Oscar Predictions 2017

As someone who loves movies and hopes to one day make them, one of my favorite hobbies is analyzing movie awards. I think it’s fascinating to try and judge which movies critics and in this case, Academy voters, will deem the best. Not to brag, but I’ve been reasonably successful in my previous attempts, with two thirds of my picks being correct last year, and with all my picks in the major categories being correct the two years before that. (I only started predicting every category last year.) This year, I thought I would share my predictions in case anyone is interested or wants to debate them with me. I’ve predicted my favorite movie of the year, La La Land, in eleven categories. I think it’s unlikely that it will win that many, but if it does, it would only be the fourth film in Oscar history to do so, after Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. La La Land has already tied the all time record for nominations (fourteen) with All About Eve and Titanic, so the concept of it tying the record for wins is definitely not out of the question. If you’re wondering why I would predict it in eleven categories if I think it’s unlikely to win, it’s because on an individual basis, it’s a strong contender in each category I’ve predicted it in, and as such, it’s harder to predict which categories it will not win than which it will. In other words, my predictions are what I think will win, but I’m not necessarily confident about all of them. Here are my predictions for the 89th Academy Awards:

Best Picture:
Will Be: La La Land
Could Be: Moonlight

Best Actor:
Will Be: Denzel Washington, Fences
Could Be: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress:
Will Be: Emma Stone, La La Land
Could Be: Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Best Supporting Actor:
Will Be: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Could Be: Dev Patel, Lion

Best Supporting Actress:
Will Be: Viola Davis, Fences
Could Be: Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Best Animated Film
Will Be: Zootopia
Could Be: Kubo and the Two Strings

Best Cinematography:
Will Be: La La Land
Could Be: Moonlight

Best Costume Design:
Will Be: La La Land
Could Be: Jackie

Best Director:
Will Be: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Could Be: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Best Documentary Feature:
Will Be: O.J.: Made in America
Could Be: I Am Not Your Negro

Best Documentary Short:
Will Be: The White Helmets
Could Be: Joe’s Violin

Best Film Editing:
Will Be: La La Land
Could Be: Arrival

Best Foreign Language Film:
Will Be: The Salesman
Could Be: Toni Erdmann

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
Will Be: Star Trek Beyond
Could Be: Suicide Squad

Best Original Score:
Will Be: La La Land
Could Be: Moonlight

Best Original Song:
Will Be: City of Stars, La La Land
Could Be: How Far I’ll Go, Moana

Best Production Design:
Will Be: La La Land
Could Be: Hail, Caesar!

Best Animated Short Film:
Will Be: Piper
Could Be: Blind Vaysha

Best Live Action Short Film:
Will Be: Ennemis Interieurs
Could Be: Silent Nights

Best Sound Editing:
Will Be: Hacksaw Ridge
Could Be: La La Land

Best Sound Mixing:
Will Be: La La Land
Could Be: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Visual Effects:
Will Be: The Jungle Book
Could Be: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Will Be: Moonlight
Could Be: Arrival

Best Original Screenplay:
Will Be: La La Land
Could Be: Manchester by the Sea

 

Moana

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My rating: 5/5

“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter. With the laugh comes the tears and in developing motion pictures or television shows, you must combine all the facts of life— drama, pathos, and humor.” -Walt Disney

The Disney company has always focused on delivering the best family-friendly entertainment the movie industry has to offer, and Moana continues that trend. Moana is a fresh, funny, and brilliantly animated film with all the heart, music, and majesty of a Disney classic. It takes a familiar story concept and breathes new life into it with entertaining, three-dimensional characters, some amazing visuals, and the best soundtrack I’ve heard all year.

