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Oscars - Rounding up the Usual Suspects
Steve's Livejournal
steve98052
steve98052
Oscars

First of all, what a freak ending! Wow. As Jimmy Kimmel said, "we got to see some extra speeches."

Neither the mistaken announcement nor the actual winner was my choice; my top three were Hidden Figures, Arrival, and Hell or High Water. Comedy typically gets no respect from the Academy voters, which I suppose took Hidden Figures out of the running – or maybe a lot of voters thought civil rights was too serious a topic for a whimsical film. Science fiction is also not much respected by the Academy, and maybe some people found Arrival too much of a head-scratcher. Hell or High Water blended several genres – film noir, cowboys, social commentary, and comedy – into something that worked all around.

I have a lot more to write, but I need sleep too, so I'll revise this with more thoughts later.

As promised, more thoughts (written during the week following the ceremony, in the order that my notes say the awards were presented on the show):

Monologue

Opening monologue lines I found amusing enough to note:

  • "This broadcast is being watched live by millions of Americans and around the world in more than 225 countries that now hate us." – That's a pretty polite start to the political humor, but it got better.
  • "I want to say thank you to President Trump. I mean, remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist? That's gone, thanks to him." – Indeed.
  • "Amazon produced Manchester by the Sea. That was a fun movie, wasn't it? You know if you search for Manchester by the Sea on Amazon, it says customers who bought for this item also purchased Zoloft."
  • "The great actress from France, Isabelle Huppert is here with us. . . . I'm glad Homeland Security let you in tonight, I really am." – But they initially didn't allow Ashgar Farhadi in; after his exclusion was reversed he decided to boycott anyway.
  • "And of all the great actors here in Hollywood, one in particular has stood the test of time for her many uninspiring and overrated performances. From her mediocre early work in The Deer Hunter and Out of Africa, to her underwhelming performances in Kramer vs Kramer and Sophie's Choice, Meryl Streep has phoned it in for more than 50 films over the course of her lackluster career. This is Meryl's 20th Oscar nomination, made even more amazing considering the fact that she wasn't even in a movie this year; we just wrote her name down out of habit. Meryl, stand up if you would. Everybody please join me in giving Meryl Streep a totally undeserved round of applause.
    "The highly overrated Meryl Streep, everyone. We're gonna have fun tonight. I hope we're gonna have fun tonight. Nice dress by the way, is that an Ivanka?"
Additional moments of note:

Observations about the awards and presentations, by category:

Supporting actor

My favorite was Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water, but my guess was Mahershala Ali in Moonlight, a deserving winner.

Also nominated: Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea and Dev Patel in Lion (which I saw) and Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals (which I didn't see).

Makeup and hair styling

I saw none of the three nominees, so I guessed Star Trek Beyond, but Suicide Squad won (and looked amazing in the brief clip shown in the Oscars broadcast.

SIFF favorite A Man Called Ove was also nominated.

Costume design

I saw only one of the nominees – La La Land – so I guessed wildly based on the clips in the Oscars broadcast that Florence Foster Jenkins would win. It didn't; Colleen Atwood won again (fourth win in 12 nominations) for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Also nominated: Allied and Jackie.

Speech moment: "Sting told me I was going to win tonight, and I didn't believe him at all."

Sound editing

The sound in Arrival was a big part of the film, and my preference, my prediction, and the actual winner.

Also nominated: Hacksaw Ridge and La La Land (which I saw) and Deepwater Horizon and Sully (which I didn't see).

Sound mixing

As with the sound editing award, my preference and prediction were for Arrival But war movies often win sound awards, and this time Hacksaw Ridge won. It was the first win for Kevin O'Connell in 21 nominations, to that point a record for nominations without winning.

His acceptance speech included one of the sweetest stories of the show:

A special thank you tonight to my mother, Skippy O'Connell, who 39 years ago got me a job in sound. And when I asked her how I could thank her, she told me, "You can work hard. You can work really hard, and someday you can win yourself an Oscar, and you can stand on the stage, and you can think me in front of the whole world." Mom, I know you're looking down on me tonight, so thank you.

Nice speech.

Also nominated: La La Land (which I saw) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the otherwise critically panned war dud 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (which I didn't see).

Supporting actress

I saw all of the nominees, and this one looked like a sure thing. My preference and prediction were both Viola Davis for Fences. I think few were surprised that she won.

