The Chair’s Oscar Crystal Ball

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Full confession: I’m an average Oscar prognosticator. This means in some years I’m above 90% and in others it’s the 70% range.   This gives me a median grade of “B” – a mere average GPA where I grew up. And you wonder why I call myself The Chair.

Still, I feel particularly lucky this year because it seems inevitable that this is the year for my favorite film of 2016 – La La Land. Oh yeah, hiss and boo your own selves as Bette Midler once retorted to her audience in her priceless eighties comedy album Mud Will Be Flung Tonight (“and into the faces of some of your favorites”). And you wonder why I love Bette Midler.

Though perhaps you didn’t.

In any event, I will not allow my love of all things La La Land to influence my predictions. After all, there are pools to be won, money to be made and schadenfreude to be enjoyed post ceremonies – hopefully by me. Though it might be better to direct one’s anger at The Darth Vader of the White House (Note: So many to choose from there) rather than at a movie that only asks you to let go and allow yourself to be transported for a couple of hours. Translation to the haters: Stop being such a tight ass, Ingrid, it’s only a movie.

Okay, here goes:

Best Picture

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Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

WINNER: La La Land

Best is certainly a relative word and you won’t get any argument here that La La Land is certainly the least dramatic of the bunch. Which doesn’t make it the least timely or important. In the age of – well, the age we’re in – I often have to remind myself it all starts with a dream.

Lead Actor

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Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

WINNER: Denzel Washington, Fences

It could certainly go to Casey Affleck as many are saying. But there is something about the way he breathed new life into such a difficult character, coupled with the unfortunate age we’re living in, that seems to make it Denzel Washington’s here. It also helps that he was the surprise winner of this year’s SAG trophy in that category, the single largest voting block in the Motion Picture Academy.

Lead Actress

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Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Ruth Negga, Loving

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

WINNER: Emma Stone, La La Land

She’s the heart and soul of the film. She puts a face on the enthusiasm and sadness and superficiality and disillusionment and triumph of a life lived in L.A.   Yes, that’s a compliment. And she sings just fine.   Watch how she does the Academy nominated song Audition again. And then, hiss and boo your own selves.

Supporting Actor

No contest.

No contest.

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel, Lion

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

WINNER: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

I turned to my husband when Ali was onscreen and said this guy is the most real actor I have ever seen. He deserves an Oscar for this. And who the hell is he??? It’s not that the other performances weren’t great in their own ways. It’ s just if there has to be a best, he’s it and the majority of the Academy will be smart enough to know it.

Supporting Actress:

NO ONE cries as good as Viola. NO. ONE. #allthefeels

NO ONE cries as good as Viola. NO. ONE. #allthefeels

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

WINNER: Viola Davis, Fences

Let’s not spend a lot of time on this. She’s won all the other honors and EVERYONE wants to hear her speech. ‘Enuf said.

Best Director:

Phenom?

Phenom?

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

WINNER: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

There are so many reasons Damien Chazelle deserves to win this award whether his film is your cuppa or not. Imagine making a love letter to Los Angeles that is adored around the world ($250,000,000 plus worldwide gross and counting). Consider the chances of getting exactly the right chemistry in what is essentially a two-person film and then creating enough visual imagery to not only compliment them and the story but also dazzle us without breaking the fourth wall of our dreams? Then add to it that he’s only 32 years old and was already nominated once in this category for Whiplash. And several weeks ago won in this category for La La Land. You’re still not convinced? ….Bitter, table for one….

Animated Feature:

Sly fox

Sly fox

Kubo and the Two Strings, Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner

Moana, John Musker, Ron Clements and Osnat Shurer

My Life as a Zucchini, Claude Barras and Max Karli

The Red Turtle, Michael Dudok de Wit and Toshio Suzuki

Zootopia, Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer

WINNER: Zootopia

This year is all about marginalization on a MASSIVE scale. So it’s Zooptopia all the way. Not to mention, using animals make it easier for us to think about such things are less outwardly political and therefore more than acceptable as the winner in the animation category.

 Adapted Screenplay

Get the engraver ready

Get the engraver ready

Eric Heisserer, Arrival

August Wilson, Fences

Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures

Luke Davies, Lion

Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

WINNER: Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

The most unusual and innovative script in the category and the Academy WANTS to honor a film so unlikely to emerge into the national consciousness.  There will be tumultuous applause for this win – and deservedly so. The deceptive simplicity in the storytelling is the movie’s principle strength.

