Welcome to the 2016 Bobby James Awards post for the best of cinema. As you may or may not have seen, it was a year filled with landmark, meaningful stories. We saw stories we don’t ordinarily see, and we saw our hopes dashed for some we anticipated seeing. So without any further delay, I present the Bobby James Awards, a recognition of excellence in cinema. I’m sure you’ll come across a few surprises and have some thoughts to share in the comments section below:
Achievement in Cinematography | La La Land – Linus Sandgren
La La Land, Hollywood’s love-story to itself, dazzles and surprises and much of its achievement lies in its look and feel. Inside this striking story lie the sunrises, sunsets, glamour and neon oft associated with Hollywood. A cinematic pleasure, Linus Sandgren provided ambiance and immersion. The gloss of it all draws you in – and never quite lets you go.
Other nominees: Arrival | Kubo and the Two Strings | Moonlight | The Witch
Achievement in Editing | Hacksaw Ridge – John Gilbert
At just under 2.5 hours, Hacksaw Ridge is one of the lengthier contenders in this category. Gilbert’s editing, paired with Gibson’s direction, created a seamless and tense journey through the battle of Hacksaw ridge. Desmond Doss’ (Andrew Garfield) eve atop the ridge is particularly unsettling, in part because of the circumstance and the nature of war, but also in large part because of the uncertainty the slow, tense moments deliver in between flashing bullets and bombs. And that run-time? Seems obsolete, because the film is so absorbing.
Other nominees: Arrival | Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them | Moonlight | Presenting Princess Shaw
Achievement in Art Direction | The Little Prince – Lou Romano, Celine Desrumaux
The Little Prince had a long journey to the screen. After having its premiere pushed back twice by Paramount, and before ultimately being pulled the week before release (and sold to Netflix), The Little Prince finally made its debut in the summer of 2016. Though one viewing will leave you questioning the reasoning entirely, because this heartfelt tale is a magical take on a literary classic. The film blends stop-motion animation with CGI as a young girl bonds with her elderly neighbor as he recounts the story of a prince he met in the Saharan desert. The end result is a lovely experience that can be shared by generations, a beautiful juxtaposition of art.
Other nominees: Jackie | Kubo and the Two Strings | La La Land | Moonlight | Zootopia
Achievement in Special/Visual Effects | Moana – Marlon West
Disney’s Moana was an empowering tale about a Chieftain’s daughter, Moana (voice: Auli’i Cravalho), who ventures beyond her boundaries to end a terrible curse. Set in Ancient Polynesia, Moana interacts repeatedly with the water around her – which is both inviting and threatening. The water, is of particular interest in this category, as Disney animators innovated a new toolset (“Splash”) to bridge the gap between 2D animation and 3D computer imaging. The result was a realistic ocean with a vast and encouraging personality – but for animators, visual and special effects artist, the achievement is welcome viewing.
Other nominees: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them | Kubo and the Two Strings | The Jungle Book | The Legend of Tarzan
Achievement in Costume Design | Jackie – Madeline Fontaine
Fontaine faced the daunting task of dressing Natalie Portman’s “Jackie.” The costumes represented a tragic, and romanticized, era – from which Jackie Kennedy emerged as an enduring fashion icon. For Jackie, Fontaine worked with couture fashion house Chanel, to replicate many of Kennedy’s most unforgettable garments, most notably the pink suit (which features a period-piece label, lent by Chanel) she wore on that fateful day. Of the collection, Fontaine said, “She [Natalie Portman] was very involved in finding the way to Jackie.”
Other nominees: Hail, Caesar! | Hidden Figures | La La Land | The Witch
Emerging or Foreign Actor/Actress | Trevante Rhodes – Moonlight
Rhodes burst onto Hollywood’s radar with his turn in Moonlight, the story of a young Miami boy’s journey to manhood amidst poverty, drugs and sexuality. “Little” become “Chiron.” “Chiron” becomes “Black,” (Rhodes) in a perfectly articulated three-part narrative. For his section of the film, Rhodes gives us a metaphorical, yet realistic and sensitive portrayal of a man consumed by life and hardened by hate. He’s physically impressive, though, as demonstrated, he’s still emotionally accessible – and that’s a beautiful feat of acting.
