Thoughts on the 2017 Oscars

The 2017 Oscars were unique for me in that I had a stake. Unlike in years prior, I had actually seen (and enjoyed) roughly half of the films nominated for best picture. I was also pretty well-versed in a hearty chunk of the other movies awarded.

I did feel cheated in the sense that Arrival, my hands down favorite film of 2016 (as well as one of my new all time favorites) was, in a sense, snubbed. However, with 2016 being such a strong year for movies, I understand why. The Academy has a certain taste in cinema that can be better reflected through works such as La La Land and Moonlight (both of which were also great). I’m not going to take the time to dive deep into why Arrival is such a masterpiece here. Once I manage to get a copy of the DVD and give it a few more watches, I will definitely be writing an in-depth analytical review. If you would like a brief excerpt of what’s to come, check out my HIGHLY OUTDATED top 4 films of 2016 list.

Overall, the award choices this year were a mixed bag. Some I strongly support, while others I severely disagree with. However, as I said, with so many great movies in 2016, I was prepared for disagreement.

The animation awards were, as usual, highly misguided. Piper, while a beautifully animated short film, was a bland and sub-par romp, vastly overshadowed by its companion feature Finding Dory. Inner Workings, one of my all time favorite short films, wasn’t even nominated. This trend of neglect oozes into the animated feature department with Kimi no Na Wa (Your Name in English) not even receiving a nomination. Kimi no Na Wa was an international sensation, becoming one of the most renowned Japanese films of all time. How it didn’t receive a nomination was beyond me; the irony is that it definitely would have won. Without Makoto Shinkai’s magnum opus in the frey, it was down to Zootopia and Moana. Deep down, I knew Zootopia would win. Its timely allegorical narrative clearly struck a chord with audiences and the Academy alike. In my opinion, however, the timeless Moana was the vastly superior film in story, character, and message. Zootopia preys on the current political zeitgeist, but I’m sure Moana will go on to inspire a generation of creatives.

In the realm of live action short films, I can’t say I had a stake. The only one I loved from 2016 was This House Has People In It, which wasn’t nominated. I knew it wouldn’t be, it had no Academy sensibilities whatsoever. Being of the horror genre and produced by Adult Swim, I guarantee you it went under the radar of every single Academy member. However, I can’t think of a more original and thought provoking movie to come out of 2016. I plan on covering This House Has People In It (along with the rest of Alan Resnick’s filmography) in some capacity in the near future, so stay tuned for that.

When it comes to cinematography, Arrival was, to put it simply, robbed. Don’t get me wrong, La La Land was a beautiful looking movie, but Arrival had some of the best cinematography I’ve ever seen. I understand the impressiveness of La La Land’s long takes and camera movement, but it still felt like a movie. Arrival manages to use cinematography to break all possible disbelief, and transport you into the story. Everything feels crisply real, something a majority of movies fail to accomplish. People cite La La Land with having a dreamlike aesthetic. I can see where they are coming from in terms of the generic common sensibility. However, Arrival is shot like an actual dream; all of the uneasiness and fluidity that dreams bring was not neglected.

I’m not going to dive too deep into La La Land’s best original song victory. It was undeserved, plain and simple. La La Land had a fantastic story, message, and set of performances, but it did not have great music. At best, the majority of its songs were decent. My favorite song in the movie, Audition, didn’t even win. Further, Audition, while great, wasn’t even amazing to begin with. How Far I’ll Go from Moana is not only one of my favorite songs from a musical, but one of my favorite songs of 2016 period. It inspired and stuck with so many on such a personal level, including myself. I hypothesize that it didn’t win because not enough of the Academy saw Moana, while I guarantee you every single voter saw La La Land.

This same bias flows into the best director award, which was snagged by La La Land. Damien Chazelle is a fantastic director, especially for his age. However, his skill is much more apparent in 2014’s Whiplash. All bias aside from Denis Villeneuve being one of my favorite living directors, both Arrival and Moonlight were much better directed films than La La Land.

Perhaps my most positive takeaway from this year’s Oscars was Emma Stone’s victory as best leading actress. I do believe Amy Adams deserved it more for her masterful performance in Arrival. However, I am a huge Emma Stone fan. I have been following her career closely since my pre-teen years (thanks to Superbad). I have watched her mature as an actress, progressing from tertiary generic comedic roles to competently starring in intense dramas. Seeing her finally awarded after all these years was both heartwarming and satisfying, and I can’t argue with that.

Now for the gargantuan elephant in the room, best picture. We all saw the hilarious debacle; there’s not much to say on the matter that hasn’t already been said. However, it will go down in history as one of the funniest Oscar moments. I even made a joke before it happened, “What if they say the wrong movie?” I proceeded to follow up with “I personally enjoyed La La Land more, but I think Moonlight deserved the award.” Apparently I’m a foresightful genius.

All jokes aside, I knew Arrival had no chance of winning best picture. Despite being the far superior film, this is the Academy we’re dealing with. The true battle was clearly going to be down to La La Land vs. Moonlight. Again, despite my personal preference towards La La Land from an pure enjoyment perspective, Moonlight deserved to win from a technical viewpoint. I may end up writing a full analysis of Moonlight at some point, so I don’t want to delve too deep into the movie now. What I can say is that it is a very important film, and, despite its depressing nature, one everyone should see. It was a successful exercise in empathy, and truly helps you to put your life into perspective.

There you have it, my opinions on the 2017 Oscars in a nutshell. I’m really looking forward to what the rest of 2017 will have to offer in terms of film. With 2016 being such a great year for the medium, the coming ten months have massive shoes to fill.

