Last month, the Oscar nominations were announced and thankfully, the acting and behind the scenes categories featured a far more diverse crowd.
Producers are thankfully making more diverse films and rightfully made sure the Academy got a hold of them.
The one downside to any Oscar season though is the snubs, with Amy Adams being the biggest one of the year.
This year I decided to celebrate the films I felt were Oscar worthy, regardless if they were nominated or not.
Let’s start with Best Picture shall we?
Best Picture: Arrival
Arrival is the film 2016 needed and should be recommended viewing for everyone.
Most films with a message come off heavy handed or worse, boring. But Arrival is one of the most poignant films I’ve had the pleasure of viewing.
I feel like this year’s Oscars, which will be filled with anti-Trump sentiment, needs a film that shows the power of truly listening and how communication is key to making the world a better place.
Best Director: Denis Villeneuve
This was a hard one, mainly because Jackie is dear to me and I loved Pablo Larrain’s intimate yet stirring direction. But Denis Villeneuve elevated the already wonderful material he was given and in turn, did his best work yet in Arrival.
I’m not the biggest fan of Villeneuve’s past work besides his sublime thriller Enemy, so I went into Arrival expecting a visually stunning, but emotionally empty film.
I have never been so wrong about him.
One of the hardest things in directing is making sure the film satisfies you and that the film resonates with people, hopefully in positive ways.
Mr. Villenvue, you more than succeeded in being an artist and an entertainer.
Best Actress (tie): Natalie Portman (Jackie) / Mackenzie Davis (Always Shine)
Last year was truly a remarkable year for female actors, and the double feature of excellence belonged to Natalie Portman and Mackenzie Davis
Portman however, was my first clear winner because not only did she truly blow me away throughout the run time of Jackie, but at times it felt like I was actually watching Jackie Kennedy.
Every infliction in her voice, every sudden burst of emotion, and every stone cold glare was a shot to my system.
I felt like I was watching a living embodiment of this woman that I had seen in so many times through my life, and Portman’s effortless mannerisms were a thing of beauty.
Mackenzie Davis on the other hand, was an explosion of repressed anger and betrayal and blew me away as well.
Her opening monologue is a masterclass in anger, without ever veering into camp.
You feel her anger and frustration in each frame she’s in and the image of her dominating her ex-friend with a script reading is some of the best acting I’ve seen in the past five years.
I have a feeling she will be nominated within a few years and I can’t wait for more people to see her wonderful talent.
Best Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
No other performance in the last two decades has come close to what Marlon Brando was capable of doing in the 50’s and 60’s…until Casey Affleck acted in Manchester by the Sea.
There’s a raw masculinity and vulnerability that pulsates off the screen every time Affleck appears and it’s a pleasure/heartbreaker to see this man struggle with his emotions for two and half hours.
The less I say about this film the better, but for Affleck’s performance, he cemented the Best Actor win the moment he said, “There’s nothing left” to Michelle Williams. I had to hold back all my emotions and knew I was watching an actor bring out depths of his soul on screen.
I know this sounds like I’m being too deep here but trust me, Affleck pours out his soul in each frame of the film.
Supporting Actress: Caitlin Fitzgerald (Always Shine)
One of the most underrated films of the year was the unnervingly effective character drama, Always Shine.
Mackenzie Davis steals the show, but Caitlin Fitzgerald is the morally questionable character that gives the film the support it needed to work.
The character is very selfish, but rightfully so. She’s plays an actress that is constantly competing with her old best friend, and the fear of failure that is ever prevalent in every nuance in her performance is something to see.
It’s on iTunes now if you want a masterclass in what it means to be a supporting actor.
Best Supporting Actor: Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight)
Many are going to say Mahershala Ali gave the best performance in Moonlight and I thought so too, until I saw the film a second time.
Trevante Rhodes doesn’t show up until the third act, but it was worth the wait.
The soul that illuminates within his eyes are heart wrenching and his masculine persona mixed with his soul is instantly iconic.
There’s a moment when he tells a person from his past a secret he’s been hiding for years and it’s some of the best repressed acting you will see.
Simply avoiding eye contact can mean many things, but when Rhodes does it, the feeling of shame and regret is ever apparent.
