The film that gave me the biggest cinematic recharge this year was Damien Chazelle's chancy yet unspeakably glorious La La Land, which, by virtue of its early frontrunner status as Best Picture, got a big ol' target painted on its back for no good reason. This year, movie fans were either Team La La or Team Moonlight, referring to Barry Jenkins' widely loved character study of a gay and closeted black boy's progress from childhood to man. I appreciated many things about Jenkins' bravery and filmmaking prowess, yet I feel strangely distanced (and frankly a little bored) by the movie and its inexpressive main character (whose journey I could not completely buy into). All of this contributed to that now-famous clusterfuck at the end of this year's Oscar ceremony, when a Price Waterhouse screw-up of gigantic proportions led to the wrong film being announced as Best Picture (with La La Land, despite winning six awards including Best Director and Best Actress, becoming another victim of the preferential ballot, and the first 3-minute Best Picture winner in Oscar history). Part of me, though, is happy that a small, mini-budgeted indie like Moonlight actually became the winner; maybe, as a result, we'll see more intimate movies like it in the future runnings for Best Picture.
But I'm still in the La La Land cheering section. Chazelle's nostalgic, daring film just floored me with its energy, sweetness, and vivacious craft. Emma Stone ended up besting a formidable slate of competing actresses, totally deserving her Oscar as the film's MVP, though Gosling was very much her perfect match. The art directors' and costumers' bright colors, the daring camera moves by cinematographer Linus Sandgren, and Justin Hurwitz's gorgeous score all ensured this movies quality from the get-go, even if Chazelle's scripting let the film down a tiny bit. I'm as cynical as they come, and I can confidently tell you that this is the movie of the year--a movie lover's movie, eaten up with an adoration of what makes the art form lavish and exciting. Screw the bitter naysayers of the Oscar season: with its often dark and always enraptured examination of things that might have been, La La Land captured my heart from its first frame and never let go. It continues to do so with many others moviegoers, and I'm happy to be in this cabal.
So many of the best movies this year got a little love from the critical community, but not nearly enough in the end. Movies like Whit Stillman's endlessly clever Jane Austen adaptation Love and Friendship, Mike Mills' revealingly autobiographical 20th Century Women, Jim Jarmusch's gleaming celebration of the average man's creative spirit Paterson, Ira Sachs' aching tale of a dissolving teenage friendship Little Men, Ken Loach's devastating indictment of the UK's unforgiving health care bureaucracy I, Daniel Blake, the Barack-and-Michelle first date movie Southside With You, Jon Favreau's blockbuster remake of The Jungle Book, and the crushing biopic Christine (with the unforgettable Rebecca Hall putting a sure face to a famously mysterious victim of depression) were all largely edged out of the running for year-end acclaim. Yet there was still a little room for Kenneth Lonergan's bleak but emotionally effusive Manchester by the Sea to send that underappreciated filmmaker and his low-key yet immanently deserving star Casey Affleck into the winner's circle.
Sadly, though, one of the year's most undeniably notable films, writer/producer James Schamus' directorial debut Indignation, culled from a Philip Roth novel, was unjustly forgotten by nearly everyone. I correct that injustice here by giving Schamus and co-star Tracy Letts (stunning as a snooty university dean) their due. I also concurred with the Academy that Viola Davis deserved her Supporting Actress Oscar in reprising her stage role as Denzel Washington's neglected wife in the star's adaptation of August Wilson's Fences. I also agreed with them that the excellent documentary O.J: Made in America definitely deserved the Documentary Feature award, even it it was really a TV production (recent rule changes in the Academy have insured that this sort of confusion won't ever happen again). Two notes: a terrible year for foreign product (at least that of which made it to American shores) and a really incredible year for the Best Song category. In the end, I agreed with 12 of the Academy's 24 choices--not bad! But, finally, I woulda given La La Land nine Oscars in total. NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold.
