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My Favorite Moments in the Best Picture Nominees: Lion

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 Lion.

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5. The cinematography

This movie is gorgeous. It’s stunning how good it looks. You might not automatically notice it upon first viewing, but my god, are the shots they captured here absolutely breathtaking. And it’s a first time director, too! To have that kind of eye and ability to pull off a film like this is really impressive. I’m gonna really enjoy going back to watch this film and look at the images in it for a long time.

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4. The trickiness of the story

This is not an easy story to pull off. You have the Slumdog comparisons right off the bat, because of the location and actor, and then you have the conceit of “Google Earth” and then there’s the big one… you know how it’s gonna end and any time that’s the case, you run the risk of being too sentimental or cloying. And this film avoids every single one of these traps. I don’t know how it does it, but it’s really impressive. I loved how every time I wanted to go, “Oh god, it’s this scene,” the film immediately took me to another place and didn’t let me go there. It kept me absolutely focused on the story and even going, “Oh wow,” even as it gave me scenes I was expecting, in a way. Really impressed that this turned out as well as it did.

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3. Sunny Pawar

This kid has to carry the entire first half of this film. Not only is he adorable, he manages to keep your attention the entire time. I’m really impressed by his performance. He was terrific here. They found a great one, with this kid. Look at that face! This kid is the best!

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2. Dev Patel

I always liked him and thought he was a fine actor, but this was the first time I went, “Oh, damn.” Because he’s really good here. This moment is the one that I actually found myself tearing up over. The way he plays it is just perfect. He never overdoes it in any scene and always feels utterly real, even when I wanted to question some of his decision-making (as a character, not an actor). Truly impressive work that is well worthy of his Oscar nomination.

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1. This moment

When this moment happens, it’s a culmination of how well the story had been told up until this point. Think about it — a kid is finding his home through Google Maps. You hear that on paper and you’re like, “What?” Even here, it shouldn’t work. But everything up until this moment all coalesced in this one moment. Him moving the cursor outside the circle and finally coming upon a place he recognizes. All of those memories, all of the pain and loss and longing — it all comes together right here. And the fact that it makes you feel emotional — a kid looking at a computer screen! — is a real testament to the power of the storytelling that came before it. When a movie builds to the moment you know is coming and works anyway… that’s great filmmaking.

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