I know I’ve done individual reviews of Best Picture nominees in the past. This year I thought I’d try something new. I thought I’d do summaries of the nominees. Three blogs analyzing three of the nominees. It’s something new this year and I hope you like it. For my first summary, I’ll be reviewing the first three Best Picture nominees I saw: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge and Moonlight.
When you learn Arrival is about aliens, I’m sure you have an idea of what you’d anticipate what a movie about aliens would be about. However, you’re in for a big surprise.
This is probably the first movie about aliens to earn a Best Picture nomination. The film appears to set up for a story that would most likely lead to big-time action sequences. Instead we get a film that’s very intellectual in dealing with aliens. Don’t forget Louise is a linguistics professor who was hired for this duty because of her language expertise. In this film, the focus is on communication. Louise has a way to communicate with the aliens and earn their trust even while those around her grow more hostile to the beings. Louise’s gift for communication goes beyond the aliens and she’s able to say to General Shang the words his late wife said to her. It’s like she has a sense for this.
Even with all this, the film is not just about aliens and preventing a human-alien war. The film is about Louise trying to heal after her daughter’s death. Her marriage is no more as well and she’s looking for her purpose. It’s even about Louise and her ability to foresee the future and the possibilities they can unfold. Louise is the central protagonist whom the whole story revolves around. She finds her true gifts at a time she least expects it and she’s able to find her life again. It’s almost like this alien invasion is like a godsend to her life. Right after her daughter dies, she learns of her purpose to the world and to others.
Denis Villeneuve did a top job of directing this film. He already has a reputation for films like Maelstrom, Incendies and Sicario. He’s also been hired to do the Blade Runner sequel. This film he directs is very tricky but he does all the right work for it. The script by Eric Heisserer is very smart and very deep. It does a very good job of getting the right moments of action and the right moments of drama pieced out.
The story also rested on the performance of Amy Adams. She knew the story was primarily about Louise and she had to make it work. Although the role didn’t have too much in terms of character development, her performance was solid and it held the story together. The supporting performers may not have had as big of roles but they still did well with their performances. Jeremy Renner definitely could have had more depth in his role. The music from Johann Johannson and Max Richter fit the movie perfectly. The visual effects were also excellent and just what the movie needed.
Arrival is a very intelligent movie. It’s an alien movie not like one you’d anticipate at first but you will leave the theatre pleased.
Mel Gibson is back. This time he has Hacksaw Ridge. It’s a war drama that’s about more than just the war.
This film makes for an interesting topic: conscientious objection. I know all about it. For years I went to a Protestant church where the people were known for their anti-war beliefs. Conscientious objection is something that’s bound to make one question their morals and even act out of hostility. I know that we have conservative pundits who insist that fighting in a war is the definition of patriotism and will even use scriptures to justify why was is the right thing. Upon release of this film, I was anticipating a conservative backlash against it. So far no ‘Diss The Doss’ movement has happened. No movement to have his Medal Of Honor posthumously revoked. Nothing. It’s a good thing because the film does make one reconsider what defines a ‘patriot.’ I’m glad this story was told.
One of the biggest complaints from conservatives in the last 40 years has been either the negative depictions of religion or lack of positive depictions of religion in movies. True, this is not the Hollywood where the Hays Code calls the shots. For those that read my review of Of Gods And Men, I have a quote from Barbara Nicolosi about why that’s the problem. That explains why it’s hard to get a pro-religion movie to compete for Best Picture nowadays. There’s a fine line of showing a film with a positive depiction of Christianity without it being schmaltzy, hokey or overly sentimental. Plus with all the ‘game changers’ in the last few decades, writing a winning script or creating a winning film is just that much of a challenge.
I feel they did a very good job in Hacksaw Ridge. It was a very good story of the persecution Desmond Doss had to face for his beliefs. It was a very gritty story of the war and all the damage it caused. Some say the graphicness was comparable to Saving Private Ryan. It was an honest portrayal about someone’s faith. However there was one point when I felt it was borderlining on hokey during the scenes of: “Please, Lord. Help me find one more.” I know that was something Doss said in real life but I’m just wondering if it could have been done better.
This film is the first film directed by Mel Gibson in a decade. I know he had to take a break as he had a very public meltdown with the things he said about others and problems with alcohol. You could rightfully call this film the redemption of Mel Gibson. He directs an excellent film that took a lot of effort to make. 14 years to be exact even while Doss himself was still alive going from one writer to the next until finally they had the right script and right story thanks to Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan. Gibson and the writers did an excellent job with the film with the story and the depiction of war.
In addition, the story was made thanks to the performance of Andrew Garfield. This was more than just a war story. This was a story of a person’s heart and soul. Garfield knew he had to personify Doss in his convictions in order to make this story work. He did it excellently. It’s hard to pick out any supporting players who stood out. None of the roles of the supporting actors were as developed. However Teresa Palmer did a very good job as Dorothy Doss and portraying the concerned fiancee, as is Hugo Weaving as the father Tom Doss and Vince Vaughn as the hard Sargent Howell. The visual effects and the sound mixing were top notch, as it should be in a film like this. The score from Rupert Gregson-Williams fit the film excellently.
