Personal Oscar screening party: 2017 edition

2017/02/21

It’s time again for my annual personal Oscar screening party! (See the 2015 and 2016 versions)

This year it’s with a big difference: I’ve become a sort-of professional movie critic! I work for a small newspaper and occasionally the regular film critic can’t (or won’t) attend certain screenings due to schedule conflict or … reasons. So I and my other immediate teammates get opportunities to step in the gap.

(I really need to mirror the reviews here.)

Last year was the “Oscars So White” controversy. This year, it seems that the Academy has made it a point not to overlook black people-led projects. Some consider that pandering, but when the films are great anyway, how so?

On to my ranking of the nominees.

9.

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“Manchester by the Sea”

This one I actually got to review ahead of its release. And like Brooklyn last year, it’s one that really ought not be on a Best Picture list in my unhumble opinion. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch,  but it screws up from its opening scene and thus sort of wastes a lot of good performances because the central plot and character arc is a bit murky.

The newspaper uses a 4-star system. I prefer a 5-star one and so give “MBTS” 3 stars.

8.

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“Fences”

I saw this with my parents over the holidays. About 30 minutes in, my mom leaned over and asked, “What is this movie about?”

Based on a great stage play, “Fences” is adapted to the screen by the original writer who, obviously, remains in love with all his words. It’s less a movie than the play with really, really detailed sets. But the acting is top-notch across the board, especially Viola Davis, who should win the supporting actress Oscar. 3.5 stars.

7.

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“Hell or High Water”

Part heist movie, part 21st-century Western, this movie appealed to me because it’s about two brothers (which will always get me in the feels because of my brother) and it’s got a nice stick-it-to-the-Man edge beyond the crime aspect. 3.5 stars.

6.

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“Moonlight”

It kinda seems obligatory to have an LGBTQ-themed film make the Best Pic nominees. But this quiet film is well deserving of the honor. Like “Manchester By The Sea,” it features a taciturn protagonist and very deliberate pacing. But it actually shows progression in the main character, doesn’t rely on confusing flashbacks and comes to a satisfying conclusion. And so it sits rather higher on my list. 3.5 stars.

5.

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“Hacksaw Ridge”

As a man of faith, I found this World War II biopic about a conscientious objector who nevertheless fought to serve in the war as an unarmed medic to be right in my wheelhouse. The underrated — and oddly polarizing — Andrew Garfield is deservedly up for an acting award.   4 stars.

4.

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“La La Land”

I hate live-action musicals. So the fact that this one was so effective wins it a high spot. It didn’t hurt that I love Emma Stone.

It better not win, though. As fun as it is, it’s far too long and is the least important film of the lot. 4 stars.

3.

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“Lion”

Yet another film based on a true story, this one about Saroo, an Indian youth who, after being adopted by an Australian couple, decides to find his birth family really torques the waterworks. Dev Patel is great as the adult protagonist, but it’s the young Sunny Pewar who’s a revelation. Its only shortcoming is the title. There are no lions in India. But it all makes sense in the end. 4 stars

2.

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“Hidden Figures”

From the opening scene to the end, this film sent me soaring like no other film on this list. It needs to be viewed by every single American of all ages. Though based on true stories, it’s marred somewhat by the ahistorical white savior scenes in the middle and part of the climax. But it’s not enough to mar my love for these hidden figures. 4.5 stars.

1.

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“Arrival”

As much as I loved “Hidden Figures,” it wasn’t quite exceptional enough, especially with it being based on true events. If said true events were interesting enough to warrant a film version (and these are), in my opinion the work’s half done. It’s just a matter of not screwing the actual story up by adding or subtracting too much for the sake of whatever.

No, for my money it’s original stories that translate into truly exceptional film. And that’s why “Arrival” takes my top spot, with its so unexpectedly good take on the science fiction alien contact tale coupled with a human interest story of how a woman moves on after great loss.

And then it gets better when you realize what’s really going on and the story becomes that much more magnificent in the final act. 4.5 stars.

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