WSS reviews Oscar nominees

Breaking a record for the most awards received at this year’s Golden Globes, “La La Land” has 14 nominations for this year’s Oscars, including Best Picture. After watching the movie, it’s no wonder “La La Land” is so well received by critics. West Side Story highly recommends this movie, giving this movie full marks for the rating. Below, West Side Story reviews the 2017 Best Picture Nominees, including popular movies such as “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight.”

Arrival (Released: 11.11.2016)

Twelve extraterrestrial crafts appear in random areas around the world. Tensions begin to boil as countries clash on the different ways to deal with the aliens. In Montana, linguist Louise Banks and scientist Ian Donnelly are enlisted to figure out what exactly they are saying and why.

Rating WSS: 4.5/5

“Arrival” is a great example of very real and minimalist science fiction. Though there are special effects, they are seldom used and don’t drive the story. Amy Adams is at the center with a strong, and yet subtle performance. She says a lot with few words and many expressions. Adams holds the film with her strong lead performance. At it’s heart, the film is a story about communication between cultures. If an aliens did come, the biggest problem (or one of them) would be the hysteria in the masses, and the deceit of the leaders. This is one of the realistic elements that “Arrival” nails. The score by Johann Jameson is also extraordinary. It’s very experimental and even haunting at times. “Arrival” is a subtle, realistic and smart science fiction film, and a real stand out for the genre in recent years.



Fences (Released: 12.25.2016)

Troy Maxson once aspired to be a major league ball player, but by the time black players became eligible for admission, he was deemed too old. He now works as a sanitation worker and struggles to be a good father as he is driven to anger and borderline abusive behavior as a result of his lost dream.

Rating WSS: 3/5

August Wilson’s classic play has been aching for a big screen adaptation for decades. The new adaptation from Director Denzel Washington is patchy at best, and if anything shows how the play works better on stage rather than screen. “Fences” has some strong performances, especially from Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. This is somewhat undermined by the fact that it is so obviously a stage play. It runs just over two hours, and you feel it. I think some effort could’ve gone into condensing the play into a shorter time frame. While a classic of American theatre, “Fences” has strong performances, but is paced badly and comes across as lumpy.



Hell or High Water (Released: 08.12.2016)

Two brothers resort to burglary to save their failing family ranch. Everything seems to be going smoothly until a retiring US Marshall and his partner close in on them. Things get tense, as it’s a race against time for the brothers to save their ranch before they fall into the hands of the law.

Rating WSS: 4/5

This year seems to have seen the resurgence of many classic types of film that have been dead for decades in mainstream hollywood. With “La La Land,” it was the musical, and with “Hell or High Water,” we get a gripping modern day western. I’m picky about the genre myself, but really enjoyed this modern take on the classic themes. The film is beautifully shot; we get some great shots of the vast rural texas countryside that you marvel at as much as you do the desert tundra of classic John Ford movies. We also get a strong cast, led by Chris Pine, who has been turning out high quality work recently. As great as Pine is, it is Bridges who shines as the gruff US Marshall approaching retirement. The film is a magnificently shot, gripping thriller with strong performances from the main and supporting cast.



Lion (Released: 11.25.2016)

A young boy is separated from his family and ends up in Calcutta. Years later, after being adopted by an Australian family, he becomes haunted by what he has left behind. He sets out to use google earth to trace his way back home to his family.

Rating WSS: 3/5

“Lion” is a fine film with some great performances from it’s two leads (namely Sunny Pawar as the younger Saroo). He does a very believable, and yet quiet job in the lead role. He does a lot with very simple expressions and phrases, and always seems really into the role. It really is a great and dynamic performance. Dev Patel is also good as the older Saroo, his strongest scenes being those where he portrays his frantic emotional disturbances. The pacing of the film is quite slow. It’s never at levels where I’m bored, but there were parts where my attention began to wane. I think that this may be down to the fact that the advertising campaign for the movie is quite misleading. They make it look like it’s all about the older Saroo Dev Patel plays. But in the actual movie, I almost felt there was more of younger Saroo. It’s not that this is a problem; after all, Sunny Pawar is magnificent. It’s just something to keep in mind before sitting down to watch the film promoted by misleading advertisements. “Lion” is a well-made film with strong performances from it’s two leads.  



La La Land (Released 12.9.2016)

Mia and Sebastian are two aspiring artists trying to make it big in Hollywood. Mia dreams of being an actress, and Sebastian is a passionate jazz musician who hopes to open a club. The two eventually fall in love in this beautifully shot love letter to musicals and the dreams of stardom.

Rating WSS: 5/5

Review: “La La Land” is a postmodern musical set in L.A., and is perfect in so many ways. Yes, it does take place in Hollywood, but it’s not as glorified as most movies of the type. We see how Hollywood can be the answer to some people’s dreams. The film depicts how incredibly hard it is for two dedicated artists to pursue their dreams and maintain a relationship. For a musical, this is quite a realistic depiction. But that’s not to say it’s gritty; the movie is an absolute delight. The music is uplifting and will be stuck in your head for months on end (at least). The film also looks gorgeous. The colors of the costumes and the lighting really pop. It’s a movie that must be experienced on the big screen to have it take full effect. “La La Land” harkens back to what made movies so great in the past, as you sit back, relax and forget all of the terrible things happening in the real world and are transported to a technicolor paradise.



Moonlight (Released 10.21.2016)

Chiron is a young boy living in Miami who struggles with finding his identity as he deals with bullies at school and a neglected parent at home. The movie tells us the story by showing three distinct eras in Chiron’s life: as a young boy, a student in middle school, and young adulthood.

Rating WSS: 5/5

Review: “Moonlight” tells its story gradually, yet the film is never boring. We feel Chiron’s struggles and pain as he grows up and the audience identifies with him. It’s a powerful film with strong, yet not always showy performances from most of the cast, especially from Ashton Sanders, who plays Chiron as a teenager. The supporting cast does a commendable job, including 2017 Best Supporting Actress Nominee Naomie Harris who plays Chiron’s neglective mom. The film has a simplistic style, which helps the film by giving the film a naturalistic feeling. The story is not one that is meant to be big and flashy. It’s the story of the plight of one boy in Miami, with fleeting moments of true beauty.



Manchester by the Sea (Released 11.18.2016)

The death of his brother prompts Boston janitor Lee Chandler to return to his hometown to take care of his now fatherless nephew, Patrick. Neither having fully accepted the death, they clash over what’s best for them both.

Rating WSS: 1/5

Review: Though “Manchester by the Sea” has been hailed as one of the best films of the year by many critics, I couldn’t disagree with this more. It’s one of the worst I’ve seen. Casey Affleck expresses little emotion beyond an angry drunk and spends most of the movie with his hands stuffed in his pockets staring into space. Lucas Hedges as the kid adds little more to the film with his flat performance. They are both very unlikable characters and never change or grow over the course of the story. The film mainly consists of them fighting with each other, and you don’t really care who gets what they desire, you just want the film to be over. “Manchester by the Sea” is a hugely overrated bore that fails to engage the viewer with its uninteresting and mean-spirited characters.