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It’s obvious that in life we all seek awards and recognition for everything we do. For music there’s the Grammy, for Broadway there’s the Tony, and for television there is the Emmy. Then, there’s the Oscar, the most coveted award Hollywood has to offer, The Oscar.

Celebrities from far and wide descend on LA’s Dolby Theater to celebrate the best of the best in the world of the movies. Despite heavy competition taking place in each category, all eyes are still turned to the biggest award of the night, Best Picture, given to the film voted to be the best of the year. Even with films like Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad coming out, 2016 has still proven itself to be a year that gave audiences a reason to go to the movies and the best of the best will be revealed this Sunday at 7:30. Without further ado, here are the nominees for Best Picture.

Here at NASA we all pee the same color.”

— Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures

After the controversy of last years nominations all being white, Hidden Figures has brought a sigh of relief to those who thought the Oscars were unable to change. The thing about Hidden Figures is that when you look at it from a perspective of which awards it’s nominated for, you cannot see the real value in the value of this movie. Hidden Figures is just a pure joy to watch. In the overall story it stands as an inspiration for the unsung heroes of any major project. The performances and conversations between each character are genuinely powerful with a special nod to Taraji P. Henson’s role as NASA mathematician Katharine Johnson. The three lead actresses, Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, deliver lines of deep meaning on the issue of civil rights and then deliver quips that together put a smile on your face the whole way through.

Hidden Figures is nominated for three awards in the categories of Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Though, it’s very unlikely that Hidden Figures will bring home any gold, it stands as a powerful yet light-hearted story that brings fun to the relatively serious mindsets of the other Best Picture nominees.

You don’t want to be my guardian that’s fine with me.”

— Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea

Lucas Hedges. Kenneth Lonergan. Casey Affleck. These three names are what make this movie so unflinchingly real. First off is Lucas Hedges who plays newly orphaned Patrick, nephew of Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler. The character of Patrick feels so real with his slightly smug face and his cool guy persona, but he feels so real in his inability to admit that his life has changed and therefore he has changed. Lucas Hedges brings a real character to life and it feels like his breakdown is actually real. Next is writer/director Kenneth Lonergan. To have written such a devastatingly real script is rare, but Lonergan manages to write conversations that remind one of conversations one has in their own life and not in film. He does not rely on heavy soliloquies from characters on how they feel, but instead has the characters talking and not shying away from a profound silence between them. In a cinematic world of dramatic speeches and characters saying fluent sentences with untold truths, Lonergan’s characters say exactly what they mean while struggling to say it the right way. Finally, there’s Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler. It’s not often that one thinks of actors acting unemotional, but Affleck just delivers a broken man with little left to live for. There’s no words to describe his performance other than saying that his unemotion makes the audience feel a deep sympathy and utter sadness for what he has gone through.

Manchester received six nominations including Best Director for Kenneth Lonergan, Best Supporting Actress for Michelle WIlliams, Best Supporting Actor for Lucas Hedges, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Leading Actor for Casey Affleck. Mark my words, Casey Affleck will take home the trophy for the best performance of the year and his performance will live on for a very long time.

Please Lord. Help me get one more.”

— Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge

In the past, many war films have come along, but most are action-oriented horror shows that focus only on the fighting in war. Then there have been those other war films that focus too much on the characters and not on the fact that they are in an actual battle (cough cough Pearl Harbor cough).  Hacksaw finds a perfect balance between violence and war. Andrew Garfield’s real life character Desmond Doss just seems like a sweet young boy until his morals are questioned and he suddenly becomes a firm believer with his feet planted in the ground. With his face dirtied, Garfield delivers a performance of strength in the face of impossible odds. Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge finds funny moments and even more inspiring moments that come from strength of character.

Hacksaw received six nominations including Best Leading Actor for Andrew Garfield, Best Director for Mel Gibson, film editing, sound mixing, and sound editing. It may not quite be at Saving Private Ryan level, but Hacksaw has brought Mel Gibson back into the spotlight in Hollywood.

