Like every year, I try to outdo my batting average. I’ve been doing this since about 2003, and in that time I’ve gotten an average of about 70% correct, however I did completely strike out last year. This year should be an easier year to predict except for Best Supporting Actress, Best Animated film, Best Documentary, Visual Effects and the Sound categories. And as for the motto of this Oscar season: when in doubt, always bet on La La Land.
What will win: La La Land
What could win: Moonlight
What should win: La La Land
La La Land will likely be the biggest winner of the night, taking home the most Oscars. Hollywood loves the self-congratulatory types of movies about how awesome Hollywood dreams are, and so La La Land has this edge. However, if there is an upset here, it will go to Moonlight. It is possible that recent political turmoil could push the voters in the direction of Moonlight. They could be voting for a more important movie about persecution of outsiders in Moonlight, or they could give it to a film that is safer, and more gentle in tone in La La Land. Both are great films, and I would be happy if either one won. But if I, myself, were to do the voting, I would actually vote for La La Land as I really do believe it to be the best film of the year. It is the film that I responded to on the deepest emotional level.
1.) La La Land
dir. Damien Chazelle
In my lifetime, I’ve seen maybe a few thousand different films. I’ve seen hundreds of tragedies, some of them pretty gut-wrenching. I’ve seen my share of horror, and my share of tragedy. However, with even the most harrowing of films, I’ve never been able to shed a tear. Not one. Not ever for a single tragedy, although I did come very close with Grave of the Fireflies. I suspected it was a because of a defect or something missing in my internal wiring. This lingered in the back of my mind for decades: Maybe there’s something wrong with me. For years, I wondered if I would ever find a movie that would bring me to tears. And if I did find a movie that could get me to tears, what kind of nasty sorrow would have to be on display to get me to that emotional point?
The reason why I preface my review with this tidbit is because the floodgates finally opened with this movie. The movie that brought upon my personal waterworks was not a violent, harrowing reflection on war, nor was it a deeply troubling introspective look into human evilness. The movie that got me after thousands of tries was a movie called La La Land.
dir. Barry Jenkins
Moonlight is a story about evolution. Not evolution in a big Darwinistic sense, or even on a microbiological scale, but rather it is evolution on a personal, human level. The journey begins with a young boy thrust into a society of unforgiving cruelty which quickly teaches him the rules of Survival of the Fittest. Through many hurts, attacks, aches, and pains, the boy evolves into that of a hulking, muscular being who can survive in a tough environment that could have been thought up by Jack London, if Jack London had taken up Miami social work instead of Alaskan mountaineering. The toughness, the ripped biceps, the gold teeth, and the thin beard give Chiron the armor he needs to protect himself and hide who he truly is. A frightened and deeply confused young boy exists behind the massive facade.
dir. Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Zootopia is like George Orwell’s Animal Farm applied to race relations in modern America. It seems like the movie truly couldn’t have come at a better time, as it aims to combat the fear and divisiveness that some very specific politicians thrive on. I don’t envy parents who have to explain to their kids how fear of outsiders and nationalism, in this modern day, can be used to win an election. Zootopia is a movie that uses animals as symbols to lay out the case against such hateful thinking. Imagine a whole cartoon movie about Affirmative Action clashing with Trump’s xenophobia, but illustrated with cute bunnies and talking animals, and that’s Zootopia.
dir. Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson takes a cue from James Joyce in crafting an epic story about mundane, daily life. Granted, the subject of the mundane and ordinary are given the poetic treatment. If it weren’t beautifully poetic, Ulysses would be as pleasing to read as passing a kidney stone. Here in Paterson, ordinary household objects are focused upon as artfully as possible. The film spans a whole week in the life of a bus driver, Paterson, in the city also named Paterson, in the movie also named Paterson. Throughout the week, not much occurs at all. But not much occurs at all, so beautifully.
This list will be divided into smaller parts, as I did not quite take the time to write full-length reviews for most of the films this year. I have decided to use this opportunity to flesh out most of my thoughts with these films. The list will be released in parts everyday of this week. As much as I hate clickbait, I assure you that my purposes in dividing up my list into chunks has more to do with a reasonable word count rather than trying to cash in on some P.F. Skinner internet experiment run amok.
Runners up: Green Room, Southside With You, Kubo and the Two Strings
20.) Hacksaw Ridge
dir. Mel Gibson
Hacksaw Ridge is stylistically old-fashioned. It’s classical in the way it approaches its gung-ho patriotism and larger-than-life heroes. But what distinguishes this war film from others is the unusual story it found with Private Desmond Doss. His story is so unlike any other war story that even Cracked.com had an article a few years back that included him called The 6 Most Aggressively Badass Things Done by Pacifists. Desmond’s story is unbelievable at times, for he was essentially showing Rambo-style tactics without ever picking up a weapon.
Review by Abe Rose
Park Chan Wook’s masterful thriller, 아가씨(The Handmaiden), has nuances that I fear may be lost in translation. For instance, while the English title, The Handmaiden, refers to the principal character, Sook-Hee, the Korean title, 아가씨 (ah-ga-ssi), refers to a completely different character, Lady Hideko, who is the true fulcrum of the story. Firstly, 아가씨(ah-ga-ssi) roughly translates to meaning “Lady,” or “young woman,” and is used in a respectful sense. Secondly, it is also can be used as a pickup line, as in something akin to “Hey Baby,” and can be used either in a intimate sense or a rude sense. Thirdly, the way in which we come to explore Lady Hideko’s character largely stems from the ambiguity of her title. The film will often rewind showing the same characters from different perspectives. Using one perspective, she is cold and stoic, and by a different perspective, she is passionate and sweet. Because I am somewhat familiar with Korean, I caught this subtlety of the language, but this revelation only shed light on the fact that there are probably a great many other foreign film titles that lose charge and ambiguity through translation, meaning that I would have absolutely no idea that I missed anything important.