We Won Best Picture.

moonlight-best-picture-oscars-jordan-horowitz-2017-academy-awards-abcWhat a night!

Leave it to a telecast celebrating the films of 2016 to have a shocking surprise in store at the end. Last year, the modest Spotlight bested the bombastic The Revenant in the Best Picture race, even after Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu won Best Director. This wasn’t a total shocker, because The Revenant was a more divisive film than Spotlight, which everyone pretty much agreed was at least good. But I predicted The Revenant in my Oscar pool because I was being a realist — and also because I convinced myself that predicting the movie I wanted to win would mean it wasn’t going to.

This year, like most prognosticators, I predicted La La Land, taking the same strategy. Again, the film I actually wanted and hoped would win did.

Apparently, there is something to my theory after all.

You’re welcome, Moonlight.

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The Not-Oscars 2016

not-oscars-2016It’s just about Oscar time again — though for once, the Best Picture race isn’t exactly the most disappointing contest I’ll witness over the past year.

At times like these, the Academy Awards feel somewhat frivolous. It’s possible that some likely winners — The Salesman, Mahershala Ali, The White Helmets, OJ: Made In America, and even Zootopia — will have a political charge. We can certainly expect at least a few winners at the podium to speak out against the GOP’s onslaught of intolerance. Still, the main narrative of this Sunday’s Oscars telecast is shaping up to be about escaping these horrors rather than confronting them. I’m finding it difficult to celebrate that.

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The Tens: Best Of Film 2016

jackie-natalie-portman-white-house-tv-camerasAnother year, another awards season.

But this was no ordinary year.

Where to begin, when we speak of 2016? Most years, I just pick my favorite films, and that’s it. But this year, it felt important to really think about these choices, and what they expressed about my feelings this year. That’s not to say I picked a bunch of films I didn’t like as much just because they were “important.” Not at all. But I also know that when I look back at what cinema offered in 2016 many years from now — provided we’re still all in one piece by then — I do want it to reflect the turmoil, the despair, and the utter, unspeakable horrors inflicted upon so many of us over the course of the last year.

So, uhh, no. La La Land will not be my pick for Movie of the Year.

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Twentieth Century Women: Luminous Ladies Bring Life To Stories Of The 1900s

20th-century-women-elle-fanning-annette-bening-greta-gerwig “The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation. The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.”

We’re getting further and further into the 21st century, but a number of the year’s best dramas have been rooted firmly in the century before. One of them is even named after last century.

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Trauma Queen: Isabelle Huppert Leads The Rest Of The Best Actresses

elle-isabelle-huppert-arthur-mazetIn the movies, if not so much in life, 2016 has turned out to be a very good year for the ladies. While the Best Actor race is suffering from a dearth of truly exciting performances in 2016, the Best Actress race is stacked. You could fill the Best Actress category twice before you come across five male performances that have the fire and finesse displayed by the women this year. The clear frontrunners are Natalie Portman in Jackie and Emma Stone in La La Land, with Annette Bening’s work in 20th Century Women also expected to pick up a nod. That leaves two slots open to a wide swath of women, from Amy Adams in Arrival to Ruth Negga in Loving — both deserving, though perhaps not showy enough to stand out this year.

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Love In A Hopeless Place: ‘Jackie’ Is A Requiem For The American Dream

jackie-natalie-portman-caspar-phillipson She remembers how hot the sun was in Dallas, and the crowds — greater and wilder than the crowds in Mexico or in Vienna. The sun was blinding, streaming down; yet she could not put on sunglasses for she had to wave to the crowd.

And up ahead she remembers seeing a tunnel around a turn and thinking that there would be a moment of coolness under the tunnel. There was the sound of motorcycles, as always in a parade, and the occasional backfire of a motorcycle. The sound of the shot came, at that moment, like the sound of a backfire, and she remembers Connally saying, “No, no, no, no, no…”

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Ehh ‘La La’: Damien Chazelle’s Sun-Soaked Ode To A City of Stars

another-day-of-sun-dance-sequence-la-la-landLos Angeles is a city paradoxically known for two things: its sun and its stars. Most of La La Land‘s musical moments revolve around one or the other.

For months now, the follow-up from the writer/director of Whiplash has been positioned as the front-runner for Best Picture, with plenty of precedent — 2002’s Chicago was a musical named after a populous American city; 2005’s Crash was all about the populace of Los Angeles; 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire revolved around a popular TV show; 2010’s The King’s Speech followed a monarch who needed a vocal coach in order to deliver a performance; 2011’s The Artist, 2012’s Argo, and 2014’s Birdman dealt with showbiz even more explicitly. Put all these Best Picture winners in a blender, add a dollop of Crazy Stupid Love for good measure, and you pretty much get La La Land, Oscar nominee Damien Chazelle’s third music-centric film in a row, starring Hollywood darlings Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. I don’t mean to question Chazelle’s motives in making this film, but it does kind of seem like it was concocted by a Netflix algorithm based on the members of the Academy’s viewing preferences.

Because You Watched Birdman

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Stronger Together: Amy Adams Anchors ‘Nocturnal Animals’ & ‘Arrival’

50805_AA_6087 print_v2lmCTRST+SAT3F Academy Award nominee Amy Adams stars as Susan Morrow in writer/director Tom Ford’s romantic thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus FeaturesSince no studio executive can see into the future, it is impossible to to know if the right date has been selected to launch a film. Sure, 4th of July weekend was a pretty savvy time to release Independence Day back in 1996, and you can consider that a safe bet, but there are moments when news headlines trump Hollywood offerings that no one sees coming. The high school-set dark comedy Election had the misfortune of being released days after the Columbine massacre shocked the nation; just this year, The Birth Of A Nation was sunk by bad press surrounding Nate Parker’s rape allegations. (Because if there’s one thing Americans won’t stand for, it’s letting influential men get away with sexual assault… right?) The Birth Of A Nation might have been a massive hit if released last winter, on the heels of its Sundance breakout buzz, or maybe even this weekend, when a story of black Americans rioting against cruel and bigoted white oppressors might resonate. But that’s not how it happened.

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