Oscar time tonight! I’ll skip it.

Time to consider the Academy Awards, or not. This year it’s going to be terrible, I can tell, because I think there are two phenomenal movies that absolutely deserve to win, and that we’ll be rewatching with pleasure years from now, and one picture that is total crap and will probably sweep the awards. It means that there is no way I will sit up to watch the whole thing. Besides, I’m a bit sick right now and would rather lie in bed hacking up a lung than see La La Land win.

So here, in order of my preference, are my choices.

Arrival: This is what good science fiction movies are supposed to be: thoughtful, unsettling, with ideas that will make you question what you would do. Wait, she had the child knowing exactly what would happen to her? Forget the aliens, there is a moral dilemma to consider, and there is a character who was strong enough to take the good with the bad.

Hidden Figures: This one was amazing, intense, enraging, and affirming. It makes me want to shake all those people who claim that science is apolitical and march them into the theater to watch it. I want to watch it again, and if I do, I’d probably rank it as #1 this year. And then if I watched Arrival again, I’d flip-flop.

Hell or High Water: A grim slice of Americana. Good, and I’d compare it to a previous year’s Nebraska — definitely worthy, but I’m needing my entertainment to carry a little bit of hope nowadays.

Hacksaw Ridge: Nope. Nope nope nope. Mel Gibson graphically tortures another Christ-figure for hours. He’s a master of a nasty little genre, I’ll give him that, but I’d rather not ever see another film like this one.

La La Land: It reminded me of Birdman, another movie that raked in the awards because it was about how wonderful and gifted actors are, and how much they suffer for their craft. Two hours of narcissistic wanking.

Then there are movies I haven’t seen yet. I hear great things about Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea, and if half of them are true, it was actually a great year for movies. Too bad the Hollywood masturbation movie will clean up.


Manchester by the Sea



OK, those are my irrelevant choices — irrelevant because I have no say at all in this popularity contest. You also don’t have any say, but do go ahead and say what you think here, anyway.


  1. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    just to chime in:
    Between Lion and Arrival, is a tough choice. (why not both?)
    Either will be worthy. Much more than any of the other drivel. (the drivel does not include Hidden Figures, still personally unseen)

    Gee. what to expect. The Academy is actors, so they’re giving awards to each other, who they consider the leaders in their field. IE Peer Review. hmmm (sound familiar?).

    Really, I do want to see their Tribute sequence. *sob*

  2. says

    There’s talk about Moonlight possibly getting an award, but as usual, the big awards, the ones for best actor, they won’t get those, nor will anyone in Hidden Figures. They have that skin condition, y’know.

  3. says

    I’m also boycotting because of La La Land.
    As for Arrival, I thought the whole bit about “learning a language awakens powers of precognition” to be nonsense. The fact that the language bootstrapped itself made things worse.

  4. says

    Haven’t seen any of them. Will likely not ever see any of them. I watch movies to get away from a fairly crappy world and let my brain kind of shut down. So I’ll probably just watch Pacific Rim or Empire Strikes Back.

  5. blf says

    Foreign language Oscar nominees decry ‘climate of fanaticism in US’: “All six directors up for this year’s prize — including Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who is boycotting the ceremony — have issued a statement blaming ‘leading politicians’ for inciting fear and bigotry across the world”. There is also a video at the link.

    And, White Helmet to miss Oscars because Syria cancelled passport: “Two rescue workers miss out on trip to Academy Awards, where film about their civil defence group is nominated”.

  6. greg hilliard says

    I’ve seen Manchester, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, and, last night, La La Land. I enjoyed all four, especially Hidden Figures, but if I had a vote, it would go to La La Land.

  7. says

    blf @5, those facts are exactly what bothers me about the Oscars. People cannot attend (or choose not to attend) because Trump is a fool and he is encouraging, along with his minions, all kinds of other foolishness. I feel the general pain.

    I really would have like to have see the White Helmet rescue workers.

  8. wcaryk says

    About “Arrival”: the short story on which it was — extremely loosely based — was utterly different. And far more interesting.

