Ahhh, the Oscars. For many of us, Hollywood’s grandest awards show offers us a time to believe—if only for a moment—that our understanding of film may align with that of the experts. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t blessed with the luxury of being able to blow hundreds of dollars on movie tickets (and buckets of popcorn, if you’re Julian) and to spend inordinate amounts of time sitting in theaters watching every single Oscar-nominated film. For the lucky few that are, good for you.
As for the rest of us, we are still in possession of a certain invaluable tool which we can use to assess Hollywood’s elite films: one of life’s greatest conveniences—the movie trailer. Each trailer is a work of art in its own right, a testament to everything we love about America. It is only fair and good that these mini-masterpieces receive a generous level of scrutiny; each one is, after all, a simulacrum of a greater ensemble, the essence of a chef d’oeuvre. Without further ado…
Editor’s note: For those expecting a serious analysis of this year’s set of Oscar noms, please PROCEED NO FURTHER. The methodology used here is an insult to methodologies everywhere because these picks are based exclusively on the *OFFICIAL* trailers for each nominated film. What follows is an exercise in whimsical nonsense. Special thanks to Jessica Piper for giving us this idea: you are responsible for everything from this point forward.
Julian Barajas: A couple things right off the bat: In the “La La Land” trailer, Ryan Gosling didn’t say anything, which leads me to believe that he doesn’t talk that much during the movie. And one must talk to win a Best Actor Oscar. Andrew Garfield in “Hacksaw Ridge” was basically Forrest Gump thrown into WWII. In “Manchester by the Sea” (“ManBySea”), one of the reviews that shows up on the screen says Casey Affleck “joins the ranks of giants.” That’s a convincing argument. If that’s what the critics say, it’s hard to imagine he won’t put up a fight for the win, but then again, the ad showed more of the red-headed kid instead so I think the red-headed kid was more likely the focus of the film. “Captain Fantastic” threw me for a curve ball, though. When the trailer started and I saw the trees, I immediately thought, “Oh, no!” I was super concerned that the actor Viggo Mortensen was going to reprise the same kind of role he had in “Lord of the Rings”: Legolas. I also saw that he was shepherding a bunch of little kids around, similar to what his character, Legolas, did in “Lord of the Rings,” except the little kids were not the little kids in the “Lord of the Rings”—they were dwarves. Viggo Mortensen, playing Legolas, my favorite character in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, was an inspired choice, but at the same time, I was concerned that this role was going to be too similar to his role as Legolas. I was pleased to see that that was not the case, as it turned out to be a different movie and a different role. But I don’t think he will win it, Legolas.
There can only be one winner and that is clearly Denzel Washington for “Fences.”
WINNER: Denzel Washington, “Fences”
Eli Lustbader: The trailer for “Elle” is nothing if not compelling, and Isabelle Huppert gives a monstrous two-minute performance that had me on the edge of my seat for the entire time. The trailer for “Florence Foster Jenkins” makes the film look like it is one big celebration of—and that the story is perhaps even the origin of—the dreaded “participation trophy.” Unfortunately, an Oscar isn’t a participation trophy—it’s an award for excellence—and Meryl Streep knows this better than anyone else. So, based on this mutual understanding between me and Streep, it pains me to say that she gets eliminated here. Besides, this nomination should have gone to Amy Adams in “Arrival.” (God, I will never let this go.) As much as I’d like to give the award to Ruth Negga in “Loving,” we don’t get to see enough of her in this trailer. However, I will say that if the trailer for “Loving” doesn’t give you the chills, then you don’t have a pulse. “La La Land”—BLAH EMMA STONE BLAH. Not today, people. As for “Jackie”: oh dear, Natalie Portman giving a dark, cryptic, heartbreaking performance. Where have we seen this before?
Oh, right. Anyway, I absolutely believe that nobody else alive right now could have portrayed Jackie Kennedy better than Natalie Portman. Will that be enough to give her the edge, though? Sure, she may have been my first celebrity crush, but perfect facial symmetry isn’t going to get her any extra points here. We play by the rules.
WINNER: Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Best Sound Mixing
EL: I simply won’t settle for “Arrival” not winning this category.
JB: I didn’t really like the sounds in “Arrival.” I liked the sounds in “La La Land” better because they were songs.
EL: I think that only makes sense for the sound editing category.
JB: I don’t know, I feel like sound editing is about one sound going to the next sound, but sound mixing is for the sounds going up and down and stuff. And La La Land did that well.
EL: Fine. Whatever. Just so everyone’s on the same page, what does sound mixing mean, exactly?
JB: So it’s basically when you mix sounds, and it sounds good. Does that make sense?
EL: Makes perfect sense. Just out of curiosity, how is that any different from sound editing, which is also a category at the Oscars?
JB: Sound editing is making each sound sound perfect, so basically editing the sounds to be mixed later on. Make sense?
EL: Makes some sense. At what point is a given sound no longer considered edited and should be classified as “mixed”?
JB: Well sound mixing is what you hear in the final, polished version of the movie. Sound editing is more of a pre-production process…I guess?
EL: OK, so does each Oscar voter watch an unfinished version of the movie where the sounds are considered edited but not mixed, which sounds very unpleasant, to somehow determine best sound editing, and then also of course watch the final version where the sounds have been mixed? And then have to compare the two versions? Or do they listen to each sound in isolation? I don’t get it.
JB: Nah, that seems unreasonable.
EL: Why are there two categories for sound?
JB: I have no idea.
WINNER: Whoever gets to show off their sexy outfit and chiseled face when they present Sound Mixing.
LOSER: Everyone else.
