The Oscars are this weekend, so this is your last chance to catch up on the nominated films. While only one film will be walking home with the coveted Best Picture award, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best film of the bunch. So if you’re still considering which of the big films you should check out before the show on Sunday have a look at the 9 films nominated for best picture, ranked worst to best.
Directed by Garth Davis
Starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara
Plot: A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family. (via IMDB)
You may remember the true story this movie is based off of as it made international news several years ago. The story concerns a child from India who was separated from his family and was eventually adopted by a Australian family. As a young man, Saroo Brierley, used Google Earth to find his hometown and reunite with his birth mother. It’s an incredible story that even Hollywood couldn’t dream up and the film’s first half tells the story of this lost a confused child in such a compelling way. This section plays out as if seen through a child’s eye in which the dangers of being on your own are always present but vague. The movie also gives an honest and moving portrait of an adoptive family, with Nicole Kidman giving an excellent performance as Saroo’s Australian mother. However, the second half of the film is a big letdown. Saroo’s quest to find out where he came from is marred by forced melodrama. It’s a shame the film couldn’t keep up the lively and engaging feel of the first half as we’re left with an uneven telling of an incredible story.
8. Hidden Figures
Directed by Theodore Melfie
Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae
Plot: The story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program. (via IMDB)
Like Lion, this is another true story that seems just right for a Hollywood adaption. But that contributes to a lot of the film’s issues. The story behind this film is one everyone should know and its great to see it being such a massive success. Not only to spread the story but to show Hollywood that a film doesn’t need a white male lead to be a hit. And while there’s no major things to take issue with in the film, there’s also nothing to love. It’s just a generic and entirely safe telling of this story. The movie does make some interesting comments on a type of passive racism we generally don’t see in movies, but the overall product is too bland to really get excited about. The story unfolds exactly as you think it would with zero surprises or inventive ways to tell the tale. It does have an inspiring message at its center and for that I commend it, but a week after seeinging it, no scenes stand out in any meaningful way.
Directed by Denzel Washington
Starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson
Plot: A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life. (via IMDB)
This movie is based off the play from renowned writer August Wilson. Back in 2010, Denzel Washington performed this play on Broadway and now he’s bring it to the big screen and bringing along most of his Broadway cast as well. All involved in the film obviously have a deep respect for the material and in many ways, that holds the film back. In all honesty, this is less of a film and more of a play with closeups. The staging is minimal, with most of the movie consisting of long dialogue scenes confined to one or two locations. It feels small and at times over-rehearsed, and any one who has seen the play live likely won’t get anything new from it. But as someone unfamiliar with the play, it must be said that this is a powerful piece of writing as delivered by some astounding actors. The language of the film as written by August Wilson is poetic from the moments of authentic conversations to grand emotional confrontations, it’s a pleasure to hear these words. And Washington and Viola Davis deliver incredible performances that will blow you away. So while the film is too closed off, it’s good qualities make it a worthwhile viewing.
6. Hacksaw Ridge
Directed by Mel Gibson
Starring Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer
Plot: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot. (via IMDB)
This film is being touted as the comeback vehicle for troubled celebrity, Mel Gibson. Despite whatever thoughts I might have about the man, this film does once again prove he is an incredible talent behind the camera. Another incredible true story, this one is almost totally derailed by a awful script made up of the most tired and overwrought war film cliches ever. The first half of the film is a bit of a chore with the corny dialogue and two-dimensional characters, but it is carried on the shoulders of Andrew Garfield who gives an impressive starrig performance. The film picks up and Gibson’s talents are put on display once the battle scenes begin. They are horrific, bloody, hard to watch, but expertly staged and admittedly thrilling. Many will be turned off by the graphic violence, but those that can stomach it are sure to be impressed.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whittaker
Plot: When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors. (via IMDB)
You might be surprised to see an alien invasion film on the list of Best Picture nominees, but if you’re looking for a movie similar to Independence Day and War of the Worlds, this could not be further from those films. This is a thoughtful and, dare I say, realistic look at the genre. It’s also a strangely timely film with its dealing with anxiety over “others” and a fascinating exploration of language. Beyond the genre aspects, this is also a surprisingly moving tale about how the pain of loss does not undo the good moments that brought you there. The movie’s “twist” can be a hard one to get your head around and may require a few viewings. However, those moments are helped along by the powerful performance of Amy Adams and the beautiful direction of French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve.
