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Oscar shit 2017

I’m a little less excited than usual for the Oscars this year. Maybe it’s because there’s nothing I’m passionately rooting for, like MAD MAX: FURY ROAD last time. Or maybe it’s because shit is so bad it’s harder for me to care about the small stuff at the moment. But I still like the tradition and as usual I made sure to watch all of the best picture nominees, so here are a few thoughts on that.

Yes, you are correct, there is no way to scientifically measure or rank the artistic success of movies, and there is politics involved and my very favorite movie of a given year never wins. But I think this year is a real good example of how you can look at what got nominated and get a good idea what our country, or at least our film industry, cares about at this moment in time.

Take HELL OR HIGH WATER. Personally I thought the political subtext was the clumsiest aspect of the movie, but I’m sure it’s what got it nominated. Not just a cops and robbers procedural, it’s about farmers and war vets tired of their people being screwed over by the banks. And beneath that it’s a reminder of the history of our country and who it was stolen from. I should watch it again because I bet it wouldn’t seem as heavy-handed as the first time.

HACKSAW RIDGE deals with war, a popular topic for the Oscars (PATTON, THE DEER HUNTER, PLATOON and THE HURT LOCKER are among the ones that have won), but this has the novel addition of glorifying a healer instead of a warrior. It fulfills our society’s love of honoring the bravery of soldiers without having to worry if it makes us warmongers.

FENCES is primarily a story about a family, but the central character’s fatal bitterness stems primarily out of a feeling of being denied opportunity by injustice. Likewise, MOONLIGHT is more of a character study than an issue movie, but its depiction of a very specific gay African-American southern experience has understandably been hailed as something refreshingly new in cinema. LION also depicts a very specific experience: that of the Indian immigrant in Australia. Mostly it’s just a harrowing emotional journey and child endangerment thriller, but I think it also has a cross-cultural message. Saroo can understand the importance of tracing his Indian roots while still identifying as Australian.

And ARRIVAL arrived (get it) just in time because we were definitely ready to receive an optimistic message about communication and listening, about the countries of the world coming together to create peace, about the triumph of knowledge and study and discovery, about the way language can transform our perception of reality. HIDDEN FIGURES is a period piece but equally timely in its subject matter. It not only honors the achievements of smart black women (a depressingly rare topic for movies), and demonstrates black and white people working together for a common goal in the face of systemic oppression and discrimination, it’s also just a love letter to math and science and exploration. They couldn’t have engineered a more on-the-nose antidote to Trumpism if they’d seen it coming.

That leaves the two whitest nominees: MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (an intimate portrait of a family dealing with tragedy) and LA LA LAND (a bittersweet romance within a joyous celebration of happy Hollywood). I actually liked all of these nominees, but obviously this wouldn’t be my top 9 right here. (KILL ZONE 2 would be my #1.) That said, it’s nothing to be embarrassed of as a list of movies that, when added together, sort of show where our hearts are at right now.

I am a little embarrassed because honestly LA LA LAND is the one I enjoyed the most, and it seems pretty much a lock to win a bunch of Oscars, with people already having been complaining about that inevitability for months. It seems like the popularity of the movie lasted about two days and people had already been waiting in line for weeks to begin the backlash, but oh well. It’s corny as hell but if it doesn’t touch your heart then go look up that thing where they draw the guy shrugging using letters and symbols. I’m not the one missing out.

Anyway, if you watch the show on Sunday, have fun. If Viola Davis doesn’t win I’m gonna review all the Jesse Stone movies in protest.

other nominated films I reviewed:

LOVING (best actress Ruth Negga)

STAR TREK BEYOND (makeup and hairstyling)

SUICIDE SQUAD (makeup and hairstyling)

SULLY (sound editing)

ROGUE ONE (sound mixing)

13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI (sound mixing)

DOCTOR STRANGE (visual effects)

THE JUNGLE BOOK (visual effects)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
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41 Responses to “Oscar shit 2017”

  1. I imagine it won’t but if LaLa Land wins best picture #oscarsowhite The more I think about it the more I think that movie is a bunch of horseshit.

  2. I really liked La La Land, but I am a sucker for movies about relationships where they can’t be together, but they help each other change & grow. I understand that it is getting flack from people because it seems a) corny or b) self-indulgent or c) insufferably twee, but since I am all of those things as well I didn’t mind them. And underneath all the musical numbers and the meta-tastic flourishes I think it’s a solid narrative with two really strong lead performances. So I’m okay with it winning. It’s more than just a gimmick movie (see “The Artist”), there’s a lot of good storytelling being done on an emotional and technical level.

