La La Land’s Oscar Nominations Ranked From Most to Least Likely to Win

LLL d 41-42_6689.NEF

So, here’s the deal, La La Land got fourteen Oscar nominations last week (the most for any single movie, sharing the record with Titanic and All About Eve), which means it has the best chance in almost twenty years to break the record for the most Oscar wins by a single film. In order to do this, La La Land must win twelve Academy Awards. If it wins 11, it would still be one of the movies to win the most awards, but would have to share the record with three other movies: Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but honestly, where’s the fun in that?

So, what I’ve done is rank all fourteen of La La Land‘s nominations by their likelihood of winning, going from most likely to least likely to get an Oscar on February 26, trying to determine how likely it is that La La Land would be able to break the record.

Now, before we get into this, keep in mind that this ranking has nothing to do with my personal opinions about the quality of the movie La La Land, only with my assessment of how likely it is to triumph on Oscar night based on my experience studying the Oscars and other award shows. If you want to know my thoughts on La La Land, here’s my review. Otherwise, let’s get on with the show…

1. Sound Mixing
Musicals and music-related movies do extremely well in this category, especially musicals that are bout to win Best Picture. Similar winner in this category include Chicago, Ray, Dreamgirls, Les Miserables and Whiplash. I have the hardest time picturing any movie other than La La Land winning this category, which is ironic, since the sound mix has been one of the technical aspects of the film that has come into sharp criticism. I personally agree with those who think the mix was all out of whack and it was really hard to understand the lyrics (especially in the opening sequence), but I doubt Academy voters will care.
Likelihood of winning: extremely high

2. Original Score
This is, after all, an original musical. How crazy would it be for Oscar voters to love the movie in practically every category and not give it an award for its score? You can take this one to the bank.
Likelihood of winning: extremely high

3. Production Design
There is nothing particularly unbeatable about La La Land’s Production Design. This has more to do with the fact that none of the other nominees strike the balance of showy design and Best Picture front-runner that would be required to win. The closest to that is probably Arrival, but its design is so minimalist it probably doesn’t stand a chance.
Likelihood of winning: extremely high

4. Best Director
Even if there is a challenger to La La Land in the Best Picture category (and there’s not), director Damien Chazelle looks likely to prevail no matter what. And it makes sense, it is easy to see how anyone who loves the movie will see it as a triumph of a passionate director. It’s also the showiest and most technically impressive film in the category, which will surely help.
Likehood of winning: very high

5. Best Picture
I guess I can see a scenario in which the backlash starts to grow exponentially and a strong campaign allows for Moonlight or Hidden Figures to win, but who are we kidding? Oscar voters are in love with this movie.
Likelihood of winning: very high

6. Lead Actress: Emma Stone
Now that she’s won both the Golden Globe and the SAG Award, Stone is firmly on her way to winning an Oscar. Could she be stopped? The actresses most likely to challenge her with a “I’ve been nominated countless times and still haven’t won” type of strategy (a.k.a. Amy Adams and Annette Bening) didn’t even get nominated, Jackie‘s Natalie Portman is losing buzz, and a win for the wonderful Isabelle Huppert would be incredibly out of character for a group of people who like to avoid honoring foreign films as much as possible.
likelihood of winning: high

7. Editing
The last musical to win in this category was Chicago, and it was similarly a Best Picture front-runner. When you are going to win Best Picture, you most often than not also get the Editing award, so La La Land‘s chances here are good.
Likelihood of winning: high

8. Cinematography
Much like in the Director category, La La Land will benefit from being the “showiest” of the nominees. Complicated camerawork and the movie’s vision of Los Angeles as photographed during magic hour should be enough to win the Academy, who tends ot have a “more is more” mentality when it comes to the technical categories.
Likelihood of winning: high

9. Original Song: “City of Stars”
It only makes sense for La La Land to win the original song category, so why is it so relatively low in this list? Well, two reasons. The first is that two of La La Land‘s songs got nominated and could theoretically split the vote. The other is the fact that awards-magnet Lin-Manuel Miranda is also nominated in the category for his work in Moana. There is a bit of a push to get Miranda an Oscar as soon as possible, but Academy voters could as easily just wait until Hamilton is adapted into a movie, especially when they have their own pet project to shower with awards.
Likelihood of winning: more likely than not

10. Original Screenplay
This seemed like a likely place to give some love to Manchester by the Sea or even Hell or High Water, especially since people do not tend to single out the screenplay when talking about La La Land‘s virtues. Here’s a statistic for you, however: Every Best Picture winner has also won the Screenplay award for the past eleven years. Except for The Artist, but that was a silent film. Is a musical the same as a silent?
Likelihood of winning: more likely than not

11. Costume Design
La La Land‘s costumes are showy enough to take the award, but unlike other technical categories, this is one with some steep competition. I’m mostly thinking of Jackie, which isn’t nearly as beloved by the Academy, but does have the “historic lady” type of costumes that tend to win in this category. It falls in line with past winners such as Marie Antoinette, The Duchess, and The Young Victoria. I honestly could see either movie winning.
Likelihood of winning: toss-up

12. Sound Editing
Unlike in Sound Mixing, it’s extremely hard for musials to do well in Sound Editing (which used to be called Sound Effects Editing). In fact, not only has a musical never won this category, no musical has ever been nominated! (unless you count Aladdin, which maybe?). This is the technical category La La Land is most likely to lose (probably to a movie with lots of loud sound effects like Hacksaw Ridge), and yet, if voters get caught up in the sweep… there’s a clear possibility here.
Likelihood of winning: toss-up

13. Original Song: “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”
Doesn’t this song kind of sound like “The Rainbow Connection”? Anyway, the marketing team for the movie is clearly positioning “City of Stars” as the song they want to see win, so it’s be a big surprise if “Audition” wins. A win for Moana (and Lin-Manuel Miranda) is probably more likely than a win for this song.
Likelihood of winning: low

14. Lead Actor (Ryan Gosling)
The lead actor race has turned into a bit of a free-for-all, with Gosling winning the Golden Globe for Comedy or Musical, Casey Affleck winning the Globe for Drama, and Denzel Washington winning the SAG. Any of these three could win the Oscar, but while Gosling could benefit from a La La Land sweep, it’s super rare for male romantic leads to win Oscars. I’m afraid it’s most likely than one with the actors with the more dramatic parts will take home the gold. 
Likelihood of winning:
 low

In conclusion, La La Land is in a very good position to break that record.

Short(ish) Review: The Salesman

salesman

Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman opened in limited release on the same day President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order banning Muslims from a number of Middle Eastern countries from entering the United States of America, including Farhadi’s home country, Iran. Let me tell you, I do feel kind of conflicted about how I don’t seem to be able to write a review without mentioning this Douchebag-in-chief and his horrific policies lately, but I think it’s particularly relevant when writing about this movie. Trump’s unconstitutional -and completely ridiculous- ban of Muslims is fueled by the fear of people whose understanding of the Islam and the Muslim world is extremely limited.

