Scene’s Selections: The Oscars
Best Picture: “Moonlight”
By Jack Riedy
Like all great movies, “Moonlight” is both a small story and an impossibly large one. The coming-of-age film follows a black boy, Chiron, as he grows up in Miami poverty. We see him as a meek, nearly mute child, as a scrawny harassed teen and as an impossibly built ex-convict in his adulthood. Known at various times as Little or Black, Chiron clashes with his mother, plays with other children and has various sexual experiences. Stories like these are told on-screen all the time, but never quite like this. These simple everyday occurrences highlight capital-I Issues like drug abuse, homophobia, the school-to-prison pipeline and performative masculinity in ways that are impossible to ignore. Throughout the film, the protagonist is asked “Who is you?” — to which there is no definitive answer. Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece demands to know: How could there be one?
Best Actor: Casey Affleck
By Charlie Kenney
The Oscar for “Best Actor in a Leading Role” is Casey Affleck’s. No question about it. In his portrayal of Lee Chandler in “Manchester by the Sea,” he does something that has been consistently unachievable in cinema: He depicts real grief and subtle joy. Affleck takes the scenes that are usually strict non-fiction and portrays them seamlessly on the silver screen. He jerks tears out of audiences without ever coming close to them, and he makes events as monotonous as going to a funeral home thrilling. He portrays a depressive, a drunk and a murderer impeccably without actually being any of them.
His only true competition is Denzel Washington’s depiction of Troy Maxson in “Fences,” and even he isn’t a formidable threat. “Fences” was written in 1983 and has been performed innumerable times. Washington is merely adapting what hundreds have done before him. But Affleck took Kenneth Lonergan’s untested character of Lee and brought him to life for the first time.
Best Actress: Emma Stone
By Elizabeth Hynes
While Emma Stone’s performance in “La La Land” has garnered most of the buzz this award season, don’t count the other nominees out just yet. Yes, Meryl Streep’s nod for “Florence Foster Jenkins” is essentially a nod for “Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes Speech,” but the three remaining ladies brought stellar performances to the silver screen this year. Breakout star Ruth Negga’s performance in “Loving” was nothing short of beautiful, and Isabelle Huppert gives a terrifyingly brilliant performance in “Elle.” “Jackie,” an ostensible Oscar-bait film, brought true artistry to a familiar story, and Portman’s performance felt honest, not historically stilted. While the signs are pointing to Stone, the“La La Land” hype may not last long enough — besides, Stone has a long career of Oscar opportunities ahead of her. This year’s Best Actress statuette is more up-for-grabs than it appears.
Animated Feature Film: “Moana”
By Kelly McGarry
It is hard to find an animated film that competes with the impact of “Moana.” The film did the children’s movie right: on the surface, appealing to the young audience with bright colors, delightful fantasy and silly characters. The few childish jokes were less insufferable than most. But at the core of Moana is the mature theme of reconciling personal and cultural identity.
Moana defies the expectations that her community has placed on her, perseveres through her failures and ultimately realizes her potential as an individual while gaining a new closeness to her ancestors. Moana’s relationship with the water conveys the theme of being a part of something bigger than yourself in a way that is original. A sense of poignancy endures, and at most scenes I find myself gulping frequently and my eyes are just a little wetter than normal.
Brilliant characters like a wise and unconventional Grandmother, well-intentioned but misguided parents, and antagonists that induce sympathy challenge perspectives. Animated films sometimes struggle to get human emotions across as well as live actors can, but in Moana, especially in the song “How Far I’ll Go,” human emotion comes across powerful and surrenders none of its complexity.
Cinematography: “La La Land”
By Erin McAuliffe
Cinematography is the one thing I’ll hand to “La La Land.” Although the opening shot — millennials dancing around their cars singing “Another Day of Sun” on a backed-up highway in Los Angeles — is excessive, it’s visually intriguing. And although a love scene that finds Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone transported into a waltz amongst the stars is the definition of superfluous, it was mystifying. I cringed at the idealized relationship throughout the movie and wondered why Damien Chazelle felt the need to resurrect jazz through another “antiquated” medium — the musical — but the film’s cinematography was impressive. “La La Land” was shot on 35 mm film and is interspersed with dance scenes filmed in one take — no small feat. To speak to the film’s visual appeal: Even though I didn’t buy the lovey-dovey relationship and the unrealistic, trope-filled nature of the plot, I did buy a dress stylized like the elegantly bold, primary-colored choices Stone donned throughout the film.