It’s that time of year again when we all gather around the TV for a 3 – 4.5 hour showcasing of everything great… and maybe not so great about Hollywood. That’s right, it’s the 89th Annual Academy Awards. This year we are celebrating a hugely diverse crowd of nominees… which has NOTHING to do with the controversies of the last two years in which no minority actors were nominated. Below you will find my insta-reviews, blurbs I wrote about each Oscar nominated film immediately after finishing them in the order I watched them, my rankings, and predictions. So let’s get to it…
Some spoilers below.
Oscar Movie #1: La La Land
I loved the movie, I love musicals to begin with, but this felt special and I will certainly rewatch it many times. The two leads are fantastic, and seriously, Ryan Gosling is just way ahead in the overall talent department over pretty much everyone right now. And Emma Stone, is just the single most adorable human on Earth. Her singing “I Ran” was the highlight. The songs are great and memorable, and that last scene… was perfect. On the filmmaking, the way Damien Chazelle leaves the camera on the actors, and uses long takes with the bright colorful backdrops is just stunning. From the opening scene to the exuberant set pieces, Chazelle is magician behind a camera. While I really enjoyed the film, it does get a bit romance cliché in the second act, and just a word to those saying “best musical ever,” relax.
PS: Any film that shows this much appreciation and homage to the classics while creating something new, should be celebrated.
Oscar Movie # 2: Hacksaw Ridge
This was an excellent film, based on an incredible true story. By the end I was thinking, “C’mon, this is too much,” but it’s true. I’m not in any way a man of faith, but it’s hard not to think Desmond Doss was a man protected by God himself. And the ending with the real interviews/footage of Doss almost made me tear up. Was this the best war film ever? No, not by a long shot, but a truly wonderful story of an incredible man. Even through the bloodshed, Mel Gibson and Andrew Garfield had me focused on the man, the mission, and the story. Great film.
Oscar Movie #3: Arrival
In a year which saw Independence Day 2 spectacularly crash and burn at the box office, Arrival is a slow, stylish, “alien” movie that does something wholefully unique; it respects its audience. It is complex and unwavering in its refusal to adhere to “sci-fi” cliches. The performances are great; although you have to explain to me how the movie gets 8 nominations but Amy Adams is left off Best Actress. I was constantly puzzled by the film, and when it ended I just sat there for a few minutes not really sure I understood everything. The more I thought about it, the more I got it, and the more I realized I really enjoyed the film. The cinematography is breathtaking, and I hope Denis Villeneuve bring the same Oscar nominated cinematographer with him to Bladerunner. I think I respect the movie more than I liked it (if that makes sense), because it was SO different, and because it shows you can make a really smart science fiction film and get recognized. Now if only they would start recognizing horror like that.
Oscar Movie #4: Manchester by the Sea
Maybe I would’ve enjoyed MBTS more in a world where Good Will Hunting didn’t exist, but on the latter’s 20th anniversary, I couldn’t help but wish I was crying as Robin Williams told Matt Damon that it wasn’t his fault. The film is good, the acting excellent, although Casey Affleck really needs to do a movie out of Bah-stin. And seriously, someone needs to explain how Michelle Williams got an Oscar nomination. She has maybe, 7 minutes of screen time and ONE scene… just baffling. The good things were the realness of the characters, and the emotion involved. The back and forth between Affleck and Lucas Hedges is great and felt true. I just couldn’t make that ultimate connection needed to truly love this movie, and in the end I was left, just kinda saying, “okay.” Also, there are several parts of the movie where the director just bounces like 5-7 scenic vista shots. They’re beautiful visuals, but I’m not moving to suburban Massachusetts, so stop showing the view. Overall, I have to go with disappointing on this one; while also saying it’s a very good, raw, emotional film.
Oscar Movie #5: Moonlight is subtle, slow (not to be confused with boring), and heartbreaking/warming at times. The performances are really excellent, up and down the entire cast, but I wish we got more from Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage/House of Cards).
