Oscars 2017 nominations list: Arrival to Moonlight, must-watch films before Hollywood's big night
Alright, so we’re more than halfway through the awards season now — Meryl Streep has officially gone from being an awards favourite to just (ahem) plain overrated, an actually arguably overrated La La Land (hey, it’s an opinion!) is 14 awards away from making movie history, and the social media-and-technology-shy Winona Ryder has inevitably become a meme. And while the acceptance speeches and celebrity red carpet looks are clearly the best things about award shows, there’s also a downside to them — there are just so many movies to choose from!
All those genres, multiple languages, the original screenplays, the adapted ones, some movies that are better acted than others, some that have better visuals and music — spoilt for choice is all swell, but unless you’re a movie critic or jobless, it’s quite impossible to watch all the nominated movies before choosing your favourites. I mean, let’s face it, it’s 2017 — there’s work to do, new year resolutions to pretend to keep, spin classes to sign up for, new dessert joints to discover for your Instagram feed, all that political drama to keep track of, and Netflix shows to binge watch. Wouldn’t it be great if someone could filter out all the noise and tell you which movies you’d love to watch?
You ask, we deliver — a list of nominated movies that suit you, tailored for your viewing. It’s like Netflix for awards season nominees. Let’s have a look, shall we?
The ones that are kinda sorta must-watch
These are the movies that are nominated for best picture, which essentially means they’re good. Assuming they are what is called “must-watch”, let’s make this a wee bit easier by ranking them in order of “must-watchness” — from “watch it ASAP” to “take your time, there’s still a month to go for the Oscars”.
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Hell or High Water
Blockbuster hits that are nominated that you’ve probably already watched
The Jungle Book
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Rogue One: A Star Wars story
Now that those are dealt with, let’s concentrate on simplifying the rest of the nominations.
If you like true stories, watch:
Sully — A white-haired Tom Hanks as Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the kickass pilot who, in January 2009, emergency landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in New York. All 155 passengers and crew survived, with only minor injuries. Proving once again that you should never travel with him, Hanks does what he does best here — be the all-American hero!
Jackie — You’d be forgiven for believing Natalie Portman enjoys being pregnant when she’s a heavy favourite at the Oscars (see Oscars 2011, the year she won best actress for Black Swan). In a role that seems tailor-made for her, Portman plays Jackie Kennedy when she was married to JFK and was First Lady in the White House. The movie is based on Theodore H White’s Life magazine interview with her, and continues her story following JFK’s assassination in 1963.
Loving — Set in the late-’50s and early ’60s, and based on real-life interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving’s struggle to have their marriage recognised by the state of Virginia, Loving is that painfully sad yet beautiful movie that we all need to watch in 2017. Ruth Negga (who’s nominated for best actress) and Joel Edgerton are both perfectly cast in the lead roles.
Land of Mine (German Danish movie) — Nominated for best foreign language film at the Oscars, Land of Mine is inspired by real events. It tells the story of German prisoners of war sent to clear mines in Denmark after World War II. Historians estimate that more than 2000 German soldiers (many of whom were just boys) were forced to remove mines; in doing so, nearly half of them lost lives or limbs. The movie was filmed in historically accurate locations like Oksbøllejren — the site of the largest German refugee camp in Denmark after WWII.
Tanna - An exotic, tribal Romeo and Juliet, Tanna is an Australian Vanuatuan movie based on an actual marriage dispute on the island of Tanna in the South Pacific. It’s the true story of a couple who decided to disobey their parents and instead married for love. The tribals on the island played themselves in the film (according to the film’s cultural director Jimmy Joseph Nako, “The chief played the chief, the medicine man played the medicine man, the warriors played the warriors.”), When they’re not acting, the men in the cast “wear penis sheaths and grass skirts, hunt for food with bamboo bows and arrows, and revere Prince Philip as a living god.”
The token Martin Scorsese movie:
Silence — It’s rare that Mel Gibson gets nominated for best director (he’s nominated for Hacksaw Ridge) and Martin Scorsese doesn’t. But that’s hardly the oddest thing to happen in 2016-17. Silence, Scorsese’s passion project (he was working on it for 26 years), is about two 17th century Christian missionaries (played by Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield) who travel to Japan to find their missing mentor and spread Catholicism. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, although slow and gory, so keep your post-dinner sherry away for one night.