The day after Trump signed his Executive Order, it was announced that Farhadi -who is nominated for the Oscar in the category of Foreign Language Film- would not be granted a visa to attend the ceremony. An extremely ironic turn of events, considering Farhadi’s movies represent a kind of complex, humane, and very sophisticated type of thinking that doesn’t simplify every conflict and demand a simple solution. Farhadi tries to understand the characters involved, their motivations, and reflect the reality that life can be messy and chaotic. His movies never forget that humanity is found in the struggle to understanding each other, no matter how hard. These movies are the absolute moral opposite of the Hollywood myth of absolute good versus absolute evil. They are everything in between. They are nuanced. You know, the opposite of everything Trump does.

The premise of a Farhadi movie always involves a series of coincidences that build up to a controversial occurrence which sparks a series of conflicted reactions by the people involved resulting in a complicated and messy situation. Here’s how this template applies to The Salesman: Our protagonists are Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), married actors who are performing in a production of Death of  Salesman. The movie opens with an earthquake, the damage of which forces the couple to temporarily move out of their apartment. One night, Emad comes back from work to find Rana has been attacked while she was taking a shower.

The details of how the attack came to pass are numerous and rather intricate. The identity of the previous tenant of the apartment, for example, comes into play. There are numerous other elements that factor into the story, and it’s not worth it to explain in detail when the movie does such a terrific job of keeping track of its own complicated plot. The important part is that this whole situation sends Emad and Rana’s marriage into a tailspin. The wife is suddenly afraid of being alone, and unsure of how to cope, while the husband can’t get over his own rage, and desire to find some sort of justice.

Justice, of course, doesn’t come. At least not cleanly. Every action brings another problem, another thing to keep in mind. In movies such as About Elly and A Separation, Farhadi proved himself as a masterful screenwriter, capable of turning polemics into intricate and unique puzzles, in which every piece falling in its place doesn’t necessarily reveal a concrete image. The puzzle is finished, but the image it forms is blurry. The Salesman is no exception. Its power comes not from seeing a righteous person act righteously, but from the not necessarily easy exercise of making peace with every character’s flawed humanity.

The Salesman is not my favorite Farhadi movie, but it’s typically strong work coming from a strong director. It will be valuable introduction for anyone who has never seen one of his movies before. If nothing else, I hope this whole visa controversy can help bring attention to the director’s work. Because sometimes it feels like if everyone had seen a Farhadi movie, with all its complications and complexities… Well, who knows? Maybe the world would be a better place.

Grade: 8 out of 10

The 2016 Oscar Nominations

hidden-figures

Dear reader, I have lots of thoughts. These nominations are giving me whiplash. So happy one second, so angry/disappointed the next.

But let’s get on with it, shall we?

Best Picture

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

A very decent list. I’m saddened by the fact that I don’t outright “love” any of the nominated movies, although I think they’re all pretty solid… except for Hacksaw Ridge, that movie is garbage. But more of that in a second. The big story here (and of the nominations overall) is that La La Land got 14 (the most for any film sharing the record with Titanic and All About Eve), and is in a pretty good position to win the most Oscars ever won by a single film (it would have to win 12 to beat the record of 11 shared by Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King).
How I did in my predictions: 8 out of 9
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: La La Land

Director

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

Don’t want to go on a rant about how this is the kind of horse-shit that happens in Trump’s America or anything, but let’s think of the fact that Mel Gibson (Mel Gibson!) got nominated this morning. Worst part of it is, even putting aside the morality of nominating this man, his movie was a pile of garbage! Speaking of piles of garbage, I’m really happy Nocturnal Animals didn’t get in for either of these categories, as it seemed for a while like it might have.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Damien Chazelle

Lead Actor

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

I’ve spoken my piece about Captain Fantastic and how terrible it is, so I won’t say more. In a broader sense, this is the third year in a row in which we have a very boring and unimpressive Lead Actor category.
How I did in my predictions: 5 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Casey Affleck

Lead Actress

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

This is the category where the whiplash happens. Isabelle Huppert got nominated? I can’t believe it, amazing! Ruth Negga got nominated? I haven’t seen Loving yet, but what a refreshing and exciting nomination! Natalie Portman? Great. Emma Stone? Sure, she was good too… and… is that… Meryl Streep? For Florence Foster Jenkins? Look, we all loved her speech at the Golden Globes, but nominating her for this movie… over Annette Bening’s career-best performance in 20th Century Women? I don’t know how to cope.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Emma Stone

Supporting Actor

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

So, let’s talk about Nocturnal Animals. For a while there it seemed like the wretched movie was going to stomp in and sweep all sorts of awards. It also seemed, especially after his unexpected Golden Globe win, like Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s performance as a person who has a toilet in his front porch would surely get nominated. Instead, Nocturnal Animals‘ only nomination is for Michael Shannon, who is undoubtedly the very best (and perhaps only good) part about the movie. I’ll take it.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali

Supporting Actress

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

Nothing surprising here, these five ladies were the expected nominees, and good for them! Although I have to mention it’s kind of remarkable to see three actors of color get nominated in the same category. It’s been at least ten years since this last happened (by my count last time was Supporting Actress 2006, which had Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi, and eventual winner Jennifer Hudson).
How I did in my predictions: 5 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Viola Davis

Original Screenplay

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

I was resigned to see the horrendous Captain Fantastic get a surprise nomination here, so to see not only my favorite movie of the year (The Lobster, yay!) get nominated, but also a recognition for Mike Mills’ lovely and amazing 20th Century Women? I was ready to make up with Oscar and give him a big smooch.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Manchester by the Sea 

Adapted Screenplay

  • Arrival (Eric Heisserer)
  • Fences (August Wilson)
  • Hidden Figures (Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi)
  • Lion (Luke Davies)
  • Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, Tarrell Alvin McCraney)

This is a solid category, and it’s nice to see diverse movies recognized even if the screenplay is by far the weakest part of Hidden Figures, and what kept me from fully embracing the movie.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Moonlight 

Cinematography

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

A lot of first-time nominees in this category, and for richly deserving work. Bradford Young and Greig Fraser in particular, have done some of the best cinematography work of the past five years, so it’s great to see them finally be rewarded. In other news, this ended up being the only nomination for Martin Scorsese’s Silence, a movie that has simply failed to connect with a larger audience (even Academy members).
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: La La Land 

Production Design

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

Nice to see my beloved Hail, Caesar recognized, even if the completist in me now feels like i have to watch Passengers, which is always bad news.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: La La Land 

Costume Design

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

Good list. I’m actually looking forward to catching up with Allied, for some reason.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: La La Land

