Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 8 – Fences

Fences is a drama directed by Denzel Washington, with a screenplay by the late August Wilson, which he adapted from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. The film, which is set in a black working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh during the 1950s, follows Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), a waste collector living with his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and his teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo) during a time of racial tension. Throughout the film, Troy and his best friend Bono (Stephen Henderson) set up shop in the Maxson’s backyard to drink gin and talk about life, including discussions about race, women, and whether or not Troy will ever finish building his fence.

august-wilsonThe late August Wilson’s Fences is considered one of the greatest plays of all time, but Wilson has transformed that award-winning story into one of the most emotionally affecting films of 2016, with a screenplay that he penned prior to his 2005 death. With the help of Denzel Washington’s brilliant filmmaking—and Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s exquisite photography—Fences gets a picturesque silver-screen treatment. This superb script explores thought-provoking themes of race, death, love, revenge, and family, and Wilson’s rapid-fire dialogue makes for an exciting ride for the audience. Over the course of his career, August Wilson won two Pulitzer Prizes and one Tony, so it is only right that his final contribution to the arts resulted in a much-deserved posthumous Academy Award nomination.

fences5As I mentioned earlier, this film is incredibly affecting on an emotional level, and it is not just because of August Wilson’s beautiful script—what truly carries Fences is the remarkable acting. However, it is no surprise that the chemistry between the performers was spot-on and effortless—five of the actors took part in the 2010 Broadway revival of Fences. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprised their roles as Troy and Rose Maxson, for which they both won Tony Awards in 2010. Further, Stephen Henderson, Mykelti Williamson, and Russell Hornsby all returned in their roles as Bono, Gabriel Maxson, and Lyons Maxson, respectively. Needless to say, these skilled actors had already spent years with their characters, which allowed for the most immaculate portrayals that an audience could have hoped to see.

fences6Speaking of the acting performances, the hype that Denzel and Viola Davis are receiving is completely justified—just as their on-screen characters are constantly battling, these two celebrated actors fight each other for ownership of every single scene they appear in. The Best Actor category is an incredibly tight race between Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington, and although I preferred Affleck’s performance, I would have zero problem with Washington taking home his third Oscar—his performance is as commanding as any I’ve ever seen. As for Davis, well, her epic snot-pouring scene in the film has surely locked up the Best Supporting Actress category. fences3One of my favorite performances, though, was that of Williamson as Troy’s disabled brother Gabriel, which was quite underrated. Fences featured a few moments that cued the water works, and many of those came courtesy of Williamson’s emotionally invested portrayal of Gabriel. Fences is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references.

Fences trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jj-ZYPVRQbc

Academy Award nominations for Fences:

Best Picture (Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington, and Todd Black)

Best Actor in a Leading Role (Denzel Washington)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Viola Davis)

Best Adapted Screenplay (August Wilson)

Previous movies on the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2016:

9. Zootopia

10. Nocturnal Animals

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Best Actor

Jackman

This year’s field of Best Actor nominees includes two newcomers to the ceremony and three other actors with a rich history at the show.  Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper have each been acting for quite a while, but with their performances this year, they have each properly earned their first Oscar nomination.  Joaquin Phoenix, Daniel-Day Lewis, and Denzel Washington are no strangers to the Academy Awards, having previously won a combined four Oscars on eleven nominations.  With the way this year’s group has rounded out, it is sure to be a dogfight to the end, and honestly, any of these actors would be worthy of the Academy’s highest acting honor.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)

In Les Misérables, Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, an ex-con on the run from Javert, the determined and relentless French policeman.  Valjean eventually meets a factory worker and agrees to raise her daughter Cosette.  In Tom Hooper’s interpretation of the infamous musical, Jackman leads a group of talented singers and actors, and even though the others provide us with some emotionally charged portrayals, Jackman stands alone as the film’s most valuable performer.  Not only is his singing on point, the dramatic and affecting dynamism he brings to the screen is nothing short of spectacular.  With strong performances from all of this year’s nominees, Jackman demonstrates why he alone gave moviegoers the best acting performance.  Jackman has never previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

2. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

In The Master, Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a World War II veteran with an alcohol dependency who struggles to make it in the post-war society.  He eventually comes across Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a religious movement called “The Cause.”  He joins the faction, but his complicated presence among the members of The Cause begins to create issues for everyone, and he becomes dismantled by his own doing.  In Phoenix’s return to dramatic feature films, he prevails tremendously.  After his horribly peculiar fake retirement and subsequent pseudo-documentary I’m Still Here, Joaquin Phoenix gives a tantalizing performance, which reminds us that he is very much still one of the heavy hitters in the realm of acting.  I wish I could give him the Oscar for this performance, but Jackman’s portrayal was far too strong.  Phoenix was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Gladiator (2000) and for Best Actor for his role in Walk the Line (2005).

3. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

In Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis takes on the role of the 16th president of the United States.  I was never blown away whatsoever by Spielberg’s latest endeavor, but I did respect the amazing acting performances it includes, specifically Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the title character.  Even though he is one of my favorite actors and did a superb job in this film, I truly feel like all of the hype surrounding his performance was due to the makeup department making him look identical to Abraham Lincoln.  If he wins, they should share this award with him.  Also, being that video cameras or audio-recording devices were not around back then, we do not even know what Abraham Lincoln sounded like, so I find it amusing that critics praised his portrayal for his likeness to Lincoln’s voice.  Day-Lewis was previously nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for Best Actor for his roles in My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood (2007).

4. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)

In Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a man suffering with a severe case of bipolar disease.  After leaving a mental health institution, he moves back in with his parents and becomes romantically involved with an eccentric woman with some serious mental issues of her own.  In the breakout performance of Cooper’s dramatic acting career, he succeeds in every way possible.  Most known for his roles in comedic films, Cooper provides an exhilarating portrayal of a man trying to survive mentally after a life-changing incident with his wife.  This was one of the top movies of the year, and the performance Cooper gives only adds to its triumph.  Cooper has never previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

5. Denzel Washington (Flight)

In Flight, Denzel Washington plays Whip Whitaker, an alcoholic airline captain.  Whitaker becomes an overnight celebrity after miraculously landing his plane after it malfunctions in the air and comes to a crashing halt.  Little does anyone know, the day he flew that plane, he was drunk and high.  Washington has a way of taking on the role of complicated characters that you as a viewer want to hate but can’t help but love, such as Alonzo Harris in Training Day and Frank Lucas in American Gangster; in Flight, he has once again provided us with this complex.  Washington is most definitely one of the most incredible actors in the film industry today, and he adds to his illustrious career with this performance.  Washington was previously nominated for five Academy Awards, winning for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Glory (1989) and for Best Actor for his role in Training Day (2001).

Actors snubbed in this category: John Hawkes (The Sessions)

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 13 – Flight

Flight 15

Flight is a film directed by Robert Zemeckis, with a screenplay written by John Gatins.  The film follows veteran airline pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) as he courageously rescues an aircraft after an unknown calamity causes the plane to descend into a devastating crash.  Following the crash, Whitaker is hunted down by the media and hailed as a hero for his uncanny ability to act in a time of distress and land his plane.  However, as the movie progresses, questions begin to arise about the true events that took place before, during, and after the crash.  More and more is revealed and everyone learns that the situations surrounding the crash prove much more convoluted and disturbing than was first thought.

From the outside, this movie has all of the necessary parts to make it look like a fascinating piece of film work.  For starters, the director is Robert Zemeckis, renowned for directing critical and commercial movie successes like the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away.  The film also features a screenplay by John Gatins, the writer of Summer Catch, Hardball, Coach Carter, and Real Steel.  Lastly, the lead actor is Denzel Washington—that alone will make film fans flock to the theaters in droves.

The obvious thing to discuss next is the crash scene.  I do not want to give anything away for those that have not seen the movie, but it is the scene that begins the movie and sets the stage for the rest of the plot to transpire.  There have been some scary, stressful plane-crash scenes in film—the hijacking scene from United 93 and the plane crash at the beginning of Zemeckis’ own Cast Away—but the crash in Flight is a version of those scenes but on steroids.  The scene is done in a manner that only Robert Zemeckis could dictate, and for the duration of the entire scene, you will be glued to your seat in sheer terror.  After the crash scene, however, the film seems to drag on for the next couple of hours.  Although some other interesting events do take place, the majority of the movie cannot live up to the first 20 minutes or so.

John Goodman, Don Cheadle, and Kelly Reilly turn in solid supporting performances, but like in most movies, Denzel steals the show.  The man has become one of the premier actors of this generation in the film industry, and I truly cannot think of a Denzel movie that I disliked him in—he’s just that good.  Washington is nominated for Best Actor for his performance, marking his sixth Academy Award nomination.  In Flight, he portrays a man that has not only lost his grip on reality, but he has lost a sense of his own inner identity.  Washington releases himself into the character, and his immersion on the screen is everything you could want in a performance.  If it was not for an incredibly competitive Best Actor field this year, Washington might very well find himself holding another golden statue.  Flight is rated R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity, and an intense action sequence.

Academy Award nominations for Flight:

Actor in a Leading Role (Denzel Washington)

Writing – Original Screenplay (John Gatins)

Flight trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlFMZ5D8FNc