2017 Best Picture Nominated Films Reviews

This years Oscars ceremony had several surprises and even a twist ending, with Moonlight taking the Best Picture award after La La Land seemed to have won it. But how good are these films and the others that were nominated? Here's our thoughts.

Best Picture Nominated Film Mini Reviews
If you're a film buff like me, then you probably follow The Oscars pretty closely. Nine films were nominated this year for Best Picture, with Moonlight taking the trophy after one of the biggest mistakes in Oscar history (that being when La La Land was announced as the winner, when it in fact did not win). Today, I want to take a closer look at every film that was nominated for the big trophy this year.

Keep in mind that this is just my opinion. My rating of a film may be lower or higher than you like, but at the end of the day it is all just one guy's opinion. So without further ado, let's look at this year's best movies.

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Hidden Figures


Every year there are one or two films that get the Best Picture nod when they really don't deserve to. Now don't get me wrong, Hidden Figures is not a bad film; far from it. But when compared to the other films that were nominated, it just isn't able to hold it's own. Granted, it tells the great story of Katherine G. Johnson and how she helped bring the first American into space. But it's the execution that makes it all feel…bland.

The writing is only slightly above average. The scene that stood out to me the most (writing wise) was the very opening scene where our three protagonists (pictured above) have their car broken down and a cop pulls over to help them out. The dialogue between the three is witty and charming, but the quality quickly dips. The movie is competently shot, and the costuming is great for the time period. But I just couldn't get over how the quality of this film just didn't hold a candle to the others.

That could be my own fault. After all, this was the last of the nominees that I saw. But in the end, while Hidden Figures is a good movie, I can't honestly say that it will go down in cinematic history like I can for several of the other films. A good time for many, but lackluster when considering the competition. 

Final Score: 7/10

Hell or high water

Hell Or High Water (2016)
Is this a sequel to No Country For Old Men? No, but it certainly seems to try to be. Okay all joking aside, this film took a lot by surprise. It came out very early in 2016, so don't feel bad if you missed it. The film follows two brothers, played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, as they rob banks together in West Texas. I'll let you see why they're doing this, but suffice to say you have to piece a lot together when it comes to this story. Dialogue is almost completely void of exposition, and that's a good thing.

The performances here are all solid, especially Jeff Bridges who plays a sheriff trying to catch the two brothers. The film is also oddly pretty to look at despite the color palette mostly consisting of just ugly brown colors. However, this movie suffers in one major area: the lack of a true antagonist.

Now yes, there are films where there is no clear antagonist, but here in Hell Or High Water the two people that you could interpret to be the antagonist are equally likable: the brothers and Jeff Bridges. This makes the audience feel odd as they don't know who to cheer for. Either way, the film failed to grab me in this aspect.

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The movie is also well shot, but the color palette screams "stereotypical Texan".  It reminded me a lot of the color palette used for No Country For Old Men, further pushing my belief that this film was heavily inspired by it. It's all competently made, but nothing about it truly stood out to me. An overall good movie, but nothing too amazing here.

Final Score: 7.2/10

Lion 

Lion (2016)
This was probably the most surprising film of the Oscar nominees for me. I went into it with low expectations, but I came out of it thinking that this was one of the stronger Best Picture nominees this year. Don't get me wrong, it has some issues. But at it's core, Lion tells an incredible true story and does the real people who went through these events justice.

The film follows Saroo, a young Indian boy who gets separated from his older brother, Guddu, after he accompanies him to a late night job. After being locked on a train for several days, Saroo finds himself trying his best to survive in the streets of Calcutta. He eventually gets adopted by a couple in Australia, only to find that all he wants is to go back home and reunite with his biological family. 

What surprised me the most about this film was the superb acting from the boy who plays young Saroo, Sunny Pawar. He does an excellent job, as well as the rest of the cast. Lion is very well written, though the quality tends to dip in the second half in terms of pacing. The music is also great here, perfectly capturing the mood of each moment. However, the film isn't perfect.

The cinematography is good, but it never does anything special. The color palette is very good in the second half of the film; showcasing vibrant colors. But during the first half it's sort of ugly to look at. Granted, this is most likely done on purpose to show the audience how terrible the living conditions are in Calcutta, but I believe they could have done a better job. 

