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Monday, February 27, 2017

What a night....

Now that I've had a day to recover, I'd be remiss if I didn't do a debrief of the historic show.

First.... that moment

I'm assuming if you're reading this, you know what happened.  If not, I'd encourage you to watch the whole 6 minutes, as its absolutely fascinating.

In short, what happened was:

-PriceWaterhouseCoopers have two sets of envelopes, one on each side of the stage.
-When Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway went out, they gave them the duplicate Best Actress envelope.
-Warren opened it, confused, because it said "Emma Stone- La La Land" He paused, and showed it to Faye, who glanced at it and read La La Land.
-At some point during the speeches, the mistake was recognized and an accountant and stage manager came out to try to clear up everything.
-The La La Land team catches wind of what happened, and La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz jumps in, grabs the correct card from Warren Beatty, and calls Moonlight up.

Many have written about this more eloquently than I can, so I'll suffice it to say that the blame lies almost entirely with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the only ones who know how to hand out the envelopes, know the results, and are supposed to intervene immediately if a mistake is made.

While in hindsight Warren Beatty probably should have made another choice or checked with someone other than his co-presenter when he was confused, it's hard to fault him in such a high-stakes moment. What was great to see was the grace of the La La Land team in their tough moment (I mean, they did still win 6 Oscars....)

More on what this all means a bit later on...

The Winners

It ended up being a spread the wealth kind of night, with several movies winning more than one award:

-La La Land (6: Actress, Director, Song, Score, Cinematography, Production Design)
-Moonlight (3: Picture, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay)
-Manchester by the Sea (2: Actor, Original Screenplay)
-Hacksaw Ridge (2: Sound Mixing, Film Editing)

In my own predictions, I ended up with 16/24, probably my worst showing in quite a while. Here are the awards I called wrong, along with who I predicted in parentheses:

Picture: Moonlight (La La Land)
Actor: Casey Affleck (Denzel Washington)
Sound Editing: Arrival (Hacksaw Ridge)
Sound Mixing : Hacksaw Ridge (La La Land)
Makeup: Suicide Squad (Star Trek: Beyond)
Costumes: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Jackie)
Film Editing: Hacksaw Ridge (La La Land)
Live Action Short: Sing (Ennemis Interieurs)

What it All Means

-Regardless of the bizarre final moments, Moonlight winning is a HUGE deal.  It was made for $1.5 million dollars and grossed the least of any of the nominees, although it is still hugely successful compared to its cost. It's a movie acted entirely by Black actors. It's the first Black-themed movie to win that's not focused on slavery or civil rights, as well as the first movie to ever win centered on a GLBTQ protagonist. I could go on, but it's a stunning victory.

-Just a year after #oscarssowhite, there were far more black winners than any other year. Moonlight, Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis, screenwriters Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, and director Ezra Edelman (O.J.: Made in America) all won big awards. Who knows if this broad recognition will last, but let's savor a year when truly great diverse work came out and the Academy saw fit to recognize it.

-The preferential ballot in Best Picture matters. All other categories are decided by a plurality of votes, while Best Picture is decided using ranked-choice voting.  La La Land, which obviously had enough fervent fans to give director Damien Chazelle the win, probably fell behind when second and third place votes were counted, many of which probably went to Moonlight. It's better to be liked across the board than to be a divisive film. It's probably
how Spotlight beat The Revenant last year.

-The days of sweeps may be over. La La Land came away with an impressive 6 trophies, but far below the 9-11 most were predicting.

-Oscar voters aren't tied to the Best Picture frontrunners in all categories. They're happy to give awards to middling to poorly reviewed films like Fantastic Beasts and even Suicide Squad (!!) if they respect the craft enough.

-Just a decade ago, Best Picture/Director splitting was fairly rare. Now, it's happened 4 times in the past 5 years.  The more showy directorial project wins Best Director (Life of Pi, Gravity, The Revenant, La La Land), while the more modest and grounded film wins Best Picture (Argo, 12 Years a Slave, Spotlight, Moonlight).  This does mean that, unfortunately, two great black directors (Steve McQueen and Barry Jenkins) don't have Best Director wins.

