Oscars Guide: The Pros and Cons of Each Best Picture Nominee

6:40 AM 1/26/2017

by Gregg Kilday

From 'La La Land' to 'Fences,' what fans and critics are saying about the nine nominated films in the final home stretch to Oscar.

Playbook -The Pros and Cons of Each Best Picture Nominee -Graphic-H 2017
Courtesy Photos

  • 'Arrival'

    DISTRIBUTOR Paramount

    RELEASE DATE Nov. 11

    BUDGET $47M


    EIGHT NOMINATIONS Picture, directing, adapted screenplay, cinematography and four other crafts

    ITS FANS SAY It's brainy sci-fi, with a mind-bending twist that proves a real heartbreaker and that connected at the box office. Eric Heisserer's screenplay does a masterful job of translating a Ted Chiang short story into a genuinely cinematic language — those alien inky circles are eerily beautiful as shot by cinematographer Bradford Young. And the whole film represents a coming-into-his-own for Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, building an impressive résumé with such movies as Prisoners and Sicario. A best picture win would validate snubbed star Amy Adams, who really was robbed: How often is a smart woman at the center of the action?

    BUT ITS CRITICS CARP It's no Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and that 1977 sci-fi classic, despite eight nominations, didn't even merit a best picture nomination of its own.

  • 'Fences'

    DISTRIBUTOR Paramount

    RELEASE DATE Dec. 16

    BUDGET $24M


    FOUR NOMINATIONS Picture, adapted screenplay, lead actor Denzel Washington and supporting actress Viola Davis

    ITS FANS SAY Late playwright August Wilson is a national treasure — so it's only right he got a posthumous screenwriting nomination. During his lifetime, he insisted he'd only entrust his masterwork to an African-American director, and Washington stepped up to the challenge after distinguishing himself in a Tony-winning warm-up, playing blue-collar hero Troy Maxson. He more than meets his match in the formidable Davis, who plays his frustrated but loyal wife.

    BUT ITS CRITICS CARP It doesn't try very hard to disguise the fact that it's based on a play.

  • 'Hacksaw Ridge'

    DISTRIBUTOR Lionsgate


    BUDGET $40M


    SIX NOMINATIONS Picture, directing, lead actor Andrew Garfield and three crafts

    ITS FANS SAY The first hour of Mel Gibson's comeback, for which he got his first directing nom since 1995's Braveheart, is an ode to family, first love and the call of duty. The second hour: a near-suicidal assault on the fearsome cliffs above Iwo Jima is as brutal a re-creation of the bloody horrors of war as the first section of Saving Private Ryan. Garfield, as the real-life Desmond Doss, a pacifist medic who proves to be the bravest guy in his company, rises to the occasion.

    BUT ITS CRITICS CARP Sure, it's patriotic as all hell, but those war scenes border on the sadistic, and didn't Howard Hawks and Gary Cooper set the standard for pacifist-turned-hero movies back in 1941 with their World War I-set Sergeant York?

  • 'Hell or High Water'

    DISTRIBUTOR CBS Films/Lionsgate

    RELEASE DATE Aug. 12

    BUDGET $12M


    FOUR NOMINATIONS Picture, original screenplay, supporting actor Jeff Bridges and film editing

    ITS FANS SAY A modern-day Western scripted by the nominated Taylor Sheridan and directed by the Scottish David Mackenzie, it knows exactly where it's going — and who doesn't want to root for the sibling rivals played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster as they set out to rob all those predatory small-town banks under stunningly photographed Texas skies? As the dogged Texas Ranger who's on their trail, no one does that crusty, laconic, flinty-eyed thing better than Bridges.

    BUT ITS CRITICS CARP Yeah, but didn't the Coen brothers tread the same territory in their 2007 Oscar winner No Country for Old Men? And their grim tale would be hard to top.