Film Editing

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

No surprises here. A solid list of Oscar front-runners, although not getting nominated here truly hurts Manchester by the Sea‘s chances to win Best Picture (not that anyone could beat the La La Land juggernaut, but still).
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: La La Land 

Original Score

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

I must’ve had a mini heart-attack when I heard Mica Levi’s name. This is probably the nomination I’m most happy about this morning. Four out of the five nominees here are newcomers, a very unusual list of nominees considering the Academy’s music branch is notoriously conservative preferring to reward well-established composers.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: La La Land 

Original Song

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

The fact that “Drive It Like You Stole It”, or any song from Sing Street for that matter, didn’t get nominated is truly a crime. Now, having said that, am I a complete monster for kind of liking Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling”?
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: “City of Stars”

Sound Mixing

  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Sully
  • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Isn’t the fact that I now feel the urge to watch the surely dreadful Passengers enough? You also have to throw Michael Bay’s freaking Benghazi movie in the mix? I feel like I relate to the priests in Silence now.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: La La Land 

Sound Editing

  • Arrival
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 

As far as I can tell, La La Land is the first musical to ever get nominated for Sound Editing, which is a category most closely associated with sound effects. The real question is whether its juggernaut status will be big enough for it to win the category.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Hacksaw Ridge 

Makeup and Hair

  • A Man Called Ove
  • Star Trek Beyond
  • Suicide Squad 

Ok, I’m really excited about two things here. One, Deadpool is not an Oscar nominee. This whole Deadpool is getting awards thing was getting ridiculous, with people thinking it might get in for Best Picture or something, so I’m happy the Academy shut it down. Two, freaking Suicide Squad, a movie so bad it barely counts as a movie gets nominated here and continues the wonderful tradition of God-awful movies getting nominated for the Makeup and Hair Oscar (previous examples: Norbit and Click).
How I did in my predictions: 1 out of 3
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Star Trek Beyond

Visual Effects

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

Listen, if Ex Machina could win this category last year, anything is possible. The campaign to make Kubo and the Two Strings the first animated movie to win Visual Effects starts here! (In case you’re curious it’s not the first to get nominated, The Nightmare Before Christmas lost to Jurassic Park in 1993).
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: The Jungle Book  

Animated Feature

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

Not much to say here except this looks like a good list, and I’m looking forward to catching up with The Red Turtle and My Life as a Zucchini.
How I did in my predictions: 5 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Zootopia 

Foreign Film

  • Tanna (Australia)
  • Land of Mine (Denmark)
  • Toni Erdmann (Germany)
  • The Salesman (Iran)
  • A Man Called Ove (Sweden)

Have only seen Toni Erdmann, which is fantastic, and I hope it wins.
How I did in my predictions: 5 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Toni Erdmann 

Documentary Feature   

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

I haven’t even tried to watch documentaries this year. The only one I’ve seen is 13th which is pretty good, but I get the feeling will probably not win.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: O.J. Made in America 

 Animated Short

  • Blind Vaysha
  • Borrowed Time
  • Pear Cider and Cigarettes 
  • Pearl
  • Piper

Remember when we all went to see Finding Dory and thought Piper was so much better than the actual movie? Well, here you go. And hey, that other animated short that made the internet cry is also nominated.
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Piper

Documentary Short

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

Live Action Short

  • Ennemis Interieurs 
  • La Femme et le TGV
  • Silent Nights
  • Sing
  • Timecode 

Luckily it’s another Sing, not the one with the singing animals that looks like two hours of torture.

Split: The M Night Returns

split

This weekend saw the release of the Vin Diesel vehicle XxX: Return of Xander Cage, but Xander’s thunder was stolen. In terms of cinematic returns, the weekend clearly belonged to Mr. M. Night Shyamalan. In less than twenty years, Shyamalan has gone from being known as the box office wunderkind of The Sixth Sense to the derided auteur of The Last Airbender. His name became synonym with badness (and not without reason, he made some truly atrocious crap), but if Split, which is poised to perform quite well at the box office is any indication, Shyamalan made have found a way to make his way back to the top. Those who predicted this return to form after seeing last year’s schlocky horror comedy The Visit deserve a pat on the back. The Shyamalassaince is here.

There have been many theories as of what exactly went wrong with Shyamalan’s career. I tend to agree with those who believe he bought too hard into his mythology. He blindly believed that he was a genius. As his movies grew more ambitious, he started to be swallowed up by his insecurities. By the time he was transparently exorcising his demons by making a film critic the villain of the nonsensical Lady in the Water, he had clearly lost his touch.

Losing whatever good will he had left in Hollywood must have been a sobering and humbling experience for Shyamalan. After a number of big-scale disasters, he has retreated to smaller, schlockier, and honestly, more entertaining fare. Split is a small-scale thriller on the style of last year’s 10 Cloverfield Lanein which a trio of teenage girls are kidnapped by a man with 23 different personalities, a couple of which happen to be psychopaths. The girls are led by Anya Taylor-Joy (coming strong off The Witch), while the villain is played with gusto by James McAvoy, who can’t help but rejoice in the opportunity to chew some scenery after spending the last few years chained to the role of Professor X by those X-Men movies.

It’s the kind of tight and effective scenario that would be hard to screw up, although if someone was going to load too many things on this sturdy tortilla, it would’ve been Shyamalan. Writing has always been the director’s weakness, and the screenplay is definitely the weakest part of Split. There a number of moments in which plot points are spelled out through clunky, expository dialogue. There are certain moments in which characters (who are not supposed to be mentally ill) behave in ways you wouldn’t expect humans to behave. Not in huge ways, but in small details that could’ve been easily tweaked by taking another pass at the script.

That being said, the script is not weak per se. It might have a couple noticeable weaknesses, but it works. Mostly, because Shyamalan is truly confident behind the camera. There’s nothing particularly flashy about his direction, which is a testament to how compelling he can be as a director. One of the smartest moves Shyamalan has made throughout his career is to surround himself with some of the best cinematographers in the business. This time, he recruits Mike Gioulakis, who did a terrific job with David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows.

This collaboration results in such carefully chosen camera angles, Split could be used a primer on the art of shot composition. The use of space within (and outside) the frame is not only impressive, but fun. There is a scene in which one of the kidnapped girls runs through a long, dark hallway facing the camera. The audience, failing to see where she’s heading, is in that moment as impatient and lost as the character herself.

That’s the crazy, and so satisfying thing about Split. Too often has Shyamalan shot himself in the foot by trying to dazzle his audience with complicated plots and lofty ideas. What makes those other movies so disappointing is that they seem designed to impress an audience, not to connect with them. Split is different. It is focused on character in a way no Shyamalan movie has been in a long time. When the big “twist” comes along, the conflict is resolved by something that has been set up as the characters’ defining characteristic. The twist comes from within. It’s, admittedly, a “problematic” solution to the plot. The kind of simplistic psychology that belonged in B-movies for a long time but has become too insensitive for our times. It is so of a piece with that kind of trashy story-telling, however, that it worked quite well on me.

