The 2017 crop of Oscar films reflects much of what 2016 was as a whole – a beautiful slew of misery and tear-inducing situations that will make you feel stronger for having survived them.
Truthfully, if you can make it through all of these films without shedding a tear, then you probably are waiting for your emotion software to be loaded into the mainframe of your android shell.
Additionally, the 2017 nominees bring us a group of films only slightly more well known than Nicholas Cage’s furious string of straight to DVD poop-offs.
In fact, if you’ve seen more than two of these, you’re undoubtedly rarer than a victim of the Bowling Green Massacre.
But Like I’ve Totally Never Heard of It: A man who chooses to raise his children in the forest, teaching them everything from survival sills to quantum physics and political philosophies, must take them into society for the burial of their mother.
Unfathomable Tears of Sadness: While you get an idea of the mother from visions and dialogue, seeing her bipolar interaction with a full family that clearly adores her would’ve been fascinating.
Hurts So Good: Viggo Mortensen, the patriarch of this wild bunch, loathes the consumeristic, ignorant, blind sheep society he feels America has become. You can feel the disdain boiling beneath his seemingly wise, controlled facade. You can see it in how passionately his children work to meet his enlightened standards.
The young actors in this film are almost as exceptional as the kid from the Room. Not once are they unbelievable or over rehearsed. The authenticity and chemistry of Viggo and the kids make the wickedly sardonic journey cheer-worthy and special in a way unseen since Little Miss Sunshine.
But Like I’ve Totally Never Heard of It: Jackie Kennedy takes the weight of the world’s grief on her shoulders and bravely plans a funeral fit for a beloved assassinated leader.
Unfathomable Tears of Sadness: Jackie and Bobby Kennedy‘s interactions were sharp and deeply desperate. Much like when they short you on tortilla chips, I only wished there had been more.
Hurts So Good: Natalie Portman dissolves into Jackie. You can feel the weight of her grief, the shock of the loss–the sheer what the hell do I do now anxiety pressing down on your chest.
Scenes with a bombarding score are contrasted with deafening moments of silence, keeping you addled along with her. No matter how familiar you are with the story of Camelot, you will be disappeared into a grave haze of wonder for the full run time.
But Like I’ve Totally Never Heard of It: A mercenary gets cancer, survives at a hefty price to his skin quality and then vows to hunt down the man who he made him a monster.
Unfathomable Tears of Sadness: While I find the usage of Colossus as the hokey comedic relief overly eager to be Deadpool’s moral compass, I am a hopeless X-Fan who will always think of him as an unstoppable, one punch, bad guy destroying badass. I prefer that.
Hurts So Good: I know, I know. Comedies can’t be Oscar winner. Comic book movies can’t be Oscar winners. But why couldn’t the funniest, most well-written and expertly filmed comic book-comedy of all time get a nod? Because the Academy is more boring than Arrival (too early for the segue..ah well…)
This movie is great because it is unapologetically itself. Irreverent. Violent. Hyper-concentrated. Like drinking OJ right from the orange.
Viscous one liners and a self-deprecating tone make for wins on nearly every joke. Ryan Reynolds plays the role he was born for as well as destroys the fourth wall as well or better than Ferris Bueller; and we’re also gifted a mad hate-able villain and a female lead that is not to be trifled with.
9. Arrival (100 if we were going that far down)
But Like I’ve Totally Never Heard of It: A brilliant linguist is brought in to understand what the hell emo E.T. needs to tell us.
Unfathomable Tears of Sadness: This movie is so smart…I mean it’s just SOOO smart…did I mention how SMART IT IS?!
I’m a nerd. Like full on comic book-owning, viewed an indie film about the multiverse called Coherence three times, geek sci-fi nerd.
Which is why I hate this movie. I wouldn’t nominate it as the best SyFy Channel movie I’ve ever viewed. The plot is a convoluted mishmash of circular time travel that hopes to achieve an AH-HA moment in the last few minutes.
You even have your oh so over done illogical meat-headed military overreach that causes a major problem for our protagonist but conveniently serves to advance the plot and wake the audience from it’s occasional slumber.
The plot plods along at a pace rivaling the speed of the footless aliens treadmill setting; you will be checking your Instagram at least three times to see how your latest bathroom mirror selfie is performing.
The sequel should be called Arrival 2: Still Confused and Sleepy
Hurts So Good: Visually the movie is pleasing to watch. The aliens are subtle and oddly welcoming yet remain undeniably, well, alien.
Amy Adams is very good at forlorn and maintains that here.
