Monday, February 27, 2017

The 2016 Markademy Awards

There is literally nothing I could do for this year’s Markademy Awards that could possibly top the actual Oscars for pure bonkers.  I’m at a loss, folks.  I could’ve trained a flock of carrier pigeons to peck away at a pile of bird seed to reveal each winner’s name, but then it’d just turn out that Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty replaced the seed with ball bearings.

It looked for all the world like Beatty’s pause before reading the winner was either a) him having a senior moment or b) him just hamming it up to draw out the suspense.  So Dunaway, intending to either bail him out or cut the nonsense, grabbed the card and the name of the listed film, going so quickly that she didn’t notice the discrepancy.  (Remember, she was acting fast.)  Long story short, that was the single biggest fiasco in Oscar history.  Hindsight being 20-20, Beatty missed an incredible chance at self-promotion by not ending his explanatory speech with “looks like the Rules Don’t Apply to me, folks!” and holding up a DVD.

So without further ado, let’s move on to the 2016 Markademy Awards!  Where you’d better believe I double-checked this post for any errors before publishing.

Actual Oscar nominees: Damien Chazelle/La La Land, Mel Gibson/Hacksaw Ridge, Barry Jenkins/Moonlight, Kenneth Lonergan/Manchester By The Sea, Denis Villeneuve/Arrival
Actual Oscar winner: Chazelle

Alterna-ballot: Luca Guadagnino/A Bigger Splash, Pablo Larrain/Jackie, Richard Linklater/Everybody Wants Some!!, David Mackenzie/Hell Or High Water, Mike Mills/20th Century Women, Joe and Anthony Russo/Captain America: Civil War, Martin Scorsese/Silence
My ballot: Chazelle, Guadagnino, Jenkins, The Russos, Scorsese
My winner: Barry Jenkins

Obligatory “LOL at the Academy actually nominating Mel Gibson again.”  Aside from that one tone-deaf nod, this is a pretty strong list of nominees, even if I’m only duplicating two of of them on my actual ballot.  Silence is a film that I admire more than I actually want to watch again, though it’s inarguable that Scorsese is simply playing on a higher level than virtually anyone else.  I’m not familiar with Guadagnino’s past work but he emerged on my radar screen in a big way.  And say what you will about Chazelle the wonder boy, but I thought LLL was a hell of a movie, and this guy clearly is a big talent to watch in future years.

I’ll give the Russos their own paragraph just to acknowledge the incredible juggling act required for Civil War (which got strong consideration for the Best Picture Markademy Award).  They had to live up to the amazing Winter Soldier, live up to the original Civil War storyline from the comics even if the film adaptation version is significantly different, present the Cap/Iron Man conflict in a way that makes a case for either side, kind of apologize to the world for Age Of Ultron by making a “real” new Avengers movie, introduce a brand new franchise-carrying character in Black Panther, re-introduce Spider-Man in his new Tom Holland form and incorporate him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, give little character beats to literally eight other recurring heroes (Black Widow, Falcon, Winter Soldier, War Machine, Vision, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man), from the Marvel movies, introduce and develop a brand-new villain in Zemo, face real-world pressure of trying to outdo another big hero vs. hero movie in Batman vs. Superman (this ended up being not that hard), make it a Captain America movie first and foremost for fans of that specific series AND, finally, make it great.  No wonder it took two people to direct this; I’m surprised it didn’t take six. 

But not even the fabulous Russo brothers can overcome Barry Jenkins.  Chazelle gets the ‘wonder boy’ label because he’s only 32, but Jenkins is a mere 37 years old himself.  He made one movie eight years ago, puttered around trying to get several more projects off the ground in the interim, was a staff writer on the second season of The Leftovers (!) and then finally gets Moonlight made….and it’s a stone-cold classic.  This is an astonishingly good movie for anyone, let alone a filmmaker on just his second trip behind the camera.  I suspect Jenkins won’t have so much trouble getting his third film made.  I don’t begrudge Chazelle winning the Oscar since Jenkins was rewarded himself via the adapted screenplay Oscar, not to mention landing the big prize at the end of the night.

