My 2016 Personal Ballot

BEST PICTURE:
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Nominees:
Elle
La La Land
*Manchester by the Sea – WINNER*
Midnight Special
Moonlight
Sing Street

BEST DIRECTOR:
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Nominees:
Andrea Arnold for American Honey
*Damien Chazelle for La La Land – WINNER*
Barry Jenkins for Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea
Jeff Nichols for Midnight Special

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:casey aff.jpg
Nominees:
*Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea – WINNER*
Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge
Andrew Garfield for Silence
Ryan Gosling in La La Land
Denzel Washington in Fences

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:
elle.jpgNominees:
Rebecca Hall in Christine
*Isabelle Huppert in Elle – WINNER*
Natalie Portman in Jackie
Hailee Steinfeld in The Edge of Seventeen
Emma Stone in La La Land

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:lucas hedge.jpgNominees:
Mahershala Ali in Moonlight 
John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane
*Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea – WINNER*
Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Nocturnal Animals
Trevante Rhodes in Moonlight

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:lily gladstone.jpgNominees:
Viola Davis in Fences
Paulina Garcia in Little Men
*Lily Gladstone in Certain Women – WINNER*
Naomi Harris in Moonlight
Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
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Nominees:
David Birke for Elle
August Wilson for Fences
*Barry Jenkins and Tarell McCraney for Moonlight – WINNER*
Tom Ford for Nocturnal Animals
Kelly Reichardt for Certain Women 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
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Nominees:
Kelly Fremon Craig for The Edge of Seventeen
Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos for The Lobster
*Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea – WINNER*
Jeff Nichols for Midnight Special
John Carney for Sing Street

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE:
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Nominees:
The cast of Certain Women
The cast of Little Men
*The cast of Manchester by the Sea – WINNER*
The cast of Moonlight
The cast of Nocturnal Animals

BEST FILM EDITING:
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Nominees:
Sebastian Sepulveda for Jackie
*Tom Cross for La La Land – WINNER*
Jennifer Lame for Manchester by the Sea
Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders for Moonlight
Joan Sobel for Nocturnal Animals 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:
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Nominees:
Bradford Young for Arrival
Stephane Fontaine for Jackie
Linus Sandgren for La La Land
*James Laxton for Moonlight – WINNER*
Seamus McGarvey for Nocturnal Animals 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN:
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Nominees:
*Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson for The Dressmaker – WINNER*
Consolata Boyle for Florence Foster Jenkins
Madeline Fontaine for Jackie
Mary Zophres for La La Land
Jacqueline West for Live by Night

BEST USE OF MUSIC – ORIGINAL SCORE or SONG:
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Nominees:
The original score from Jackie
The original score from La La Land
The original score from Moonlight
*The original song “Drive It Like You Stole It” from Sing Street – WINNER*
The original song “Go Now” from Sing Street 

The Top 10 Movies of 2016

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What an interesting year it was for movies. After a stronger than normal first quarter, we hit a slog of a summer and ended the year with movies that were both thought-provoking and deeply moving. One of my favorite aspects of this year in movies was how quietly some films snuck up on you. Movies that I thought I liked, I couldn’t get out of my head and actually, truly loved.

Certainly, there were plenty of lousy movies because, unfortunately, there are always more stinkers released in a year than not. That should not deflect from the great films and hidden gems that came out this year and will stay with you long after the end credits roll.

I could have easily filled up a list of 20 movies that were great this year. It pained me to not highlight the thrills of 10 Cloverfield Lane and Hell or High Water. How about the beautiful subtlety of Certain Women or the tale of friendship and economic struggle in Little Men? Disney remade Pete’s Dragon to charming and emotionally satisfying success, which ended up being one of the surprise highlights of the late summer season. I haven’t even mentioned Everybody Wants Some!!, Eye in the Sky, Deadpool, Hacksaw Ridge, Green Room or A Bigger Splash. They may have not made the Top 10 but are all movies worth seeing.

The fun and challenging part is keeping the list to 10, so without further ado, here are my picks for the 10 best movies of 2016…

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  1. American Honey: When I left Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, I wasn’t entirely sure how much I liked it; it’s a shaggy, rambling, 163-minute ode to millennial ennui that lacks a distinct focus. A few days after seeing the movie, I hadn’t stopped thinking about it. There’s an unshakable energy and vibe to Arnold’s road trip oddessy, which follows a young ragtag magazine sales crew. Featuring a debut performance by Sasha Lane and a career-best by Shia LaBeouf, American Honey‘s spirit is worth witnessing.

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  1. The Edge of Seventeen: Oh, how I love this movie. Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig – in a directorial debut – The Edge of Seventeen is a high school movie that is worried about so much more than who is going to prom with who. Hailee Steinfeld has been in a handful a movies – garnering an Oscar nomination at 14 for True Grit – but delivers a star-making performance in this hilarious and deeply felt film. This was one of 2016’s biggest surprises.