All right, that's all everyone. One to remember!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

And the Oscar goes to... (according to us)

Welcome back to the 7th (!) annual family Best Picture rankings. This year, I’m pleased to be joined by my wife Emily, sister Sarah, brother-in-law Tyler, brother Jason, and mother-in-law Barb. My one-month-old daughter Elisa won’t join in, even though she did see just about all the movies in utero, plus Hell or High Water after she was born (like her mother, she skipped Hacksaw Ridge).

This year, our consensus Best Picture vote went to Moonlight, a movie everyone ranked either 1 or 2.  After that, it was a tight race between La La Land, Manchester by the Sea and Arrival.

  Ben Barb Sarah Tyler Jason Emily Average
1. Moonlight 1 2 1 1 2 1 1.33
2. La La Land 3 1 3 8 1 2 3.00
3. Manchester by the Sea 5 3 2 2 3 4 3.17
4. Arrival 2 4 4 3 6 3 3.67
5. Fences 4 7 6 4 5 5 5.17
6. Hell or High Water 6 8 5 6 4 8 6.17
7. Hidden Figures 8 5 8 5 8 6 6.67
8. Lion 7 6 7 7 9 7 7.17
9. Hacksaw Ridge 9 9 9 9 7 - 8.60

For the acting/directing/screenplay categories, the group’s collective votes would go to Denzel Washington, Natalie Portman, Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis, director Barry Jenkins, and the screenplays for The Lobster and Moonlight.

Best Actor
Denzel Washington, Fences- Ben, Sarah, Tyler, Emily
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea- Barb, Jason

Best Actress
Natalie Portman, Jackie: Barb, Sarah, Tyler, Emily
Emma Stone, La La Land: Jason
Ruth Negga, Loving: Ben

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight: Ben, Emily, Sarah, Tyler, Barb
Dev Patel, Lion: Jason

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, Fences: Unanimous

Best Director
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight: Ben, Sarah, Tyler, Emily
Damian Chazelle, La La Land: Barb, Jason

Best Original Screenplay
The Lobster: Ben, Sarah, Emily
Manchester by the Sea: Barb, Tyler
La La Land: Jason

Best Adapted Screenplay
Moonlight: Ben, Emily, Barb, Sarah, Jason
Arrival: Tyler

Now to the individual rankings.


1. Moonlight
Walking out of Moonlight was one of those rare times I thought, “That was a perfect movie.”  Rarely do we see one character, especially one so withdrawn, studied so meticulously and with such compassion. Each third of this movie is like its own brilliant short film, and together they add to an astonishing whole.  A truly great film.

2. Arrival
Sometimes movies arrive (no pun intended) at the exact right time. Watching Arrival a couple weeks after the disastrous 2016 election, the themes of empathy, global cooperation and communication gained an extra degree of resonance. Arrival is a smart, perfectly constructed, and enormously moving story of communication, cooperation, and search for meaning during times of uncertainty. It’s the rare Sci-Fi movie that blends the personal and the supernatural into a cohesive whole. In a year of tearjerkers, this won my award for most tears shed in a movie theater.

3. La La Land
32-year-old director Damien Chazelle made a ballsy move- creating an original movie musical, set in modern-day L.A., that hearkens back to both films of the Hollywood Golden Age and the French musicals of Jacques Demy.  What bothers me most about the La La Land backlash (inevitable for any Oscar frontrunner), is how some are treating it like some kind of Oscar bait, when it’s really not. It’s a passion project for Damien Chazelle, a film that dares to play on its own terms and sweeps us along in its spell. While I do think it lags just a bit in some of its latter stretch, it opens with a bang and it absolutely nails the landing with probably the best ending of the year.  To top it all off, non-singers Ryan Gosling and (especially) Emma Stone bring tremendous charm, energy, and chemistry to their roles.

4. Fences
Take two of our greatest living actors (Denzel and Viola) giving perhaps their best performances ever in a great play by one of the greatest modern playwrights (August Wilson), and what else can you ask for?  As a director, Denzel doesn’t try too hard to make the movie cinematic, and that’s mostly to its benefit as he lets the words and the actors speak for themselves. It’s a great story that find enormous resonance in the specific story of Troy and Rose Maxson.  

5. Manchester by the Sea
While the plot description of this movie (I’ll avoid because of spoilers) sounds hopelessly grim, Manchester thrives on a unique mixture of truth, heartbreak, and gallows humor. Casey Affleck gives a performance worthy of Brando as a troubled soul, Michelle Williams nails her small part, and the young Lucas Hedges perfectly captures a teenage boy’s underdeveloped heart and brain. Why isn’t it higher on my list then? For whatever reason, it’s one of those movies I liked a whole lot without ever quite falling in love with.

