And so the Oscar frenzy slowly fades away for another year, although the 2017 awards will perhaps best be remembered for the near scandal unwittingly caused by Warren Beatty when he announced the wrong winner for ‘Best Movie.’ The Oscar’s are undoubtedly the most prestigious global film awards, a notion carefully built up and cultivated by the Americans who have anointed themselves the superior Big Brother at large and Warren’s gaga moment in grandly proclaiming ‘La La’ proved to the world’s shocked glee that even the Great White Massa (America) is capable of colossal boo-boos!
Some of the awardees have been hotly debated and contested. I have watched six of the leading films nominated in multiple categories – Lion, La La Land, Moonlight, Hacksaw Ridge, Manchester By The Sea and Jackie – and I attempt below to dissect the main awards and dispel some illusions….while also hotly disputing to myself that it seems more than just an one envelope mix-up!
Best Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Nominees: Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge) Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By The Sea) Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
Although Barry Jenkins has crafted a sensitive story, the going is slow in the beginning, making the audience shift restlessly in their seats. Moreover, only someone who is familiar with or has read stories about what goes on in black neighbourhoods will be able to identify with the emotional trauma or the very fight for survival that growing up in such ghettos entails.
Kenneth Lonergan’s best moments are when dealing with overt emotion, otherwise, Casey Affleck is fairly sullen and withdrawn most of the time, while Lucas Hedges ably holds up his end.
Undoubtedly, Damien Chazelle has done a marvellous job. ‘Chicago,’ while being a hit especially with the sizzling, pouting Catherine Zeta Jones, was still a bit much for audiences not overly fond of musicals as their movie choice. Chazelle got it just right, bunging in a few numbers but keeping the momentum of the movie going with realistic scenes, well-defined dialogues and nifty performances from his lead pair.
But what was the jury smoking?! With Mel Gibson in that list, who earlier directed ‘Passion of the Christ’ with such compelling ardour that it gives me goose bumps even now just to think of it and who has now, with ‘Hacksaw Ridge,’ directed one of the most genuine, potent war movies ever, showing battle to be as ugly and grim as it is and shorn of any of the bunkum around it – with this, a song-and-dance routine walks away with the award?? Blasphemy! ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is gritty and real, with extremely credible performances all around. It could not have been easy directing a war movie of such epic proportions – the cost, the cast, the crew…it’s mindboggling even thinking it! Gibson has pulled off this script based on a true story so ably – there is not a single loose moment anywhere in the film. Blasphemy!
Best Movie: Moonlight
Nominees: La La Land, Manchester By The Sea, Hacksaw Ridge, Arrival, Hell or High Water, Fences, Lion, Hidden Figures
I’m just wondering whether personal prejudices affect the minds of the jury members at the Oscar’s too – or whether they can be bought over, same as happens in India! Mel Gibson has quite a colourful personal life and may have earned himself a few enemies in Hollywood, especially during his alcoholic phase; his ‘Passion of the Christ’ too had put him in the eye of a very controversial storm. So is that the reason his movie was passed over?! If it was up to me, there wouldn’t even BE any other film nominated beside the powerful, graphic, commanding ‘Hacksaw Ridge.’
Although ‘La La Land’ and ‘Moonlight’ are both undoubtedly above par movies, I don’t think ‘Manchester By The Sea’ quite cuts it. If ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ was to be bypassed – as indeed it was – then, in my opinion, ‘Lion’ should have got this award.
Best Screenplay (Adapted): Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
Nominees: Eric Heisserer (Arrival) August Wilson (Fences) Luke Davies (Lion) Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) Allison (Hidden Figures)
I am surprised to see that ‘Jackie’ did not feature in this list; I suppose one could argue it is an ‘adaptation’ since it did incorporate real life events into a reel story. ‘Lion’ did not deserve to be in here at all – the screenplay is almost a direct lift-off from the book, so I fail to see how it can be called ‘adapted.’ For once, I am in agreement with the judges; if these were the nominations, then ‘Moonlight’ did indeed deservedly get the award. The screenplay is written by Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, based on a play written by the latter, titled: ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.’ Although widespread speculation would say that the movie is about a gay protagonist (which in fact, it is) that is not the focal point of the script; rather it presents three stages in the life of the main character, i.e. childhood, adolescence and adulthood. It has been sensitively handled and the only sexually explicit scene on a moonlit beach is more suggestive than graphic.
Best Screenplay (Original): Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By The Sea)
Nominees: Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water) Damien Chazelle (La La Land) Mike Mills (20th Century Women) Yorgos Lanthimos (Lobster)
‘Lobster?’ What was ‘Lobster’ even doing in the nominations?! ‘Manchester By The Sea’ is a bit of a tearjerker script, however, I think ‘La La Land’ fairly deserved the Oscar here. It is not easy to marry a musical with a script that has spoken dialogues, apart from which, almost every scene has been realistically scripted. Damien Chazelle wrote the script himself, way back in 2010, but was unable to find a studio to finance it. Romance, dance, drama – ‘La La Land’ is a well-knitted script that has it all.
