What the 9 Oscar Nominees for Best Picture Can Teach Us About Money

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Dale Robinette / Money Talks News

Like it or not, we learn life lessons from movies, including the financial kind.

On Feb. 26, you’ll see an Academy Award for Best Picture given to one of nine movies. And while it may require a bit of a stretch, every one of the nominees has a money-related message.

This year’s nominated films come from a broad range of genres, including science fiction, drama, Western and even a romantic musical.

Here are the financial lessons we saw in each of the best picture nominees — without spoilers.


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“Arrival” looks at what might happen when aliens come to Earth. We have no clue how to talk to them. We have no idea what their intentions are. Amy Adams (pictured above) stars as a linguist who must lead a band of scientists to help understand how to talk to the extraterrestrial visitors.

The financial life lessons you might draw from “Arrival” center on risk and fear. All of the characters in “Arrival” have no clue what level of risk the aliens represent — and work mightily to keep their fear in check as they seek to understand and react to their arrival.

Anyone who has ever managed a portfolio of investments will understand both the desire to manage risk and the need to fight back fear. Risky financial decisions driven by fear can lead to calamitous results, even if there are no aliens involved. For more, see “The 10 Commandments of Wealth and Happiness.”


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Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by August Wilson and starring Denzel Washington (who also directed) and Viola Davis, this story about the life a Pittsburgh sanitation worker and his family is set in 1957. “Fences” has lessons to teach about the power of disappointment, frustration and pessimism — and the consequences of how you choose to deal with them.

The title refers to the ways that we build fences both to keep others out — and to hold in the things and people we hold dear. The biggest financial lesson you could take away from “Fences” is so simple that it sounds obvious: Don’t let the pain of the past prevent you from seeing and chasing after a better future.

If you fail to move beyond the injustices and disappointments that your financial life can dish out, they also will hold you back. Don’t swear off real estate, for example, because you bought a house at the height of the market and ended up selling at a loss after a housing crash. Learn from your pain. If you don’t, what was the point?

‘Hacksaw Ridge’

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“Hacksaw Ridge,” directed by Mel Gibson, tells the inspiring true story of Desmond Doss, an Army private first class (and later corporal). He served as combat medic with the 77th Infantry Division in World War II. What makes this story so compelling is that Doss (played in the film by Andrew Garfield, pictured above) was a conscientious objector who refused to carry a weapon or kill an enemy solider.

While he refused to take a life, Doss was great at helping to save them — and won the Medal of Honor for his bravery and valor in saving 75 fellow soldiers during heavy fighting at Okinawa, on the Ryukyu Islands of the Pacific campaign.

There are a lot of potential lessons from “Hacksaw Ridge,” but the one that stands out is this: Be true to your principles, be brave, and the rest will work itself out.

For investors, this lesson might be applied to where you put your money. In order to fund only the types of business that fit your personal principles, for example, you might choose to invest only in so-called “ethical funds.” These might be businesses that are committed to green manufacturing, provide adequately for their employees or represent issues you believe in.

‘Hell or High Water’

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“Hell or High Water” is a heist tale, of sorts. But the thieves aren’t the bad guys. Instead they’re the victims of a banking system that first took advantage of their late mother — and now threatens their future.

At least that’s the way the two main characters in this movie — Toby and Tanner Howard (played by Ben Foster and Chris Pine, respectively) — see things. That’s not a view shared by Texas Rangers Alberto Parker and Marcus Hamilton (played by Gil Birmingham and Jeff Bridges, pictured above).

The financial lesson here is not the obvious one (robbing banks is bad for your health). Instead, it’s that financial transactions often aren’t as black and white as they seem.

In fact, there’s a lot of gray — and it usually lies in the fine print. So be very careful about what you sign up for — whether it’s a reverse mortgage or life as a bank robber. Neither are as simple as they might look.

‘Hidden Figures’

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An important and overlooked part of the story of America’s race to get into space is told in “Hidden Figures,” the real-life story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson.

These three brilliant African-American mathematicians, portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer (pictured above) and Janelle Monáe, played a vital role as “human computers” at NASA in the 1960s space efforts. They worked with an early IBM mainframe to develop computations that let John Glenn become the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth.

It’s an inspiring story of believing in yourself, overcoming adversity and making a difference.

In terms of the lessons it offers, “Hidden Figures” speaks to the idea of really knowing where your assets are — and having the confidence to make the most of those assets, despite (or perhaps because of) others telling you that you can’t.

‘La La Land’

Dale Robinette / Money Talks News

An actress, a musician, the backdrop of Hollywood — and a whole lot of singing and dancing. No wonder this movie has 14 Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture).

But looking beyond the music, the bright colors and the charm of stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (pictured above), there’s a serious note about … not taking yourself too seriously.

Gosling’s character, Sebastian, finds it hard to look beyond his own rigid ideas about what makes great music. He learns that those hard opinions need to be softened up by a little flexibility for him to be happy and successful.

While this gorgeous movie has a whole lot more to offer than this, it’s a good financial lesson to hold onto. Whatever your financial goals and dreams, there isn’t just one way to get there. Listen to lots of advice, learn all you can and then step out! You don’t have to sing and dance your way to extra cash, but know also that you don’t have to do it the same way that the person next door did.


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The film tells the true story of a man named Saroo Brierley (at left, above), who became separated from his birth family when he was 5 years old. He ends up being adopted by a loving family in Australia and grows up there, only to find himself decades later pining for the life and family he lost.

Saroo (played by Dev Patel, at right, above) uses Google Earth to slowly piece together enough information about places he recalls from his former life to launch a search for his birth family.

Without spoiling the movie, suffice it to say that Saroo recognizes that he won’t get where he’s going alone — and he’s smart enough to get the help he needs to accomplish his goal.

That’s an idea you may take from this movie: If you’re committed and passionate about where you want to go, don’t hesitate to seek help and advice to get there.

‘Manchester by the Sea’

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“Manchester by the Sea” is a movie about families — and how they navigate the sometimes tumultuous storms that life can brew up.

In the case of brothers Joe and Lee Chandler (played by Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck, second from right, above), the storm comes in the form of a heart attack that takes Joe’s life and leaves his brother Lee (Affleck) to raise his teenage son.

Lee is totally unprepared to take on the responsibility, but he knows that his brother believed enough in him to name him as guardian.

The lesson here is simple: Be prepared for things that are predictable, however unlikely. If you commit to acting as guardian in the event of the death of a relative or friend, or make some other sort of contract, financial or otherwise, be clear about what it means, about how you will make it work financially and what changes you will need to make in your life to meet that commitment.


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“Moonlight” is a story of a difficult childhood and a challenging life. The central character, Chiron, experiences poverty, racism and homophobia in a life surrounded by addiction and its consequences.

Yet, more than anything, “Moonlight” is a film about growing up. It shows you Chiron’s life as a young boy with an emotionally abusive mother (played by Naomie Harris, above), a teenager and then an adult. These three pieces together give you an understanding of the man that he becomes.

And if there is anything this rich and textured film directed by Barry Jenkins (above) can tell us about handling money, it’s that perspective is important. Decisions taken without it — or at least without the perspective gained from talking to others about your situation — are not likely to yield the best results.

Do you have financial insight you’ve gained from watching a movie this year? Share your ideas with the rest of us by commenting below or on our Facebook page.

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