If I Were an Academy Member
By Kim Hollis
February 26, 2017
I actually struggled quite a bit with ranking the Best Picture nominees this year. Along with my top choice (which will also be the Academy’s choice), I enjoyed almost all of the nominees. There is one glaring exception, which I’ll rank last, and fail to understand why it even received a nomination.
All of this is to say that there was one film that I really, really loved and a bunch of films I thought were quite good. Therefore, my rankings as they stand today might be different next year, or next month, or even tomorrow. What I can say is that it’s refreshing to see such an eclectic mix of films in the mix.
1) La La Land
What can I say? I’m a sucker for a musical and always will be. I dreamed of playing Sandy in Grease when I was a kid (today, I realize that Rizzo is the plum role), so Mia’s story was easily relatable. La La Land swept me away in its romance, its tunes and its dancing. The art direction is sublime, the costuming is simple but perfect for the characters and the setting. I’m in deep admiration of writer/director Damien Chazelle’s talent and ability to tell stories about music and dreams. He might even convert a few new jazz fans.
2) Hell or High Water
This modern Western thriller has a tight screenplay that explores a part of West Texas where many of the residents have been left behind, both societally and economically. Two brothers become bank robbers in order to save their family farm, and two Texas Rangers are in pursuit of them. Hell or High Water is a unique film for its genre in that it has fully developed characters whose motivations and experiences ring true. All of the key performers are sublime, with Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster being the particular standouts.
One of the most engaging films about linguistics you’ll ever watch, Arrival is one of the most thoughtful science fiction films in recent history. Initially, it seems as though you’re watching a typical alien invasion film, but as mysteries are revealed and time is fractured, it becomes clear that Arrival is something much deeper and more profound. Amy Adams is a revelation, convincing us that she has indeed made one of the most impossible decisions imaginable. The effects are simple but believable, and director Denis Villeneuve does a masterful job of navigating a challenging script and making it accessible.
4) Manchester by the Sea
Like many of the films that appear in this year’s list of Best Picture nominees, Manchester by the Sea tells an extraordinarily sad story. Even so, director Kenneth Lonergan is able to bring a real honesty to the film, as even though the characters are grieving, there are moments of levity, which is an honest evaluation of how people react and interact when they’re dealing with tragedy. Casey Affleck is every bit as good as advertised, and Lucas Hedges makes a strong impression in a role that is bound to open a lot of doors for him. Like Arrival, Manchester by the Sea unfolds using the tactic of fracturing time, which is impactful and effective. Past tragedy and recent loss are intertwined in a way that shows the connecting threads of emotion.