Fun Disclosure: I publish this article annually, and inevitably someone will kind of get annoyed/irritated/irate with me and say something like, "WRONG! xyz!" and carry on defending their favorite movie. This blog is my opinion. I am writing it. It is not wrong. It is 100% correct; it is exactly how I think, how I feel. I'm cool with you having your own view about the movies, duh, that is the thing about art, everyone sees it differently. I am not trying to fight you, but probably won't change my mind.
On to the shows (spoilers)...
La La Land- I'm starting with this one because it is heavily favored as the winner. I'd like to think I was the 1st person not to love this movie. There were parts of this thing that I loved. Truly. The parts that I didn't like were so distracting though. Foremost being the backmost (the end)... it's like pick a story to tell already and tell it. The "double-ending" was cheap. It was so everyone could walk away happy. That never works (not with movies, and not with most things.) When you give everyone partial satisfaction, you have no one actually happy. You have two half-happys out there. Moving on, have you ever bought the Crayola 8-pack Classic Colors markers? Apparently so has the director, because this thing was a long-form advert for them. Every single dress, car, building, couch, wall, etc was a saturated primary or secondary color. Until things started going sad, then they were not saturated and there was a lot of black and brown. This is no artistic flare, this is a cheaper gimmick than the double ending. If this trick was a pastry, it would be a store brand twinkie. I guess Hollywood hasn't had a twinkie before. Don't get me wrong, twinkies are good in that cheap gas station treat kind of way. I suppose if you are used to French pastries, when someone finally gives you a twinkie, you'll probably like it. But if you are me and you know what a twinkie is and you expect a warm croissant you'll want to swat the twinkie out of Damien Chazelle's hand. He wrote and directed this, as he did Whiplash. I wish I could mentor him. I really liked the story overall, and I really liked Ryan's performance. The music was on point. Even the way the song n' dance was seamless and not clunky at all. A hard feat.
Now the movies in order of my top favorite to shouldn't-even-be-here:
Lion- This was my favorite of the nominees. Overall, it was the best done. It told a universal story in a way that was: gripping, emotion-evoking, suspenseful, intriguing, caring, thoughtful, and entertaining. It was well acted from start to finish. It was well edited. The characters were on-point. Will watch again. Will think about again. Will recommend.
Arrival- You know I don't even believe in aliens. And Amy Adams generally bugs. Sci-fi is not my genre either. All that against this, and I loved it. That speaks volumes*, since this was my second favorite film of the group. The aliens in this story are actually literal, but think of them as metaphorical. This was the best story told on screen in 2016. It is an adapted screenplay, based off novella. This movie was a slow burn for me. While watching it, it was a little hard to cut through the noise of sci-fi and get down to business with what it was telling the audience (me). Once that happened and it finally got around to it, I was like "yes, yes yes" (the second half is 50000x better than the set-up of the first half). Not only did I love the story and what it was about, I appreciated the way the let me discover things right along side the characters, since they were learning too.
*"Speaks volumes" was a fun little word-play since the whole crux of the thing is these aliens who don't speak nor communicate in a language humans know.
Hell or High Water- damn entertaining movie. I loved the characters, even though each was a villain in their own way. Jeff Bridges should (won't) win for best supporting actor. He nailed it. In fact, everyone who showed up on the screen did a fine job, down to the waitress who had minimal screen time. This is like a modern day western, so creative and so well done. I didn't want it to end.
Moonlight- It did a good job telling the story of a man who had a hard life. It is the kind of movie that makes you wonder about strangers on the streets and what their story is. Manchester by the Sea just the same. They are quite similar in that regard. In a lot of regards actually. In comparing them though, I liked that Moonlight seemed more confidant in what it was. It told the story. It shared the life. Manchester had some things that were a bit bombastic in comparison. Anyway, back to Moonlight. It was the most relevant in today's culture and climate. It may not be studied in film school in 100 years, but I bet will be studied in American studies and Humanity classes. The main character of Moonlight was played by three different actors, and it was done phenomenally. He barely spoke, dialog was rare, and yet they each were able to really convey what he was all about, how he became who he was. I also thought there was value in this movie sharing a sub-culture with the viewers. I mean, one of the films hero was a mid level drug distributer. This story though is one of personal growth, pride, self acceptance, forgiveness and a giant dose of reality. Some lives are well lived even if illegal and in the throws of sadness. It is a hard watch, but worthy of watching. The cinematography is armature hour (was nominated, what?!)
Manchester by the Sea- Another film focusing on characters. It focuses on grief and familial bonds. It is a hard watch mostly, and for the most part a well crafted film. Though, there were some huge pitfalls that marred the movie for me. There was so much b-roll footage. Like I am talking at least 45 minutes of us watching out the window of the truck as Lee drives around Manchester. It added nothing. I get it was trying to pace itself, but at a certain point watching the movie I could tell you how many branches were on that one tree by road near the pier. Anyway, another thing I really did not like is that we were supposed to be exploring the grief of losing Joe (father to Patrick, brother to Lee, all around good guy). As we are watching this all of the sudden we learn of a more sensational, more devastating loss of Lee's children. Which I get it, grief can not be prescribed and comes in all doses. But come on, this is a fictional story and it was like "oh, I've got this good sad story, MORE SAD" - it was a bit full of itself and distracting at that point. That said, Casey Affleck should win Best Actor. And I wouldn't even be upset if Lucus Hedges does for supporting too.
Hacksaw Ridge- OMG. War movies should stop being made. Was Doss a hero? Yeah, he is real and really saved so many people and really stood up for what he believed in. Does his story deserve to be told? Yes. Am I one to shut down the first amendment? No. Do I blame Mel Gibson for somehow glorifying war? Yeah. And side rant- guys, war is so dumb. SO DUMB. I'm anti-war. Ok, back to the movie, no need to watch an hour of cinematic blow-em-up any more. It is not provocative. Any educated person understands how horrific battle is. There is no graphic image that will make me understand more, so what is the point anymore. I know the director is trying to get us to feel like we are there, to understand the conditions, to be immersed in the horror. But, when it is done we are still eating snacks sitting in our safe couch in our free land (because of the warriors, I get it). Anyway, stop making war movies with long battle scenes. Also, should Andrew Garfield even be nominated for best actor? No,not even close. He did not do a good job acting. He was over acting. Mel Gibson also does not deserve best director.
Hidden Figures- Shouldn't have been nominated. The story is worthy of a telling. But, it is such a bubble-gum, Barbie-doll situation. So surface. Almost offensive. The whole point is to share this story of black women working for NASA in the 60s. True pioneers. Breaking down stereo types by living their lives... and then Disney gets ahold of this and literally shows me a southern black church picnic scene with about every stereo type you could imagine in the span of 10 minutes (Sassy black mother hen telling a child to eat their greens as they pick up fried chicken, sigh). Also, we didn't need to watch Cookie Lion run to the bathroom 10 times. Segregated bathrooms were not only unfair, unequal and ridiculous, but they were a true barrier to this woman's work, yes, ok, fine, now in a well-made movie they'd be able to show us that with out literally annoying the audience with unrealistic depictions of these bathroom runs. Get a grip Disney, the problems Katherine Johnson faced were far deeper than not being able to afford a pretty pearl necklace (even if because of income inequality).
Fences- Did not see.
a.) The Lobster should win for original screenplay. It was so original. La La Land was also nominated for it, and should not win but might because people forget musicals have been around for ever, stop acting like it was so daring by being a musical.
b.) The Infiltrator and The Light Between the Oceans were totally deserving and got nothing. Not necessarily in need for Best Picture, but acting and even some sub-categories like cinematography and costume design were totally glaring omissions.