There is no Top 5 this week. Instead, because the Oscars are Sunday, I will be taking a look at all 9 of the nominees for the Best Picture award and ranking them. As with all these lists this is just my favourite films, not which I think are the best. I haven’t released reviews for all these films, but hopefully I will do in the next couple of days as I try to catch up before the Oscars.
9) Hacksaw Ridge – Hacksaw Ridge was certainly the weakest of the Best Picture Nominees in my eyes, but that’s not to say that it’s bad. Once the film gets to the battle sequences it really takes off. Mel Gibson has shown he’s great with battle sequences before, Braveheart anyone? But the first half of the film doesn’t really match up. It feels too long, I understood where the main character of Desmond Doss was coming from, and what his motivations were and didn’t need to be beaten over the head with it. That said some of the performances, mainly Andrew Garfield and Hugo Weaving’s were excellent, but I wasn’t as keen on Vince Vaughn’s that just felt like parodies of what we’ve seen before. I liked Hacksaw Ridge more than a lot of war films (sorry but it’s one of my least favourite genres), but less than the rest of the nominees.
8) Lion – I really enjoyed Lion, and it speaks to the quality of a lot of films that it is this far down the list. The simple reason is that the second half of the film is a little too slow, and that’s the margins that keep this from being one of the higher places on my list. That said Lion is one of the most emotional cinema experiences I’ve had in a long time, the ending brought me to tears. Not just that, but proper ugly crying as well. Both the actors who play Saroo, the unknown Sunny Pawar and the more established Dev Patel, are fantastic. Patel is a worthy Oscar nominee, although maybe more of a leading actor than a supporting one, and Nicole Kidman is fabulous as well. If you’re looking for emotion from these Oscar nominees then Lion is the one for you.
7) Fences – Fences, much like Lion, is an excellent film, but with one big flaw that is holding it back from a higher place on this list. It’s essentially a stage play, but in the cinema. It’s not very cinematic (almost all the action just take place in a backyard) but it’s still well worth watching. The whole cast is superb, but it’s Denzel Washington and Viola Davis that really blow you away. They take August Wilson’s incredible rich dialogue and bring it to life with two real powerhouse performances. It’s a powerful story about an African American man who’s dreams never came to fruition, and how these frustrations start to destroy his relationships with his wife and son.
6) Hell or High Water – Hell or High Water is something of an outlier in this group of Oscar nominees, given that it was released at the end of summer, and not in the traditional Oscar period. Taylor Sheridan’s modern Western crime story is as much a star of this film as any of the brilliant characters and performances. His screenplay, along with Chris Pine and Ben Foster’s brilliant performances make you care about, and even root for these characters that are committing crimes and robbing banks. The dynamic between Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham’s Texas Rangers is just as strong as the the robbers they are chasing. The cinematography is stunning, and Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s score is a perfect accompaniment. Hell or High Water is a great film, but but didn’t stay with me quite enough to compete with some of the newer films.
5) Hidden Figures – I’m not sure there are many more uplifting and positive films than Hidden Figures. It’s a complete celebration of these three African American women, and their work at NASA in getting people into space. A film about how these wonderful women fought for their due during the 1960s, a time of segregation and sexism. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe are all fantastic as the three main women. Their stories are all brilliant, even though the film does change the timing of the real life events so it fits within a single film narrative. The film has great humour to it, as well as being incredibly uplifting, proving a truly joyous cinema experience.
4) Manchester By The Sea – Manchester By The Sea isn’t really a traditional Hollywood story. Instead of the typical film tropes where everything is better by the end of the film Kenneth Lonergan took a risk by making a stark portrayal of real life that dares to say, some things cannot be overcome and cannot be recovered from. I won’t spoil here exactly what happened in Lee Chandler’s life prior to the film, but when it comes it’s so heartbreaking. Casey Affleck is incredible, Lucas Hedges is an incredible talent, and Michelle Williams may only have a couple of scenes, but one in particular is so memorable, and so brilliantly performed. Manchester isn’t the easiest watch in the world, dealing with grief as it does, but it’s a rewarding one.
3) Moonlight – Ok Moonlight may be the best film to have been made last year, but it’s not quite my favourite. That said it’s still an incredible work. Telling the story of Chiron in three parts Moonlight is a beautiful story a young man’s journey as he struggles with his identity. Both Barry Jenkins’ Screenplay and direction are so fantastic. Three different actors play the character of Chiron throughout the film. Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes all manage to make this still feel like the same character that has just changed over the course of his life. The adult and child Chiron could easily feel like very different characters, but the performances of all three actors tie it together. Supporting roles from Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris are so powerful and both have fully earned their Oscar nominations. Moonlight is an incredibly powerful and beautiful story, and one that would be many people’s pick for the Best Picture Oscar.
2) Arrival – Original Science Fiction often brings about some of the most original ideas in film. A few years ago we had Edge of Tomorrow (I know it was a book first, but original for Hollywood), then in 2015 we had the wonderful Ex Machina, and last year we were treated to Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. Arrival was genuinely engaging, yet thoughtful Sci-Fi film that didn’t rely on over the top action set pieces to hook the audience, but rather a great premise, and fantastic story telling. Amy Adams was certainly snubbed in the Best Actress category as she gives a brilliant, if maybe not as flashy as some of the others. Arrival is one of the best Sci-Fi films in recent years and whilst it probably won’t win the Best Picture Oscar, it does deserve to be in the picture.
1) La La Land – If you read my review then you’ll know how much I love La La Land. I’ve seen this film 3 or 4 times already, and it’s still great. It’s not going to be a film for everyone, but it is one for the dreamers. And that’s me. Part tribute to the musical history of Hollywood, part film about what it takes to follow your dreams, part simple love story. The film does a beautiful job of tying these three aspects together and the result is not only the front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar, but also my favourite of the nine films. The music is great, the cinematography is stunning, Stone and Gosling both give great performances and had to learn to new skills, and Damien Chazelle’s direction is perfect. Chazelle manages to bring together elaborately choreographed song and dance numbers, beautiful personal moments, and sequences that are dream like. The film isn’t without flaws, but they are easy to overlook when a film makes you feel as good as La La Land does.
So do you agree with my ranking of the Best Picture Nominees? What do you think should win the big award on Sunday? And do you think anything can really upset La La Land’s chances? Let me know.