Monday, February 20, 2017

Oscars 2016: The odds and ends

A scene from "Zootopia", the favorite to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature
Welcome to Oscars Week! Over the next four days, we’ll be predicting the winners for each of the 21 feature categories at this Sunday’s Academy Awards. Today, we’re starting with some below-the-line fields—these categories don’t exactly capture the attention of mainstream movie audiences, but they could wreak havoc on Oscar pools. Let’s dig in.


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

With due respect to My Life as a Zucchini and The Red Turtle (both of which are purported to be very good), this is a three-picture race. And while Kubo and the Two Strings has the strongest critical love and Moana has the best soundtrack, Zootopia is the clear favorite. It’s lively, it’s charming, and it’s woke.

I haven’t seen My Life as a Zucchini or The Red Turtle, a failure that’s due to lack of distribution, not lack of interest. In any event, the remaining three are all good movies. (Frankly, I’m just relieved that the lousy Secret Life of Pets wasn’t nominated.) Moana is a slight but empowering story with some terrific songs, while Zootopia is a vibrant caper that doubles as a surprisingly powerful social commentary. But Kubo and the Two Strings is the best of the bunch, a scary and darkly beautiful tale of perseverance, triumph, and loss.


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
La La Land

Simple rule for predicting this year’s Oscars: When in doubt, pick La La Land. Sure, it’s possible that voters are entranced by the period threads of Florence Foster Jenkins or by Natalie Portman’s Jackie O. getup in Jackie, but the brightly colored suits and dresses of the night’s big winner should prevail.

Emma Stone shows off the dazzling wardrobe of "La La Land"

I’m very happy to see Allied pop up here, as its breathtaking 1940s wardrobe greatly enhance its lush period appeal. Still, as will be the case with many categories at this year’s Oscars, everything else in this field is competing for second place relative to the transcendence of La La Land.


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

You can throw out Fire at Sea and Life, Animated. The remaining three all have fierce critical support; however, only O.J.: Made in America became a water-cooler talking point.


Land of Mine (Denmark)
A Man Called Ove (Sweden)
The Salesman (Iran)
Tanna (Australia)
Toni Erdmann (Germany)

In a recurring theme, this is a three-horse race, as both Land of Mine and Tanna are afterthoughts. A Man Called Ove is a crowd-pleaser, which shouldn’t be underestimated among Academy voters. Still, I’d suspect that this award will go to slightly more acclaimed fare. It doesn’t get more acclaimed than Toni Erdmann, which ranked in a virtual tie for second (with Manchester by the Sea) in the esteemed Village Voice poll. And if I’d made this pick a month ago, I would have gone with Toni. But then this happened, and now, voting for The Salesman represents the opportunity to make a political statement as well as an artistic one. I doubt Academy members pass up the chance.

The Handmaiden
The Measure of a Man
Our Little Sister
The Salesman

Per usual, poor theatrical distribution limited my ability to see the actual nominees in this category. But my own ballot comprises a number of challenging and rewarding films. Elle is a provocative and unsettling study of sexuality and gender politics. The Measure of a Man is a thoughtful and sad look at workplace life, with a great performance from Vincent Lindon. Our Little Sister is a gentle and heartfelt story of a family standing together. The Salesman is a bruising depiction of crime and consequences. The Handmaiden is everything.

The Manifesto’s winner: The Handmaiden.


A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

Yikes. I’ll cross off A Man Called Ove, just because I suspect that many Academy members won’t have seen it. And I’m skeptical that voters will want to bestow any Oscars on a movie as bad and as critically reviled as Suicide Squad. So that leaves us with Star Trek Beyond by default. You can tell how confident I am.


Jim: The James Foley Story—“The Empty Chair” (J. Ralph, Sting)
La La Land—“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” (Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul)
La La Land—“City of Stars” (Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul)
Moana—“How Far I'll Go” (Lin-Manuel Miranda)
Trolls—“Can't Stop the Feeling!” (Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, Karl Johan Schuster)

Well, it appears that our “just pick La La Land” strategy has hit a bit of a snag. The obvious danger here is that the two La La Land selections could split the vote, allowing another candidate—most likely Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go”—to sneak in for the victory. But it appears that Lionsgate has thrown its marketing weight behind “City of Stars”, so that’s still the safe pick.

La La Land—“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” (Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul)
Moana—“You’re Welcome” (Lin-Manuel Miranda)
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping—“Equal Rights” (The Lonely Island, feat. Pink)
Sing Street—“The Riddle of the Model” (Gary Clark)

“City of Stars” will likely win, but “Audition” is La La Land’s best song, and it isn’t close. Similarly, despite the nomination for “How Far I’ll Go”, the toe-tapping “You’re Welcome” is the standout tune from Moana. Most critics were dismayed that Sing Street’s “Drive It Like You Stole It” failed to make the cut, but I found “The Riddle of the Model” to be the better track, possibly because it’s the movie’s first original song and thereby transforms it from a trite schoolboy drama into a delightful coming-of-age musical. And while Popstar is largely tedious, “Equal Rights” is The Lonely Island at its most gleefully ridiculous and self-aware, a mixture of genuine tolerance and sweaty faux-homophobia.

The Manifesto’s winner: La La Land—“Audition (The Fools Who Dream).”


Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land

OK, buckle up. I’m analyzing these together, because these are the two categories that are giving professional prognosticators fits. The technical distinction between the two categories is straightforward: Mixing involves the balancing and distribution of the various sounds on the audio track, whereas editing involves the creation of new sounds. That distinction is typically meaningless, as the loudest and most aurally visible movie usually wins both categories; that’s especially true for war films, which lines up well for Hacksaw Ridge. The exception is when a musical or music-focused film is nominated for mixing—past winners for mixing include Whiplash, Les Misérables, Dreamgirls, Ray, and Chicago. By that logic, it makes sense to pick La La Land for mixing and Hacksaw Ridge for editing.

But here’s the thing: When those five musicals won for mixing, none of them was also nominated for editing. La La Land, however, is up for both. So does it sweep? Does it just take mixing? Or does Hacksaw Ridge defeat the Academy’s favorite film not once but twice? And what about Arrival, which is also nominated in both fields and whose sound design is crucial to establishing its aliens’ identity?

The logician in me wants to predict a split, just because it makes more intuitive sense. But as I wrote earlier regarding this year’s Oscars: When in doubt, pick La La Land. I’m calling it for both. But don’t quote me on it.

That’s it for this batch of miscellaneous categories. We’ll be back tomorrow with the “big” techies, as well as the screenplays.

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