Back in January, when “Manchester By The Sea” screened at the Sundance Film Festival, festival-goers were predicting this would be the film to watch come award season. The predictions are beginning to ring true. Casey Affleck has already picked up a Best Actor Award at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, and earlier this week the film was named Best Picture by the National Board of Review (along with Best Actor for Affleck, Best Screenplay for writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, and Best Breakthrough Performance for Lucas Hedges). Is the film truly worthy of all these accolades, and will it be recognized by Oscar voters?

The answers are yes and yes.

A fractured family tale and a haunting mistake

The film opens on Lee (Affleck), a Boston handyman who oversees a number of apartment buildings which includes dealing with the demands of a diverse and eclectic group of tenants. One day Lee receives a call that his older brother Joe, (Kyle Chandler) has passed. Lee instantly hits the road, returning home to be with his 16-year-old nephew Patrick (a winning Lucas Hedges). Although Lee fled from his hometown after a tragic incident, he still is at his core someone who very much cares for his family. But being home in this working class fishing village isn’t easy.

‘Manchester By The Sea’ may not be cheery, but it’s amazingly relatable

There is a common conceit that award season brings out the heavy dramas, a.k.a., the downers, each November and December. And although “Manchester By The Sea” may have elements of anguish over Lee’s past, there are still moments of levity and sarcasm, especially in terms of the character Patrick.

Award-winning writer/director Kenneth Lonergan knows how to paint an authentic portrait of normal, working class family life, often in the midst of a personal crisis. But like life, there are moments of hilarity even within calamities. Lonergan’s themes may touch on sadness, but his relationships are complex and relatable.

The film’s trek with Matt Damon, John Krasinski and Lonergan, Affleck

The idea of “Manchester By The Sea” originated when Matt Damon and producer Chris Moore were on the set of “The Adjustment Bureau.” The two started kicking around ideas with fellow actor John Krasinski about a man who makes a momentary bad decision that then haunts him for the rest of his life. This was the seed with which Damon approached Lonergan, when he asked him to write the script. (Damon met Lonergan in 2002 when he performed in the writer’s play, “This Is Our Youth” in London.) Damon hoped to both direct and star in the film.

Cut to a few years later and a finished script. Damon had scheduling conflicts, so he decided to step back and only produce the film.

But the director he wanted to take the reins was Lonergan, who had previously directed, “You Can Count On Me” and “Margaret.” The choice for the lead would be Casey Affleck, who had also starred in Lonergan’s London stage play alongside Damon. Also coming aboard is the always strong Michelle Williams and Gretchen Mol. This ensemble enriches this heart-felt, American story. And frankly, both the film and Casey Affleck might just be the ones to beat come Oscar time.

“Manchester By The Sea” is 137 minutes, Rated R, and currently in select theaters nationwide.

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