Call Me by Your Name
The Shape of Water (winner)
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
I’ve reached a strange point in this blog. Right now, the only Best Picture year I haven’t done where I have watched the entire list of films is 2017, which is far more recent than I like to do for these posts. Also, since it’s a very modern year, I’ve seen (and liked) a lot of films from this year. It was a touch too early for straight comic book adaptations to be nominated for Best Picture, which is a damn shame, since 2017 gave us Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman, and most especially Logan. Since 2017 was also the #MeToo year, there are some films that were associated with suddenly less-than-savory people, which probably kept them off the stage as well. These include The Disaster Artist, All the Money in the World, A Ghost Story, and Baby Driver. Animated films are rare in this category, but Coco seemed a prime candidate. Films that seemed to avoid nominations in general include some great ones like The Death of Stalin, Battle of the Sexes, Good Time, Atomic Blonde, and You Were Never Really Here. The Last Jedi would have been an interesting choice. I’m still not entirely sure what I think of mother!, which includes putting it here. Based on the sorts of things that Oscar seems to love, I, Tonya and The Florida Project seem like very big misses. The same could be said of First Reformed. For me, the biggest two misses and the ones I would fight for The Big Sick and The Wife.
Weeding through the Nominees
9. I know there is a coterie of people who really love Call Me By Your Name and I’m not entirely sure why. I mean, it’s nicely acted and beautifully shot, but it’s also a movie where the plot seems to not just brush on some very unpleasant possibilities but to fully endorse them. If we make the single change of the gender of Timothee Chalamet’s character, this movie becomes not a sweet romance of young love but a movie about a pederast taking advantage of a girl too young to have that sort of relationship. This is Best Picture material?
8. Two movies from 2017 were about the lead-up to the Battle of Britain and specifically about the withdrawal of Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk. Of the two, Darkest Hour has the single stand-out performance and very little else to recommend it. It’s a fine movie by all accounts, but it’s not anything more than just a fine movie. I was relatively unmoved by it and can’t think of a single reason to go back and watch it a second time. Sure, watch it for Gary Oldman. Otherwise, there’s a similar story told better down the list.
7. I love a good newspaper/journalism story, but The Post probably didn’t have a lot of hope in terms of winning the top award. With Spotlight winning a few years previously, another story about the importance of a breaking story in journalism isn’t going to be that exciting for the Academy. Sure, it’s got the combined star power of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, but how much of this is something we haven’t seen before? The brave press stands up to the depredations of the government. It’s an important story (and was in 2017), but honestly, we’ve seen it before.
6. I spent more time deciding what to put here and in the next spot than I did anything else, and while I’ve got Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri here now, I’m still not 100% on that. My problem with the film isn’t the plot hook (which is good), the cast (which is stellar), or the performances (which are uniformly solid to great). The problem for me is that the story entails us being given a redemption arc for a character who a) doesn’t deserve it; and b) didn’t earn it with his actions in the course of the film. It needed a rewrite for the third act.
5. Phantom Thread is another of those films that I liked well enough when I watched it, but now that I’m sitting here writing about it, I find that I don’t have a great deal to say. Again, the characters are good and the acting is impeccable, but that’s really all I have to say about it. I find it difficult to recommend a film that seems this empty in terms of emotional connection for me for the Academy’s top award. Bluntly, I don’t think I would nominate this or anything listed so far, given the chance to remake the list. It’s not bad, but I find it far from great.
4. I should say at this point that there is a huge gap between 5th place and 4th place for me. I’ll argue against any of the already-listed movies, but would accept without much complaint someone picking any of these top four. I’m putting Dunkirk fourth for several reasons. The first is that of these top four movies, it’s the most sterile in many ways. Sure, there’s death and danger and mayhem aplenty, but we never really connect fully with most of the characters. It’s a fascinating film in many ways and I like the nomination, but I feel very disconnected to it in real ways.
3. I love that the Academy nominated a true horror movie in Get Out as much as I like the fact that it’s a damn good horror movie. It’s a smart telling of a story, but it’s not the original masterpiece that so many people think it is. This movie is three parts The Stepford Wives to one part Being John Malkovich. It’s a really, really good combination of those two stories—don’t get me wrong. I like everything about it and couldn’t be more pleased that it was nominated. It’s just not my pick.
2. I admit I was a little scared going into Lady Bird because I wondered how well I would connect to it. One viewing later, worries abated, and it’s one of my favorite films of the last few years. This is a story that lives and dies with its characters and performances, and I can’t think of a single place where I would change any of them. We need to get Saoirse Ronan an Oscar one of these days. She’s already earned one, and much of that comes from a truly beautiful performance here. This is sweet and heartbreaking and real, and I love everything about it.
1. But if you thought I was going to vote against Guillermo del Toro, you’re sadly mistaken. The Shape of Water is not my favorite of his films—it ranks 4th, in fact—but it is the one that is in so many ways the most daring and the at the same time the most acceptable to an audience attuned to formulaic stories. To make a monster movie but to frame it as a love story is an act of genius and to have it filmed with this much love and care is what makes it work as well as it does. I love that it won, and while del Toro should already have Oscars for The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth (and nominations for his set designer for Crimson Peak), I am so happy that he won for a film that really is this unique and beautiful.