Since I’ve officially given up on the Animated Feature category, I have now seen every nominated film I need to see. As you may remember I pick films in the acting, directing and Best Picture categories. Once again thanks to the mighty Goldderby.com for guidance. They get one or two of the winners wrong every year but they are unerring when it comes to the films that might get nominated. In the years that I’ve been relying on them, I’ve never been surprised.
It may be that I’m getting old and jaded but it seems to me that this has been a good year for movies but not a great one. With the possible exception of Loving, which in my view was snubbed in two important categories, I’m not really passionate about any of these films. And I’m downright hostile to at least one of them.
As always these are not my predictions about who will win. For that you need to go to Goldderby.com. These are the films that I would choose among the nominated entries.
Here we go:
This may very well be the strongest category this year. All these performances are terrific and deserving.
Naomie Harris’ mother in Moonlight is a study in low key acting. Which is amazing because another actor could very well have relied on stereotype and cliché in the role of a junkie neglectful mother. Harris avoids that and believably redeems her character later on in the movie.
Nicole Kidman plays almost exactly the opposite type of mother in Lion. She and her husband adopt two Indian orphans. One becomes a disappointment but she never gives up on him no matter how much his behavior hurts her. Kidman conveys this woman’s strength and compassion.
Michelle Williams delivers a solid performance as Casey Affleck’s ex-wife in Manchester by the Sea. For the most part she’s on an even keel, approaching him carefully because the marriage ended badly. She has one scene where she provides the fireworks and it is masterfully done.
Viola Davis is great in everything she does and her performance as the longsuffering wife in Fences is no exception. Fences is basically a filmed play in which everybody gets their speeches and their moment. Davis makes the most of hers.
I would give the award to Octavia Spencer for her role in Hidden Figures. She is terrific in what I would call respectful defiance. She persistently and politely points out to her supervisor just how unfair it is that she has all the responsibilities and duties of a manager but without the title or the pay, which they won’t give her because of her race. Spencer shows this woman’s spirit, intelligence and determination.
Lucas Hedges fails to evoke any empathy for his character in Manchester by the Sea. This may be due to the script which makes a serious miscalculation with the orphaned teenager, but Hedges does nothing notable to overcome it.
Michael Shannon’s dying badass detective is the best thing in Nocturnal Animals. He is methodical and professional until he exhausts all the legal means of bringing a murderer to justice and then he believably crosses the line.
I think Dev Patel overdoes the moping in the second half of Lion. It really drags the plot down and cancels out a lot of the sympathy we have for the character.
Jeff Bridges isn’t exactly stretching in this performance as a dogged Texas Ranger in Hell or High Water but boy is this an entertaining performance. You can see his confusion and indecision once he figures out why his two quarries go on a bank robbing spree but there is also his determination to uphold the law no matter what.
I would give the award to the favorite Mahershala Ali for his role as the drug dealer in Moonlight. He undercuts cliché by making his character compassionate and even wise while at the same time contributing to the problems of his neighborhood. It takes a great performance to encompass both those things and Ali delivers.
Isabelle Huppert plays a cold unsympathetic character in Elle and does nothing to make us feel an ounce of sympathy for her. It was a mess of a movie so it wasn’t entirely her fault but she is complicit.
Emma Stone is a beautiful and talented actress but she can neither sing nor dance and I have no idea how she got cast as the lead in a musical.
Meryl Streep actually can sing pretty well but chooses to sing badly in Florence Foster Jenkins. It is a brave performance about a rich woman who deludes herself into thinking she has talent.
Natalie Portman gives a powerhouse performance as Jackie Kennedy in Jackie. She handles both the scenes of hysterical grief and the ones where her hidden strength and intelligence emerge with equal skill and dexterity.
But the award should go to Ruth Negga for her masterful performance as a black woman illegally married to a white man in Loving. Her chemistry with co-star Joel Edgerton is an amazing achievement especially since the characters are so different. Negga really nails it here.
Let me start by saying if Joel Edgerton had been nominated for Loving, I would give the award to him. But he wasn’t so I can’t.
Ryan Gosling stole Edgerton’s place in the nominations. Gosling is one of the best actors in his generation, but he can’t sing or dance. Why was he cast in a musical?
Viggo Mortensen turns in an eccentric and prickly performance as a demanding counter cultural dad in Captain Fantastic. It’s not easy being one of his kids but you can see why they love him.
Andrew Garfield gives us an impeccable Appalachian accent as a conscientious objector in Hacksaw Ridge. He shows us the bravery of this man.
Denzel Washington breathes fire as the flawed patriarch in Fences. An angry blowhard, he expects a lot from everybody around him but not so much from himself.
Casey Affleck gets the nod for his turn as a grieving guilt-ridden man suddenly charged with caring for his deceased brother’s teenage son. He has the range to play the same character in both the flashbacks where he’s rather feckless and fun-loving and in the later scenes where he’s depressed and self-loathing.
Damien Chazelle seriously miscast the leads in La La Land.
Kenneth Lonergan gets great performances from his cast in Manchester by the Sea.
Mel Gibson’s bloody-mindedness serves him well in Hacksaw Ridge depicting the horror of mechanized warfare.
Barry Jenkins developed a consistent tone over the course of three different time periods in Moonlight. He also got some very good performances out of his cast.
Denis Villeneuve gets my vote for the winner. He uses the entire vocabulary of film to produce a thoughtful and engrossing science fiction film.
Loving was the best film I saw in 2016 but it wasn’t nominated so…
I think I’ve made my feelings about La La Land pretty clear by now. It is the heavy favorite to win but it will go down in history as one of Oscar’s biggest mistakes.
Lion drags too much in the second half to be one of this year’s best films.
Any of the rest of these could win and I wouldn’t be upset.
Hacksaw Ridge is a compelling film with visceral images that really gets across the horror of war.
Moonlight is a thoughtful character study with good performances.
Fences has great performances but struggles to overcome its theatrical origins.
Hell or High Water is an entertaining crime movie in the tradition of Bonnie and Clyde.
Manchester by the Sea is an engrossing domestic drama slightly marred by one miscalculation in the plot.
Arrival is a near perfect film with unforgettable images and powerful yet understated performances. It’s a little cold for me to give it the big award but it’s certainly deserving of recognition.
Of the nominated films I would give the Oscar to Hidden Figures. It is an uplifting movie about underdogs prevailing over prejudice. That is just the sort of film the Oscars were created to celebrate.
So there you have it. The Oscars will be handed out on February 26. As usual, make some popcorn and enjoy.