Well, this was a year I did it. I managed to see all nine films nominated for “Best Picture” at this year’s Academy Awards! I thought it might be fun, as it’s Oscar Week and all, to do a little post with my thoughts on each of the nine Best Picture nominees. Below you’ll find a little paragraph about each film, written in the order I saw them, all leading up to the film I think should win the Oscar for Best Picture this year. What’s my choice?? Let’s get to it!
Oh, I felt I should include a summary of each film, in case anyone reading this hasn’t devoted a silly amount of their free time to watching all of them as I have. However, as regular readers can attest, I sometimes have a problem with brevity. It’s not my strong suit :). So, in the interest of efficiency, all these summaries come care of Cinemark.com (my preferred theatre for all my movie watching!)
1) Get Out
Written and Directed by Jordan Peele
3 March 2017
Summary: Now that Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), have reached the meet-the-parents milestone of dating, she invites him for a weekend getaway upstate with Missy and Dean. At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he never could have imagined.
My journey to see all the Best Picture nominees started without even knowing it. Obviously, with Kalie being a horror enthusiast, we see just about every horror movie that comes out. We were both pretty excited to see this one and were even more impressed with it after we saw it. The completely unexpected yet dazzlingly perfect blend of a variety of types of horror with needed comedy and a striking social justice-oriented message made this an early-in-the-year stand out film for both of us. What I respect about Get Out in regard to the Best Picture race is it’s the only film nominated that clearly wasn’t trying in a painfully obvious way to get nominated. All the other films on this list are impressive in their own right. But they are terribly formulaic in regard to what Oscar always celebrates. Get Out on the other hand was so intelligent it got itself nominated without playing the Oscar game and pandering to the committee by checking off the familiar Oscar tropes in its cinematic makeup. I loved the film. It’s one of the few options in this race I can see myself willingly watching again and again. And I love that it’s here by simply being too good to ignore.
2) The Shape of Water
Written by Guillermo del Torro and Vanessa Taylor / Directed by Guillermo del Torro
1 January 2018
Summary: Elisa is a mute, isolated woman who works as a cleaning lady in a hidden, high-security government laboratory in 1962 Baltimore. Her life changes forever when she discovers the lab’s classified secret — a mysterious, scaled creature from South America that lives in a water tank. As Elisa develops a unique bond with her new friend, she soon learns that its fate and very survival lies in the hands of a hostile government agent and a marine biologist.
My second experience of one of the Best Picture nominees also came before they were announced and was, again, the result of Kalie’s cinematic preferences. What can I say? I guess she has good – award oriented – taste. Kalie loves Guillermo del Torro. He’s one of her favorite filmmakers. So we always try to catch all of his films too. I don’t know what I was expecting when we went into The Shape Of Water but it wasn’t this. This was infinitely more gorgeous – in message and in cinematography – than I ever could have imagined. This film is beautiful in every sense of the word. It uses a (very del Torro-esque) wild sci-fi/fantasy mash-up to explore everything from the nature and range of love to the heart of communication to the nature of being and divinity. I walked out of this film wanting to do nothing but talk about it, analyze it, and explore it. But it left me speechless, trying to process the brilliant journey I had just taken. Thankfully I had Kalie in the car with me so I could soak in her analysis and jump off her observations as I began to figure out what this film meant to me.
3) Call Me By Your Name
Written by James Ivory (based on the novel by Andre Aciman) / Directed by Luca Guadagnino
23 January 2018
Summary: It’s the summer of 1983, and precocious 17-year-old Elio Perlman is spending the days with his family at their 17th-century villa in Lombardy, Italy. He soon meets Oliver, a handsome doctoral student who’s working as an intern for Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of their surroundings, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.
I’ve always been a sucker for films that explore the philosophical nature of love. I will watch (500) Days Of Summer, Her, the Before… series, The Silver Linings Playbook, Seeking A Friend for the End Of The World, or Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind over and over and over again. The questions of the nature and experience of love fascinate me. Cal Me By Your Name fits perfectly into this genre, exploring the questions that arise with finding a soul-defining love. To find someone we love with our whole being…to know we can only share but a small moment of our life with them…to have a love haunt and give meaning to the rest of your life…or to try and love someone else because you can’t be with the one you want – these are all deeply intimate moments and they are illustrated with the greatest of care and authenticity in this film. It also spoke to the power of finding the sort of love not everyone does, or not everyone has the courage to follow. As incredible as Elio and Oliver’s journey was, as I watched I couldn’t help but feel the most for Marzia. She loved Elio so much and he had a sort-of relationship with her. But, no matter how much she loved him or how much of herself she gave to him, his heart was always going to belong to Oliver. Call Me By Your Name was a beautiful film – a quiet, poignant look at the beauty of love, even (or perhaps, especially) when we know it may not be able to last.
4) Phantom Thread
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
27 January 2018
Summary: Renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock and his sister Cyril are at the center of British fashion in 1950s London – dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites and debutantes. Women come and go in Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship. His carefully tailored existence soon gets disrupted by Alma, a young and strong-willed woman who becomes his muse and lover.
