The Academy Awards have now been and gone and ‘Moonlight’ ended up being triumphant edging out ‘La La Land’ which took the Golden Globes and BAFTA’s by storm. Here I rank the Best Picture nominees in order of my own personal preference. Unfortunately, I have only recently managed to watch ‘Hidden Figures’ hence why I am a little late.
Let’s get started…
9) La La Land
The film that everyone loved and expected to win Best Picture, it is with heavy heart that I found ‘La La Land’ to be an incredibly disappointing film that is totally undeserving of all the praise it received. I really wanted to like this film and I kept trying to make excuses for Chazelle but there’s just too many mis-steps to ignore and the film feels very disjointed in its pacing. The performances are admirable and Gosling and Stone carry the film well but by no means are they awards-worthy and the script in particular, which is normally Chazelle’s main attribute is dismally lacking and doesn’t have any direction to it. The whole plot of the film is by extension, confused and the film doesn’t know what it wants to be and the many elements of the narrative just aggressively don’t come together. Did I miss something in this film? Did I watch a different film to everyone else, not the one that has made such an impression on both critics and audiences and has attracted sterling reviews? (My Review here)
There is now a big step up in quality…
‘Moonlight’ makes for quite a mixed watch and starts off well enough in its first two segments only to undo itself in its third. I couldn’t really connect with the characters in the third act and found the film quite alienating. That said, the film is not an easy watch and this is a film that warrants rewatching so the rating of this film has the potential of increasing. Aside from my issues with the film, it features some great performances, a superb score and some interesting cinematography and the film can only be admired for what it is trying to do even if Jenkins doesn’t quite have the experience to fully execute his vision. In terms of positioning on this ranking, I did have to juggle this with my no. 7 pick, ‘Fences’ and whilst this film warrants a rewatch, the reason why I am ranking it below is because I found ‘Fences’ a little more fulfilling the first time. (My Review here)
Just edging out ‘Moonlight’ but this could very easily swap places on rewatching it, the big problems that hinders ‘Fences’ for a considerable amount of its lengthy run time is that it isn’t particularly cinematic. Straight off the bat, the film felt this way and the film made me want to be in a theatre experiencing this narrative on stage. For the first half an hour or so, this is particularly problematic but I began to settle into the film when its narrative kicked in and through its excellent performances. Even when the film settles, it can still never quite shake off this feeling. Funnily enough, it is in the film’s quieter moments where it isn’t so dialogue-laden that it begins to feel more cinematic and it is on the strength of August Wilson’s screenplay which is a terrific piece of work that the film overall just about works. There are a number of really touching scenes peppered throughout the film that are stunning to behold and I found the narrative in Wilson’s script particularly strong. It’s a good film but I don’t think it’s Oscar material. (My Review here)
Now we get to the excellent films:
‘Arrival’ is masterfully constructed by Villeneuve and for its first two thirds is particularly gripping. The performances are strong here too and yet again, Villeneuve’s team behind-the-camera do some good work. However, the film bites off a bit more than it can chew in its last third and although the film is still very interesting and original, it does begin to derail and struggle through towards its ending. I’m not going to go into spoilers as this is a film that needs to be watched blindly but I felt the film did leave a lot of questions unanswered and the ending does have a few plot holes to it. This is a film that warrants multiple rewatches so perhaps things will become clearer on subsequent viewings. It’s a film that for a sci-fi is very low on action and big set-pieces – this is very much a thinking person’s sci-fi and is not too dissimilar thematically from films such as ‘Contact’ or ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ for example. Denis Villeneuve is one of my favourite directors currently working in Hollywood so for this film to come 6th is testament to the quality of not only this film but the subsequent films in this list. (My Review here)
To my surprise, I really liked ‘Lion’ and found it to be an emotionally rewarding and heartfelt experience and the material was respectfully judged by Garth Davis. It features some very real performances with the standout being Dev Patel and although it can’t quite shake off the biopic feel at times, its narrative manages to do a lot of the heavy lifting. It also features a very memorable score that is respectful and well-judged and the cinematography is equally effective in encapsulating the narrative of the film. (My Review here)
4) Manchester By The Sea
‘Manchester By The Sea’ is a heartfelt, expertly crafted film that features a career-defining performance by Casey Affleck and it takes its time in really developing its characters and allowing its audience to emotionally connect with them. The rest of the cast are also very strong and the narrative really goes to town with these characters who all go through their own equally debilitating experiences. That said, the film does have some flaws in its tone which is a little unbalanced at times and a couple of baffling musical choices also awkwardly impact the film. (My Review here)
And now the top three…
3) Hidden Figures
‘Hidden Figures’ is an extremely easy film to like and barely puts a foot wrong; I was utterly charmed by it the whole way through. It is competently directed by Melfi and has just the right blend of comedy and factual drama in it to prevent it from being too laborious or too comedic. Not only are the performances are great in this film, but the characters are all really well-developed and the screenplay by Melfi and Allison Schroeder is wonderfully written. What stops this film from being perfect is it is fairly conventional in parts and there are a couple of story arcs that are a little underwritten. But these are very small nitpicks in an otherwise near-perfect film. (My Review here)
2) Hacksaw Ridge
‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is one of the best war films I have ever seen and features some stunning performances with Gibson’s signature gory yet visceral battle sequences that really throw these men into hell-and-back. Gibson is able to really portray the hardship that these men endure time and time again and whilst I am ever respectful of those fight for their country, this film elevated my respect even more for them whilst watching this film. The film is extremely well-shot and features many memorable sequences – this film fully deserves the Awards attention it is getting! That said, the film is not without fault and an inconsistency in tone is this film’s biggest problem as the two distinct halves of the film don’t quite gel together. The first half in particular of the film which develops these characters and prepares Doss for the battle that lies ahead often head into conventional territory and it is quite bizarre as it almost feels like Gibson is knowingly do this but to what purpose, I’m not sure. However, when the film is able to go berserk, it does and it is immensely satisfying. (My Review here)
And the best film is…
1) Hell Or High Water
Far and away the best film of this selection, I loved ‘Hell or High Water’ on first viewing and it gets better on every rewatch. It is a very well directed film that boasts some terrific performances by its cast, particularly Jeff Bridges and I normally don’t like Chris Pine so for him to not only be in a great film but give a great performance is a miracle. The film has a lot to say on American society and it perfectly develops its characters and features some terrific sequences. It also features one of the very best scores of the year by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. There wasn’t a chance in hell that this film would ever win but at least it’s getting the recognition it deserves – go and see this film!
Overall, this is not the strongest collection of films nominated for Best Picture by any means, but it generally a consistent and worthy selection of films with the exception of ‘La La Land’ but I can see why many people have taken to the way that they have with the film. ‘Moonlight’ ultimately won the Best Picture Award which is deserving due its subject matter and I hope the film manages to reach the heights of the others on this list on subsequent viewings – it does have that spark but I couldn’t quite connect with it. ‘Hell or High Water’ is by far and away the best film here but it didn’t connect with critics and audiences as much and many were surprised to see it even nominated. I’m just happy that ‘La La Land’ didn’t win as I cannot understand the praise that that film has received, as much of a fan of Damien Chazelle as I am, it really missed the mark.