6. Hell or High Water
The only movie on the list I’ve seen twice, and boy does it hold up. This modern-day Western pits a couple of justifiably pissed-off bank robbers against older lawmen tracking their progress across desolate West Texas, a place that’s well past its glory days. This movie is tight, funny, and boasts a strong moral conscience.  All the characters here have shades of grey, and they reveal the warring impulses of modern-day America.

7. Lion
The first half of Lion is a gripping journey of a young boy trying to find his missing family.  Director Garth Davis does a masterful job at putting us into a 5-year-old’s shoes as he makes his epic and painful journey. The second half of the movie, with the older Faroo searching for his parents, is engaging but more pedestrian.  We start to see where the movie is going, and it goes there.  Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman are both very good, but the terrific Rooney Mara is wasted in a thankless part as the supportive girlfriend.

8. Hidden Figures
This is a feel-good movie filled with good performances (my favorite was Janelle Monae), that doesn’t really rise to the heights of great filmmaking. The movie seems a bit simplified and sanitized (particularly the Kevin Costner character….), but I’m so glad this movie got made to tell the story of these three women’s role in the space program.

9. Hacksaw Ridge
On the plus side, this was much better than I anticipated. The thought of a Mel Gibson-directed war film made me think I would hate this movie. I didn’t!  Say what you will about Gibson, but he knows how to film an engaging and bloody war scene, and the last third of the movie is filled with them. Actor Andrew Garfield also does a good job in the central role of the film, and there are some genuine philosophical questions lurking under the surface here.  On the negative side, the beginning was a bit corny, I thought the basic training scenes were nothing I hadn’t seen before, and the themes are laid on a bit thick in the end.  Still, it’s better than American Sniper!

Should Win:
Picture: Moonlight
Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Actor: Denzel Washington, Fences
Actress: Ruth Negga, Loving
Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences
Original Screenplay: The Lobster
Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight


1.La La Land
Such a fun, imaginative throwback film with amazing performances by both of the leads. The musical numbers were stellar and I actually really liked that Stone and Gosling aren't classically trained singers/dancers. I absolutely loved the ending!

A beautiful and touching film. I loved the three different period structure and following the main character's journey through each.

3. Manchester by the Sea
Generally my favorite genre, movies about real people in very real situations. Affleck, Hodges and Williams are absolutely incredible in their roles.

4. Hell or High Water
I love a well-written crime film, especially when the motivations of the criminals is not black and white. No Country is one of my favorite movies of all time and Hell feels very similar. I really liked Bridges performance and in another year I believe he would have won for best-supporting actor.

5. Fences
Washington and Davis carry a small film that would not be nearly as powerful without superb performances. Washington's character is so complex and feels like a completely real person. This film makes me want to learn more about August Wilson.

6. Arrival
Well done Sci-Fi is another of my favorite genres and Arrival did not disappoint. The direction was fantastic and I thought Amy Adams’ performance should have been nominated.

7. Hacksaw Ridge
My favorite war movie since Letters from Iwo Jima. I thought the story of Desmond Doss was really cool and I enjoyed learning more about him and the battle for Okinawa.

8.Hidden Figures
A very cool and long overdue telling of an important story. I really enjoyed the film but I struggle to put it up with there with some of the other amazing achievements this year, as it felt pretty standard as films go.

The first half of the film was really cool and the little boy was awesome. However, the second half felt a bit cliched. Dev Patel was awesome and Nicole Kidman was great as usual.

Should win:
Best Picture: La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Best Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences
Best Supporting Actor: Dev Patel, Lion
Best Original Screenplay: La La Land
Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight


1. Moonlight
I went into Moonlight not knowing much about it, and was blown away.  I don’t think there are many films, at least popular ones, portraying the inner lives of black men, and Moonlight did it in a way I’ve never seen before.  Similar to Boyhood, I love how the film shows quiet, non-”flashy” life events showing Chiron’s journey into adolescence and adulthood.  Amazing script coupled with incredible performances, this one will haunt me for a long time.

2. Manchester by the Sea
I would be remiss not to mention that I went into the movie feeling conflicted due to the sexual assault allegations against Casey Affleck- that being said- I think his acting was incredible.  What I loved about this movie was that it took an extremely dark and depressing topic and showed how there is still light, humor, and growth as we go through trauma.

