We can’t really claim these are what we think should have been nominated at the Oscars, or should have won, since we can’t be one hundred percent sure that any film that wasn’t nominated at the Oscars was even eligible. But if we were the only two members of the Academy and we could nominate any film that came out since last year’s Oscars (since lots of Oscar-nominated films didn’t come out in Ireland until a week and a half ago) and we only cared about the eight major awards (we care about most of the others, but this post would be twenty thousand words long if we picked those too) this is what you’d get – the Sundae Film Awards.
We each filled out our personal nominees and then selected the winner by consensus, so the winners only came from films we’d both seen and both nominated, but we’ve each picked a personal runner-up from our slate regardless of whether the other has seen or nominated it. We’ve tried to give some voice to our reasons for picking who we’ve picked since we hate lists that don’t say anything. You can see each of our full slates of nominees at the bottom of the post.
BEST PICTURE – Silence
Dean: “I saw Silence and A Monster Calls the same day, but I went to see Silence first, and I had to change my ticket for A Monster Calls to a later showing because I came out of Silence too fragile to watch another film straight away. Even now, a month and a half later, I feel the knot in my stomach come back as I think about Silence and how it affected me, as I try to explain why Silence was not just the best film I’ve seen in the past twelve months, but one of the most powerful and challenging artistic experiences of my life.
I suspect I will fail, but to start, I can’t think of another film that held together so many opposing viewpoints without giving a preference to any. The Inquisitor is the mastermind behind an ethnic cleansing of Japanese Christians, but he’s allowed to give the best articulation of why he thinks he’s justified, and be not just understandable, but persuasive. Kichijiro is the kind of character who’d just be portrayed as a two-faced shitheel in a lesser film, but even when his constant betrayals reach an almost comical point, he’s still unsettlingly relatable and an object of empathy. And Rodrigues, our protagonist, does not get to hold our sympathies just because he holds the camera’s gaze – the film does not let his arrogance and condescension go unnoticed, or unpunished.
Silence is about so many things and it would be facile to just list them all, but on every theme and question that matters, it refuses to give any answers, let alone easy ones. Sometimes when you watch a great film, you just want to talk about it straight away, to tell someone how wonderful it is, and Silence is wonderful, and it breaks my heart that so few people saw it. But when I came out of Silence, I didn’t want to talk to anyone about anything, least of all Silence. I just wanted to sit in the lobby of a cinema for four hours and live with it for a little while.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: La La Land – “There’s a fair amount of recent precedent for a film winning a bunch of Oscars and being subsequently villainised: Chicago and The Artist come to mind. But here’s the thing: both of those movies are great. And La La Land is even better. It’s a beautiful, special film that’s a lot more complex than most people give it credit for, and I loved it.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Moonlight – “Moonlight is the film that comes closer than any other film I’ve seen to a visual approximation of poetry. It’s lean on dialogue and its direction isn’t flashy, but only because it’s too focused on giving full expression to its portrait of a human being so rarely portrayed in cinema with true depth of soul – black, gay and poor – and everyone and everything in the environment that made him.”
BEST DIRECTOR – Damien Chazelle for La La Land
Ciara: “There’s something incredible about seeing a director as young as Chazelle be allowed by a studio to make a film as thoroughly his own original vision as La La Land, and it gives me hope that they might remember how to do that when tent pole franchise filmmaking inevitably collapses. La La Land seems like the kind of film that Scorsese was trying to make with New York, New York: combining old-fashioned MGM musicals with modern acting and directing. But where Chazelle succeeds, and Scorsese didn’t quite, is combining those tones seamlessly.
Using tracking shots, strong primary colours, visual nods to older musicals and occasional handheld, Chazelle manages to be both nostalgic and critical of nostalgia. He doesn’t cut around the dancing to hide its lack of technical skill: he shows us it full-bodied, because it’s about regular people bursting into dance when nothing else can express their feelings. Like a Jacques Demy film, it places an older form in a new context, celebratory and revelatory all at once. La La Land made me wriggle with delight, and it made me cry, and if the point of art is to feel something, I did that in spades. I gasped when Emma Stone’s Mia first floats off the ground, because it reminded me of the magic of movies in a way nothing in a long time has (except maybe the clock stop in The Hudsucker Proxy, but that came out the year I was born, and was a massive flop).
The sequence near the end, which I don’t dare spoil on the off-chance you haven’t seen it, is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on the big screen. For that alone, Chazelle deserves any accolades I can throw at him.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Pablo Larraín for Jackie – “There’s a great moment in the Hollywood Reporter’s producers roundtable where Darren Aronofsky says that when he would try to make Jackie a bit more commercially conventional, Pablo Larrain would make snide jokes about him being, you know, traditional, establishment Hollywood. Darren Aronofsky! Jackie turns out to be a deeply odd art film about self-mythologising, that uses cinema verité and recreations of archive footage to contrast the slow realisation that we’re not really watching a biopic at all.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Martin Scorsese for Silence – “I’m not gonna be able to say anything new and insightful about Martin Scorsese this late in his career, though he’s still making his camera feel new and insightful after fifty years as a director. His direction in Silence is amazing in its empathy for its characters, not just its protagonists, but its villains, its scoundrels and especially its martyrs.”
