If I Were an Academy Member
By J. Don Birnam
February 26, 2017
We’ve heard plenty of what we think (know) is going to win Best Picture. But who would you vote for if you had an AMPAS ballot on your hand, or if perhaps you were handed one by your employer Academy member who can’t be bothered to vote, as the evil gossip in the industry loves to suggest? Remember that voters are asked to rank all Best Picture nominees from 1-9. Here is my ballot.
9. Hacksaw Ridge
I appreciated the technical wizardry on display in the battle/rescue scenes in the second half of this film and I could not believe that this story had not been previously told. The conscientious objector at the center of this piece is impressive and important, he offers a slightly different perspective than the one we are used to from liberal-leaning Hollywood. It is for sure a conservative message, but not the classic pro-war one you’d expect and that was refreshing.
But the first half of the movie felt almost like a comedy to me, with Vince Vaughn scenes seemingly parodying M*A*S*H or Full Metal Jacket. It was hard to take him or the overly dramatic family arc pieces seriously, so that by the time you get to the more impressive portions, I did not trust the film with its intentions.
I also would not rank Garth Davis’s film very highly on an Oscar ballot, mostly because it feels like an archetypical contrived Hollywood piece. Again, the true story behind this project is amazing, that of the young boy separated from his family and how he got back to them. But, much like Hacksaw Ridge if you come to think of it, the movie suffers for me from some dissonance between the first and second halves. The first part is a story of a boy lost and all the horrible things that happen to him - it was not the point of the story I was promised. The second half is emotionally clichéd and delves very superficially into the most interesting piece, which is how exactly he managed to triangulate his village.
And then after the expected ending, the entire project was further ruined for me by the fact that the project was cleaned up too much by Hollywood. In choosing Dev Patel as the lead, the filmmakers picked someone who looks nothing like the people he was meant to portray, and who could not even speak Hindi in the last scenes to his family (unlike the real life character could). It was all staged.
I know the opinion isn’t popular because everyone watches this movie and goes “aww, kids that are poor and sweet and rescued,” but come on people, really? Undoubtedly, Lion has an amazing score and camera work, but I’d limit it to those two nominations alone.