Oscar Nominations, 2017: Predictions

E:  How has this day come already?  There almost seems like there’s too much going on to think about movies.  But hey, by all means.  Let’s have an abrupt focus shift from politics to entertainment as Hollywood picks out what they want us to remember them by, what they consider the best and the brightest lights of the past crazy year.  Tomorrow is nomination morning.

That’s right folks.  Ready for a little Oscar speculation?

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Hollywood. Foreign. Press.: Golden Globe Reactions

E: Usually, the Golden Globes live up to their reputation as Hollywood’s biggest party, spun out by a loose and comfortable host and filled with goofy drunken moments, establishing running gags and generally distinguishing themselves from the more formal and less star-centric Oscars.  Instead of a vast theater, the event is held in an intimate ballroom; you can hear the noise from the bar from the stage, and stars tuck in together at tables, charming and brilliant and bright.

This year felt a little different, though.  The attendees penchant for black and metallic dresses, mixed with the huge round centerpieces of orange roses, lent a dark Halloween glamor to the event, and throughout the night, speeches referencing our current political situation made sure it would be talked about today not for who wore what or tripped on the stage, but what He Who Must Not Be (and was not) Named tweets in intemperate response after the telecast.

Oh, there were great dresses (Brie Larsen, Emma Stone, Hailee Steinfeld, Annette Benning, Claire Foy, Viola Davis), great tuxes (I have yet to see Donald Glover’s sitcom Atlanta, but the man must be a genius if he can pull off brown velvet) and moving speeches (Tom Hiddleston, Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy and Viola Davis again) and some truly memorable presenting (Kristin Wiig and Steve Carrell for animation!).  And I cried like a baby during the tribute to Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.  All that aside, I’m just going to quickly take a look at the show from the Oscar races’ perspective, because my time is short and the impact there is big.

Some context; as you may know, La La Land took the festival circuit by storm and was considered the obvious, runaway frontrunner (Hollywood loves nothing so much as movies about Hollywood) until it was suddenly overlooked for the SAG ensemble.  In a flurry, pundits debated whether the charming, light mood  simply didn’t fit the nation’s post-election gloom, or if it was only that the SAG nominating committee didn’t consider the film an ensemble work.  After all, they did nominate the two lead actors.  At any rate, no movie goes on to win Best Picture at Oscar without also being nominated for SAG, and so the waters muddied.  I felt that the new frontrunner  had to be the searingly beautiful working class dramedy Manchester By the Sea.  It’s smart and unpretentious, filled with indelible performances, and it speaks to those parts of us which are broken and may never mend.

But with the Hollywood Foreign Press, at least, hopeful dreamers are still in fashion.  La La Land took Best Picture: Musical or Comedy, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay – the big five.  (In fact, it surprises me to learn that La La Land took home more Globes than any movie ever before — seven, when you add in score and song.)  It’s unlikely to repeat that feat at the Oscars (Casey Affleck is likely to repeat his win in Drama unless challenged by Denzel Washington, while Gosling will struggle to get a nomination) but it has the potential to take the other four.  In fact, the entire opening number was a love letter to the film, an interesting choice since the movie hasn’t even opened in most of the country.  Instead of Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight (a gay black coming of age story) took the Drama prize.  All together, it was a strong statement.

In the acting categories, we may have gotten a little clarity.  Affleck, as I said, cemented his place as the frontrunner; a win at the SAG should make that incontrovertible. The combination of Emma Stone’s win in Comedy, and Natalie Portman’s moderately surprising loss to Isabelle Huppert in Drama is very good news for Miss Stone’s chances at the big show.  The fact that both Affleck and Stone gave sweet and personal speeches will work in their favor as well. I don’t know if I’d have said there was an obvious frontrunner in Supporting Actress, but with her win and powerful speech five time nominee Viola Davis has definitely vaulted into that status.  I think there’s now no frontrunner in Supporting Actor: the critics prizes have been eaten up by Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali, but Globe winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Nocturnal Animals is an unknown whose nomination came as a surprise and wasn’t repeated at SAG or the Critics Choice.  I’m sure he’s talented, but either through shyness or shock he wasted the opportunity to introduce himself to a wider audience with his mumbling speech, even failing to make eye-contact through the camera.  I’m not saying that to be mean; the speeches matter.  The good will they generate can boost a nominee’s chances hugely.  We’ll have to see if Ali roars back at SAG, what that speech might sound like, and of course who gets nominated for Oscar.

So there we are.  Will La La Land hold on to its spot at the top of the pile?  Is the Hollywood mood more hopeful than expected, more determined than every to cling to their best self-image?

As a quick aside, the dominance (or lack there of) of La La Land means that Lin-Manuel Miranda may have to wait another year or two to complete his EGOT (or MacPEGOT, as some would have it); Moana‘s “How Far I’ll Go” lost out on Best Song to La La Land‘s “City of Stars.”  My favorite part of that film’s speeches, actually, came in the repeated shout outs to popular choreographer Mandy Moore (not to be confused with the actress, nominated in the television category).  As I wait fearfully for news of my beloved So You Think You Can Dance‘s fate, I take solace that at least my favorite dancers and choreographers will go on doing work that I might sometime get to see somewhere.  Maybe the over all message of this telecast is that we need to take our joy where we can; we have to hold on to the good with both hands.

