OSCARS 2017 – A night of high drama, controversy and a shocking climax

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Damien Chazelle Best Director – Oscar

It was a stunning twist in the tale. And right at the end, mind you. The kind that Indian descent director M. Night Shyamalan would have been proud of. When veteran actor & filmmaker Warren Beatty announced that the musical ‘La La Land’ had taken home the most coveted #Oscar of the evening, for Best Picture and even as the makers of the Emma Stone-Ryan Gosling starrer were halfway through their acceptance speech, came the shocker. The award was given then to the poignant ‘Moonlight’ and you could literally hear the collective gasps of all folks gathered in the #DolbyTheatre for the glittering ceremony. Beatty had supposedly been given the wrong cue cards. Really?! In many ways it was a climax that went very well with the narrative of the evening. An evening mired in protests & controversies that had little to do with cinema itself.

The tone for what was to follow was set at the outset itself. Popular talk show host and comedian #JimmyKimmel in his opening salvo took generous potshots at controversial US President #DonaldTrump and even mouthed the ‘Meryl Streep is overrated’ bit for dramatic effect. It was an #OscarAwards night that many expected to be dominated by everybody’s favorite musical #LaLaLand but though the film did quite well for itself (Best Director, Best Actress, Best Cinematography) with 6 nods in all it was not exactly a sweep. The first major award of the night was quite historic with black actor Mahershala Ali winning the Best Supporting Actor award for his portrayal of a drug peddler in ‘Moonlight’ This made Ali (born Eric Gilmore) the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar award. Coming after 88 Oscar Award ceremonies, this one was long overdue. Very long. And coming a day after a kin of the more famous ‘M.Ali’ (boxing legend Ali’s son) was harangued at US airports, it made for truly powerful symbolism.

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Best Actors and Supporting Actors – Oscar

Black Americans clearly held sway in this year’s Oscar Awards with three time nominated actress Viola Davis finally snaring her first Oscar for her gutwrenching performance in ‘Fences’ To add a bit of trivia this award makes Viola the first black woman to win the ‘Holy Trinity’ of awards with the Oscars, the Emmys and the Tony awards all in her kitty. Though critics suggest that the award to Viola this year was less for the performance in Fences and more for her consistent performances in the last few years. The other controversial moment of the night was when the Iranian film ‘The Salesman’ walked off with the Oscar for Best #ForeignLanguage film. Seen in light of the recent blanket ban on entry of immigrants of certain Muslim countries (that includes Iran) into the US it makes for some very absorbing discussion. The director of the film, who was boycotting the awards ceremony in a symbolic gesture made sure to send a video recording across. No surprises for guessing who he lambasted. Equally interesting was the fact that #AnoushehAnsari, an Iranian American accepted the award on the filmmaker’s behalf. Ansari incidentally is the first woman space explorer to do it with her own money.

If you thought that was all, there was more. In what is a dramatic turn of events for the actor, Casey Affleck won the Best Actor award for his bravura performance in the little seen/heard ‘Manchester by the Sea’ And unlike last year when everyone was rooting for DiCaprio there were not many expecting that Casey (brother of the more famous Affleck) would romp home. For this good looking, undeniably talented actor whose on screen exploits have thus been overshadowed by a dark past with serious accusation of inappropriate behavior with his female colleagues on set this is perhaps redemption time.

ROAD TO THE OSCARS – Nominations are out, countdown begins

With exactly one month to go for the sealed envelopes to be opened, the Oscar Awards frenzy is only
going to build up further to a crescendo. It was on Tuesday morning that the Academy nominations were announced by folks ranging from actors like Terrence Howard and Ken Watanabe, actresses including Glenn Close and Jennifer Hudson, directors Guillermo del Toro and Jason Reitman apart from some members of the Academy. And to nobody’s surprise Damian Chazelle’s charming musical ‘La La Land’ snared a record equaling 14 of them. The only two other films to get so many nominations in the history of the Oscars are James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ and the Bette Davis classic from the 1950s ‘All About Eve’ Cameron’s movie went on to take home 11 of those. Can La La Land do something equally impressive? Looking at how well it did at the Golden Globes a few weeks back it is a distinct possibility.

