Oscars 2017: Sorting through the Best Picture nominees

Happy Oscars 2017! The more things change the more they stay the same in Hollywood — there was plenty of crud released in 2016, but there were also plenty of award-worthy performances and movies released. I prefer to talk about the good, so below is a small recap of each movie nominated for Best Picture. A bit of a pros and cons list so you can decide what to watch leading up to February 26.

**Note: All images and synopses courtesy of IMDb. So blame them if you don’t like a synopsis.

ArrivalOscars 2017: Arrival

Running Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes.

Synopsis: When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.

Why You Should Watch: Here’s the thing with me and Arrival. I saw it the night before Election Night. As a result, I picked up on an underlying theme that I really enjoyed. It made the movie about something much bigger than aliens visiting our planet. Also, Amy Adams had an excellent year in 2016 (also in Nocturnal Animals) and Arrival is her strongest performance. Plus, if you like movies with twist endings this has a good one for you.

Why You Wouldn’t: The basis of this movie is still about aliens landing on earth, and there’s never a mystery that they are aliens. If you’re not a sci-fy person you’ll have a tough time getting past that. I stand by saying the ending is solid, but it can be difficult to pick up on. If you don’t get the end, the movie becomes essentially meaningless.

FencesOscars 2017: Fences

Running Time: 2 hours, 19 minutes.

Synopsis: A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.

Why You Should Watch: Like star power? How do Denzel Washington and Viola Davis work for you? Both of these A+-list actors are as brilliant as you’d expect, and their chemistry is flawless to top it off. Beyond Denzel and Viola the writing is excellent and the cinematography has a bunch of beautiful long shots done in one take (a la Birdman). Mykelti Williamson also plays a character you’ll quickly love. All around, Fences is one of my favorite movies of the year.

Why You Wouldn’t: Viola Davis may have said it best during her SAG Awards acceptance speech for best supporting actress: “What (director) August (Wilson) did so beautifully was he honored the average man who happened to be a man of color…the fact that we breathed and lived a life and was a God to our children. Just that means that we have a story.” Now I know you’re thinking, “well why is that beautiful quote in the ‘Why You Wouldn’t’ section!?” Fences doesn’t have much action or progression other than a man’s life arc in the 1950s. Personally I think the fact that the film still so entertaining showcases the brilliant acting and writing, but I also know the lack of action isn’t for everyone.

Hacksaw RidgeOscars 2017: Hacksaw Ridge

Running Time: 2 hours, 19 minutes.

Synopsis: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

Why You Should Watch: Being a war movie, Hacksaw Ridge is uniquely qualified to bring action to the Best Picture category in 2016. The war scenes are long, and they’re well done — which is something you’d expect from a Mel Gibson film. It’s also based on a true story, and has an endearing backstory — which is something you’d expect from a Mel Gibson film. In short, if you liked Braveheart and The Patriot you’ll really enjoy Hacksaw Ridge.

Why You Wouldn’t: The film is a bit long, in my opinion. Once the war scenes get going they really get going, but the beginning is a bit off. Gibson does a better job tying together the beginning of the movie at the end, but in the moment I was a bit scatterbrained. (insert joke here)

Hell or High WaterOscars 2017: Hell or High Water

Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.

Synopsis: A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.

Why You Should Watch: Hell or High Water takes the prize as my favorite movie nominated for Best Picture in 2016. Mr. Bridges, since you’re obviously reading this, you can come pick up your candy trophy at my house. That said, my favorite Best Picture nominee hasn’t actually won since 2008, so apparently my opinion means NOTHING to The Academy. This crime-drama is well-acted, well-directed, and well-written. There are moments of drama, moments of comedy, moments of happiness, and moments of sadness. Ben Foster and Chris Pine have great chemistry, as do Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham. The film also has a bigger meaning, and this one is easy to catch on to.

Why You Wouldn’t: Did you read what I just wrote about why you should watch!? I can tell you that you’ll find yourself rooting for the “bad guys” in Hell or High Water, so if you don’t like that sensation then don’t watch (that’s not a good enough reason).

Hidden FiguresOscars 2017: Hidden Figures

Running Time: 2 hours, 7 minutes.

Synopsis: Based on a true story. A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions.

Why You Should Watch: I really enjoy historical movies based on a true story, particularly surrounding a subject I don’t know much about. Hidden Figures falls right into that category, and I left feeling entertained and more knowledgeable. The film is funny, serious when it needs to be, and historically important. Credit to Taraji P. Henson for playing a character who is the direct opposite of Cookie in an excellent way, Octavia Spencer is great as always, and Janelle Monáe (also in Moonlight) is a rising star.