If you like Viggo Mortensen (and who doesn’t!):
Captain Fantastic — Remember Viggo Mortensen in the brilliant A History of Violence? Unwittingly drawn into the spotlight after confronting two robbers in self-defence... Captain Fantastic is kind of similar — except that instead of a crime thriller, this one’s a dramedy. And instead of violence, there are a lot of kids living in the wilderness not knowing what hot dogs and cola are. Okay, maybe it isn’t that similar, but Viggo Mortensen is ah-mazing in it as usual. No, he’s not a superhero, but he’s terrific!
If you’re a fan of Tom Ford as a fashion designer, and want to give his directorial skills a shot:
Nocturnal Animals — Ah, Tom Ford! He’s so much more than the creative genius behind Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent in the ’90s. Single Man, his directorial debut in 2009, was Oscar nominated. This year, he’s back with Nocturnal Animals — a neo-noir psychological thriller starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. The performances are great, and the movie itself is stylish and innovative: seeing West Texas through Ford’s visually appealing lens is gratifying!
Besides Zootopia, which was the best political commentary made all year, here are some nominees that strike the right nerve, hit the right nail, and strike the right chord —
Fire at Sea — Nominated for best documentary feature at the Oscars, Fire at Sea is an Italian documentary by Gianfranco Rosi, and highlights the European migrant/refugee crisis that began in 2015. It won the Golden Bear at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival, and in his acceptance speech then, Rosi said that his intention was to heighten awareness of the migrant situation, saying, “It’s not acceptable that people die crossing the sea to escape from tragedies.” Preach!
I Am Not Your Negro — Narrated by Shaft Samuel L. Jackson and based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House, this American documentary is a thrillingly pointed exploration of the history of racism in the US. Also nominated for best documentary feature at the Oscars.
13th — Another best documentary feature nominee and a chronicle of racism in the US, 13th views racism from the point of view of the American criminal justice system. Titled 13th after the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which outlawed slavery, director Ava DuVernay argues that slavery is still rampant in the US — through mass incarceration. Poignant and effective, it’s statistically correct, and a great watch!
The Salesman — 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Best actor for Shahab Hosseini at Cannes. Best screenplay for director Asghar Farhadi at Cannes. Nominated for best foreign language film at the Oscars. Now, with the new immigration order, Asghar Farhadi, who won an Oscar in 2011 for his movie A Separation, and who is Iranian, won’t be able to travel to the US to attend the ceremony. Doesn’t feel real? Think again!
Elle — Based on Philippe Dijan’s novel Oh…, Elle is a French language movie about a businesswoman, Michèle Leblanc, who is raped in her home by an unknown assailant and subsequently plots her revenge. Isabelle Huppert (nominated for best actress) plays the protagonist — the empowered woman — in a movie that oscillates between comedy and tragedy.
If you liked American Crime Story: People vs OJ Simpson:
OJ: Made in America — If you thought People vs OJ Simpson was incredibly entertaining and well made, you’re going to love this one! Directed by Ezra Edelman for ESPN, OJ: Made in America is an all-American documentary looking at race and celebrity culture through the unarguably famous life of one of the country’s greatest fallen heroes. It’s the life and times of O.J. Simpson - investigative journalism style! Also nominated for best documentary feature at the Oscars.
If you’re a Disney fan (and who isn’t!):
Zootopia — Watch it again. Because it’s awesome!
Life, Animated — An Oscar nominee in the best documentary feature category, Life, Animated is an American documentary about an autistic boy (Owen Suskind) and his family who use The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and other animated Disney movies to help him develop reading, writing, and communication skills. Heartwarming, insightful, and delightful, Life, Animated views Disney movies as something more than just kids movies — it views them as a lifeline. This is real life, and Disney continues to rule!
If you love animated movies (and who doesn’t!):
Zootopia — Yup, a 3rd time is okay too. It’s that good!
Kubo and the Two Strings — Production company Laika’s fourth feature film, Kubo and the Two Strings is being termed by many as America’s answer to Studio Ghibli classics like Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and My Neighbour Totoro. A one-eyed Japanese boy with magical origami puppets that dance to the tune of his shamisen — sounds like something Miyazaki might come up with! Director Travis Knight’s directorial debut is a hauntingly gorgeous stop-motion animation movie, and an absolute must-watch for anyone who likes beautiful stories wonderfully told. And While My Guitar Gently Weeps is the perfect soundtrack! Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey voice key characters. Nominated for best animated feature at the Oscars.
