Mailbag Vol. 2: Oscars 2017 Edition

In Mailbag, we answer some of the questions you send us via Email, twitter, Tumblr, facebook or through the comments.

Which movie is the most “Oscar bait” ? – BottleRocket on Tumblr

Nate: This is an interesting question. I actually think the Academy did a good job avoiding the most “Oscar Bait” movies this year in that Loving, Jackie and Birth of a Nation – 3 films that would fall into prime Oscar-bait territory missed on most major nominations. Instead, you have some nontraditional films like Hell or High Water and Arrival up for Best Picture – movies that are from the action/adventure and science fiction genres that the Academy has largely looked over in the past. The closest thing to Oscar bait this year would be Moonlight but I don’t think it’s there  to fulfill a race quota (I would argue that the film has more to do with being gay than being black and could have just as easily been a film starring a cast of any race) rather it  is genuinely a great film with superb cinematography and emotion

Michael: This all depends on how the Academy wants to be perceived; does it want to seem sympathetic to racial minorities? Does it want to satisfy the A-list crowd of Hollywood elite? Does it want to be more inclusive? Whichever film fulfills these questions and others will be the best “bait” for the Academy. After years of the Oscars So White controversy, it seems obvious that the films that have casts of color and tell stories of colored people (Hidden Figures, Fences, Moonlight) will attract the Academy. Although it is wrong to think they would be awarded solely because they’re “black” movies, they have earned any potential awards with their strong content and acting. La La Land as a whole is “bait” because of its celebration of the Hollywood musical and making it big after much adversity. It’s an homage to the Golden Age, while also embracing the future. I find the ‘bait’ question very interesting every year, but I would say overall the ‘bait’ changes according to the times and the mood of the Academy.

If I am a casual moviegoer which Oscar film is most accessible? – Matt 

Nate: La La Land works universally because everyone has either fallen in love or chased a dream. That, coupled with the fact that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are two of the most likable and recognizable people working today makes it easily the one that everyone from any demographic can find themselves connecting with. Another one I think the casual viewer would enjoy is Hell or High Water – a fun way to kill some time in a solid action adventure romp. It’s not too long nor does it get into that pretentious territory that turns off casual viewers which are why it has a lot of fans on the internet. There are others there but many of them are very heavy in theme (Manchester), minimal in action (Fences) or a combination of both (Silence – which is great but takes a lot to invest in).

Michael:  The beauty of La La Land is that while it’s clearly celebrating Hollywood it doesn’t do it in a condescending way to its audience. This is a film that is accessible to anyone I feel; it has great music, it’s very colorful, and is both a feel-good outing and a bittersweet one. It’s a nice movie that most audiences should be able to appreciate. Lion is also a heartwarming and inspirational tale that also offers a glimpse into a different culture and society. Hidden Figures too offers laughs, tears and a very important lesson in the disastrous effects of racism. Audiences will leave the theater thankful and inspired after seeing that one.  And of course, all the animated features are great for both adults and kids alike. For the really casual moviegoer, these are probably the ones that offer the best ‘escapism’ and not too heavy demands on them.  Films like Manchester By the Sea, Moonlight, Fences, and Silence, deal with really prominent and heavy thematic material, that is definitely not for everyone. That being said I would still personally recommend all of these films, even to those who call themselves “casual”. There’s beauty to be found in all of these works and if you’re open to a wide variety you’ll find some goodness in them all.

Why you guys hating on Emma Stone? – Various

Michael: If it’s been perceived that I am ‘hating’ on Emma Stone, I wish to correct that notion. I just simply feel that she has done better work than that seen in La La Land. This isn’t to say her work in La La Land is not good, it’s great. And she outshines Ryan Gosling assuredly. However, when faced with the prospect of winning the Oscar for Best Actress, I think winning for this role would not be the proverbial ‘crowning achievement’ for her. Sure the Oscar is a crowning achievement, but I would associate it with a greater role. So if Stone wins on Sunday, I won’t be complaining but I do feel there’s been other work that stands out more than La La Land. Fellow nominee Isabelle Huppert delivers what is probably her best performance in a long career, so winning the Award in her case would fit more in my definition of awarding the best performance by an actor.

Nate: Let’s make something clear: My number one celebrity has been Emma Stone since she kicked ass in Zombieland but Emma is a close second to Huppert in this race, People dismissing Huppert should see Elle again. Stone is the best actor in La La Land for sure and in some softer years of this category would take it for sure but the real star of La La Land is Damien Chazelle and what he does directing that film. As we said in our predictions, Stone will probably take it on Sunday but she’s young and talented enough that even if she didn’t she’d be in line for one in the future.