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Overall, Lion is one of the better films for me of the Best Picture nominees. Not perfect, but still pretty damn good.

Final Score: 8/10

Arrival

Arrival (2016)

To be honest, I'm happy that The Academy decided to give Arrival the recognition it deserved, as this is an incredibly smart sci-fi movie that fans of the genre will love. The film follows linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) as she and other scientists attempt to communicate with aliens that have landed on Earth.

The writing in this film is pretty solid overall. Dialogue sounds realistic and never feels too cliché. Amy Adams gives one of her best performances here, making it really feel like she was snubbed an Oscar nomination. But what the best aspect of this film's story is the twist. I won't spoil it, but the twist is one of the most clever and smart twists I've seen in a long time.

As you would expect, the movie is a technical marvel as well. While it wasn't my favorite editing and sound design of the films, its most certainly a close second. The film is also shot very well and as a very subdued color palette that I enjoyed a bit.

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However, this film probably has the worst ending sequence of all the films. It appears as if the producers were worried that general audiences wouldn't understand the twist, so they made a bunch of changes towards the end. The writing during this sequence is awful. You can tell that the ending just sticks of producer and production company interference to a smart movie.

Arrival is a good time, and a must see for any sci-fi fan. Compared to the other nominees though, it never really stood a chance to win the big trophy.

Final Score: 7.6/10

Manchester by the sea

Manchester By The Sea (2016)

My god this movie is depressing. Don't go into this movie expecting there to be that classic Hollywood "happy ending" that some may have come to expect. That being said, this is without a doubt one of the favorite of the nominees this year. There's so much to like about this movie that I'm not even sure where to begin.

Let's start with the writing. It won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and it deserves it. There are moments where you can't believe that somebody was able to put that on a page to begin with. This expertly written screenplay is complimented perfectly with the brilliant performances by all the actors; especially Casey Affleck who gives one of the best under-played performances I've ever seen.

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Not everything is perfect though. As much as I love this film for it's characters and story, the soundtrack is incredibly bad. At best, the songs are bearable, but there are times when it oozes pretentiousness or just doesn't fit at all. There are also a lot of sections of the film where they just show you various shots of the town. This is okay one or two times, but when you are doing this type of establishing shot three to four times in one location, it gets old.

But my biggest complaint is not being able to connect to Casey Affleck's character. What happens to this man (which I won't spoil) is one of the most awful things that could ever happen to a person. But because of the way he downplays his performance, it's hard to get any kind of emotion to connect to with him. This may be sort of a nitpick, but not being able to connect to your main character can cause problems.

This film is incredibly smart. While it has some issues, the whole product here is one of the smartest written movies I've seen in awhile. Here's hoping that Amazon can bring us more quality films like this one in the future.

Final Score: 9/10

Fences

Fences (2016)

I had heard that Fences was a brilliant play, so I went into this film adaptation with some pretty high hopes. Overall, I was satisfied with the film, but some aspects just didn't feel right for a movie. There are plenty of things to talk about when concerning the transition from play to screenplay, but let's talk about the positives first.

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are brilliant in this film. Their performances sort of remind me of a more classic style of acting. They don't overact, but you can tell that they aim to make their emotions as clear as day. Its sort of amazing that they were able to keep character as long as they did, as there are many long takes of long speeches that both actors give. The other performances are good too, but Denzel and Viola take the show.

Now here's where I get a little unsure of what to say. I want to say that the writing is very solid here, because it is, but at the same time (from what I have seen) the film barely made any changes in dialogue from the play it's based on. Unfortunately it shows too. I've already mentioned the long speeches. While they're well written, the drag on more often than not. Characters speak to each other like it's a play; responding as quickly as possible as if they were on stage.

I like plays as much as the next guy, but this style of filmmaking has been scrapped for awhile now. It just doesn't seem natural. You'll get used to this, but it still feels odd. Luckily the performances are good enough that you don't usually mind.

But the film also drags towards the end. I thought the film had ended at least twice before it actually did end. You never want to pull what films like Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King did where it ends like five times before the credits roll.

