“La La Land” seems like a stone-cold lock of all ages to win the Best Picture Oscar in what’s otherwise been a disappointing year for movies.
The merry musical was the lone sweet cherry piled high atop a giant shit sundae heaping with plentiful box office busts, instantly-forgettable docudramas, mindless futuristic fluff, Star Games, the Hunger Wars, kiddie crack, and several embarrassingly awful films which should never have been green lighted (hang in there, Warren Beatty — I’ll get to you later).
Everything about “La La Land” worked for me. I loved the catchy music, infused with piano and jazz. I loved the romance. I loved the two main characters — played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who were perfectly cast and dazzled with their acting, singing, and dancing. Call me sentimental, call me old fashioned, but I adored the quirky retro-tale about two struggling dreamers trying to make it big in Hollywood. I was also riveted by the unknown of what would happen at the end. Until the final curtain and closing note, we have no idea if Gosling and Stone will end up together as one. This was a great movie.
“La La Land” received a ton of nominations — and rightfully so. It deserves to win several Oscars. That’s the good news. The bad news is, there wasn’t much else worthy of praise. Unfortunately, the competition was so weak this past year, that I expect a record low number television viewers (partially due to half the country buying into the anti-Hollywood ruse). Those who do tune into the 89th annual awards show will be utterly sick of the repetitive speeches from pretty much the same filmmakers over and over again by the time we reach the Animated Short category.
In fact, between the expected Oscar overkill for “La La Land,” cringe worthy political posturing from the usual suspects, and the woefully unfunny Jimmy Kimmel doing his very best to remind us why we all miss someone genuinely funny like Billy Crystal, or Ricky Gervais, or Jim Carey who would have done a much better job in their sleep — I don’t expect to make it all the way through Sunday night’s telecast. That’s really saying something, since I’ve seen (I estimate) 42 out of the last 44 Academy Awards telecasts, from start to finish. [SEE FOOTNOTE ABOUT KIMMEL BELOW]
That doesn’t make me a film critic. But it does provide the basis of an opinion. Here are my thoughts on some of the films I’ve seen this year, and many I have not seen, which have been nominated for Oscars. The envelope of pleasure and pain, please:
“Arrival” — This was a better-than-average sci-fi flick which was greatly enhanced by some marvelous special effects. That said, there’s no way this film deserves Best Picture consideration or anything else other than a few technical Oscar mentions. “Arrival” was filled with jaw-dropping plot holes big enough to make a James Bond scriptwriter bust out in hives. One thing that cracked me up: If an alien spaceship the size of the Empire State Building really landed in the middle of Kansas and wasn’t able to communicate with humans, wouldn’t the U.S. Government hire more than just one linguist? Go figure. I was also annoyed by the bigger story which eventually gets revealed and somehow engulfs the entire previous episode of how the world reacts to invading space aliens.
“Hell or High Water” — Copy cat of the outstanding “No Country for Old Men” this film lacked much originality. Story about a couple of erratic brothers who turn into wildly reckless bank robbers in dusty West Texas, while they’re pursued relentlessly by an impossible-to-understand local sheriff played by mumbling Jeff Bridges, who’s mouth is filled with so many marbles he could stock a gumball machine. To be fair — this movie does have it’s moments as a very watchable crime hunt caper. But in the end, we all know what’s coming, and the conclusion is less than fulfilling. I can’t think of a single thing about this movie that’s Oscar-worthy.
“Manchester by the Sea” — I hated this movie. I hated it. I hated it. I hated it. Dreadfully dull and depressing blow-your-brains-out downer of a film about a pathetic loser-janitor from Boston who makes one bad choice after another until the point where we (the audience) have completely run out of patience. Just jump off a bridge and end this, please. There’s hardly a character in the movie who’s appealing (aside from the orphaned teen son, who’s excellent, by the way). Casey Affleck (personifying the same sub-par acting abilities of his more famous brother) becomes the accidental star in this bore of movie — as someone you’d pluck out of shitty job, cast in a movie, and then praise for his authenticity playing common working man. Hell, any half-shaven truck driver in America could have played this part. The drug-addicted turned religious nut of a wife is just as bad. Inexplicably, this film is up for several awards. I have no fucking idea why. A horrible movie.
