Oscar Derby 2017: How I’d Vote

In which I make a terrible pun having to do with L* L* L*nd and avocados

The time has come, one and all — this upcoming Sunday is the 89th Academy Awards.

As I did last year, I am presenting you with an entire post about how I’d vote if I could.

This isn’t a prognostication game on who I think will win (you might as well just fill out lots of La La Land if you’re trying to win a betting pool), but instead just how I would vote if handed a ballot.

Here’s a hint: there will be A LOT less La La Land than if I were placing money on the situation.

I’ve greyed out any nominees I haven’t seen, and I am refraining from voting for things I haven’t watched (with a couple exceptions.)

As with any type of awards, this is very subjective. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything — it’s just kind of fun. So will I occasionally be flippant? Glib perhaps in my reasoning for eliminating a particular nominee? OF COURSE I WILL BE! In creative awards of any kind you are often trying to essentially ‘judge’ pears vs. avocados vs. tomatoes. Total shitty subjectivity comes into play. Because I pick a pear doesn’t necessarily mean I hate tomatoes… and maybe I just don’t like avocados. That doesn’t mean a plague be upon all avocados and those who pick them in favor of pears or tomatoes… … unless of course La La Land is the avocado in this metaphor… in which case, YES, fuck those La Lavocados.

 

BEST PICTURE

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

You’ll recall there is no single vote in this category because of how the AMPAS Best Picture ranking system works. What you have above there would be the way I would personally fill out the Best Picture ballot, in this order. Lion and Hacksaw Ridge are at the bottom solely because (as you can see) I have not seen them. One I simply did not make it to see; the other is directed by Mel Gibson.

In any sane and just world, Best Picture would easily be going to Moonlight.  Its camera work, framing, music and performances all gel together in a way that makes it a truly orchestrated film. It’s like a piece of music, rendered in three evolving movements and turned visual story. I like that it has a tighter, more focused DNA than last year’s ambling and somewhat more abstract Boyhood. And beyond the nominations for Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, the three actors playing Chiron are all fantastic — the bubbling emotions behind the eyes is clear with every one of them (and is especially remarkable when you consider that Barry Jenkins didn’t let them meet one another, in order to avoid mimicking.) The movie has artistic vision and a point of view, and it accomplishes them with dexterity, emotion… and very limited resources. On top of all that, Moonlight is simply a story that does not get told, and it’s important that it does.

Manchester by the Sea, in comparison, is by and large the exact same sort of story we’ve seen again and again and again. Especially at the Oscars. It’s a story that has been told ad nauseam — a very white film about very traditional white hetero male woes… in New England no less. But that acknowledged, I do think Lonergan imbues enough detail, specificity, and genuine humor into the story and characters that I think it works — and lifts it a bit above its ‘prestige’ ubiquity. It is both your standard Oscar bait (I played our Moose Oscar Bingo with it, and hahaha oh boy did it do well!)… and it isn’t your standard Oscar drama at all. But again, that’s all down to some very shrewd and empathetic choices made by director Kenneth Lonergan. It’s a film that doesn’t wallow in its grief because it actually takes the time to undercut it with bizarre, grounded details. It lives best in those low-key real-world moments — like the damn gurney being sticky, or the argument that is rendered both extra painful and weirdly humorous because it’s freezing out and the exact location of the car is uncertain. Lonergan doesn’t allow you the relative distanced comfort of every moment being polished and lush and dramatic!

Hell or High Water surprised the fuck out of me. That upending of expectation is probably (at least partially) why I keep ranking it so high on my favorite films this year. I initially watched it more out of bored obligation, and wound up very pleasantly surprised by what I encountered (even though I have been affectionately calling it #Texas: The Movie). I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think it possesses an ounce of narrative fat; it keeps moving at a remarkably brisk and snappy pace. Chris Pine and Ben Foster do some wonder with their parts as the bank-robbing brothers — their disparate yet blood-bonded personalities are extraordinarily, succinctly well-communicated with what is ultimately very little time and not many words. And both Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham do likewise as the other side of the plot — the bickering law enforcement half chasing the brothers. And that last single conversation was exactly the note I was hoping the story would hit.