Actual Oscar nominees: Mahershala Ali/Moonlight, Jeff Bridges/Hell Or High Water, Lucas Hedges/Manchester By The Sea, Dev Patel/Lion, Michael Shannon/Nocturnal Animals
Actual Oscar winner: Ali

Alterna-ballot: Tom Bennett/Love & Friendship, Ralph Fiennes/A Bigger Splash, Ben Foster/Hell Or High Water, Garrett Hedlund/Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Yosuke Kubozuka/Silence, Tracy Letts/Indignation, Issey Ogata/Silence, Glen Powell/Everybody Wants Some!!, Peter Sarsgaard/Jackie, Donnie Yen/Rogue One
My ballot: Fiennes, Kubozuka, Ogata, Powell, Shannon
My winner: Ralph Fiennes

Let’s begin with what is probably the year’s deepest acting category, as while I don’t really have any issues with any of the nominated performances, I had better alternatives.  Ali is a worthy winner though admittedly (minor Moonlight spoiler here), I thought he’d have more screentime given all of the hype surrounding his performance.  Hedges is fine.  Shannon is heavily approaching Christopher Walken territory of being able to add crazy intensity to any film, no matter how good or bad.  (I’m still not sure what I thought of Nocturnal Animals, easily the WTF film of the year.) 

Lion’s unusual structure technically makes Patel a supporting role, though it’s still vaguely category fraud-esque to me.  HoHW is another tough movie for lead/supporting designations since it more or less has three lead roles (a la The Departed) split between two younger actors and a cagey veteran.  Chris Pine is clearly the lead, though between Bridges and Foster, I’d say Foster was the most supporting role while Bridges is in that Nicholson-esque netherworld between the two categories.  Foster therefore would’ve been my preferred HoHW mention for this category, in no small part because Ben Foster is well overdue for some Academy recognition.

So after a whole paragraph on category fraud, I’m giving my actual Markademy Award to a performance that really skates the line between lead and supporting.  For much of the year, in fact, I had Fiennes listed as one of my Best Actor candidates.  I’m sure you could take a stopwatch to clock amounts of screentime that point out my hypocrisy in awarding Fiennes while snubbing, say, Bridges or Patel, though there’s also a narrative consideration.  Fiennes’ role in A Bigger Splash is ultimately a secondary part to drive the action of the actual lead, Tilda Swinton’s character.  (Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson are both kinda in category limbo, though I’d say Johnson was supporting if I bothered to nominate her.)

Beyond just screentime, of course, Fiennes totally steals every scene he’s in.  Fiennes has a well-developed reputation as a serious and intense actor, though between this film, Hail Caesar! and the Grand Budapest Hotel, he’s starting to flex his comedic muscles.  Fiennes is also playing Moriarty in an upcoming Sherlock Holmes movie starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as Holmes and Watson, and I mean, just take my money now.  Also, Fiennes’ full actual name is “Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes,” so you pretty much need a sense of humour if you’re growing up with such an ultra-British name.

Roll call for some other honourable mentions!  Everything about Kubozuka’s performance and character was fascinating, and he would’ve won if I’d taken a harder line with Fiennes as a lead actor….Not to be outdone on Team Silence, Issey brilliantly combined both humour and menace….Bennett finally channeled his poor man’s Ricky Gervais persona into something actually worthwhile….Letts is a classic “he had one scene, but man, what a scene” performance….Powell is hilariously douchey from start to finish…Sarsgaard avoids the pitfalls of a Kennedy impersonation to deliver fine work as RFK….if another set of Star Wars prequels is solely focused on Donnie Yen’s character, I won’t complain.

Actual Oscar nominees: Isabelle Huppert/Elle, Ruth Negga/Loving, Natalie Portman/Jackie, Emma Stone/La La Land, Meryl Streep/Florence Foster Jenkins
Actual Oscar winner: Stone

Alterna-ballot: Amy Adams/Arrival, Kate Beckinsale/Love & Friendship, Annette Bening/20th Century Women, Lily Collins/Rules Don’t Apply, Viola Davis/Fences, Rebecca Hall/Christine, Taraji P. Henson/Hidden Figures, Sarah Paulson/Blue Jay, Tilda Swinton/A Bigger Splash
My ballot: Bening, Davis, Hall, Portman, Swinton
My winner: Annette Bening

It’s weird to nominate Gosling and not Stone for the Markademy Award since she gave the better performance, though the Goz was aided by a very weak Best Actor field.  This year’s list of Best Actress contenders, conversely, was so stacked that while Stone was a worthy winner of the actual Oscar, you could just as easily argue in favour of another half-dozen names.  I actually had her seventh on my ballot, with the eternal Streep taking the #6 position.

