Academy Awards 2017 Picks

Yes, I’m back again to guess and argue over which films deserve their respective Academy Awards this year. As a note, I have not included any categories in which I’ve seen none of the nominees.






Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land – WILL and SHOULD WIN


Manchester by the Sea


It’s been well over a decade since a musical has taken the top honors at the Academy Awards, and in truth, the genre has lost its prevalence since the collapse of the studio system in the late 1960s. Why then, should an ostensible pastiche like La La Land win Best Picture this year? What makes La La Land such a unique animal is how it acknowledges the touchstones of cinema’s past, while also crafting a contemporary identity. The romance between Mia and Sebastian might be familiar, but the characters harbor more complexities beneath the surface song and dance. There’s rich thematic texture to La La Land beyond the recognizable yearning for acceptance and recognition. A bittersweet undertone channels throughout the entire film, and ultimately pays off in spades in the dizzying epilogue. Indeed, La La Land has a quiet maturity that might be easy to overlook, but it’s that spirit that is worth celebrating just as much as the rest of the film’s euphoric highs.



LLL d 25 _4731.NEF

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge

Damien Chazelle, La La Land – WILL and SHOULD WIN

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

La La Land has no shortage of influences from the golden age of movie musicals, both from the Hollywood studio system, and even those from international touchstones like France. It’s easy to confuse emulation for imitation, but rest assured, director Damien Chazelle is firmly pulling off the former of the two. Of course, you can see a bit of Singin’ in the Rain here and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg there, but Chazelle’s directorial voice is distinct from those inspirations. La La Land feels specific to him, and his contemporary point of view allows both the classical and modern sensibilities of the film to merge seamlessly. From the first bravura sequence, it’s abundantly clear that Chazelle intends on using every cinematic tool at his disposal. One of the very best things about the musical is that it fully operates as a piece of cinema, and conceiving it for the stage would be foolish. From cinematography, to music, to choreography and costumes, when La La Land is operating at its absolute peak, it’s thanks to Chazelle’s precise vision.




Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic – SHOULD WIN

Denzel Washington, Fences – WILL WIN

Viggo Mortensen has starred in a few of the biggest and most critically acclaimed films of the last couple of decades, and yet he still somehow remains underrated. Few performers in any medium are as inherently soulful in every moment of their work, but Mortensen always pulls it off. Much of his work can be internalized, and yet he communicates so much in his eyes alone. When one factors in his tremendous physicality, it’s hard to dispute his immense talent. Captain Fantastic feels like a role tailor made for Mortensen, playing Ben, a flawed father who raises his children away from society. The film wisely doesn’t judge Ben, but as external events force his hand, he must come to terms with whether his life’s philosophy is right to impart on his kids. It’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, and while the Academy often awards flashier performances, Viggo Mortensen’s sensitive and subtle work feels like a fitting encapsulation of the actor at his best.




Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Ruth Negga, Loving

Natalie Portman, Jackie – SHOULD WIN

Emma Stone, La La Land – WILL WIN

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Playing any person from real life can be intimidating, but to portray one of the best known women of the 20th century is as challenging a task as one can imagine. Truth be told, seeing Natalie Portman adopt Jackie Kennedy’s breathy accent can be initially off putting, but looking back on archival footage speaks to the level of Portman’s fidelity to the First Lady. However, this isn’t mere imitation, as Portman fully embodies the woman in the most traumatic days of her life, the aftermath of JFK’s assassination. One shot in particular of Kennedy’s reflection in the mirror, wiping the blood off her face might be the most intensely impressive acting moment in 2016, and that is only one component of Portman’s formidable performance. With each successive scene, she unveils the full psychological complexity of this amazing woman, shattered by the death of her husband, and astoundingly resilient in her intention to preserve his legacy.




