What Film Should Win Best Picture This Year?
With contributions from Sean Beattie, Matthew Curione, Marcus Irving, Marcelo Pico, and Rob Trench.
After months of waiting, we finally have our Best Picture contenders - nine in total which have all made a serious impression this awards season. But as always, only one of these films is going to have what it takes to pull through and seize the ceremony's top prize. For that reason, our team of writers have decided to advocate on behalf of each of the nine films up for the prize this year, and why they think each is deserving of being named Best Picture of the Year.
Arrival is the film that deserves Best Picture because it's a story about compassion, communication and humanity's better angels winning out, all led by characters who make up the best and brightest we have to offer as ambassadors to new civilizations. What makes it even more poignant than that is that it's also a story about coming to terms with tremendous loss where not a moment is wasted or rings hollow. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner both put in career-best work here, in service of a story where intelligence and empathy are directly challenged by fear and paranoia. Their relationship develops in the movie in believable ways, as they work so closely together over the course of weeks trying to communicate with new (to them) lifeforms. And despite what some may tell you—the movie doesn’t cheat with its own rules about [that spoilery thing]. It should win, hands down.
- Sean Beattie
If anything, Fences proves Denzel Washington is one of the greatest actors of all time, a force powerful enough to get an essential story of race in America on the big screen. When producer Scott Rudin handed Washington the script for Fences, a feature film adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Washington’s first response was to act in a stage revival. Rudin agreed to this and quickly got funding underway for a Broadway production of the play, that would go on to win Tonys for Washington and onstage co-star Viola Davis in 2010. After embodying the character of Troy Maxson onstage, Washington was ready to undertake the film adaptation, with him behind the camera and with several of the Broadway cast returning, including Davis. While the film itself feels very much confined and “anti-cinematic”, what’s pushed to the front are those performances by the cast. Washington and Davis deliver not only some of the best performances of the year, but some of the best work they’ve ever done. Wilson, who passed away in 2005, was hesitant about a feature film adaptation of Fences, but he would’ve been happy to see his work in the hands of Washington. All that makes the film a viable candidate for Best Picture of the Year.
- Marcelo Pico
One of the biggest surprises in 2016 was Mel Gibson’s big league comeback. Having directed two extremely divisive pictures in the mid-00’s with The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, Mad Mel came roaring back onto the scene with Hacksaw Ridge. An inspirational war film and one of the best mainstream World War Two pictures since Saving Private Ryan in 1998, it tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who saved the lives of 75 soldiers without using a weapon. Hacksaw Ridge is a tour-de-force by all involved. From a stellar cast that includes Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, and Hugo Weaving, to gripping cinematography and a story that’s very easy to get behind, it should be a strong contender for Best Picture next month. I was impressed by almost every facet of Hacksaw Ridge, sure it’s a basic story of sticking to your convictions, but Mel Gibson doesn’t sugarcoat the horrors of war. It tells the kind of hopeful story that we need in these hopeless times.
- Matt Curione
Hell or High Water
Donald Trump shocked the world when he was elected 45th president of the United States. The majority of those that voted for him couldn't even figure out how this impossibility became reality. Hell or High Water showed us how months before it happened. The dying Texas towns in the film are full of people, people bitter that the rest of the world has seemingly left them to rot. Big companies offering jobs have moved on and banks have extorted them by providing loans they could never possibly repay, coming for everything they have when the due date inevitably comes. I live in one of these towns. They are full of good people desperate to believe anybody in power cared about their plight so they voted en masse for the biggest liar that ran for office because he mentioned them. No film this year speaks to those living in these many small towns more than Hell or High Water. Hell, no other movie even tried. That's why Trump is president, and that's why Hell or High Water should win Best Picture.
- Marcus Irving
It should come as no surprise why Hidden Figures is a box office smash; it’s a feel-good film focusing on the real life adversities and triumphs of the African-American women working at NASA during the U.S.-Soviet Space Race. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe play Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, respectively. Each woman, in their own way, paved the way for not only people of color in the science community, but women as well. What could’ve easily been a standard based-on-a-true-story schmaltz fest, is one lifted by powerful performances from the three female leads and the supporting players, including Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst and even Jim Parsons, who naturally slides into the role of a terrible person. It’s a crowd-pleaser no doubt, giving a large swath of audiences what they’ve been looking for for far too long, a little representation amongst the typical whitewashed Oscar contenders.
- Marcelo Pico
La La Land
The Oscars have a thing for films about the business of filmmaking and the industry of Hollywood. Best Picture winners The Artist, Argo, and Birdman have proven that they’re all about patting themselves on the back. It should come as no surprise that La La Land, the musical featuring two artists trying to make it in the ‘City of Stars,’ has the most nominations making it the frontrunner this year. But, what makes it absolutely worthy of the Best Picture award is the sheer talent and passion the film exudes. The songs are catchy, the direction is impeccable, the performances are heartfelt and revelatory, and it ultimately feels like a deeply personal take on love and what you have to sacrifice in order to make make your dreams a reality. Don’t mistake this for a feel-good musical. La La Land is something we could you more of, it’s a bittersweet love ballad for the fools who dream.
- Marcelo Pico
A tear-jerker of a true story about a man trying to reunite with his estranged family, Lion has been a definite crowd pleaser since first premiering at TIFF in September. Its not uncommon to see The Weinstein Company have a major player in the race, and here, they have selected a film that boasts strong emotions, powerful performances, and an especially moving score. Coming from first-time feature director Garth Davis, the film has been especially lauded in its message of love and belonging that tends to go over well with Oscar voters. While Lion is currently the BP nominee with the smallest box office gross behind it, that could change in the next few weeks as more people come out to see it, in turn changing the direction of the conversation and really allowing for an underdog story to take the biggest prize in Hollywood.
- Rob Trench
Manchester by the Sea
Devastating. That’s one word for Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. A film of great personal tragedy and a life left in shambles, Manchester by the Sea is one of the most realistic dealing with grief to come along in years. It’s been nominated for six Oscars this year, and rightfully so. It’s a personal picture but also a universal one, as the sequence of events could easily happen to anyone of us. This could easily win Best Picture, having all the hallmarks; assured direction, powerhouse performances, and a delicate screenplay that isn’t afraid to pull any punches. It's a film that hits hard and keeps hitting until the credits roll, with almost no missteps along the way. It’s modern, and yet has an old-school feel to the character study, with Casey Affleck giving the performance of his life. You feel for this character even though he’s such a closed off individual with no obvious urge to help himself. The audience roots for him to make it out in one piece, and I have a feeling the Academy will do the same.
- Matt Curione
The breakout hit and (currently) the most awarded film of 2016, Moonlight made a huge splash in the awards season after premiering at Telluride and has continued its momentum all the way ever since - giving studio A24 one of its biggest hits and making director Barry Jenkins a name to watch. With 8 Oscar nominations - a surprising feat given that just months ago it was questionable whether the AMPAS would look favourably towards it, Moonlight is the second most nominated film this year after La La Land, and stands to be one of the greatest competitors for Best Picture. But its entirely deserving of the award for being a tour-de-force examination of black and LGBT issues told in exquisite fashion, and is the kind of film of focused around the margins of society that we need more of in cinema today. Such a win could increase the chances of seeing more narratives like Moonlight get produced, making it a win for millions of people everywhere.
- Rob Trench