This Sunday, Hollywood’s most glamorous personalities will flock to the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles for the Oscars 2017 and the conclusion of the awards season. The glitziest and most star-studded night in cinema will honour the successes of 2016, garlanding the best films and the best performers with shining golden statuettes to adorn their mantlepieces.
It’s a mixed bag in this year’s Best Picture category, from the musical bombast of frontrunner La La Land to the low key character-driven charm of Moonlight. There’s harsh, grief-stricken realism in Manchester by the Sea and high-minded, emotional sci-fi with Arrival. More than perhaps any other year in recent memory, it’s a truly diverse mix.
In my annual hustings, nine different writers argue the case for each of the movies that will be competing for the Best Picture crown at Oscars 2017.
Arrival is certainly the underdog in this year’s awards race but it is a genuinely deserving candidate for Best Picture at the Oscars 2017. When deciding on what can be classed as Best Picture, it should really come down to what was the best piece in terms of all round filmmaking and Denis Villeneuve‘s film excels in all categories.
Its script is sharp and to the point and the story is both emotionally resonant and engaging throughout, which is incredible considering the movie is mostly about the power of linguistics. The designs of the ships and aliens are unique and mysterious, coupled with moody and atmospheric cinematography that works brilliantly with the uncertainty of the alien’s motivations.
Amy Adams gives a remarkable performance that retains even more layers of complexity once the central narrative twist is revealed. Her performance is aided by clever use of film form to solidify the twist in a way that is wholly satisfying and easy to understand, despite its conceptual complexity.
Arrival is a movie that appeals to audiences and critics alike and its lack of appreciation in this award season feels like an indictment of the Oscars’ out of touch nature. Admittedly, this is a crowded season with some great movies, but Arrival is an excellent overall piece of filmmaking craft that deserves consideration.
Fences stands out among the Best Picture nominees at Oscars 2017 due to its status as a stage adaptation. Embracing, rather than attempting to fix, the small set of its source, it simply provides us with a personal story of one family during the 1950s. It doesn’t have wide vistas or inventive camera angles. Instead, director and actor Denzel Washington chooses to retain the best features of a play. It fixes the fact that theatre is finite and preserves performances refined for months into an onscreen gift everyone can see.
What performances they are too. Viola Davis deserves the Oscar buzz she has been receiving for her heartbreaking performance, but the rest of the cast equally give their all. With some having performed the play on stage in the past, their comfort and familiarity with their characters really shines through.
Fences isn’t out to send a big message either. Reflections on race relations and family pervade the narrative, but they’re not opaque. We witness people whose lives have been affected by those issues and see the aftereffects, rather than the cause. It’s easy to be won over by glamour when picking from the nominees. However, there’s as much artistry in creating something understated, where the stark power of acting and the written word can take the lead.
In an age where blockbusters dominate, it takes persistence to create simplicity. Fences reminds us of the power and immersive nature of film, even when you strip away all those added flourishes. That’s why it should win Best Picture.
Hacksaw Ridge is a harrowing depiction of the atrocities of war, which doesn’t hold back when it comes to highlighting the slaughter of both Allied and Japanese troops. Based on the true story of Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss – a conscientious objector who saved the lives of 75 troops – it’s not just a film about war. It’s a film that delves into the truth behind the courage, valour and faith shown by each and every serviceman and woman who fought for their country in any major conflict and as an audience it’s hard not to find something to connect to.
The first 45 minutes may be a bit slow but it shows the effect of conflict in the form of father and son, giving us a first-hand look at the impact of the war to come. While it’s primarily a film about an incredibly brave man who asked God if he could save “just one more” as he crept through a lethal battlefield and brought men home, overall it’s a film about the bravery and courage of man and demonstrates that innate instinct we have both to survive and help others survive.
Without a doubt, Hacksaw Ridge is an anti-war film. The graphic, gory and bloody scenes of men being blown limb from limb are evidence of that. The theme of overwhelming courage and faith in humanity is exactly why Hacksaw Ridge deserves to take home the Oscar.
Elly Rewcastle is a journalism graduate and production editor interested in music and film.
Hell or High Water
We all know that the only argument anyone is having about the Oscars 2017 is Moonlight vs. La La Land. However, there is a third film that is nominated for Best Picture this year that is at least as deserving as those two films, if not more so. Hell or High Water is simultaneously understated and epic.
It is a road movie of sorts, taking in some stunning landscapes in Texas and Oklahoma. However, the story and the acting are both subtle and nuanced. Two brothers, played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, go on a bank robbing spree to try to save the family home. They are pursued by Jeff Bridges‘ Texas ranger and his deputy, who form a great double-act bickering their way cross country.
Pine gives a career-best performance and should have been nominated for Best Actor, along with Jake Gyllenhaal for Nocturnal Animals, playing the reluctant and conflicted half of the pair. Bridges has deservedly received a Best Supporting Actor nomination and the film’s denouement, where he finally meets Pine after pursuing him for the whole film, is a scintillating stand-off filled with tension.
Throw in a couple of great waitress cameos and Hell or High Water becomes a very worthy contender for Best Picture. I for one, would love this little film to upset the apple cart.
Fiona Underhill is a writer for Jump Cut UK and a former teacher of Media and Film Studies.
Did you ever think we’d see a film about computers rising up nominated for Best Picture? The ‘computers’ are the black, female mathematical wizards working at NASA, and their dehumanising title that modern viewers associate with machines is just one trick Hidden Figures pulls to gently put us in the shoes of its black heroes. Given it tackles such weighty issues as feminism and civil rights, it’s easy to imagine that it will inspire a legion of young girls into STEM work as easily as Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura inspired the first black woman in space, Dr Mae Jemison.
