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What AFI’s Top Ten List Reveals About the Oscar Race

Martin Scorsese's year-end opener "Silence" is the surprise entry on the AFI's Top Ten Films of the Year list.



Paramount Pictures

The American Film Institute’s annual list highlighting the top 10 movies of the year includes three Oscar frontrunners:  “Moonlight,” “La La Land,” and “Manchester by the Sea.”

These lists, along with this weekend’s awards shows —the International Documentary Association on Friday and Sunday’s televised Critics’ Choice Awards (A & E, 5pm Pacific) — build forward momentum for these and other awards contenders.

"O.J.: Made in America"

“O.J.: Made in America”

Courtesy of ESPN

On the documentary side, the AFI jury — a hand-picked mix of academics, critics, and industry insiders — also gave a special award to Ezra Edelman’s seven-hour epic “O.J.: Made in America” (ESPN), which is racking up awards.

Gaining traction are a number of films nominated for multiple Critics’ Choice Awards, including two from veteran Oscar-winners and seven who have never been nominated. Oscar winners are Clint Eastwood, whose “Sully” stars Tom Hanks as real-life aviation hero Chesley Sullenberger, and Mel Gibson’s box-office hit “Hacksaw Ridge,” starring Andrew Garfield as a pacifist World War II medic, which marks the ostracized director-star’s bid for Hollywood redemption.

Also on the list are Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi drama “Arrival,” starring Amy Adams as a linguist trying to communicate with aliens; third-time director Denzel Washington’s adaptation of August Wilson’s “Fences” (December 25), in which he and Viola Davis reprise their Tony-winning roles; Scottish outsider David Mackenzie’s portrait of the American West, “Hell or High Water,” starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster; and Disney’s animation frontrunner “Zootopia,” a $1 billion global blockbuster.

The surprise entry that has not gained traction with awards groups thus far: Martin Scorsese’s late-year entry “Silence,” also starring Garfield, which is a soberly spiritual drama set in feudal Japan.

This list of 10, with the exception of “Zootopia,” could well be repeated by the Producers Guild of America, which could add such jilted AFI suitors as “Hidden Figures” (Fox), “Jackie” (Fox Searchlight), “The Jungle Book” (Disney), “Lion” (Weinstein Co.), or “Loving” (Focus Features), which all have their supporters.

But will any of these also-rans wind up on the final Oscar Best Picture list? In a year without that many consensus movies, it’s more likely that awards voters will pick fewer than 10, maybe eight, as they did last year.

Paramount and Lionsgate are celebrating, with three films apiece on the AFI list. The winners get to attend one of the highlights of the awards calendar, a luncheon at the Four Seasons that everybody actually enjoys. No speeches, no anxiety. Just hanging out over lunch and film clips.

AFI Top Ten Films:

“Arrival” (Paramount)

“Fences” (Paramount)

“Hacksaw Ridge” (Lionsgate)

“Hell or High Water” (CBS Films/Lionsgate)

“La La Land” (Lionsgate)

“Manchester by the Sea” (Amazon/Roadside Attractions)

“Moonlight” (A24)

“Silence” (Paramount)

“Sully” (Warner Bros.)

“Zootopia” (Disney)

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