Film Review: Oscar Nominees 2017 - Part I

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Oscar Predictions Blog Post
Oscar season is officially upon us again and that means it's been a busy few weeks for me. After many an evening and weekend spent in the cinema to pack in as many Academy nominated films as possible, here's Part I of my run down of this year's contenders...

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Manchester By The Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, 2016) - Nominations (6): Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Casey Affleck), Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Lucas Hedges), Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Michelle Williams), Best Achievement in Directing (Kenneth Lonergan), Best Original Screenplay (Kenneth Lonergan)

Plot: Chandler (Casey Affleck) is an irritable loner working as a handyman in Boston. Having learnt of his brother's passing, he returns to his hometown of Manchester where he has unexpectedly been named guardian to his 16-year-old nephew. Having lost his only sibling and unwillingly inherited a child, Lee is forced to confront his tragic past and the demons which haunt him.

Predictions: As a beautifully told narrative with so many stunning performances, it's no surprise that this film has six nominations under its belt. Very much what you would expect from an Academy recognised film, it is a character piece which features a great deal of heart and depth which is sure to stir up some emotion. For me, the most powerful and pivotal moment is the unveiling of Chandler's ordeal and Affleck's performance is outstanding from start to finish. Personally, I'd love to see Manchester By The Sea take home Best Leading Actor, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016) - Nominations (14) - Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Ryan Gosling), Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Stone), Best Achievement in Directing (Damien Chazelle), Best Original Screenplay (Damien Chazelle), Best Achievement in Cinematography, Best Achievement in Film Editing, Best Achievement in Costume Design, Best Original Score, Best Achievement in Sound Mixing, Best Achievement in Sound Editing, Best Original Song (twice nominated), Best Achievement in Production Design. 

Plot: Mia (Emma Stone), is waitress and aspiring but struggling young actress in modern day Los Angeles. Having met Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a dedicated yet conflicted jazz musician, the pair set out to pursue their dreams in a city where not everyone can make it. Presented as an all singing, all dancing musical, the pair must choose between a lifetime love or the glowing spotlight.

Predictions: At a record-breaking 14 nominations, the odds are high for La La Land to clean up at the 2017 Academy Awards. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle of Whiplash (2013) fame, La La Land is oozes nostalgia, classical Hollywood references and stunning cinematography. Each scene is a picture book of emotions and engaging performances from both Stone and Gosling. My initial response was that of uncertainty at a somewhat tear-jerking sad finale but I am still swooning over the phenomenal soundtrack from this modern day musical dubbed the "musical for people who don't like musicals". It's astonishing when you think that the majority of this was shot in one take within such a short time frame and the efforts the actors went to learn instruments and routines.

Sadly for Gosling, it's a rare win for a Leading Actor in a comedy/musical role and so I feel this may not be his year. Furthermore, I also believe that he has been in far more powerful and unrecognised roles. I do think, however, that this could well see Emma Stone take home Best Leading Actress alongside Best Score, Best Original Song and Best Motion Picture and Best Director. 

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Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016) - Nominations (4) - Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Jeff Bridges), Best Writing, Original Screenplay, Best Achievement in Film Editing

Plot: Toby (Chris Pine), a struggling single father, and his ex-convict brother, Tanner (Ben Foster), plan a series of heists against the bank that's about to foreclose on their ranch in a bid to protect the future of their family. However, it is not long before they raise the suspicions of Marcus (Jeff Bridges), an ageing Texas Ranger looking to go out in a blaze of glory. As the pair prepare for their final robbery, they brace themselves for a showdown.

Predictions: Directed by David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water is a crime thriller steeped in nostalgia and melancholia. Besides some excellent performances from Bridges and Pine, it's made all the more enjoyable with beautiful cinematography; stunning shots of big, empty skies and horizontal landscapes. Whilst Bridges is undeniably one of the greatest living actors in existence, the competition this year may sadly be too great to see him pick up, what would be, his second golden statue. Hell or High Water is certainly an underdog in this year's awards but I fear it may walk home empty handed - a shame given it was easily one of the greatest films of 2016. 

