The 2017 Oscars were unique for me in that I had a stake. Unlike in years prior, I had actually seen (and enjoyed) roughly half of the films nominated for best picture. I was also pretty well-versed in a hearty chunk of the other movies awarded.
I did feel cheated in the sense that Arrival, my hands down favorite film of 2016 (as well as one of my new all time favorites) was, in a sense, snubbed. However, with 2016 being such a strong year for movies, I understand why. The Academy has a certain taste in cinema that can be better reflected through works such as La La Land and Moonlight (both of which were also great). I’m not going to take the time to dive deep into why Arrival is such a masterpiece here. Once I manage to get a copy of the DVD and give it a few more watches, I will definitely be writing an in-depth analytical review. If you would like a brief excerpt of what’s to come, check out my HIGHLY OUTDATED top 4 films of 2016 list.
Overall, the award choices this year were a mixed bag. Some I strongly support, while others I severely disagree with. However, as I said, with so many great movies in 2016, I was prepared for disagreement.
The animation awards were, as usual, highly misguided. Piper, while a beautifully animated short film, was a bland and sub-par romp, vastly overshadowed by its companion feature Finding Dory. Inner Workings, one of my all time favorite short films, wasn’t even nominated. This trend of neglect oozes into the animated feature department with Kimi no Na Wa (Your Name in English) not even receiving a nomination. Kimi no Na Wa was an international sensation, becoming one of the most renowned Japanese films of all time. How it didn’t receive a nomination was beyond me; the irony is that it definitely would have won. Without Makoto Shinkai’s magnum opus in the frey, it was down to Zootopia and Moana. Deep down, I knew Zootopia would win. Its timely allegorical narrative clearly struck a chord with audiences and the Academy alike. In my opinion, however, the timeless Moana was the vastly superior film in story, character, and message. Zootopia preys on the current political zeitgeist, but I’m sure Moana will go on to inspire a generation of creatives.
In the realm of live action short films, I can’t say I had a stake. The only one I loved from 2016 was This House Has People In It, which wasn’t nominated. I knew it wouldn’t be, it had no Academy sensibilities whatsoever. Being of the horror genre and produced by Adult Swim, I guarantee you it went under the radar of every single Academy member. However, I can’t think of a more original and thought provoking movie to come out of 2016. I plan on covering This House Has People In It (along with the rest of Alan Resnick’s filmography) in some capacity in the near future, so stay tuned for that.
When it comes to cinematography, Arrival was, to put it simply, robbed. Don’t get me wrong, La La Land was a beautiful looking movie, but Arrival had some of the best cinematography I’ve ever seen. I understand the impressiveness of La La Land’s long takes and camera movement, but it still felt like a movie. Arrival manages to use cinematography to break all possible disbelief, and transport you into the story. Everything feels crisply real, something a majority of movies fail to accomplish. People cite La La Land with having a dreamlike aesthetic. I can see where they are coming from in terms of the generic common sensibility. However, Arrival is shot like an actual dream; all of the uneasiness and fluidity that dreams bring was not neglected.
I’m not going to dive too deep into La La Land’s best original song victory. It was undeserved, plain and simple. La La Land had a fantastic story, message, and set of performances, but it did not have great music. At best, the majority of its songs were decent. My favorite song in the movie, Audition, didn’t even win. Further, Audition, while great, wasn’t even amazing to begin with. How Far I’ll Go from Moana is not only one of my favorite songs from a musical, but one of my favorite songs of 2016 period. It inspired and stuck with so many on such a personal level, including myself. I hypothesize that it didn’t win because not enough of the Academy saw Moana, while I guarantee you every single voter saw La La Land.
This same bias flows into the best director award, which was snagged by La La Land. Damien Chazelle is a fantastic director, especially for his age. However, his skill is much more apparent in 2014’s Whiplash. All bias aside from Denis Villeneuve being one of my favorite living directors, both Arrival and Moonlight were much better directed films than La La Land.
Perhaps my most positive takeaway from this year’s Oscars was Emma Stone’s victory as best leading actress. I do believe Amy Adams deserved it more for her masterful performance in Arrival. However, I am a huge Emma Stone fan. I have been following her career closely since my pre-teen years (thanks to Superbad). I have watched her mature as an actress, progressing from tertiary generic comedic roles to competently starring in intense dramas. Seeing her finally awarded after all these years was both heartwarming and satisfying, and I can’t argue with that.
Now for the gargantuan elephant in the room, best picture. We all saw the hilarious debacle; there’s not much to say on the matter that hasn’t already been said. However, it will go down in history as one of the funniest Oscar moments. I even made a joke before it happened, “What if they say the wrong movie?” I proceeded to follow up with “I personally enjoyed La La Land more, but I think Moonlight deserved the award.” Apparently I’m a foresightful genius.
All jokes aside, I knew Arrival had no chance of winning best picture. Despite being the far superior film, this is the Academy we’re dealing with. The true battle was clearly going to be down to La La Land vs. Moonlight. Again, despite my personal preference towards La La Land from an pure enjoyment perspective, Moonlight deserved to win from a technical viewpoint. I may end up writing a full analysis of Moonlight at some point, so I don’t want to delve too deep into the movie now. What I can say is that it is a very important film, and, despite its depressing nature, one everyone should see. It was a successful exercise in empathy, and truly helps you to put your life into perspective.
There you have it, my opinions on the 2017 Oscars in a nutshell. I’m really looking forward to what the rest of 2017 will have to offer in terms of film. With 2016 being such a great year for the medium, the coming ten months have massive shoes to fill.