Behind the Screen – Please, Oscar Winners, Check Your Politics at the Door

The day is April 3, 1978. At the 50th Annual Academy Awards, held that evening, “Star Wars” will be given seven Oscars. Steven Spielberg will receive his first Oscar nomination. “The Turning Point” will set a record, later tied by Spielberg’s “The Color Purple,” by earning 11 nominations and winning nothing. And “Annie Hall” will be named the year’s Best Picture.

But the image that stands in my mind is of the great writer Paddy Chayefsky coming to the podium to present the Screenplay awards. Earlier in the evening actress Vanessa Redgrave had received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Julia.” Outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where the award ceremony was being held, members of the Jewish Defense League had picketed the awards due to the fact that Redgrave had narrated the pro-Palestine documentary “The Palestinians.” When Redgrave gave her acceptance speech, she thank the usual people: family, co-stars, director. She then thanked her fellow Academy members for not being phased by “the Zionist hoodlums” they encountered outside. She finished her speech to boos from the audience.

Looking perturbed, Chayefsky stood at the microphone and said the following, “Before I get on to the writing awards, there’s a little matter I’d like to tidy up–at least if I expect to live with myself tomorrow morning. I would like to say, personal opinion, of course, that I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal political propaganda.” As the audience applauded he paused, then continued. “I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation, and a simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed.”

And THAT, dear readers, is what I’m looking forward to coming this Sunday night. Award shows are a way to escape from the day to day grind the world holds for us. To sit with friends and try to win the Oscar pool. NOT to hear whose a lousy President or why global warming is coming to kill us. Do you know who I voted for in the presidential election? No you don’t. Do you know why? Because it’s none of your business. And why does it matter? If YOUR decision on who to vote for is based on MY decision – or George Clooney’s or Brad Pitt’s or Ted Nugent’s – then you shouldn’t be allowed to vote. If Jimmy Kimmel has some fun at the expense of the new President, or pokes fun at the current events happening around the world, that’s great. Everyone likes a good chuckle. So I beg you, presenters and winners both, give a little thanks to the man upstairs and head back to your seat. Thank you in advance!

The Biggest Snubs from this Year’s Oscar Nominations

One of the fun things to discuss, debate, argue, or silently complain about on social media is Oscar snubs. Luckily this year, the ship has been righted and I think we can put the #Oscarssowhite controversy to rest because of how diverse the nominees were this year. Although to be fair, the Academy set the bar pretty low the past two years in terms of cultural variety. But there’s one thing the Academy can never escape and that’s snubs. While I certainly don’t believe some of my snubs ever had a chance, they are deserving of some gold.

Best Picture Snub
Swiss Army Man

I knew this was a longshot. I know the Academy isn’t about to publicly acknowledge a farting boner corpse movie. But a little part of me had hoped that its indie cred, combined with its existential storytelling, would have made it a respectable dark horse in a field of 10. It’s unique, fascinating, moving, well-acted and wonderfully shot. Its only flaw is that it’s too off putting for general audiences and slightly juvenile for the snobby voters in Hollywood. I swear this is the last time you’ll hear or see me cheerleading for this movie.

Honorably Snubbed as Well: 20th Century Women

Best Director Snub
Robert Eggers, The Witch

Eggers immersed himself in 1630’s New England to deliver a historically accurate portrayal of terror in the unknown wilderness of early America. Everything from the film’s dialogue to the farmstead were meticulously groomed and crafted by the director. He managed to wrangle four (including one teenager) child actors, keeping them from being annoying, as they traditionally are in horror movies. This production designer turned director crafted an atmospheric horror masterpiece. Eggers is one to watch out for.

Honorably Snubbed as Well: Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, Swiss Army Man

Best Actor Snub
Tom Hanks, Sully

Let’s clear up this presumed notion I’ve seen on social media. Tom Hanks doesn’t get nominated every year. He hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar since 2001 and hasn’t won a golden statute since 1995. I’m not asking the Academy to throw him a bone, he doesn’t need one. But don’t overlook the fact that “Sully” is a sub par movie-going experience without Hanks’ hefty talents in the pilot seat. Hanks’ navigates Clint Eastwood’s so-so work into a memorable tale of average Joe heroism and the bureaucratic blame game.

