Art is subjective, I’ve said that quite often. However, it’s nice to see a work of art be recognized. And one of the highest honors (arguably) is the acclaimed Academy Awards, the Oscars. 2016 had some amazing films and some big duds. You can check out the Razzie nominations for those. This time around, 9 films have been nominated for best picture.
La La Land – 14 nominations: Picture, Actor, Actress, Directing, Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Cinematography, Costume Design, Original Score, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Original Song (2 – Audition and City of Stars), Production Design
I’ll be the first to admit that musicals are not a genre that I enjoy. As much as Anne Hathaway brought me to tears singing I Dreamed a Dream in Les Miserables, the movie itself was torture. La La Land was an exception, Emma Stone plays a struggling actress who falls in love with a struggling jazz musician, Ryan Gosling, in modern Los Angeles. As they work to make their dreams a reality, they are faced with tough decisions about their relationships. La La Land is essentially an ode to classic hollywood musicals and classic films giving nods to such films like Singing in the Rain, Sweet Charity and even Rebel Without a Cause. The songs are catchy (I have City of Stars downloaded on my phone), the acting is intriguing, the visuals and set pieces are gorgeous, and the screenplay is well-played out. I think what resonated with me the most was how it gave me hope and purpose to continue my pursuit as an actor. “Here’s to the fools who dream”.
Hell or High Water – 4 nominations: Picture, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Film Editing
A sleeper hit of the summer coming out at the tail end of the summer blockbuster series, though not a blockbuster type movie by any means. A modern western tale of 2 brothers (Chris Pine & Ben Foster) who pull off a string of bank robberies in order to save their family’s ranch. On their tails, a Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) and his American Indian partner (Gil Birmingham) work together to foil the next potential robbery. What makes this picture amazing is the combination of a great script and great acting. Bridges earns his supporting nomination in his phenomenal acting bringing a down to earth relation to his surroundings and his partner. The diner scene with the “what don’t you want?” waitress is one of those scenes that I’ll remember for a long time.
Arrival – 8 nominations: Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Production Design
When 12 mysterious spacecrafts suddenly appears around the world, it’s up to a language expert to interpret the language of the alien visitors and unravel the mystery of their sudden appearances before mankind slips into a global war. Arrival is not your typical alien invasion sci-fi flick. It’s really not even about the aliens. It is more about human nature; the good and the bad (mostly bad). Arrival is a strong intellectual, unlike most alien invasion flicks, that focuses on heady themes and provokes very strong emotions especially in terms of dealing with understanding language and what happens when we don’t work to understand. Amy Adams shines as the linguist specialist leading a small team to try to decipher the strange symbols projected by the otherworldly visitors. I’m actually surprised she wasn’t even considered by the Academy for best actress. With stunning cinematography and a solid screenplay, director Dennis Villeneuve adds to an impressive, growing portfolio which consist of Incendies, Prisoners, and Sicario. And we’ll be expecting big things from him in the upcoming Blade Runner sequel.
Manchester by the Sea – 6 nominations: Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Directing, Original Screenplay
Manchester by the Sea strongest point is the actors. From the extras to the lead Casey Affleck, all of them were spectacular. Not a single talent was wasted and that is a rare quality. Manchester is a simple story of grief. We follow Lee Chandler who is shocked to find after his brother’s passing, that he is the sole guardian of his teenage nephew. And with that, he is forced to face his past that has estranged him from his wife and the community where he grew up in. It’s a sad movie with a lot of heart and, despite what you may have heard, a bit of humor. The beauty of it is that none of it feels forced. Yes, there’s tragedy, but there’s such a strong believability aspect that sits along with the everyday. Casey Affleck plays his character masterfully, as well as the supporting leads Lucas Hedges (nephew) and Michelle Williams (his ex-wife). The nominations for acting are well deserved.
Fences – 4 nominations: Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay
If you want to see Denzel and Viola Davis at their finest, this is the movie to see. Set in the backdrop of Pittsburg in the 1950s, a hardworking African-American father tries to raise his family while secrets and suppressed emotions finally come to light. Fences showcases both Denzel and Viola Davis, they truly are at the top of their game. Denzel is ferocious as Troy Maxon, an ex pro baseball player struggling with the realities of racism of that time. It’s when he fights to keep his son from playing football is when we feel the intensity of the racial divide that plagued our history(and still playing out today). I know that it was adapted directly from the hit Broadway play, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that was precisely what I was watching, a play. Especially considering the majority of it was in their backyard. May have just as well separated the locales with curtains. Nevertheless, I expect Denzel and Viola to be strong contenders in the acting race.
Moonlight – 8 nominations: Picture, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Directing, Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, Adapted Screenplay
Spanning across three-time periods, Moonlight shares the life of a young black man in Miami as he struggles with a dysfunctional home life as well with coming to terms with his identity. Moonlight works because it’s an all around beautiful piece. It has great acting, beautiful cinematography, the score is captivating, and touching on themes that are rare in cinemas. Sure, we have movies on race, drugs, sexuality, poverty, and coming-of-age but I can’t think of a single story that blends each of these ideas into a single story without throwing the narrative out of whack. Moonlight is one of the strongest contenders out of the nine films for best picture.
Lion – 6 nominations: Picture, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score
A powerful, moving true tale of a 5-year-old boy who gets lost on a train and is taken thousands of miles across India, away from home and his family. 25 years later after being adopted by a family in Australia, Saroo, with little memory, google Earth, and steadfast determination, he searches for his home and family. The first half is heartbreaking. The film does so well creating a sense of hopelessness, any glimpse of hope is a breath of fresh air. This is an incredible well done. The execution of the final scene is done so well, I wept. Like ugly man cry weeping. I wish I could share more, but I can’t think of anything else to say but to tell you to watch this if you get a chance to. And have a tissue box nearby.
Hacksaw Ridge – 6 nominations: Picture, Actor, Directing, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
A violent war movie about a non-violent combatant. Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who, during one of the bloodiest battles of WWII at Okinawa, saved 75 men despite having never carried, let alone fired a gun. Andrew Garfield goes above heroic clichés and takes us along the emotional journey, with strong direction from director Mel Gibson, of Doss enlisting into the army, going through boot camp, and of course the actual battle itself. Mel does a fantastic job of drawing a clear distinction between pacifism and the hell of war. I always have a soft spot for war films, especially true stories. I’ll be the first to admit, I wept in the car right after seeing in the theaters. A huge gratitude extends from my heart towards those who have served and are serving right now.
Hidden Figures – 3 nominations: Picture, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay
We all know of American hero, John Glenn. The first man to orbit the Earth and safely return. What we don’t know, until now, the unsung heroes that behind that monumental event. Three African-American female mathematicians with undeniably incredible talent rises the ranks of NASA. Crossing racial, gender, and professional lines, they give hope to all people especially those who feel they have been oppressed for any reason. The three ladies who play the leads are outstanding. It’s a wonder only Octavia Spencer was recognized by the Academy. I certainly thought Taraji and Janelle were captivating in their respective roles. We also get Sheldon Cooper, but not as eccentric.
My top 3 favorite of the 9 films nominated are Lion, Hell or High Water, and Hacksaw Ridge, but I doubt any of them will take home the big win. Most likely it will come down to La La Land or Moonlight, with my money on La La Land.
Thanks for reading. Let me know what your thoughts are and last but not least here’s a video from one of my favorite channels I follow on Youtube, Honest Trailers.
Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate, Aquarius Films, A24, Pandemonium Films, CBS Films, Paramount Pictures, and Amazon Studios.