The 2018 Academy Awards are just around the corner, and as usual, we have thoughts. We’ve both seen all of the best picture nominees (in Brooke’s case most of them more than once) and we’re ready to hash out our pick for the winner.
B: Best Picture isn’t always a tricky category, but it sure has been the past couple of years. And 2018 is arguably more confusing than that time La La Land won but didn’t actually win. Speaking of, Annemarie has a confession to make about last year’s nominees — but more on that later. I’m here to talk about the curious nature of this race.
Back in October, everyone was convinced Three Billboards was going to run away with everything. Then it came out and faded rather rapidly. Then there was a backlash. Then backlash to the backlash. And now Frances McDormand seems untouchable and the BAFTAs gave that picture their prize for Best Film and Best British Film (By the way, fuck that! We want justice for #Paddington2). Anyway, all of that might suggest that Three Billboards is the cut-and-dry frontrunner. Well, take a beat on that thought, buck-o.
The Shape of Water is quite beloved by a number of factions in the voting body and Guillermo Del Toro has won a ton of directing prizes. Then there’s The Post. It’s traditional, but it’s also Hanks, Streep and Spielberg in a rather pointed commentary about the importance of the press. And let’s not forget that A24 managed a victory for Moonlight with little more than a passionate fanbase on the ground. Both Lady Bird (also an A24 joint) and Get Out have that too. As does Call Me By Your Name, but without a director nod for Guadagnino, it feels like the darkest of those horses.
Oh, and then there’s the towering technical achievement that is Dunkirk and poor Christopher Nolan who’s never won an Oscar before — indeed he’s never even been nominated before. I don’t have an angle for Darkest Hour or Phantom Thread, because frankly, they aren’t going to factor here. But with 4-5 titles arguably in the mix, we could actually see a surprise at this year’s ceremony.
Okay, I said things. Lots of things. Annemarie, fill us in on your patchy dedication to Oscar viewing.
For the record, I have seen every Best Picture nominee every year since 2008, with the exception War Horse and Hugo in 2012 because I just couldn’t be bothered. I don’t expect anyone reading this will be surprised to hear that.
A: Also for the record, this is the very first year of my whole life that I have seen EVERY Best Picture nominee. EVER. I almost made it in 2016 but missed Bridge of Spies (I have no excuse, and still haven’t seen it… I know, I know! ON THE LIST). Then last year, I only saw TWO of the nominees and also still haven’t seen Moonlight. I got ahead early on La La Land with an early Denver Film Festival screening in November, but then managed to only see one other nominee (Arrival). Ooops. I did see a few of the other prestige flicks, including Jackie, The Lobster and Nocturnal Animals.
Clearly, I have no historical context for the Best Picture race like Brooke’s, outside of the lovely montage sequence at the Oscars telecast itself. But that will absolutely not stop me from having an opinion on this year’s race (obviously).
SIDE NOTE PART I: Why did Three Billboards, obviously an American film with American themes, win the BAFTA Best British Film? Educate me!)
SIDE NOTE PART II: Thar be spoilers ahead, beware!
I’m going to start with my personal favorite. It may not be the one that will win, but I don’t care. I liked Dunkirk the most. And not just because Tom Hardy is a pilot hero who heroically saves a bunch of men on the beach and heroically burns his plane down to keep it out of the hands of the Germans. I mean, that certainly helped, but his character wasn’t even my favorite. It’s a tie between Mark Rylance’s civilian boat captain and Kenneth Branaugh’s commander.
And here’s the thing I know Brooke is going to say: “But Nolan needs to stop playing with time. Just stop. You don’t need it and it would be better without it.” I disagree. I found the jumbled timelines to work exceedingly well and give the entire proceedings a sense of chaos that echoed what the real evacuation must have been like. Yes, the sound mix was blaringly loud. No, I don’t think the IMAX filming made too much of a difference to my untrained eye. But I was there for this movie, and it’s the one on the list that just has stuck at the top, even 7-odd months later.
Ok, Brooke. Let me know how I’m wrong and what your personal fave is.
B: Okay, before I get into the debate phase of this, the Outstanding British Film prize has one simple guide, the film must have significant creative involvement by individuals who are British, in this case, that’s Martin McDonagh, the writer and director.
