2016 was a good year for Hollywood

Janelle Monae stars in a scene from the movie "Hidden Figures." (CNS/Fox)

2016 was a very good year for Hollywood. Disney made more than $1 billion — again — before the year was half over (the first studio ever to reach that amount in just over four months) and the hits just kept on coming: “Finding Dory,” “The Jungle Book,” etc.

I only saw 56 films in 2016, far fewer that my usual 100. However, the quality of those that I did see was certainly worth the time and effort. Of the 47 feature-length films nominated by the Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I have seen 26.

I've seen 26 of the 47 feature-length films nominated in any category (but none of the short films); this includes all the films in the major categories of best picture, actor, actress (except for "Elle"), director, adapted screenplay, original screenplay, best supporting actor and actress and best cinematography.

Last year’s Oscar’s were controversial because people of color were not nominated, nor films that featured a diverse cast. This year that has changed with the nominations of “Fences,” “Hidden Figures,” “Moonlight,” “Lion,” “Moana,” “The Jungle Book,” and “Loving” and the documentaries “13th” and “I Am Not Your Negro.” While the Academy certainly needs diversity and has made some changes, it’s good to remember that it usually takes years for a film to come to the screen. Next year may see another dearth of films that reflect more than white people, though we hope this becomes more and more rare as storytelling about most of the world’s inhabitants, who are not white, becomes more mainstream.

Because cinema tells stories about people, or that relate to people, I look for themes that make the films worth seeing and talking about. I’ve divided the films I’ve seen into thematic categories that may interest you as the films are released on various platforms (some are already out on DVD, VOD or streaming.)

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  • Human dignity: “Fences,” “Hell or High Water,” “Lion,” “Hidden Figures,” “Moonlight,” “Loving,” “Florence Foster Jenkins,” “I am Not Your Negro,” “13th,” “Moana,” “The Salesman” 
  • Communication: “Arrival,” “Moonlight,” “Silence,” “The Salesman,” “Jim: The James Foley Story,” “Loving,” “I am Not Your Negro”
  • Religion or takes place in a faith environment: “Arrival,” “Silence,” “Jackie,” “Fences,” “Hidden Figures”
  • Family: “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “Lion,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Moonlight,” “The Salesman,” “Rogue One: Star Wars,” “The Jungle Book” (lack thereof), “Captain Fantastic,” “Moana” and I guess you can say “La La Land” in a dream-like way
  • Environment: “Deepwater Horizon,” “The Jungle Book,” “Captain Fantastic”
  • Love: “Arrival,” “Jackie,” “Jim: The James Foley Story,” “Silence,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Lion,” “Captain Fantastic,” “Moonlight,” “The Salesman”
  • Greed: “Hell or High Water,” “Deepwater Horizon,” “Captain Fantastic”
  • Women: “Arrival,” “Hidden Figures,” “20th Century Women,” “Fences,” “Jackie,” “Florence Foster Jenkins,” “Moana”
  • African-Americans: “Fences,” “Hidden Figures,” “Loving,” “13th,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” "Moonlight"

Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali star in a scene from "Moonlight." (CNS/A24)

  • Hollywood: “La La Land,” “Hail, Cesar” (about the early Legion of Decency)
  • Violence: Of the Oscar nominated films I saw, only one deals with war, the very violent “Hacksaw Ridge”; the violence in “Deepwater Horizon” comes from greed, the explosion, and damage to the environment; “Rogue One: Star Wars” and “Doctor Strange” are sci-fi violence; “I Am Not Your Negro” and “13th” deal with racial violence; “Jackie,” an assassination
  • Based on true stories: “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hidden Figures,” “Lion,” “Jackie,” “Loving,” “Florence Foster Jenkins,” “Silence” (based on a novel based on a true story), “I Am Not Your Negro,” “13th,” “Jim: The James Foley Story,” “Sully,” “Deepwater Horizon”
  • Ranking high on the artistic scale: “Silence,” “Jackie,” “Moana,” “The Jungle Book,” “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • Forgotten films to see even though they were not nominated: “Paterson,” a gentle tale of a bus driver turned writer; “Midnight Special,” a science fiction film that I have no idea what it was about but it was riveting; “Hunt for the Wilder People,” an absolute shame this was not nominated as it was a sweet, terribly funny film with a great heart; “Eddie the Eagle,” a true story; “Elvis and Nixon,” the most quirky; “Free State of Jones,” Civil War history no one knows about; “The Birth of a Nation,” based on a true story and ignored because of controversy about sexual assault allegations in the filmmakers’ past; Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea” may be left out for the same reason; “Queen of Katwe,” is another true story with an all African-American cast and crew; “Patriot’s Day,” which surprised me by not plotting revenge but love and community; and “Snowden,” we wouldn’t know if he hadn’t done it.

Andrew Garfield stars in a scene from the movie "Hacksaw Ridge." (CNS/Cross Creek Pictures) 

It was a big year for Christian and Bible-based films — that didn’t make much money — with only two making the Oscar nominations list. I’ve seen Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” four times so you could say I really like it. “Hacksaw Ridge,” a true story about a heroic Seventh Day Adventist pacifist, is spiritually very powerful with Mel Gibson’s over-the-top violence to balance that out. As for the others, I thought “The Young Messiah” and “Miracles from Heaven” were quite watchable. “God’s Not Dead 2” is an offensive franchise that needs to retire, as for “Ben Hur,” lazy critics couldn’t see beyond the fact that Charlton Heston was not in it but that chariot race and sea battle were amazing; and “Rules Don’t Apply” couldn’t find its audience but dealt with Christian morality and hypocrisy.

Sunny Pawar and Deepti Naval star in a scene from the movie "Lion." (CNS/The Weinstein Company)

Here are my hard-wrought Oscar picks. These are not predictions, just what I would vote for:

  • Best Picture: “Hidden Figures”
  • Best Director: Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: “Hidden Figures” (Denzel Washington just talked too much in “Fences”)
  • Best Original Screenplay: “Manchester by the Sea”
  • Best Actor: Denzel Washington, “Fences” (he still talked too much)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
  • Best Actress: Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
  • Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, “Fences” (she should have gotten a Best Actress nomination)
  • Best Animated Feature: “Moana” (the only animated film I saw)
  • Best Cinematography: “Silence”
  • Best Costume Design: Madeline Fontaine, “Jackie”
  • Best Documentary Feature: “I Am Not Your Negro”
  • Best Film Editing: “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • Best Foreign Language Film: “The Salesman” (the only one I saw)
  • Best Original Score: Justin Hurwitz, “La La Land”
  • Best Original Song: “The Empty Chair,” “Jim: The James Foley Story”
  • Best Production Design: “Arrival” (except for that opening highway scene, “La La Land” used what was already there)
  • Best Sound Editing: “Arrival”
  • Best Sound Mixing: “Arrival”
  • Best Visual Effects: “Doctor Strange”

You can download your own ballot and vote.  Even if you didn’t see the films, check out the trailers and make a lucky guess. 

[Sr. Rose Pacatte, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, is the Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles.]















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