Why You Wouldn’t: In my opinion some of the casting could have been better, particularly Jim Parsons as Paul Stafford. Also, if you don’t like racial tension with your movies, my first piece of advice would be to wake up. My second piece of advice would be that Hidden Figures probably isn’t for you.

La La LandOscars 2017: La La Land

Running Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes.

Synopsis: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

Why You Should Watch: La La Land is downright delightful. Ryan Gosling cements himself as the hunk of the century in the film while doing his own piano playing, singing, and dancing throughout. Emma Stone is also a standout with her singing and dancing skills. The two obviously need to have great chemistry for the entire film, and they do. The choreography is excellent and brings a sense of emotion without words, which I found impressive. Also La La Land is nominated for 14 Oscars, so apparently it’s the best film since Titanic.

Why You Wouldn’t: Well, it is a musical. It’s a great musical, but the genre obviously has a very specific style to it. If that’s not your style, I assume La La Land would be torture for you. Personally I was entertained the whole time, but I could see someone making the argument that the movie is too long as well.

LionOscars 2017: Lion

Running Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes.

Synopsis: A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

Why You Should Watch: You wanna talk about endings? The final 20 minutes of Lion is the best finish to a film I’ve seen in the past few years. There is a lot of build up to the film, and the payoff is more than worth it. The range of emotion is the calling card of Lion — credit to director Garth Davis there. Also, we have another movie based on a true story, this one adapted from a book, which makes the full scope even better.

Why You Wouldn’t: I had a tough time getting locked in at the beginning of Lion, which is probably more on me than the movie now that I think about it. Also, the first 40 minutes or so takes place in India, which means there are a lot of subtitles. They were easy to follow and it didn’t bother me. Just a warning if you don’t like reading with your movie.

Manchester by the SeaOscars 2017: Manchester by the Sea

Running Time: 2 hours, 17 minutes.

Synopsis: An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

Why You Should Watch: I enjoyed the way Manchester by the Sea is laid out. The film bounces back and forth between Lee Chandler’s (Casey Affleck) past and present rather than progressing in a straight line. I thought that added something to the film, showing why Chandler is who he is in the present day. One of his flashbacks is a legitimate plot twist as well. Casey Affleck is excellent in the movie, which everyone is deservedly saying. I don’t know that he’s better than Denzel in the Best Actor category, but he is the betting favorite.

Why You Wouldn’t: Manchester by the Sea is a film that is simply the showcase of a man’s life and his hardships. It finds a way to entertain at parts but if you leave saying nothing really happened, I’ll understand it. I found myself a bit bored at times.

MoonlightOscars 2017: Moonlight

Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.

Synopsis: A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.

Why You Should Watch: There are a lot of things about Moonlight that are really well done. The film has a ton of moving parts and actors, and almost all of them are excellent. Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, and Naomie Harris are all having their breakout roles at once and I’m just happy there’s room for all of them in one movie. The story itself is also really well done, showcasing the trials and tribulations of a kid growing up while dealing with issues on an internal and external level. I’m excited to see what Barry Jenkins brings next.

Why You Wouldn’t: There are times when Moonlight was a bit “hole-y,” meaning I thought there were some plot gaps in the movie that could have been filled better. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the main character Kevin’s physical progression from 16-year-old to adult, but as the film went on that was explained in a way that made sense to me.

I Can’t Watch Nine Movies In A Month! Who’s Going To Win?

I’m glad you asked! It appears The Academy has two very distinct routes it can go this year. It can buck the #OscarsSoWhite trend with authority and give the Oscar to a film with social significance and meaning (Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Fences) during a time when this country could really use it. Or, it can continue to be self-serving and give the Oscar to a film about itself again (La La Land).

Remember when I said the more things change the more they stay the same in Hollywood? Fourteen nominations is just too much to overlook. I think La La Land is your winner come February 26.

Featured image courtesy of Fanboysanonymous.com

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About Steve Richards

First and foremost, I love anything Philly sports; that includes the Phillies, Sixers, Eagles, Flyers and Union (that’s a soccer team). I’m also a fan of the English Premier League squad Manchester City. In the college ranks, I follow the football, basketball, and baseball teams of both Penn State and the University of Texas. I work for SportsNetworker.com, where I am the COO. I also cover a variety of high school sports for The Reporter and PaPrepLive.com as a freelance writer. On the broadcast journalism side of things I'm a co-host of the Prime Time Fantasy Football and Showcast podcasts on Next Level Radio. You can check that out right here. You'll also find me on Twitter discussing a multitude of things. Feel free to give me a follow over there.
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