    There were no — SPOILERS AHEAD: both movie and short story spoilers — in the story, there was no full-alert military, no world panic, no near armageddon. No hazmat suits, no decontamination showers, no bombs, no tanks, no arbitrary gravity in the alien ship. In fact, in the story they were never even aboard the ship; she and the physicist sat in a tent on the ground and interviewed the aliens by way of an advanced remote viewing screen. Unlike the global EARTH INVADED BY ALIENS sweep of the film, the written story was small and tidily self-contained, following her struggles to decode their language and particularly their writing system, with her slowly coming to understand it and its implications about how the heptapods view time, and about what that realization did to her mind. Unlike the movie, she doesn’t suddenly get it all at once in one dramatic stroke; it comes to her bit by bit as she studies how they write and then attempts to imitate, not just the final result, but the process of composing a symbol. The heptapods start at any point, constructing it in any direction; it’s as a whole rather than a stepwise representation of a spoken sequence of words.

    Her understanding is helped along the way by lectures from the physicist, profound reflections on the implications of regarding time, not as an unfolding sequence of events, but rather as a gestalt, viewed from the outside. Processes apprehended in their entirety and all at once, rather than a stepwise progression from here to there. He starts out showing her how a ray of light, entering the water and being refracted, in so doing is taking the least-time path from initial point to final point — how does the ray “know” in advance what that fastest of all possible paths will be? (here it reminded me here of Fenyman’s lectures on QED, looking at the path of a photon as being the weighted sum of all possible paths it could have taken). That and more, but all presented to us at the level of her understanding of what he’s trying to tell her, an approach which makes for smooth reading.
    She doesn’t save the world (not even once, Buffy fans), the world never needs saving. Not even from itself. The aliens simply leave one day, not because they were attacked, just because they do. We never find out why, any more than we find out what they came here for in the first place.

    But yes: she does come to see her yet to be born daughter’s entire life, all her story, birth to death. And her own life story as well, from the point of her involvement in the study to her own death. And so is there free will, or is everything deterministic? Ted Chiang’s answer to that seems to be “Yes”.
    It’s not another end of the world story; it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than that. And very readable.

    You can kindle it: https://smile.amazon.com/Stories-Your-Life-Others-Chiang-ebook/dp/B0048EKOP0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1488142514&sr=8-1&keywords=story+of+your+life+ted+chiang

  9. says


    The Academy is vastly not actors. Around 80% membership is non actors.

    Generally if you think La La Land is self-indulegent wankryd you don’t really understand what the film is saying. The film heavily implies to be a commercial success you have to be a “whore” and it’s not suffering that makes art but luck.

    The idea that the upcoming sweep is because the movie fawns over actors is nonsense. It’s reading the film on above surface level.

    No the sweep is coming because La La Land is, easily, the best crafted musical in 30 years. It’s a great film. Not important subject fluff like Hidden Figures.

  10. gijoel says

    @9 And that’s why it’s Oscar bait. Make a loving homage to MGM musicals and the academy eats it up like skittles. The turn off for me is it seems to be about impossibly beautiful people doing impossibly beautiful things. And jazz, I can’t stand jazz.

  11. says

    I just got off a 14 hour flight. I watched a number of movies, including Arrival and Manchester by the Sea. I didn’t find Manchester by the Sea all that interesting. It was a good “reality” movie, you might say, with realistic characters going through real life challenges. That was done well, imo. But it had little for plot and, because the characters are so life-like, they don’t really grow much. I guess it was just not my genre of movie, but I would not judge those who do enjoy the genre.

  12. cartomancer says

    I’ve always thought that awards based on aesthetic preferences were utterly pointless. Just because a lot of people like something, that doesn’t make it good, and it doesn’t mean any given individual is also going to like it.

    I suppose the recommendation has merit if you find that your tastes tend to be those of elderly Los Angeles film industry workers. Otherwise… well, you can always look up a description of the film on the internet.