Advertisements

Top 4 Films of 2016

I don’t get why people say 2016 was a bad year for movies. Yes, I can count the amount of great films that came out this year with my fingers. However, i’d much rather have a handful of greats than a slew of pretty goods. Although there definitely were more 2016 releases that I enjoyed, here are the four that stood out above the rest, proving that 2016 was an unforgettable year for the medium of film.

 

#4- Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them

Director: David Yates

Writer: J.K. Rowling

Genre: Fantasy

I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I credit J.K. Rowling as the person who shaped me into the avid media consumer I am today. Without the story of the boy who lived, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here writing this piece. When a prequel series was announced, written by Rowling herself, I was very hesitant to build hype. Especially with the transition of medium from novel to film, I knew I couldn’t allow myself to get too excited. There were so many opportunities for failure with this movie; I am so happy to say that Rowling didn’t screw it up. Fantastic Beasts was fantastic. It did everything a great prequel should. Despite having some subtle nods, it didn’t rely too much on the original work. It had intriguing, well-written characters that weren’t just cardboard cutouts or carbon copies of Harry and company. It managed to work as a satisfying, self-contained story, while still building the foundation for the rest of a five-part saga. Although this isn’t a full review, I couldn’t go without mentioning how much I loved the movie’s 1920s New York aesthetic. Although there were some jarring plot holes, everything else about the movie was so good that I can’t dwell on them too much. Far superior to the other piece of Harry Potter universe media that was released this year (i’m talking about you Cursed Child), Fantastic Beasts is a real treat for any potterhead.

 

#3- This House Has People in It

Director: Alan Resnick

Writer(s): Alan Resnick, Dina Kelberman, and Robby Rackleff

Genre: Horror

I was very tentative about placing a short film on this list. After all, a TV movie under 15 minutes long can’t possibly convey as much as a 2.5 hour theatrical epic, right? Wrong! This House Has People in It managed to do that and more. Alan Resnick has finally made a name for himself by producing one the most clever, intriguing, and genuinely scary horror stories of all time. If you are unfamiliar with Adult Swim’s infomercial block, it is a late-night home for experimental short films disguised as infomercials. You may have heard of some of its more famous products such as Too Many Cooks and Unedited Footage of a Bear, both of which I would also highly recommend. Despite its 12 minute run time, This House Has People in It is one of the most densely packed movies ever made. It is literally impossible to absorb every detail it has to offer, even with multiple viewings. For a fantastic analysis and in-depth explanation of the short and its expanded material, I would highly recommend checking out NightMind. Even if you don’t end up watching this film, I would still give him a look, he’s one of the best horror analysts on YouTube. This House Has People in It might not grab you upon your first viewing. In fact, you may initially find it funny like I did. With each subsequent viewing, however, you begin to pick up more on what is actually happening. Then you begin to think about it. The genius of the film is that this mental process is part of the movie itself, an essential component of its fear building. Hold onto your bed sheets, because you will not be sleeping after experiencing this horror masterpiece.

 

#2- Kimi no Na Wa (Your Name)

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Writer: Makoto Shinkai

Genre: Anime Drama

Kimi no Na Wa, or Your Name in english, would have definitely taken the number one spot if it weren’t for a last minute sneak up. Your Name is the definition of perfect melancholic storytelling. It fills you with such strong and potent emotion, but it’s very difficult to decipher whether these feelings are of happiness or sadness. The only other movie in recent memory that has made me feel this way has been Wolf Children, one of my all time favorite films and overall pieces of media. Although I can’t say Your Name is one of my favorite movies, I can say it is a must see. You may groan at the premise; yet another body swap movie. However, this is the seminal body swap story. Never has this trope been executed more perfectly and originally. Despite being centered around the oldest trope in the book, there truly is nothing like Your Name out there. It takes beautiful animation, relatable characters, and a phenomenal soundtrack, and puts them in a blender to give you an experience. Although an anime film, its medium is by no means a barrier to entry. I would highly recommend this movie to audiences of all ages and backgrounds, regardless of anime experience. If subtitles aren’t your thing, Funimation is working a dub that seems pretty promising. In whichever format you prefer, go watch Your Name. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll even get a bit turned on.

 

#1- Arrival

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Eric Heisserer, based on short story by Ted Chiang

Genre: Science Fiction

Arrival was a film made for me. As a fan of science fiction, relatable characters, and alien stories; this was a homerun. It was the only movie this year that managed to become one of my all time favorites. I can go on for pages about how much I loved Arrival. However, I don’t want to talk too much about it, as I do plan on doing exactly that in an in-depth analytical review in the near future. Arrival was directed by Denis Villeneuve, who you may recognize from his work on Prisoners and Enemy, two great movies. Arrival is by far Villeneuve’s best film to date, and what elevated him to one of my all time favorite filmmakers. However, we can’t give Villeneuve all of the credit. I recently discovered that Arrival is based on Ted Chiang’s short story Story of Your Life. Although I have not yet gotten a chance to read it, there is no way it will go unread before I write my full review. Further, science fiction is my thing; it’s probably my overall favorite genre of fiction. However, Arrival goes beyond the typical boundaries of what the genre has to offer. Its unprecedented storytelling method, excruciatingly gorgeous cinematography, and unforgettable characters make it one the best films of the decade. Although I can’t say it’s my favorite science fiction movie, it’s definitely my favorite “alien invasion movie.” That’s just it though, I can’t even bring myself to call it an alien invasion film without precautionary quotation marks. Arrival is just so much more than Independence Day or War of the Worlds. It’s the story of a woman, and the events that reshaped the course of her life. In Amy Adams’ best performance, we come to know the character of Louise Banks, befriend her, understand her, and even cry for her. If not an active consumer of complex fiction such as myself, it may take a few viewings to fully appreciate and understand everything this movie has to offer. But those subsequent viewings are well worth the price of admission. Arrival is a movie I just can’t stop thinking about, and that means something to me.