2017 Oscars Reviews & Predictions

With the 89th Oscars now just a short time away, coming on the 26th of this month, this Sunday, I thought it was about time to give my thoughts on some of the best films and performances of the year with what and who I think will win what, so here we go!

BEST PICTURE

ARRIVAL

Starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, Arrival is an intelligent sci-fi film with quite a bit of heart. It’s not your usual mindless explosion of action and violence that we have come to expect from the sci-fi genre, instead focusing on emotion and beautiful cinematography, with an important message contained within about the need for humanity to co-operate.

Conclusion: Though it is not perfect and can get a bit bogged down in the heavy subject matter, it still provides a thought-provoking experience with another terrific performance from Amy Adams. Chances of winning Best Picture though? Close to none.

FENCES

Adapted from the Pulitzer-winning play of the same name, with the same cast who performed it on Broadway with a virtually unchanged script, Denzel Washington’s third directorial effort sees him and Viola Davis star in a heavy, wordy reflection of black life in 1950’s Pittsburg. It is a very human film, with long, thought-provoking monologues provided by every character as they muse about life and love, making it feel like you are watching a play more than a film. This is both the film’s strength and weakness, as it allows you to be drawn so completely into the lives of these simple people in such a difficult time, but as it is also mostly set in 1 scene with little plot, it can become a bit samey. What I liked about this film’s dialogue however is that there are a lot of ups and downs, it is never content to stay still in it’s mood, giving us a full spectrum of emotion from the characters and life lessons worth taking away. This is the sort of film my Dad would fall asleep in within the first 10 minutes, but for the sort of people with enough patience to sit through a play, they will find the tenderness of the script touching and reflective.

Conclusion: Due to it being best suited to the theatre, chances of it winning best picture are very low.

HACKSAW RIDGE

The way Hacksaw Ridge sets it sets itself apart from most other brainless shooting war films is that is has a compelling true story to tell about consciousness objector Desmond T. Doss who enlists in WW2 as a combat medic, but refused to hold a gun. The first part of the film is a good set-up, showing him growing up and meeting a girl who he falls in love with, but things really start to get interesting when he goes off to train for combat. After initially starting well with physical training, when his commander (funny guy Vince Vaughn) finds out that he refuses to hold a weapon, he goes on what can best be described as a vendetta against poor, simple, peaceful Doss, purposefully turning the rest of his troupe against him also. The tension continues to build as those in charge, after failing to forcefully discharge him, try to break Doss’s spirit and make him hold a gun, but no matter how hard they try, and how badly they treat him, he refuses. His girlfriend even tries to convince him and finally he even gets court-martialed for his insubordination, but is saved at the last minute by his father.

Therefore, he is allowed to begrudgingly go off to war, with his commander and troupe thinking that he will be a pointless addition. We then have the action part of the film, where there is an epic battle between the Americans and Japanese in a brilliantly filmed and choreographed fight scene, really top stuff, and harrowing. After the battle, many American soldiers lie injured and dying on the field and instead of returning to safety with the rest of his troupe, Doss stays in the firing line all night, rescuing his fallen comrades, many of whom had previously marked him a coward for his refusal to hold a weapon. He ends up inspiring the troops to victory when they advance on the Japanese the next day and although Doss gets injured by a grenade, he wins the admiration and respect of every man there and Sergeant Vinny Vaughn. In the end, Doss saved 75 soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge and was awarded the Medal of Honour for his efforts. It is a sobering, heart-warming tale of redemption in the eyes of others and conviction in your beliefs, no matter what the obstacles. There’s never a boring moment in Hacksaw Ridge, with new entertainment and excitement around every corner. Congratulations to Mel Gibson on a triumphant return to Hollywood, I look forward to seeing what this guy does next, as long as Jesus isn’t involved. Well…

Conclusion: Hands down one of the best war films I’ve ever seen, Hacksaw Ridge manages to breathe new life into already well-trodden ground, putting it up there with the likes of Thin Red Line, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket (and just below Apocalypse Now). If La La Land wasn’t up for the Oscar this year as well, I would give it to Hacksaw Ridge. The reason? It has a beautiful emotional story like the other contenders, but what puts it above them is that it is simply more entertaining.