This year’s Academy nominations brings forth many interesting back stories some of which are just as interesting as the films themselves  The 89th Academy’s will witness seven actors who are not whitevying for the Oscar Awards. Though the Academy would like to say that this is the direct result of persistent efforts by them to make the Awards more inclusive, some others would like to credit the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag campaign that has been run during the last couple of years. Truth is the performances merited these nominations and beyond that it is just glorious coincidence. Of these, Viola Davis with her best actress nomination for the film ‘Fences’ making her the first African American actress to receive three Academy nominations deserves special mention.

Her co-star in ‘Fences’ is not doing too badly either. With two Oscars already under his belt, this year’s nomination makes it a staggering 7 for Denzel Washington, that is more than any other African American actor in history. Perhaps the most fascinating story of this year’s Oscar nominations is thatof multi talented composer Lin-Manuel Miranda who is nominated in the category of Best Original Song for the film ‘Moana’ If Miranda should win he will join the most elite club within the Academy. The EGOT Club that is made of artists talented enough to win the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and the Tony awards. Miranda has won the other three and if he wins the Oscar (unlikely with La La Land in the fray) he will become only the 13th member of this super exclusive club.Famous names that are in the EGOT club include Audrey  Hepburn, Mel Brooks and Whoopi Goldberg.

The most surprising nomination hands down has to be that of maverick actor & director Mel Gibson for his direction in the World War 2 Saga ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Some are even calling it the ‘Trump effect’ The man who has become something of an outcast in Hollywood due to reasons unconnected to films makes a spectacular comeback with this film which even gets a Best Actor nod for Andrew Garfield. The most notable omission, of Amy Adams for her bravura performance in the sci-fi movie of the year ‘Arrival’ was marked by high controversy where the Academy first announced her nomination and then almost took it back calling it an ‘error’ Really?! And this after five previous nominations that did not end up in wins. The Academy could always put the blame on new technology what with the Academy nominations being streamed live on the internet. Another first. Touching is the gesture by the Academy to nominate much loved Pulitzer award winning writer August Wilson for ‘Fences’ He passed away a good 12 years ago. All said and done, may the best win the #Oscar.

ROAD TO THE OSCARS 2017 – Jimmy Kimmel in the house

A few weeks ago popular talk show host Jimmy Kimmel finally ended all the speculations, rumours and  suspense about who will be hosting the 89th Oscar Awards by confirming that he would be the one doing the honours. The ceremonies which started way back in the year 1929 have had the who’s who of Hollywood hosting it. From legendary singers and dancers like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra to the greatest of comics like Jerry Lewis, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and Steve Martin to all time great actors like Jack Lemmon, Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine and of course, talk show hosts like David Letterman, Ellen Degeneres and now Jimmy Kimmel. Above all, one must mention the famous comedian Bob Hope who got to host the show for a mindboggling 19 times. Billy Crystal having hosted the Oscars nine times in all comes a distant second.

The 30th Oscar Awards that took place in the year 1958 were unique in the sense that for the first time an animated character was co-hosting the show. With luminaries like David Niven, James Stewart and Jack Lemmon for company, the Donald Duck cartoon made this a memorable year. There has been those rare occasions too when those guys who have been chosen to host the show have also been nominated for an Oscar award. This has happened only six times in the eighty nine times the Oscars ceremonies have been held and the most recent instance was in the year 2011 when actor James Franco hosted the show. In the very same year he was nominated in the Best Actor category for the film ‘127 Hours’But that is a burden every Oscar Award host has to shoulder.LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 23: Host Jimmy Kimmel speaks onstage during the 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on September 23, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Truth is that the Oscars have not been doing all that good in the last decade or so. And we are talking
purely in terms of TRPs (television rating points) and audience reviews which have been quite
disappointing year on year. In fact many critics rate the 2011 Oscars hosted by actor James Franco &
actress Anne Hathaway as probably the worst in it’s history. Truth is that hosting an Oscar Award
ceremony is one of the most tricky jobs to accomplish. For one the critics will be relentless in their
nitpicking regardless of how good or bad you were. In fact a host even gets blamed for things he has no
say or control over. For example if the show goes on far too long, has too many awards and tons of
montage the host is hardly responsible for it.