Moana’s plot concerns the titular character’s journey to reverse a curse caused by a demigod named Maui, who stole an object called the Heart of Te Fiti from its home island. Although it may at first seem like a generic hero’s journey plot, it actually proves to be quite original, adding its own twists and depth to create an entirely new story. Talented voice actors complement intricate character animation, adding up to entertaining, inspired characters with personality to spare. In addition, the Polynesian culture that forms the story’s backdrop doesn’t just stay in the background; it’s an integral part of the plot, characters, visuals, and music. For example, all the actors are Polynesian, there are extended musical sequences entirely in Polynesian, the photorealistic animation makes you feel like you’re really in the Pacific islands, and the whole film feels like a Polynesian myth, with strong integration of Polynesian mythology and culture fully immersing you in its world. Complementing the story, the visuals are spectacular. The cinematography combined with the animation makes some truly beautiful shots that look like they could be framed and put in a museum.

While Moana is masterfully directed and excels on every level, the real star of the film is the music, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina. It’s a perfect blend of modern musical and lyrical techniques, traditional Polynesian music, and Disney’s traditional formula, feeling classic and new at the same time. The music perfectly encapsulates and expresses every emotion and story beat, as well as powerfully conveying the majesty and grandeur of the film as a whole.

A refreshingly original take on a time-honored story framework, Moana doesn’t just approximate a Disney classic, it is a Disney classic. In fact, it’s the exact kind of movie that made me love movies in the first place. Disney has always been at the cutting edge of entertainment, and particularly animation, and their best stories have always combined the best artistry that movies have to offer to tell stories that speak to the deepest levels of the human soul. They inspire us to chase our dreams, to never give up, to value friendships, and to bring out the best in each other. They remind us that even though the world is a dark and evil place, good can, and will, always triumph. Moana is an authentic masterpiece that continues that grand storytelling tradition. Walt Disney would be proud.

Information:

Release date | November 23, 2016

MPAA Rating | PG (for peril, some scary images, and brief thematic elements)

Director | John Musker & Ron Clements

Distributor | Disney

Arrival

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2.5/5

One thing I love about movies is when they make me think. I don’t necessarily have to agree with their conclusions, I just have to be compelled to examine or question something I may not have otherwise. Arrival is a film that attempts to do that to its audience. It incorporates complex themes about how we view life, how we communicate, and what’s truly important. However, it didn’t leave me thinking about those things. It left me thinking about what aspects of the movie made the least amount of sense. While its acting, cinematography, and visual effects are all suitably gripping, Arrival suffers as a story, starting off with potential, but doing more to confuse its audience than answer any of their questions.

In order for me to explain, I will have to discuss certain aspects of the film’s plot. So, consider this a spoiler warning. If you have not yet seen this film, read at your own risk.

Arrival is the story of Louise, a linguistics expert who is contracted by the federal government to decipher the language of an alien race that has landed on earth. When she is unsuccessful at figuring out their spoken language, she attempts to communicate using written language. She discovers that the aliens’ written language does not work the same way as humans’ language does. Instead of having words arranged in linear sentences, the aliens express an idea or sentence in one complex circular symbol. While this is an interesting aspect on its own, the film takes it a step further. We learn that the aliens’ conception of the world, and specifically time, is the same as the way they use written language. By that, I mean that in the same way they can see the whole message in one symbol, they can see their whole life at once. They can see the future. But the movie doesn’t stop there. When Louise learns their language, she gains the ability to see the future, too. This is based on a concept called the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. This hypothesis says that the structure of a person’s language affects their view of the world. While this idea is interesting, the lengths to which Arrival takes it are absurd. The idea that learning a language could give a human the ability to see the future is so unrealistic that it destroys all suspension of disbelief in anything else the film presents. Now, in another movie or show, an idea like this could possibly work. For instance, in the show Doctor Who, The Doctor famously says, “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually — from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint — it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly… timey-wimey… stuff.” Now, Doctor Who is a comedic show that isn’t meant to be realistic. The makers of the show know that nothing in it could really happen, and they expect their audience to know this as well. Arrival, however, is supposed to be a realistic science fiction movie whose concepts are ostensibly based in real-world science. It’s supposed to be grounded in reality.

