Time for my annual thoughts on the Best Picture nominations from this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. While not on the big screen to capture all their glory, it is fun to see what they were made of and to see if I felt the same as the Academy. This year all films were viewed using Blu-Ray discs.
Comments are based on personal preferences, and don't take into account popularity at the box office.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME – Oliver (Armie Hammer) is the summer intern hired by an Italian archeologist. Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is the archeologist’s teenage son trapped in the town, and entering his time of sexual and sensual exploration.
This film is basically about human interaction. No special effects. No amazing set decorations. The only extra thing that’s used to set the mood is a great background sound from Sufjan Stevens. While it’s not very loud as to dominate the scenes, it’s tempo and haunting sound helps intensify the mood as the main relationship in the film progresses.
Whereas last year’s official Best Picture winner, Moonlight, was more about following Chiron’s exploration with his sexuality, and very little of the actual sex act portrayed, exploration and sexual scenes are nearly equal partners in this film. Just a warning that it’s not a film for the children, or a first date where you’re still not completely comfortable with the other person.
DARKEST HOUR – The House of Commons has lost faith in their current leadership, and reluctantly rallies behind someone many consider having questionable leadership skills.
Darkest Hour is one of two WWII-themed films nominated for Best Picture this year. But, it’s not a “war” film in the traditional sense of the genre.
Rather, the film revolves around the choice of Winston Churchill as a replacement for Neville Chamberlain as leader, and the political intrigue not publicly known during the first few weeks of his administration.
Gary Oldman gives a career performance in the lead roll. Absolutely stellar. And it was helped along by the Oscar Award winning makeup and hair stylists who transformed the actor into a near double.
DUNKIRK – Trapped against the English Channel, over 300,000 British and French troops seem to be destined for capture by the Nazis, only to be rescued by an impromptu flotilla of personal watercraft from English Coastal towns.
The film was very technical with all the effects and editing needed to pull it off. Unfortunately, it seemed more of an ensemble film, with nobody sticking out as a main protagonist. There was no real character development.
Dunkirk reminded me of the WWII classic The Longest Day. But, for me, that film succeeded because it was three hours long. Dunkirk wasn’t even two. Plus, it had significantly more name recognition in the cast, whereas Dunkirk had only a handful of big names, and most were on the screen in bits and pieces.
GET OUT – Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is nervous about meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. Adding to the situation is that he’s African-American, while she is Caucasian and has not told them about his ethnicity.
The immediately hit it off, much to his relief. But, things start to get strange and he starts to think things aren’t necessarily what they seem to be.
Writer-director Jordan Peele is now breaking into feature films, after honing his craft in television production.
The basic premise of interracial relations served well at the beginning before the audience is left behind and draped with a surreal horror atmosphere. Though some scenes were slow in nature, I wasn’t bored, as the relatively short 104 minute run time kept pace.
LADY BIRD – Lady Bird is a poster child for Teenage Angst. She thinks her mother hates her no matter what she does. Her father is apathetic. She has one goal, to leave her hometown of Sacramento, California as far off in the proverbial rearview mirror as she possibly can.
Writer-Director Greta Gerwig takes us through Lady Bird’s senior year as she readies herself for college. Will it be an East Coast school of her choice, or the more practical choice of her mother, a local college? While not an autobiography, Gerwig knitted in her experiences of growing up in Sacramento into the story.
Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne, The Big Bang Theory) is great as the mom which Lady Bird believes hates her no matter what she does, and a good counter, grounded in life’s experiences, to the teen’s future looking mind.
The only complaint is the VERY abrupt ending the viewer is treated to.
PHANTOM THREAD – Dresses from the House of Woodcock are prized around the World. But, in the mind of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) you don’t own one of his creations. You are simply the occupier.
Along the way, Woodcock runs into Alma (Vicky Krieps), a restaurant waitress, who he sees as his perfect woman. Not because of her personality or beauty. But, because of her measurements.
I had no love for any of the three main characters. Neither the narcissistic designer who was all about his designs, nor Cybil (Lesley Manville), the woman who stood in the shadows helping keep the design house running, nor Alma, Woodcock’s inspiration and love interest who gets pouty at the drop of a hat when she thinks she’s being ignored, or passed by.
THE POST – Daniel Ellsberg was a private contractor assigned to the American military. His role was an analyst. But, quickly became disillusioned with what he saw as a cover-up of the US’ march to war in Viet Nam.
While it was interesting, I was disappointed that it ended when it did. So much is spent on the debate on whether to publish, yet very little on the actual trial. The film’s running time is just under two hours, so perhaps it was thought adding additional content would lose the audience. But, the trial decision had a major impact on the American Freedom of the Press, and is somewhat timely with the recent WikiLeaks scandal.
THE SHAPE OF WATER – A cleaning crew (Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer) stumbles into a top secret government study, eventually stealing the project to save it from the evil clutches of the government man (Michael Shannon) who would destroy it.
The special effects are amazing, and this certainly has to be one of the best designed films of the bunch. Unfortunately, I was turned off a tad bit by the outright sexual content that seemed to be added just to be added, which really didn’t advance the plot of the film in anyway. Some of the things would probably fly right over the head of some younger children. But, some would make for unavoidable conversations.
Doug Jones (Star Trek Discovery, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) does it again! Andy Serkis is the most well known of the new generation of actors we don’t recognize because of they’re full covered in makeup or computer graphic effects. But, Jones is certainly up there with him in talent.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI – A mother’s frustration over a perceived lack of effort to find the killer of her daughter causes her to use three large billboards to publicly shame the town sheriff.
Writer Martin McDonagh penned a tight script, which revolved around the transformation of the two main characters, and in this circumstance wrote it with the lead actors in mind; a fact that explains why their performances fit like a glove.
Equally as pleasurable to watch was Sam Rockwell in what could be argued is his biggest role to date. It’s a shame both he and Woody Harrelson were nominated for Best Supporting Actor for their roles in Three Billboards because Rockwell’s character was more important to the plot. Harrelson was OK. But, his sheriff didn’t have nearly the screen time that Rockwell’s character did.
* * *
So what would have been my choice for Best Picture?
Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri
Granted it was a pretty gritty film. But, it was a well thought out journey for the main characters, with an ending that felt just right. While it might’ve leave some people wanting a sequel, I hope there isn’t one. It isn’t necessary.
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