3. La La Land
I grew up loving musicals, and I had so much fun watching Lala Land.  The colors, Mia’s awesome dresses, nods to old Hollywood- awesome! The songs weren’t as catchy as some of the classics, and I thought Ryan Gosling’s singing was a little weak. That being said, I appreciated the modern feminist twist- the equal portrayal of both men and women’s ambition and the sacrifices we make.  I think the most telling part was when Mia is talking about her play and she says “It feels really nostalgic to me” to which Sebastian replies “That’s the point!” In La La land, It is and it isn’t- I appreciated La La Land’s nostalgia with a modern twist.

4. Arrival
I was glued to my seat throughout Arrival. Sometimes when science fiction movies try to pair the suspenseful/action piece with personal loss or trauma, I find it kind of forced (like in Gravity)- but in Arrival I thought it paired perfectly. Very thought provoking.

5. Hell or High Water
So in a Coen Brothers-less year, Hell or High Water filled that void for me- with the amazing performance and hilarious lines by Jeff Bridges and awesome scenes like with the amazing tough talking waitress at the T-bone restaurant. Loved the multi-faceted protagonists in this modern western.

6. Fences
I’ve heard critiques of Fences that it just feels like a play...but that’s ok with me, because this is a movie all about the dialogue and the performances.  It paints a very vivid picture of Troy and Rose and the sacrifices and losses they had as a result of their race, genders, and the time they lived in.  Incredible performances by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis

7. Lion
Lion tells an amazing true story and I’m glad there is a movie about Saroo’s experience.  I loved the parts of the movie depicting the journey of young Saroo and his relationship with his brother Gaduu.  And ,of course, teared up at the end when he is reunited with his mother (both the portrayal and the real footage- incredible!).  I thought Dev Patel did a great job showing the emotional journey of trying to find his birth family, but I found the scenes with his Australian parents less compelling, and for some reason most scenes with Rooney Mara I found really boring.  

8. Hidden Figures
Given recent attacks by a certain president on women, people of color, and science….Hidden Figures was a good fist-pumping positive message that I think we all needed.  I thought the performances were very good, especially by Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer. As much as I enjoyed it,  I didn’t think the movie itself did anything particularly risky or non-formulaic.

9. Hacksaw Ridge
I’ll be honest, I almost used my free pass from Ben to skip this one as it didn’t appeal to me.  It was about what I was expecting- kind of hokey in the exposition to the battle scenes, although I thought Andrew Garfield’s performance was good, and it was a compelling story about war unlike others we usually hear.  The battle scenes- whew- I have a pretty strong stomach for violent movies but this was a rough one to get through.

Should Win:
Picture: Moonlight
Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Actor: Denzel Washington, Fences
Actress: Natalie Portman, Jackie
Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Supporting Actress; Viola Davis, Fences
Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight
Original screenplay: The Lobster


1. Moonlight
I’ve seen a lot of coming of age movies over the years, but none told like this. All three sections were wonderful, with the protagonist finding himself in different circumstances and the film creating a different outlook as his view on the world changes. The sections are all bound together by the commitment to truthful storytelling, that almost feels like we are watching a documentary in moments. The story is very simple and very complex at the same time, not unlike the experience most of us have growing up. Each child turning into an adult is following the journey billions before them took, but the particulars of each of these journeys is vastly different, and for the child on the journey there is nothing to do but focus on the particulars. This film’s attention to detail and bold truth-telling in focusing on the particulars of this coming of age tale lead us not just to a greater empathy with this character, but also retell the universal story of growing up in a new and profound way.

2. Manchester by the Sea
Like many films on this list, this one focuses on a damaged man and the loved ones he leaves in his wake. Manchester however is more focused on the path to healing and redemption. The plot/setup is well-trodden ground, but this film is so well constructed that this fades away quickly and you are immersed in the lives of these characters. It is filled with great performances, well paced and beautifully shot. The screenplay and direction are great at conveying so much without the need for any grand speeches or expository. I really enjoyed the moments between the main character and his nephew; they were genuinely funny and loving, and this made the depressing parts even more depressing.

