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The View from La La Land


LR-Oscar Statuette-pSo the Oscar nomination process is on the one hand modernizing: the Academy realized they no longer have to gather everyone “live” at 5 in the morning, feeding all those press minions breakfast before they head back to their newspaper offices with printed handouts, to type up stories for afternoon editions. Instead, they could stream and upload the whole damn thing, and all the pixel-stained wretches could stay home.

On the other hand, the Oscars do cling to traditions now clearly discarded by Federal elections: in these instances, the films which actually got the most votes are the ones that, in turn, got nominated.

And what a combination of surprises, and not-surprises, this year’s batch of noms has been.

On the not-surprise front, many of films for Best Picture are pretty much as guessed at: Well-crafted, buzzy fare like Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, Fences, Hidden Figures, Hacksaw Ridge and La La Land are all poised at the finish line.

And is the well-regarded “modern Western” Hell or High Water, with Jeff Bridges, in a sideways reprise of his True Grit role, also nominated in the best supporting actor category.

Ben Foster, Chris Pine in Hell or High Water (2016)
Ben Foster, Chris Pine in Hell or High Water (2016)

But it’s in those categories we also see an Oscars not quite-so-white this time: 3 of 5 best supporting actress nominees are African-American, and Ruth Negga scored a best actress nod for the now-historically-necessary Loving, which also surprised by not making the “best picture” cut.

Lion, however the true story of a 5 year-old in India who gets lost on a train journey, but manages to find his hometown — and family — again decades later, did make that cut, the latest offering from The Weinstein Company to do so. Of its six nominations, two were below the line, in the film score and cinematography categories.

Lion’s DP, Greig Fraser, has been having quite the winter season, as a certain Rogue One, which he also shot, was released the same time.

Amy Adams in Arrival (2016)
Amy Adams in Arrival (2016)

Fraser, who is currently in Mexico City filming, heard about his nomination through an email from the academy and said in a statement that he was “extremely proud to be part of the team who made Lion and am humbled the Academy has nominated me. My crew, both Indian, and Australian, deserve a massive shout out. Their skill and support meant everything to this film…

I’d like to say thank you to our extremely talented director Garth Davis for allowing me to help make his wonderful vision a reality – as well as the people of India and Australia, who were so accommodating during our shoot. It’s an incredible privilege to be acknowledged among the diverse and talented DPs of the cinematography world, so many of whom are doing amazing work. And so many whom I count as close, personal friends.”

Those other talented DPs included Arrival’s Bradford Young, Moonlight’s James Laxton, Rodrigo Prieto for Martin Scorcese’s Silence, and La La Land’s Linus Sandgre.

As for La La Land, that One From the Heart-esque valentine to the L.A. dreamscape, the surprise wasn’t its nomination, but the sheer breadth of them, with 14, tying All About Eve and Titanic as the most-nominated films ever, with a reach extending from from above to below the line. Indeed, in the sound editing category, Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan became the first female team nominated in that category, for their work on said dreamscape.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Some other notable marks, too: Stuart Craig’s nomination for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (along with set decorator Anna Pinnock) makes him the most-nominated living production designer (though the redoubtable Jess Gonchor figured into the mix in that category as he re-teamed with the Coen Bros. for Hail, Ceasar!)

Additionally, Thomas Newman‘s nomination for Passengers in the original score department is number 14 for him, clearly a lucky number this year, making the whole musical Newman clan — as we’ve noted previously!– Oscar’s most nominated family, between Alfred, Lionel, Emil, Thomas, David and Randy, with 90 such nods between ‘em. Though it’s worth noting that Thomas is up against Justin Hurwitz and the La La Land juggernaut in this category.

Sci-fi opus Arrival — now an example of immediate wish fulfillment that aliens showing up may be the only remaining way out of our collective jam — provides some below-the-line competition to La La Land with 8 overall nods (including best picture) and 5 scattered in categories like cinematography, sound editing and mixing, and production design.

Surprisingly perhaps, there was no nomination for the film in the visual effects category, though John Knoll pulls off what is likely a first-time double-header: Nominated as a VFX supe for Rogue One, a film in which he shares a writing credit! The Mouseworks is well represented in this category, as their all-rendered Jungle Book (well, except for the actor playing Mowgli) and the fractal-laden Doctor Strange are also finishers.

Hidden Figures  (2016)
Hidden Figures (2016)

Jungle Book’s Adam Valdez, who was MPC’s supe for the picture, emailed us to say “it’s a dream to make a piece of work you are proud of with so many talented artists, then have audiences enjoy it. To be recognized by the academy is so special.  I hope every artist who was a part of Jungle Book at MPC will feel pride in this nomination of our work. We are ever grateful to our friends at Disney, and director Jon Favreau for their belief in such an ambitious project, and in us.”

Sharing a nomination in that category, is the stop-motion Kubo and the Two Strings, from Oregon’s plucky Laika studio, which found itself similarly up against the Mouse, unsurprisingly, in the animated film category, where Moana and Zootopia are also nominated — and where Pixar’s Finding Dory was surprisingly shut out. Who knows if that means they’ll be splitting votes, allowing a smaller film, like Kubo or My Life as a Zucchini to squeak through?

Another of Oscar’s “best picture” categories showed an interesting range too, namely for foreign language films, where Sweden’s A Man Called Ove was a finisher, and a nominee in the makeup and hairstyling category. In that same group, the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, a previous winner for A Separation, found his current The Salesman — about an Iranian couple’s struggles with an off-stage act of violence while attempting to produce a Farsi-language version of Death of a Salesman — also nominated.

Farhadi said he was “overwhelmed and honored by the Academy’s recognition of my newest film,” and specifically wished to thank “all my crew who so warmly accompanied my efforts to make (the film) over the course of the last year. What I have strived for in my filmmaking has always been to create a sense of empathy toward my characters. Empathy meaning understanding the conditions and situations of other human beings who very much resemble us.”

Viola Davis in Fences (2016)
Viola Davis in Fences (2016)

That urgent importance of recognizing human beings “who very much resemble us” was seen in the documentary category too, where Life, Animated — about a boy who uses Disney animation to help overcome some of the challenges of autism — found itself nominated along with O.J.: Made in America, which, at  7 hours and 47 minutes is the longest film ever nominated for anything, by the Academy.

Another surprise finisher in that group was I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary about the late author James Baldwin, and his unfinished book taking in the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. Like the narrative film Loving, Baldwin too has become once again indispensable for the present moment. He observed that “one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

He also said that “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

With the country, and world, facing so much all at once, the Oscar night broadcast at the end of next month will be most interesting. La La Land, indeed.

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