But Like I’ve Totally Never Heard of It: Unknown to many Americans, a brilliant team of African-American women mathematicians overcame discriminating roadblocks, both in gender and race, to play a critical role in the rise of NASA’s greatness and eventual journey to the moon.
Unfathomable Tears of Sadness: In a film with three real life female heroes, we are treated to a great deal of…male love interests. While the film certainly passes the Bechdel Test, I was somewhat disappointed in the screen time given to exploring the courtship of the primary lead, Taraji P. Henson.
A brilliant mathematician outperforming her chauvinistic colleagues. I would’ve happily traded the Genius Bachelorette scenes for more Good Woman Hunting chalkboard mathematical awesomeness.
Ultimately, I left the film without feeling that I’d witnessed any real greatness. Kind of like great cereal in lukewarm milk.
Hurts So Good: Don’t give up. While the three primary protagonists delivered well-rounded performances, Hidden Figures mostly succeeds as a film in that sends a topical message of endurance in the face of social injustice.
Visually illustrating that these women were good enough to ensure the physical well-being of John Glenn and space pioneers but not acceptable patrons at most lunch counters is on par with being told Kevin James is appropriately paired up with female costars.
Actually, Hidden Figures powerful story of hypocrisy and perseverance is far more powerful than that…but there just aren’t a lot of witty remarks to be made about the Civil Rights Movement.
But Like I’ve Totally Never Heard of It: A jazz pianist and actress struggle to achieve Hollywood greatness and lasting romance.
Unfathomable Tears of Sadness: LA LA Land aims to be a mature throwback to the formulaic Hollywood musical romances of old. Their formula seems simple: average music + average dancing + a slightly above average script = Hollywood greatness.
Full disclosure–I don’t understand 14 Oscar Nominations. The director clearly murdering his editor half way in.
I haven’t seen a film more unwilling to end since the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring tri-ending. Or if you haven’t seen that, then think about how you felt the last time you wanted to leave a 100 member family reunion and every one wanted to give you a one on one personal goodbye. You’re just ready. To. Go.
The Benjamin Button-esque romantic look at what might have been felt tacked on. The Rizzo’s I’m Not Pregnant fast forward to our protagonists’ fame felt wildly out of place given the more realistic approach of the plot for the first 12 hours of the film.
Hurts So Good: Every moment where Ryan Gosling is allowed to exercise his comic timing and fully embrace his neurotic, cynical, jazz elitist is a blast for the audience. Emma Stone stokes even the hardest of heart’s sympathies in her role as the struggling actress ready to break and head home to safer waters.
But Like I’ve Totally Never Heard of It: A conscientious objector enlists during World War II, refusing to carry a weapon but heroically and single-handedly saving dozens of wounded comrades from death.
Unfathomable Tears of Sadness: While accurate, the what the hell do we have here reaction of Desmond T. Doss superiors upon hearing he would not carry a weapon felt beyond predictable and terminally cliche.
Hurts So Good: Much like Hidden Figures, this movie’s flavor is Rocky. You’re compelled to rise from your seat and give supportive applause as the protagonist endures cruel treatment in the name of his beliefs.
Garfield’s Doss is likable messiah figure, possessing a soulful confidence that is assailed daily by those who view him as a a coward. You feel every prick, but that makes his triumphant performance on the field and the adoration of his peers even sweeter later on.
Vince Vaughn’s turn as the angry sergeant is an unexpected source of comic relief and stops just short of being out of place.
But Like I’ve Totally Never Heard of It: A man with a wandering eye and restless soul struggles to deal with family responsibility, the darkness in his past and his own mortality. And also delivering the largest number of incredible monologues since the Nixon tapes.
Unfathomable Tears of Sadness: After more than an hour and a half of family calamity and moments where the audience audibly gasped at revelations from Denzel’s leas character, we are flashed forward to a scene where the mentally disabled brother sounds a horn and the skies part to reveal a hopeful sun.
All those around him stare into the sky as if they’ve witnessed a miracle. For me it was akin to everyone sitting down for a few bowls of ice cream at the end of Mad Max Fury: Road–oddly out of place. The editor must have slept-in that day.
Hurts So Good: Denzel Freaking Washington. Viola Damn Davis.
As the two leads in this passion project, adapted from the Broadway play, the frenetic pace they set with line after line of simultaneously humorous and stinging dialogue keeps you locked in for almost the entire duration (see above).
Denzel’s direction swoops you out of the movie house and sets you in a more intimate setting – a theater in the round. Honestly, go see this in the theater and see if you don’t feel like you’re watching a play with limited seating.
