The 2017 Oscar nominations have arrived, giving us a brief respite from arguing about politics so we can argue about movies instead. What a relief!
No one should be surprised to see “La La Land” nominated for Best Picture. However, I was surprised and thrilled to see one my favorite movies from last year make the list: “Hell or High Water.”
“Hell or High Water” is a complex, satisfying story of two brothers out to save the proverbial family farm through a series of relatively small bank robberies. These two antiheroes are extremely compelling, but they don’t just take on the abstract evil of greedy banks and predatory lenders. When they take on the equally compelling and Oscar-nominated Jeff Bridges, you find yourself rooting for everyone. It’s all just so compulsively watchable, exciting, heartbreaking and often hilarious.
The men in “Hell or High Water” make you love them despite their actions. Contrast that with Ryan Gosling in “La La Land”; he deserves many superlatives for his work, including “cutest,” “most charming” and “guy you most want to be your boyfriend.” I’m not sure Best Actor is one of them.
Casey Affleck’s work in “Manchester by the Sea,” on the other hand, was incredible. And look who else popped up on that list — Viggo Mortensen in “Captain Fantastic.” I thought that film strained believability at times, but he was unquestionably strong as the conflicted dad with extreme, questionable parenting methods, including killing one’s own food.
The question of Best Picture depends on your definition of “Best.” I don’t think it means the same as “favorite.” I’d probably rather pop in a DVD of “La La Land” over “Manchester by the Sea,” but I think the latter film represents a great artistic achievement. And I have actually popped in a DVD of “Hell or High Water” a couple of times since it came out. I doubt it stands a snowball’s chance in hell (or high water) of winning, but make sure you see it.
Then it shows up again as “Best Original Screenplay” and while it’s great, there’s the utterly insane and certainly original “The Lobster” in competition. Certainly “La La Land” doesn’t deserve Best Screenplay over either of those, nor over its tear-drenched competitor “Manchester by the Sea.”
The characterization in “La La Land” — especially of Emma Stone, who is nominated for Best Actress —was not terribly strong. “Manchester” said more about its Michelle Williams character in a few brief scenes than the entire “La La Land” did for its female star.
Will the rare absence of a Pixar cartoon give my dear “Kubo and the Two Strings” a chance to win “Best Animated Feature?” I hope so, and I hope they announce that category early in the ceremony because my kids will stay up to wait for it. We’ve watched the “making of” featurette so many times I think we would actually recognize the director on stage.
I’m going to try to watch some of the films from the “Documentary” and “Foreign Feature” categories to help you beef up your office Oscar polls, but in the meantime, several “Best Picture” nominees have come back to theaters or expanded. You’d be hard pressed to find one more charming than “La La Land,” and given the increasingly urgent need for escapism in our culture, perhaps the undeniable delights of this throwback musical romance do justify its many accolades. For two sweet hours, it still beats arguing politics.