I've spoken about my love of film on this site before, though I admit it's been sparing as the primary focus here is always and will always be music. Last year in honor of the Academy Awards, which is one of my favorite nights of the year, I made a list of my 10 Favorite Film Scores of the Last 20 Years (as well as a followup post singling out single tracks from other scores I loved, you wanna see that also?? Well just click here!). This year I'll still make a score based post, but I'd also like to do a ranking of the other films nominated as well. While I would love to breakdown 24 categories, I doubt you're begging for my take on costume design. With that in mind I'll be sticking to the 10 categories I deem the biggest.
Just like with music, I am not an expert on the inner workings of film, I just watch A LOT. For the last decade I've made it a point to see all the films nominated for Oscars. And forgive me if I sound like an asshole here, but by "all" I don't mean just the Best Picture nominees, I mean every film nominated in each category. Documentary, foreign, animated, sound editing, the shorts, etc. I love film, and yes, there are some glaring issues with the Academy, but generally speaking they do a good job in recognizing the best of what the year had to offer. Obviously there have been/ are/ and will continue to be injustices, because there's no such thing as facts when it comes to art, only opinions. And with that, here's mine.
The films are ranked in order of what I think is most deserving to least deserving, and by deserving I mean the film or performance I thought was best, not necessarily the film that was my favorite. However, when it comes to awards it's usually the gray area in between those words that holds the answer. Here we go...
3. La La Land
4. Manchester By The Sea
5. Hell Or High Water
7. Hacksaw Ridge
8. Hidden Figures
This was something that I had to sit on for awhile and it came down to this - do I rank this based on the film's singular experience or how long it will hold it's value. And I don't mean value in terms of it's importance fading, but more in a "will I ever tire of it?" way.
If I had to choose a favorite, it would be La La Land. It's replay value felt endless. After I saw it I couldn't wait to see it again, and when I saw it a second time the feeling remained. BUT the best theatrical experience was Moonlight, easily. I was completely taken. Sitting in the theater felt like a waking dream at times. The mood, colors, music, acting...incredible. It's patience and power intertwined for a viewing that had me in a trance as the credits rolled. Arrival delivered a similar punch. I was engulfed instantly, such a specific atmosphere; I didn't want to leave. Even now, a month after seeing it I'm still amazed by it's poetry and depth.
While the rest of the field was strong, the race was never between any film outside of the top three on my list. I definitely felt that Hidden Figures and Lion were eclipsed by quite a few movies. The two strongest were Nocturnal Animals, which I would have put in the five spot, and Jackie, which would have ranked just below that.
1. Damien Chazelle, La La Land
2. Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
3. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
4. Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
5. Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea
Damien Chazelle's handling of both the grandiose and the subtle in La La Land felt so natural to me. The juggling of making it feel both classic and modern was a large part of the films draw, not to mention it's charm was always evident, even when sadness was the dominant emotion. There were quite a few moving parts and I felt everything was executed beautifully, whether or not you enjoyed the movie itself, it's hard to deny that this was an achievement.
The sad part about the best director category is there's always more than one who I think is well deserving of the statue. I honestly would have been ok with any of the five nominees winning. Denis Villeneuve will have his day soon enough as he's churned out three near perfect films (Arrival, Prisoners and Sicario) in his last three tries. Barry Jenkins' helming of Moonlight was a masterclass in mood and atmosphere, Mel Gibson gave us one of the more jarring tales in recent memory, and to great effect, and Kenneth Lonergan's basically the Daniel Day-Lewis of churning out spectacular films once in a blue moon. All were deserving, all we're respected. By the way, isn't it great to have Mel back?? The answer to that is yes. YES IT IS.
1. Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea
2. Denzel Washington, Fences
3. Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
4. Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
5. Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Casey Affleck was the clear winner here for me. No one else was even close. The Best Actress category was the same. He was incredible. His portrait of a man broken was as powerful as any I've ever seen. His subtlety moved mountains.
Denzel was Denzel, he's compelling no matter what he does, and the driving force in this films success...I could say more, but I already know you understand. Viggo turned in an amazing performance but could only be lifted so high due to the average film it was tied to. Andrew Garfield was good, but I felt more taken in with who the character was rather than being drawn in by the performance itself. It was one where I found myself wondering who I would have preferred in the role. I felt like someone else could have catapulted it to greater heights, in fact, his work in Silence was stronger, a film that I'm surprised received only a single nomination. Lastly, Ryan Gosling was charming and I really enjoyed his presence but I didn't feel the performance was one that needed to be recognized. He was part of a larger picture, the film succeeded because everything worked, not because he led it there.
