The Oscar race has been run.
The votes have been cast and the envelopes are sealed. I’ve speculated enough about each category — actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress and director — and made predictions, but let’s take a closer look at the biggest envelope of all. Regardless of who actually wins.
The 89th annual Academy Awards nominated nine feature films for the Best Picture award this year. Here, in ascending order, is my ranking of these nominees.
A sweet true story about a child finding his way home, this simple and linear Garth Davis film is single-handedly made special by wonderful child-star Sunny Pawar.
8. Hidden Figures
An inspirational film about the trials and tribulations faced by brilliant black women at NASA during the space race, Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures proves that movies about math can be genuinely exciting.
7. Hacksaw Ridge
Mel Gibson returns to form with this powerful World War II film about a conscientious objector, played compellingly by Andrew Garfield. A film both spectacular and sincere.
6. Manchester By The Sea
Kenneth Lonergan’s masterful study of grief puts the viewer through the wringer. A difficult but worthy film, Manchester By The Sea rests on the able shoulders of a striking lead performance from Casey Affleck.
Take a bow, Denzel Washington. This adaptation of the August Wilson play arguably features the best acting all year. The popular criticism that the film is too much like a stage-play rings shallow when you see how magnificently nuanced the performances are.
An exquisitely shot and evocative triumph, Moonlight is a fine and fractured narrative about a fine and fractured protagonist. This Barry Jenkins film is lyrical, poetic and intentionally slow — like the gaps between changing songs in a jukebox.
Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is a modern masterpiece, a visionary work of filmmaking that expands on a science-fiction short story by repeatedly asking the most elegantly logical questions. When the aliens ask to be taken to our leader, how will we understand them? This film, in a way a film about the very idea of language, tries to give us a way forward.
2. Hell Or High Water
Thanks to technology, neo-westerns look tastier, hotter and more textured than ever. And yet David Mackenzie’s Hell Or High Water — a mouthwatering film where every other frame can be hung up on the wall like a painting — stands head and shoulders above others in the genre, including the Coens’ No Country For Old Men. At once immediately thrilling as well as deceptively profound, this is a film to love.
1. La La Land
Speaking of love… Damien Chazelle’s throwback to old Hollywood musicals is an exultant magic trick, a film that shows us love and longing while giving us songs to soar with.
It’s all very well to draw a line of reference between Chazelle’s film and Jacques Demy’s 1964 classic The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, but — blasphemy and bad editorials be damned — the truth is that Chazelle’s film is a greater accomplishment and a finer film, working on more levels and giving us something that is both more satisfying as well as more challenging. Unravel it over and over again.
This is the film that deserves to define 2016.