The 2017 Oscars are the perfect illustration of how creativity often flourishes during troubling times, the telling of stories acting as a cathartic release of deep-rooted frustration, both worldwide and personal. In the midst of fraught geopolitical issues, the last year has seen an incredible wealth of feature films that transcend the big screen by delicately placing the spotlight on how such issues impact individual lives.
Of all the awards for acting or technical finesse, the Academy Award for Best Picture is always the defining accolade, a recognition that will immortalize its winner in the Hollywood hall of fame. The chosen few this year combine everything that makes cinema great, but unfortunately there can only be one winner.
Below, Movie Pilot provides an overview of all the films in the running for the Best Picture #Oscar, as well as our prediction on who will win.
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The plot: Arrival is a first encounter alien sci-fi with an intellectual twist. When 12 spacecrafts land in different destinations across the world, linguistic expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams), physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and their small team are tasked with discovering the motivation for the landing.
Why was it nominated? It's alien-invasion with a heart. Director Denis Villeneuve demonstrates his ability as one of the best working directors in Hollywood, carefully crafting a story that is enthralling in its intricate portrayal of the process of Banks's communication with the extraterrestrial "heptapods." Add in the philosophical, metaphysical themes of life and meaning, and #Arrival instantly becomes not just one of the best sci-fi movies of a generation, but one of the finest movies of a generation period — evidenced by its eight nominations.
The plot: Denzel Washington directs and stars as protagonist Troy Maxson, a working-class African-American father who struggles with his own past while trying to raise a family in 1950s Pittsburgh. Washington's third directorial effort is based on the play by August Wilson, who also wrote this screenplay (which has also been nominated) before his death in 2005.
Why was it nominated? #Fences make a the transition from stage to screen effortlessly, and considering its pedigree, that alone is some achievement. The film's two leading stars, Washington (who also starred in the Broadway play) and Viola Davis, give powerful performances that tenderly highlight the historical struggles of the African-American community — the pair also earned nominations for Best Actor and Best Actress respectively.
The plot: If Arrival is sci-fi with a difference, then Mel Gibson's return to form is war with a difference. #HacksawRidge is based on the true story of World War II medic Desmond Doss, depicting the bloody brutality of combat through the perspective of the conscientious objector who refused to carry any weapons due to his Christian faith.
Why was it nominated? When done well, World War II movies tend to reap the rewards, perhaps due to the gruesome yet tragically cinematic nature of events. The strong religious undertone isn't unnecessary, instead raising valuable questions around the morals of war. It's an unflinching, harrowing and heartbreaking, depiction of World War II that is filled with enough profound emotion to shake you to the core.
'Hell Or High Water'
The plot: The neo-Western focus on unemployed oil and gas worker, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and his brother Tanner (Ben Foster), who carry out a series of robberies in order to pay off the mortgage on their mother's ranch following her death. However, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges — also nominated for his role) is hot on the heels of the pair.
Why was it nominated? Hell or High Water is a heist thriller that — thanks to a great selection of expertly-portrayed characters and quick-paced storytelling — breathes fresh life into the Western genre. The backdrop is beautifully captured, while the nuanced characters drive the plot forward and leave you wanting more.
The plot: The real-life story shines the spotlight on the often overlooked African-American mathematicians — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) who calculated flight trajectories for NASA during the US space program's formative years in the 1960s.
Why was it nominated? As well as serving a purpose, and telling a crucial and neglected moment in history. Although the allure of the plot lies more with its authenticity, this is a film that launches itself out of the stratosphere thanks to incredible performances by its leading cast.
'La La Land'
The plot: Set in LA, the film follows jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) as they attempt to pursue their dreams while battling with an passionate love affair.
Why was it nominated? If Hell or High Water revitalized the Western genre, La La Land has completely rejuvenated musicals. Damien Chazelle's follow up to Whiplash has been glittered with nominations, equalling the record of Titanic (1997) and All About Eve (1950) with 14 nominations. While the musical elements of the film have been highly praised, its authenticity, helped by heartfelt performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, mean below the glitz and the glam, La La Land also packs an emotional punch.
The plot: Based on a true story, #Lion focuses on the story of Saroo (Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel), and his emotive struggle to be reunited with his family after he ends 1,500 miles away from his home after being trapped on a passenger train leading to Calcutta. The story follows Saroo as he grows up in a loving home in Tasmania with his new adopted family, while still attempting to trace his roots years later.
Why was it nominated? Universal themes of family, love, identity and the concept of home will render even the most apathetic to a quivering, misty-eyed mess. Saroo's tenacious determination to overcome adversity looks like it was created by the sharpest minds in Hollywood writing rooms; but it's all true. Lion also received awards for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman, who plays Saroo's adoptive mother, Sue Brierley) and Best Adapted Screenplay.
'Manchester By The Sea'
The plot: Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) returns to a life long left behind to look after his 16-year-old nephew, following the death of his brother. Manchester By The Sea swims with emotional nuance as it beautifully paints Chandler's struggle to step into the role of guardian while also grappling with his own personal grief.
Why was it nominated? Although extremely raw, director Kenneth Lonergan spins a story that illustrates the way in which sadness is an essential part of life, acting as a vital tonic for change and appreciation. While Casey Affleck has received the bulk of praise, the whole cast of #ManchesterByTheSea paint a powerful picture, in a story that is both simple and breathtakingly profound.
The plot: Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the film is a coming-of-age story set in Miami, focusing on three stages in the life of Chiron (Ashton Sanders). #Moonlight effortlessly jumbles themes of race, sexuality and self-discovery, while sketching the intricate detail of lives often neglected.
Why was it nominated? A number of films in this years Best Picture category tackle issues of identity, but perhaps none in the same paradigm of a community often overlooked. The film underpins the essence of movie making — to immerse audiences into the lives of the protagonist, to join their world, experience the emotional rollercoaster and leave the theatre forever slightly altered. Overall, Moonlight received eight nominations, making it joint-second with Arrival — all the more impressive considering its $5 million budget, continuing A24's knack for quality storytelling.
Who Will Win The Oscar For Best Picture?
In short, it's La La Land's to lose; with 14 nominations, it's clear that the musical has received a solid thumbs up from the Academy by equalling the current record, as Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone prepare to tap dance their way to a clean sweep at this year's ceremony.
The film has hit the right note for award consideration, magically taking the most appealing sentiment of all, nostalgia, and renovating it for modern audiences. But a win for Best Picture, in the context of the politically charged hotbed of current affairs, wouldn't be a fitting celebration of the power of cinema to help influence change in a time when the message of tolerance is desperately needed.
Some have even criticised the film for fitting the structural framework of the "white savior," with Gosling's character seemingly the only man capable of saving a musical genre that originated with the African-American community, particularly in New Orleans.
Out of all the nominations, La La Land, Lion and Manchester by the Sea avoid politics, while Arrival, Moonlight, Fences, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures and Hacksaw Ridge provide political undertones.
Instead, in the strained and fearful climate of post-Trump America, this is the year, of all years, for the Academy to celebrate the diverse talent of riches on offer, and for that reason alone, a win for Moonlight would be an apt celebration of cinema's ability to act as a catalyst for change.
What is your pick for Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards?