For the last few years, I started a tradition where I would attempt to see every Best Picture nominated film in the run up to the Oscars. This year 9 films were nominated it was also the first year I succeeded in seeing them all in time.
I try and do this not because I think the academy awards necessarily represent the best filmmaking of the year. Nor do I think winning Best Picture is an indication of quality - there are many winners which haven't exactly stood the test of time. 1
But I do it because it reminds me why I love the cinema. Most of the films that get nominated are at least interesting pieces of art in a way that modern blockbusters are not.
And I love the experience of going there - particularly independent cinemas like Cameo or the Filmhouse. Free from the distractions of smartphones I immerse myself engage emotionally in a way that I don't at home. 2
My take on this years films (in which I broadly agree with the consensus):
LA LA LAND
I saw La La Land before it had reached peak hype; and then the inevitable backlash, and then the backlash to the backlash. I want to not like it as much as I do - it's a bit gimmicky in the way 'The Artist' was and is self-serving of Holywood. But I am drawn to it's deep sense of melancholy, I still find the music moving and it's the only one I want to go and see again. I'd be happy if it won.
Purely as a piece of cinema, Moonlight should probably win. It's beautifully crafted. The music, the cinematography, the understated acting. It doesn't have the same emotional highs and lows as some of the others but instead is made with restraint and precision. I suspect this is one that will be remembered (at least critically) as the most important film this year.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
It's both funny and heartbreaking, brutally devastating and uplifting. Casey Affleck is the reason to see this film.
HELL OR HIGH WATER
A better film than I expected it do be. Jeff Bridges is very Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine turns out to delivery a surprisingly good performance. It is at some level speaking into the new American political landscape and the Nick Cave soundtrack holds it all together.
I always love smart intelligent Sci-Fi and it was great to see Arrival do well. It had heart, a great performance from Amy Adams and uses sound to great effect.
The first half of Lion is distressing yet amongst the poverty it somehow (paradoxically perhaps) looks completely beautiful due to the cinematography. The boy Sunny Pawar, is completely mesmerising. Dev Patel is great and does a good job in the second half of trying to make searching Google maps interesting but it doesn't quite live up to the first.
I have mixed feelings about Fences - it moved me and has stuck with me more than some of the other films; Denzel and Viola Davis absolutely deserve the acting gongs. But you have to go in with the mindset of seeing a play. There is very little that is at all cinematic about it; especially compared to a film like Moonlight. It deserves every Tony award (which it has won) but I don't think as Best Picture.
It's charming, it's fun, it has an important message and it's telling a worthwhile story; plus I'd watch any film about the space race. It's not breaking ground but it's mainstream film-making that will allow it to reach a wide audience and hard not to like.
You should watch it because the true story on which it is based is incredible, and it is a legitimately a spectacle. But it's is tonally a bit all over the place. I think it wants the gravitas of Saving Private Ryan but the violence is so dialed up it feels it is played for shocks at times. Not to mention sections of broad comedy from Vince Vaughn.