Academy Awards 2017

“The idea was to redefine a 467-minute documentary as a cinematic experience and to be eligible for the end-of-year awards circuit.”

When the Academy Awards nominations were announced on January 24, I noted what I’d seen, and what I liked the most, and also who/what I thought would win. Link (only the first time) to any movie I saw and reviewed.

Picture

“Arrival” – I thought it was a nice meditation. It may have peaked too soon, and with no acting nominations, I don’t expect it to win.
“Fences” – I liked it a lot, with bravado performances. But perhaps it was too stagy.
“Hacksaw Ridge” – I had no real interest in seeing this. It was, per the R rating, “for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.”
“Hell or High Water” – I had considered seeing it, but reviews such as “The violence has speed, impact and follow-through — it’s a magnificent rebuke to all the hundreds of cute killings on screen in summer movies” made me wary
“Hidden Figures” -it is my favorite film of the ones nominated. Maybe not the best, but the one that made me the happiest when I left the theater
“La La Land” – I do like this movie too, and have defended it
“Lion” – great first part, OK second part
“Manchester by the Sea” – fine film, depressing as hell
*“Moonlight” – the best picture nominated
All the Best Picture noms in the first half of the alphabet!

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival” – I love the way the story is put together in a nonlinear way, which I should credit to the editor, I suppose
Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge” – I had forgotten that Gibson was directing it; he’s come out of Hollywood purgatory, it would seem
Damien Chazelle, “La La Land” – paced well, I thought, though some I’ve talked with would disagree
Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight” – my rooting interest
Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea” – fine job

Actor in a leading role

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea” – I was distracted that a comic character he played in a Saturday Night Live piece is not dissimilar to this character
Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge” – he’s in “Silence” too; haven’t seen that either
Ryan Gosling, “La La Land” – I think he might win because he learned to play piano for the role
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic” – I would like to see this, suddenly
*Denzel Washington, “Fences” – I wonder if the limited venues chosen by the director (who was NOT nominated) will affect the actor’s chances; maybe not, as it was a tremendous performance

Actor in a supporting role

Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight” – not only is he great in this role, he’s fine in Hidden Figures; my rooting interest
Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water” – he’s well-liked, well-regarded
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea” – really glad he was nominated
*Dev Patel, “Lion” – I thought it was a bit overwrought for a time, and it bugged me
Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals” – I steered away from this film, so can’t say

Actress in a leading role:

I’m not much for “slights” but I thought Amy Adams would be here for Arrival, steadied by her performance in Nocturnal Animals. And I thought Taraji P. Henson had a real shot at a nomination for Hidden Figures.
Emma Stone, “La La Land” – more than with Gosling, she was criticized for not being able to sing. I don’t think she’ll win
Natalie Portman, “Jackie” – people loved or hated the movie; the weekend it left town, I had decided to see it. She may win
Ruth Negga, “Loving” – great performance, but quiet. I don’t think she wins
Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins” – an honor to be nominated, again
Isabelle Huppert, “Elle” – I thought about seeing this, but a film of that’s “a game of cat and mouse as she tracks down the unknown man who raped her” just didn’t quite make the cut. Still, I wouldn’t bet against her winning

Actress in a supporting role

Viola Davis, “Fences” – this is not a supporting actress role. She won Best Actress for the same role on Broadway. Still, she’s as close to a lock as anyone.
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight” – after watching her interviewed by Charlie Rose, she’s become my favorite in a year without Viola Davis
Nicole Kidman, “Lion” – she’s good, had a really fine scene or two, but not blown away
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures” – she was solid and dependable, and nothing wrong with that
*Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea” – she’s very good, and in another year, she might win

Adapted Screenplay

“Lion,” by Luke Davis – the first part is great
“Arrival,” by Eric Heisserer – I enjoyed it, but it seemed to confuse more than a few
“Moonlight,” by Barry Jenkins – my rooting interest, the most important story being told
“Hidden Figures,” by Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder – this is quite a good synthesis of fact and near fact
*“Fences,” by August Wilson – August Wilson died in October 2005; how does he even get nominated in this category?

Original Screenplay

“Manchester by the Sea,” by Kenneth Lonergan – I think this will be the consolation prize for a fine film
“Hell or High Water,” by Taylor Sheridan – I heard good things
“La La Land,” by Damien Chazelle – maybe, but I’m not feeling it
*“20th Century Women,” Mike Mills – its only nomination; won’t win
“The Lobster,” by Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos – I heard all sorts of things about this movie, which I never had a chance to see. It sounds weird, which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have liked it. But it won’t win here either.

Cinematography

“Arrival” – as an unconventional story, it pulls off the look of its elements convincingly
“La La Land” – bright and shiny when it’s positive; I suspect it could win
“Lion” – great contrast between the India and Australia sections
“Moonlight” – has the appropriate bleak look
“Silence” – looks good in the ads

Documentary feature

“Fire at Sea”
“I am Not Your Negro” – a story about James Baldwin that’s has appeared in trailers but hasn’t made it to town yet
“Life, Animated” – I liked it, but it’s a personal/family story, and will have trouble competing
“OJ: Made in America” – as the Boston Globe story explains: “Before putting it into heavy rotation on ESPN in June and July [where I saw it], ESPN Films released the documentary in two theaters in May: the small New York City indie stalwart Cinema Village and the similar Laemmle Monica Film Center in Los Angeles. Drawing crowds wasn’t the point. The idea was to redefine a 467-minute documentary as a cinematic experience and to be eligible for the end-of-year awards circuit.” This clever tactic is allowed. It is VERY good, but this feels like a bit of a cheat
“13th” – Ava DuVernay’s piece on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and mass incarceration I would very much want to see; watch the trailer.

