Road to the 2017 Oscars: Part 3
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This is the movie I was least familiar with following the release of the Best Picture nominations and it was the last one I got around to seeing. I had heard of it and heard some good things about it but it didn’t get a big release, didn’t make much money, and wasn’t a sure thing to be nominated. But Harvey Weinstein saw to that. The story of a lost Indian boy who gets adopted into an Australian home only to search for his original family 25 years later actually ended up with six nominations. Besides the big nomination it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score, and Best Cinematography. Dev Patel was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Nicole Kidman was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Unfortunately I don’t think it deserved any of them. Its not that this is a bad film but I just don’t think it stands out in any of those categories. This is another example of Hollywood feel good story but this one doesn’t work nearly as well as ‘Hidden Figures’.
In fact the best part of ‘Lion’ is in the first half before all of the predictable, contrived heart string pulling stuff comes into play. It starts off as a foreign language film following five year old Saroo as he struggles to live in poverty with his mother, big brother, and baby sister. One night he begs his brother to take him with him as he scavenges for food and falls asleep on a bench. When he wakes up his brother is nowhere to be found and he somehow finds himself on a nearby train that takes off and carries him far away. He’s homeless until he is found and placed into foster care. For this part of the movie it feels authentic and lived in. I was enjoying the movie up until the time jump when I lost any connection I had with the character. Dev Patel was fine as adult Saroo but he is kind of a dick and isn’t recognizable as the kid I’d been rooting for. Maybe thats the point but it just felt like a different movie and one that I wasn’t anywhere near as into. I didn’t think Nicole Kidman was all that great either. But its better than ‘Hacksaw Ridge’! So it has that going for it.
My Ranking: 8th out of the nine
Manchester By the Sea
I have to be careful with the hyperbole here because I loved this movie so much it would be very easy to heap endless praise upon it. Kenneth Lonergan’s film about a man (played by Casey Affleck) who has to return home to take care of his nephew after his brother dies is so good that not only is it my favorite movie of the year, its up there with ‘Boyhood’ as my favorite movie of the decade. Affleck’s performance is incredible and Lonergan’s direction gets you deeply invested in his story almost immediately as you follow his day to day life as a handyman for an apartment complex before the fateful call. Every character you meet when he returns home feels real. Lonergan uses flashbacks to fill out the backstory and reveal important aspects of the characters lives. If the movie sucks you in like it did to me you will cry. Multiple times. But you’ll also laugh a lot. The movie is surprisingly funny and light hearted to offset the tension of the drama. That also helps the pace of the movie. Its over two hours long but moves along briskly. You know a movie has you when you don’t want it to end and wish it was a television series so you could continue to follow these character’s stories.
I mentioned how good Affleck’s performance is and he is the front runner to win Best Actor which is one of the movie’s six nominations. His only competition is Denzel Washington for ‘Fences’ which is coming on strong down the home stretch. But he isn’t the only stand out performance. Lucas Hedges is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the nephew and Michelle Williams is nominated for Best Supporting Actress as his ex-wife. Nobody is beating Viola Davis when it comes to that race and Williams only has a few scenes but she would get my vote. Lonergan was nominated for Best Director for the first time but he has two other great movies (‘You Can Count On Me’ and ‘Margaret’) that I would recommend as well. And lastly it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay which it may win. I could go on all day about how great this movie is but I do have one negative. There is one scene where Lucas Hedges character has a panic attack and I didn’t completely buy it. Yep, thats it. So much for avoiding hyperbole.
My Ranking: 1st out of the nine
I went out to see a movie with my wife on my birthday this January and we were choosing between ‘Moonlight’, ‘La La Land’, and ‘Silence’. We ultimately decided on this and I’m glad we did because it was the best of the three in hindsight and it was also the clear best movie of the year (until I watched ‘Manchester By the Sea’ a week or two later). Its a simple story on paper but powerful when put to film by a talented director. Three key moments in Chiron’s life are stitched together like three short films as he struggles with being bullied for being different, his drug addict mom, and the ups and downs with his best friend. When done well triptych stories like this can feel epic a la ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ and thats the case here. It really catalogs the main character’s journey and development very well. The talented director here is Barry Jenkins who gets a Best Director nomination in just his second feature film. He does such a great job with the look of the film. Its beautifully shot which accounts for its Best Cinematography nomination and has a wonderful score which also received recognition.
All told ‘Moonlight’ came away with eight Oscar nominations and its story structure might’ve cost it another one. Since each version of Chiron was played by a different actor none of them had a chance to cement themselves as a Best Actor contender. But each of them did a great job and with more screen time could’ve easily seen themselves nominated. Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris were able to do enough with their scenes to secure nominations in the supporting categories and Ali is even the clear front runner to win, which I’m rooting for. He played a father figure of sorts to Chiron and makes his presence known. He was my favorite character in the movie. The movie does a good job presenting an outcome of what can happen to even the best kids when they don’t have a parental figure, let alone two, to guide them through life on a daily basis. Janelle Monae gives her second great supporting performance of 2016 as a friendly face in Chiron’s life. The other two nominations the film received were for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing. Even though ‘La La Land’ all but has Best Picture in the bag, I’ll be rooting for one of ‘Moonlight’ or ‘Manchester By the Sea’ to pull off the upset.
My Ranking: 2nd of the nine