Saturday, February 25, 2017


Welcome to our special OSCAR WEEK SERIES of reviews. This series will go through the seven categories in which an award is given based on the entire film (rather than any one constituent element). This seventh review in the series will go through the BEST PICTURE nominees.


Arrival is the latest film from director Denis Villeneuve. The film is a science fiction story about mysterious aliens coming to Earth and an extremely talented language specialist being enlisted by the military to find a way to communicate with them and what their purpose is on earth. Arrival is one of the best science fiction films we’ve seen in years with its intelligent and emotionally impactful story design and quality filmmaking.

With Arrival, the most apparent thing in the film (and the most obvious positive) is quality of the filmmaking. Villeneuve directs this film impeccably well. The production design and effects are beautiful. The cinematography and score are great. The performances are solid (and one could even call Amy Adams incredible). All of the technical elements are there for a great film. It also has an emotional center which was really intelligently designed and effective. Arrival is simply a great movie. I only have a couple gripes with the film. First, Jeremy Renner was underused and underwhelming in the film. Second, the film goes a bit too long in over explaining what happens at the end. Really, really strong film nevertheless though.

Ryan’s Score: 8.5/10

Extended review here.
Check out James’ review here.


Fences is the third directorial feature from acclaimed actor Denzel Washington. The film, based on the stage play written by August Wilson, follows the story of a husband and wife in Pittsburgh dealing with money issues as well as some serious family and relationship drama. This film is an absolute actors showcase and gave us two of the best performances I saw all year but it never elevated itself as a film beyond the stage play.

The obvious thing that must be said for this film is that the acting is brilliant. It is almost wall to wall dialogue and Denzel Washington and Viola Davis (who also won Tony Awards for their work in this play on stage) deliver career defining performances. They are both absolutely incredible at delivering dialogue extremely well and emoting in ways that completely move the audience to laughter and to tears. The film is also extremely well written which makes the wall to wall dialogue feel more purposeful and effective. As I said in my summary, the film never goes to the next level. This felt very small and literally like a stage play. There were opportunities to expand and show the audience more rather than constantly telling them what’s happening but it never takes that step. That was really unfortunate in a movie with such good performance work.

Ryan’s Score: 7/10

Extended review here.


Hacksaw Ridge is the latest directorial effort by Mel Gibson. The film follows real life American hero Desmond Doss who when into a violent combat zone in World War II without any weaponry in order to be a combat medic exclusively saving injured soldiers’ lives. This film wrecked me in all the right ways and was my personal favorite film of 2016.

What Hacksaw Ridge did so effectively for me was to do so many different things extremely well and impact my mind as a viewer in many deep and different places. The beginning of the story gets to a lot of those happier emotions, the middle gets to the emotions that promote determination, and the end digs into feelings of horror and shock. I was stunned by this movie and stunned that this was a cinematic telling of a true story. It gets you in the head of a complicated character and shows you the really horrifying consequences of making a decision. One thing I especially loved about this film was that it didn’t pretend to have answers or preach a message. It’s a character portrait, and a beautiful one at that.

Ryan’s Score: 9.5/10

Extended review here.
Check out James’ review here.


Hell or High Water is a neo-western film directed by David Mackenzie and written by Taylor Sheridan. The film follows the story of two brothers robbing banks to get back at them for abusing their family through a lone as well as the two Texas police officers pursuing them. I think this is a tremendously well-written film and the kind of film we sorely need more of in modern cinema.

The western is a very classic brand of cinema but one that hasn’t been terribly present in terms modern storytelling. This film tells a completely contemporary story, and one that is strikingly in our public consciousness, through the lens of a western and it was totally captivating. It also used a really underused setting (West Texas) for the film which has a very cinematic look that is brilliantly captured here. The way we follow these four characters was extremely compelling in this kind of storytelling. The only negatives I really have with the film are that some of the parts toward the end felt overly convenient or unresolved. Overall this was a hugely effective film and one that I hope spawns more like it.

Ryan’s Score: 8.5/10

Check out James’ review here.


Hidden Figures is the second major directorial feature by Theodore Melfi. It follows the story of three African-American women working at NASA in the 1960s helping with the very first American space flights. I thought this film was generally enjoyable and extremely well performed but also exceedingly schmaltzy and forgettable.

The most obviously great thing about Hidden Figures was the performance work. The leading performances by Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, and Octavia Spencer were absolute home-run performances. Each of them moved me in different ways and they constantly captivated my attention and made me care even more about the troubling situations they were dealing with throughout the film. I also thought that Melfi captured a pleasant tone that made this eminently watchable and effective for all kinds of audiences. What I thought really fell flat in this film was its believability and grit. This is a true story but it didn’t feel like one. It often felt, as I said earlier, schmaltzy and like a Hallmark or Lifetime movie because it was too light and airy to feel like the real world in this case. Overall, Hidden Figures is fine but also kind of forgettable.

