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The 89th Academy Awards commence this Sunday. In preparation, let’s discuss…
James: We are nearing the end of caring about 2016 titles. To start, I suppose, let’s lay it out that La La Land is the overwhelming frontrunner. I think the ultimate question is – given the film’s record-tying 14 nominations – is just how much of a force do think the film will be on Sunday night?
Brett: I think it has a lot of potential to win a good amount of awards. Let me start by saying, I didn’t love La La Land. I thought it was good, I appreciated a lot of it, but I wasn’t as enthralled by the movie as many people, and many voters, seem to be. I thought there were plenty of better movies this year – some nominated, some not – but I understand the appeal. And I think it has better holding power than something like The Artist, which was another love letter to old Hollywood that won Best Picture five years ago.
What I think La La Land has going for it is: this wasn’t a particularly great year for movies and many of its competitors have lost a lot of their buzz (namely, Manchester by the Sea); it has likable actors and performances; and it’s attracted the public as well as the critics. I could easily see it winning a lot of the awards it is nominated for. You?
James: To counter, I love La La Land – I swooned pretty hard for Damien Chazelle’s dreamy homage to old-school musicals and how it was sprinkled with such modern melancholoy – however I see why the film has its share of detractors and understand the “overrated” claims thrown its way, which is a fairly normal occurrence for a well-liked movie as it becomes an obvious awards powerhouse. All of hoopla, record Golden Globe trophies and 14 Oscar nominations put together and, yes La La Land is “overrated.” That being said, it’s a buoyant and joyful movie and one of the reasons the movie likely ran away with year’s awards season is to serve as a rejoinder of what has been a very tense year. At the end of the day, I think La La Land will probably earn about 8 or 9 Oscars.
Brett: I agree. I never said I disagreed that it would win or even should win, just that on a personal note, it wasn’t one of the movies that most connected with me this year. But based on “Oscar” logic, it definitely is one of the most likely winners in years. That being said, there are some categories it’s nominated in that I think other movies did a better job at. For example, I thought the production design in Hail, Caesar! (its only nomination) was all-around superior to that of La La Land, epilogue aside, even if La La Land is likely to win that as well. Are there any categories you think it’s likely to win that you’d rather see someone else get?
James: Absolutely. And my love for La La Land doesn’t rule out some of my issues with the film (particularly its sluggish pacing in the center). I could just as well make a case – even a more persuasive case – in favor of Moonlight or Arrival or Manchester by the Sea in Best Picture, for instance. Or rail against the relatively poor showings for films I greatly admired like 20th Century Women, The Lobster, Loving and even Hail, Caesar! – I personally would have cast a vote for Alden Ehrenreich (our soon-to-be young Han Solo) in the Best Supporting Actor for his charming, star-making performance as the dim oater in the midst of a career transition. To answer your question, one major category that is surely going La La Land’s way that I wish wasn’t the case is Best Original Score – I’m all in for the mysterious, enigmatic, superbly memorable score for Jackie.
Brett: My personal favorite score of the year was The Neon Demon (composed by Cliff Martinez), which wasn’t even nominated. But a major possible win for La La Land is Best Actress – I think it’s safe to say that Best Actor is going to Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea, which I agree with. But a lot of the buzz is surrounding Emma Stone for La La Land. (Though I still think there’s a chance Streep might get it for her speech at the Golden Globes.)
However, the best female performance of the year, maybe even the best performance of the past several years in my view was Isabelle Huppert in Elle. It was classy, intelligent, cunning, and felt very human in a way you don’t often see. There were moments when Huppert is “reading” characters and you see the thought process going on behind her eyes that was remarkable. I personally don’t think the Oscars go for overly challenging or “controversial” performances (I always go back to Julia Roberts in Erin Brokovich beating Ellen Burstyn for Requiem for a Dream), and they’re not likely to award either “foreign” or “older”, but Huppert’s performance will stick with you. Not that Stone’s doesn’t, but Huppert was something else.
James: Huppert is superb in Elle and it’s rather shameful that she – a talent and otherworldly movie goddess on par with Meryl Streep – has never received an Oscar nomination before. One of the most wonderfully surprising moments of this entire season was when Huppert won the Golden Globe, which is rather crazy when you think about it. I believe Huppert is actually stronger in the Oscar race than perhaps most of us believe. I still believe Stone will win in the end but I’d love to see the vote totals on this one. Coming from place of total pragmatism, Elle is probably too wild, too provocative and just too out there to garner consensus within the Academy – your comparison of the 2000 race between Julia Roberts and Ellen Burstyn is pretty spot-on; the Academy likes to honor “movie stars” whenever they can and Stone delivers the “movie star” performance. That being said, she’s quite good – I believe her monologue/song “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” likely carries her over the top – yet this is a strong category overall. More so, this category was particularly deep this year – thinking of the un-nominated but wonderful turns by Amy Adams (Arrival), Annette Bening (20th Century Women) and Krisha Fairchild (the criminally underseen Krisha) last year.
Brett: I think the reason Adams wasn’t nominated was she probably split the vote between Arrival and Nocturnal Animals.
James: That may have had an impact. Also, I think the science fiction element of Arrival might have hurt Adams despite the strength of her performance and overall strength of the movie overall with the Academy. One thing you wrote earlier caught my eye, do you think Casey Affleck has it locked in the bag for Manchester by the Sea? I’m thinking Denzel Washington (for Fences) is coming up strong in the end and has a decent shot as well. Thoughts?
