For the fourth entry in our race to Sunday's big moment, we turn to another surprise this year had in store, Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi debut, Arrival.
The film follows language professor Louise Banks, who struggles with the loss of her child and the ensuing collapse of her marriage, and, as the title suggests, the sudden arrival of a mysterious alien presence. The military recruit Dr. Banks to help establish first contact with the strange species, through which she learns much more about the nature and the power of language, and of course about herself.
What bogs down the ultimate execution of the decidedly cerebral premise, taken from Ted Chiang's short story aptly named The Story of Your Life, is the catalyst to the story's climax, namely the power of love as the key. Much like in Interstellar, it is love that offers the much-needed solution, a trope which lessens any film's impact, and comes across as pandering.
While the story has its flaws, the performances are top-notch, with an especially brilliant turn by Amy Adams. She delivers both pathos and nuance, masking the sometimes all too familiar beats with a psychologically sound turn that should have made her a shoe-in for Best Actress, but in the end did not even earn her a nomination.
In a film that relies so heavily on atmosphere, and excellent score is no longer a bonus, but rather a necessity. Thankfully, Johann Johannson's eerie blend of sounds and sparse music, coupled with the song that is most reliable to pluck at the heartstrings, Max Richter's The Swimmer, sets just the right tone from start to finish.
Another point of praise falls to the cinematography, by the DOP of Selma, Bradford Young, whose many glorious vistas and sweeping motions grant the film its required gravitas, and whose long, continuous shots are reminiscent of the trade's modern master Emmanuel Lubezki.
With Arrival, Denis Villeneuve delivers an intelligent and captivating first foray into science-fiction, with effective storytelling and excellent acting, particularly by Amy Adams, but not without conceding to the easy narrative fix of 'love conquers all'. The first hurdle in the genre is taken, now he stands for the challenge of following it up with Blade Runner: 2049, and sci-fi's Moby Dick, an adaptation of Dune.