This year’s Oscar nominations have been announced, and for once the media pundits and social media consensus are much happier with the overall outcome, with few gripes and much to celebrate. Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty sighs about deserving favorites not making the cut – the Best Actress category especially was a bottleneck with many casualties (more on that later) – but more tellingly there are few outcries about supposedly undeserving candidates being included.
I myself am pretty happy about the nominations. Even if I might have wished for more love for certain overlooked or barely acknowledged films (“Loving”, “The Lobster”, “Love and Friendship”, “Silence”…), I can safely say that I really really liked 8 of the 9 Best Picture nominees, even loved quite a few, and rate at least 3 among my top films of the year and even decade. The one of the nine not included, well, I haven’t seen it yet…
The Oscars will be handed out February 26. Here’s the full nomination list, with my little asides on trivia and taste (update 2/27: all winners have been underlined – read my response to the Best Picture weirdness here):
Best motion picture of the year
Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder and David Linde, Producers – 8 noms in total (One win):
Picture – Director – Original Screenplay – Editing – Cinematography – Production Design – Sound Editing – Sound Mixing
While “La La Land” got a record 14 nominations, “Arrival” and “Moonlight” both are in second place with 8 each. A very good showing for the popular and critically celebrated cerebral science fiction thriller “Arrival”, with two notable omissions where nominations were generally expected: visual effects and Amy Adams’ lead performance, which anchors the films’ complex intellectual and emotional themes (plus there was one omission where there was an egregious disqualification, more on that later). In the case of Amy Adams, it seems to be less a snub than an unfortunate casualty of the aforementioned Best Actress candidate bottleneck; and there may be a silver lining for Amy in that the already 5 time nominated but non-winning actress with this omission (that most everyone feels bad about) now might have the wind in her back to actually claim the award the next time around, rather than become the next Deborah Kerr / Glenn Close / Thelma Ritter (6 noms, no wins) of Oscar history (not to mention Richard Burton – 7 noms, no win – or Peter O’Toole – 8 noms, no win). And with Amy Adam’s amazing track record (5 noms in ten years), there will surely be a next time around.
By the way, with his work on “Arrival”, Bradford Young becomes the first African-American cinematographer nominated for an Academy Award (1998’s “Elizabeth” gave us the first nominated black British cinematographer). Just one example out of many deserving ones why this year so ain’t the year of #OscarSoWhite.
Meanwhile I can’t say enough good things about “Arrival”, the movie, except to reiterate how its themes of communication, understanding, and science in the face of dangerously irrational fear and prejudice have become only more important and potent with every passing awful day.
Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington and Todd Black, Producers – 4 noms in total (one win):
Picture – Actor – Supporting Actress – Adapted Screenplay
I had the thrill and the privilege of seeing Denzel Washington and Viola Davis perform their Tony winning and now Oscar nominated roles in “Fences” live on stage. It was brilliant when revived on Broadway and it’s brilliant now brought to cinema, one of the great stage-to screen adaptations of one the American Theater’s masterpieces. August Wilson (posthumously nominated for adapted screenplay) created a 10 play cycle about indelible individuals, about the African American experience, about America, each play set in a different decade of the 20th century – an achievement that puts him on the US Playwriting Mount Rushmore right next to Miller, O’Neill, Williams and Albee. “Fences”, which takes place in the 1950’s, was the first of the cycle to be produced on Broadway, but with this year’s revival of “Jitney”, all ten will have been staged on the Great White Way. And soon all ten will have been filmed. After directing “Fences”, Denzel Washington has made a deal with HBO to produce movies of the other nine.
Bill Mechanic and David Permut, Producers – 6 noms in total (2 wins):
Picture – Director – Actor – Editing – Sound Editing – Sound Mixing
This is the one film of the nine Best Picture nominees I haven’t yet seen. And the main reason is that I fear it will traumatize me, because war movies and even war plays, when based on true events and unflinching about the true horrors of war, do invariably traumatize me. So I hesitate to see them. It’s not necessarily the depiction of violence, although that can be a problem too aesthetically, it’s the awareness of the reality of these horrors having been actually suffered by real people at that time. Sleeplessness and nightmares will ensue.