Now on to Dunkirk. You’re right, this movie is absolutely not my favorite and I have significant narrative problems with it. I am BEYOND sick of Christopher Nolan’s obsession with time. And not only does it not add anything to this film, it actually spoils character reveals and has confused many, many viewers. But more than the fact that I think he wrote himself into a corner trying to capture storylines by land, air and sea and wanting it to be simultaneous in the movie when it wasn’t in nature, I take issue with the fact that the end result is so uneven. And your favorite moments — Tom in the plane, Kenneth on the pier and Mark in the wee boat are evidence of that. Everything but what we see on the beach is vastly more compelling, and vastly less present. I love the stoic tea and toast and the civilian boats racing across that distance to bring their boys home, but frankly, Atonement captured the actual sense of the beach much more effectively, and in much less time.
That said, I would rather Dunkirk win than a couple of these other options, because however much the narrative irks me, it is a towering technical achievement. Again, it’s not that I hate it, it’s that I could like it so much more. I respect Dunkirk, but I remain solidly “meh” on it.
It’s not going to come as a surprise to you AM, that my personal favorite is Lady Bird. You were at the screening with me when I declared Saoirse-Ronan-coming-of-age-with-a-move-to-New-York-and-a-low-key-love-triangle is my ideal genre. You saw me happy cry and sad cry and happy-sad cry. You saw the studio reps waiting for me to float out on a cloud. Like so many people, especially women, I watch Lady Bird and I feel seen. I feel represented and like Greta Gerwig made this movie just for us. If Lady Bird existed when I was in high school, I would have watched it at least once a week. AT LEAST. What’s incredible about this movie (apart from its compassion, heart, honesty and incredible cast) is the fact that Greta Gerwig had the gumption to tell a story of a teenage girl just being a teenage girl. And somehow, in 2018, it feels fucking revolutionary. We’ve been watching teenage boys live simple teenage boy lives for decades, but with girls we never just get to see them being. Until now.
Yes, a tear just hit my keyboard. I love this movie. I love that it breaks me and builds me back up. I love that it’s a tribute to the impossibly complicated nature of mother-daughter relationships. I love that it’s a loving snapshot of the culture of my youth. I love that it’s made it okay to like Dave Matthews unironically again. When it comes to prestige cinema, I have always, and will always land on the side of personal movies with unimpeachable storytelling. So yeah, #TeamLadyBird.
Okay, AM. I know you liked Lady Bird a great deal, but tell me why it’s not tops for you. And then bring another of the nine into this fold and we’ll get into it.
A: I did like Lady Bird a great deal! I also cried, but only once. It moved me, and it also reminded me SO MUCH of my senior year of high school. It’s honest, it’s powerful, and it was absolutely made for me. We discussed this already, but Lady Bird is only two years younger than Annemarie in Real Life (presumably I’m only that much older than Gerwig so here’s my standard jealous face for not being Oscar nominated), so her story mirrors mine in more ways than one.
But why isn’t it top of the pack for me? Maybe it’s just to be contrarian to Brooke when we so often agree? Maybe because Tom Hardy isn’t in Lady Bird? I kid, mostly. I think it comes down to the movie that I can’t get out of my head the most, and Dunkirk was that for me. I’ve known for months that it wasn’t your favorite, that it wasn’t a lot of critic’s favorites, but I was watching that movie with my eyes wide open in shock and fascination, so it’s at the top. Rest assured, Lady Bird is definitely up there, and I’m looking forward to watching it again so I can analyze based on the other choices available.
Let’s move to the Creature Feature: The Shape of Water. I was far less bothered by the woman-fish sex than I thought I would be. I obviously found Octavia Spencer heartfelt, amazing and hilarious, but Richard Jenkins’ pie and one-sided conversations with Elisa to be some of the more touching cinematic moments I can think of. The more human the story or the individual moment, the more I’m there for it. Also, the world created by Guillermo del Toro is stunning and I would absolutely live in that apartment. Also also, fuck Michael Shannon’s character.
Brooke, why do you think (or not think), Shape of Water will win?
B: Okay, first of all, as critics go, I’m a bit of an outlier for Dunkirk, when it came out it was hailed as “the one” — I’ll be the contrarian, thank you very much! (But seriously, it got a LOT of love.)