Documentary short:

“Extermis”
*“4.1 miles” There are 4.1 miles from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos, and thousands of people in recent years have made the perilous journey – as of this writing, you can see the film here.
“Joe’s Violins” – this was a Kickstarter project
“Watani: My Homeland”
“The White Helmets”

Foreign language film:

“Toni Erdmann,” Germany
“The Salesman,” Iran
“A Man Called Ove,” Sweden – this film played for weeks in Albany, and jut at the point we finally were going to see it, it left. Bummer.
“Tanna,” Australia
“Land of Mine,” Denmark

Sound editing – now we get to the technical categories where I have no idea

“Arrival”
“Deepwater Horizon”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“La La Land”
*“Sully”

Sound mixing

“Arrival”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“La La Land”
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
“13 Hours”

Original song

“City of Stars” (“La La Land”)
“How Far I’ll Go” (“Moana”) – Lin-Manuel Miranda could get an EGOT (Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Tony). In fact, since he won a Pulitzer, he could win a PEGOT, like Richard Rogers and Marvin Hamlisch. And with two songs from La La Land, he’s not throwing away his shot
*“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” (“La La Land”) – this is the song that made me cry, so it’s my pick
“The Empty Chair” (“Jim: The James Foley Story”)
“Can’t Stop the Feeling!” (“Trolls”)

Visual effects:

“Deepwater Horizon”
“Doctor Strange”
*“The Jungle Book” – it did look good
“Kubo and the Two Strings”
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Makeup and hairstyling

*“A Man Called Ove”
“Star Trek Beyond”
“Suicide Squad”

Costume design

*Mary Zophres, “La La Land”
Madeline Fontaine, “Jackie”
Consolata Boyle, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Colleen Atwood, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
Joanna Johnston, “Allied”

Film Editing

“Arrival”
“Hell or High Water”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“La La Land”
*“Moonlight”

Animated Feature Film

“Kubo and the Two Strings” – here’s the soundtrack
“Moana”
“My Life as a Zucchini”
“The Red Turtle”
“Zootopia” – clearly my favorite of the two I’ve seen.

The Academy Awards will air on February 26.

Movie review: Loving, directed by Jeff Nichols

“On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pled guilty to ‘cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.'”

Part of the general complaints from the 11% of the critics who did not like the new movie Loving was that it wasn’t exciting enough. The Wife and I saw it at the Spectrum in Albany, and we thought it was wonderfully understated.

This is based on a true story of a couple, a white man named Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and a black woman named Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) who had the audacity to fall in love in late 1950s Virginia. Mildred gets pregnant, so Richard does the honorable thing and proposes marriage.

But that wasn’t an option in the Dominion State in 1958, which had passed the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, making marriage between whites and non-whites a crime, so they go to Washington, DC to get hitched. They settle back in the small town of Central Point, VA. Based on an anonymous tip, the local police break into their domicile – a terrifying moment in the film – and find the Lovings sleeping in their bed. Mildred pointed out the framed marriage certificate on the bedroom wall, but they were told the certificate was not valid in the Commonwealth.

“On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pled guilty to ‘cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.’ They were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended on condition that the couple leaves Virginia and not return together for at least 25 years,” an apparently generous offer worked out by a local attorney. “After their conviction, the couple moved to the District of Columbia.”

Frustrated by being away from their extended families, and not happy with urban life, Mildred Loving wrote a letter to US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. RFK referred her letter to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and young, inexperienced attorney Bernard S. Cohen, who, eventually, with fellow lawyer Philip J. Hirschkop, filed a motion on behalf of the Lovings in the Virginia trial court to “vacate the criminal judgments and set aside the Lovings’ sentences on the grounds that the Virginia miscegenation statutes ran counter to the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.”

This is a slow legal process, and the taciturn Richard is uncomfortable with the need to get publicity for the case, while Mildred appreciated its strategic importance. The tension might have split up a lesser couple. When the case was to be argued before the Supreme Court, the lawyers asked Richard what he’d want to say to the justices. Richard: “Tell them I love my wife.”

I had written about this case here, specifically Loving Day, on June 12, 1967, the date Loving v. Virginia overturned the laws not only in their case but in 14 other states.

Unfortunately, “Richard Loving died aged 41 in 1975 when a drunk driver struck his car in Caroline County, Virginia. Mildred Loving lost her right eye in the same accident. She died of pneumonia on May 2, 2008, in Milford, Virginia, aged 68. The couple had three children: Donald, Peggy, and Sidney.” Peggy was involved in the making of the movie.

As I suggested, there is tension in this film, but it’s subtle, such a brick around the LIFE magazine article they appear in. This was a mostly quiet, but extremely effective film for which Edgerton and Negga rightly received Golden Globe nominations.