Oscar 2017

I wasn’t paying much attention this year, to be honest. Real life had a way of directing my gaze to what are admittedly more pressing concerns than who gets Oscar nominations. As always, I haven’t seen many of the films that have been recognized, but I was a lot less invested in even trying this time. I could have accurately guessed the names of three or four of the films nominated for Best Picture, a couple acting nominees, and the majority of Best Animated Feature nominees (because that one’s always easy). Beyond the usual overpraise for mediocrity, what most worried me was that Martin Scorsese’s Silence was probably going to be overlooked, while the thoroughly odious Deadpool was in the Best Picture conversation. The relatively good news this morning is that Silence ended up with one more nomination than Deadpool (a score of one to zero).

Looking over a crowd of names and titles I know little about, I find only modest anticipation. The Academy’s course correction in the voting process over the past year seems to have paid off at least in the short term, with a much more ethnically diverse field. People from various American subcultures can have something or other to cheer on come February 26. But the biggest story is La La Land, which racked up 14 nominations, tying it with All About Eve and Titanic for the most in history and therefore making it the obvious front-runner. With that kind of achievement already secure, it’s hard to imagine feeling much suspense at the end of the ceremony, though I suppose there’s a first time for everything. Then again, suspense isn’t a big part of the Oscars. It isn’t like a sport, where you can see the whole process that leads to victory or defeat. I’m sure I’ll watch the ceremony and might find some moments of entertainment therein, but I’m not looking forward to having real life intrude as it inevitably will.

arrival-in-la-la-landBest Picture

  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • Hidden Figures
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Moonlight

I’ve seen Arrival and Hell or High Water, and both were fine. La La LandManchester by the Sea and Moonlight are definitely on my must-see list, but it’s conceivable that I won’t find time to see any of them in the next month. The rest of the list looks entirely middle-of-the-road and forgettable, with the exception of the Mel Gibson movie. Most of the criticism on Film Twitter so far has had to do with the acting categories, but there’s a strong feeling that Gibson, whose film picked up six nominations total, has gotten out of the doghouse without actually earning it. I tend to agree, and I was mildly surprised by how well the film did. Anyway, the only serious challengers for La La Land are Arrival and Moonlight, with eight nominations apiece.

Best Actress

  • Isabelle Huppert, Elle
  • Ruth Negga, Loving
  • Natalie Portman, Jackie
  • Emma Stone, La La Land
  • Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

The one thing that got Film Twitter truly excited this morning (since the strong showing for Moonlight was expected) was Huppert’s nomination, a very off-the-beaten-path selection for the Academy. At the same time, this category offered perhaps the biggest outrage, with Annette Bening failing to be recognized for her role in 20th Century Women while Meryl Streep picked up a record twentieth acting nomination. Streep’s career achievement is extraordinary, no question, but the feeling has definitely set in that the Academy lazily continues to recognize her for any and every forgettable film she chooses. It’s an unfortunate tangle of the great and the mediocre together. Portman is the consensus front-runner, and she does exactly the kind of historical impersonation in Jackie that tends to receive outsize praise.

Best Actor

  • Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
  • Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Ryan Gosling, La La Land
  • Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington, Fences

We’ve come to the first category on which I’ve completely whiffed so far. They could all be very good performances, but I won’t know for some time. Affleck is the favorite here. Since La La Land isn’t likely to win either of these two awards, it would have to win everything else in order to break the record for most wins (eleven — a tie among Ben-HurTitanic, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). But again, I know very little about either these movies or the way the Academy is thinking right now, so don’t be surprised if I’m wrong about these categories.

hacksaw-ridge-hell-or-high-waterBest Supporting Actress

  • Viola Davis, Fences
  • Naomie Harris, Moonlight
  • Nicole Kidman, Lion
  • Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
  • Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

This is a very talented lineup, though again I can’t speak to the specific performances. The competition seems wide open, too. As usual, the distinction between a leading role and a supporting role is a bit flexible, with Davis landing in this category because there was room for her here.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
  • Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
  • Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
  • Dev Patel, Lion
  • Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Moonlight only got nods in the supporting categories, which may be in part due to the fact that its casting defies these traditional categories, with a main character played by three different actors at three different ages. Based simply on its total number of nominations, I would guess that it has a chance to win one or both of the supporting acting awards. Jeff Bridges got recognized for Hell or High Water, even though he’s basically just doing Rooster Cogburn again.

hidden-fencesBest Director

  • Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
  • Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Damien Chazelle, La La Land
  • Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
  • Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Gibson, again, is the outlier here. He’s also the only one to have been nominated before (Braveheart, for which he won the award). Martin Scorsese continues to be astonishingly underappreciated by the Academy. Chazelle and Jenkins are probably the ones to watch.

Best Animated Feature Film

  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Moana
  • My Life as a Zucchini
  • The Red Turtle
  • Zootopia

Disney went two-for-two this year, unsurprisingly. Both Moana and Zootopia are enjoyable to watch, and I wouldn’t mind if either of them won. The stop-motion studio Laika, meanwhile, has released four films in its history and all four of them have been nominated in this category, though none have won. Kubo and the Two Strings is the first of those four to pick up another nomination, for Visual Effects, so maybe it will break through. That would be a satisfying outcome. Once again, this category includes a movie I had never heard of before, My Life as a Zucchini.

lion-by-moonlightMiscellaneous Other Awards (see the full list here)

Music-wise, I’m thrilled to see recognition for “How Far I’ll Go,” my favorite Disney song in many years, and Mica Levi’s eerie score for Jackie. Rodrigo Prieto’s nod for the cinematography in Silence is richly deserved. The Best Foreign Language Film category contains two other films on my must-see list, Toni Erdmann (this year’s champion among critics, along with Moonlight) and The Salesman. On the superhero movies beat, a Marvel film and a DC film each received a conciliatory nomination (Doctor Strange for Visual Effects, Suicide Squad for Makeup and Hairstyling). The five-part ESPN documentary O.J.: Made in America, which played in theaters and is therefore “a movie,” picked up its expected nomination. I’m also pleased to see the fascinating photorealist Piper in the Animated Short category. I don’t really have strong negative feelings about any of the Academy’s choices. That my current ten favorite movies of the year have exactly one nomination among them is neither good nor bad, just a fact.


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