This…well, it’s the sort of film that’s pretty much designed to be nominated for Oscars. It’s a slooow-moving period piece with lots of attempts at quiet intensity. It revolves around the quirks and perks of wealth and illustrates the distance money and talent can grant you from “regular” society. It was gorgeously shot (in the way of many traditional Oscar picks (but there wasn’t anything I found to be truly breathtaking or original)) and the acting was impressive, although I didn’t find myself emotionally invested in any of the characters nor did I find myself interested in their world. Maybe if I was into high fashion? Or maybe if I adored seeing how the wealthy choose to spend their days? I don’t know. Daniel Day-Lewis completely dissolves himself into another character, as per usual, but, for me, it was Vicky Krieps as Alma whose performance stole the show. I found her to be the most multi-dimensional character in the film and, honestly, the only one I cared about. Apparently the Academy and I have very different tastes though as the film is up in the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress category…all while leaving poor Vicky Krieps neglected. Siiiiiiiigh. Anyway, it felt terribly formulaic in all the ways Oscar likes to salute.
5) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh
28 January 2018
Summary: After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby, the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command, Officer Dixon – an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence – gets involved, the battle is only exacerbated.
It often seems like Oscar-nominated films compete to see which can make you weep the most. There were certainly times when this film genuinely moved me to tears but Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri isn’t a depressing or emotionally crippling film. The emotional content of the story is more complex than any one label could capture. It’s certainly a film for our times, illustrating the reality of systemic racism and police corruption (while also showing not all cops are corrupt, violent, and racist). But the film’s major themes transcend a mere reflection of current events. We find all sorts of characters who are broken, but not beaten, doing their best to hold on to hope when the world is working to strip it away. It looks at the corrupting power of rage and anger, and how they spread. It also illustrates the power of compassion in all its forms, from a grand gesture to a quiet movement. Most of all it wrestles with the questions of transformation – both for better and for worse. The film shows humanity in all our fragility and complexity, giving us characters we’ll be wondering about long after the credits have rolled. On top of all that, it dares to be funny. It’s a dark comedy, yes. But the laughs are genuine and far more frequent than the movies Oscar normally liked to reward.
6) Lady Bird
Written and Directed by Greta Gerwig
28 January 2018
Summary: In 2002, an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl comes of age in Sacramento California. (Okay, this one summary comes to us from IMDB.com as I liked theirs better than Cinemark’s).
Awwww, OH MY GOSH I LOVED THIS MOVIE!! This just made me feel so good! Lady Bird was a legit comedy and, as such, very outside the realm of what Oscar likes to support. However it was also filled with so much warmth and heart. I was totally crying by the end but, unlike other Oscar contenders (*cough* Still Alice, Million Dollar Baby, so many others *cough*), I wasn’t crying because I was super sad. I was crying because I was so touched by the film. For a coming-of-age story it didn’t feel contrived nor run-of-the-mill. It was wonderfully authentic in what it said about life, love, growing up, faith, and – especially – family ties. Unlike so many other contenders for Best Picture over the years (this year included), I could see myself watching Lady Bird again and again. Who doesn’t love a cute, quirky, funny film that also manages to be genuinely uplifting? And as a teacher in a Catholic high school, I certainly appreciated the setting and the Catholic school humor :). Much of it was spot on too!
7) The Post
Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer / Directed by Steven Spielberg
30 January 2018
Summary: Katharine Graham is the first female publisher of a major American newspaper – The Washington Post. With help from editor Ben Bradlee, Graham races to catch up with The New York Times to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spans three decades and four U.S. presidents. Together, they must overcome their differences as they risk their careers – and very freedom – to help bring long-buried truths to light.
Why am I surprised that I liked this film so much? I really wanted to see it, even before I knew I had to catch it to see all the Best Picture nominees. It’s directed by Steven Spielberg. It stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. It’s the heroic tale of people fighting to protect the fundamental right of freedom of the press in the face of government censorship, a tale as timely now as ever. There’s nothing about this that didn’t appeal to me. Still, I found myself amazed at just how captivated I was by this film. I’d certainly say it was the most gripping of all the contenders. Yes, the assault on the freedom of the press is very timely, as Trump and his cronies seek to strength libel laws and all that so he can continue his reign of chaos while being pestered less by the truth. However, The Post doesn’t feel like a direct commentary on modern times. Rather, it is a vivid picture of Nixon’s 1971 attack on The New York Times and The Washington Post for their publication of the Pentagon Papers. It just so happens that the message of that time rings clearly today, as history seeks to repeat itself. With an administration that welcomes hate mongering sites like Brietbart into the White House while harassing institutions like The Post and The Times, the story is eerily familiar. However, perhaps the most inspiring part of the film was also the most sobering. Watching Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee risk the ire of the government, their reputation, the Post itself, and even possible jail time in the name of informing the people and protecting our democracy made my heart sing with the power and place of journalism…while also making me sad at how far our modern journalists have fallen. Normalization and acceptance, bland reporting at the fear of alienating viewers or appearing “partial” has become the order for the day. Trump’s daily antics make what got Nixon impeached look like a quant weekend prank. Yet Trump marches on and the only journalists honoring their responsibility to truly speak truth to power are comedians. It’s a sad day when Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, and John Oliver are the only ones courageous enough to try and follow in the footsteps of people like Graham and Bradlee.