I generally pride myself on seeing every film nominated for Best Picture before the ceremony, so perhaps I will still watch “Hacksaw Ridge”. But I will concede that the few exceptions to my see-all-nominees rule have been war movies. The fact that “Hacksaw Ridge” lionizes a pacifist conscientious objector do compel me and my Quaker husband to see it. The reports of the unflinching, gore filled depiction of the Battle of Okinawa give me pause. We’ll see. I have until February 26.
“Hell or High Water”
Carla Hacken and Julie Yorn, Producers – 4 noms in total:
Picture – Supporting Actor – Original Screenplay – Editing
You could hardly wish for a better action drama / modern day Western. Great writing, directing, acting, taut suspenseful storytelling with smart multifaceted social commentary.
I want to make a shout out to one particular moment in the movie, the diner scene with the bossy waitress, which felt so random and so authentic that I was certain this must be a real waitress who treated the filmmakers this way for real when they dropped by her restaurant during pre-production or during the shoot and they just loved her so much they incorporated her just as she is into the movie. That would have made a great story. However, everything I’ve read about the scene indicates that it was scripted and cast just like any other scene:
Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams and Theodore Melfi, Producers – 3 noms in total:
Picture – Supporting Actress – Original Screenplay
There was cheering and applause during the credits when we saw “Hidden Figures”. And well deserved. This crowd pleaser about the crucial contributions and civil rights era tribulations of black female mathematicians and engineers at NASA has come at just the right time to make a big splash at the box office. With “Arrival” it is also the second best picture nominee to make women the unrivaled center of the story. As highly accomplished scientists as well as friends and mothers. Both films show them to be smart. And empathetic. And heroic. And show prejudice and irrationality to be the destructive agents of fear and backwardness that they are – just as they are taking over our nation and the planet for real outside of the cinema.
“La La Land”
Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz and Marc Platt, Producers – 14 noms in total (6 wins):
Picture – Director – Actor – Actress – Original Screenplay – Editing – Cinematography – Score – Song – Song – Costumes – Production Design – Sound Mixing – Sound Editing
Only two films have achieved that milestone in past Academy Award history: “All About Eve” and “Titanic”, both of which went on to win Best Picture and many more Oscars, a happy fate that appears to be set for “La La Land” too. Most likely. OK, 90%, 95% certainty. Many movies with 13 nominations have ended up not winning Best Picture their year, especially recently, even though they were their year’s nominations leader. But still, “La La Land” is so popular, with the public and the Academy (did I mention 14 noms!?) that it is expected to be rewarded with many golden statuettes including the Big One February 26.
And it could tie or surpass “Ben Hur”, “Titanic” and “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” for the most Oscars – 11. The most it could win is 13 (as it is competing with itself in the Song category). Will the Academy shower all its love on “La La Land” or will it spread the wealth, as it has been more wont to do in recent years, especially since so many other nominated films this year are very much beloved too? I believe a haul between 6-10 is most likely, but you never know. “LOTR:ROTK” was nominated for “only” 11 Oscars, but wound up winning in every contending category.
I was in a swoon when I saw “La La Land”. And how would I not be? It lovingly plays homage to not only the musical genre in general, but also to specific musicals that I particularly cherish. It speaks to everything I love and aspire to in musicals. It really should be a no brainer that it would be my #1 movie on the Best Picture list.
And yet, as thrilled and infatuated as I am with it, it’s actually my #2…
Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Angie Fielder, Producers –
6 noms in total:
Picture – Supporting Actor – Supporting Actress – Adapted Screenplay – Cinematography – Score
“Lion” is no mere tearjerker, it is a bucket filler. A waterworkser. A Niagaragusher. And moreover, it is so well and so honestly made that it earns every one of those ocean filling tears. It certainly helps that it is based on the incredible true story of a five year old Indian boy who is accidentally separated from his family, eventually adopted by an Australian couple, and over 20 years later finds his way back to his lost home and family with the help of memory fragments and satellite pictures from Google Earth. I didn’t think I would be crying any more at any movie than I did at “Lion” this year. But there would be one film that similarly did me in…
“Manchester by the Sea”
Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck and Kevin J. Walsh, Producers –
6 noms in total (2 wins):
Picture – Director – Actor – Supporting Actor – Supporting Actress – Original Screenplay
…not “Manchester by the Sea”, although I feared it might. I did cry. There is devastating sadness in this film. But even within the immense tragedy it eventually meticulously lays out over the course of its story, the movie tempers sentiment with humor and humanity and intelligence and restraint. A smart movie about grief, I feared going in it may due me in, as grief has been a big part of my life this year. In stead watching it I felt comforted by Kenneth Lonergan’s wise and subtle approach. I felt respected as an audience member by the movie neither fully sinking into irreparable despair nor forcing an unearnable optimism.
