New Books and ARCs, 1/24/17

You look like you could use an interesting stack of books and ARCs to peruse! Fortunately, I happen to have one right here for you. See anything in this stack that calls to you? Let us all know in the comments!

2017 First Pass Oscar Predictions

It’s that time of year again where I dust off my “film writer” hat and make guesses on what and who are going to win Oscars in the six major categories (Picture, Director, Actor and Actress, Supporting Actress and Supporting Actor). I usually end up getting five out of six correct! So I’ve got that going to for me, which is nice.

As always, these represents my “first blush” guesses — I’ll likely check in closer to the show date to see if anything’s changed. Note also that these predictions are as much about what’s won before (and why) and Hollywood politics as it is about the objective quality of the work under consideration, because, hey, when Al Pacino won a Best Actor Oscar for Scent of a Woman (or heck, when Leonardo diCaprio won for The Revenant), it wasn’t because they actually had the best male film performances of the year. Right? Okay, then. Let’s get to it.

(Also, if you want to see the full list of nominees, here you go.)

 

BEST PICTURE:

Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester By the Sea
Moonlight

The Academy allows for up to ten films to be nominated for best picture and this year we have nine, but usually if the film’s director isn’t nominated, a film doesn’t have much of a shot. There are exceptions — see Argo — but they’re just that: Exceptions. This year none of the Picture nominees without a directing nod has someone egregiously missing from that slate, so, I think it’s fair to say that Fences, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures and Lion are just along for the ride this year. This is not to say they’re not worthy, just not likely to win (that said, Lion is probably there mostly as a testament to Harvey Weinstein browbeating Academy voters into a nod).

Of the remaining five: I loved Arrival but the Academy has a bias against science fiction films; it’s only recently started nominating them for Best Picture on a semi-regular basis, so expecting it to pick one is optimistic, especially when there are other things on the slate that better conform to its overall preferences (also, Amy Adams didn’t get an Actress nod — what the hell? — which doesn’t help its overall argument). Likewise, Hacksaw Ridge seems unlikely to me; its selection reads more like the Academy welcoming director Mel Gibson back in from the cold than anything else (more on that later). Of three remaining, the next off the Oscar train for me would be Manchester by the Sea, which I suspect will be honored in other categories.

So I suspect it will come down to either Moonlight or La La Land. On one hand Moonlight would be the very woke choice for the Academy, and who knows? Maybe the Academy wants to feel what it’s like to be woke. But on the other hand La La Land is about Los Angeles and the industry and has pretty people dancing around and it’s 2017 and the world is shit and maybe we just want a goddamn musical and to smile okay? So I suspect it’s probably gonna be La La Land, what with its 13 other nominations and all.

Should Win: Arrival THERE I SAID IT (Note: I am biased as I know the guy whose story it’s based on)
Will Win: La La Land

 

BEST DIRECTOR:

Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

So, essentially, here’s the deal Mel Gibson got from Hollywood: Don’t be a public drunken racist and anti-Semite for ten years or so, and we’ll let you back into the club. Hey, that’s a pretty great deal! I don’t know Mel Gibson and can’t speak to whether in his heart he’s stopped being an awful, damaged person (He’s stopped drinking, as I understand it, which I think is entirely laudable), but he’s lived up to his end of the bargain, and so here he is, back again. It doesn’t mean he’ll win. But again, that’s not what I think this nomination is for. You can decide for yourself whether this is a heartwarming story of redemption or just cynicism on the part of the Academy.

Aside from Gibson, this is actually a pretty competitive field! The Academy has traditionally liked to pair Best Director and Best Picture but in recent years especially has been more prone to split those votes — three times in the last four years, in fact. So I think it’s possible any of the remaining four have a chance. Of the four, I judge Villeneuve as the least likely (I think, alas, that Arrival is destined to be a runner-up in a lot of things), but I don’t want to write him off completely.

As for the remaining three, Chazelle, Jenkins and Lonergan, here’s a tell as to who might win Director: If any of them wins an Oscar in the Screenwriting categories — Jenkins is up for Adapted, and Chazelle and Lonergan are up in Original — they’re more likely not to win Director. Screenplay Oscars are often “consolation” Oscars for directors — see Orson Welles, Quentin Tarantino and Jane Campion about this — so a win in this category in my opinion boosts the chances of the other guys.