In an almost inverse to that… I heard many many good things about Arrival before I saw it, and thus went in with higher expectations, despite some reservations. After all, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario last year — as much as I think visuals were stunning, the story left me cold. But I was hesitantly optimistic going into Arrival because the story was more up my alley (based on the Ted Chiang SF short story.) Once again, Villeneuve’s visuals were staggering and effective — totally en pointe for what was needed. The film is beautifully shot, well-acted, and has a good script. But I also think the film is unclear about translating some of its themes in a specific way that I find off-putting. Much like Sicario, it’s a remarkable filmmaking achievement that left a faint-but-definitive bad taste in my mouth.

Hidden Figures reminds me of one of those 90s-era Best Pictures. It’s an enjoyable historical dramedy with a known outcome… that doesn’t dive super deep… yet sheds new light on some very overlooked women. The performances are all solid, and admirably cover-up what are not necessarily the most deeply written characters. It’s a well-done movie that means something (even if it is not explored as thoroughly as it could be)… and that fact automatically puts it above a lot of other things.

I could write an entire article alone as a screed against La La Land. A number of my issues I’ve touched on throughout the Oscar Derby. So this time I’ll just call it The 2hr Pepsi Commercial. Also? There’s this that I can share:

And finally… Fences. Fences is made up entirely of its performances. That’s no surprise considering it is translated from a stage play. Although ‘transplanted’ might be a better word in some respects. In the end I don’t feel like Washington as a director utilized filmcraft, editing, visuals to full effect. Film is not stage. The blocking consistently felt awkward to me — you could tell exactly how this would look on stage because the way everyone moved / the way everyone entered and exited in blocked-out monologues. I can intellectualize the choice to make it this way, but to me it doesn’t read as intuitive or natural on screen — it reads as Staged.

 

BEST DIRECTOR

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

100% absolutely voting for Barry Jenkins.

Chazelle may be the presumed victor who has the support of the DGA, but for me it’s no contest.          Normally I don’t bedgrudge artistic stealing — it is a hallmark of creativity. To me though Chazelle superficially aped from a genre he did a poor job of capturing the spirit of (in large part because many of his choices to ‘ground it’ bely that deep deep down he is on some level embarrassed by the idea of musicals — no matter how much he proclaims otherwise.) Oh AND there is an utterly privilege-deaf survivorship bias permeating the film that grates on my nerves. AND there is some seriously questionable nostalgia at play. It’s all too much.

Even if it couldn’t be Jenkins, I would sooner see Lonergan or Villeneuve get it. But I do suppose I’d vote Chazelle over Gibson — I’ll give him that at least.

 

BEST ACTOR

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

So Casey Affleck legitimately is phenomenal in his role of Lee Chandler. Despite my less-than-benevolent thoughts about Affleck as a person, he undeniably does impressive work with the material he’s given. Nonetheless… Denzel Washington’s Troy Maxson dominates his film. Hell, part of the whole point is that Troy crushes out everyone else’s story with his own shit.

Part of the joy for me in musicals is watching super talented singers and dancers throw everything into it. Ryan Gosling (usually quite a charming performer) is neither a great singer nor dancer. And I hate Sebastian. Sebastian is the worst. THE. WORST.

 

BEST ACTRESS

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

I’ll grant Emma Stone that she’s the least of my issues with La La Land. But Best Actress? Really?

Meryl Streep is good in Florence Foster Jenkins — but in some ways I feel like I’m just watching Meryl go through the paces. I’m not sure it’s a role that particularly stood out to me.

Voting for Natalie Portman blind because it seems like her role is one of the trickier ones. Yes, I’m breaking my general rule. Too bad — they are my rules.

 

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)

I will burn shit if Mahershala Ali loses. No, really — I might literally set something on fire.

Jeff Bridges is entertaining; Lucas Hedges does a good job; but it’s no contest as far as I’m concerned. Mahershala Ali does something amazing. 1) It’s a role we never see in movies, and 2) it’s a role that narratively has an important task. In many ways Juan must be the presence that on some level emotionally ghosts through the rest of the film; and he has only one section, the first, to do it in. And Ali accomplishes that.

