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  89th Annual Academy Awards Poster

89th Annual Academy Awards - Oscar Picks by Reviews by Matthew

I had originally thought that diverse would be the key watchword this year. After the final tally, I find that I’m not able to spread the awards around as much amongst the nominees as I’d originally thought. I’m not really broken up about that though because I feel the winners on this list are all well deserved. This is also the first year that I’ve included the full compliment of categories, all 24 of them. It’ll be this way for me going forward. Not much sense in playing only part of the game. Am I right? Let’s get to it then.

Note: For those of you that are new to this write-up, there’s a section located on the very last page called, “Oscars At A Glance”. There you can find a quick list of the winners that I’ve chosen for every category. See, now the both of us can play without all the distracting words getting in the way of the bottom line.


Oscars at a glance How many will I get Correct ? Totals - ?? out of 24 picked
Category -m-'s Picks The Oscar goes to
Best Picture – La La Land  
Best Director – Damian Chazelle (La La Land)  
Best Actor – Denzel Washington (Fences)  
Best Actress – Emma Stone (La La Land)  
Best Supporting Actor – Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)  
Best Supporting Actress – Viola Davis (Fences)  
Best Animated Picture - Zootopia  
Best Screenplany (Original) – Hell or High Water  
Best Screenplay (Adapted) – Moonlight  
Best Cinematography – La La Land  
Best Art Direction – Best Production Design La La Land  
Best Costume Design – Jackie  
Best Makeup – Suicide Squad  
Best Film Editing – La La Land  
Best Original Score – La La Land  
Best Original Song – “City of Stars” (La La Land)  
Best Sound Mixing– La La Land  
Best Sound Effects Editing – Arrival  
Best Visual Effects – The Jungle Book  
Best Foreign Language Film - Toni Erdmann  
Best Documentary (Feature) - O.J.: Made In America  
Best Documentary (Short Subject) – The White Helmets  
Best Short Film (Animation) – Piper  
Best Short Film (Live Action) – Sing  

PICTURE – Nine nominations this year and there’s a lot to talk about even if the winner is seen as pretty straight forward.

“Arrival” - While the smart sci-fi film has a lot going for it, it’s simply too deep to be a film of mass appeal and so by the wayside it goes.

“Fences” - Denzel Washington delivers a powerhouse film, ripe with moving performances and outstanding dialogue. It’s my favorite film of the year and that almost never equals to Oscar gold.

“Hacksaw Ridge” - A moving turn to the War Film genre. It’s damn nice to see Mel welcomed back by Hollywood. And this film proves his worth as an artist of consistently award-worthy talent. His public history is a reality, and the 5 nominations for his film is the best, and most, he can expect this year from the Academy. Additionally, as good as the film is, it’s still weak enough to lose.

“Hell or High Water” - It’s clear that the Academy loves this little film. I say little because it really is. It feels just a notch above and independent film. It’s clearly enough of a film to praise but not enough of a film to honor with top Oscar gold.

“Hidden Figures” - This film has got some legs. It proved, that with a successful slow burn at the box office, high profile screenings for members of the government and its agencies, and now, talk of a potential television series based on the property, that it’s a legitimate contender. It has all of the ‘feels’ that the Academy and audiences love. And yet for all of this propulsion, it’s just not strong enough to oppose this year’s winner…

“La La Land” - Game. Set. Match.

“Lion” - One of the more moving films in this category and rightfully so. The first half of the film is absolutely, and painfully, wonderful. But it’s second half suffers from a severe case of compaction. The ending is fraught with tears, for both the characters and audiences. Truth is that there’s apt to be more tears on Oscar night too, this time from the team behind the film. But please, don’t let this one get away from you without seeing it.

“Manchester By the Sea” - Ok, it is a good film, but it’s also a single time watch. I don’t feel that there’s a reason or cause to revisit it. “The Revenant” is a better date movie and so I can’t expect the Academy would feel the need to revisit it on Oscar night.

“Moonlight” - The film has its moments, but they’re not so many that I can recommend it outright. It feels too specific and that lack of mass appeal will hamper it, severely.

DIRECTOR – Five outstanding talents this year. Three of them are young and four are first time nominees. Hold on to your hats.