Best Supporting Actor
JB: This is another close call. From my perspective I don’t see the Academy giving the award to the red-headed kid from that movie about the man standing by the sea. He doesn’t show much depth. For one, he’s a Bostonian. He’s also a hockey-playing teenager who sleeps around, so it’s a genuine concern that when he gets the Oscar he’s going to start swinging that trophy around in front of his pants as if it were a penis. The award has got to go to Dev Patel. Interestingly, it says that he is the supporting actor, but it looks like he’s the main character. No-no-no. Don’t be misled, as was I initially. The lead actor seems to be the little boy. From the looks of it, the little boy beat Dev Patel to the leading actor spot. The little boy was phenomenal when he was on screen. Nevertheless, the trailer indicated Dev Patel could hold his own without showing that he was attempting to steal the show from the lead actor, who was played by that little boy. He remains composed and shows almost no signs that being upstaged by a toddler is getting under his skin.
WINNER: Dev Patel, “Lion”
Best Supporting Actress
EL: I know. She’s favored by the so-called experts by like a zillion, but Viola Davis enters the “Fences” trailer at the 1:37 mark and with one line pretty much cuts through everything that happened before she arrived. She takes control of the space around her, and blows the rest of her competition into oblivion in the process. There are theoretically other contenders in this category, but writing any more words here would be a waste of everyone’s time.
WINNER: Viola Davis: “Fences”
Best Original Screenplay
EL: “Hell or High Water.” The advertisement before this trailer (because that’s how things work now) was THIRTY SECONDS of Taylor Swift endorsing AT&T, so right off the bat I was a little sour. Still, nothing that Chris Pine’s sleek, stormy visage couldn’t fix. As for the writing, I’m still uncertain. Anything with Jeff Bridges is immediately dark and funny, but it’s a deep field, and it doesn’t seem like there’s as much quotable material here as elsewhere. As for “ManBySea”—“if you could take one guy to an island with you because you knew he was going to keep you safe, who would you take?” is a sweet line to start a sweet trailer that nearly brought me to tears (more on this in a minute). In “The Lobster,” everything feels a little bit off in the best possible way. Colin Farrell doesn’t look like a guy you want to punch in the face; he just looks like a guy. Everything is weird, everything is funny; you should see it. (Please, it’s only two minutes.) “20th Century Women” seems like it’s in danger of becoming that indie film that everybody loves so much they start to hate (see: “The Royal Tenenbaums”), but something else here feels sharper, warmer, more complex. I can’t tell if it’s the acting or the writing, but then again, what the hell do I know? “La La Land”: LALALALALALALALALA. Sorry, I was so overcome with emotion that I burst into song. Now that we got that out of the way, “ManBySea” seems horribly depressing (actually, SPOILER ALERT: it’s horribly depressing) and “The Lobster” seems sad too. I don’t have a lot to go on, basically just a couple shots of Colin Farrell and John C. Riley looking like weirdos alongside some animals. But I would rather laugh while I’m crying, and “The Lobster” looks like it delivers time and time again.
WINNER: “The Lobster”
JB: “La La Land” is my pick.
EL: Based on the trailers?
JB: Yeah, what’s the problem?
EL: Gosling doesn’t even say anything! You love Ryan Gosling! You wrote a 25,000 word piece for this very publication singing the praises of Ryan Gosling!
JB: I feel like that’s where you and a lot of other people who don’t know that much about film are misled. A movie is not one person. Movies are a bunch of people working together, and if you look at the trailer, you’ll see so many people.
EL: I took Intro to Film Narrative once.
EL: Look, I get it. “La La Land” is your movie. “Arrival” is my movie. However, I’m ready to be a good sport about it and say that the trailer for “Arrival” makes it look like just another alien movie, kind of like the way the trailer for “La La Land” makes it look like one big self-congratulatory Hollywood mess.
JB: Eli, I’m sorry your heart is a cold black nugget of opacity that doesn’t let any sunshine and happiness into it.
EL: To our (few (but proud) readers (Marines)): I’m sorry one of our authors has abandoned an unbiased approach and is letting his personal baggage hijack the chances of your winning your Oscar pool. Please forgive him. Julian, if you watch all the trailers (and people are saying you may not have), the films we’re really choosing between are pretty obvious.
JB: “Arrival” was kind of scary and scary movies don’t win best picture.
EL: Let’s get back to our methodology. Actually no, first let’s agree on how unimpressed we are by everything involving “Hacksaw Ridge.”
JB: I dunno. I kind of liked “Hacksaw Ridge,” especially since Mel Gibson hasn’t been around for a while, so it’s nice to see his name back in Hollywood. He’s a very respected director, after all.
EL: …how about we just get to the pick?
JB: I said it before and I’ll say it again: “La La Land.”
EL: I’m just going to flip through all of our noms real quick. Musicals work best when they’re on a stage. The trailer for “La La Land” was not on a stage (and neither was the movie). The trailer for “Arrival” was incomplete (and to be fair, they were faced with an impossible task). The trailer for “Moonlight” didn’t give a hint of what the movie could possibly be about. The trailer for “Hacksaw Ridge” seemed like it used every single inspiring moment from the movie—and it still looked bad. The trailer for “Hell or High Water” looked compelling but didn’t seem like anything special. The trailer for “Lion” was confusing. The trailer for “Hidden Figures” was inspiring, but the trailer for “Fences” was undeniably powerful while also maintaining a contained and logical structure—something none of the other trailers did. So there, you have my pick. It’s not the flashiest, but “Fences” is my winner for the trailer awards. What are you thinking?
JB: I don’t like conflict, so I want this argument to end. Thankfully, I also pick “Fences,” because “Fences” was remarkable. Fences was straightforward, and both Denzel Washington and Viola Davis delivered powerful performances.