It’s February once again, and as such we must subject ourselves to the consistently overhyped Academy Awards, or the Oscars, as they’re more commonly known. Every year there’s a controversial winner and every year there is arguments over whether or not the entirety of the proceedings are designed to favour the white-supremacist patriarchal society we clearly live in, what with the awards being designed to give credit to those who deserve it based on quality and not their race or gender. Politics aside, I tend to enjoy the awards season. Sure, it’s silly and pointless, and without fail manages to irritate me for a wide variety of reasons (I mean, Spotlight wasn’t even that good and Anomalisa was aeons better than Inside Out or any other film that year!), but it’s always nice to see the movies you like be recognised for their greatness in the form of little gold men. Or the opposite, for that matter (damn it, Anomalisa is so under-appreciated!)

In this particular article, I will be running down the Best Picture nominees for this year, speaking my thoughts on each one, then predicting their chances of winning the coveted trophy. Naturally, my opinions will differ from yours, so if you do disagree, or agree, with anything I say, be sure to comment your thoughts down below. Right, enough time-wasting, let’s talk movies!

(Disclaimer: I haven’t seen Hidden Figures yet so, for all I know, it could be the greatest movie ever made. Please let me know if it deserves such a title.)

The Nominees

  • Hell Or High Water
  • Fences
  • Arrival
  • Hidden Figures
  • Lion
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Manchester By The Sea
  • Moonlight

1. Hell Or High Water

My Thoughts

It is with great pleasure and joy that I am able to initiate this prestigious list on a positive note: I love Hell Or High Water, and it proved to be one of the loveliest surprises of 2016. What I expected to be more of an action-packed, fast-paced heist shoot-em-up, was instead a quiet, sombre portrayal of family dysfunction and loneliness. I didn’t anticipate to be leaving the theatre considering the artistic value of the film and the major themes which contribute to its perfect pacing and tone. It bothers me greatly that Ben Foster and Chris Pine haven’t received any critical attention for their utterly stellar performances. Not a second went by where I didn’t believe the two of them were brothers, more specifically brothers with a messy past and a relationship in dire need of rebuilding. There is the sense of a real history to every single character, as if the writer Tyler Sheridan had carefully constructed backstories for each individuals, almost all of which didn’t even see the final cut of the film. Furthermore, Hell Or High Water achieves the somewhat remarkable feat of not treating the audience like babies who need absolutely everything explained to them. This level of respect is the kind of quality that deserves extra credit in my book, as you are able to piece together everything you need to know with surprisingly little dialogue and a lot of visual and environmental storytelling. If there’s anything wrong with this film, it’s that it does get a little too preachy at times in terms of its criticisms towards the greed of banks, but otherwise this is a near perfect film.

Will it win?

Almost certainly not, unfortunately. Not only is this not a traditional Oscar winner (Holocaust or Hollywood ego-stroker, usually), but it didn’t receive a great amount of attention upon release. It made money and was critically acclaimed, but it didn’t nearly kick up the kind of fuss films like La La Land did.

Overall Scores

Film Quality:

four-stars

Chances of Winning:

two-stars

2. Fences

My Thoughts

I honestly really liked Fences, but it does contain a few flaws. Firstly, there were a few distracting sound design issues, such as far-away shots sounding the same as up close, and conversations remaining at the same volume when heard from inside the house whilst it goes on outside, and so on. Also, there’s a scene where a baby is held in the arms of Denzel Washington, and it is obviously fake. The sounds it make were quite clearly added in post-production and the baby itself does not breathe or move an inch when it isn’t the centre of attention in the scene. These might come off as nitpicks, which is fair, but in all fairness, there isn’t a whole lot to criticise in this film. I suppose its main problem is that it never truly passes from good to great. Most of the film is either perfectly fine or just good, but unlike Hell or High WaterFences never proves to be anything more than solid. There are some noteworthy aspects, however, specifically the fantastic subtleties in Viola Davis’ performance. Many, many times, we see Davis’ character listening and analysing what is being said, and without words the audience can easily interpret what her thought process is (provided they’re paying close attention). There were many occasions of her looking visibly upset or uncomfortable towards what her husband is saying, but masks these feelings in her words, perfectly encapsulating the social life of average folk, which is what the late screenwriter August Wilson was aiming for.

