Oscar nominations are out, and as usual, my first reaction is outrage. But there are some good choices in the supporting category, so I’ll tone down some initial snark, and try to give credit where it’s due. So far, I’ve seen only four of the nominated films, so I’ll wait till I’ve seen more for additional commentary. Here we go:
Best Picture (of those I’ve seen):
Hell or High Water: Deserves the nomination, and the win (of the nominees I’ve seen). Understated, nuanced, beautifully written and acted.
La La Land: Deserves the nomination, not the win. Charming, creative, fun. A blast for those of us who love the classics. I’m glad it’s getting so much credit. But ultimately, no musical deserves the top prize with such forgettable songs. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has more memorable tunes in each episode than this film in its whole running time.
Moonlight: Deserves the nomination, possibly the win. Focused, touching story of one boy and his struggles with his sexuality and family. Points for subtlety. An unexpectedly nuanced depiction of a sensitive, quiet kid. Great acting too.
Thank you, Academy, for passing on the execrable Jackie, which was so wretched I almost left the theater 20 minutes in. Aside from jarring music, awful plotting, and a cruel portrayal of its heroine, its sum insight was this: Jackie O liked history, and losing her husband so tragically really sucked. Yeah, I kinda got that.
GLARING OMISSION: Where is Nocturnal Animals? Tightly edited, riveting, meaningful, beautifully acted, memorable, each frame relevant. Best film I’ve seen in years, and not even a nod.
Fences: I challenge a first-year film student to do a worse job converting a play to a film than Denzel in this unwatchable turkey. Gabriel and a literal horn? Are you kidding me? Clichés writ large, full earnestness, awkward closeups, dialogue that translates poorly to film, and histrionic acting almost all round. Larry McMurty, in a funny, humble essay, wrote that Hud would have been better if the filmmakers had diverged more from his original story. Denzel needed that lesson.
Ryan Gosling anchors La La Land, which wouldn’t have been nominated without him. The man has comic skills; it’s good to see a role requiring both drama and comedy chops get some credit.
Where is Jake? Jake Gyllenhaal, who gets (unlike Denzel did in this year’s film) that sadness can be about weighty limbs and haunted eyes, not screeching?
Where is Joel Edgerton? I’m wondering if the Academy hadn’t seen enough of his work to know what a departure this role was for him. Watching his restraint, the pain he shows in every limb at being unable to protect his wife, is powerful.
Instead, we get one of the best actors of our generation in his hammiest performance ever. Worst I’ve seen since The Book of Eli. You’re not in a theater, Denzel! Stop shouting down the house, making unfunny jokes, and smirking. It’s not the role. It’s you. You’re so, so much better than this.
The Good and Bad
I suspect Annette Bening deserved the award this year, but I haven’t seen her film yet, and The Academy would probably just have passed her over for inferior performances, as they usually do. Emma Stone was very good, not great, and Ruth Negga just solid in Loving. But where is Amy Adams? She was memorable in Nocturnal Animals, and apparently even better in Arrival. But she’s a subtle actress, and the Academy likes to wait until the mid-golden years to award that quality (I’m looking at you, Jeff Bridges). Bring it on, Natalie. Shouts and painful closeups win.
Oh, Natalie. It’s funny that comics get no nominations for mimicry, and the Academy falls over itself to nominate dramatic performances for the same skill. Portman does imitate Jackie’s voice well, but in a distracting way (especially when she slips), and her histrionic, Black Swanish take on the first lady was disturbing, one-note and insulting. Weirdest of all was her awkward, hands stiffly held penguin walk. I guess when she was observing footage of her subject she missed the poise and grace. Cause you know, those don’t come up that often when we’re talking about Jackie….
Supporting Actor and Actress:
Very happy about Mahershala Ali for Moonlight. A magnetic, yet still understated performance. Likewise Jeff Bridges deserves the nod, though I wish he’d mumbled a bit less in the role. Had to watch it twice to catch all of his great dialogue. I think I was one of the few who preferred Michael Shannon’s performance in Nocturnal Animals to Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s.
Naomie Harris was very convincing in a small, but pivotal role. I hate to give credit to anything in Fences, but Viola Davis was tremendous, and unlike her costar, modulated her performance to suit the film. Give this woman an Oscar already, even if it should have been for best actress.
I’m upset about the lack of love for Ben Foster in Hell or High Water. Even the reviews credit Chris Pine more, but Foster enlivens and gives depth to a role that in lesser hands could have been cartoonish. He sells the bond between the brothers, which keeps us hooked on this rather slowly spooling story. And he adds comedy as well as pathos.
OK, that’s it for now. When I’ve seen more, I’m sure I’ll gripe some more…:) (I’m posting more fully about Jake later this month for an Oscar blogathon, and will, of course, want to discuss the screenplays soon….)