“Arrival” - Denis Villeneuve is my favorite director of this group. His “Sicario” was my favorite film last year, he’s just completed “Bladerunner 2049” and is signed on to helm a new take on the “Dune” franchise; I’m in some kind of sci-fi heaven right now. And while I believe this nomination has more to do with his work on “Sicario”, because “Arrival” is nowhere near that good, it bodes extremely well for the director’s future. It’s clear that the Academy is expecting great things from him. This nomination says, “Keep up the good work, Denis and we’ll see you here again.”

“Hacksaw Ridge” - Hollywood has a way of forgiving its own. However, they’re not so good at accepting new talent who’ve made mistakes before they even been welcomed, i.e.: “Birth of A Nation’s” Nate Parker and/or Casey Affleck. But talent like Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and Mel Gibson are another story. They each have an award worthy history with Hollywood pre-scandal, and both Allen and Polanski have won Oscars post-scandal. If Mel keeps turning out work on this level, you can expect him to do the same, it just won’t be this year. This nomination is proof that Mel’s been welcomed back. All it takes now is some filmic consistency, and no more scandals, to get him over the hump.

“La La Land” - It’s clear that the Academy is infatuated with Damien Chazelle. The honors that his film, “Whiplash” received during 2015 are a clear indication of this. The fact that Damien has followed that infatuation up by making a film that reinvigorates Hollywood’s classic musical staple feels almost like an overt display of flirtation. But damn, is it good. Let the double-dutch rudder commence folks, these two: Chazelle and Hollywood, are crossing the finish line together.

“Manchester By the Sea” - Four-time nominee (3 as a writer, 1 as a director) Kenneth Lonergan will always be a contender. I don’t want to say, “always a bridesmaid but never a bride,” but right now, the shoe fits.

“Moonlight” - Barry Jenkins, the other decidedly young talent in this category is going to win an Academy Award. It may not be this year, but there’s an undeniable voice behind the very small amount of work that he has currently produced. The Academy sees that, and before long, you will too.

ACTOR – A good three-horse race this year.

“Captain Fantastic” - Viggo Mortensen seems to be an Academy filler, a welcome addition always, but never a winner and that’s too bad because he’s always so damn good.

“Fences” No one has ever had an issue voting for Denzel Washington. And this year, they’ll clear any concerns regarding conscious that they might have with the other nominees in this category by giving the award to the man who’s rightly earned it.

“Hacksaw Ridge” - I honestly never expected this nomination. Even after seeing the film I was asked about it and unquestionably denied the possibility and I’m a fan, so “Good for you, Andrew Garfield.” He’s come a long way since “The Social Network” and he’s still just as good. With a track record that includes, David Fincher, Mel Gibson, Martin Scorsese, and the survival of two awful Spiderman films, it seems likely that he’s gonna win this one year.

“La La Land” - Horse number 3, with a bullet. I can’t pick Ryan Gosling outright. It just doesn’t seem plausible with this category’s other contestants, but I’d sure like to see the one-two punch of he and Emma Stone on the dais. Maybe another time, I mean they really do seem to like working together, and I really seem to like watching “Crazy Stupid Love”.

“Manchester By the Sea” - Casey Affleck is the frontrunner by all accounts. He’s won a ton of awards this year and the film’s role suited his ability perfectly. The only thing holding him back is the scandal that you’ve heard so little about. Surprisingly too actually because of the publicity similar Joes have received. If you want to know more about it, I suggest that you look into it yourself. I’m not here to gossip or spout doctrine. Suffice it to say however, Casey hasn’t earned his place in the Academy’s inner circle yet; at least not enough to escape scandal and come out with a win. My guess is that Hollywood will sit silently, vote another way this year, i.e. that SAG win for Denzel, and revisit Casey somewhere down the line.

ACTRESS – The go-ahead win or the upset special.

“Elle” - Isabelle Huppert is the most talked about upset winner that I can remember. Marion Cotillard wasn’t talked about this much before her win for “La Vie En Rose” and this year, it could happen again. You heard it here, fi…well more like for the thousandth time.

“Florence Foster Jenkins” - What’s a best actress category without Meryl Streep? Pretty much the same thing this year because Amy Adams would have gotten the nod in her stead for “Arrival” or “Nocturnal Animals” and, just like Meryl this year, she wouldn’t have won for either film.

“Jackie” - OMGYG! Natalie Portman is so good in this; arguably better than the costumes. The bottom line is that I can’t have two upset picks and my money is on Isabelle.

“La La Land” - This is Emma Stone’s second Oscar nomination, her first being in the Supporting Actress category in 2015. I know, I know, this is all kind of fast, but Hollywood loves her and quite frankly, she crushed it in “La La Land”. I can hear the red carpet now, “Look at her dress.” “Look at her smile.” “Look at her Academy Award.”

