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2017 Best Picture Nominees Ranked

This year in film, Colin Farrell ate a bunch of Big Macs for The Lobster and then slimmed out for Fantastic Beasts, only to be replaced at the end by Johnny Depp; Natalie Portman cried in close-up for two hours; Patrick Stewart played the year’s second scariest white supremacist; and Paul Dano rode a flatulent Daniel Radcliffe across the sea. Of course, none of these are nominated for Best Picture, because the Academy still consists of a bunch of old white guys who were alive during the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals, yet still gifted La La Land more nominations than Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg COMBINED. However, moving on… here are the 9 films nominated for Best Picture ranked in my oh-so-humble opinion from “You can probably skip this” to “Run out and see this immediately.”


Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn & Hugo Weaving
The Plot: Mel Gibson uses the inspirational story of a religious man who refuses to carry a weapon into battle as an excuse to make the most violent movie since Passion of the Christ.
Thoughts: Gibson executes the battle scenes effectively, and Andrew Garfield turns in a good-but-not-great performance, but there’s no real maturation as a director here. He paints with broad colors a story that could’ve had tremendous power had there been more nuance. There was more to explore with this character’s relationship to God, but it’s largely eschewed for Old Hollywood beats and brouhaha. Overall, a fairly mediocre war movie, but this time with Jesus.
Nominations: 6 (including Picture, Director, and Actor)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%


Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Emma Stone & Ryan Gosling
The Plot: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are adorable, talented, and wonderful and you love them… right?
Thoughts: The entire gimmick of this Hollywood throwback musical is that it is a Hollywood throwback musical. It’s in CinemaScope, everything looks Technicolor, and most of the numbers are filmed head-to-toe in one shot. It’s technically proficient work by a clearly talented filmmaker, yet there is so little joy (and talent for singing and dancing) on display in the musical moments that it’s hard to even understand the point. Ryan Gosling’s too-cool-for-school hoofing and Emma Stone’s whispery vocals are nothing compared to Gene and Debbie, Astaire and Rodgers, or even Judy and Mickey. And because there are so few songs, most of the film is occupied by textbook rom-com beats (however charmingly acted). See it for the instrumental score, which is on full display in the film’s final ten minutes.
Nominations: 14 (including Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Original Screenplay)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%


Director: Denzel Washington
Starring: Denzel Washington & Viola Davis
The Plot: Dude says he’s gonna build a fence, but mostly just acts like a shithead.
Thoughts: Your enjoyment of this film is going to be largely based on how you handle the “stagey” factor. Denzel has effectively shot the classic play, rarely opening it up beyond the backyard set. In this way, it bears resemblance to the films of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf or Glengarry Glen Ross, but he lacks the directorial panache of Nichols and Foley, so the scenes often operate all on the same level with little dynamic change. For me, this got exhausting for 2 and a half hours, and the text (which remains beautiful poetry by the late great August Wilson) could’ve used trims, particularly when we see in Denzel’s face the suffering of Troy so clearly that he doesn’t need to talk about it much. Such is the power of the close-up, and even though it captures two phenomenal screen performances by Denzel and Viola, it ultimately robs the play of the power it would yield were we just watching them do it onstage.
Nominations: 4 (Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress & Adapted Screenplay)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%


Director: Garth Davis
Starring: Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar & Nicole Kidman
The Plot: Young boy separated from his mother has no interest in finding her until he becomes rugged Dev Patel, is mildly insulted at a party, and has access to Google Earth.
Thoughts: The first hour of Lion is among the most beautifully shot pieces of cinema this year. Sunny Pawar is a magnetic protagonist, and Garth Davis and cinematographer Greig Fraser find a visual language for the story of a young boy who is separated from his family and tossed into an overwhelming world that is both epically Dickensian and visceral. It’s unfortunate that the moment he grows up into Dev Patel (in a very game performance), much of the film’s engagement is lost and we are subjected to long scenes of Patel staring at a computer screen that oftentimes come across as advertisements for Google Earth. Still, if you don’t weep like a baby at the ending, I doubt you have a soul.
Nominations: 6 (including Picture, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress & Adapted Screenplay)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%


Director: Theodore Melfi
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae & Kevin Costner
The Plot: Nasty women get shit done.
Thoughts: The most conventional of the Best Picture nominees gets its power from two key elements - that it’s a story we don’t really know, and that it’s about three black women. It’s a refreshingly old-fashioned American film about unlikely heroes that tells the familiar story of the space race from a surprising angle. And so, through familiar beats, the film is able to make an epic story personal, while also hitting the nerve of a country currently knee-deep in issues of race relations.
Nominations: 3 (Picture, Supporting Actress & Adapted Screenplay)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%