Best Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)
Nominees: Ryan Gosling (La La Land) Denzel Washington (Fences) Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)
This one has got to be the biggest laugh and, judging by the reactions of some of Affleck’s contemporaries, I’m not the only one to think so. Except for being slightly hunched over, bad physique, morose and sullen most of the time, not particularly demonstrative or empathetic with his recently orphaned nephew, what has Casey Affleck done to merit an Oscar?
Now, Ryan Gosling brought not only softness and sensitivity and a love of jazz to the fore, he also put in some pretty nifty footwork. It was a joy to watch this tall, manly, bearded man dance so effortlessly and the look in his eyes as he sees Mia walk in with another man – priceless!
And how can one leave out Andrew Garfield and his absolutely marvellous, gut-wrenching performance, be it his unshaken belief in being a conscientious objector, to running back in battle time and time again to save wounded comrades – 75 in all – singlehandedly! ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is based on a true story and Garfield brought alive for us the young medic Desmond Doss, putting his heart and soul into this performance.
Although I am an unabashed Denzel Washington fan – that towering talent! – I haven’t watched ‘Fences’ therefore, it would be a toss between Gosling and Garfield and I think Doss would win the toss.
Best Actress: Emma Stone (La La Land)
Nominees: Natalie Portman (Jackie) Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins) Ruth Negga (Loving) Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Nope, nein, nyet. This award hands-down belonged to Natalie Portman. Emma Stone has turned in a very decent performance, no question, but Portman brought the real Jacqueline Kennedy to life again in a no-holds-barred portrayal, be it the touch of hauteur, the stoicness, or the raw, primal anguish on her face. She worked very hard to get Jackie’s mannerisms right. It is a crying shame that someone else quite literally waltzed (sic!) away with this award from under her nose.
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Nominees: Dev Patel (Lion) Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea) Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)
Ah, no. Mahershala Ali was good in the hood, a drug dealing gangster who has a vulnerable side to him as shown when dealing with the little boy. Hardly an outstanding performance though, lending credence to the buzz that, after the animosity and controversy last year’s Oscar’s generated with allegations of racism, the powers-that-be decided to award Ali – the first Muslim to get an Oscar. Like I suppose it’s just coincidence that ‘Moonlight’ is also the first film with an all-black cast and this factor had no impact on the jury!
In my opinion, the tall and gangly 20-year old Lucas Hedges turned in an Oscar-worthy performance, with the conflicting emotions a high-schooler goes through when his personal life is up in flames flitting effortlessly across his expressively mobile face.
But – a moment, sir. The Oscar in this category undoubtedly belonged to Vince Vaughn. Surprisingly, he didn’t even make it to the nominations, although, as Sergeant Howell in ‘Hacksaw Ridge,’ he was an absolute delight to watch and had all the Army mannerisms down pat.
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences)
Nominees: Naomie Harris (Moonlight) Nicole Kidman (Lion) Michelle Williams (Manchester By The Sea) Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
Not having seen ‘Fences’ it would not be fair of me to dwell overly on this, except to say that Nicole Kidman did nothing outstanding to merit a mention in this list. I would have narrowed it down to Michelle Williams or Naomie Harris and, if I were the one giving out this award, it would be a no-brainer to pick Harris, who has portrayed a whore high on alcohol and drugs, sometimes sobering up to remember her responsibility to her son, never ceasing to love him but acknowledging in her old age her failure to have shown that love, from the gut.
Conclusion: This would appear to be the season of child actors. Hollywood should consider lowering the age requirement for the Oscar’s and, if so, without doubt I would be hard pressed to say whether Sunny Pawar of ‘Lion’ or of ‘Moonlight’ would be the more deserving of the win.
Sunny beautifully essayed the role of a five-year old, slightly cocky child from the slums, albeit secure and much-loved in his little world, to overnight waking to find himself lost in a city thousands of miles from his home, fending off sexual predators and learning that the world at large does not love him so much. From a dingy, oppressed government orphanage to then find himself on an airplane to Australia, Sunny handled all the emotions with aplomb. Alex, intimidated and largely ignored by his crack-addict mother, the target of school bullies, conveys so much pathos, angst and vulnerability through his eyes and bowed body language. This is a boy beaten before he even starts on the race of Life. The vulnerability and growing confidence as he learns to trust Juan and Teresa, the only semblance of ‘family’ that he knows, is heart-wrenching.
With some careful mentoring, these Little Men are here to stay.
– Punam Mohandas
Punam Mohandas is a journalist and author who is also a film buff, accomplished travel writer and an expert on South Asia. She also writes columns on film personalities. She has lived and worked in India, Dubai and Bangkok.