  13. feministhomemaker says

    We saw La La Land first and as a girl raised on every famous musical that we could sing and dance at home afterwards, well, I liked it and appreciated the newness of the large dance scenes.

    Then we saw Hidden Figures and it made La La Land look like nothing at all it shrank so far in my book of good movies. La La Land became laughably trite, immediately forgetable. Hidden Figures stayed with me for days, still I think of it with awe. Dying to see it again. I wanted it to win so badly!

    Then I saw Moonlight and, well, Hidden Figures clearly had competition. I am still haunted by its images, story, and writing. I no longer knew which I wanted to win.

    Then I saw Fences, and, well I knew then which I wanted to win. Best film, best actor, and best director. Fences. That it is not nominated for best director is stunningly gross. I was blown away by the directing. And I am certain he gave a best actor performance, less certain about best film. It is still Hidden Figures, Moonlight, and Fences all the way, various days one over the others but which one changes from day to day.

    Last night I saw Loving and wish it had been nominated as well. I began to think maybe the actor who played Richard Loving did the best acting job. Don’t know his name. The whole film was beautiful in every way. It pulled me in so deeply.

    We did see Arrival, not sure where in there, and I recognized it to be one of the best scifi films I had ever seen. Very good film but it just was not in same league as Loving, Hidden Figures, Fences and Moonlight.

    I am watching the Oscars. I have never seen so many films with so many black stories, creators and actors in one season that were up for awards. Even if I am angrily disappointed if my favorites do not win, I will watch to see them compete and be there. Eventually, if viewership is large, hollywood may get the lesson learned that those are the films we want more of. I don’t watch in the years such films are ignored.

    Just saw Get Out! Can’t wait to see what recognition it earns next year. Wow.

  14. says


    name one other musical that is a homage to the classic 50’s MGM that won any Oscars in the last 30 years. I can not think of one, despite a few being made. And La La Land’s characters are actually quite “ugly.” They are both selfish people who trade actual happiness for commericial fame and fortune.

    Also, Hidden Figures is as much “Oscar bait” as La La Land. It’s an Important Subject Movie render with as much invocation and flair as a solid genre procedural. Don’t get me wrong. I liked it a lot but why it’s good has less to do with artistic powress as historical/political relevancy. But much like, say, 12 Years a Slave or Beautiful Mind or Dallas Buyers Club (or to a lesser extent the King’s Speech or Titanic) the film’s praise as a film is being conflated with praise for its subject matter.

    I don’t see how Hidden Figures is less Oscar bait-y than La La Land and it is some what odd to insist praise for one, and only one, is actors being stuck up or out of touch or whatever.

  15. says

    Also, why on green earth did you see a musical that was obivously gonna have a jazz influence if you don’t like jazz? That’s on you, not the film.

    (I happen to like a fair amount jazz.)

    Whiplash was better FWIW but I’m soooooo happy about La La Land. 3rd time ever I think the academy is gonna get it right.

  16. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    The anti45 zingers have so far made the show worth watching, despite the awards.
    Also anticipating the stellar NYT anti45 ad that I’ve seen previously, yet still want to see “live”.

  17. chrislawson says

    Mike Smith, I completely disagree with your assessments of both Hidden Figures and 12 Years A Slave. I recommend both films, but the latter especially has superb writing, acting, and several unforgettable scenes in it. I think you’re showing a bias against films that tackle important subjects as if that in itself makes the film a lesser work.

  18. gijoel says

    @15 Chicago 2002

    I haven’t seen it and don’t intend to. It doesn’t appeal to me because of the reasons I have already stated. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made a few good points as well.

    …The white guy wants to preserve the black roots of jazz while the black guy is the sellout? This could be a deliberate ironic twist, but if it is, it’s a distasteful one for African-Americans. One legitimate complaint that marginalized people (women, people of color, Muslims, the LGBT community, etc.) have had about Hollywood in the past is that when they were portrayed, it was done in a negative way…
    … But La La Land ends with the self-absorbed egos having irrevocably wedged the lovers apart, and neither is mature enough to overcome it. That’s pretty realistic, since so many relationships crash and burn there.