“Manchester by the Sea” was long considered by the pundits to be one of the top three movies in the “Oscar race” this season, with “La La Land” and “Moonlight”, and it surely still is, having won a lead three acting nominations as well as directing and screenplay nods. But its lack of a (usually considered crucial) editing nom and its recent 0-4 shut out at the SAG awards indicate that it may at best be a distant 3rd on the Best Picture list, while “Arrival”, which shares “Moonlight”‘s 8 nom total (but could/should have reached 11) and big SAG winners “Fences” and “Hidden Figures” have risen in the odds.
Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers – 8 noms in total (3 wins):
Picture – Director – Supporting Actor – Supporting Actress – Adapted Screenplay – Editing – Score – Cinematography
So there really is probably only one film that could surprise and overtake “La La Land” for Best Picture. It’s very unlikely. Heck, it is unlikely that a small, low-budget film about a marginalized person within a marginalized portion of a marginalized section of society, a film with no stars, a quiet film that favors subtlety, restraint, silence, would make such a big impact. Historically such films are as marginalized as their subject matter. Maybe they get Independent Spirit Awards. At best a lone Oscar nomination for screenplay, or for one actor. (The one major exception is “Brokeback Mountain”, but that’s a sore spot, as we all know about the homophobic backlash that prevented its Best Picture win). But the passion and love for “Moonlight” is strong. 8 nominations. In basically every category “Moonlight” could conceivably be expected to contend, it has been cited. That is a sign of deep respect and passion for the film.
And I can understand why because I have experienced it too. It isn’t just that I feel every aspect of “Moonlight”, screenplay, cinematography, music, editing, performances, direction has been exquisitely crafted, it is also that as a whole the movie achieves something sublime that exceeds the sum of its parts, goes beyond the elements one can readily explain and critique as to what makes them artistic, effective, masterful. The quality of the filmcraft reaches beyond the literal, representative elements of cinema. In my experience, “Moonlight” is one of those rare films that is cinematic poetry, that works on your subconscious like a great piece of music or painting, that touches upon a higher realm of the ineffable.
“Moonlight” achieves alchemy. And in an art form dependent on so many moving parts from so many collaborators, that is a near miraculous achievement.
Therefore for me it is the movie of the year.
So, no movies past the letter M nominated for Best Picture? What is this? #OscarsSoFirstHalfoftheAlphabet?
To be clear, I don’t mean to be flippant about #OscarsSoWhite. The last two years did give real occasion to criticize the Academy’s blind spots (at the very least, Idris Elba should have been nominated last year for “Beasts of No Nation”, Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo should have been nominated the year before for “Selma”) and more importantly the lack of enough diverse quality choices being produced by Hollywood.
However this year there were plenty of excellent diverse movies and performances and many were deservedly recognized. It’s mostly a quirk of the calendar. The three African-American themed movies and seven performances of color nominated were in the works long before last year’s #OscarsSoWhite uproar. And critically and popularly these films and performances are among the most widely acclaimed of the year regardless of subject matter.
But is it a fluke or a trend? Hollywood still reportedly far underemploys minorities and women. The success of many of the films in this year’s Oscar line up proves that there is a hunger for good stories to be told from diverse perspectives, with people of all colors as well as women in the lead. But it is up to studio executives movie producers to make a conscious effort to meet that desire. Only if more films like “Moonlight”, “Fences”, “Hidden Figures”, “Arrival” etc. are actually made, can more movies like them succeed in quality and box office and be actually nominated.
Let’s continue listing this year’s Academy Award nominations:
Achievement in directing
- “Arrival” Denis Villeneuve
- “Hacksaw Ridge” Mel Gibson
- “La La Land” Damien Chazelle
- “Manchester by the Sea” Kenneth Lonergan
- “Moonlight” Barry Jenkins
Here we have four nomination newcomers and one previous winner (Gibson for “Braveheart”). Chazelle is the expected winner, who at 32 would be youngest director thus awarded, while Jenkins, really the only possible “upset”, would be the first African-American. Both Lonergan and Villeneuve have made films that previously earned multiple Oscar nominations in other categories (“You Can Count on Me” for Lonergan, “Sicario” and “Incendies” for Villaneuve).
