The Academy Awards. The Oscars. The Tinseltown Treats. Whatever you may call them, the biggest awards show of the year is upon us, and boy, is it competitive. 2017 was a great year in film and the nominees definitely reflect this. There are many strong competitors, from dramas to comedies to acts of pure fantasy. It’s a cross section of the best Hollywood has to offer. There has to be a winner , though, and it’s not necessarily the best picture that wins the top award. Here are my thoughts on this year’s nine nominees.
Starting off, we have the two almost obligatory historical dramas in Joe Wright’s “Darkest Hour” and Stephen Spielberg’s “The Post,” the former covering Winston Churchill’s role as prime minister during World War II, and the latter detailing the Washington Post’s role in releasing the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War. They’re both well made movies, rest assured, and Gary Oldman gives a killer performance as Churchill, as does Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham, owner of the Washington Post. However, neither film breaks any new ground in cinema, as they trod upon well-explored cinematic territory in the biopic genre. They’re good, just not Oscar-worthy when compared to their competition (other than for Oldman’s performance, for which he is expected to win the Best Actor award).
“Call Me By Your Name”
“Call Me By Your Name” is a wonderful film. There’s a quality of delicacy and beauty that envelops the film. It’s presented in such a way that you are whisked away to late ’80s Italy and embraced by all the emotions that surround it. The rich landscapes transport the viewer into this world, but it still has a timeless aspect that takes my breath away. It feels like a truly complete film; all of the elements mix together in such a way that it just feels right. James Ivory is all but guaranteed the Best Adapted Screenplay award, and Sufjan Stevens could win for his original songs. Beyond this, I can’t see it winning many other awards — not for Timothée Chalamet’s leading performance, and not for best picture.
This film had an issue in terms of racial representation of Pakistani-Indian troops within the British military, and is not completely historically accurate. That aside, Christopher Nolan comes out with a complex and direct look at soldiers during the Battle of Dunkirk. The narrative he weaves between the three story timelines is an engaging approach to telling this story and was a good decision, if at times a slightly disorienting one. Nolan gives his audience the war film that only he could make: a pure cinematic experience. This film is far from flawless, and certainly has trouble areas, but it’s a good contender nonetheless. I don’t see it winning in many awards categories this year, simply because of the high level of competition across the board. In other years, a war film might win out, but this is certainly not the year.
I love this movie. There’s no two ways about it. Jordan Peele’s horror story of a black man visiting his white girlfriend’s parents had me squirming, then laughing, then terrified and then back to laughing again. It’s an insane film, exactly what I would expect from one of the masterminds behind one of my favorite sketch comedy shows, “Key and Peele.” I’m happy that this is how Peele made his directorial debut and I’m glad he was nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. It’s totally deserved and my completely biased love for this movie is something that I cannot contain. It’s a cinematic marvel that combines horror, comedy and racial politics in a truly mesmerizing way. I want this to win, I really do. However, I don’t see it emerging victorious in any of the categories it’s nominated in. It’s a shame.
“Lady Bird” is a film that I connect with on an emotional level, because it highlights an experience similar to the one I went through as an 18-year-old living in California’s Central Valley. The film follows the titular Lady Bird, a high school senior who struggles with family life, relationships and accepting where she is in the world. This is in part due to Greta Gerwig’s wonderful screenplay that has so much detail, humor and honesty, and partially due to Saroise Ronan’s performance that is not only relatable, but deeply layered and honest. This film can please any audience that sees it, and I think that for a film with this kind of narrative, that makes it pretty special. A deserved nomination and a potential winner here for both Gerwig and Ronan, and maybe even the top prize of the evening (considering it won the Golden Globe for best comedy film).
Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” is probably the most unique film among the nominees this year. It’s a love story between a eccentric fashion designer and a woman with an untold past that is both violent and unconventional in its presentation. I think this is one of the best films nominated this year, and I think that the onscreen talent in Daniel Day-Lewis and the behind-the-camera talent in Anderson came together to create a miracle of a film that lulls the viewer into a dreamlike state. It’s definitely towards the top of my top 10 from last year; however I think that this film is a little too out-there for Academy voters. It’s a film that has a violence that could catch some voters off guard and make them uncomfortable, and I was even surprised that it made it on the nominees list. I’m happy that it ultimately did garner six total nominations. Unfortunately, I cannot see even Day-Lewis winning this year unless by some upset.
“The Shape of Water”
This film, directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Sally Hawkins, is about a mute woman who falls in love with a river monster that is being experimented on by the U.S. government. It’s a very well constructed film, one that reminded me of del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” from a decade ago. It flows in a hypnotic fashion, and has a truly beautiful core. It is imbued with themes of authoritarian control and desire for freedom that I think the Academy would be incredibly attracted to, especially in the current political climate. On top of this, Hawkins gives my single favorite performance of the year and I am elated that she got a nomination for Best Actress. del Toro, meanwhile, is the current favorite to win Best Director, winning the prize at the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and the Director’s Guild of America Awards. The film has also won numerous Critics’ Choice Awards for Best Picture. It has a very good chance of winning Best Picture this year. Hollywood likes to see these awards as a reflection of itself, meaning that if, in a particular year, the film industry wants to be seen as politically thoughtful and show the world how socially aware it is, they will pick the film that best reflects that idea. If this were the basis for criteria on which the awards this year were picked, I would not be at all surprised if it won.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
After her daughter was raped and burned alive, a mother (Frances McDormand) purchases three billboards outside her hometown to motivate the police to investigate the murder. It is the most raw and visceral experience I had watching a film last year. Each character comes into every scene with intense emotion that never feels overdone. McDormand has been the favorite to win Best Actress all awards season, even beating out Sally Hawkins on numerous occasions. McDonagh’s original screenplay has been winning awards left, right and center. The film also won the top prize at the BAFTA awards and the Golden Globes. It has a lot of potential to win this year.
Making a final prediction is hard. There is so much to like about so many of the films: from the simple and raw effectiveness of something like “Get Out,” “Three Billboards” or “Dunkirk” to more elegant and sophisticated films like “The Shape of Water,” “Call Me By Your Name” or “Phantom Thread.” Then there is the wonderful honesty of “Lady Bird,” which is just so infectious. Maybe the Academy will like the two exciting historical drama offerings in “Darkest Hour” and “The Post.” I’m probably jinxing myself here, and will likely find come Sunday night that I’m totally wrong, but here is my prediction:
Will Win: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Could Win: “The Shape of Water”
Should Win: “Get Out,” “Lady Bird” or “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”