Oscars With Josh #6: ‘The Birth of a Nation’ Arrives

After winning the top prize at Sundance, being picked up for a record-breaking $17.5 million, being deemed the frontrunner early in the year, and facing controversy this past Summer, The Birth of a Nation is finally out in theaters. After all of the conversation that’s been happening before the film was released to the public, was it any good? You can read my review here, but the simple answer? Yes, The Birth of a Nation is a good movie that explores powerfully important themes.

One of the aspects of film criticism that is so important is to not let the events surrounding the film affect your thoughts on the film itself. For example, many spent their Ant-Man reviews recapping the events of Edgar Wright’s departure and other behind-the-scenes production problems. Now, if you feel as though those problems negatively affected the film at hand, that is a valid criticism, but it would be a weak point to say “Ant-Man should have been directed by Edgar Wright” as a negative against the film. You have to review and experience the movie that is in front of for those two hours, period.

I did that with my review of Birth of a Nation, that review stands on its own, you can come back to that review ten years from now and the points made in the review will be points about the film, not about the 2016 conversation surrounding the movie. That being said, we are now in an Oscar column. Whether it be a discussion of a film’s awards possibilities or Box Office expectations or the idea of a movie’s “legacy,” now we have left the realm of “is this a good movie or not?” When we talk about a film’s quality, we need not let outside controversy affect our view of the movie. When we talk about a movie’s Oscar chances, EVERYTHING is a factor in that discussion. The studio behind the film, whether or not they spend the money campaigning, the release date, and much like a political campaign, are there any controversies/skeletons in the closet? And yes, the quality of the film is important (all the money in the world can’t force Oscar nominations if a movie is bad), but the Oscar conversation goes so much further than a movie’s score on Rotten Tomatoes.

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If you are not aware writer/director/star Nate Parker was accused of rape in 1999 and went to trial for such. Though he was acquitted of all charges brought against him, comments about consent and how to move forward have resurfaced during the publicity of The Birth of a Nation. When the story “broke” (if you can call it that, everything was on his Wikipedia page since it happened) this past Summer, most Oscar pundits declared the movie dead with regards to the Oscar race. Many people are boycotting the movie and now you can’t even discuss The Birth of a Nation without going into the “separate the art from the artistconversation.

There are two tiers of supporting Birth of a Nation. First, seeing and examining the movie itself. Here, I want to be very clear, you should see Birth of a Nation. The movie is a well-directed “biopic” about an important moment in history. Beyond that, the movie explores the theological perversion that exists in the Church then and now, indicting those who would use the Bible for evil. This is an important movie and deserves to be seen.

The second tier? The Oscar/legacy conversation. Consider me in the Pro-Birth of a Nation column. I will not even try to comment on the trial or any of the circumstances surrounding the rape charge, I have recently made the decision to stop writing less about Spider-Man set photos, do you really want me commenting on something as big as the definition of consent? After doing some surface level research on the events, I have decided that Nate Parker (and Birth of a Nation) deserves a combination of forgiveness and the benefit of the doubt.

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You can take a look at the facts and come to a decision on your own. Some of you may decide the film is not worth your time and Parker should not have a future career (that would be unfortunate, but you can come to that position). Some of you may take the “separate the art from the artist” position, similar to that of hard discussions surrounding Woody Allen or Roman Polanski or Mel Gibson. Some of you may end up like me, in the “forgiveness/benefit of the doubt” camp.

Do we need to forgive Nate Parker (accepting he has done wrong) or do we need to give him the benefit of the doubt (taking the position that his acquittal is legit)? I’m not here to say, but I believe it is a little of both. In any case, I am here to say the The Birth of a Nation should NOT be kept out of the Oscar race. I am officially advocating for Birth of a Nation and Nate Parker this awards season. Whether it be rewarding an excellent movie or taking the opportunity to fix #OscarsSoWhite, I hope that The Birth of a Nation is in the conversation. It deserves it.  

At the very least, I hope that all of you will see the film and experience its message yourself.


Weekly Spotlight: Jackie

DIrected by Pablo Larraín and written by Noah Oppenheim, Jackie will be the film to introduce both of these men to their widest American audiences. Though not a standard biopic, Jackie will follow the life of Jackie Kennedy after her husband was assassinated while in office. Because it is a part of U.S. history, I think we can forget just how horrific that event was. Watching the trailer for Jackie, it does not look like Larraín will let the details escape us.

There is something special going on in the trailer above, and those who have seen the film can confirm our expectations. It looks as though the movie will not only be joining the Best Picture conversation, but Natalie Portman is said to be a force of nature in the film. Totally different from past years, the Best Actress race is much more stacked that its male category. Right now we have Emma Stone (La La Land), Viola Davis (Fences) and Natalie Portman (Jackie) all duking it out in the predictions game. Jackie is scheduled for limited release on December 2.


