Will stunning drama Moonlight get the praise it deserves?

The best way to prepare for the Oscars is to have seen all (or most) of the movies ahead of time. Here's where to do that in Seattle.

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20th Century Women
"We are a generation of men raised by women,” sneered Fight Club’s Tyler Durden. To which Mike Mills would probably reply, “I know! Awesome, right?” Mills’s new movie is called 20th Century Women, and it’s just as much a celebration of female wisdom, power, and complexity as the title suggests. It’s set in 1979 Santa Barbara, and told mostly from the perspective of 15-year-old Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), who’s being raised by his middle-aged single mom, Dorothea. If that setup makes you worry for a moment that this is another story about women from a male perspective, you’re not alone. But thanks to a ferocious, textured performance from Annette Bening as Dorothea, and Mills’s digressive, empathetic script, the movie works. MARC MOHAN
Guild 45th
(Nominated for: Original Screenplay)

Arrival is an ominous, thrumming, beautiful thing that starts out being about aliens who need a decoder ring. It ends up being about something quite different. Arrival is about Big Things—and the manner in which Villeneuve gets to them, as his camera slowly traces structures and landscapes both familiar and strange, can’t help but surprise and impress. Visually and aurally remarkable, Arrival sometimes unfolds like a clever puzzle and other times like a raw-nerve thriller; throughout, with heart and wit, Heisserer and Villeneuve never lose sight of the film’s characters—creatures in a situation that’s weird and mournful, exciting and threatening. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Meridian 16
(Nominated for: Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing)

Fire at Sea
Eritrean-Italian filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi shot his fifth documentary, Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare), with such care that it often feels more like a narrative feature than a nonfiction film (Rosi also served as cinematographer and sound man). Then again, there's something alien and strange about the rocky terrain of Lampedusa, an Italian island 70 kilometers from the African coast that has admitted more than 400,000 refugees. Like the Cuban exiles who have sunk beneath the waves while rafting toward the American dream, 15,000 refugees have perished over 20 years while attempting to cross the Strait of Sicily. KATHY FENNESSY
Grand Illusion
(Nominated for: Documentary Feature)

Hidden Figures
The function of white ideology is to place the blame of black poverty on black people themselves. They are not smart enough, they are lazy, they are like children—therefore they live in the projects, they are on welfare, they perform poorly academically. But the golden bowl of this logic gets a crack whenever a person or an event makes the truth visible: Blacks are as stupid or as smart as any other group of people. This is why a movie like Hidden Figures is so important—a film about a black mathematician, Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson), who worked for NASA and participated in its key projects in the 1960s. The mathematician was also a woman, and so she challenged not only white ideology but also male ideology. She had to be hidden twice. The movie also stars Janelle Monáe, who made her mark in the best movie of 2016, Moonlight. CHARLES MUDEDE
Various locations
(Nominated for: Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress)

I Am Not Your Negro
Sixteen years after Lumumba, Raoul Peck, who is Haitian, has directed I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary about one of the greatest writers of 20th-century America, James Baldwin. Now, it's easy to make a great film about Baldwin, because, like Muhammad Ali, there's tons of cool footage of his public and private moments, and, also like Ali, he had a fascinating face: the odd shape of his head, the triangle of hair that defined his forehead, and his froggy eyes. Just show him doing his thing and your film will do just fine. But Peck blended footage of Baldwin with dusky and dreamy images of contemporary America. These images say: Ain't a damn thing changed from the days of Baldwin and the Civil Rights Movement. But they say this with a very deep insight about the nature of time. CHARLES MUDEDE
Ark Lodge Cinema, SIFF Cinema Uptown, & Sundance Cinemas
(Nominated for: Documentary Feature)

La La Land
You guys, I LOVED La La Land, and you will too. Don’t be afraid of it just because it’s a musical about a struggling actress (Emma Stone) and a pretentious jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) who meet and fall in love and sing and dance in a romanticized, cartoony LA. Yeah, it’s splashy and grandiose and full of hazy violet Southern California sunsets, but its emotional core is genuine. Take it from shriveled-hearted me, the Unearned Sentiment Police: La La Land is a grand, over-the-top, razzly-dazzly love story that won’t make you puke one bit. It might even help you forget the horrors of reality, however momentarily—and after the year we’ve had, that practically makes La La Land a public service. MEGAN BURBANK
Various locations
(Nominated for: Best Picture, Directing, Original Screenplay, Leading Actress, Leading Actor, Original Score, Cinematography, Film Editing, Production Design, Costume Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing)