What’s Opening While You’re Busy Seeing the Stuff That Officially Came Out in December: January 2017 Movie Preview

E: Ah, January. A prime movie-going month in which almost nothing worth seeing actually opens.

C: Right, because some of us haven’t even seen all the things that opened in November yet.

E: And of course, because actual mega-blockbusters (hello, Rogue One) will continue to dominate the box office at least through this month.  And also because lots of cool movies faux-opened in December.

C: Meaning that they premiered sneakily on a few screens to qualify for Oscars.

E: For example, Hidden Figures and A Monster Calls — both of which look terrific to me and get great reviews from critics — expand into wide release on January 6th. We already reviewed them in our December preview, but they may not have arrived at a theater near you till now.  There’s Patriot’s Day, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Silence, and also Gold, in which Matthew McConaughey sports a Trump-ian comb over, going into wide release at the end of the month.

C: Wow, and I already thought McConaughey was unbearable to watch.

E: Yet it can get worse.  Also?  I guarantee you that both the true and faux-December flicks (including obvious blockbusters like Rogue One) are going to be far better movies than the few ones that actually come out in January.  Prepare yourself for an anemic preview, in terms of both film quantity and quality, and comfort yourself with the knowledge that there’s great stuff already out there.

C: Way to tantalize the people, E. Now read our post about the tepid losers you won’t see! At least it’s very, very short.

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SAG Reactions: Whoa, There, Voters

E: I guess I have to figure out what Captain Fantastic is after all.  Now that it nudged La La Land – previously thought to be the frontrunner for Best Picture – out of a the Best Ensemble category, I can’t continue to ignore it.  (Of course, writing that I was ignoring it implies that I knew it existed before Monday, which isn’t exactly the case.  Rather sad, since it turns out that like Hell or High Water, another mysterious awards contender, it opened in August.)

Okay, so SAG was way off Oscar last year; it will be fascinating to see if the trend continues.  They’re certainly a good distance from the Golden Globes, with only 2 films overlapping the two lists.  2 films!  That’s crazy.  Frontrunners fall, sleepers push to the foreground. Let’s break it down.

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My Life As A What?: Golden Globe Nomination Reactions

E: Of all the movies snubbed by the Hollywood Foreign Press, my mind didn’t leap immediately to Martin Scorsese’s Silence, or to Tom Hanks’ starring role in Sully, or one of the many dazzling songs in Moana skipped over for a couple of unknowns.  No, the first thing that blew my mind was seeing Pixar’s stunning Finding Dory (not only one of the year’s best reviewed films but also currently the box office champion of 2016) passed over for My Life As A Zucchini.

Yes.  That’s right. My Life As a Zucchini.  An admittedly charming French stop motion animation flick about orphans and the power of love trumped the highest grossing movie in America.

You can not make this stuff up.  Or rather, you could, but no one would ever believe it, and that might be motto for 2016 when you think about it.

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Oscar Flicks and Rogue Blockbusters: December 2016 Movie Preview

M: Star Wars. Oscars. Assassins. December starts off slowly, but once it gets going it’s got it all.

E: If a film’s going to be eligible for Oscar, it has to play for at least a week before the year’s out.  So Christmas, particularly, is packed full of last minute contenders jostling for attention.

M: It’s been a few years since I voiced this complaint, so I’ll do it again now. I hate the system that allows movies to be released on literally two screens (one in NY, one in LA) in December, then get release wide right around when people are actually voting for the Oscars. My proposal is this: to qualify for Oscars, at the time of the voting deadline the total number of screens your film is being shown on must be equal or higher in the calendar year you are qualifying for. So, if you release on two screens in December, you can’t expand beyond two until after the voting is complete. If you want to be eligible in 2016, really be a 2016 movie.

E: Thanks, M; that was not predictable at all. You get that it’s strategy, right?  Studios want their movies to be fresh in voters’ minds when they vote. Almost never does a movie from the first half of the year get Oscar attention.  I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying, that’s the game.

M: That’s my point. The attention span of the Oscar nominators and voters is so insanely small that studios play to it, and movies that are really 2017 movies end up winning awards for 2016 because they play the game. I’d prefer to try to minimize the game playing, or at least punish people for the manipulation.

E: I’m not sure it really qualifies as manipulation.  That said, the real point is that there’s so much good stuff in December; it’s a heady mix of blockbusters and grown up dramas, and I for one couldn’t be happier about it.

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Questions I Have After Watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

C: Since I saw this movie yesterday, my brain’s been aswirl with pressing questions, like a dark smoky cloud with random flashes in it. Short of twitterbombing J.K. Rowling, this post seemed like the best way to alleviate that pressure.

Advanced Warning: all I’ve got here are questions, not answers, so buckle up for some heavy mental turbulence. (No, I’m not bothering with a spoiler warning. If you wanted to avoid spoilers, why did you even click on a post with this title? That one’s on you.)