BEST ACTOR – Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler in Manchester by the Sea
Dean: “Too much of how people think and talk about acting today – especially in the awards season – revolves around the false cult of method acting and the implicit fetish for “naturalistic” acting on which that cult is founded. Jack Lemmon would never win an Oscar today and that’s just awful to imagine, let alone to watch happen over and over every year when the great comic performances of our times get passed over for nominations in favour of detailed but empty naturalistic performances, like Hugh Jackman’s in Les Miserables. Casey Affleck’s performance in Manchester by the Sea is not one of those performances. Instead, it’s a welcome reminder of what good naturalistic acting looks like – rich in soul, not lost in the weeds of every gesture and twitch.
Manchester by the Sea is both a very sad film and a very funny one, and while I probably can’t add anything illuminating to the reams of praise rightly heaped on him for the dramatic elements of his performance, one aspect of Casey Affleck’s performance that’s gone largely unremarked upon is how well he plays the straight man to Lucas Hedges, who is disarmingly hilarious throughout the film. The fine art of playing it straight is never given the recognition it deserves, but Casey Affleck knows that it matters and he shows it in Manchester by the Sea.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge and Sebastião Rodrigues in Silence – “It’s been a big year for Andrew Garfield being religious in films, which is a dream I never knew to dream. He’s the beating heart in both Hacksaw Ridge and Silence, and captures the complexities of each character’s very different trials of faith beautifully. I won’t hear the word over-acting in this house.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Andy Samberg as Conner “Conner4Real” Friel in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – “Andy Samberg’s performance as Conner in Popstar is the kind of comedy role that Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau used to get nominated and even win for at the Oscars – a performance that never stops being both comic and dramatic, a performance that never wastes an opportunity for a laugh but never sacrifices depth and heart for a gag.”
BEST ACTRESS – Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in Jackie
Ciara: “Jackie is a weird film. Maybe the weirdest part is Natalie Portman’s performance: a performance of a performance of a performance, about the nature of performance. No, we don’t get to know the real Jackie Kennedy. We get something else altogether, and altogether more interesting. It’s a great impression, obviously, and it’s especially easy to see only as an impression when the film refuses to allow us deep under the surface.
Natalie Portman plays to the camera. She doesn’t pretend the camera isn’t there: she builds her acting around it. Natalie Portman, the actress, plays to the camera throughout the film. But Jackie, the character, also plays to the camera, because Jackie, the character, is also a great actress. You don’t forget that Natalie Portman is acting because she is always acting, and Jackie is always acting. Everyone is always acting.
Jackie is a weird film.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Viola Davis as Rose Maxson in Fences – “Viola Davis does not give a supporting performance in Fences. You can tell because she won the Tony for best lead actress for the same performance, and has as much screen time as Denzel Washington. Also: she’s brilliant.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Emma Stone as Mia Dolan in La La Land – “The genre of Oscar coverage that focuses on who’s likely to win awards has been very unfair to Emma Stone, constantly crediting her likely win to her up-and-coming “ingenue” status as if she didn’t also give one of the best film performances of the year. But she did give one of the best film performances of the year, physical and charming and complex. Anne Hathaway’s single take song in Les Misérables was the only truly great part of that film. Emma Stone’s single take song in La La Land was just one high point in a genius performance full of them.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Issey Ogata as Inoue Masashige in Silence
Ciara: “Issey Ogata is mainly a comedian. He memorised his lines for his role in Silence phonetically because he doesn’t speak English. And he’s maybe the best thing in the movie.
Ogata has incredible screen presence. There are definitely shades of Christoph Waltz to his performance as the Inquisitor, overseer of persecution of Christians in Japan. He’s funny, scary and incredibly reasonable. It would be easy for the Inquisitor to be reduced to a cartoon bad guy – after all, he is advocating for the genocide of a religious minority. But instead, he’s a rich, interesting character that dominates the screen.
The Inquisitor is always calm and almost always amused. But in his scenes with Andrew Garfield especially, you see all these subtle layers beneath his demeanour. The tone of his delivery is funny and deadly serious, reasonable and horrifying. To do all that in a language he doesn’t speak fluently makes it one of the most impressive performances of the year.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Christopher Lloyd as Crowley in I Am Not a Serial Killer – “Probably one of Christopher Lloyd’s best performances. I don’t want to say too much, because you haven’t seen this film and you really should, but Christopher Lloyd is really extraordinary.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Mahershala Ali as Juan in Moonlight – “I won’t give away too much about a film that just came out in Ireland, but in a film that’s nothing but wall-to-wall groundbreaking performances, Mahershala Ali outshines everyone else. He has no big scenes or speeches or moves, but he fills every look, every word and every movement with so much meaning that the screen almost bursts.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Michelle Williams as Randi in Manchester by the Sea
Dean: “If you wanted to be cynical, you could say Michelle Williams won this award by default as the only person we both nominated. But you shouldn’t, because in a year overflowing with great supporting performances, it’s a testament to Michelle Williams that her performance in Manchester by the Sea was too powerful and essential for either of us to not include her. If the measure of a supporting performance lies at least partially in how much an actor can do with however little screen time they have, then William’s performance as Randi is an all-timer.
