Phew - my review for Moonlight marked the final Best Picture film I needed to watch before the 89th Academy Award ceremony on Sunday - blast UK release schedules! In case you didn't know, the nine nominees for the 2017 Best Picture are...
Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester By The Sea and Moonlight.
(Click the title to be taken to the full review)
Only one can be victorious and scoop up the gold on the night and while many see this as La La Land's to lose, the envelope (presumably) isn't sealed yet and the trophy not engraved, so it's still anyone's game. Below, as I did with last year's ceremony, I have ranked the nine contenders from best to 'worst', reflecting how my own ballot would be filled out. Check it out, and be sure to send me your own list!
Just a few pointers before we begin...
- Numbers 3, 4 and 5 could so very easily be switched around. I've seen 3 and 4 twice so 5 could rise above them/fall with further views, which I have planned for next week.
- 8 and 9 could be easily switched and they should have been swapped out for Jackie and Nocturnal Animals, which would make this the strongest Best Picture race in yeaaaaaaaaaars.
- Everything else (1, 2, 6 and 7) is set in stone and unlikely to change at any stage.
Here we go...
Hell or High Water is by no means a bad film but I'm still a little stumped as to how and why it has found itself wound up with a Best Picture nomination. Admittedly, the genre has never truly appealed to me and while it is an admittedly entertaining piece of cinema that will find its audience in a post-theatrical run (already becoming something of a cult hit), to me it feels like an aimless Western attempting to say something a little more important. Despite considering some more advanced themes and textured character performances, it struggles to say anything new or of much worth, feeling less of a sum of its parts. With probably the slimmest of chances of the contenders to actually take home the award on Sunday, it's surely an honour for this small-time film to enter a platform as prestigious as a Best Picture nomination - good luck to it in the future but this one is not for me.
Summary: Despite a few strong elements in play here - solid direction and impressive performances - Hell or high Water is a character-driven western that never coalesces into a satisfying experience.
While certainly in the minority, the emotional aspect of Lion was completely lost on me. Despite the powerful true life tale the film is based on, and its alignment as pure Oscar bait, the film never knows how to extract the emotion from the scenes effectively and therefore left me feeling somewhat confused regarding the critical acclaim that has been poured onto this rarely-more-than-average picture. Garth Davis does a decent enough job in his directorial efforts but it is evident he is not as experienced as some of his counterparts; that's okay - everyone needs to start somewhere - but it means the final product is not as tight or sophisticated as it needed to be. Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel are all great and the film comes alive with flashes of inspiration and power every now and then, but it otherwise feels like a plodding Google Earth advert.
Summary: Lion's powerful true life story does not always translate into a profound and inspiring film, despite solid performances from the central cast (most specifically Sunny Pawar, Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman) and an engaging first half.
August Wilson's Fences acts as a perfect showcase for the talents of its reunited, committed cast of actors: helmed by Denzel Washington as both lead and director. Although he personally didn't quite manage to completely sell it to me because of a performance that felt rehearsed and stagey and the direction that did little to wow me either, Viola Davis steals the entire film; delivering a career-defining performance, this role has almost certainly, deservingly secured her an Oscar trophy. Very little will come close to the power of her performance during the film's climatic moment and will send chills across your body with the power of her spoken words. I wish the film could shake off the feeling it is an adapted play but it is an otherwise entertaining, solid entry into the Best Picture race.
Summary: Fences is a stunningly acted and beautiful written (if perhaps unsuitably dense) telling of a rarely told but profoundly moving and human story. Its complex characters are tremendously brought to life by a committed cast, with Viola Davis shining the brightest in this career-defining performance.
Hidden Figures is the definition of a crowd pleaser and, alongside a certain musical, has won audiences over with its undeniable charm and inspiring themes. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae each deliver fantastic performances in this timely, uplifting true-life story that has become the highest-grossing nominee domestically, with its absolutely delightful story expressing many emotions over its runtime, as well as its bouncy, exuberant score lifting you higher and higher. Yes, its narrative can feel a little manipulating at times, with its cookie-cutter structure approach regarding the racism narrative frustrating at times, and you urge the film to move away from conventions, just as the women at the heart of the tale did. However, Hidden Figures remains a biopic that everyone can find some joy and inspiration in, serving a very entertaining and positive viewing experience.
Summary: Hidden Figures is an immensely uplifting and inspirational crowd-pleaser that shines a light on the unknown efforts of three influential black women working for NASA in the 60s, who are stunningly brought to life by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae's terrifically witty and committed performances.
It really heats up here - it's very likely that Moonlight may find itself higher on repeat viewings (everything above this has been awarded at least two cinema trips - again, damn UK release schedules!) but for the moment, this incredible film only finds itself at number five. Moonlight, a tender and heartfelt coming-of-age story is masterful in the presentation of its themes, stunning in the way it is shot and deft in the way it is all stirred together and united by its terrific score and soundtrack. It's performances - from lead and supporting, equally - are incredible and well-thoughtout, with Chiron (its textured lead) becoming the very heart of the very film. It's pivotal beach scene is so atmospheric, poignant and heartbreaking, with Barry Jenkins finding such beauty in every frame, that it makes you ache for the characters its displays with such affection. No matter your age, gender, race, background or sexuality, you will find something in Moonlight you can relate to. Class cinema.
