Well, today is special. It’s my birthday, and it’s Oscar night. And so, with that fateful hour for the movie industry, as well as millions of movie fans everywhere looming soon, and me feeling in an upbeat mood, here’s a few observations and a “my picks” list to have some fun with while you watch, or after you watch, etc.
HOW THE OSCARS ARE CHOSEN is quite a process. “The Academy” is a group of over 6000 industry professionals representing all facets of the movie industry, from A-list stars, directors, and producers to “below-the-line” electricians, sound people, film editors, hair and make-up specialists, visual effects creators, and on and on. Each gets to vote for all the films that are nominated in their particular area of specialization, as well as Best Picture. Producers and studios who feel they have “Oscar-worthy” movies start “campaigning” (yes, very much like politicians do) months before the Oscars to draw attention of Academy members to their work, and once nominations are made, that can get pretty overwhelming to Academy members, even somewhat cutthroat. In fact this year, one person nominated in one of the “best sound” categories was barred just yesterday from the competition for his last-minute campaigning activities which fell afoul of Academy rules (though the show itself can still win the Oscar).
In light of all this, one should understand that selecting the winners of the Oscars is about as subjective as can be, and, well, I guess that’s probably as it should be. Art in any form is always subjective–each beholder has his or her own opinion of what is good, not so good, horrible, etc. Nevertheless, winning an Oscar is usually considered the ultimate pinnacle of anyone’s career who’s involved in making movies–and it can also be considerably lucrative in a monetary sense as well. While I have no doubt that this aspect of Oscar notoriety is the main motive for all the campaigning and whatnot by the various studios and financiers of movies, I think that, for the individual nominees themselves, winning an Oscar is more about being recognized by your peers as one of the best in your chosen art in that particular year. I used to teach 6th graders, and for them, the best reward you could give them had nothing to do with “things” or trinkets or pencils or whatever; it was recognition that they’d done something at an outstanding level, even if it was just for a month, or for something like a well-done project, or just behaving appropriately. Human nature doesn’t change that much with age. Tonight’s winners, once announced, will be ecstatic not because of any monetary gain they might receive or seeing their name in the trades the next day or any other such thing, but because they were voted by their peers as the best in their profession for this one moment in time; an intangible, monumental achievement that can never, ever be taken away.
So, with that said, who would I vote for if I was an Academy member somehow able to vote for all nominees in all categories? Well, here’s my list, though I must add (and I’m not sure how many people who spend their lives in Hollywood actually know this) that a good number of the films nominated have not been available for me to watch, at least not in a theater, at all. Only in large cities are there enough theaters for films like “Loving” or “Manchester By the Sea” or “Moonlight” to get play, and frankly, some of them didn’t interest me at all. I don’t got to movies just to “see art.” I want to enjoy myself as well. Therefore, I’ll recuse myself from considering those films that I didn’t see–and so sorry to all those who apparently did such fine work in them. Like I said, the Oscars are subjective, and whether I actually liked a film is as much a consideration that I use as anyone. So off we go down the list…
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT, BEST ANIMATED SHORT – Sorry, but as far as I know, I didn’t see any of them, so no favorites here.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – Nominees, “Deepwater Horizon,” “Doctor Strange,” “The Jungle Book,” “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Rogue One; A Star Wars Story.” I saw all of these, and enjoyed each one save Dr. Strange, which became incomprehensible to me. “Rogue One” was a wonderful adventure, but I have to say that the work done in “The Jungle Book” of bringing all those animal characters into live-action life without actually using real animals was simply miraculous. My vote goes for THE JUNGLE BOOK.
BEST SOUND MIXING; “Arrival,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “La La Land,” “Rogue One,” “13 Hours; The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” This is a technical award given to how well sounds are mixed together to complete the visualization of the story being told; the sounds of footsteps, gunfire, people moving, etc. Here, I like to pick some show which I feel is “Oscar worthy” but isn’t nominated in other categories. With that in mind, “ROGUE ONE” and “HACKSAW RIDGE” are a toss-up for me because of each one’s ability to meticulously create battle scenes that sound so lifelike, whether in this world or “in a galaxy far, far away.”
BEST SOUND EDITING – “Arrival,” Deepwater Horizon,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “La La Land,” “Sully.” Similar, yet different from Sound Mixing, I once again like HACKSAW RIDGE here, but it would be nice to see one of the best of the “snubbed” films this year, SULLY, get at least some Oscar recognition.