My guess is that Lonergan and Jenkins have very good chances to win in their respective screenwriting categories, and are they going to complain if they do? No, they just won a damn Oscar! They’ll be fine. Which means I suspect Chazelle will walk with this one.

Should Win: Jenkins
Will Win: Chazelle

 

BEST ACTRESS:

Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Dear Academy: You don’t have to nominate Meryl Streep for every goddamned thing. Honestly, the fact she’s here for Florence while Amy Adams or Taraji P. Henson aren’t (for Arrival and Hidden Figures, respectively) is positively embarrassing. Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. I mean, I get it. I love Streep too. But just give her a damn Lifetime Achievement award already.

I think it’s great Ruth Negga has a nomination and I hope she enjoys it, and I hope she’ll be here again some other time; I don’t see much of a chance for her here. Likewise, Portman has won recently enough that there’s no great need to give her another one now. I suspect it’s going to come down to Huppert and Stone and a lot will depend honestly on how La La Land is doing otherwise. It’s got 14 nominations, so if it starts clearing the decks early, Stone has a very good chance; otherwise Huppert, who won a Golden Globe against some of the rest of the field, might find herself with a nice career capstone.

Should Win: Huppert
Will Win: Stone

 

BEST ACTOR:

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

Denzel Washington is in my opinion America’s greatest living actor and if you disagree, well, I mean, you’re wrong, aren’t you? And I would never count him out of anything, because again, America’s greatest living actor. But I don’t think it’s his year (or Fences‘ year, although come on, getting a whole stack of nominations is no small thing). Likewise Mortensen, who is the sort of actor I think Academy members find easier to admire (and occasionally nominate) than to actually give an Oscar to. I mean, surprise me, Oscar voters! Give it to Mortensen! I’ll be happy to be wrong! I’ll gladly be wrong! (I’m probably not wrong.) As for Garfield — he’s moved away from Spider-Man at a nice clip, hasn’t he? Good for him.

I suspect this category will come down to Affleck and Gosling, but in my opinion it’s probably actually down to Affleck and whether enough Academy voters are squicked about his allegedly assaulting and harassing behavior to women co-workers on previous films (Spoiler: I don’t think it will matter). It also depends on whether (again) La La Land is running the board; if it is, then heck, why not throw this in, too? But at the end of the day I suspect it will be Affleck, who is allegedly awful and also gave a very fine dramatic performance.

Should Win: Washington
Will Win: Affleck

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

For my money the best acting category in the awards this year, as long as you don’t count Nicole Kidman, whose presence here is an enduring testament to the power of Harvey Weinstein to get his films jammed into award consideration. I mean, Kidman’s fine! But among many other things, she’s already got an Oscar, and that in the lead category, so, meh.

Octavia Spencer also has an Oscar (in this category) and fairly recently too, so despite her very fine work in Hidden Figures, I suspect this will not be her year. Likewise I suspect Naomie Harris, a first time Academy nominee, is going to have to get in line behind Davis and Williams, who have been nominated before. And between Williams and Davis, I think it’s pretty much a coin flip, although I favor Viola Davis, because she won the Golden Globe and because damn it, it’s time.

Should Win: Davis
Will Win: Davis

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

I have a pretty strong feeling this is the category I totally whiff this year, because, honestly, look at this thing. First off, Dev Patel is kind of the star of Lion, isn’t he? Doesn’t this seem like a bit of a cheat to anyone else? (I’m going pause a moment to note that it seems like I’m being unduly harsh to Lion, which may be possibly unfair to the film, which is perfectly competent tear-jerking Oscar bait. Sorry, Lion fans!) I think it’s possible Patel gets a nod here, but if he does, I think it’s because of a cynical move on the part of his film company.

After that: Well, you got me. The only one I’m comfortable suggesting is not in contention is Hedges, but then again, if he does win, you can expect a reasonably good night for Manchester. I don’t think Jeff Bridges really cares if he wins another Oscar, but he might anyway, just because he’s Jeff Bridges. I like both Shannon and Ali and I couldn’t tell you which will win, but maybe Ali, if for no other reason than Moonlight is multiply-nominated and Animals isn’t. Also, Ali’s was 2016’s Hardest Working Man in Show Business, between Moonlight and Hidden Figures and Luke Cage, so maybe that will pay off.