… LITERALLY. WILL. SET. SOMETHING. ON. FIRE.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

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

Absolutely Viola Davis. Viola Viola Viola. A millions times Viola.

Naomie Harris is good in Moonlight. She is. If Ali’s Juan is the ghost that permeates Chiron’s life by choice, then Paula is the inescapable, unchangeable fact of his existence. That said, I don’t mean to be too horribly flippant about it but… I feel like this is the type of role I see from talented actresses all the time. Naomie Harris nails it, but it doesn’t feel as unique.

Octavia Spencer is always reliable, and I enjoyed her performance in an enjoyable movie. But ultimately I feel like if this should’ve gone to anybody from that cast, it should’ve gone to Janelle Monae for Mary Jackson (who just felt like a fuller character overall.)

Michelle Williams, while in very little of Manchester by the Sea, makes the absolute most of her screentime. Randi is imbued with so much lived-in personality and emotion. And Williams fucking WALLOPS her one big scene like the talented professional she is. She’d be my runner-up; probably a winner in any other year. But…

Viola Davis’ Rose is the true unsung center of a story selfishly sucked up by her husband. Because that is Rose’s unfair lot in life. By the time we get to the “big reveal moment” (there were audible gasps in my theater), and Rose bursts open with all the hurt and fury she’s stored up over years, it’s clear that she is the person who deserved so much more than is given to her.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Mike Mills (20th Century Women)
Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water) 
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou (The Lobster)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)

Wow. I’m legitimately having a weird crisis moment over which I hate more… La La Land or The Lobster. Not that it makes much of a difference for what I’m voting for — obviously both are out of contention — but part of me is amused, and trying to decide what I would actually rank lower…

I’m torn between the specific, detailed person-writing of Manchester by the Sea or the snappingly plotted and paced Hell or High Water. Each represents a very different writing skill.

In the end, I’ll follow my gut and go with the more unconventional choice. I think it’s Taylor Sheridan’s script that left the bigger impression on me. It juggles a lot very well in a way that Manchester by the Sea doesn’t need to.

 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Eric Heisserer (Arrival)
August Wilson (Fences)
Allison Schroeder & Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures)
Luke Davies (Lion)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) 

I do think this is the more contentious category than Original. All of the films I’ve seen are solid adaptations that do different things well. But in the end, it has to be Moonlight.

 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Bradford Young (Arrival) 
Linus Sandgren (La La Land)
Greig Fraser (Lion)
James Laxton (Moonlight)
Rodrigo Prieto (Silence)

I’m definitely torn between Arrival and MoonlightMoonlight is lovely, and did more interesting with its cinematography than I initially expected from a movie like it. But I think Arrival takes my vote — Bradford Young’s cinematography is probably what I liked best about it.

FUN FACT REMINDER: Young is the first African-American cinematographer nominated for an Oscar.

 

BEST FILM EDITING

Joe Walker (Arrival) 
John Gilbert (Hacksaw Ridge)
Jake Roberts (Hell or High Water)
Tom Cross (La La Land)
Nat Sanders and Joi Mcmillan (Moonlight)

As much as I like Hell or High Water for its deftly unobtrusive editing style (Jake Roberts also cut Brooklyn last year), once again it largely is between Arrival or Moonlight, each of which had distinct editing challenges (albeit for different reasons.)

Though I appreciate the discipline required for Moonlight to track through three separate but connected sections… in the end I think I have to go Arrival again because I think it had to communicate and accomplish more — a lot about the story hinged specifically and directly on the editing.

 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

The Jungle Book 
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Doctor Strange
Deepwater Horizon
Kubo and the Two Strings
✔︎

While I acknowledge the work that went into Kubo, it’s just not an animation style that personally appeals to me. In fact, I don’t like it much; I find it distancing and disconcerting somehow.

