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All 9 Best Picture Oscar Nominees From 2016 Ranked From Worst to Best

17 February 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Thor Magnusson

Could we say 2016 was a great year in film? It was a mixed bag, with a handful of good but not great blockbusters, and audiences finally voting with their wallets against a slew of generic and unnecessary sequels.

Yet, like the last handful of annual passings, when there was a film that dared stand out and do something against the grain, it tended to be excellent. Some strong ones are missing from the list of Oscar nominees for Best Picture, but luckily, the majority of the films that ended up on this list are incredibly strong efforts, which makes ranking them a tough yet privileged task.

Now, just to spell it out, this ranking list is based solely on the quality of the films; it’s not speculating their possibility at winning the top award category.


9. Lion


“Lion” has a intriguing hook to its premise – a globetrotting, decade-spanning chronicle of an Indian orphan finding his home in Australia, but yearning for the motherland when he becomes an adult. It certainly has several other things going for it as well, with a strong roster of impressive actors (Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman) and a stunning and naturalistic visual style from director Garth Davis (co-director with Jane Campion on the haunting first season of “Top of the Lake”).

As one can imagine, there’s plenty of ripe dramatic conflict from which to mine, but sadly, when the film wants to make an emotional point, it lays it on in a thick and melodramatic way, yanking you out of the story instead of making you implicate to the material. Also, its exciting and unpredictable momentum built up in its first half slows down leadenly as it heads to the finish line.

It’s a shame, because you can’t fault the film’s noble heart and its genuine passion for the subject matter with plenty of talent backing it up, but overall, it just couldn’t add up to the heart-wrenching journey the filmmakers intended.


8. Hidden Figures

Janelle Monae in Hidden Figures

This sweet-natured feel-good movie gives an overlooked piece of history its due – a group of overlooked mathematicians who were vital to the structure and engineering of some of NASA’s finest moments in their Cold War space race. Oh, and they happened to be black women in the segregated world of early 1960’s America (hence the title).

Taraji P. Henson, in a rare lead role, plays the dowdy lead mathematician who rose to prominence and respect through her literal genius and admirable spirit, and as usual, she manages steals absolutely every single moment she’s on screen. She’s given given solid support by Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner, singer-turned-actress Janelle Monae, and catchy original tunes by Pharrell Williams in this enjoyable antidote to bland blockbuster fare.

Still, the proceedings are slight and the plot beats could easily be telegraphed across a body of ocean. Still, it makes for an endearing and even slightly enlightening diversion, although it is easily outshadowed by the big boys on this list.


7. Manchester by the Sea

It must be said from this point on the list, we’re dealing with stellar films on a pretty even keel, so the order is more about preference than varying quality.

Back on the subject – a massive deal about this film is the fact that it marks the first nomination for a streaming company – Amazon Studios – in the Oscar race (remember how Idris Elba got slighted for Netflix’s “Beast of No Nation” last year?).

Kenneth Lonergan (“You Can Count on Me”) returned to the director’s seat with this bleaker than bleak tale of loss and the crippling guilt that comes with it. Casey Affleck adds yet another fascinating loner to his repertoire as a Boston janitor thrown into taking care of his nephew after his brother’s (Kyle Chandler) untimely death.

The plot sets up all the mechanics for Affleck’s character to step back on the road to redemption, yet Lonergan quite impressively (and sometimes even frustratingly) refuses to give in to the easy resolutions and stick to his guns about playing things as truthful as possible. It’s a taxing, non-compromising watch that one would hesitate to revisit, yet through its performances and honest writing, it makes a for a rewarding experience and fascinating character exploration.


6. Fences

Denzel Washington - Fences

Denzel Washington’s third directorial effort is based on a respected theatre piece – you’ll need about five minutes to come to that conclusion on your own. Yet, even if it can’t completely shake off its roots, it wears them with pride, biting into the meaty material and thematics with a handful of fantastic scenes and colorfully layered dialogue exchanges, as it examines a conflicted family’s deterioration and the conflict-prone relationships between fathers and sons.

Washington does his best behind the camera to make the world feel alive and breathing, but this is less of a cinematic journey and more an excuse for Washington and Viola Davis to have a series of rip-roaring powerhouse showcase scenes, as they struggle through life as an increasingly alcoholic husband and his equally weary wife. So grand are they that the lesser players (particularly Jovan Adepo) have a hard time stepping up their game when necessary – they just can’t compete.