Hacksaw Ridge is a surprising film. Who would’ve thought that the best war movie in years would be about a man that didn’t fire a single bullet? Definitely a story worth telling.
At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.
This year’s surprise critical success is Moonlight. It’s a very unique film like no other seen this year.
The film is unique as it sets itself around three key periods in the life of Chiron. There’s his childhood where he’s known as Little, there’s his teenagehood where he’s simply known as Chiron and there’s his adulthood where he’s known as Black. The film does tell a story of a man who you think would die young. He has all the ingredients: gay, living in inner city Miami, a verbally-abusive mother addicted to crack, arrested at a young age and a future of being a pusher himself. Somehow he finds the will to survive. He’s able to withstand the bullying he faces for being gay, he’s able to decide his life to the best of his abilities without his mother. Often it’s not the best choices he makes in his life but he finds the ability to survive. You wonder how does he do that? Was it from that brief time with Juan and his mentoring? Was it the love from Kevin he always knew was there? I remember that scene of Little in the school dancing classes dancing like he was in 7th heaven: his escape from the bullying. Was it a spark within Chiron himself? Whatever the situation, it results in beauty at the end.
The film is not just about Chiron. As one can see, it showcases the lives of many different African-American people living in the inner city. It may show some of the more negative depictions like drug dealers, poverty and drug addicts but it also shows positive images too like in the case of Juan and his girlfriend or even in music being played. It showcases some surprising things as well as how Juan the pusher can be a very smart man. It even dispels some myths we have of inner city people. Like how Juan was good at handling Chiron’s homosexuality and gave him words of comfort while Paula acted out in hostility. Usually you’d expect ‘gangstas’ to have a homophobic attitude. It showcases what it’s like to be black and gay in the inner city. It also showcases people’s insecurities. It is overall one man’s attempt to find himself in the harsh world that he lives in. Yet despite all its harshness, it becomes something beautiful in the end.
The film is a triumph for Barry Jenkins. This is actually his second feature as a director. His first film, 2008’s Medicine For Melancholy, won a lot of attention and even earned him many directorial debut awards. Moonlight is only his second feature. This film which he adapts a script from a drama school project from Tarell McCraney is a masterpiece in both the story and its direction. The script is also excellent that there is not too much dialogue but is able to say lots even in the silent parts. Another quality of the film; it says a lot while saying very little. Overall the film is a real delight to watch and leaves one wondering what Jenkins will have next.
The three actors who portrayed Chiron– Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes- all did a very good job with the role and portraying him at the right ages. Mahershala Ali was excellent as Juan: the pusher who becomes a mentor to little Chiron for that brief period of time. Ali had to bring the right charisma and character for a role like Juan to work not just in his scenes but to have an influence throughout the whole film. He did a stellar job. Also excellent was Naomie Harris. Possibly the one actor or actress to be a part of all three scenes, Harris was excellent as the drug-addicted mother Paula. She had to go through three stages with her role from a simple crack user to a crack addict to recovering in rehab. Each time she had to give her role dimension and inner depth to keep it from being cardboard. She did excellent too. There were additional supporting roles that were also good like Janelle Monae as Teresa and Andre Holland as the adult Kevin.
The technical bits were also excellent. The film was edited very well, the cinematography from James Laxton was possibly the best of the year. The score from Nicholas Britell was excellent but the inclusion of track music from classical to Latin to funk to hip-hop to Aretha Franklin to Motown really added to the feel of the movie. Almost feels like an anthology. In fact that scene when Kevin sees Chiron (as Black) after so many years and plays the classic Hello Stranger is one of the best scenes of the film.
Moonlight is a story of a young black man coming of age in the big city but it’s a lot more too. Those who’ve seen it will know why this film is a masterpiece.
And there’s the first of my Best Picture summaries for this year. Next one coming up in a few days.
Most of the time I do reviews of movies. This article is different as I do a side-by-side comparison of two versions of the same story. There’s Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs that generations of moviegoers are familiar with. There’s now Snow White And The Huntsmen that aims to be a modern version of the famous fairy tale character. The question is how do they compare side to side?
First off, let’s run down the first nitty gritty factors of the movies. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfsis more than just a delightful animated
movie. It’s a part of filmmaking history. It’s the first ever feature-length animated movie. And it was made against incredible odds. Walt Disney took five years to make this movie as it involved a lot of drawings and a lot of effort. It was expensive for its time at $1.5 million and Walt had to take out a lot of loans for this movie. And during the Great Depression to boot. In the end, it became a huge hit in 1937 grossing $8 million worldwide and world propel further animated movies in the future. To this day the American Film Institute still ranks it as the Best Animated Movie ever.
Now Snow White And The Huntsmen isn’t really much of a filmmaking breakthrough. It’s a life-action version of the Snow White story, which has been done before. It features familiar actors Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth and Sam Claflin. While this film is not much of a cinematic breakthrough, it is a personal breakthrough for director Rupert Sanders. He has directed commercials and TV episodes in the past. This is his first direction of a feature-length film and it cost $170 million to make. It has so far grossed $152 million at the North American box office: $370 million worldwide.
