Tag Archives: Kenneth Lonergan

Oscar Nominations 2017

For some reason, the Oscar nominations were not presented in front of a live audience this morning. Pre-taped bits with past Oscar winners like Jennifer Hudson (best supporting actress, 2010 for Dreamgirls) and Brie Larson (best actress 2016, for Room) preceded an automated list announcing the Oscar nominations for 2016’s best movies, interrupted with a commercial for itself. The Academy Awards will take place February 26th, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. I just realized that I won’t be in the room to win my Oscar pool this year – Sean and I will be in Philadelphia, perhaps not even watching the ceremony!

An accounting firm called PricewaterhouseCoopers has taken care of the Academy balloting process for over 80 years. They send out the nomination forms in December and tabulating them in January takes about 1700 hours. There are over 6000 voting members of the Academy, and they’re all industry professionals. Each branch has different rules as to who can become a member – visual effects supervisors have to be active for a certain number of years, while an

actor must have a credited role in at least 3 films, and a writer should have at least 2 credits, and all must have “achieved distinction” in the motion picture arts and sciences. The tricky part is that you can only be a member of one branch, so someone like Ben Affleck has to decide whether he wants to be there as an actor, a director, or a writer. Each category votes only for itself – on editors can decide who will be nominated for best editing, and only actors vote for best actors nominees. Everyone can vote for best picture, however.

For a film to be considered, it has to meet some basic requirements: it must be over 40 minutes, it must have had at least a 7-straight-day run at a paid-admission L.A. theatre, and it can’t have debuted on television or the internet.

When an Academy member receives a ballot, they get to list their 5 nominee choices in order of preference, and are encouraged to “follow their heart”. The ballots are counted by hand, and the accounting firm looks for the “magic number” – the number of mentions it takes to turn a name into a nomination. The formula they use is: total # of ballots, divided by total possible nominees plus 1. So for Best Director, say you have 600 ballots, and you get to have 5 nominees (plus 1 = 6), that’s 600 divided by 6, or 100 ballots to become a nominee.

The counting starts based on a voter’s first choice  until someone reaches the magic number. Once Damian Chazelle (for example), reaches the magic number, all the ballots that had him as first choice will be set aside. The director with the fewest first-place votes is automatically knocked out, and those ballots are redistributed based on the voters’ second choice (the directors still in the running keep their calculated votes from the first round).  Once the nominees are announced today, the accounting firm will now send out new ballots and everyone can vote in all categories for the actual awards, although people are discouraged from voting for categories that they don’t understand.

Now on to the nominations!

Best Picture



Hacksaw Ridge

Hell Or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land


Manchester By The Sea


Best Director

Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge

Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester By The Sea

Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Best Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Actress

Ruth Negga, Loving

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Supporting Actor

Lucas Hedges, Manchester By The Sea

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Dev Patel, Lion

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight


Arrival (Bradford Young)

La La Land (Linus Sandgren)

Lion (Greig Fraser)

Moonlight (James Laxton)

Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)


Fire At Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life, Animated

OJ: Made In America


Documentary Short


4.1 Miles

The White Helmets

Watani: My Homeland

Joe’s Violin

Foreign Language Film

Land of Mine

A Man Called Ove

The Salesman


Toni Erdmann

Live Action Short

Ennemis Entreniers

La Femme et le TGV

Silent Nights



Sound Editing


Deepwater Horizon

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land


Sound Mixing


Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Rogue One

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Production Design


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Hail, Caesar

La La Land


Visual Effects

Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

The Jungle Book

Kubo And the Two Strings

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


Allied (Joanna Johnston)

Fantastic Beasts (Colleen Atwood)

Florence Foster Jenkins (Consolata Boyle)

Jackie (Madeline Fontaine)

La La Land (Mary Zophres)

Original Screenplay

Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan)

La La Land (Damien Chazelle)

The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou)

Manchester By the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)

20th Century Women (Mike Mills)

Adapted Screenplay

Arrival (Eric Heisserer)

Fences (August Wilson)

Hidden Figures (Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi)

Lion (Luke Davies)

Moonlight (Screenplay by Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney)

Makeup & Hairstyling

A Man Called Ove (Eva von Bahr and Love Larson)

Star Trek Beyond (Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo)

Suicide Squad (Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson)

Original Score

Jackie (Mica Levi)

La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)

Lion (Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka)

Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)

Passengers (Thomas Newman)

Original song

Audition – La La Land

Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls

City of Stars – La La Land

The Empty Chair – Jim: The James Foley Story

How Far I’ll Go – Moana


Kubo And the Two Strings


My Life As A Zucchini

The Red Turtle


Animated Short

Blind Vaysha

Borrowed Time

Pear Cider and Cigarettes




Hacksaw Ridge (John Gilbert)

Arrival (Joe Walker)

Hell or High Water (Jake Roberts)

La La Land (Tom Cross)

Moonlight (Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon)

Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester By the Sea

Wow, we’ve seen a lot of these! What have you seen, loved, hated, felt was overhyped? Surprises?

Best Screenplay

La La Land swept the Golden Globes and set a new record doing it. No other movie collected 7 Globes before, and only 2 merited 6 (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next, Midnight Express). This paints a huge target on La La Land’s back going into the Oscars – or more likely, on Damien Chazelle’s. If he wins best director there like he did at the Globes, he’ll be the youngest person ever to do so.

La La Land is a superb movie and its merit is splashed across the screen in dazzling technicolour. It’s technically perfect, visually dizzying, and directed with evident love. The lalachazellegoslingone things that’s easy to overlook, however, is the screenplay. Which is why there were some raised eyebrows when it took the Globe for that as well. A movie like La La Land doesn’t necessarily need a great script, it just needs a bridge between big, magical movie moments. But Damien Chazelle offers more than that. He doesn’t just write characters who randomly break out into song and dance. He writes true characters, people who speak to each other with nuanced emotion, raw around the edges, honesty we can all identify with.

Mia and Sebastian are fairly classic types, starving artists. But the dialogue between them establishes them as outsiders, oddballs. There is specificity to their oddness that makes them jump off the page: she drives a Prius, so generic among the Hollywood set, he drives a classic car, that’s maybe a little like him, a little like the jazz he loves so much, finicky, temperamental, requiring work, not easy to love.

Chazelle lays the groundwork for the emotional reality of the film. The script earns it. When Mia and Seb waltz literally up into the stars, our hearts take the leap along with them. We don’t hesitate, we are ready. We have been prepared by the excellent writing and also by the fully fleshed characters brought to life by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. But we feel it just as truthfully when the relationship begins to disintegrate.The scene in the gritty little apartment when the smoke alarm goes off, romantic dinner burned, is about as grueling as it gets. And when we finally get to the climax of their imagined life together, the attention to detail pays off. If you’ve been paying attention, all those little moments added up to something. It’s Chazelle’s fluidity between vision and execution that pulls us headlong into this bittersweet romance.

Certainly, as a writer-director, Damien Chazelle pulls off exactly what he intends. Two other of this year’s nominees accomplished the same: Moonlight‘s Barry Jenkins and Manchester By the Sea’s Kenneth Lonergan are both writer-directors as well, and it’s no surprise that they were Chazelle’s biggest competition. Sean was pulling for Jenkins, in gallery-1477344433-barry-jenkins-01-david-bornfriend-courtesy-of-a24fact, calling Moonlight’s writing “tight” – and I knew just what he meant. There’s no fat in the script. Everything is precise, the chapters discreet. As writer-director, he trusts his audience to make certain leaps with him, and these small revelations help us to feel a part of the story. Jenkins pulls us in by showing us not just who this person is, but why he is, how he is. By showing rather than simply telling, we have so much more empathy and understanding, and this depth is what we really respond to in Moonlight. The character is so specifically written that even though we may have very little in common with him, we recognize the universality of his struggle and for a moment, we can slip into his skin. I’m glad Moonlight was rewarded with Best Picture, Drama and in truth, I would not have been disappointed had it garnered Best Screenplay as well. It truly is some remarkable writing.

Manchester By The Sea, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, is also a major 1251523_lonergan-2accomplishment in terms of writing. Its main character Lee (Casey Affleck) is a man so paralyzed with pain that he rarely speaks. Every word in the script therefore counts doubly; Lonergan must convey everything with hardly anything, and he knows that because there is little dialogue, we are paying close attention to every word. Lonergan has the courage to present us with a very un-Hollywood story of grief that is not vanquished. There is no character arc, there is no redemption or triumph, certainly no happy ending. The script bravely presents us with the painful notion that not everyone will overcome.

The last two nominees were no slouches either. Tom Ford is nearly a writer-director himself, having personally adapted Nocturnal Animals from Austin Wright’s novel, Tony NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, from left: director Tom Ford, Jake Gyllenhaal, on set, 2016. ph: Merrick Morton/and Susan. It’s a very layered script, requiring a boundary between “real life” and “the novel” that sometimes blurs. It’s part psychological thriller, so it needs to keep a pace that grips us, titillates us, without ever leaving us behind. Ford deviates importantly from the source material, strengthening it in the process, at least in terms of film making. He sets it in a vapidly stylish world where the plot can work as a further metaphor for vanity and aesthetic, perhaps a nod at Ford’s own critics.

Hell or High Water was written by Taylor Sheridan, a man not well known for writing until taylorsheridan2he burst on the scene with his impressive 2015 effort, Sicario. Hell or High Water is a smaller, quieter movie, at once a throw back to Westerns of yore, and a timely commentary on today’s economic crisis. He counts both these movies as part of a trilogy about the “modern day American frontier.” Sheridan never studied film or writing but seems to have learned his craft by appearing on loads of television shows, some good (Sons of Anarchy, Veronica Mars), others not so much (CSI) and learning to spot the difference between them. He knew Hell or High Water would thrive on authenticity, and he wanted to give the audience something to take home and chew on.

There are no losers in this bunch. Awards are subjective, and you may prefer one of these over La La Land. But La La Land is not undeserving. It’s a beautiful film that doesn’t take any short cuts.

Manchester by the Sea

I knew going into Manchester by the Sea that it was one of the most critically acclaimed American movies of the century so far but I was still somehow surprised by how blown away I was.

Kenneth Lonergan has made a fantastic film about family, grief, and how easy it is to push people away when we’re hurting. It’s one of 2016’s best films not because it has any particularly new ideas or innovative style but simply because it’s refreshingly honest.

Casey Affleck (believe the hype, he kills it in this) plays Lee Chandler, a reclusive janitor who returns to his hometown after the sudden death of his brother (played by Kyle Chandler). Lee is surprised to learn that he will need to be staying home a lot longer than he had planned when he discovers that his brother’s will has named him as the guardian of his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges). Losing a brother and raising a grieving teenager is further complicated by the memories of unspeakable pain and tragedy that his hometown holds.

Manchester by the Sea isn’t always pleasant but, with its sense of dark humour, never feels like a chore. Lonergan is an expert at finding humour in the unlikeliest of situations without it ever feeling forced. Actually, nothing really feels forced. It’ll make you feel powerful emotions without resorting to sentimentality. Even its non-linear structure doesn’t feel like a gimmick.

And there’s not a bad performance to speak of. Affleck has never been better and his scenes with Hedges are priceless. 2016 Golden Globe nominee Michelle Williams makes great use of her limited screen time as Lee’s ex-wife in her emotionally rawest performances in years.

Go see it!