    The problem comes when we romanticize the crash and burn. Then the drama of the breakup seems more fulfilling than the prospect of actual romance, which can then seem mundane in the long run. Now a continual series of melodramatic breakups makes a person seem more tragically edgy and becomes justification for why they can’t find real love….

    …That’s where the romanticizing comes in. The whole childish doomed-romance genre celebrates personal achievement with only an obligatory sad nod toward the consequences. …

    Look I get it, you enjoyed. That’s great, but that doesn’t mean we can’t criticize it. There’s obviously a lot of elements in that you enjoy, and chances are they’re the elements that turn me off the film.

    And I think a lot of the criticisms of La-La-land isn’t necessarily about the film. It’s about the fact that some cinematic tropes seemed to be considered more serious, or meritorious than others. Celebrate Hollywood, even it’s shadier elements -> good, science fiction -> not so serious. I think that’s what most people here are really griping about.

  19. davycrockett says

    I though PZ Myer would be howling over Arrival. I lost interest when Amy Adams showed up in the tent, and the Army doctor had to vaccinate them minutes before they first went up to meet the aliens. First, what vaccine might protect humans from whatever pathogen evolved on the other side of galaxy, and second, what pathogen that evolved on the other side of the galaxy would have whatever it takes to infect humans that evolved on this side of the galaxy. Third, why vaccinate with the chance of severe side effects (which the doc mentions on-screen) minutes before insertion into the big ship, where they need to be sharp.
    On the movie making front, Arrival took to many shortcuts. All that fog and mist obscured the aliens so they did not have to spend the effort to fully develop the aliens (many scifi movies pull the same trick, always showing the monster in the dark or in the fog). On the military front, Arrival sent soldiers with machine guns to attack a 1500 foot monolith, and a couple of rogue enlisted men had access to a time bomb, which is not a weapon that the Army would have on hand, and certainly would not be accessible to enlisted men without control through the chain of command. On the linguistic front, the aliens are smart enough to build ships to travel across the galaxy, but they are not smart enough to speak English before Amy Adams can speak alien. Add to that, they can see the future: Why couldn’t they study English before they got here. All in all, too many stupidities to be a good movie.
    See LA LA Land as a fun diversion, with a slight message that romance can be appreciated for what it adds to life, even if it isn’t everlasting, and some good music and modestly good dancing, and you will feel beter about it.
    And try to see Kubo and the 2-string. And Piper. If you can ignore the biological and anotomical anomolies, they are beautiful stories well executed. As a novice, I could have accepted Kubo as a best picture nominee.

  20. gijoel says

    @22 I thought the point of having to decipher their language was that the heptapods didn’t think like us. Concepts like linear algebra were foreign to them, but calculus was as natural as breathing. Also causality, maybe they had to act like that because if they didn’t it would cause a paradox. I also thought the whole point of them coming to earth was to teach humans their language and to get them to work together so that they could help them in 3000 years.

  21. birgerjohansson says

    Arrival: The only film that has achieved any kind of logical description of non-linear time was “Source Code” , because every time the protagonist enters the past, he initiates a separate world line, essentially branching off from ours in the multiverse.

  22. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Re 24
    I thought source code was replaying a memory over and over to see overlooked details. Nothing to do with physics of timelines etc maybe I’m remembering a different movie or uh shit never mind

  23. Dark Jaguar says

    Generally agree, but I’m not sure how you can walk away from Birdman thinking it was in any way praising actors. The characters in that movie were all the absolute worst sorts of people who I would NEVER want to meet in real life. I distinctly got the opposite impression.

  24. says


    I strongly recommend both films as well. I just don’t think either are the best from their respective years. 12 Years a Slave, in particular, got a lot of attention only because it protrayed slavery very realistically. The same thing happened with Saving Pvt. Ryan and the D-Day invasion sequence. There’s more to good cinematic techinque than capturing violence correctly.