Other nominees: Alden Ehrenreich | Anya Taylor-Joy | Auli’i Cravalho | Louis Hoffman
Best Original Screenplay | La La Land – Damien Chazelle
La La Land is an incredible love story – between people and for Hollywood, music and cinema. In an age when musicals are surging on Broadway and television, Hollywood took a risk with an original, yet familiar story. Crafted wonderfully by Chazelle, La La Land gives us the obligatory musical arc – but denies us belted numbers, overwhelming choruses and most importantly, the classic Hollywood-ending.
Other nominees: Hacksaw Ridge | Kubo and the Two Strings | Loving | Zootopia
Best Adapted Screenplay | Moonlight – Barry Jenkins
Jenkins’ adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Moonlight gifted us one of the most monumental and important feature films of the decade (and quite frankly, of cinematic history?). The three-part narrative structure is masterfully employed for a story that depicts the realities of life for an impoverished, neglected young boy, struggling to identify himself and to determine self worth. Above all, it’s a story that feels human and that brings an often neglected subculture to a most beautiful light.
Other nominees: Arrival | Fences | Hidden Figures | Nocturnal Animals
Best Original Score | La La Land – Justin Hurwitz
Justin Hurwitz delivered a classic score that will thrive in the annals of cinema. The compositions are immediately recognizable and associated with La La Land, a contemporary, instant classic Hollywood musical. It’s a score for dreamers, and a complement to a film that dared to challenge genre convention.
Other nominees: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice | Moonlight | Nocturnal Animals | The Witch
Best Original Song | “Give It Up” – performed by Princess Shaw f. Kutiman, Presenting Princess Shaw
In Presenting Princess Shaw, a documentary about Samantha Montgomery (“Princess Shaw”), an aspiring musician in New Orleans, we see her struggles in everyday life – and we follow her through her less than idyllic life. We witness first-hand her struggles with depression, her love for music and her genuine character. Her music is soulful and beautiful, much like the personality depicted. We celebrate her triumphs and we mourn her trials – but her music gives us hope and shares her story – and what a story it is.
“Give It Up” is featured as one of her YouTube posts edited together (with snippets of other YouTube clips) by Kutiman, an Israeli musician, producer and composer. Kutiman’s edit inspired the documentary, that will hopefully give rise to a new voice in music.
Other nominees: La La Land | Moana | Zootopia
Supporting Actress in a Voice-Over Role | Charlize Theron – “Monkey” – Kubo and the Two Strings
Charlize Theron, as “Monkey” in Kubo and the Two Strings, delivers a stern, yet fun and memorable performance. Her intonations have the tenderness of a mother’s voice, yet the strength of a protector, which is what she is for the young hero of the story.
Other nominees: Jenny Slate | Lupita Nyong’o | Rachel House | Shakira
Supporting Actor in a Voice-Over Role | Idris Elba – “Shere Khan” – The Jungle Book
Elba, who also voiced “Chief Bogo” in Disney’s Zootopia, gives a chilling and powerful vocal performance for the live-action remake of The Jungle Book. In the 1967 animated classic, Shere Khan’s motives weren’t as thoroughly explored as they were here, but his intentions were still as sinister. Elba takes the character into a darker depth and more cruel space than George Sanders did those many decades ago.
Other nominees: Ben Kingsley | Nate Torrence | Raymond Persi | Taron Egerton
Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture | Viola Davis – “Rose Maxon” – Fences
Viola Davis delivers a spectacular performance that is equal parts frustrating and empowering, heart-filled and heart-breaking. She humanizes a character in relatable ways, while showing the emotional struggle a devoted wife confronts in 1950s America. The strength required of this character is matched only by the actress in the role – and Davis delivers in every respect. We feel her pain and we are moved by her incredible compassion and ability to overcome.
Other nominees: Aja Naomi King | Allison Sudol | Janelle Monae | Naomie Harris
Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture | Mahershala Ali – “Juan” – Moonlight
It is uncommon for us to see a drug-dealer act as a father figure, mentor and inspiration for a young, lost boy. It is equally uncommon to see a man that deals in ecstasy and violence act a voice of reason – but perhaps that is Ali’s achievement – because when he does, we buy it. His character, “Juan,” imprints significantly on young Chiron (Alex R. Hibbet) and we are left wondering about his own path to adulthood. Ali is tender in the right moments, complemented by his scene partner Janelle Monae (“Teresa”). His words and actions for Chiron are affirming and he is complex; perfectly imperfect.
Other nominees: Aaron Taylor Johnson | Alden Ehrenreich | Michael Shannon | Vincent D’Onofrio
“Blockbuster” Character of the Year | Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds)
“Deadpool” received 27.7% of the voting. The runner-up, with 22.2% was “Moana.”