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  1. Is this business about “physiological differences” between wizards and Muggles* (a) straight-up midichlorian bullcrap, or (b) faulty 1920s wizard science? I’d like B to be correct as I don’t see how it makes any sense, what with Muggleborns being a thing, and since the idea that wizards are a slightly different species sounds straight out of a Grindelwald or Voldemort propaganda poster. But, if I’ve learned anything from reading and watching a lot of historical fiction, it’s that all the good people in the past had Correct Modern Ideas and only bad guys held Outdated Notions. Newt’s the one who says this, so that’s unfortunately a point for Explanation A.
  2. Is being a Legilimens like being a Metamorphmagus? In other words, is it a special skill you can be born with, that other wizards can use spellwork to approximate? That’s the best explanation I could come up with for why Queenie could just read people’s minds — sometimes could not help reading minds — even though in the books, Legilimency was presented as a thing you do with a wand and an incantation.
  3. Why Newt Scamander so bad at catching (and keeping) fantastic beasts? I mean, I get that this is the driving plot of the movie, but seriously. He is the Beasts Guy. He literally wrote (or will write) the book on them. He should probably have a case with locks that work. He should probably not be climbing a chandelier to chase a niffler instead of using his dang wand.
  4. Speaking of fantastic beasts: at what point does their intelligence make them not so much beasts as people? I’m thinking particularly of bowtruckles here, since Newt has several conversations with the one who spends most of the movie in his pocket. In the original Fantastic Beasts textbook, Rowling mentions a few that talk, IIRC. How is intelligence measured in this world? At what point does a “beast” or “creature” qualify for status as a non-human people group e.g. centaurs, goblins, or mermaids? Or is there even a legal distinction there? This whole gray area is so rife with potential problems and abuses! (Update: This is addressed at length in the introduction to the original Fantastic Beasts publication from 2001. Yay, answers! Short version: it’s complicated.)
  5. Speaking of which, what is the deal with goblins in this movie? For starters, I’m not 100% sure who was a goblin and who wasn’t (the nightclub singer, for instance?). But I’m pretty sure the shady nightclub owner was a goblin, keeping up the pattern that all goblins Rowling’s characters have dealings with turn out to shady backstabbers. So they’re a race of gold-loving shady backstabbers? Problematic, Rowling.
  6. Was that elevator operator a free house elf? Because he was definitely wearing a snazzy little uniform — a.k.a. clothes. I sort of love the idea that maybe there is a free elf community in 1920s New York, but I also wonder if it was just a mistake (or he was another species). We only got a quick glimpse.
  7. Was Ariana Dumbledore an Obscurial? I went back and reread the relevant section of Deathly Hallows and it seems possible, though she only started repressing her powers after being attacked by Muggles. She was 14 when she accidentally killed her mother** which would make her older than the recorded Obscurials mentioned in Fantastic Beasts, but they kept her condition a secret so that doesn’t mean she wasn’t.
  8. Can adult wizards stop using their powers? Is the Obscurus only something that happens if you are a kid and prone to uncontrolled magical outbursts? The only case in point I can think of is Merope, and she died, but more of childbirth and being sad I think, so that doesn’t really prove anything.
  9. How is there only one wizarding school for all of North America? You think Hogwarts has staffing problems — just try hiring professors for a school with 10,000 teen wizards.
  10. Were they making a statement by having the two leads be so awkward? Whether it’s how the parts were written, or how Eddie Redmayne (Newt) and Katherine Waterston (Tina) acted and were directed, both came across as extremely socially awkward, timid, and just odd. Obviously this wasn’t by accident, but I’m wondering about the purpose behind this atypical choice. Was this a way of differentiating them from the original, confident and extroverted HP trio? Or going even further, a kind of “awkward people can be heroes too” message? (Like, “what if Neville and Luna were the stars of HP?” If so, props because that sounds great.)
  11. Why did the rain only affect Jacob when he stepped out in it, while seeming to work on people just looking out the window? If only people who touched the rainwater had their memories wiped, MACUSA would still have a pretty big problem on their hands at the end of the movie. (Also, what about government wizards who were out in the rain? Wizards aren’t immune to Obliviation!)
  12. Related: Why the heck did they let Jacob erase his memories? When you see injustice, you don’t just say “okay, I guess that’s how it’s got to be.” Newt has already established that he thinks the New Yorkers have a backwards attitude toward No-majs. The sisters clearly came around to this viewpoint. We know that in Britain, some Muggles are allowed to know about the wizarding world (family of Muggleborns, romantic partners, etc.). I always hate the fantasy trope of “now you must forget the magic thing, or your humdrum life will be ruined,” but here it literally feels like kowtowing to bigotry!

As I hope is already clear to those who know me, I truly enjoyed this movie. But these questions need answers. And no, I will not just go look it up on Pottermore. It’s time for some old-fashioned close reading and theory-spinning, people!

*I’m going to keep calling them Muggles unless I need to refer to the U.S. wizards’ attitude towards non-magical people, because at this point I just can’t get used to “No-maj.”
**Dumbledore’s mom: one of the thousands of Victorian women named Kendra. Um, sure, Rowling.