We’ll talk more about Viola Davis in the next category, but suffice it to say, she was great.  Portman’s first 15 minutes were sort of “uh oh, this Jackie O impression is a little shaky, is this going to be the whole movie?” before morphing into straight fire.  ~~~ Swinton was amazing even barely saying a word.  The big dark horse nominee of the entire year was Rebecca Hall, an actress who I never considered to be even decent before her fantastic work in Christine.  Maybe I was blind to her talents, or maybe she’s a broken clock and this was one of her two correct times.

My winner is Annette Bening, from a rare film that I instantly wanted to see as an ongoing TV series just so I could spend more time with the characters.  Bening is the center of that great ensemble as a no-nonsense mother who nonetheless invites untold amounts of nonsense into her son’s life.  Doesn’t it feel like Bening should have an actual Oscar by now?  Will she be unofficially snubbed for life now since she’s married to Warren “Envelope Expert” Beatty?

Actual Oscar nominees: Viola Davis/Fences, Naomie Harris/Moonlight, Nicole Kidman/Lion, Octavia Spencer/Hidden Figures, Michelle Williams/Manchester By The Sea
Actual Oscar winner: Davis

Alterna-ballot: Greta Gerwig/20th Century Women, Dichen Lachman/Too Late, Kate McKinnon/Ghostbusters, Janelle Monae/Hidden Figures, Angora Rice/The Nice Guys, Molly Shannon/Other People
My ballot: McKinnon, Monae, Rice, Shannon, Williams
My winner: Kate McKinnon

“Mark, are you going to talk about category fraud all day long?”  I sure can!  Viola Davis gave a great performance and was wholly deserving of at least a nomination…as Best Actress.  Let’s be real here, this was a lead role.  At the end of the day I’m not too upset about Davis’ win since Kidman and Spencer both already have Oscars (“and probably didn’t deserve the nominations anyway,” he whispered”), Harris was fine but not award-worthy in my view. 

Michelle Williams….well, this is the eternal struggle of category fraud discussions.  She’s in MbtS for maybe ten minutes tops, yet one of her scenes is an absolute heart-wrencher and probably the key to the entire film.  Judging acting performances is often a case of apples vs. oranges anyway, but in this case especially, it’s not really fair to judge Williams’ ten great minutes against Davis’ 70-80 great minutes within the context of the same category.  Also, let’s not overlook how one Oscar snub begets another.  Hindsight being 20-20, Davis probably should’ve won Best Actress in 2011, so if the Academy is giving her a make-good Oscar this year, that now snubs Williams, who is quietly building up a hell of a resume.  Do you realize this is her fourth Oscar nomination?  From being the fourth or fifth most important person on Dawson’s Creek to having more career Oscar nods than Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, James Cagney, Peter Ustinov, Julie Andrews and countless others.  Williams is only 36 and should still have many more chances to finally nab that Oscar, though if she ends up in 0-fer-life territory, she could point to 2016 as her coulda/shoulda year if the Academy had done its job and properly awarded Davis years earlier.  Or, Williams will finally win an Oscar while snubbing someone else and cycle begins anew!

But in any case, I’m giving the actual award to Kate McKinnon for her Danny Ocean-sized theft of the Ghostbusters reboot.  This movie carried a ton of baggage, not only from the general pressure of reviving a classic franchise but also the outsized internet fanboy backlash, plus the backlash to that backlash.  McKinnon cut through the Gordian Knot of this controversy simply by being hilarious — literally everything she said or did was funny.  Her reactions just standing in the background of a scene are usually funnier than anything in the foreground.  There was a video floating around the internet for about two seconds (before the copyright police got to it) of all the alternate takes McKinnon used for her dialogue and every improvisation was as good as the next.  Between this movie and her weekly domination of SNL, 2016 was the year of McKinnon.

Special shoutout to my pal Kyle, who has stated that the Markademy Awards post is one of the reading highlights of his year.  Aww, thanks buddy!  I mention Kyle here since I’m sure he’ll love this particular award since he loathed the Ghostbusters movie.  He also recently praised the Ed Helms Vacation remake, so I’m wondering if his comedy compass is a little off.  After all, Kyle finds me funny, so something clearly ain’t right.

Honourable mention roll call!  Speaking of SNL stars, holy lord, does Molly Shannon ever come out of nowhere with a heartbreaking performance….I’m assuming that Spencer’s higher profile and past-winner status helped her get the nomination from the Hidden Figures cast since Monae had the better performance….Rice is a star of the future, she more than held her own with Gosling and Russell Crowe….Gerwig is slowly becoming the Streep of the Markademy Awards….I’ve been singing Lachman’s praises since her days on Dollhouse, can someone please start giving her better roles?

Actual Oscar nominees: Casey Affleck/Manchester By The Sea, Andrew Garfield/Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling/La La Land, Viggo Mortensen/Captain Fantastic, Denzel Washington/Fences
Actual Oscar winner: Affleck

Alterna-ballot: Joe Alwyn/Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Andrew Garfield/Silence, Hugh Grant/Florence Foster Jenkins, Jesse Plemons/Other People, Miles Teller/Bleed For This
My ballot: Garfield (for Silence), Gosling, Grant, Plemons, Washington
My winner: Denzel Washington

I can’t say I was too impressed with Affleck’s performance, and was hoping that the late-breaking Denzel momentum would be enough to net him that third Oscar.  Fun fact: only Streep, Ingrid Bergman, Walter Brennan, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jack Nicholson and Katherine Hepburn (who won four) have won at least three acting Oscars.  Can’t help but think Washington would’ve fit quite nicely into that group, though obviously he still has plenty of time to nab that third trophy.

Some have claimed that Fences is a bit too overtly theatrical, or showy, or Washington chews the scenery a little too much….but man, if you put the two performances side by side, I’ll take Denzel all day every day over Affleck.  If you play the old “if they switched roles” game and magically aged Affleck 20 years to make it work, a Casey Affleck-led Fences isn’t as good a movie.  A mid-90’s Denzel Washington starring in MbtS takes that film in a dozen new directions and elevates it to a possible Best Picture winner.

As mentioned earlier, this was not a strong Best Actor year, aside from Washington as the hands-down easy winner.  Even my alternate ballot is mostly “yeah, they were fine, but…” choices.  My second choice was actually Plemons for his fantastic against-type work in Other People.  Plemons is quietly building up a fascinating career, and just when you thought he was settling into a niche as a distinct character type, he throws this Other People curveball at us.  Between this movie, Fargo and then actually getting engaged to Kirsten Dunst, Plemons is on quite a roll.

Actual Oscar nominees: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell Or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight
Actual Oscar winner: Moonlight

To recap the rules of the Markademy Award Best Picture race, the following seven films are the ones I consider to be the cream of the crop for 2016.  They all pass the personal ‘this is a worthy best picture’ bar within my head, as in if any of these seven had won the real Oscar, I would’ve been satisfied.  The top seven almost could’ve been two tiers since 5-7 were pretty set in my mind but the top four were all legit contenders for the #1 spot.  It took some rethinking and even rewatching to figure things out, and…

1. Everybody Wants Some!!
2. Moonlight
3. Hell Or High Water
4. Captain America: Civil War
5. La La Land
6. Fences
7. 20th Century Women

First, the latter half of the draw.  As mentioned, 20th Century Women could’ve easily gone on for another 30 hours in my perfect world.  La La Land has its share of haters and it seems like there was enough of a backlash to actually cause that instantly legendary Oscar upset, though I must say, I really enjoyed it.  Fences is powerful enough as a film, I can’t imagine having to see it within the confines of a live theatre performance.  It would like staring into a blast furnace.