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  1. Tickled: David Farrier has made a career as a journalist writing about weird stories. He stumbled upon a strange competition online that involved boys tickling each other and knew there was a story to be told. As he continued to dig, he saw there was more than just a new story here and created the documentary Tickled, which is one of the most bizarre experiences of this year. I can’t say much more but I urge you to see this one to believe it.

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  1. Patriots Day: On the surface, Patriots Day is another Peter Berg-Mark Wahlberg movie about Wahlberg saving the day. Their latest outing is a basic procedural, which is infused with so much tension, even though we know the entire story, which is a sign of something great. Patriots Day follows the events of the Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent manhunt, which is likely to resurrect the range of feelings you felt in April 2013. The movie is thrilling but respectful to everyone who was affected by this tragedy.

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  1. Moonlight: Barry Jenkins has created a movie of quiet power. It’s the movie topping most lists and rightfully so because films of delicate beauty are so rare these days. Jenkins’ triptych tale of Chiron is seamlessly told from the point of view of the protagonist as a child, teenager and adult, struggling with his sexuality and identity. Featuring one of the best casts of 2016, including Mahershala Ali in a likely Oscar-winning supporting turn, Moonlight is powerful even when it doesn’t try to be.

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  1. La La Land: Director Damien Chazelle is someone to watch. The 31-year-old director gave us the magnificent Whiplash two years ago and now La La Land, a gorgeous wink to the a bygone era of Hollywood musicals. While this movie put a smile on my face and had me tapping my toes, Chazelle infuses a sense of melancholy amongst the L.A. sun, pulling off a delicate balancing act. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling turn in their best performances to date as two creative types searching for success in tough businesses. La La Land is a joy across the board.

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  1. Elle: Paul Verhoeven’s latest as struck up some debate and controversy about how the film handles the sexual assault that opens the film. Starring Isabelle Huppert, Elle is a perplexing but magnetic piece of cinema, which will have you questioning each characters’ motivation throughout. Huppert is magnetic in this unshakable film.

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  1. Sing Street: Not unlike La La Land, Sing Street is pure joy. John Carney’s latest doesn’t stray from the mold we are used to seeing from him but why fix something that isn’t broken? Sing Street is unabashedly romantic, telling the story of a young boy in Dublin, who wants to impress a girl and starts a band to do so. The songs, romance and energy are infectious and it’s a movie that can put anyone in a good mood.

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  1. Midnight Special: Jeff Nichols has been a director to be excited about for some time. In Midnight Special, he reteams with Michael Shannon for a story about a father who is trying to get his son away from a cult, while evading the government, who both want access to the son for different reasons. Midnight Special is a marvel – an eerie and mysterious work, which will keep you guessing until the final frame – if not long after.

And the best film of 2016…

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  1. Manchester by the Sea: Kenneth Lonergan’s masterpiece is both brutally devastating and darkly funny. Casey Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, who is forced to care for his teenage nephew, played by a wonderful Lucas Hedges, after his father passes away. Everything about Manchester by the Sea aligns so perfectly: the writing, the direction, the performances, the gorgeous cinematography and the operatic score. When I first saw Manchester by the Sea at the New York Film Festival, I knew I saw something special. When I saw it again upon its release, I realized I had seen a pitch-perfect exploration of grief told through a supremely honest lens. The material is heavy but this is a true masterwork and the crowning achievement of 2016.

 

If you read any of my film writing in 2016, I thank you very much. If you made it to the bottom of this list, I thank you again. I’m so excited about these movies I saw in 2016 and look forward to what 2017 will bring.

The 88th Academy Awards – Predicting the Unpredictable

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Last year, we had a two-way race between Birdman and Boyhood but by the time Oscar night came around, it was Birdman‘s to lose. This year, precursor awards have been spread all around. Spotlight dominated the regional critics’ awards but the major guild awards spread love around a bit. The Big Short surprised by taking the Producer’s Guild Award, which is always the top indicator of what will win Best Picture. Alejandro G. Inaritu made history by winning back-to-back at the Director’s Guild Awards (he won last year for directing Birdman and this year for directing The Revenant). Spotlight won Best Ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which is less of an indicator in terms of Best Picture but still makes the film viable for the big win.

So, now it’s time to predict who is going to take home the gold in a very confusing and frustrating year. Logic indicates The Big Short wins but the tide is changing and The Revenant continues to build traction. Here is a look at the top eight Oscar categories (the technical awards will rotate between Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant all night).

Best Picture:
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

I don’t remember the last time I was so apathetic towards the selection of nominees. Two of the frontrunners, The Big Short and The Revenant, are movies that I don’t even care for. Everything else were good or underwhelming movies. Spotlight and Room are the only two in this group that I love and only Spotlight has an outside chance of winning.