Original Screenplay

The writing in this scene alone. #ohboy #willdestroyyou

The writing in this scene alone. #ohboy #willdestroyyou

Mike Mills, 20th Century Women

Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou, The Lobster

Kenneth Longergan, Manchester by the Sea

WINNER: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

This is tricky but it’s doubtful the Academy will send something so sadly powerful and original home without something. That said, a significant group loves Hell or High Water and there could be a La La Land sweep. In the end, however, Manchester is exactly the type of movie industry voters go for in terms of writing. 

Cinematography

Meet you on the pier in 5 minutes. #Ryguy

Meet you on the pier in 5 minutes. #Ryguy

Bradford Young, Arrival

Linus Sandgren, La La Land

Greig Fraser, Lion

James Laxton, Moonlight

Rodrigo Prieto, Silence

WINNER: Linus Sandgren, La La Land

It will come down to a race between Arrival and La La Land. Both brought you into brilliantly invented and compelling visual landscapes. But how do you vote against floating into the sky in the Griffith Park Observatory?

Best Documentary Feature

This time with less Sarah Paulson.

This time with less Sarah Paulson.

13th, Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick and Howard Barish

Fire at Sea, Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo

I Am Not Your Negro, Raoul Peck, Remi Grellety and Hebert Peck

Life, Animated, Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman

O.J.: Made in America, Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow

WINNER: O.J.: Made in America, Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow

It’s not so much about O.J. but telling the story of race in America through his life. I really resisted being in the guy’s presence for nine hours more but there is a reason this work has been so lauded and why after a few minutes you can’t take your eyes away from the Shakespearean tragedy of it all.

Best Documentary Short Subject

Powerful stuff

Powerful stuff

4.1 Miles, Daphne Matziaraki

Extremis, Dan Krauss

Joe’s Violin, Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen

Watani: My Homeland, Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis

The White Helmets, Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

WINNER: The White Helmets, Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

Any other year the sentiments in Joe’s Violin, which manages to give us a story about Holocaust remembrance we’ve never seen before, would win out. But given the currently charged political NOW, the shocking tragedies of Syrian genocide won’t and shouldn’t be ignored.

Best Live Action Short Film

The official pool killing category

The official pool killing category

Ennemis Interieurs, Selim Azzazi

La Femme et le TGV, Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff

Silent Nights, Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson

Sing, Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy

Timecode, Juanjo Gimenez

WINNER: Ennemis Interieurs, Selim Azzazi

Immigration, fascism, France and the next anticipated sweep of white nationalism. This should be the winner unless voters use this one category to opt out for the more fanciful Timecode and the bullying themes of Sing. Yes, I saw all five of these. Don’t act so surprised.

Best Animated Short

Pixar does it again

Pixar does it again

Blind Vaysha, Theodore Ushev

Borrowed Time, Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj

Pear Cider and Cigarettes, Robert Valley and Cara Speller

Pearl, Patrick Osborne

Piper, Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer

WINNER: Piper, Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer

After numerous recent losses in this category it’s Pixar’s year. And I seldom bet against some of the best storytellers in the biz. Yeah, you read that right.

Best Foreign Language Film

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A Man Called Ove, Sweden

Land of Mine, Denmark

Tanna, Australia

The Salesman, Iran

Toni Erdmann, Germany

WINNER: The Salesman, Iran

An excellent group that makes you wish there were more American movies that tackled this many diverse and difficult subjects. But the real life attempt of the current White House to question the freedom of people like the Iranian director of The Salesman – Asghar Farhadi – to visit the US will push him over the top. That said, I LOVED A Man Called Ove. So go see that one too.

Film Editing

le sigh

le sigh

Joe Walker, Arrival

John Gilbert, Hacksaw Ridge

Jake Roberts, Hell or High Water

Tom Cross, La La Land

Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon, Moonlight

WINNER: Tom Cross, La La Land

How the guy managed to put together the disparate tones of La La Land together and have it make any sense at all, much less be so continuously charming in its telling of the ultimate seamless dream, is just one of many reasons. Don’t vote against it despite the upset others may be predicting.

Production Design

They call me mellow yellow

They call me mellow yellow

Patrice Vermette, Paul Hotte, Arrival

Stuart Craig, Anna Pinnock, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh, Hail, Caesar!

David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, La La Land

Guy Hendrix Dyas, Gene Serdena, Passengers

WINNER: David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, La La Land

If it were just the designers voting it might be Passengers or Arrival. But it takes equal if not more talent to make L.A. dreamy, superficial AND yet seductively believable – at least to us masses.