Performance by an actor in a leading role
- Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea”
- Andrew Garfield in “Hacksaw Ridge”
- Ryan Gosling in “La La Land”
- Viggo Mortensen in “Captain Fantastic”
- Denzel Washington in “Fences”
Widely believed to be a two man race between Affleck, who got most of the critics’ awards, and Washington, who won the SAG award, and would be receiving his third Academy Award, a rare distinction but a deserved one for an actor of Washington’s stature and caliber. But should Gosling win, it means “La La Land” is sweeping and toppling records. When I saw the dvd of “Captain Fantastic” I wondered why Mortenson wasn’t in the pre-awards conversation. He was so good, but almost no Awards pundit was talking about him or giving him much of a chance. Suddenly he was nominated by the Golden Globes, and SAG quickly followed suit, and then Viggo was very much in the conversation, followed by a BAFTA nomination, and here he is now in the Oscar line up. Unfortunately Tom Hanks, dependably good as Sully, and Joel Edgerton, heartbreakingly steadfast as Richard Loving, are on the outside looking in.
Performance by an actor in a supporting role
- Mahershala Ali in “Moonlight”
- Jeff Bridges in “Hell or High Water”
- Lucas Hedges in “Manchester by the Sea”
- Dev Patel in “Lion”
- Michael Shannon in “Nocturnal Animals”
The biggest surprise in this category is the absence of Hugh Grant, widely believed to finally be getting his first nomination for his fine work in “Florence Foster Jenkins”. Every other awards group cited him, why not Oscar? Category confusion? I certainly believed his role was a co-lead rather than supporting performance, but the grumblings about “category fraud” in this case were non-existent compared to the hackles raised last year at Rooney Mara (“Carol”) and Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”) being successfully campaigned in supporting for obviously co-lead roles. Who knows the true reason for Grant’s miss; the five nominees are all unquestionably deserving, maybe it’s just a matter of thems the breaks. Meanwhile I expect Mahershala Ali to receive the statue, because of love for “Moonlight”, because of his beautiful performance … and his eloquently moving SAG speech doesn’t hurt either:
Performance by an actress in a leading role
- Isabelle Huppert in “Elle”
- Ruth Negga in “Loving”
- Natalie Portman in “Jackie”
- Emma Stone in “La La Land”
- Meryl Streep in “Florence Foster Jenkins”
First off: 20.
20 Oscar nominations for acting for Meryl Streep. Her three wins put her in rarefied company alongside Ingrid Bergman, Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Walter Brennan and Katherine Hepburn (who won four). But her 20 nominations put Streep in another galaxy; Hepburn and Nicholson follow (far behind) with 12 each. Can I off the back of my head list all the movies Streep was nominated for? Let’s see… “The Deer Hunter” (sup), “Kramer vs. Kramer” (sup/won), “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”, “Sophie’s Choice” (won), “Silkwood”, “Out of Africa”, “Ironweed”, “A Cry in the Dark”, “Postcards from the Edge”, “One True Thing”, “Music of the Heart”, “The Devil Wears Prada”, “Adaptation” (sup), “Doubt”, “Julie and Julia”, “The Iron Lady” (won), “August: Osage County”, “Into the Woods” (sup), and now “Florence Foster Jenkins”, the most sublimely horrible singer ever to buy out and sell out Carnegie Hall. And I did do that list off the top of my head. The proof being that I miscounted and forgot “The Bridges of Madison County” (for shame, Danny, for shame!).
Okay, enough, I’ve already established I’m a Meryl fan, but I don’t expect her to win this year, and even her nomination was in doubt, this being an especially competitive year for Lead Actress contenders. Emma Stone, magnificent in the popular “La La Land”, and Natalie Portman, brilliantly capturing Jackie Kennedy’s many facets in the excellent “Jackie” were expected nominees, but then you had at least a half dozen exceptional performances vying for three slots. So woe to the aforementioned Amy Adams and the criminally unrewarded Annette Bening (for “20th century Women”), to name just two. But I am so happy the heretofore unknown Ruth Negga was recognized for her richly subtle Mildred Loving in one of the best, surely my favorite under-rewarded movie of the year, “Loving” (writer/director Jeff Nichols now is seriously overdue some Oscar attention). And I was knocked out by Isabelle Huppert in “Elle”. A great nomination for a smashing performance and along the way also an overdue recognition of a brilliant career.