As for The Shape of Water, I consider Guillermo Del Toro’s fish-human fairy tale to be one of the few pictures that’s truly in the mix to win this thing. The sense is that it’s fading somewhat, but The Shape of Water is a pretty staggering vision and it’s audaciously different. Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlberg are wonderful. The apartment is glorious. I can see why people love getting lost in this world, even if I’d like to see the whole fish and Michael Shannon storyline cut. I’m so here for Sally, Richard and Octavia just living their lives that I don’t even need those clever scenes with the eggs and innovative bathroom pools. I think the only thing that really hinders this picture is that it doesn’t have the staying power of some of the others, nor the groundswell of support.
Let’s go from the fantastical to the other genre that Oscar tends to dislike: horror. Get Out has the kind of passionate support that can make for a big upset. And talk about staying power, it was released at this time last year. Jordan Peele’s nightmarish (uncomfortably close to real) vision left people SHOOK. This movie is hypnotic and unforgettable. And the fact that it scored multiple nominations says volumes about the passion it inspires in viewers.
It’s well documented that you’re not a horror fan, so tell me all about your Get Out experience, please.
A: I strongly disliked that Get Out made me jump several times. However, you were right in that it’s not that scary — for white people. Can we pause for a moment to talk about how much white people suck? Especially in Get Out, but generally, constantly, throughout history: we are awful.
Yes, this is very close to real, but also, the whole brain transplant thing I found to be pretty farfetched. I’d have almost preferred if the reason all of the black characters were under this spell was because they were hypnotized and under Catherine Keener’s control. Not only did I not like the bloody violence of the surgery sequence because I don’t do needles or blood or attack antlers or any of that, but it just started to feel very slasher film in an unrealistic way.
That being said, the acting here is by far the creepiest thing. From Allison Williams’ deadpan face combined with a panic voice to Bradley Whitford’s friendly (TOO FRIENDLY) dad mannerisms to Betty Gabriel’s extremely bizarre “I didn’t mean to unplug your phone” exchange with Chris, it was a study in making your face not match your eyes. And we know from Tyra Banks’ “smizing” that it’s DIFFICULT TO DO.
Brooke, what did you love about Get Out, and where does it rank in your top Best Picture noms this year?
B: The thing I most loved about Get Out is the thing you most hated about it. It’s profoundly unsettling. I love that I sat in a theater full of white folks and heard them gasp and panic and cringe because other white people (who would normally be the heroes) rolled in and that was bad, bad news. I love the way Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams play off each other and that moment when Daniel realized the extent to which he’s in a very, very bad situation will never leave my brain. It’s not my first choice for Best Picture, but I’d rather see it win than a majority of the other nominees.
I think we’re agreeing on a little too much here. Isn’t this meant to be a battle? Let’s talk about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
A: First off, I never would have guessed that Three Billboards was from the same writer/director as In Bruges if I hadn’t seen his name on screen. They just seem totally, thematically different. I am ok with Frances winning for her acting but I don’t think this is a best picture winner. I know Brooke is going to go into the myriad ways this is a problematic movie, but as a whole? I did enjoy it quite a bit. I liked the character progressions, I liked that Frances is here to burn it down (literally), and I really can’t get over the moment in the police station where Woody Harrelson’s embattled sheriff coughs up blood right into the middle of a heated argument. Frances’ reaction is why they give out acting awards and it’s possibly the most tender and human moment in the entire Best Picture race.
Ok, Brooke, tell me why this film is so problematic and why you might burn it all down if it wins.
B: Okay, first of all — the most tender and human moment in the entire Best Picture race absolutely belongs to Michael Stuhlberg in Call Me By Your Name — the moment when he makes his speech to Timothee Chalamet is PERFECT. After that, it goes to several moments in Lady Bird and then we get to Frances. I agree that the particular moment you reference is beautiful, but Three Billboards just isn’t. I’m not going to relitigate a long, long, long-gestating conversation here, so I’ll just say this. Three Billboards is a movie that parades as a gritty drama with a strong woman at its center, but here’s the thing: it doesn’t exist in reality. It exists in a cartoonish place where no one is subject to any of the laws of humanity. There are no consequences for anything in this universe, so therefore there are no stakes.
I see how and even why people are charmed by Three Billboards, it has all of the trappings of quite a good film, but it falls apart when you look too close. I will say that I adore Frances as a performer, so I shan’t be mad if she wins, but I also don’t think having her go guns blazing through scene after scene using shocking — “for a woman” — language is a vast waste of her talents. And let’s not even get into the ways in which the plot fails the murdered daughter and the only son left to our mother on a mission.