Original Score:

Mica Levi, Jackie

Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka, Lion

Nicholas Britell, Moonlight

Thomas Newman, Passengers

WINNER: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

Score means music and it’s a MUSICAL that is going to be the best picture of 2016. So don’t argue on this one.

Original Song

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls— Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster

“City of Stars,” La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

“The Empty Chair,” Jim: The James Foley Story — Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting

“How Far I’ll Go,” Moana — Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

WINNER: “City of Stars,” La La Land, Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Everyone wants Lin-Manuel to win his EGOT and he will – but not this year. The soundtrack to La La Land has been playing continuously in my car for the last two months and I listen to it at the gym. So maybe I’m not the one to ask in this category. Or perhaps I am. And yes, they can sing. It’s called ACT(s)ING.

Makeup and Hair

I'll bet on the Jennifer Lawrence alien one

I’ll bet on the Jennifer Lawrence alien one

A Man Called Ove, Eva von Bahr and Love Larson

Star Trek Beyond, Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo

Suicide Squad, Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson

WINNER: Star Trek Beyond, Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo,

I have NO idea but everyone says Star Trek so let’s go with that.

Costume Design

Get it girls!

Get it girls!

Allied, Joanna Johnston

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Colleen Atwood

Florence Foster Jenkins, Consolata Boyle

Jackie, Madeline Fontaine

La La Land, Mary Zophre

WINNER: La La Land, Mary Zophre

I want Ryan Gosling’s wardrobe. Or perhaps it’s just Ryan Gosling. And Emma Stone managed to look luminous without emanating fake glamour. It was dreamy and real all at once. Can these guys design something for me and my best girlfriend HUSBAND when we film our romantic fantasy?

Visual Effects

A pretty safe bet

A pretty safe bet

Deepwater Horizon, Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton

Doctor Strange, Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould

The Jungle Book, Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon

Kubo and the Two Strings, Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould

WINNER: The Jungle Book, Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould,

Not a clue because I didn’t see any of them but EVERYONE says The Jungle Book.

Sound Editing

In lieu of anything Mel Gibson related, here's a fine pic of Jon Hamm

In lieu of anything Mel Gibson related, here’s a fine pic of Jon Hamm

Arrival, Sylvain Bellemare

Deep Water Horizon, Wylie Stateman and Renee Tondelli

Hacksaw Ridge, Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright

La La Land, Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan

Sully, Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

WINNER: Hacksaw Ridge, Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright 

I know little about sound editing and will never see another Mel Gibson movie again so don’t trust me here. But war movies are hard to beat in this category and all the smart money says that the anti-war, war film makes you feel like you’re there.

I wouldn’t know.

Sound Mixing

Play me a song, Piano Man

Play me a song, Piano Man

Arrival, Bernard Gariepy Strobl and Claude La Haye

Hacksaw Ridge, Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace

La La Land, Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth, Greg P. Russell (read about that scandal here)

WINNER: La La Land, Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow

Because nothing is music to the ears of the most people than the sound of La La Land and the ovations it will receive on Oscar night. There, I said it. Again.

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Movie Logic

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There are simple logistics of the movie business one must recognize if one is to venture creatively into the Hollywood film community.

The two #1 movies of the last month – Superman vs. Batman and Zootopia – have so far together grossed $1.5 BILLION worldwide at the theatrical box-office. To be more USA centric – for certainly part of our responsibilities as US citizens is to make all things American at least SEEM great again – this includes almost $300 million apiece for each film in tickets sold here (Note: And in Canada but isn’t that a mere technicality and certainly beside the point?).

Not if it means I get to post a picture of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau

Not if it means I get to post a picture of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau

I have not seen the much-maligned S vs. B because at this point in life (and having been a movie critic in one of my many past lives) I get the appeal and deserve credit for time already served. As for the big Z, I have attended at the desperate urging of my students and found it to be a perfectly lovely experience that was smart, funny and has something to say worth listening to. Certainly not in the vein of Spotlight, 12 Years A Slave or, well, Sophie’s Choice, but hey, Viva La Difference!, right?

Two movies I have seen in the last two weeks fall into different categories and fates and their titles are Midnight Special and The Fundamentals of Caring. Never heard of them? Well, how can that be?

Midnight Special has also been in theatres for almost a month and its writer-director Jeff Nichols was responsible for the very well reviewed indie film of several years ago – Mud – starring recent Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey. As for Fundamentals – okay, it hasn’t been released yet. But if you’re at all a movie fan you might have heard it was one of the big success stories of this year’s Sundance Film Festival where Netflix picked it up for a near record $7 million. Not to mention, its directed by longtime David Letterman producer Rob Burnett and stars one of our not that currently numerous comedy movie stars, Paul Rudd.

