It has taken me a while, but I have finally been able to see all nine of the films nominated for best picture this year. Before I begin my brief, NO SPOILER reviews for each, let me give some general impressions. First, this is an outstanding batch of films. As a group, it might be the best overall nominees I have ever seen. In any other year, each film could be a winner. Second, the variations in types of movies is impressive. Some are arthouse films like Moonlight but then there are car chases like Hell or High Water, then La La Land is a musical, and let us not forget the scifi awesomeness of Arrival. There is something here for everyone. Third, as a whole, the films are less graphic and more normal. Although some of the films earned their R rating, none of them are needlessly gratuitous (I’m looking at you 2014) and some, like Hidden Figures, could be on the Hallmark Channel tonight unedited. If you liked movies, this is your year.
Later this week I will post about the themes of the movies and who I think the likely winners might be. I am listing them here in alphabetical order.
Science fiction is at its best when it uses the template to ask big questions. That is exactly what this movie does–it asks big questions. The first five minutes of the movie are more important than you might think, so pay attention. I loved Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner together, but didn’t care for the stereotyping negative portrayal of the military. It borrows a lot of plot devices from other films, like Contact, Close Encounters, The Day the Earth Stood Still and so on, but it does in a super awesome way.
Chances of Winning: More likely that aliens land this week. Oscar hates scifi.
This movie is a play. I don’t mean that it is adapted from a play, but it is a play. I think there are only about four sets, with the majority of the movie taking place in the backyard. The strength of the film is the acting. Every single actor in this movie should win an Oscar. Every. Single. One. You watch the movie, and you’re thinking it is primarily social commentary on Black families who migrated north in the 1950s. But as you watch, you realize that is only backstory. This is really a story about any family with a hard personality, played superbly by Denzel Washington as the husband/father, who is at the same time both beloved and hated. This is the movie you’ll be talking about three days after you saw it.
Chances of Winning: Slim. Probably a strike-out.
I learned after watching this film that my grandfather was at Okinawa. I am glad I didn’t know that before, because I would have watched it differently. The movie primarily focuses upon that battle, but it asks bigger questions about religious liberty, war, and the machinations of the military. I really loved this movie and find it an amazing counter-type of what you’d expect from a war movie. Somehow it finds a way to honor everyone. Vince Vaughn was outstanding. The one weird part I didn’t care for was the almost racist portrayal of the Japanese at the end of the film. It didn’t fit and seemed oddly self-serving.
Chances of Winning: Average. War movies have a a tough go at awards, then there is the Mel Gibson factor.
Hell or High Water
This movie looks, feels, smells, and acts just like West Texas. It is the anomaly of the group, though. If this were the SAT’s, then this movie would be the answer to the question, “Which one of these is not like the other.” Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are so fun and amazing in the movie that they make up for a plot that you can see coming from the opening credits. You’ll like this movie if you like No Country For Old Men, Fargo, and Bonnie and Clyde. It’s kind of the same idea.
Chances of Winning: None. Dare I say, “Not a chance in hell.”
How much do I like this movie? I think it should be shown to every fourth grade student in America. Seriously, it inspires, teaches, rebukes, and entertains all at the same time. I know that racism and prejudice is the backdrop of the film, but as a father of daughters, I love the aspect of the movie that encourages girls that they can do science and math and achieve great things. This movie also has the best line of any film in years. “At NASA we all pee the same color. Yellow.” The problem with this film is that it forces a romance that is unnecessary and loses narrative focus by trying to cover too much.
Chances of Winning: Astronomically small.
La La Land
If you like dreamy-eyed musicals, this is your movie. To say that La La Land is dreamy is not an exaggeration. I literally can’t tell if the whole thing is a dream sequence or not, and I am still debating as to how the end fit everything. The way the characters dress, the cars they drive, the way they speak, everything about the movie screams that it is an out-of-place jumble of Hollywood from about the 1920’s until the present time. The music in the movie is good, but not outstanding, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are wonderful but the rest of the cast is either flat or non-existent, the editing is sloppy, and the sound mixing is awkward. But the dialogue and screenplay–that is off the charts.
Chances of Winning: Likely. For proof, see Birdman.
This is my favorite movie you’ll probably never watch. I particularly enjoyed the little boy who played the main character. He is the one who should have been nominated for best actor. The scenery is sunny and the cinematography is worth the price of the ticket. The film lags at times with lots of close up shots of Saroo, the main character, looking into the camera or wistfully away trying to figure out who he is. That didn’t work for me so much, but the overall story is so strong I can forgive that. The dialogue is tight, efficient, and meaningful. Nothing is wasted. This is the one you’ll be tempted to skip. Don’t.
Chances of Winning: Average. This is the film most likely to ‘roar’ an upset.
Manchester By The Sea
In my opinion, this was the worst movie of the batch. It is not an awful movie en toto, but it is the least deserving of these nine. The movie has major problems. The abuse of the flashback is one. The flashbacks come so fast to explain major plot moments that it is difficult to tell what is present and what is past. I could have gotten beyond that, but I can’t get by the characters in the movie. It feels like the makers of this movie decided their goal was to make a movie about the biggest jerks in the world going through a major grief crisis. It didn’t work for me.
Chances of Winning: Marginal. The Academy sometimes likes movies like this because they are edgy.
I have to confess something. I can’t tell if Moonlight is brilliant commentary on the contemporary pressures of people living in ethnic communities in large cities or if it is just one cliche after another. I am being serious. It is either one or the other. I am, at present, leaning toward the latter rather than the former. It feels like cliche that wants to be pretentious. That doesn’t mean the film is not important, but it feels like too much. Poverty. Check. Inner city. Check. Confused sexuality. Check. Personality disorder. Check. Bullying. Check. Abusive family. Check. Crack mom. Check. Drug dealer. Check. Prison. Check. Gangster motifs. Check. It just feels like a little much for me.
Chances of Winning: Average. It all depends on how Oscar answers the “social commentary or cliche” question.
Thanks for reading my summaries. Be on the look out for Oscar predictions tomorrow.