Projection: Oscar – The 6th Annual Official Projection: Oscar Ballot

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Well, we’ve nearly made it to the end. Which, for me, means it’s time to take a short break from thoughts of what “will” win and think about what “should” win.

Time for me to fill out my “Official Oscar Ballot,” offering you an exclusive peek into how I would vote if I was a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Lest we forget, I am actually not a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and therefore take no credit for their actual decisions.

Basically, if you’re part of the La La Land Hate Committee, don’t blame me for the contents of this ballot. My vote doesn’t count, y’all.

Another quick reminder: just because I vote for a certain film in a certain category does not mean I necessarily think that film is the year’s best representation of said category. If I could vote for Jackie to win Best Cinematography or Best Film Editing, I would; but, alas, it wasn’t nominated in those categories. As ever, I can only work with what the Academy has given me.

Here now, for the sixth consecutive year, the “Official Projection: Oscar Ballot.” No particular ordering of these categories, but I’ll save the above-the-line stuff for the end.

Visual Effects

Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

The Jungle Book

Kubo and the Two Strings

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I have fondness for nearly all of the work in this category (Rogue One fell a bit limp for me), but the inventive effects work in Kubo, the first ever animated film nominated in this category, is transcendent.

Sound Mixing

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Arrival is very close here – its fusing of Johann Johannsson’s brilliant score and the broader sonic environment is stunning. But it’s not merely that La La Land is a musical – it’s that the sound mix becomes a motif in the film, almost to the extent of becoming a character. The film’s themes are delivered aurally.

Sound Editing

Arrival

Deepwater Horizon

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Sully

One could get caught up in the sheer number of cuts in either Deepwater or Hacksaw, and both are accomplished works. But Arrival takes the sonic experience to another level.

Makeup and Hairstyling

A Man Called Ove – Eva von Bahr, Love Larson

Star Trek Beyond – Joel Harlow, Richard Alonzo

Suicide Squad – Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini, Christopher Nelson

Must I choose? Really? I guess, by virtue of sheer volume, I’ll go Trek.

Documentary Short Subject

4.1 Miles

Extremis

Joe’s Violin

Watani: My Homeland

The White Helmets

The most difficult choice of them all, in the most unequivocally stacked category of them all. I love all of these films. And frankly, at least three of them are more relevant for our times than my ultimate vote. But the filmmaking in Joe’s Violin, underscoring the meaning of the music in our lives and linking its two seemingly disparate characters together, is masterful.

Short Film – Live Action

Ennemis Intérieurs

La Femme et le TGV 

Silent Nights

Sing

Timecode

Sing offers a beautifully simple message of acceptance and unity, which is a standout amid a group of nominees that may, overall, offer more ingenuity, but lack the simple humanity of this lovely piece.

Short Film – Animated

Blind Vaysha

Borrowed Time

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Pearl

Piper

In a disappointing category, Pearl is a ray of light, its simple concept opening literally a lifetime’s worth of warmth.

Original Score

Jackie – Mica Levi

La La Land – Justin Hurwitz

Lion – Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka

Moonlight – Nicholas Britell

Passengers – Thomas Newman

A tough decision between Levi’s broken-yet-soaring circus of emotional horror and Hurwitz’s sterling, grandiose orchestration. But the inimitable chords of Jackie’s score are at once haunting and invigorating.

Original Song

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” La La Land 

“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls

“City of Stars,” La La Land

“The Empty Chair,” The James Foley Story

“How Far I’ll Go,” Moana

In what ended up being a stronger-than-expected category, the best song is the one that defines its film’s importance, elevates its performing character off the plane of the screen, and embosses its film’s themes in soaring musical wonder. Here’s to those fools…

Foreign Language Film

 

Land of Mine (Denmark)

A Man Called Ove (Sweden)

The Salesman (Iran)

Tanna (Australia)

Toni Erdmann (Germany)

As ever, this is a rich and wonderful category with a few deserving winners. But my heart belongs to Australia’s first ever Foreign Language nominee, an enormous feat of production that tells a fact-based story using all non-actors to create a singular cinematic experience.

Animated Feature Film

Kubo and the Two Strings

Moana

My Life as a Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Zootopia

An easy choice, even in spite of the overall strength of the other nominees. Kubo is a wondrous, next-level experience.

Documentary Feature

13th 

Fire at Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life Animated

O.J.: Made in America

Wow, what across-the-board strength in both Documentary categories this year. What magnificent cultural relevance, what staggering emotional resonance. What’s most interesting is that 13th is, honestly, the most traditional of these nominees. And yet it is absolutely revelatory, distilling the systemic racism in the United States with statistical depth and visceral anger.

Costume Design

Allied – Joanna Johnston

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Colleen Atwood

Florence Foster Jenkins – Consolata Boyle

Jackie – Madeline Fontaine

La La Land – Mary Zophres

Fontaine’s elegant recreation of history is flawless and unmatched in this category.

Production Design

Arrival – Patrice Vermette; Paul Hotte

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Stuart Craig; Anna Pinnock

Hail, Caesar! – Jess Gonchor; Nancy Haigh

La La Land – David Wasco; Sandy Reynolds-Wasco

Passengers – Guy Hendrix Dyas; Gene Serdena

It’s easy to overlook the depth of the Wascos’ work on La La Land, just because there’s so much else going on in every moment. But the design of this film’s production is central to its heightened, otherworldly aura.