The Red Turtle — Speaking of Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation studio co-produced The Red Turtle - one of 2016’s most staggeringly magical movies. Dialogue-less (besides a few “heys” and “ha has”), this story of a man who is shipwrecked on a deserted island and meets a giant red sea turtle who destroys his raft every time he tries to sail away, is, in the words of Variety’s Peter Debruge, “a fable so simple, so pure, it feels as if it has existed for hundreds of years, like a brilliant shard of sea glass rendered smooth and elegant through generations of retelling.” Couldn’t agree more!
If you like quirky movies:
Florence Foster Jenkins — Remember how awesome Meryl Streep was as Julia Child in Julie and Julia? This is even better! Playing American socialite and amateur soprano Florence Foster Jenkins (she who, according to historian Stephen Pile, was the “world’s worst opera singer.” His famous words were, “No one, before or since, has succeeded in liberating themselves quite so completely from the shackles of musical notation.” Ouch!) with such unabashed abandon, it’s enthralling! Watch it if you can appreciate overrated actors.
Hail, Caesar! — The Coen brothers are back! With a stellar superstar cast, this comedy about a “fixer” who works in the Hollywood film industry in the ’50s while trying to decipher what happened to a movie star who disappears while filming, is trademark Coen brothers material. It’s nominated for best production design at the Oscars, and while it’s not the brothers’ best work, it’s an uproarious comedy that’s a whole lot of giggles. Also, you get to see Channing Tatum tap dance on a table!
A Man called Ove — Based on Swedish blogger and writer Fredrik Backman's book of the same name, A Man called Ove is a Swedish dramedy that’s up for three awards at the Oscars, including best foreign language film. It’s about a recently widowed and suicidal 59 year old who acts as the neighborhood's grumpy, sullen watchperson. If you like deadpan humour interspersed with heartbreaking tragedy, watch this one.
Tony Erdmann — “There’s nothing like Toni Erdmann in theaters right now, one of the best movies of the year” — was the review by AV Club’s Mike D’Angelo. This German Austrian movie, nominated for best foreign language film, is like a rollercoaster of thoughtful, funny, and awkward. Especially with the father-daughter relationship; love it or hate it — like the father in the movie, you cannot ignore it.
The Lobster — This absurdist, dystopian black comedy starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, has the most alluring of premises - singles are given 45 days to find a romantic partner or otherwise be turned into animals. Romantic comedy, what? Nominated for best original screenplay (it sure is original!) at the Oscars, The Lobster is funny in parts, but also feels like an episode straight out of Black Mirror when it gets disturbing. Watch it though, it’s definitely….something else.
If you can’t believe that a Michael Bay movie has an Oscar nomination:
13 hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi — We’re really seeing it all. A Michael Bay movie is nominated for an Oscar (best sound mixing)! Based on Mitchell Zuckoff's 2014 book 13 Hours, the movie is a biographical war film about a six member security team trying to defend the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya after a series of terrorist attacks on September 11, 2012. John Krasinski stars in the movie, and that’s not the only reason you should watch it — it’s actually quite good!
BONUS — Movies that aren’t nominated for the Oscars but you should watch anyway:
There were quite a few snubs at the Oscars this year. Here are some movies that weren’t nominated or blockbuster hits, but are totally worth your while.
The Handmaiden — Five words: South Korean erotic psychological thriller.
Paterson — Jim Jarmusch (of Night on Earth) directs, starring Adam Driver.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople — Did you know Sam Neill is a Kiwi? Didn’t think so. Doesn’t matter — he stars in this sweet and funny New Zealand adventure dramedy directed by Taika Waititi (he’s directing Thor Ragnarok).
Edge of Seventeen — When she’s not part of Taylor Swift’s girl squad, Hailee Steinfeld stars in some seriously fun movies. Woody Harrelson also stars as someone who is high all the time her high school teacher.
Love & Friendship — Kate Beckinsale stars in this period comedy film based on Jane Austen’s novel Lady Susan.