Will Win: The Revenant
Should Win: Spotlight
Should Have Been Nominated: Ex Machina 

Best Director:
Adam McKay – The Big Short
George Miller  – Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro G. Inaritu – The Revenant
Lenny Abrahamson – Room
Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

I was very pleased to see the surprise inclusion of Lenny Abrahamson for Room. I’m not as in love with Mad Max: Fury Road as everyone but George Miller did craft a fine action film. I would love to see Tom McCarthy win for his wonderfully subtle direction of Spotlight but subtly won’t overtake the look-at-me direction of Alejandro G. Inaritu for The Revenant. He could very well be the first director to win back-to-back trophies in 66 years.

Will Win: Alejandro G. Inaritu – The Revenant
Should Win: Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
Should Have Been Nominated: Alex Garland – Ex Machina

Best Actor:
Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
Matt Damon – The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

It’s Leo’s to lose (haven’t we heard that before?) This time, however, it really is DiCaprio’s time to take the Oscar stage. His win will bring the house down and the audience to their feet because this is a long time coming. I do not like The Revenant or think this is the defining performance if DiCaprio’s diverse career but it will be a great Oscar moment, nonetheless. In any other year, Fassbender could have easily won for his portrayal of Steve Jobs but the film failed to gain any traction. Cranston is a terrific actor but Trumbo is a little too big and broad and Damon essentially played himself in space. Redmayne is wonderful in The Danish Girl and could have been a threat if he didn’t just win last year.

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Should Win: Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Should Have Been Nominated: Jacob Tremblay – Room (yes, in lead – not supporting)

Best Actress:
Cate Blanchett – Carol
Brie Larson – Room
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn

Brie Larson is one of the night’s biggest locks. Her performance as Ma in Room is astounding and she and young co-star Jacob Tremblay were the year’s best acting duo. Blanchett never hits a false note in anything she does but just won a few years ago for Blue Jasmine. Joy was a mess but Lawrence was great in it but she has no shot of taking Oscar #2. Rampling is quietly effective in the languid 45 Years and fresh-faced Ronan lights up every frame of Brooklyn. Strong line-up but this is Larson’s to take.

Will Win: Brie Larson – Room
Should Win: Brie Larson – Room
Should Have Been Nominated: Lily Tomlin – Grandma

Best Supporting Actor:
Christian Bale – The Big Short
Tom Hardy – The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone – Creed

Like the leading actor category, the supporting one is a bit of a mess. Bale is one-note in The Big Short. Good on you if you can understand a single word Hardy says as he grumbles throughout The Revenant. Ruffalo is always great and has several standout scenes in Spotlight but I would have preferred to see Keaton representing that film. Rylance is eerily stoic and the best thing about Bridge of Spies. Stallone has a few great scenes in Creed, which will find him at the podium on Oscar night.

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone – Creed
Should Win: Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
Should Have Been Nominated: Jason Mitchell – Straight Outta Compton; Michael Keaton – Spotlight

Best Supporting Actress:
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara – Carol
Rachel McAdams – Spotlight
Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

This is one of the trickier categories of the night. Mara and Vikander are unquestionably leads in their films but were campaigned in supporting. Leigh got MVP reviews for The Hateful Eight but I found her grating (I enjoyed her sympathetic voice work in Anomalisa much more). McAdams was a nice surprise, delivering an empathetic performance in Spotlight. Even though Vikander is a lead, she is so powerful in The Danish Girl and will take the Oscar home. She is a great new talent, who really exploded this year, and deserves a win. My vote would go to Winslet for her fearless devotion to Steve Jobs and for never being afraid to spar with him.

Will Win: Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
Should Win: Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs
Should Have Been Nominated: Alicia Vikander should have been nominated for The Danish Girl in lead so she could have been nominated for Ex Machina in supporting.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Adam McKay and Charles Randolph – The Big Short
Nick Hornby – Brooklyn
Phyllis Nagy – Carol
Drew Goddard – The Martian
Emma Donoghue – Room

Having won the Writer’s Guild Award, The Big Short is the frontrunner. I must have completely missed the mark on this film because I did not care for it. Brooklyn is sweet and a well-structured script and probably my second favorite here. The inclusion of The Martian was interesting and frustrating because it’s all one big wait-and-see. Room is the best screenplay here. Donoghue adapted her best-selling novel and really created a world and placed us in this tiny shed with her two characters.

Will Win: The Big Short
Should Win: Room
Should Have Been Nominated: Steve Jobs – How did the Academy not nominated Aaron Sorkin? How?!

Best Original Screenplay:
Matt Charman, Joel and Ethan Cohen – Bridge of Spies
Alex Garland – Ex Machina
Pete Doctor, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley – Inside Out
Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer – Spotlight
Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus  – Straight Outta Compton

For its dedication to telling its story as detailed and empathetically as possible, Spotlight is the clear and deserving winner.

Will Win: Spotlight
Should Win: Spotlight
Should Have Been Nominated: Paul Weitz – Grandma

That’s it for the big eight. Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 28, 2016.