HELL OR HIGH WATER

A hot and dusty No Country for Old Men style neo-Western heist film about two brothers who go around robbing banks in Texas. There is again little in the way of mindless gun-slinging, with the relationships between both the two brothers as well as the perfectly-suited Jeff Bridges and his American-Indian deputy hot on their heels taking charge.

Conclusion: It is overall a very good film, with the acting, plot, scenery and script all combining to keep the viewer engaged. But despite it’s achievements, I would say it’s chances of taking home the top prize are fairly low.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

After fashion designer turned film director Tom Ford’s first successful movie effort A Single Man proved to be effective, he continues his human approach to filmmaking with Nocturnal Animals. Adapted from the 1993 book ‘Tony and Susan’, it tells the story of Amy Adam’s relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal over two different periods in their lives. Despite having its flaws, the main strength of this film is that you get two films in one which makes for an engaging experience. The first film is as I said focused on the relationship between Tony and Susan over two periods; the first period when they are young and fall passionately in love, and the second when they are older, no longer together or talking and he sends her a screenplay out of the blue called ‘Nocturnal Animals’. This part of the story is engaging enough, providing a bleak outlook on the difficult decisions we make in life in regards to love and passion vs comfort. As a writer, Edward ends up not being able to give Susan the life her parents raised her to expect, so she leaves him and in the second half of this story, we find her unhappily married to a rich businessman, alone in a big house with all her lovely things, while he is away and cheating on her.

After she receives the screenplay from Edward, she begins to read it from the beginning thus the second film starts which tells the fictitious tale of a man called Tony (also played by Gyllenhaal) and his family as they are travelling on the road, but get into a road rage incident with a group of rednecks, led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in a brilliantly revolting performance. They are forced off the road and his wife and daughter are then kidnapped, gang-raped and murdered by the group of men, while Tony in an irritatingly docile and cowardly way allows them to steal his car, thus causing himself to be stranded in the desert while his family are assaulted and murdered. The rest of this second film is then regarding his working with chain-smoking Detective Bobby Andes played by the magnificent Michael Shannon as they attempt to track down and prosecute those responsible for the terrible crimes. When this is not possible, Andes instead helps Tony to go outside of the law to get suitable revenge on the criminals, resulting in a showdown that isn’t perhaps as exciting as it could have been, whilst still being pleasing.

Conclusion: It is a complex, disturbing, multi-layered film that has continued to stay with me since watching it, but despite it’s achievements is a little too uneven to win Best Picture.

LA LA LAND

And now we come to the film that everyone is talking, or rather singing about, La La Land. After Damien Chazelle’s brilliant debut film Whiplash, he was finally given permission to make the pet project that he has had in his mind for years, but was never previously allowed to make. For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few months, La La Land is a romantic homage to the old-school musicals of a bygone era. It is about struggling jazz pianist Ryan Gosling who falls in love with struggling actress Emma Stone who get swept up in the belief of pursuing their passions through the power of love. To say this film is good would be a major understatement, I’ve watched it twice now and it floored me both times with everything from it’s dialogue and acting, story and cinematography, imagination and vibrant colour patterns, to of course the singing and dancing. It is all simply a joy to watch and excels in romanticising films of the past (as well as jazz), making you miss their beautiful simplicity, even if you didn’t know you wanted to.

Conclusion: Only the most cold-hearted of cynics will be able to resist this feel-good love film which is an assaulting delight on the senses. Having already been nominated for a record-tying fourteen nominations in different categories as well as having won in all the categories it was nominated for at the Golden Globes and five categories at the BAFTA’s, including Best Picture, this looks to be a pretty open and shut case. Yup, it’s an almost sure-win for Best Picture, and I feel it would be criminal for it not to be.