Will it win?

Other years, I would say no. However, after the big hullabaloo of last year’s Oscars and the call for more diversity at the awards show, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fences was the surprise underdog this time around. Not to mention Denzel Washington is a typical favourite at the Academy Awards, and with him as both director and leading actor, it wouldn’t startle i the slightest

Overall Scores

Film Quality:

three-stars

Chances of Winning:

four-stars

3. Arrival

My Thoughts

If you read my best of 2016 list, you’ll know that Arrival was my absolute favourite film of that year. To this day, and after seeing it twice, my position on this is yet to change. The character of Dr Louise Banks, played phenomenally by Amy Adams, is a fascinating one, in that our interpretation of her subtle reactions to certain events is eventually disproven. We see her as one character at the beginning of the film, but by the end we are totally debunked. It’s difficult to explain this point without delving into spoilers, which I certainly do not want to do. First, watch the movie. Then, watch this video by Nerdwriter1 which explains this much better than I ever could. Finally, come back and finish this damn post! The most refreshing thing about Arrival is that it’s no Independence Day. It never focuses in on the gunfights or the action, and instead opts for a slow pace, an engaging character study and some excellently-written drama. One could argue the ending is a little overly sentimental, but I feel that it not only earns it, but it also makes the ending both joyously happy, yet so crushingly sad. Arrival is immensely moving, and it only got better the second time around.

Will it win?

Absolutely not. I would be extremely surprised if it managed to even come close to that accolade, not because of its quality, but instead its genre. Not once has a sci-fi film left the Academy Awards with that most important trophy, and with al the other films also nominated, Arrival unfortunately doesn’t stand a chance.

Overall Scores

Film Quality:

five-stars

Chances of Winning:

one-star

4. Lion

My Thoughts

I’m not sure what I expected when I watched Lion. I was aware that it had achieved great critical and public acclaim, and I knew it followed the story of an Indian man searching desperately to find his biological family he was separated from as a child. However, I’m afraid to say that I simply do not understand the hype around this film. The first fifteen minutes or so achieve a strong, emotional impact, but after that there really isn’t much to get excited about. Dev Patel is great as the harrowed and anguish-ridden Saroo, and the child actor who portrays Saroo’s early life was more or less consistently good throughout, if a little lacking in emotion at some points. The first half of the film felt a little too drawn out, whereas the other half felt too rushed, especially the finale. Overall, the film is a bit too sentimental and the pacing is off, but the film itself is gorgeously shot and it certainly deserves that nomination for cinematography.

Will it win?

I reckon it has a pretty good chance. It checks the diversity box fairly comfortably, and while the story is sappy, the Academy tends to get all hot and bothered over films based on true stories, so there’s that. However, this film didn’t get quite the buzz some of these others did, which might let it down.

Overall Scores

Film Quality:

three-stars

Chances of Winning:

four-stars

5. Hacksaw Ridge

My Thoughts

My lord, is this film cheesy. I struggle to think of a single film cheesier than this one. The first half of the movie is just plain bad – the series of events are clichéd and boring, the writer takes a very black and white approach to the subject matter, depicting Desmond Doss as the equivalent of a saint fighting against the oppression of the wicked army officers, and the acting is hammy as hell (apart from Hugo Weaving, who’s character’s story is genuinely heartbreaking, if a little unoriginal). I am aware that it is based on a true story, and if all this sticks very close to the real-life proceedings then that’s fine, but that doesn’t make a particularly interesting, nor engaging, movie. The second half is much better. It’s not great – the stench of cheese still hangs in the air and the ending is genuinely awful – but the action scenes are brilliantly brutal and there was not a second where they were not believable.

Will it win?

