Road to the Oscars 2017 – 89th Academy Awards

Who will win at this year’s Oscars ceremony?

Not Salt Popcorn is back with a bang and has been quietly watching and reviewing the Oscars nominated films for 2017. Make no mistake, this year’s nominations are hard to separate.

Although 2016 wasn’t the best year for most, it proved a very fruitful year at the UK box office, with cinema attendance at an all-time peak. So many blockbusters, so many sequels and prequels meant the figures soared but did any of the top ten UK box office films crawl their way into the Oscars nomination list?


Below are the top ten UK box office films for 2016:

1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, £56.4m
2. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, £52.1m
3. Bridget Jones’s Baby, £48.1m
4. The Jungle Book, £46.2m
5. Finding Dory, £42.9m
6. Deadpool, £37.8m
7. Captain America: Civil War, £36.9m
8. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, £36.6m
9. The Secret Life of Pets, £36.3m
10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, £35.9m


Let’s be honest, the above list of films make for an eclectic mix of superhero and animation films. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with them per se, they are not what the Academy Awards guild would deem Oscar worthy.

That’s why we are here to give you the low-down on what’s Oscars and what’s not. Nominations we think will win, will be highlighted in bold under the “Key nominations” section.

La La Land (Chazelle, 2016)

The musical finally gets the reboot it deserves is Damien Chazelle’s La La Land.

I’ll start by saying I had to be intensely persuaded to see La La Land, not because I have anything against “the musical” as a genre but more because I haven’t seen a good film musical for a several years. In recent times, attempts to make compelling musicals have fallen short, just look at Dreamgirls (Condon, 2006) or Mamma Mia (Lloyd, 2008) if you need proof of this. La La Land is far superior to anything recently made and is a throwback to the golden years of Hollywood cinema.

The opening scenes of this film reminded me of Glee and if it hadn’t been for the shout-out to cinemascope (revolutionary widescreen filming technology developed in the 1950s) I may have nodded off but I stuck with it and I was rewarded. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling play the romantic leads and gracefully waltz around the emporium of La La Land as they find love and look to fulfil their lifetime ambitions.

La La Land

Still of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling | La La Land (Chazelle, 2016) | © Black Label Media

Yes, Ryan Gosling isn’t much of a singer but he is a very good actor and is utterly convincing as pianist, songwriter who wants to bring jazz back from the fringes of musical death. His dance routines were effective and reminiscent of Gene Kelly marauding down the rain-laden streets in Singin’ in the Rain (Donen & Kelly, 1952). Gosling really has the ability to captivate emotion in facial expressions alone, something that La La Land relies heavily on.

Emma Stone moves (mostly) away from her traditional comedy roots here and she matches Gosling pound for pound on the dance numbers, she’s also a better singer. However, Stone’s weakness can be identified in the way she seems to overact in some of the scenes. The over exuberant laughter or borderline hysterical crying almost ruin a few scenes here but Stone charms her way back into contention towards the finale.

Not Salt Popcorn Rating:

Oscars – The key nominations:

Actor in a leading role – Ryan Gosling | Actress in a leading role – Emma Stone | Best Picture | Directing – Damien ChazelleMusic Score (Original Score) – Justin Hurwitz | Music (Original Song) – Justin Hurwitz “City of Stars & Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”


Hacksaw Ridge (Gibson, 2016)

Mel Gibson returns to the director’s chair in this World War Two film on the conflict between the United States and Japan.

Of course, Gibson himself has gone through something of a Hollywood hiatus, only turning out in low-key films since he last took the reins on a project with Apocalypto in 2006.

First for some back-story.

Hacksaw Ridge is a retelling of the story of Desmond Doss, a WW2 medic who saved the lives of many American and Japanese soldiers, against all odds. Andrew Garfield is cast in the lead role and does a good job, given the source material. The first hour of the film is predominantly a sweet coming-of-age story and when I say sweet, I mean sickly sweet. Desmond meets Dorothy (Theresa Palmer) and woos her with charm that could only be relevant to pre-1960s America.

What becomes clear early on, is that Desmond does not believe in violence. After an argument with his brother as young children, we are constantly reminded that Desmond sees violence as the greatest sin, in the face of God. Got it. This theme is then referenced again and again so that by the time we reach the army boot camp training and Desmond rejects any weapon training, I felt underwhelmed by the significance of this moment.