In addition to the aforementioned problem, Arrival suffers from some other issues. The climactic moment of the film, the part that is supposed to be the most revelatory, is actually the most confusing. The central question of the film, why the aliens are on earth at all, is only superficially answered. Basically, they want to help humanity so that eventually, humanity can help them. However, it’s never explained why advanced beings that can see the future and travel across light years of space in self-sustaining floating pods would need humanity’s help. In addition, it’s not clear how the aliens help humanity. The film’s explanation is that the aliens help humanity by giving humanity the aliens’ language, but it is never really explained why the the aliens’ language would be helpful, other than that it would let humanity see the future. While some might think this would be a good thing, many others would view the ability to see the future as a curse. Arrival never explores this idea, and simply assumes its audience will find it a good thing. So, the aliens came to earth to trade the ability to see the future for some unknown thing they will inexplicably need later. That’s the climactic revelation, which to me, seems incredibly anti-climactic.

Now, during all this, some other countries where the aliens landed, such as China, are planning to attack the aliens, thinking that they are hostile. Louise uses her future-seeing powers to figure out the Chinese general’s phone number, and then calls him. She is able to convince him to hold off the attack by telling him something he told her in her vision of the future, a future that could only happen if the Chinese hold off their attack. This is clearly a paradox. Neither event can exist without the other.

Despite what you may be thinking right now, there actually were elements of Arrival that I enjoyed. On a personal level, I enjoyed the way the movie intelligently deconstructs and explains different aspects of language, since I am a person who is passionate about the English language. Arrival also anchors its complex intellectual themes with emotional ones, particularly a daughter of Louise’s who dies of cancer, and a husband who leaves her. At first, you think this is actually in the past, but eventually it’s revealed that this happens in the future. Louise knows all this will happen, but she still chooses to marry and have her daughter. The message of the movie seems to be that even though life, and human relationships, are fleeting, they are still worth living and having.

On a technical level, Arrival excels. The actors, cinematography and music are excellent as well, making the atmosphere suitably tense and gripping. However, the film tends to jump around between different scenes, which left me confused at times as to what was going on.

Denis Villeneuve is an extremely talented director, and his skill definitely shows in Arrival. It’s visually engaging and technically proficient. I’m sure it will be up for multiple awards at the Oscars. However, when I see a movie, I want it to make sense, and I want to be able to understand it. Arrival is a confusing story that demands to be taken seriously while assuming its audience will blindly accept concepts that are, frankly, ludicrous. It’s a movie that wants to make you think, but will probably just leave you perplexed.

Information:

Release Date | November 11, 2016

MPAA Rating | PG-13 (For brief strong language)

Director | Denis Villeneuve

Distributor | Paramount

The Accountant

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My rating: 3.5/5

I never really know what a movie is going to be like until I watch it. Some movies grab my attention and present an intriguing premise and riveting characters. Others have a thoughtful message that challenges the audience into thinking about things in a way they might not have otherwise. Still others are full of convoluted plot developments that make less and less sense as the film goes on, leaving the viewer utterly frustrated. There are even movies that seem completely pointless, almost as if the filmmakers didn’t know what they were trying to convey.

Then, there are movies that do all of those things.

The Accountant is just such a movie. It starts out with an original premise and fascinating main character, compellingly brought to life by Ben Affleck, but ultimately amounts to little more than a generic action movie.

