In order to judge them fairly, I have taken it upon myself to watch all the nominees for Best Picture, Best Director and the acting categories, and I have to say that this year has some incredible nominees, most of which are deserving of their nominations. I will be ranking them category by category in different posts, from the nominee I feel is the least deserving to the nominee who I found to be superior to all the others. I’ve tried to remain as objective as I can, and taken as much into consideration as I can, in order to judge them fairly and honestly.
So, onto the big one. Best Picture is obviously the most significant award given at the Academy Awards, as it is basically the AMPAS voters naming what they consider to be the best film of the year. In the past few years, they have nominated the actual best film of the year, but only once or twice actually given it the award. This year, they will likely crown probably the best film of the year as their Best Picture winner, but overall, these nominees are all unique in their own way, telling diverse and varied stories across different genres. Without any further ado, here is a ranking of the nominees for Best Picture:
#9 – Hacksaw Ridge
This is the only nomination in this category I really disagree with. In fact, I can’t really recall another nominee since the Best Picture nomination lineup expanded seven years ago that I dislike more than this nomination. Hacksaw Ridge is overly sentimental, often silly and way too preachy to be a deserving nominee. This isn’t to say the entire film is bad – Andrew Garfield gives a committed performance, and Mel Gibson managed to really direct one segment of the film incredibly well. But its just a film that didn’t deserve a place on the list of what the AMPAS considers the best films of the year, because it really is the very definition of mediocre.
#8 – Fences
Once again, not a great film – but unlike Hacksaw Ridge, this was a decent film. The problem is that I’d have expected a film based on this legendary play to soar, but unfortunately, due to the director being its main star and not having much experience as a filmmaker, Fences just doesn’t manage to make the transition from play to film very easily. Stagy, often way too verbose and devoid of much cinematic quality, it is saved by its fiery performance from Viola Davis and a pretty dedicated (if not overly hammy) performance by Denzel Washington. Overall, its not a tremendously great film, but its still decent enough.
#7 – Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water was a good film – but we’ve seen this same kind of thing countless times, the modern-day western. Other than a great performance from Jeff Bridges, and a dedicated (if not slightly miscast) lead portrayal by Chris Pine, Hell or High Water is an entertaining, but not very unique film, and I am sure we’ll see several films like this in the near future. Its a good film, but it just doesn’t quite have all the elements I look for in a Best Picture nominee (and it features a god-awful performance from Ben Foster)
#6 – Hidden Figures
Now this was a lovely film and one I am so happy made it as far as it did. Funny, charming and endlessly interesting, it is the perfect combination of an important story being told in an entertaining manner. The cast is strong, the story is self-assured and well-constructed. It is a delightfully well-made and lovely film, and it manages to be both informative and entertaining at the same time. It may not be revolutionary cinema but it is certainly entertaining cinema and exactly the kind of well-made crowd-pleasing film that is why going to the movies can sometimes be a lot of fun.
#5 – Lion
Sometimes the most simple films can be the most moving, and Lion is the exact kind of simple film that emotionally destroys the viewer. Emotionally resonant and moving to a fault, it has some wonderful performances from Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, and one of the most impressive performances from a child actor, coming in the form of the endlessly adorable Sunny Pawar. Overall, Lion is a wonderfully constructed little film that has emotional resonance unlike many this year, and when it comes to displaying raw emotion, Lion is exactly what one looks for in a Best Picture nominee.
#4 – Moonlight
I may not be the biggest fan of Moonlight, but I certainly do recognize its inherent brilliance. It is unique and has a lot of heart, and everything from the groundbreaking structure, to the dedicated performances (particularly those of Ashton Sanders and Andre Holland), to the beautiful cinematography to the devastatingly relevant story. It is a film that isn’t always recognized with awards, so the scope of how far it has gone should not be underestimated. It may not be my personal favorite of the bunch, but it is certainly an impressive achievement.
#3 – Arrival
I love everything about Arrival – the performances, the assured directing by the incredible Denis Villneueve, the fact that there was a Linguist who saves the day (as a Linguist myself, this made me so giddy). Not only that, it was also a tremendously profound film that transcended space, time and genre to become an utterly original, unbelievably amazing story that is as entertaining as recent “space films”, but also far better. Science fiction will have a lot to live up to in the next few years, because Arrival truly left an indelible impression on the genre and on cinema as a whole.
Manchester by the Sea was my favorite film of the year for quite a while – and for good reason. While many films rely on extravagance and cinematic tricks (like the winner of this ranking), Manchester by the Sea focuses on the truth of what makes us human. It is terrifying how Kenneth Lonergan manages to construct such a realistic and humane example of humanity here, through his brilliant screenplay, brought to life by actors who were dedicated to making these real, three-dimensional characters. It also helps that Casey Affleck gives one of the best performances of the year.
#1 – La La Land
I mentioned previously how many films try and go big to impress audiences – which La La Land is guilty of. However, it is just so damn good at tapping into extravagance and artifice, that it is impossible to not love. It is a heartbreaking, mesmerizing journey, and it succeeds in every way – as an original musical, as a romance, as a comedy and as a critique on the entertainment industry. In a world dominated by remakes, reboots and sequels, it is just wonderful to see an original musical come about, and there isn’t a single thing to hate about La La Land, and I’m pretty sure even those who despise musicals or romances will find themselves adoring this film.
Nine films were nominated for Best Picture, and about five of those are truly deserving. My Top 3 are all very strong and would all top this list in different circumstances. All nine films are unique and radically different and vary in period, story, genre and yes, quality. But they are representative of what cinema had to offer this year. I am just so glad that the AMPAS seems likely to make the right choice, as they did two years ago when they crowned Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) as the best film of the year.