Two months ago, I encouraged several people to watch this year’s crop of Oscar-nominated documentary shorts. My only instruction: have tissues handy. Hard-hitting themes ranged from Syria, to end-of-life decisions in an ICU, to Syria, to the Holocaust, to Syria.
So months before the White House fired its missiles in the direction of the Middle Eastern country this week, the Academy was providing us privileged folk sitting in soft recliners with varied perspectives on the crisis that’s happening halfway around the world—where instead of privilege there are regular shellings, and instead of soft recliners there are scared children. The nominated documentaries, “The White Helmets” (the eventual winner), “Watani: My Homeland,” and “4.1 Miles” each offer a completely different take on Syria’s civil war, and each gives us reason to care. This is essential viewing. Below I give a brief synopsis for each film, including the full version of “4.1 Miles.”
I have a bit of an attachment to this film. “Stutterer”, written and directed by Benjamin Cleary, was submitted to a film festival of which I was a member of the screening committee. I loved it. Of the 100 or so films I screened that year, it was one of the best I had seen. I championed it to the programmers in hopes that they’d agree and add it to the festival’s slate. Alas, the film didn’t make the cut—not because it wasn’t good or deserving. Great films are often rejected from festivals for any number of reasons. Months later, “Stutterer” was nominated for an Oscar, along with one other film I screened for the same festival (which I also championed and was also rejected). “Stutterer” won. (I should start my own damn festival.)
Best Picture:La La Land Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences Animated Feature Film:Zootopia Cinematography: Linus Sandgren, La La Land Costume Design: Mary Zophres, La La Land Directing: Damien Chazelle, La La Land Documentary (Feature):O.J.: Made in America Documentary (Short Subject): “The White Helmets” Film Editing: Tom Cross, La La Land Foreign Language Film:The Salesman Makeup and Hairstyling: Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo, Star Trek Beyond Music (Original Score): Justin Hurwitz, La La Land Music (Original Song): Justin Hurwitz and Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, “City of Stars,” La La Land Production Design: David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, La La Land Animated Short Film: “Piper” Live Action Short Film: “La Femme et le TGV” Sound Editing: Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan, La La Land Sound Mixing: Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee, and Steve A. Morrow, La La Land Visual Effects: Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, and Dan Lemmon, The Jungle Book Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight Writing (Original Screenplay): Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Eight years later, I’m still waiting for that magical piece of mail, inviting me to join your fine organization. But that’s not keeping me from sounding off on a few Oscar categories. I’ve seen all the nominated films, and I have some thoughts that should be considered. So allow me to make your job easier. Here’s who should win. You’re welcome.
I’ve been having conversations lately with friends who aren’t quite buying into the frenzy. They may like or dislike La La Land, but either way they’re just not getting it. “Fourteen Oscar nominations? Tied for the most in history?” La La Land may be good, but it’s not a juggernaut, they might say. Its effect on our culture is hardly titanic in scale. So why all the hype?
HBO has long been at the forefront of quality TV movies. Among this year’s offerings are three based on real people, two of which are based on Tony-winning plays. Each is primed for Emmy consideration.
All the Way
Following up his Oscar-nominated performance in Trumbo and four Emmy wins for portraying Walter White on Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston reprises his Tony-winning role of LBJ in this TV adaptation of the 2014 Tony-winning Best Play. I caught this Robert Schenkkan-penned play on Broadway—liked it, but didn’t love it. Schenkkan adapted his own work for HBO, so I’m curious to see how he interpreted this story for a different medium.
Logline (courtesy of IMDb): Lyndon B. Johnson becomes the President of the United States in the chaotic aftermath of JFK’s assassination and spends his first year in office fighting to pass the Civil Rights Act.
Director: Jay Roach Screenwriter: Robert Schenkkan Cast: Bryan Cranston, Anthony Mackie, Melissa Leo, Bradley Whitford, Frank Langella Runtime: 132 min.
Today is the 87th anniversary of the first Academy Awards ceremony on May 16, 1929. The ceremony took place in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (a stone’s throw from the current site of the Oscars, the Dolby Theatre) and honored films released between August 1927 and August 1928. About 270 people attended the private dinner. Unlike today, winners were announced three months in advance. Here’s a quick snapshot of the ceremony:
Cost of a Guest Ticket: $5 (or $69 by today’s standards) Number of Statues Awarded: 15 Length of Ceremony: 15 minutes
The last two years, we saw something special—and rare—happen at the Oscars: the Best Song category actually meant something to many viewers. Two years ago, we couldn’t get “Let It Go” from Frozen out of our heads (but let’s be honest, did it ever really leave our heads?). That was the year the Idina Menzel tuner left Pharrell’s toe-tapping contender “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 in the dust. Then last year, we saw John Legend and Common force the Dolby to its feet with their performance of winning song “Glory” from Selma, outpacing another fan favorite, The Lego Movie‘s “Everything Is Awesome.”
This year, high-profile artists like Lady Gaga, Diane Warren, Sam Smith, and The Weeknd are in the mix, but their songs don’t have the same appeal as those from recent memory. Still, this year’s diverse lot of songs—ranging from R&B to classical to a James Bond anthem—is worth a listen before this Sunday’s Oscars.