Now, the movie keeps going for a little while after the plot is resolved, and goes to an unexpected place, which I was frankly hesitant about… until the very last scene in the film, which is practically a post-credit sequence. Then… Well, let’s just say that after watching Split, I’m quite ready for the M. Night Shyamalan cinematic universe.

Grade: 8 out of 10

Predicting the Oscar Nominees for 2016

nom-predix-16

Why write an intro if you know how it works. In case you don’t: I try to guess what will be nominated, am wrong.

Best Picture

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

If there’s 8 nominees: Hidden Figures
If there’s 9 nominees: Nocturnal Animals
If there’s 10 nominees: Fences 

As you can see, there are seven movies that I’m most certain will make the cut. Hidden Figures looks like an increasingly likely possibility thanks in no small part to its amazing performance at the box office. Nocturnal Animals keeps popping up for nominations all over the place for some reason. And while Denzel Washington’s adaptation of Fences hasn’t done as well as it was once expected, there is still a chance it could show up, although 10 nominees seems highly unlikely (if not impossible).

Best Director

  • Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
  • Berry Jenkins (Moonlight)
  • Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
  • David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water)
  • Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)

Here’s the thing. There seems to be four likely nominees in this race (Chazelle, Jenkins, Lonergan, and Villeneuve), and it’s getting really hard to predict who the fifth nominee is going to be if you believe the Academy will be cautious enough to steer clear from nominating Mel Gibson and have the decency to not nominate Tom Ford. Hell or High Water seems to be a beloved movie, so my guess is the most likely candidate to benefit.

Best Actor

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

This lineup might as well be written in stone, so I wouldn’t be surprised if something stupid happens like Ryan Reynolds getting nominated for Deadpool happens. We’ll know the world has truly gone to shit when Reynolds gets in over Denzel Washington.

Best Actress

  • Amy Adams (Arrival)
  • Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
  • Natalie Portman (Jackie)
  • Emma Stone (La La Land)
  • Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

If 2016 taught us anything is that the world isn’t fair. The trend will continue when Annette Bening fails to be nominated for what is probably the very best performance of her already impressive career. I’ll take solace, as I do most every day, in the fact that Isabelle Huppert exists.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
  • Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
  • Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins)
  • Dev Patel (Lion)
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals)

There is a scene in Nocturnal Animals in which it is revealed that Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character has an operating toilet in the front porch of his house. He then poops and wipes his ass on screen. I have to assume that’s why he won the Golden Globe is bound to get nominated for an Oscar.

Best Supporting Actress

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

This has been a consistent line-up through much of Awards Season, so I’d be surprised if any of these five ladies gets left out. (If I had to guess who is most likely to miss the nomination, I’d say Nicole Kidman, but it’s not going to happen).

Best Original Screenplay

  • Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross)
  • Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan)
  • La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
  • The Lobster (Efthymus Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos)
  • Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)

With the Academy deciding to move Moonlight to the Adapted category, there comes the possibility for a surprised nomination for The Lobster, which makes me really happy. That being said, every good news comes with a downside, which in this case is the likely inclusion of Captain Fantastic. How anyone can watch that movie and find it to be anything but terrible I will never know.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Arrival (Eric Heisserer)
  • Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi, Allison Schroeder)
  • Lion (Luke Davies)
  • Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
  • Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford)

Yup, you read that right. Don’t be surprised when Fences, written by the late August Wilson, one of the most honored and significant playwrights in American history doesn’t get nominated to make room for Tom Ford’s bullshit screenplay.

Best Cinematography

  • Arrival (Bradford Young)
  • La La Land (Linus Sandgren)
  • Lion (Greig Fraser)
  • Moonlight (James Laxton)
  • Nocturnal Animals (Seamus McGarvey)

This seems to be the one place where Martin Scorsese’s long gestating passion project could get a nomination, but competition is stiff, and Silence has performed so poorly (awards-wise and at the box office), I’m afraid it’s most likely to be forgotten on nomination morning.

Best Costume Design

  • The Dressmaker (Marion Boyce, Margot Wilson)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Colleen Atwood)
  • Florence Foster Jenkins (Consolata Boyle)
  • Jackie (Madeline Fontaine)
  • La La Land (Mary Zophres)

I feel quite confident about four of these picks, but then there’s that fifth slot and I have no idea what to fill it with. The Dressmaker is a movie about clothes, and even though it hasn’t been broadly seen, it does seem like the kind of movie that this branch nominates while others ignore it.

Best Film Editing

  • Hacksaw Ridge (John Gilbert)
  • Hell or High Water (Jake Roberts)
  • La La Land (Tom Cross)
  • Manchester by the Sea (Jennifer Lame)
  • Moonlight (Joi McMillion, Nat Sanders)

I think Arrival has a very good chance of getting nominated here, I just don’t know who would be left out if it did.

Best Makeup and Hair

  • Deadpool
  • Florence Foster Jenkins
  • A Man Called Ove

Every year, the Academy releases a shortlist of 7 movies before nominating 3 in this category, and it’s always a bizarre selection. I’m not a makeup expert so what do I know. I guess I’ll be tickled if Suicide Squad joins Click and Norbit in the hall of fame of infamously bad movies nominated for an Oscar.

Best Production Design

  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Stuart Craig)
  • Florence Foster Jenkins (Alan MacDonald)
  • Hail, Caesar! (Jess Gonchor)
  • Jackie (Jean Rabasse)
  • La La Land (David Wasco)

I’m going to be honest with myself and admit that this is the category I’m least certain about, which most certainly means it’s the category I’m going to get completely wrong. The only movie I’m certain will be here is La La Land, the rest is pure guesswork.

Best Original Score

  • The BFG (John Williams)
  • Jackie (Mica Levi)
  • La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
  • Lion (Hauschka, Dustin O’Halloran)
  • Nocturnal Animals (Abel Korzeniowski)

Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part to think Mica Levi has a chance of getting nominated by a branch that has proved itself to be incredibly cold to outsiders, so I’m balancing it out with a nomination for John Williams, the least “outsidery” person imaginable.

Best Original Song

  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” (La La Land)
  • “City of Stars” (La La Land)
  • “Drive It Like You Stole It” (Sing Street)
  • “How Far I’ll Go” (Moana)
  • “Runnin” (Hidden Figures)

Since Annette Bening’s nomination seems increasingly unlikely, all I really want from the Oscars is for Sing Street to get nominated here so we get those crazy kids performing at the ceremony.

Best Sound Mixing

  • Arrival 
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • The Jungle Book 
  • La La Land 
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 

Musicals, war movies, science fiction, visual effects extravaganzas, that’s the kind of movie that usually gets nominated in this category.

