Y’know, if they went back to just 5 nominees for best picture this would be so much easier to do. I actually thought I was done watching all of these and then I looked at the list and realized I still had two to go! Who has the time? I mean, I did have the time, but who else? Not most people. So here they are, with some thoughts. Right off I’ll say this year already has a leg up on past years in that there are no outright stinkers. See what happens when David O. Russell and Iñárritu take a year off. As well, no movie on this list was as good as Green Room, the actual best movie of 2016.
(Some spoilers ahead)
Did the end of this make sense to you? I mean, I know the aliens give the human race the ability to see the future but the whole phone call to the Chinese president bit with the words from his wife? I mean, that works? The movie said it did but I don’t buy it. Arrival feels like a film that is playing things very grounded(for an alien visit film) and suddenly switches gear to get very vague and metaphysical, and left me sighing out of the theater. After so much detail I was surprised that the movie ends with someone essentially saying “Everything worked out, don’t sweat the details.” This whole movie up that point was about details! Ahhhh! People love it, but the end felt like grasping at air.
Everyone is acting super hard here but it felt like a play, because it was a play. Your milage may vary. Denzel is one of the greats and I know he won a Tony for this performance but it doesn’t feel lived in, the way so many of his other performances do. I think this owes to the difference between theater acting and film acting, of which I don’t know a ton about but I’ve seen some plays and I’ve watched plenty of movies and Fences is broad as fuck. This works in the intimate setting of a live play, the actors literally performing mere feet from your seat. But in a film, this feels off, like a rehearsal. Viola Davis is better, her big moment playing more grounded, but otherwise she’s consistent with the other players. Great play, but only ok cinema.
This is a strange one, since the first half of this movie is corny trash and the second half is a war gore fest, and they’re so at odds with each other that it’ll give you whiplash. Mel Gibson of course is a lunatic religious fanatic, so the religion stuff gets thrown around pretty heavily, but this movie looks good and you guys, this violence is bananas. People are using torsos as human shields, so many people get flamethrowered, and HEADSHOTSSSSS. Oh yeah, this is about a guy who just saves people and never fires a gun. Will admit, got a little choked up at the end, when they show the real guy in archive footage, but that’s just me getting weepy after becoming a dad. Dunno how this got nominated, but WW2 is an easy sell to Oscar voters.
Hell or High Water
Y’know, this one was just ok too. Pretty on the nose about the poor and disenfranchised in this country, but also has a hokey moment with Jeff Bridges character and his partner that only works because Jeff Bridges is a really good actor. The movie wants us to believe something to the effect of “Sure he’s racist but he loves this guy.” I dunno, up to that point he seems pretty racist to me. Chris Pine has this great scene beating a guy up in one take that I liked, but otherwise, just ok.
It’s a nice crowd pleaser, made with verve and just a touch of style. Could have used more style, but it had more than I come to expect from these kind of films, and it’s a nice little moment to see Janelle Monae before she becomes a giant superstar. Smart casting of Kevin Costner, this should have been a sleepwalk role and he still showed up.
La La Land
Neither as bad as you’ve heard nor as good as the momentum would suggest. Has a deathly opening 20 minutes but then the songs stop and the film lets the leads be their charming selves. The big problem is that all the songs suck and the dancing is wan. I expected better from the director of Whiplash.
This is a nice movie that literally no one will remember in a year. It’s like Room in that way. Remember Room? Everyone was all, “Did you see Room? So sad!” So Lion is like that in that it is sad, has a strong performance by a child lead, but for some reason the grown actor gets more awards focus for arbitrary reasons. Unless they’re awarding Dev Patel for his transformation from gawky nerd is smoldering long haired sex god, in which case, sure, give it to him. But seriously, the end of this movie made me cry.
Manchester by the Sea
This one is sad but hey, not sad as fuck? This thing starts and I’m thinking “This is going to be sad as fuck” but it’s only kinda sad, definitely melancholy, sometimes funny in that “Yeah, that’s life brah” way, and I was invested the whole way through. Casey Affleck, terrible things he’s allegedly done in real life aside(insane how we have to keep saying that about every single actor and director these days), is very good in this, because he’s always been very good. Triple 9, Gone Baby Gone, the guy has always been crushing it. I don’t think this is a showy enough performance to win, and his off camera issues probably hurt him too. Otherwise, good flick!
I think this movie is good but after sitting on it for awhile I think the main character is too underwritten, to the point where his maturation and decisions seem more screenplay arbitrary than “This happens then this then this.” I agree that Mahershala Ali is very good and should win the Oscar but the problem is that his performance is so strong and commanding that when he suddenly leaves the film, there is an immediate void that the film doesn’t try to address, and when Chiron is revealed to take on Ali’s characters attributes as an adult, it felt like lazy movie shorthand. At first my reaction was “Of course” but then I thought “Of course?” Still, the final diner scene is so beautiful and tender and the fact that this movie doesn’t end like tear jerker massacre is a miracle unto itself.
Should win: Manchester by the Sea
Will win: La La Land
My Favorite Films of 2016
The Nice Guys
Manchester by the Sea
Favorite film moments of 2016
Boxcutter scene in Green Room
All of the Alden Ehrenreich scenes in Hail, Caesar
Gosling finding the dead body in The Nice Guys
Kevin Costner saying “My head was cold!” in Criminal
Batman warehouse raid in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Gerard Butler saying “Fuck me? Fuck you!” and then scraping a terrorist against a wall with an SUV because the terrorist said “Fuck you!” at him while trying to kill him in London Has Fallen.