Film: Ogling Oscars

2017 Academy Award picks

By Mal Karman

For the 89th time in filmmaking history, the Academy Awards sweep over us (on February 26) with the usual media blitz and the presumed importance of a presidential election. Company offices around Marin County and the city will be collecting money for the Oscar pool—a gamble that, we guess, has never paid off and has sometimes embarrassed you. That’s why we’ve spent the last several days researching the nominees to try to shine a klieg light on your entry form and give you a better shot at bringing home a little bonus.

You may have heard that La La Land scooped up 14 nominations and that Moonlight was the best-reviewed film of the year. But did you know that no one could tell us with certainty whether Moonlight was an original screenplay or an adaptation?

Based on an unproduced play, the Writers Guild of America deems it original, while the Motion Picture Academy calls it an adaptation. It goes up against Lion, Hidden Figures, Fences and Arrival.

As for the original screenplay honors, we predict that Kenneth Lonergan’s emotion-heavy Manchester by the Sea will garner the respect it deserves and overcome challenges from La La Land, The Lobster, 20th Century Women and Hell or High Water.

Quite often, logic will desert Academy voters, leaving the rest of us in a state of utter disbelief, as in 2010 when The King’s Speech won Best Picture over The Social Network, in 1998 when the fluffy Shakespeare in Love topped the very gritty Saving Private Ryan or in 1961 when The Alamo and Sons and Lovers were Best Picture nominees ahead of Spartacus.

La La Land is supposed to win everything under the Pacific sun, including best shoelaces, but one statuette that might end up elsewhere is the one for cinematography. We like Greig Fraser’s work in Lion.

Every nominee for visual effects deserves the prize this year: Deepwater Horizon for its sinking oil rig; Kubo and the Two Strings for its remarkable stop-motion animation; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for a different kind of universe; Doctor Strange for an astral plane that is stunningly real. None of them, however, created more than 200 computer graphic animals and melded them seamlessly with live action like that seen in Disney’s The Jungle Book. If it doesn’t win, the studio ought to let the snakes out on the Academy voters.

Denzel Washington and Casey Affleck are knotted in a tight race for Best Actor, and the same can be said for Emma Stone and Isabelle Huppert for Best Actress. But Washington essentially reprised the role in Fences that he did on stage—that of garbage man Troy Maxson, former Negro League baseball star, who truly believes that the world owes him something and that it is way past due.

Affleck also portrays someone hanging on the lower rung of life. As depressed janitor Lee Chandler in Manchester by the Sea, he returns to the scene of a tragedy that still haunts him while dealing with the unexpected death of his older brother. Despite a sexual harassment settlement of a few years ago, Affleck, we think, will score a gold statuette.

Emma Stone is poised to snatch the Academy Award from the remarkable French actress Isabelle Huppert. Stone plays a dreamer on the fringes of Hollywood, singing, dancing, emoting to perfection in La La Land. In Elle, Huppert is a successful businesswoman who is raped and chooses not to report it—only to be raped again and again. It’s a chilling performance recognized by her Golden Globe for dramatic film, while her chief competition (Stone) won the Screen Actors Guild award, a BAFTA from England and a Golden Globe for a musical role.

We hate to say it, but the Academy rarely awards Best Actress Oscars to older women. Though she looks 40, Huppert is 63. If voters were to split their selection between Stone and Huppert, it’s possible that Natalie Portman could sneak in for her impressive rendering of Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie.

You can bet the house that Viola Davis will take home the Best Supporting Actress award for her work in Fences as a wife and mom who puts up with more garbage than her garbage man-husband gathers in a month. There’s a scene in which her eyes are welling, her nose is running and her body is about to collapse, that will be remembered for a long, long time. Fellow noms Nicole Kidman, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris and Octavia Spencer will have to wait for another day.

We have a local rooting interest for Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, born in Oakland and raised in Hayward, he plays a drug dealer with a heart of silver in Moonlight, a journey through the life of a gay, black man.

Here we could make a case for each of the nominees: Jeff Bridges, who got his first nom 45 years ago in The Last Picture Show, as a sheriff on the hunt for bank robbers in Hell or High Water; Lucas Hedges as a teen dealing with the death of his dad in Manchester by the Sea; Michael Shannon as a sympathetic sheriff in Nocturnal Animals; and Dev Patel as the young man adopted by an Australian couple in Lion.

The filmmaker who the Directors Guild of America selects for Best Director usually captures the Academy Award for the same category, and that means that Damien Chazelle is about to become the youngest director to go home with an Oscar. Previously, Norman Taurog, at 32 years, 260 days, was the youngest for directing Jackie Cooper in 1931 in Skippy. If Chazelle wins, he’ll clock in at 32 years, 38 days.

It would be a shocker if La La Land didn’t land the la la prize for Best Picture. Moonlight has a shot, but it’s a long one—and 2017 doesn’t feel like a year of big upsets. Our 2016 presidential election took care of that.

2017 Pacific Sun Academy Awards Tip Sheet

BEST FILM: La La Land, Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt

DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle, La La Land 

ACTOR: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

ACTRESS: Emma Stone, La La Land

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight


ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea  

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

DOCUMENTARY: O.J.: Made in America, Ezra Edelman

ANIMATED FILM: Zootopia, Byron Howard; Rich Moore

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: The Salesman, Iran, Asghar Farhadi                                           

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Greig Fraser, Lion

COSTUME DESIGN: Mary Zophres, La La Land

FILM EDITING: Tom Cross, La La Land

MAKEUP & HAIR: Joel Harlow; Richard Alonzo, Star Trek Beyond  

ORIGINAL SCORE: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land                                                                                                

 ORIGINAL SONG: “How Far I’ll Go,” Lin-Manuel Miranda, Moana                                                             

 PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sandy Reynolds-Wasco; David Wasco, La La Land

SOUND EDITING: Robert Mackenzie; Andy Wright, Hacksaw Ridge

SOUND MIXING: Andy Nelson; Ai-Ling Lee, La La Land                                                                              

VISUAL EFFECTS: Robert Legato; Dan Lemmon; Andrew R. Jones; Adam Valdez, The Jungle Book

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