I totally get that stories like Moonlight need to get told. I work in a large urban high school, and I’m sure I’ve met several kids like Chiron in my time. The film hopefully can shed light to those who feel lost and trapped in a particular life or lifestyle. And it was in this respect where the film was most moving for me. It’s the kind of film, I would definitely show to students, especially young African American students.
All that being said, I feel that the nature of award shows, and Oscar nominees is that a critic must either LOVE a film and think it’s a classic, or HATE it. I don’t agree. Sometimes it’s okay to think a movie is excellent, but not a classic. Moonlight is an excellent film, moving, and purposeful, but I just don’t see this rush to Best Picture that is building since the Golden Globes. To be fair, I’ve yet to see that or experience that feeling with any of the 5 Best Picture nominees I’ve seen. Still, writer/director Barry Jenkins and the cast did a great job.
Oscar Movie #6: Lion
For the first 75-80 minutes of Lion I was content watching a good film, but wasn’t particularly moved or blown away. Considering the geography and lead actor, obvious comparisons to Slumdog Millionaire came to mind. Then comes that last half hour and oh my, the sprinklers went into high gear, and I was a mess. It took six films to get to feel that level of emotion. And it’s a film I was kinda iffy on until that final act.
So where does Lion stand? It’s an amazing true story; if you don’t know, don’t read about it until after you see the movie. It’s a completely competent, well made film, reminding me a lot of Philomena from a few years ago. But it just didn’t connect with me the way either above mentioned film did. The last act is spectacular, and a master class of emotional storytelling. But does that make it best film of 2016? I don’t think so, but again, nothing has blown me away of the contenders yet and I feel they’re all well made films.
Oscar Movie #7 – Hell or High Water
By far my favorite of the Oscar contenders, and one of my favorite movies of 2016 in general, Hell or High Water is an old fashioned plot, that might disguise the film as a simple cops vs. robbers Western. But the film and its director David Mackenzie has a much larger vision, and is actually very subtly political. The framing of the shots echoes classic westerns yes, and the Texas cinematography is a star in itself, but this is small film left to its actors and the relationships they build.
Chris Pine and Ben Foster are fantastic as brother bank robbers; Foster was robbed of an Oscar nomination, and continues to be one of the most underrated actors around. Pine shows more presence here in a subdued role than he does in any Star Trek film. Jeff Bridges is terrific as the lead Texas Ranger hunting them, but even his relationship with his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is just terrific. Kudos to Taylor Sheridan on his Oscar nominated original screenplay, because it had me laughing out loud, and contemplating the deeper issues involved.
What can I say? The Tarantino super-fan in me is a sucker for movies with straightforward realistic and memorable dialogue. Throw in a tremendous soundtrack that perfectly compliments the action, and an ending so tense, you can feel it through the screen, and this was just perfect film-making.
P.S. Editor Jake Roberts is nominated for Best Editing. I’d kill for him to win and him come down the Oscars aisle like Jake “the Snake” Roberts with a python-filled bag!
Oscar Movie #8 – Hidden Figures
This was a terrific movie full of excellent performances telling the story of women who truly deserve recognition. It’s fitting in the current political climate that a film like this gets some recognition. This is the kind of historical drama that can really enhance a classroom and I feel like years from now, I’ll have watched this so often I’ll have it memorized.
Again, I question the Academy with their nominating process as only one of the three lead actresses got nominated, and it was the previous Oscar winner and not Janelle Monae who stole every scene she was in, and Taraji P. Henson who easily could’ve gotten a Best Actress nod.
Small quibbles: Movies like this are always going to feel like Oscar bait – historical drama, civil rights movement, women’s rights, etc. This film felt a little too Oscar bait-y. The scene where Costner crowbars the “colored bathroom” sign just felt produced for an Oscar push.