Best Sound Editing

  • Arrival
  • Deepwater Horizon 
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • The Jungle Book 
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 

The key to predicting Sound Editing is look if any musical is going to be nominated in Sound Mixing and replace it with a movie that involves a lot of water. Thus, La La Land gets replaced by Deepwater Horizon. 

Best Visual Effects

  • Deepwater Horizon 
  • Doctor Strange
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • The Jungle Book
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 

Big blockbusters with healthy box office returns usually dominate this category. The odd man out is Deepwater Horizon, which seems to have come and gone without much hoopla. That being said, literally the only thing I’ve heard about that movie is that the visual effects are absolutely amazing so I’m counting it in.

Best Foreign Film

  • Land of Mine (Denmark)
  • A Man Called Ove (Sweden)
  • The Salesman (Iran)
  • Tanna (Australia)
  • Toni Erdmann (Germany)

Every year, the Academy releases a shortlist of 9 finalists in the foreign film category before nominating five of those movies. I haven’t seen (or know much) about most of them, so this prediction is basically guesswork based on plot synopsis and previous Oscar winners.

Best Animated Feature

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

In recent years, the Academy has favored foreign movies over sequels and uninspired big hits. That’s why I’m fairly certain Finding Dory, the highest grossing movie of the year, won’t get a nomination. I am afraid, however, that something horrible like Sing might get nominated and then I’ll have to watch the wretched thing.

Best Documentary Feature

  • 13th
  • Cameraperson 
  • Fire at Sea
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • O.J. Made in America 

Not much to say here, I haven’t seen many documentaries this year. These are just five movies that people seem to love, so I expect the Academy to love them, too.

Do Not Dismiss One Day at a Time

one-day-at-a-time

I’m open to the idea of being completely wrong about this. Maybe this has to do with my personal experience, and the places I grew up, and the exposure I had to other Spanish-speaking countries and their particular way of talking. And, granted, I have met only a handful of Cubans throughout my life. But let me assure you I am not lying when I say no Spanish-speaking person I have ever encountered has ever referred to a “quinceañera” as a “quinces”. A “quince”, yes. But “quinces”? Never.

That’s the only complaint I will level against One Day at a Time, the charming sitcom that premiered just a week ago on Netflix. The show is, of course, a remake of the sitcom of the same name that aired in the seventies and eighties and was created by revolutionary television producer Norman Lear.

Lear liked to take on social issues through the lens of different demographics (white middle class in All in the Family, black middle class in The Jeffersons, black working class in Good Times, etc.). In its original form, One Day at a Time was the story of a single mother raising her two children on her own (a more daring concept back in the seventies), and in its current incarnation, takes an extra step by focusing on a demographic previously unexplored by Lear’s expansive output: Latino Americans.

The premise of the show doesn’t change much, at the center is still a single mother. Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado) is a Cuban American and a war veteran who is -like in the original- working hard to raise her two children. This time, however, she is being helped by her mother, played by the great Rita Moreno.

I don’t usually write about television on this blog, but something about this show compelled me to jump on the internet and make sure to stick up for it. Not that people are reacting badly to the show, or anything (most critics seem to like it), but the second I started watching the show, I imagined a segment of people who wouldn’t consider watching the show by the mere fact that it is a traditional multi-camera sitcom. You know, the kind where you can hear the audience laughter.

So, yeah, truth be told, I am only writing all of this with the intention of convincing people to not dismiss One Day at a Time because we as a culture seem to have moved on from the traditional sitcom format (although the ratings for The Big Bang Theory suggest otherwise). In any case, I will try to make this brief and say there are basically two big reasons why I think One Day at a Time is an exceptional show that deserves to be watched.

The first is that it’s a terrific sitcom. Complaining that a traditional multi-camera sitcom is stagey, or that its set-up punchline rhythm is predictable, or that you can’t just get over the laugh track is like complaining that there is too much singing and dancing in a musical, or too many horses in a western. This is both a genre and a format. As it’s the case with every genre that becomes popular, there have been a lot of bad multi-camera sitcoms, especially in recent years when the people writing them seem to have forgotten what made the great sitcoms of the past work in the first place.

Well, thank God for Norman Lear, and whoever else played a role in helping creators Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce so perfectly understand the potential and the nuances of execution of the sitcom. At its best, the sitcom can be one of the most fluid and narratively economic forms of entertainment. For example, almost every episode of Newsradio (one of my favorite shows of all time) is a masterclass in tightly plotted screwball comedy.

Similarly, One Day at a Time flows beautifully between broad (yet genuinely funny) jokes and moments of serious personal drama. Justina Machado proves to be an admirable lead and a awfully dynamic performer, being able to handle the shift from sarcastic humor to heartfelt introspection from one line to the next. And what can you even say about Rita Moreno, calling the woman a National Treasure would be an understatement.

Now, the second reason I think One Day at a Time is an exceptional show that deserves to be watched is closely related to this first one. At it starts with the fact that I wholeheartedly believe that the multi-camera sitcom is one of the great contributions of American culture to the world, and deserves to be preserved and nurtured just like the Italians preserve commedia dell’arte, or the Japanese preserve kabuki. Basically, I feel about the sitcom the way Ken Burns feels about Jazz and Baseball.

Now, it’s important that the sitcom is an inherently and uniquely American invention, and it’s important that One Day at a Time is premiering at the time that it is. Throughout the history of television, the sitcom has been crucial in shaping the image American have of themselves. It was a big deal when sitcoms with black characters became big hits. It was also a big deal when sitcoms with gay characters became hits. A sitcom with a Cuban-American family at the center, right now, is quite important.

But make no mistake. I’m not suggesting that One Day at a Time‘s quality is linked to whether or not it becomes a hit in confrontation to the dismal political state of the country. This show is a thing of beauty in and on itself. The sitcom is an American art form, perhaps the most American of art forms, and there is something beautiful about seeing these characters talk about their history, immigration, deportation, and all other sort of every day issues in this format.

The sitcom, at its best, is the art form of the American people. These characters are the American people. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Silver Linings of a Fucked-Up Year: The Coco Awards for the Best of 2016

hail caesar preview

It’s officially become a tradition, so here I am sharing my favorite movies, performances, and technical achievements of the cinematic year. I’ve strategically decided that the week before the Oscar nominations is the most appropriate time to reveal my personal preferences, assuming that the Academy will provide me with plenty of stuff to rant about. I’m afraid this year will be no exception, but hey, this is time for positivity! Take a look at the things I liked most, and feel free to either disagree or catch up with the stuff you’re not familiar with. Maybe you’ll find a favorite, too!

Best Picture

The Lobster
I already explained why The Lobster is my favorite film of the year in my Top Ten list, but something that I haven’t said before -and something I haven’t heard a lot of people talk about- is how unnerving the movie’s depiction of complacency is. It’s very unsettling when people in a movie don’t acknowledge when weird stuff happens. This movie is particularly unsettling because the inhabitants of this dystopia seem to be perfectly fine with the horrible nature of their world. Perhaps something to keep in mind in a world that seems to be quickly warming up to fascism.

