Another round of the Academy Awards have come and gone and the 2018 Oscar winners have been celebrated, but it’s taken me a few weeks to determine which of the nominees stood out.
A few weeks ago, I participated in Marcus Theaters’ Best Picture Festival, a movie viewing extravaganza spread out over two Saturdays right before the Academy’s yearly ceremony. This is my second time spending a combined 22 hours in a movie theater… and I loved every minute of it!
This year’s nine films were a powerhouse of intense emotional storytelling from historical dramas to coming-of-age tales to flipped scripts on romance… and yes, there was even a satirical horror flick.
Here are my thoughts, movie-by-movie, on 2018’s best pictures nominees and whether I think the Academy got it right.
The Post | Director: Steven Spielberg
The Post is probably the most mainstream film out of this group due to its lead acting duo of Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. It details how The Washington Post became a nationally-known newspaper when they decided to publish government secrets about a decades-long cover-up before and during the Vietnam War. It marked a defining moment for the free press and showcased the leadership of Katharine Graham, the first female publisher of a major American newspaper.
Overall, The Post is a one of those films that helps highlight a moment in history that younger generations may know nothing about. Streep and Hanks do a wonderful dance in their roles as Graham and editor Ben Bradlee, and the supporting cast also consistently hits the mark. Even though it’s a movie I’ll likely rewatch if given the choice, The Post is not of the same caliber as the other nominees.
Best Thing: The movie’s pacing is done well. I never felt there was a dull moment.
Worst Thing: Some moments were too heavy-handed, especially the portrayal of Graham as a groundbreaking female hero.
Lady Bird | Director/Writer: Greta Gerwig
One of two coming-of-age films nominated, Lady Bird follows the life of teenager Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) during her final year at a Sacramento Catholic high school where she’s constantly at odds with her strong-willed mother (Laurie Metcalf). She dreams of going to college on the East Coast, but due to their financial struggles as a family, her mother tells her it isn’t possible.
This film is a poignant picture of the struggles of growing up amid familial and societal pressures. Ronan and Metcalf also deliver a wonderful, emotional and heartbreaking portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship. I’ve always been super close with my mother (and father) and I related to film’s emphasis on how much our parents can affect us, both positively and negatively, during distinct moments in our life.
Best Thing: The mother/daughter relationship and Lady Bird’s personal growth.
Worst Thing: Some moments felt like your typical teen story, but every person can relate to teenage turmoil.
Phantom Thread | Director/Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread takes place in post-war 1950s London. Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are incredibly well known in British high fashion. Woodcock is a dress designer for high society from royalty to socialites to celebrities and his life is all about his work. Then, a young woman named Alma (Vicky Krieps) becomes his muse and love… and changes everything.
This one felt the longest out of all the films, but I must say it was the most intriguing. Lewis is remarkable, per usual, and with this being his last role, I’m impressed that he’s been a method actor for so long. It must be incredibly exhausting. Plus, Anderson’s dialogue is a joy and the journey of Reynolds and Alma leaves you quite speechless by the end.
Best Thing: The plot twist near the end and the costume design is to die for.
Worst Thing: Most, if not all, of the characters, are extremely unlikeable so I’m not sure how rewatchable this movie will be… for anyone.
Call Me By Your Name | Director: Luca Guadagnino
Another coming-of-age film, Call Me By Your Name tells the story of Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old unknowingly on the path of self-discovery in 1983. Oliver (Armie Hammer), a young doctoral student of Elio’s father’s, comes to stay for the summer at their villa in Lombardy, Italy, and both of them soon discover that their relationship will significantly alter their lives forever.
To say that this film is a romance is to do it a disservice. It’s that and so much more, in my opinion, and both Chalamet and Hammer bring such vibrancy and passion to the screen. By the end, I was grieving along with them and I felt like the intimate conversation between Elio and his father was specifically for me.
Best Thing: The heart-to-heart between Elio and his father at the end. I started crying in the theater… “We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30…”
Worst Thing: Some moments felt more drawn out than they needed to be.
Get Out | Director/Writer: Jordan Peele
The normal thing to advance most relationships is to meet the parents. And that’s what Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), do. They travel upstate for a weekend to visit the family home, but Chris soon discovers that it’s not just their over-the-top niceness – which he admits might be because of their interracial relationship – that seems off. Things are definitely not what they seem.
To hear that first-time director Jordan Peele started and stopped the script for Get Out 20 times until he finally finished it is a testament to his work ethic and wonderfully creative mind. This movie is one-of-a-kind, at least in terms of its approach and storyline. It’s a clever mash-up of horror, thriller and satire, and gives you quite a scare the first time through.