4. La La Land
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend
Plot: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. (via IMDB)
This is is easily the frontrunner for Best Picture and its not hard to see why. This is the kind of movie Hollywood loves– as in a love letter to Hollywood. This is a modern throwback to the musicals of old Hollywood filled with big musical moments and a beautiful, effective love story. The film really grabs you from the opening musical sequence as something special. Young writer-director Damien Chazelle has a wonderfully energetic eye and it infuses the film with a undeniable spark of life. The two leads, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, are not the world’s strongest singers but acquit themselves more than well and their chemistry is unbelievably charming. Stone in particular gives a wonderful performance. The film does sag in the middle a bit, it’s depiction of the jazz scene is problematic and the way the film wraps itself up in the third act betrays a lot of the message the rest of the film had. But despite its problems, this is a great piece of filmmaking and the final 10 minutes of the film are so beautiful and effective it alone makes this journey worthwhile.
3. Hell or High Water
Directed by David MacKenzie
Starring Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges
Plot: A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas. (via IMDB)
A neo-Western is a compelling but tricky genre to get right. It needs to have a reason for transplanting the Western troupes into a modern setting as well as do something new with those troupes. This film accomplishes those qualities in spades. Feeding off the broken and desperate communities of small town America, this is a bank robber film where the banks are the bad guys. It’s a smart and tight script that never feeds you more information than you need to know. It’s amazing how little fat is on the film. The relationship between these two brothers is also incredibly strong with Pine and Foster having fantastic chemistry. And while Jeff Bridges plays a role you’ve very much seen him play before, he anchors the film with his performance. The action and heist sequences are directed very well and there’s a speed to the movies that doesn’t allow a moment of lagging. It’s not an entirely deep film and it won’t leave much of a lasting impression, but it as a very solid genre film and a real entertaining picture.
Directed by Barry Jenkins
Starring Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali
Plot: A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. (via IMDB)
As small as this film may be, it’s an incredibly bold way to tell such a story. It’s truly amazing how well writer-director Barry Jenkins tells this story in three fairly disconnected stages. It can be difficult to really connect with a movie when the main actor constantly changing but that is never an issue here. Each time we’re introduced to a ‘new’ Chiron, it takes all of a few seconds to get used to it and embraace it as the same character. Jenkins has cast these three roles so well and all three actors are so effective in the roles. However, it’s the supporting performances in the film that really impress. Naomie Harris goes on an amazing arc in her short screentime and is very powerful as this troubled mother. Even better is Mahershala Ali as a drug dealer whose morale sensibilties put him at odds with his perceived persona. The film is beautiful and while you might think you know where the story is taking you, it will likely surprise you. The only thing I could say against the filmis that the transition between section doesn’t feel all that connected. Still, that’s a small nitpick to a great movie with an important message.
1. Manchester by the Sea
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Starring Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams
Plot: An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies. (via IMDB)
I hesitate to recommend this movie so highly only because it is such a devastating experience. Never has a movie been so painfully truthful about the experiences of grief as this film and so much credit has to be given to writer-director Kenneth Lonergan. This script is a masterpiece, never taking the easy or obvious route to tell the story and instead letting the audience answer some questions on their own. The story is less about a single thing and more a series of moments that feel so real to the situation. Lonergan never indulges in the Hollywood way of doing things, but keeps the events so small and relatable that they become all the more affecting. As good as the script is, it is brought to life by an amazing cast with Casey Affleck in the lead. He gives one of the finest performances I have seen onscreen in a longtime, holding back emotions yet showing the pain and the toll that take in subtle, almost hidden ways. Michelle Williams ha a small role but she is heartbreaking a one single scene that will be hard for viewers to shake. In the end, this is no a fun movie, though it does have a surprising amount of humour. It will not leave you with the happy ending you wanted for these characters but it should be applauded for having to courage to portray life as painful as it can be in reality. A stunning piece of work all around.