Obviously, I’m not a fan. Here’s a fact that might surprise you though, there’s only one film on this list that might rank lower than Three Billboards does for me: Phantom Thread. Let’s talk about it and I’ll do my best to sort out which owns the lowest ranking in my book.
A: Oh yes, the “Asshole Creative Genius Acting Like an Asshole” movie otherwise known as Phantom Thread. It has the pedigree, so of COURSE it’s nominated all over the place. But for a costume drama about the fashion world in Britain in the 1950s, I was not super charmed by the accents or the clothes.
I don’t even know if Daniel Day-Lewis is truly the greatest actor of our generation or he’s just so picky about roles that it seems that way? He’s insanely talented, and I did relish parts of his Creative Genius role. But then we get to the poisoned mushroom shenanigans and I have to say that the rules in this universe make less sense than the ones in Three Billboards. Maybe this just wasn’t my jam, but I definitely didn’t understand the final few scenes.
Now let’s talk about two things I know we both loved: the architecture and Lesley Manville. Brooke, please also provide the film school version of what’s going on in Phantom Thread. Also: will it win?
B: I don’t think there is any way in hell this movie wins. But I did so love Lesley Manville — “Don’t pick a fight with me, you’ll end up dead.” Man, did she throw some shade in this movie. And that house. We live there now.
Conceptually, I understood the mushroom shenanigans and the rules of this universe, it’s all about power dynamics and control, but understand it though I might, I’m not there for it. This is a toxic, abusive relationship and I won’t entertain any views otherwise. That we watched it unfold painstakingly slowly through scene after scene about the Asshole being an Asshole about absolutely everything is irritating to a degree that the pedigree and accomplishments of this movie pretty much fall away.
But I do have to shout out two instances where we had simultaneous and correct reactions that will illustrate all of this for me. First, the Asshole doesn’t like butter. STOP THE PRESSES. Fuck that guy, we were done.”Butter is a divinity! Break up with him!” If the movie ended there with that action, I would have loved it. Instead, it takes us down the path of no return, also the second instance. We’ll call this the mushroom twist. If you’ve seen Phantom Thread, you know what it is and why it prompted us to turn to each other and say, “The fuck?!” UGH. I’ll grant this movie this much, I love rage discussing it.
Enough of that though. Let’s talk about the beautiful story known as Call Me By Your Name.
A: “Rage discussing” is the new “hate watching” and I am here for it.
If I already didn’t want to buy a country home in Italy, I do now. Call Me is indeed beautiful, inside and out. I’ll be honest, I didn’t quite get the title quote. I’m assuming it’s about connecting deeply with someone? Other than that minor qualm, this is a wonderful story about first love. I wasn’t bothered by the age difference, but I hear that’s a thing? Also, I love that this is set in the ’80s, giving the whole enterprise a much different feel than if it took place today. Would a move have been made sooner if these characters lived in 2018? Also also, the fact that this is a love story between two men is probably remarked upon quite often, but I was struck by the incredible “everydayness” of this story, told with such care and love.
Brooke, talk to me. What did you like about Call Me, why will it win, and is it revolutionary?
B: I adore a great many things about Call Me. Apart from the incredible compassion of the parents in this film that I mentioned above, I love the fact that on my first watch I didn’t understand all the beats of this relationship. I felt as uncertain as Timothée Chalamet and that was pretty magical. But my very favorite element is one you mentioned as well. This “everydayness” of this romance is spectacular and it shouldn’t feel revolutionary, but it is because it’s between two men. It’s wonderful to see a picture that just allows their love to exist and follow the beats of heterosexual romantic dramas, because feelings are universal, after all. And I think that’s what inspires so much passion for this movie.
The age difference discussion was definitely a thing, but not much of one. I’ve heard a great deal many more conversations about the peach and the scene that inspires the title. It took me rather a lot of ruminating to get to a point where I felt confident in the significance of that exchange, but I think you’re on the right path with intimacy, My theory is that the suggestion, “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine,” is a bit of a spin on the thrill people in love get when they hear their lover use their name. In this case, our heroes take the connection and the associated butterflies a step further by symbolically becoming one another. It’s sweet, if potentially a little jarring in practical use.
