As we come closer to the Academy Awards on February 26th, we’ll be posting short profiles of each Best Picture nominee, attempting, in our own ways, to not only sum up what the movie is about, but why we believe it scored one of the nine coveted nominations, and why it could possibly take home the big prize come Oscar night. Enjoy!
NON-SPOILER ALERT! I repeat, I will NOT be spoiling any of Arrival’s plot (expertly adapted from Ted Chiang’s short story by Eric Heisserer). I found that knowing as little as possible enhanced my viewing experience tremendously.
I will tell you that, while Arrival may seem like the latest in a string of recent prestige sci-fi films (following Avatar, Gravity, and The Martian), it truly stands out as being so much more. Compared to those movies, it delivers the same of amount of heart-pounding extraterrestrial action while delivering legitimate, earned heartbreaking pathos. How miraculous is that when you consider Arrival centers around the powers of linguistics and communication?
We first meet linguist Dr. Louise Banks sharing quiet moments with her daughter. It quickly turns tragic when the young girl (named Hannah because linguists think palindromes are cool) slowly loses a battle with cancer. Suddenly, the focus shifts to Louise’s professional life as a college professor. What starts as an average day becomes an extraordinary one when news breaks of twelve foreign and ominous spacecrafts landing across Earth. The U.S. Army acts immediately by recruiting Louise to decipher the language of who or whatever is on board the vessel hovering over Montana. Together with a theoretical physicist played by Jeremy Renner, she successfully establishes communication with the aliens (named heptapods) while struggling to keep pace with the rising global tension and militarization…
I’m encroaching on spoiler territory, so I’ll stop and commence gushing about the movie’s incredible craftsmanship. Arrival was my biggest moviegoing surprise of 2016. I am not a fan of science fiction unless hot guys in capes are involved. And there’s absolutely nothing that could’ve improved Best Director nominee Denis Villeneuve’s dour drama Sicario. But the incredible scope and sensitivity present in his work on Arrival still resonates with me months after seeing it. Villeneuve and fellow nominees in the cinematography, sound, editing, and production design departments infuse all the scenes involving the heptapods and their spaceships with a thrilling mix of mystery and horror.
Last and apparently least in the eyes of the Academy, there’s Amy Adams. I could go on for days about the incredible subtlety, warmth, and intelligence of her performance. I did in alternate drafts of this post, so I won’t here. But COME ON! Literally no one has ever diagrammed a sentence as rivetingly as she does here. In my eyes, the fact that Adams, the heart and soul of the movie, was omitted from the shortlist of Best Actress nominees proves that Arrival doesn’t stand a chance in the Best Picture race despite its many nominations. It’s strong in the craft categories, but there is fierce competition there as well.
Still, Arrival is a box office success and will surely find an even greater audience via streaming. If a movie doesn’t get the gold, the green is a solid consolation prize.