By Matt Paolizzi, Co-Student Life Editor
It’s almost here! The 89th Academy Awards, honoring the best in film in 2016, is scheduled to air on February 26 and with the nominations out now, I couldn’t be more excited. We’ve been lucky as filmgoers to have now four straight years of excellent movies to choose from. 2012 was the last meh year. The only real transcendent film that year, from the masterful Paul Thomas Anderson, was “The Master” and it wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture. Honestly, 2016 has had so many great movies it’s been hard to keep up! As we approach late February, we’ll provide some more in depth coverage, but here’s some quick thoughts on the Best Picture nominees.
- Hacksaw Ridge
- Hell or High Water
- Hidden Figures
- La La Land
- Manchester by the Sea
Adding one more from last year’s eight nominees, this year has got some interesting films up for the big one. Two stand out of ones who shouldn’t really be there, “Lion” and “Hidden Figures”. Both fall into the “inspirational yet mediocre crowd-pleasers” category. They’re not awful movies by any means, but they don’t hold a candle to such masterpieces as “Manchester by the Sea” or “Hell or High Water”. At least Deadpool wasn’t nominated. Again, it’s a cute little superhero flick but seeing it nominated would have made any self respecting film critic a little weak in the stomach.
There’s a couple snubs that I’m a little ticked that they were chosen over some others. The newest from Martin Scorsese, “Silence,” is the legendary director’s passion project, having worked on it for 25 years. Based on a Japanese novel about the persecution of Catholic converts and priests in feudal Japan, it’s a moving picture that excites and invigorates. But this film suffered from both a late release and an Academy that is notoriously anti-Scorsese. How on earth was “The Departed” his first Best Director win? This man was the genius behind “Raging Bull,” “Taxi Driver” and “Goodfellas”, and that was his first and only one? There’s a lot more to this unnecessary hate but that’ll be for another time. “Nocturnal Animals” is another snub. For those who don’t know, fashion designer Tom Ford is also a good director and screenwriter. His 2009 debut, the sad yet lovely “A Single Man” was probably my favorite from that year and left people, including me, hungry for more. Though the wait was long, we’ve finally gotten more from Ford and it’s far from a disappointment. Expanding on what he learned from making his last film, “Nocturnal Animals” is a twisting and turning story of deceit, a thriller that will keep your focus on the screen for all 116 minutes of it. I was also hoping for some love for “The Lobster,” a dark comedy that I saw way back in 2015 when it won the Jury Prize (third place) at the Cannes Film Festival. Directed by one of my favorite foreign filmmakers, Yorgos Lanthimos, it’s his English language debut that involves some of the funniest writing I’ve ever seen in a film and excellent performances from Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. It took a while to get over to the States, possibly making its presence unknown, which is a shame, but at least it netted a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Many great films are here though. The best action movie since last year’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” is “Hell or High Water.” A modern-day Western would be No Country for Old Men, an exciting and interesting look at a desperate little town full with two desperate brothers that turn to bank robbery as a source of income. There’s also the best sci-fi film since “Children of Men” in “Arrival”. Led by Amy Adams, who also was the lead in “Nocturnal Animals” and oddly not nominated for either film, it’s an emotional and incredibly fresh take at a genre that needs something other than the now annual “Star Wars” movie to keep it going. “Hacksaw Ridge” is a triumphant return for Hollywood’s prodigal son Mel Gibson, director of the film. It’s buoyed by Andrew Garfield who dominates this movie with a powerful performance. He’s up for Best Actor, but I would have rather seen him nominated for “Silence.” At the very least he got nominated unlike Adams. Finally, there’s a great double effort by Viola Davis and Denzel Washington in “Fences.” Based on an equally powerful play, “Fences” shows Washington as both director and actor. He’s obviously a talented actor, but I’d love to see him move even more towards directing. It’s the performances from Washington and Davis that really sell this movie and make it as solid as it is.
But it’s the big three—“Moonlight”, “La La Land” and “Manchester by the Sea”—who really shine. I’d say all three are must sees considering how they’re some of the best put out in the decade.
“La La Land” is an irresistible musical call back to early Hollywood that remains a relatable modern-day tale. The chemistry between Gosling and Emma Stone is impeccable, soundtrack irresistible and the cinematography dreamy and glorious. Damien Chazelle really lets himself loose on this one, the opposite of Whiplash’s claustrophobic paranoia. Emotional and charismatic, it’s a ride that will stay with you for a while, especially the ending sequence which leaves you breathless. It was possibly my favorite single moment in any film this year.
Another film that’ll loosen some tear ducts is “Moonlight,” though sadly slated as just another film dealing with color. But it’s more than that. It’s a film that details the struggles of race in America using a trifecta of great performances, directing and screenwriting to tell its story. It may focus around race, but it’s a movie first, using race as a motif and not the dominating factor—something that some films (*cough* “Hidden Figures” *cough*) rely entirely upon. It’s also actually written and directed by a black director, the up and coming Barry Jenkins. “Moonlight” and “Fences” separate themselves by not resorting to just slapping on a couple black faces while having the movie directed, written and produced by white ones and sold as a “black movie,” like Hidden Figures. I don’t mean to hark on this in fact; in fact, I’m sad that it’s going to be referred to as the “black movie” this year and if it wins, it’ll be written off as either a giveaway by the Academy after last years #OscarsSoWhite controversy or praised entirely for its racial aspects. Hopefully “Moonlight” can turn heads enough to look at its merits as a masterful cinematic experience over anything else.
Finally there’s “Manchester by the Sea”, a soul-reaving emotional ride that is easily the most depressing thing I’ve watched all year, and there were a lot of sad films this year, as shown by the last two “big three” films especially, but also in such films as “Arrival.” Carve out a whole day to watch it though. It may just be a little over two hours but you won’t want to do anything afterwards. That shouldn’t scare off anyone, because it’s one of the best and most balanced films I’ve seen in a long time, but prepare yourself if you plan and seeing it. Currently it’s my pick as Best Picture and Casey Affleck is my favorite for Best Actor along with Michelle Williams for Best Supporting Actress. Kenneth Lonergan finally makes a film that exceeds his first masterpiece in “You Can Count On Me” and is poised to make a big run. While “La La Land” and “Moonlight” could easily overtake it in certain categories, nothing can beat “Manchester by the Sea” as the most human film of the decade.
With such a fantastic list, there’s so much to look forward too. There’s a couple of movies I haven’t seen yet that I need to get going on, namely “Jackie”, starring Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy as she recovers from her husband’s assassination that apparently has made her the favorite for Best Actress, and “Captain Fantastic”, an entertaining romp that earned Viggo Mortensen a Best Actor nomination and received an Un Certain Regard stamp from Cannes. I can’t forget about some of the foreign films I’ve heard a lot of buzz about, like “The Salesman” out of Iran that shows the relationship of a couple though their roles as the leads in a production of “Death of a Salesman.” There’s also “Toni Erdmann” from Germany and “Elle” from France, which puzzlingly isn’t nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category despite winning that category at the Golden Globes and having its lead actress nominated for Best Actress.
With all this said, be on the lookout for some more focused looks at each category as we near the show.
Matt Paolizzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.