Based on Saroo Brierley’s memoir A Long Way Home, the film, an inspiring drama that earns tears without jerking them, begins with five-year-old Saroo (played by a bouncing ball of energy named Sunny Pawar) becoming separated from his mother and brother and ending up a thousand miles away in Calcutta. Saroo’s path may be unclear, but Lion’s isn’t: Like the train that took him away in the first place, the film moves steadily toward its tearful destination, propelled by sincere performances and Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran’s gently urgent musical score. Kidman shows great tenderness as the adoptive mother, underscoring the theme of “family” not being limited by biology, and Patel is serious-minded and haunted. But it’s little dynamo Sunny Pawar that you’ll remember best, his infectious cheery optimism encapsulating the film’s hopeful tone. ERIC D. SNIDER
Sundance Cinemas, Meridian 16, & Admiral
(Nominated for: Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Score, Cinematography)

Manchester by the Sea
In Manchester, Lee Chandler (Affleck) seems content to shovel walkways and unclog toilets for a living in Boston, until word comes that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler, seen in flashbacks) has died of a heart attack. Joe’s will stipulates that he wants Lee to move back to his titular hometown and become Patrick’s guardian. Lee, however, is haunted by past events and resists, with a toddler’s tenacity, every effort by the people around him to help him come to terms. I feel for the guy, and you will too, but after two hours, I wanted to grab him by the collar and tell him to buck up. After all, he’s at least going to get an Oscar nomination out of it. MARC MOHAN
Meridian 16
(Nominated for: Best Picture, Directing, Original Screenplay, Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress)

Moonlight is a film that has all of the major film critics in the country singing the loudest praises, and is already breaking box-office records, and happens to be a coming-of-age tale of a black American male. But I want to make this clear: The director of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins, did not come out of nowhere. He also directed and wrote one of the best films of the previous decade, Medicine for Melancholy (2008). The wonder is that it took him so long to make his second feature, which will most likely make a big splash at the next Oscars. Expect Jenkins to be one of the few black Americans to win the award for best director. CHARLES MUDEDE
Meridian 16 & Sundance Cinemas
(Nominated for: Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Original Score, Film Editing)

2017 Oscar Nominated Shorts
Prepare for the Academy Awards this Sunday by watching short films nominated in three categories. SIFF Cinema Uptown and Guild 45th will play the animated and live action nominees, and (on Thursday only) Sundance Cinemas will play the documentary nominees.
Various locations

The Red Turtle
The Red Turtle is a simple, wordless fable, drawn in a style that mixes character design straight from Tintin creator Hergé and landscapes reminiscent of the 19th-century woodcut artist Hokusai. The main character—a sort of Robinson Crusoe-meets-Sisyphus type—washes up on the shore of a deserted island in the opening scene, and struggles to survive and escape thereafter. Each time he manages to construct a big enough raft from the local flora, though, it’s smashed to pieces by an unseen force before he can get too far out to sea. That force turns out to be the titular turtle, which, in turn, is revealed to be much more than a mere meddling reptile. To give more away would spoil the story’s magic, but The Red Turtle eventually becomes a decades-spanning saga with poignant things to say about life, love, family, and death. MARC MOHAN
Sundance Cinemas
(Nominated for: Animated Feature Film)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
This is one of the darkest films in the Star Wars series. In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the theology of that faraway galaxy with its Force takes a backseat, and the troubled soul of the rebellion is at the controls. The Empire is not a joke. Its economic and military power is immense, and the power of its uniformity is almost unstoppable. To challenge it, you need more than just the Force. A rebel must, above all, feel that the realization of the ideal future—here in the form of a harmonious, heterogeneous galactic society—far surpasses (1) the evils of war and (2) the self. If you miss this point, the sacrifices of a revolution, then you will not understand the greatness of Rogue One. CHARLES MUDEDE
Pacific Place
(Nominated for: Sound Mixing, Visual Effects)

Toni Erdmann
Toni Erdmann, the character, is a death clown, a life coach, and a big, hairy Bulgarian monster. Toni Erdmann, the Oscar-nominated film from German filmmaker Maren Ade, is a farce, a tearjerker, and a bonkers take on globalization and its discontents. It begins with a shaggy German music teacher, Winfried (Austrian theater vet Peter Simonischek, soulful and impish), who likes to play practical jokes no one appreciates. When his daughter, Ines (the wondrous Sandra Hüller), drops by for a short visit, she spends most of the time making work calls. Later, Winfried decides to visit Ines in Bucharest where his attempts to make her laugh—involving a set of false teeth and a cheese grater—fall flat, so he reemerges as Toni Erdmann, a goofy gent who pops up at the most inopportune times. If the 162-minute film threatens to wear out its welcome, director Ade brings everything home with a humanist's light, loving touch. KATHY FENNESSY
SIFF Cinema Uptown
(Nominated for: Foreign Language Film, Germany)