  3. As usual I haven’t seen any of this year’s Best Picture nominees yet and this year there isn’t even one that I root for unseen. Well, Germany got one in the Best Foreign Picture race and for a change it has nothing to do with Nazis, the GDR or any other part of German history, so that’s cool, although since it’s a German dramedy, that gets lots of award love, I suspect that TONI ERDMANN is one of those super depressing dramas, that have one or two funny moments. (I’m looking at you, GOOD BYE LENIN!)

    Personally I believe that THE JUNGLE BOOK is a lock for a VFX win. If it doesn’t win, I hope there are a million think pieces, about how the voters in that field don’t look at behind the scenes videos (since they most likely just thought that they put some talking mouths on real animals and thought “Seen that before”).

    HIDDEN FIGURES might be the CRASH to LA LA LAND’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, meaning that it could be the surprise winner, although everybody expected a different one. Simply because otherwise we might get another #Oscarsowhite controversy and this one was the commercially most successful not-white movie of the bunch. (Also that it’s supposedly seriously good might help too.)

    Haven’t decided yet if I watch it live (and participate in the Twitter during it), because as I complain every year, it starts at Monday 3am in my timezone and I prefer to be able to ffwd commercial breaks.

  4. Don’t worry CJ, we still get some German POWs in LAND OF MINE, the Danish Best Foreign Picture nomination.

    And I’d love to know how many Swedish cinemas showed A MAN CALLED OVE versus how many are showing JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2. The trailer makes it look like GRAN TORINO with Volvos, but it’s the most successful foreign language movie of the year in the US, apparently.

  5. For me La La Land and Moonlight are the two big credible winners here.

    HF is a very good movie and it might be worth a win as a Trump FU. Far worse has won in recent years. Fences I wouldn’t mind winning cos more Wilson adapts would be very good I think, especially interesting to see some made from scratch without a recent production template.

    Lion and Hell or High Water are the two here i do not think should win at all. My gut feeling is that HOHW could do a Crash, I’m surprised it’s the least likely winner according to the bookies i saw.

    I think Mel would be better off not winning, as that’d prompt a backlash he does not need. I imagine the podium walk could well be tortured if he wins anything big. I like him, but I don’t think his profile should be any higher right now, cos i want to see what he does next without a massive fuss.

  6. I’m Bizarro Vern, because, dangit, I haven’t seen any of these movies. I have seen all of the JESSE STONE movies. Game set and match.

    Apropos of nothing, saw GET OUT yesterday at a sneak preview (or was it already out?) and can’t wait for your review, Vern.

  7. I saw about half of these. Of those, ARRIVAL was by far my favorite.

    LA LA LAND strikes me as the most obvious choice to win. I don’t mind. It was indeed corny as they come, but a kind of corny that’s rare these days. Its fun and its needed.

    All the others I liked, but not loved. I probably would only watch ARRIVAL and maybe LA LA LAND again, and even those probably not for at least 10 years.

    While I haven’t seen it, MOONLIGHT seems to be getting the critics and other intellectuals approval. I’m guessing its more of the GOODFELLAS or PULP FICTION of the bunch though.

  8. Obviously you know how I feel but the more I think about La La Land the more I fucking hate it. The songs suck and the story is really pedestrian and something that would be a low rated dramedy on ABC.

    You know what else I’m kind of tired of? Hollywood making movies about Hollywood.

  9. CJ Holden – BOOK will win FX.

    Also saw a THR piece interviewing anonymous Oscar voters and one of them said they’re voting for SUICIDE SQUAD for make up because “Margot was hot.”

    No, really.

  10. Those anonymous interviews with Academy members that pop up before the show are almost always depressing. I remember reading one where, in response to the #oscarssowhite controversy, the Academy member said that the ten movies they nominated just happened to be the best that year. Until then, I assumed that even Academy members realized that the best picture nominees are almost always middle brow compromises. It never ceases to shock me at how clueless people can be.

  11. I would actually be excited for the Oscars if Jackie Chan accepted his award there. I also wish Scorsese’s Silence received more nominations, simply because that would’ve encouraged more people to give it a shot.

  12. I did see SILENCE. Dug that a lot and looking forward to check it out again.

  13. Oscar history made tonight!

  14. So who, actually won? LA LA LAND or MOONLIGHT? I am confused

  15. I’m feeling bad for MOONLIGHT. It seemed to be a very beloved movie, but something tells me, in the future it will be FORREST GUMP’d as “the movie that stole the win from LA LA LAND”.

