A look at 2017’s best picture nominees

The Oscars are at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 4. This year's host is Jimmy Kimmel. Courtesy photo

Connor Heaton

Staff reporter


The Oscars are coming up this Sunday. Here’s a quick rundown of the nominees for best picture.

The Shape of Water
With a strong female lead in Sally Hawkins, accompanied by refreshing views on sexuality and gender roles, this film turns the traditional “man-meets-fish” tale on its head.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), “The Shape of Water” regails viewers with a love story between Eliza (Sally Hawkins), a mute sanitation worker and an amphibious creature held captive at a secret facility during the 1960s.

Simultaneously abominable and adorable, the relationship the two lovers share is unconventional to say the least. They bond through the short time they spend together as Eliza cleans and maintains his tank. However, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), a government agent, is vehemently opposed to this creature and wishes to tame and ultimately dissect him.

What truly shines, is the utterly dizzying display of visuals this film exudes, especially in regards to the amphibious man. There’s so much care and thought put into his design and how he fits into this world. Because he is amphibious, he must be kept partially moist, whether that be in a large vat or a bathtub in a tiny apartment. What’s most apparent is the stylistic choices Del Toro made to fulfil this fantastical vision of the 60s, and, if nothing else, he deserves an award for best director.

The time period lends itself well to the entire film, as this story about uncommon love is expertly viewed through the warped lenses of old-fashioned sensibilities. This is better executed than Strickland, the film’s antagonist. Strickland is an unhinged man hellbent on maintaing this utopia-like vision of the world: white picket fences, nuclear families, and women who are better seen and not heard.

However, while it contains gorgeous visuals and memorable characters and moments, Shape of Water is not perfect. For instance, it has a plot which sometimes drags at points and a conclusion that, while fitting (especially in del Toro Fashion), potentially leaves one unsatisfied, or at least underwhelmed.

But even still, this film expertly explores the meaning of humanity and the consequences of maintaining the status quo as it attempts to break down long-standing barriers of romance, disability and sexuality in an engrossing and stylish manner.

Overall: 7.5/10

The Post
Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Post is about a cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents and pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between the press and the government.

It is overall a loving homage to the days print journalism, before social media. It was a time when getting a story out meant the difference between success and failure.
Spielberg does an excellent job directing this film and there is such a brilliant sense of detail to every shot.

Ultimately this film is a success in all departments as it tells an engrossing tale that weave in politics, and questions the ethics of dropping a story so monumental it could fundamentally change the country.

Overall: 7.5/10

3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Complex, witty and devastatingly human, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” is an emotional anecdote about life, loss and the often desperate but futile desire to put it back together.

Directed by Martin McDonagh, this drama tells the story of Mildred Hays (Frances McDormand), a woman living on the edge of a nothing little town in Missouri, enduring the pain after her daughter’s brutal murder. She makes her grief public after she rents out three old billboards and uses them to convince the police to actively re-investigate the case.

What would otherwise act as a fairly simple story about vengeance, turns into a winding twisting character piece that is unpredictable and wholly original in its execution.

There are many shades of grey, as perhaps the cost of revisiting this gruesome murder is more than this tiny town can handle.

Every actor gives their all, making up an entire town of complex characters. Perhaps the best performance, though, came from Frances McDormand as Mildred Hays. There’s such a sense of grief and loss hidden within her, but also this willful, almost arrogant determination to see this investigation to its conclusion.

She isn’t like many other people. She speaks her mind and isn’t afraid to beat the answers out of people. But underneath the hard exterior is a soft, compassionate and ultimately broken person, a side to herself she so desperately attempts to cover up.

As one of the year’s best, this film tackles themes of guilt, remorse and the futility of vengeance in a way few others dare to achieve. It is a near-masterpiece.

Overall: 9.5/10

Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” is, if anything, a triumph in experimental storytelling.

The coming of age tale stars Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) as she struggles through her last year at Catholic HIgh School after reinventing herself and attempts to escape from her family’s financial woes.

The film is ultimately about rebellion and the attempt to find yourself through the struggles of life. Lady Bird is artistically-inclined and wants to leave her financially- insecure family to pursue her dreams.

Lady Bird herself is a fascinating character because she is so different from other female protagonists. She does her own thing, she makes rash decisions and gets into trouble easily. Because of this, one may not feel for her all the time, but Lady Bird, like all the other characters has her strengths, flaws and moments to truly shine.

Another huge stand-out is Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird’s mother, a woman of tough-love. The relationship with her and Lady Bird exists at the forefront as they bicker and dispute, yet there’s an underlying theme of love and understanding the two have. There’s this sense that she doesn’t agree with how Lady Bird lives her life, but still has faith that she will one day come to her senses

One can easily empathize with her, as we know how hard it is to watch somebody we love willfully go down a route of bad decisions and missed potential.

