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Oscars and Notscars: 2016’s Fine Films

By Calum Beedling

Categorical dilution has turned the “Best Picture” honour at the Academy Awards into a bit of a mystery—nine films are nominated this year, but by no means should the category serve as a field guide for 2016’s finest. Below are eight noteworthy films (oh, to be subversive) that have populated an interesting year for film where, for once, biopics were not the prevailing flavour.

*To throw my hat in the ring, I’ve also predicted the winners for all of the “major” categories. Enjoy!

Best Picture: La La Land
Best Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Jackie
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
Best Original Screenplay: Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthimis Filippou, The Lobster
Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight, Screenplay by Barry Jenkins & Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney

The Lobster
The best 2016 had to offer. Too eccentric to be deemed Best Picture material, a frumpy Colin Farrell is sent to a dystopian retreat where guests are required to find a “mate” within 30 days of checking in, lest they be turned into an animal (the film owes its title to Farrell’s rather rational choice of animal, should he fail). Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) creates an ink-black, acerbically resonant take on contemporary dating and partnerships—Tinder ain’t got nothing on this romantic, anti-masturbatory wasteland.

La La Land
A recent AV Club article posed the question: If you didn’t love La La Land, are you dead inside? With 14 Oscar nominations, the musical returns to the academy circuit with undeniable charm, and just in time to alleviate winter’s discontent and enliven the dreariest of souls. If powerhouse director Damien Chazelle’s precursor Whiplash left you spellbound with rapt horror, La La Land dares you to look away from its confectionary of delights: charming leads, a dangerously addictive original score, and a winning pastiche of bygone Hollywood tropes. Let’s just say if La La Land were a cupcake in Toronto, I’d pay $6.75 for it. Luckily I had a gift card, so I didn’t pay anything.

Manchester by the Sea
Though small in geographic scope, Kenneth Lonergan has crafted a truly expansive emotional landscape in Manchester by the Sea. Much of that landscape is navigated by Casey Affleck, who anchors this Massachussetts tale with Oscar-destined poise (though, I don’t get the feeling his Lee Chandler would love La La Land). Affleck bear’s his character’s unspeakable psychological burden memorably, but is complemented by a worthy cast, including the ever-brilliant Michelle Williams and relative newcomer Lucas Hedges. Though the film is a tightly wound meditation on trauma, it breaks up the gloom with quotidian humour—the car ride between Lee and Patrick (Hedges) after an awkward lunch with Patrick’s estranged mother and her evangelical boyfriend is hilarious.

Zootopia
Fun, inclusive, and features Shakira as a sexy Gazelle. Oh, and there’s a scene where sloths represent DMV employees. Consider all your boxes ticked.

The Jungle Book
For two merciful hours Jon Favreau’s live-action take on the Rudyard Kipling classic distracted me from an unreasonable Christmas stomach flu. With truly impressive CGI and a well-calculated pace, this movie was, above all else, fun. Scarlett Johansson is a bit underused as the seductive python Kaa, but Bill Murray as Baloo and Christopher Walken as the giant ape King Louie more than make up for the brief miscasting. The kid who plays Mowgli is solid, too.

Nocturnal Animals
Amy Adams offers a masterclass in facial expression in this stylized, violent adaptation of Austin Wright’s 1993 novel, Tony and Susan. The multi-layered crime saga does an almost flawless job experimenting with temporality, jumping around both chronologically and narratively. Directed by Tom Ford (yes, he of fashion-industry repute), Nocturnal Animals successfully brings together its ambitiously disparate parts like a well-tailored suit.

Jackie
An invasive, restless subversion of the seasonally-worn biopic genre. As Jackie Kennedy, Natalie Portman allows the film to stylistically enact the claustrophobic privacy invasion that plagued the Kennedy family their entire lives…upon herself—indeed, so often is the camera a mere cigarette’s-breadth away from her that a scene in which Jackie Kennedy is able to walk freely seems spatially generous.

Moonlight
Perhaps the frontrunner for this year’s Best Picture award after winning Best Drama at the Golden Globes, Barry Jenkins, in his sophomore effort, has crafted one of 2016’s most resonant and important films highlighting issues of identity, masculinity, sexuality, and community (just to name a few), posing to his audience the same question asked of his protagonist: “Who is you Chiron?”

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