Mahershala Ali, Moonlight – WILL and SHOULD WIN

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel, Lion

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

The true measure of a great performance is when you can feel the presence of a character even in scenes from which they’re absent. Such is the case of Juan in Moonlight, only seen in the film’s first act, but whose import on the story ripples out across the other two acts. Mahershala Ali has been giving solid performances in film and television for years, but his confident yet nuanced portrayal of Juan marks a new career high. As a paternal influence on the film’s protagonist Chiron, Juan imparts patience and wisdom on the young boy, while also coming to terms with his own path in life. The polarity in Jaun’s life between dealing drugs and acting as a father figure to Chiron comes to a head in the closing scene of the first act, and it is because of Ali’s beautifully measured performance that his final moments on screen have such a wrenching impact, echoing across the rest of the film.




Viola Davis, Fences – WILL and SHOULD WIN

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Over the past decade, Viola Davis has cemented herself as one of the very best acting talents of her generation. No matter what role she takes on, she always elevates the entire enterprise surrounding her. Taking on the role of Rose Maxon in Fences was a familiar one for Davis. Having embodied the character on Broadway several years ago, she now carries Rose into cinema, and sheds new light on her internal conflicts. Rose is the true backbone of Fences, a grounded foil against the pride and bluster of her husband Troy. Her endurance is tested time and again, especially in the face of betrayal, but what Davis communicates best with the character is her very honest decency. Rose’s sacrifices are many, and in some cases, deeply painful. While her husband lashes out at the world for his insecurities, Rose buries hers deep down, knowing that future generations might be afforded opportunities she never had. August Wilson’s words cut deep in Fences, and Davis embodies them both with intensity and steely resolve.





Hidden Figures


Moonlight – WILL and SHOULD WIN

Kevin: Who is you man?

Black: Who, me?

Kevin: Yeah nigga. You. Them fronts? That car? Who is you Chiron?

Black: I’m me man. Ain’t trying to be nothing else.

Kevin: So you hard now?

Black: I ain’t say that.

Kevin: Then what?


Kevin: Look. I’m not trying hem you up. Just… I ain’t seen you in a minute. Not what I expected, none of it. Not good or bad. Just not what I expected.

Black: Well, what did you expect?


Kevin: You remember the last time I saw you?


Black: For a long time, tried not to remember. Tried to forget all those times. The good… the bad. All of it.


Kevin: Yeah. I know.



Hell or High Water

La La Land

The Lobster – SHOULD WIN

Manchester by the Sea – WILL WIN

20th Century Women

Short Sighted Woman: We developed a code so that we can communicate with each other even in front of the others without them knowing what we are saying. When we turn our heads to the left it means “I love you more than anything in the world,” and when we turn our heads to the right it means “Watch out, we’re in danger.” We had to be very careful in the beginning not to mix up “I love you more than anything in the world,” with “watch out, we’re in danger.” When we raise our left arm it means “I want to dance in your arms,” when we make a fist and put it behind our backs it means “Let’s fuck.” The code grew and grew as time went by and within a few weeks we could talk about almost anything without even opening our mouths.





La La Land – WILL WIN



Silence – SHOULD WIN

The films of Martin Scorsese have contained some of the most arresting imagery in all of cinema, but with Silence, this American master delves into new territory. Taking on a novel as thematically thorny as Silence is no small feat, and the ideas at play are difficult to carry across cinematically. Enlisting director of photography Rodrigo Prieto, Scorsese crafts some of the most compelling visuals of his entire filmography. From the lush green, peaceful forests, to the treacherously rocky beaches and grim Japanese villages, a multitude of locations play into the film’s tortured spiritual struggles. There are a few trademark Scorsese shots and angles, but one can also see the influence of Japanese cinema as well. Even though he’s been making feature films for nearly fifty years, Scorsese finds new ways to push himself and his aesthetic forward, and the cinematography on Silence is a masterful case study.





Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Florence Foster Jenkins


La La Land – WILL WIN

Aside from the actual performance, nothing speaks stronger to the interior life of a character than what they wear. Costume design has a long history of a “more is more” philosophy when it comes to the Academy Awards. More colors and more details mean a film is more likely to find recognition, and period films tend to fare best in this case. It should come as no surprise that Jackie is tightly in the running this year, given that the woman at its core was also a fashion icon for a generation of Americans. Indeed, the costumes of Jackie are both gorgeous and accurate, but more importantly, they’re representative of the Kennedy’s mindset. Whether it’s the lush crimson of her dress during the televised White House tour, the shockingly blood splattered pink dress in Dallas, or the solemn and ethereal black dress during the funeral procession, all of the costumes in Jackie reflect the tsunami of emotions engulfing the First Lady.





Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

La La Land – WILL and SHOULD WIN


Film editing can work its way on audiences in two ways, either visibly or invisibly. Montages and large scale set pieces can enforce the former, whereas structure and inner scene fluidity influence the latter. La La Land assuredly employs both disciplines. Many parts of the film occur in longer takes, emphasizing choreography in dance numbers, or camera movement and blocking in non musical scenes, but editing still plays a macro role in allowing these scenes to smoothly transition from one to the next. Naturally, there are a few montages as well, but the editing comes into full bloom in the film’s rapturous epilogue, breathlessly shifting through several scenarios in the span of a few minutes. There are even a few moments of editorial stitching, as the first number of La La Land knits together three separate takes to form a show stopping opening shot. The combined impact of all of these techniques is what makes La La Land not only one of the best films of the year, but one of the most unique of all movie musicals.




A Man Called Ove

Star Trek Beyond – WILL and SHOULD WIN

Suicide Squad

Shockingly, a film series as storied and visually rich as Star Trek has never seen recognition for its makeup. Perhaps it’s because the series has had such longevity that such work has been taken for granted, or that the ebbs and flows in quality have also contributed to Academy apathy. With 2016’s Star Trek Beyond, it appears the series may finally get it’s moment in the sun, and there’s a wealth of deserving work to witness. Whether its the imposing alien Krall, the intricate tattoos and pale complexion of Jayla, or even the familiar elements like Spock’s Vulcan ears and hair, Beyond continues the Star Trek tradition of allowing makeup a central role in providing distinct and vibrant identity to many of its exotic characters.




La La Land – WILL and SHOULD WIN




This year has seen a wealth of new talent being honored with first time nominations for Original Score, and as diverse and compelling a field as this is, there’s no doubt as to why La La Land is the clear and deserving favorite. More than any other film this year, music is part of the very fiber of Damien Chazelle’s musical, and that extends beyond the expected library of songs. Justin Hurwitz’s score carries the film from first note to last, deploying a range of emotions, from exuberance and passion, to bittersweet melancholy. Hurwitz evokes classic Hollywood tropes, placing an emphasis on strings, flutes and brass. However, his music is not merely there to complement the action, but to take it to even more thrilling heights, and the best parts of the score of La La Land exist with the music in isolation, such as in the wondrous scene at the Griffith Observatory. If there’s one single reason for why so many people have swooned for La La Land, the outstanding score might be the key.



“Audition,” La La Land

“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls

“City of Stars,” La La Land – WILL and SHOULD WIN

“The Empty Chair,” Jim: The James Foley Story

“How Far I’ll Go,” Moana

Astonishingly, some of the very best songs from La La Land weren’t even submitted for nomination, chiefly “Another Day of Sun,” and “Someone in the Crowd.” Perhaps it’s because neither of these two radiant pieces feature both leads in them, but “City of Stars,” will likely take home the Oscar. As the film’s central ballad, it’s a quieter but no less resonant piece, speaking to the duo’s connection to both each other and to their professional passions. The conflict of that dichotomy is the very thematic core of La La Land, and while “City of Stars” is sweet and gently romantic, there’s a subtle tone of melancholy to it as well, aware that such a compromise may not be possible.





Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Hail, Caesar!

La La Land – WILL and SHOULD WIN


Many films have depicted the vast sprawl of the City of Angels, but La La Land takes full advantage of all of the diverse locations that comprise this city. From the Rialto theater in Pasadena, the 105/110 freeway ramp, to the Griffith Observatory, the choice of locales contributes immensely to the film’s idealistic spirit. Of course, there are also artificial flourishes as well that hearken back to classic Hollywood musicals, with large scale sets playing a major role in the film’s finale. If there’s a postcard perfect vision of Los Angeles, La La Land may contend heavily for the honor, and a key reason for that strength comes from the production design.




