It’s time to roll out the red carpet.
For almost a century the Academy Awards have been considered the top honor in cinema. Oscar nominations remain culturally significant, but most people don’t have enough time or money to see every film nominated for Best Picture. To prepare you for the 90th Academy Awards ceremony, here’s all nine nominees in a nutshell, so when the ceremony starts at 5 p.m. on March 4, you’ll know which snubs to be offended by.
The production design in “Dunkirk” is transportative and the air fights are reminiscent of 1927 Best Picture winner “Wings,” but both are overshadowed by obnoxious music.
Director Christopher Nolan’s depiction of over 300,000 british troops evacuating France in WWII is overlaid with high-tension strings, drums and horns getting progressively higher-pitched and faster. Is this an innovative storytelling tactic portraying the stress of war, or a cheap ploy indicating Nolan’s distrust in his story to generate tension on its own?
Without the noise, this would be another boring, over-told war flick. That might be an improvement.
“Darkest Hour” lives up to its title literally and figuratively. The heavily-shadowed frames depict a government trying to reign in its childish, lying and war-fixated new leader. How novel.
Gary Oldman disappears into his role as a sanitized version of Winston Churchill, but outside that the production was a movie version of Netflix’s series “The Crown.” Someone needs to tell voters that not every WWII piece with slanted lighting and forlorn piano music is award-worthy.
Curiously, “Darkest Hour” and “Dunkirk,” overlap in plot. Both films end with the same excerpts from Churchill’s speech to Parliament.
The Shape of Water
Director Guillermo del Toro constructs a darkly quaint picture of the Cold War era starring a secret government lab, a mute custodian, and the fish-man she falls in love with. A predictable plot with one-dimensional characters dampens the mood, and the underlying condemnation of xenophobia is too heavy-handed. What’s more, del Toro missed an opportunity to bridge Hollywood and disabled communities by casting a non-mute actress for the main role. The homage to classic monster movies is cute, but that and high-quality acting by Octavia Spencer can’t carry the story on their own.
“Phantom Thread” follows fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock — played by Daniel Day Lewis in his final role before retirement — and young waitress Alma, who he invites to his fashion practice and they fall into something resembling love. Alma becomes disenchanted with Woodcock’s manipulative ways and goes to dark lengths to regain control.
What starts as a by-the-book romance turns into a disturbing betrayal. Everything interesting and absent from the first half is packed incoherently into the second.
The film makes up for the disastrous plot with a gorgeous post-war London aesthetic communicated through the set, food and exquisite clothes.
Call Me By Your Name
This film’s themes of sexuality, religion, forbidden passion and intellectualism are overbearing. It follows Elio, a bisexual Jewish Italian-American teenager, falling in love with archaeology student Oliver who’s studying with Elio’s father in 1980s Italy.
The chemistry between Timothee Chalamet’s Elio and Armie Hammer’s Oliver is enjoyable and the setting is stunning. The plot, however, is torturously slow and lacks dialogue. LGBTQ+ stories are important, but there’s little in this film that’s new to European coming out movies. It’s a thought-provoking story, but the Academy is behind the times.
Director Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and composer John Williams have 13 Oscar wins on 76 previous nominations, according to IMDB. This Hollywood team seems like cheating.
Based on the true story of the Washington Post’s decision to publish top secret Pentagon Papers in the 1970s, this movie’s questions on media’s power and responsibility are timely and poignant. With much at stake — the fate of the Post, the freedom of the American press and public support for the Vietnam war — this carefully woven tale is gripping and uplifting from start to finish.
Writer-director Jordan Peele’s psychological thriller about a black man’s experience at his white girlfriend’s family’s estate is a shining beacon of Black Excellence, sorely needed after the recent #OscarsSoWhite criticism.
This tale leaves a bread-crumb trail of hints to underlying mystery and microaggressions. Many of Peele’s storytelling staples from Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele” give the story distinct flavor, blurring the line between horror, humor and the use of subversive narratives.
Peele’s script is propped by a stoically vulnerable performance from Daniel Kaluuya. Hollywood needs more diverse performances like his. This one was a bullseye.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
“Three Billboards” centers around Mildred Hayes’s efforts to spur her small town’s police department into investigating the rape and murder of her daughter. Every turn of the plot deepens an examination of grief, empathy, abuse, power structures and the pros and cons of a small community lifestyle.
The cast bursts with independent film veterans like Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, making every scene burn with brutal honesty. The movie’s final scenes leave viewers pondering how to handle challenging situations.
“Lady Bird” shows the beautiful things that can happen when movies by women about women are taken seriously.
With flashes of “Juno,” this film paints a portrait of a young woman who’s endearing because of her flaws. This hilariously self-deprecating snapshot of 2002 teenage misadventure centers around Lady Bird’s desperation to escape Sacramento.
Saoirse Ronan is charismatic and headstrong in her title role. Hers is one of many strong performances — including Laurie Metcalf and Beanie Feldstein — which sell a story that provokes tears and laughter simultaneously.