The Best Picture Gambit: Enthuse’s Oscar Nominee Reviews

Edited by Caleb Fox

Awards season is in full swing, the Oscars are fast approaching, and as always, there’s a slew of great films receiving many major award wins and nominations. In a run-down of the biggest awards season movies, the team here at Enthuse has put together a series of capsule reviews for the nine films nominated in the Best Picture category for this year’s academy awards. There’s sure to be some contentious opinions here, so join us in the comments section to discuss the Academy’s nominees.

Manchester by the Sea
By Caleb Fox

Dramatic films can so often feel crushingly serious, almost buckling under the weight of heavy subject matter and allowing hardly a moment of respite to filmgoers. What makes Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea such a cinematic triumph is its ability to weave moments of humour into even its darkest scenes. The film is able to make audiences laugh out loud when they should be crying, and this insistence that moments in life don’t conform to a single genre makes for a fascinating and realistic film.

Add in an incredible cast, featuring a devastatingly powerful performance from Casey Affleck and moments of heart shattering emotion from Michelle Williams and the young Lucas Hedges, and it’s not hard to see why this film has captured the hearts and minds of its viewers. It’s an honest and entertaining piece of cinema that blows into theatres like a sea-side breeze of fresh air.

Grade: A+

Hell or High Water
By Chris Ranta

Despite the amount of praise it’s received, I’m not a fan of Hell or High Water. The film is strongest when it focuses on the protagonists played very well by Chris Pine and Ben Foster. Both characters, and their situations, are well developed because we can see ourselves in their shoes. Despite their actions, we can empathize with them.

However, the film falls apart when its focus shifts to Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham as Texas Rangers pursuing the protagonists. Not only is the humorous tonal shift jarring in contrast to the darker atmosphere of other scenes, but the characters are far less realized. Bridges’ character is a thematically emptier version of Sheriff Ed Bell from No Country for Old Men. Birmingham’s character is little more than the typical sidekick. The supporting characters should have been more developed. They feel like mere plot devices.
Overall, I don’t hate the film, but I don’t support its numerous Oscar nominations.

Grade: C

La La Land
By Jeric Salvador

La La Land, a fun-filled love letter to all things which make cinema great, blew me away. Director Damien Chazelle takes a step up by pushing his creative vision to the intimately surreal. Each musical number serves to dig deeper into the hearts of this world and our two charming protagonists, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. It pays a fiery tribute to musicals of old, with unflinchingly smooth full-body shots and tap-dancing, before pulling the audience into visually stunning effects shots and dreamlike sequences of emotion. It’s effectively adorable and fun in the first half before a brutal, heart-wrenching finale, striking a delicate balance between fantastical and grounded.
The film does run a little long for a musical, but it takes each and every scene to fully flesh out these wonderful, believable characters. La La Land has more nominations than you can count with two hands – a testament to its many aspects of masterful craftsmanship.

Grade: A

By Michelle Guthrie

In Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, audiences watch Amy Adams try to communicate with heptipods—seven-limbed aliens who have mysteriously landed in multiple oblong spaceships across the world. This film’s narrative is unique, original, and provides an interesting and realistic perspective on how the world would react if aliens ever visited Earth and attempted to communicate with humanity.
Nearly every aspect of this film is interesting, from the aliens themselves, to the process that the characters go through in order to communicate with them, the striking cinematography, and Adam’s fantastic performance. The unpredictable and intriguing plot will keep audiences hooked as they try to unravel the mysteries surrounding both the main character and the heptipod aliens. The only thing that detracts from the film is a romantic sub-plot which, while important to the main narrative, isn’t quite as interesting as everything else going on in the movie.

