It’s the Oscars!

So we have to pretend to care. It’s not as hard this year.

The Oscar nominations are out! And they . . . aren’t a travesty of the year in film. Huh. The nominations are ALWAYS better than the wins, of course, but this year, the Oscars did a really decent job reflecting on 2016 as a year in film, at least my experience of it. Let’s take a tour of the pleasant surprises!

Actor in a Leading Role

It’s actually illegal for the Academy not to notice Denzel in “Serious Actor” mode, but I’ll rep for Fences any day of the week. However, the real attention getter here is that the Academy noticed Viggo Mortensen’s intense turn as a prepper hippie father in Captain Fantastic. The movie is pretty good (that is a much higher success level than the vast majority of movies, so please don’t read that as a dig) but Mortensen is a great combination of low key funny and soulful as the weirdest cool dad this side of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and A People’s History of the United States. Almost no one saw this movie (but you can, on iTunes and Google Play), so it is pleasantly surprising that the Academy noticed.

Actor in a Supporting Role

The year of Moonlight! The gorgeous, soulful, searing story of a young man at various phases in his life learning how to be himself in a world that really hates who he might be is your must see movie homework. Mahershala Ali, who had a great year, getting killed by Luke Cage and getting married to Taraji P. Henson (onscreen, y’all), plays a drug dealer who befriends Chirone when he is being bullied by his cruel peers and his crack-addicted mother. Yeah, but you don’t hate this dealer. Juan teaches Chirone to swim in one of the most exquisite scenes you will have seen onscreen in 2016. Exquisite work.

Actress in a Lead Role

You can’t watch Ruth Negga onscreen for even 10 seconds without falling in love with her (her version of Irish whiskey will finish the job, if Loving didn’t already). Jeff Nichols’ films are studies in intense emotions that most people experience but never find a way to express directly. Ruth Negga (along with Michael Shannon, a Nichols stalwart who has a delightful against type cameo in Loving) might be the most perfect match for this sensibility. Mildred Loving was not a civil rights activist. She was just a fierce defender of her belief in her family and her home. She loved rural Virginia, even after they kicked her out, and she brought her family back from their DC exile. Ruth is silent, solid, feminine STEEL and this nomination is richly deserved.

Actress in Supporting Role

It’s a damn shame that Viola Davis is nominated as a supporting role when her character is the life and soul and conscience of Fences, but damn is she good. Naomie Harris plays Chirone’s crack-addicted (and eventually rehabbing) mother and she gets taken through all of the paces, from fire breathing demon woman to broken repentant. Octavia Spencer is the mother hen who will not be denied, no matter how much she is ignored or slighted by her white supervisor (“I know. I know you believe that”). Three of the best performances of the year. Three black women getting some damn recognition.

Cinematography

Bradford Young, who also lensed Ava DuVernay’s Selma, is a master stylist and in Arrival he mixes a reverence for the interior headspace of Amy Adams’ linguist with a sense of awe and wonder in the face of the alien, er, arrival. Also shout out to James Laxton who shot Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, the best French arthouse movie about a crack addict’s son you will ever see. You have to see it.

Directing

Barry Jenkins. Have you seen Moonlight yet?!

Documentary (feature)

OJ: Made in America was in my personal top 5 for the year. I know it’s 7.5 hours long (it’s also going to be on Netflix soon, just saying). I was never ever ever bored. It’s a comprehensive look at the state of race relations in America. It doesn’t just look at the trial and OJ’s fall, it looks at America, at us. It’s unconventional and hardly the kind of thing the Academy would normally reward in a category that the Academy SUCKS at (No Cameraperson, no Tower, no The Witness?! The hell?). But at least they noticed this gem.

Score

This was genuinely amazing year for scores. Krisha, available on Amazon, The Fits (Netflix), Moonlight, and Jackie all killed it. The Academy managed to notice two of my four favorite scores (Moonlight and Jackie) and that makes this category mostly a win since the other two films are closer to winning Independent Spirit awards that being big enough for the Academy.

Best Picture

My number 6 film (Arrival), number 5 film (Fences), number 3 film (Hell or High Water), number 14 film (Hidden Figures), number 15 film (La La Land), and number 2 film (Moonlight). Not bad, Academy. Lemonade wasn’t actually eligible, so y’all should be even more impressed.

Adapted Screenplay

Four of my top 20 films are on this list as well (all Best Picture nominees) and the only reason Lion isn’t is probably because I haven’t seen it yet (this weekend, I promise).

Original Screenplay

The Lobster makes a cutting joke about astigmatism toward the end of the film that hurt as much as it made me laugh. That’s the best way I know to sum up the weird affect of this bizarre, moving film about estrangement and loneliness under the weight of society’s disdain and potential punishment for experiencing those emotions. The Lobster is original in all of the senses of the word: it dreams up a world where unmarried people are turned in to the animal of their choice if they can’t find a mate. It’s a weird movie, so if you’re on the square side, you can skip it, but if you love around the corner thinking and don’t mind staring in the maw of existential crisis (Hey, I’m single . . . shit) . . .

Way to go Academy! I won’t watch your terrible, overlong, self-important ceremony and I am guaranteed to be mad about some award that y’all give out in the most haphazard and misguided way possible. But in nomination world . . . You did alright. Better than most years, even, so there’s that.

Full list of categories and nominations here.

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