David Edelstein on the Oscar contenders

Oscar nominations sneak peek

These are golden days for movie fans, and the start of a very big week. Our critic David Edelstein has a Sneak Preview:

Let’s talk about the all-important holiday movie season. What’s that, you say? The holidays ended weeks ago? Ah, yes, but now is when 98% of the country can finally see the movies critics gushed about that were only in theaters in New York and L.A. to qualify for awards.

With Oscar nominations set to be announced Tuesday, now is actually peak holiday-movie season!

And you don’t just get to see these movies -- you can be part of the backlash against them! Or, the backlash against the backlash!

Take “La La Land,” Damien Chazelle’s eye-candy musical with the inhumanly-gorgeous Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Critics fell all over themselves in December. Now all I hear is: “The singing and dancing aren’t exactly ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’” “It misrepresents jazz.” “It’s too white.”

I’ll start a backlash against the backlash: It moves like an old-fashioned escapist dream with a modern emotional toughness. When people complain about “La La Land,” I go, “La la la la.”

La La Land - "Lovely Night Dance" Film Clip - In Theatres Now by La La Land on YouTube

     
Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” is another awards-season biggie that makes some people say, “I don’t get the hype.” Well, in a way, they’re right; it’s a gentle, slow-paced exploration of sexual and racial identity, so delicate that critical hype bruises it.

So don’t go in expecting to be blown away and, maybe, you’ll be blown away! 

Moonlight | Middle of The World | Official Clip HD | A24 by A24 on YouTube

     
There’s also gobs of hype about “Fences,” based on August Wilson’s great play about a husband and father warped by racism into a big jerk. My problem is it still feels like a play, and Denzel Washington -- dynamic as he is -- needed a director to take him down a peg. Except he was the director, and he was swinging for the fences (a.k.a. the Oscars) …

Fences (2016) - "Why Don't You Like Me" Clip - Paramount Pictures by Paramount Pictures on YouTube

       
… where the frontrunner is Casey Affleck for his portrait of a man in a fog of grief in “Manchester By the Sea.” You can see that, too, if you like your sadness unleavened by even a tinge of hope.

Manchester by the Sea | Amazon Studios | Now in Select Theaters! by Amazon Studios on YouTube

       
There hasn’t been much hype about “20th Century Women,” Mike Mills’ bittersweet tribute to women who helped him to become a man. One is his mother, played by Annette Bening in the year’s most vivid performance. I don’t get why people aren’t falling on their knees and singing odes to joy, because Annette Bening makes every movie a holiday.

20th Century Women Movie CLIP - Always About the Mother (2016) - Elle Fanning Movie by Movieclips Coming Soon on YouTube