(There’s a pretty good chance this will get turned into a video, but probably not until the actual day of the Oscars, 2/26/17, so…go check that out, if it gets made. It’ll probably be decently different from this post)
I have seen at least one movie nominated for Best Picture from each of the last 20 years and 26 from the last 27 (although not all when they came out; I didn’t see Frost/Nixon until a couple months ago (2008)), but I never really attempted to see Oscar nominated movies until this year. I chose 7 categories that I wanted to see movies from, but set as my main goal to watch all of the Best Picture nominees. I finally saw Fences, the final movie on that list, on Monday, and I have some thoughts about each of those movies, along with some other picks.
Before I go into each of those (brief) reviews, I have a couple comments related to this. The first is that I was struck by the vastly different worlds that each of these movies brought the viewer into. The movie that surprised me the most with this thought was Hell or High Water, showing a side of Texas and rural poverty I haven’t seen or experienced. I appreciate that the Academy chose such a wide array of movies, but I think I appreciate more how movies can bring us into places we haven’t seen or experienced.
Second, I noticed that, of the Best Actress nominees, only one was in a Best Picture nominated movie, while there were at least four of the Best Picture movies represented in the other acting categories. I don’t know if there’s any meaning to glean from this, but it seemed interesting to me that only one of the Best Picture nominees had a lead female role nominated for Best Actress.
Third, I am IN NO WAY a film critic. I don’t understand a lot (or maybe any) of the metrics film critics use to judge movies; I just know what I like. With that said, my thoughts are much more closely related to what would be the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes than the critic score.
With that said, here are some of my thoughts (in alphabetical order). I’ve only seen each of these movies once, so keep that in mind with each of these reviews. I also don’t know what people will consider spoilers: I won’t reveal endings, but some important plot points may be shared. You have been warned.
I really enjoyed this movie, and it’s probably the one I want to rewatch first. I was able to tell about two-thirds of the way through the movie where it was going, but still greatly enjoyed the story. Certainly a very concerted effort to make this sci-fi first contact movie as realistic (and connected to the times) as possible. I liked the cast (I’m a big Amy Adams fan, I like Jeremy Renner more than most, and Forest Whitaker is great (but maybe not his accent in this one).
I think this was a well acted movie, but the Screen Junkies Honest Trailer of the Oscars nailed on the head how much you could tell it was adapted from the stage. I really enjoyed the fast moving dialogue as the movie started, and there are some strong plot points in the movie, but it felt very enclosed. The story was interesting, and I think Viola Davis outshone Denzel Washington, but it still felt as if it was missing some connective piece, at least to the audience of me.
A great based on a true story movie about an incredible person and battle. It has been some time since I saw this one, so I don’t remember it as well as others, but I felt that Andrew Garfield gave a fantastic performance, Hugo Weaving was alright but shined in the courtroom scene, and Vince Vaughn felt out of place. There were some effects, especially from the boats firing, that felt a bit dated. The story itself is amazing, and it was very well told.
Hell or High Water
As previously mentioned, this brought me into a world I hadn’t seen before. The movie pulled no punches with the action or violence, but also didn’t overstate it. Interesting motives from the characters, and a very straightforward story, especially for an Oscar movie. I enjoyed Jeff Bridges’ and Chris Pine’s characters’ juxtaposition.
A great movie, but I wonder what would have been done differently with a higher rating (movie was rated PG). It was, again, a great retelling of a true story, with an interesting focus more on how systems affected segregation and civil rights than individual people. The three actresses who played the more main roles did very well; Octavia Spencer was my favorite part of this movie.
La La Land
I enjoyed this movie as well, but much of the film felt quiet. The singing didn’t feel as powerful as it could have been, even in ensemble pieces. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling probably weren’t built to lead a musical, but their chemistry was amazing. Very well shot and very Los Angeles centric.
I loved this film. Of all the movies on this list, I knew the least about this one before I saw it. The amount of the story that was able to be told without using words was incredible, especially with the younger version of the main character. Nicole Kidman was also fantastic in this movie, especially in her most emotional scene in the film. Some pacing felt weird in the middle of the movie, but so much was right with this movie that pacing was forgivable.
Manchester by the Sea
The quote that best sums up my feelings about this movie comes from John Green: I didn’t buy it. Even though I probably would have reacted in very similar ways to how the main character reacted, it still felt like Casey Affleck was trying very hard to make his character seem like a real person. The story itself was well done, but I wasn’t a fan of the characters with the most screen time – I don’t agree with Lucas Hedges being nominated for this film. Kyle Chandler was the best part of this movie for me – seeing Matthew Broderick was strange.
I felt the most confused during this movies out of all the other ones. By the time I caught on with what was happening, the movie was almost halfway over. The transition to the end felt out of character from what we’d seen up to that point. Knowing that Mahershala Ali was nominated for this movie, I expected him to be in it longer, even with the supporting tag.
These picks represent the seven categories I was interested in, and are (I think) widely regarded as the most regarded categories.
Best Picture (Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight)
I enjoyed Lion the most, but I expect that La La Land or Manchester by the Sea will be the winner.
Best Actor (Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea, Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling for La La Land, Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic, and Denzel Washington for Fences)
I have not seen Captain Fantastic; of the four I did see, Andrew Garfield was my favorite, and I’ll stick with him. If I were betting on who would win, Garfield probably wouldn’t be my pick.
Best Actress (Isabelle Huppert for Elle, Ruth Negga for Loving, Natalie Portman for Jackie, Emma Stone for La La Land, and Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins)
I only saw Emma Stone in La La Land from this list.
Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali for Moonlight, Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water, Lucas Hedges for Manchester by the Sea, Dev Patel for Lion, and Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals)
I didn’t see Nocturnal Animals; of the four I did see, I liked Dev Patel in Lion the most.
Supporting Actress (Viola Davis for Fences, Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Nicole Kidman for Lion, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, and Michelle Williams for Manchester by the Sea)
Octavia Spencer. Not only was she present during the whole movie, but her role showed her character’s strength and wisdom in that time period while showing the audience the most about different subtleties within that context. The other actresses all had better individual scenes, but Octavia Spencer was the best and most consistent for the whole film. (Side note, I think this was the strongest of any of these categories).
Cinematography (Arrival, La La Land, Lion, Moonlight, and Silence)
I have yet to see Silence; of the four I’ve seen, all were beautifully shot, and while I’m not entirely sure about what goes into cinematography, I think Lion takes my vote.
Directing (Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight)
Well directed all around; my vote goes to La La Land.
Those are my picks, and I look forward to seeing who wins the awards (and how many I agree with) come Sunday.