2017’s Best Picture Nominees

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Anyone more familiar with me than as a passing acquaintance knows I love movies. I enjoy anything from classics like The Maltese Falcon to blockbusters like Iron Man to cult hits not enough people have heard about like Tapeheads to Kurosawa‘s samurai flicks like Yojimbo and Rashomon. But most of all, I like really good movies.

So the late fall and early winter is a special time for me. “Oscar Season”, they call it. It’s the time that Hollywood releases what it thinks are its best films, hoping that they’ll receive awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an organization of about six thousand movie professionals, including everything from producers, directors, and editors to costume designers and sound engineers. Eventually the academy announces its nominations, and at that point, I’m off to the races, trying to squeeze in as many of them as I can before the awards.

I never see all of them before Oscar night. Some aren’t available in time to watch at home, and there just isn’t enough time to see all of them in theaters. I’m okay with that; eventually I catch up. And as far as 2017’s Best Picture nominations go, I caught up last night. Below, I’ll give you my opinions of the nine nominated films.

Best Picture Nominees

Here are my thoughts on the nominees, listed in order from the one I liked least to the one I liked most.

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Fences

Denzel Washington directed and starred in this period piece set in the fifties about a black man’s struggle to be a good husband, father, and brother, and to deal with his own shortcomings. I admire Denzel a great deal for his performance and his excellent directing, but I didn’t enjoy the film. I can certainly relate to the struggle to provide for one’s family, both in terms of material needs and guidance, and I empathized with his character’s struggle with his own flaws. But have you ever been a third party during a heated and prolonged argument, such as your parents fighting? That’s what this movie felt like.

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Hell or High Water

I feel like we’ve seen the “turn to crime in order to save the ranch” formula lots of times, and this may be the best iteration of that plot so far. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play two brothers that are robbing branches of the bank that wants to foreclose on their ranch after the death of their mom. There’s oil under that ranch, and Pine’s character has child support to worry about. Foster is the wild card ex-con brother. Jeff Bridges plays the totally not cliche Texas Ranger about to retire but working this one last case. The acting is what made this film worthy of the Best Picture nomination, and Bridges was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor. The movie was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but I imagine they were using the word “original” very loosely.

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Arrival

This was a really enjoyable movie, but it didn’t feel like an Oscar movie. The best way to describe it is “what if all those ships from Independence Day just wanted to talk?” Amy Adams does a terrific job playing the linguist trying to interpret the alien language before it’s “too late”. Without risking spoilers, I can’t say much more – there are some surprises, twists, and turns.

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Manchester By The Sea

Casey Affleck won Best Actor in his role as a broken man who becomes his nephew’s guardian after his brother dies. I knew going into it that this was going to be a depressing movie, but that’s like saying “I knew getting my wisdom teeth out was going to hurt.” This movie is super depressing. Think of the most depressing movie you’ve ever seen, and then imagine seeing it right after your significant other broke up with you to be with your best friend. And also your dog died. And you got fired. But if you’re feeling something, a movie was done right, and that’s why this film got the nominations it did. (It also won Best Original Screenplay.) I was disappointed that I didn’t see more familiar locations, since the movie was filmed in my town and the town next door.

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Moonlight

I think a better title for this movie would be “Oscar Bait”. A poor kid growing up around gangs and violence. Well, obviously a poor black kid. And his mom is a junkie. Wait, he’s gay, too? The film was broken into three segments, showing glimpses into the protagonist’s childhood, teen years, and adulthood. Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor for his brief role as a drug dealer with a heart of gold in the childhood segment, and the film also won Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as Best Picture. Despite my teasing about how many boxes were checked off the Oscar Bait list, it really was a moving and original film. Why isn’t it my favorite? Well, because there were films I thought were better, or enjoyed more.

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La La Land

If you hate musicals, you probably won’t enjoy this movie. But there was a reason it got thirteen nominations overall, and won six: Best Directing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Original Song, and Best Actress for Emma Stone. The movie is a love story about a struggling actress and a struggling jazz pianist. All the “white privilege” comments have already been made in other folks’ reviews, so I’ll skip them here. I’d say all the awards it received were well-deserved (except maybe Best Original Song, which I think should have gone to Moana). The story wasn’t totally predictable, but there aren’t many shockers either.

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Hacksaw Ridge

This was the true story of the first man to win the Medal of Honor without firing a shot. Andrew Garfield plays army medic Desmond T. Doss, a conscientious objector who saved seventy-five soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa. It’s an amazing story, and Garfield was terrific in this role. It’s a very gorey movie, so if you don’t like seeing chunks of brain or intestines hanging out, you might want to skip this one.

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Hidden Figures

Another true story, this film shows how a group of African-American women were vital mathematicians in the space program, doing what the computers of that time couldn’t do, while facing the challenges related to the color of their skin and their gender. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe play the leads, and are supported by Kevin Costner as Al Harrison, leader of the Space Task Group (responsible for calculating the trajectories that will send astronauts into orbit and then back to Earth). A fantastic film overall.

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Lion

Yet another true story! Maybe true stories are my favorite; I didn’t think so until I made this list. In this case, it’s about a young boy in India named Saroo who falls asleep hiding out on a train, and wakes up on the other side of the country. He doesn’t know the name of his town (or at least, how to correctly pronounce it), nor any way to contact his family. He doesn’t even speak the language of the region he’s in. He lives on the streets for a while and eventually is adopted by family from Australia. He grows up there, but eventually starts using Google Earth to try to locate his home village so he can find his birth mother and brother. Dev Patel gives an excellent performance as grown-up Saroo, but Sunny Pawar, who played young Saroo deserves a whole van full of Oscars. This was my favorite movie of the year, and I was really hoping it would win Best Picture.

In Conclusion…

So there you have it. Please keep in mind that regardless of my critique, all of these movies are worth watching. You may not agree with my feelings on these flims, and that’s okay. Movies are as much about what you take away from them as what is on the screen. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts. Enjoy!

L.

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