Oscars: Who should have won?
The 89th Academy Awards, held on Sunday, Feb. 26, proved to be extremely exciting and controversial as the award for best picture was wrongfully presented to “La La Land,” only to be handed over to “Moonlight.” History was made as the first African-American written and directed film won Best Picture, the first Muslim won Actor in a Supporting Role, and the youngest director ever won Best Director. Featured below is who won and who should have taken home the gold Oscar statue.
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Best Picture Winner: “Moonlight”
What should have won: “La La Land”
Why?: Of all of the films nominated this year, “La La Land” serves as a great testament to the power and beauty of the art of cinema. It constructs a multi-layered narrative chronicling the journeys of two individuals, one an aspiring jazz pianist, and the other an aspiring actress, who meet and fall in love. A seemingly simple story evolves into a poignant tale that discusses how far one should go to achieve their dreams. The film is vibrant and absolutely stunning visually. From a fantastic original score, to fascinating camera angles, to the exemplary performances of leads Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, “La La Land” is more than deserving of the award of Best Picture. While “Moonlight” was also excellent, it was harder to connect to the characters and did not have the overall emotional impact that “La La Land” did.
Actor in a Leading Role Winner: Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”)
Who should have won: Casey Affleck
Why?: Casey Affleck’s role as Lee Chandler in “Manchester by the Sea” is one of the most striking performances in recent memory for the sole reason that it is firmly grounded in human nature. He plays the part of a gruff handyman who has just lost his brother and is forced to move from Boston to Manchester, Massachusetts to take custody of his nephew. What ensues is a struggle of whether he is fit to take ownership and become a father figure to the boy. Affleck’s character seems distant, irresponsible, and hot-headed on the surface, but as the film progresses, it is revealed that he is a byproduct of many horrific circumstances he has faced throughout his life. Affleck shows the complexity, pain, and struggles of the human experience in a fashion that is entirely deserving of the best Actor in a Leading Role award.
Actress in a Leading Role Winner: Emma Stone (“La La Land”)
Who should have won: Emma Stone
Why?: Emma Stone’s role in “La La Land” was meant for her as it matches her personality and talents flawlessly. Stone’s portrayal of the character Mia, an actress down on her luck, trying to make a name for herself in Los Angeles, California, is charming, passionate, and masterful. Stone’s ability to execute complicated song and dance numbers and seamlessly transition into heart-wrenching scenes of drama is awe-inspiring. She commands the film and her presence on screen captures her beauty and raw talent. Stone has set a new bar for what it means to be an actress in a dramatic role and her performance in “La La Land” will be admired for decades to come.
Actor in a Supporting Role Winner: Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”)
Who should have won: Dev Patel (“Lion”)
Why?: Dev Patel’s portrayal of Saroo Brierley in “Lion” is utterly fantastic. Saroo is a young boy who is separated from his family and caught on a train that takes him nearly 2000 kilometers from his small village Ganesh Talai to Calcutta, India. What ensues is a series of struggles and hardships that lead Saroo to be adopted by a family in Australia and force him to become part of western culture. Patel plays Saroo after he has reached adulthood and begins to grapple with his hazy past and wonders about the fate of his family. He conveys the confusion and angst that Saroo feels and shows his obsessive behavior in a heart-wrenching and relatable fashion as he works to discover the secrets of his previous life. Mahershala Ali’s performance in “Moonlight” also conveyed a strong and multi-layered character, but Dev Patel was easier to connect with and his character showed a greater emotional depth.
Actress in a Supporting Role Winner: Viola Davis (“Fences”)
Who should have won: Viola Davis
Why?: “Fences” tells the story of an African American garbage collector named Troy Maxson who is trying to support his family and make the best of his less than favorable living conditions. It becomes evident that he is an inherently flawed character who makes many decisions the viewer cannot condone. Beside him throughout the movie is his devoted wife Rose, played by Viola Davis. Davis’ portrayal of Rose is without a doubt the best performance of her career. She shows Rose’s struggles to remain strong and understanding and her desire to live as a proper woman and wife should. Davis is so passionate and convincing in her role that it is difficult to watch at times as the viewer can sense the pain, angst, and frustration that Rose’s character is experiencing.
