Standing amidst shelves lined with DVDs and tables stacked with mock awards ballots, Best Video founder Hank Paper thought for a minute on which movie would win, and which movie should win, this year’s Oscar for Best Picture.
“La La Land, which is a tribute to everything that Hollywood holds dear, will probably win,” Paper said, referring to Damien Chazelle’s nostalgia-tinged musical about two aspiring artists in contemporary Los Angeles.
“But I would love to see Denzel Washington’s Fences win. It’s so much more than a filmed stage play. It’s a truly cinematic adaptation that pays real attention to visual composition, while still being true to August Wilson’s great dialogue and story. Plus, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis give two of the best performances of the year.”
He clearly didn’t end up having the inside scoop on the actual winner. But such casual moviegoers and film fanatics alike still got to to enjoy their own taste of the tinsel magic on Sunday afternoon during an Oscars party and fundraiser held at the Best Video Film and Cultural Center in Hamden. The party raised a gross of $1,700 for the Best Video Film and Cultural Center.
While the annual spectacle of the Oscars may take place at the other end of the country, inaccessible in person to all but a rarefied elite of celebrities and entertainment moguls, Greater New Haven’s own hub for all things film brought a little bit of the 89th Academy Awards festivities to Whitney Avenue for a few hours in the form of music, cookies, mimosas, and expert tips on the best movies of the year.
A few dozen friends and customers came out to support the decades-old cultural pillar, which is not just a place to rent movies, drink coffee, listen to live music, and catch film screenings, but also, as of 2015, a not-for-profit dedicated to using its expansive movie archive for educational and community building purposes.
As attendees browsed the shelves, filled out mock Oscar ballots, listened to jazz duo Joe Carter and Tim Moran, and picked among food provided by local baker Carol Merriman and Gold’s Delicatessen in Westport, the New Haven Independent quizzed Best Video’s employees and board members on their picks for which movies would win, and which should win, this year’s Oscar for Best Picture. (No one named the actual winner, Moonlight.)
Best Video assistant manager Hank Hoffman also picked La La Land as the likely winner of the night, but chose Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea as his favorite of the Best Picture nominees. “From You Can Count on Me to Margaret to Manchester, Lonergan knows how to create characters who are not necessarily likable, but always flawed, and therefore always human. People have been saying that this movie is too depressing, but there’s so much life in it, and, at the end, every indication that these characters will be able to embark on something new.”
Best Video staffer Mike Wheatley admitted that, yes, La La Land was a favorite for the award, but he was pulling for Denis Villeneuve’s heady sci-fi marvel Arrival. “It’s such a unique film about cross-cultural communication,” he said. “And, with just a few films under his belt, Villeneuve has shown himself to be a truly masterful filmmaker.”
Sitting behind the checkout counter, Best Video staffer Molly Capobianco browsed through the Best Picture nominees as she thought through her picks. “La La Land was fine,” she said, “and it would be nice to see a true musical win Best Picture. But my favorite movies of the year by far didn’t even make any of the ballots. M. Night Shyamalan’s Split and Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen are the two 2016 movies that every movie lover should absolutely go see.”
Overseeing the mixing of orange juice and champagne from a corner near the store’s café, Best Video staffer Rob Harmon had an easy choice picking among the nominees, since his favorite movie of the year was represented.
“I hope Manchester by the Sea wins Best Picture,” he said. “I know that sound films have been around for almost 100 years now, but I still think that a great film can be understood with the sound off. And Manchester, anchored by Casey Affleck’s restrained and melancholic performance as well as by Lonergan’s masterful editing that communicates so much about the unease of this central character, passes that test.”
Hopping from employee to employee, getting movie advice from the staff at a store that has been sharing movie recommendations since 1985, seemed to give life to Hoffman’s words earlier in the afternoon on the mission of Best Video, and the purpose of the fundraiser itself.
“Since we went not-for-profit in 2015, events likes this, as well as taking out memberships, coming to shows, coming to film screenings and lectures, are what keeps us around,” he said. “We’re really happy to be part of this community and we feel like we give back to the community by providing a space to gather, to consume culture, to discuss movies and music. We think that’s so important for every community to have.”