2017 Best Picture Picks

I really enjoyed this year's crop of Best Picture nominees. Usually there's one or two I don't like, but not this year. I just saw the last of them now, late Saturday night on Oscars Eve. Here's how I would rank them if I were a member of the Academy -- along with some loose notes on each:

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1) Moonlight

My clear pick for #1. A beautiful story with top-notch craftsmanship. Its use of color is brilliant, but director Barry Jenkins is careful not to let his techniques distract from the story at hand. (as occasionally happened with Richard Linklater's Boyhood) I hope to see much more from director Barry Jenkins in the future.

And of course, the acting is absolutely top-notch. It's really too bad the Oscars don't have a Best Acting Ensemble award like the Critics' Choice Awards does.

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2) La La Land

A 21st Century adaptation of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which has become one of my favorites. OR: The movie God Help the Girl was meant to be.

Charming and easy to love, and one of the most perfect setups to heartbreak since - once again - Umbrellas.

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3) Fences

Amazing performances, incredible script. It's transparently from the stage, but Denzel Washington resists the temptation to add gimmicks to make it filmic. Few people know the material as well as he and Viola Davis do, they show off their mastery of the craft.

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4) Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck portrays a struggle - and a partial victory - over depression. He's always been a clearly better actor than his brother. Why are so many movies set in Boston? I think more films are set in Boston than in the entire Midwest and South combined.

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5) Hidden Figures

I knew I'd like this one going in because of the subject matter, but it still surprised me. Janelle Monáe and Taraji P. Henson could each have gotten Oscars nods as easily as Octavia Spencer did. I'm always happy to see a movie about civil rights that doesn't have a white protagonist. (The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird, et. al.)

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6) Hell or High Water

A well-made, solid, unpretentious film. Excellent script, excellent acting. I love that Westerns can still be innovative after well more than a century. This is the one that non-Oscary filmgoers will love.

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7) Hacksaw Ridge

Mel Gibson is back. Christianity may feel marginalized in Hollywood when compared to the sword & sandal generation, but Gibson and Martin Scorsese carry the torch as well as anyone. It is a bit odd though that a film about a pacifist hero won't likely convince many that pacifism is the way to go.

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8) Lion

A quality tearjerker with an incredible story. Everyone I could see in the theater was crying at the end (yes, I creepily watch you all during the end credits), but it wore off a bit after I went back out into the day.

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9) Arrival

Tried to be the next Contact, but laid it on too thick, too soon. The time travel element was a mess. It's not a bad movie at all, but it didn't work for me like it did for most other people I know. Good, but not Oscar-worthy.