These past few weeks since the Oscar nominations came out I have posted an Oscar Primer going over the chances that nominated films have of winning their respective categories. Best Picture nominated films were dissected on Contra Zoom, while the remaining ones will be discussed here. Last week I talked about Jackie, Loving, Zootopia and Doctor Strange. This week I will go over Moana, A Man Called Ove, O.J.: Made in America and The Salesman.
Over the course of the last few weeks all nine best picture nominees were discussed on Contra Zoom, and fifteen additional films were talked about in my Oscar Primer’s. I hope that over the course of these twenty-four films broken down you have either learned something new, decided to check out a movie you might not have or just enjoyed reading and listening to people talk about film. It is always a pleasure to share this enjoyment with others. Stay tuned for a post-Oscars recap after the awards on February 26th.
Moana was directed by Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker and Chris Williams and was released on November 23rd 2016. The film has two nominations.
- Best Animated Feature
- Best Original Song- “How Far I’ll Go” by Lin-Manuel Miranda
At the beginning of the year if you were to pick the most likely candidates for the Best Animated Feature award, you would be smart to pick Finding Dory, the sequel to 2003’s Oscar winning Finding Nemo as Pixar has a stellar track record in not only getting nominations, but also wins. Instead Finding Dory disappointed slightly and was shut out. The next big studio film to be considered a front-runner was Disney’s Moana and they did indeed get a nomination. While Disney has done a reasonably decent job at portraying characters other than white people (Mulan, Pocahontas etc) in recent years they have made it a mission to allow children of all races to look up to a Disney character that might look like them. Moana goes further than say The Princess and the Frog as she doesn’t even have a love interest, something that is a Disney standard. The centerpiece of the film really is Dwayne Johnson’s stellar turn as the demi-god Maui even if he doesn’t appear until quite a while into the film. The film has top notch animation that you expect from the biggest studio in the world and the voice acting is all sublime. The story is rich with the history of Hawaii and pan-Asian cultures and is both an entertaining as hell movie and quite educational. Sadly it seems like Moana is quite far behind as both Zootopia and Kubo and the Two Strings are the films to beat in the main category.
It is a bit odd that “How Far I’ll Go” was selected as the official song for this film as there are two superior ones. The history of Hawaii condescended into a few minutes with Maui’s star turning song, “You’re Welcome” and Jermaine Clement does David Bowie song “Shiny” both better than the slightly dull “How Far I’ll Go”. Renaissance man Lin-Manuel Miranda, fresh off his massive success that was the stage production Hamilton penned the music for the movie and it would be exciting to see him go for the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) currently a club with only twelve members, it won’t be this year as there is no way La La Land isn’t winning Best Original Song.
A Man Called Ove was directed by Hannes Holm and was released on September 30th 2016. The film has two nominations.
- Best Foreign Film- Sweden
- Best Makeup and Hairstyling- Love Larson and Eva Von Bahr
Watching the trailer for foreign films is usually a pretty bad idea, and one I try to avoid because even when you are fortunate enough to have one with subtitles in it things like tone and content are often ignored just to get peoples interests and have them think it is a typical Hollywood film. I saw the trailer for A Man Called Ove before Lion and was turned off greatly that I almost didn’t watch the film thinking it was going to be a cheesy melodrama. Instead I was treated to a heartwarming story (that may have been a bit predictable) with fantastic dialogue. The constant struggle of Ove trying to kill himself but failing after his wife’s passing only six months prior was played both hilariously and tragically, something that is credited to Rolf Lassgård’s performance. The film probably is a distant third place after The Salesman and Toni Erdmann as they have the most steam but A Man Called Ove does have a nomination outside of this category, something the other four don’t have.
As far as that other nomination goes it’s for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, the category with only three nominees (a shameful process that I rant about in Part 1 of the Oscar predictions episode of Contra Zoom). The makeup here is subtle as it shows Ove at many different ages, played by multiple actors but still all looking the same. It is actually the same team that was nominated last year for The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared that was beat out by Mad Max: Fury Road. Sadly, subtle makeup doesn’t win this Oscar as it is the film with the most makeup and the most cutting edge work, which will mean that Suicide Squad will win this despite the movie being god-awful.
O.J.: Made in America was directed by Ezra Edelman and was released on May 20th 2016. The film has one nomination.
- Best Documentary
This sprawling, epic, five part, eight-hour monster of a documentary is like nothing we have ever seen at the Oscars. Sure long doc’s have existed before but never have they received theatrical releases and played at festivals like this. The mini-series was made by ESPN as part of their massively successful 30 For 30 program and it goes deep. The film tracks not only the infamous Simpson murder trial, but the entire race relations history of the city of Los Angeles including the Watts Riots and the Rodney King Riots as well. Having been born in 1989 I was too young to remember the 1994 murder trail, and the circus around it. I only knew about the trashy older Simpson and how it was unbelievable that he got off the hook. Watching the mishandling of evidence, the inappropriate amount of time focused on the racist police officer who found the gloves, the damn judge allowing the jury to visit Simpson’s house and the massive cultural divide between whites and blacks (about 70% of white people thought he was guilty and about 70% of black people though he was innocent) spoke volumes as to what was wrong with the trail. Edelman gets several former jurors, the lawyers on both sides, key witnesses who gave testimony, his family members, the victims family members and loads more all to give interviews for this film. It is as current in today’s supposed post-racial climate as it was back in 1994 making it a must see. This film will win and is very deservedly too.
The Salesman was directed by Asghar Farhadi and was released on January 27th 2017. The film has one nomination.
- Best Foreign Film- Iran
This is a film that is not meant for Western audiences. While Farhadi has a cult following over in Europe and North America after his breakthrough film A Separation, which won this very award five years ago, he certainly does not feel the need to cater to the watching eyes over him. This film may be even more Iranian culturally speaking than A Separation despite the American masterpiece play Death of a Salesman playing prominently into the plot. When the female main character is sexually assaulted in her own apartment she fights with her husband over how to move forward. If they go to the police they might just think the wife is a whore and wonder how she may have accidentally let in another man (that line of thinking is eerily close to comments Republican politicians have made regarding rape too as they blame the victim), if they try to explain the situation to their co-stars (they are both actors working together in DoaS) their family will be shamed something the wife does not want to risk. Putting your mind in an Iranian headspace where their ideals are different then ours immediately transforms the film into one where you think the plot is preposterous to one of understanding. Looking at it through our lens, you also have to wonder if we take the wife’s story at face value (a man went into the bathroom where she was only washing her hair and he strokes her hair then flees) or if due to censor’s Farhadi is insinuating more occurred (a full out sexual assault and/or rape) as we are told that even Death of a Salesman is too provocative for Iranian audiences as three passages needed to be cut to appeal to the Ministry of Culture lest they be shut down. This is a fascinating look of the realities of countries worlds away from Canada, that will help viewers understand their neighbours a bit better. This film was the co-front runner with Toni Erdmann when the nominations came out, but in light of Trump’s travel ban (even if it is now an unsuccessful ban) Farhadi has said he will be protesting America by not coming to the Oscars suddenly making the film the perfect “fuck you” to Trump and company making them the de facto front runner now. If The Salesman wins Farhadi will join a group of only three other directors (Vittorio De Sica, Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman) as the only two time winners of the Best Foreign Film award.