Tag Archives: Oscars

“The Shape of Water” Takes Best Picture at the Oscars

The 90th annual Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, was hosted by The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences on March 4.

This year featured a wide range of genres such as horror, science fiction, drama and war films in the award nominations, especially in the Best Picture category.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” promotional photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight
: “The Shape of Water” promotional photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
“Get Out” promotional photo courtesy of Universal Studios

There were nine nominees for the category, many of which feature the work of well-known directors such as Guillermo del Toro, Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg.

There were also little-known and first time feature film directors such as Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig represented in nominated films.

Film critics, such as those writing for “Forbes” and “The New Yorker”, projected the most likely Best Picture winners were del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” and Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Both films have won awards in other competitions such as the Producers’ Guild Awards and the Golden Globes.

Lindsey Brezinski , a film studies student at Winona State University, said, “Ultimately, based on the results of Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor, I was expecting “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” to win Best Picture.”

In the end, “The Shape of Water” took the Oscar.

“I was ecstatic when “The Shape of Water” won,“ Brezinski said. “I personally loved the film and it was nice to see something I wasn’t expecting win the award. It’s a big win for science fiction films as well!”

“Lady Bird” promotional photo courtesy of InterActiveCorp
“Dunkirk” promotional photo courtesy of Warner Bros.
“Darkest Hour” promotional photo courtesy of Focus Features

To film studies students, The Oscars are considered the most prestigious film awards.

Being nominated by and voted on by professionals in each category, with some exceptions, such as Best Picture, which all members of the Academy vote.

“The Oscars are important,” Brezinski said, “because they bring films that may have not been seen by a wide audience into the spotlight and allow people to step out of the big-bucks studio blockbuster bubble they typically live in.”

“The Post” promotional photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
“Call Me By Your Name” promotional photo courtesy of Frenesy Film
“Phantom Thread” promotional photo courtesy of Focus Features

Jake Nielsen, another WSU film studies student said, “It’s the biggest night of the year for movies. A lot of emphasis and prestige is added to the films that win Best Picture.”

There are things that upset film fans about the Oscars.

“There is also a lot of dumb upsets that happen that are predictable because of how The Academy tends to vote,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen expressed disappointment that many low-budget independent films of great quality are ignored for the big-budget studio films.

Seth Lamey, a film student at WSU, said, “I think it is tough for cinephiles [those who study film] because on one hand they want to celebrate the year of film,but on the other side there is a lot more depth to the cinematic year that isn’t even being talked about.”

The Rivoli Theater in La Cross, Wisconsin
The Rivoli Theater in La Cross, Wisconsin

The Rivoli Theater in La Crosse is one of the few theaters that provides movie-goers access to many indie films that most theaters, such as the Winona 7, don’t.

Both theaters emphasized the Best Picture nominees by showing them before and after the Oscars so audiences could watch them on the big screen.

The Rivoil Theater serves alcoholic beverages and pizza as well as other movie snacks.

The Effervescent Joy of “La La Land”

A gorgeous love letter to Hollywood and the dreams that keep the industry alive, “La La Land” is escapism at its finest.

If there is one thing that defined the early years of Hollywood, it would be the movie musical. After the advent of sound technology, film studios embraced the new development to produce some of history’s most acclaimed musicals, including “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “An American in Paris” and “42nd Street.”

Now, in the 21st century, director Damien Chazelle has crafted a new film that can be added to the list. “La La Land” is more than just another musical. Chazelle’s film modernizes the genre while, with its sweeping musical numbers and breathtaking final sequence, keeps in line with its roots. It is a gorgeous love letter to Hollywood, Los Angeles and the dreams that keep the industry alive. Effervescent and engrossing, “La La Land” is escapism at its finest.

The film begins on a vast highway of deadlocked traffic, as a young woman in a bright yellow dress breaks out into song. The camera swings through the organized chaos of the dance number as drivers and passengers jubilate and twirl across the screen. Colors shine amid the frenzy, with stark reds, blues and yellows weaving a bright tapestry of visual splendor.

The cast of LA LA LAND. Photo Credit: Dale Robinette

As the cast sings “Another Day of Sun,” the first of many fantastic musical pieces in the film, “La La Land” telegraphs what is to come. It draws viewers into this escapist world of song and light while showing the dichotomy of the city itself. Even these drivers, amidst crammed unmoving cars, see the potential for beauty and success in the City of Stars. In essence, that’s what the film is about.

