Picks for the 2017 Academy Awards

Ryan Dishell gives his pick for each award and tells us who was snubbed...

Best Picture

Winner: La La Land

Say what you want about La La Land, but the movie will be the winner of Best Picture. You don’t even have to take my word for it: History will tell you the same thing. The Academy loves movies whose narratives hold deep ties to their industry — look at Birdman (2014), Argo (2012), and The Artist (2011). It’s a bigger lock than Mayweather.

Fantasy Pick: Don’t Think Twice

Historically, small-scale releases and comedy films don’t garner the attention necessary to be a prospective Academy Award nominee. Due to this, I was not surprised by the exclusion of Don’t Think Twice from the final list of nominations. Still, do yourself a favor and check out this comedy-drama feature about a tight-knit improv comedy troupe that starts to fall apart when one of its members catches his big break. The film’s biggest strength? It stays aware that in the world of comedy, it’s not always so funny.

Best Actor

Winner: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Quick: what do you call Christmas at home after a year of Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad, The Accountant, and Manchester by the Sea? The best family dinner that Casey Affleck has ever had. Finally stepping outside his older brother’s shadow, Affleck delivers a fierce performance that reminds us that nostalgia is a lot deeper than musicals and member berries.

Fantasy Pick: Adam Driver, Paterson

Amazon’s transition into original feature content has proven successful and less than surprising when considering its catalogue of acclaimed original series (Transparent, Goliath, Man in the High Castle, et al). Adam Driver, taking time off from his major role in the Star Wars sequels, brings wonder and poetry to the routine of daily life as this drama’s titular character, a bus driver in the additionally titular city of Paterson, NJ.

Best Actress

Winner: Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Though there were great performances by all the nominees, I find myself most impressed by the actress who did not portray a real person. The intense, even painful, moments of Elle stick out more because Huppert’s character Michèle was never real — there was no one’s existing history to study. Huppert’s performance is original and originally her own. This is all without being supported by the nostalgia of the classical Hollywood musical.

Fantasy Pick: Amy Adams, Arrival

I’m not even mad, I’m just disappointed. Go see Arrival.

Best Supporting Actor

Winner: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

I mark this as one of, if not the, best performances of the year — not just in the best supporting actor category, and not even just in film. Ali, a high-caliber talent known for his popular series roles in Netflix’s House of Cards and Luke Cage, makes his big screen presence formally known in this year’s runaway hit drama. What’s most notable, of course, is how large of an impact Ali’s drug-dealing character Juan makes — his the void created by his absence after the first act is palpable.

Fantasy Pick: John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane

‘Member John Goodman? Oh yeah, I ‘member. Maybe the film came out too early in 2016 to have maintained Oscar momentum, but for those who can remember that far back, back before 2016 wasn’t virally marked as the worst year ever, we can remember John Goodman’s role in making 10 Cloverfield Lane a major box office and critical success. Would he have won if nominated? Probably not, but damn it, Donny, the Academy can be out of their element.

Best Supporting Actress

Winner: Viola Davis, Fences

I read August Wilson’s Pulitzer-winning play for the first time in 2010 for a high school English class. What struck me most about the play was its ability to create such a strong visual for the fences we build in our own lives and between our loved ones. Leading man Denzel Washington perfectly embodies the character of Troy Maxson, but it’s Viola Davis’ turn as Rose that brings Fences to life. Davis’ performance is breathtaking, and her “What about my life?” monologue could win the Oscar on its own.

Fantasy Pick: Rooney Mara, Lion

Truthfully, it was difficult to pick a supporting actress role in 2016 that did not receive its fair share of praise. Rooney Mara’s supporting role in Lion, however, is one that missed out on Oscar glory. She’s a phenomenally talented actress and her performance is one of my favorites of the year.  I’m still salty about the Dragon Tattoo sequel getting shelved.

Best Director

Winner: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Many people are skeptical about critical and commercial success that La La Land earned. I assume these are many of the same people who refuse to appreciate modern art because “they could’ve done it themselves.” No matter you feel about the film, it is nearly impossible to deny the masterful execution of the project’s iconic nostalgic aesthetic. Damien Chazelle, the rising star director who came into the spotlight with his independent hit Whiplash (2014) is responsible for everything. Every color, every palette, every note, every dance number, and every little feeling you get while watching this film is due to Chazelle’s careful and deliberate direction that would ultimately result in 2016’s favorite piece of cinematic escapism.