Deepwater Horizon

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land – WILL WIN


For a man well into his eighties, it’s astonishing that Clint Eastwood had the endurance to mount a film as formidable as Sully. Truth be told, it’s mostly small scale, but the central set piece of the film plays out in multiple sequences, and the sound design is a significant factor in it’s nerve wracking effectiveness. Many of the sounds effects here are mechanical in nature as the captain navigates the plane towards the Hudson River, but what matters is timing and placement: the flock of birds flying into the engines, the sputtering of the aircraft, the emergency sounds inside both the cockpit and in the cabin, as well as the absence of sound itself, pulling the audience into Sully’s frame of mind. Finally comes the roar of the watery landing and the eventual rescue. Indeed, it’s one of the most visceral sequences of the year, and a brilliant reinforcement of “sound is half the picture.”





Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land – WILL WIN

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – SHOULD WIN

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

When we talk about sound mixing as opposed to sound editing, we’re taking into account how all of the aural elements in a film work in concert with each other. How dialogue, sound effects, and music all meld together is an integral part of cinematic storytelling, and the mix decides how prominent every sound element will be throughout. Few films of any caliber can compete with the aural landscapes of Star Wars, and Rogue One is no exception. Given the action heavy narrative, there’s no shortage of choices to make, whether favoring the chaotically layered sound effects in battle sequences on the ground and in space, or allowing Michael Giacchino’s emotional score to take over at a key dramatic juncture. All told, Rogue One boasts some of Skywalker Sound’s most intricate work to date.




Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

The Jungle Book – WILL WIN

Kubo and the Two Strings

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – SHOULD WIN

If any film series has always been on the bleeding edge of developing cinematic technology, Star Wars has far and away been ahead of the pack. Each new film introduces and improves upon techniques that both serve fundamental narrative purposes, while also expanding the canvas of storytelling possibilities. Rogue One continued pushing the limits of visual effects in two key capacities. The first and most publicized facet has been motion capture technology, which resurrected Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin to near lifelike, if controversial, results. Less lauded but equally as worthy is the motion captured droid, K-2SO, whose metallic surfaces are flawlessly rendered in every scene. Another amazing development came in the photography itself. The pivotal space battle of Rogue One was choreographed and “shot” through virtual reality, in which director Gareth Edwards and director of photography Greig Fraser could choose coverage from any angle, as opposed to relying on individually animating every shot. Films like Star Wars will always be chocked full of visual effects, but it’s the methods and intentions for these effects that make them so memorable.




Kubo and the Two Strings


My Life as a Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Zootopia – WILL and SHOULD WIN

If there’s one takeaway from everything we learned from 2016, perhaps it’s that as a society, it would behoove all of us to be more tolerant. Amazingly, that message was communicated loud and clear in one of the year’s earliest commercial hits, the deceptively layered Zootopia. As racial tensions reached a fever pitch nationwide, Zootopia showed Disney to be in refreshingly thoughtful form, using allegories in clever ways without resorting to being too preachy. The chief relationship between hare Judy Hopps and fox Nick Wilde doesn’t always follow a familiar trajectory, and wisely addresses both commonalities and prejudices. With Disney Animation seeing a bit of a resurgence as of late, this animal populated story is their strongest film in years.




Fire at Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life, Animated

O.J.: Made in America – WILL and SHOULD WIN


Simply put, there is no other film from 2016 that can contend with the gravity of O.J.: Made in America. Ezra Edelman’s documentary saw a premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and has largely been consumed through television, but the choice of medium does not dull its impact in the slightest. At nearly eight hours in length, it is deeply comprehensive, but never exhausting. Without a single wasted interview, it chronicles the life of Orenthal James Simpson from his halcyon days at USC, his outstanding career in the NFL, the trial of the century and finally, his further personal downfalls and eventual incarceration. What makes this documentary a landmark, however, is how it lenses Simpson’s life against the ever evolving state of race relations in Los Angeles and America at large. The examination of commonalities and contradictions between the O.J. and race in America are what elevate the film into true greatness. Utterly engrossing and ultimately shattering, an Oscar win here would be the most deserving of the entire night.


~ by romancinema on February 11, 2017.

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