Performance by an actress in a supporting role
- Viola Davis in “Fences”
- Naomie Harris in “Moonlight”
- Nicole Kidman in “Lion”
- Octavia Spencer in “Hidden Figures”
- Michelle Williams in “Manchester by the Sea”
Not only are actors of color nominated in every acting category (a first this year), but three are in this one alone (another first). Listed are the five deserving names most every awards pundit was expecting to be called (although there was idle speculation the magnetic Janelle Monáe might swap with Octavia Spencer for the “Hidden Figures” slot; and some hoped against hope that Greta Gerwig in “20th Century Women” might finally get her due). But every awards pundit expects Viola Davis (first African-American actress to be nominated for an Oscar three times) to receive the golden boy. It’s the easiest call of the night. She’s fantastic in “Fences”, consistently brilliant in every damn part she plays, and just plain due.
Best animated feature film of the year
- “Kubo and the Two Strings” Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner
- “Moana” John Musker, Ron Clements and Osnat Shurer
- “My Life as a Zucchini” Claude Barras and Max Karli
- “The Red Turtle” Michael Dudok de Wit and Toshio Suzuki
- “Zootopia” Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer
Here’s where the film that made me cry as much if not even more than “Lion” is represented: “The Red Turtle”, the wordless desert island fable that absolutely enchanted me. Seek it out when it comes out on dvd, unless you are lucky enough to be able to catch its limited release in theaters. “The Red Turtle” joins the Foreign Film semi-finalist “My Life as a Zucchini”, which will be released in theaters 2/24, the weekend of the Oscars, plus three major release heavy hitters, including two films from Disney but none from Pixar (even though “Finding Dory” was really good and grossed a gazillion dollars). “Kubo and the Two Strings” has passionate fans and another nomination in Visual Effects (almost unheard of for an animated film), but unless “Moana” splits the Disney vote the likely winner is the smartly entertaining “Zootopia”, whose brilliant script must have come close to a screenplay nomination, and whose message of prejudice and discrimination has only become more painfully timely in the eleven months since its release.
Achievement in cinematography
- “Arrival” Bradford Young
- “La La Land” Linus Sandgren
- “Lion” Greig Fraser
- “Moonlight” James Laxton
- “Silence” Rodrigo Prieto
Achievement in costume design
- “Allied” Joanna Johnston
- “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” Colleen Atwood
- “Florence Foster Jenkins” Consolata Boyle
- “Jackie” Madeline Fontaine
- “La La Land” Mary Zophres
Best documentary feature
- “Fire at Sea” Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo
- “I Am Not Your Negro” Raoul Peck, Rémi Grellety and Hébert Peck
- “Life, Animated” Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman
- “O.J.: Made in America” Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow
- “13th” Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick and Howard Barish
Three of the nominated documentary features deal with race in America, and also just happen to be three of the most highly acclaimed docs out right now. Four of the nominated documentaries were directed by African-Americans. The fifth, “Fire at Sea” won the Golden Bear at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, whose Jury president just happened to be Meryl Streep (couldn’t resist just mentioning that in passing). I saw only one of the nominated documentaries so far (but am eager to see all), the 7 hour 47 minute “O.J.: Made in America”, a searing, riveting epic. One of the best works of art of any kind this year.
Best documentary short subject
- “Extremis” Dan Krauss
- “4.1 Miles” Daphne Matziaraki
- “Joe’s Violin” Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen
- “Watani: My Homeland” Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis
- “The White Helmets” Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara
Seen none of these and know almost nothing about them. It is however possible to catch the Oscar nominated shorts – animated, live action and documentary – in special screenings in theaters before the Oscar ceremony, if you keep your eyes open for announcements for local screenings. Many of these shorts, esp. the doc shorts, end up on Netflix and/or other streaming services.
Achievement in film editing
- “Arrival” Joe Walker
- “Hacksaw Ridge” John Gilbert
- “Hell or High Water” Jake Roberts
- “La La Land” Tom Cross
- “Moonlight” Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon
Very few films win Best Picture without also being nominated in this category, so say those who keep their eyes on the history and the statistics of the Oscars. Recently “Birdman” defied the odds by winning Best Picture without an Editing nomination, but as it was filmed in long fluidly connected takes so as to appear not to have any editing, it kind of stands as the exception that proves the rule. Does that mean this year’s eventual Best Picture must be one of these five nominated films? Very likely. And look, there’s “La La Land”, as well as the little movie that maybe could be the spoiler, “Moonlight”. Either of the other three also could easily win this category even if not Best Picture, should the Academy decide to spread the love among many rather than lavish all gold upon the La La Juggernaut.
