My Favorite Moments in the Best Picture Nominees: Manchester by the Sea

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 Manchester by the Sea.



5. The Panic attack

I love this moment. All that grief over something as simple as chicken. That’s all it takes. And then they make it funny in a weird way, and also keep it real simple. More on that in a second. I just love how this film picks and chooses when to have its characters become emotional. It’s not the big moments. It’s not at a funeral or when they find out someone has died. It’s moments like this. Putting away chicken in the freezer. And the way Lucas Hedges plays it is so wonderful. Moments like this are Kenneth Lonergan’s specialty, and I love them.


4. The restraint

The way this movie unfolds is so simple and so tasteful. A lesser director would have gone all in on these moments. We’re looking at the moment a kid finds out his father died. And Lonergan keeps the camera back, doesn’t let us hear any of the conversation. We don’t need to. We know how it’s going down. We can fill it all in without hearing any of it. And all you need is the kid hanging his head and that’s it. It’s all there without any frills or unnecessary flourishes. This entire movie is like that. It never overdoes it, which is the way it needs to be with some of the stuff that happens in it.


3. The humor

This is a really funny movie, and that’s what keeps it from being as depressing as some people would say. Take this moment — they’re discussing heavy stuff and having a big argument and yet in the middle of that argument they can’t remember where they parked the car and it only makes them more upset. There are a dozen moments like this. Like when they’re arguing and the pedestrian (played by Lonergan) passes and says “Great parenting,” and then Affleck tells him to mind his business, and they start arguing, and now Hedges has to break that up so he and Affleck can continue their argument. And then Affleck can’t open the car door… it’s great.


This is a movie about real life. And real life is funny at the wrong moments. And it’s those little things that this movie gets so right that makes the heavier moments more palatable and more real.


2. “My heart was broken”

I know, I know. But it’s not just because this is a scene everyone would put. Yes it’s well acted, yes it hits you in the gut, but what I really like are the dynamics of the scene. Think about what’s actually happening in this moment. She comes up to him and asks how he’s doing. She says she wants to see him, and that she loves him and that she wants to go to lunch with him. She’s apologizing to him for what happened. She wants things to be normal. And he just can’t let that happen. The amount of guilt that’s inside him is preventing normal from ever happening again. And all she wants is to try to get back to some sense of normalcy. By the end she’s practically begging him to have lunch with her, meanwhile, to him (and in an objective sense), he should be the one apologizing to her. (It’s more complicated than that, but you know what I mean.) And she’s the one trying to get him to open up again; “You can’t just die.” The acting is the best in a single scene of 2016 (it’s like that scene from Out of the Furnace I loved so much), and the whole scene just kills you on so many levels. It’s clearly one of the best moments of the film, but what I love about it is just how layered and devastating it is.


1. “I can’t beat it.”

Those four words are more powerful than that entire police station scene. You thought I was gonna go with that, didn’t you? Nah. That scene was great, but this scene — this is the one for me. This is when he finally admits — I can’t win. I have to live like this forever. I can’t change. I can’t get better. This is how it is. And it’s so powerful and so simple, and so utterly heartbreaking. The way Hedges hangs his head after this, and the way Affleck gets up and hugs him — it’s so moving. Give me five police station scenes, I’ll still take this moment every time.

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