Annual Oscar Predictions

Can it really be Oscar weekend already?  It sure did creep up quickly this year.   I’m always excited for Oscar Sunday to arrive, and this year is no exception.  I have watched almost every movie in every category (with just a couple exceptions that I will point out) so I’m ready to dive right in to my predictions.

Best Picture:  La La Land

This is certainly not a lock.   Although Manchester by the Sea has seemingly lost traction in the last couple weeks, it could still win.  And Moonlight has been quietly gaining momentum.  Technically, I suppose we should throw Hidden Figures in the mix because it won the SAG for Best Ensemble, which can be a predictor in this category, as it was for Spotlight last year.  But to me that’s a long shot. Honestly, I would be happy with any of the either three winning, but I’m going to bet on the favorite.

Best Actor:  Denzel Washington, Fences

The two front-runners in this category are a study in contrast.  Casey Affleck’s performance in Manchester by the Sea is the slow burn of a man carrying an almost unbearable cross, while Denzel’s performance blazes like fireworks.  I’ve been a huge Affleck fan for years (I think he is a much better actor then brother Ben) and I would love to see him win here.  But he has been losing traction.  And unfortunately, the Academy often overlooks this kind of subdued performance.   Also, Denzel is simply astonishing.  He is the living embodiment of August Wilson’s character, and I think he’s going to take home his third statue, which puts him in some rarefied air.

Best Actress:  Emma Stone, La La Land

Honestly, I think Isabelle Huppert is probably the most deserving in this category, but I think it highly unlikely she will win, despite her Golden Globe victory.  Actors in foreign language films almost never win at the Oscars . Natalie Portman has been charging to the front if you believe the publicity, but I was not entirely taken with her performance.  Granted, it is a daunting task to take on such an iconic figure, at such an iconic time in her life.  I don’t know that anyone could have done it better.  She could walk away with it, but I’ll stick with Emma as my prediction.

Best Supporting Actor:   Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Many of the prognosticators say this one is entirely up in the air, but it was one of the easiest picks for me.   Ali portrayed his character with honesty and immediacy.  He breathed life into every single scene he was in, and although he leaves the film far too soon, his impact is never forgotten.  He also won the SAG, which is a strong predictor.

Best Supporting Actress:  Viola Davis, Fences

This is the closest to a slam dunk in any of the acting categories this year.   I would be shocked if Viola didn’t win.  Michelle Williams is the closest competition, and she did have one incredibly powerful and moving scene in Manchester by the Sea (now that I think about it I would go so far as to say it’s an unforgettable scene) but Viola’s performance is one for the ages.

Best Director:  Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Another sure thing.  Damien is the clear front runner, and his win at the Director’s Guild Awards  makes an Oscar win all the more likely.

Animated Feature:  Zootopia

Zootopia has swept all the major awards shows already, making it the clear favorite.  Honestly, I really enjoyed four of the movies in this category (I did not see My Life as a Zucchini, and not for lack of trying).  The Red Turtle may be my personal favorite, but it doesn’t stand a chance.

Cinematography:   La La Land

So, all five of the movies in this category look fantastic.  And I could see Arrival or Moonlight  possibly pulling off the upset.  But really, La La Land has a fantastic look.  The lighting is phenomenal.   The hilltop dance sequence alone  pushes it ahead of the pack.

Costume Design:  La La Land

If you look at past winners in this category, you will see that period films are favored.  However, the contemporary film is the front runner.  I think Fantastic Beasts could possibly pull off an upset.  Jackie is interesting; the clothes look great,  but it’s more a case of re-creation than design.  La La Land already won the Costume Designer’s Guild award, so I’ll stick with the favorite.

Documentary Feature:    13th

OK.  So this is the first category I really struggled with.  All five nominations were  good.  They were all powerful and informative.  O.J.: Made in America could very easily win here.  My only problem with that is that this was designed as a TV miniseries.  It only earned the nomination here because it was screened in a couple of theaters to make the cut.  Nobody went to the movies and watched all 7 hours of this.  I could make a solid case for all five films, and if you haven’t watched a lot of documentary films, I would encourage you to give one a try.   The reason I am going with 13th is because it is timely, and because the director Ava DuVernay was (unjustly, I believe) shut out of the Best Director category for Selma two years ago.