Also nominated: Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Nicole Kidman for Lion, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, and Michelle Williams for Manchester by the Sea.

In this case, presenter Mark Rylance had a memorable comment:

". . . Something that women seem to be better at than men: opposing without hatred."

Viola Davis gave a really strong acceptance speech:

Thank you to the Academy. You know, there's one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place and that's the graveyard. People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say, exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost. I became an artist, and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.

So, here's to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people. And to Bron Pictures, Paramount, Macro, Todd Black, Molly Allen for being the cheerleaders for a movie that is about people. And words. And life and forgiveness and grace. And to Michael T Williamson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, for being the most wonderful artists I've ever worked with.

And oh captain, my captain, Denzel Washington.

Thank you for putting two entities in the driving seat: August and God. And they served you well. And to Dan and Mary Alice Davis, who were and are the center of my universe, the people who taught me good or bad, how to fail, how to love, how to hold an award, how to lose. My parents, I'm so thankful that God chose you to bring me into this world. To my sisters, my sister Dolores, we were rich white women in the tea party games. Thank you for the imagination. And to my husband and my daughter. My heart, you and Genesis. You teach me every day how to live, how to love, I'm so glad that you are the foundation of my life. Thank you to the Academy. Thank you.

Jimmy Kimmel commented on the speech with a good joke: "Viola Davis just got nominated for an Emmy for that speech."

Foreign language film

Although I usually see at least some of the foreign language nominees (often at SIFF), this year I saw none of them, so I had to guess. Both A Man Called Ove (Sweden) and Tanna (Australia, though set in Vanuatu) were well received at SIFF, and Toni Erdmann (Germany) is currently showing at SIFF Cinema. I guessed Ove on the basis of SIFF buzz.

However, the winner was The Salesman (Iran) by Ashgar Farhadi, who previously won for A Separation.

Also nominated: Land of Mine (Denmark).

As previously mentioned, Ashgar Farhadi was not there in person. Instead, he had Iranian-American astronaut-engineer Anousheh Ansari and Iranian-American NASA scientist Firouz Naderi accepted the award on his behalf. Ansari read his speech:

It's a great honor to be receiving this valuable award for the second time. I would like to thank the members of the Academy, my crew in Iran, my producer Alexandre Mallet-Guy, Cohen media, Amazon, and my fellow nominees in the foreign film category. I'm sorry I'm not with you tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people in my country and those of other six nations whom have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the US.

Dividing the world into the "us" and "our enemies" categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which have themselves been victims of aggression. Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between "us" and "others", an empathy which we need today more than ever. Thank you on behalf of Mr Farhadi.

Documentary feature

Again, I often see at least some of the documentary features, but this year I didn't see any of them. My wild guess was the only one I had heard of, I Am Not Your Negro, which is currently showing at SIFF Cinema.

Instead, the winner was OJ: Made in America, by Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow.

Also nominated: Fire at Sea, Life, Animated, and 13th.

The acceptance speech had a thoughtful dedication:

I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for two people who couldn't be here with us: Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. This is for them and their families. It is also for others: the victims of police violence, police brutality, racially motivated violence, and criminal injustice. I am honored to accept this award on all of their behalf.

Animated short

I saw all of the animated shorts, and my favorite was Blind Vaysha by Theodore Ushev. I had a feeling it was too strange for Oscars voters, and it was. My guess was that they'd choose Pear Cider and Cigarettes by Robert Valley and Cara Speller, but I guess that one was too long or too gloomy. Instead, they chose the cute Pixar short, Piper. Lesson: don't bet against Pixar.

Also nominated: Borrowed Time and Pearl.

Animated feature

This was yet another category where I saw none of the nominees. My guess was The Red Turtle, because it's the only one I had even seen ads for. But the actual winner was Zootopia. Had I known that it was the Disney film, I probably would have predicted it as the winner, but I didn't do my research.

Also nominated: Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, and My Life as a Zucchini.

The notable moment in this category wasn't the acceptance speech, but rather the presentation speech. Gael García Bernal said, "A lot of actors are migrant workers. We travel all over the world, we construct stories, we build life but cannot be divided. As a Mexican, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I'm against any form of wall that separates us."

Production design and set decoration

I had seen two of the nominees: Arrival and La La Land. Although I liked the former better overall, I found the latter's production design more impressive, and chose it as my pick and my prediction. It won.

