Oscars 2018: Review of the Best Picture Nominees
With the passing of another year in cinema comes the ceremony to honor the best of the best. Here is my review of the Best Picture nominees of the 2018 Academy Awards.
Dunkirk — Dir. Christopher Nolan
A unique take on the war film genre, Dunkirk focuses on the evacuation of the 300,000 British soldiers surrounded by the enemy on Dunkirk beach during WW2. Rather than depending on characters to garner audience emotions, Christopher Nolan utilized the event itself to appeal to the pathos of the audience. By using very little character histories, Dunkirk gives the audience a greater perspective of what it was like to be involved in the evacuation. Even without the details and focus on characters’ backgrounds, the audience still cares for these characters.
The film is split up into three segments that occur over different increments of time: the land (one week), the sea (one day), and the air (one hour). The stories start to converge as the characters in each segment of the film start to meet and interact. The audience is given subtle cues to the overlapping stories to piece together before some of the characters start coming together. This gives Dunkirk great rewatch value where the audience can go back and catch the clues of story crossover they may have missed before.
There is not one weak link in the ensemble cast that is made up of both well-known actors and actors who made their debut on the big screen with this film. But even more notably with a film that has little dialogue, the impressive score by Hans Zimmer acts as a character itself. Viewers are constantly surrounded in a tone of anxiety and desperation before the music takes them through the hope of the 300,000 British soldiers trying to make it home, until the bittersweet successful evacuation off Dunkirk beach. This film is truly unlike any that has come before. Dunkirk stands apart from the other Best Picture nominees as the true masterpiece it is.
Lady Bird — Dir. Greta Gerwig
Lady Bird is the journey of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saorise Ronan), an underachieving senior in high school with big dreams of attending a university in New York. The film follows her as she navigates her way through her relationship with her family, her friends, and boyfriends. Saorise Ronan and Laurie Metclaff give incredible performances with their accurately troublesome mother/daughter relationship.
Lady Bird does such a great job of approaching real world problems with a realistic perspective while maintaining a quirky attitude and a charming sense of humor. It is impossible not to fall in love with the characters who are relatable in such a way that the audience can put themselves in their shoes and feel what the characters are feeling.
Lady Bird stands apart from the other nominees through its individualistic characters and realistic portrayals of relatable storylines. Most everyone understands the feeling of wanting to succeed but feeling as if you’re coming up short on the road to success. This film shows that life is not a conclusive happily ever after, but a series of moments that we can use to get as close to that happy ending as we can.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — Dir. Martin McDonagh
After Mildred Hayes’s (Frances McDormand) daughter is raped and subsequently murdered, she sets out for justice by purchasing three billboards to call out Ebbing’s chief of police (Woody Harrelson) for not doing more. This story and its characters are so realistic that I initially believed the film was based on a true story up until the film ended. All of the characters are so well-written and flawed but go through believably gradual character development over the course of the film.
Three Billboards is a film that will stick with audiences, giving an unbiased look into both Mildred and the police department’s sides of the story. It does a spectacular job of showcasing a complicated situation where there is not a distinct “good side” or a “bad side.” The film puts the audience into different characters’ perspectives, making it impossible not to feel empathy for characters that were hard to love early on.
The acting performances in Three Billboards are absolutely phenomenal with Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell leading the film. It’s a story that really resonates with the audience, taking them on a roller coaster of successes and downfalls. It’s a film with the unique ability to have you truly wanting the best for both of the opposing sides.
Get Out — Dir. Jordan Peele
Get Out follows Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a Black photographer, as he is about to meet his girlfriend, Rose’s (Allison Williams), white family. Things start getting eerie as he slowly uncovers a family secret after he starts noticing disturbing clues. Get Out is a revolutionary take on the horror genre, using a real-world concept but writing it out in an exaggerated way and integrating classic horror film elements.
Get Out is a truly fresh take on the horror genre and uses metaphors to make the comparisons between racism in everyday life and the events in the film. The audience gets a taste of the alienation that people of color go through as the film gives a taste of the suffocation that they feel. This is in large part due to the fantastic performances by all of the actors, namely that of Daniel Kaluuya. Kaluuya’s show-stopping scene as he’s first being hypnotized by Rose’s mother could even be compared to Denzel Washington’s iconic single tear in Glory (1989).
What’s really groundbreaking about Get Out is that it’s categorized as a horror film, a genre that’s normally overlooked and written off as repetitive. But Jordan Peele went where no man has gone before and makes audiences think about current issues. It’s impossible for an audience to watch the film and not be able to draw comparisons between events in the film and the topic of race.
