If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you know that most years, I have at least a bit of commentary on the Oscar nominations. I don’t predict the winners–it’s too early to do that anyway, and I don’t have the magic formula–but I like to throw in my two cents about whom and what I hope will win.
- Best Picture: This is an unusual year in that I had already seen three of the Best Picture contenders before the nominations were even released. I’ve already shared my thoughts on Hacksaw Ridge in this post. The other two I’ve seen are La La Land and Manchester by the Sea, two excellent films that are polar (or at least West Coast/East Coast) opposites in setting, aesthetic, and topic, but that both deal with the theme of rebuilding a life from the ruins of hardship and disappointment. I’d be happy if either of those won the top prize. Hacksaw Ridge won’t win it–because of its subject matter, its director, and its fairly conventional story trajectory. Speaking of conventionality, I was surprised to see Hidden Figures on the list because the trailers made it look like a standard feel-good movie. Trailers can be misleading, though. As for the other nominees, Fences looks like the kind of emotionally raw family saga that the Academy loves, Arrival looks like one of those surprisingly deep space travel movies we’ve been seeing a lot of in recent years (Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian), and the other three I have nothing to say about because I know next to nothing about them.
- Best Original Score: This is typically one of my favorite categories, but this year, with the exception of La La Land, it’s a total snoozefest so far–I say “so far” because I’ve been listening to all of the scores on Spotify throughout the day, and I just (like 30 seconds ago) started the last one, Passengers. (I have hope for this one because it’s by my favorite film score composer, Thomas Newman.) La La Land, as we would expect from a movie about music, has a very good score–it’s peppy and poignant by turns in all the right places. One film whose score I would have included, if I’d been asked, would have been Manchester by the Sea. Maybe it was left out because some of the finest musical moments in the film were not original at all but from Handel’s Messiah and other classical works. But the original portion of the soundtrack was beautiful and unexpected for this understated story (it’s mostly choral, which gives the film a sacred quality).
- Miscellaneous categories they sneak in near the beginning of the broadcast when I’m out in the kitchen getting snacks: Know what else had a really good score? My favorite movie of the year, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. James Newton Howard didn’t get nominated in that category, but the film did get nods for Production Design (formerly known as Art Direction) and Costume Design. I think it’s significant that it was nominated in these categories rather than in those where we often see fantasy/franchise films, such as Visual Effects and Sound Mixing. This seems to be another indication that the Harry Potter franchise is growing up–the Academy sees Fantastic Beasts as a period piece, not a special effects blockbuster. By the way, I was cherishing a secret hope that Eddie Redmayne would get nominated for Best Actor for his third year in a row. Alas.
- Best Animated Feature: I’ll close with this: One of the best films I saw in 2016, categories be darned, was Zootopia. It dealt with serious current issues in a complicated, far from heavy-handed way, and it was that rare animated movie that remained a kids’ movie even while appealing to adults. It should have been nominated for Best Picture, but I hope it at least wins the animated feature category.
I’ll probably blog about my reactions to the winners on February 27. Meanwhile, what are your thoughts on the nomination slate?