Best Thing: Peele’s intentional misuse of social cues and cultural norms keeps you in a heightened state of anxiety.
Worst Thing: The theater ending. I watched both this ending and the alternate one on the DVD and felt the alternate ending was better suited for the film’s message.
Darkest Hour | Director: Joe Wright
This inspiring true story starts with the initial transition to Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) as Prime Minister of Great Britain at the start of World War Two. Churchill is immediately confronted with a decision to make: negotiate peace talks with Mussolini or make a stand knowing that invasion by Nazi Germany can come at any time. He also has to handle a skeptical, unsupportive king and his own party planning to oust him from his position.
As a sucker for movies that take a piece of history and examine it through a slightly fictional lens, I thoroughly enjoyed how Darkest Hour offers a more personal look at Churchill’s first days of leadership at such a harrowing time. This is a war drama without hardly any scenes of war, but the dialogue is expertly written and showcases how tense Parliament became during the switch from Neville Chamberlain to Churchill.
Best Thing: The defining conversation between Churchill and King George. It’s a time when Churchill is at his lowest, his personal darkest hour, and it’s such a powerfully intimate scene.
Worst Thing: It’s a hard thing to admit, but I don’t have one.
Dunkirk | Director: Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk tells the true story of the evacuation of British, French and Dutch soldiers from France with the help of civilian vessels. Without a successful evacuation from the beach, the outcome of World War Two would’ve been drastically different.
Oddly enough, I wonder how many times the best picture category had two films that focused on the same moment in history from different angles. While Dunkirk and Operation Dynamo are mentioned several times toward the end of Darkest Hour, it’s Nolan’s Dunkirk that gives us an in-depth look at what’s happening from the perspective of troops on the beach, pilots in the air and civilians on their way across the channel, all trying to find a way to help England survive another day.
Best Thing: The perspective-tethered storytelling. It gives a birds-eye view of the action from multiple points of view. And the soundtrack… it adds so much to what you’re feeling.
Worst Thing: Several scenes can be confusing and not everyone will enjoy that there isn’t a set of “main characters” that guide you through the story.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri | Director: Martin McDonagh
McDonagh’s Three Billboards showcases the inner strife of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a mother whose daughter was killed months ago and the murderer has yet to be caught. She rents three empty billboards outside her town – Ebbing, Missouri – to send a message to the town’s beloved Chief of Police and further provoke the local cops. Once Officer Dixon, a badge with a taste for violence, gets involved, things get interesting.
Three Billboards focuses on personal journey, not the end result. Solving the murder isn’t necessarily the point of the film, how the characters in the story respond to their situation is. The relationships between the citizens in this small town and their willingness to grow past the anger, hurt and heartache that has been inflicted upon them by one another gives you plenty to chew on. This is another nominee that I don’t believe is rewatchable, but it’s core message is worth at least one viewing.
Best Thing: The movie’s message: empathy creates understanding.
Worst Thing: If you’re looking for a film that has a nice, neat ending… this isn’t it.
The Shape of Water | Director: Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro has always been known to have an affinity for monster movies and The Shape of Water doesn’t stray from that. Eliza, played by Sally Hawkins, is a mute woman who cleans overnights at a high-security government lab in 1960s Baltimore. During one shift she discovers a scaled, fish-like creature is being held against his will and tortured by a government agent. As she begins to build a friendship with the creature, she eventually learns that his survival depends on her.
The Shape of Water’s visuals and costume design will give you a sense of nostalgia for the 1950s, a time when stay-at-home moms were the norm and the Soviets were the enemy. This movie ends up being anything but cookie cutter 1950s. A monster movie swept into a fairytale, Eliza is the heroine who’s determined to save her prince, the creature. You tend to root for her, and her band of misfit friends, if only because Strickland (Michael Shannon) is nauseating with his overt need to show alpha male dominance at all times. Eliza is the opposite of Strickland. She understands what it feels like to be less than human, ignored and discarded because of her muteness – just like the creature. Both Hawkins and Shannon do wonders in their roles, reinforcing the stark contrast between Eliza and Strickland, which helps you stay invested in the story until the very end.
Best Thing: Elisa’s coworker, Zelda, who’s played by the talented Octavia Spencer.
Worst Thing: Strickland is skewed a bit to the ridiculously evil side.
And there you have it. My thoughts on each nominee… and here’s my final say on which film should’ve won the Oscar for Best Picture: