January 2017 Movie Roundup

Y’all we are officially THREE SHORT WEEKS away from the Oscars and I am feeling ALL the things. So since I only saw three movies this month (#shame I know), this post will also be a reflection on how the awards race is shaping up following the nominations and results from various precursors and (as always) some thoughts of my own on the industry itself.

So buckle in friends — here we go!

Golden Goal
20th Century Women
Easily one of the most raw and honest films I’ve seen all season. Female-led stories are still somewhat of a rarity so it’s amazing to kick the year off with two of them. And 20th Century Women, with an ensemble cast to rival any of the major nominees and deeply complex human emotions at the core, should be necessary viewing. I love how it took the coming of age of a young boy to tell a multi-layered story about the lives of men and women of all ages — made all the better against the West Coast in the 70s era backdrop. The acting is phenom, the story is real and funny and sad all at the same time. This film is best paired with a thought-provoking conversation and an open mind.

Hat Tricks
Hidden Figures

Another powerful movie with an ensemble cast that is getting well-deserved recognition in the awards circuit. As always, I may be a bit biased seeing as I am and forever will be obsessed with anything about space. But make no mistake: this one is a must. I had the pleasure of seeing it the night after the Women’s March at the movie theater next to the Boston Common where the March had just taken place. The packed theater applauded and cheered and exclaimed at every success and victory (the loudest and longest applause came during the scene in which Octavia Spencer leads her group of women down the hall into their new jobs assisting with the IBM — still have chills from that). In today’s day and age, you can’t overemphasize the importance of seeing minority women on the big screen being commended and immortalized for their crucial (and under-appreciated) work in our nation’s history. Hidden figures indeed.

Hacksaw Ridge
As much as I hate to admit it, Mel Gibson delivered a good one. The true story about the WWII soldier who refused to hold or fire a gun features Andrew Garfield in the lead role, giving a powerful performance worthy of his Oscar nomination. Though war movies aren’t usually my thing, Gibson’s portrayal of the battle scenes and direction of the story are expertly engrossing. The film doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war (and of these battles in particular), making it all the more striking when you remember it’s a true story. This was a stealth contender for sure (which is why it was one of the ones I missed when it first came out), but it has been steadily showing strength with guild recognitions and six Oscar nominations. Definitely not one to miss as we get closer and closer to the big night.

So there ya have it! Slow month but hey what can you do. I didn’t get a chance to catch Silence (three hours Scorsese, really?!) and I made an executive decision not to watch Patriots Day (I lived it. I’m good.) and honestly Live By Night just did not seem worth my time or money (sorry Ben). Instead, I decided to turn my attention to my major misses from months back. So I finally checked off Hacksaw Ridge and this month, I will turn my attention to Hell or High Water and Nocturnal Animals as well as some docs hopefully (priorities being 13th and I Am Not Your Negro).

So. All that said, indulge me for a moment, if you please, with some good ol’ fashioned industry talk.

With nominations out and ballots being casted left and right, the race gets tighter every day. Moonlight and La La Land are head to head for the Best Picture slot with 8 and 14 nominations, respectively. On a normal year, I might caution not to get too hung on La La Land‘s record-tying number (last year frontrunner The Revenant scored 12 nominations but only took home 3 wins). But with director Damien Chazelle winning the DGA and the film taking home the PGA, it would be foolish to count it out. Then again, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu also won the DGA but lost the Best Picture Oscar to Spotlight so honestly anything can happen.

Bottom line: the PGA is often a big predictor of the eventual Best Picture winner (the wins have aligned 19 out of 27 times) due to a similar amount of voters and both using the quirky preferential ballot system. This year in particular, La La Land triumphed over the exact same films for which it is up against for the Oscars (plus Deadpool which the PGA nominated but Oscar did not). BUT. This is the Oscars (aka anything can happen) and the industry may be swayed by the cultural conversation (more on that below). So while all signs point to a lotta La La love, the race is far from over. As for Best Director, Damien Chazelle is looking like a sure bet with his DGA win and there’s no way La La Land doesn’t win at least one of the major awards.

The best actor races are in similar boats. Denzel Washington’s surprise win at the SAG Awards definitely knocked Casey Affleck’s lead for a loop, though Emma Stone still seems like a solid bet for the Best Actress win. As does Mahershala Ali for Best Supporting Actor — with basically every precursor win (except for the Golden Globes which means literally nothing for the Oscars) that statue is as good as his. Best Supporting Actress is still very much up in the air — any one of these ladies could take the prize home, though if I had to bet I’d pick Viola Davis. This is also a perfect time to mention that for the first time ever in this category, 3 out of the 5 nominees are WOCs and isn’t that freaking amazing.

And that transitions perfectly to my last bit of commentary. I’m always critical of the industry when it comes to diversity and representation (you can love something and still want it to be better) but every year, I like to also call attention to the victories. #OscarsSoWhite won’t be trending this year and that’s definitely encouraging. Diverse stories are being told, and they’re being told in a really promising way: POCs are telling human stories about ordinary life (MoonlightFences) and extraordinary life (Hidden Figures, Lion), both unique and universal. POC directors also dominate the Best Documentary categories (4 out of 5) and three of those films center specifically around race in America.

In more industry-specific changes, Amazon becomes the first streaming service to co-distribute a Best Picture nominee (Manchester by the Sea) and Arrival gives hope to sci-fi films everywhere, representing a genre that often gets overlooked for the most prestigious prize (though admittedly not as often as the superhero genre).

However, as always, there is room for improvement. It has now been 7 years since a woman was even nominated for Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow took home the Oscar in 2010 for The Hurt Locker). And for all the talk of more diverse acting nominees, Latinos and Asians (both men and women) are still pitifully unrepresented. I’m immensely proud of all the movies about Black life in America portraying diverse characters and stories, but I would love to see that continue to expand. After all, our world is not just black and white.

We are less than three weeks away from the big night. The race is on. And I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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