Still, I really enjoyed Hidden Figures. Every generation needs their NASA/Space movie. This fits comfortably alongside The Right Stuff and Apollo 13.
Oscar Movie #9 – Fences
I finished at 2:27 AM on Oscar Sunday with the final, and what felt like longest film of the nine nominees. Look, my wife and I saw Fences on Broadway, with Denzel [Washington], Viola Davis, and Mykelti Williamson. Live and in person, it’s powerful and ferocious and disturbing… but I felt nothing here. I know that might annoy some people, but I felt like I needed an intermission after about 45 minutes.
Live, you’re drawn into the raw emotion of Troy and Rose Maxson, and Troy’s spiral into anger at the world for passing him on. But for me it did not translate into a great movie. In fact, had Denzel just filmed it as a play, with an unedited camera following the actors around the house (complicated I’m sure) I would’ve liked it better. And maybe it’s 30 years of watching Denzel Washington be great at everything, but I find it hard to not just see “Denzel.” His portrayal of Troy in the film for the first 75-90 minutes might as well have been Alonzo from Training Day. Plus Troy is such an asshole throughout, that it’s hard to get the message through.
Major disappointment for me here, easily the least of the nine nominees. My advice, skip the film, read the play and/or buy a ticket to a live performance.
There are my instant recaps from watching all nine Best Picture nominees. My rankings would be:
#9 – Fences
#8 – Manchester by the Sea
#7 – Hacksaw Ridge
#6 – Arrival
#5 – Lion
#4 – Moonlight
#3 – La La Land
#2 – Hidden Figures
#1 – Hell or High Water
I want to reiterate, in my opinion the gap between number 1 on my list and the rest is tremendous. I was enthralled by Hell or High Water, and can see myself watching it regularly. But what or who will win the Academy Awards?
Should Win – Hell or High Water was the most simplistic yet complex film of the year, with a memorable screenplay score and trio of awe-inspiring performances.
Will Win – I think La La Land with 14 nominations is hard to ignore, but coming off two straight years of controversy and all the politics involved, I think the Academy goes with Moonlight in a slight upset.
Should Win – Damien Chazelle is the obvious choice for cinematic artistry that is La La Land.
Will Win – Chazelle
Should Win – Ryan Gosling for continuing to evolve and adding singing and dancing to his unending repertoire.
Will Win – Casey Affleck for being moody in a Bah-stin accent,
Should Win – Emma Stone for literally shining on the movie stage of La La Land.
Will Win – I think it’s Emma’s year.
Should Win – Funny that Jeff Bridges and Michael Shannon are essentially the same character, so since this is “SHOULD” I’m saying Ben Foster as this year’s biggest Oscar snub.
Will Win –Mahershala Ali in Moonlight if only for the swimming scene, one of the year’s best.
Should Win – ANYONE but Michelle Williams. I’m sorry, I’m a fan of hers, but this was a lousy nomination considering her time in the film and relevance of her scenes.
Will Win –Viola Davis gets it, and hopefully keeps her snot in check during her speech
Overall, I do not think these 9 films showcase the best of 2016. I think I lost touch with the Academy on some of their nominations because they are truly baffling. Octavia Spencer and Jeff Bridges get the lone nominations from their films, when they are part of a trio of killer performances and easily the lesser in each case. Michelle Williams was barely a footnote in Manchester by the Sea, and Amy Adams dominates Arrival, but is left off the list because god forbid we go a year without Meryl Streep’s name. 2016 proved that big budget comic and action movies can in fact be great films, and it’s a shame the Academy failed to recognize films Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool, or Rogue One or jump out of the comfort zone and explore a genre like horror which had a resurgence of quality filmmaking, especially in the foreign film market. Of the movies nominated for Best Picture only two or three would rank in my Top 10 of 2016. Hopefully Jimmy Kimmel keeps it fun, and I’m sure we’ll have a live stream of tweets from the White House to look forward to.
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