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Alston: The 2016 Oscar shortlist

It’s Academy Awards season yet again, and that means there are plenty of fine films competing for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ attention. Several of the front-runners have already made their way to theaters; many more will be released over the next month. With winter break now in full swing, here are six must-see Oscar contenders in theaters now.

Moonlight (In theaters)

Masculinity. Pride. Sexuality. Race. Few films have managed to talk about these subjects in a meaningful way, but Moonlight handles all of them with such grace and care that it’s impossible to deny the film’s power. It follows Chiron, a young black man living in a drug-addled Miami, through three stages of his life as he attempts to accept his own homosexuality. Few movies are this understanding and free of judgment, even if it’s technical shortcomings sometimes betray its artful intentions. It’s a slow, contemplative, beautiful film and it is an absolute must-watch for moviegoers everywhere.

Read the Emerald’s review, and watch the trailer here:

La La Land (In theaters)

In 2014, Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash sent audiences into a paranoid frenzy with a frenetic and personal portrait of a drummer taught and tortured by a tyrannical instructor. Now, Chazelle has followed that film with La La Land, a musical written for the screen as a love letter to a cinematic era long since past. Starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as struggling Hollywood artists, the film promises joy to audiences lucky enough to fall into its rhythm. The film currently sits at the top of the Oscar front-runner rumor mill, and early impressions suggest the possibility of an instant classic.

Watch the trailer here:

Manchester by the Sea (In theaters)

Playwright and filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan, whose previous writing credits include the violently extravagant Gangs of New York, continues his New England-rooted filmography with Manchester by the Sea, a family drama starring Casey Affleck and Michele Williams. The film deals with topics of grief and responsibility and the importance of family, while offering Affleck and Williams a stage to showcase their talents in front of the camera. Supremely understated or deeply personal, Manchester by the Sea is simply a must-see.

Watch the trailer here:

Fences (In theaters Dec. 16)

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are two of the greatest actors working in film today. With Fences, Washington will make his directional debut, adapting a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by August Wilson and making a serious case for the actor’s strength behind the camera. Wilson has stated for years that he would only allowed a film adaptation of the play if an African-American directed it. After a 2010 Broadway revival, in which Washington and Davis both starred, Washington reportedly jumped at the chance to direct the film. Early reception has been overwhelmingly positive, and both lead actors are expected to be in the Oscar conversation.

Watch the trailer here:

Silence (In theaters Dec. 23)

Martin Scorsese’s passion project, about two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries sent to Japan in the 17th century, took more than two decades to produce. The result is a film with almost unholy levels of hype, but early buzz suggests that it’s well deserved. Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson, Silence follows its two main protagonists as they search for their mentor, who renounces his religion after long periods of persecution and torture. The narrative questions the true definition of faith, and acts as a continuation of Scorsese’s faith-based filmography, which includes the highly controversial Last Temptation of Christ.

Watch the trailer here:

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Dana Alston

Dana Alston

Dana Alston is an Associate Arts & Culture Editor from San Jose, CA. He writes about film, music, and television. Paul Thomas Anderson is his one true god.

You can follow his meme-endorsed social media ramblings @AlstonDalston on Twitter or Letterboxd, or shoot him some eloquent hate mail at [email protected]