Personal Oscar screening party: 2018

2018/03/01

It’s that time again: When I briefly veer from viewing popcorn movies and such in favor of what the Academy likes. And then I rank the Best Picture nominees myself.

The nine this year are:

Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
and
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

 

9.

Call Me By Your Name
A summer-love story between a teenager (Timothee Chalamet) and his father’s assistant (Armie Hammer) set in early 1980s Italy, it’s The Gay Movie that always shows up in this or the acting categories. But while this film is similarly themed to last year’s winner, “Moonlight,” it’s not even in its league. Though beautiful, CMBYN has a weak conflict that literally bored me nearly to sleep.

Every year I’ve done this review, there’s the film that simply wasn’t half as good as the rest, and this is it for this installment. 3 stars.

8.


Darkest Hour
This biopic about Winston Churchill is selected pretty much solely due to Gary Oldman’s amazing performance as the WWII-era prime minister of Britain (for which he won the Best Actor award). The movie itself rather spins its wheels a little bit. It’s never bad or boring but seems somewhat needless at times. 3 stars.

7.


Phantom Thread
Daniel Day-Lewis plays a fastidious postwar England dressmaker who tends to fall for his models, including the latest played by (Vicky Krieps). Though it’s the sort of tired Oscar bait film that usually appears among the Best Picture offerings, PT manages to transcend its staid … what’s the word … boundaries? Dunno … to become a tale that haunts. 3 stars

6.


Lady Bird
This quirky little film about a high school senior (Saoirse Ronan) with a prickly relationship with her critical mom is an artful bit of fun. Part self-discovery story, part hometown love letter and part early-’90s period piece, it kinda meanders. But it’s so enjoyable that I didn’t care. 3 stars

5.


The Post
This film about the Washington Post newspaper’s 1971 decision to publish the then-still-top-secret Pentagon Papers might look like a pointed jab at today’s politics, but in truth it is in every way merely a period piece. Featuring a crack ensemble cast led by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep as, respectively, the editor-in-chief and publisher of the paper, this movie serves as an important reminder of the power and responsibility of a free press.
That said, as riveting as it can be and despite my professional affinity for the theme, it’s not otherwise exceptional filmmaking. 3.5 stars

4.


Dunkirk
In this WWII epic, director Christopher Nolan returns to the timebending, wheels-within-wheels storytelling approach he used in earlier films “Inception” and “Memento.” The result makes what would be a standard war film into a more riveting and challenging affair. Perhaps even more impressive is that Nolan made it PG-13 and it doesn’t feel softened or sanitized at all. 4 stars

3.


The Shape of Water
A mute janitor (Sally Hawkins) befriends The Asset (Doug Jones), a mysterious being held captive at a secret government facility in this excellent film. Known for his playfully quirky pop-horror fare, director Guillermo del Toro makes perhaps his first grown-up movie with this Cold War sci-fi thriller romance that delivers on all those descriptors without collapsing into a puddled mess.
Essentially “E.T.” starring the Creature From the Black Lagoon as a Cold War spy drama/love story, this is a surprise contender for Best Picture. It’s an impressive piece of work all around. And yet, it’s lacking a little something in the end that holds it down from the top of my list. (But it won Best Picture and Best Director.) 4 stars.

(tie)

1.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
This smoldering noir drama works better than the super-clunky title. Frances McDormand is brilliant as a single mom who makes a bold statement to call fresh attention to her daughter’s death. What happens next, no one is ready for. At once cathartic and troubling, it’s almost the best film of the lot this year. But it bobbles its ending just enough to lose out on its uncontested place atop my Oscar rankings. 4.5 stars

1.


Get Out
Things go awry when an African American man (Daniel Kaluuya) is invited to meet his white fiancee’s parents in what’s been called the biracial child of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “The Stepford Wives.”

I’m amazed and delighted that the Academy remembered to honor this film that debuted so long ago (February 2017). Its take on the themes of race are uncommon fodder for movies and it adeptly plays with conventions of the horror genre. In the end, its final act felt a tad too conventional for me, but man, was it satisfying. And with it truly being the most memorable of 2017’s Best Picture nominees, it shares space atop my list. (It also garnered a Best Screenplay award.) 4 stars.

 

That does it for my Oscar party. We’ll see March 4 which film takes the trophy. (The Academy has never picked my favorite in the now four years I’ve done this. I don’t care.)

March 26 EDIT: I’ve made post-Oscars notes on what the big winners were

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