In honor of the Oscars this weekend, Pipe Dream asked Binghamton University cinema professor Chantal Rodais to talk about some of her favorite movies and performances on the list of nominations this year. Rodais has noticed a few trends among this year’s nominations compared to last year’s, most notably an effort to diversify the nominees.
“The thing that we notice this year, after the shame of last year’s obviously ‘so white’ selection, is that they’ve tried very hard to diversify,” she said. “We get a sense that there’s more diversity, but they have to do it within the limitations of Hollywood cinema, and there are so few roles for African American actors that we fall back onto the same names. They’re trying their best now, but it’s difficult because not many people are creating roles for actors of color.”
Rodais has also noticed a lack of novelty in this year’s selections.
“They nominate nine films for best picture, and it’s the same story over and over, and the same style,” she said. “It’s always a little bit like that, because it’s Hollywood, but I found it to be especially true this year.”
Nevertheless, there are a few nominated films that Rodais found to be exceptional. “Moonlight,” directed by Barry Jenkins, is nominated for eight categories this year. The film follows a young black man through his childhood, adolescence and adulthood, exploring themes of identity, sexuality, friendship and love. Rodais chose it as her pick for Best Picture, Film Editing and Director.
“’Moonlight’ would be my pick for the originality and innovation in terms of cinematography and editing, and a pace that seems interesting,” she said. “It has a unique energy.”
Another standout, according to Rodais, is “Toni Erdmann,” a German dark comedy nominated in the Foreign Language Film category.
“It’s very sharp, very smart,” she said. “It’s not Hollywood in many ways; it has a tone that’s too sharp for Hollywood and it can create an uncomfortable experience at times. I like that a lot; it promotes thinking, it promotes [a] reaction in viewers and it’s a great film.”
In the categories for Short Subject Documentary and Feature Documentary, Rodais chose Gianfranco Rosi’s “Fire at Sea” and Marcel Mettelsiefen’s “Watani: My Homeland,” respectively — films about the current refugee crisis. Rodais said that all of the documentaries nominated are exceptionally powerful (with the exception of “O.J.: Made in America”), yet those two stand out because of their innovative styles of filming. She was particularly impressed with “Watani: My Homeland,” which follows a Syrian widow and her children for three years as they escape the civil war and start a new life in Germany. Rodais praised Mettelsiefen’s dedication to his subject for such a long period of time.
“I like the patience, engagement and commitment of the filmmakers to their subject,” she said. “That, to me, is real documenting.”
One of the most creative stories of the year, in Rodais’ opinion, is her pick for Writing (Original Screenplay), “The Lobster.” “The Lobster” takes place in a dystopian society where singles have 45 days to find a romantic partner before they are turned into animals.
“It’s an absurd, amazing story,” Rodais said. “I like when mainstream cinema is daring, still wanting to reach a large audience, but coming in with this amazing story that makes no sense. It forces you to take some distance, and then you see the meaning. It takes the back road to tell you something that’s happening in the world right now.”
Overall, while she saw a lack of originality, Rodais found many of the films to be innovative or unique in at least one capacity, whether it be camera work, animation, writing or production design. While her own nominations would have been very different, she was able to appreciate the academy’s picks for their strengths while still noting their weaknesses.
The rest of her picks can be found below:
Cinematography — “Silence”
Adapted Screenplay — “Fences”
Actress in a Leading Role — Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Actress in a Supporting Role — Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”
Actor in a Leading Role — Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
Actor in a Supporting Role — Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
Animated Feature Film — “My Life as a Zucchini”
Short Film (Animated) — “Blind Vaysha”
Short Film (Live Action) — “La Femme et le TGV”
Costume Design — “Jackie”
Production Design — “Hail, Caesar!”
Sound Mixing and Visual Effects — “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
Music (Original Score) and Sound Editing — “La La Land”
Music (Original Song) — “The Empty Chair” from “Jim: the James Foley Story”