Once again that time has come to evaluate the roster of movies from the last calendar year in the only way we know how to pit them against each other in an arbitrary race for simple trophies. Ok, I’ll spare you the usual why we all love/hate-watch the Oscars spiel, I actually just want to enjoy the night where we all come to celebrate our favorite form of artistic expression. I still haven’t settled on a name for these categorical picks, CUAH awards is a nice enough sounding acronym for now I guess. Winners are in BOLD.
- Knight of Cups
- The VVitch
- The Lobster
- Nocturnal Animals
- American Honey
- Manchester by the Sea
- La La Land
Very strong contenders all if I do say so myself (No foreign film surprisingly, unless you count The Lobster which plays enough as a foreign film, to say the least) but the legend himself edges the other films with one of his most singular personal projects ever in his illustrious career.
- Martin Scorsese (Silence)
- Terrence Malick (Knight of Cups)
- Robert Eggers (The VVitch)
- Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster)
- Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
No surprise here, good ole Marty keeps on chugging with the best of them at age 74(!). Though there was strong competition here with another legend in his own right in Malick.
Best Leading Actor:
- Christian Bale (Knight of Cups)
- Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals)
- Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
- Denzel Washington (Fences)
- Ashton Sanders (Moonlight)
Strong, strong category this year, but it’s the younger Affleck’s work that shines brightest because of his dedication to not just become but be Lee Chandler from Manchester, MA. Shoutout to Ashton Sanders for playing “Chiron” in the middle section of Moonlight and thus having the largest dramatic arc of the three stages depicted in the film.
Best Leading Actress:
- Viola Davis (Fences)
- Kim Min-Hee (The Handmaiden)
- Amy Adams (Nocturnal Animals)
- Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
- Rebecca Hall (Christine)
This is almost always the toughest category to get down year-to-year to only five Women and that was no different in 2016. Out the five I chose, the “winner” came to down to most difficult role to keep an audience hooked where she was going to take the story and that was hands down Isabelle Huppert in Paul Verhoeven’s cheeky thriller Elle.
Best Supporting Actor:
- Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
- Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)
- Shia LeBouf (American Honey)
- Ben Foster (Hell or High Water)
- Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash)
I’ll tell you what, all the acting categories this year makes it so difficult to chose between and Ali has the least screen time by far out of the five but has perhaps the single greatest impact on the story he is in. As the only father-figure Chiron ever has in his life, Ali’s Juan has a warmth and compassion to him that unfortunately is so alien to the child in desperate need for guidance.
Best Supporting Actress:
- Naomi Harris (Moonlight)
- Lily Gladstone (Certain Women)
- Agata Kulesza (The Innocents)
- Riley Keough (American Honey)
- Jena Malone (The Neon Demon)
Naomi Harris never wanted to play a crack-addict on-screen until Barry Jenkins and his magnificent script convinced her otherwise. Thankfully she accepted the part and gave it her all in playing the character in several different stages of a life worn down by drugs and self-hatred.
Best Screenplay (Original):
- Knight of Cups by Terrence Malick
- The VVitch by Robert Eggers
- The Lobster by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou
- American Honey by Andrea Arnold
- Manchester by the Sea by Kenneth Lonergan
Malick needed recognition for his highly lyrical, impressionistic, and introspective work here.
Best Screenplay (Adapted):
- Moonlight by Barry Jenkins
- Silence by Martin Scorsese and Jay Cocks
- Arrival by Eric Heisserer
- The Handmaiden by Park Chan-Wook and Jeong Seo-Kyeong
- Nocturnal Animals by Tom Ford
To anyone that did actually get to see Silence while in theaters and saw it as the amazing triumph that it is, I cannot recommend enough the book of the same name by Shūsaku Endō. You’ll see just how faithfully Scorsese stuck to every word and story beat from it and translated it to film marvelously.
- Rodrigo Prieto for Silence
- Emmanuel Lubezki for Knight of Cups
- James Laxton for Moonlight
- Seamus McGarvey for Nocturnal Animals
- Bradford Young for Arrival
Crafting some of the most intense images that Scorsese has ever committed to the screen is no simple task, but Prieto was up to the challenge. Succeeding in photographing a starkly beautiful but unrelentingly brutal world of faith put to the ultimate test.
Best Film Editing:
- Thelma Schoonmaker for Silence
- Louise Ford for The VVitch
- Joi Mcmillon and Nat Sanders for Moonlight
- Joe Walker for Arrival
- Tom Cross for La La Land
Hard choice here too, loved the staging of the time periods in Moonlight, the gradual pacing of Arrival and The VVitch and the energetic rhythm given to La La Land from the well-edited musical and dance sequences. The great Thelma Schoonmaker takes top honors here for slowing Scorsese down from his usual frantic style to stay locked in on the horrors of what is happening on and just off screen.
Best Foreign Film:
- The Handmaiden
- The Salesman
- Our Little Sister
Park Chan-wook has his best outing since his ground-breaking Oldboy in part due to the tremendous chemistry between the two lead actresses as they both guide his audience through a twisting tale of deception, sex, and betrayal.
