Wrapping up a rather cohesive Awards season, film’s big night leaves little room for unpredictability. Whilst the #OscarsSoWhite controversy is met with a short-term solution with frontrunners Moonlight, Fences or Hidden Figures, the ballots have been cast and the direction the Academy is taking seems quite clear. Still, this didn’t stop us looking at each nominee in an attempt to envision what an ideal victory would look like, if Hollywood were to challenge ideologies and lend its voice to unvoiced tales.
Hell or High Water
Emotional depth is the factor that separates Hell or High Water from generic clichés. Gunplay becomes secondary to family and friendship, and a very self-conscious sense of structure that heavily reflects on the ambiguous pacing. Yet the updated neo-Western narrative therefore suffers slightly amidst all the attention paid to presentation. Despite all that, Jeff Bridges and the excellent cinematography means that this is still a very enjoyable watch.
Preaching pacifism while reveling in blood-thirsty scenes is a paradox that many action films seem to perpetuate. Mel Gibson’s action-fueled directorial return is flawed but well-intended, offering an unlikely sense of hope that seems rather fitting with the current political climate. The savagery of war is attributed to both realism and some spectatorial entertainment, and the real directorial commentary seems to come in the form of Garfield’s non-violent character. Hacksaw Ridge is Gibsons biggest directorial achievement, championing a redeeming message that shines through the excessive bloodshed.
Moonlight is the film that everyone’s talking about, so it’s only natural to have high expectations. The film is a very modern triumph in its own right. As Barry Jenkins intimately dissects sexuality to capture different stages of queer black identity, it can be rightly described as the most relevant piece of storytelling this year. Chiron’s difficult adaption to a world of hyper-masculinity and the emphasis placed on communication as being central to personal development are framed and enhanced by a hypnotic, colour-saturated Miami. These moments, scored by beautifully dissonant string music, puncture the viewer’s subconscious. They also make Moonlight a film of the unsaid, a work fuelled by wordless conflicts. It is a particular kind of epiphany to realise the rarity of screen-time spent on dissecting African-American journeys, making Moonlight all the more striking and the rightful winner in an ideal Oscars race.
A visually satisfying take on the ‘first contact’ blockbuster recipe, Arrival poses an intelligent question, while adapting to a recent trend of exploring ordinary humanity through a sci-fi filter. The ambitious message is met with an atmospheric execution that immerses and universalizes an otherwise alien story. Yet this combination of the emotional and the extraterrestrial unites at an unbalanced pace. The second half of the film sacrifices any attempt at suspense in favour of developing the foreseeable personal trauma, and the film seems to lose direction temporarily. While regaining some focus towards the end despite losing any potential to surprise, Arrival ends on a strong note. The overarching message persists beyond the screen-time and the movie does deliver, but the execution is slightly underwhelming.
“There is no such thing as small acting” is a philosophy that Viola Davis and Fences share. A deeply personal family drama marketed through truly unforgettable performances, Fences strikingly maintains that same immediacy and intimacy it delivered on Broadway. Simplistic in editing and sparing in sound use, Fences is built on the complexity of human relationships and the difficulties of a flawed existence, a reminder that love is not a swift, comfortable linear fall. The film is not to be reduced as a black story, as this resounds into the large sphere of universal experiences. Moral impurities and complexities are the silent centre of the film, being projected into the realm of the familial which appropriates every conversation and every conflict, rendering them endlessly subjective. With household names like Viola Davis and Denzel Washington anchoring this adaption, the raw level of emotion in each performance is the greatest achievement of Fences.