    I’m interested in films, not particular subjects. So I am drawn to films that are more about the techinque/form than anything else. 12 Years a Slave is powerful, put together extremely well but it is a fairly classical period piece that happened to make one great choice.

    you’re free to criticize all you want. No film is above reproach. But my problem is the storyline about La La Land winning a lot (and it didn’t EVEN win BP) only because hollywood loves itself. The Academy has a certain taste (everyone/group does) and yeah films about the creative process are liked more but they don’t always win (see last night) and there are other tropes, such as real life person over coming adversity, that get selected as well. I just want criticism to be well informed.

    So for example Chicago, despite being a musical, has virtually nothing in common with the 50’s MGM musicals that form the basis for La La Land. Chicago doesn’t event have same general type of song in it.I” can’t do Alone” (maybe) aside, none of Chicago’s songs occur between characters, but occur between the viewer and the character. This is why about half of the film is a mental surreality of Roxie’s to avoid breaking the 4th wall. It’s also a biting, bitter satire. No it’s not a homage to, say, An American Paris or Gigi but working from the Fosse-esque influences from the 70’s like Caberet and All that Jazz (to name the two most obivous examples). It’s basically wrong to claim Chicago as an homage to 50’s MGM musicals.

  25. blf says

    Searching for jaws musical finds multiple(?) parodies and an review of a stage show, Orlando Fringe review: ‘Jaws: The Movie: The Musical’ (May-2015):

    Theater producer Mr Quint has a cynical view of creating a Broadway musical. “It doesn’t have to be good,” he barks at his creative team. “Crap sells.”

    The creators of “Jaws: The Movie: The Musical” have come up with an entertaining series of quips and songs at Broadway’s expense. […]

    Facing deadline pressure from Quint, a trio of theater types decide to adapt the Peter Benchley book–Steven Spielberg movie for the stage. A shark attack as interpretive dance? Oh, please.


    Composer Spencer Crosswell […] has come up with nifty songs, especially the “romantic” duet “I Want to Swallow You Whole” and an ode to cluelessness with an unprintable title. […]

    Fans of musicals shouldn’t be afraid to test these waters.

  26. thomasmorris says

    With the exception of “Hacksaw Ridge,” I actually liked all of the films nominated for Best Picture this year. My two favorites are “Moonlight” and “La La Land”—both touched my heart in different ways.

    “La La Land” was just a sheer joy to watch. Of course, I’ve always loved movie musicals, and it doesn’t hurt that it shares a lot of beats with one of my top ten favorite films, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” I can understand the criticisms of it, but it gave me such pleasure, and I’ve had the soundtrack on repeat on my iPod for a few weeks now. No, there’s not much “new” or original about it, but it’s a wonderful homage, in my opinion.

    “Moonlight,” on the other hand, is such a bold film that takes chances and goes places that I haven’t often seen in films. The final act was one of the most memorable and emotionally involving I’ve seen in ages—the loneliness and longing of the characters was palpable. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

    “Hidden Figures” has a great, great story—but I found the filmmaking and structure a bit conventional and formulaic. However, the story being told is so compelling and exciting that I loved it anyways.

    I loved “Fences” when I saw a local production of the play a few years ago, but I think it lost something in the transition to film. I still liked it, but it never really came alive for me like the stage production did.

    I don’t have much to say about “Lion”. The first half and the finale are riveting. It wasn’t quite as interesting when adult Saroo is sitting around staring at Google Maps, but I still liked it a lot overall.

    I actually liked the first half of “Hacksaw Ridge.” I’ve always been interested in the stories of conscientious objectors, and I thought Gibson treated Doss pretty fairly. (It’s no “Sergeant York,” thank Zeus.) But once it switches to the battlefield, it just becomes endless Gibsonian carnage that doesn’t really have a point after the first fifteen minute or so other than rubbing our faces in the horror. (I know it’s a war film and shouldn’t be all nice and pleasant—it just seemed like the filmmakers were enjoying the mutilation and gore a bit too much.) I’m still glad to have been introduced to Doss’ story, but I’m never going to watch this telling of it again.