- OJ: Made in America
- I Am Not Your Negro
- Kate Plays Christine
Is it unfair to pit an 8-hour documentary miniseries against others that take less than two to tell their stories? Hell if I know, so take any two-hour segment from Ezra Edelman’s staggering work on race, celebrity, and fame, and put it against the rest of the nominees and it would still win out. It’s that well constructed in its elongated but absolutely necessary runtime. Shoutout to the other racially charged Documentaries by Ava DuVernay and Raoul Peck, 13th and I Am Not Your Negro respectfully. And the docs depicting the use of film for highly unique purposes in Kate Plays Christine and Cameraperson.
Best Animated Film:
- Kubo and the Two Strings
- The Boy and the Beast
I love what Laika Studios has done with most of their stop-motion features thus far in presenting mature and profound themes for kids while also keeping them on their toes with crafting some truly terrifying imagery to go along with it. Keith Maitland’s Doc Tower also gets a shout out here too for recreating through rotoscoped animation a day of unimaginable terror.
- Silence (Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Issei Ogata, Tadanobu Asano, Liam Neeson)
- The VVItch (Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Katie Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw)
- The Lobster (Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Olivia Coleman)
- Moonlight (Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali, Naomi Harris, Janelle Monae)
- Nocturnal Animals (Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher)
Tough to beat out how in synch the cast of Moonlight worked together to completely form Chiron’s world, but Silence had to boldly balance Andrew Garfield’s stunningly complicated lead performance with the cruel and diabolical characters enforcing Japan’s ruthless authority with an eerie logical calmness throughout. Any film that carefully waits as long for Liam Neeson’s charisma to come into the fray has to be rewarded.
- Ellen Lewis for Silence
- John Buchan, Kharmel Cochrane and Jason Knight for The VVItch
- Yesi Ramirez for Moonlight
- Douglas Aibel for Manchester by the Sea
- Francine Maisler for Nocturnal Animals
Moonlight has to get the nod here for being to able to mold three different people at different ages into one cohesive life story, that alone is just unbelievable to think of when casting a film.
- Nicholas Britell for Moonlight
- Jóhann Jóhannsson for Arrival
- Abel Korzeniowski for Nocturnal Animals
- Justin Hurwitz for La La Land
- Yeong-Wook Jo for The Handmaiden
Well, you knew La La Land wouldn’t get shut out, it certainly won’t be this coming Sunday. By the way, take your pick from which original song from the film is the best of 2016. I’ll go with the toe-tapping opener “Another Day of Sun” can’t get too much more LA than that.
Best Sound Design:
- Adam Stein for The VVitch
- Oliver Calvert, Michelle Child and Dave Whitehead for Arrival
- Ai-Ling Lee for La La Land
- Lyman Hardy for Tower
- David Miranda for Jackie
Yeah, anything having to do with sound and/or music La La Land‘s got this by a wide margin.
Best Use of A Pre-Recorded Song:
- “Hello Stranger” in Moonlight
- “The Greatest Love of All” in Toni Erdmann
- “I Ran” in La La Land
- “Camelot” in Jackie
- “Sabotage” In Star Trek Beyond
Whoops spoke too soon, but you have to admit that perfectly timed Barbara Lewis single played towards the end of Moonlight is just perfect.
Best Production Design:
- Dante Ferretti for Silence
- Craig Lathrop for The VVitch
- Patrice Vermette for Arrival
- Seong-hie Ryu for The Handmaiden
- Jean Rabasse for Jackie
With an assist from Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography, the period setting for The Handmaiden‘s just pops on-screen.
Best Visual Effects:
- Doctor Strange
- Star Trek Beyond
- Star Wars: Rogue One
- A Monster Calls
Yep, call me old-fashioned but give me the simplistic visuals of those Shell Alien vessels over those in any other Alien Invasion movie made prior. As for Star Wars I really hope you guys just stick to space ships and light sabers from now on, let’s not talk about two particular CGI characters with horrifying implications for the industry that were in the latest installment, shall we?
Best Debut Directing:
- Robert Eggers for The VVitch
- Elizabeth Wood for White Girl
- Kelly Fremon Craig for The Edge of Seventeen
- Justin Tipping for Kicks
- Travis Knight for Kubo and the Two Strings
Honestly, who could tell that this new horror classic was thought of by a first-time director? Long time production designer Robert Eggers expertly crafts a terrifying vision of paranoia rooted in a sordid part of American history.
Best Debut Acting:
- Sasha Lane in American Honey
- Ferdia Walsh-Peelo in Sing Street
- Alex R. Hibbert in Moonlight
- Sunny Pawar in Lion
- Royalty Hightower in The Fits
Sasha Lane had to be perfect for American Honey to work as well as it did. Portraying the angsty side of youth so naturalistically through her road-trip around middle-America. Discovering love, bitterness, depravity, and true beauty along the way.
And there you have my categorical best of picks for a fantastic year in film! Love or hate them the Oscars this Sunday night celebrate all that goes into putting a film on your preferred method of screening. We all have gripes with the nominees chosen every year but they represent the highest level of craft in the industry. Agree, disagree, disagree very strongly with the “winners” come Sunday night that is what art is supposed to do, instill passion about it. Enjoy the end of the awards season, and hey it’s only 10 months till we do this all over again!