Finalists:

  • Jackiewhich turns Jackie Kennedy’s days of grief into an operatic portrait of a turning point in American history.
  • Patersonin which everyday life becomes fantasy, and routine of a bus-driving poet becomes a profound experience.
  • Toni Erdmannin which three hours prove to be the appropriate running time to make a hilarious movie about a fascinating father-daughter relationship.
  • The Witch: in which a subversive ending turns horror into glory, and paints a new picture out of America’s dark past.

Best Director

Pablo Larraín (Jackie)
When I did these awards last year I ended up writing a lot about the many virtues of Carol -and deservedly so- but this year I decided to spread the wealth and showcase different people. So, even though my favorite movie of the year is The Lobster, I want to sing the praises of Larraín’s truly unique direction for Jackie. There are a lot of people out there who don’t like this movie, and I can see why. It makes weird choices throughout, and seems to be constantly getting in its own way. Natalie Portman’s exaggerated accent, the deflating score, and other such choices seem to be actively working against the movie’s status as a “prestige picture”, and yet, it’s this tension that makes the movie such a fascinating portrayal of the dysfunctional relationship between America and its own history regarding not only the Kennedys, but power, womanhood, and politics as a whole.

Finalists:

  • Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann): For understanding that she needed time, and patience, to complete such a perfectly observed movie.
  • Robert Eggers (The Witch): Because his choices are staggeringly precise, and they accumulate beautifully creating one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen.
  • Ana Rose Holmer (The Fits): Holmer’s debut shows a unique eye for the use of space and movement, the final sequence of the film being miraculous.
  • Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster): Because Lanthimos is a master of tone and pace, and of extremely dark, and extremely effective, humor.

Best Actress

Annette Bening (20th Century Women)
It is highly unlikely that Bening will not get an Oscar nomination this year. A truly tragic development considering that Bening has somehow never won despite being one of the best actresses of her generation made even more unbearable by the fact that her work in 20th Century Women might very well be the best performance of her career. The movie is basically a love-letter to her character, but Bening’s Dorothea is no saint. She is warm, complicated, and extremely natural. She embodies the character in a way that is not as realistic as it is truthful. It’s a generous performance, too. No scenery chewing or capital-A acting. Bening shares the screen no matter who she’s acting against, and the movie is better for it.

Finalists:

Because I’m sick and tired of actresses not getting enough respect, and because it’s been such a great year for female actors, I’ve decided that it’s Best Actress -and not Best Picture- that deserves to have ten nominees:

  • Kate Beckinsale (Love & Friendship): For portraying the most heroic character of the year, and for the return of a fantastic comedienne who’s been awfully misused by Hollywood.
  • Sonia Braga (Aquarius): Talk about heroic characters, there isn’t a force of nature as powerful as this very real woman.
  • Royalty Hightower (The Fits): This newcomer acts with her whole body in a way trained professionals rarely do. Bonus points for having an awesome name.
  • Sandra Hüller (Toni Erdmann): For providing pathos and complexity beyond the character’s wet-blanket exterior, and for the immense catharsis when she finally breaks loose.
  • Isabelle Huppert (Elle and Things to Come): The magic of Huppert is that her performances are equally natural yet represent completely different women. She makes it look easy.
  • Min-hee Kim (The Handmaiden): For having so much fun peeling off the layers of sexy, repressed, flirty, anxious, evil, and love that run through the character.
  • Natalie Portman (Jackie): For a stylized performance in which transparency and camp reveal deeper and uncomfortable truths about character, and the film it inhabits.
  • Hailee Steinfeld (The Edge of Seventeen): For a performance that raises the bar of teenage comedy protagonists, for a tour-de-force in the most unexpected of places.

Best Actor

Adam Driver (Paterson)
Great casting will get you half of the way to a great performance. Is there a more brilliant decision, when trying to cast a character who is supposed to represent the essence of mundane, common, everyday life, than casting someone who looks as alien and unique as Adam Driver? His screen persona is so different, you can’t help but be fascinated by everything he does. He is capable of transmitting extreme warmth while keeping a certain edge. Think, for example, of his masterful use of pauses before he answers a question. It was a simple question. What exactly was the character thinking in that second? It’s a performance that invites us to think beyond what we see on the screen.

Finalists:

  • Colin Farrell (The Lobster): For embodying a tone and a rhythm, it’s an offbeat performance but one that best embodies the spirit of the movie it’s in.
  • Ryan Gosling (The Nice Guys): For making you believe he is descended from a long line of top-notch physical comedians, masters of the slapstick form.
  • Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight): For playing an impossible character, managing to show wells of emotion through a man who has caged himself from any feeling.
  • Peter Simonischeck (Toni Erdmann): For playing the most complicated “prankster” in movie history. Because you know where his behavior is coming from.

Best Supporting Actress

Dakota Johnson (A Bigger Splash)
There is a reveal about the exact identity of Johnson’s character late in the film which I won’t spoil. I will say, however, that one the reveal comes, that’s when you truly understand her prowess. Things that you might have thought of as flaws, like the fact that she seems to be playing an ideal of youth and beauty more than a specific person, and how certain moments of playfulness and vulnerability seem to betray her posturing, are revealed to be not only fully intentional, but acutely calibrated. Johnson is quickly becoming one of the smartest actresses in Hollywood, and can’t wait to see what she does next (it’s the Fifty Shades sequel, and I can’t wait).

Finalists:

  • Olivia Colman (The Lobster): Not the most complex of characters, but an opportunity for a great actress to cement herself as a master of deadpan comedy.
  • Julie Delpy (Wiener-Dog): For finding the dark place where motherly empathy and selfish cruelty meet, and for that bizarre bedside monologue, of course.
  • Elle Fanning (20th Century Women): For embracing true teenage confusion, performance, and vulnerability, and for her imitation of “the way men walk”.
  • Rima Te Wiata (Hunt for the Wilderpeople): For making the most of her screentime, for being so funny and warm it actually hurts when she’s gone.

Best Supporting Actor

Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!)
I don’t know when’s the last time an actor gave a “breakthrough” performance quite as significant as shocking as Ehrenreich does in the Coen Brothers’ latest movie. It’s very rare that I go into a movie knowing virtually nothing about a performer and come out thinking “this guy’s going to be the next big star!” The closest thing I can remember is seeing Emma Stone in Easy A, but I had seen her in stuff before then. This is some other level shit. This is the magic of Ehrenreich, who absolutely steals the show by giving not only the funniest, but the warmest, most memorable performance in a movie full of stars. His next gig is playing young Han Solo in a Star Wars movie. So, yeah, the next big star.

