Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Martin McDonagh created an oddly conceived Best Picture nominee with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but then again, what else would one expect from the director of In Bruges? This film’s strong suit is in its acting, with three acting nominations out of its seven total nominations. It’s been clear that Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell are the frontrunners in their respective categories, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. However, the Oscars surprised everyone by also giving Woody Harrelson a nomination. Even though McDonagh isn’t a Best Director nominee, this movie has a strong chance of winning Best Picture. With Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, McDonagh addresses gray areas in polarizing conflicts. As Mildred Hayes (McDormand) continues to battle the local police force, their directed attacks become more severe. These morally questionable actions, however, create for unexpected developments in some characters, most notably the racist police officer Jason Dixon (Rockwell). The film is cleverly written, with carefully planned jokes and unanticipated twists. McDonagh ultimately includes an ending that does not completely resolve Hayes’ problem.
The Shape of Water
Visionary director Guillermo del Toro was behind this year’s frontrunner for Best Picture, The Shape of Water. Drawing atmospheric similarities to Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro has crafted an unconventional yet endearing romance, between a woman and an amphibian man, that masked itself as a 1950s monster movie. This fairy tale seamlessly blends a world grounded in reality with glimmers of fantasy while subtly empowering minority groups, as the protagonists are a mute janitor (Sally Hawkins), her black co-worker and friend (Octavia Spencer) and a gay artist living next-door (Richard Jenkins). Doug Jones’ transformation into the amphibian man is a striking accomplishment in makeup and costume design that rivals his look as the Faun in Pan’s Labyrinth. Accompanied by Alexandre Desplat’s charming score, The Shape of Water uses its sets, costumes and cinematography to encapsulate viewers in the whimsical world del Toro creates. With the film scoring an impressive 13 nominations, including Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography, del Toro is the favorite to win Best Director.
Steven Spielberg’s The Post was slapped together in about one year, and still managed to win over critics and audience members nationwide. The story about an up-and-coming Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers, exposing the U.S. government’s roughly 30-year involvement in the Vietnam War, is tightly written, tensely edited and well-shot. It’s no surprise Spielberg wanted to immediately make this movie, as its themes revolving around freedom of the press are pertinent to today’s political climate. Despite not having any scenes involving direct interactions between the Washington Post and the U.S. government, Spielberg still creates palpable tensions with newcomer Liz Hannah’s screenplay. It certainly shows, as this film’s only other nomination is Meryl Streep’s 21st nomination. Perhaps the Oscars could reward this film Best Picture to honor the difficult and hectic inner-workings of journalism.
Of all the nominees, Dunkirk checks off most of the boxes for the types of movies that get the most Oscars attention: It’s a box office success that was based off an important historical turning point and from a high-caliber director. Dunkirk has a unique structure in trying to recount the evacuation of Allied forces from Dunkirk, France, as it pulls the viewer into the perspective of the soldiers on land, civilians on boats and pilots in the sky. The movie withholds from developing its star-studded cast, as most of their characters are nameless. Director Christopher Nolan greatly relies on the film’s technical achievements to keep a high and consistent level of intensity. The movie is nominated for eight awards, including Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Musical Score, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design and Best Sound Editing.
For the past two years, some of Hollywood’s most renowned directors released seemingly strong Oscar contenders (Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Martin Scorsese’s Silence). These films suffered in nominations, however, because of their late release dates and little-to-no advertising. Phantom Thread seemed like it was following this path because of its sudden emergence, minimal Oscar campaigning and apolitical nature. However, its collection of six nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture, was surprising. The film uses the fashion scene of 1950s London as a backdrop to the relationship between Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps). Bolstered by the finest in Best Costume Design and Best Original Score (Mark Bridges and Jonny Greenwood, respectively), the film is a sight to behold. However, the fact that it was nominated shows that films don’t necessarily need a political agenda that transcends the film to be recognized; they can just be beautifully conceived and expertly executed. Regardless of how many awards it wins, Phantom Thread will leave a lasting impression in the film industry.
On paper, Lady Bird ties with The Big Sick for the year’s most sincere screenplay. Protagonist Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson organically captures the struggles involved in growing up. One may surmise that Gerwig used glimpses of real life as inspiration, making this film somewhat autobiographical. Best Actress nominee Saoirse Ronan’s performance further illustrates this, as the film’s central focus is her relationship with her mother, portrayed phenomenally by Best Supporting Actress nominee Laurie Metcalf. The misunderstandings between teens and parents are natural parts of growing up and Ronan perfectly captures the naiveté of teenage rebellion. With five nominations, including Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, Lady Bird succeeds because of the simplicity of its themes.
Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour, a biopic following former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ahead of World War II, may not be known for its technical elements. However, it does star Gary Oldman putting on lots of makeup and is nominated for Best Picture. Nothing about this formulaic and forgettable historical movie feels organic because Wright tried too hard to create melodramatic moments. Lacking both substance and flair, Darkest Hour is the perfect example of an Oscar bait film. It has racked up six nominations, including Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Best Production Design.
Call Me By Your Name
Director Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name slowly traps the viewer in its world through its spellbinding story of 17-year-old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) slowly falling into an intimate relationship with graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer), Call Me By Your Name is wholly enticing. Its gorgeous soundtrack includes Sufjan Stevens’ Best Original Song nominee, “Mystery of Love.” This love is portrayed in a very profound manner, as exemplified by Mr. Perlman’s ending speech, which is expertly delivered by Michael Stuhlbarg. Call Me By Your Name scored four nominations.
It’s been said that horror movies reflect the times they were made in. Jordan Peele’s Get Out shines as a satire about the subliminal racism in contemporary America. Get Out uses its horror genre to tackle different angles of liberal racism, such as white people expecting black people to fit in a certain mold and acting like they know black culture because they support equal rights. With scenes involving auctions and the ironic twist that protagonist Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) saves himself by picking cotton, Peele also draws elements from slavery into his Oscar-nominated screenplay. The biggest success, however, is with its commercial accessibility, as people watch it expecting a simple horror comedy and leave with profoundly altered perspectives. Get Out earned four nominations, including Best Actor, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.