Best foreign language film of the year
- “Land of Mine” Denmark
- “A Man Called Ove” Sweden
- “The Salesman” Iran
- “Tanna” Australia
- “Toni Erdmann” Germany
The excellent drama-with-farcical-tendencies Toni Erdmann, which swept all the main categories at the European Film Awards, came into nomination morning as the proclaimed frontrunner, although there were suggestions that last summer’s indie sleeper hit “A Man Called Ove” could surprise. But then history intervened, in the form of Donald Trump’s executive order travel ban against seven Muslim majority nations, including Iran, home of “The Salesman”. Worldwide dismay and protests erupted. “The Salesman” director Asghar Farhadi announced he would not attend the Oscars in protest, even if a travel exception were to be arranged for him. Thus political winds might be shifting sentiment, and “The Salesman”, already a double prizewinner at Cannes, is now finding itself considered the frontrunner; and Mr. Farhadi may win his second Oscar in this category (the first was for the masterpiece “A Separation”).
Achievement in makeup and hairstyling
- “A Man Called Ove” Eva von Bahr and Love Larson
- “Star Trek Beyond” Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo
- “Suicide Squad” Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
- “Jackie” Mica Levi
- “La La Land” Justin Hurwitz
- “Lion” Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka
- “Moonlight” Nicholas Britell (hear excerpts here)
- “Passengers” Thomas Newman
The music branch has a reputation for insularity (a certain reluctance to nominate newcomers, so much so that usually only one composer per year is receiving their first nomination, the rest are veterans) and baroque rules (year after year scores are deemed ineligible for reasons that hadn’t stop other scores in previous years). This year however that first criticism can be swatted away, as four out of the five chosen scores are for composers receiving their first nomination (special shout out to “Jackie’s” and “Moonlight’s” string section innovations), and only Thomas Newman is the Oscar veteran. In fact, “poor” Thomas Newman is so beloved but not quite well loved enough that he has received 14 nominations but so far no win. The Susan Lucci of film scoring (although Susan did finally eventually win that Daytime Emmy). Believe it or not however, that 0-14 record is being beat by a mile this year in a different sound related category.
Unfortunately once again this year a highly acclaimed, brilliantly innovative score, Johann Johannson’s for “Arrival”, was deemed ineligible by the nominating committee, because of the use of another composer’s piece in one crucial scene. But surely the full music branch would know not to nominate “Arrival’s” score for that one string quartet piece but for the amazingly alien musical soundscape in the rest of the movie. And let’s face it, the full Academy is going to hand the Oscar to “La La Land’s” delightfully effervescent musical score, right, no matter who else is in the category? I mean, there’s no doubt there, is there? So yeah, disqualifying “Arrival” for one borrowed music cue (when for example “The Artist” wasn’t disqualified even though it also prominently used “Vertigo’s” love theme) rankles as much this year as when for example “Birdman’s” innovative percussion score was disqualified.
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
- “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from “La La Land”
Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
- “Can’t Stop The Feeling” from “Trolls”
Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster
- “City Of Stars” from “La La Land”
Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
- “The Empty Chair” from “Jim: The James Foley Story”
Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting
- “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana”
Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda
I posted a whole blog piece on this category already. And soon I’ll post a piece on “La La Land’s” “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”. Stay tuned…
Achievement in production design
- “Arrival” Production Design: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Paul Hotte
- “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
- “Hail, Caesar!” Production Design: Jess Gonchor; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh
- “La La Land” Production Design: David Wasco; Set Decoration: Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
- “Passengers” Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena
Happy to see “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” receive two nominations, in this category as well as costume design.
Best animated short film
- “Blind Vaysha” Theodore Ushev
- “Borrowed Time” Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj
- “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” Robert Valley and Cara Speller
- “Pearl” Patrick Osborne
- “Piper” Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer
The most watched animated short would be the delightful “Piper”, which was shown in theaters before “Finding Dory”. You can catch glimpses of the other nominees here.