3. Arrival
Warning, this whole commentary is a spoiler: Like a lot of recent big sci-fi movies that involve time travel (Edge of Tomorrow, Interstellar), this skips the tired convention of a human-created time machine, and relies on a deus ex machina of alien technology. This conceit allows the tech to be left unexplained but still plausible, and allows for much greater creativity in rules of time travel and storytelling. Of those films this one certainly takes the best advantage of this approach, weaving the time travel device through the high stakes alien drama and the personal relationships. I like how the aliens are as mysterious to the viewer as they are the main characters, giving us a persistent feeling that while progress is being made and things are being sorted out, everything could be derailed by a sudden unseen disaster.  Late in the film that interplay of unpredictability and certainty are transferred to the personal lives of the main characters. The main drama in most time travel is the cause and effect, the chance to rectify past wrongs or prevent tampering with how it is “supposed to be”. Here, there is nothing that can be changed, only life to be lived, which certainly reminds me of a famous theme of Nietzsche. This is from The Gay Science: What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence" … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?... Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?”

4. Fences
I had seen one August Wilson play before this seeing this film, so I had some expectations about the style and the way they illuminate the Black experience in a particular time and place. What I wasn’t expecting was how deep into the psyche of a hurt man and all those affected by him this movie would go. I liked the balanced treatment for a play adaptation; the film didn’t  run away from its stage origins, but it also had a naturalistic feel that draws you in. Denzel accomplished quite a feet embodying such a complex character, but I think he accomplishes even more by keeping the rest of the cast on the same page, bringing out great performances from parts big and small. Instead of being a showcase for one accomplished actor, the whole cast shines. This is certainly the story of one family, but you can’t deny that the personal demons aroused here are not at least partially political. There has been so much talk over the last year of the of the economic anxiety of the White working class, who feel they are losing their grasp on what they feel they’ve always possessed. Here is a story of one man who came from other side, resentful of never being allowed to obtain what others are now afraid to lose. Taking place in a time of general prosperity, he is continually told that while he personally missed out, the world is getting better for those like him. As an audience member in 2017, I found myself swinging back and forth between seeing his incredulity as dug-in stubbornness of a hurt man and seeing his seeing his cynicism as prophetic.

5. Hidden Figures
It’s strange for a historical drama based on a true story to have one set of characters that are real people (the three Black women in the leading roles) and all the other characters be fictionalized amalgamations of real White co-workers and metaphors for society at large. While showing the literal signs of segregation is easy, it is difficult to portray the constant and pernicious effects, all the macro and micro ways that the mundane forces of misogyny and racism constantly encumber these women and hold them back from succeeding, especially when, on paper, they hold the same or almost the same liberties. Even though some of the created plot points are so clearly contrived I could tell they were false before looking them up, I thought they still did a pretty good job at conveying these themes. I tend to prefer biopics that hew closer to the facts, as I think that profoundness that arises out of attempts at complete truthfulness in storytelling trumps artificial profound moments. That said, the artifice here worked well, as this movie was very well made, well acted, and accomplished its goals. I hope it will be included in the canon of introductory works to the civil rights era, as it tells an important but different story. These women just wanted to do their job- a difficult, novel, and world-changing job, but unlike their peers, they had no choice but to take on that extra burden of becoming activists and civil rights pioneers, just to be able to go to work.

6. Hell or High Water
The best western movies (especially bank robber movies) are about the end of “The West”; the slow but relentless forces of progress and society keeping the heroes on the run. This film fits the classic bank robber archetype, but is clearly informed by and explicitly references the modern day perils of the America feels left behind by the modern world. This film bleeds the working man blues, that bank robbing as Robin Hood sense of justice, that Woody Guthrie rage for the downtrodden, that informs the politics of the film. It also reminds me of the mood of so many 70s fight-the-system films, where the protagonist’s struggle can so suddenly devolve from righteous fury to indiscriminate violence against those representing the status quo. Watching this movie after the election of Trump tinges it with a certain cruelty that was only an outside possibility during its creation; the anxiety and desolation are real and now part of the mainstream conversation, but the country was hoodwinked by a charlatan without the desire or ability to actually address the problems that this movie lays bare.

