‘The Light Between Oceans’ has the style and the substance to make it an Oscar contender

‘The Light Between Oceans’ has the style and the substance to make it an Oscar contender

Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender find themselves in a moral quandary in 'The Light Between Oceans.'

Whenever I watch a movie, I always wonder if it has potential to make my list of the Top 10 movies of the year. While I’ve seen a fair amount of good to great films this year, overall 2016 has been a little meh. That all changed a few weeks ago at the screening of Hell or High Water. That was the first time this year that I walked out of a screening knowing a film would make my year end list. At the same time, I was – and still am – worried that the critic’s groups and the Academy might overlook Hell or High Water during awards season because it’s not “important” enough. With its 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I still have hope but I won’t hold my breath.

On the other hand, I’m confident that The Light Between Oceans will not be overlooked by the critic’s groups and the Academy at the end of the year. I now have two films that I can pretty much guarantee will make my year end Top 10 list. At the end of the screening, I turned to my friend and exclaimed, “we just watched a whole lot of Oscar nominations.” The film feels “important” enough – whatever that is – to warrant serious award consideration.

In the film, which is based on the novel by M.L. Stedman, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), a lighthouse keeper and war veteran, and his wife, Isabel (Alicia Vikander), are living off the coast in post-World War I Western Australia. One day, the couple rescue a baby girl who has washed up on an adrift rowboat and decide to informally adopt her as their own, whom they name Lucy. As Lucy grows older, Tom and Isabel discover the consequences of raising the child when a visit to the mainland and an encounter with a particular woman (Rachel Weisz) threatens to break apart their happy family.

If there’s any justice, The Light Between Oceans, should be a contender in all of the major Oscar races – Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines), Best Cinematography for Adam Arkapaw (True Detective), Best Actress for Vikander (The Danish Girl) and Best Supporting Actress for Weisz (The Constant Gardner). You might have noticed I didn’t bring up a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs). First, the Best Actor race is usually a pretty crowded field and there are always worthy actors who don’t make the final cut. We can discuss why there are more good roles for men in another article.

Secondly, Fassbender gives a subtle, nuanced performance. Though it’s a spot-on, subtle, nuanced performance, the Academy rarely rewards subtle, nuanced performances. That’s the reason he might not make the cut. He’s not pleading with the audience, “hey, look at me ACT!” Vikander and Weisz also give subtle, nuanced performances, but again, the actress fields are usually less crowded.

Here’s my big problem with many Oscar bait movies: I usually respect them more than like them. Of the eight films up for Best Picture last year, only three made my year end Top 10. Another did make my honorable mention list. And looking back, I wish I had put a fifth at least on my honorable mention list. You know what they say about hindsight right?

Don’t just take my word for it. The director might sum it up best. “I wanted to be incredibly faithful to the book,” he explained. “The most meaningful compliment on the film I’ve received so far was from [novelist] Stedman herself, who said she spent the day weeping after attending a screening…weeping because she felt that she was understood. She said, ‘isn’t that the point of life, that we, as human beings, are trying to be understood by each other?’”

Anyways, I walked away loving this movie. I have to admit, I’m burned out on sequels and superheroes. The fall movie season is usually my favorite. I love a mindless action or horror movie as much as the next guy, just like I sometimes like to eat junk food. Sometimes I like all style and no substance. In the fall, many films have the substance to go with the style. It’s like eating a meal that’s nutritious AND delicious. It’s probably needless to say that I walked away from The Light Between Oceans feeling moved. It’s been over a week since I watched it and I haven’t stopped talking about it. I almost hesitate to say this, but if you aren’t moved by this movie, you might not have a soul. I dare you to not be moved by this film.

The Light Between Oceans opens in theaters September 2nd.

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