I had a lot of problems with The Jungle Book as a film, and even problems with how the visual effects still did not look quite right when put against a real boy. But the sheer amount of work that went into it is jaw-dropping.

Doctor Strange assaulted my brain.

Hanna says: I had issues with Kubo, but I thought the visuals were lovely and strange. So I’d vote for that for visual effects.

 

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Patrice Vermette (Arrival)
Stuart Craig & James Hambidge (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)
Jess Gonchor (Hail, Caesar!) 
David Wasco
(La La Land)
Guy Hendrix Dyas (Passengers)

Once again it’s interesting seeing Hail, Caesar! nominated in the same company as La La Land — the latter certainly endeavors to call back to old-Hollywood (and in numerous cases copies almost literally), but I think it’s Hail, Caesar! that actually recreates it in better spirit (even though I was a bit underwhelmed by the film as a whole.) The only reason La La Land would win instead is because it’s riding a love wave that will be blind to pretty much all else.

 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Joanna Johnston (Allied)
Colleen Atwood
(Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)
 Consolata Boyle (Florence Foster Jenkins)
 Madeline Fontaine (Jackie) 
Mary Gophers (La La Land)

Again, I’m surprised that there is no real pageantry nominee this year. Colleen Atwood’s work on Fantastic Beasts is the closest qualifier, but it’s still not quite the same.

I’m breaking my own rules here… and even though I have not seen the film, am voting for Madeline Fontaine for Jackie. Solely because I am very impressed with taking on the task of recreating such an iconic fashion figure (especially when there is a wealth of photographic evidence).

 

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING

A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond 
Suicide Squad

I liked Jayla?

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Mica Levi (Jackie)
Justin Hurwitz (La La Land)
Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka (Lion)
Nicholas Britell (Moonlight) 
Thomas Newman (Passengers)

So Arrival was not eligible for this category, otherwise I would be shocked at its absence.

Considering as soon as I returned home from Moonlight I looked up the soundtrack… I’m casting towards it. It works in complete service of the whole film, and its “Ending Suite” alone is more memorable to me than anything La La Land produced.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“The Empty Chair” (Jim: The James Foley Story)
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” (La La Land)
“City of Stars” (La La Land)
“How Far I’ll Go” (Moana) ✅ ✔︎
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” (Trolls) 

At least “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” is better than “City of Stars.” So between the two, I will grumble less if the former beats out the latter in The Battle of La La Land Songs.

Always Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Hanna pops in singing: I’ve been standing at the edge of the water… and then leaves again.

 

BEST SOUND EDITING

Arrival 
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully 

I just think about the way Arrival utilized sound throughout. It was an important facet.

 

BEST SOUND MIXING

13 Hours
Arrival 
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

See above.

 

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Land of Mine, Denmark
A Man Called Ove, 
Sweden
The Salesman, 
Iran 
Tanna,
Australia
Toni Erdmann, 
German

Have seen none of them! But will vote for Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman out of principle (which honestly a lot of other Academy members might do too.)

 

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

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

Well I did not like Kubo at all (the end in particular infuriates me), so that’s out easily! Mostly I’m conflicted between my total adoration for Moana vs. …well, my total adoration for Zootopia

While Moana is lovely and joyful and made for me by the sum of all the tiny smart choices it makes… Zootopia has not only pedigree but relevancy (in spite of the occasional nitpick at its metaphor.)

… For real, though… is My Life as a Zucchini actually literally about a zucchini…? I can’t bring myself to check.

 

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

13th
Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro 
Life, Animated
O.J.:Made in America

Now enters the end of the categories (i.e. the shorts and such) where I haven’t anything… and thus vote almost completely blind with very little info about any of the nominees. And I’m too lazy to be responsible and go look them all up.

What sounds interesting? Hmmm…

 

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

4.1 Miles
Extremis
Joe’s Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets 

Joe’s Violin was very tempting though!

 

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT

Ennemis Interieurs 
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights
Sing (Mindenki)
Timecode

That sounds dramatic!

 

BEST ANIMATED SHORT

Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes 
Pearl
Piper

I like the title!

 
That’s it. See you on the other side.