The 89th Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, are just a few days away, and this year, nine films have been nominated for Best Picture. The year 2016 in itself was less than spectacular, but Hollywood did its best to make up for it with some spectacular films. While they certainly can’t all be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s such a diverse array of films –which include true stories and original screenplays, musical numbers and alien invasions, Boston accents and Texas drawls – that I believe there truly is something for everyone.
Watching the Oscars is always more fun when you have an opinion on what should win, but unfortunately, no one actually has the time or genuine interest in seeing all of the nominated films, myself included. However, my passion for movies combined with my expert procrastination skills drove me to take on this task nonetheless and compile a ranking of them based on what I think deserves to win, instead of predicting what I think the Academy decided on long ago. That’s right, I took one for the team so all you have to do is skim this article, paraphrase my highly informed, well-rounded opinions, and pass them off as your own at your next dinner party to wow your friends and acquaintances with your vast knowledge of film culture. When you tire of small talk about the weather or sports, hit them with your newly acquired hot takes on Moonlight or Hell or High Water; They’ll think you’re super cultural, trust me.
As my expertise in film studies is admittedly non-existent, and my time is somewhat exhaustive, I’ve decided not to tackle the Best Director / Actor / Actress / Short-Mimed-Foreign-Animated-Documentary categories, but credit will be given where it’s due along the way.
Full disclosure: I am not a fan of sci-fi films. However, I’m honestly unsure if fans of sci-fi films would enjoy this film either. I watched this movie with my educated and generally cultured family, and our unanimous reaction was that this was one of the worst films we’ve ever seen. In short, it was busy yet boring and at times ridiculous; I really can’t find any good reason as to why it was nominated.
8. La La Land
This should not, I repeat, should NOT be lauded as the best movie of the year, and yet I fear that it is more than likely that it will because there’s nothing Hollywood loves more than itself. As a self-respecting person, I love musicals and Emma Stone. I was excited to see this film after I heard some great buzz surrounding it, and even though I was somewhat skeptical of how a seemingly base romantic plot could be “Oscar-worthy”, I assumed I would be proven wrong by the magic of the music! The moving dialogue! The artistic structure! The unpredictable ending! Alas, none of this ever came. The singing and dancing fell flat as neither Stone or Gosling are professionals, the characters were likeable yet unoriginal, and the whole thing felt far too long and forced.
7. Hell or High Water
First off, this is not an old western, which, for some reason, I was expecting. However, set in modern-day west Texas, it does feel like you have been taken back in time, and I think the scope of the setting is one of the strongest elements of this film. While I found Jeff Bridges’ acting to be as good as usual, I wasn’t blown away by anything here. There were several times during the film that I found myself thinking, ‘This has the potential to be spectacular,’ but unfortunately, it never quite got there.
6. Hidden Figures
This movie sheds light on three incredible black women’s extraordinary contributions to NASA in the 1960s that the majority of people would not know have known about otherwise. I think it was well done and certainly inspiring and enjoyable. However, while great in itself, I don’t think it is quite comparable in terms of overall film quality to some of the other nominees. Regardless, this is definitely one you should see, and it can be appreciated by the masses.
5. Hacksaw Ridge
I’m a sucker for true stories, and this was a good one. The special effects were incredible, and several of the most gruesome scenes rivaled the infamous opening scene in Saving Private Ryan. Andrew Garfield does an admirable job as a conscientious objector and medic in Japan during WWII, and he definitely deserves the Oscar nod. Vince Vaughn, however, was an odd casting choice for the Sergeant, and I could not for a second take him seriously. If you like war movies, this will be no exception, but odds are they’ll be another one to take its place next year.
The majority of the scenes in this film occur in the backyard of Denzel Washington’s house as he builds (spoiler alert) a fence. Although this limits the action tremendously, the characters make up for it in full. My man Denzel should give Casey Affleck a run for his money for Best Actor in this performance, but for me, Viola Davis shines the brightest. She absolutely slays in her emotional role of the underappreciated wife and is my vote for Best Supporting Actress (although I’m not entirely convinced that this was a supporting role).
I was kind of blown away by this film, as I had no prior knowledge or expectations. I’m sure it’s not everyone’s kind of movie, as the first word of English isn’t spoken until 45 minutes into the film, but this incredible true story is intricately told. I’m impressed by anything that can elicit chills or tears from me, and by the end I had both. Also, my knowledge of cinematography is admittedly very limited, but I’d say this film’s seems more than worthy of that award.
2. Manchester by the Sea
Although I am not basing this ranking on my personal enjoyment (and “enjoy” wouldn’t be the right word – it’s heartbreaking), I must say I liked this film the most. It’s set in present day in a quaint Massachusetts town, and it all feels very real. The plot is incredibly powerful and poignantly deals with themes of loss, guilt, and blame in a moving way. It was interesting to see Casey Affleck – whom I often think of as Ben’s goofy little brother – step really convincingly into this role, and I truthfully think he’s most deserving of the Best Actor award.
This should win, hands down. It’s raw. It stirs up discomfort. It tells the singular story of the life of a man – black and gay – growing up in Miami. It’s quiet in some moments and earth-shattering in others. It follows a European structure in that there is no triumphant, gift-wrapped conclusion, rather it leaves things open for interpretation and conversation. Mahershala Ali, who you may know as Remi Danton from House of Cards, has a standout performance. Though his screen-time is limited, he steals the show, and I would be surprised if he isn’t awarded Best Supporting Actor.
Additionally, I was disappointed that Jackie was snubbed, and I think Natalie Portman is more than deserving of Best Actress for one of the most stirring portrayals I’ve ever seen.
And, being completely honest, Super Bowl LI far surpasses any of these in entertainment value and is my true vote for Best Picture.
I hope you take the time to check out some of these movies before Sunday, and Happy Oscars!