As noted earlier, Civil War had a huge laundry list of tasks to accomplish and ran through them with the efficiency of Hawkeye at a target range.  We probably have to start considering the Captain America movies to be the best comic book movie franchise, right?  First Avenger good, Winter Soldier was phenomenal and now Civil War is just as good if not even better given the higher degree of difficulty.  The Marvel movies are starting to overlap to the extent that it’s hard to set the Cap films aside as their own unique entity, per se; is there really anyone who is a fan of just the Cap movies on their own?  As in, “yeah, I didn’t bother with Avengers or Iron Man, but I’m all in on Captain America!”  Could one even necessarily watch Winter Solider and Civil War without needing a bunch of explanation about who the hell all these other characters are?  This all aside, in terms of sheer quality, the Cap movies are running neck-and-neck with Nolan’s Batman trilogy.  This might be worth a post of its own some day.

Hell Or High Water is the most straight-forward film on the list, just a badass modern-day Western crime movie.  Actually, strike the modern-day….you could’ve set the film 100 years ago in the old west with downgraded technology and told more or less the same story.  It is just (“just”?) an extremely well-made movie that I feel will be immensely rewatchable.

Moonlight becomes the ninth Best Picture winner in the last 11 years to also show up as a Markademy Award nominee, and the second straight Best Picture winner to finish at #2 on my list.  Let’s note that, all things considered, Moonlight was the single most unlikely winner in Oscar history.  How often does the Academy recognize movies with all-minority casts, or movies about homosexuality, or very low-profile indie movies, or movies that barely make any money?  And then how often does the Academy recognize a movie that does all four of these things?  The "only" thing Moonlight had going for it was that it was an incredible film, garnering about as close to universal acclaim as any Best Picture winner in recent memory.

If there’s a theme to the top three on my list, it’s that the movies have open-ended conclusions that leave you wanting more.  (Civil War is technically inconclusive as well, though obviously the story will continue in the umpteen upcoming Marvel movies.)  What will happen with Chiron and Kevin?  Will Hamilton ever settle his score with Toby Howard?  And what will happen throughout the entirety of Jake’s college career, though admittedly, the stakes seem a bit lower in Everybody Wants Some!! than in the other films.  Especially since the answer is probably just, “more baseball and partying.”

Moonlight and HoHW show you the key moments in the characters’ lives and you just want to learn of the aftermath.  The beauty of EWS!! is that aside from the technical “starting point” of Jake coming to college, it’s absolutely structured as just a few days in the lives of these kids.  Richard Linklater is about as good as anyone at making slice-of-life movies, be it Boyhood, the Before movies or (especially) Dazed & Confused, this movie’s spiritual heir.  I’ve always felt that every generation needs its own “teenagers just hanging around” type of movie.  The 70’s had American Graffiti reflecting the 60’s, the 90’s had Dazed & Confused reflecting the 70’s and now we have EWS!! reflecting the early 80’s.  We’re about 20 years away from reflecting on the 90’s, which will officially make me an old man.

Like D&C, Everybody Wants Some!! is the kind of movie you can watch over and over without fail.  The cast perfectly captures the “dudes hanging around” aesthetic, the dialogue is smart in its stupidity, the 1980’s period art design is so on-point in every sense that even Stranger Things would have to tip its cap.  There’s so little space amongst my top four picks that any would’ve been a worthy winner, but as it stands, Everybody Wants Some!! is my Markademy Award winner.  It was a great enough film that I’m even willing to overlook the silly exclamation points.

Here are my other ‘best’ films of the year, the ones that fell short of Best Picture consideration but would get a “oh yeah, that was quite good” recommendation from yours truly.

8. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
9. Sing Street
10. Florence Foster Jenkins
11. Manchester By The Sea
12. Arrival
13. Into The Forest
14. A Bigger Splash
15. Julieta
16. Doctor Strange
17. The Nice Guys
18. The Witch
19. Lion
20. Maggie’s Plan
21. Silence
22. Other People
23. Rogue One, A Star Wars Story
24. Blue Jay
25. Christine
26. Ghostbusters
27. The Shallows

If you're wondering where the traditional "best scenes of the year" segment is, this year I spun it off into its own post.  Extra pageviews!

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