It goes without saying then that Jimmy Kimmel has his job cut out for him. What may have swung the vote in his favour was his great success a few months earlier at the Emmy Awards. If he can do an encore when the Oscars take place towards the end of next month there will be no stopping Kimmel. What might or might not prove to be a decisive factor is that unlike previous hosts of the Oscars, Kimmel has no experience in working in a film for the big screen. It is a different matter that he understands the medium of TV better than most from the industry. After all, he has ruled the roost in this medium for a long time now. He would do well to take a leaf out of the book of previous hosts who wowed audiences and critics alike. Like in 2014 when the host Ellen DeGeneres ordered pizza for the Oscar nominees and it was all spontaneous. And hope he takes care not to repeat the blunderous act of his ertswhile predecessor and legendary talk show host, David Letterman.

Road To The Oscars 2017 – VFX and Animation

Last week, the Academy announced what they like to call the preliminary shortlist of films that have been selected in the category of Visual Effects for the year 2016. This includes twenty films selected by the Academy’s Executive Committee for Visual Effects. In a few weeks the same members of this committee will bring the number of films in this category to 10. Thereafter a voting process involving  all the members of the Academy will decide which five of these 10 films will win a nomination for the 89th Oscar Awards. Though the Academy recognised the importance of special effects in the very first award function in the year 1928 itself, perhaps no other Academy award category has gone through a journey as strange and varied as that of Visual Effects. Call it a roller coaster if you may.

It began with the award being dubbed as ‘Best Engineering Award’ which after a few years got rechristened to ‘Special Achievement Award for Special Effects’ then the Academy changed it again to ‘Best Special Effects’ till in the 1960s when it got renamed yet again to ‘Best Special Visual Effects’ before finally the current name of the awards aka ‘Best Visual Effects’ came into vogue in the late 1970s. It took an incredible four decades for the Academy to actually zero in on the right name for
this category. Then there is this whole story of the number of films that got nominated for the award. Though this number is usually limited to three, there are have been enough instances when there was not even a single nomination in this category and then the rare occasion when up to five films got nods for the purpose of nomination.

 

Yet it is in this category that some of the most celebrated film makers in the history of cinema have been honoured. From Stanley Kubrick to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to James Cameron. In what has been a recent trend, all of the 6 superhero films made in 2016 have made it to the initial list of twenty films. Of these films the best chance has to be that of ‘The Jungle Book’ which is an eclectic mix of animation and live action. The other film which one would consider as a dark horse has to be the Marvel comic hero film ‘Doctor Strange’ that has perhaps more VFX scenes than any other film this year.  And it helped that the film has won over both critics and audiences alike. The only problem is that in all these years, no film based on the Marvel Comics has ever won an Oscar. Not one.

Another record this year has been that of 27 films which have been submitted for the Oscar Awards in the Animated Feature Film category. It is the most recent entrant to the Oscar awards and was presented first in the year 2001. Pixar film studios has been the one to beat with a mind boggling eight wins and ten nominations in this last decade and half. Which is why it is difficult to look beyond Pixar’s ‘Finding Dory’ which is an immensely well received sequel to the original ‘Finding Nemo’ There is an outside chance for Sony’s ‘The Red Turtle’ which won plaudits at all the leading festivals. And one must mention a word about the Disney’s ‘Zootopia’ for the simple reason that it made a billion dollars at the box office this year. Not easy to talk against those kind of numbers.

In the end, who wins will be known only at the end of February next year. All one can wish is ‘Let the best one win.’

Road To The Oscars 2017 – Foreign films making waves

 

