Saturday, February 25, 2017

It's 'La La Land' for Sure ... Probably

La La Land is going to sweep the Oscars this year.

Unless it doesn't.

Which could happen.  Since the last time the Academy Awards were handed out, there have been weirder balloting results.  So, could La La Land get trumped?

Doubtful.  But the Academy's got to be happy this year, because at long last the Best Picture nominee list has movies on it people have actually seen.  The average box-office take of the nine Best Picture nominees is $71.5 million, which is a hit by any standards.  Movies like Hidden Figures and La La Land have passionate fans -- and, especially in the case of the latter, more than a few detractors.

But much like last year's presidential race, while emotions run high for some people, there's more than a little apathy out there, which seems to have seeped into Oscar campaigns, too -- so while La La Land's sweep is almost a certainty, there's still a little suspense; if voters do more than just tick the boxes along straight "party lines," things could get interesting, though truth be told I'd be in the La La Land camp almost all the way ... and I'm guessing Academy voters will feel the same way, with just a few exceptions:

 WILL WIN : La La Land Moonlight (great movie, I'm not complaining, but what the hell happened?)
 WHY?  Go ahead, carp all you want.  You can cite all the times Oscar got it wrong (yes, we all remember Crash and Around the World in 80 Days), and you would be totally justified doing so -- but La La Land is no Crash, and even if you aren't a fan of the film it would be almost impossible to deny the pure cinematic artistry of the film, and let's not forget that this is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, not the Academy of Movies You'll Like.  To me, La La Land is the cinematic equivalent of London -- if you tire of it, you tire of life.  If there's real competition this year, it comes from Moonlight, a movie of exquisite beauty and craft, which would be the winner in a year without La La Land.  And while Hidden Figures has seen deserved popular success, look for La La Land to walk away with the big prize ... and not because Hollywood loves to honor itself, but because it's a terrific, deeply felt, beautifully made movie.

 WILL WIN : Damien Chazelle for La La Land
 SHOULD WIN : Chazelle
 WHY?  He's made an extraordinary movie.  You think the lead characters are narcissistic?  You think the movie just steals from other musicals?  Boy, you're a tough critic.  Chazelle's commitment, passion, vision and sheer technical ability may still be relatively young (he'll be the youngest Best Director winner, beating a record held for 85 years by Norman Taurog), but why does age matter?  Talent does, and the one-two punch of Whiplash and La La Land is a knockout the Academy can't ignore.

 WILL WIN Mahershala Ali for Moonlight
 SHOULD WIN : Lucas Hedges for Manchester by the Sea
 WHY?  The way Ali's presence in Moonlight transcends his actual screen time is a testament to what an extraordinary performance he delivers, and he'll be a deserving winner.  But in Manchester by the Sea, Hedges provides both humanity and humor to a difficult, depressing story.  Casey Affleck is getting the attention, but Hedges is largely why the movie works -- he's both fragile and strong, confused yet assured, and his work is what ensures that while Manchester by the Sea is tough stuff it's always revelatory.

 WILL WIN Viola Davis for Fences
 SHOULD WIN : Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures
 WHY?  Davis remains largely quiet and stoic throughout Fences, a film I found too noble and steady to be really affecting, but when Davis finally lets loose and vents years of pent-up frustration, she gets the kind of show-stopping moment that Oscar voters love.  Her work on stage won the Tony for Best Actress, and since Spencer is a previous Oscar winner, the Academy's strange unwritten rules make Davis the likely winner.  But Spencer delivers even more engaging, more satisfying work in Hidden Figures.  Of the five nominees, Spencer's work is the most crowd-pleasing -- and the most memorable.

 WILL WIN : Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea
 SHOULD WIN : Ryan Gosling for La La Land
 WHY?  Affleck delivers an undeniably great performance in a standout film.  His depiction of grief and loss is -- and this is no criticism -- almost scientifically calculated to nab the Oscar.  But Gosling does everything Affleck does ... and makes it look effortless and charming.  Those are qualities the Academy rarely finds attractive in male leads: Other than Jean Dujardin in The Artist, you'd need to go back to Lee Marvin in 1965 to find a Best Actor who received the award for a comedy.  Both of these are challenging, sometimes unlikeable characters made fascinating by the work of the actors who inhabit them.

 WILL WIN : Emma Stone for La La Land
 SHOULD WIN : Natalie Portman for Jackie
 WHY?  It may sound sexist -- and there's probably a lot of truth to that -- but singing, dancing and laughing are apparently just a lot more deserving of awards by a woman than by a man.  Which isn't to say Stone shouldn't get the Oscar for exactly the same reasons Gosling should.  She is beyond wonderful in La La Land.  But this is a tough category, and my vote would go to Portman, whose performance is not nearly as appealing but succeeds in the near-impossible task of getting us to consider a historical figure in a way we never have before.  Portman's Jacqueline Kennedy is a tragic heroine, a woman who had to put aside her own grief, pain and disbelief for the sake of the greater good, and Portman creates a complex, haunting figure.

 WILL WIN : Moonlight
 SHOULD WIN Moonlight
 WHY?  The Academy isn't known for rewarding risk takers, so this is a satisfying choice.  Moonlight bends the rules of standard story structure and character development to deliver an unexpected result, a visually beautiful and thematically lyrical exploration of growing up and letting go that examines a character not normally even acknowledged by Hollywod -- a poor, black, gay man -- and finds something in his life that almost anyone can identify with.  Moonlight is a stunner, a movie that the Academy rightfully wants to recognize, and will with this award.  All five nominees are deserving, but Moonlight stands out for its innovation ... and for its soul.

 WILL WIN  Manchester by the Sea
 WHY?  In addition to Casey Affleck's fine central performance, the Academy will honor Manchester by the Sea's considerable impact by acknowledging its screenplay, which is not a bad way to do things.  La La Land is a more complex blend of story, dialogue, lyrics and visuals, but it's going to get enough awards this year -- Manchester by the Sea is a more conventional choice.

 WILL WIN : Zootopia
 SHOULD WIN Kubo and the Two Strings
 WHY?  Zootopia has been sweeping most of the animation awards for a reason: It's adorable and it's got a surprisingly sophisticated storyline with some pointed observations about racism and sexism.  Plus it's adorable.  In an average year, it would be a slam-dunk, but this hasn't been an average year.  Kubo and the Two Strings is a grand and glorious adventure, one that sets a new standard for visual inventiveness, engaging both the heart and the mind with an exploration of memory and grief that is as complex and rewarding as just about any film this year.


Best Foreign Language FilmThe Salesman

Best Documentary Feature13th O.J. Made in America

Best Documentary Short Subject Extremis The White Helmets

Best Costume DesignLa La Land Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best Film EditingLa La Land Hacksaw Ridge

Best Cinematography La La Land

Best Makeup/Hair Styling A Man Called Ove Suicide Squad

Best Original Score: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

Best Original Song"City of Stars," La La Land

Best Sound Editing Hacksaw Ridge Arrival

Best Sound Mixing: La La Land Hacksaw Ridge

Best Visual EffectsThe Jungle Book

Best Production Design La La Land

Best Animated Short Film Pearl Piper

Best Live Action Short FilmEnnemis Intérieurs Sing

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