Most Lovable Animated Character | tie
Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) – Zootopia and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) – Finding Dory
Tied with 22.2% each, Zootopia Police Department’s Judy Hopps tied the forgetful, warmhearted Dory as the most lovable animated character of 2016.
“Blockbuster” Villain of the Year | Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn)
With 38.4% of the vote, Orson Krennic was designated as 2016’s most compelling villain. The runner-up, with 23% was Idris Elba’s “Shere Khan” from The Jungle Book.
Best On-Screen Duo | Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling – La La Land
The La La Land lovebirds garnered 27.7% of the vote to be named choice on-screen duo. Their runners up, Trevante Rhodes and André Holland (of Moonlight) and Sam Claflin and Emilia Clark (of Me Before You), tied with 16.6% each.
“Blockbuster” Feature of the Year | Zootopia
Disney delivered with Zootopia, as it was voted your “Blockbuster” feature of the year with 22.2% of the final tally. The runner-up was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them with 16.6%.
Leading Actress in a Voice-Over Role | Ginnifer Goodwin – “Judy Hopps” – Zootopia
Judy Hopps declares early-on it’s her intention to be the ZPD’s first “Bunny Cop.” Goodwin gives Judy the voice an empowered female needs to survive the crime-ridden and corrupt city of Zootopia. Hopps is a lovable, energetic and memorable character; much more than just a “dumb bunny.”
Other nominees: Auli’i Cravalho | Anna Kendrick | Mackenzie Foy | Tori Kelly
Leading Actor in a Voice-Over Role | Jason Bateman – “Nick Wilde” – Zootopia
Jason Bateman gives life to a crooked sly fox named Nick Wilde. Wilde’s backstory reveals that Zootopia’s popsicle hustler has only responded to life’s crippling stereotypes. He’s given in, despite all the good in his heart. Bateman gives wittiness when needed and tenderness when necessary – and its a blend that’s easy to love.
Other nominees: Art Parkinson | Jeff Bridges | Louis C.K. | Riley Osborne
Leading Actress in a Motion Picture | Ruth Negga – “Mildred Loving” – Loving
The tagline for Loving: “All love is created equal.” Loving is the dramatization of Richard and Mildred Loving’s fight against the anti-miscegenation laws that challenge their marriage. For her part, Ruth Negga delivers a quiet, and sometimes tragic performance, though her character never loses her strength, conviction or belief in happiness. Her voice shines through boldly, and we see a woman acting on behalf of her family and her community, though she endures the ugliness of the times and the cruelty of people. She never gives into despair and Negga’s performance is poignant and timeless in this empowering triumph.
Other nominees: Amy Adams | Anya Taylor-Joy | Emma Stone | Natalie Portman
Leading Actor in a Motion Picture | Denzel Washington – “Troy Maxson” – Fences
Visceral. Gripping. Sad. Frightening. Understated. A sampling of adjectives that could be employed to describe Denzel Washington’s performance in Fences, the story of a working-class African American father trying to raise his family in 1950s America. In Washington’s portrayal, we see the struggle and strength of being black in our history. Initially, we see love in his eyes that comes to be replaced with a cold as steel look, or yearning for forgiveness. It’s one of the year’s most dynamic, and complex performances that shakes our cores and raises more questions than it provides answers.
Other nominees: Andrew Garfield | Jake Gyllenhaal | Ryan Reynolds | Trevante Rhodes
Documentary Feature of the Year | Presenting Princess Shaw
In a crowded, and deserving field, I selected Presenting Princess Shaw because it provides a single voice and face to a movement (as presented in other films like Not Your Negro). By day, Samantha Montgomery works as a caregiver to the elderly. By night, she is an authentic voice, a talented singer-songwriter, bound by emotional and socioeconomic struggle – and lack of opportunity.
Princess Shaw rises from her despair with genuine joy and hope when a chance collaboration with an Israeli producer (Ophir Kutiel aka Kutiman) is brought to her attention. She celebrates the achievements (a million hits on YouTube, performing in Israel) and remains grounded, appreciative and above all, sincere. She is a beautiful woman that keeps you entranced with her songs and vivacious personality.
Root for her because you connect. Celebrate her victories – but know that all of this, is tempered by a lack of opportunity (rooted in how our nation has historically viewed or treated the African American community). It’s a feel-good documentary (Samantha Cowen described it as “the fairytale of the YouTube age.”) that leaves you with bittersweet hope – though I promise, you won’t regret taking the time to be introduced to Princess Shaw, or her deeply affecting work – and a sampling of the good that humanity can produce.