Unfortunately, I don’t see an outcome where it wins best picture. While it did net some serious nominations, it failed to capture a directing nod for Luca Guadagnino and that tells us something about the feelings of the voting body. In a year like this, it’s not impossible, but I think the better outcome to hope for would be Timothée managing an upset of Gary Oldman in the best actor race.
And speaking of Gary Oldman, let’s chat a bit about the movie we nearly forgot — Darkest Hour — before we close this thing out with The Post.
A: It’s no wonder that I almost forgot Darkest Hour was a thing. Oldman’s physical transformation is a statement to movie effects makeup, as much as it is about his acting. And the situation is compelling as well: I had no idea that Churchill was brought in as prime minister to be a fixer when the war was getting going, and was dumped soon after its conclusion. His speeches are legendary and the man himself inspires much discussion. While I did like the political intrigue mixed in with bits of stories from the common folk, I left the theater not being as inspired as I thought I would be. The story just didn’t stick.
Ok, I’m also going to give my 2 cents on The Post. First of all, Meryl in caftans chewing the scenery? I loved every second of it. Almost as much as I loved Tom “Not. Yet.” Hanks as her editor counterpart. It felt like a love letter to the newspaper industry specifically and the media industry today, how good reporting can unravel evil schemes. It’s no wonder they rushed to get this out in 2017 (or so I remember reading). I don’t know much about film direction, but Spielberg is no slouch, so I suppose it was good work?
Brooke, fill me in. Also, please congratulate me on keeping to my 2 cents instead of my usual 10 cents. #levitynotbrevity
B: Two paragraphs for two movies has to be some kind of a We Write Things record. As does the total length of this post, which is bordering on novella territory. Fortunately, I too, have little to say Darkest Hour, it was perfectly serviceable and I liked seeing Rose from Downton Abbey pop up to spar/cower from Churchill. It’s an interesting perspective, but like Dunkirk, it ranks well below my favorite Dunkirk-related movie of the year, Their Finest, which was charming, beautiful and also about people whose names history forgot. I mentioned it before and I’ll say it again, this movie’s best (and likely only) chance is best actor, but I’d much rather see Chalamet walk away with the prize.
Now, The Post, on the other hand, I adore. Every single second of it except for the part where Spielberg gets all Marvel with the Watergate nod at the end. DON’T OVERDO IT, BRO! Anyway, this crackling cast makes me tear up over the promise of journalism and the whir of printing presses. As Tom “Not. Yet.” Hanks puts it, “I’d give my left one to be in this mess.” I don’t have a “left one,” but the Brooke who went to journalism school couldn’t help be swept away by this narrative. Even more so when you throw Katherine Graham’s long-ignored story into the mix. I love what Meryl does here because it’s so subtle and wonderful and understated, but dammit if every look doesn’t get more impressive the more I watch this movie. It’s to the point where I have to join in when Sarah Paulson says “Well, I think that’s brave,” and I get a little weepy when the crowd of women parts for her when she walks out of the courtroom, and I fistpump when Kay says, “Let’s go. Let’s do it. Let’s go.” I don’t see a win for The Post, but it’s a winner in my heart.
Okay, AM. We’ve put our truths out there, I don’t think we’ve convinced each other of anything, but let’s each do a list of our final rankings. Plus a prediction of what we think *will* win, right or wrong.
A: Let’s be honest. Either we already agreed on things, or we were never going to see eye-to-eye. I’m quite cool with that.
Here’s my definitive ranking, from least favorite to most favorite:
9. Phantom Thread
8. Darkest Hour
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
6. Get Out
5. Call Me By Your Name
4. The Shape of Water
3. The Post
2. Lady Bird
Now for what I think will actually win: The Shape of Water. I have no gauge on what the actual voters actually think, but I’m going to take a stab in the dark and make a random prediction. Brooke, your slightly more reasoned and experienced list and guess, go!
B: Alright, here goes my list, also from least favorite to most favorite:
9. Phantom Thread
8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
7. Darkest Hour
5. The Shape of Water
4. Get Out
3. Call Me By Your Name
2. The Post
1. Lady Bird
I am tempted to agree with you that The Shape of Water will actually win, but that’s boring, so I’m going to go with my dark horse upset pick: Get Out. It’s a theory I have (and a lot of other people do too) based on the preferential ballot system, but nobody has time to listen to that, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
Happy Oscars friends!