To conclude my Best Picture journey, I watched the remaining four films, all seemingly on separate ends of the Hollywood spectrum: Hell or High Water, Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures, and Moonlight.
Hell or High Water
This is the only Western film in the Best Picture nomination category this year. It isn’t atypical — the last time a Western won was in 2007 for No Country for Old Men. The Western genre, although comprised of some great films, can be very restrictive in its content and even redundant from film to film.
Hell or High Water doesn’t break out of this mold.
It has great cinematography, the acting is strong and the plot deals with current themes. However, I honestly struggled to stay awake.
The movie follows two brothers, Toby and Tanner, as they rob a number of banks to save their mother’s ranch. Although the film is well timed, the character development ends at the film’s half way mark and the plot left something to be desired. Essentially, I was bored.
When I compared this film to the others, I was surprised it was even nominated. Jeff Bridges may win his Supporting Actor nomination, but I’ll be shocked if Hell or High Water beats the unique masterpieces that it’s up against.
As a cinefile, this was one of my favourites in the bunch. As a responsible film commentator, the grotesque violence distracts from the incredible story.
Hacksaw Ridge is a true story about Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector and the only WWII soldier to fight on the front lines without a weapon. It’s undoubtedly a story that needed to be told, however, Mel Gibson’s direction often took away from the characters and the unfolding of the plot.
In the first few minutes of the film, Desmond as a little boy beats his brother with a brick while ‘playing’. Although intrinsic to his character development, this only started an increasingly violent film.
Andrew Garfield leads the majority of the film, and it would’ve been a much more likely contender for Best Picture if it took a step back from the violence and allowed Garfield’s acting to be the main feature on the screen.
Another incredible true story, Hidden Figures takes an intersectional approach that’s very often ignored in movies: racial minorities and female characters.
It won best ensemble at the SAG awards, and I couldn’t agree more with this decision. The three leading women, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, come together effortlessly to tell the story of three African-American female NASA mathematicians in the early 1960s. It reminded me a lot of The Help, another film that looked at the experiences of individual Black women and held a number of individual perspectives, but was most striking in the collaborative moments between the actresses.
It felt good to watch Hidden Figures, not just because the women were inspiring, but because I was cheering them on.
Much like Lion, however, the incredible plot requires the entire film’s attention. The small moments within the character’s emotions aren’t the most important part of the movie, and therefore doesn’t make it a knock out for Best Picture.
In my past reviews, I’ve consistently come back to the idea that truth in storytelling is what makes great films: Moonlight exemplifies this.
Moonlight tells the story of a black man struggling with his sexuality in three parts: as a young child, in high school, and as an adult. There isn’t anything flashy about the plot, other than the unique perspective that hasn’t really made its way into Hollywood films.
The film focuses intently on the characters and their motivations. So much so that the storytelling is actually the film’s standout part. Of course the acting is incredible, but the characters are so effortless, it seems lifelike.
I kept having to catch myself because of how difficult it was to watch. There were moments when I needed to look away because it became too raw.
There isn’t an ounce of insincerity in this movie, and I can only be amazed that the Academy is recognizing a brutally truthful representation of an often silenced perspective.
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