Previewing the 2018 Oscars
The 90th Annual Academy Awards are coming up and once again it gives us a chance to wrap up the previous year at the movies. 2017 was an interesting year in film. In stark contrast to 2016 where the big budget blockbusters were largely disappointing, they were much better this time around. Perhaps one of the best years in recent memory. On the other hand I was a bit disappointed in the prestige dramas from 2017. Don’t get me wrong there were plenty of them that were great, a few of the nominees below included, but there weren’t any that completely blew me away and I would consider for my all time top 100 list. That could just be a taste thing and others may disagree. There also isn’t an obvious winner for Best Picture this year. You can make a case for five out of the nine. After last year’s surprise win for ‘Moonlight’ (and the controversy of initially announcing ‘La La Land’ as the winner) this is a nice change from the predictable affairs that we’d grown accustomed to. With that said lets get to this year’s nominees.
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Call Me By Your Name – 4 Nominations
I’m a sucker for a good coming of age film and that is what we have here. We follow Elio, a 17 year old boy living in Italy as he grapples with his sexuality after falling in love with his father’s intern Oliver. I didn’t fully connect with Elio as a character and I wasn’t as invested in his and Oliver’s love story as the film wanted me to be but that isn’t to take away from how well made the movie is. I’m not sure why I felt at arms length but I don’t believe it was the performances as they’re pretty great across the board. Maybe Armie Hammer as Oliver is the weak link but hes certainly not bad. There is a particularly powerful scene between Elio (played by Timothee Chalamet, nominated for Best Actor) and his father (a snubbed Michael Stuhlbarg) towards the end of the movie. Beautiful cinematography aided by great locations, a good score, and a director with a real vision round out the reasons to check out ‘Call Me By Your Name’ despite not having much chance to win Best Picture.
My Best Picture Ranking: 6th out of 9
Darkest Hour – 6 Nominations
The first of two movies centered on the evacuation of Dunkirk in World War II. This one follows Winston Churchill and the behind the scenes tactics that the British government went through. Churchill is played by an unrecognizable Gary Oldman, who is probably going to win Best Actor thanks to pounds of makeup. He gives a good performance as well to be fair and the film itself is well made. Unfortunately an alternate title could’ve been ‘Dunkirk: The Boring Version’. I just couldn’t get into it. Might’ve been better as a play with dialogue heavy boardroom room scene after dialogue heavy boardroom scene. You could just feel the motivation for making the movie was to get nominated for an Oscar. Mission accomplished.
My Best Picture Ranking: 9th out of 9
Dunkirk – 8 Nominations
Christopher Nolan finally gets his long awaited Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. While ‘Dunkirk’ isn’t my favorite of his films, I would rate ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘Inception’, and ‘Memento’ ahead of it, it is certainly deserving of the nod. It is my favorite out of this crop and mostly for the visceral immersion he puts you in as these characters try to survive a horrible situation in World War 2. We follow three different sets of characters (on land, sea, and air) at different times leading towards an intersection of them all. This is expertly done as they each have their own side plots to get invested in. But the stand out here is Tom Hardy’s pilot. The way its shot puts you right there with him as he faces many obstacles. It would be almost silent if it wasn’t for the incredible sound of the airplane. Sound and visuals are what this film does best so hopefully you were able to check it out in theaters where those aspects could shine brightest.
My Best Picture Ranking: 1st out of 9
Get Out – 4 Nominations
Its not often that a horror movie with comedic elements released in February gets nominated for Best Picture but then again its not often that a horror movie with comedic elements released in February is this good and this socially relevant. Known more for the Comedy Central show ‘Key and Peele’, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut puts him on another level with plenty of options to explore. Part ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and part ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ the movie manages to be both scary and funny while putting you in the protagonists point of view regardless of your background. Lead Daniel Kaluuya (nominated for Best Actor) could change his name to Mr. February between ‘Get Out’ and this year’s monumental hit ‘Black Panther’. All the performances here are great but special shout out to Allison Williams for her portrayal of supportive girlfriend as well as one of the biggest villains of the year.
My Best Picture Ranking: 4th out of 9
Lady Bird – 5 Nominations
‘Lady Bird’ is another teenage coming of age story that is very well made (this time by actress Greta Gerwig in her directorial debut). But despite being another experience that was unlike my own, I connected and related much more with Saoirse Ronan’s Best Actress nominated character than I did with Elio from ‘Call Me By Your Name’. Maybe its because its set in a more down to earth setting than lavish Italy with parents that aren’t artsy scholars. Tracy Letts and Laurie Metcalf give incredible performances as said parents with the latter deserving to win Best Supporting Actress. Lady Bird’s relationships with her parents, her best friend, and her boyfriends (Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet again) are what works best. Shes selfish and hard to be around but she means well and sometimes thats part of the process of becoming a productive member of society as we “come of age”.
My Best Picture Ranking: 5th out of 9
Phantom Thread – 6 Nominations
Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite director of all time. In my opinion hes batting 1.000 with none of his movies being less than an 8/10. He knocked another one out of the park here. Working with Daniel Day Lewis for the first time since 2007’s ‘There Will Be Blood’, which also happens to be the best movie I’ve ever seen, we follow a dress maker who is a career bachelor as he seems to have found his true love. Similar to Darren Arronofsky’s ‘mother!’ this is another film that appears a bit autobiographical with an artistic genius struggling to balance love with his craft. Theres also a nod to ‘The Beguiled’ here and an element of the lengths we’ll go to in order to make a relationship work. Everything looks great. From the sets to the costumes and all the way down to the food they eat. It also has one of the best scores of the year. You know Lewis is great, and he is here as usual, but Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville give breakout performances that were rightly rewarded with nominations as well.
My Best Picture Ranking: 2nd out of 9
The Post – 2 Nominations
Heading into the fall I was predicting ‘The Post’ to win Best Picture. Obviously I hadn’t seen it or most of the other likely nominees but it just seemed like the perfect formula. And a few years ago maybe that would’ve been the case with prestigious director Steven Spielberg, a great big name cast including Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, and a politically relevant story about a presidential administration trying to keep a story out of the press. Unfortunately for the film it doesn’t appear to have much of a shot here and I’m ok with that. Its a decently enough made movie with good performances but it all feels so… predictable and safe. It has the gloss of a capital I important Hollywood movie, it doesn’t do anything new or exciting from a filmmaking point of view, and to be honest its kind of boring. Which we learned from ‘Spotlight’ a couple years ago that doesn’t have to be the case with these types of stories. Its a perfectly fine movie but I for one am glad the Academy is moving away from these safe, middle of the road productions. Except for ‘Darkest Hour’ apparently…
My Best Picture Ranking: 7th out of 9
The Shape of Water – 13 Nominations
The most nominated film at this year’s Oscars and the front runner to win Best Picture is a drama set in the 1960’s about a mute woman who works at a government research facility that falls in love with a sea creature being held captive there. And its great. Guillermo Del Toro gives us his best work since ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ giving us a beautifully shot fairy tale with dark themes. Sally Hawkins is excellent in the lead, you always know how shes feeling despite not being able to speak. Michael Shannon is great as the villain. Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins are great in supporting roles and Michael Stuhlbarg shows up again in a completely different role. Doug Jones plays the half man/half sea creature and along with a fantastic costume and makeup is a believably sympathetic character. There is scene that turns into a musical number that reminded me of ‘Amelie’, one of my favorite foreign language movies. It may be a concept that sounds weird and off putting but I believe it is more than worth giving it a look.
My Best Picture Ranking: 3rd out of 9
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – 7 Nominations
I’m in the minority with my opinion on this one. ‘Three Billboards’ was one of my most anticipated movies of the year once I saw the trailer and that it was from a director whose first two movies I loved. Martin McDonagh made ‘In Bruges’ and ‘Seven Psychopaths’ both funny but violent films. Thats a hard balance to strike and ‘Three Billboards’ tries to do so as well but fails. On an individual scene by scene basis there is some good stuff here and I can’t argue against the performances. Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson are all great. Unfortunately when you put it all together its a mess of tone and direction. At least for me it was. There is a scene in particular that encapsulates the movie as a whole. Its a confrontation at McDormand’s Mildred’s dining room table that involves her son, ex-husband, and her ex-husband’s new girlfriend. Also for a movie so much about abuse of power and racial tension it would’ve been nice to get some perspective from the characters on the other side of that. All that said, this is still very much in the mix to win Best Picture and I’m still looking forward to what McDonagh comes out with next.
My Best Picture Ranking: 8th out of 9
My Top 10 Movies of 2017
Blade Runner 2049
The Killing of A Sacred Deer
The Florida Project
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The Meyerowitz Stories
It Comes At Night