My thoughts on the Academy Awards Best Picture nominations. At the top of my list is Fences. I thought it was by far the strongest ensemble with two great performances by Denzel and Viola. It is a story that speaks to the degenerating power of anger and frustration and he restorative power of love, grace, and forgiveness. Director Denzel Washington effectively stages and shoots the film to have the intimate and connected feel of the stage play it was based on.
My second favorite was Lion. While I would have trimmed some from the second half, the first half was truly riveting. At times it was epic and vast, showing the Indian countryside and inner city of Calcutta, and at other times it was profoundly intimate. While Dev Patel gave a strong performance, Sunny Pawar, portraying the 5 year old Saroo who gets separated from his family by 1600 miles is one of the stronger child performance in recent years. The fact that it was a true story adds to the power and celebration of hope and love The film speaks to building awareness that 80,000 children in India go missing every year, most of whom end up in the sex trafficking industry.
the third film is Hacksaw Ridge, which shows that Mel Gibson is truly a skilled filmmaker. Yes it’s brutal, but it would be a disservice to portray combat in any other way. As with Lion, the fact that it was a true story adds to the poignancy of the film. Showing a man stand up for his faith and belief even in the hell that is war is humbling. It’s not quite up to Saving Private Ryan, but it is close.
Hell or High Water was an enjoyable and solidly written, directed, and acted film. It had the feel of a Coen brothers film with impressive cinema photography of west Texas via New Mexico. The dialogue was top-notch as were the performances of the down the line cast members. “What don’t you want?”
Manchester by the Sea took time in letting the story and plot unfold. Some might say too long, but it was effective. The point about not getting stuck in the mourning is important especially as it can be so difficult. Afflect’s subtle and minimalist performance, always a challenge to pull off, shows his wide range as an actor.
Arrival has solid performances by Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. The story has interesting nuances regarding the importance of communication and an unexpected ending that speaks to the joy of living life even in the midst or prospects of loss and pain.
La La Land is a good, entertaining film and nod back to the great musicals of the old Hollywood studio system. While it is fluid and well shot, the quality of the singing and dancing is lacking in comparison to the great musicals of the past. For some the fact that the stars are not known for their singing and dancing or that the music is not as ornate as past musicals is a plus and gives the film an organic feel. For me, La la Land did not hold my attention near as much as Moulin Rouge which offered some of those same qualities but was significantly more dynamic.
Moonlight has been described as symphonic in telling the story of a life in three chapters. There is power in the understated script and performances. There are certainly powerful and profound moments, but, as with Boyhood, those there was a lack of momentum carried throughout the vignettes resulting in a film where the sum of the parts did not add up to a spectacular whole.
Hidden Fences was a very good and profound story that did not translate into as profound and special film. While the three leads, Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae gave strong performances including Octavia’s Oscar nomination, the supporting cast did not provide the necessary intangibles to lift the film to the level of being something truly special.