“Loving” - While Ruth Negga has been diligently working the TV circuit for a little more than a decade, she’s new to me. I met (okay, TV met) her last year as Tulip O’Hare on AMC’s “Preacher” and I was impressed. I didn’t get to see “Loving” this year but I have no doubt about the competency of her work nor the legitimacy of this nomination. But even I can see that it’s too early for her and there’s been too little talk for this kind of recognition.

SUPPORTING ACTOR – The ‘over before it began’ category of the year.

“Hell of High Water” - What happened to Jeff Bridges? I mean he always said, “…man” a lot but he never used to have that dragging drawl to his speech. I’m not in any way ready to think he’s done here, but ever since his win for “Crazy Heart” his dialogue has felt like it’s all coming out of the same character and the Academy awarded that voice already. So I gotta ask, “What’s next Jeff?”

“Lion” - I look forward to everything Dev Patel signs up for; I even love “Chappie”. But the bottom line here is that “Lion” is not his film. It belongs to the two boys, Saroo and Guddu (Sunny Pawer and Abhishek Bharate, respectively). Dev gets the quintessential dialogue of the film and delivers it with all of the heart that the film allows, but truth be told, I want to go back and watch the beginning of this film over and over and over again. That’s where all the magic and hope of Oscar gold is at.

“Manchester By the Sea” - I’m really grateful for the character played by Lucas Hedges in this film. He’s the emotional center to Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams’s oppositional poles. It’s a key role in the film because it’s really tough to spend any overt amount of time with the other two characters. As an audience member, I’m grateful. As an Academy member, I simply say, “Thank you.”

“Moonlight” - Now, I didn’t feel Mahershala Ali’s performance, in this profoundly limited role, in the same way that all of Hollywood is talking about. But that doesn’t negate his win here.

“Nocturnal Animals” - Whenever I hear Michael Shannon’s name, I’m immediately interested. That doesn’t mean that I run right out and see a film that he’s in but they have a way of locking their titles or synopsis into my mind. This one I saw, and Michael’s fine, but the film is not. The film feels like a “kiss my ass” letter to a girlfriend that dumped the writer. The problem is that the audience feels left out of the incident and left in to all of the anger. Similarly, Michael’s left in to the category but left out of the gold.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS – The ‘almost over before it began’ category of the year.

“Fences” - No need to rock the awards boat. Viola Davis sails home on the sturdiest ship of the year.

“Hidden Figures” - I’m not feeling this specific nomination. In my opinion, Octavia Spencer, who’s a great actress, was outshined by her two compatriots, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe. To me, either, or, both of them should be here instead.

“Lion” - Nicole Kidman delivers some fine work that’s ultimately crushed by the film’s compaction oriented second half. With a longer film, and more breathing room for her character, this nomination might have seemed legit and stood a chance.

“Manchester By the Sea” - Four-time nominee Michelle Williams (2 as an Actress, 2 as a Supporting Actress) is simply waiting for her name to come around on the guitar; she’s too good not to have multiple Oscars on her shelf. Now, to those who believe 2017 will finally be her year, I present Exhibit A: Viola Davis in “Fences”.

“Moonlight” - This is a performance, and nomination, that I can clearly get behind. Naomie Harris delivers the most clearly stated performance of the film, and it’s powerful. It shouldn’t steal any wind from Viola’s sails but do yourself the favor of seeing it for yourself.

ANIMATED FEATURE  – I don’t think this is a surprise.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” - Currently my favorite animated film of the year, but you know that rarely translates into a win for this category. There’s a lot to love about Kubo’s story and the telling, and even though the film lets the ball kind of sag at points, it never really drops it.

“Moana” - Whether you’ve seen the film or not, ask yourself a simple question, have you heard much talk or singing about ‘Moana”? Usually Disney/Pixar films carry some form of hit song (“Frozen”) or at cultural dialogue (“Inside Out”) that leaks into the mainstream. “Moana” has neither. But don’t fret, Disney still has another horse in this race.

“My Life As A Zucchini” - Haven’t seen it, can’t comment on it. Truth be told, I’m not sure the Academy has either.

“The Red Turtle” - At the time of this writing I still have not seen this one from Studio Ghibli but man, I’m dying to. A largely silent animated film about a family shipwrecked on a desert island. You had me at silent movie.

