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Looking at this year's Best Picture Oscar nominees - Part One

Looking at this year's Best Picture Oscar nominees - Part One

At the Pauline Center for Media Studies, the time around the Oscars always brings out our competitive streaks as we talk about the nominees, the snubs, who we think should win and who we hope would win even though there’s only a slim chance. So, we always eagerly await the nominations and now that they’re here, let’s take a look at the Best Picture nominees (in no particular order). This week’s article will cover four of the nine nominees and next week’s article will discuss the other five.

 

Lady Bird

 

An interesting film, especially as it takes place in a Catholic environment, some might view Lady Bird as offensive (and there certainly are offensive aspect to it, especially the attitude toward sex), but ultimately it’s a coming-of-age story of a teenager who is struggling to learn who she is as a person, especially separate from her parents.

 

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan, nominated for Best Actress) has a complicated relationship with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf, nominated for Best Supporting Actress). Lady Bird tests the limits of proper behavior as most teenagers do and struggles with finding out that her boyfriend prefers boys. Through all the ups and downs of her senior year of high school, Lady Bird realizes her parents love her and she loves them back.

 

Lady Bird’s writer and director, Greta Gerwig is also nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Click here for Sr. Helena’s full review of Lady Bird.

 

Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf in "Lady Bird" (A24)

 

Dunkirk

 

Telling the story of the evacuation of Dunkirk beach in May of 1940, Dunkirk is really three films in one. Christopher Nolan, nominated for Best Director, brilliantly captures the tension the rank and file of the British and French armies must have felt as they awaited transport off the beach after being surrounded by German troops and forced to retreat. The audience experiences the story from the perspectives of the guys on the beach, the pilots in the air, and the captains of the small vessels sent by Churchill to aid in the evacuation.

 

Rather than focusing on action, Nolan chooses to highlight the differing ways the characters respond to the situations around them. Some are calm in the face of death, some terrified. Some turn into unlikely leaders and heroes and some give into terror and fright. We might not face the horrors they did but how we respond to difficult situations says a lot about us as people.

 

Dunirk is also nominated in a number of the technical categories as well as for Best Original Score by Hans Zimmer. Click here for Sr. Nancy’s full review of Dunkirk.

 

Still from "Dunkirk" (Warner Bros.)

 

Darkest Hour

 

Amazingly, we have two films nominated for Best Picture this year that deal with the same subject but from very different perspectives. While Dunkirk deals with the actual evacuation and never gives any screen time to the character of Winston Churchill, Darkest Hour looks at the political side of the early World War II and the first month of Churchill’s tenure as Britain’s Prime Minister.

 

Gary Oldman’s performance in this film makes you forget you’re watching an actor portray the larger-than-life figure of Winston Churchill, and makes you believe you are actually watching Churchill himself. If Oldman doesn’t win the Best Actor Oscar for this performance, I’ll be very disappointed (no offense to the other fine actors nominated in this category).

 

Churchill took over from Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) because he was the only person acceptable to both parties of parliament. Since the allies had been backed into a corner at the front, some in the government wanted Churchill to meet Hitler to discuss terms for peace. Continuing to see the number of casualties rise, he actually considers it, but just for a moment.

 

One of my favorite scenes is when he allows his private secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) into the restricted war room to show her what he’s thinking. It shows that the Prime Minister, known for being a rough personality, could show true kindness and concern for those around him.

 

Darkest Hour is also nominated in a number of technical categories. Click here for Sr. Nancy’s full review of Darkest Hour. 

 

Lily James and Gary Oldman in "Darkest Hour" (Focus Features)

 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri

 

This genre-defying film could be considered dark comedy or crime drama. Mildred (Frances McDormand, nominated for Best Actress) is a mother whose daughter’s murder the local authorities have never solved. Running out of ideas to get them to move the case forward, she rents three billboards on a road leading into town and slaps up a message to the sheriff (Woody Harrelson, nominated for Best Supporting Actor). Her actions make her a pariah in the small town and McDormand’s performance plays brilliantly off the other actors, especially Sam Rockwell (also nominated for Best Supporting Actor), who plays the racist deputy, Dixon.

 

Through her own inquiries, she finally discovers the identity of her daughter’s killer. I won’t give away any spoilers but only say that she has a major decision to make. Three Billboards is a multi-layered film and has moments of sorrow, violence, soul-searching, and grace. We didn’t do full review of this film but it made it onto Sr. Rose’s list of favorite films of 2017. You can see what she says about it here

 

Frances McDormand in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

 

Check in next week for our thoughts on the remaining five films nominated for Best Picture: Call Me By Your Name, The Shape of Water, Get Out, Phantom Thread, and The Post.

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