The Academy Awards (aka, “Oscars”) are coming up and, for those who follow it, it’s crunch time. It’s time to make a last-minute mad dash before the Feb. 26 televised event. I’m not here to tell you what’s going to win (we have friends that can do that), but I will give you a hand in knowing what’s what.
One complaint that I always hear from die-hard moviegoers around Oscar season is, “I go to the movies every weekend, yet I’ve never heard of half of the nominees.” That complaint is valid. Many get quiet releases and little advertising until the nomination is locked in. So, with no further ado, I’ll walk you through the big titles, tell you what they’re up for and help you decide which ones are worth seeing before the big day:
Nominated for: Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Production Design
Synopsis: When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.
The Verdict: Truly one of the year’s finest. It’s great to see science fiction finally play in the big leagues; it would be even greater if it actually won.
Nominated for: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Viggo Mortensen)
Synopsis: In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent.
The Verdict: Watching a grieving granola anti-establishment family couldn’t possibly be more entertaining in this moving film that’s reminiscent of Little Miss Sunshine.
Nominated for: Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role (Denzel Washington), Actress in a Supporting Role (Viola Davis), Adapted Screenplay
Synopsis: A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.
The Verdict: Not worth the hype. It’s long, over-indulgent and becomes completely convoluted after the “intermission.” At least Washington and Davis deliver great performances.
Florence Foster Jenkins
Nominated for: Actress in a Leading Role (Meryl Streep), Costume Design
Synopsis: The story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York heiress who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite having a terrible singing voice.
The Verdict: Here’s your obligatory Meryl Streep nomination. No matter your opinion on Donald Trump, there’s no denying that he’s 100% accurate in labeling her as “overrated.”
Nominated for: Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role (Andrew Garfield), Directing, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
Synopsis: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.
The Verdict: It’s great having Mel Gibson back in the director’s chair. Not only did he direct a damn fine film, but the film tells a great mostly unknown true WWII story.
Hell or High Water
Nominated for: Best Picture, Actor in a Supporting Role (Jeff Bridges), Original Screenplay, Film Editing
Synopsis: A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.
The Verdict: Like a mainstream version of No Country for Old Men, the screenplay is multifaceted. This is the fantastic underdog that no one saw coming.
Nominated for: Best Picture, Actress in a Supporting Role (Octavia Spencer), Adapted Screenplay
Synopsis: The story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program.
The Verdict: While it may appear like a standard cookie-cutter feel-good movie, it’s actually very well made and departs from the expected cliched.
Nominated for: Actress in a Leading Role (Natalie Portman), Costume Design, Original Score
Synopsis: Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.
The Verdict: Although not the most engaging film, this drama is loaded with great performances. Not only does Natalie Portman earn her nomination, but Peter Saarsgaard and the late great John Hurt kill it.
Kubo and the Two Strings
Nominated for: Best Animated Picture, Visual Effects
Synopsis: A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.
The Verdict: Easily the best of its competing nominees, this is the unsung hero of animated movies.
La La Land
Nominated for: Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role (Ryan Gosling), Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Stone), Directing, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Costume Design, Original Score, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Production Design, Original Song (2)
Synopsis: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.
The Verdict: Here’s the most overrated picture of the year. It should have been titled Bla Bla Bland, a much more fitting title.
Nominated for: Best Picture, Actor in a Supporting Role (Dev Patel), Actress in a Supporting Role (Nicole Kidman), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score
Synopsis: A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.
The Verdict: Amazing film. Truly one of the year’s best.
Nominated for: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Ruth Negga)
Synopsis: The story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, whose challenge of their anti-miscegenation arrest for their marriage in Virginia led to a legal battle that would end at the US Supreme Court.
The Verdict: A solid and exceptionally well-rounded film that simply doesn’t do anything that you haven’t seen before or feel anything that you haven’t felt before.
Manchester by the Sea
Nominated for: Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role (Casey Affleck), Actor in a Supporting Role (Lucas Hedges), Actress in a Supporting Role (Michelle Williams), Directing, Original Screenplay
Synopsis: An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.
The Verdict: With subject matter that’s as dark as could be, it’s not the most uplifting thing to watch, but it’s 100% solid and Affleck and Williams earn their nominations.
Nominated for: Best Picture, Actor in Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali), Actress in a Supporting Role (Naomie Harris), Directing, Cinematography, Editing, Original Score, Adapted Screenplay
Synopsis: A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.
The Verdict: Easily one of the year’s best. Even if the subject matter and content may sound like it’s not up your alley, if you’ll trust the critics on this one and give it a shot anyway, you’ll be glad that you did.
Nominated for: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Michael Shannon)
Synopsis: A wealthy art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a symbolic revenge tale.
The Verdict: This underrated, gritty and pulpy thriller is unpredictable and deserves more love than it received.