“Zootopia” – Disney’s second animated horse boasts a pretty strong storyline, especially for an animated film, and it grossed over a billion (yes, a billion) dollars worldwide. Maybe there’s a reason. An Oscar gold winning reason.

SCREENPLAY ORIGINAL – “Which way could it go, George?”

“20th Century Women” - A single nomination for the film, and that, in a category with stronger maybes? I don’t think so.

“Hell or High Water” - Allow me to reiterate, the Academy loves this movie. I think, they love it enough to send it home with at least this little something.

“La La Land” – It wasn’t until I watched this film a second time that I realized just how good the script is. I’m hesitant to not pick it here, but I can’t shake that “Hell or High Water” loving feeling.

“The Lobster” - Quirky. Maybe a little too quirky.

“Manchester By the Sea” - The film’s director receives his fourth official nomination (3rd as a writer) in this category. Not an easy feat to overlook, but I feel the film is doomed by its own sense of joylessness.

SCREENPLAY ADAPTED – This category is going one of two ways OR the split delivers the arguably accomplished third.

“Arrival” - I absolutely love the source material. Considering that, I found that I loved the film a whole lot less. The film delivers a typical fear mongering anti-alien driven subplot that I cared nothing for. In fact it really helped to dumb down the brilliant linguistic driven science fiction of the film for me. In the time since that initial viewing I’ve heard a lot of rumblings concerning the quality of the script, apparently that subplot didn’t bother anyone but me, and I have to admit the film is good enough, in plenty of areas, to warrant recognition. Will it be here? I’m not sure. To me, “Arrival” only rises to the top if the front runners split the vote.

“Fences” - Masterfully adapted from the August Wilson play yet I’ve not heard a single word relating to awards for the writing of this film. A damn shame. Did you not see what Denzel and Viola did with the words from these pages?

“Hidden Figures” - Here’s one of the two choices best suited for the Adapted Screenplay Oscar. It’s got all of the feel-good things that Hollywood loves about films and, its cast won a SAG award for best ensemble. However, it’s won no other writing awards this season; so much for splitting that vote, huh?

“Lion” - I really enjoyed the film, but I just don’t see the honors here.

“Moonlight” - Now we’re cooking with grease. Barry Jenkins, along with Kenneth Lonegran, receives his second nomination of the year (Direction and Writing). And while both Barry and Kenneth deserve recognition, “Moonlight” has the steam to walk away with an Oscar.

PRODUCTION DESIGN / ART DIRECTION – Let’s just boil this down to brass tax.

“Arrival” – Identical space ships, a pair of aliens, a whole lot of tents with plastic flaps and a Frank Lloyd Wright style house. It’s just not enough, Yo.

“”Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” - 1920’s New York. Man, this stuff looks impressive, even if the film is only so-so.

“Hail, Caesar!” - This love letter to old Hollywood kinda gets lost in the mail.

“La La Land” - I can almost base this win on the production design of the finale. Just look at the montage sets as Mia and Sebastian dance through the Hollywood studio with the trees, freeway, and director sitting in his chair with a megaphone. This all harkens back to classic Hollywood movies. “La La Land” absolutely sticks this landing.

“Passengers” - A strong sci-fi aesthetic is probably not gonna get it done this year.


“Arrival” - Bradford Young (Selma, A Most Violent Year) delivers some decidedly static camera work in “Arrival”, and for the film, it perfectly reflects the cold awe any of us might find ourselves in if we were living the circumstances contained herein. His framing adds an endless width to small spaces and has the effect of making the audience feel both small and infinite in the context of an expanding universe and mind. It’s psychologically impressive. But I wonder how many Academy members will realize just what exactly is happening to them.

“La La Land” - Linus Sandgren (American Hustle, The Hundred Foot Journey) delivers the Oscar winning goods. Linus infuses an Emmanuel Lubezki’s (3 time Oscar winner) style by leading and/or following the actors in lengthy takes. The sets of the film themselves appear malleable and work to great effect in providing a very fluid and mobile cinematography.

“Lion” - Greig Fraser (Killing Them Softly, Zero Dark Thirty, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) delivers some of my favorite overhead landscapes and wide shots of the year. There’s one towards the end of the film that sees Dev Patel walking along a retaining wall overlooking a river as a train breaks into the top right of the frame crossing a bridge. It’s an expansive, lovely, and completely memorable shot but it’s not enough to elevate him above the category competition.