As with her co-star Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams’ performance is carefully considered but never lost in the details like so many overrated naturalistic performances. Randi is a person we only see in glimpses and fragments – the kind of characters that people are thinking of when they refer to “real” supporting roles – but Michelle Williams makes sure she’s just as richly textured as any character in less than half the time. “Economical” might not be the most romantic word to describe a performance, but this year, in this category, it’s the word that counts.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Golshifteh Farahani for Paterson – “Paterson is really committed to being a story about ordinary people’s ordinary lives. It would have been really easy for Farahani’s character to be reduced to a joke or an almost-monster, but her nuanced performance allows her to be funny and selfish without ever being merely those things, and always being worthy of love and happiness.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Naomie Harris for Moonlight – “I found out just after picking Naomie Harris as my runner-up that she recorded all her scenes in three days. Most actresses don’t give a performance this good in their lifetime. I’m still too astonished to say more.”
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone for Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Ciara: “Popstar is largely a victim of being poorly and under-marketed, because it’s one of the best comedy films ever made. There’s a certain type of comedy that Hollywood doesn’t make much anymore: the kind of film that never lets up with jokes, because what’s the point of a comedy film if it doesn’t make you laugh? There’s an anarchic quality to it, in the vein of the Marx Brothers (especially their Paramount pictures) or The Jerk or Airplane! – Popstar is that kind of film.
You could watch Popstar, miss a good fifty percent of the jokes, and still never stop laughing from start to finish. That would be more than enough to ask of any script. But Popstar also does a really wonderful job of making its simple story genuinely affecting. The friendships in Popstar feel real, and partly that’s due to great performances from The Lonely Island, but mostly it’s due to a really tight, well-constructed script that doesn’t sacrifice emotion for humour and doesn’t sacrifice humour for emotion. Even apart from the uniformly perfect original songs, it’s a dialogue master class. You should probably watch it.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Jim Jarmusch for Paterson -“Paterson is a movie aggressively committed to the undramatic. At almost every point when drama could have been amped up, it chooses something else, and it does a beautiful job of it. That makes it sound boring, but it’s a real crowd-pleaser, full of laughs and featuring a funny dog as one of the main characters.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Damien Chazelle for La La Land – “I’d never be so glib as to just throw around a line from a film as if that alone could explain my love for the screenplay (unless that film was Casablanca, and I was throwing every line in the film), but I’m sorely tempted by a line as perfect as the classic rope-a-dope. But La La Land is more than the sum of its snappy dialogue, it’s a challenging fusion of Old Hollywood rhythm and modern minimalism that defies convention and expectation while making it seem natural and effortless.”
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese for Silence
Dean: “I don’t know if I should say much more about Silence than I did at the top of this article, because I know almost anyone reading this didn’t see it, and I don’t want to give too much away, though I admittedly knew basically the entire plot of the film, including the ending, and didn’t feel any less blown away by every aching moment of it.
Either way, the screenplay to Silence is a masterpiece and not just because of how beautifully and crisply it renders every sentiment in a film that uses dialogue sparingly and precisely. One of the hard to describe but essential aspects of a great screenplay is its rhythm, something that echoes from the smallest line of dialogue right up to the structure of the whole film, and Silence is a film whose screenplay is rhythmic and musical in the same way as a symphony or a sonata, from the subtlest phrasing right up to the grandest movements. I know that sounds both pretentious and oversimplified, but when you’re this overwhelmed by a work of art, you just have to lean on whatever metaphors you can find.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Christopher Hyde and Billy O’Brien for I Am Not a Serial Killer – “There’s a lot of reasons this shouldn’t work, but one of the main ones is that, as John Michael McDonagh’s War on Everyone demonstrated in the worst way possible, it’s actually really hard to write American dialogue if you’re not American. Not only do Hyde and O’Brien manage to do that, they manage to make the film particular to Minnesota. It combines the dark comic sensibilities of a Coen Brothers movie, a really well-written protagonist and some very fresh approaches to horror.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan for Hacksaw Ridge – “Hacksaw Ridge was nominated in the wrong category (I don’t care what the Academy decided, they decided wrong), but at least it was nominated. Despite the audible disgust and contempt felt by so many for the film’s director (myself included), Hacksaw Ridge has an excellent screenplay, breathing life into a well-worn genre from its corniest moments to its bleakest. The writing has few pits but two peaks: Howell’s introductory tirade at his new recruits and Doss’s long dark night of the soul on top of Hacksaw.”