The titular accountant is Christian Wolff, a man who practices creative accounting and money laundering for criminal organizations, as well as being a lethally trained fighter. He also has autism, which is probably the most interesting aspect of the film. As an autistic myself, I am always skeptical about movies that tackle the subject, since few, if any, do it accurately and without stereotyping. However, the makers of The Accountant apparently did at least some of their homework, because the film’s message regarding autism is generally one of neurodiversity and acceptance. In an early scene, Christian’s parents are recommended not to attempt to make him normal, but to accommodate his needs and allow him to develop at his own pace. However, his father disregards this good advice, and decides to try to over-stimulate him as much as possible to force him to overcome his perceived challenges. This approach is shown to be abusive, even causing Christian to resort to extreme coping methods in adulthood, but the film almost suggests that this abusive approach worked. After all, it apparently gave him his fighting skills and we don’t really see many negative side effects, such as the post-traumatic stress disorder that many autistic adults struggle with in real life. There are also some stereotypical elements to Christian Wolff’s character. He’s a math savant, for instance. Can anyone think of an autistic movie character that wasn’t a math savant? Neither can I. In addition, he’s uninterested in a romantic relationship. While I find any movie without a romance to be a refreshing change, (way too many movies have unnecessary romances) it may be seen as problematic to some autistic viewers because it reinforces the popular misconception that autistic people are either uninterested in or incapable of romantic relationships. Otherwise, Christian Wolff is a character I really like, and a character I can relate to. He’s extremely intelligent, but socially awkward, and he has trouble understanding the not-always-obvious meanings of what other people say. In addition, he uses his gifts to his advantage while coping with his challenges, and the viewer is never given the impression that he would be better off without his autism.

On an artistic level, The Accountant starts out well, and kept me engaged for at least the first half. After that, I started noticing some problems. One problem is Christian’s propensity for killing his opponents. While the film thankfully never links this to his autism or a lack of empathy, (another misconception about autism) it does call into question Christian’s moral character. The film tries to convey that he has a moral code and only kills certain people, such as murderers, but the ethics in play are vague at best. Additionally, there are far too many disparate plot threads, and overall the plot doesn’t really go anywhere. The main plot is about Christian uncovering a scheme involving a company he did accounting for, but nothing especially interesting is revealed, there are almost no personal stakes for Christian, and his motivations are never as clear as they should be. The plot only gets worse as the film goes on, with the climactic scene being disappointingly lacking, and the ultimate resolution seeming too quick and easy. There is also a subplot involving a U.S. Treasury agent that adds little to the film.

Aside from the problems with the plot, the film is pretty entertaining. The actors are all well-cast. Ben Affleck is great in the lead role, making his character likable and generating empathy from the audience, despite being mostly anti-social in the movie. He’s easily the best thing about the film. Anna Kendrick plays an employee of a company that hires Christian, and the only person in the film who really befriends him. She also gives a good performance, and the dynamic between the two characters created some entertaining and humorous situations. As a U.S. Treasury Agent, J.K. Simmons once again proves his acting ability, but was largely underused. Jon Bernthal as one of the villains is another standout. Other high points in the film are the action scenes, which were well-staged and executed. The technical aspects of the film were also competent.

Ultimately, while The Accountant is an entertaining film with an intriguing premise and a great central character, it has too many problems to be much more than an action film with a twist and nothing to say. The final scene tries to make a statement about how autism is ultimately just a difference and we should all be more understanding, but nothing in the film really supports or leads to the statement. While it’s a great statement, it seems tacked on. The film also tries to suggest that while Christian’s actions are illegal, and sometimes wrong, it’s okay because he’s a good person and does some good things. That’s a message I can’t fully get behind. It would be one thing if the film presented a flawed character and asked you to try to understand him. It’s quite another when it seems to be trying to excuse his flaws. However, I have to give the film points for its better-than-average treatment of autism as well as Ben Affleck’s performance as one of my new favorite movie characters. All this adds up to a movie I really like, but can’t help being deeply frustrated by.

Information:

Release Date | October 14, 2016

MPAA Rating | R (For strong violence and language throughout)

Director | Gavin O’Connor

Distributor | Warner Bros.