7. Lion
I went into this movie expecting a heartwarming Chicken Soup for the Soul type of film, and to some degree that is what I got, although I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of care and attention in the India scenes when the main character was a child. Those scenes were certainly the highlight for me, as they were beautifully and sincerely done. I thought the struggles and joys of adoption were very poignant and Dev’s scene at the dinner party with other students raised in an Indian culture were very interesting. Unfortunately the scenes of him moping and clicking on Google Earth really dragged down the film more than they conveyed the sense of tediousness and hopelessness in the search. The ending provides the tears I knew it would have the moment I first heard of the movie, bringing out the joy and relief of him being reunited, but it also made me relieved that we were finally done following his journey.

8. La La Land
I was expecting more of this film. I think I give musicals fair consideration; I like the good ones and don’t drool over middling ones. I expected this to be full of full of flashy dance numbers and some memorable songs, but I got little of each. The novelty was appealing at first, but as it started to wear thin the movie just seemed to lack both showmanship and substance (I would have been happy with either). The unconventional ending was nice surprise, but even that could have been executed in a way that would have better crystallized the bittersweetness of it. I know that “now more than ever” the sense of romance and escapism are appealing, but there are plenty of other places I’d rather escape to if I get the urge, and plenty of better songs to get stuck in my head.

9. Hacksaw Ridge
The first half was something between Pearl Harbor (the Ben Affleck movie) and the made-for-TV movie Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. The second half aimed for Saving Private Ryan but came out a bland mash of dirt, gunfire, and stunt guys in fire suits, speckled with notable moments of terrible filmmaking choices. The true story of a conscientious objector displaying incredible courage in midst of a terrible war could make for compelling drama, but the storytelling repeatedly trips over the worst cliches of the genre.

Should Win:
Best Picture: Moonlight
Best Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Best Actor:Denzel Washington, Fences
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Jackie
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences
Best Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea
Best Adapted Screenplay: Arrival


1. La La Land
What a refreshing change of pace! What could be better than Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling singing, dancing and falling in love? The beautiful views of the Los Angeles skyline just made this movie even more magical. I didn't mind in the least that neither actors are professional singers or dancers. In fact, I think I liked it even more because of this.The movie brought back the feel of old-time Hollywood and I loved everything about it!

2. Moonlight
A beautiful, albeit heartbreaking, story of a young black man just trying to find his place in the world. It is brilliantly told in three different chapters of his life. We first meet Chiron as a young boy, then a teen and finally an adult. Growing up in poverty, with a drug addicted mother, this is a coming of age story with Chiron struggling to understand his own sexuality in a world where he often feels confused and alone. It is a difficult journey that is met with perseverance and hope. A stunning performance by the entire cast, although I wish we would have seen a little more of Mahershala Ali.

3. Manchester the Sea
Casey Affleck delivers what I believe to be the best performance of the year.  Lee Chandler (Affleck) was once happy. He lived in Manchester with his wife, children, extended family and his beloved brother, Joe. After a tragic accident shatters his life he moves to Boston, living in a stark basement apartment and working as a janitor. Affleck does a tremendous job bringing Lee's character to life. His grief is palpable. He moves numbly from one day to the next until yet another tragedy strikes. Lee is forced to deal with his past and pain when he returns to Manchester after the death of his brother, Joe. Only then does he find out he has been made sole custodian of Joe's teenage son, Patrick (adeptly played by Lucas Hedges). Although there is a bond between Lee and Patrick, both struggle to adjust to their new world. The most powerful and heartbreaking scene in this movie is the chance meeting of Lee and his ex-wife (Michelle Williams). So much has been left unsaid as they both tried to deal with the grief and the accident that changed both of their lives forever. You are left with the feeling that there things in Lee's life that he will never be able to get beyond. This is an emotional film to watch, but so well done.

4. Arrival
I am generally not a big fan of science fiction, but I really liked this movie. Amy Adams delivered an outstanding performance as linguist Louise Banks. I was really surprised she did not get a best actress nod. An interesting story about aliens who have arrived, with no ill-intent, and the efforts of an elite team to decipher their language and find out what brings them to earth. I thought this also spoke to the knee-jerk reaction of so many nations that simply wanted to rush in to attack and destroy these intruders. Sound familiar? Spoiler alert: I loved the twist at the end. I did not see that coming.

5. Hidden Figures
How have I never heard of this? The story of three brilliant, courageous black women who became vital to the U.S. manned space program in the 1950's and 60's. Faced with discrimination due to their race and gender, these women faced  obstacles with courage, perseverance, the support of each other, some anger and even a little bit of humor. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) became the first African American woman on the Space Task Group. Many of her new colleagues  were initially dismissive and even hostile. Overtime, however, her skills are recognized and she is accepted as a vital part of the team. All three women advanced their careers and forced some long overdue changes in what had been a very segregated work environment.  A tremendous ensemble cast including Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner and Jim Parsons.