“Moonlight” - James Laxton’s (Tusk, Yoga Hosers) work here is most notable for his repeated circling and overhead character following viewpoints. It’s a pretty good hand held aesthetic but can’t match the smooth grove on display in “La La Land”

“Silence” - Rodrigo Prieto (Passengers, The Wolf of Wall Street, Argo, Babel, Brokeback Mountain, 8 Mile) is the pedigree of the category. Working with the likes of Ang Lee, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Ben Affleck, and Martin Scorsese, you can expect that he’s got the chops to be here. But I’m wondering how many Academy members saw his work this year. The almost three-hour long “Silence” was released very late in the award season, so late that it completely missed the Golden Globes and was left out of the BAFTAs entirely. I have to imagine that with only this single nomination, the film will be left out of the Oscar too.


“Arrival” - One of the themes of the film concerns time and so it stands to reason that the film should flow effortlessly between the periods it sets up. “Arrival” does this in a wonderfully “becoming” way.

“Hacksaw Ridge” - This film delivers itself in two halves. The first half is a bit clunky, with abrupt edits that have a more jarring feel. This is surprising because it all takes place before the wartime battle scenes and winds up feeling as disorienting as those later wartime visuals ought to. The second half of the film is almost a masterclass of chaos and flow. It brings a whole other level of soothing smooth perfection to the carnage of its last hour.

“Hell or High Water” - I can’t even remember the editing in this film to say one way or the other. Regardless it can’t compare to the winner below.

“La La Land” – The film has as a style all its own. Its song and dance sequences are largely single extended takes without edits. But when it does edit it seems to do so compositionally. The bulk of the edits are used as a setup or an introduction for characters or locales. For example, when Mia and Sebastian first go to the jazz club, the audience is served up with a quick montage of instruments as a form of introduction to the jazz band playing on stage, this works a second job by setting up the environment we’re now going to watch out characters commune in. It’s impressive and ultimately Oscar gold.

“Moonlight” - Another film with time periods. This one moves us through three consecutive stages of one person’s life and those transitions are fine, welcome even, but I’m not moved by them at all. Not like I am in the other films.

COSTUME – Pink is the new Gold: A comedy of Decades.

“Allied” - A film I missed this year but one that I felt didn’t stand out to much. 1940’s wartime garb; you don’t look impressed either.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” - Less roaring and more practical 1920s, not sure if that’s more interesting or not.

“Florence Foster Jenkins” - 1940s America, a bit more interesting than the wartime garb but it’s still a lot of tuxes and military uniforms.

“Jackie” - “We’re not worthy.” That pink is pitch perfect 1960s Jackie Kennedy-style gold.

“La La Land” - This is so modern and practical for the 2010s that, outside of the obvious primary color moments and a comedic turn or two, I’m stumped at the nomination.

MAKEUP – The “I couldn’t care less” category of the year.

“A Man Called Ove” - I haven’t seen a single foreign film this year, and I’m seriously bummed about that, but I tell you, I didn’t see a single thing in this trailer that even warrants a nomination. So what am I and the Academy missing?

“Star Trek Beyond” - Go Trek! Not that I remember too much other than some aliens and some pretty cool black & white face makeup.

“Suicide Squad” - Okay, Okay, there’s some merit here. The crocodile dude, the Joker, Harley Quinn, all those tattoos, and the weak ass mummy chick. But c’mon man, this movie sucked. And not since Joe Johnston’s horrible “The Wolfman” (2010) did one of the worst movies of the year win an Oscar. Wait, wait a minute… Oh the heck with it, “Suicide Squad” it is.

ORIGINAL SCORE – More than words.

“Jackie” – This is an amazing score. It’s the one nominee on this list that I’ve found myself going back to over and over again. It’s the most atmospheric score on the list, not exactly haunting but I get the comparison. For me, every track evokes images of a respected and confused spiritlessness that perhaps only Jackie O’s story can conjure. The track, “Vanity” is a standout and encompasses the best of Mica Levi’s arrangements and melody. I think I really need a copy of this, and I haven’t said that about a film score in a long, long time. The only thing standing in the way of an Academy Award for Mica is “La La Land”.

“La La Land” – This one’s wrapped up. If you have any doubt, just watch the isolated piano scored finale. It says everything the film needs to say and nary be a word spoken.

“Lion” - The film’s introduction, with its score and landscapes are absolutely beautiful. The film’s emotions are carried largely on the small and consistent waves created by the strings and piano. It’s just not enough of a score to surf to.

“Moonlight” - The heavy use of violins provide the film with a weight reminiscent of a renaissance struggle. Effectively imbuing it and the audience with a sense of understandable and impertinent caution. I mean this guy lives in a world where his peers, perhaps understandably, still believe the earth if flat. But this never strips the film of hope, best represented in the constant refrain of a melody similar to “Do You Hear What I Hear?”. It’s poignant and uplifting in these moments, and while arguably memorable, it never delivers a complete freedom from circumstance that the Academy could laud. It’s in tune with its context and character but not with Oscar gold.

“Passengers” – The fourteen time Oscar nominated composer Thomas Newman returns with a score that’s unique enough but not catchy enough to garner him his first Oscar win.

ORIGINAL SONG – The “La La Land” train keeps a rolling, all night long.

“Audition” (The Fools Who Dream)” - This is the stunning and thematic “La La Land” moment that will stick in the minds of audience and Academy members so much that it will win Emma Stone the best actress Oscar. It’s a flawed and moving piece that I can’t wait to see performed live on the Oscar telecast. It won’t win ,but in context it’s a shining moment.

“Can’t Stop the Feeling” - Justin Timberlake is in the running for an Oscar and I couldn’t be happier for him. This is an absolutely great song and my favorite tune of the nominees, and most likely, of the year. The original song category has been an evolving one. We’ve watched them go from blatantly traditional, by flat out ignoring timely modern artists, see Alanis Morrisette’s “Uninvited” from “City of Angels”, to later lauding rap tracks like, “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp”. “Can’t Stop the Feeling” makes the most award-worthy sense when it comes to evolution but now we’ve got a year where a musical is the Best Picture front runner and all of Hollywood has been reminded of their traditions. Bummer, Yo!

“City of Stars” - The most recognizable and stronger of “La La Land”’s original song one-two punch. The song was used in most of the promotional material for the film and gets plenty of refrains throughout the film. Drawing so much attention to it seems like overkill until you hear it performed as a duet in the film. Once that happened, all bets on the other nominees stopped.

“The Empty Chair” – from “Jim: The James Foley Story”. J. Ralph and Sting return to the Oscar stage with a quiet and thoughtful piece that’s understandably eclipsed by the other nominees. What’s painful though is how the documentary about the life and death of this American photojournalist was as equally eclipsed.

“How Far I’ll Go” – from Disney’s “Moana”. It’s got an impressive and memorable melody lying underneath lyrics that take a lot longer to stick. It’s a song that takes a few listens but that melody will get into your very being. I’m just not seeing how that’s going to tip the Academy’s hand in its favor. And for as often as you’ll sing your own random made up words to this tune it ought to deserve something more than simply recognition as a nominee. Got any ideas?

SOUND MIXING – The sound of all a film’s working parts…in harmony.

“Arrival” - For a short time, this was my pick. Granted it took a second viewing to get there but this was the first of my Oscar film retreads and I found that my early idea of a win works better as a nomination. However a damn fine one. The film is littered with background news casts and radio traffic, multiple speaking voices, the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, coupled with speaking parts from both human and alien species. It’s no small feat.

“Hacksaw Ridge” - This was retread number 2 and man was I blown away. This film’s mix is second only to the film’s editing, and effectively helps turn the film’s last hour into a symphony. Don’t be surprised if “Hacksaw Ridge” pulls the upset win.

“La La Land” - The last of my Oscar retreads and I’m so grateful for it. “La La Land” produces an astounding soundscape. One that’s lively and spontaneous, jazzy, if you will, and all the while never letting the vocal levels rise above anything else. The intentions and emotions of the film are never faked and there’s a purity in that, a trueness that the other films can’t match. Just look at the isolated piano track at the finale of the film, it evokes both the loneliness of the viewing audience and the reward of the Academy.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” - Lightsabers and heavy breathing aren’t going to be enough this year. And a vocalizing Peter Cushing belongs in the sound editing category, so don’t even start with me.

“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” - Not a bad nominee. Just not a winning one though.

SOUND EDITING – The sound of a film’s single working part.

“Arrival” - I just don’t see how a film can be nominated for eight Academy Awards and not walk home with something. “Arrival” manages to create some truly unique and inspired sounds. We are talking about the arrival of, and first contact with, an alien race. I think the film creates a colorful enough palette to garner a win.