What do you think are the chances of Manchester By The Sea winning original screenplay? -Afflecks on Tumblr 

Michael:  Manchester by the Sea is as I have said in the past, a deeply affecting drama. This is because of many elements: Affleck’s lead performance (and the great supporting cast), the sure-handed direction by Kenneth Lonergan, and of course his original screenplay for it. Obviously without the screenplay, then the cast wouldn’t be able to give such performances, and directing will always be a challenge without a solid story to work with. So can it win Original Screenplay on Sunday? Sure, in fact, it would be nice to see it win. I have chosen La La Land as the winner due to the ambitious nature of Damien Chazelle’s vision and the years of production that went into financing it. It also has the “appealing to the Hollywood crowd” factor and the fact that Chazelle is one of the most promising up and comers. That being said don’t count Lonergan out of this race and if he does end up winning I’ll certainly be very pleased to see it.

Nate: I think between the two front runners in that category (La La Land and Manchester), Manchester is the better-written movie, whereas La La Land is the better overall production. I’m still sticking with La La Land as my winner, though, for many of the reasons listed by Michael, that final scene especially hits home for a lot of people which has allowed it (in part) to become the force that it has become. I encourage everyone to read both screenplays if interested as they delve deeper into the intentions of both filmmakers.

Will we ever see a nontraditional Oscar movie win at the Oscars like a superhero movie? – Jaimie 

Michael:   I think that this has already happened several times. Although I admit it’s not overly common, it has happened enough for me to have confidence in a variety of genres to have a chance of winning. Let’s go back to Planet of the Apes in 1968, winner of Achievement in Makeup. The original Star Wars in 1977 won six Oscars including Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Design, and Costume Design. It also was nominated for Best Picture! In 2003 Lord of the Rings Return of the King became the first fantasy film to win Best Picture. Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded Best Supporting Actor for playing the Joker in The Dark Knight in 2008. And of course, Birdman won big two years ago taking home Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Cinematography. So I think to say something is a ‘non-traditional’ Oscar movie is a bit of a misnomer. I have always viewed the Academy’s role was to award the best in film achievement no matter what the genre; granted the Oscars have in the past stuck to similar genres and films in their awarding, but they have shown their ability to recognize diverse films and I foresee that it will continue in the future. Especially as the fan base grows for more science fiction, fantasy and comic book films.

Nate: The issue here is that in those nontraditional genres, there are rarely truly great movies. For something like a comedy, those are very divisive because humor at its core is subjective, some people like toilet humor and sex jokes, others find it offensive, this divide makes it hard for those types of movies to be nominated. However you can tell a broadly appealing story that has humor in it, these have been nominated and won in the past (such as rom coms like The Apartment (1960) and Annie Hall (1971)).

As for Superhero movies and action movies in general, most suffer from a shallow plot, underdeveloped characters and an epidemic of poor rapid cut editing action scenes and a plethora of Deus Ex Machina moments to push the plot forward (see Fast and Furious).

This is a shame because the best comics are the ones that have heart, make you feel for the characters involved, have (even in the no-rules world of comic books) stakes that you are invested in. I feel like if you can ground a superhero movie and focus on telling a story or asking moral questions rather than trying to push from one action set piece to another then a superhero movie has a shot at winning. You saw it with the Dark Knight (which forced the Academy to expand the number of nominees the following year) and by early indications, you’ll be seeing it again with the upcoming Logan as it generates early award buzz.

How do you think Kimmel will fair as host on Sunday? – Don

Michael: The concept of the awards show host has always left me indifferent. I never really saw what the big deal was concerning having a host, whether it be the Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys or whatever other show. I can understand the point of it, but never really paid much attention to it. In the case of Jimmy Kimmel, he’s certainly a good comedian and television personality so I’m sure he’ll do just fine. Of course this year, American politics will be the subject of much conversation (expect the President and his policies to be referenced a few times in acceptance speeches) and so Kimmel will have some really pertinent material to work with. Personally, I’m looking forward to the awards themselves, so Kimmel is not really on my radar of things to look out for. He’ll most likely do a good job, have a few good jokes and some that fall flat. I wouldn’t be too worried about him embarrassing himself on the grand stage.

Nate: The host has always played second fiddle to the awards themselves (as Michael said, likely even more so this year). In the modern internet era, I actually feel it’s the biggest job the host has to do is create viral moments that will bring nontraditional viewers into the show. You saw the best example of this a few years ago when Ellen hosted and that’s why she is remembered as the best in years.

Is there anyone not nominated you’d like to see nominated this year? – Garry

Nate: Amy Adams for carrying Arrival with her subtle acting is a major snub especially when Streep was chosen over her (in what was a fine but not spectacular performance in my books). The Handmaiden and A Day in The Life of Olli Maki missing out on foreign (as well as director in the case of Chan Wook-Park) is a shame (see Handmaiden folks, it is one of the craziest experiences you’ll ever have watching a film). Lastly, I’d love to have seen “Drive it Like You Stole It” from Sing Street get nominated for Song.

Michael: Amy Adams is a great actress, and while she’s been nominated several times before, her exclusion this year, still feels like a snub. Taraji P. Henson should most definitely have been nominated for her central role in Hidden Figures (she is more prominent then nominee Octavia Spencer in the film). I believe Dev Patel, SHOULD NOT be in the Supporting category, so if he was moved to Best Actor that would leave a space for Hugh Grant in Supporting for his role in Florence Foster Jenkins. Of course, there are only a limited amount of nomination spaces, so someone will inevitably be snubbed every year, but these are the ones that stood out to me most clearly this cycle.