Regardless, it makes for an intriguing road to travel as we see time take its inevitable toll on a family with its best intentions, becoming misplaced and creating cracks out of craters. It results in a fine film that wishes to deliver plenty of food for thought, although you’ll be walking away buzzing about its leads more than anything else.


5. Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water movie

“Sicario” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan scored another critical hit with this down and dirty thriller. It’s set in modern days, yet it’s a familiar old-fashioned tale of western outlaws taking on the man, and the lawmen that hunger to take them down. The plot is tried and true, but its grounded and mature approach is what makes this film stand tall.

A trio of fantastic performances from Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Jeff Bridges pulled all the plaudits, but it’s Sheridan’s penchant for deep characterization with sparse dialogue and sharp observations that shines as the story’s true star – his written word is excellently accompanied by director David Mackenzie’s (“Starred Up”, “Young Adam”) all-grit and zero panache take on the plot.

Sure, the material is predictable, and if you sat it next to the 70’s genre hits it so wishes to emulate, it could easily get lost in the crowd. Yet, in today’s day and age, it’s infinitely refreshing to find this rare sort of beast – a thrilling, emotionally moving genre film made for adults.



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  • Zwei

    moonligth sucks

    • Frank

      Why does it suck?

  • Charles P. Stapleton

    I hated Arrival. I did like, surprisingly, La La Land, I thought Manchester By the Sea AND Casey Affleck were good, but overrated.

  • Sven De Schutter

    Oh please, Hacksaw Ridge does not deserve so much praise. It’s solid but clichéd, has no subtlety, is overly dramatic. Typical Oscarbait.

  • Steve Mahofski

    La La Land made me never want to go to the movies again.

    • Critters Leader


  • Hal Jordan

    Moonlight is an overrated film, even more than La La Land. It has good performances, great cinematography and soundtrack, but it just hasn’t nothing special besides that. The universal acclaim is just because it’s a different movie and fulfills the racial and LGBT agenda.

  • One word. Garbage.

    • David Johnson

      Is that your professional opinion? Care to elaborate?

  • Abhishek

    There is this trend with the Oscars that nominated movies are mentioned so many goddamn times that better movies also feel like average after watching because of the hyped praise (even if it deserves). I watched MBTSea and loved because of its simplicity. I liked the film as I liked Nebraska because of a simple plot. Now I know La La land would be very good but because of the hype it has created I will find it average when I see because of the expectations. On the other hand, why do people see Arrival as a Sci Fi? It is a social and emotional movie encapsulated with a Sci Fi genre. Its very good in this way!

  • sailor monsoon

    Replace hacksaw ridge with hell or high water and i agree

  • AmazingAmy

    Replaced Manchester with arrival…arrival is overrated crap
    and wtf hacksaw ridge at top three while great drama like hell and high water, moonlight, Manchester, and fences below

  • Pedro Gatica

    Hacksaw Ridge and Arrival at the top 3? This list is stupid. Mel Gibson’s HR is absolute trash (as everything he’s done before) and Arrival is just OK. Those movies are nothing compared to La la land (haters gonna hate but is a great movie), Manchester by the sea or Hell or high water, in my opinion the best films this year. I agree though with Lion and Hidden figures being the weakest.

  • πιταγυρος

    i think lion is underrated !

  • Nick Botton

    La La Land should have been at number 9, that movie is a fucking joke

  • Taylor Cullinane

    Moonlight is definitely number 1. I can see why Arrival is chosen for this site since this site favors more experimental films. But again, Moonlight is a stand-alone master class of cinema above the others.

    • Hank Jimson

      Arrival experimental? LOL hahaha

  • Liam

    2016 was no mixed bag, it was a year with a much higher than average number of masterpieces. But this list is crazy.

  • Barbaro

    Who did this list?Mickey Mouse?

  • I like your list. I may have some different thoughts in some cases, but it’s well thought out.

  • NM

    Arrival is kind of stupid as space squids. This list is a joke.

  • Mortimer

    I liked LION more than HACKSAW RIDGE.

  • Teddy Baer

    Arrival and Moonlight were my favorite films of the year. Both were masterpieces.

  • Lal Narendra

    Am I the only one who dint like any of the movies, that were nominated ?

  • David

    this is so fucking white lmao

  • Samantha

    Hidden Figures is way too low.

  • Dreaming Wanderer

    Hacksaw Ridge is a bad movie. I agree with the rest