“Deepwater Horizon” - Eight-time Oscar nominee Wylie Stateman makes one of many strong cases for Oscar gold with the blood curdling sound of a man breaking his arm. Dude, I walked out of the theater still cringing from the sound created for this film.

“Hacksaw Ridge” - Delivers exactly what you’d expect from a war film. Should that garner it a win? I’m not so sure this year. Its majesty really lies in its film’s second hour editing and sound mix.

“La La Land” - I see this as perhaps the weakest of the film’s nominations. Maybe that’s saying something, maybe not. Anyway, its one Oscar the film can live without.

“Sully” - I’m really not seeing this. Honestly, I didn’t see the movie either, but I understand the main thrust of the sound edits would have come during the airplane sequence and not the remainder of the film. Sorry, Charlie.

VISUAL EFFECTS – Favreau’s film, for the Win!

“Deepwater Horizon” - Sure, there was a lot of smoke and fire on the water but what I really remember is the sound of that guy’s arm breaking. Ouch!

“Doctor Strange” - That alternate universe stuff and gear-winding cityscapes were pretty wild, I have to admit, but they weren’t as wild as…

“The Jungle Book” - Hands down, the winner. I mean the scene with Ka the snake hypnotized me right into a nap in the theater. If that snake had been any realer, it would have had me for lunch.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” - I don’t get it. It’s an animated film being nominated for visual effects. It’s a gorgeous movie and all but…?

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” - To me this nomination is really all about the recreation of actors from the original 1977 “Star Wars” film. Personally, I dig it but there’s a rather large group of audiences who despise it. Admittedly, it’s not perfect yet, but man that was plenty Tarkin-enough for me.

NOTE: Here begins my forward commitment to include the “My Best Guess” categories in this annual write up. Most of the films in these categories have remained unseen by myself. Either they don’t play locally, or my schedule doesn’t match the late night viewing times offered. There’s got to be somebody out there that can get me on a list to receive screeners, right…? Test for Echo… Testing… Test. Test… Echo…Echo…Anything?

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – A series of over-simplifications, please forgive me.

“Land of Mine” - Denmark’s Oscar entry concerns a group of German POWs who are forced to dig up and diffuse 45,000 land mines on a beach, with their bare hands. I have got to see this!

“A Man Called Ove” - What appears to be “Toni Erdmann”-lite.

“The Salesman” - Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, the director of the Academy Award winning “A Separation”, returns to the Best Foreign Language category with another striking looking film; this one concerning rape and revenge. It looks gorgeous and profoundly haunting. Bottom line is that I can’t help but think the Academy is feeling a win for fare that’s just a bit on the lighter side this year.

“Tanna” - An Australian entry filmed entirely in Tanna, Vanuatu, in the South Pacific Ocean. The tagline for the film is “Two Tribes, One Love” and concerns the after-effects of an arranged marriage. It looks interesting, in a way similar to the way “Rapa Nui” looked interesting. Apparently the former unfolds far better than the latter.

“Toni Erdmann” - The nearly three-hour long comedy has been the hit of the international festival circuit. So much so that there’s an American remake planned that has already signed Jack Nicholson, who hasn’t made a film in ten years, to play the lead along with Kristen Wiig to play his daughter. I call that a win, win, Win.

BEST DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE) – This one’s a tough category to talk about this year.

“13th” - The BAFTA winning documentary by Oscar snubbed (“Selma”) director Ava DuVernay is powerful. There’s a whole series of other authoritative descriptors that can be used to describe the film and they’d all be right. It’s a fascinating work. And while I’d like to pick the film to win on its own merit, I’m forced to examine some controversial issues. There’s the idea that the Academy would be saving some face by giving DuVernay an Oscar here after she was snubbed for her work on “Selma”. I get that, but it needs to be known that “13th” is Oscar-worthy, in and of, itself. This year, neither thought necessarily garners it a win.

“Fire at Sea” - The Italian film about the European migrant crisis is in shallow waters this year. Better for it that way, the top three horses in this race are in the deep end and connecting like heavyweights.

“I Am Not Your Negro” - I was horribly disappointed that I wasn’t able to see this. I’ve poured over the trailers and written blurbs but I’m sorely lacking a screening. The film is based on a 30 page manuscript of an unfinished book, “Remember This House” by James Baldwin. The book was to be a personal recounting of the lives and deaths of Medger Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. I can only imagine the heft of the film at this time but I can confirm that the trailers clearly don’t pull any punches. Boasting eleven award season wins, including the Toronto and Chicago Film Festivals as well as the Los Angeles and San Francisco Film Critics Associations, “I Am Not Your Negro” still ranks 3rd amongst its category peers; “13th” has eighteen wins while “O.J.: Made In America” has thirty-nine. I’m beginning to see an unfortunate trend.