Ryan’s Score: 7/10


La La Land is the third directorial feature by writer/director Damien Chazelle. The film is a musical follows the story of two young ambitious artists (one a jazz musician and the other an actress) in Los Angeles as they meet and fall in love. This film is a delightful movie, a really pleasant musical, and a wonderful modern pastiche of classic films.

There is nowhere else to start with La La Land than with the music. Justin Hurwitz’ score is one of the best I have ever heard in any film ever and the actual musical numbers are no slouches either. On top of that I found the way Chazelle directed the film to be really interesting and I loved to see the passion for LA and classic cinema bleed through the screen and into the minds of the audience. I also found the films use of color throughout popped off the screen in a captivating and impressive way throughout. I wasn’t in love with La La Land though. I think that some elements of the relationship between the leads didn’t sell me completely and something about the ending left me feeling a touch unfulfilled. Also, the fact that Chazelle and cinematographer Linus Sandgren consistently failed to pan smoothly bothered me (maybe more than it should have). This is definitely a film everyone should see though and is an incredibly enjoyable one to watch.

Ryan’s Score: 8.5/10

Check out Jonathan’s review here.


Lion is the feature directorial debut of Australian filmmaker Garth Davis. The film follows the true story of a young boy/man named Saroo who gets separated from his family in India and with no way of finding them is adopted from an orphanage by a loving family in Australia and then his search, as an adult, for his biological family once again. I was extremely underwhelmed by this film and remain perplexed how it made its way into this Best Picture race.

To begin with the positives, the performances in this film are mostly quite good. Sunny Pawar, Dev Patel, and, of course, Nicole Kidman are all really strong. They bring a good emotional resonance to the film that does make it work in some ways at the end of the day. It also has a great sense of place and authenticity. The film really stumbles in its storytelling though. For starters, it feels like two entirely different films with young Saroo and older Saroo. Then, on top of that, it also has several story threads (mostly centering around a second adopted brother) that go totally unresolved in the film. Further, and this was most egregious, some of the things Patel aged-Saroo chose to do really turned me off his character and made me almost not root for him to succeed which is really not what you want in a film like this. I know many people who have reacted differently to Lion so I can’t totally say “get away” but I can’t give it my recommendation.

Ryan’s Score: 5/10

Extended review here.


Manchester by the Sea is a 2016 directorial feature by Kenneth Lonergan. The film follows the story of a man and his nephew after the man’s brother (nephew’s father) passes away and he must move back to a small town in northern Massachusetts to take care of his nephew while dealing with other demons from his past. This film is emotionally quite effective and has a turn that absolutely broke my heart and sold me on the film until the end.

As with several of the nominees listed above, the main place to start is with the stellar performances, especially the leading role by Casey Affleck. Affleck is incredible in this film and, with very little dialogue on point, shows incredibly layered and interesting emotions by just being. He epitomized the sense of being a real person unlike most roles in cinema and it made me attach to the film much more than I would have otherwise. The supporting performances by Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, and Kyle Chandler were all really superb as well. Finally, I think the sense of place is well captured. This felt like small town Massachusetts and the one brief scene in Boston was so eerily familiar to this Boston-dweller that I felt the setting really being alive in the film. I found myself not sold at first, then sold after the twist, then let down immensely at the end. This is a film that should have made my top ten of the year (and could have done so) but it ended so unfulfilling that I left it feeling very “blah” about the film. That let down feeling was not about whether the film ended happily or not, it just didn’t end in a tangible way and that jarring finish is why it didn’t work for me on the whole. It is still a deeply effecting film in certain ways and worth watching.

Ryan’s Score 7.5/10

Check out Jonathan and my Double Take review here.
Check out Sammy’s London Film Festival review here.


Moonlight is the second film from director Barry Jenkins. The film, told in three parts, shows the growth and maturation of a boy named Chiron who is gay and growing up in a somewhat rough lower income neighborhood and the different friends and mentors he encounters as well as the struggles he encounters at home and in the neighborhood. I think Moonlight is an incredible, introspective piece of cinema with a great message about growing up and being different.

Jenkins has presented us with an incredibly beautiful film here. Much like Richard Linklater two years prior, Jenkins has found a way to get to the real heart of a coming of age story in a more impactful way than almost any film in the genre prior. On top of capturing a story with heart, the film is also technically brilliant. The cinematography and score are great. The performances are uniformly brilliant. The directorial vision is outstanding. Basically every element of this film lands brilliantly and makes it one of the most deeply impactful films of the year. Definitely one that everyone should go out and watch as soon as they can.

Ryan’s Score: 9/10

Extended review here.
Check out James’ review here.
Check out Sammy’s London Film Festival review here.

Ryan’s Pick: Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan’s Prediction: La La Land
GoldDerby Experts Prediction: La La Land

Thank you for checking out this article. Be sure to check back with us over the course of the lead up to the 89th Academy Awards!

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