Finalists:

  • Tom Bennett (Love & Friendship): For the most endearing buffoon I’ve ever met. For writing, in his own hilarious way, both poetry and verse.
  • Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash): For deciding it was time to gift the world with the most uninhibited and uncompromising performance of his career.
  • Andre Holland (Moonlight): For taking an ideal and turning him into a character, for bringing deep humanity, resulting in the sexiest performance of the year.
  • Glen Powell (Everybody Wants Some!!): The charismatic stand-out in a talented ensemble, a potential star in the making.

Best Ensemble Cast

Moonlight
I don’t want to undercut my own award, but there is a performance in this movie that sticks out to me as not quite belonging with the rest. It’s not a bad performance, but it’s an atypically showy characterization, which only distracts because all other performances are so perfectly calibrated. I wouldn’t call the dialogue in this movie naturalistic, yet these actors find the Truth in Barry Jenkins and playwright Tarell McCraney’s words. No matter my misgivings, I always believe these are real people with full inner lives and raw emotion at their core. 

Finalists:

  • 20th Century WomenBecause you can’t find a core group of actors that plays so well and so effortlessly off each other than the core five.
  • Hell or High WaterStrong performances at the center, perhaps an even stronger set of minor parts? So many waitresses and bank clerks, and so many of them memorable.
  • The LobsterBecause every single player brings their personal touch, and finds room for it within a uniform vision of offbeat tone and cadence.
  • Love & Friendship: Beckinsale is the main event, but the artists that surround her are essential to creating a perfect comedic symphony.  

Best Original Screenplay

Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)
If you reduce the thing to its very bones, you come to the realization that Toni Erdmann is one of those movies in which an uptight character learns to loosen up after interacting with an eccentric cook. Kinda like Zorba the Greek. Well, I hate Zorba the Greek, and can’t stand movies like it. The fact that Ade found a way to tell this kind of story without turning me off is a huge merit in and on itself, but the truth is that what Ade is doing is so much more complex, and makes up for a much deeper and complicated movie. It’s not that “Toni” teaches Ines to loosen up. The brilliant last scene in the movie makes it very clear that the ramifications of this adventure are more bittersweet than we first imagined.

Finalists:

  • 20th Century Women (Mike Mills): “Really? Look, wondering if you’re happy is just a shortcut to being depressed”
  • The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou): “If you encounter any problems you cannot resolve yourselves, you will be assigned children. That usually helps”
  • Paterson (Jim Jarsmuch): “Alright, Marvin. Don’t get dog-jacked.”
  • The Witch (Robert Eggers): “Wouldst thou like the taste of butter? A pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”

Best Adapted Screenplay

Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman)
How to measure the effectiveness of an adaptation? Is it how well one captures the essence of the original writer? Because then Stillman deserves serious kudos for capturing the more acidic side of Austen that is rarely seen on screen. Or is it, perhaps, how one tackles the challenges of translating a work from one medium to another? The character of James Martin, for example, is only referred to in Austen’s original novella, yet turns into the most valuable comedic weapon of Stillman’s adaptation. No matter how you measure it, Stillman’s script is impeccable, and it’s a shame it wasn’t more celebrated by critics and award-giving bodies. It’s no surprise, though, as the heroic Lady Susan says: “Americans have truly shown themselves to be a Nation of ingrates, only by having children can we begin to understand such a dynamic.”

Finalists:

  • A Bigger Splash (David Kajganich): “Honesty is the greatest fidelity / Yeah, well, the world is not ready for your honesty”
  • Elle (David Birke): “The picture of a little girl as a psychopath. Next to her father, the psychopath. My empty stare in the photo is terrifying… Not bad, huh?”
  • The Handmaiden (Park  Chan-wook, Cheung Seo-Kung): “I wish I had milk so I could breastfeed you”
  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi): “Faulkner is cauc-asian – well they got that wrong because you’re obviously white”

Best Cinematography

Jackie (Stephane Fontaine)
Fontaine matches the textures and formats of archival footage of Jackie Kennedy, and for the most part, this is a feat of uncanny fidelity. What is so special about the cinematography is that by approaching the look and 1:4 aspect ratio of documentary footage of the time, the movie ends up coming closer to Jackie’s point of view. It’s the tension of whether we are seeing her from a scientific perspective, or if we’re actually close to her and seeing things from her perspective. That’s one of the many brilliant conflicts in the film. We can never know exactly what’s in the head of our leaders, can we?

Finalists:

  • Hail, Caesar! (Roger Deakins): For beautiful compositions against the California sun, and for an astonish recreation of the look of fifties Hollywood movies.
  • Moonlight (James Laxton): There is a history of cinematography (and cinematographers) being unkind to black skin, this movie looks so beautiful it feels like a confrontation of said history.
  • The Neon Demon (Natasha Braier): If this movie is an embodiment of the shallow world it’s depicting, then the stark beauty of the cinematography is the key bridge between theme and aesthetic.
  • The Witch (Jarin Blaschke): For moody and ethereal use of natural light that puts the empty showiness of The Revenant to shame. This is the face of horror!

Best Production Design

The Handmaiden (Seong-hi Ryu)
More is always more for Park Chan-wook. The Handmaiden’s aesthetic could easily be described as Baroque thanks to its lavishly decorated mansion. I don’t know what artistic movement is most commonly associated with the concept of layers, but The Handmaiden has them. Think of the way Japanese, Western, and Korean architecture stand next to each other, interacting but never fully merging. It’s a touch representative of the movie’s colonial backdrop, it’s also a reflection of the incompatibility of our main lovers with the world that surrounds them.

Finalists:

  • Hail, Caesar! (Jess Gonchor): A recreation of classic Hollywood not as it was, but as we all wish it would’ve been. Classy and cheesy to the perfect degree.
  • High-Rise (Mark Tildesley): “The building is a character” might be a hoaky statement, but also a true one. With its ugly seventies design, it’s almost a monster.
  • Kubo and the Two Strings (Nelson Lowry): For the magic of turning tangible fabric and paper into impossible creations.
  • Swiss Army Man (Jason Kisvarday): It’s highly improbable that those fanciful contraptions could’ve been built in the wild, but this is the farting corpse movie. And said creations look beautiful.

Best Costume Design

A Bigger Splash (Giulia Piersanti)
This might sound like a joke considering how much time most characters in this movie spend naked, but this is a story about famous rich people on vacation, and the costuming is one of the key parts of its story-telling. You immediately learn so much about the characters based on what they are (or aren’t) wearing. Hell, a whole scene revolves around Mathias Schoenaerts suggesting what Tilda Swinton should wear to go take as stroll through town. What he suggests, and what she ends up wearing tell a whole story about these people.