That’s not the only reason to hand Hidden Figures a golden statuette – plenty of its Best Picture rivals tackle ‘Big Issues’. But are any of them as fun as this? There’s a warmth, assured cinematic flair and sparkling performances – Janelle Monáe shines brighter than any star NASA has ever observed – that all combine to create a film that is as entertaining as it is important.
Cynics may imagine that the Academy has only embraced films with black leads as a result of last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy. But despite mallet-swinging Kevin Costner’s white saviour speechifying, the overwhelming joy and triumph of egalitarianism is an intoxicating, infectious cocktail that could seduce any audience at any time.
La La Land
As a person who almost always likes to poo-poo the runaway favourite for the Best Picture Oscar, it should be difficult for me to throw my backing behind a movie which has had the Best Picture gong seemingly locked since midway through 2016. However, in the case of La La Land, it’s a no-brainer that it deserves the gong. Damien Chazelle has crafted a musical of such beauty and fun, mixed with a touching, bitter-sweet core, that simply thinking about it is enough to make you smile in your seat.
Anchored by a career-best performance from Emma Stone, ably supported by the always-charming Ryan Gosling, this ode to Old Hollywood whisks us through a story about young love in the city where not all dreams come true, but those that do take sacrifice. Its position as frontrunner has led to an inevitable backlash. While I don’t share this opinion, you can criticise La La Land’s middle section, where the pace and songs dramatically slow down, but it’s sandwiched between two acts of such glossy delight and tender emotion that it makes the movie easy to appreciate as a whole.
From direction to cinematography, script, performances and perfect music, La La Land is the overall bright star of this year’s Oscar season, and deserves to be recognised for that at the Oscars 2017.
When you consider the full list of this year’s Best Picture nominees, Lion probably jumps out as the one least likely to win. But, after winning BAFTAs for Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, it’s a film that’s not to be taken lightly when it comes to the Oscars.
The extraordinary thing about it and the thing that just may work in its favour come Sunday is that it is perfectly ordinary. There’s no technical wizardry at work à la La La Land, although the cinematography and score are amongst the most memorable of the year so far, but it nevertheless manages to leave a long-lasting impression due to its powerful storytelling.
In a way, it’s incredibly old-fashioned in that it tells a linear story without any kind of modern day tricks. It’s a remarkable true tale as it is and the fact that events are allowed to play out without any manipulation makes it a completely compelling watch that truly takes you on an emotional journey. It’s so beautifully simple, you can almost imagine it being a project for the late, great Richard Attenborough.
The chances are extraordinarily high that Lion will be overlooked by the Academy, but with fine performances from Sunny Pawar, Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, on top of the moving true story at its centre, it has all the elements that could give it an edge some over its competition.
Manchester by the Sea
Awards season allows Hollywood to shine at its brightest and glitter with glamour. With that in mind, it might seem odd for me to argue that the Best Picture winner at Oscars 2017 should be a low-key, chilly film that is, for want of a better word, a little depressing. However, Kenneth Lonergan‘s potent, powerful Manchester by the Sea is a very special film indeed.
At its heart, the film benefits from an utterly remarkable performance by Casey Affleck. He has never been better than he is here in a role that sees him walking around as a human embodiment of grief, visibly carrying the weight of loss on his shoulders. Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges provide excellent support with bigger performers that enrich the minor key complexity of Affleck’s work.
Manchester by the Sea is a profoundly human film too, focusing as it does on the intricacies of how different people deal with a truly horrible event. It feels like a slice-of-life snapshot of real lives, lensed with a constant wintry haze by Jody Lee Lipes. Here, the chilly distance of the setting only serves to ignite the warmth of scenes where the emotion briefly boils over.
This is a film controlled with intelligence and precision by Lonergan, who keeps his performers on a tight leash and knows just when to detonate the narrative punches of his story. It may not be as colourful as La La Land, but it’s every bit as cinematically accomplished.
Tom Beasley is the editor of The Popcorn Muncher and a film writer published on the likes of Empire Online, Flickering Myth and What Culture.
One of the big surprises at last year’s London Film Festival was this little film produced on a shoestring budget and with no distribution lined up for the UK at the time. Moonlight is a beautifully shot, heartbreaking portrait of a young black gay boy named Chiron growing up in the Miami ghetto. In my opinion, it’s the most groundbreaking film among the Best Picture nominees at Oscars 2017 for its fearless take on the hardships faced by LGBTQ individuals within the poorest black communities in the US.
This is the kind of movie that makes you feel things on a deep, human level, which you can untangle for hours, days, and weeks after seeing it. It’s the kind of powerful stuff that makes an impact we will undoubtedly reference and talk about for years to come. The story focuses on three key moments in Chiron’s life and on the people and circumstances that shape his sense of self. It’s told slowly, languidly, like we’re watching a painter fill a canvas with colour.
The performances are utterly superb. The three actors taking on the character of Chiron are all perfectly cast and coordinated to mirror each other’s mannerisms and movement, Naomie Harris‘ devastating portrayal of his single, crack-addict mother is a career-making hurricane and Mahershala Ali is fantastic as the neighbourhood crack dealer with a heart of gold who takes Chiron in.
To say Moonlight is just beautiful is a massive understatement. It is downright gorgeous, both visually and musically; but more importantly it is relevant and the discussions it sparks are the ones we need the most at the moment. For its beauty and cultural and cinematic relevance, Moonlight wholeheartedly deserves that Best Picture win.
Kat Kourbeti is a film critic and novelist based in London. She makes video blogs about film on her YouTube channel Cinescapist TV and, contrary to what her accent might suggest, she is not from North America.
Which film would you like to see win Best Picture? Let me know in the comments section and be sure to come back on Sunday for all of our Oscars 2017 coverage, from the red carpet to the acceptance speeches.
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