Inside Out

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My rating: 5/5

Over the years, Pixar Animation Studios has proven that it is one of the most daring and original production studios in Hollywood. Despite the fact that their most recent films do not fully live up to that reputation, their latest film, newly out on DVD and Blu-Ray, proves that their best days are not yet behind them. Inside Out is a stunningly smart and original story that combines exciting action and humor with deeply moving pathos and drama, creating a film that ranks with the best of Pixar’s classics. The film is set inside the mind of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley, and the characters are her emotions, Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear. The emotions live in headquarters and basically guide her through her daily life. The interactions between what the emotions are doing, what happens in Riley’s mind, and what happens to her on the outside are nothing short of brilliant. The cleverness of the film considerably ramps up after Joy and Sadness are accidentally stranded outside headquarters and must find their way back. Try as they might, the other emotions simply cannot keep Riley emotionally stable. Most of the film is about Joy and Sadness’s journey back to headquarters, and their adventure is probably what will most appeal to kids about this film. It is fun, exciting, funny, and expertly paced. Adults will appreciate the humor and sophistication of the story. All the voice actors are excellent as well, the standouts to me being Phyllis Smith as Sadness, and Lewis Black as Anger. What I like best about this film however, is its originality, from its setting and characters, to its conflict and resolution. I cannot give away the details of the latter, but suffice to say that the climactic scene is one of the most moving scenes I have ever seen in a recent film. The film takes the idea of emotions and executes it in the best way possible, and it does so in such a way that both adults and children can enjoy it. The animation is beautiful. The plot balances fun and adventure with depth and maturity. It will make you laugh and cry. It will keep you on the edge of your seat and force you to think about what you have seen. Inside Out is truly like nothing you have ever seen before.

Information:

Release Date | June 19, 2015

MPAA Rating | PG (for mild thematic elements and some action)

Director | Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen

Distributor | Disney

Steve Jobs

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My rating: 5/5

I honestly cannot imagine what the world would be like without Steve Jobs. As I write this on my MacBook, with my iPod in my pocket and my iPad next to me, it is easy to see his impact on the world. But beneath his public persona of brilliant innovator who invents the future, what was Steve Jobs actually like? Who was he, really? What motivated him to change the world? The creators of the film Steve Jobs, a dramatized examination of the titular technology mogul, try to answer these questions with one of the most intriguing, thought-provoking, and entertaining films of the year so far. A compelling and fascinating character study of an influential figure, Steve Jobs is a dynamic showcase of brilliant writing, acting, and directing. While leading actor Michael Fassbender may not look like Jobs, he absolutely nails the role, giving a performance that is equal parts calculating genius and tortured antihero, a corporate dictator who hides his flaws and vulnerabilities beneath an exterior of steel. He powers his way through the film, completely dominating every scene with his formidable presence. The rest of the cast is excellent, as well, especially Kate Winslet as Jobs’s assistant, Joanna Hoffman, and a surprisingly good performance from Seth Rogen as Jobs’s former partner Steve Wozniak. Of course, a great actor is nothing without a great writer. Once again proving himself to be one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood, Aaron Sorkin (who won a much-deserved Oscar for his work on The Social Network) has crafted a screenplay that is as cuttingly sharp as it is electrically energetic. Structured into three acts, each set at a different product launch, the script is less focused on what Steve Jobs did as it is on who Steve Jobs was. As a result, it may leave some viewers behind, especially those who were hoping for a more documentary style approach. However, anyone else should be more than satisfied. Adapting a script like that for the screen is no easy task, but director Danny Boyle pulls it off with élan and visual stylishness. The cinematography is impressive, the editing is smooth, and the music by relative newcomer Daniel Pemberton is an elegant balance between classical-sounding orchestra and more modern electronic elements. However, the remarkable craftsmanship of the film only complements its complexity. Here we do not see the Steve Jobs most people think of. Here, he is a charismatic and innovative dreamer who built a digital empire, and an egotistical driver ready to steamroll anyone in his way in order to achieve his goals. Anyone wanting a typical, inspirational biopic will be disappointed. For everyone else, however, Steve Jobs is a unique and brilliantly crafted masterpiece that will surpass your expectations and make you think about it long after you have left the theater.

Information:

Release Date | October 23, 2015

MPAA Rating | R (For language)

Director | Danny Boyle

Distributor | Universal