Where this film is most engaging is how different it feels compared to other movies — namely in regards to the scene structure. Some scenes just start without any lead-in and end just as abruptly.
This is no better executed than during one of Lady Bird’s first romantic encounters, which consist of only a few minutes of screen time and the entire relationship concludes just as quickly as it begins — just like life sometimes.

Though this method of directing is incredibly interesting, it also gives the audience a feeling of disconnect, as major plot points speed by incredibly quickly that one may fail to remember much of what they just saw.

It may be off putting to some, but it strengthens the idea of life being this ever-fleeting moment in time comprised of fast flashing memories. When thinking back to the film, months, maybe years later, one may forget most of what they saw, but certain moments may be etched into our minds forever, much like major events in our own lifes.

By the time the film ends, the audience has been taken on a thorough journey that may lead some, like Lady Bird herself, to an entirely new way of perceiving the world — for better or worse.

Lady Bird: 8/10

Phantom Thread
Set in 1950s London, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “A Phantom Thread” is a haunting peek behind the scenes of the uber-demanding and self-cannibalistic relationship between renowned dressmaker, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his muse and lover (Megan Ellison).

Gorgeously filmed with a sense of purpose and detail in every shot, the thoughtful direction lends itself well to the themes of rigid perfection and deliberateness found prevalently throughout the movie. It is a marvel to behold, and doesn’t come off as pretentious or overly flowery in its presentation.

Daniel Day-Lewis as the charismatic Reynolds Woodcock is a showstopper. He plays an artistic genius so engaged in his work that everything must be a certain way in order for him to create. That means no crunching of food at breakfast, slurping tea at dinner, or disrupting him in any way. Unfortunately for him, his life is greatly thrown into chaos after he meets a waitress named Alma (Vicky Kreips). The two quickly realize that in order for their relationship to succeed, something has to give, though nobody wants to admit it.

Weirdly, the film is a lot to take in, but does not have much to say, at least until the end. It is a very dialogue-heavy affair that certainly may not be for everybody.

Strangely, though one may find themselves at the edge of boredom, but still intrigued by the under-lining secrecy every character hides. Though this is not a film that one would expect to have a massive twist, the sense of intrigue throughout makes one wonder what’s happening behind the curtain. When that veil is lifted, what lies behind may not satisfy everyone.

However, it’s the characters, world and brilliant soundtrack, which are all so draped in intrigue and complexity that makes this film rise above its shortcomings.

Phantom Thread: 7/10

Dunkirk is an immersive, engrossing war experience but also a very detached viewing experiences that prefers style over substance.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, the film takes place in the days, hours and minutes of the British army’s evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk during the early stages of WWII.

With scenes that depict the action from afar, close quarters encounters and many, many long shots of the open ocean, this film is primarily a visual and auditory spectacle. It is difficult to describe because it is such a vastly different take on the war genre, yet it feels like it belongs there.

This highlights the main aspect of the film, that it’s more about the event than the specific characters. To be fair, the film has many characters, but doesn’t spend much time with any of them. Instead it opts to tell its story by shifting between different aspects of the war. There’s the pilot, the soldier and the civilian boat captain. They all exist, though, to tell a broader narrative of this event.

This is where the issues come in, because even though it’s possible to care about the event, its very difficult to

Still a very human movie, the film does an astounding job of making audiences care about the thousands soldiers and civilians involved because it treats them the same as everybody else. In a way they are all rats trying to escape the cage, but like rats, when the paranoia grows, they start to turn on each other. Lending to this, there are hardly any actual “enemies,” at least none that are visible. The incoming German army acts as a force of nature instead of a conquerable threat. Characters have to evacuate like they would a hurricane.

An abundant, almost overwhelming sense of immersion comes accompanied with this film. One feels incredibly glued and ain a way attached to what’s happening because it evokes anxiety and dread, very powerful emotions.

There is no other experience like Dunkirk, unfortunately, it is a film best watched in a theater. A home viewing simply doesn’t do it justice, the immersion is lessened because you aren’t’ in a massive auditorium with music and sound pounding down on you.

For that reason, the film stumbles and any experience besides the theater just isn’t the same. But those looking for an immersive spectacle won’t be disappointed either way.

Dunkirk: 7.5/10

Get Out
Ever walked into a room of strangers as the odd one out? People are staring at you, acting weird, giving you strange almost malevolent stares. You aren’t sure whether these people are just eccentric or if you’re actually in danger, but the only thought coursing through your mind is “I have to get out of here.”

This movie capitalizes on that feeling and makes viewers question who exactly is doing the staring and what they might see if they looked in mirror.

Directed by comedy virtuoso Jordan Peele (Key and Peele) Get Out is an attempt at a socio-horror film that simultaneously highlights how far we’ve come but also how far we have to go.

It stars Daniel Kaluuya, a young African-American man who goes to meet his white girlfriend’s parents for a weekend. Unfortunately for him, this friendly and amiable ambiance slowly gives way to something far more sinister.

