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.

Film Review: “Inferno”

Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones and Ben Foster
Directed by: Ron Howard
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs 1 mins
Sony Pictures

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

It’s funny that I saw this film the same night the World Series started. The film opens with Bertrand Zobrist (Foster) being chased through some classic Italian streets only to jump to his death from one of the grand towers. Is Bertrand’s story exciting or would I have been better off watching Chicago Cub player Ben Zobrist getting three hits in game one. I’ll let you know in a second.

Based on the latest best-selling novel by Dan Brown, and once again starring Tom Hanks as renown symbologist Robert Langdon, the tale finds Dr. Langdon waking up in a hospital believing that he is in Boston. Imagine his surprise when he discovers that he is in Florence, Italy and has been in the hospital due to having been grazed in the head by a bullet. His wallet and watch are gone but he does find something called a Faraday Pointer which, when activated, produces a map to Dante’s various levels of hell. Intrigued yet?

While I very much enjoyed both “The DaVinci Code” (I gave it 3 ½ stars out of 4 on a website I wrote for long ago) and “Angels and Demons” (3 out of 4 – same site), those films had a lot more action in them. I found “Inferno” quite boring at times, wishing I had paid my money to have someone read the book to me, which would have been more exciting than what was happening on screen. But I don’t blame the cast or the crew. This is the third time Hanks has played Langdon and it’s obvious that he is comfortable in the role. The supporting cast also does well, with Foster’s Bertrand Zobrist popping up through flashbacks to try to keep the story moving. And director Howard, one of my personal favorites, has no trouble keeping the action interesting. When there is action. Unfortunately there are also huge chunks where people just ramble on and on about Dante, hell and where they should be heading to next. Wherever it is, the cast waits and waits on Hanks to divulge the next destination, then gives him a resounding “Of Course!”

If you’re a fan of the series you might enjoy this more than I did. If not, spend your time with BEN Zobrist. Go Cubs!

Film Review: “Hell or High Water”

Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges
Directed By: David Mackenzie
Rated: R
Running Time: 102 minutes
CBS Films

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Out of curiosity I researched the phrase, “Come hell or high water” since the movie title clearly borrows from that popular saying. My research yielded the fact that it’s an early 20th century saying that relates to the difficulties of cattle ranching. And here I had always assumed it was more of a Biblical saying or something cool Americans would say when facing adversity. That’s not to say that the originators of the saying weren’t God-fearing ranchers.

Brothers Tanner (Foster) and Toby (Pine) aren’t ranchers and certainly don’t appear to be fearful of any afterlife repercussions of their sins. Although the would-be cowboys are working on their future beer guts and sport rough stubble that could certainly mislead one to believe they’ve had to wrangle livestock. They live in western Texas where there’s clearly a hangover from the 2007 market crash. Residents dotting the drought ridden landscape seem more focused on staying true to the beliefs they grew up on, rather than adapt or evolve.

Toby isn’t old fashioned, but he definitely seems lost on what to do in this brave new world. He’s desperately trying to save the family farm and is looking for a life preserver as he swims in debt. His ex-con brother, Tanner, helps him with the first of many bad ideas, robbing banks. They’re not stupid about it at least. They commit robberies at banks in small towns with smaller police officers nearby, they’re only asking for unmarked bills smaller than $100 so the money can’t be traced, and they’re literally burying their getaway vehicles.

On their trail are, outside of the normal law enforcement, are two Texas Rangers, Marcus (Bridges) and Alberto (Gil Birmingham). Their comradery stems from a passion for what they do and years of working together. Marcus is near retirement and has a shoot from the hip viewpoint of everything, even making racist remarks about Alberto’s racial mix. But Marcus isn’t just some out-of-touch old timer; his racist jokes and jabs come from a deep appreciation and bond with Alberto. Alberto gets that too, making sure to quip back at Marcus. Alberto understands that under Marcus’ rough Texas exterior is an elderly man appreciating the friends he has as he dreads the purposelessness that’ll come with his retirement.

The movie follows these two groups journey and most of the time it’s exciting, funny, and heart felt. But behind the upbeat veil is one of hopelessness and deadly uncertainty. Any story about a two bank robbers, armed to teeth, being chased by the Texas Rangers won’t have a happy ending. For every laugh, our characters seem to wonder and ponder the consequences of their actions and the sins that will haunt us to our death day.

“Hell or High Water” captures the rustic West, the deep-seeded “Don’t Mess with Texas” attitude of its characters and the unflinching misery of living in impoverished small town America. It flips between jovial Western and teeth gritting thriller flawlessly. It’s a smart script with rich meaning that offers its characters realistic dialogue. They’re simple folk delivering simple lines, and anything near Shakespeare writing would feel horrendously out of place. Instead we get plain Midwestern men delivering speeches worthy of a Johnny Cash song.

The dialogue is further bolstered by the cast. We get to see a side of Pine we’ve never seen before, and one we’ll hopefully see more of, as well as a side of Bridges that we’ve come to love. Foster also gets the chance to make up for summer misstep, “Warcraft”, giving one of his best performances as the conflicted Tanner. If the summer movie season is truly over and it’s now time to turn the page to award season, “Hell or High Water” is a wonderful primer and a sign of good things to come.

Film Review: Warcraft

Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton and Ben Foster
Directed By: Duncan Jones
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 123 minutes
Universal Pictures

Our Score: 1 out of 5 Stars

There’s a really wonderful book called, “Tales from Development Hell”. Author David Hughes summarizes the agonizing process that movies sometimes go through to get made. Some of those movies are failed passion projects, while others are ill-conceived ideas. If Hughes ever considered writing a sequel, “Warcraft” would be the most interesting chapter. I’d really like to know why this was made and given such a grotesquely huge budget.

From a financial standpoint, “Warcraft” makes sense. Over 100 million accounts have been made on the online videogame, “World of Warcraft”. That figure speaks volumes to an ignorant studio executive with no knowledgeable grasp about videogames. The failure by Hollywood to recognize the clear, and distinct, creative differences between cinema and videogames is common knowledge by now. “Warcraft” is a bore in desperate need of a skip button. It’s another lazy attempt by the studios to cash on naïve videogamers.

There are way too many names, places, and exposition to wade through, even by video game storytelling standards. Generally the gamer has to endure five to 10 minutes of information, before they get to click away at their mouse and keyboard. Their payoff is instantaneous. Of course that’s to assume that the run-of-the-mill gamer would care about the story in a point-and-click adventure. “Warcraft” on the other hand spends 20 to 30 minutes explaining things before getting to humdrum action sequences, leaving the viewer without a payoff.

The “Warcraft” movie is about the orcs making their way through a portal, to the human realm. The human realm has dwarves, elves, and probably some other generic fantasy creatures. The orcs are escaping their desolate, uninhabitable world, in hopes of staking a claim and inevitably taking over the human realm. There are a lot of sweeping scenes that imply we’re in a world much larger than the one imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien. But Tolkien’s world has actual stakes and characters we care about. “Lord of the Rings” is a fine wine that will be cherished for decades. “Warcraft” is more like a mosquito in the summertime.

The characters in “Warcraft” are unimportant. If the movie is not going to care about them, I don’t feel like I should either. Orcs are monstrous computer animated creatures, voiced by actors with nothing better to do. Their human counterparts are equally as unenthusiastic, but don’t have a CGI mask to hide behind. It’s hard to tell if they’re bored, avoiding laughter, or regretting their most recent life decision.

Have you ever been so emotionally and mentally exhausted by something that you don’t feel like explaining yourself? That’s how I feel about “Warcraft”. It’s hard for me to summarize and convey how emotionless and devoid of meaning it is, and why I loathe it so much. There are times where it slows to a crawl and feels like you accidentally hit pause on your DVR button. Then moments later it feels like it’s stuck on fast forward.

As someone who’s played the “Warcraft” games, but not enough to call myself a fan, I don’t understand the appeal of a cinematic adaptation. “Warcraft” has its head stuck in the clouds that nothing is wrong, when clearly everything is wrong. I now understand why this movie spent nearly a decade on the shelf, being passed up by acclaimed director after acclaimed director, before finally settling on Duncan Jones. “Warcraft” should have stayed in development hell. There’s no reason it should have been given life so it can drag viewers through hell.