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Film Review: Best Picture nominee “Manchester by the Sea” is in league of its own

Grade: A

In honor of Sunday’s Academy Awards, it is important to highlight one key nominee for Best Picture that could beat out highly acclaimed movies like “La La Land” and “Fences” for the coveted award. Films nominated for this category are considered to be the best of the best because it takes into account all of the efforts that go into making a movie (directing, acting, editing, music composition, production and so forth). Since 1973, it has been the final award presented at the Academy Awards and last year’s winner was Tom McCarthy’s biographical crime drama “Spotlight”— a movie that highlighted the true story behind the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, the nation’s oldest investigative journalism unit — and their endeavor to investigate the systemic child sex abuse plaguing the Boston area. Coincidentally, “Manchester by the Sea,” another film taking place in modern Massachusetts, has a chance to be the successor in the category — an opportunity buoyed by its actors, like Casey Affleck and solid screenwriting.

“Manchester by the Sea” follows the story of quiet and morose handyman Lee Chandler (Affleck) who returns to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. upon the death of his terminally ill brother Joe (Kyle Chandler). Joe designates Lee to be the legal guardian of his 16-year-old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) and leaves behind his house, money to cover future expenses and his fishing boat, the Claudia Marie. Along the way, the story jumps from present time back to the important events in Lee’s life, which ultimately have made him the man he is portrayed as in the movie.

“Manchester by the Sea” attempts to convey the strict realism and hardship Lee faces on a daily basis, which is why Affleck, Hedges and Michelle Williams, who plays Lee’s former wife Randi, are all nominees for Oscars themselves (Affleck for Best Actor, Hedges and Williams for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively). The movie is laden with awkward moments, which help to develop Lee’s character and reflect back on important events in his past.

Perhaps the most important aspect of “Manchester by the Sea” is that it is a movie without frills — and for the most part, it is the ‘purest’ film that debuted in 2016. There were no special effects, no extravagant fight scenes or complex sequences of events; it is filmmaking in its most naked form, which is why the movie had a microscopic budget of $8.5 million. There is nothing to cover up blemishes in the writing or distract you from poor casting choices. “Manchester by the Sea” accommodates for all of the important characteristics of a Best Picture contender without making unnecessary decisions. Affleck takes charge of his role, which surely would have failed if an actor of a lesser caliber had been given the part.

Along with being nominated for Best Picture and three out of the four acting categories, the film was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Kenneth Lonergan was nominated for Best Director. But all people who contributed to the making of this film deserve rightful congratulations for its success. It should be praised for everything it puts forth, from some of the best acting on-screen in 2016 to the tasteful music composition by Lesley Barber that adds to the mood of the story. “Manchester by the Sea” is quietly dazzling and reaffirms that movies aimed at adults are not going out of style. This demonstration of pristine filmmaking makes us ask, “Why are there not more movies likes this?” and the answer to that question should be, “Because then they would not be so special.”

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