    Good for Marisa Tomei, though. She most likely won’t have to endure any “They read the wrong name” jokes anymore, because now we have proof of what happens in case of such a hiccup.

    Also: Yay, JUNGLE BOOK!

  16. If anything I think LA LA LAND has been saved from an all too inevitable GUMPing, or perhaps an ARTIST/ARGO/AMERICAN BEAUTYing would be more accurate (something along these lines had already started anyway).

    Sadly, I don’t think that BS will ever truly leave Tomei.

  17. @CJ HOLDEN:

    TONI ERDMANN isn´t that depressing at all. It´s just very weird and long with a few (serious good) laughs and a touching “musical” scene. You should take a look on it. Jack Nicholson wants to play the Toni Erdmann part in the upcoming remake. No shit.

    Jack Nicholson, Kristen Wiig to Star in ‘Toni Erdmann’ Remake (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jack Nicholson, who hasn’t appeared in a feature film since 2010, will star opposite Kristen Wiig in the English-language remake of “Toni Erdmann.” Sources tell Variety Paramount …

  18. This is a half-assed “I told you so,” but for weeks I’ve been talking to people about LA LA LAND’s thought-to-be-inevitable victory and I would say “I don’t know, I think MOONLIGHT still has an outside shot” and not one person didn’t think I was crazy for saying that. I wish I’d been in an Oscar pool this year because I know I would’ve taken the long shot bet on best picture and I’d only have missed foreign film and editing. Everything else was exactly what I expected, which made the twist ending all the more beautifully spit-takingly exciting.

    I feel bad for the LA LA LAND people being put in that situation, but they did get best director, actress, song and score and I think something else, and I think this will soften the backlash against the movie in the long run. And since so many people have been so upset with the Academy for a lack of diversity in who they honor it was even better to have this “yeah, of course they give it to those cute white people” moment and THEN say just kidding, they really did give it to the beautiful arthouse movie by a black director about a gay man. I mean, did you see the rollercoaster of emotions the actors in the front were going through? It was an incredible moment that made a pretty humdrum Oscars into one of the most exciting ever. A reverse CRASH.

    And by the way THANK GOD it wasn’t the other way around. The Academy would NEVER have lived that down. That would actually be way worse for LA LA LAND.

  19. I was so excited when the win was taken away from La La Land because, you know, I fucking hate that movie. :)

    You all better start reading and responding to Jackie Chan, John Woo and Van Damme posts around here or you’re going to think I’m just that guy who is always tired and hates La La Land. lol

  20. The Rock. Priceless

  21. Dangit, link fail. It’s an LA Times picture with all these celebs reacting to the flub. The Rock’s got a bit of the Rock stink eye goin. Classic.

  22. While I liked LA LA LAND and don’t really get Sternshein’s COMPLETE immunity to its charms, I also get why a movie about realizing your dream to be offered free espresso drinks might come across as a little tastelessly “first world problems”. I haven’t seen MOONLIGHT but it just feels like a more appropriate choice of winner given the times.

  23. Did anyone think Hollywood would NOT give it to the movie about the poor gay black dude?

    I mean, come ON.

  24. Well, like I said earlier, I expected them to give it to the more crowdpleasing and commercially successful HIDDEN FIGURES, but in the end we all know how much the Academy loves their golden age Hollywood throwbacks, so it’s not like the musical everybody loved was the dark horse in the race.

  25. Vern – Don’t sweat it, man. I was singing the same tune over here and all my friends thought that I was just being needlessly contrarian. It probably didn’t help matters that I’d gone on record saying that, final thirty minutes aside, I was not feeling MOONLIGHT *at* all. I could not believe how contrived, formulaic, convenient, clunky and safe the 3/4s of that movie felt. Everything form the diner onwards was masterful but I could have watched that shit out of context as its own short film and it probably would have had more impact. Shit was like ROOM all over again – me sitting in a theatre full of people absolutely eating that shit up and me feeling like a completely different fucking species to them.

  26. Pssst — Criterion’s 50% every today through their website. Time to finally buy that LONE WOLF AND CUB boxset you’ve been lusting after.

    As far as the Oscars go, count me as someone who was shocked that LA LA LAND didn’t win. MOONLIGHT seems like such a small movie in some ways — an intimate character portrait, while LA LA LAND seems much more sweeping and grand, which is usually what wins you oscars. I thought both were terrific, so I’m happy either way, but I imagine LA LA LAND will have a little more staying power. Corny follow-your-dreams bittersweet romance will always be appealing, while intimate dramas about a particular time and place are tough to get people to revisit years later. But maybe this win will save MOONLIGHT from that fate. At any rate, if it inspires more people to see it, it’ll have been worth it. I think there’s a pretty strong case to be made that it really WAS the best film of the year, and how often can you say that?

