After last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy sparked outrage on Twitter as well as from the actors themselves, the academy have made an explicit effort to recognise diversity in this year’s films. This can be seen in the nine nominations for Best Picture, the most anticipated award of the night, which exhibits a broad range of unique stories.
The frontrunner for the award is La La Land, the charming story of an aspiring actor and a failing jazz musician who faces the challenges of love versus ambition and compromising dreams of wealth and stability. The film is nominated in 14 categories, tying with Titanic and All About Eve for most nominations ever. Damien Chazelle’s dazzling tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood is undeniably worth the hype, due to its beautiful cinematography, score and masterful performances from both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.
Historical biographic film, Hidden Figures recently overpassed the box office success of La La Land in the US, grossing $132 million, compared to the musical’s $126 million. The heartwarming film tells the story of three ingenious black women who were instrumental in NASA’s mission to send man into space, overcoming tremendous racial obstacles to excel in their fields. Octavia Spencer is nominated for best supporting actress and leads a stellar cast including Taraji P. Henson and two of Moonlight’s stars Janelle Monáe and Mahershala Ali.
Despite a relatively low box office turnout, and lack of BAFTA wins, another Oscar favourite is Barry Jenkin’s unique and bold film Moonlight, earning eight nominations overall. A groundbreaking exploration of African-American life, Moonlight tells the story a black man’s lifelong struggle to accept his sexuality throughout his harsh childhood and into his adult years. Extraordinary performances from three actors capture Chiron’s journey into adulthood, as well as show-stealer Mahershala Ali.
Arguably the best sci-fi film of the year, Arrival tells the story of Louise Banks, an expert linguist tasked with communicating with the aliens who mysteriously arrive on earth, despite the mounting panic spreading as the world’s governments fail to work together to figure out the threat. The simplicity of Louise’s core personal story is what makes the film stand out, something that recent sci-fi movies such as Interstellar have tried and failed to achieve. Amy Adams is a joy to watch in her second star performance of the year, following her role in thriller Nocturnal Animals.
Lion is the remarkable true story of a young boy in India who gets accidentally brought thousands of miles away from his family by train and ends up lost in a city he doesn’t recognise or speak the language. Young Sunny Pawar carries the first hour of the film practically single-handedly as he searches for his beloved brother amid the teeming streets of Calcutta. Dev Patel plays an older Saroo, now adopted by an Australian family and pursuing a career in hotel management when he becomes obsessed with finding his lost family and uses google maps to retrace his childhood journey with only a handful of memories. Patel won a BAFTA for best supporting role, but Pawar’s childish vulnerability is what makes the film so heart-breaking and deeply moving.
Mel Gibson’s ruthless Hacksaw Ridge provides the most action the nominee list has to offer in a true story of a soldier who goes into battle in World War Two without touching a gun. Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss, an army medic religiously motivated not to train with a rifle, who ultimately saved 75 people in the bloodiest battle in the war. Where the film lacks a little subtlety, the gore is worth enduring for Garfield’s performance.
Fences tells the grim story of a sanitation worker trying to support his family during the racial tension of the 1950s. Although the film doesn’t quite make a good transition from stage to the screen, it acts as a showcase for the two leads Viola Davies and Denzel Washington, who were both nominated for their powerful performances.
Manchester by the Sea is worth watching for Casey Affleck’s performance alone, as the reclusive Lee Chandler whose empty life is interrupted by a family tragedy which leaves him with the custody of his difficult nephew Patrick, played by newcomer Lucas Hedges.
Hell or High Water explores the merits of great dialogue and script writing in the cops and robbers chase movie with a western twist. Jeff Bridges plays Texas Ranger pursuing a spate of bank robberies by a pair of brothers determined to steal back their future from the bank that is foreclosing their family land.