6. Lion
Based on the memoir A Long Way Home. This begins with 5 year old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) trapped on a train and ending up 1000 from his small town in India. After ending up on the streets of Calcutta, he is eventually adopted by an Australian couple. As and adult, Saroo (Dev Patel) begins a tireless journey to connect with his past. It is a story of perseverance, hope, conflicting loyalties and the power of technology. I think the real show stealer  in this film is Sunny Pawar. His days on the streets in Calcutta are heartbreaking and, sadly, a realistic portrayal of the vulnerability of these lost and homeless children. I also thought this was one of Nicole Kidman's finer performances.

7. Fences
Powerful performances by both Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in this adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize winning play. Bitter and frustrated by the color barrier that dashed his dreams, Troy Maxon (Washington) takes out his anger and disappointment on those who love him most. Especially vulnerable is his son, Cory (a fine performance by Jova Adepo). Troy is determined not to allow his son to succeed where he could not. An outstanding performance by Davis as Troy's long suffering wife. She is a complex character who is strong and proud, but in the end stands by her husband regardless of his cruelty, unpredictability and marital indiscretion.There are some light- hearted moments when Troy is spinning tales with his friend, Bono, but even these could turn suddenly dark and angry. A powerful drama that was really hard to watch.

8. Hell or High Water
I liked this movie, but am not sure it is Oscar worthy. In its favor it's a story where we can root for the bad guys, has a very good cast and some beautiful scenery. And who doesn't love Jeff Bridges?

9. Hacksaw Ridge
The true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the first conscientious objector to ever win the Congressional Medal of Honor. Garfield wanted to serve his Country during WWII, but did not believe in killing and refused to carry a gun. Despite numerous efforts to keep him out of the military, and constant harassment by fellow soldiers, Garfield persisted and stayed true to his convictions. As an Army Medic he  evacuated 75 men during the Battle of Hacksaw Ridge without ever carrying a weapon. Although this is a story certainly worth telling, the prolonged bloody battle scenes at Hacksaw Ridge were more than I could tolerate. Regardless, a strong performance by Andrew Garfield.

Should Win:
Picture: La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea
Actress: Natalie Portman, Jackie
Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali
Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences
Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight
Original Screenplay: Manchester By The Sea.


1.     Moonlight
A beautifully written, directed, and acted coming-of-age/search-for-identity story. I loved the three-act storytelling approach. Hard to imagine it will beat out the La La Land momentum for Best Picture, but looking forward to a supporting actor win for Mahershala Ali.
2.     La La Land
Lots of fun, and one that I would love to see again. Visually captivating and great to see on the big screen. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were well cast in the leading roles. Will it win as big as everyone says on Oscar night?
3.     Arrival
Wasn’t sure going in if I was feeling up for an alien movie, but ended up loving Arrival’s creativity and unpredictability. Was sad to see Amy Adams (who has a special place in my heart ever since Junebug in 2006) get snubbed here.
4.     Manchester by the Sea
A melancholic reflection on grief and loss, and living life after the unthinkable. Casey Affleck gave an Oscar-worthy performance (though it’s a little hard to cheer him on given his off-screen controversies), as did the always impressive Michelle Williams.
5.     Fences
Beautiful translation from play to film, with powerful performances by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, both of whom I am rooting for to win acting awards.
6.     Hidden Figures
Empowering story of unsung heroes, especially important to tell in the current national moment where women, people of color, and science are all under attack. Loved the performances by Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, and Taraji P Henson.
7.     Lion
An engaging and emotional journey, spanning two continents and 25 years. A fascinating search-for-home story with a moving ending, albeit a lot to pack into two hours. Beautiful performances by Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman.
8.     Hell or High Water
Enjoyed it more than I anticipated, since I wouldn’t normally gravitate to Westerns or heists. Thought it was well written, though, and not too bloody. A great role for Jeff Bridges.
Didn’t see:
Hacksaw Ridge

Should Win:
Picture: Moonlight
Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Actor: Denzel Washington, Fences
Actress: Natalie Portman, Jackie
Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences
Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight
Original Screenplay: The Lobster