ACTOR: Casey Affleck, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2nd: Dave Johns, I, Daniel Blake, followed by: Adam Driver, Paterson; Tom Hanks, Sully; Peter Simonischek, Toni Erdmann; Logan Lerman, Indignation; Denzel Washingston, Fences; Ryan Gosling, La La Land; Michael Keaton, The Founder)
ACTRESS: Emma Stone, LA LA LAND (2nd: Annette Bening, 20th Century Women, followed by: Kate Beckinsale, Love and Friendship; Isabelle Huppert, Things to Come; Rebecca Hall, Christine; Natalie Portman, Jackie; Ruth Negga, Loving; Sonia Braga, Aquarius; Sandra Hüller, Toni Erdmann)
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Viola Davis, FENCES (2nd: Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea, followed by: Hayley Squires, I, Daniel Blake; Linda Emond, Indignation; Paulina Garcia, Little Men; Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women; Sarah Gadon, Indignation; Gillian Jacobs, Don't Think Twice; Angourie Rice, The Nice Guys)
DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle, LA LA LAND (2nd: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea, followed by: Ezra Edelman, O.J.: Made in America; Whit Stillman, Love and Friendship; James Schamus, Indignation; Jim Jarmusch, Paterson; Mike Mills, 20th Century Women; Ken Loach, I, Daniel Blake; Clint Eastwood, Sully)
NON-ENGLISH-LANGUAGE FILM: THINGS TO COME (France, Mia Hansen Love) (2nd: Toni Erdmann (Germany, Maren Ade), followed by: Elle (France/Germany/Belgium, Paul Verhoeven); The Salesman (Iran, Asghar Farhadi); Aquarius (Brazil, Kleber Mendonca Filho); Train to Busan (South Korea, Sang-ho Yeon))
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA (US, Ezra Edelman) (2nd: Weiner (US, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg), followed by: 13th (US, Ava Duvernay); Cameraperson (US, Kristen Johnson); Kate Plays Christine (US, Robert Greene); Tower (US, Keith Maitland); De Palma (US, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow); Amanda Knox (US/Denmark, Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn); Audrie and Daisy (US, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk); Into the Inferno (UK/Germany/Canada, Werner Herzog); Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (US, Werner Herzog))
ANIMATED SHORT FILM: PEAR CIDER AND CIGARETTES (US, Robert Valley) (2nd: Pearl (US, Patrick Osborne), followed by: Piper (US, Alan Barillaro); Blind Vaysha (Canada, Theodore Ushev))
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: TEN METER TOWER (Sweden, Axel Danielson and Maximilien van Aertryck) (2nd: Watani, My Homeland (UK, Marcel Mettelsiefen), followed by: Sing (Hungary, Kristóf Deák); The White Helmets (UK, Orlando von Einsiedel) (won as Documentary Short))
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Kenneth Lonergan, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2nd: Mike Mills, 20th Century Women, followed by: Jim Jarmusch, Paterson; Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias, Little Men; Ken Loach, I, Daniel Blake)
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: James Schamus, INDIGNATION (2nd: Whit Stillman, Love and Friendship, followed by: Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals; Taika Waititi, Hunt for the Wilderpeople; Todd Komarnicki, Sully)
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Linus Sandgren, LA LA LAND (2nd: Caleb Deschanel, Rules Don't Apply, followed by: James Laxton, Moonlight; Vittorio Storaro, Cafe Society; Rodrigo Prieto, Silence)
ART DIRECTION: LA LA LAND, Hail Caesar!, Jackie, The Witch, The Neon Demon
COSTUME DESIGN: JACKIE, Love and Friendship, La La Land, Hail Caesar!, The Neon Demon
FILM EDITING: LA LA LAND, O.J.: Made in America, Nocturnal Animals, Sully, Hell or High Water
SOUND: LA LA LAND, Sully, Deepwater Horizon, The Jungle Book, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
SOUND EFFECTS: DEEPWATER HORIZON, Sully, The Jungle Book
ORIGINAL SCORE: Mica Levi, JACKIE (2nd: Abel Korzeniowski, Nocturnal Animals, followed by: Nicholas Britell, Moonlight; Cliff Martinez, The Neon Demon; Dickon Hinchliffe, Little Men)
ADAPTED OR MUSICAL SCORE: Justin Hurwitz, LA LA LAND (won as Best Original Score) (2nd: John Debney, The Jungle Book)
ORIGINAL SONG: "City of Stars" from LA LA LAND (Music by Justin Hurwitz; lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) (2nd: "Rules Don't Apply" from Rules Don't Apply (Music and lyrics by Lorraine Feather and Eddie Arkin), followed by: "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" from La La Land (Music by Justin Hurwitz; lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul); "Waving Goodbye" from The Neon Demon (Music and lyrics by Sia Furler); "Drive It Like You Stole It" from Sing Street (Music and lyrics by Gary Clark); "Can't Stop the Feeling" from Trolls (Music and lyrics by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, and Karl Johan Schuster); "Another Day of Sun" from La La Land (Music by Justin Hurwitz; lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul); "I'm Still Here" from Miss Sharon Jones (Music and lyrics by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings); “Stay Here” from Presenting Princess Shaw (Music and lyrics by Kutiman); "The Empty Chair" from Jim: The James Foley Story (Music and lyrics by Sting and J. Ralph); "Try Everything" from Zootopia (Music and lyrics by Sia Furler, Tor Erik Hermansen, and Mikkel Storleer Eriksen); “Hurry Home” from Max Rose (Music by Michel Legrand, lyrics by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman))
SPECIAL EFFECTS: THE JUNGLE BOOK, Deepwater Horizon, Sully, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Doctor Strange
MAKEUP: THE NEON DEMON, Suicide Squad, Sing Street