On Sunday, February 26th 2017 the Oscar Awards will be televised live on the ABC Television Network and it will be viewed by a mammoth audience in more than 225 countries all over the globe. That should give one a fair idea as to why the Oscars are regarded as the biggest and the most eagerly awaited of all the various awards that will be given out over the next few weeks. In fact the months between November and February are referred to as awards season on account of a dozen and more film awards that are handed out in this very period. Of them awards like the Golden Globe, the BAFTA (British Academy Awards)and the SAG awards (Screen Actors Guild) which are presented before the Oscars are regarded by industry insiders as good indicators of who is likely to emerge as a winner at the Oscars. Not always but a lot many times that is indeed the case.
Though Oscar Awards have been presented since the year 1929, it was only in the year 1956 that the Academy first announced awards in the category of Foreign Language films and it was the legendary Italian director, Federico Fellini’s ‘La Strada’ which had the honour of winning the first ever Oscar in this category. This year in celebration of its 60th anniversary, the Academy has painstakingly made a montage of all past acceptance speeches. Along with it, they have also created a gallery containing posters of all those who won in the Foreign Language Film category. Both of these will surely be a delight for all film aficionados. Last week when the Academy called for submission, a massive eighty five countries submitted films from their respective nations for consideration in the Foreign Language Film category for the 89th Academy Awards.
By the way, 85 is a new record when it comes to the number of countries that have submitted their films in the Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars topping last year’s 81 films. Does this mean that the Oscars are gaining in popularity worldwide year on year. Next you will have a bunch of Academy foreign committees consisting of members from practically every department of film making sitting down to prune this down to a shortlist of nine films before the final five nominations are announced. What makes the Foreign Language Film category unique in comparison to all the other Academy category awards is that it is presented to the country as a whole and not to any one individual related to the film as such. Though normally, it is the film’s producer and/or director who accepts the Oscar award.
One of the criticisms of the Oscars when it comes to foreign language films is that almost nine out of ten winners are all European filmmakers. In this a chunk of the awards and nominations have gone to Italy. Matter of fact, last year’s winner was from Hungary and the film was called ‘Son of Saul’ In an interesting aside, this year will be the first time a film from the country of Yemen has been submitted for the Oscars. Coming to the film which one thinks has a good shot, there are actually a couple worth a mention. First up is the Mexican film ‘Desierto’ that is produced by Oscar award winning director Alfonso Cuaron (of Gravity fame) and is directed by his son Jonas Cuaron. Jonas was incidentally credited with writing Gravity. This violent saga of Mexican migrants trying to illegally cross over into US has wowed the festival circuit and is a good bet this year.
Another film that one fancies is the Spanish film ‘Julieta’ directed by the controversial Oscar winning Pedro Aldomovar. It had the critics mesmerised at Cannes earlier this year. But will it snare the big one? Let us wait and watch.

Road To The Oscars 2017 – And so it begins

  It is that time of the year again. With the beginning of submission for various categories of the coveted Academy Awards popular all over the world as the Oscars. For almost nine decades, the Academy Awards have been considered the last word when it comes to excellence in cinema. And as the one award that every filmmaker the world over dreams of and desires to win some day. In June of this year, the Academy announced the dates for both the nomination process as well as the big day on which the awards will be given away. The 89th Academy Awards will be held this year in a glittering ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles on February 26, 2017 at 8.30 pm (Eastern Time) Formerly known as the Kodak Theatre, this venue has been hosting the prestigious Academy Awards since 2002 and isconsidered the permanent home of the Academy Awards.
In 2016, the ceremony was hosted by popular actor & comedian Chris Rock and interestingly enough when Rock was asked later whether he would be returning to host the show again in 2017 he is supposed to have refused point blank but instead evinced an interest in producing the Academy Awards this time around. Not entirely surprising considering that the producers of the 88th Academy Awards, David Hill
and Reginald Hadlin have decided not to produce the mega event again. Their decision is likely to have been influenced by the fact that the Oscars did not receive the kind of reception that had been expected. To make matters worse, the television ratings of the awards telecast were low too.
So when it was announced that the very well respected and talented duo of Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd had agreed to produce the Oscars early next year, it was seen as a great move. De Luca is a three time Oscar award nominated producer himself who has been in-charge of production at big studios like DreamWorks, Sony and New line Cinema. Seven, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and The Social Network are some of the acclaimed films that De Luca has put his weight behind. And of course, with last year’s smash hit Fifty Shades of Grey he hit the pay dirt. And big time at that. The challenge for De Luca is to try and turn things around after last year’s average outing at the Oscars.
In Jennifer Todd, De Luca has just the person needed to pull off a show of this magnitude and the kind of glitz, glamour and grandeur that the Academy awards have been come to represent. Having served as President of Mark Gordon Company and Pearl Street Films, her most fruitful association has been with her own sister, Suzanne Todd where the two sisters ran a film production company called Team Todd. Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece ‘Memento’ and Tim Burton’s 2010 smash hit ‘Alice in Wonderland’ are among the many successful films that Todd has produced.
Even before the action has hit the ground , the 89th Academy Awards have already run into controversy by inviting a record 683 new members to add to it’s existing tally of 6900 odd members. And just for the record that is twice more than the number of invites that are usually sent out every year. For years the critics of the Oscars have contended that the representation within the Academy is skewed in favor of males and white males at that. This move is part of an attempt by the Academy to ensure that there is equal representation of people from both the genders as well as artists from all parts of the globe. All said and done, seems like the Oscars are going to be great fun this year . Watch this space.