What stands out the most in this film, besides the excellent performances across the board, is the sense of tension and actual “horror” in a horror film.

This seems like a lost art, as so many modern spook-fests resort to cheap “boo, gotcha” jump-scares. This film has a few of those, and they’re its weakest links.

Really, it’s when Get Out diverts from its interesting premise and story and devolves into horror tropes that the film begins to lose its edge.

But this film gets under one’s skin and makes the viewer perhaps question the often underappreciated value of the human body, mind and soul.

Expertly, the film brings the viewer into the same situation as the main character as he spends the greater half of the weekend attempting to decipher the family’s true intentions.

Are they a bit eccentric, or are they racist? The answer is far more sinister and skin-crawling than that.

What’s fascinating is how the film handles the attitude of racism. It isn’t highlighted as traditional Huck-Finn verbiage, but incredibly subtle cues that make the main character continue to acknowledge and be aware that he’s different from everybody else.

Then the film takes this twist into the fantastical but equally unnerving as it shows all of its cards.

However, while this final revelation is interesting, the actual reveal itself feels underwhelming and like a missed opportunity. This is because it resorts to incredibly trite and predictable methods of plot structure that give everything away literally minutes before.

What resonates the most, though, is how the film handles its topics without truly alienating people of various political stances. Because, at its very core, this is a horror movie and a good one.

Perhaps what’s truly scary is that this film’s “boogeyman” is more a personification of a deeply embedded attitude that still very much exists in our society and maybe each other. It’s something that eats at one’s core because that isn’t something they can easily exercise from themselves as a demon or ghost. And that’s truly scary.

If more movies had as much thought and effort towards how they wanted to deeply affect their audiences, it would make the horror genre great again.

Get Out : 8.5/10

Darkest Hour
With all the films nominated this year, there simply was not time to watch them all. Darkest Hour was the only one that fell by the wayside.

During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the brink of war. The newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), must decide whether to negotiate the Axis powers or fight on against almost insurmountable odds.

The general consensus surrounding the film is that director Joe Wright gives Gary Oldman a chance to shine, but in some regards, the history gets lost along the way.

One moviegoer with whom I spoke said: “otherwise dull scenes are captivating just because Gary Oldman is in them.”

Metacritic Rating: 7.5

Call Me By Your Name
Directed by Luca Guadagnino, “Call Me by Your Name” is a hauntingly beautiful poem on love, loss, how and with whom we spend our time on Earth.

Based on the 2007 novel of the same name, this film chronicles the coming of age and passionate yet fleeting romance of two young men during the summer of 1980.

What’s important to know is how different this film attempts to be. It does not rely on traditional 3-act structure and it has no major conflicts or hurdles. It is simply an intimate glimpse at the daily lives and blossoming relationship of these two as they spend their time exploring the Italian countryside.

Perhaps the greatest plus of the movie is the way it sets up its two lead characters, Elio (Timothee Charlamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer). Elio is a 17 year old Jewish boy who spends his time reading, transcribing music and playing piano. Oliver is a 24 year old who travels to Italy to learn from Elio’s father, a famous professor.

For most of the film, in a way, they both dislike each other, as they seem like polar opposites. Elio is reclusive and secretive and Oliver tends to be more outgoing.

Once they let down their guard, a blossoming relationship forms between them.

At the center, it is about one’s first passionate yet incredibly fleeting relationship. It handles the complexity but also joy that comes with all of that in a way many can relate to.

The film isn’t about the fact that they’re a same-sex couple, it goes beyond that. There is no trite plot about them wondering what society would think, or an antagonist trying to keep them apart. It is incredibly refreshing to see a film delve into this subject matter in a way that does not feel forced.

Furthermore, the message behind it all is something incredibly impactful. This film wants its viewers to know that situations exist and people change and that sometimes pulls you away from your desires, whatever they may be. But bottling up those feelings and forgetting everything you were at that time is a path to self-destruction. Expressing those feelings and keeping them present in your life helps you grow as a person.

Much like life, though, this movie isn’t perfect.

The issues with “Call Me by Your Name” are not the message or the subject matter, it’s the fact that the film wants to leave things up to the viewer’s interpretation.

Aspects of their these characters are not explicitly stated. This is effective in highlighting how natural everything flows, but it also tends to leave out important details of these characters, including their thoughts and motivations. Because of this, it leaves too much up in the air that it’s difficult to understand them as people and truly embrace this romance.

Still, this is an incredibly human film that takes this often ostracized aspect of society, one we often allow but don’t embrace, and truly explores and dissects it. It shows the ups and downs of it and how complex yet incredibly simple it is. It transcends gender and sexuality and it permeates our very existence. That aspect is feeling, and “Call Me By Your Name” shows its audiences that without feeling, we lose something in ourselves.

Call Me By Your Name: 9/10

Best Picture Prediction: Shape of Water

Personal Selection: “Three Billboards,” followed shortly by “Call Me By Your Name”


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