I enjoyed Fences quite a bit, but I can't really compliment much more than the performances as the writing is basically just the play, and it does do enough wrong where I can't give it a glowing review.

Final Score: 7.8/10

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Mel Gibson is a crazy, anti-Semitic, racist man. But even I can't deny that he is a good director. Hacksaw Ridge isn't the best written film, but from a technical standpoint it has an edge on it's competitors. The film tells the incredible true story of Desmond T. Doss, a man who joined the army to be a medic, but refuses to use a gun in battle.

The writing is only slightly above average. When compared to the rest of the films nominated, it is certainly lacking. But the performance by Andrew Garfield is surprisingly great for what he had to work with. The beginning is slow, but once you get to the actual war and battle scenes, you see why this film was nominated.

The battles in this film are amongst the best directed and edited battle scenes I've ever seen. The editing and sound design here are without a doubt my favorite of all the films. Say what you will about Mel Gibson as a person (because, you know, he's an asshole), but he did a great job in these aspects of the film.

If you don't like Mel Gibson films, then you'll probably hate Hacksaw Ridge. There's A LOT of religious symbolism, so if that bugs you just stay clear of this movie. But any war movie buff should give it a shot. While it lacks somewhat writing wise, it succeeds immensely in the technical department.

Final Score: 7.8/10

La La Land

La La Land (2016) 
I feel so bad for the producers of La La Land after the whole Oscar fiasco; mainly because it was equally as deserving of winning the big trophy as Moonlight. But before you try to watch it, just know that if you don't like musicals or love stories that this film won't change your mind.

What La La Land does the best is everything from the production side. The film has amazing cinematography, color palettes, costume design, and of course music. It was without a doubt the prettiest looking movie nominated this year. The writing is also very solid, though it doesn't reach the caliber of say Manchester By The Sea.

Emma Stone gives a great performance here, as does Ryan Gosling. But where the film will lose people is it's very generic plot. The music and visuals will keep you watching, but you can't shake the feeling that you've seen this basic storyline before; because you have. But, the well written dialogue disguises this pretty well at times, so it never bugs you so much that you want to stop watching.

The film has a pretty generic opening number, but it only gets better from there. There are a lot of subtle things that the director, Damien Chazelle, puts in that I didn't see upon my first time watching the film. He without a doubt deserved his award for Best Director.

This film was equally as deserving of the Best Picture award just from a technical aspect alone. However, it's kind of generic plot does hold it back from being a universal classic. Definitely keep an eye out for Chazelle though. He just keeps getting better and better with every film he makes.

Final Score: 9.2/10

Moonlight

Moonlight (2016)

And now we finally get to the film that took the Oscar for Best Picture in a surprising twist ending to the ceremony. Does it deserve it? In my opinion, yes. Moonlight takes what appears to be a very niche problem and/or audience and makes it so anyone who sees it can relate to and feel sympathy towards the main character.

Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a young African-American boy growing up in a ghetto neighborhood in Miami, Florida. The film follows Chiron as he learns more about who he is, and being able to be himself despite what society tells him he should be. It's a powerful message, filled with equally powerful performances.

The stand out here would have to be Mahershala Ali who plays a drug dealer that becomes a father figure to young Chiron (commonly being referred to as "Little" in this stage of his life). Mahershala isn't in the film long, but the amazing performance he gives helps give insight as to how he affects Chiron's life. Every actor who plays Chiron (as a little kid, teenager, and adult) also gives a fantastic performance and really showcase how he has changed through the events of his life.

The film is beautifully shot as well; whether it's a simple shot of characters interacting or an artsy sequence showing a character's emotions. The editing is equally superb as well. This film is just consistently good in nearly aspect of filmmaking that it's hard to see how any of the other films stood a chance.

Moonlight deserved the Oscar for Best Picture. Its able to tell a beautiful, relatable story that should not be missed by any lover of film. This is without a doubt my favorite of the Best Picture nominated films of this past Oscar awards.

Final Score: 10/10

That's our reviews for every Best Picture nominated film. Which film was your favorite of this Oscar's season? Let us know in the comments below!

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These are thoughtful, intelligent reviews that illuminate the core of each movie and let the reader know whether they will be likely to appreciate the stories being told.

 

Well done, Jacob!

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