Honorably Snubbed as Well: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nocturnal Animals

Best Actress Snub
Sasha Lane, American Honey

I wouldn’t blame you for not watching “American Honey.” Three hours of wanderlust is too much for the average audience. But first time actress, Sasha Lane, is a treasure to watch. She was up for every challenge of portraying an impoverished young adult. Lane portrays an innocent, if not naive, teenager looking for her purpose and a slice of the American dream. Her character, without speaking usually, represents youthful aspirations and good intentions, despite the thieving people around her. Lane keeps the flame of hope in her character lit throughout the movie, making her character one to root for her and admire.

Honorably Snubbed as Well: Amy Adams, Arrival

Best Supporting Actor Snub
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals

The story within a story is the strongest part about “Nocturnal Animals,” mainly due to its wonderful performances. Leading the way is Jake Gyllenhaal, but his emotionally distressed character would be nothing without the terrifying Texas psychopath played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. While visually disgusting, Taylor-Johnson’s grimy character radiates off the screen. He’s calculating, but relaxed. He’s vicious, but calm. The dynamic extremes of his character are balanced by Taylor-Johnson who’s “ablicious” and repugnant.

Honorably Snubbed as Well: Ben Foster, Hell or High Water

Best Supporting Actress Snub
Haley Bennett, Girl on the Train

I know. I know. This is a bad movie. But the Academy has not been above nominating a bad movie or rewarding the components of a bad movie. Let’s not forget that “50 Shades of Grey” is an Oscar nominated movie with five Razzie wins under its belt. While Emily Blunt should certainly be commended for her performance, it’s Haley Bennett’s performance as the tragically flawed suburban floozy that becomes the center of the movie’s suffering. Her character lives life emotionally empty, only to be killed when finding new life. In the rear view mirror of 2016, Bennett’s performance is brave and engaging, but trapped in a lifeless cliché movie.

Honorably Snubbed as Well: Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women

Best Animated Feature
Finding Dory

Is “Finding Dory” that average? I thoroughly enjoyed the Pixar movie and was surprised it didn’t, at the very least, get a nod. It’s not the best of the year, but it can certainly be mentioned in the same breath as the other candidates. I haven’t seen “The Red Turtle” or “My Life as a Zucchini” so I can’t comment on their quality since they certainly secured the final two spots. I’m sure they’re good. Maybe this is a sign that Pixar should just avoid sequels for a while. At least “Sausage Party” didn’t steal one of the nomination seats or else there’d be hell to pay.

Honorably Snubbed as Well: None. This was a year that saw Angry Birds, so we need to do better in 2017.

Best Original Screenplay
Zootopia

It’s been mentioned before, and not just by me, that “Zootopia” benefited from coming out at the right time. The script, while being generously relatable to kids and adults alike, has a wonderful message about acceptance. A city populated with cute, furry animals taught everyone that sexism, racism, classism and xenophobia are still very real and can divide us in a heartbeat. Disney could have easily settled for a buddy cop movies with animals, but instead allowed the script to naturally evolve and survive the rewriting process. Despite nine credited writers, “Zootopia” never became diluted or a jumbled mess. Instead it ran smoothly with a clear message of tolerance.

Honorably Snubbed as Well: The Invitation

Best Adapted Screenplay
Silence

Martin Scorsese’s decades long passion project is based on a work of historical fiction. While having never read the novel myself, the folks who have read the book have left nothing, but glowing reviews of it online. If the purpose of the 20th century novel is to make us reflect and question spirituality and our religious beliefs as a whole, Scorsese captured that wonderfully in a movie that, while drawn out, is beautifully retold on the silver screen. Scorsese painted a beautiful picture just like the book certainly transported readers back to post-Feudal Japan.

Honorably Snubbed as Well: High-Rise

Best Music
Cliff Martinez, Neon Demon

While I’m not completely sold on “Neon Demon” being a good movie, I found myself listening to the soundtrack of “Neon Demon” multiple times. While adding another layer to the movie, the soundtrack on its own accord is a wonderful synth album inducing feelings of hope and despair. “Neon Demon” is a visual experience, complimented by a wonderful score that spurs dread and bouncy optimism, sometimes within a single song. “Neon Demon” is the only movie this year where the music feels like an unseen narrator for how we’re supposed to feel.

