Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Fences isn't so much a movie as it is a play put onto film. I doubt it deviates much from the TONY award-winning Broadway play, but telling the story on film allowed director Denzel Washington to show us so much more than he did. We could've seen the other woman in his character's life, or his son playing football, but he decides to faithfully adhere to the source material. The performances are great and both Washington and Viola Davis deserve Oscars for their work in the movie. I also like that the August Wilson play is shown as the writer intended and that the audience might get to see a form of storytelling they may otherwise never get to see, but without using the film medium to its full extent it has little chance to win the top prize.
Hidden Figures is a wonderful story that needs to be shared; these three women serve as an inspiration for what we could achieve through perseverance in the face of such hatred. However, the execution of the story feels a little too safe, a little too Disneyfied. This feels like a movie that the studio wanted to be inspiring to the audience but also nice enough to be seen by the whole family. And there is nothing wrong with that kind of movie-making, especially when it comes to a story like this that should be seen by a lot of people, especially young people. But with other movies taking more dramatic risks in its storytelling, Hidden Figures seems like a long shot to win.
Lion may actually be my favorite movie of the bunch but I'm not sure if that's me talking or the gallons of tears that I poured out watching this movie. The narrative hit me in all the right spots, especially the part of the story dealing with the adoption. Eight-year-old Sunny Pawar plays the younger version of Saroo and he is great; he probably deserved to be nominated more than Dev Patel. There are times it felt like the filmmakers were just trying to make me cry, and if so, job well-done but I don't know if that's enough to win the best picture.
Hacksaw Ridge and Hell or High Water are both very good genre movies. Each has the potential to reinvigorate the war movie and the western respectively and I hope it does. Hacksaw shines in moments of gruesome, choreographed violence and also tells a story that seems almost unbelievable. To be a conscientious objector is one thing, but to believe in a cause so much to go into a war without a way to defend yourself is remarkable. Meanwhile, Hell or High Water furthers the trend of modernizing the western with present-day settings.
Arrival was incredibly done on several levels. The story is so interesting that it could only be executed and written in a precise way for it to work. There are very few times I feel surprised when I go see a movie but I was by this, and for that, I can't stop singing its praises. Amy Adams was also spectacular as the lead character despite not being nominated for her performance. Arrival is a good-looking movie; it's kind of impressive how far we've come in the terms of CGI that these aliens look this lifelike.
Manchester by the Sea spoke to me the most emotionally and it felt like the story was the most honest. I never felt manipulated. It shows emotions people go through when dealing with death and tragedy and it's not always grief; sometimes for whatever reason there is laughter, or the need for a violent outburst mixed into whatever sadness you may feel. Manchester by the Sea deals with emotions that everyone can identify with highlighted by magnificent actors. This movie should be higher on the list as a possible winner.
While all those movies are great, the best picture race has effectively boiled down to two: Moonlight and La La Land. Moonlight is told from a perspective we've never seen on such a big stage; it is from the point of view of a gay black man. Given everything that's going on in society and how so many people feel disenfranchised, I think this movie can speak to that sense of abandonment that some people are feeling in this political climate. And I think people in Hollywood understand that—maybe not the old, white men who used to vote for the Oscars; you know, those responsible for the hashtag #OscarSoWhite. Perhaps this class of voters is more forward-thinking and sees the depth and beauty in this movie. Moonlight has all the makings of an upset victory.
La La Land has won the BAFTA, the SAG, the DGA, the PGA, seven Golden Globes, and it is tied for the most nominations in Oscar history—Hollywood people love this movie. Plus, it also happens to be very good. La La Land has been nominated for its acting, music, writing, cinematography, costume design, directing, editing, production design, and sound production. If a great movie is the sum of its parts then these parts have been recognized as outstanding by the Academy and I don't know how you wouldn't reward that.
La La Land is a movie about how great Hollywood is and you know who's voting on the Oscars; people who like movies and who think Hollywood is pretty great. La La Land is a movie for a person that enjoys movies and the spectacle of being at the theater. It reminds you how fun movies can be, how good they can feel yet still be a little heartbreaking all at the same time.
If I had a vote I would vote for La La Land and I think it will win, but I won't be surprised if Moonlight wins because that is the movie that probably should.