9. Darkest Hour – An enjoyable film about Churchill, but one that lacks in focus and is a dull narrative of pretty compelling historical events. Something you’d watch on an airplane and like well enough, but that you’d forgot about before the flight landed. That’s ultimately where this movie belongs, rather than in the Best Picture conversation.
It’s carried entirely on the back of an exceptional performance from Gary Oldman, and Darkest Hour is worth seeing for that alone. Even that felt like Oscar bait, though. It was as if someone watched Lithgow in the Crown, and said, let’s find an actor who resembles Churchill less; give him more makeup and a more dramatic reading! Irrespective of that and issues with Oldman, his performance is up there with Sally Hawkins and Timothée Chalamet as one the best performances of year.
8. The Post – I liked this movie, but at the same time it had “Very Important Movie” conspicuously imprinted on it. From the director to the all-star cast to the timely subject matter, it was one of those movies ordained as Awards Season fodder. That wouldn’t have been a problem if it were an excellent movie, but it wasn’t.
Instead, it got bogged down in monologues, an over-wrought sensibility, and a focus that belied the historical importance of the reporting done to expose the Pentagon Papers. Additionally, I don’t think it helps the Post much that Spotlight is still fairly fresh in our memories, and that film is infinitely better at dealing with some of the same themes.
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri – I felt like this was an artfully-made film with great performances, but ultimately it felt like a movie that proclaimed it had a lot to say about the human condition…but that never actually said anything.
I realize that it was a dark comedy about flawed people in morally ambiguous circumstances, but it didn’t work for me. The characters felt more like caricatures, written a very particular way to appear more nuanced than the normal ‘good and bad’ dichotomy, but they seemed every bit as unrealistic, contrived, and artificial to me. Nonetheless, Rockwell, McDormand, Harrelson, and Caleb Landry Jones (who is in like every good movie this year!) all gave terrific performances.
6. Dunkirk– This was one of the best war movies I’ve seen in a long time. It was proficiently made and shot in a way that maintained tension throughout the entire film. The highlight for me was the sound design. We saw this at the Cinerama Dome, and it felt like there were literally bullets ricocheting off the walls.
I really can’t fault Dunkirk for anything. I did get the feeling that the narrative structure was clever for its own sake, perhaps an artificial attempt to elevate the film from ‘good war movie’ to ‘transcendent art.’ I’m not saying it didn’t work, but that just felt a bit phony.
5. Phantom Thread – When we left the theater, I told Sarah that I loved Phantom Thread, but I have zero desire to ever see it again. As he normally does, Daniel Day Lewis disappeared into the role, but his dominance in the role of a narcissist who is basically “Old Sheldon” made this uncomfortable to watch.
Nonetheless, it was incredibly well done. Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the few directors who could make audiences care about the relationships of an obsessive designer and the goings on of his fashion house. The supporting cast was excellent, the lighting and cinematography were great, and the score was haunting. I cannot fathom a better version of a film about this subject, but the upper ceiling on this conceit is lower–for me at least.
4. Get Out – The humor and horrors of Get Out are disarming, which is an interesting and clever approach given that the movie has big things to say about systemic racism and naïveté of people (like myself) to the realities of race in America. The film’s ability to work without broadcasting that intention is significant, as it’s thought-provoking without the “preachiness” that might cause those who need to listen the most tune out. From that perspective, it’s arguably the most important film of the year.
What shouldn’t get lost in that conversation is that Get Out is “also” really enjoyable and fun. It’s uncomfortably enjoyable and fun, but it’s still both of those things. It’s also intense, funny, and sharply written. It defies categorization, but it’s certainly a great film.
3. Call Me By Your Name – This is a beautifully-shot and scored coming of age film with travelogue-worthy settings. Its characters are compelling and make it easy to invest in their journey, even if it does meander a bit. Without giving anything away (as I know this film had a brief run some places), the film’s final scenes are what stick with you, between their incisive monologue and the emotion of the final frames. These thought-provoking final minutes get you thinking about the two hours that came before, and give Call Me By Your Name added emotional heft.
One thing with which I struggled during my initial (and only) viewing of Call Me By Your Name was my perception of the age difference between the two characters. While the characters are meant to be 17 (three years over the age of consent in Italy) and 24, Chalamet looks younger than that (he’s not) and Hammer looks like he’s in his mid-30s. It certainly didn’t feel Lolita-esque, but was noticeable. I’m still not sure whether this is some subconscious bias on my part, a result of the issues of the day, or just my misperception during the first viewing. I’d like to see it again, because I thought it was a beautiful film.
2. Lady Bird – Whereas Call Me By Your Name is romanticized and endearing, Lady Bird is more raw, discordant, and tumultuous. Despite being able to categorize both in broad terms as coming of age films, they couldn’t be more different. (Well, I suppose they could. Certainly both have more in common with one another than they do Dunkirk.) Both are exceptional for their own reasons, but I particularly like how Lady Bird conveys the awkwardness of adolescence in realistic terms.
I can’t imagine that I’m the target audience for Lady Bird, but it really resonated with me. To the extent that it could, the movie reminded me of awkward high school years, strife with my parents, and our economic constraints. To the extent that it did not apply to my life, there was an authenticity to the storytelling and characters that made it work really well.
1. The Shape of Water – After seeing this, I joked (it wasn’t really a joke) that it was the only Beauty and the Beast-inspired film of the year worth seeing. As much as I loved Lady Bird, it felt like this was the more fully fleshed-out film–like it was true cinema as compared to the gritty indie quality of Lady Bird. Perhaps that’s a petty basis for giving this the edge, but it was such a close call that I don’t have any other basis.
The Shape of Water was an absolutely enchanting film with a gracefully-delivered positive message. Given its odd premise, you’d think this would be a niche-interest film, but I think it weaves together noir, drama, and fairytale motifs and themes in a way that makes it really captivating for general audiences.
Ultimately, I would not be disappointed if any film in my top 4 wins. They are all exceptional movies, and a repeat viewing of each right now might cause me to raise that film’s stock.
What do you think of Disney’s nominees for the 2018 Oscars? Which films would you like to see win? How would you rank the Best Picture nominees that you’ve seen? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!