LION

The heartfelt true story of an poor Indian child who gets lost in the giant country and spends his life trying to find his family. The story is split into two parts; the first with Saroo being a child and getting separated from his brother after getting stuck on a train which takes him thousands of miles from his hometown. He then has to navigate the dangerous, scary, unforgiving landscape of India now as a street rat. There is no sympathy for him; and as a child he has no money, no skills and on top of that, he doesn’t even speak the language because he is so far from home. Almost hard to imagine on our tiny continent of the UK being in the same country and not being able to be understood, I suppose the Welsh must struggle with this daily. Eventually, after dodging child kidnappers and other potential child kidnappers, a woman brings him to the police who put his picture in the newspaper, but alas his mother is so far away, can’t read or write, and there are so many lost children in India, the chances of him being re-discovered are small.

Instead he is after a while offered the opportunity to be adopted by a family in Australia, and seeing no other option, and as a way of giving himself a new life, Saboo agrees. This starts the second part of the story 20 years later as we see Saboo as a young man who has been raised on the oceans of Australia. By the grace of his loving parents, he is a kind young man who goes to study hospitality at University. It is whilst at University that he confesses his sad origins to his new friends who tell him of Google Maps which can show you anywhere in the world. Saboo then uses maths (because he’s a right little Ramanujan ;) and his little memory to search for his tiny hometown in the vastness of India on Maps (as a child, he had only the name of the town which he couldn’t spell so had been mispronouncing for years). Eventually he does find it, and having to know the answer, he goes there, returning to the hometown he grew up in, back to the tiny house he was raised in, which must have seemed huge to him the last time he had been there, to find his family. In an ending that had me weeping like a child, he locates his mother, now an old woman, who all that time had still been in the village, hoping that one day her son would return to her. The heartfelt embrace they share after being separated for over 20 years is what cinema is all about.

Conclusion: It’s a beautiful story, but with other more lavish choices up for the award, will likely fall short of the big prize.

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MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

A low-budget brutally honest film about a handyman (played by Afleck) who’s brother dies and who’s son therefore needs looking after. It is simply about these two characters lives as they struggle with the aftermath of the death of a family member and the consequences that leaves them with. With the high amount of heavy dialogue and bleak shots of low-income areas, this film is certainly not for everyone, but will strike a tender chord with those willing to be patient with it’s bleak outlook.

Conclusion: Despite it being a very truthful and honest film, I feel it lacked a certain powerful emotion that is necessary for the Best Picture win.

MOONLIGHT

Moonlight is the story of a shy, lonely boy (Chiron) growing up with a crack-addicted mother and no father. He gets befriended by a seemingly nice man who it turns out is the dealer supplying to his mother. Rather than try and groom Chiron, the dealer seems genuinely kind and keen to help him. Then the second part of the story jumps forward to where Chiron is now a teenager. This part of the film only really has two relevant scenes: The first being when Chiron is sitting on the beach and is introduced to weed by a boy in his class, and then totally unexpectedly they kiss and Kevin gives Chiron a hand-job. The other scene is the next morning where out of peer-pressure, Kevin punches Chiron in the face on the playground several times until he can’t get up anymore. Though he seems to regret it, he needed to keep face in front of the other kids. Chiron is later arrested that day when he smashes a chair into the back of the boy who goaded Kevin into punching Chiron.

The story then jumps forward for the third and final act where Chiron, now a hardened, muscled adult drug dealer receives a call from Kevin who is now a chef, saying he would like to see him. There is hints of a romantic air between their phone conversation, and next scene Chiron has driven down to reunite with Kevin. In a long final section of scenes, Kevin cooks a socially awkward Chiron dinner, then they go back to Kevin’s and he apologises for beating him when they were teenagers. The final shot is Kevin holding Chiron in a tender embrace, suggesting sexual contact had taken place. It is a very original and daring film, tackling subjects like homosexuality which particularly among African-Americans is still fairly taboo, particularly in cinema. It is also an honest, thought-provoking and meditative film, showing how the choices we make shape us into who we become. The loneliness, social awkwardness and sexuality of the main character is a running theme, and viewers who have ever struggled with their identity or loneliness will be able to relate to Chiron. However, I feel the film lacked emotional drama, being very subdued and slow. As a story of a boy growing up to become a man, I feel they could have explored other parts of his life more completely rather than focusing on mostly the relationship between the two men and Chiron and his mother. The film I would have rather seen is a story about the man’s decision to go into drug dealing and then his eventual redemption through the love of the boy who first pulled him off at school, but we didn’t get that.