Also nominated: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Hail Caesar!, and Passengers.

Visual effects

I forget whether Jimmy Kimmel made his joke about this one while introducing the category or at some other time in the presentation, but it was a good one:

"Doctor Strange was nominated for Outstanding Visual Effects and was also named Secretary of Housing And Urban Development."

Yes, Ben Carson is a doctor, and he is pretty strange.

Anyway, I saw none of the nominees. I guessed Doctor Strange on the basis of the very brief clip during the Oscars broadcast (not the joke). No luck: The Jungle Book won.

Also nominated: Deepwater Horizon, Kubo and the Two Strings, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Film editing

I saw all of the nominees, but film editing always seems to be a tough category. (For example from 2000, I can't imagine why Requiem for a Dream failed to receive even a nomination for editing.) How much of the film can be attributed to the script, how much to what was filmed, and how much to editing? Without seeing what was shot, how can anyone know?

Anyway, my uneducated preference and predictions were La La Land, but the actual winner was Hacksaw Ridge.

Also nominated: Arrival, Hell or High Water, and Moonlight.

Documentary short

I saw all five of the documentary shorts, and they were an admirable collection. My favorite was 4.1 Miles, by Daphne Matziaraki, about a Greek Coast Guard captain who has rescued innumerable Syrian refugees from the waters between Turkey and Greece. It was also my prediction, though I thought Watani: My Homeland, about a Syrian resistance fighter and his family, and Joe's Violin, about a Holocaust survivor who donates his violin to a school and a very grateful young woman, were also strong contenders.

I was surprised by the actual winner, The White Helmets, by Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara, which I thought was the weakest documentary, though maybe the strongest subject matter: search and rescue volunteers who respond to destruction caused by the war in Syria.

Also nominated: Extremis.

The acceptance speech was pretty good. This article quotes some of it, and gives some interesting background:
"Oscars 2017: The White Helmets wins Best Documentary Short"

Live action short

I saw all of the live-action shorts, and my favorite was Ennemis Intèrieurs, a drama set in the 1990s about an Algeria-born Frenchman under interrogation. Given recent the political climate, I thought it would win. I also enjoyed the cheerful Timecode (about parking video security guards finding a way to make the job more fun) and La Femme et le TGV (about a retired woman who waves at the TGV as it passes her home). But alas, the implausible message movie Sing was the actual winner.

Also nominated: Silent Nights, about a homeless shelter volunteer who befriends an immigrant from Ghana.

Cinematography

My preference, prediction and the actual winner were all La La Land. (I might have picked Lion as my preference if I hadn't made a typo in my printed ballot, but my prediction still would have been La La Land.)

Also nominated: Arrival and Moonlight (which I saw) and Silence (which I didn't see).

Original score

I saw three of the five nominees: La La Land by Justin Hurwitz (which I correctly guessed would win, even if only because musicals are supposed to win music honors), Lion, and Moonlight.

However, my personal preference was Arrival by Jóhann Jóhannsson, which wasn't even nominated. I see that it at least received nominations from the Golden Globes and BAFTA (which both also gave the prize to La La Land).

I liked the acceptance speech, which included these comments:

Thank you to my very, very good friend [director] Damien [Chazelle], I'm so glad I met you.

Thank you to all the musicians. I just put the notes on a page. They're the ones who made it beautiful and sound the way it does.

If I started going through names I could make at most twenty to thirty people happy, but make a couple hundred million people bored.

Also nominated: Jackie and Passengers (which I didn't see).

Original song

Two of the song nominees, "Audition (the Fools Who Dream)" and "City of Stars", were for the same film, La La Land, and had the same writers, Justin Hurwitz for the music and Benj Pasex and Justin Paul for the lyrics. I figured that the dangerously catchy "City of Stars" would be the winner, and it was.

Based on the live performances at the broadcast, my favorite was "The Empty Chair" from Jim: The James Foley Story, by J Ralph and Sting, even though I hadn't seen the film – or even heard of it before seeing it on the list of song nominees.

This one had another notable moment in the acceptance speech, by Justin Paul:

I was educated in public schools where arts and culture were valued and recognized and resourced. And I'm so grateful to all my teachers who taught so much and gave so much to us.
Without context, the speech is just another speech. But in a year when the new Secretary of Education is someone dedicated to replacing public schools with taxpayer-funded for-profit schools and Christian-only religious school, it was a provocative moment.