This one has a very good chance, mainly because it’s a) based on a true story, and b) it’s set in World War Two. It’s common knowledge at this point that the Academy gets an uncomfortably large hard-on for historical dramas, and Hacksaw Ridge, despite all its sickening sentimentality, is no exception. The only thing holding it back is Mel Gibson’s rather messy, anti-semitic reputation, but it may have been long enough that all is forgiven.

Overall Scores

Film Quality:

two-stars

Chances of Winning:

four-stars

6. La La Land

My Thoughts

My word, what is more to be said about the wonderful La La Land? This may not be my favourite film here, but it is certainly the one that made me the happiest. After over two months since my first viewing, the songs are still stuck in my head, and appear from time to time in the form of whistling or humming (much to the annoyance of my friends and family). The music is captivating, I grinned throughout the dance sequences, and the chemistry between the characters is an utter joy to watch. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are both more than worthy of their nominations, as is Damien Chazelle, who continues to shine following his previous film Whiplash, which I also love to absolute death. If you have somehow managed to surpass the last two months having completely overlooked this gorgeous work of art, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Will it win?

This one is indisputably the favourite to win this year, with its (deceptively) positive portrayal of Hollywood and ability to spark immense nostalgia of other beloved musicals, and I cannot disagree. I’d like to think the Oscars will surprise and choose something else, but as it stands, La La Land will probably win and will most definitely deserve it.

Overall Scores

Film Quality:

five-stars

Chances of Winning:

five-stars

7. Manchester By The Sea

My Thoughts

Out of all of the films nominated, this one made me feel the most empty by the end, which was absolutely the point. Obviously, the high point of the film is Casey Affleck’s phenomenally layered and emotional performance. It’s truly heartbreaking to observe his character, Lee Chandler, get every opportunity to heal and move on from his grief, but Kenneth Lonergan’s incredible screenplay forces the audience to watch on, a la A Clockwork Orange, as Lee becomes more and more damaged and misses chance after chance to get better. The film is paced incredibly slowly, which is something I love, but I’m not surprised a lot of people found it boring. However, being able to witness a fascinating character study about a man wrecked by his past yet having to reluctantly face it is like Christmas for me. I would certainly recommend it to everyone, especially those who enjoy good characters in movies.

Will it win?

This one is doubtful in my mind, mostly due to the fact that it wasn’t as widely-recognised as some of the other nominees. Where I live, it only showed at my local independent cinema and even then it was a limited release. I’m not sure how widespread it was in the U.S., however. Lack of attention tends to mean the Oscar does not go their way.

Overall Scores

Film Quality:

four-stars

Chances of Winning:

three-stars

8. Moonlight

My Thoughts

If there was one word to describe Moonlight accurately, it would be personal. It’s clear that the original source material struck a chord with writer and director, Barry Jenkins, and the amount of love, care and attention shines through this gorgeous film. The cinematography does a fantastic job of masking the low budget, but in the best way possible. At no point did I stop and think that this movie was cheaply made. It is very slowly paced and includes many quiet moments of simply observing characters and their incredibly subtle facial expressions. The child actors are stunning, and unlike Manchester By The Sea, each one is given the sufficient direction to be able to give their best possible performance. Moonlight also has a lot of say about social norms and acceptance, masculinity, and how we are all human, regardless of our actions, and these themes are dealt with brilliantly.

Will it win?

Besides La La LandMoonlight is the next biggest favourite to win the big Best Picture award. It has received massive critical acclaim and is most certainly in the public eye. I don’t like saying this as a positive, but the film is definitely (ugh) ‘relevant’ enough to garner enough attention. Realistically, Moonlight is in with a fighting chance.

Overall Scores

Film Quality:

four-stars

Chances of Winning:

five-stars


So what should win?

In my opinion, Arrival totally deserves the Oscar for being the most affecting and profoundly moving film of the year. Furthermore, the message is one which is more than reassuring in time of such division and conflict.

…but what will actually win?

La La Land, obviously. There’s barely any competition here, besides Moonlight. Not only does La La Land spark a wonderfully nostalgic chord with many, beautifully portraying the golden age of cinema, but it also stars artists in Hollywood, something which is a common trend in Oscar winners, it seems.