This post is not to talk about which is the best of this year’s Best Picture nominees; rather, this is to personally appreciate how these films has touched me on a personal level.
This is one of the gifts of the expanded Best Picture field. I really prefer the sealed ten nominees, but I’d take this ongoing system rather than go back to the five nominees slate. Come on, there’s got to be at least ten deserving films per year.
Aside from non-deservers like The Blind Side, The Descendants, and Bridge of Spies, this expanded field has led to some very interesting choices. If not for this expansion, I doubt films like Up, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Amour, and Selma would have made the five-nominee field. And I love all of these films. Point being, this new system is a gift, at least for me and I also hope to others.
However, no other year has given me a slate of nominees that have really had a very personal effect on me than this year. This is not to talk about the quality of the over-all roster; for that, I’d say 2010 and 2013 were the most consistently excellent fields while 2012 gave five films that I consider to be classic.
This is to state how all films have affected me on a personal level at this point in my life, and I can say no other group of nominees had all of the films in it move me than this year.
Troy Maxson is far from likable; he commits mistakes, does not accept anything going against him, and he wears it all in his sleeve. Despite this, he works hard so much just to provide to his family. His wife Rose, on the other hand, struggles to keep their family together while remaining in silence and submission, just so that she could be a good wife to Troy and a homemaker to her whole family. Her compassion to everyone around her is unwavering even if she mostly gets unnoticed and taken for granted. Fences gives an insight on how we extend our love to the people around us despite our inherent imperfections and differences with one another.
The main characters of Hell or High Water demonstrate different forms of love that is far from verbal. Maybe because of the socially-instilled machismo where saying one’s feelings is often read as a sign of weakness, these men express love in ways that fit their society. Toby Howard goes into a series of bank robberies in the hopes of securing a better future for his children. All along, his ex-con brother Tanner helps him execute Toby’s desire of helping the children. On the other side, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton casually throws racial insults to his longtime partner and friend Alberto Parker, a man of Indian-Mexican descents. In that insult-as-term-of-endearment relationship dynamics between these two, it just feels all too familiar and authentic.
Lee Chandler, the emotionally wrecked center of Manchester by the Sea, is entrusted to take custody of his nephew after his brother’s death. Regarded with some infamy due to a previous tragedy in the same town of his brother, Lee struggles to connect with his now-grown up nephew and his ex-wife from a marriage that ended on some really bad terms. In flashbacks, we witness the stark contrast between his past and his painful present. This film makes us see Lee beyond what we see of him now. He is a man created by a series of highs and lows in life and most people fail to see that. They just see Lee as the drab janitor or even “the Lee Chandler”. This film makes us realize the power of empathy to one another and how it could help us build connections with one another.
Helping one another is also at the core of Hidden Figures. In an effort to send the first American into space, the team at NASA are forced to work together and set aside the culturally-imposed racial segregation and discrimination. The film makes us see how we can achieve so much by setting aside our differences and focusing on working with one another towards a common goal. In a time when we have so much divisiveness, this film show us the power of change that we can make through unity. The film also demonstrates how the protagonists still did their best to serve that very common goal despite oppressive and unfavorable circumstances.
In possibly one of the most daring films of recent memory, Moonlight shines light on how one man grows up and finds himself in the context of a society that is not so accepting of a man like him. As I recall what a character from the important documentary Paris is Burning once said, life is so much harder for an African-American homosexual living in poverty. I am guilty of self-doubt and occasional self-loathing in many forms. In our dispensation when we are so concerned in looking at each other’s faults, with the “me generation” that has been promulgated by different social media platforms and technology, when validation is equated to a Facebook like, this film shows us how we learn the value of acceptance, whether be it ourselves or someone close to us.
Acceptance is also a strong theme in the heartbreaking Lion. Saroo has lived a life of tragedy, and he has done his best, as well as his adoptive parents, to shelter him from the tragedies of the past. However, his initial hesitance to acknowledge his past only brought him sorrow. It also brought him even closer to what he has been constantly avoiding. Despite the looming hopelessness in undertaking the colossal task of tracing his hometown, his persistence in holding on to the hope of finding his family and going back to where he really came. Looking back is bittersweet, but mostly painful. Not really because of the bad memories, but just like Saroo, it is the thought of never being able to bring back the small joys of the past that brings him pain. This film provides great catharsis in the thought that tragedies like Saroo’s separation from his family resulted him to experience unconditional love from both his families.
Perhaps eliciting the most surprising response from me, Hacksaw Ridge goes into the struggles of a believer. Bullied by his comrades in the army because of his refusal to take arms because of religious belief, Desmond Doss sets out to serve his country even without taking a rifle. Even up to the battlefields where violence is the reigning virtue, Doss refuses. It is his steadfast adherence to his faith that really moved me. Coming from a family that does not believe in Roman Catholicism, the major religion in the Philippines, casual bullying and insults because of my different religious belief were common ever since I was a child. I was lucky enough that no one had physically hurt me yet because of my beliefs, but I know people of the same belief that have been hurt. Being discriminated because of my religious belief, I know that too well. And just like Desmond’s experience in Okinawa, there are moments in life where it is much more convenient to just abandon your faith in the moment. This film proves the power of one’s steadfast adherence to his faith and how it can impact the people around him even if he is being ridiculed or reviled.
At this point in out history, we have never seen dominance of divisive world leaders. May be it the feared domination of Russia’s Putin or the disgusting racism and sexism of America’s Trump or even the inconsistencies in the political stances of Philippines’ Duterte, not to mention is ever-criticized war on drugs that has produced both irrational supporters and harsh critics, the world is nowhere near united. As with the case of the Philippines, well, both Duterte critics and supporters have been strongly divided. Social media have become a venue for rabid attacks from both sides no one is going to back down. In a time when divisiveness is unstoppable, the glorious science fiction Arrival reminds us of the power of communication and of helping each other out. Just like Hidden Figures, it is about setting aside our differences and coming together to achieve what we really need. And in this film, it can all start from a mother whose love for her daughter transcends the limitations of time and space.
And on a very personal note, after graduating from film school, I started questioning my desire to work in film. I do want to be a filmmaker, but I have got to start from scratch. It is not an easy career. As evidenced by many young filmmakers, passion is what drives someone to go into filmmaking, not practicality. And I am at this point in my life where the aspirations of sparking change into society by making films are slowly falling apart. My priority is now practicality: waking up, doing household chores, finding a stable job, watching a film or two, going to sleep, and then repeat. At this point in my life, I am still asking myself, is my dreams in filmmaking worth pursuing? What would it cost? Is it worth the agony, the sleeplessness, the exhaustion? Is it worth being separated from your loved ones? Those are the very same questions that La La Land raises. Truth be told, this is a film that I needed to see at his point in my life, just like how last year’s Spotlight was the one essential film for me at that point.
These films just resonate even more because of what is happening in the world and what is currently happening in my life. These films needed to be made and released in 2016.
Never have I experienced such self-assessment and meditation while watching a batch of Best Picture nominees.I can find a bit of myself in all of the nominees. This was a great batch.
And to a lesser important note, here is my initial ranking of the nominees:
1.& 2. Arrival and La La Land (let me decide in the future)
3. Hell or High Water
6. Hidden Figures
7. Manchester by the Sea
8. Hacksaw Ridge