The nine films that are nominated for Best Picture at the 90th Academy Awards are an interesting bunch. At least two movies (Lady Bird and Get Out) were created by first-time directors. Two took place at concurrent moments in history (Darkest Hour and Dunkirk). Three actors appeared in two of the films Timothee Chalamet (Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name), Bradley Whitford (Get Out, The Post), and Michael Stuhlbarg (The Shape Of Water and Call Me By Your Name). Monsters, romance, World War Two, the First Amendment, high school, and even the TSA were all incorporated into these films. Ranking the 2018 Best Picture Nominees was a tougher task than I had expected. Here is my list of the best movies of the year.
(Some spoilers may be in each description).
9: Phantom Thread – Of the nine movies that earned a Best Picture nomination, Phantom Thread is the only one that should not have been nominated. Daniel Day-Lewis was great (of course) as dress designer Reynolds Woodcock, but the movie itself was neither fluid nor compelling. Every time that the plot seemed to be drifting in one direction, the movie veered from that path. I spent much of the film trying to figure out exactly what Phantom Thread was about. While it becomes clear by the end, it took a long time to get there. Given Woodcock’s propensity for behaving like a diva, Phantom Thread came off as Daniel Day-Lewis’ self-tribute to method acting.
8: Darkest Hour – The biggest potential travesty of this year’s Academy Awards would be if Gary Oldman does not win an Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill. He is one of the most amorphous actors ever. To think that the same guy who played a Russian terrorist (Air Force One) and Commissioner Gordon (The Dark Knight trilogy) could also transform into Winston Churchill is mind-boggling. When Oldman appears onscreen I felt that I was watching history unfold before my eyes. Darkest Hour is less engrossing when Oldman is not present, but worth the watch just to see a great actor transform into a titanic historical figure.
7: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – This was the film that was I was most disappointed with in 2018. I wanted to see a vengeful Frances McDormand light the world on fire. Three Billboards delivered on that expectation, but that was just about it. The movie was underdeveloped. It attempted to make a statement on morally corrupt police, but never completes the thought. Racism was introduced as a concept in the film, although it was lazy and trite. Three Billboards also underutilized Peter Dinklage. His character bails McDormand out of a thorny situation, but a great actor is otherwise irrelevant. Three Billboards was a vehicle for some of the strongest acting on this list. Unfortunately, the direction and writing did not equal its stars.
6: Call Me By Your Name – Unlike Phantom Thread or Three Billboards, Call Me By Your Name is an instance where direction made a positive impact on the film. Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer were excellent as lovers carrying out an affair during an Italian summer. Throughout the entire film, Chalamet and Hammer’s relationship felt real and natural because of how it developed. The tentativeness, exuberance, and peak of their fling all fit within the framework of a summer romance. Director Luca Guadagnino paced the film extraordinarily well. The movie could have easily dragged, but the progression of the romance over two hours made the movie interesting.
5: The Shape Of Water – The frontrunner for Best Picture and the recipient of the most overall nominations, The Shape Of Water is a visual and imaginative triumph. Guillermo del Toro should be commended for crafting the most beautiful piece of cinema in this group. That being said, The Shape of Water was one of my two least favorite nominees (Phantom Thread). The fairy tale romance between a half-fish, half-man was predictable and uninteresting. Virtually every character was an average screen entity that I did not develop a connection with. That is not a slight against any of the actors. That potential just was not there in a highly-overrated movie that was produced more style than substance.
4: Lady Bird – I enjoyed every aspect of Lady Bird. It is nominally a coming of age film centered around a Catholic high school senior played by Saoirse Ronan. She stars as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a teenager longing to break away from a family that shares a lot of love under tough circumstances. Along the way so many smaller stories are told involving the people in Lady Bird’s life. This is the first film that I have watched that nostalgically looked back at the time that I was in high school. That nostalgia factor certainly played a role in my appreciation of this movie, but there was not one single flaw in this film. I can’t believe that this is Greta Gerwig’s first movie as a director.
3: The Post – I appreciated The Post more than I thought I would. Much of my respect for The Post comes from having watched Three Billboards and Phantom Thread the previous two evenings. I was disappointed in those movies, but this film forced me to remember just how great a director Steven Spielberg is. This is not news to anyone, however, sometimes greatness can be taken for granted. Watching The Post after seeing movies where the direction is sub-par provided an excellent contrast. There is not a wasted moment. Every character had a purpose. The Post had a compelling preexisting story, yet Spielberg did not overimagine his film. The Post even stands apart from 1976 Best Picture nominee All The Presidents Men. Both films pitted The Washington Post against Nixon. The Post is a better execution of a similar story thanks to Spielberg’s inclusion of publisher Katherine Graham.
2: Get Out – Jordan Peele crafted one of the most original film concepts ever. He turned a comedy-horror film into a clever satire on racism. That is not an easy task to do, let alone execute this well. Peele should take home the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. He has been a creative force as a performer and writer for quite some time, but it is amazing that he was able to craft such a great movie in his first time in the director’s chair. He also turned the best profit of any Best Picture Nominee: $255 million on a $4.5 million budget.
1: Dunkirk – What Christopher Nolan pulled off with Dunkirk is incredible. He turned a war film into a psychological thriller. The film was a relative nameless, faceless story. The dialogue was minimal. Every person in the movie was not trying to win a battle. The film’s tagline “Survival Is Victory” could not be more appropriate. Instead of blood tubes and CGI, he put the audience on beaches, boats, and planes using IMAX cameras. We have grown accustomed to war films pushing the envelope with violence. Dunkirk achieved the same outcome through claustrophobia and terror.
Outside of Top Gun, I cannot recall a movie where the aerial photography was as amazing as Dunkirk. Every scene filmed from a cockpit was breathtaking. Nolan’s best use of airplanes came during the final moments of the film. Given that I had spent much of the 106-minute film feeling immersed in drowning, death, and fear, that sequence was particularly daunting. Every time a German dive bomber descended on a target, it seemed as if it was coming for me too.
There is no other barometer for art than how it makes a person feel. No other movie induced the same combination of awe, fear, and emotion as Dunkirk. Because Dunkirk induced more feelings from me than any other film that was released last year, it is my Best Picture of 2017.
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