Mein Damen und Herren! Mesdames et Messieurs! Ladies and Gentlemen! Without further ado I am pleased to present this year’s best picture nominees and my bold prediction for who will take home the biggest prize of the night. You might be surprised!*
*(No you won’t. You won’t be surprised at all but just read it anyway. It’s not bad.)
Arrival carries on the tradition of smart and engaging sci fi films like Children of Men, Dark City and Planet of the Apes. It also joins other sci fi best picture nominees like District 9, Inception and The Martian. It’s unlikely to win Sunday night but it certainly takes its place alongside some very good company.
I am a fan of live theater which is why I was excited for the film adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play. Some knocked Fences saying they just filmed the play. While that might keep it from being a complete film it doesn’t keep it from being thoroughly enjoyable. Well…I should say I thoroughly enjoyed the first 95% of this film. I hated the last 5%. I felt the story just kind of came off the rails. But that shouldn’t take anything away from the spectacular performances from Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.
Mel’s exile from Hollywood never diminished his ability as a masterful film maker. It’s great to see a man come back from such a massive personal train wreck. It was tragic that Apocalypto was a casualty. Thankfully Hacksaw Ridge didn’t suffer the same fate. I sort of saw this movie accidentally. My wife was planning a number of activities for my birthday. We showed up at our local megaplex with tickets to a movie she had selected as a surprise. The theater had a number of films on my Oscar watch list but Hacksaw Ridge wasn’t one of them. She thought it was but at the time there was no buzz for any nominations. As it turns out she was just being a little prophetic and I’m glad she was. This movie has received a lot of accolades but the unsung hero of this film is Hugo Weaving. His gripping performance as Desmond Doss’ father Tom was one of the year’s best.
Hell or High Water
Some have predicted one day we’ll all look back on Hell or High Water as a new American classic. Only time will tell if they’re right but I won’t be surprised if two or three of these best picture nominees are remembered for generations. This dusty West Texas crime drama does everything right and will earn every bit of its legacy.
This indomitable trio of African-American women (Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson) crossed gender and race lines and their brilliant brains helped launch John Glenn into orbit. Their story is touching, inspiring and until now untold. While it might not be the strongest Oscar contender it deserves the spotlight if for no other reason than to finally give these brave women their long overdue recognition.
La La Land
During the year I saw many great films but I kept waiting for something to “wow” me. Nothing did. Until I saw La La Land. What more can be said about this film that hasn’t already been said? Probably nothing. It is hands down the best picture of the year.
Like Hacksaw and Hidden, Lion is another inspiring true story. Saroo Brierley’s quest to find his family 25 years after he was separated from them as a five year old in India is told with confidence. It never relies on manipulation to evoke genuine emotion. The writing, performances and direction handle it just fine on their own.
Manchester by the Sea
One of the strongest of this year’s group of best picture nominees, Manchester by the Sea is anchored by brilliant acting, sharp authentic dialogue and raw emotion. With more than one genuinely surprising moment writer/director Kenneth Lonergan keeps you reeled in until the very end.
This is such a beautifully crafted film. I didn’t know much about it when I saw it but from Mahershala Ali’s first scene I could tell it was going to be thoughtful and real. Little/Chiron/Black’s journey is compelling and heartbreaking. But Barry Jenkin’s script and deft direction keeps it from even becoming cliché. My only complaint was the catalyst in the story from act two to act three. But that was relatively easy to forgive. When I saw this film the theater fire alarm went off. The movie stopped and everyone in the theater headed out to the lobby. Before we could get there they told us it was a false alarm and the film would resume shortly. Even that interruption couldn’t keep this film from shining as one of this year’s best.
SELBY PICK: La La Land
PREDICTION: La La Land
Some have talked about upsets but nothing will derail La La Land. Its 14 nominations are all well-deserved. I would love for it to become the 4th film in history* to sweep the “Big Five” (picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay) but I suspect it will only win 3 of the 5. It will win a ton of other awards as well and will undoubtedly be the biggest Oscar winner in the last decade.
I will be back on Monday to break down the aftermath of the 89th Academy Awards. In the meantime check out my other predictions below and let me know what you think.
What are your predictions?