Grade: A-

By Melony Khuu

Director Garth Davis pulls at heartstrings in his feature debut Lion–a sob-inducing tale about familial love and the journey to rekindle that love. The film tells the real-life story of Saroo Brierly, an Indian man who was separated from his family as a child and later adopted by an Australian couple. The story is told through two acts: young Saroo’s struggle to survive alone in Calcutta and adult Saroo’s struggle to find his former family without disregarding his current one.
Although Dev Patel (adult Saroo) and Nicole Kidman (his adoptive mother) give stellar performances, the film’s emotional crux comes from Sunny Pawar’s performance as a young Saroo. His desperate yearning to find his family resonates with the audience, reminding them of their own families. And that yearning pays off, making for a heart wrenching climax. Lion doesn’t bring anything new to the Hollywood sphere, but it successfully evokes audience sympathies without relying on overdramatized clichés.

Grade: A-

Hidden Figures
By Michelle Guthrie

When was the last time a movie poster featured three black and female characters walking confidently over a NASA symbol, with rocket ships blasting off behind them?
Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures tells the true but little-known story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson—three brilliant African-American women responsible for many of NASA’s greatest achievements in the 1960s.
There is nothing sugar coated in this movie; the segregation, racism, and sexism faced by the main characters drives the conflict immensely and severely. It creates a very powerful narrative of these three women who pushed their way through metaphorical walls of concrete to break down barriers in a society struggling for equality. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe perform brilliantly as an ensemble in bringing the story of these incredible women to the screen, and they deliver a poignant message of overcoming societal limitations and following their dreams that still resonates today.

Grade: A

By Jeric Salvador

Moonlight is a relentlessly intimate character study unlike any other. The central protagonist, Chiron, is played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes. All three actors expertly portray Chiron in a way that may leave some viewers wondering if the movie was filmed over a single actor’s lifespan, like Boyhood. Near-flawless performances by the entire cast keep the experience grounded in a gritty world that’s meticulously realized. Moonlight tastefully recreates a difficult lifestyle, touching on harsh issues such as drug addiction, loneliness, and sexuality. It never trivializes or cheapens its content matter, as it maintains believability alongside its crushing reality. Nothing crazy or shocking ever needs to occur because the film effectively builds a protagonist that is tragic, sympathetic, and real.
I had some minor issues with how some supporting characters disappear from the film, but ultimately, these factors do not take away from the film’s expertly targeted and calculated storytelling.

Grade: A+

Hacksaw Ridge
By Guuto Dolal

Hacksaw Ridge is the first film directed by Mel Gibson in over a decade and it does not disappoint. Gibson carefully builds the relationships around the protagonist, real life war hero Desmond Doss, so that when the bullets start to fly, the audience cares. The fragile relationship Doss has with his veteran father played by Hugo Weaving, is incredibly gripping, and Weaving shines in the role.
Andrew Garfield as Doss delivers the best performance of his career and earns his Best Actor nomination. His portrayal is emotional, brave, and optimistic, even as his beliefs are under attack by those he is attempting to serve. His budding romance with his future wife played by Teresa Palmer is also a delight to watch. The war sequences are also some of the best I have ever seen. Brutal, realistic warfare is shown in scenes that are reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan. Hacksaw Ridge truly deserves every Oscar nomination it has received.

Grade: A+

By Alea Ostry

Denzel Washington’s Fences, is an emotional walk through the life of a family in 1950’s Pittsburgh. In addition to director, Washington plays the lead as a father whose dreams of playing major league baseball are dashed because he’s too old when African-Americans are allowed to join the league. Washington is joined on-screen by Viola Davis, who plays his wife. Fences is rife with the struggles of a father who feels stuck in one spot, and who desperately wants to move forward.
Though the performances are breathtaking, this movie, adapted from a play, doesn’t take advantage of transitioning to a screen production. Washington could’ve taken more liberties with the scene layout as he is no longer confined to a stage. Overall, though, this is an excellent portrayal of what it does to a man to let go of a dream and instead embrace bitterness.

Grade: B+

Featured Image: The Oscars 2017 Coverage by ABC and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

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