Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Best Pictures, 2017

Leaving aside the question of who will win the Best Picture Oscar at tonight's Academy Awards (everyone says it's going to be La La Land), here are my thoughts on this year's nine nominees, ranked in order from those I liked least to best. I don't think this was a particularly strong crop of nominees, for the record, with only a couple of true standouts.

9. Hacksaw Ridge. There's nothing particularly wrong with this film, but at its core this is just another war movie with nothing novel to distinguish it. Of course the true story behind the film is an amazing bit of history and a remarkable testament to the power of courage and personal conviction, but its translation to film brings nothing new to the table.

8. Fences. An adaptation of the acclaimed play, I would imagine that Fences works better on stage than it does on film. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are great, but I can't help but think this intensely personal drama really needs the immediacy and intimacy of the stage.

7. La La Land. I love musicals, but this left me cold. It's just another iteration of well-worn Hollywood tropes that were overused by the mid-1970s.

6. Hidden Figures. I enjoyed this, to be sure; I'm a huge space buff, and I value any story that reveals more about the early days of the U.S. space program, particularly how the organization dealt with (and was suffused by) the open racism of the day. And the three leads are genuinely terrific. It's a solid story, well told, but it plays out a bit like a television movie-of-the-week...but one from before the amazing television renaissance we've been experiencing for the last decade or so.

5. Lion. I found the first half of Lion both riveting and heartbreaking; it's hard not to sympathize with a helpless little boy lost thousands of kilometres from home through no fault of his own. But once that little boy is adopted by a kindly Australian couple, the drama loses a bit of its momentum. The genuinely moving ending saves it, though.

4. Moonlight. As a privileged white male, it's very difficult for me to truly understand the struggles of the characters depicted in this film - gay black men living in the ghetto, coming to terms with their identities. I appreciate Moonlight's bravery in depicting the raw reality of these struggles, but the presentation is somewhat oblique, leaving me to feel as if this film will resonate much more strongly with people who have had more direct experience living in (or at least near) that world.

3. Arrival. I love Ted Chiang's short stories, and Arrival is based on one of the best of them, so my appreciation of the film should be tempered by that bias. But I think Dennis Villeneuve did a great job of adapting a structurally complex story, while at the same time showing just how frustrating and dangerous a first contact situation could be. And Amy Adams is great, as always.

2. Hell or High Water. This may seem like just another old-fashioned crime caper, but I think it really captures the desperation being endured by the growing numbers of people being left behind by the world's rapidly changing economy. Left without hope for the future by increasingly faceless institutions utterly lacking in empathy, some are driven to desperate measures. The consequences are predictably tragic on both sides of the protagonist/antagonist divide. And the film's final moments are truly haunting.

1. Manchester by the Sea. Casey Affleck carries the weight of this story on his shoulders, and his efforts are truly stunning. The tale unwinds in bits and pieces, so that at first we don't understand why Affleck's Boston handyman is such a bitter jerk. We learn he has all the reason in the world for acting that way; he's a truly broken man, shattered by the guilt of his culpability for a horrific night that took away everything he loved. In flashback, we see the happy life he once led, the good (if imperfect) man he once was, which makes his loss all the more devastating. And the film actually has the courage to show that sometimes, that which is broken can never be mended. Life goes on, whether we want it to or not. It's a profoundly unsettling movie, and I think that's what makes it great. 

1 comment:

Jeff Shyluk said...

"[Amy] Adams is always delightful."

- Earl J. Woods, March 26, 2016

"And Amy Adams is great, as always."

- Earl J. Woods, Feb 26, 2017

If I did not know better, I'd think that someone has a crush on Amy! Who will tell Paula Abdul?