1. Natalie Portman, Jackie
2. Isabelle Huppert, Elle
3. Ruth Negga, Loving
4. Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
5. Emma Stone, La La Land
I am a huge purporter of seeing everything before your opinion matters when it comes to arguing who's best, however, after seeing Jackie I was ready to give Portman the Oscar. She didn't just carry the film, she WAS the film, and how that isn't being recognized is beyond me. If tomorrow's telecast crowns any actor but her then I will be offended.
Huppert did an excellent job and understand the recognition. Her character was uniquely complex but also extremely unlikable, a fact that I see as the sole reason the film itself hasn't garnered more love this awards season. Ruth Negga was a large part of why I loved Loving so much, but the performance is too subtle to impact you the way you'd want the winner of this award to. Meryl Streep, like Denzel, does her thing. She's incredible, but at this point the fact that it feels like she's nominated every year is doing more harm then good. Emma Stone shouldn't have been nominated, which pains me because I genuinely like her. Before you criticize me, I thought she was great in the movie. Like Gosling, her charm helps complement the film, but it's the film itself that is the draw. While I wouldn't say she's replaceable, I just don't think it's a role that deserves recognition. Especially when Annette Bening delivered the second best performance of the year in 20th Century Women and was left off the ballot completely.
Best Supporting Actor
1. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
2. Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
3. Dev Patel, Lion
4. Lucas Hedges, Manchester By The Sea
5. Jeff Bridges, Hell Or High Water
Mahershala Ali was a standout in a cast of standouts. It feels odd to single him out because I can't stress enough how much each actor felt like a piece of the puzzle, and if one fell they all did. Regardless, he is more than deserving of a win here, giving a strong and kind hearted human side to a character that is often demonized in films.
The rest of the nominees do solid work, and when it comes to supporting characters I always feel five is so few; great films often feature multiple people that assist in the heavy lifting. Case in point, Aaron Taylor-Johnson was just as deserving of a nomination as Shannon for Nocturnal Animals, and the same goes for Ben Foster, whose work in Hell Or High Water I felt out shined Bridges. Dev was excellent, but was weighed down by a film that would have better presented itself as a documentary. Lucas Hedges was solid but (almost) anyone sharing the screen with Affleck at any point in time was bound to fade, he was just too good.
Best Supporting Actress
1. Viola Davis, Fences
2. Naomi Harris, Moonlight
3. Michelle Williams, Manchester By The Sea
4. Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
5. Nicole Kidman, Lion
Viola's presence had a larger impact than most actresses did in the Best Actress category. It's as simple as that. She can honestly do no wrong, and it makes me laugh realizing that one of the the best actress alive is on television headlining a primetime soap opera on ABC. If she so desperately wants to be on TV would someone PLEASE give this woman a real show to lead.
I already spoke about how much I loved everyone in Moonlight, and Naomi Harris is no different. More than anything it's nice to see her name on the ballot after putting in years of excellent work. Michelle would have challenged Viola had she been giving a bit more screen time. She was the only actor in Manchester By The Sea that was eclipsed by Affleck. Heartbreaking, but wonderful stuff. Octavia Spencer was fine but my love of Janelle Monae runs too deep and if anyone stole every scene they were in it was her. Janelle also delivered excellent work in Moonlight, though Harris definitely had more complexity to work with. Kidman was good, but it was nothing memorable, a fact which was probably emboldened by my thinking the film overall was average.
1. Linus Sandgren, La La Land
2. Bradford Young, Arrival
3. Rodrigo Prieto, Silence
4. James Laxton, Moonlight
5. Greig Fraser, Lion
It's been confirmed time and time again that all I really need to enjoy something is beautiful imagery paired with beautiful music. I just want beauty ok?? "I want, need it, see it, I take it - never fake it wrap you motherfuc"...apologies, RTJ on the brain. Where were we? YES. Cinematography. To simplify my decision I asked myself the question, what did each film rely most heavily on. Having said that, the question didn't help me much here, and the different between ranking 1 and 4 were so small. In the end I felt La La Land was the winner. So much of the films charm and effectiveness came from it's presentation. It was beautiful to look at, grandiose and intimate, which is a hard thing to juggle.
