Wrapping up a rather cohesive Awards season, film’s big night leaves little room for unpredictability. Whilst #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. Join us as we wrap up our exploration of the year’s best films.
La La Land
Diving into this title with innocently enormous expectations, it does not disappoint. More rewatches than I’d like to admit later, it still succeeds in transporting me to that bewildered position I was in the first time. But this is the position of a childhood fueled by MGM musicals and desperate immersions in classical cinematic universes. As Chazelle himself declares, the film is perhaps not intended for cynics, as the grandiosity of the opening musical number would indicate. Yet the unapologetic romanticism exhibited at both a formal and even referential level seems to be overturned by the slight cynicism that would, on the surface, be this film’s biggest enemy. Whether Chazelle is denouncing the escapism-based universe he spent his film creating through resurrected ghosts of classic cinema, or suggesting that a different outcome of our initial dreams might not be a tragedy, my heart is torn each time the credits roll in. When the initial spell has vanished, this ideological problem comes to the fore: instead of aligning itself with the classic masterpieces it wants to evoke, the film eventually aligns with the self-interest characteristic to the present day.
Uplifting and empowering, the ladies of Hidden Figures deliver a new spin to the narrative of equality. Shedding light on an overlooked piece of American history, the ensemble approaches the severity of themes with a charming optimism, guaranteeing a feel-good two hours. While the film itself is nowhere near as revolutionary as its protagonists, it delivers in various fields and takes the celebration of black women one step further than other films. Janelle Monáe is perhaps the best advocate for girl-power fun, and the rhythm the film adopts in uncovering their journey makes these women all the more inspiring. Despite nabbing a Best Picture nomination, the exposure of this ever-inspiring tale is the real achievement.
Manchester by the Sea
A three-dimensional portrait of grief in its many shape-shifting forms, Manchester by the Sea is a wonderful surprise. Minimalistic in technique and economic in cinematic artifice, the film delivers through a mixture of silences and heartfelt exchanges, punctuated by a central montage that will stay you for a long time to come. Casey Affleck’s self-restraint in his grieving is palpable and touching throughout the film, and his depiction of frustration and limitation turns this into one of the most unforgettable performances of the year. Kenneth Lonergan’s background in theatre is seeping through, yes, but to the film’s benefit more than anything else. By structuring the film around the emotional bomb that drops more than halfway in, Lonergan prioritises intimate moments over a potentially overshadowing event. The film’s power lies in its subtlety, and its humane deconstruction of a universal experience. While it is unlikely to win Best Picture, it deserves its status as one of the best films of the year.
Lion is a moving, yet incohesive quest for identity, adapted for the modern day age up to the point where Google becomes a driving force in its own right. The artistic approach to a potentially overly dramatic narrative pays off, Garth Davis’s adopted visual style embedding the first half with a particular lyricism. The opening India-based scenes are spectacular and set the tone for a visual journey that is, however, cut short. Truncated by an unfortunate time-leap where the visual fluidity is lost in favour of overflowing melodrama, the audience is luckily too immersed to abandon its investment in Saroo’s journey.