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Jackie (Pablo Larraín, 2016) - Nominations (3) - Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Natalie Portman), Best Achievement in Costume Design, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score.

Plot: In this intimate portrait of one of the most infamous events in American history, Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) sits down with a journalist (Billy Crudup) to discuss the assassination of her husband, John F. Kennedy. Iconic for her extraordinary dignity and poise, Jackie presents a heart-wrenching psychological portrayal of the First Lady, as seen through her own eyes. Struggling to privately come to terms with her grief, she must also fight to maintain her husband's legacy in the build up to his funeral and following his death. 

Predictions: Regardless of how much you know about the Kennedy family or American history, you leave Jackie feeling as though you knew her. On paper, it is the ultimate in Academy recognised biopics; complete with an incredible performance from a fantastic cast, raw emotion and visually stunning cinematography and direction. It can often be tricky with biopics as we think we can predict the narrative. However, Jackie beautifully takes us on an untold portrait in this heart wrenching story of a wife and mother coming to terms with the death of her husband, regardless of who he was to the world. 

Natalie Portman delivers an outstanding performance as Jackie - truly worthy of an Oscar but, sadly, I think that this may go unrewarded given the hype of some other nominated actresses who (whilst also deserving) may steal the spotlight. Portman has obviously had previous nominations for a Leading Role and won in the past and so I can't help but feel that this sometimes gets taken in to consideration when picking a winner. 

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Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford, 2016) - Nominations (1) - Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Michael Shannon).

Plot: Susan (Amy Adams) is a successful art-gallery owner living in Los Angeles who is disturbed by the arrival of a manuscript written by her first husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). Telling the brutal story of one family's nightmarish road trip and a father's quest for revenge, the manuscript forces Susan to confront some dark truths.

Predictions: With fashion designer Tom Ford as director, at the very least we had expected stunning visuals and at no point does Nocturnal Animals disappoint. It's been another glorious year for Adams who shines alongside a mesmerising Jake Gyllenhaal (where was his nomination?!) and the ever-talented and deserving nominee, Michael Shannon. Though this features some truly disturbing scenes, they are each executed with precision by Ford. Artfully composed, Nocturnal Animals oozes style - steeped in noir whilst maintaining a well-balanced narrative pace. Personally I feel that the Academy missed a trick by snubbing Gyllenhaal - not to mention Ford for his directorial and writing skills. Another which I believe will unfortunately go home empty handed but I'd love to be proved wrong. 

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Lion (Gareth Davis, 2016) - Nominations (6) - Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Dev Patel), Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
(Nicole Kidman),  Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay, Best Achievement in Cinematography, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score.

Plot: Based on true events, Saroo (Sunny Pawar) is a five year old boy who finds himself lost on a train having taken him thousands of miles across India. Having been separated from his brother and mother, Saroo is forced to survive homeless and alone in Kolkata before being adopted by a loving Australian couple. Twenty five years later, Saroo (now played by Dev Patel) is unable to shake the memories of his biological family and is consumed by thoughts that they may still be looking for him. Through sheer determination, the support of his adoptive mother (Nicole Kidman) and Google Earth, he sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his home in India.

Predictions: On paper, Lion has everything which qualifies an Academy nominated film. Whilst it is undeniably moving and features some fantastic performances from both Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, I couldn't help but leave the theatre feeling rather underwhelmed. If the BAFTAs is anything to go by, I do believe Lion will receive some form of recognition at this year's award although it has some huge boots to fill alongside the other nominees.

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Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson, 2016) - Nominations (6) - Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Best Achievement in Directing (Mel Gibson), Best Achievement in Film Editing, Best Achievement in Sound Mixing, Best Achievement in Sound Editing.