We ain’t stealing from you. We’re stealing from the bank.”

— Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water

With its late summer release in August, Hell or High Water (HOHW) is distant in the memory of the Academy,  but still proves to be a worthy contender for Best Picture. Starring Chris Pine and Ben Foster as the average Joe bank robbers who become the hunted for an old time Texas Ranger played by Jeff Bridges, HOHW proves to be more than just a western, heist, or crime film. Despite its modern times setting in Texas, the story acts as a representation of the takeover of rustic towns by the banks that rob the people blind. This forms a sort of empathy for not only the two brothers who rob the bank that robbed them, but also for the soon to be retired Ranger who finds himself on one last chase. The question of the antagonist being the Ranger or the robbers hangs in the air as the ambiguous ending leaves one feeling as if both sides of law and justice were the victims of the real enemy; the banks.

Hell or High Water scooped up three additional nominations including Best Supporting Actor Jeff Bridges, Original Screenplay, and film editing. HOHW may not be in real contention for Best Picture, but through beautiful moments of tension, an outstanding cast that embraces the setting, and a winding story that breaks all expectations, HOHW earns its place as one of the greatest movies of 2016.

Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds a people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.”

— Arrival

Arrival

The genre of sci-fi was once dominated by focused story driven movies like E.T, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, etc, but it’s clear that nowadays our sci-fi movies are dominated by action and explosions that have little to no story behind them. Arrival changes that. With a total of two gunshots being heard, Arrival stays away from action and takes a deeper focus on communicating with alien visitors rather the unnecessary fighting. The story moves at a perfect slow pace as learning a language tends to go at. It makes the humans the ones who do not understand the aliens and even has us as the ones who shoot first with no justification. It shows the divide that comes with the new invaders and how the unknown of the aliens scares people and makes the human race feel like a cornered cat. But what the aliens really seek is an alliance much like the premise of the film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Unfortunately, the real moment that makes the entire movie make sense is a spoiler and can only be understood if seen with the rest of the movie. Arrival has brought back the side of sci-fi that actually makes people think rather than just see visitors to Earth as pure evil warmongers.

Arrival received eight nominations including Best Director for Denis Villeneuve, cinematography, film editing, production design, sound editing, sound mixing, and adapted screenplay. Having become one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time and having one of the greatest plot twists along with it, who cares if it wins Best Picture? An award doesn’t change amazing.

I have to find my way back home.”

— Lion

Lion

One of the fundamental flaws that Hollywood has repeatedly been accused of has been the oversaturation of the public by famous actors. Filmgoers often see the same group of actors put into the same kind of movies over and over until their talents have been worn dry, but not Lion. Despite having Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara on its credits, almost the entirety of the first half of the movie is spent among native Indian actors and actresses exploring the reality of life in the train stations, back alleys, and riverside villages of India. The film feels so real as it follows the young protagonist Saroo through the streets with his brother before being lost on a train going east. The audience becomes so attached to Saroo that even when his adopted mother, played by Nicole Kidman, comes along, the focus remains on the young boy without even batting an eye at the coveted actress’ appearance. This attachment shifts to the older version of the character, played by the ever talented Dev Patel, as he slowly begins his all-consuming search for his lost family via Google Earth. Patel delivers emotional transformation roller coaster as he changes from desperation back to joy he accepts his voyage for his family.

With beautiful scenery, breathtaking shots, and heart-twisting performances, Lion received nominations for Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman’s performances, the true screenplay, its sweeping cinematography, and its mellifluous score. Despite its apparent overshadowing from other Best Picture nominees, Lion stands on its own as one of the great films showcasing a character’s voyage to find themselves.

It’s not easy for me to admit that I’ve been standing in the same place for eighteen years!”