  • 'Hidden Figures'

    DISTRIBUTOR 20th Century Fox

    RELEASE DATE Dec. 25

    BUDGET $25M


    THREE NOMINATIONS Picture, adapted screenplay and supporting actress Octavia Spencer

    ITS FANS SAY It's about time. Finally, a movie starring three African-American women that claimed the top spot at the box office two weeks in a row. Dismissively dubbed "The Help goes to NASA" before its debut, as co-written by Allison Schroeder (the only female writing nominee this year) and helmed by Theodore Melfi, it became much more. Taraji P. Henson, Spencer and Janelle Monae, clearly enjoying one another, teach the white guys a thing or two while telling the story of unsung women who truly displayed the right stuff.

    BUT ITS CRITICS CARP It's just too entertaining to take home a serious prize like best picture.

  • 'La La Land'

    DISTRIBUTOR Lionsgate


    BUDGET $30M


    14 NOMINATIONS Picture, directing, original screenplay, lead actor Ryan Gosling, lead actress Emma Stone, score, two songs and six crafts

    ITS FANS SAY Ever since its triumphant waltz through the Venice-Telluride-Toronto trifecta, this modern-day musical from Damien Chazelle has been winning hearts, and why not? It's got a cuter-than-cute couple in Stone and Gosling, pastel-pretty cinematography by Linus Sandgren and tunes (two of them nominated) you can hum.

    BUT ITS CRITICS CARP We're fans of all those MGM musicals it pays homage to like Singin' in the Rain, and you, La La Land, are no Singin' in the Rain.

  • 'Lion'

    DISTRIBUTOR The Weinstein Co.

    RELEASE DATE Nov. 25



    SIX NOMINATIONS Picture, adapted screenplay, supporting actor Dev Patel, supporting actress Nicole Kidman, score and cinematography

    ITS FANS SAY A true but almost unbelievable story of how Saroo Brierley became lost at age 5 in India, adopted by a couple in Australia and years later, with the help of Google Earth, rediscovered his long-lost family. Director Garth Davis bet on 6-year-old nonactor Sunny Pawar, who carries the first half of the movie on his tiny shoulders. Patel takes the baton from there, with an assist from Kidman in this feel-good tearjerker that also raises issues about the world's cast-off children.

    BUT ITS CRITICS CARP Didn't 2008 Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire already take us on a tour of India's downtrodden? Too soon for a repeat.

  • 'Manchester by the Sea'

    DISTRIBUTOR Roadside/Amazon Studios

    RELEASE DATE Nov. 18

    BUDGET $8.5M


    SIX NOMINATIONS Picture, directing, original screenplay, lead actor Casey Affleck, supporting actor Lucas Hedges, supporting actress Michelle Williams

    ITS FANS SAY It deals with loss and pain, and at more than 2½ hours, it's demanding. But that doesn't mean this film is a downer, as writer-director Kenneth Lonergan patiently reveals his characters' humanity. Affleck delivers a career-defining performance as a man adrift opposite new kid Hedges (as his nephew), offering an unaffected counterweight, and — in an all-too-brief appearance — a raw, emotional Williams.

    BUT ITS CRITICS CARP Too much loss and pain when voters might be craving the opposite.

  • 'Moonlight'


    RELEASE DATE Oct. 21

    BUDGET Less than $5M


    EIGHT NOMINATIONS Picture, directing, adapted screenplay, supporting actor Mahershala Ali, supporting actress Naomie Harris, three crafts

    ITS FANS SAY As if using three sets of actors, many untested, to chart the early life of a young, embattled man growing up in a drug-ridden Miami neighborhood wasn't risky enough, writer-director Barry Jenkins' stunning second film deftly sidesteps expectations as it builds to its inevitable heart-rending climax.

    BUT ITS CRITICS CARP If the Academy couldn't bring itself to honor Brokeback Mountain, it'll never go for a quasi-art house movie about a hard-knock kid who's gay, black and emotionally repressed.