Honorably Snubbed as Well: Johann Johannson, Arrival

Best Music, Original Song
Drive it Like You Stole It, Sing Street

The coming-of-age love letter to the 80’s, “Sing Street,” should have been more popular. Not only did the Clash, A-Ha, and the Cure get some much deserved love on the screen, but the movie featured some dynamic original music. Most of the original content, like “Riddle of the Model,” was short nods to music by Duran Duran or other iconic bands. However, the movie reaches its crescendo with its most poppy rock hit, “Drive It Like You Stole It.” The song is a big metaphor for the final act and growing up in general. Just listen to it and tell me that’s not the best original song of the year.

Honorably Snubbed as Well: Montage, Swiss Army Man

Best Foreign Language
Elle

I’m finding it difficult, once again, to put into words why I like this movie so much. Just read my review.

Honorably Snubbed as Well: I’m not sure. I should be more cultured.

“La La Land” Dances Way to Record 14 Academy Award Nominations

“La La Land,” writer/director Damien Chazelle’s love letter to the classic Hollywood musical, tied “All About Eve” and “Titanic” in receiving an amazing 14 nominations for the 89th Annual Academy Awards.

The film has a chance to join “It Happened One Night,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Silence of the Lambs,” which took home the prizes for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay. “La La Land’ earned nominations in all of those categories and added nods for Original Score, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Production Design, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. The film also earned two nominations in the Best Original Song Category.

Joining “La La Land” in the Best Picture category are: “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “Lion,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight.”

Best Actor nominees include Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) and Denzel Washington (Fences)

For Best Actress, the nominees are Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Ruth Negga (Loving), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Emma Stone (La La Land) and, in her 20th acting nomination, Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

The Academy Awards will be awarded on Sunday night, February 26th.

Here is a complete list of the nominees:

Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
Dev Patel, “Lion”
Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

Actress in a Supporting Role
Viola Davis, “Fences”
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”
Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Animated Feature Film
“Kubo and the Two Strings”
“Moana”
“My Life as a Zucchini”
“The Red Turtle”
“Zootopia”

Cinematography
“Arrival”
“La La Land”
“Lion”
“Moonlight”
“Silence”

Costumed Design
“Allied”
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
“Florence Foster Jenkins”
“Jackie”
“La La Land”

Directing
“Arrival”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“La La Land”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Moonlight”

Feature Documentary
“Fire at Sea”
“I Am Not Your Negro”
“Life, Animated”
“O.J.: Made in America”
“13th”

Short Subject Documentary
“Extremis”
“4.1 Miles”
“Joe’s Violin”
“Watani: My Homeland”
“The White Helmets”

Film Editing
“Arrival”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Hell or High Water”
“La La Land”
“Moonlight”

Foreign Language Film
“Land of Mine”
“A Man Called Ove”
“The Salesman”
“Tanna”
“Toni Erdmann”

Make Up and Hairstyling
“A Man Called Ove”
“Star Trek Beyond”
“Suicide Squad”

Original Score
“Jackie”
“La La Land”
“Lion”
“Moonlight”
“Passengers”

Original Song
Audition (The Fools Who Dream), “La La Land”
Can’t Stop The Feeling, “Trolls”
City Of Stars, “La La Land”
The Empty Chair, “Jim: The James Foley Story”
How Far I’ll Go, “Moana”

Production Design
“Arrival”
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
“Hail, Caesar!”
“La La Land”
“Passengers”

Animated Short Film
“Blind Vaysha”
“Borrowed Time”
“Pear Cider and Cigarettes”
“Pearl”
“Piper”

Live Action Short Film
“Ennemis Intérieurs”
“La Femme et le TGV”
“Silent Nights”
“Sing”
“Timecode”

Sound Editing
“Arrival”
“Deepwater Horizon”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“La La Land”
“Sully”

Sound Mixing
“Arrival”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“La La Land”
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

Visual Effects
“Deepwater Horizon”
“Doctor Strange”
“The Jungle Book”
“Kubo and the Two Strings”
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Adapted Screenplay
“Arrival”
“Fences”
“Hidden Figures”
“Lion”
“Moonlight”

Original Screenplay
“Hell or High Water”
“La La Land”
“The Lobster”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“20th Century Women”