Watching the nominees: La La Land & Fences

A critical look at this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture

My favourite thing about movies is that when you look closely, you can see the combined hopes and fears of the people who made the film. The Academy Awards are a night to celebrate the product of these hopes and fears coming together.

This year, leading up to the big event on February 26, I am going to take you on the wild ride that is the Best Picture nomination list. 

Since I am a self-proclaimed movie fanatic, I’ve taken it upon myself to watch each Best Picture nominee, and tell you whether or not I deem it worthy. I’ll do my best to be kind and avoid spoiling the plots, but will attempt to be critical and not rant about the amazingness of Dev Patel or Viola Davis — no promises though. 

To start us off, I watched the two movies I’ve been anticipating most: La La Land and Fences.

 La La Land

3/5 stars

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t gone a day since November without hearing someone talk about this movie. It cleaned out the Golden Globes, winning Best Musical or Comedy, Best Actor and Actress, Best Director, Best 

Original Score and Best Screenplay. And I’m really not surprised.

The film feels like an homage to the days of Singin’ in the Rain, but with more accessible performances by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. You feel every ounce of happiness and pain in Stone’s performance, alongside Gosling’s brooding and imperfectly-sung turn as a jazz pianist.

La La Land is a modern day musical set in Hollywood. It follows Stone’s Mia, a barista and struggling actress and Gosling’s Sebastian, an out of work jazz pianist. Told over four seasons, the two meet and bond over their unrecognized talent. 

The story itself is cliché and should be less predictable to compete with the other nominees, but nevertheless it stands out because of the original songs, strong acting performances and beautiful cinematography.

It has everything it needs to make audiences fall in love with it, especially because it brings back the golden days of Hollywood coupled with the modern day struggles of the working class. However, the light plot brings the film down, and, in my opinion, will cost it the Academy Award.

Fences

5/5 stars

It’s been weeks and I’m still speechless about this movie. Fences is an adaptation of a play written by Pulitzer Prize winner 

August Wilson, a man who paved the way for African-American writers in show business. It’s honest, pure and painful to watch.

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis lead the cast as married couple Troy and Rose Maxson in 1950s Pittsburgh, alongside their son Cory, Troy’s other son Lyons, and Troy’s special needs brother Gabe, who suffered a head injury in World War II. The film is centered on Troy and Rose’s relationship and their struggles as a black family in a low-income neighborhood.

The film has a very minimal setting and is instead led by incredible dialogue and even more incredible performances. Washington and Davis are yin and yang in this film. Where Washington’s Troy is hard and violent, Davis’ Rose is understanding and forgiving. 

At the beginning of this movie, I was worried that its overall impact would be lost on me. The plot and experiences of the characters isn’t something I can relate to, and in the first few minutes so many timely references were thrown out that I couldn’t grasp.

However, as the plot twists and turns and the characters grow together and apart, the film’s passion to tell the story oozes in each cinematic moment and I was drawn in. The conclusion is honest yet powerful and emblematic of the film in its entirety. You really need to see it.

Keep an eye out for more reviews to come!

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