Arrival wasn't far behind, and how the film looked, like the fourth ranked Moonlight, was the reason I was so taken with the film initially. Great cinematography is what makes the theatrical experience worth it. So when you see pictures that are gorgeous in addition to working on all other levels you know you're in for a treat. Silence was epic and was the biggest of the nominees in this category and the one where I kept thinking to myself "I'd love to have a picture of that." You might have guessed by now that I felt like Lion was whatever. The more time goes by the more my appreciation of this film lessons, and while it really was nice to look at, I felt it was stock standard, and there were other films, namely The Handmaiden and Nocturnal Animals that was far more deserving. Oh well.
1. Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea
2. Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou, The Lobster
3. Taylor Sheridan, Hell Or High Water
4. Mike Mills, 20th Century Women
5. Damien Chazelle, La La Land
This was one of the toughest categories, as well as one of my favorites. Everything starts with a script, and telling an original story, whether it's based in the real world or in a far off land, is a beautiful thing. Putting something into the world that wasn't there before. This years nominees were all incredible, and the margin between them was small comparatively. Ultimately I chose Manchester By The Sea because it affected me the most. I still think about it. It truly couldn't have been better and it all began here.
I saw The Lobster and High-Rise (also excellent) in the same week and the only reason I mention that is that they added to one another's effectiveness in that they legitimately removed me from my reality. Whether or not you enjoyed the film, there's no denying that it was weird and it was unique. I'd have to say my favorite part about the experience was the fact that it didn't give us a reason as to why the world was the way it was, it just was. By choosing not to give an explanation it forced us to simply accept it rather than present us with an origin we can then pick apart. Hell Or High Water's complex tale of what justice really is was as compelling a story as I've seen in recent memory. I also loved 20th Century Women's coming of age drama, it felt so natural, nothing was forced. Also just writing this is making me upset again that Bening was passed over in the best actress category. La La Land was solid, especially during the more grounded second half, however it was the weakest in this field by far, something I think even the films biggest supporters would agree with.
1. Eric Heisserer, Arrival
2. August Wilson, Fences
3. Barry Jenkins (screenplay) / Tarell Alvin McCraney (story), Moonlight
4. Allison Schroeder & Theodore Melfi (screenplay) / Margot Lee Shetterly (book) Hidden Figures
5. Luke Davies, Lion
Adapted screenplay is a category that blows my mind. For me personally, the idea of adapting a fully formed story sounds near impossible. Knowing what to keep, what to remove, what to alter because it will work better for the film...there's so much to weigh. One thing that stands out the most to me is when films can convey the emotion largely provided by inner dialogue. In this case I felt Arrival stood tallest, which might be because the writer of the novella it's based on ("Story of Your Life") also helmed the script. Still, a short story and a script are two different animals.
Fences was spectacular, and a close second, and the one I assume will win. I just felt the words spoken in Arrival were most important, which makes sense considering it's a film about language. I know Fences similar in that way, however it didn't speak to me as strongly personally; it was really nothing more than a preference here. Moonlight I felt the acting was what lifted this to great heights, especially with a minimal script, much of what was felt was because of the incredible performances. Hidden Figures and Lion, for me, presented the dilemma in which I would rather have just read the book or seen a documentary. While I enjoyed the two films enough, I always feel annoyed when they feel the need to alter these incredible stories to try and tug at our emotions. The story is already amazing! It isn't necessary! Unfortunately that's exactly what they did, and what basically every true story does, so maybe it's not them it's...it's me...
1. Justin Hurwitz, La La Land
2. Nicholas Britell, Moonlight
3. Mica Levi, Jackie
4. Dustin O' Halloran & Hauschka, Lion
5. Thomas Newman, Passengers
This category...I don't want to talk about this category. I'm going to be writing a much longer post focusing solely on the film scores of 2016 INCLUDING the beautiful scores that were excluded by people who should no longer have a job on the voting committee. What I mean by that is, if a score features work by multiple artists the academy then has to decide if the main composers work is distinguishable from the outside pieces. If the two can't be told apart the score is dismissed. With this in effect, every year some of the best works are disqualified and it's...frustrating. In addition to that, and this happens in other categories as well, voters don't do their assigned work and because of that resort to nominating names they know, assuming the said person did a fine job. This year it was Thomas Newman, one of the greatest composers alive and a favorite of mine, so when they nominated his score for Passengers, music he could have put together in his sleep, I was appalled. Also Passengers was nominated for more awards than Silence. Let that sink in.
Now, I will say the other four are fine and deserving enough, but there was so much to love in 2016 and I know that if voters took the time at least one other deserving party might have been recognized. And just to ease your worried minds, I still would crown La La Land the winner regardless of who else was in the category. Thank you and goodnight.