Best Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea
Kenneth Lonergan’s screenplay for Manchester by the Sea is like a modern day Elia Kazan film, but with far more subtlety and language.
Each scene comes off like a propulsion of emotions and I for one was not ready for this. The characters all come off realistic and nothing feels over dramatic.
This script is the real deal.
There isn’t a doubt in my mind that this is the best original screenplay of the year and the one that will win on Sunday night.
Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight
Now, Arrival technically is my favorite story on the list, but the way Barry Jenkins wrote it was pure poetry.
The way he writes about a lingering moment or the way Chiron looks at someone come off instantly emotional, without feeling manipulative.
Just read these lines and try not to be captivated.
This award is definitely Barry Jenkins’ and I fear this could be the only sure thing it will win on Oscar Sunday.
But in my mind, this screenplay won the moment I read about Chiron simply turning down the radio in his car.
Best Documentary/Animated Feature: Tower
The best achievement in Documentary and Animation filmmaking of the year hands down.
Man on Wire and Waltz with Bashir has become the modern standard for intense documentaries, but Tower is going to give it a run for it’s money.
The film revolves around the victims and heroes of the 1966 University of Texas shooting and I’m still shaking from watching it.
Many are going to applaud the film’s animation aesthetic, and rightfully so, but it deserves just as much praise for focusing on the survivors and victims, instead of the shooter.
It’s available to rent on iTunes and it’s the year’s most under-loved documentary.
Best Cinematography: Jackie
Each shot is a puzzling opus of intimacy and perfect lighting.
One moment the film can be as warm as apple pie and the next it can look as cold and isolated as a walking in a maze alone.
The use of close ups are also the best of the year, because it instantly put me in Jackie’s mindset and emotions.
Here’s some shots from the film:
I tried to do pick the perfect screenshot to use for this, but I ended up taking a screenshot of every frame from the trailer.
Best Foreign Film: The Handmaiden
Many are calling The Handmaiden the most snubbed film of the year and they are correct.
The film oozes with sexuality, danger, dazzling cinematography, and committed performances.
The less you know about the film the better, but I for sure can tell you that it’s one of the most seediest films of the year and wears that mantle proudly.
The confident direction makes this whole affair go by quickly, and many will be remembering the film’s entertainingly bizarre plot and intense sex scenes.
It’s available to rent and buy and don’t worry, you won’t be prepared to experience this movie and that’s perfectly fine.
Best Editing: Arrival
To edit a film that uses a complex narrative, it’s easy for one to get lost in the shuffle.
Not only does the film flow better than a quiet river, but it emotionally transports us places and is only later enhanced by the music.
I never once felt lost during this film and after a while I didn’t even notice the cuts because everything fit together like a puzzle.
Arrival is not your average narrative and it’s a miracle that the editing made the film better and was truly seamless .
Best Song: Drive it Like You Stole It (Sing Street)
It’s insulting that two of the worst songs from La La Land were given love over the entirety of Sing Street’s soundtrack.
Seriously, there are three songs more than worthy songs on the Sing Street soundtrack worth of an Oscar, but Drive it Like You Stole It is by far my favorite on it.
Instantly, the song enters your system and grabs hold of you.
Not only is the song incredibly catchy and features some of the best songwriting of the year, but it works in the context of the film remarkably well.
Just give it a listen here and it will be stuck in your head for days.
Best Makeup and Hairstyle/Costume Design: The Love Witch
This is one of the most underseen films on this lists, but if the Academy had a chance to see this ingenious genre-bender, they would’ve been treated to some of the best costumes and make up to grace the screen since Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.
Director Anna Biller and her talented team delivered a film that not only looked gorgeous because of it’s 35mm film aesthetic, but because of the luminous and bold make up and costume designs.
Best Production Design: Jackie
They shot this film in France in 2015 and every moment of this film looked like America in the 60’s and I’m still not convinced they didn’t just magically teleport the cast and crew to that decade.
Best Sound Editing/Sound Mixing: The Fits
I had the wonderful chance to see this in a movie theatre and boy did the sound design and mixing shine.
The sound pulsates with an eerie mood and it’s scattered around the score that your ears will be ringing the intense pleasure.
Sound mixing and sound design honors usually go towards action or music heavy films, but it should go towards films that use sound as part of it’s narrative and mood.