What did you think of the Oscar winners? Would you have voted differently?
JPCatholic Film Critic Renard Bansale gives his picks below:
Written Saturday, February 25th, 2017
If Renard Voted for the 89th Academy Awards (2016)
The Oscars are this Sunday and debates and betting contests continue up until that beat of silence while the presenter opens the sealed envelope about who will win and who should win. While I do dabble in such contests, I prefer to simply stick by my personal picks (strictly from the final list of nominees), accept the presumed frontrunners, and avoid having any of the votes I had made in small contests compromise the excitement of the whole ceremony.
Best Original Song:
For every time I am tempted to vote for “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”, which is Mia’s (Emma Stone) showstopping moment, the opening notes of arguably the film’s signature song start to play in my head. “City of Stars,” save for perhaps the opening number “Another Day of Sun” (which was not submitted to the Academy), will go down as the theme song for any artistic dreamers pondering over their chances at success and happiness.
Best Original Score:
Justin Hurwitz will win this Oscar, but I would still vote for the score that not only stands more on its own, but continues to send chills down my spine.
Best Sound Editing:
While the sound editing team of Hacksaw Ridge will likely claim this statuette in the end, I prefer to honor the team that had to compose the guttural yet textured audio of the Heptapod language.
Best Sound Mixing:
The re-recording mixers of La La Land should and will win this Oscar, which will be the third for mixing team member Andy Nelson (Saving Private Ryan, Les Miserables).
Best Visual Effects:
I can criticize Kubo’s screenwriting all I want, but there is no denying the meticulous and time-consuming stop-motion animation craft that went into this Japanese-inspired action-adventure (especially since I disapprove of the CGI resurrection/de-aging of actors in my original choice, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story).
Best Film Editing:
Tom Cross will and should win his second editing Oscar for his equally-crisp and equally-restrained (more on that below) cutting of this joyous and lively musical.
Best Makeup & Hairstyling:
While I did not find the third installment in the rebooted Star Trek film franchise as worthwhile and lasting as the first and especially the second films, I will not deny that—of this peculiar batch of nominees—its makeup and prosthetic efforts deserve this Oscar the most.
Best Costume Design:
Aside from all the dashing, ’60s-era, formal attire of the politicians closest to the late president, Ms. Fontaine recreates one of fashion’s most iconic and infamous dresses in the strawberry pink Chanel suit and matching pillbox hat that Jackie Kennedy was wearing at the time of her late husband’s assassination. Most winners of this category are either Best Picture contenders or stuffy period pieces, so while I prefer that Jackie go down in cinema history as more than the latter, I am content that that description will at least earn it one statuette come Sunday evening.
Best Production Design:
I almost considered the production design of Hail, Caesar! for a moment, but then I wondered, “Why award the recreation of the Golden Age of Hollywood just starting on its descent when I can award its emulation in enhancing real-life locations as well as elaborate fantasy sets?” You will be reminded of the power of proper framing and precise lighting whenever you watch Emma Stone grumbling over the absence of her towed car or Emma and Ryan tap-dancing before a gorgeous, magic-hour view of the valley.
I was so close to voting for Bradford Young (i.e. the first d.p. of African descent with a Cinematography Oscar nomination) for his narrow focus-heavy close and foreboding wide camerawork in Arrival. Every instance I consider doing so, however, the opening “Another Day of Sun” sequence, the whip pans of the “Summer” montage, and any other long-take sequence I have yet to mention replay in my head. (Kudos to editor Tom Cross for his restraint during such moments.)
Mr. Chazelle’s effort stood out the proudest among any directorial effort of 2016. His vision carried with it that irresistible magic characteristic of the best passion projects of cinema. Part of me wants to say that Mr. Chazelle’s film was to the classic Hollywood musical what Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit was to western animation—in other words, a dream and a miracle come true.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
The triptych structure of this deeply personal character study of a sexually-confused African American male in Miami stands out as the boldest among the five adapted scripts, which will earn it the Oscar.
Best Original Screenplay:
While many actors appreciate the tough honesty of Kenneth Lonergan’s script for Manchester by the Sea, I prefer that Best Original Screenplay goes to Taylor Sheridan’s almost-meditative exploration of generational strife via a seemingly-standard rangers-versus-bank-robbers crime thriller set in west Texas. (The fact that Mr. Sheridan also wrote the original script for 2015’s Sicario—my favorite film of 2015—also helps in my decision.)