Who is the next Leo (due for an Oscar)? – BruceWayne

Michael:  Once again I will start with Amy Adams. There’s no doubt that she is an Oscar caliber actress and it’s only a matter of time before she wins. Hopefully, it is sooner rather than later. I would also say Viola Davis, but she seems very likely to win this Sunday, so her dry spell will be ending soon. I’d also like to see Ridley Scott win a competitive Oscar someday…

Nate: Agree with Michael on his picks and will add in the legendary Bill Murray into that conversation, he was robbed of one when his role in Lost in Translation lost out to Sean Penn in Mystic River. It seems like Murray missed his chance, though, his best shot now is if Wes Anderson writes him a juicy role. It’s more notable on the directing side tough as notable directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, David Lynch and David Fincher have never won.

What needs to improve in regards to Oscars / Oscar voting / is there any way the casual viewer can become more invested? – MovieGuy 


  1. Market your films better, I hate that so many of these movies are released in so few cinemas especially in small cities, you want people to care? Make the movies available for people to see.

2. Stop bunching all the great movies at the end of the year, I realize this is strategic to better influence voters during award season but I believe if you make a great movie people will remember it. This past year it looked like the worst year in movies for awhile until Arrival came in November along with a number of films like Manchester, La La Land and Moonlight all coming in mass succession

3.  If you want to be more invested, watch more movies, I understand that with everything going on in life, it’s hard to turn on and invest in something for two hours but I encourage you, the next time you go out on a date or are choosing a movie on a night in to choose a wider variety of movies beyond your usual mindless action movie (not saying that those are bad, just diversify your selection). Who knows? It might spark a good discussion or allow you to see something you may not have usually seen (provided your date doesn’t have a habit of falling asleep within 15 minutes of run time of course).

Michael: I think that there MUST be clearer definitions for what constitutes a leading and supporting role. As I have said earlier, calling Dev Patel a supporting actor for his role in Lion (he plays the title character) is silly. In the past, we’ve seen nominees and winners in categories that I have found questionable. Anthony Hopkins most definitely deserved his win for Silence of the Lambs, but was he really in a lead role? Christoph Waltz’s win for Django Unchained was in the Supporting category, yet he had an equally important role to Jamie Foxx’s Django. I would also like to know more about the voting process amongst Academy members and perhaps have some public feedback.

I also agree with Nate that Oscar movies desperately need to be marketed better. As Nate said, I really hate that many of these films have limited or sometimes nonexistent releases. Sure I can find releases online, but I’m a person that likes to go the actual movie theater and have you know a social experience.

In terms of getting people more invested, I would simply encourage people to just be more open to the great variety of films out there. Yes, there are some heavier movies and you can’t be interested in everything that comes out. But generally, I find that if a person has an open mind to different movies they’ll be pleasantly surprised at liking things they didn’t think they would. Give yourself the chance to see something you wouldn’t normally see, you might just be glad you did.

How do I become better at analyzing/thinking about movies? – KentBrockman

Nate: Watching movies is like eating food, the more you eat from a wide range of places, the more of a sense you get of quality. The easiest way to start is to look up your favorite movie, and find similar ones or find what influenced that filmmaker. For example, if Tarantino is your favourite director, you can look to his many Asian influences including the Hong Kong action films of the 70s-80s or alternatively you can just google the best films ever and start with some of the more accessible ones (ie do not start with something heavy or art house like Bergman’s Seventh Seal or anything from David Lynch, instead go lighter like Casablanca or Singing in the Rain.

Furthermore, there is a multitude of resources you can look into both academically and otherwise such as David Bordwell’s blog that will teach you the more technical aspects of film, and a number of review sites such as this one where you can hopefully take something from our insights.

Michael: There is no proper “training” to be had in terms of critiquing film. Yes, you can obviously take film studies and learn terminology, filming techniques etc, but that too can have drawbacks. It might lead one to be almost too “academic” in the approach to understanding movies.

Again I will say the key is being open to the wide variety out there and understanding some of the influences filmmakers have had. As Nate said, look at your favorite director or film, actor, composer, and see where did this person get their ideas? If you like Star Wars, then maybe check out Akira Kurosawa, Flash Gordon, and some Errol Flynn movies.

A willingness to do some research and view the spectrum of films will help a person determine what their likes and dislikes are. The more you know and see, then the better you’ll become at picking things out. I have loved the movies since I was a child but besides going to movies regularly and reading and researching I don’t have any special “training” or analytical tools that anyone else can’t develop. You don’t need a Ph.D. to be invested in film. You need an open mind, a little curiosity and the acceptance that sometimes you’ll like what you see and sometimes you won’t. The more you see (both good and bad) the better you’ll become at understanding what makes some film projects work and some flop.