2017 Best Picture Festival: Day Two Recap

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By Rachel Mueller

 

Disclaimer: Spoilers below! All the following nominated films viewed for the first time, excluding “Arrival.”
 
I rounded out my experience seeing this year’s nominees for Best Picture by planting myself in the theater for almost 13 hours at the second day of Marcus Theaters’ Best Picture Festival. After seeing the first four movies in the line-up the previous weekend, – “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “Hacksaw Ridge” and “La La Land” – I was anxious to see how the final five nominees would compare.

 


Fences

Adapted from August Wilson’s 1987 Broadway play, “Fences” is the painfully beautiful tale of 53-year-old Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) and how his fixation on past choices, missed opportunities and racism not only affects him, but those in his life.
 
It’s 1957 in Pittsburgh. On the surface, Maxson is your typical hard-working, African-American family man. He brings home an honest wage as a garbage collector for the city, is married to Rose (Viola Davis) and is a father to two sons, Lyons (Russell Hornsby) and Cory (Jovan Adepo). 
 
But while his wife and sons can see a brighter future on the horizon and that things are steadily getting better for their people, Maxson remains bitter due to his own disappointments and failed dreams. So much so that seeing his two sons succeed is something he can’t and won’t encourage, or even stomach.
 
But this is where the stellar screenplay, credited to Wilson, and the actors shine. Despite Maxson’s flaws, secrets and the emotional abuse he hands out, Washington convinces you to remain sympathetic. And don’t forget about Davis. The raw emotion she displays at several points in the film is incredibly touching and adds a level of depth that would be nonexistent without her. My hope is that she will win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
 
Not for the faint of heart, “Fences” is a dialogue-heavy story like a play on stage would be, but Washington shows his finesse as a director and skillfully captures a deep dynamic between the characters in the best ways possible.

 

Rating = 3.75/5
 

Lion

 
Based on the incredible true life of Saroo Brierley, “Lion” communicates an unbelievable journey full of heartbreak, self-discovery and joy all in two stunning hours of storytelling.
 
At five years old, Saroo (Sunny Pawar) becomes lost in the streets of Calcutta, India thousands of kilometers from his home. After several harrowing months of living on the streets and in an orphanage, he is adopted by an Australian couple and moves to Tasmania. Fast forward 25 years later and only equipped with memories of his mother, brother and sister in India, a steadfast determination and a new tool called Google Earth, Saroo (Dev Patel) begins an intense journey to come to terms with his life as it played out and to find his way back to his first home.
 
What makes this film so emotionally moving is both Pawar and Patel’s inherent abilities to get you to experience what Saroo is feeling at every moment. From despair to hope to joy and back again, both actors evoke such powerful emotions that leap off screen and into your soul. Director Garth Davis also does an excellent job capturing the realistic grittiness of life and experiences of lost children with his cinematography of urban and rural landscapes throughout India.
 
I also appreciated the film’s emphasis on adoption and its cause to help lost children around the world. In particular, a scene between Saroo and his adoptive mother, Sue (Nicole Kidman), reveals that even though she was able to have her own children, she chose adoption so that she could give a few children an opportunity for a better life.

 

With a lovely, yet bittersweet ending, “Lion,” once again shows how true stories make some of the most memorable films.
 
Rating = 4.25/5

 


Arrival


While it was originally marketed to audiences in the U.S. as an alien invasion movie, “Arrival” is a refreshing take on science fiction thriller meets science theory. It forces you to think deeper about the implications of communication, crisis and time during an extraterrestrial visit.
 
“Arrival” follows Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguistics professor, and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a physics expert, through a captivating and seemingly real experience as they work for the United States government and military during an extraterrestrial encounter. After 12 alien ships land at different points around the world, they are recruited to make contact with the visitors – called heptapods – and decipher their language in order to discover their purpose on Earth.
 
But that’s not all that’s explored. Much of the last minutes concern Louise and an impossible personal choice that deals directly with the theory of non-linear time – experiencing everything in your life all at once – and it takes your mind for a wild ride, too.
 
All in all, the film asks an intriguing question… 
 
If you knew how the events of your life would happen, would you change anything?
 
Rating = 4/5
 
Manchester by the Sea 
A thought-provoking story full of heartache, loss and some humor along the way, “Manchester by the Sea” follows Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) and how he comes to handle several tragedies in his life, past and present, while back in his hometown. 
 
After the death of his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee returns home to bury him and is unknowingly named the sole guardian of his 16-year-old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). In short, complex situations ensue between Lee, Patrick and others in Manchester.
 
What makes this film so beautiful in its storytelling is its subtle character development through flashbacks of Lee’s life. You’re only given brief moments, but director and writer Kenneth Lonergan expertly spaces them throughout so that you don’t really understand the “why” behind Lee until more than halfway through the film. It’s an utterly slow and heartbreaking reveal, but gives such clarity to the character and why he left Manchester in the first place that I dare not give away any more, lest I spoil it for you. 
 
Despite the dramatics and heartbreak, there’s plenty of humor, too. So much so that I found myself getting whiplash from ugly-crying one moment and laughing out loud the next. It hits the heavy topics and hits you even harder with raw emotion, but never becomes too melodramatic that the story teeters to the unbelievable. And the funny parts are funny because they are real and mirror what actually happens to people in conversations, awkward moments and exchanged glances.
 
I wouldn’t be surprised if this nabs a Best Actor win for Affleck or gets the upset with a Best Picture Oscar, too.

 

Rating = 4.75/5
 


Moonlight


Being the only one out of the nine nominees to have a distinct independent film feel, “Moonlight” gives viewers an inside look at three defining periods of Chiron’s journey of self-discovery and ascent into manhood as a young, gay black man in Miami.
 

Exploring the intersections of gayness and the male African-American community only touches the surface of what this film is about. Inspired by the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, director Barry Jenkins ensures that this story doesn’t let clichés or stereotypes inform your understanding of Chiron. He forces you to empathize with Chiron as a human, as your brother, not only understand his struggles with race and sexuality.
 
But the best thing about “Moonlight”? It’s as if you’re right there with Chiron, sitting across from him in a restaurant and sharing in his experiences through intimate conversation. It’s an incredibly personal film and the hopeful open ending helps us see that Chiron’s life isn’t wrapped up into a neat, little package, like many other stories would try to do.
 
It’s a film that’s hard to summarize, so all I can do is encourage you to experience it for yourself.
 
Rating = 4/5
 
All nine nominated films are deserving to be in the Best Picture category. It was an incredibly enjoyable experience to be able to see them all before the winner is crowned. Congratulations to Moonlight for winning Best Picture!


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