The Shape of Water — Dir. Guillermo del Toro
The Shape of Water explores the story of Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mute cleaning woman who works in a scientific lab. There she discovers a classified secret, a creature from the sea (Doug Jones) who is said to be a god in the Amazon. As Elisa bonds with the creature, she teams up with friends to save the sea creature from a life of being a science experiment where he could ultimately suffer a worse fate.
The Shape of Water carries a fantasy/science fiction element that is extremely unique to the film. While it is easy to judge the film by the basic odd plot of a woman falling in love with a water creature, it is so much more than that. It is a touching story about seeing the beauty in everybody, despite their outward appearance and external factors. The characters are made to be adored by the audience, making it hard not to hope for the escape of the creature.
The music for this film by Alexandre Desplat is absolutely phenomenal and creates the perfect soundtrack to accompany the fantastical story. The Shape of Water manages to take the feeling of Old Hollywood but putting a new spin on it, creating a film like that has never seen before.
Call Me By Your Name — Dir. Luca Guadagnino
Call Me By Your Name is about an Italian teenager, Elio (Timotheé Chalamet), and his family having a doctoral student, Oliver (Armie Hammer), stay in their home. It shifts into a story about first love as Elio and Oliver find a connection and a desire for one another. The atmosphere of this film is gorgeous, taking place in the Italian countryside. But the directorial style felt disjointed and random at times. There are certain scenes that felt like they had no purpose and feel disconnected from the rest of the movie.
The acting performances by Timotheé Chalamet and Armie Hammer were good, but they weren’t great. They are able to sell you on the chemistry between Elio and Oliver, but some scenes between them are just awkwardly acted. Their performances weren’t horrible, but also not very Oscar-worthy. That being said, the ending of the film still manages to hit the poignant emotional chord that it was going for, making you feel the emotions that are demanded to be felt as the credits roll.
What really stands out about this film is the fantastic soundtrack, featuring two original songs by Sufjan Stevens. “Mystery of Love” deserved the Best Original Song Oscar, capturing the feeling of experiencing a first love and the heartbreak that can come from it through both the lyrics and the music. While this was not my favorite film, I would be willing to give it another chance.
Note: I recently rewatched the film after writing this and found that I enjoyed it much more the second time around. While I still stand by my opinion that the directing was not the best, I realized the film’s ability to make the audience feel the emotions of the characters through the rollercoaster of their relationship.
Phantom Thread — Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Phantom Thread takes you through the career and personal life of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), an eccentric dress designer in the 1950’s. This is one film where it’s hard to give too much away about the plot without spoiling the entire film. The film is full of interesting, quirky characters, but Daniel Day-Lewis stood out from the rest, along with Lesley Manville. Although their characters have dislikable qualities, they played them in such a way that viewers can’t help but love them.
The plot of the film is very well-paced and has the audience captivated up until the very end. From seeing dresses being made for fashion shows to personal strifes within the characters’ lives, there truly isn’t a dull moment. The ending is definitely not what the audience is expecting, but it is an ending that is as eccentric as the characters.
The music of Phantom Thread, composed by Jonny Greenwood, is absolutely gorgeous and is enough to give anybody goosebumps. 90 minutes out of the 130 minute running time of the film uses the score, solidifying it as an important component to the film. It perfectly captures the elegant, sometimes eerie tone of the film in such a powerful way.
The Post — Dir. Steven Spielberg
The Washington Post pursues a story that would expose a list of government secrets that spanned across time through three decades and four presidents, a feat headed up by Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). While this was an exciting story and an interesting look into history, it doesn’t feel like an Oscars-nominated film.
With Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, you are bound to get performances that will stand out and The Post was no different. Meryl Streep commands the screen as the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, bringing out the no-nonsense integrity of Katharine Graham. In the way of music, if there is a Spielberg directed film, you’re likely to get a John Williams soundtrack with it. The music perfectly captures the American journalism theme of the film, creating the proper backdrop for the intense, fast-paced story.
The Post is a great retelling of a piece of American history. It’s entertaining and gives a perspective on a historical time that isn’t widely taught in schools or commonly known, a monumental time in America seen through the eyes of the media. But it didn’t feel like it lived up to the standard set up by the other Best Picture nominees.
What do you think? What was your favorite Oscars nominee or is there another film from 2017 that you thought should have been nominated instead?