To compare the actual Snow White character, let’s give a bit of a rundown in terms of the times. First off Snow White And The Huntsmen is done in the present by modern-day director. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs was released in 1937 and done by Walt Disney. You can be sure both films would be reflective of the ideal female roles for the two main female characters and both would reflect the directors’ visions at the time. The Disney Snow White has a very happy and cheerful attitude but is very naive to the threats that surround her. She lost her parents and is exiled in the woods but still holds her spirits high even after the queen’s assassin tells her to flee. The modern Snow White, played by Kristen Stewart, is a girl scorned. She has had enough of the imprisonment and wants out. However she feels there’s no way out. It isn’t until after she sees an opportunity escape and seizes it that it’s revealed she has a determination in her to fight to be free, even if it means walking through castle sewage to get it.
The reflections of the different types of Snow White characters is also reflective in their biggest desires. Disney’s Snow White wants to be free but she feels she found it in living with the seven dwarfs. Her biggest desire is to find her ‘prince’ as evident in the song ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’. Modern Snow White wants love too but she wants her freedom more. She knows she has to continue fighting even after she is free from the prison. She knows the queen and her men and she knows the threats will continue as long as the queen is alive.
Both Snow Whites are subject to negative opinions from some about the way they’re depicted. First off modern audience goers would find the Disney Snow White, voiced by Adriana Caselotti, as too naive for the present and very lacking in ‘street smarts’. Kristen Stewart’s Snow White could also be subject to negative opinions as Disney fans may feel she lacks the cheerfulness and many other moviegoers could think she makes Snow White into Xena: Warrior Princess.
The character of the queen has a common similarity: beauty. Walt Disney wanted a beautiful queen in his film as part of the reflection of the queen’s desire to be the ‘fairest of all’ and her evil envy of Snow White. We shouldn’t forget that sometimes evil can be disguised as something beautiful. The modern evil queen is given a name, Ravenna, and is played by Charlize Theron who is renowned for her beauty. The dissimilarity between the two evil queens is that the Disney queen is seen as very stockish in her desire to see Snow White dead because of her envy, and only because of that. Ravenna is shown as the killer of Snow White’s father, whom she killed on her wedding day and had Snow White imprisoned. It’s the familiar evil stepmother role in fairy tales. Ravenna is shown not only as a queen of envy over Snow White but as a victim herself. She learns from the mirror that has to destroy Snow White for the sake of her immortality or she will be the mortal one. Even giving Snow White the poisonous apple would show two differing means of disguises. The Disney queen would take a potion to tune her into an old lady. Ravenna would metamorphose into William, son of Duke Hammond, to give Snow White the fatal apple.
The other notable difference of the two Snow Whites is the differing their main supporting character, or characters. In Disney’s Snow White, it was the seven dwarfs. All seven were cute with cute names and charming personalities. They worked hard but they sang, danced and lived cheerfully. They were first surprised to see Snow White and thought of her as an intruder but would come to welcome her, love her, and even avenge her against the queen after she gave Snow White the poisonous apple. In the modern Snow White, the dwarves are seen as a minor supporting character in the movie who assist with the Huntsman in her well-being and warriors with Snow White and the Huntsman against the queen. It’s the Huntsman in the modern Snow White who’s the main supporting character now.
The Huntsman in the modern Snow White is under command from the queen to kill and receive the hand of her brother’s deceased wife in marriage. He learns from Finn, the brother, that it was a false promise and then becomes Snow White’s ally helping her escape with the help of women disfigured by Ravenna and the help of the seven dwarves. The Huntsman is the man who kisses Snow White back to life but it’s not happily ever after yet as they must battle Ravenna before Snow White can be married to the Hunstman. In Disney’s Snow White it is the prince whose kiss revives Snow White and marries her. The Huntsman is only seen at the beginning as the one who tries to kill Snow White but can’t and gives the queen a pig’s heart to trick her into thinking Snow White is dead.
It’s not just the characters themselves that make the two Snow White movies different but also the stories themselves. The beginning especially. In the Disney movie we’re given a storybook narration of what has happened in the past and leads to the beginning with the queen at the mirror saying “Mirror, mirror on the wall…” Snow White and the Huntsman goes back to when Snow White is a young girl and her favorite playmate is the Duke’s son William. Ravenna is prisoner of the Dark Army rescued by the recently widowed King Magnus, father of Snow White. King Magnus is actually killed by Ravenna after he marries her, imprisons Snow White and seized control of the kingdom leaving it lifeless and full of sadness. Even the setting of the forest is different as Disney shows a charming forest full of happy creatures while the modern Snow White shows a nice forest that’s not immune by threats like insects and other dangers.
Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs and Snow White And The Huntsman are two differing movies of the same story. As for which is the best depiction, I can’t say because I have not read the original Snow White story by the Brothers Grimm. Nevertheless both have their entertainment values and one would appeal over another depending on their movie preferences.