Best Director, Best Picture

With so many awards shows leading up to the Academy Awards, I’m sure everyone is feeling a bit of “Awards Fatigue.” However, the Oscars are the Super Bowl of Awards Shows, coming up on Sunday February 26th, so get your cinematic waterfowl in a row in anticipation for the voting results of the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on some of the finest works of film made in 2016.

I believe it is irrelevant to choose winners and losers in art as so much of its beauty is truly in the eyes and the experiences of the beholder.  However the Academy Awards bring well-deserved attention to some of the best teamwork, art and performances in the film business.

My picks may surprise you. Last week I presented my choices for Best Actor and Actress and Best Supporting Actor and Actress.  Here are my picks for Best Director and Best Picture and my predictions of the actual winner.  Who would you pick?

 

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominations: Denis Villeneuve for Arrival, Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge, Damien Chazelle for La La Land, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea, Barry Jenkins for Moonlight

My Choice: Denis Villeneuve for Arrival

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve had planned to study science at the Universite de Quebec a Montreal.  He switched to filmmaking early on – however his tendency towards scientific and philosophical thought pervades this film.  He has created a beautiful balance here in presenting the plot in a simple yet unique way, letting the concepts surrounding the established dilemma take center stage.  As proven in his films Sicario and Prisoner, Villeneuve has a surprising ability to inhabit a female central character with a sense of wonder, fear and awe when confronted with a situation outside of mortal control.  Here Amy Adams embodies that character with perfection.  Forest Whitaker, Jeremy Renner, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien and Tzi Ma create understated and real characters.  Some key players in this film are never or rarely seen.  However their presence is pervasive.  As you watch, your understanding of time and love will be reorganized.

Who will probably win?  Damien Chazelle for La La Land

 

BEST PICTURE

Nominations:

Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight

Here is where I’m having a crisis of indecision.  I was so blown away by four of the nine films nominated that I would not want to vote any of them “off the island.”  I’m thrilled that there are so many good films this year.

 

These are my four:  Arrival, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, Lion

 

Arrival

This is a gorgeous film about communication that transcends language.  It is a great piece of film literature and a philosophical commentary on our time that we need to comprehend on a deep level if we are to survive as a species.  In fact to appreciate this film you must surrender your mind to thinking outside of the constrictions of your native language.  The revelations at the end of the movie force you to consider some huge issues.  In Arrival you will see that the medium of film itself is in fact a most powerful and universal language.

 

Hell or High Water

The film is brings considerable impact because of the extraordinarily high quality of the work of the cast, the writer and the filmmakers.  Watching this movie is like reading one of those classic, beautifully told Western short stories of the late 19th and early 20th century…Every detail in every scene, visual or spoken…carries meaning.  Whole stories are told with very few words, through facial expressions, reactions, signage going by on a highway, a series of crosses on the side of a stucco building, medical paraphernalia left behind near a deathbed…the film shows us that though we may think we are more evolved than we were at the time of the “Old West”, we have the same imperfect emotional make up as did the people of that time period.  Put us in a similar landscape literally, economically and emotionally, and we’ll make the same choices.  That’s what makes Hell or High Water great – it succeeds as a true Western and as a universal tale, set in our time.

 

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures is the “Jimmy Stewart” movie of the year.  This true story is about strength, perseverance and heroism against all odds. Many of us are hungry for tales of unassuming, doggedly persistent heroes succeeding in spite of almost insurmountable odds.  The film is beautifully edited – the rhythm of the narrative never drags. It features magnificent performances, which allow you to become completely invested in each of the characters.  Hidden Figures shows us that there can be heroic action where you least expect it.  It’s the heroism in their DNA that sets the strong apart from the rest, no matter what background they come from.  Whether you are John Glenn or Katherine Goble Johnson, your chance to be a hero is “equal opportunity.”

 

Lion

The story in the film Lion is so well told and beautifully performed that you will feel you have become part of this extended family of extraordinary people, people who have been drawn together by chance and by will.  The true story behind the movie is so full of drama and so moving in itself, that first-time director Garth Davis did not need to do much embellishing. Lion is his first full-length feature and he has done a fantastic job with it.  In this tale the characters are not separated by walk of life, color of skin, education or continent.  Lion is without question a worthwhile film to see – one of the best of 2016.

 

Which film will probably win?  Where, you may ask, is the critics’ darling La La Land on my list?  I believe that Damien Chazelle bravely tackled a monumental job in creating a charming musical for the second film of his career.  This movie is fun, saturated with color, and has a sense of realism.  Only the first ensemble dance scene on the freeway gave me “goose bumps” – with an exuberance that filled the screen with energy.  That may be personal.  I trained as a dancer/singer/actor for seven years, so I’m perhaps overqualified to judge in that area.  After that incredible opening number with hundreds of beautifully choreographed high-spirited dancers and singers seething with angry frustration while stuck on a freeway onramp, then slowly turning to unbridled joy, I expected more of the same Wow!-factor and I was disappointed.  I did think the film was a poignant story of two people struggling with their identity as artists in our often-merciless city of many layers and planes of existence.  I did not see this movie as Best Picture.  I dance to a different drummer I guess. However I truly look forward to Chazelle’s future work.

 

 

 

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com. For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com

 

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