Cinematography Winner: “La La Land”
What should have won: “La La Land”
Why?: “La La Land’s” success can in large part be directly attributed to the cinematography. So many of the scenes are shot at fascinating angles that allow them to resonate deeply with the viewer. Many of the shots are concerned with capturing vibrant color whether it comes from natural features or set pieces. The cinematography noticeably stabilizes and contextualizes chaos whether it is coming from a large group of people executing a dance number or just the two main roles having an emotional moment. It also encapsulates the wonder of classic Hollywood, the excitement of jazz, and what it looks like to fall in love.
Directing Winner: Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”)
Who should have won: Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”)
Why?: At only 32 years old, Damien Chazelle has already made a name for himself as one of the most skilled and visionary directors working today. In 2015, his film “Whiplash” was nominated for Best Picture and now in 2017, his film “La La Land” received the same honor. Chazelle’s films use music as a centerpiece and are extremely interested in analyzing human emotions and motivations in action. His work on “La La Land” is evidence of his vast artistic vision, attention to detail, and respect to the art of filmmaking.
Music (Original Score) Winner: “La La Land”
What should have won: “La La Land”
Why?: It is imperative for a film about music to be accompanied by an excellent score. “La La Land’s” score is nothing short of stunning as it serves as the centerpiece to the narrative. Rather than playing a passive role in the film, it is at the forefront and plays an integral role in the storytelling. It makes the film even more beautiful, emotional, and evocative. Its mix of jazz and classical and traditional musical elements make it memorable and deserving of this award.
Music (Original Song) Winner: “City of Stars” from “La La Land”
What should have won: “City of Stars” from “La La Land”
Why?: “City of Stars” is the recurring song throughout “La La Land” and in its simple piano chords, it manages to be charming yet haunting. The song deals with seeing beauty in another person and finding inner strength and hope as a direct result of the influence of love. The vocal performances of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are heartfelt and unrefined. It’s endearing and utterly human. This charming track definitely should be awarded the title of best original song.
Writing (Adapted Screenplay) Winner: “Moonlight”
What should have won: “Arrival”
Why?: “Arrival”’s brilliance not only comes from its excellent acting, score, and cinematography, but also its stupendous screenplay. It takes the stereotypical extraterrestrial landing and encounter tropes so often featured in blockbuster cinema and redefines them into a cerebral narrative. Instead of having the story move from first contact to immediate aggression, it examines the psychology of fear and encountering the unknown. It also provokes thought regarding the power of language as a form of communication, the role of time, and the ethics of dealing with what is not understood. The screenplay makes for excellent dialogue and pacing and outdoes the other nominees in this category. While “Moonlight” was also a fantastic original story, “Arrival” redefined the entire sci-fi genre and gave it credibility that it was severely lacking.
Writing (Original Screenplay) Winner: “Manchester by the Sea”
What should have won: “Manchester by the Sea”
Why?: Of all the categories, this was probably the hardest to determine which film should get the award, as all of the nominees were exemplary. Ultimately, “Manchester by the Sea” was the most deserving due to its ability to be emotionally impactful via its simplicity. It tells a story of humans struggling through circumstances and how decision-making and motivations are complex and have deeper roots than what is shown on the surface. The screenplay structures the film in a series of flashbacks interspersed with current events to give Casey Affleck’s character, Lee Chandler, a greater emotional depth. This approach also allows the viewer to slowly discover why Chandler acts in the manner he does. The dialogue and interactions between characters feel completely authentic. The screenplay’s brilliance comes from its ability to give the viewer a snapshot of life in all of its pain and hardship.
Edward Benner is an Entertainment Editor for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.