Plot: Based on the true events of WWII, Hacksaw Ridge follows the story of Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) who successfully saved 75 men during the bloody battle at Okinawa - without firing a single bullet. As an objector to the war, Doss served as a medic but refused to fire arms. As such, he was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front line without a single weapon. Despite the means to defend himself, the film follows his journey as he evacuates the wounded behind enemy lines and is rewarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Predictions: As fantastic as it is to see Mel Gibson return to the director's chair, there's something that just didn't sit right with me about Hacksaw Ridge. Whilst it tries it' is successful in the emotion and depth it's trying so hard to push, there is a consistent layer of overpowering cheese which is too thick to penetrate to reach a substantial narrative. As someone who is particularly fond of the war genre as a whole, this just didn't quite live up to the hype. Undeniably, however, we cannot fault the mise-en-scene and cinematography throughout the film - nor Garfield's commendable efforts as a leading man.

Hacksaw Ridge was naturally going to turn the heads of the Academy due to the patriotism and the ideals of the All-American hero but it is the prominent themes of humanism which are the most powerful. Personally, I do believe Hacksaw Ridge stands the best chance of picking up Best Sound Mixing and Sound Editing but may be another to go home empty handed.

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Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016) - Nominations (8) - Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali), Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Naomie Harris), Best Achievement in Directing (Barry Jenkins), Best Achievement in Cinematography, Best Achievement in Film Editing, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score), Best Adapted Screenplay.

Plot: Chiron (Alex Hibbert) is a shy and reserved young man forced to deal with relentless bullying at school and a dysfunctional home life with a drug addicted mother. Told via three defining chapters of his life (child, teen and adult), Chiron experiences a rollercoaster of joy, pain, and the beauty of falling in love - whilst also coming to terms with his own sexuality within a black, working class community.

Predictions: A coming age story of human self-discovery, Moonlight is an incredibly powerful and unique narrative - the first of it's kind to explore such a subject matter. In terms of direction and cinematography, it is near-on flawless. All actors involved deliver stunning and sometimes sobering performances which only add to the success of this outstanding piece of cinema. I truly hope to see Moonlight scope up several awards at this year's ceremony and my suspensions tell me it has the biggest chance for taking home Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Achievement in Cinematography and maybe even Best Director if they can steal it away from Damien Chazelle (fingers crossed).
Well, that's it for Part I of my Oscars 2017 rundown. Who are you excited to see pick up an award at this year's Academy Awards? Which of the films above were your favourite? As always, I love reading your comments so please do leave me lots of lovely ones down below. Part II to follow very shortly! Don't forget that the Academy Awards take place this Sunday - I'll be watching and up all night so please do say "hi" on social media if you're watching too! 

Until next time film fans, 





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9 comments:

  1. I've seen all of these apart from Moonlight which I'm hoping to see soon! All amazing films but I'm most excited to see what LaLa Land picks up. I agree with what you say about Gosling though, I almost wish the oscars had a musical/comedy category because he would win hands down! I think Casey will scoop the award. Jake G was definetly robbed of a nomination. And also agree Hell or High Water seems to miss out more than it should. I was hoping Jeff Brdiges would have picked up supporting actor awards at one of the awards ceremonies but I don't think he has? I'm sure Dev Patel won a supporting actor award which I didn't really understand as I he was the main actor in that film - apart from the little boy who was so good! Looking forward to part 2! Xx

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    1. Aw I really hope you get to see it! You've been ON it with Oscar season then, well done! It's been so difficult to find screenings for some of them which is crazy. Yeah I think La La Land will dominate the night in terms of the jokes and style of the show but I hope it gives someone else a go as well haha. There's so many amazing films this year so competition is so high.

      Totally, what does the Academy have against him? He completely missed out with Nightcrawler as well. Yeah I don't think Jeff Bridges has which is a shame but again, it's the competition this year :(

      Thanks hun! xxx

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  2. I sadly missed out on so many nominees this year, but of the ones on this list that I did see-I agree with you 100%. Especially on Hacksaw Ridge. I felt as though the cinematography and battle scenes were outstanding and on par with Gibson's previous works, but for me the "consistent layer of overpowering cheese" (which is the best use of words Ive heard so far to describe what turned me off about it) made the film as a whole a disappointment for me. Having said that, I applaud the performances of the cast as well as the attention to detail that I adore in Gibson's films.

    Of the films I did see this year, Hell or High Water is probably my favorite. I also enjoyed Nocturnal Animals and am baffled by Gyllenhaal's exclusion. Michael Shannon was of course deserving, and I was blown away by Aaron Taylor Johnson's performance as well.

    Cant wait for your part II!!!

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    1. Yeah totally. I also sort of found it hard to agree with him in parts (which I know sounds terrible) but no one agrees with war and fighting -no one wanted to be there but they had no choice. So I didn't quite get what made him so special that he refused if that makes sense. I get what they were going for but just fell a tad short for me. You're so right though - the cast and detail are great.

      Such a good choice! Me too - I don't get why but the Academy always seem to ignore Gyllenhaal no matter what he does. But he's amazing! I do love Michael Shannon though so it's really sad that he won't win tonight :(

      Thanks hun! xx

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  3. I really enjoy your well-written reviews, Sophie :)

    Of all the noms, I had the highest emotional resonance with Moonight. Chiron's development is wonderfully illustrated by three different actors under a strong director (Barry Jenkins). By the last act of the film, Chiron is physically powerful yet is emotionally stunted. And worst of all, he has become part of the same destructive force that damaged his mother and trapped his mentor Juan (Mahershala Ali). The same sensitive person we see in the first act is there by the end of the movie, driven to the life he leads by the violence and betrayal we see in the second act. I am strongly rooting for Mahershala Ali to win Best Supporting Actor because I found his performance very moving as a person who wants to be a positive force in his community but is tainted by drug trade of which he is ashamed which is illustrated in a powerful scene where he has a quiet discussion with the young Chiron after he has confronted Chriron's mother.

    Manchester by the Sea is also a powerful character study. It's one you have to pay attention to in order to detect all the character changes as the time shifts from present to past. Casey Affleck really gave a nuanced performance as another person who becomes emotionally damaged, which we see through the course of the movie. As I said previously on your other review of Hell or High Water, I was impressed by the economic bleakness and deep resentment towards the financial industry. The people depicted here are very different from people I usually see in that they are steeped in gun culture and political incorrectness (as illustrated by the Jeff Daniels character). I found Nocturnal Animals to be a great thriller with many great character performances. From Hacksaw Ridge, I felt a strong Forest Gump vibe. It's a nice performance from Portman on Jackie but for me it's a retread of a lot of Kennedy lore I grew up with. But I think it's worth it for younger people who might who haven't been exposed to the history. I still have to watch Lion.

    I guess La La Land is the favorite. I am impressed with the spectacle and the visuals but it's not my favorite. It's a well-made movie. I like Ryan Gosling as an actor and he proved he had comedic chops in the Nice Guys (in addition to dramatic chops) but the big problem for this film is that he is a mediocre singer. Emma Stone shined throughout the movie, though. Although I don't agree with this video explaining the Oscar voting process (in the way it describes La La Land as "mediocre"), I find it an interesting insight into how the winners are chosen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfIxihGOaQ8 I'm also looking forward to your Part 2. Will you and Jack stay up to watch the Oscars?

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    1. Ahh, I mean Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water!!

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    2. Haha don't worry I did think you meant Jeff Bridges.

      Jack will actually be sleeping so I will be watching it alone again this year. Got my snacks and energy drinks at the ready haha. I think La La Land, Manchester by the Sea and Jackie are my favourites although I saw Fences last night and it was stunning. I'll be absolutely shocked if Viola Davis doesn't win.

      I think there are formulas to winning The Oscars but I also think that sometimes it's competition which can mean some amazing performances don't win. For example, had Leo not been up against Matthew McConaughey that one year, he probably would have won just like with this year where several actresses could have easily won Best Actress or Best Supporting but the competition is just too high.

      I can't wait though :)

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  4. This must be so exciting for you Sophie! I did think you'd be watching this year, what time in the UK will it be showing? I'll be watching too :) Hope your favourites win. Another excellent post xx

    Ashley
    http://www.imamovienerd.wordpress.com

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    1. It was on at 1.30am until about 5.30am so was very tired but I managed it! I look forward to it all year :) xx

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