Best Picture: Ranking the Oscar Nominations

February 18, 2017 — Leave a comment

The Oscar nominations for the best picture are stunning. Look back at previous years. In 2013 Argo won and it probably would be near the bottom of this list.

I have now seen all of the nominations for best picture except Hacksaw Ridge. With such strong titles which one will rise to the top? I have no idea which one will win, but as I looked over the titles I found it difficult to rank them. Each are unique in their own way. Below is my attempt at ranking them giving a few arguments for why some outshine the others.

As the list goes on I will reduce my comments to a few sentences because of time ya know.

1. Moonlight

This one was not too hard for me. Moonlight stood a shoulder above the rest of nominations. I struggled more with 2-5 than with which movie should take the gold home. Moonlight is a coming-of-age tale of a black man in Miami. All the best films capitalize on their locations and Barry Jenkins is no exception. He provides a unique look at inner-city Miami and doesn’t shy from showing both the beauty and ugliness. Jenkins himself grew up in Liberty City, Miami and one can sense the care Jenkins took in presenting Miami. Unlike so many films these days, it also moves away from being an “issue” film. Some might watch it and think it is mainly about race or sexuality but this would be to miss the point. Miami, race, and Chiron’s sexuality are the backdrop. They are essential backgrounds, but the movie is a human movie. Essentially it prompts empathy and introspection by following the random memories of a black, gay man growing up in Miami. Beautifully made, beautifully scored, and incredibly put together, this movie should take home the Oscar (but it probably won’t).

2. La La Land

This movie has been divisive. Some claim the bloated nominations is Hollywood narcism. Others genuinely think this movie broke new ground. I am of the latter ilk. Name the last good modern musical. Chazelle’s daring and beautiful film both borrows from the musical genre and also takes it for a new spin. The key to getting this movie is the juxtaposition of romanticism and realism. It is a love story and musical and therefore purposively over-the-top. Yet, Chazelle brings the musical down to earth with playful interweaving of realism. A musical number breaks out in the midst of a Los Angeles traffic jam. Many of the songs are intentionally playful, and Chazelle intentionally takes long shots on their dance scenes and does not smooth over some of the flaws in Gosling and Stone’s voices. Emma Stone commanded the screen in every scene she was in. Now that Chazelle has broken the ice, a few others will try their hand at the musical genre, but this will be looked back on the one that restarted the old and rusted classic car.

3. Arrival

I walked out of Arrival knowing that I needed a few days to reflect on the message. Arrival is essentially about language — the function, form, use, and abuse of language. It is also about the relationship between time and language. As someone who teaches a language I found this to be a deep and moving film. Every scene, every camera angle, every word seemed purposeful in Arrival. The only reason I put it third is because it dragged at certain points, but overall it was a masterpiece. (I also had the king of ice chewing next to me in the movie theater which does not go well with anything. He had so much ice. It was like a bottomless cup of ice)

Watch this reflection on the film from Nerd Writer.

4. Hell or High Water

Like Moonlight, Hell or High Water capitalizes on its location. In this case it is West Texas and Mackenzie uses every unique part of Texas to his advantage. This low-budget film came out in the summer in the midst of the usual superhero summer doldrums and was a breath of fresh air. Two very different brothers attempt to make a better life for the straight-laced one’s son. All three main actors deserve credit but Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges made a good movie an excellent one. The movie also pushes viewers to think about ethical boundaries in the midst of financial corruption.

5. Fences

The story of a struggling black family in Pittsburg in 1957. Troy Maxson was a good baseball player but was too old once the MLB started admitting black players. He now picks up garbage and is always thinking of what could have been. Therefore he looks outside of his family for happiness and makes a decision that throws his life into a tailspin.

6. Lion

Lion had its flaws, but the movie was just so heart-wrenching. I have never been to India, but it felt like a very real portrayal of India. Good score too.

7. Manchester by the Sea

It is painful to put such a good movie this low. I liked aspects of this film and have not seen something like it. It basically had no plot but was an experiment on how past suffering pushes itself into the present. For pastors who deal with people’s past suffering, this movie will be a learning experience.

8. Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures was a good movie, but it wasn’t the best picture of the year. If one movie doesn’t deserve to be on this list it is Hidden Figures. I know a lot of people liked this movie, and you should like it. It is just not the best picture of the year.

Patrick Schreiner

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I teach New Testament at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. I am married with three children. This blog, against all wisdom, includes anything I am interested in. That includes movies, music, theology, culture, hermeneutics, the Gospels, and politics. Feel free to comment and let me know you are reading or that you have found something helpful. I reserve the right to delete unhelpful or rude comments. Many of these posts are simply things I find interesting and therefore I am not asserting I agree with everything I link to.

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