Documentary Short Subject:  Joe’s Violin

Three of these shorts deal with the migrant crisis in Europe, and if people are influenced by politics in their voting  then expect White Helmets, which is about the Syrian Civil Defense  to win.   It is a good short film (you can stream it on Netflix now), but the most moving, inspiring story to me is the one about a Holocaust survivor donating his WWII violin to a resource-strapped girl’s school in NYC.  If I’ve learned one thing in this category, it’s vote with your heart.

Film Editing:   Arrival

The Editor’s Guild split their awards into categories for drama and comedy/musical, just like the Golden Globes.  So Arrival won for drama and La La Land won for comedy or musical.  La La Land is actually favored by many pundits, but I’m going to predict a win for Arrival, which is likely to get shut out in the other categories for which it is nominated.

Foreign Language Film:  A Man Called Ove

This is really a three film race.  Toni Erdmann was the early front runner.  The Salesman has come on strong of late, in large part because of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s decision to boycott the ceremony.   The Salesman is a good film, and Farhadi a good director who has already won in this category just five years ago for A Separation.   Once again, if people allow politics to sway their vote,  The Salesman could easily win.  As I said, it is a really good film, but I have all my fingers and toes crossed for Sweden’s A Man Called Ove.  Not only is it the best foreign film, but one of the best films of the year, period.  (If you aren’t allergic to subtitles, you can stream it on Amazon for only 99 cents.  Take a chance, it’s worth it.)

Makeup and Hairstyling:   A Man Called Ove

Star Trek Beyond is far and away the front runner here.  And it certainly could win.  There are three reasons I’m going against it.  One:  the first Star Trek  reboot just won in this category 8 years ago.  Two:  A Man Called Ove is the only film in this category to be nominated in another category,  which generally bodes well here.   Three:  Ove contains the kind of brilliant makeup work that is hiding in plain sight.

Music (Original Score):  La La Land

I quite enjoyed Moonlight‘s score, but really, is there anyway the musical is going to lose in a music category?  This is as close to a lock as you are going to find on your ballot.

Music (Original Song): “City of Stars”, La La Land

The only question here is which of the two songs from La La Land will win.  Could they cancel each other out, allowing Lin Manuel Miranda to sneak in and seal the victory with his “How Far I’ll Go”, from Moana?  Possibly.  I’ll stick with the Stars.

Production Design:  La La Land

This is another category where you can make a strong case for all five films.    I’m going to stick with the leader of the pack, although it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if any of the other films won.

Short Film (Animated):  Piper

This is one of the categories I really look forward to every year.  There is generally  a broad range of talent and creativity.  This year, I was underwhelmed by most of the entries.  I did enjoy Pearl, and actually would be happy if it won.  But I think you can count on Pixar to chalk up another win in this category.  Piper is the short that played before Finding Dory.

Short Film (Live Action):  Ennemis Interieurs

I enjoyed four of the movies in this category.  My only hope is that Denmark’s entry, Silent Nights, does not win.  It is an emotionally pandering look at the current refugee crisis in Europe.  Ennemis Interieurs is just the opposite.  In this age when so many conversations are politicized and partisan, it was nice to see a scene with two characters with opposing views, each of whom has a valid perspective.   It makes a strong point at the end as well.  The other entries were all good.  Overall I really enjoyed this category, and would be happy with any of the other films winning.  I would encourage you to seek out the short films if you haven’t watched them before.

Sound Editing:  Hacksaw Ridge

War films tend to do well in this category, and this is likely to be Hacksaw’s only real shot at an Oscar.

Sound Mixing:  Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land is the favorite in this category, but I’m going to go out on a limb and take Hacksaw.  You can’t pick the favorite all the time if you want to win an Oscar pool.  Too, I’m really hoping that Kevin O’Connell (21 nominations, 0 wins) can break his unlucky streak and win for Hacksaw Ridge.

Visual Effects:  The Jungle Book

There are a lot of great effects in this category.  But Jungle Book is far and away the favorite, because those animals just look so darn real!

