I swear it was only yesterday that Oscar was announcing its nominations – time sure does fly these days! Maybe the whole thing seemed a bit shortened because there wasn’t quite the unrest this year that there was last year surrounding #OscarSoWhite…or perhaps we’ve all just had bigger fish to fry out in the very real and very scary political climate the world finds itself in.
Regardless – I’m happy that Oscar Night is almost upon us…a far cry from the feelings I was wrestling with this time last year.
So as the week goes on, I’m going to take a moment or two with all of the top eight categories – beginning today with the screenplay nominees.
In a perfect world, THE LOBSTER would take the award for Best Original Screenplay. If you haven’t seen it by now, just take my word for it that there was no more original screenplay this year than Yorgos Lanthimos’ english language debut. The fact that it scored a nomination gives me hope hat it could parlay that goodwill into a win, but I can’t help but feel voters will simply see it as “too damned weird”.
20TH CENTURY WOMEN and HELL OR HIGH WATER are both well-crafted and timely screenplays by two powerful voices in Mike Mills and Taylor Sheridan, whose nights are probably low-stress with little chances to win. The latter even got the added boost of landing nominations in supporting actor and best picture; in a weaker year that could be a signal that it was due for some love in a category like this. However there’s a tougher head-to-head in this category that will keep both of these worthy contenders out of the ring.
In one corner we have the heavy favorite: LA LA LAND. This is the film that will be mentioned again and again this week, and deservedly so after its record-tying tally of nominations. If the film gets on a bit of a roll come Oscar Night – something that is no sure thing – this is the sort of category that could get swept into the storm. The film’s script is good…if not entirely great. Not only does the film work better as a complete package than any one of its elements, but it’s story might well be one of its weaker elements. Further – several eventual Best Picture Winners, including monsters like TITANIC, missed out on a screenplay win.
If LA LA LAND is going to miss this category, it will be to raise a glass to Kenneth Lonergan and his heartbreaking work on MANCHESTER BY THE SEA. The film has received praise from every corner since its debut, and Lonergan’s script is a massive part of that. The talent behind YOU CAN COUNT ON ME and MARGARET delivered another heartbreaking look at the lives of working class people, and watched it become one of the leading contenders of the year. If there’s a fitting place to reward the film, and the filmmaker behind it – this is the place.
Ryan’s Pick… MANCHESTER by a nose
The adapted screenplay is an interesting category thanks to Academy rules, which is to say that there’s a nominee here that hasn’t shown up anywhere else, and that might work to its advantage.
LION is a lovely movie, but not nearly weighty enough to do any damage in such heavy company. The film did leave me wanting to read Saroo Brierley’s book, so that’s not nothin’.
HIDDEN FIGURES is a film that I was thrilled to see latch with Oscar voters, since it’s the sort of project that can often get overlooked. In a perfect world, I’d suggest that this is the sort of category where it could make some noise, but it’s surrounded by heavy competition, so will have to be content with its nomination…something I’m sad to say will likely be a trend for its night.
FENCES is a stunning achievement for all involved, and like HIDDEN FIGURES, rode a beautiful wave of momentum to a lovely haul of nominations. August Wilson already took Pulitzers and Tonys for his incredible play, so a posthumous Oscar would make a nice addition to the set for his family. However, while there will be plenty of love for FENCES on this night, this category won’t be part of that love.
ARRIVAL just won the WGA Award for this category, and one must admit that a story that hangs its hat on society trying a whole lot harder to listen is an appropriate metaphor for this new world order we inhabit. Considering how much I love the film, I’d happily take the sight of Eric Heisserer clutching a little gold man on Sunday night. However, this time around, the film has competition that it didn’t face last weekend.
That’s because of MOONLIGHT – the challenger in waiting on Sunday night that will be elbowed aside time and again for LA LA LAND. Since AMPAS considers MOONLIGHT’s script adapted from previous materials, it actually gets some breathing room and a true chance to take an award. While it certainly stands half a chance in most of its other categories, this is by far the spot where Barry Jenkins’ stunning work stands the best chance to be recognized. Oscar voters have often used the dual screenplay categories as a way to honour a second monster presence (THE SOCIAL NETWORK, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL), so look for that to be the case for MOONLIGHT on Sunday in this slot.
Ryan’s Pick… MOONLIGHT gets its moment.