To celebrate Oscar season, Regal Cinemas offered a program for people to see all of the Best Picture Nominees over the course of 10 days. For an entertainment junkie like myself, this deal was too good to pass up! So, on February 17, I embarked on a film filled journey, full of laughter, tears, and popcorn. The range of films was incredible and it was hard to compare them to one another—I mean how can you compare an alien invasion film to a throwback Old-Hollywood musical? Also, it is hard to call any Oscar-nominated film “bad.” So instead of viewing this as a ranking of the films from worst to best, I would prefer to think of this as a ranking from my least favorite to my favorite.
I know my opinion on this film will probably differ from the majority of people who saw it, but it was just not my cup of tea. When I first saw it, I really enjoyed it, but as I saw more of the nominated films, this one fell on my personal list. The story itself (and the three act structure it was told in) was interesting, but felt disjointed at times. Additionally, some of the technical and stylistic elements fell flat for me. Overall, it was a good film, just not my personal favorite.
This film needed less Denzel Washington and more Viola Davis. Denzel Washington, while a great actor, needed to be pulled back, and maybe if he hadn’t been acting as star and director, someone would have been able to give him the direction that less is more. Compare this with Viola Davis, who paces herself throughout the film, and gives a truly explosive performance when the time is right. Originally performed on stage, this adaptation could have been better adapted for screen. It was dialogue heavy and felt much like watching a play on camera. Basically it lacked a cinematic feel, which is what I want from a movie. Honestly, this could have been last on the list, but Viola Davis’s performance, and the last 15 minutes of the film gave it a slight edge over Moonlight.
7. Hacksaw Ridge
Wow! I have so many mixed feelings about this film. First of all, I have been a fan of Andrew Garfield since he was in The Social Network, but his performance in this film is a revelation. If Casey Affleck weren’t nominated this year, the Oscar would be Andrew Garfield’s. Secondly, the story itself is incredibly moving and inspirational. It was interesting to learn about an amazing historical figure whose story was unknown to me. That being said, the excessive (and extreme) violence was a little off putting. While showing the horrors of war is common in most war films, it felt like Mel Gibson and the rest of the creative team wanted to see how far they could go with the gratuitous gore and violence. I enjoyed the first half of the film exploring Desmond Doss’s story more than the battle heavy second half. Bottom line: This is a great film, if you can tolerate the violence and gore.
It was hard to decide between Arrival and Manchester by the Sea, so they are tied for fifth place. Arrival is such a unique take on the alien invasion film—it’s almost like the alien film for people who dislike science fiction. Amy Adams gives a great performance, as does Jeremy Renner. The story and narrative structure are unique and thought provoking; the film leaves you thinking long after you leave the theatre.I saw this film twice and was worried that it wouldn’t hold up the second time around, but I have to say I enjoyed it even more the second time.
5. Manchester by the Sea
Put aside all of your personal feelings about Casey Affleck and his off-screen life—his performance is the best of this film season. He (and his young costar Lucas Hedges) makes this film. Manchester simultaneously has one of the most simple, yet complex plots of all of the nominated films. Even as the film unravels, somewhat slowly in real time, you are on the edge of your seat. Aspects such as music, cinematography, and uniquely framed shots add to the understated beauty of this film. All I had heard about this film prior to seeing it was how sad it was. While I agree, it was extremely sad at times, I think its “cry factor” was overhyped—I totally cried more during Lion and Hidden Figures.
4. Hell or High Water
I knew little about this film before I saw it. I basically only knew that Chris Pine was in it, and that when you listed off Best Picture Nominees this was the one that people were like “Wait, what’s that one? I’ve never heard of that.” But I LOVED THIS MOVIE. In fact, it was initially second on my list, until I saw Lion and Hidden Figures. It was very different from the other nominees, which I thought was great. Chris Pine and Ben Foster gave great performances as bank robbing brothers and Jeff Bridges is excellent as the Texas Ranger who is trying to catch them. This was the shortest of all of the films, which worked to its advantage; it told a succinct story and answered all of the questions it raised with no excess filler material. It had a killer score/soundtrack—all of that awesome, melancholy, Western violin music.It was even funny, in its own dark way, which was a welcome relief among a sea of tear-jerking films.
This was a film I wasn’t expecting to have feelings about. The story sounded kind of simplistic and meh, so I thought I would see it and just be like “meh.” I was so wrong. From the opening scene, I was entranced. The story, however simple, had a way of holding your attention through beautiful cinematography and a captivating performance by young Sunny Pawar. I found myself on the edge of my seat, even though I kind of knew what was going to happen. In the middle half, it kind of dragged, which bumped it down to number three on my list, but the ending was incredible. I, along with all of the other theatregoers, was in tears at the end, so happy to be reminded that there is still good in this world. In short, Lion may be flying under the radar, but make sure you check this film out.
2. Hidden Figures
Wow! This movie. I loved it. Going into it, I was not sure how I would feel. As a female science major that loves movies, this film seemed like a lock to be my favorite. But I was hesitant. I am not the biggest Taraji P. Henson fan, and was unfamiliar with Janelle Monae’s acting work; however, this film surpassed all of my expectations. The story was inspiring and did a good job of appealing to all audiences. The film had a sense of nostalgia, while still seeming incredibly relevant. Hidden Figures combines many aspects that other films lower on this list embodied: great music, a compelling and suspenseful story, fantastic performances by individual actors, and a reminder that there is still good in the world. While it may not have been the showiest or flashiest of the nominees, Hidden Figures is definitely a crowd pleaser worthy of all the praise it has received.
1. La La Land
What to say about La La Land? I have already written an entire article about this film, but still have so much to say. Maybe I’m biased because I love musicals, but this film was far and away my favorite. When I saw it for a third time, I was worried that I would suddenly see a bunch of problems with the film and fall out of love with it. If anything, seeing it for the third time clarified why it is my personal favorite of this Oscar season and why it will win Best Picture this year. La La Land is the most complete of all of the films nominated, combining all of the necessary elements to make a beautiful and powerful film. It has an interesting story, breathtakingly beautiful cinematography, powerful acting performances, songs that will be stuck in your head for days…the list goes on and on. Director Damien Chazelle was able to take the traditional Hollywood musical and make it fresh and modern, while still feeling nostalgic. In short, La La Land is a phenomenal film, deserving of all the accolades it has (and will) receive.