Best live action short film
- “Ennemis Intérieurs” Sélim Azzazi
- “La Femme et le TGV” Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff
- “Silent Nights” Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson
- “Sing” Kristof Deák and Anna Udvardy
- “Timecode” Juanjo Giménez
Again, to see these films (as well as the nominated documentary and animated short films) in theaters, access this helpful website.
Achievement in sound editing
- “Arrival” Sylvain Bellemare
- “Deepwater Horizon” Wylie Stateman and Renée Tondelli
- “Hacksaw Ridge” Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright
- “La La Land” Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
- “Sully” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
Year after year people joke that most Academy members, let alone the general audience, can’t tell the difference between sound editing and sound mixing. Even though in Oscar ceremony after Oscar ceremony an effort is made to clarify the distinctions. But it’s easy, right? Sound editors put together all the sounds we hear, including sounds created separate from those sounds recorded on set. The sound mixer takes all these sounds and “mixes” them, deciding at what levels and out of which loudspeakers all sound (dialog, music, sound effects etc) will be heard in the movie theater. So, the sound editing award rewards the quality of all the specific sounds, sound mixing rewards the quality of the overall sound experience. Okay, whew, I think I did that well enough for a sound recording amateur, or?
Achievement in sound mixing
- “Arrival” Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye
- “Hacksaw Ridge” Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace
- “La La Land” Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow
- “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson
- “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth
The man to the right is Kevin O’Connell, one of the nominees for “Hacksaw Ridge’s” sound mixing. This is Kevin O’Connell’s 21st nomination. 21st! (OK, I will not use 21 exclamation points this time…) He is the Meryl Streep of sound. He is also the Susan Lucci of sound, because poor Kevin O’Connell has yet to win an Oscar. 21 nominations since 1984 with no wins. Which is making him a bit of a legend among Oscar trivia hounds.
Achievement in visual effects
- “Deepwater Horizon” Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton
- “Doctor Strange” Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould
- “The Jungle Book” Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon
- “Kubo and the Two Strings” Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff
- “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould
The game changing nomination here is for “Kubo and the Two Strings”, the first time in 23 years an animated film has been cited for its Visual Effects (the first, “The Nightmare before Christmas” also happens to employ stop motion animation). Kubo’s puppets are as physical as a live actor when photographed frame by frame to create the illusion of movement through stop motion animation. Which means that the visual effects are added to enhance the images much the same way visual effects are added to support typical live action films, and this year the Academy recognized the high quality of the visual effects in “Kubo and the Two Strings”. There was a chance the puppet’s costumes might be nominated too, as they were in the Costume Designer Guild Awards’ fantasy category, a first for an animated film. All that said, it is widely expected that “The Jungle Book” should deservedly take this category.
- “Arrival” Screenplay by Eric Heisserer
- “Fences” Screenplay by August Wilson
- “Hidden Figures” Screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
- “Lion” Screenplay by Luke Davies
- “Moonlight” Screenplay by Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney
“Moonlight” is considered the frontrunner here, and it certainly would be my choice among strong co-nominees. Hopefully both Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose childhood experiences growing up with crack addicted mothers in a Miami housing project melded to create the heartfelt, indelible and universally moving tale of three ages in the life of a young, black, gay man, will get to share the Dolby Theater stage together.
Meanwhile I wish this had been one category where the sublime “Loving” could have found at least one more nomination. Writer/director Jeff Nichols certainly would have deserved it.
- “Hell or High Water” Written by Taylor Sheridan
- “La La Land” Written by Damien Chazelle
- “The Lobster” Written by Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou
- “Manchester by the Sea” Written by Kenneth Lonergan
- “20th Century Women” Written by Mike Mills
Unless we’re having a total “La La Land” sweep, this category looks like a close call between “La La Land” and “Manchester by the Sea”, with the enthusiastically liked “Hell or High Water” a potential spoiler. At least “20th Century Women” found some love here for its writer/director Mike Mills. And I am pleased as punch that the very unusual “The Lobster” made it here too. That profoundly absurd, absurdly profound (anti?-)love story is one of my absolute favorite films of the year.
So, that’s the full list, with way too many personal annotations. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about some of these movies and the Oscars themselves as the ceremony approaches and passes into memory. February 26 I’ll be on the couch with my customary lime-flavored tortilla chips, chunky salsa, and hard cider enjoying the show.