This is only Chazelle’s second feature, and it showcases his personal style and ideals. His first film, 2014’s “Whiplash,” became a quick critical darling and, in this reviewer’s opinion, was the best film that year. An intimate flick involving a young drummer and the constant struggle to better oneself, “Whiplash” cemented Chazelle as a lover of jazz, the lives of artists and the language of cinema.

“La La Land” doubles down on those concepts, beginning with the existential conflict of the artist’s dilemma. At its core, the film is both a tale of love between two struggling artists and how dreams are meant to be chased, even amid constant setbacks.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) are the living embodiment of the Hollywood dream, but not entirely in the sense one would expect. Unlike the quick success expected among the Los Angeles crowd, the two keep failing in their own right. To put it simply, they’re relatably human.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) in LA LA LAND. Photo Credit: Dale Robinette

Sebastian is a self-taught jazz pianist who is stuck playing simple songs as a restaurant musician, and Mia is just another ambitious actress amidst a sea of seemingly identical actresses. Both have dreams they strive to realize, with Sebastian hoping to open his own jazz cafe and bring jazz back into the forefront, while Mia wishes to act on the big screen. Yet, dreams are often easier said than done, even for people with incredible talent.

Their struggles and eventual romance are enchanting and relatable, acting as a surprisingly unglamorous backbone to a story many would associate with fame and celebrity. They fail like us, try like us and change like us. “La La Land” tells a story of real people and how their lives can come together and just as easily fall apart.

Shedding the clichés of films like “The Notebook,” Gosling has come into his own lately with stellar roles in “Drive,” “Blue Valentine” and “Place Beyond the Pines.” Here, however, he falls back to his romance roots while proving his development over the years. Perhaps his acting is a little predictable at times, but he displays great aptitude for grounding what could have been a cheesy and insufferable role.

Emma Stone, on the other hand, turns in one of her finest performances to date, which has been recognized by everything from the Golden Globes to the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Stone is constantly evocative and dynamic, yet she channels a sort of blissful simplicity that feels both fresh and wholly nostalgic.

The only problem with “La La Land” involves its supporting cast. Keith (John Legend) is the only side character who is even close to developed, with everyone else serving as either one-off plot devices or extra flair in the background.

That said, “La La Land” doesn’t try to tell us the story of a community, but of two people, and that is more than enough.

“La La Land” is proving itself with a record 14 Oscar nominations – a feat accomplished only by “Titanic” and “All About Eve” –  but not just for acting and plot. This production was made for people who love films. From visuals down to music, the film oozes style.

Figure 1: “La La Land” was awarded 14 Oscar nominations at the 89th Academy Awards, more than any other 2016 film.

Cinematographer Linus Sandgren delivers the best work of his career in “La La Land.” The color work is astounding, with splashes of light and hues bouncing off one another in every way imaginable. Several sequences take on a more stage-musical style, as Sebastian and Mia dance and sing in front of vast painted backdrops and emotive dance ensembles.  Every shot pops off of the screen.

Of course, visuals aren’t enough for this kind of film. Musicals live and die by their music, and composer Justin Hurwitz delivers. Hurwitz previously partnered with Chazelle on “Whiplash,” bringing classic jazz back into the forefront of cinema. Here, that style is expanded and improved, blending the trademarks of musicals and even a bit of pop sentimentality. Trumpets blare, drums crack and the audience is sent through a renaissance of improvisational jazz compositions.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) in LA LA LAND. Photo Credit: Dale Robinette

The most important distinction “La La Land” deserves comes from Chazelle’s flawless balancing act between realism and escapism. While breaking out into song and dancing through clouds is rarely associated with realism, the film feels like it exists in our world. The set pieces and extensive montages give a luminous and fantasy-laden look into the minds of Mia and Sebastian. It’s a modern musical through and through, set in an era of smartphones and electric cars, which it handles by being both grounded and eclectic.

Chazelle’s film is more than just one of the best movies of the year; it’s the beginning of something fresh. “La La Land” is not just a modernization of the movie musical, but a modernization of the love story itself. It’s a fantastic and relatable tale of the volatility of human life and love, and the ability for one’s passions and ambitions to shape them. With its masterful approach to music and visual language, “La La Land” is a film for the ages.