“Life, Animated” - A surprisingly moving tale about one family’s struggle and triumphs with autism. I was surprised at how quickly I was pulled into the film and how much I enjoyed it’s tale of Disney sidekicks becoming their own heroes. Sadly, or not so, it can’t stand up against the three heavy hitters dominating this category this year.

“O.J.: Made In America” - Over seven hours of material here, and some of it covering the same ground as the other two Oscar contenders spoken about above. My goodness, it’s almost as long as the award winning television miniseries. Hey wait, a critically lauded television miniseries, and now a critically lauded documentary series, am I seeing that award number trend play out here? I sure am, but there’s another Oscar pattern to note here, and that’s the Split Vote. Both “13th” and “I Am Not Your Negro” are powerful statements that force their audiences to look at themselves and how overtly or inadvertently they may have been accomplices in the subjugation of a race. First, that’s a hard thing for a viewer to accept. Second, how do you decide which of the two films move audiences better in a direction of recognition, acceptance, and then positive change? Third, “O.J.: Made In America” does something that the other two films don’t, it gives the viewer a culprit. A someone else to look at as guilty, someone other than themselves.
(Note: There’s a savagely uncomfortable #Oscarssowhite quote for you, but it’s one I’m far more uncomfortable keeping silent about. And if it’s true, it breaks my god-damn heart.)


“Extremis” - 30+ minutes in a hospital facing the reality of end of life decisions. I think, of all the subject matter on display in this category, this film is the most difficult to sit through, and therefore to award.

“4.1 Miles” - Another harsh reality short, this one concerning refugees fleeing Turkey and crossing the Agean Sea to the island of Lesbos in Greece. As interesting and poignant as it may be, I just don’t think it has the power to top the other rescue efforts in this category.

“Joe’s Violin” - Nominated for five different film awards this season, “Joe’s Violin” has already won three of them. The film tells the powerful tale of a 91 year old holocaust survivor who donates his violin to a youth music program and in doing so changes the life of a 12 year old girl from the Bronx. This has got Oscar heart written all over it, but is that enough?

“Watani: My Homeland” - The journey of one family’s escape from Aleppo to Germany was filmed over the course of three years. It’s a timely piece but not a golden one.

“The White Helmets” - When dealing with topics of either Syria or refugees, “The White Helmets” delivers the goods. Telling the story of Syrian citizens, wearing white helmets, who race into the recently bombed out areas of their cities to rescue those that may have been injured. It’s a topical, humanizing piece that celebrates the selflessness of those affected by the trials that face them. These helmets really stand out and the Academy will not fall short of recognizing them.

BEST SHORT FILM (ANIMATION) – Were you expecting a different outcome?

“Blind Vaysha” - A visionary idea concerning a woman who can only see the past with her left eye and the future with her right. The rub? Looking in these two directions leaves the present an unfortunate blind spot.

“Borrowed Time” - A near silent western short created by a pair of Pixar animators, Andrew Coats, and Lou Hamou-Lhadj. It’s a grim and arguably beautiful tale that’ll be passed over, but not forgotten, by the Academy or that audiences that see it.

“Pear Cider and Cigarettes” - A 34 minute, artistically stunning, tale about the tragedy of consumption. That’s a pretty lengthy reminder don’tcha think? On both counts, I’m sorry for your loss.

“Pearl” - A unique father-daughter tale spanning several formative years and told entirely from the inside of a car. That’s neat. I wish I’d seen it.

“Piper” - Released mid-2016 by Pixar in theaters and attached to screenings of “Finding Dory”. I think everyone liked this little film better than the bigger fish. So much so that it’s here, winning, and Dory’s nowhere to be grilled.

BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) – I read about each of these because I didn’t get the chance to see any of them. I’d like to talk knowingly about them, but quite frankly I’m tired at this stage of the game, so I’ll just make this quick.

“Ennemis Intérieurs” - No.

“La Femme et le TGV” - No.

“Silent Nights” - No.

“Sing” - Win!

“Timecode” - No.


Turn Down The Lights, Turn Up The Sound.

Matthew Gilbert © 1999-2017 All Rights Reserved

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