It's become a tradition for my friends and I to watch as many Oscar movies as we can between the nomination announcement and the ceremony. In the two previous years, I've done well enough, watching most of the Best Picture winners and some others, but this year I have been on top of it. With a little over a week until the Oscars ceremony (on my birthday nonetheless), I've finished all nine Best Picture nominees and quite a few more. And it was exciting to watch nine distinct films, all very different in tone, style, and substance.
So in case you don't want to sit through all nine nominated movies, here's my ranking, based on my personal enjoyability of the films. Though some rank higher than others, I will say all nine films were well made and good in their own way.
WARNING: Light spoilers ahead.
I really wanted to love this one. It was filmed a neighborhood over from me in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, so I was excited to see it. But this wasn't a movie. This was a play performed on film. For the most part.
Sanitation worker, Troy Maxson deals with family drama in this adaptation of the famous August Wilson play. Troy is a truly unlikeable man, arrogant, abusive, and hypocritical. I couldn't get attached to anyone in this film because of the long rambling monologues and boring stage direction, whoops, I mean film directing. Let's be honest this is a direct adaption of the play with no changes. The lines were delivered so quickly to keep the runtime down that I could barely comprehend what was being said, and definitely couldn't garner an emotional response.
Denzel Washington was solid, but he seemed too rehearsed. Others actors nominated had to go to deep places of grief or happiness, completely embodying an emotion. Denzel never let himself lose control in a character he played on Broadway and knew like the back of his hand. Viola Davis on the other hand, gave me chills. She has one scene that will singlehandedly win her an Oscar and I couldn't be happier for it.
8. Hell of High Water
Ugh. I know some people love this film, but I just couldn't get into it. I can objectively see that it is well made and well acted, but I was so damn bored I can barely remember what happened.
Brothers Tanner and Toby rob banks in Texas to pay off their deceased mother's mortgage with a soon to be retired ranger on their tail. And until the last twenty minutes of the movie, that's all they do.
The only reason this ranked higher than "Fences" is because it felt like a film, while the former felt like a stage play poorly adapted into a movie.
7. Hacksaw Ridge
I don't like war movies. There are some very well-made ones, but I don't like all the blood and gore and frantic movements that seem commonplace on the filmed battlefield. That's why I was glad that most of the movie didn't take place during a fight.
Desmond Doss enlists as a conscientious objector in the US Army during World War II to be a medic and help people. He is harassed by his fellow soldiers and higher ups because he does not want to touch a gun due to his father's violent outbursts in the past. But when they arrive at Okinawa, Doss proves that firing a gun does not make a man brave.
When the fighting started, I had to look away from the absolute horror. It was scarily gruesome and despite my fierce hatred toward Mel Gibson, he did really good job directing the busy war sequences.
6. Hidden Figures
This family-friendly inspiring story doesn't really fit in with the rest of these films. It is mostly light-hearted while the others are clearly made for adults, but that's what makes it exciting.
African American mathematician Katherine Johnson finds herself working as a "computer" for the Space Task Team, the first of her race and sex to do so. Following is the typical segregation story with a satisfying ending of empowerment. So it's a little cliche, but it's still inspiring, not just for blacks, but also women.
This is the only Oscar film I would recommend to kids and adults alike. It is easy to understand and connect with.
When I saw that this was about aliens, I was not excited, but this film surprised me. Linguist Louise Banks is brought to a military camp set up next to one of twelve spacecrafts that have landed on Earth. Her job is to communicate with the aliens, but are they friends or foes?
I dragged out watching this one for a while. I'm not a big science fiction fan, despite my Star Wars love. This film is hardly sci-fi. There are aliens and spaceships, but there is no journey into space or destructive attacks. It is about one woman and her past, present, and future as changed by these aliens. There were some major twists that shocked and excited me. It's an entertaining and mind-twisting watch.
4. Manchester by the Sea
Wow. This movie was depressing.
The film follows Lee Chandler who returns home after many years to take care of his nephew after his brother Joe's untimely death. Oh, you thought that was the sad part? Just wait. The film has many flashbacks to show how the Chandler family got into this situation, including a twist that will devastate you. I won't spoil it because it is the epitome of a gut punch.
So why do I like this depressing film? It's brilliantly written and perfectly acted. Each actor has a scene that in my opinion is worthy of an Oscar. Despite the controversy surrounding him, there is no doubt in my mind that Casey Affleck deserves to win Best Actor. And it deserves the screenplay award for making me laugh at the dark humor in between trying not to cry.
3. La La Land
While it's definitely overrated, "La La Land" is a good time at the movies. The story follows aspiring actress Mia and jazz pianist Sebastian as they struggle for success in sunny Los Angeles. This movie is being lauded as a masterpiece, and while I think that is a little too far, it is one of the most re-watchable of this year's Oscar films. Brightly colored and stylishly filmed, "La La Land" is for the dreamers out there.
What else can I say? You've probably already heard a hundred people talk about it. Go see it. You'll have a good time.
This is a true story that will inspire. Young Saroo, and Indian boy out with his brother, falls asleep on a bench and gets stuck on a train that takes him hundreds of miles away from home, where he is eventually adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty years later, Saroo begins searching for his home, hoping to find his mother and brother again, using Google Earth.
This was such an emotional story about the dedication of family and the love we share. I usually hate subtitles, but I was enthralled by the adorable little boy, who got separated from his family and fought to find his way back home.
It's difficult to put into words why I loved this movie so much. It's not a flashy story.
Similar to "Boyhood" two years ago, the film follows Chiron, a black boy living with a drug addicted mother, through three stages of life, as a quiet boy, a sexually confused teenager, and a twenty-something drug dealer. However, "Moonlight" does this with three separate actors who seamlessly merge into one complete character.
So why is this my favorite Oscar movie of the year? I really don't know. "Lion" is more emotional. "La La Land" is more flashy. "Manchester" is more depressing. But, "Moonlight" moved me. It took me outside of my comfort zone and made me love a character I have absolutely nothing in common with. And I'm still trying to figure out what the pink and blue lights mean. It's not for everyone, but "Moonlight" is the 2017 Oscar movie that I loved the most.