Also nominated, from films I hadn't seen: "Can't Stop the Feeling" from Trolls and "How Far I'll Go" from Moana.

Original screenplay

My favorite original screenplay was that of Hell or High Water, which did a nice job of combining several disparate genres – neo-noir, neo-western, social commentary, and comedy. It gets each one right and combines them into something even better.

However, I had a feeling that voters would like Manchester by the Sea better, and they did.

Also nominated La La Land (which I saw), and The Lobster and 20th Century Women (which I didn't see, though I heard that The Lobster was brilliantly weird).

Adapted screenplay

I saw all five of the adapted screenplays. My favorite was Hidden Figures, at least until I read how much the story was changed to make it more Hollywood. Having read that, I might promote my second favorite, Arrival, to favorite; as a work of fiction, changing details to adapt the short story to a visual medium is more permissible.

However, I figured Moonlight would get the votes, and it did.

The acceptance speech was split between the writer-director of the film, Barry Jenkins, and the writer of the play that was adapted, Tarell Alvin McCraney. I think all of these words are from McCraney, but the first paragraph wasn't clearly credited:

And all you people out there who feel like there's no mirror for you, that your life is not reflected, the Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back, and over the next four years we will not leave you alone. We will not forget you.

I also want to say thank God for my mother, who proved to me through her struggles and the struggles that Naomie Harris portrayed for all of you that we can really be here and be somebody, two boys from Liberty City up here on this stage, representing the 305. This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender-conforming [people] who don't see themselves. We are trying to show you you and us. So thank you, thank you, this is for you.

Also nominated: Fences and Lion (which I saw).

Directing

I saw all five nominated films. My favorite directing job was Arrival by Denis Villeneuve, but I figured that La La Land by Damien Chazelle would win, and it did.

Also nominated: Hacksaw Ridge by Mel Gibson, Manchester by the Sea by Kenneth Lonergan, and Moonlight by Barry Jenkins.

Actor

I saw all five nominated films. My favorite acting performance was Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic, but I didn't think he had much of a chance. Instead, I thought Denzel Washington would win it for Fences. I also figured Casey Affleck had a good chance of it for Manchester by the Sea, and he was the winner.

Also nominated: Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge and Ryan Gosling for La La Land.

Actress

I only saw one of the nominated films, Emma Stone in La La Land, and I found her performance competent but not award-worthy. Even so, I guessed that she'd be the winner, based on buzz, and she was.

Also nominated: Isabelle Huppert in Elle, Ruth Negga in Loving, Natalie Portman in Jackie, and Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins.

Update (Saturday): We watched Florence Foster Jenkins, and Meryl Streep was amazing, even though the film wasn't.

Best picture

We managed to see all nine nominees. My favorite was Hidden Figures, in spite of its divergences from history. Of all the nominees, it's the one I'd most strongly recommend to someone without knowing their tastes in film, because I think almost everyone is likely to enjoy it. But I think the comedy element that made it so broadly entertaining also made it less likely to win the top award; the Academy doesn't have much respect for comedy, and I think a lot of people might regard civil rights as too serious a topic to be presented with a sense of humor.

My second and third preferences were Arrival and Hell or High Water, and I didn't think either of them had much chance either. I think the Academy has even less respect for thoughtful science fiction than for comedy, which took Arrival out of the running. And although Hell or High Water was neo-noir, neo-western, and social commentary, it was also comedy, and therefore not a contender.

So what did I think would win? My pick for most likely was La La Land, because of the buzz and the general observation that the Academy is fond of show business movies. And in spite of my observation that comedy doesn't do well, I thought Hidden Figures had a chance too.

Instead, Moonlight was the winner, which surprised me because I thought the gap between the second and third chapters left too much story untold, and the final scene revealed something about the main character that I found somewhat improbable.

Also nominated: Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion, and Manchester by the Sea.

The whole weirdness around the award – the mistaken winner envelope, the speech for the mistaken award to the La La Land people, the correction that revealed Moonlight as the actual winner, and finally that film's speech – was such a freak incident that I didn't really get much impression from the speeches themselves. I later read that Barry Jenkins wanted to give a different speech, which he shared after the ceremony. It's a winner:
"'Moonlight's' Barry Jenkins: Here's the Oscar Speech I Would Have Given" – The Hollywood Reporter.

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