Brett: I know that people have gotten down on Casey lately, but I think he’s the frontrunner, and for good reason. He gives a great performance in Manchester by the Sea and is able to make what could be a very melodramatic role feel something human. Denzel Washington – I don’t know if him in Fences captured people the way Affleck did, but Washington is beloved, and if people want to go away from Affleck, he’s as good a choice as any. I don’t think Gosling has as much momentum as Stone does for La La Land. Though it would be kind of interesting to see Garfield and Stone win both lead trophies, giving yet another kick to Sony for destroying the Amazing Spider-Man franchise. I don’t think Best Actor is as strong or as competitive this year as in previous years, though. Best Supporting Actor, on the other hand, has a lot of possibilities; I think that’s one of the hardest to guess.
James: The precursor run for Best Supporting Actor this season has been nuts – Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals) winning the Globe, Dev Patel (Lion) taking the BAFTA and Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) netting the SAG – yet I’m thinking Ali will win in the end as it marks one of the easiest places to honor Moonlight. A surprise might be ripe here. I could even see a Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals) shocker considering he’s such a respected actor in the industry whose profile has surely raised in the last couple of years.
Brett: I also think that Jeff Bridges might have a shot too. I agree with you that Ali wins for Moonlight, which I also think has a great shot at Best Adapted Screenplay. My personal favorite though was Shannon, who is pretty much always a solid performer who adds an extra something to most everything he does. And he certainly did in Nocturnal Animals. Without him as the death wish detective, I don’t think the movie-within-the-movie of the movie (which is the highlight of the movie) would have been nearly as entertaining.
James: Shannon is always solid though I don’t think anything in Nocturnal Animals particularly works. I want to push back a little on Jeff Bridges, who is great in Hell or High Water, just because I don’t think Oscar voters this year (particularly this year) will likely want to back an openly racist character. There’s certainly lots of nuance there in Bridges’ performance but optics (for lack of a better word) probably prevent that from becoming a reality.
Since we’ve covered three out of the four acting categories, do you think Viola Davis has any competition in Best Supporting Actress for Fences? I would argue, probably not.
Brett: No. I think she has it won. There could always be a surprise, but I doubt it. So – Best Screenplay. I think Moonlight will win for Best Adapted Screenplay. I do think there’s a chance Hidden Figures might win because the Oscars might want to award its resounding popularity in some form, but I think Moonlight has a lot more momentum going into it, plus the social relevance. (Though personally I would give it to Arrival, that’s neither here nor there.) Do you think Moonlight has any real competition for that one?
James: I think Moonlight is ahead but I could see Best Adapted Screenplay going in a few different directions – like Best Original Screenplay, it’s a fairly strong category. I think there are small paths for Arrival, Fences and Hidden Figures. Personally, I’m actually quite torn between Arrival and Moonlight in this category. Overall, I think Moonlight is the slightly superior movie but the script for Arrival may, in my view, be a stronger piece of writing. What about Best Original Screenplay…I’m thinking Manchester by the Sea gets some love, but it’s a close one.
Brett: I definitely think it’s a tough one. I’m personally fond of The Lobster and Hell or High Water, but neither of those I think have a chance for different reasons (mostly genre-related). I really liked Manchester by the Sea’s script and how it felt very naturalistic, with little bits of awkward dialogue that really fleshed out the characters and made them feel real. But there’s also La La Land , which might win because it’s La La Land. If I had to guess, I think that’s what would happen – La La Land wins because La La Land.
James: It might happen. Shout out to The Lobster, which best exemplifies the “original” component of Best Original Screenplay and to 20th Century Women for it’s beautifully calibrated dialogue.
Brett: Any thoughts on cinematography?
James: Always! La La Land probably takes in a sweep – I truly believe the film will take tons of craft prizes based solely on the strength of dream ballet at the end of the film – however Moonlight would be my personal pick with Arrival a close second. You?
Brett: That epilogue is really what “saves” La La Land. Not that it was a bad movie before that, but I feel most of the love and the awards comes from how well crafted that epilogue was. I would like Silence to win, I thought it looked fantastic and it showed areas that we don’t often see in movies. But I’d also like Arrival to win just so it wins something (and also because the cinematography was fantastic). Are there any wins that you’d really like to see? Even if it’s a long shot, are there any particular nominations that you’re really pulling for?
James: I previously mentioned Jackie for Best Original Score and stand by that one. I’d also love to see Kubo and the Two Strings take Best Visual Effects because that’s such a neat and unexpected nomination (The Jungle Book has that one in the bag) and, well I would scream and jump up and down if somehow, some way Moonlight could steal Best Picture. You?
Brett: Moonlight has been getting a lot of buzz lately; it might even be second place for Best Picture after La La Land. A distant second nonetheless but… As for my big hopes, like I mentioned earlier: Isabelle Huppert for Elle and Hail, Caesar! for Production Design.
However, to wrap up with the year as a whole, I will say that despite 2016 not being a particularly great year for movies, I do think the successes of Arrival, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, and, of course, La La Land show that audiences really aren’t as opposed to original movies/original ideas as much as they’re accused of being.