PRODUCTION DESIGN – “Arrival,” Fantastic Beasts and Where You Find Them,” “Hail Caesar,” “La La Land,” “Passengers,” This award has to do with making the sets where the various stories take place, be they digital and/or real. Though I really like the set creations of both La La Land and Fantastic Beasts, each depicting bygone eras in very interesting ways, I think I’ll go with PASSENGERS here because, once again, I thought it a film that had Oscar-worthy quality but won’t get any recognition in the bigger awards categories.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG – “THE FOOLS WHO DREAM” and “CITY OF STARS” from La La Land, “CAN’T STOP THE FEELING” from “Trolls,” “THE EMPTY CHAIR” from “Jim, the James Foley Story,” “HOW FAR I’LL GO,” from “Moana” I like a lot of these songs, and one (“City of Stars”) I didn’t really like at all, but the one song of these that brought tears to my eyes, literally, was Emma Stone’s “Audition,” THE FOOLS WHO DREAM. Maybe it’s because I’m a fool who dreams too, and most of us are at some time in our lives. It probably won’t win, but I think it should anyway.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – ‘Jackie,” “La La Land,” “Lion,” “Moonlight,” “Passengers.” Of the three of these that I did see, LA LA LAND wins hands down. Great jazz, and some super dance numbers, along with all the songs.
BEST MAKE-UP AND HAIRSTYLING – “A Man Called Ove”, “Star Trek, Beyond,” “Suicide Squad.” I just saw two of these, and of those, the most Oscar-worthy movie of them by far is STAR TREK, BEYOND.
COSTUME DESIGN – of all the nominees, I only saw “Fantastic Beasts”, “La La Land” and “Florence Foster Jenkins”, and of those, I’d say that FANTASTIC BEASTS was the most impressive in this area. Sorry “Florence…”
Sorry, I’m running out of time here, so here’s the rest of my picks…
FILM EDITING – Let’s go with HACKSAW RIDGE here, though this could get caught up in “La La Land” fever if it’s active.
CINEMATOGRAPHY – Definitely “LA LA LAND” here. It’s been a long time since LA has looked so attractive :).
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – Sorry, I don’t do very well with subtitles. Didn’t see any of them.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – I only saw O.J., MADE IN AMERICA, which was actually a TV mini-series, but it was so incredibly well done I’d still vote for it.
ANIMATED FEATURE – I saw three nominees here, and though “Kubo” and “Moana” were good, ZOOTOPIA transcended the genre and could legitimately have, like “Beauty and the Beast” did back in 1992, been a Best Picture nominee.
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – I’d love to go with “Hell or High Water” here because it was so accessible and I think I could have written something like it myself, which means I have to give the nod to LA LA LAND because I have no idea how someone writes something that good and puts it in a musical format, etc.
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – I only saw three of these, and HIDDEN FIGURES simply towers over the other two, though “Arrival” must have been quite an accomplishment as well.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Having seen only two nominees, I have to go with Octavia Spencer in HIDDEN FIGURES–way better than Nicole Kidman in “Lion.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Again, I only saw two of these performances, but Jeff Bridges in HELL OR HIGH WATER was both a kick and masterful at the same time.
BEST ACTRESS – I saw Emma Stone (“La La Land”) and Meryl Streep (“Florence Foster Jenkins”). Of those two, Meryl Streep definitely had the more challenging role, and played it to perfection. But Meryl’s got Oscars and nominations galore, and EMMA STONE’S work so far has been outstanding in everything I’ve seen her in, so we go with her and LA LA LAND.
BEST ACTOR – Here also, I only saw two performances; Ryan Gosling in “La La Land” and Andrew Garfield in “Hacksaw Ridge.” And the Oscar between those two unquestionably goes to ANDREW GARFIELD as the brave soldier who went to war without a weapon in HACKSAW RIDGE.
BEST DIRECTOR – Close here between Mel Gibson in “Hacksaw” and Damien Chazelle in “La La Land,” (I also saw “Arrival,” but just didn’t like it very much). I’m going with DAMIEN CHAZELLE in LA LA LAND because I know something about directing musicals, and he gets both the drama and the musical parts right in this.
BEST PICTURE – I saw a total of 6 of the 9 nominees for this (amazing for me), and, though a number of the films impressed me within their genre in many ways, the most transcendent and inspirational of all was HIDDEN FIGURES about the beaten-down black women in the early days of NASA who wouldn’t sit down and shut up and ended up saving NASA and the US space program both with their intellectual brilliance and their grit. A truly amazing story on so many levels.