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My Favorite Moments in the Best Picture Nominees: Hell or High Water

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 next nominee is Hell or High Water.

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5. The social commentary

This movie gives you a great modern day western, a story of two brothers, a story of an old man out for one last ride before being put out to pasture, and also a story of the broken financial system in this country and how its hurting the very people who are the backbone of this country. A couple things there. First — you can take this movie on any level and appreciate any one of those stories without really looking into the others if you want. Second — they’re all really well told and could have been their own films by themselves. And third — the fact that you even had such a deep social commentary embedded in this film is such a great thing.

That scene with the cattle herders. “21st century, and I’m racing a fire to the river with a herd of cattle. And I wonder why my kids won’t do this shit for a living.” It’s so subtle and wonderful.

“You been here long?” “Long enough to watch a bank get robbed that’s been robbing me for thirty years.”

Or my personal favorite, “That looks like a man that can foreclose on a house.

You know how you know the social commentary works? You feel really happy in the scene pictured above where he doesn’t let the bank try to weasel their way out and use underhanded delay tactics to fuck him over. And then he asks the question about them managing trusts and you’re so happy that the bank is about to be protecting the money he stole from them. It’s tough to have a movie that’s both entertaining and has a strong enough message to make you angry about the financial crisis.

And you know what? That’s what the western genre is! The genre has a history of that. Telling one story that’s actually about something else. I can’t speak highly enough about all the things this movie did right.

 

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4. Brothers

This movie — and this relationship — can be summed up in two lines.

“Why in the hell did you agree to do it?”

“Because you asked, little brother.”

That’s it. I don’t need to say anything more than that. It’s beautiful.

Also, major shout out to the final scene between the two of them. Where Foster tells Pine, “I love you, Toby,” while looking away from him. It’s so perfect. And it’s the sign of a great actor, a confident director and good writing that they allowed that to happen away from the camera.

God, this movie is so good.

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3. The Jeff Bridges storyline

I wanted to encapsulate the entire storyline in this one shot. Here you have a guy who knows he’s about to give up the one thing he’s had in his life that’s meant anything. And while it starts as a routine case that he sort of looks into a bit more to delay the inevitable, eventually it reminds him just how good he is at his job, and just how much he loves doing it. And then you have the end, where he finally gets the bad guy and realizes it’s all over, and he breaks down. About his impending death, so to speak, and also about all the stuff that he’s been holding in, like his feelings about his recently deceased partner — all of that stuff comes out in this moment. And it’s so great.

And that final scene too. But that goes without saying.

As much as Jeff Bridges has been doing this accent and this character in recent years, that should not take away from what he accomplishes with this performance. This might be his finest performance since the one he won the Oscar for.

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2. West Texas

The authenticity of it all is what makes it rise above simply being a fun or entertaining movie. “You’re damn right I got a gun.” Or the guy at the beginning who straight up says if he caught the bank robbers he’d hang them… to a cop! Or at the end, when they leave the bank and there are a dozen men with guns firing at them because of concealed carry.

And let’s not forget what is just a wonderful moment — when they trade in / sell the car to the dealership and Foster pauses and says, “Sure feels like Beer o’clock,” and the car salesman immediately walks outside with a couple of beers for them. That’s fucking wonderful!

It’s that kind of stuff that enhances everything about this film.

Oh, and yes, I know what you’re thinking as part of this. Don’t worry, I won’t leave that out.

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1. The Diner scene

This is the single best scene of 2016. It’s impossible not to watch this scene and not laugh your ass off. It’s so perfect. In both writing and acting. Margaret Bowman as that waitress is pitch perfect. And Bridges and Birmingham are great enough to let her have the moment and not try to do more than they need to.

“What don’t you want?” How perfect is that?

You know how great a scene this is? When they’re sitting outside the diner later and you see, in the background, that waitress walk outside to go home, everyone — and I mean everyone — watching this movie went, “There’s the waitress!” Hoping there’d be more of her or wondering if she was gonna do something else.

That’s the power of cinema.

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