by RYAN FITZGERALD//Staff Writer
In the movie world, ‘award season’ kicks into high gear at the beginning of every year.
At the beginning of January, it’s the “Critics Choice Awards” and the “Golden Globes.” By the end of the month, the “Producers Guild of America Awards” and the “Screen Actor Guild Awards” arrive. Finally, in February, there is the “Directors Guild of America” awards, the “British Academy of Film and Television” awards and the granddaddy of them all, the “Academy Awards.”
So, what to watch before the Oscars? Start with “La La Land.” The film seems to be at the top of everyone’s Best Picture List. The film won all seven categories for which it was nominated at this year’s Golden Globe Awards, and was selected as the year’s Best Motion Picture by the Producers Guild of America.
The film chronicles the journey of an aspiring actress and ambitious jazz musician who struggle with the day-to-day of making ends meet as they navigate the pains attributed to pursuing one’s dream, despite how out of reach it may seem.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling both received nominations for Best Actress and Best actor for their portrayals of Mia and Sebastian, while director Damien Chazelle also received a nod for Best Director, as the 32 year old is poised to become the youngest ever winner of the award. Though “La La Land” garnered 14 Academy Award nominations, it is possible this film could sweep the “big five” of Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Screenplay – a feat only accomplished three times throughout the entire history of The Oscars.
The second film I suggest seeing is “Arrival.” It is not a film I would consider to be in my top five best films of the year, but one that has raked in praise from critics nationwide. The story is one in which extraterrestrial spacecraft touch down across the globe, enticing an elite team of scientists and mathematicians – led by expert code breaker Louise Banks (Amy Adams), to investigate the intergalactic encounter. As the world as we know it unsteadily sways toward war, Banks and her team race against time to find answers to what led to this seemingly unexplainable mystery.
The film (nominated for Best Picture) is fronted by Amy Adams – who received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, in what is considered the best performance of her career. Denis Villeneuve also receives recognition as a master story teller with his nomination for Best Director, which continues to strengthen his reputation following the time he spent behind the camera directing one of last year’s best films, “Sicario.”
Another film slowly but surely accumulating recognition, particularly due to an outstanding performance by Casey Affleck, is “Manchester by the Sea.” Following the heart attack of his older brother Joe, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is shocked to learn that Joe has left him sole guardianship of his nephew Patrick (played by Lucas Hedges). After leaving his job and opting to return to his small hometown in Massachusetts to temporarily care for Patrick, Lee then has to deal with troubles from his past, isolation from his hometown and the repercussions of the divorce from his wife Randi, portrayed by Michelle Williams.
Considered a hard film to watch, “Manchester by the Sea” was given six Oscar nominations by the Academy. Aside from its nomination for Best Picture, Kenneth Lonergan gets a nod for Best Director. Additionally, this is his third Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay following “You Can Count on Me” (2000) and “Gangs of New York” (2002).
Affleck’s performance gets him his first-ever nomination for Best Actor, while Hedges received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his breakout role. Williams returns to the big screen with another solid performance that’s somewhat expected. She is no newcomer, as she has previously received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for “Brokeback Mountain” (2005), along with Best Actress nods for her role as Marilyn Monroe in “My Week With Marilyn” (2011) and once more alongside Ryan Gosling, as Cindy in 2010’s “Blue Valentine.”
The last film you should see before the Academy Awards on Feb. 29 is “Moonlight,” a painful, heart-rending story of a young man’s struggle to find himself. The movie, told across defining chapters in his life – charted from growing up in Miami, to being accepted by a Cuban drug dealer, to falling in love with a close friend. The film received nominations in several competitive categories, including Best Picture, Original Score, Directing and Cinematography. Also, Naomie Harris gets nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Mahershala Ali for Best Supporting Actor.
This list is not all encompassing. There are tons of movies you should see simply for individual performances or its visual effects. See “Jackie” for Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie Onassis, and the emotional struggle she was dealt in her final days in the White House, following the death of her husband, John F. Kennedy. See the live-action remake of “The Jungle Book,” for no other reason than the feat that it accomplished in providing convincing, computer-generated creature animation, along with a completely digital environment. Add “Hell or High Water” to the list, because as an ensemble, Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges each offered outstanding performances, all in one film.
One should suspect that film exists to speak to the human condition. It is a depiction of feelings and emotions – and in some form or fashion, it illustrates the struggles of life to which we can all relate. Film can be an allusion to interaction that we, as humans, have with one another – whether negative or positive.
Why do people fall in love with a particular movie? Is it character portrayals? Or an inclusive narrative that gets you vested in the lives of the characters on the screen? For example, “La La Land” is a superb film. But why do people like it so much? Aside from the fantastic score, clean, crisp and connected editing and cinematography, along with indulging costume design, it’s because we buy the interaction, the relationship, the devotion of Mia and Sebastian.
We like the movie, because to some degree we like the performances within it. Because we find something personal within the performances painted by Hollywood that push us, as viewers, to question the underpinnings of how we characterize ourselves and those we interact with – affectionate, empathetic, sentimental, or dubious. That’s why each aforementioned movie has to be considered a “must-see” for the everyday movie-lover – because every performance pushes us to understand one another and be better. It brings added perspective to how we relate to the trials and tribulations of those around us, while providing a little hope for overcoming the tough moments in our own lives.