Monday, January 23, 2017

If I picked the Oscar nominees …

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will unveil its list of nominees for the 89th Academy Awards bright and early tomorrow morning. I went to some lengths to try to predict who and what the nominees might be, a process you can find here. As a film lover, though, this is even more fun – playing Academy member and filling out my own make-believe ballot, full of the kind of movies I would want to see nominated.

Of course, this is not how the Academy votes, so a brief refresher in that area is probably in order. Everyone votes on Best Picture, listing five nominees in order of preference. Beyond that, actors vote for actors, directors for directors, writers for writers, and so on down the line. A few categories such as Best Documentary, Best Foreign Language Film and the various shorts categories are done differently, but we will not worry too much about that now.

Also, for time and sanity’s sake, I will only cover the above-the-line categories, though I will probably toss in a few crafts I think worth mentioning below. With all of that in mind, Last Cinema Standing presents: If I picked the Oscar nominees …


In order of preference: O.J.: Made in AmericaSilenceMoonlightFencesThe Lobster

This category, of course, falls directly in line with my top 10 – or in this case, top five – films of the year. No further explanation necessary.


Park Chan-wook for The Handmaiden; Ezra Edelman for O.J.: Made in America; Barry Jenkins for Moonlight; Pablo Larraín for Jackie; Martin Scorsese for Silence

I have already said what a masterpiece Edelman has made with his epic crime documentary, and Park, Jenkins, and Scorsese each crafted a singular work of deep beauty and technical mastery. However, what a year Larrain has had. In addition to his stunning Jackie Kennedy biopic, he also had released his twisting, impressionistic, noir-inspired tone poem Neruda, on the life of Pablo Neruda, and his dark, neo-realist The Club, about a group of priests hidden away from society for their crimes. These three films would be a fantastic career, and for Larraín to have produced them all in such a short time frame is nothing short of amazing.

Actor & Actress

Actor: Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea; Joel Edgerton for Loving; Colin Farrell for The Lobster; David Johns for I, Daniel Blake; Denzel Washington for Fences

Actress: Viola Davis for Fences; Sandra Hüller for Toni Erdmann; Isabelle Huppert for Elle; Ruth Negga for Loving; Natalie Portman for Jackie

Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton in Loving
One of the sadder developments on the awards circuit this season has been the short shrift given to Jeff Nichols’ Civil Rights biopic-cum-character study Loving. It is a quiet, meditative film about the strength of two people who wanted only the rights they are owed and nothing more. Most likely, it is that quietude and meditativeness that have made it a hard sell for awards voters. It does not cry out for attention because that would be inappropriate for the story. Nichols’ film is perfect for what it is trying to accomplish, and so much of its success is due to the performances of Edgerton and Negga. They cannot be separated, and both are among the best of the year.

Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali for Moonlight; Tom Bennett for Love & Friendship; Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water; Ralph Fiennes for A Bigger Splash; Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals

Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash is an oddity. The story of a famous rock music singer recovering from surgery and the various hangers-on she collects during her rehab at an Italian villa, I cannot say the film works for me, but it is a sight to behold, nonetheless. Tilda Swinton is the star, and she is as luminous as ever, but Fiennes is a lightning rod. Whatever energy this film has is thanks to him, and he is absolutely bouncing off the walls in this performance. Fiennes can play quiet, brooding, and mysterious, and he has done it quite well throughout his career, but to see him this unhinged is a marvel and a delight.

Supporting Actress

Judy Davis for The Dressmaker; Greta Gerwig for 20th Century Women; Naomi Harris for Moonlight; Lea Seydoux for The Lobster; Michelle Williams for Manchester by the Sea

Judy Davis in The Dressmaker
The Dressmaker was not well received upon its release. Critics did not rally around it, and audiences did not flock to it. I understand why. It is an abrasive, antagonistic, almost willfully strange film, and every time it threatens to become a crowd-pleasing romance or something similar, it pulls the rug out from under you and kicks you while you are down.

Director-co-writer Jocelyn Moorhouse does not need you to like her film. She needed only to make the film she wanted to make, and she has. Kate Winslet is magnificent in the starring role of the dressmaker, but Davis steals every scene as the dressmaker’s alcoholic mother and town pariah. She is equal parts filthy, angry, regretful, and full of heart. She is also a ton of fun, and she makes it all look effortless.


Original: Hell or High Water; I, Daniel Blake; Jackie; The Lobster; Moana
Adapted: Fences; The Handmaiden; Love & Friendship; Moonlight; Silence

With the exception of The Handmaiden, which is probably far too outré for the Academy, each of these has at least an outside shot at a nomination. I will be interested to see whether Academy members took to or even remember writer-director Whit Stillman’s early-year release Love & Friendship. One of the best-reviewed films of the year, if it had been a November or December release, I could see it competing in any number of above- and below-the-line categories, including Best Actress for Kate Beckinsale, Best Supporting Actor for Bennett, costumes, art direction, and hair and makeup. It will be lucky to score even a single nomination, but it is deserving of consideration for so much more.

The crafts

First and foremost, I would love to see O.J.: Made in America nominated for Best Editing. It is a remarkable feat of assemblage and montage, an eight-hour film only possible thanks to its pacing and perfect blend of archival footage and interviews. The Academy’s editors branch has shown a willingness to pull from the documentary world, as with Steve James’ equally epic and equally brilliant Hoop Dreams, so a nomination is not out of the question. Of all the longshots that seem possible, this would make me happiest.

For Costume Design, the Academy loves period work, and “best” often translates to “most” or “flashiest,” which is a matter of taste and with which it is hard to quibble. I, for instance, am a sucker for the subtle, nuanced designs of the mid-20th century. My favorite costumes last year were the 1950s chic of Carol, while the year before it was the ’70s cool of Inherent Vice. This year, the haute couture of Jackie and the California casual style of 20th Century Women stood out in particular.

We talk about the Best Original Song category every year, and every year, it is nothing but complaints. The best work is almost always overlooked or ineligible because of the branch’s arcane rules. This year, they have a real chance to get it right with songs from La La Land and Moana worthy, eligible, and likely for nominations. Elsewhere, though, a film like John Carney’s little gem of a musical Sing Street will probably be overlooked. That is a shame because “Drive It Like You Stole It” is a wonderfully poppy anthem about finding the better life for which we are all looking.

I could go on like this all day, but for your sake, I will not. The nominations are tomorrow morning, and by then, we will know everything, then it is on to the next phase. For now, enjoy the idea that anything is possible and anything could be nominated. After all, until it doesn’t happen, it could happen.

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