Summary: Moonlight is an impeccable film that masters almost every single element; its performances, direction, visuals and score are mesmerising. It may be a little too indie for its own good in spots but basking in 'Moonlight' is a debt you owe yourself - who knows what you'll shine a light on.
A beautiful, heartbreaking symphony of grief and trauma, Manchester By The Sea isn't the easiest watch but it is a certainly worth of your time and attention. Casey Affleck delivers the best performance of his career to date, a perfectly nuanced turn as a damage man haunted by the ghosts of his past, with sensational turns from Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges, earning them both supporting nominations for their troubles. Its original screenplay is skilful and textured, crafting genuine, human characters that we truly ache for, experiencing their pains every step of the way. It deals with themes of death and damage so effectively but unconventionally, turning universal themes and experiences into a personal affair of the heart, featured particularly in two of the most harrowing scenes of the year. Manchester By The Sea is as heartbreaking as it is life-affirming.
Summary: Manchester By The Sea is a subtle and devastating tale of loss, regret and humanity that tells its simple story in a truly beautiful and powerful way. A wonderful cast of actors (Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges) and writer-director Kenneth Lonergan ensures Manchester is eyeing up award success.
Hacksaw Ridge, the story of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector, is a disturbing and emotionally-charged picture that never skirts around the full horror of war and the importance of faith to a person, coalescing into an inspiring yet distressing watch. Andrew Garfield, after a wonderful turn in Silence, delivers one of the most powerful performance of the year - and one of the best of his career - portraying the selflessness and determination of the solider who ran into the war without a single weapon, with a solid supporting cast of actors joining him. Thematically, its adapted screenplay may occasionally become a little heavy-handed but it terrifically, and faithfully, brings the story to the forefront, helmed with a brutal direction from Mel Gibson whose handling of war grants him a Best Director nomination. Featuring some of the most affecting scenes of the year - from Doss "just one more" to its humbling end-credit scene - Hacksaw Ridge is a powerful, necessary watch.
Summary: Hacksaw Ridge is a powerful, emotionally-charged and inspiring picture that examines the full horror of war on both an intimate and wider scale - all topped off with a mesmerising performance from Andrew Garfield.
Arrival, without an Oscar-prime release slot, resonated so well with audiences on an emotional level that it hung around long enough and nabbed itself the joint second highest number of nominations of the season. Four months out from its release and the film hasn't left me either; it is so, so heartbreaking, life-affirming, devastating and inspiring, more than deserves its haul of nominations. Amy Adams, shockingly snubbed of a Best Actress nomination, gives a superlative performance as a linguist expert, conveying so much emotion in a simple gesture or single frame, with Jeremy Renner solid as a supporting mathematician. It's powerful ideas and musings on communication and humanity could not have come at a more opportune time, with a timely message that feels just as important four months later, showing just how timeless this film will truly be. Denis Villeneuve's incredible direction - so beautiful, from the reveal of the alien spaceships and wide shots of the base - matched with gorgeous cinematography ensure this is striking on a visual level too, as well as Johann Johannsson soft yet sudden score. Arrival is stunning in every single sense of the word and an absolute favourite of mine.
Summary: Arrival is the sci-fi film of a generation, with deeply affecting and philosophical themes shining in a script written with care and understanding, sensational performances that refuse to overpower and a tight direction that puts the film's most powerful theme at the forefront - humanity.
That's right, taking the top position is...
1. La La Land
Award season juggernaut La La Land greatly concerned me before my first watch. Neither a huge musical fan, and certainly no romance genre fan, the hype was sky-high and had already earned itself hundreds of nominations, converting a majority into wins and becoming one of the most acclaimed film in recent memory, I worried. Could a film like this come remotely close to the insurmountable expectations and hype surround it?
It exceeded them.
Dazzling and transcendental, La La Land is a rollercoaster of emotion, and despite how cliched that very statement is, the film itself is nothing of the sort. From the spectacularly bright and bouncy ensemble numbers like 'Another Day of Sun' and 'Someone in the Crowd' to the heart-fulfilling 'City of Stars' and 'A Lovely Night' duets - and not forgetting the heart-wrenching 'Audition (The Fools Who Dream)' - La La Land so very rarely puts a foot wrong and I would go as far as to say that the first hour is unequivocally, without question or comprise, flawless film-making. The performance are an absolute delight, with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling's joyful chemistry sparkling brightly every single minute they are on stage. Its mesmerising direction, masterful from Damien Chazelle, is a colourful whirlwind, no more so illustrated than in the film's bittersweet epilogue sequence, so beautifully combining the film's fantastic cinematography, enchanting score and general flourishes.
La La Land is not only my favourite film this award season but one of my favourite of all-time. Truly, truly exceptional.
Summary: La La Land is an absolutely transcendental, extraordinary, mesmerising watch and - although tinged with a little sadness - lifts you higher and higher with a euphoric non-stop singing, dancing and acting masterclass led by the phenomenal pairing of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling and married together by Damien Chazelle's sensational direction.