Predictions (as of 10/10/16)

Best Picture

  1. La La Land
  2. Fences
  3. Manchester By the Sea
  4. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
  5. Silence
  6. Moonlight
  7. Arrival
  8. Jackie
  9. Sully
  10. Lion
  • Loving
  • Live By Night
  • A Monster Calls
  • Jackie
  • Hidden Figures
  • 20th Century Woman
  • The Birth of a Nation

Best Director

  1. Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
  2. Martin Scorsese (Silence)
  3. Denzel Washington (Fences)
  4. Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
  5. Ang Lee (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk)
  • Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
  • Clint Eastwood (Sully)
  • Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
  • Ben Affleck (Live By Night)

Best Actress

  1. Emma Stone (La La Land)
  2. Viola Davis (Fences)
  3. Natalie Portman (Jackie)
  4. Amy Adams (Arrival)
  5. Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)
  • Ruth Negga (Loving)
  • Annette Bening (20th Century Woman)

Best Actor

  1. Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
  2. Denzel Washington (Fences)
  3. Tom Hanks (Sully)
  4. Joel Edgerton (Loving)
  5. Michael Keaton (The Founder)
  • Miles Teller (Bleed for This)
  • Andrew Garfield (Silence)
  • Dev Patel (Lion)
  • Ryan Gosling (La La Land)

Best Supporting Actress

  • Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)
  • Naomi Harris (Moonlight)
  • Felicity Jones (A Monster Calls)
  • Nicole Kidman (Lion)
  • Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)

Best Supporting Actor

  • Liam Neeson (Silence)
  • Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
  • Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)
  • Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
  • Aaron Eckhart (Bleed for This)

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Fences (August Wilson)
  •  Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Simon Beaufoy, Jean-Chistophe Castelli)
  • Silence (Jay Cocks)
  • Live by Night (Ben Affleck)
  • Lion (Luke Davies)

Best Original Screenplay

  • La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
  • Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, Tarell McCraney)
  • Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
  • Loving (Jeff Nichols)
  • Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan)

Best Animated Feature

  • Moana
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Finding Dory
  • Zootopia
  • The Red Turtle*

*I’m pretty confident in the first four. That fifth slot will definitely go to a film I’ve never heard of it. Which is fine btw, it means that a (hopefully) worthwhile film can get some exposure it wouldn’t normally get.


Best Documentary

There will be many more documentaries in contention this year, but right now Ava DuVernay’s 13th has all the buzz.


Best Original Song

Though I don’t have detailed predictions, I think it is safe to say we have two frontrunners here. I foresee two films duking it out in this category: La La Land and Moana. La La Land is our overall frontrunner…that just so happens to be full of original songs. Moanais the double threat of not only being a Disney musical (always a sure Best Original Song bet), but also being written by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. Though both movies will have a plethora of songs to pick from, the studios will each pick one song to champion, and these two films will go head-to-head for the prize.


Best Sound Mixing/Editing

Nope. Not gonna try and understand the difference between these two categories. I know there is a difference, and I know it is important to the professionals in this field, but it is outside my expertise to differentiate here. I like these two awards because it gives more opportunity for tech-heavy films to be recognized. Between the two awards, there are usually only 1 or 2 differences in the nominees, so let’s take a look at our “Sound Award” contenders:

  • Sully
  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
  • La La Land
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane
  • Passengers
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • A Marvel Movie (Captain America: Civil War/Doctor Strange)

Best Production Design

  • Silence
  • La La Land
  • Arrival
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Cinematography

  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
  • Silence
  • La La Land
  • Arrival
  • Hail, Caesar!

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Jackie
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best Costume Design

  • Live by Night
  • Silence
  • Jackie
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best Film Editing

  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
  • Live by Night
  • Sully
  • Silence
  • La La Land

Best Visual Effects

Best Visual Effects has long been my favorite award for obvious reasons. This is the place where nerd movies get to shine.

  • The Jungle Book
  • Arrival
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • A Monster Calls
  • Passengers
  • Doctor Strange

     

There are five categories I excluded from my predictions. Three of them are the “Shorts” (Documentary Short, Live Action Short, Animated Short), I’m not sure if I’ll ever predict those, I just won’t have enough exposure to make a knowledgable prediction.

Next exclusion is Foreign Language Film, same reasoning, not enough knowledge here.

The last one, as surprising as it may seem, is Original Score. This is a category I love, and you could make predictions based on name alone (John Williams-The BFG, Johan Johansen-Arrival), but this is the one category I actually want to see (hear?) all the contenders before making predictions.


Special thanks to the following folks/sites (I’m pretty much just rewording what they have already said):

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