    I don’t have much to say about “Manchester,” “Hell or High Water,” or “Arrival,” other than that I enjoyed them and would be willing to watch all of them again.

  27. thomasmorris says

    @Mike Smith

    Though “Golden Age” Hollywood studio musicals were obviously an influence, I think “La La Land” shares just as much in common with the more melancholic musicals of Jacques Demy—namely “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “The Young Girls of Rochefort.” In fact, I believe Chazelle has cited the former as his favorite film.

    The use of color and a lot of the story beats in particular reminded me of “Cherbourg.”

  28. thomasmorris says

    On the subject of Rob Marshall… I really wish he had been able to recapture some of the magic of “Chicago” in his subsequent directorial efforts. I agree that “Chicago” is pretty great, but nothing else he’s done since has come anywhere close—in spite of working with some strong source material in “Nine” and “Into the Woods.”

    …And that’s three comments in a row from me, so I’ll take a break from posting now.

  29. KG says

    No the sweep is coming because La La Land is, easily, the best crafted musical in 30 years. It’s a great film. Not important subject fluff like Hidden Figures. – Mike Smith@9

    Given these recommendations from Mike Smith, i’ll make sure to see Hidden Figures and avoid La La Land.

  30. tacitus says


    Arrival took to many shortcuts.

    It’s an extremely rare science fiction movie that doesn’t. I had to laugh when it turned out that the switch to turn off the planetary shield in Rogue One was a console plonked down out in the open in the middle of a desert island.

    All that fog and mist obscured the aliens so they did not have to spend the effort to fully develop the aliens (many scifi movies pull the same trick, always showing the monster in the dark or in the fog).

    But I disagree on this one. I’m willing to bet this was a stylistic choice by the design team. There was plenty of detail, just not all at once, and given they were isolated in their own atmosphere (a welcome detail most scifi movies ignore) a full CGI workup, which is likely to have been done in any case, wouldn’t have added that much to the cost.

    Arrival: I enjoyed it and appreciated the effort they made to make a somewhat more realistic movie around first contact even though I wasn’t fully convinced by the premise.

    La La Land: I enjoyed this movie too, especially the design, the music, and the decision not to wrap the ending up into a neat little bow. It was a bit too long, and perhaps a little self-indulgent, but I thought it was worth seeing.

    Lion: Aside from the voyage of self-discovery via Google Maps thing (hey, it’s based on a true story, and Google’s search and mapping tools are no doubt excellent for that type of thing) I enjoyed it. Like others say, the first half and the ending are excellent, but it does drag somewhat in between and could have been shorter.

    Moonlight: People who expect a traditional movie aren’t going to like it, and its not for everyone, but it commanded my attention from start to finish, and was wonderfully acted and directed. Happy to see it win Best Picture over La La Land (not that they deserved to have been faked out like that.)

    Hidden Figures: Also recommended. Entertaining and enlightening at the same time. Worth watching.

    Hell or High Water: Good movie.

    The Lobster: Bizarre, yes, but I love bizarre dystopian movies like this. I was looking forward to seeing it after I first heard about it, and was not disappointed. Pleasantly surprised to see it get nominated. Not surprised it didn’t win anything though.

  31. neroden says

    _Arrival_ got the freaking linguistics right. NOBODY gets the linguistics right.

    It’s kind of cool that real science fiction is showing up on the big screen now.

  32. davycrockett says

    Don’t even get me started on Rogue 1. I lost interest when the orphan meme was set up when the utterly stupid Lyra Erso utterly stupidly decided to leave her child in the barrens, both well into their escape, to confront a squad of black clad stormtroopers with a pistol. When it turned out that the Empire kept its top secret Death Star plans on 88MB Jazz cassettes, and maintained an open air console with a Jazz drive operable to transmit to the rebel ships, and kept another open air console for aiming the antenna out on a cantilever, and Jyn Erso accessed them all with complete familiarity with the software but no authentication, I wanted to throw my junior mints at the screen. But I ate them all during the previews.