Other nominees: 13th | I Am Not Your Negro | OJ: Made in America | The Eagle Huntress
Animated Short Film | Piper
Pixar’s animated short Piper is adorably wonderful. A small story with a big heart, about a little sandpiper that uncovers a way to more effectively find food, and to ensure the survival of his family. It’s an endearing tale of perseverance, discovery and innovation.
Independent or Foreign Feature of the Year | Land of Mine (Denmark, Germany)
Director Martin Zandvliet delivers a powerfully fascinating story about a group of young German POWs in the wake of World War II. Viewed as enemies of a nation, and as enemies of humanity, the young men are tasked with uncovering and deactivating over two million land mines buried on the beaches of the Danish West Coast.
On its surface, Land of Mine is intriguing – but nothing will prepare you for the tension (think The Hurt Locker, multiplied by three) crafted by the filmmaker, or for the humanity within yourself you’ll be forced to confront and struggle to understand. How far does compassion extend – and what is the price of devaluing the lives of others?
Other nominees: A Man Called Ove | Presenting Princess Shaw | The Eagle Huntress | Viva
Animated Feature Film of the Year | Zootopia
Zootopia is a place of celebrated diversity and a land of opportunity; its political connotations and relevance in contemporary culture are necessary – and it stands as one of the most exciting and appealing feminist films of the year.
Centered around rookie bunny cop Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) and a sly con-fox, Nike Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman), Zootopia is a dazzling – and daring – investigation of corruption and conspiracies at the highest level of the government. It promotes messages of inclusion, environmentalism, animal welfare and decency.
It’s bright, fun and anthropomorphic, giving life to the imaginations of children – and people who are young at heart – everywhere. The story is complex, yet simple, and the characters are easy to love, anchored by an enduring (and endearing) vocal cast. They feel as we feel – especially at that bold, pace-slowing DMV scene with Flash (Raymond S. Persi).
Other nominees: Kubo and the Two Strings | Moana | Sing | The Little Prince
The Lumiére Award for Directing | Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Jenkins tenderly crafted Moonlight, a moving portrait of a boy struggling with his situation and identity. It’s a heartbreaking, inspiring and hope-filled look at a moment in time, and a milestone for LGBT characters in cinema.
Jenkins’ three-part narrative structure allows us to follow Chiron on his journey through adolescence into adulthood. The images are striking and the internal and external torment that leads him into the man he becomes is painful – but we are offered a sliver of light, a chance for redemption. Chiron, or “Black” as he comes to be known, has a chance at a less chaotic, less violent and more accepting and beautiful future.
That lingering feeling of hope was my takeaway. Yours may be different. Jenkins added the final act to the original story and leaves what happens after the cameras stop rolling up to your own imaginations entirely. I choose to believe in love and hope – in redemption and the beauty of authentic existence.
This is a masterful film, and a powerful light that shines on a severely underrepresented population.
Other nominees: Damien Chazelle | Denis Villeneuve | Mel Gibson | Robert Eggers | Tom Ford
Feature Film of the Year | Moonlight
Moonlight is a milestone film, a socially relevant and historically significant moment in cinema. Set in Miami, our central figure Chiron (portrayed by Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) navigates three defining chapters of his life, each riddled with the pain of having to repress his authenticity, and the struggle to endure the dangers he confronts.
It’s a complex exploration into the life of an impoverished and tormented (externally and internally) young boy, teen and man where hope and love are tempered with fear and emotional uncertainty. Moonlight externalizes an internal struggle and it gives us a glimpse into a world we seldom see – into the life of an African American character that happens to be gay.
I applaud Moonlight for its daring; Barry Jenkins for his vision; Trevante Rhodes and the rest of the cast for the bold statements, portrayals and representations. When we look back in twenty, fifty or even one hundred years, we will see Moonlight amongst the classics of Hollywood. While it stands as one of the few films to feature black LGBT characters, it is my hope that it won’t be the last, and that we as a nation move toward more inclusion in not only our cinema, but in our lives – so we don’t have young people that struggle in the same ways as Chiron.
Other nominees: Arrival | Fences | Hacksaw Ridge | Hidden Figures | La La Land | Kubo and the Two Strings | Nocturnal Animals | The Witch
Share your thoughts and reactions in the comments section, or on social media – and if you’re keeping track, Moonlight and Zootopia emerge with 5 Bobby James Awards each, followed by La La Land with 4.