Hacksaw Ridge

Still of Andrew Garfield | Hacksaw Ridge (Gibson, 2016 | © Cross Creek Pictures

At boot camp, we are introduced to Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn) and I think this is exactly the kind of role Vaughan has needed to steer away from the endless comedy parts he has taken over the last two decades. True, the homage to Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is nothing more than a diluted, weaker version but Vaughn really encapsulates the masculine leader of men going into battle with unknown outcomes. Strong but vulnerable, fierce but scared.

Cue the action and we are taken on a grueling daily journey of frontline war. This for me, is where the film gains some credibility. The gruesome war sequences are intricately entwined and no stone is left unturned by Gibson. I should add this film is not for the faint-hearted. There is lots of blood, unnerving injuries and horrific deaths but that is war and we are right there with Desmond, in the thick of it.

What I particularly liked about Hacksaw Ridge is that it doesn’t rely on fancy musical scores to drum up the intense atmosphere of battle. At times (particularly the night sequences), the silence is almost deafening and we have no concept of what is around the corner for Desmond. That eerie feeling of lying awake in a battlefield with multiple bodies around you, wondering if you will be the next victim is shown through a look, a sudden movement but very little sound.

Not Salt Popcorn Rating:

Oscars – The key nominations:

Actor in a leading role – Andrew Garfield | Directing – Mel Gibson | Film Editing – John Gilbert | Sound Editing – Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright


Lion (Davis, 2016)

Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman take the lead in this film based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, an Indian born Australian who was separated from his mother when he was just five years old.

Upon seeing the trailers for Lion, I understood that this film was going to be something of a “weepie”. Of course it was, given the subject. What I didn’t understand was how the director was going to successfully convey a story spanning 25 years, with so many ups and downs, in the space of 120 minutes. Make no mistake, Garth Davis does it well.

Lion

Still of Abhishek Bharate and Sunny Pawar | Lion (Davis, 2016) | © Weinstein Company

The first hour of the film follows a young Saroo on his journey to Australia. It’s epic. The story is so emotionally charged that you feel the angst of a child lost in one of the biggest countries in the world, both from some sort of guardian view and directly through the eyes of Saroo. This is a testament to Davis and his direction of the magnificent Sunny Pawar, who features in his first acting role.

Fast forward to the last hour of the film and we are introduced to Saroo as young man, surfing the waves on the Tasmania coast. For me, the film loses its way, just a fraction, as we follow Saroo on his quest to find his natural mother with Google Earth.

There are some strong performances from the cast, in particular Nicole Kidman (Saroo’s adoptive mother), who produces the kind of consistent performance audiences have come to expect, over the years. Dev Patel also handles the part of adult Saroo with gumption but the plaudits must be retained for Sunny Pawer, who had been handpicked by Lion casting director Kirsty McGregor to play young Saroo. The film really hinges on the performance of Pawar, without his performance, the story of Lion just wouldn’t resonate with audiences. It’s just a shame that the Oscars have not recognised his acting efforts this year.

Seriously, the cinema was in tears when I went to watch it.

Not Salt Popcorn Rating:

Oscars – The key nominations:

Actor in a supporting role – Dev Patel | Actress in a supporting role – Nicole Kidman | Cinematography – Greig Freiser | Writing (Adapted Screenplay) – Luke Davis


Other notable film nominations for The Oscars 2017

Manchester by the Sea (Lonergan, 2016)

Realistic and gritty but lacking the magic to make it a modern-day classic.

Not Salt Popcorn Score: 🍿🍿🍿 | Key nominations: Best Picture; Actor in a leading role – Casey Affleck; Actress in a supporting role – Michelle Williams

Fences (Washington, 2016)

A stellar performance from Viola Davis makes this a worthwhile watch but Fences suffers from pacing issues.

Not Salt Popcorn Score: 🍿🍿🍿 | Key nominations: Best Picture; Actor in a leading role – Denzel Washington; Actress in a supporting role – Viola Davis 

Arrival (Villenueve, 2016)

Unfortunately, Arrival doesn’t match the hype that surrounded it upon its release.

Not Salt Popcorn Score: 🍿🍿 | Key nominations: Best Picture; Directing – Denis Villenueve; Cinematography – Bradford Young

Captain Fantastic (Ross, 2016)

Rather like its title suggests, this is fantastic.

Not Salt Popcorn Score: 🍿🍿🍿🍿 | Key nominations: Actor in a leading role – Viggo Mortensen


What do you think will scoop at this year’s Oscars? Let us know by leaving a comment.

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