My Favorite Moments in the Best Picture Nominees: Arrival
This has become an annual tradition the day before the Oscars. In order move away all the subjectivity and negativity that happens when figuring out what should win and what’s going to win (especially this year, where the backlash is in full effect), I get away from all of that stuff and celebrate the films that are nominated for Best Picture.
We take this day to look at them as masterworks of cinema and not as films competing for a trophy. All of that other stuff — the analysis, the opinions — that’s all done with. Today, we take a minute, we stop, and we appreciate the films themselves. I count down my five favorite moments (or elements) of each of them.
When you take away all the awards, all the competition, and all the arbitrary decisions about what film is better than the others, what we’re left with is great cinema. That’s what we’re celebrating.
Our first nominee is Arrival.
5. The Ending
There’s something so incredibly powerful about this film’s ending. Very rarely does a film feel like a perfect article that shepherded you to the conclusion in such a way that it feels completely earned and never cheated. Even here, where there’s a bit of a reveal and a bit of a misdirect going on for much of the film, you somehow never feel like they were pulling the wool over your eyes. It’s almost like you, along with the main character, are having your eyes opened and seeing what was there the whole time and are finding a new way at looking at things. Most films strive for that kind of journey, where you actually are aligned with the character and are feeling what they’re feeling. This film actually achieves that. Oh, and by the time you get to that ending, and you’re suddenly reevaluating everything you saw beforehand and reconfiguring everything you know about the film, there’s still so much to talk about, from the decision the main character makes to what happened and how everything went down and how it all ties together. It’s rare to have a film this ambitious that actually kind of pulls it off in the end.
4. The Dedication to Linguistics
So much of this movie is about breaking down language and studying language. The worry with something like this is that they’re gonna montage over all that stuff and then focus on the war aspect. And while, yes, there is a montage at one point, and while they do focus on the potential war aspect more toward the end, there’s still a lot of this film that goes into language and how we perceive other languages and try to dissect a dialect that we ourselves do not understand. I love the scenes of Amy Adams explaining why she’s trying to teach the aliens certain words, in order to establish that they can understand questions and acknowledge the desire for information. I also love the random little language things thrown in like the sanskrit word for war or that story she makes up about the kangaroos. That’s awesome. It highlights one of the most fascinating aspects of life that is almost impossible to translate to film. And this film manages to do that in such an interesting way while also not sacrificing it for what could be deemed more “interesting” plot points.
3. Amy Adams’ Performance
This movie doesn’t work without her. I mean, obviously. But what I’m saying is — she has to convey for much of the film that she is a certain person with a certain past and that influences how you read a lot of her reactions during scenes. But then, when the big reveal happens, you have to be able to go back and look at her performance and read different reactions based on what we know is actually happening during those moments. It’s a testament to her performance that it works as well as it does. Not to mention — she is our main character and our main focus and has to carry 90% of this movie. And she does it incredibly well. Not to mention the moment pictured above, which is just an incredibly powerful moment where she displays a great amount of restraint. This is one of those scenes that actors dream of playing. And every actor plays it differently and it’s all about their choices in a moment like this. Not everyone would have played it as effectively as she did. This is one of the best lead performances I saw this year. It’s a shame that she won’t be able to be recognized for it tomorrow, but we can still celebrate it nevertheless.
2. This Moment
This is the tiniest moment in the film, and yet I saw it and almost gasped. This happens right after the moment where the explosion on the ship happens. She passes out and then immediately wakes up here with a jump. Only it’s not a jump. She jerks awake, and the only part of her that moves is her pinky finger. Some films (and actors) would play this moment with the person sitting upright in bed. Others would play it with a spasm of sorts, the actor literally jerking awake in a cold sweat. Here, all her fear, vulnerability and all the stuff she’s dealing with — it all comes out in that one finger twitch. That’s the kind of filmmaking you can’t teach. It’s always so interesting to me the way filmmakers choose to show vulnerability in a character. And there’s something incredibly powerful about having it be the slightest twitch or movement that most people might not even catch. I know that’s something actors love. I cannot give enough credit to this moment and how well I think it was handled. This is simplicity at its most beautiful.
1. The Beginning
Ahh, see what I did there???
This was all a roundabout way of saying the structure of the film. What better way to do that than to do exactly what the film does? I’m so impressed that this film tried to pull off the kind of narrative that it did. It decided to tell that on top of other stories that would, on their own, have led to an interesting movie. This movie starts with an ending and ends with a beginning and somehow it all works out and you completely get it all the way through. You can ask questions and reason your way through it, but it all makes sense in the broad strokes. A film that does this type of narrative exploration and manages to be both a critical and commercial success and be nominated for eight Oscars — that’s truly impressive.
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