  27. That first sentence was garbled nonsense and the link didn’t work, but you get the gist of it.

  28. “[I]ntimate dramas about a particular time and place are tough to get people to revisit years later.”

    This is how I feel about all Oscar films. You look back at what got honored, and nine of out ten times the movie has already fallen off the face of the earth. People see them and say, “Wow, what quality, such acting, much important” and then never, ever, fucking ever want to watch them ever fucking again. To me, the test of a movie is its staying power. You’re drawn back to it again and again, and it stays with you. It becomes part of the culture.

    No other art form is like this. The best album is not the one you listened to once. The best dish is not one you ate one time and never had a craving for again.

    My big example is OUT OF AFRICA. Best Picture, 1985. Think about that. Nineteen Eighty Fucking Five. We’re talking BACK TO THE FUTURE, THE TERMINATOR, BRAZIL, PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, ROCKY IV, THE BREAKFAST CLUB, THE GOONIES, RE-ANIMATOR, DAY OF THE DEAD… Movies that people watch over and over, that have become part of the fabric of our shared experience. Even the other middle-of-the-road Oscar bait from that year, like COCOON, WITNESS, and THE COLOR PURPLE still have some traction in the culture. But what gets the Oscar? OUT OF FUCKING AFRICA, a movie that I guarantee no one has watched in at least 25 years. I bet even the Academy members who voted for it didn’t watch it more than once. It wasn’t influential. It didn’t move the medium of film forward. It didn’t do anything. So what exactly is this Picture the Best at? It’s just a boringly respectable film for boringly respectable people. And boringly respectable films don’t make history. Raucous, untamed, bold films that burn themselves into your memory do. And I don’t need a bunch of squares to tell me what they are. My track record for picking out the films that will still be with us through the years is way better than theirs.

  29. Mr. S -I am seeing no such sale advertised on their site. What am I doing wrong?

  30. The Terminator was 1984.

    In fairness to the category, the winner in 1984 was Amadeus, and in 1986 was Platoon, both of which kick ass. They don’t always choose the middlebrowiest film.

  31. binkysguy – Yes, in fact, almost everybody thought “Hollywood would NOT give it to the movie about the poor gay black dude.” There is no historical precedent for it. I know that’s a fun stereotype from South Park or whatever, but I don’t know of another gay-themed best picture winner to point to, or a $1.5 million arthouse movie. The heavily favored, high quality and mainstream accepted BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN did not even win. And this is the first best picture winner from an African-American director (12 YEARS A SLAVE director Steve McQueen being English). This is only the second best picture winner out of 89 to have a predominantly black cast. I believe the only other one with a black lead was IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT which was 49 years ago. There are a million reasons for it not to win, even it weren’t up against an easy layup like a popular and uplifting musical that celebrates Hollywood.

    Majestyk – first of all, thank you for the Vin Diesel/Amy Adams picture on the other thread. Second, I agree with your assessment but in a counterintuitive way that makes the award contenders worth following to me personally. I have no doubt that KILL ZONE 2 is the movie I will rewatch years from now, so I’m glad during this time I also experienced movies like LION that I don’t think I would seek out later. They are not usually the best movies, but they are good movies that are worth seeing to me. (This year is a rare case where many of my friends do think the best picture winner was the best movie of the year.)

  32. “All in-stock Blu-rays and DVDs are 50% off SRP with promo code LOVE!”

  33. Mr. S – Ah. That is some important information. Sadly, the main Criterion I want right now, THE BROOD, is still cheaper on Amazon, even after the 50% off, because Criterion’s prices are so inflated. It’s like how Barnes & Noble always sold movies at 30% off, which still didn’t take care of their standard 40% mark-up.

    Vern: That makes sense. I guess I’m just not in the market for movies that seem designed for me to watch once. (This is my main beef with Scorsese, for instance.) I’m no one-hitter-quitter. Every time I see a movie, I’m looking to start a relationship. I want movies I can grow old with. If I know that’s not an option and I’m just watching something because I figure it would be good for me, I’d rather not bother. Watching movies shouldn’t be like eating your vegetables. If you’ve made a movie that people admire but don’t want to revisit, you basically failed. I’m not interested in that. It’s now how I experience art. Art should be a fellow passenger on your journey, not a tourist trap you stopped at once just to say you did.