Director: David Mackenzie
Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster & Jeff Bridges
The Plot: Proof that everyone is getting screwed over by banks, including bank robbers.
Thoughts: A tense chase movie set against the backdrop of an economically-paralyzed Texas, David Mackenzie’s “Western” transcends our 21st century understanding of the genre (loud gunfights, chases, and anachronistic music) without tipping its hat too hard to the classics. Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay is dynamite, featuring three principal characters brimming with emotion and trading dialogue that feels both true to life and wonderfully cinematic. It’s these characters and their dualities that give the film its epic scope.  And this is to say nothing of the final sequence, which finds a power in silence of which most films only dream. In a summer full of duds, this was the one to see.
Nominations: 4 (including Picture, Supporting Actor & Original Screenplay)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%


Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams
The Plot: In which Amy Adams can talk to aliens, but still can’t win an Oscar.
Thoughts: Denis Villeneuve, of Sicario and Prisoners note, is one of the best contemporary filmmakers at creating a feeling of dread and anxiety. The opening sequences of his latest (shot beautifully by cinematographer Bradford Young) play with a kind of hypnotic, slow-burn tension that’s seldom seen in movies these days, let alone a big blockbuster like this one. Anchoring it all is Amy Adams, proving once again to be one of our greatest actresses. Her interactions with the truly alien-looking aliens, through a rectangular glass window on the other side of a room filled with white haze, are the centerpieces of a film which flirts with timely notions of global unity and boasts a few twists and turns as well. When it starts dealing out reveals, it becomes less and less effective, but the overall vision and feel of the film, grounded by Adams’ performance, make it something to behold.
Nominations: 8 (including Picture, Director & Adapted Screenplay)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%


Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges & Michelle Williams
The Plot: Casey Affleck could learn some chill from his ginger nephew.
Thoughts: The latest in the line of the “Boston grief drama” is among the most depressing things you’ll see this year. It’s also one of the funniest. Kenneth Lonergan has always walked the line of humor and heartache with painstaking accuracy, but never as well as he does in this masterful work. His picture of life is one where a never-ending litany of stupidities is ever present. Just because you’re dealing with the death of a loved one doesn’t mean you stop getting bad cell reception, stubbing your toe, or forgetting where you parked the car. It’s a tricky balancing act, one that major Hollywood movies eschew altogether, presumably because they don’t trust an audience to be able to parcel out what’s funny and what’s tragic. But in Manchester, the two emotions trade off, sometimes coinciding, to remarkable effect. And nowhere is this more embodied than in a grade-A performance by Casey Affleck; it’s one of those performances that is so perfectly realized you really feel like you know the guy; you understand the whirlwind of grief and anger that exists within him and how he’s masked it with a detached veneer. The acting overall is tremendous; Lucas Hedges is phenomenal in a breakout performance, and Michelle Williams makes the most of her limited screen-time. Lonergan and co. so fully commit to this truthful vision of a world wherein nobody gets an easy pass; sometimes you can beat it, and sometimes you just can’t.
Nominations: 6 (Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress & Original Screenplay)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%


Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Janelle Monae, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali
The Plot: It’s black gay Boyhood.
Thoughts: It is absolutely baffling as to how this movie, based on a Tarell Alvin McCraney play, featuring not a single white actor, and focusing on the maturation of a gay protagonist, ever got made. But that’s not even the tip of the iceberg of the miracle that is Moonlight. It’s one of those movies that is so utterly transporting, so richly detailed, and so very very real that even though one knows painstaking work went into it, it feels as though it emerged fully-realized from a collective consciousness and fell into our laps right when we needed it most. The film begins in the familiar territory of hip-hop mythology - there’s a role model drug dealer and junkie mom, for instance - and yet it soon becomes clear we are being presented with the cliches and tropes of this type of film to shatter them and ultimately come back around to say, “Look at these people. They’re human. They’ve always been and always will.” There is beauty in nearly every moment, from the stunning cinematography (the scene in the water… the cooking) to the subtle score, to its performances (Alex Hibbert’s, Ashton Sanders’, and Trevante Rhodes’ collective turn as Chiron is staggering, and Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali will surely be recognized come Oscar time). It’s all in service of a singular vision - one that isn’t easy to pin down or put into words, but one that will surely stay with me for a long, long time.

But alas…

Lady Gaga on the Red Carpet at The Oscars 2015 by Mr. Gabriel Marques - 

I wanted to come up with something different and use the gloves as a reference to ink and passion. Her pose represents her gratitude and the heart is all about the attitude of doing what you love with art - the dress is designed by Azzedine Alaia.



Last word about the fifties: the leading cause of death for women if childbearing age was complications from botched illegal abortions.  It was an age when everyone knew someone who’d died from it.  When abortion isn’t legal, affordable, and available, women die.

@sleepinthegardn: Guys. I gotta say. I am speechless. It is such an honor to be the first actor on a television series to ever receive a #academyaward without being in a film, but rather for just playing #spencerhastings in #pll for a long time and in a lot of intense situations. I would, first and foremost, like to thank all my Brazilian fans because…well… They gave me this Oscar. Thanks guys. Hopefully The next one will be a bit heavier. 🍾