Conclusion: Similar to Manchester by the Sea, despite it being a very truthful and honest film, I feel it lacked a certain powerful emotion that is necessary for the Best Picture win. I feel Naomie Harris deserves Best Supporting Actress for her performance though.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

NOMINEES

CASEY AFFLECK, Manchester by the Sea

Having already grabbed Best Actor at the BAFTA’s, Casey Affleck would be a strong choice for Best Actor at the Oscar’s also. And that is for good reason. Having never been one to shy away from perhaps more emotional, human roles than his bigger-box-office-brother, it seems his investment in truthfulness may have paid off. This is Casey’s second Best Actor nomination after the 2007 film The Assassination of Jesse James granted him his first nomination for the portrayal of the coward Robert Redford who well, assassinated Jesse James (all the info you need is in the title really). It was a similarly off-beat and captivating performance by young Casey who appears now in Manchester by the Sea with a much darker and more pained performance. You can really feel the emotion in his brooding sulky facial expressions, and mumbled, distant delivery of dialogue. Whereas some actors would perhaps make it feel corny, young Affleck makes it feel real.

Conclusion: I have a feeling he has a very good chance of winning Best Actor which will surely open a lot more doors for him in mainstream films. I’m excited to see him in further dramatic roles which he has proved he can easily handle.

ANDREW GARFIELD, Hacksaw Ridge

Andrew Garfield is brilliant in his role as conscientious objector Desmond Doss who refused to pick up or fire a gun in World War 2. It is a subdued performance, complete with heavy Southern accent, but it is the simple vulnerability and contrast that Garfield brings to the character in comparison to all the anger and violence going on around him that makes him so effective. However, due to it being more of a story-driven film, I feel an actor who is given some meatier dialogue will win the Oscar, despite the heartfelt believability Garfield brings to the role.

RYAN GOSLING, La La Land

The best film to come out this year has been nominated in fourteen different categories so it gave it’s two leading stars the opportunity to bust some serious acting chops. Though Stone gets the majority of the more emotional scenes, Gosling’s usual beautiful brooding intensity is as hot as ever here (he’s so hot right now). However, I think it’s more likely she will win Best Actress than he Best Actor purely because Stone was given more meatier, emotional dialogue to work with. Gosling’s lines often amount to a Woody Allen reminiscent pessimistic pretension surrounding the under-appreciation of jazz, which is indulging but lacking in the emotional depth necessary for the Oscar.

Conclusion: In the hands of a lesser actor, his character would have simply been annoying, but Gosling manages to make it funny. Oscar worthy though? I don’t think so.

VIGGO MORTENSEN, Captain Fantastic

A wonderfully imaginative film about a family who live off-grid in the woods, but who come to the city for her funeral after their mother dies. Mortensen plays the father with his usual display of world-weary relateable off-the-wall affection which is where I think he accelerates as an actor. The emotion he brings to the performance is another great outing by a consistently powerful underrated actor who drives the film forward.

Conclusion: Despite his strong, stoic performance, the film isn’t really enough of a vehicle for Vigo to be awarded the Oscar as it is more of a story than character-driven film.

DENZEL WASHINGTON, Fences

Having also played the character on Broadway for a number of years gives the Oscar-heavyweight big D a certain advantage over the other actors here; he has had time to get under the skin of the character and walk around as him on a great number of outings, reciting the same monologues time and again. And maybe that’s part of the reason why Denzel is so good in this role, I would go so far as to say it is one of his best performances to date. If it were up to me, I would give the Oscar to Denzel because what he has over Affleck’s character is a large range of emotion as we see the character over a number of years, giving out life lessons and wistfully telling tales of his youth. There is so much to listen to from Troy in the film that I’d be tempted to put it as an audio-book and listen to it on the way to work. It’s such a brutally honest performance, illustrating with such honesty man’s strengths and weaknesses, how we are a product of our environment and resistant to change.

Conclusion: It was a perfect vehicle for Denzel to once again show his prowess as an actor, with a performance that for me was Oscar worthy. I’d say it’s down to him or Casey.

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Thanks for reading,

by Gonzo World

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