— Fences

Fences

Live theater is not something that every person has access to in their communities, but Denzel Washington’s Fences captures that feeling of live theater and uses it to propel the film. Fences was originally a Broadway play that won several Tony Awards including awards for the lead actor Denzel Washington and actress Viola Davis. Not long after its success, Washington decided to make it his own in the form of a movie. Fences tells the story of a disjointed family of three living the intercity life. After the patriarch of the family, played by Washington, strikes out at his wife, played by Davis, and his son, the mother and son live in fear of the man who has provided them their entire lives. Washington’s performance mesmerizes the audience as a seemingly honest man falls into the role of an unflinching dictator of his home as his wife and son live in fear of his next move. Even with Washington’s all-encompassing role, Davis’ character stands out as a desperate yet strong housewife that has no choice but to stay with her delusional husband.

Fences captures the essence of a family on the edge of implosion and is one of the most grounded and real films in the past decade. Davis has a possible Best Supporting Actress win coming and the script for Fences is a major contender for adapted screenplay. The film will stand as one of the greatest theater to film adaptations of our time.

Who is you Chiron?”

— Moonlight

Moonlight

Real life through the cinematic eye is what most people are calling Moonlight. On one hand, you have the way it was shot with director Barry Jenkins saying he wanted the actors to look into the camera and to have the camera move around the action to make the audience feel as if they were a part of it. Three different turning points in the life of young African-American Chiron are shown in three different chapters to see the tragedy of his life as in each chapter he becomes farther away from who he really is. His acceptance and also his denying of his true sexuality proves to be a tragic element of his life that causes others to beat him down until he lashes out. The story feels so real as it deals in drug deals, an addicted mother, and the cruel world of those under prosecution. Each chapter of Chiron’s life seems like entirely different stories through the three actors that play Chiron. Moonlight is a heart-wrenching tale that is surreal in its ability to be completely real.

Moonlight sits at eight nominations for Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, cinematography, Best Director for Barry Jenkins, film editing, original score for the mesmerizing symphony that makes one feel they’re in a hurricane of sound and emotion, Adapted Screenplay for Tarrell McCraney’s emotional story based on his own life, and Supporting Actress for Naomie Harris’ haunting drug addicted mother performance that just lays on mental abuse after mental abuse to her dependent son. Moonlight stands as the realest depiction of struggle in memory.

Here’s to the ones who dream.”

— La La Land

La La Land

Before talking about this movie, it’s important to get the awards talk completely out of the way. La La Land has received a record tying 14 nominations. These nominations are Best Director for Damien Chazelle, Lead Actress for Emma Stone, Lead Actor for Ryan Gosling, original screenplay, sound mixing, sound editing, production design, to nominations for original song for “City of Stars” and “Audition,” original score, film editing, costume design, and cinematography. Now that that is out of the way, it’s time to really dig into what I believe is the greatest movie of 2016 and of all time.

From the opening number of dancers miraculously, imaginatively dancing and singing together on a backed up Los Angeles freeway you can just feel the magic of the musicals of the old days coming back yet again. From the unexpected little humors that add a special lightheartedness to the film, you can feel how much fun the cast put into each line. Now, it’s no secret that the musical genre has taken a heavy decline since the 50’s and 60’s with the only modern musicals only being animated Disney movies. La La Land breathes new life into the genre with a modern story that many people have lived through. It tells a tale about dreams and what it takes to achieve them in the real world. The epic love story that runs parallel to the dreams of Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian and Emma Stone’s Mia feels so real despite the escapism of singing and dancing. And the end to the story is really what makes La La Land what it is. Sitting in the theater with other edge-of-seat-sitting fans that either cried or clapped for the ending makes you realize what it truly is.

2016 was a rough year for a lot of people for multiple reasons. Modern events just scared people, but people went to the theaters and were given the gift of escape. The album has become one of the highest sold of 2017 on iTunes and more and more people are flocking to it. Much like musicals that came out in the times of the Depression and World War II, a musical has given us a smile before we go back out into the world. La La Land is the escape that was promised from the cinematic world of Hollywood and I know wholeheartedly that it will win Best Picture. I just know.

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The Oscar for Best Picture Goes to…