It’s that time of year again, folks. It’s the Oscars’ 89th year of in-house ass slapping, so by some mysterious transient property, we must all now reflect on what Hollywood deems the most important movies of the year. This year’s nine Best Picture nominees are actually pretty strong, so let’s dig into them, shall we?
Arrival (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
“Arrival” is hands down one of the best movies of the year. I’m no sci-fi aficionado so I wasn’t expecting to adore this movie so much going in, but holy canoli it is hard not to adore this gem. Villeneuve gifts us with a hopeful view of humanity’s future and the possible greatness within our species, much needed in this stressful year. It’s a beautiful, moving delight and totally deserving of our love.
Fences (dir. Denzel Washington)
“Fences” is great for its writing, adapted from August Wilson’s play of the same title, and its cast, ripped from its recent Broadway run. Unfortunately that’s not enough to make me love it. Washington’s movie is basically a play slapped onto our movie screens, which makes it kinda boring to watch. Call me heartless, I don’t care! I simply can’t justify long stretches of people standing around talking to each other on camera, no matter how wonderful the words are.
Hell or High Water (dir. David Mackenzie)
I was surprised to see this on the Best Picture list. It didn’t feel like a movie the Academy would pay any attention to. I guess the upside of all those old white guys on the board is a love for curmudgeonly Jeff Bridges kicking up Texas dust. “Hell or High Water” is a fun and thoughtful ride that might force you to reconsider gun control laws, or at the very least make you feel some good ol’ Texan pride (even for us non-Texans). It’s a good flick, and I’m definitely not mad to see it nominated.
La La Land (dir. Damien Chazelle)
Who’d have thought La La Land would become such a touchy subject? I don’t get why everybody’s so up in arms about it. It’s a good movie. Period. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely not garbage. It’s unwieldy with character and some of the music is lame– seriously, I was stunned by how boring and lyrically inane some of the songs are– but it’s lovely, nostalgic and great fun. I can’t label it the best of the year in good conscience, but it stands out.
Manchester By The Sea (dir. Kenneth Lonergan)
Ow, ow, ow. “Manchester By The Sea” hurts like a motherfucker. It’s beautiful and wonderfully written (the first twenty minutes are in lesson in perfect character building, wowza). Casey Affleck—all our personal feelings aside, please—is great, and as a meditation on grief, it is unsurpassed. Oh, and as a Boston girl I gotta say it’s a great representation of what us Boston-ites are actually like. A good balance of wintery gruffness and hugging. I love love love this film, my friends, I do.
Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins)
Hopefully most of y’all have already heard about the glorious “Moonlight.” It deserves all the love it gets. Gorgeous, wonderfully crafted, terrifically acted– it’s heart stopping, for sure. I cried the whole time. And on top of that, it is the quintessential 2016 movie. I dare you to find a movie that screams, “Released in that ridiculous year of 2016!” more than this one. Happily it offers a little more hope for the years ahead, wrapped all pretty in a dazzling tale of love and growing up (and many other things, but especially those). It’s fighting for the top of my ever-evolving Faves of 2016 list.
Hidden Figures (dir. Theodore Melfi)
Formula, oh formula! “Hidden Figures” is built on it. Google the logline and you’ll be able to guess pretty much all the movie’s major moments. But formula provides familiar structure and emotional beats, so it’s not always a bad thing. Here it hinders the movie at some moments and buoys it in others. “Hidden Figures” is, in brief, an okay movie that is inspiring and warm, so I’m alright with it. Plus, inspiring, formulaic biopics are total Oscar bait, so by virtue of, uh, precedence (I guess?), it has earned its nomination.
Hacksaw Ridge (dir. Mel Gibson)
Yeah, I know how we all feel about Mel Gibson. But ya gotta give him props for his gore. “Hacksaw Ridge” is pretty freakin’ disgusting, and I’m already squeamish when it comes to war movies (“Saw”? Fine. “Saving Private Ryan”? Puking). That said, it’s a tense affair that made me feel things, so I guess I enjoyed it. I do agree, though, with A.O Scott’s concern about the movie’s glorification of battle despite its protagonist, a conscientious objector, despising violence. So yeah, it has its flaws, but it’s decently thrilling. Best of the year? Not even close.
Lion (dir. Garth Davis)
Before you berate me, remember, I am human, and thus fallible. As a result, I haven’t seen “Lion.” So I present to you two opposing viewpoints from other college reviewers. See it for yourself and tell me how you liked it.
“Overall, the first half is more compelling than the second… The search drags a little, but the end makes it all worth it. An incredibly moving story and a brilliantly made movie.” –Sneh Rupra, University College London.
“Even if one ignores the fact that “Lion” tacitly endorses racial separatism, it is impossible to ignore that it is fundamentally banal, mediocre Oscar schlock even outside of its ugly moral implications.” -Nate Taskin, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian.
There we have it. The Best Picture Nominees, condensed. The Academy may not end up agreeing with all of this, but that’s the beauty of cinema, right? The best thing about Oscars season is all the movie-talk it inspires, and I can definitely support that.