Writing (Adapted Screenplay):   Moonlight

This is a very strong category, but look for Moonlight to pick up perhaps its only Oscar of the night in this category.

Writing (Original Screenplay):  Manchester by the Sea

I think this may be one of the rare categories where La La Land is edged out.  First off, Manchester is a fantastic screenplay.  Second, it is unlikely to win in any other category.  Third, it is an opportunity to still recognize director Kenneth Lonergan with an Oscar, since he also wrote the film.  And Lonergan is well liked.

That’s all folks!  Except for my one gripe about the major snub to Sing Street, which should have got an original song nomination.  Also Hugo Weaving for Best Supporting Actor in Hacksaw Ridge, and Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkins, and…all right, I’ll stop!

Well there you have my 24 predictions.  What do you think?

 

La La Land (***1/2) The portrait of the artist(s) looks familiar

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La La Land – 2016

Written and Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock, Tom Everett Scott

There are moments in La La Land that feel absolutely lighter than air. It’s a story of hope and promise of a meaningful artistic existence weighed down by expectations of real life. Then hope and promise again. These moments are accompanied by some self-conscious takes on taking shots at fame alternating with what one compromises at time to get there. That its search for integrity that it feels familiar as freshly buttered theater popcorn doesn’t help it escape the fact that it’s presented many times before. Sometimes it’s taken in one piece at a time, and other times handfuls shoved obnoxiously down the gullet.

Mia Dolan (Stone) is a hardworking (Small Town Girl…) young actress, slaving away at the Studio Lot version of Starbucks. She’s down on her luck and just looking for a break. She may not get it for a while.

Sebastian Wilder (Gosling) is a passionate piano player (Just a City Boy…) who has a hard time compromising his value of artistic integrity to cash in on the fact that he is just a damn good musician who could be in demand if he allowed himself to be.

The Small Town Girl and City Boy’s orbits revolve around one another for a while, until they gradually realize that they are the exact element needed for each other’s version of Don’t Stop Believin’. The romance goes blossoms and they battle the odds and their own demons on their paths to accomplishing their dreams.

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The story is dotted with several average musical numbers and a three spectacular ones (A Lovely Night, Planetarium, Audition) and an ending as subdued as it is bittersweet. The story that threads all of the numbers together is a good, if familiar take on what it’s like to try to put on a show of what’s really matters to one’s soul. Strangely, the thing I thought of most while watching the film is the eternal struggle of…The Muppets.

This is not to say that the film is not successful. I am sure it will do well in awards season and that would be no more insulting than some of the drivel that has raked in the awards in recent years. The story is an honest, if derivative take on the struggling artist. I have no doubt that it will be an inspiration for many future artists.

The leads, Stone and Gosling, have a very easy chemistry at this point. They gel as effectively as any two I have seen in recent years. One hopes this will give both a boost in their careers to the point where even my Mom knows who they are.

Gosling, in particular, is finding his space in the cinematic lexicon. After a career that alternated chick bait (The Notebook, Crazy, Stupid, Love, A Place Beyond The Plains) with guy bait (DriveGangster Squad) and some nice critic bait (Blue Valentine, The Big Short, Half Nelson). This year’s The Nice Guys placed him firmly in my sights, and his easy performance here has kept him there. He has the charisma and easy charm to succeed without appearing to be trying. He could be the biggest name we remember from this era if he keeps this upward trend.

Stone is tougher to figure. She’s so obviously multi-talented. It would be lovely to see her avoid any sort of search for the self-serious relevance in a career that is wrought with the likes Natalie Portman’s, Halley Berry’s, Julia Roberts’s and Scarlett Johansson’s. She’s genuinely entertaining and refreshing in the least pretentious way.

Chazelle is on quite a trajectory. Last year’s Whiplash was a revelation and this film is an exceptional, if unoriginal follow up. There are few missteps and the conclusion has such an integrity with the rest of his story, it rises above the rest of its common story components. I place him somewhere behind Fincher, Mira Nair and Jeff Nichols on my list of favorite directors, but he’s within shooting distance.

If you like the elements of a musical, the artist staying true to their dream and romance, you will like and possibly love this film. I am firmly in the former category.

(***1/2 out of *****)