I’m embarrassed to say I’ve not yet seen some movies that were nominated in various categories that look quite decent, and perhaps might ultimately change my opinion of the caliber of films released this past year. Foremost among these is “Hidden Figures,” the remarkable little-known story about a group of Black female mathematicians who fought prejudice and ended up making great contributions to the NASA space program. I admit I’d not heard about this story before, so I look forward to seeing the film, which is being praised highly by those who saw it.
“Moonlight” also looks like a film worthy of seeing, of for no other reason than it received eight nominations. “Loving” was on my radar screen earlier when it was released, but didn’t receive as many positive reviews, so I put that on the back burner, until later. “Lion” looked intriguing. However, I then saw a film documentary on the actual person who was lost as a child on whom this movie was based. After being exposed to the real-life tale, the movie didn’t interest me quite as much.
As for movies and actors I’m rooting for strictly as a personal preference, here are my thoughts: First, “La La Land” can do no wrong. Anything it wins will be well deserved, especially in the Best Director and Best Picture categories. “Fences” was the blood and sweat of the always excellent Denzel Washington, who finally deserved and got his chance to produce and direct the movie he’s wanted to make for a long time. This film probably won’t be called out much when the envelopes get opened; however Viola Davis seems like a worthy choice in the Best Supporting Actress category.
Viggo Mortensen has done some outstanding film work of the years, and he’s among the very best actors working today. I saw only a glimpse of “Captain Fantastic,” a challenging emotional role for which he’s been nominated for Best Actor. I’d love to see him win. Admittedly, this is probably Ryan Gosling’s award on Sunday night, but Mortensen walking onstage would be just as satisfying.
The Best Actress race looks especially intriguing, this year. Meryl Streep is Hollywood royalty among peers and critics, but she won’t win anything this year for a film what was pretty awful (an inexplicable third remake of a rich English woman who can’t sing). I have great respect for Natalie Portman and her talent, but would prefer she not win for the title role in “Jackie.” Please. Enough of the Kennedy’s — already, especially the over-sanctified JFK period, an average presidency at best which has been so ridiculously overblown, it’s warped our view of history. No surprise here, I’ll go with Emma Stone in LLL.
I customarily see most of the documentaries and foreign films which are nominated. But due to timing and logistics, it also takes me a while to get around to seeing all of them. I’m also one of the very few people who has seen every short and animated film (nominee) over the past three years from the Oscars (there’s a special showing, I’ve attended and written about), but this is typically a post-Oscar endeavor. Accordingly, I can’t say much about these films, yet. However, the massive archival undertaking that was “O.J.: Made in America” really stuck with me. I watched all 8 hours over an extended period, and watched some of it again. Filmmakers took a subject we all thought we knew well, and yet somehow still managed to make this a riveting detective story, with quite a bit of fresh eye-opening material, not just on the O.J. Simpson trial, but the modern history of race relations in America. This was an amazing film series that I would describe as a “must-see.” Note: Why wasn’t this included in the Best Picture nominees? Can’t a documentary be the best movie of the year? Why the bias?
In closing, I’ll give out my own sour grapes award for the worst film/worst performance of last year. Remember legendary Warren Beatty? Well, he’s my winner — or make that, loser. Beatty starred in a dreadful bio-epic as Howard Hughes in the laughably awful, “Rules Don’t Apply.” Marieta and I stormed of the theater after wasting an hour plus 15, and $24 in cash, so I can’t comment in detail about this garbage other than to spoil the fuck out of it and save anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. Trust me, I’m doing you a favor. Beatty, who in real life is age 80, plays Hughes when he’s about 50, which requires applying enough makeup to bronze Donald Trump for an entire month. Hughes’ (Beatty’s) still got it, though. Taking his cue right out of 1975’s “Shampoo” when he was at the top of his acting game and managed to bed every hot ounce of female flesh in Hollywood, the eccentric octogenarian has a sexual tryst and then later marries a 22-year-old virgin starlet (which never happened!). Poor real Howard Hughes. His grave must be spinning like a top, helped by all those oil drills that made him a billionaire. This is the worst performance of anyone on screen within the last five years, and that’s really saying something since Adam Sandler has released four movies within that time frame.
Footnote: Credit Jimmy Kimmel on a surprisingly strong performance as Oscar host. I didn’t expect much, but he delivered.Read More