The Bizarro Oscars is my alt-awards where I play by Academy-rules eligibility to select my ideal nominations and winners.
The Academy definitely overcompensated this year in full-tilt diversity nominees and, while it would be easy to call it disingenuous for taking the bait on pictures like Hidden Figures and Fences, it’s no worse than the less-diverse bait they take any other year (except for maybe Lion aka Google Maps: The Movie). The fact of the matter remains: there are not a lot of lead roles being offered to non-white men. Moonlight is far from my favorite film of the year (sitting, currently, at #45), but it is my favorite Oscar-eligible narrative film starring a non-white male. I’ve said it before: the Oscars can only do so much, though it should be noted that, it seems they are at least trying.
What follows is nothing nearing predictions, only an alternative universe where everything is perfect.
ACTOR –in a Leading Role
I’ve been on the Casey Affleck bandwagon since Gerry and, while not all of Lonergan’s film resonated with me as I would have hoped, Manchester by the Sea’s nuanced performances can’t be denied. This category gives something of the Heath Ledger treatment to Yelchin and insists the LaBeouf nod is irony-free.
ACTRESS –in a Leading Role
It was real easy for me to call shenanigans at the Oscar website replacing Amy Adams’s accidental nomination with Ruth Negga in hopes that #OscarsNotSoWhite2017 on the day nominations were announced. That is until I was left trying to trim my list from six and Adams lost out again.
The Academy made is somewhat easier for me as Margherita Buy is ineligible for Mia Madre. So is Lauren Ashley Carter for Darling, Sonia Braga for Aquarius, and Ruth Wilson for I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House.
Some may find the real surprise here being Isabelle Huppert getting a lead nod and a supporting nod, neither of which for Elle. C’est la vie.
ACTOR –in a Supporting Role
The narrative structure of Moonlight leaves these awards with no good way to deal with its fine performances. There is no “lead,” but Sanders’s exceptional work hardly seems appropriate for the “supporting” category. I normally despise the political vote, but awarding Sanders here not only satisfies awarding a deserving movie, but rewards an excellent performance in the only way the rules might allow. With apologies to true supporting stars (Hayden Szeto in particular), I’m going against my normal tendency this year.
I have never considered myself a Natalie Portman fan yet, here I am in 2017 nominating her in both lead and supporting categories. Huh.
She was helped by Déborah Lukumuena being ineligible for Divines.
The real shame is I couldn’t find room to acknowledge Kristen Stewart or Greta Gerwig’s banner years. Hopefully Personal Shopper will be Oscar-eligible next year and it will be everything I hope it is.
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
The Red Turtle reads like a gospel parable that is more deeply rewarding the less you try to anticipate its message. It’s a strong year when Pixar gets bumped from the top five.
And while we’re at it, let’s give Emmanuel Lubezki next year’s cinematography award for Song to Song, too.
Beyonce: Lemonade is ineligible, so who really cares?
Going up against Terrence Malick is always a tall order in my book. And what we’re met with this year is a Jim Jarmusch picture that doesn’t blow me away in terms of cinematography or production design. Yet, the picture is so fully-realized that, by act three, I had completely fallen into its universe.
I viewed Paterson on a Monday evening and, by the time its central character reached his Friday, I was making plans for the creative work I was about to do that weekend. I was taken aback when I realized that it was still only Monday. This rare spatial immersion is a product of Jarmusch’s rhythms and auteur sensibility.
The number of outstanding documentaries that came out in 2016 which didn’t even make the Oscar shortlist is astounding.
By my count, Woodstock is the only documentary to ever receive a film editing nomination. That the eight-hour O.J.: Made in America is formed into a coherent (and politically relevant) thematic and historical expose is a miracle.
But is it poetry? Again, it’s hard to argue with Malick.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Academy rules here are weird, and I don’t understand why each country should be limited to one potential nominee. And Under the Shadow being a U.K. submission seems almost a cheat. Rules are rules but I’ll always see many more foreign language films in a given year than the sample size shows in eligibility.
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Here are three movies of whom I may be the only fan.
MUSIC –Original Score
I’ve undertaken a role of film editor this year with a local production company. It’s a worthwhile, humbling and fulfilling creative endeavor, no matter how small. It has opened my eyes to things we’re trained to not see as film viewers and, often, success comes in the sublime.
Score, however, is something I’m still not good with. I rarely find film scores memorable and, furthermore, don’t particularly think they should be if they’re doing their job. Not that it isn’t an art, only one I don’t feel informed enough to opine on. The many Oscar voters do is strange to me.
MUSIC –Original Song
P.S., did Sia score the end credits to eight different films this year? Statistically, one had to end up here.
It’s a shame I couldn’t find room for Hail, Caesar! here, leaving it completely snubbed this year. Sorry.
Technical categories are a pretty crummy area for Green Room to win its only awards, but at least I get to spread the love around.
Don’t be fooled, Rogue One is more than just a pretty face. If cinema was nearly as dead this year as the memes wanted us to believe, this could have been a contender.
WRITING –Adapted Screenplay
Adapting Ted Chiang’s seemingly un-cinematic work to feature length is no small feat and, although the third act of Arrival came off a little cold and too on-the-nose for me, it still expounds on central themes in brave ways. I don’t see in Villeneuve the visionary for whom many have already lined up to carry his robe’s train, but Arrival—which is, at times, great—proves he is only as good as his writer. How does that sit with those waiting with bated breath for Blade Runner 2049 from the writer of Green Lantern?
WRITING –Original Screenplay
Jarmusch’s Paterson is nearly an adaptation just as his Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is an adaptation of the Hagakure (or, for that matter, Malick’s Knight of Cups is an adaptation of Pilgrim’s Progress). It’s an adaptation so infused by its influences that it becomes an autonomous universe celebrating the sublimity and grace of mundanity.
According to the culture, 2016 sure didn’t seem like much of a year to celebrate. I felt particularly low on April 21 when I followed the news of Prince’s death with a screening of Green Room only to find it unintentionally edifying when a punk names Prince his desert island artist. How quaint “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” seemed in April of last year, no? I don’t think many of us expected Nazi punks to become a nearly daily news occurrence as threat to American democracy by the new administration.
And now even our NEA is endangered. If Green Room seemed brutal, I hate to forethink what brilliance the America’s horror grindhouse is going to churn out in four years’ time. The best films of the year are impressionistic poetry—some even about poetry—in an era in which the culture could use a mirror held up to itself.
A lot of things may have died in 2016. Cinema isn’t one of them.