NEPA film industry discusses nominees for 2017 Best Picture Academy Award
It’s a coveted honor that stands at the apex of the Academy Awards. During an evening when fashion fans tune in to see the red carpet procession and film aficionados watch intently for winners in each category, Best Picture is the category even the most apathetic of movie viewers check in to see.
The Times Leader talked to three Northeastern Pennsylvanians who are active in the independent film industry — two filmmakers and one screen writer — about this year’s nominees for the ultimate prize in film making and asked for their opinions on the films they’d seen.
Kingston resident and Wilkes University Master’s of Fine Arts graduate Gabrielle D’Amico is a screenwriter at the beginning of her career. Her most recent script, “Plan B,” about a woman who vows to fulfill her writing aspirations after finding her last friend without children is pregnant, is currently being optioned to three Hollywood producers.
“La La Land” and “Manchester by the Sea,” she said, were her favorite films of the year.
D’Amico said “Manchester by the Sea” was “quite funny” despite being set “against a backdrop of incredible heartache and devastation.”
“It felt like you were watching someone’s real life and how they were handling incredible grief,” D’Amico said.
The screenwriter said the film stayed with her for “quite a while.”
” ‘La La Land,’ was just a fantastic film,” D’Amico said. “It’s fresh, but it feels like a classic.”
D’Amico said the musical, which follows a jazz musician and aspiring actress struggling to succeed in the entertainment business, is one to which any aspiring artist can relate.
“You know the hunger of starting out, the agony of rejection, the elation of success and what it’s like to try to make it,” she said. “I was enamored by it. It feels like a throwback to classic films in a modern setting.”
Terrell Bobbett is a filmmaker who grew up in Wilkes-Barre and currently resides in New York City. He is the creator and director of fictional crime-drama series “The Barre,” which features characters inspired by people from his childhood.
The series is in post production, and Bobbett is considering distribution options.
Bobbett called “Arrival,” a film about alien spacecraft that populate the skies above Earth and the human linguist who tries to understand the newcomers’ language, “thought provoking.”
“I love when people make something you expect to be the same as a film you’ve seen before, and it’s totally different,” Bobbett said. “It took me for a ride.”
While Bobbett had plenty of praise for “Arrival,” he said he’d have to give the Best Picture Oscar to “Fences,” an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning August Wilson play that depicts the African-American experience through the eyes of a struggling family in 1950s Pittsburgh.
“I know characters just like the one Denzel (Washington) played,” Bobbett said. “It’s part of every black family, really. Rose (Viola Davis) is part of every black family. It put me through an emotional experience. I was locked in the whole time.”
Jon Yonkondy, a West Pittston resident and graduate of University of Southern California’s film school, wrote and directed “Baby Frankenstein,” a film about a college age man and his unlikely friendship with a pint-sized, self-aware automaton.
The film, Yonkondy said, is nearing completion and will be available on multiple platforms later in 2017.
“The Best Picture has become the movie which has the highest quality and memorability all while staying the least offensive to the most people,” Yonkondy said.
“Hell or High Water,” Yonkondy said, was his favorite film of the year.
“It’s the kind of film I love,” Yonkondy said. “I love westerns, and I’d love to make one one day. It’s being called a western, but it’s more like a rural bank-robbing film.”
Yonkondy said he thinks the film that should win Best Picture is “La La Land.”
“It was a good film, and it meets the criteria I mentioned earlier,” he said. “It’s very stylized, and I think it deserves the honor. I don’t know if will be remembered well years later, but it’s right for right now.”
The 89th Academy Awards ceremony will air at 8:30 p.m. Sunday on ABC with red carpet coverage beginning at 7 p.m.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.
AND THE NOMINEES ARE
‘Arrival’ — directed by Denis Villeneuve, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker
‘Fences’ — directed by Denzel Washington, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis
‘Hacksaw Ridge’ — directed by Mel Gibson, starring Andrew Garfield and Sam Worthington
‘Hell or High Water’ — directed by David Mackenzie, starring Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges
‘Hidden Figures’ — directed by Theodore Melfi, starring Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer
‘La La Land’ — directed by Damien Chazelle, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone
‘Lion’ — directed by Garth Davis, starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman
‘Manchester by the Sea’ — directed by Kenneth Lonergan, starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams
‘Moonlight’ — directed by Barry Jenkins, starring Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp and Duan Sanderson