  34. I mean, I don’t know that it’s necessarily an indication of a movie’s merit that people don’t go back and rewatch, it’s probably more a commentary on how much we prefer cheap thrills to any substance. Which is, I hasten to add, completely understandable: people have a limited reserve of emotional energy to expend on nuanced character dramas, and considering there are always many options, it probably makes sense to choose the ones which will reward viewers with maximum cultural capital (ie, the recent ones which people are talking about right now). But we have a nearly limitless ability to zone out and watch explosions and entertaining horseshit, so we don’t need to be as choosy about them. Which is not to speak ill of either entertaining horseshit OR nuanced character dramas; we just calculate their cost-benefits differently.

  35. But cheap thrills also fade away. There are plenty of movies that are like the latest version of the iPhone: the greatest, shiniest thing ever until the new model comes out in a few years. I’m not talking about those movies. I’m talking about movies that weren’t just disposable spectacle, but movies that had something at their core that really connected to people, that kept them coming back long after they were no longer the state-of-the-art. Whatever your subject matter is, I feel like that should be the goal: to tell the story in such a way that people want to hear it told again long after whatever made it hot shit its particular year has faded from memory. So it’s great that gay black men got their movie this year. That’s a segment of the population that deserves some shine, because that’s a tough set of cards they got dealt. So I can see how the Oscars, as an institution, have a role to play. But that’s extra-textual stuff. Will the movie itself still be considered great when/if we as a society progress to the point where that’s not such a novelty anymore? I don’t know, because I’ll likely never see it. But I still think my never seeing it is only seeing it one less time than 90% of the people praising it.

  36. Well the highlight for me was the orchestra playing “Nowhere Fast” from Streets of Fire leading into a commercial break. That’s a pretty deep cut and probably had most people at home going “what the hell song is that?”

    Another highlight: watching certain sites on the internet lose their collective shit about Suicide Squad (and by extension, the DCEU) winning an Oscar, whilst the MCU still has none. Say what you want about Suicide Squad but I think you have to admit the makeup was pretty impressive.

  37. Neal, I didn’t catch that but I was at a noisy Oscar viewing party. Glad to hear of the Steinman love. He’s my favorite songwriter.

  38. I was pretty pumped when I heard “Nowhere Fast.” Also, why isn’t Streets of Fire a more well known 80s cult hit? I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but at the very least it deserves to be more popular than The Lost Boys or Tron. Also, I just checked and it turns out that it’s going to get a Blu Ray release for the first time later this year. That’s crazy that it took so long.

  39. Fred – Ha, as soon as I heard it I was thinking “I hope Fred caught that” since I know you’re a fan of all things Steinman. By the way, what are your thoughts on the new Meat Loaf album? “Going All the Way Is Just the Start” is an instant classic, but I can’t really get into the rest of the album, maybe I’ll have to give it a few more listens.

    Rbatty – yeah I never understood why Streets of Fire only had an HD-DVD release (remember those?) and not a Blu-Ray one. I did catch an HD version on TV once, and not to sound like a hipster but it really didn’t compare to the actual film projection I caught a few years back. There was just something about how deep and rich it looked on film that couldn’t be replicated; in fact I think that was finally the showing that made me understand the whole “film is better” argument. I’m totally still going to buy the Blu-Ray though, don’t get me wrong.

    On another note – at that viewing a few years back, the crowd cheered wildly every time Bill Paxton showed up. He certainly had a knack for putting his own stamp on even the smallest role (even his brief appearances in Terminator and Commando are unmistakably Paxton)

  40. Neal, sadly Franchise Fred does not approve Braver Than We Are. It all sounds like leftovers, which it is because Steinman didn’t write any new songs. There are better recordings of Going All the Way by other artists (it’s Braver Than Wr Are from Steinman’s Dance of the Vampires) and the rest aren’t even middle shelf Steinman.

    Like when Meat re recorded It’s All Comin Back, that was crazy but at least it was only one song on the album. I could even get behind Meat’s non Steinman albums because Steinman takes so long, I understand Meat wants to keep recording while he still can.

    I’m surprised no one else has ever done Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young. That might be Steinman’s best track.

  41. I just wondered if La La Land was cast with all-black characters, does anyone have guts to say “Obviously you know how I feel but the more I think about La La Land the more I fucking hate it. The songs suck and the story is really pedestrian and something that would be a low rated dramedy on ABC.”

    It’s like when you love La La Land, you’re instantly Nazi and Trump supporter. I personally don’t give a rat’s ass about Hidden Figures? Does it make me racist? I also don’t have any need to watch La La Land too.

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