Ahem... the AGELESS Paul Rudd #howdoeshedoit

Ahem… the AGELESS Paul Rudd #howdoeshedoit

How I felt about the latter two films (Note: They each have their charms) is less important than the fact that they will generate a slight fraction of the revenue of the first two I mentioned and probably equally that much in buzz and recognition by general audiences. That, in fact, is not a failure on the part of either of the two films. More simply, it is reality.

Midnight Special works on a narratively unusual storyline that even the NY Times movie critic managed to circumvent in his recent review. But since this certainly isn’t the Times, here’s how I’d put it –

It’s a film about a father and son on the run pursued by both the government and members of a cult they are escaping from, each of whom want something very special from them. Beliefs of the supernatural, of religious cultism, and of governmental overreach and villainy come into play but what’s really at play is how much you love your own family and how much and what you’d do to save them.

Catch Michael Shannon in Midnight Special before his next staring role as Elvis (really)

Catch Michael Shannon in Midnight Special before his next staring role as Elvis (really)

That sounds kind of timely, right? Well, Warner Bros. must have thought so since it’s their film. Which they’ve slowly rolled out to release in…493 theatres (Note: Z and S vs B have each been in 4000 plus screens) – where it’s grossed just $1.4 million nationally.

As for The Fundamentals of Caring, it’s based on a best-selling novel and is the kind of comedy-drama they used to make when I was young (it was the seventies and the movie business was having one of its small handful of GOLDEN ages). This merely means Hollywood, and in turn the world, were making the kind of content (Note: Ugh, there’s that word again) that we would all be nostalgically longing for decades, and likely centuries, later.

Its plot? I’ll let IMDB speak to that one:

A man suffering an incredible amount of loss enrolls in a class about care giving that changes his perspective on life.

Though, well, that kind of doesn’t do it. In reality, it’s a funny comic road movie – sort of My Left Foot meets Harry and Tonto meets Summer of ’42 – that doesn’t drown in bathos and gives its young teenage hero a chance to flirt with and at the very least kiss (Note: Uh, no spoilers here!) one of the current it girls of every teenage boys’ dreams – Selena Gomez.

Sundance darling (eat your heart out, Beebs)

Sundance darling (eat your heart out, Beebs)

I managed to see it as the opening night film of the Atlanta Film Festival where its director proudly announced Netflix would indeed be giving it a real and true THEATRICAL release later this year before it can be streamed for the entire world to see.

But, well, uh – isn’t that a given? Not really. Actually, not at all.

I purposely have resisted giving my own review of the above two character-drama movies because these are the kind of films I would have written at one time and, actually, still might or could write. So not only am I a snob here but, well – I want you to LIKE them because I want more of them to get made and fear any slight negative thing I might say about them (Note: Not that there are any!) might be some part of some additional nail in their commercial coffins.

Still, this much I know to be true –

You can’t expect to be considered a Hollywood play-uh if you create these properties in the same way Zack Snyder (S vs. B) or Disney (Zootopia) are. Ever. Not even close. The 2016 world doesn’t work that way no matter how much you know and love Francois Truffaut, Andrei Tarkovsky or, well, even Pedro Almodovar.

We agree Paul... it sucks

We agree Paul… it sucks

Again, no value judgment and fortunately there will always be a future Almodovar or Truffaut or Tarkovsky. Not to mention, Alan Pakula (Sophie’s Choice) or Tom McCarthy (Spotlight). But theatrically they will be even scarcer than they already are. And you might find them working on many of the current and developing smaller screens creating content – (Note: Oh, how I LOATHE that word – it sounds like materials you find in a corporate travel brochure) – to be consumed, well, everywhere.

Of course, none of this is news but it is worth remembering and pounding into one’s brain if one is to at all have any at all realistic sense of where things stand and what the future holds. To be educated and forewarned is to be forearmed and smarter navigating the reality of yours and our futures. We need the makers of films like Fundamentals, Midnight, Spotlight, Mud and, yes, even Sophie’s Choice – not to mention Zootopia and your superhero of choice – if we ever are to make America truly great again.

Yes, I’m talking about diversity, choices – the true land of freedom and opportunity – at least as far as entertainment and culture is concerned. That would be a society where any idea, indeed anything one chooses – might just become a reality – for any one of us.