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The First Annual “Should Be The Oscars”: My Picks For The Best Individuals of Film in 2016

Welcome one, welcome all. As we continue our journey through 2016, it’s time to highlight some of the individual moving parts that made 2016 so wonderful (for film). The artists, the musicians, the craftspeople, and the thinkers that put these movies together and deserve to be recognized.

More than anywhere else, a note needs to be made that this is all subjective. Even more than overall films, what works and what doesn’t varies from person to person, so this is what particularly struck me. It’s also good to note that individual elements don’t always determine the cohesive whole, which can strike differently depending on mood and thematic coherence and a mess of other elements.

Best Original Score:

Michael Giacchino, Doctor Strange

Nicholas Britell, Moonlight

Jóhann Jóhannsson, Arrival

Mica Levi, Jackie


Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

This really shouldn’t surprise, but let’s not let its inevitability take away from what an accomplishment this score really is. Hurwitz blends the jaunty, sprightly jazz that keeps the movie upbeat with the sweeping classical strings that slowly worm their way into your heart until the beautiful and wrenching ending. La La Land‘s score is deeply important for the movie because it doesn’t just underline the beats, it is the beats. It’s through Hurwitz’s score, blended with the images, that La La Land really finds its power.

Best Original Song:

“How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, written by Opetaia Foa’i, Lin Manuel-Miranda, and Mark Mancina, performed by Auli’i Carvalho

“Montage” from Swiss Army Man, written by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, performed by Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe

“Equal Rights” from Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, written by Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Raphael Judrin, Pierre-Antoine Melki & Yoan Chirescu, produced by soFly & Nius, performed by Andy Samberg and Alecia Moore

“Drive It Like You Stole It” from Sing Street, written by John Carney and Gary Clark, performed by Sing Street


“Another Day of Sun” from La La Land, written by Justin Hurtwitz and Pasek and Paul, performed by The Cast of La La Land

To be honest, this was one of the hardest categories of the year, and any song on this list deserves to be up at the winner’s slot. It was even harder to pick one track from La La Land, a soundtrack that I really do love piece by piece. I choose Another Day of Sun not only because of how impressive the sequence that it accompanies is, but how emblematic it is of the movie on the whole. It’s a beautiful and charmingly fun number with a sad little core. It’s about the dreams artists share and the compromises the singers had to make to try to achieve them. It’s a thematic statement that prepares you for what you’re about to experience, and one that you’ll be whistling for a week.

Best Cinematography:

Silence, shot by Rodrigo Prieto


The Witch, shot by Jarin Blaschke


Lion, shot by Grieg Fraser


La La Land, shot by Linus Sandgren



Moonlight, shot by James Laxton


Cinematography at its core is about the way we shape what the eye of the camera is looking at. The colors of the world we capture, the framing and the motion that tells us what these people are thinking and feeling. With that, no movie had cinematography more key to its aims and no movie succeeded more in what it tried to accomplish than Moonlight. Laxton’s eye shows us the beauty of this world, the blue shadows and the contours of the light. It shows us the way that people hold back and the pain and joy they feel. It’s Laxton’s cinematography that makes a scene between two men at a diner so pregnant with meaning, the shadows hiding the tiniest movements of their face and then revealing what they’re trying to hide. This is a gorgeous film that uses its camera at every step to tell the story.


The Edge of Seventeen is the best movie that ever made me want to crawl into a hole and die

To be a teenager is to be dramatic. At no time in your life do you go through more change with less ability to understand any of it or affect it in any meaningful way. You’re asked to grapple with the complexities of romance and career and education and major life decision-making all at the same time you want nothing but to indulge in all the new base instincts you’re slowly discovering and the hope against hope is that you’re not too fucked up when it’s all over.

That’s why teenagerdom holds such a special place in film culture and why it always will. At no other time do the smallest decisions hold infinite weight. At no other time do our wants and needs and desires all feel so intermingled and so urgent and yet have solutions that feel so relatable and profound. We are not perfect in that time period, and yet we can understand every flaw.

And it’s that imperfection that The Edge of Seventeen really hones in on. Kelly Fremon Craig’s debut feature has crafted an unflinchingly (on the movies’ part, you may flinch more than a few times) real portrait of being a teenager and dived in deep. Every moment feels authentic and lived in, every character feels recognizable. It’s a minor miracle to see a film so willing to indulge every part of the teen movie artifice and come out feeling more understanding of what people are at the end.

It’s a simple enough story. Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a high school junior whose older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) is Big Man on Campus, she always lives in his shadow, even with her distracted mother (Kyra Sedgwick). Then, her best friend Krista (Haley Richardson) starts dating her brother! Which is totally mortifying, right? This all sends Nadine into a bit of existential tizzy she tries to navigate, alongside her awkward new friendship/crush Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto) and an unrequited love for a bad boy (Alexander Calvert) who doesn’t know she exists, with nothing but her sarcasm and Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), her droll history teacher.

It’s a collection of types, sure. But what Craig seems to have a knack for is what those types actually mean about people and who they are, and how to give them just the right hint of nuance and tangibility.

Take, for example, Nadine herself. Nadine is the “disaffected with her generation with just a hint of tragedy under the surface” type that we’ve seen in basically every teen film since Juno altered the genre. She’s sarcastic, brusque, and isolates herself to her own chagrin.

“Everyone in the world is as miserable and empty as I am, they’re just better at pretending,” she and her mother tell us.

But it’s a statement like that helps to pull you in close. It’s that often we understand reasons for isolation like that, that we feel fooled into believing that no one else thinks them but rather discover that everyone else does. The isolated are relatable because we often see ourselves in them. And it’s not self-pity in that statement, but rather self-loathing. She’s not selfish, she legitimately is not okay, has a dark sense of who she is.

Ebert once said that movies are “a machine that generates empathy.” That’s the overwhelming mission of The Edge of Seventeen. It’s not gawking, it’s not maudlin. It’s pulling you in close to understand the raw, twitching nerve that are emotions and people at that age. Craig has created something that feels like anyone’s experience, and the closer you are to those teenage years, the more you will see of yourself.

It’s also knowing just the right details. It’s not a period piece, but it feels of a unique place. The film’s music use is particularly emblematic, not using to push and prod emotions like the strings of a melodrama, but just as a part of the world. We hear a few recognizable songs on radios and record players, they give shading and fleshing out to the character, always this movie is about character. It’s the kind of mode that makes the one break of it all the more powerful and heartbreaking.

Of course, much is also due to the performers. Harrellson has never been better cast and more up to the challenge, and Jenner continues, from his great turn in Everybody Wants Some!!, to reveal a surprising ability to piece out the exact little complexities of masculinity.

But this is Steinfeld’s movie and she absolutely does not disappoint. An Oscar-nominated actress gives the absolute best performance of her career so far. She’s absolutely phenomenal, all precisely metered out sarcasm and wit with a layer of pain underlying every word. She’s absolutely in control of what she’s doing and is a tour de force at every turn. The Edge of Seventeen is worth it for what she’s doing alone.

But there is a lot more. This is a deeply recognizable, empathetic wonder work of a film, the kind that just “gets it.” You may spend so much (like I did) barely able to look at the screen out of second-hand embarrassment, but that’s only because the film knows how to get its hooks in you and make you feel what it’s doing. For a brief while, you’re remembering what it’s like to be a teenager and boy does that bring back a whole lot of feelings.

Grade: A