…Also, films and performances to look out for
A lovely, lovely thing that has happened with the Academy Awards this year, is the diversity in nominations. In stark contrast to that of last year, and the previous one (remember the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite?). The nominees for the 2017 Academy Awards include several non-Caucasian artistes like Dev Patel, Octavia Spencer, Denzel Washington, Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis, Naome Harris, and Ruth Negga. India had an official entry, too. While it didn’t make the cut, Vetrimaran’s Tamil crime-thriller Visarnai was chosen as a possible nominee under the Best Foreign Film category.
Despite the diversity though, US President Donald Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ caused more noise than La La Land‘s insane number of nominations (which, incidentally, is 14). And thanks to that, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi – whose The Salesman is nominated for Best Foreign Film – has been barred from entering the USA.
With around 63 films nominated in separate categories this year, here’s who we think will take the famous statuette home on February 26.
Best Movie: Moonlight
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester By The Sea
While the crowd favourite is La La Land, Moonlight is an equally tough contender with eight nominations. The characters are given precedence here, there’s little to say yet so much to show. Barry Jenkins’ film is a bildungsroman of sorts where the protagonist – Chiron – is unable to simply be who he is. Accustomed to the abuse, and the ridicule that comes with being gay, Chiron’s story spells heartbreak. He’s only at ease under the moonlight, with hues of blue that reflect his emotions. He doesn’t talk it out, but backed by terrific lighting and stellar performances by the three actors who play Chiron, Mahershala Ali, and Naomie Harris – Moonlight – might just win the biggest award that night.
Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences
Casey Affleck is an underrated actor, and it’s finally nice to see him getting his due. Playing the role of Lee Chandler, the quiet (often drunk) janitor who’s had too many tragedies to count, Casey is a broken lonely man who takes care of his deceased brother’s son. The film begins with him unclogging toilets, and he gets by each day devoid of any inspiration. His brother’s death hits him harder than he thinks, and as the film progresses, Lee starts giving in to his emotions. The scene that shows Casey as Lee in his vulnerable best is the encounter with his ex-wife. She’s married to someone else and has a kid, but tries to make amends. He rejects it and knows it’s the best thing to do, unable to hold his tears, and the pain in his heart. It’s a scene that Casey deserves all accolades for, he’s that good.
Best Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
If you’ve read our review of La La Land, then you know how much we loved the movie, and Emma Stone’s Mia – a role that no one could’ve have done the way she has. Right from playing the cashier at a Hollywood cafe who accidentally spills coffee on her shirt before an audition, to the Hollywood star who chances upon her former paramour one dull evening, she makes the character her own. Stone as Mia convinces you in every other scene; the reel and the real tears she sheds in the film, to the butterflies in her tummy during the first date, the film rests on her. Her performance at the end reminds us of a modern day Audrey Hepburn.
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
Playing the role of Juan, the drug trafficker, Mahershala’s character in Moonlight was brief yet crucial for the main character to grow up mirroring him. Despite his profession, he’s gentle, loving and is akin to the father Chiron never had the chance of knowing. He lets Chiron stay over when his drug-addled mother goes on night-outs, or leaves him hungry. When Chiron wonders what a ‘faggot’ means, a concerned Juan responds, “A ‘faggot’ is a word used to make gay people feel bad.” When Chiron asks if he could be one, Juan says, “You could be gay, but you don’t gotta let people call you a faggot.”
Juan’s role is all about seeing the good in the bad – and especially in his case, he’s not a villain, but a savior.
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
Octavia Spencer is at her best when she’s sassy, and in Hidden Figures, she plays Dorothy Vaughan, a mathematician at NASA with a razor sharp tongue. Bearing close resemblance to her role in The Help, Octavia as Dorothy brings to life the mathematician who was instrumental in helping NASA launch a spaceship to the moon. As Dorothy, she declares that she has no time for “being grateful” about having a job as a black woman, and strives for the right pay she deserves.