8) Darkest Hour
Written by Anthony McCarten / Directed by Joe Wright
30 January 2018
Summary: The fate of Western Europe hangs on Winston Churchill in the early days of World War II. The newly appointed British prime minister must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight on against incredible odds. During the next four weeks in 1940, Churchill cements his legacy as his courageous decisions and leadership help change the course of world history.
I was not prepared to really enjoy this movie. Not that I had anything against it per se. I love Joe Wright as a director. He did an incredible job with Pride and Prejudice and made an exceptionally gorgeous film with Atonement, based on one of my all-time favorite novels – a novel, I might add, that doesn’t lend itself to adaptation. But Darkest Hour seemed to be another World War II movie. I go in spurts with these films. Sometimes I love the historical epics and can’t wait to see them. At other times, I feel a bit burned out on them. I had no interest in seeing this film until I decided to see all the Best Picture nominees. Boy, was I in for a surprise. In spite of all my presumed lack of interest, I thought this film was brilliant! Like The Post, I felt a simultaneous inspiration and challenge from history echoing back to me in this film. To see the people – if not all the politicians – of Britain rise up, cry out, and refuse to back down in the face of Hitler’s fascist advance was inspiring. Tragically, acceptance and normalization have become par for the course for our politicians, our media, and a great many of us. We can’t handle the barrage of corruption so we allow a would-be tyrant to pervert our government. But Darkest Hour reminds us we, as human beings, have starred down fascist evil before. We have stood our ground. And we have been victorious. Most of all, it reminds us that when the people are loud enough, the government must listen. It’s also comforting to see a reminder of what real leaders do. It’s easy to forget that nowadays…
Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan
Summary: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire, Canada, and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.
Okay…I didn’t see this one. I admit it! I lied in the opening paragraph! But in my defense this came out over the summer and, as I said in the paragraph above, I’m in a phase where I’m not chasing historical epics. I was planning on seeing it when my local theatre replayed it as part of its Oscars Week buuuuuuut it’s the end of the term for me and my grading load has been insane. So I missed one. I’m only human!!!! I’m sorry!!!! I promise, should I rent this before Sunday (which I doubt) I’ll come back and update this piece.
Moving on, one of my struggles with the films the Oscars normally choose to celebrate – for Best Picture especially – is they are often very inaccessible to the average movie-goer. First, they are more inaccessible literally. These films almost always play in far fewer theatres and they’re on screen for far less time than something like, oh I don’t know, The Hangover. Second, they are more inaccessibly figuratively. By this I mean far fewer people are interested in these sorts of movies. That, in part, is what makes the more inaccessible literally. Now, I’m not saying we need to only cater to and/or celebrate the lowest common denominator. And we’ve see how the mob mentality can be more than a little detrimental to life in general. And, of course, I appreciate the small, quiet, artistic film. But there’s a part of me that’s always considered it odd that, in a category called “Best Picture,” we only ever see movies the majority of the movie-going public hasn’t seen. Shouldn’t there be a healthier balance? I don’t know.
Anyway, here are my picks!
Film I enjoyed the most: Lady Bird – it was just so much fun! It made me think and it made me feel and it was just such a beautiful, heartwarming experience. I love a film that makes me sincerely feel joy and that’s what Lady Bird did. It was a joyous experience, celebrating some of the best things life has to offer, without hiding or minimizing the messiness.
Film I personally think deserves Best Picture: Get Out – this film was incredible and it managed to get itself nominated without trying to like so many of the other films on this list. The majority of these films were made to be Oscar bait. But Get Out was this genuine horror film that also managed to be funny, clever, and offer some incredible social commentary that was spot on as it was intelligently executed. If this isn’t “Best Picture” material than I don’t know what is.
Film I think will actually win Best Picture: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – I think this has all the boxes Oscar wants to check. It’s topical. It’s just different enough from the others (without deviating from the Oscar norms). It has heart. And it’s filled with incredible performances. There’s a tiny chance it could go to The Post but I’m calling it for Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri.
So there you have it folks! I hope you enjoyed my little trip through (most of) the Best Picture nominees for 2018. Enjoy Oscar night too! I’ll see you on the Red Carpet…well, in a metaphorical way. It’s not either of us are going to be there. But, on the off chance I’m wrong, and if you ARE AN OSCAR NOMINATED INDIVIDUAL and you happen to read my blog…well, thanks. You have good taste! And I like your stuff too.