Should Win: Ali
Will Win: Ali

 

Other stuff: I’m rooting for Arrival to win Best Adapted Screenplay (congrats, Eric Heisserer!) but it’s a really tough field this year, not in the least because Moonlight’s script is in there and that may be Berry Jenkins’ compensatory Oscar (see above). I’m likewise thrilled the deeply weird script for The Lobster got an Oscar nod in Original Screenplay, but it has the same problem as Arrival has: tough field, packed with directors. Still, two SF/F screenplays in the same year — not bad, says this science fiction author. On the animated movie front, I’ll be interested to see whether Moana or Zootopia gets it; I suspect Moana (if Kubo and the Two Strings gets it, I will be shocked but delighted). Likewise, although this year is a bad year to against La La Land in Original Song, I think the temptation to give Lin-Manuel Miranda his EGOT (actually a PEGOT, because he’s got a Pulitzer, too) will be really strong and anyway it’s not like La La Land won’t win Original Score. Finally, I suspect Ava DuVernay is going to get her Oscar in the Documentary category for 13th.

Your thoughts on this year’s nominations (and my predictions)? Leave them in the comments.

 

The Big Idea: Lawrence Millman

A horrific event took place decades ago — but could the key to explaining it exist in the modern day? Author Lawrence Millman asked himself that question as he undertook the writing of At the End of the World, and the answer to it surprised even him.

LAWRENCE MILLMAN:

Here are the bare bones of the book’s story: One man declares himself God, another man declares himself Jesus, and any person who doesn’t believe in them is Satan.  How do you deal with Satan or, indeed, a plethora of Satans? You dis-pose of them, of course.  And so there were 9 deaths in a relatively short period of time.

What I’ve just described is not an attempt by rabid Christians to emulate ISIS terrorists or perhaps a previously undocumented episode from the Spanish Inquisition.  Rather, the murders occurred in 1941 in the Belcher Islands, a remote archipelago in Canada’s Hudson Bay.  So remote were these islands that their Inuit inhabitants experienced First Contact with qallunaat (white people) only 25 years earlier.

During my visit to the Belcher Islands in 2001, Inuit elders talked to me about the 1941 tragedy.  Talked to me, I should say, with some difficulty, for their memories of the events were quite painful. Yet the book I expected to write about this virtually unknown tragedy refused to be written.  One year passed, then another year, and — nothing.  It was as if the story was downright hostile to the idea of being put down onto paper.

In 2013, I was in Tasiilak, East Greenland, researching another obscure story, one that concerned a cannibalistic monster called a tupilak attacking a village, when I heard about the following incident: A local teenager was so busy texting that she didn’t see the polar bear that was approaching her. At the last minute, however, she saw it and screamed, whereupon the bear loped away.

Suddenly I had my first Big Idea — screens can deprive us of our lives, just as the would-be deities deprived the Inuit in the Belcher Islands of their lives…

Head upon heels with this realization came my second Big Idea — namely, that I couldn’t write about the past (i.e., the Belcher Island murders) without also writing about the present. Denizens of the present age have exchanged their human selves for screened selves, their actual faces for a Facebook profile, and real weather for weather on a screen. An example of this last exchange: a woman avidly fingering her iDevice smashed into me on a Boston street, then said, “Sorry, but I was just trying to find out the weather…”

So we have murder in the name of God in a remote part of the Arctic and perhaps murderous obsession with what might be called iGods — each represents a particular world coming to an end. Taken together, these two themes danced a sort of pas de deux in my mind. The book now demanded to be written, and my pen went flying across the page, sometimes bearing my own words, sometimes the words of the Inuit elders I talked to about the murders. Sometimes, too, my pen would fly into a rant, as when it wrote: “Better tango rhythms than algorithms!”

At the End of the World concludes with the present, with one of the Belcher Island elders — once upon a time a highly traditional hunter-gatherer — e-mailing the following note to me: “Everyone here…they’re all going digital now, and they look at nothing else. Me, too! I am how you say it screened in…”

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At The End of the World: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.