Fantasy Pick: Jeremy Saulnier, Green Room

Allow me to preface this by saying that I don’t generally love horror films. It’s just a matter of personal preference. Jeremy Saulnier, a relative newcomer to directing features, did what I once thought was impossible and destroyed my pre-existing feelings about the genre. Absolutely obliterated it. One of the best indicators of excellent film direction, as an audience member, is this feeling that the storyteller is always in absolute control of his story. With top-notch cinematography, motif, and a killer cast, it is easy to see how this film became so highly rated.

 Best Screenplay (Original)

Winner: The Lobster

There’s a subtle self-awareness in The Lobster that is exacerbated by its deliberately stiff dialogue. There’s a slight separation between speech and emotion within almost every line of the film.  It no longer matters how you feel, but it matters what you do. This is the future dystopia that writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos brings to the screen. There is so much fuss over what needs to be done for others, that people no longer speak with sentiment – everything is a means to a dry, almost sardonic, end.

Fantasy Pick: The Nice Guys

Ryan Gosling starred in one of the year’s best movies as a struggling professional coming into his own in nostalgia-inducing Los Angeles. No, not La La Land. I’m talking about The Nice Guys. This movie is a critically-acclaimed and critically-underseen mystery-crime story. Notably, its investigatory narrative is merely a front for the character dynamics and nostalgia for 1970’s LA that drive the film. It’s a who-done-it set with the type of people with whom The Big Lebowski’s Jackie Treehorn might fraternize. 

Best Screenplay (Adapted)

Winner: Arrival

I like aliens. I like linguistics. I like the idea of combining the two together in a feasible way that is both fulfilling and earned. In this way, we are taken on the story, but we are also part of the story, as we work alongside the criminally under-nominated Amy Adams to crack the alien code.

Fantasy Pick: Deadpool

Deadpool, from the naked eye, might just appear to be another superhero film with a sarcastic protagonist. So what? I’ll tell ya what. Every single piece of dialogue and action is tailored specifically for Ryan Reynolds to manipulate to his advantage in the very role he was born to play. Every quip and breaking of the fourth wall delivers a deeper existential look into Wade Wilson’s mutilated morality. In this way, through the laughs, we question: what is being a hero really all about?

Best Documentary

Winner: O.J.: Made in America

Though I do not know how exactly it began, 2016 was the year O.J. Simpson transcended infamy. O.J. is no longer the “allegedly” murderous celebrity-athlete that he was in the 1990s and early 2000s. Rather, the Juice has been solidified as a cornerstone of media history and the public’s obsession with celebrity culture. This documentary expands on what many had seen in the dramatized FX series on Simpson, and makes us see the “Trial of the Century” from all sides of the aisle, forcing us to recognize the impossibility of Simpson’s idealized post-racial society and the deep resentment for the LAPD just a couple short years following the attack on Rodney King and the ’92 riots.

Fantasy Pick: Weiner

This film might be hard to watch for those too sickened by Weiner’s shameful public appearances. It’s a stiff subject, and I can’t say I’m one to glorify the sextapades of one Carlos Danger. That said, this documentary provides an intimate, yet appropriately third-person look at Weiner himself, from his rise in popularity for spirited speeches on the House floor to the sexting scandal that rocked both his political career and marital life.

Best Animated

Winner: Kubo and the Two Strings

When the academy doesn’t even nominate a Pixar film for this award, it’s a good idea to pay very close attention to the films that get a nomination — or else you might miss out. Kubo is a prime example of one of those transcendent animated films in which you legitimately forget that what you’re watching is supposed to be made for children. And as I’ve pointed out, cartoons aren’t just for kids anymore.

Fantasy Pick: Sausage Party

How is this not the most ambitious film of the year? Of the decade? It’s an R-rated, CGI-animated film on a budget of just $19 million (that may or may not have been spent on actually paying the animators) whose marketing campaign relied almost entirely on an innate public fascination with phallic foods. That’s innovation. Check the $140.7 million at the box office and take it to the bank, son.

Best Original Song

Winner: “City of Stars,” La La Land

I dare you not to listen to this song and start humming it constantly. I double dare you. It’s really hard. See all above statements about La La Land and feeding the Hollywood ego. I say the musical takes the award for best song. Easy.

Fantasy Pick: “Heathens,” Suicide Squad

I didn’t like Suicide Squad and I definitely wouldn’t recommend Suicide Squad. So, do films have to be good to get nominated for best original songs? Considering “Kiss from a Rose,” “Tears in Heaven,” and “Earned It” didn’t get nominated for jack, yeah, I guess so.