Best Supporting Actress:
Naomie Harris’ fiery Moonlight performance and how she gave that performance in only three days did almost sway me, but even she comes short of reaching the dramatic heights of Viola Davis, who translates her Tony Award-winning Broadway performance into an equal powerhouse of a screen performance.
Best Supporting Actor:
Whoa, I was not expecting this. As great as Mahershala Ali was in Moonlight, I feel uncomfortable with voting for his short and subtle screen performance. Comparatively, Mr. Patel gives a borderline lead performance in Lion, but the structure of Lion justifies his supporting nomination. The emotional space given to him allows him to become an incredible presence on screen, nailing down the obsession of an adoptee discovering his distant origins.
This is no stunt performance—I sincerely believed that Ms. Portman was Jackie Kennedy for the entire duration of this unorthodox biopic. She nailed the accent, she nailed the dread, the dazed sorry, the haunting paranoia, and the regret of a dream unfulfilled. She was a living ghost in this film.
I admired Casey Affleck’s dramatic implosion in Manchester by the Sea, but it was never the type of performance which I would immediately vote for the Oscar. At the same time, the lead male performances of 2016 were disappointing enough that I settled with Affleck. And then I watched Denzel reprising his Tony Award-winning Broadway performance while also directing himself and the cast. The electric nature of his turn felt very much like Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire—it just blows you away.
Best Documentary Short Film:
The timeliness of the Syrian civil war and the availability of the short on Netflix should earn this short enough votes to claim this statuette.
Best Animated Short Film:
Of the five nominees, this Pixar short (which preceded Finding Dory in theaters) has the perfect samplings of a breezy story, a relatable conflict, and a satisfying payoff. Moreover, there is that photorealistic animation. This should give Pixar its first animated short Oscar since “For the Birds” won at the 74th ceremony (for honoring 2001 films).
Best Live Action Short Film:
Most years, this category is impossible to predict, although the Academy does have their favorites—typically cute and unchallenging over dour and thought-provoking, for example (which contrasts with animated short never going for Pixar and documentary short going for the most timely and/or “virtue-signaling” subject matter). I liked “Sing” the most, even with its somewhat difficult message surrounding a satisfying resolution. The “cute” inclinations favor “Sing” and “La Femme et le TGV”, while the political contexts of “Ennemis Interieurs” (a powerful short) and “Silent Nights” could favor them. That leaves “Timecode”, which was slight but hits the cute and fun notes while avoiding any controversial subject matter. All we can do is wait and see what the Academy chooses.
Best Documentary Feature Film:
A colossal achievement. Yes, it is a technically more of an ESPN miniseries that premiered at Sundance and Tribeca, but I am glad the Academy probably will not care about that asterisk.
Best Animated Feature Film:
All of the Best Animated Feature categories in this awards season have been the greatest source of anxiety for me. Yes, Zootopia has almost swept all of the necessary awards that would guarantee a win in this category, but the race is not over until it is over.
Best Foreign Language Film:
Until I saw writer-director Maren Ade’s father-daughter dramedy, the only nominee I had seen was the Swedish entry A Man Called Ove, which I enjoyed. Ms. Ade’s film and its sprawling 3-hour runtime, on the other hand, is a full-bodied tale of parental embarrassment, the negative effects of modern society, and the pressures of conformity. Yes, both young and mature viewers should be aware of two strong scenes of sex and nudity, but the rest of the film riveted me in unexpected ways—for one thing, I will never listen to Whitney Houston’s version of “Greatest Love of All” the same way again.
La La Land was my favorite film of 2016, so naturally it is my pick for Best Picture. As I said in my Top 10 Films of 2016 article, “This film, to put it simply, is nothing short of an artistic miracle.” Those words still ring true for me as the time for the Oscars ceremony arrives.
MY VOTING TALLY:
- La La Land: 7 votes [out of 14 nominations] (Picture, Director, Cinematography, Production Design, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, and Song)
- Jackie: 3 votes [out of 3 nominations—a clean sweep!] (Actress, Costume Design, and Score)
- Fences: 2 votes [out of 4 nominations] (Actor and Supporting Actress)
- The remaining works come away with 1 vote each (in alphabetical order by film): Arrival (Sound Editing), Hell or High Water (Original Screenplay), Kubo & the Two Strings (Visual Effects), Lion (Supporting Actor), Moonlight (Adapted Screenplay), O.J.: Made in America (Documentary Feature Film), “Piper” (Animated Short Film), “Sing” (Live Action Short Film), Star Trek Beyond (Makeup & Hairstyling), Toni Erdmann (Foreign Language Film), “The White Helmets” (Documentary—Short Subject), and Zootopia (Animated Feature Film)