2017 Calvin Awards Best Picture
By David Mumpower
February 24, 2017

I failed the Rorschach test.

All 16 categories at The Calvins are important to our staff. Whether we’re discussing the unique ones that are exclusive to our site, the conventional ones that everyone does, or a retired one that won’t be coming back (RIP, Best DVD!), they all matter to us. Still, the reality is that the grand champion of the categories is Best Picture.

Over the first 15 years of The Calvins, here are the films we’ve previously honored as the best of the best: About a Boy, The Artist, The Bourne Ultimatum, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Gravity, Lost in Translation, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Queen, The Royal Tenenbaums, Serenity, Silver Linings Playbook, The Social Network, Up, WALL-E, and Whiplash. Obviously, we have eclectic tastes in cinema, and it’s difficult to anticipate the type of film that will capture our fancy each year. So, what’s the 16th entrant? Well, the picture above is a strong hint…

Arrival is the overwhelming choice as the Best Picture of the year. It almost earned as many points as the second and third films combined, and it also claimed easily the most first place votes. While this result wasn’t the runaway that, say, Gravity was a few years ago, it’s still one of the most dominant outcomes in the history of the category.

What did we like about Arrival? Judging by this year’s results, the answers are the screenplay, the direction, and the performance of Amy Adams, all of which we lauded with category wins. The Calvins aren’t designed for the same film to win several awards, so when a single title wins four major categories, the results speak for themselves.

BOP loved the dutiful point by point storytelling required to relay such a complex idea in easily understandable parcels. We admired the sacrifice required by one of the characters to save the human race. And we were blown away by the subtle way that Arrival subverted expectations by inverting standard movie conventions to hide the film’s secret in plain sight.

Arrival is a heavyweight in the realm of science fiction, an instant classic that we’ll admire for years to come. Over the past 16 years, it’s only the fourth science fiction film we’ve felt was worthy of the title of Best Picture, joining Gravity, Serenity, and WALL-E in the pantheon of epic storytelling. Our staff especially admires that it doesn’t offer a finite answer to the thoughtful question Dr. Louise Banks asks. “If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?”

At the time of publication, La La Land is only a few days away from its expected coronation as Best Picture at the Academy Awards. At The Calvins, however, it’ll have to settle for second place. Our staff felt like we were in a hypnotic trance as we watched this stylish recreation of the Hollywood dream. Director Damien Chazelle distilled the premise into two forms, with Ryan Gosling as the wannabe musician too principled to take easy, high-paying gigs, and Emma Stone as the unmistakably talented actress that the studio system is too blind to notice.

What’s daring about La La Land is how easily it shapeshifts from regular scenes into magical musical numbers. Anyone who has ever daydreamed about becoming a celebrity can identify with these escapist fantasies brought to life onscreen. The part of the story that will stay with us, however, is the ending. Stubbornly incomplete in nature, it provides multiple variations on the conventional Hollywood ending before ultimately revealing the fates of the characters, ones that perfectly in line with their behaviors leading up to that point.

Director Damien Chazelle has a rare sense of confidence with his storytelling. With La La Land, he isn’t afraid to let his characters fly into unexpected orbits (in one scene, literally) in order to show that life is a series of choices and sacrifices that may ultimately lead to achieving a dream. Whether it arrives in the manner a person desires is the open-ended question that concludes our favorite scene of the year, the Epilogue of La La Land. Both of our two favorite movies of the year refused to spoon-feed the audience or provide standard storyline resolutions. That’s why we liked them so much. A little novelty is refreshing, and Hollywood’s best offerings this year demonstrate this trait.

Three different awards season contenders round out our top five this year. We named Hell or High Water the winner of Best Supporting Actor in novel fashion, listing the performances of Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster as the two best of the year. That demonstrates our feeling about the overall quality of this subversive but straightforward take on how a poor man gets ahead in society today. We also chose Naomie Harris from Moonlight in the Best Supporting Actress category while Mahershala Ali finished third after the Hell or High Water duo in Best Supporting Actor. Clearly, we loved the acting in Moonlight, and it actually earned the third largest total of first place votes in Best Picture, ultimately finishing fourth overall.

Our fifth selection, Hidden Figures, didn’t win any categories, but it earned several nominations including two of the top four in Best Supporting Actress and a top five finish in Best Actress. Our staff adored this upbeat tale of how a group of plucky geniuses shattered the glass ceiling and forced their way into the upper echelon of the NASA space program.

What are the two most different films of the year? Well, there might not be one true answer to this, but our sixth and seventh selections are definitely in the conversation. Manchester by the Sea is one of the grimmest movies ever. Someone involved with the project came up with a literal interpretation of “die in a fire,” presumably to bum out every moviegoer in the world. But it works. Conversely, Deadpool’s sole purpose is to entertain. The wiseacre Merc with a Mouth breaks the fourth wall from start to finish in the movie, and Ryan Reynolds sell out in the role. We named Deadpool the Best Character of the year, while the movie finishes as our seventh favorite of the year.

A pair of animated movies and the latest offering from one of BOP’s favorite content creators complete our top ten for the year. Ultimately, we lauded Kubo and the Two Strings and Zootopia as our favorites, choosing Kubo as the best of the best, presumably due to its profound ending. 2016 was a brilliant year for animation, with several films worthy of consideration for this list.

We also loved auteur Shane Black’s latest offering, The Nice Guys, as a wonderful play on his favorite cinematic theme, the buddy movie. The Nice Guys is basically L.A. Confidential as a comedy, and it works shockingly well.

Last year, I mentioned a rare bit of symmetry between the Academy Awards and The Calvins. Six out of seven Best Picture nominees also earned placement on our list. This year, the percentage isn’t quite as good, but the total’s the same. Our top six films in the category all earned Best Picture nods as well. One of them is La La Land, the heavy favorite in the category. A seventh of our selections, Zootopia, is expected to win Best Animated Feature, also. So, we’ve lined up for a second consecutive year after a decade of widespread disagreements.

Due to its importance, Best Picture is always a bare-knuckled brawl. At BOP, we like to highlight as many films as possible so that you always have a good idea of what we’ve loved during a given year. The closest titles to nomination that fell a bit short are Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Sing Street, Moana, Lion, Fences, and Loving. Out of the 49 films we felt were worthy of selection in the category, the list below shows the 25 highest scoring films.

Calvins Intro
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Cast
Best Character
Best Director
Best Overlooked Film
Best Picture
Best Scene
Best Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
Breakthrough Performance
Worst Performance
Worst Picture