One final note, if this movie doesn’t leave you thinking about the powerful role fathers can play in our lives, both for good and bad, then you may well be a robot. Or maybe you only had a mom. Which nicely leads us too…
But Like I’ve Totally Never Heard of It: Casey Affleck struggles with the memory of a terrible tragedy that stands to prevent him from honoring his late brother’s wishes.
Reader’s note and spoiler alert. That tragedy would not be his participation in Soul Survivors, though one could argue this is worse
Unfathomable Tears of Sadness: You may need an anti-depressant after seeing this film. For the realz.
Though broken up by short scenes of humor between Affleck and his nephew, this is a bleak, deep dive into devastating loss and how it haunts us forever.
A few more scenes with his brother, played by Kyle Chandler, might have balanced out the loss with a tad more love.
Hurts So Good: Imagine the pain you feel when stubbing a cold toe against a metal end table in the middle of the night. Now imagine someone was there holding a gun to your head and informed you they’d be blowing your head off if you cried out even one word.
So many of the characters in this film exist in this way, only to have brief but gut-wrenching explosions of emotion.
The the most layered film of 2017, the grief is, for the most part, restrained in gray tones, even sprinkled with instances of gallows humor.
But when the pressure rises to a boiling point, the cast and actors utilize the entire color palette of emotion to create some of the most highly concentrated expressions of grief since Kay informed Michael they wouldn’t be having any more kids.
But Like I’ve Totally Never Heard of It: An impoverished black youth with a tragic, frantic home life that ranks somewhere between Mordor and Uber’s software development culture, struggles to come to terms with his sexuality, identity and manhood.
Unfathomable Tears of Sadness: Mahershala Ali…is just not in it enough. He is a great white shark with a heart who takes in a lost guppy, playing it with subtlety and intensity in careful, equal measure.
Hurts So Good: An electric, morphing portrait of a quest for self that is steaming on the surface, and hot lava beneath. The editing and small delicious choices, such as delayed sound of the drug addicted mother’s screams and close up, wildly uncomfortable shots of supreme sadness and melancholy– make you feel every doubt and insecurity of the lead, played by various actors at three different ages.
You will not be comfortable watching this movie. And that’s the brilliance of it.
But Like I’ve Totally Never Heard of It: An adopted Indian man embarks on a physical and psychological journey to find the family he lost more than 20 years earlier.
Unfathomable Tears of Sadness: Goodness…maybe I need to rethink this whole bad/good thing…this movie is nearly flawless.
There was no warning that you would need to bring one full box of tissues. Seriously, unless you’re one of those aforementioned robots, you will cry on this ride.
Hurts So Good: 2016 was less fun than catching radioactive scabies…and that’s not very fun. You may currently be wondering, is there any love on this cruel old world?
Lion answers yes.
A film so wonderfully paced and filmed that it could be fully understood on mute, this Oscar nominee offers a raw look at the plight of children in India (80,000 go “missing” every year. Yes. That’s the correct number of zeroes.)
But just as Fences is about the power of fathers, Lion is a tale of mothers and sons. Dev Patel and the child actor who plays his younger self, Sunny Pawar, know how to capture the audience with a glance. And Nicole Kidman’s turn as a supremely empathetic mother knowing no limits to the love she will give is both heartbreaking and up-lifting.
Oh, and Rooney Mara does Rooney Mara things, like sympathetic glares, hurt and betrayed glares…just lots of glares in general.
Which is always nice. Not nice like theatrically groundbreaking nice…but nice like finding out you get free refills on sweet iced tea.
But Like I’ve Totally Never Heard of It: Two brothers rob a chain of banks as an old Texas Ranger gives chase.
Unfathomable Tears of Sadness: My only criticism of this film is that I was not cast in it.
Hurts So Good: The dialogue is so tight you could bounce a wet sponge off it. Literally, there isn’t a wasted word.
The synergy between Chris Pine and Ben Foster is so palpable you could scrape it off the screen and butter your Texas cornbread with it. Ben Foster’s lack of an Oscar nomination is the biggest bit of Academy Awards idiocy since Adrien Brody (The Pianist) beat out Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York) for best actor.
The film is shot exquisitely. Museums should be erected to house stills of the framed shots cinematographer Giles Nuttgen composes.
The plot is clever but no nonsense and the characters so well rounded that you feel compelled to root for both sides.
I did not see a better film the entire year.
That does it for another year of Oscar rankings! If we still have electricity in the beginning of 2018, we absolutely must do this again.