The 89th Academy Awards

Hello all. My name is Elessar and I am the new writer here at Critical Writ. Some of you may recognize me and my bizarre, train of thought writing style from my work on The Mary Sue, or hopefully my personal X-Files review blog. I’m here to talk about movies, tabletop games and chew bubblegum, and I’m all out of bubb—oh wait, here’s some. Oh well. For my first article, I’d like to talk about the Oscars.

Ah the Oscars. The Film Nerd’s Superbowl, especially since, as much as I love it, I spend just as much time whining about it as I do enjoying it. But, as much as I may complain about how safe and uninteresting the winners are, I’m glad they exist. A lot of movies I really love (Adaptation, Black Swan, The Big Short, 12 Years A Slave, No Country For Old Men) probably wouldn't exist if someone pitching it hadn't been able to say “It could win Oscars.”

So I put up with it, despite all its flaws and I always follow the nominees and winners religiously. And last year the big story was #OscarsSoWhite, a hashtag conceived to draw attention to the fact that last year, not a lot of non-white people were nominated for awards. I mean, there was one (Alejandro Innaritu) but pretty much no one else. So this year, the Academy made a conscious choice to consider and nominate more people of color, so let's see how it turned out.

I mean, how do you not nominate Michael B. Jordan, come on!

Best Picture:

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea

The big front runners are all here, and while there some surprises and some overlooked gems, I’d say that the two big front runners are La La Land and Moonlight. Admittedly I could be wrong; I am very surprised to see Hacksaw Ridge and Hell or High Water up here, and pleasantly surprised to see Lion in as many categories as it is, but barring an upset from Manchester, I’d say those two are the big ones.

Of those two, while La La Land is a perfectly fine movie, elevated by an INCREDIBLE final few minutes, there really is no contest in my mind. La La Land is a very good, 8/10 movie. Moonlight is an amazing movie, easily one of the best of the year, to the point where I’m still not totally certain if I should have named it best of the year. That doesn't mean anything, being the best doesn't mean you’ll win, but if I were choosing, Moonlight would win without any effort.

The good surprises, aside from Lion, is Arrival making it up to the starting gate (speaking of movies with incredible endings). It’s very unlikely to win, but just seeing it up warms the cockles of my heart. Hidden Figures is also a very good, if rather schmultzy, film and Fences and Manchester are...well actors movies, and most of the Oscar voters are actors.

On the less desireable end of things, I’m not certain how Mel Gibson’s insane gorefest Hacksaw Ridge manages to slip past the litany of horrible things he’s done and said and made it up here, but hey, no one consults me on these things. In any case, it’s unlikely he’ll win anything, so we can just safely ignore it...if it didn’t have so many nominations.

I will say, as I say every year, there are several movies that I wish were here. Yorgos Lanthimos’ bizarre, but brilliant, masterpiece The Lobster was my pick for best of the year, and I’d love to see it with some more nominations. On a similarly insane note, I’d also love to see Swiss Army Man with some nominations, although I understand why it doesn’t have them. The Coen Brothers got completely overlooked for Hail, Caesar! this year, which is a shame. And then there are always the weird genre examples, like The Witch or Deadpool, that never had a chance in hell of being nominated, but I’d like to see them here anyway.

Best Director

Damien Chazelle - La La Land
Mel Gibson - Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins - Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan - Manchester by the Sea
Dennis Villeneveu - Arrival

With the expansion of Best Picture from 5 nominees to up to 10, Director has been an easy way to figure out who are actually likely to win, and who are in the “It’s an honor to be nominated” category, and this one shakes out pretty predictably. Both of our two front runners are here, as is our upset, and I suspect this won’t be a split year; Whoever grabs director will also grab picture, and I suspect it’s going to be Moonlight. Hacksaw Ridge is the odd man out here, as I can’t think of anyone who really liked it. Oh well.

Best Actor:

Casey Affleck - Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield - Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling - La La Land
Viggo Mortensen - Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington - Fences

Pretty predictable stuff here, with the exception of Viggo, who was giving an incredible performance in service of a not-so-incredible film. I wouldn’t be totally surprised to see him grab it, just as an apology for the fact that when he gave the performance of his lifetime (Eastern Promises) was also when Daniel Day-Lewis was always going to grab it, but I could just be thinking that because the category is wide open (the ball is probably in Gosling’s court though).

As for people who should be nominated, well, Colin Farrel should definitely be up for The Lobster and while I recognize they had trouble figuring out which actor from the three who play the lead in Moonlight should be nominated, they could have at least nominated one of them. They could easily lose Andrew Garfield to make room for either of those two.

Best Actress:

Isabelle Huppert - Elle
Ruth Negga - Loving
Natalie Portman - Jackie
Emma Stone - La La Land
Meryl Streep - Florence Foster Jenkins

This is a pretty meh category, so Emma Stone will probably take it, although I’d love to see Isabelle Huppert take it. I haven’t seen Loving or Jackie, so I can’t comment, and seriously Academy, you need to stop with Meryl Streep, this is getting ridiculous. As for who should be here, Amy Adams definitely deserves a nomination for Arrival, I’d loved to have seen Ann Taylor-Joy for The Witch and while I’m here, why doesn’t The Handmaiden have any nominations?

Best Supporting Actor:

Maresha Ali - Moonlight
Jeff Bridges - Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges - Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel - Lion
Michael Shannon - Nocturnal Animals

This is actually one of the better categories. I’d say Maresha Ali is probably the frontrunner, with either Dev Patel or Michael Shannon as the upset, but I’m still uncertain. I feel like I should see Manchester by the Sea, just so I can have an opinion on all the nominations it has. Or maybe any of these except Moonlight. Ah well.

Best Supporting Actress:

Viola Davis - Fences
Naomie Harris - Moonlight
Nicole Kidman - Lion
Octavia Spencer - Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams - Manchester by the Sea

This is one of those slots that I hope to the Emperor is completely sewn up in favor of Viola Davis. I haven’t seen Fences, but Davis is such a great actress and she’s deserved it for so long, that I really hope she grabs this one. Aside from that, Naomie Harris gave an incredible performance, so she’d be my hope for an upset. I’m not 100 percent sold on Hidden Figures, but the degree to which it’s a good movie is entirely supported by its performances, so I’m on board with Octavia Spencer’s nomination.

Best Original Screenplay:

Taylor Sheridan - Hell or High Water
Damien Chazelle - La La Land
Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou - The Lobster
Kenneth Longeran - Manchester by the Sea
Mike Mills - 20th Century Women

The Lobster got a screenplay nod! I know it’s not going to win (this is probably going to either La La Land or Manchester by the Sea) but I don’t even care, I’m just so stoked. I can’t wait to see what they pick for its Oscar clip, the entire movie is just completely insane. As for the rest, I’m totally fine with this category, at least as far as I know. I really gotta see Manchester don’t I?

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Eric Heisser - Arrival
August Wilson - Fences
Allison Schroeder and Theordore Melfi - Hidden Figures
Luke Davies - Lion
Barry Jenkins and Tarrell Alvin McCraney - Moonlight

This is a pretty tight slot (and I’m pretty stoked to see Arrival here) but I think it’s going to Moonlight, although the Academy does like posthumous wins, which might give Fences the edge. I will say, while Hidden Figures is by no means a bad movie, I don’t think it should be getting a screenplay nomination, its screenplay is pretty weak overall.

Best Animated Feature:

Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life as a Cougerette
The Red Turtle

My feelings on the Best Animated Feature slot are...mixed, to say the least. It’s not that they give the win to bad movies, it’s that they almost never give it to the best movie. Anomalisa, Paranorman, The Secret of Kells, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Illusionist, Persepolis, none of those managed to win, and stuff like Waltz With Bashir, Coraline and A Scanner Darkly didn't even manage to get nominated. The Academy just mindlessly gives it to whatever Disney or Pixar has put out that year, regardless of what else is out there. This year, the prize is almost certainly going to Zootopia, which despite the fact that Kubo is better, I guess I’m fine with.

Best Foreign Language Film:

Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
The Salesman
Toni Eridman

This year is probably going to The Salesman, although the popularity of A Man Called Ove might be enough to give it the edge. I haven’t seen any of these, so my commentary is limited (although the fact that an Australian film, filmed in Nauvhal, qualified is interesting), but I do have to ask: What the HELL is wrong with South Korea? Why didn't they make The Handmaiden their nominee? Was it not qualified, what the hell?

Best Documentary:

Fire At Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
O.J.: Made in America

This is a pretty charged set this year, and I’ve actually seen the majority of them. I’d say 13th has the edge, which is good because it would be my pick, but there’s also an outside shot for O.J. Both of those are on streaming right now (13th on Netflix, O.J. on Hulu) and you should see them both at the next opportunity. Might wanna be careful with O.J. though, it’s over 400 minutes long.

Best Original Song:

The Empty Chair - Jim: The James Foley Story
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) - La La Land
City of Stars - La La Land
How Far I’ll Go - Moana
Can’t Stop The Feeling - Trolls

Best Original Song is such a weird category, but this year is pretty good. Neither of the songs they picked are my favorite song from La La Land (I liked Another Day of Sun best) but of the two, I think it should go to Audition, and it probably will. Unless the two nominations split the La La Land vote, like they did with Enchanted back in 2007, in which case it’ll probably go to Moana.

Alright, this article has already run WAY too long, so here are some cliff notes on technicals:

  • La La Land and Arrival are the front runners for technicals.
  • A LOT of bad movies have technical award nominations this year, although some of them do have impressive technical work.
  • I have no idea why Suicide Squad got a makeup nomination (was Croc THAT impressive?)
  • Kubo is the first animated film since Nightmare Before Christmas to get a Best Visual Effects nomination
  • You should stop reading and go see Moonlight.
Alright, that’s it for my first article here. The awards will be handed out on February 26th, and I will be live tweeting them sarcastically, as I do every year.

And seriously, go see Moonlight.

Elessar is a 27 year old Alaskan-born, Connecticut-based, cinephile with an obsession with The Room and a god complex.