2017 Best Picture Festival: Day One Recap

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By Rae Mueller (@raelovesmovies)
 

Disclaimer: This is my first time seeing the following movies. Spoilers below! 
 
With the 89th annual Academy Awards only a week away, all movie lovers are anxiously awaiting which film will win its highest honor: Best Picture. Thanks to my local Marcus Theaters, I spent the better part of my Saturday (yesterday) watching four out of the nine nominated films at day one of their annual Best Picture Festival, starting with “Hell or High Water”.


Hell or High Water


Two brothers robbing banks. An old Texas Ranger out for one last adventure. Sounds like a simple storyline, no? Not the refreshing way director David Mackenzie tells it.
 
“Hell or High Water” is a western crime thriller where Toby (Chris Pine) works with his half-cocked brother, Tanner (Ben Foster), to rob a series of banks in order to get the money needed so that their family ranch doesn’t foreclose. But it’s not for them. Toby’s only goal is to be able to leave the ranch to his two boys, which touches upon the larger theme of how big corporations and big banks have oppressed the “little guy” for far too long. Many others share the same sentiment and the cinematography reinforces that thought with each shot of the barren Texan landscape with burning fields, small cattle herds and run down towns.
 
A slow burn, “Hell or High Water” takes a while to get going, but the last 45 minutes are pure adrenaline. The dialogue is fantastic and the character development of Toby and Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges), makes the movie.
 
Plus, the final confrontation between Marcus and Toby, although open-ended, is easily the best interaction of the entire film and shows off the acting chops of both Bridges and Pine.
 
It was refreshing to see Pine as a more gritty character and holding his own to the likes of Bridges, who once again shines on screen, despite his garbled Texan accent – subtitles are always useful!
 
After seeing this, Pine definitely has a bright future full of more complex roles.
 

Rating = 3.75/5


Hidden Figures


A feel-good movie with an important message, “Hidden Figures” does a stellar job recognizing both the accomplishments of women in our past and the number of struggles they went through without being too heavy-handed in either.
 
“Hidden Figures” expertly tells the incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson, all African-American women who were essential in the early NASA space missions in the 1960s. They specifically helped get astronaut John Glenn into orbit around the earth, which ultimately reinvigorated the United States’ stake in the space race and goal to get someone on the moon by the end of the decade.
 
While racism and sexism are a necessary aspect of the film, Director Theodore Melfi does a wonderful job at balancing those moments with others highlighting the absolute brilliance of these women and their determination to be the best in what they did.
 
The finest moments came from Katherine (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy (Octavia Spencer) and Mary (Janelle Monáe) at separate points in the film. These three women shine in their roles and help you relate to their struggles and triumphs. Katherine’s interaction with Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) regarding the women’s colored bathroom was particularly emotionally riveting. 
 
Plus, one of my favorite moments was seeing all Americans, no matter their skin color or gender, huddled around televisions and radios, collectively waiting to see whether John Glenn made it safely back to Earth.
 
This movie successfully argues once again that historical fiction is an invaluable tool in retelling overlooked parts of our past so that future generations understand both the importance of the individual, the human connection, and how we work together despite race, gender, beliefs, etc.
 

Rating = 4.5/5


Hacksaw Ridge


A wise choice for Director Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge” skillfully tells the story of conscientious objector, Desmond Doss, a Medal of Honor recipient and combat medic in World War Two who didn’t carry a single weapon into battle, and brings it to life through intense moments of compassion and the savagery of war.

 
While some may argue “Hacksaw Ridge” contains two completely different stories that make it a disjointed film, I believe it works well to help you understand Doss’ pacifist and religious beliefs, and how that plays into his decision to enlist as a combat medic. Despite persecution in the Army, Doss becomes a combat medic and serves on Okinawa in the battle of Hacksaw Ridge, where the second half of the movie takes place.
 
Here Gibson doesn’t shy away from war. He makes it bloody, gory, realistic, which to some means he glorifies it. I think that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Not only is it a necessary aspect of the story, he uses the savagery of war to contrast with Doss’ character. Again and again Doss heads back into the battlefield with no weapons, long after everyone retreats, and ends up saving 75 men, all the time praying to God to “let me get one more.” 
 
It’s a refreshing and amazing war film that doesn’t use war for the sake of “cool” battle scenes, but to tell a story about a unique piece of history.
 
Plus, Andrew Garfield is absolutely outstanding as Desmond Doss and I would love to see him win the Oscar for Best Actor. This is definitely his best work to date.
 

Rating = 4.5/5

La La Land

The final movie of the night didn’t disappoint, but it didn’t wow me either. And knowing that its 14 nominations have put it as the film to beat in just about every category it’s in, I’m in the very small minority here. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely enjoyed watching Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone on screen once again and in a musical-themed homage to classic Hollywood, no less, but I didn’t feel that it lived up to the hype.
 
This romantic dramedy musical was a bit predictable in its plot, but slightly made up for that with its ending. Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone) were quirky, yet relatable in their struggle to find success and happiness in Hollywood as a jazz pianist and an actress, and as a couple. And like most romantic tales, you find yourself wishing to see a happy ending, which is where Director Damien Chazelle shows of his stuff without sacrificing the story he is trying to tell.
 
Although both the love story and the song and dance numbers were sweet, especially the Griffith Observatory scene, Gosling and Stone aren’t elite dancers or singers. Because of this, I believe that Chazelle completely missed out on capturing the magic of Hollywood’s Golden Age that stars like Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, and many more brought to their craft. 
 
A musical should leave you feeling uplifted, singing all its songs for days afterward and even trying to learn the dances on your own. Unfortunately, “La La Land” doesn’t and even though this love letter to Hollywood will likely take the hearts of many, it may be easily forgotten soon after award season.
 

Rating = 4.25/5


 
Overall, all four of these movies were remarkable and are all incredibly deserving of a Best Picture nod, along with the several other nominations they’ve racked up.
 
Stay tuned next Sunday for my second review on the other five nominated films and my final prediction on which one will win the coveted Oscar for Best Picture!


    2 Comments

  1. Claire LFebruary 21st, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    Awesome reviews! I was curious what your thoughts were for La La Land and I completely agree.

  2. ByronFebruary 23rd, 2017 at 6:04 am

    Solid reviews to be sure! I loved the description of Hell or High Water (a movie I hadn’t really heard much about, especially compared to LLL, HF, or Moonlight) and it definitely sounds like a good flick, I do love Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster!

    I think we can agree to disagree on one part of your LaLa Land review. In my opinion the fact that neither Gosling or Stone are amazing singers adds to the storyline and makes their characters even more relatable. Having become more attune to the musical scene over the past few years I am also reluctant to call LLL a pure musical as opposed to a RomCom with a bit of musical added in. Yes, the opening number and the observatory scene certainly have the musical feel, but overall I think that the music in the film acts as a catalyst to push the story along rather than show off the musical talents of the characters. In this way I think Chazelle masterfully walks the line between paying homage to Hollywood’s past while also connecting with his audience in a unique way.

    Then again, my love for Ryan Gosling might make me a tad bit biased! He probably should’ve won an Oscar for Remember the Titans…

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