Finalists:

  • Hail, Caesar! (Mary Zophres): So much fun. There is delight in seeing our biggest stars appear in old-fashioned costumes, not to mention the ridiculous gag made out of Tilda’s hats.
  • The Handmaiden (Sang-gyeong Jo): The colonial and misogynist tensions I wrote about in production design extend to the pristine costumes.
  • The Neon Demon (Erin Benach): If you’re going to be a film about the fashion industry, you better look good. Costuming here is not subtle, but neither is the movie. It tells its story in broad strokes, and so do the costuming choices.
  • Queen of Katwe (Mobolaji Dawodu): This movie’s biggest strength is the vibrancy of its setting, Dawodu delivers with some amazing costumes, and has a lot of fun with David Oyelowo’s shirts.

Special Award for Best Individual Costume of the Year: Nadine’s blue jacket in The Edge of SeventeenYou know teenagers will grow up to buy this thing online.

Best Editing

Jackie (Sebastián Sepúlveda)
There is undoubtful skill in the editing of montage, or assembling footage outside chronological order to create a flowing feature. From what I hear, the differences between script and movie are considerable in terms of the movie’s point of view, and I suspect editing was crucial for that. I also suspect editing was essential in establishing the “alienation effect” I wrote about in my review of the film. That little border between reality and artifice that makes this such an exciting movie.

Finalists

  • A Bigger Splash (Walter Fasano): For a film that has fun turning from casual to comedic to thrilling to tragic, and remaining always sexy.
  • The Handmaiden (Kim Jae-bum, Kim Sang-bum): I’m fundamentally opposed to movies that run longer than two hours, but if you do you better have a thousand twists and turns and a killer pace.
  • The Lobster (Yorgos Mavropsaridis): Because perfect rhythm is at the heart of comedy, no matter how desolate you feel while you laugh.
  • The Witch (Louise Ford): For building unbearable tension while completely dispensing of cheap scares and such tricks.

Best Original Score

Jackie (Mica Levi)
The brilliant thing about Jackie, on a technical level, is that it uses almost every cinematic technique to pull us into the intimacy of Jackie’s point of view, while simultaneously reminding us of the fact that what we’re watching is a fiction. Brecht called it an “alienation effect”, and it is clear as soon as the movie opens, and the first powerful note in Levi’s score deflates into clownish disappointment. The rest of the score is abrasive, melodramatic, and altogether brilliant.

(P.S. click the name of the movie, or any of the movies in the “finalists” section if you want to listen to part of the score on YouTube).

Finalists:

  • The Handmaiden (Jo Yeong-wook): For coming up with the right mix of swelling romance and pulpy darkness.
  • The Neon Demon (Cliff Martinez): We’ve heard moody, minimalistic, and electronic from Martinez before, but he might’ve outdone himself this time.
  • Swiss Army Man (Andy Hull, Robert McDowell): The a capella score is a cute concept that nevertheless reinforces the movie’s own crazy headspace.
  • The Witch (Mark Korven): This score is dark and haunting but also playful (in a messed up kind of way) doubling on sound effects and familiar sounds of the horror arsenal.

Best Original Song

“Drive It Like You Stole It” (Sing Street)
In a year with an unusual number of musicals, this coming-of-age Irish movie holds the unlikely distinction of having the best score of them all. Yes, it is a little hard to believe that this particular group of ragtag kids could become such great songwriters so quick, but damn, the songs are so good I just don’t care. It was hard picking one winner. “The Riddle of the Model” and “Up” were strong contenders, but show-stopping “Drive It Like You Stole It” deserves to be sent back in a time machine to become an actual eighties hit.

(P.S. click the name of the movie, or any of the movies in the “finalists” section if you want to listen to the songs on YouTube).

Finalists:

  • “#1 Spice” (Queen of Katwe): A silly, but also super cool song that perfectly captures the world and energy of the movie.
  • “Equal Rights” (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping): The best parody in a sea of great parody songs, with a very specific but very funny target.
  • “How Far I’ll Go” (Moana): The movie’s standout song. The only thing this magnificent “I Want” is missing is a bridge.
  • “The Trifecta” (Hunt for the Wilderpeople): Just a short and funny song, but makes for one of the funniest scenes of the year.

Best Sound

The Witch
Unnerving sound design is the bread and butter of horror film, it is often as important, if not more, than editing  to build up suspense and deliver the thrills. The Witch does a masterful job of creating an oppressive aural landscape in which quiet puritan life is confronted by the dangerous wilderness that surrounds it. Impeccable choices are made throughout, be it in the otherworldliness of Caleb’s seduction, or the violent stomping of a deranged goat. If nothing else, the movie deserves an award for the design and mix of Black Philip’s voice. A true aural payoff.

Finalists:

  • ElleFor the discomforting difference between its quiet conversations, and its shocking, more violent moments.
  • The Light Between OceansThe sound in this movie does so much, perhaps even more than the images, to suggest the remote, testy nature of this lonely island.
  • MoanaWhoever was in charge of turning water into a literal character deserves more than just a pat in the back.
  • The Neon DemonBecause how appropriate is it that every room feels like a vacuum in a movie about shallowness?

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The Edge of Seventeen
Not the kind of movie you expect to see rewarded for makeup. There are no monsters, no zombies, no old-age makeup in this high school comedy, but the thing that struck me the most about The Edge of Seventeen was its authenticity. The actors in this movie are all very attractive, but they also look like real life teenagers. This occurred to me when the “beautiful girl” character of the movie has realistically frizzy hair. It’s not that her hair looked bad, it’s just that it wasn’t exhaustively brushed to perfection. It didn’t looked as if a teenager had done her hair, not professional hairstylist.

Finalists

  • Green RoomFor featuring some of the goriest and most revolting makeup effects of the year. Could barely watch, so job well done?
  • The WailingQuite effective in depicting a gross sickness, and in the truly gruesome makeup effects of its most violent moments.

Best Visual Effects

Kubo and the Two Strings
We too often correlate photorealism with greatness when it comes to visual effects. The more realistic something looks, the better it is. But an artificially created image will never look like an actual photograph, our eyes will always catch the uncanniness. Visual Effects are so much more than realism, they are a way of enhancing the magic of filmmaking. Laika animation has been making gorgeous movies since its inception, but they have top themselves with Kubo, a movie that so seamlessly blends stop-motion animation and computer generated images that one doesn’t even notice these are two different crafts interacting with each other. It is truly magical.

Finalists:

  • Doctor StrangeInspired by Inception, no question, but takes the idea of a folding city to a whole other level of trippy-ness.
  • Midnight SpecialNot a big fan of the movie, but had to make room for the meteor-shower scene, an amazing set-piece on its own right.
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: The whole Tarkin thing is especially atrocious, when you consider all other effects to be impeccable.  
  • Swiss Army ManAn endearing case of charmingly low-fi effects serving the overall aesthetic of a hilariously high-concept movie. You’ll believe a man can fart!