all of your Oscar questions answered

Ok, so my title is shameless click bait.  I don’t know what all of your Oscar questions are.  But I know the questions that are generating the most buzz in my own circles, so I’m going to extrapolate from said buzz and assume that you’re asking some of the same questions.  And then I’m going to answer them from the perspective of an amateur film critic who’s seen more of the nominated movies than the average American has, which is still not very many.  Here we go.

Q: What does Lion have to do with a lion?

A: Absolutely nothing.  I saw this film over the weekend, and I enjoyed it very much and was moved by it, although I think this was partly due to the extremely emotional soundtrack (nominated for Best Original Score) by Dustin O’Halloran (a favorite on the hip instrumental music playlists I frequent on Spotify) and Hauschka.  But the title is a real stretch.  Here’s what it’s really about: A little boy from rural India gets lost at a train station and ends up over 1,000 kilometers away from his family.  After living on the streets and in an orphanage for a couple of months, he gets adopted by a family in Australia.  Almost 25 years later, while he’s in Melbourne taking a hotel management course (a little Easter egg for Dev Patel fans), he decides to try to find his birth family, but he has almost nothing to go on–not even his mother’s first name.  (As a little boy, he thought her name was “Mum.”  This is why parents should teach their kids their real names.)  Spoiler: He succeeds in finding them.  But he doesn’t run into any lions.  And it’s not called Lion because of the way he lets his hair and beard grow out like a crazy mane while he’s holed up in his apartment searching Google Earth.  No, we find out literally in the last seconds of the movie that his name means Lion.  It doesn’t even really work symbolically–there’s nothing predatory or dominant about this protagonist.  Good movie, iffy title.

Q: Will the ending of La La Land make me sad?

A: It depends on who you are.  I know one person who was absolutely devastated by the ending, in which the main characters do not end up together.  However, the general consensus among my family and friends is that the ending is bittersweet–heavier on the sweet–and appropriate to the story, which is more about pursuing one’s dreams than about finding true love.  When you see the two protagonists smile at each other in the very last scene, I’m confident that you’ll be confident that they are both happy with the way their lives have turned out.

Q: How many Oscars is La La Land nominated for?

A: Fact: 14

Q: How many is it going to win?

A: Research-based opinion: 12.  I think it’s going to win all but Best Actor (my research says that one goes to Denzel Washington for Fences) and Sound Mixing–that will be Hacksaw Ridge‘s only win.

Q: Is Hacksaw Ridge as gory as they say it is?

A: It depends on who “they” are, but it is pretty graphic, and this is coming from a person who eats snacks while watching The Walking Dead.  Also, there are rats.  If you can get past all that, though, it’s a very good movie.

Q: What should I wear to my Oscars party this year?

A: If you’re in it for “the long haul” (a key phrase in La La Land), you should probably wear your pajamas, because you know the telecast never ends when it’s supposed to.  But if you want to wear something thematic, the bright primary colors and swingy skirts (if you’re a lady) and classic-cut suits (if you’re a gentleman) of La La Land would be a fun choice.  You can also look to the Costume Design nominees for some inspiration–the 1920s look of Fantastic Beasts would be fun and not too difficult to pull off.

Q: When do the Academy Awards air?

A: This Sunday night, February 26, at 5:30 if you’re in La La Land, 8:30 if you’re on the East Coast.  See you then!

my thoughts on the Oscar nominations

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

This is my brain on the first day of classes.

Although I warmed up by teaching an intensive class last week, nothing ever really prepares me for the first day of a semester.  Today, after teaching a maxed-out children’s lit class (there’s a waiting list–not because of my popularity, but because it’s a required course for education majors), conducting a meeting while hungry (I hate that), and answering the emails that kept pouring in–plus the ones I neglected over the weekend–I barely have enough brain function left to make a cup of tea, let alone craft a memorable blog post.  But I think it’ll be easy enough to list some of the things that made me happy over the weekend and today.  So here we go.

  1. Saturday-Sunday, I went camping, backpacking (though I barely carried the pack a quarter of a mile, since our campsite was so close to the car), and scrambling up a popular local rock face known ominously as Devil’s Marbleyard.  Although I love hiking and being outdoors, I’ve rarely camped and never backpacked. Fortunately, I was with a friend who is a certified wilderness EMT and adventure guide and I don’t know what else, so she showed me how to set up a tent, boil water for hot chocolate (very important) in a Kelly Kettle, and wash dishes with hippie soap (it seriously had hemp in it) in a freezing cold creek by the light of a headlamp.  The part I was most worried about was staying warm at night, but with a zero-degree sleeping bag and a lot of those Hot Hands packs that are popular with hunters at this time of year, I was downright cozy.  As for scrambling up the rock face, I just pretended like I was Frodo or Sam traversing the Emyn Muil–just without the elven rope.
  2. Last night I went to see Hacksaw Ridge (side note: I went out last night wearing leggings as pants, and I was regretting that style choice all the way to the theater and thinking, “Wow, I’ve really let myself go.”  Immediately after getting there, I saw at least three women wearing leggings as pants.).  If all you’ve heard about Hacksaw Ridge is that Andrew Garfield has a bad accent in it (he really doesn’t, though, and he is adorable), you should give it a chance.  It’s about Desmond Doss, a WW2 medic who refuses to carry a gun due to his religious convictions and past traumas, but ends up saving dozens of lives in one night, under relentless attack, through his (figuratively) insane work ethic and (literally–almost) insane fearlessness.  It was especially poignant to watch the film in Lynchburg, VA, where Doss grew up.  (We actually drove on the PFC Desmond T. Doss Memorial Expressway while coming back from the mountains yesterday.)  If you think you’ve seen enough WW2 movies, see this one anyway; you’ve probably never seen one about a conscientious objector.  They tend not to make movies about conscientious objectors.
  3. After the movie, I rushed home to watch the second half of the Steelers-Chiefs game.  I rarely write about football on this blog, and I won’t take the time to start now, but since I’m listing things that have made me happy, I’ll just say that I’m happy that the Steelers won–and, like all good Western Pennsylvanians, sick with apprehension about next week.
  4. Finally, my students, as they so often do, have made me happy today.  My children’s lit students seem to think I’m a comedienne (I try), and most of them appear to be totally on board with the Walt Disney World-style character breakfast I’m planning for the last day of class.  Meanwhile, a student from last week’s class sent me a Harry Potter article and a recording of Neil Gaiman reading A Christmas Caroland he told me that I’m currently his go-to person to discuss Harry Potter with.  Just what I’ve always wanted to hear.

Time to go outside and try to clear my head with fresh air.