Saturday, February 25, 2017

2016 Best Picture: Some Thoughts

The Color Purple:
The Film With the Most
Nominations Without a Win
(11, tied with The Turning Point)

The Seventh and Final Part of a Seven-Part Series on the 2016 Academy Awards.  Today, the Best Picture of 2016

The Nominees for the Best Picture of 2016 Are:

Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester By the Sea
Moonlight



Arrival

The first of two films I did not see.  I figure that it is a great honor that Arrival received eight Oscar nominations (though surprisingly, not one for Amy Adams, a perennial bridesmaid).  However, as intelligent as Arrival may be, the Academy is stubborn when it comes to honoring science-fiction films no matter what the pedigree.  It's a credit to the film, but it has no chance.



Fences

Fences is a good film, anchored by great performances by Viola Davis and director Denzel Washington (though to be fair, it's rare when they give bad performances).  My issue with Fences is that Washington and screenwriter August Wilson (who adapted his play but died between his adaptation and the film's production) is that it never broke away from its theatrical roots.  What you have in Fences is essentially a filmed play.  There's really nothing wrong with that if it means Washington and Davis' performances are on film, but it could have been more.



Hacksaw Ridge

The second of two films I haven't seen, though not because I couldn't.  I received a screener for Hacksaw Ridge, but I will not watch any Mel Gibson film, either as actor or director.  I exercise my right to not participate in any production where he's involved.  Now, in a curious side note, I have a friend who accuses me of hypocrisy.  He took me to task for refusing to watch Hacksaw Ridge (which he liked despite his aversion to R-rated films) because of Mel Gibson but for paying to see Elton John in concert.  In other words, while I oppose Gibson for his views I support John and his 'lifestyle', thus my hypocrisy.  Putting aside his extremely bigoted worldview, I fail to see the comparison between the public views of someone and the private life of someone else. 



Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water is a film that I know because these are people I grew up around with, as a son of the West Texas profiled in the film.  It's pretty accurate about this world and a great portrait of morality, loyalty, and desperation among two brothers: the more sensitive one and the more abrasive one.  I continue to maintain that Ben Foster was robbed of an Oscar nomination and that Jeff Bridges, mumbling his way through a variation of his performance in R.I.P.D. stole it.  However, Hell or High Water is a strong film that paints no clear-cut heroes and villains.



Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures is my Best Film of 2016, so one can figure that I loved it.  I am not blind to its faults (sometimes the dialogue was a bit too on-the-nose about the obstacles faced by our heroines), but the film was both an excellent exploration of these extraordinary people who faced dual obstacles of being black and female in a predominantly white-male centric world and a portrait of the struggles they faced in private.  It has standout performances by everyone, from relative newcomer Janelle Monae to Taraji P. Henson (shamefully denied a nomination).  It is an excellent mix of inspiration and motivation, honoring these pioneers who now have their place in the sun.



La La Land

Here's the thing about La La Land: it isn't a terrible film.  I didn't hate it, but am beginning to.  I'm beginning to hate it because I'm told, almost bullied, into LOVING it, and if I don't happen to worship it then I'm somehow a Philistine.  The way my fellow critics and certain moviegoers go on about La La Land, one would have thought it overpowered Citizen Kane or Vertigo as THE GREATEST FILM EVER MADE, that no other film will ever top it, that it is better than that now-forgotten musical Singin' in the Rain.  The worship La La Land is getting is now wildly out of hand, and it will be to cinema's detriment.  I'm reminded of the reception Forrest Gump received: so many people were so enthralled with it that when I expressed a negative view of this sugary view of history, I was actually called un-American for NOT liking it.  La La Land is again a good film, but it is not this epoch-changing masterpiece that will be beloved by cineastes for all time.



Lion

Lion is a good film, one that tells its true-life story well, albeit very slowly, and pulls at your heart, which is part of its intent.  I can't bring myself to put it up there with Casablanca or The Godfather, but the film has an emotional impact that will always hit the viewer.



Manchester By the Sea

The agony of unspeakable loss and the struggle to mourn comes through in Manchester By the Sea, one of the Best Films of 2016.  This is among Casey Affleck's best performances, an underrated actor who finally is getting the attention he deserves.  It validates Michelle Williams as among our best actresses working today, and proves to bring a genuine talent with Lucas Hedges.  Ably directed, moving without being maudlin, Manchester By the Sea is a portrait of a grief observed, a haunting film that stays with you long after you leave.



Moonlight

If people describe Moonlight as 'a gay black man story', it is selling the film short.  Moonlight is about a gay black man, but it is also about a man growing into himself regardless of his sexuality.  Chiron is a troubled man, but he grows into a man, perhaps not a model of the community, but given his circumstances, he has grown to an acceptance of himself and his world.  Moving, almost dreamlike in the world it paints, Moonlight is an exploration of one man coming into his own.

Closing Thoughts:  Every year, there is a certain film that is built up into this epoch-changing masterpiece.  This year, that film is La La Land. There is a hysteria around La La Land that is, to me, downright insane.  Again, it's not a bad film, but the adoration, the worship, the adulation it has been getting is far off-balance from the reality of the film.  It's a very slight film about two people who love and lose.  A trifle clich├ęd, not veering into unchartered territory, La La Land has been built up into some life-changing experience. 

I am reminded of Forrest Gump, of how people built up that film into this beautiful story of how the fool is really wise.  Yes, I was called un-American for not liking Forrest Gump, but now I think people accept that Pulp Fiction was the better and more impactful film that year.  La La Land will, I believe, win Best Picture, but not because it was the Best Picture.  It will win because Hollywood loves itself and wants to believe movies can change the world.  It will win because too many people are pushing the narrative that it is some filmmaking miracle.

However, I predict that in five to ten years, people will pretty much forget La La Land, and it will join such Best Picture-winning musicals as The Broadway Melody or The Great Ziegfeld: films that were absolutely beloved and lavishly praised when first released but that now will have people asking both what are they and how did they win? 

My Prediction: La La Land

My Rankings:

Hidden Figures
Moonlight
Manchester By the Sea
Fences
Hell or High Water
Lion
Arrival
La La Land
Hacksaw Ridge

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