Best Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Arrival, Denis Villeneuve
Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson
Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan
Moonlight, Barry Jenkins
Damien Chazelle showed terrific potential with his first film, Whiplash, focusing on the relationship between a difficult conductor and his determined pupil. In La La Land, Chazelle makes up for the slight, unexplained vacuum in his previous film, and leaves the audience with a poignant ending, that strangely doesn’t feel poignant at all. Sure, it was like any other musical with nothing new to offer, but Chazelle did the wise thing of not pandering to the usual And-They-Lived-Happily-Ever-After-Together endings. The montage at the end, with the two characters biding adieu amid a catchy jazz number was more fulfilling than one would think.
Best Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan
Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan
La La Land, Damien Chazelle
The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou
20th Century Women, Mike Mills
The film takes its own time to reveal how damaged the protagonist – Lee – really is, peeling out a new layer with each scene. Lonergan has a way of bringing that all out. A lead character who is unable to find comfort in alcohol or in human interaction after several deaths in the family, a teenager on the brink of an understandable breakdown, a former spouse who tries to rekindle a relationship – all carved out by Lonergan with meticulous detailing.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Fences
We found it hard to pick a possible winner for this category considering all the nominees are just as good as the other. Moonlight had Jenkins adapting a story that’s too close to him. Lion captures the emotional and existential angst of Saroo Brierley. Arrival had the perfect mix of romance, sci-fi, and melancholy – a combination rare to find in cinema unless it’s by Christopher Nolan. And, Hidden Figures stayed true to the original story with punchlines by the lead women actors. Fences, though – originally a play by August Wilson – captures the nuances that one manages to see only on stage. In a play, the characters rarely move in their scenes, mostly driven by acting and dialogue. Denzel Washington makes Fences look like the perfect 1950s version of The Death Of A Salesman, with black actors. While it is unfair to pit the two plays together, the performances by the actors stand out, making Fences a good contender for this award.
Best Cinematography: Lion
La La Land
While La La Land‘s cinematography was dreamy, and transported us to that world of all things shiny and glamorous in Hollywood, Lion‘s story relied on its cinematography, with the lead character Saroo (Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel), tracing his way back home. From the streets of Madhya Pradesh to the over-crowded stations of West Bengal, and the neat and compact houses in Australia – Lion had one thing to nail, and it nailed it well. Not to forget is the authenticity that comes with getting a place right, coupled with extra focus on minute details in the location.
Best Original Score: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land
Jackie, Mica Levi
Lion, Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka
Moonlight, Nicholas Britell
Passengers, Thomas Newman
Hurwitz’s jazz-inflected score, a fusion of modern and retro, takes us to a time when jazz and blues were ruled by Muddy Waters and Louis Armstrong, and at the same time, reminds us that a pop-version of jazz is what everyone listens to. It would also be unfair to not give the not-so-perfect vocalists-yet-hardworking-actors their due credit for what could be their best performance so far.
Best Original Song: ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’ from La La Land
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” from Trolls
“City of Stars” from La La Land
“The Empty Chair” from Jim: The James Foley Story
“How Far I’ll Go” from Moana
Mia (Emma Stone) singing live, with a voice that isn’t perfect – but rendered with every ounce of sincerity in her. This song manages to complete the tapestry of Mia’s life that could have only been brought out this way. A song she loves, a story she cherishes about her aunt, and an audition to which she gives her all.
Best Animated Feature Film: Zootopia
Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
This animated film manages to delve deep into the underlying contemporary racial politics with the help of furry animals. Zootopia may begin with what looks like a film just for the kids, but soon enough, with the plot-line unlike what most would expect from an animated film, it deals with everything that needs to be called out in society today. A smart animated film with extra focus on the message behind it.
Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman
Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi is a veteran when it comes to showcasing human beings as they are. With their flaws and vulnerability like in his other film, The Separation. Farhadi gained a lot of support soon after Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ took over the country. A lot of voters might want to make it up to Farhadi for not being able to attend the Oscars, and it’s only fair to show solidarity towards the Iranian filmmaker. Like he said, “To humiliate one nation with the pretext of guarding the security of another, is not a new phenomenon in history, and has always laid the groundwork for the creation of future divide and enmity.”
Watch the live telecast of the Academy Awards on Star World India, at 05:30 am IST on February 27 (Monday).
Pic: Official posters, and YouTube screenshots