Film Editing

Arrival – Joe Walker

Hacksaw Ridge – John Gilbert

Hell or High Water – Jake Roberts

La La Land – Tom Cross

Moonlight – Joi McMillon, Nat Sanders

Here’s a quintuplet of overwhelmingly deserving nominees if ever there was one. But acknowledging that up front, I can still narrow my choice down to two: Arrival and Moonlight. In both cases, the editing isn’t merely an array of cutting, but a masterful juggling of complicated structure, the complexity of which is staggering. Both films are made more powerful because of their editing – they aid our immersion into the filmic environment. In a decision that could’ve been decided by a coin flip, what pushes Moonlight into the winner position is its magnificent subtlety, weaving moments of sense memory in a gorgeous cascade.

Cinematography

Arrival – Bradford Young

La La Land – Linus Sandgren

Lion – Greig Fraser

Moonlight – James Laxton

Silence – Rodrigo Prieto

Sandgren’s work, in tandem with the film’s Production Design, helps galvanize Damien Chazelle’s very unique vision of fusing classical with revolutionary.

Adapted Screenplay

Luke Davies, Lion

Eric Heisserer, Arrival

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Theodore Melfi, Allison Schroeder, Hidden Figures

August Wilson, Fences

Another tight race between Arrival and Moonlight, with this one tipping to the former due to its graceful ingenuity.

Original Screenplay

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Efthymis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Mike Mills, 20th Century Women 

Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water

The year’s best screenplay, full stop. It’s especially remarkable due to how punk it is, breaking all narrative rules and, in fact, going a completely anti-narrative direction. 20th Century Women is all about the essence of character and the transience of the moments that make up that essence. Mike Mills distills such intangible magic in this screenplay, which is a lyrical masterwork.

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomie Harris, Moonlight 

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

First, a statement: don’t doubt my love for Viola. If I had anything to do with it, she’d already have two Oscars on her mantle. But Naomie Harris, in a performance she wedged into a single weekend of intensive work (which does, indeed, make the results all the more remarkable), delivers the most indelible character of this category, tragic and frightening and forever haunting.

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel, Lion

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

I’ve been opining all season about how Ali’s role in Moonlight, however crucial, wasn’t big enough to be an awards frontrunner. But ya know what? Screw it – he’s a gem and he deserves to be up on that stage giving his testimony.

Best Actress

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Ruth Negga, Loving

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

This one is insanely tough, easily the decision I’ve pondered the longest, going back and forth multiple times before casting my vote. It all comes down to the understood top three of the category: Stone, Huppert, and Portman. Stone is pure magic in La La Land, delivering the kind of performance that is intangibly brilliant. Huppert is a legend and I’m frankly not sure she’s even been better than in the ruthless, complex world of Elle…and that’s really saying something. But when I think about what Portman accomplishes in Jackie – which, lest we forget, is the Best Film of 2016 – I think about the totality of the work, how the film rests entirely on her shoulders. It’s a house of cards that, in spite of brilliant work across all disciplines, would collapse horrifically if she couldn’t convey the many conflicting themes and emotions at any given moment. In a film this profound, Portman was tasked with nothing less than wearing its power on her face, carrying the weight of history on her tiny frame, and making us believe both the myth and the reality. She does it all, and it’s breathtaking.

Best Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

This is an interesting category, full primarily of performances I liked in movies I didn’t. But Casey Affleck is on another level from the rest of this group as far as I’m concerned. It’s a performance of aching, persistent pain, humanity that reveals itself slowly and remarkably.

Best Director

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

I suppose it comes down to your opinion of La La Land. If you hate it, then take your pick from the other four. But if you love it, it’s impossible not to recognize its maker. This is Chazelle’s vision, daring and risky, replete with countless potential pitfalls. Every piece comes together like accidental magic, but this is the work of Chazelle’s foolish dreams, mounted magnificently.

Best Picture

  1. La La Land
  2. Arrival
  3. Moonlight
  4. Hell or High Water
  5. Hidden Figures
  6. Manchester by the Sea
  7. Hacksaw Ridge
  8. Fences
  9. Lion

Okay, I’m breaking the rules slightly. Academy members only submit a Top Five, but I went the full nine, so to speak (I don’t apologize for the pun…it’s been a long season).

Lion is just laughably bad at times. It’s a powerful story made by talented people that just doesn’t work. Fences is a film that required an infusion of modern themes and didn’t get one…as it stands, it’s a filmed stage play that suffers because of its aging material. Hacksaw is Hacksaw…spectacularly bad at times, and spectacularly stirring at others. The only truly worthy nominees, in my estimation, are the top six – and of them, my top two separate themselves from even that sterling pack. Oh, how I wish Jackie was here, but La La Land and Arrival are absolutely worthy standard-bearers.

La La Land gets my number one vote because I found it to be the completely antithesis of how it’s been represented in the social media war that has taken this season hostage, draining any fun or excitement and forcibly turning it into a repeat of the heinous presidential election. It’s not just the “sunshine and rainbows” movie, but rather a film about how the illusion of sunshine and rainbows can never last. Is it about sacrificing true love for the pursuit of passion? Damn straight, and that’s part of its bittersweet tragedy. Chazelle is a filmmaker whose thematic obsession is artistic obsession, how it takes hold, becomes a monster whose shadow its subject cannot emerge from. It is, of course, a soaring cinematic musical that is traditionally reverent, but also a modern film about modern artists who attempt, futilely, to reconcile their drive with their love.

And oh by the way, it only gets better with subsequent viewings.

There you have it. My ballot has been filed. Onward to Oscar Night…

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I married into the cult of cinema at a very young age - I wasn't of legal marriage age, but I didn't care. It has taken advantage of me and abused me many times. Yet I stay in this marriage because I'm obsessed and consumed. Don't try to save me -- I'm too far gone.