AMC Best Picture Showcase Day 2

Day two promised to be a long one. There are five films left and none of them is a crisp ninety minutes. Even the two that manage to come in under two hours are deliberately paced. Shane, who has been our regular host for a couple of years now, was out of town but AMC employee Johnny was an enthusiastic substitute and ran the trivia with efficiency. Of course maybe I say that because we cleaned up with three movie poster prizes and some Batman Lego pieces.  I’d seen all of the films already, so this will mostly be a quick recap and there are links back to my original comments in each title and picture below.


As an exploration in anthropology, this was a revelation to me. I’d not expected myself to have a lot of empathy for drug dealers but the way this story unfolds gives us a lot more to connect with. The three part structure of the film is not subtle but it does choose the three stops in Chiron’s life that seem to be most critical in our understanding of him. As much praised as the first chapter was, I found the last chapter with the regretful visit with his mother and the reunion with his somewhat reformed school buddy Kevin, to be most interesting this time out. The performances are very solid in this adult world.

LION was pretty critical of this film when I first saw it. The structure is so bifurcated that it seems like two different pictures. On this viewing I was more able to appreciate the connection between the two and give the second section a little more credit. Inevitably, it is the miraculous story of Saroo’s use of Google Earth to reconnect with his original family which is the heart of the film. Little boy lost is

found, but the story has some sad twists to it. Once again I cried at the last ten minutes of the movie as our hero reconciles his two lives and we discover some resilience in his mothers as well. I did not give Nicole Kidman much credit before but as I watched the movie again, my appreciation for her work was elevated. Dev Patel is a good actor, and supporting actor is the right category for him even though he is the first listed star of the film.


Hacksaw + Ridge

This movie is the closest thing to a sure thing for me. I am eternally grateful to our fathers and grandfathers for the sacrifices they made in two world wars. The exceptionalism of Desmond Doss is a perfect illustration of the diversity of Americans who stood up to tyranny in all kinds of ways. I recently listened to a Lambcast where one blogger complained about this movie and the prayer that Doss made on that day of his heroism. She found it cliched and annoying, she also asked about the triage issue. Doss acted as a fellow soldier would at times rather than just as a medic. I found it humbling and inspiring. The opening act in the film should get some credit as well, Hugo Weaving was not nominated but he was very good as the battle embittered father of Doss, and an indirect inspiration for the choices he made.

Arrival movie about communication is also a thoughtful puzzle for us to solve. This second viewing allowed me to percieve scenes in a way that I could not have expected in the first screening. There are secrets revealed at the end of the movie which force us to rethink much of what is going on. Since there is a time shifting component to the process, it also introduces some of those pesky conundrums that make our brains hurt to much if we get carried away trying to work them all out. I can confidently say that the biggest Oscar snub this year was Amy Adams, who carries this movie in almost every frame and who not only deserved to be nominated but also to win. The production design her also deserves to be singled out, it sells the concepts in great ways, both the fantastic and the mundane.


Hidden Figures

My wife has been sick the last two days and she toughed it out as long as she could but this film was starting at 8:30 and she was spent, so we left before we got to re-watch this fine entertainment.  I think this is a popular choice to include in the categories that it was nominated in, but I will be surprised if it wins in any of them. While the story and the themes are important, and the film was entertaining, the film making did not seem extraordinary. This is an excellent film that deserved to be included but it is not quite in the same class as some of the other contenders. A second viewing changed my mind a little about Manchester By the Sea” and “Lion”, maybe this one would have gone up in my mind as well.



This is a tale of two tales. The first half of this movie is compelling and emotionally engaging. It has a fantastic child performance and it says so many things about what is wrong with some aspects of the world that you will want to act after seeing some of it. The second half is anti-climactic for the most part. The extended story of our hero does not play out completely and it raises different issues that seem to be only tangentially related to what we started with. There is another solid performance as well, but it is overshadowed by the legacy of the younger version of our lead character.

Young Sunny Pawar plays the hero of the story, a kid named Saroo, who gets separated from his family in one of the biggest and most populated countries in the world. The circumstances of his “disappearance” are accidental, but much of the trauma that follows is deliberate and frightening. He is a child of maybe five, several hundred miles from home, in which direction he has no idea, and the only name he knows his Mother by is Mum. The family was scratching out a living doing manual labor and pilfering small amounts of commodities that are unwatched. He ends up in Calcutta, a city teeming with people, many of whom are looking to exploit a child.

We want authority figures and government agencies to be reliable, but as they appear here, it seems they are as much a part of the problem as some of the criminal element. There are some competent people who do finally end up helping Saroo connect with a different family in a country even further away. When Sunny Pawar is playing the character of Saroo, everything seems real and the stakes are so high as to keep us enthralled. When a twenty year period goes by with a single title card, and Saroo is played by Dev Patel, the stakes seem so much lower and the emotions feel like they are straining for significance. Saroo’s identity crisis might have been a solid film if the movie had worked backwards. Instead it plays out like some psychological drama that would make an interesting hour on TV.

The complicated relationship the adult Saroo has with his adopted family is told in the most bare bones way possible. There are cryptic references to his adopted brother’s drug use and emotional damage. Nicole Kidman as his adopted mother spends a lot of her time weeping for the problems of Mantosh, her second adopted child but Saroo never reaches out to either his mother or father for help in his crisis. They are the two most supportive parents you can imagine, and he is so wound up about his memories of his real brother and mother, that he can’t bother to ask for help. This section of the movie is so frustrating because we can’t figure out why he feels that way. Even when he has a supportive girlfriend to exchange exposition with.

I know this is based on a true story. When the film ends and we get some clips and a scroll of the truth, it is very compelling. If the film had been a documentary, or the story structure were different, I think I’d have been really more impressed. As it is, I liked the movie a lot, but it depended on the resolution of the search to redeem a dull passage that takes up a big chunk of the film. I’ve heard award talk about Patel and Kidman, but if anyone in this movie deserves to be honored for their performance, it is a little boy from India who made us care in the first place.