Last week, we posted an overview of four of the Best Pictures nominees. Here are the rest.
Call Me By Your Name
Like Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name is a coming-of-age story set in Italy in 1983 during a family’s summer stay at their villa. 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet, also nominated for Best Actor) spends his time by reading, transcribing music, and flirting with local girl, Marzia (Esther Garrel). When Oliver (Armie Hammer) comes to serve as research assistant to Elio’s father, an archaeologiest, Elio has stirrings of feelings for Oliver and the two embark on an awkward love affair. Simultaneously, Elio is also experimenting sexually with Marzia.
I’m hoping that the success of Moonlight last year doesn’t trigger the Academy to include a film each year focused on homosexual relationships just because it’s so acceptable in popular culture. Call Me By Your Name is worthy of consideration as an art form, and the movie is exquisite in its look and setting, but from a Catholic perspective, the sleeping around, whether homosexual or heterosexual, will be a turn-off for viewers of faith.
Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer in "Call Me By Your Name" (Sony Picture Classics)
I really enjoy it when movies bring out little details about history that sometimes get swallowed up in a bigger picture. The Post does just that. In the early 70’s, The Washington Post was still considered a local paper, focused on politics and the other goings on in the nation’s capital. But when the New York Times was forbidden to continue their publishing of the Pentagon Papers, the report that exposed secrets about the Vietnam War, The Post took up the challenge.
Meryl Streep, (again) nominated for her portrayal of Kay Graham, does a fantastic job of fleshing out this character who is surrounded by men in suits. Used to playing strong women, Streep injects Graham with a balance of vulnerability and uncertainty. Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, the Post’s editor is the perfect partner for Streep as together, their characters risk prison in order to print the truth for the good of the public.
Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in "The Post" (20th Century Fox)
I only saw Get Out for the purposes of writing this article as horror is not my genre (and it still isn’t) but after seeing the film, I get why the Academy would nominate this film for Best Picture. When African-American Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, also nominated for Best Actor) goes with his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) to meet her parents, he’s in for a big surprise. Mom Missy (Catherine Keener) is a psychiatrist specializing in hypnosis. Dad Dean (Bradley Whitford) is a neurosurgeon and those professions are essential to the plot.
Unbeknownst to them, Chris and Rose visit on the same weekend as the annual get-together at the Armitage homestead. Dean and Missy’s white, upper-class friends all greet Chris warmly but he notices that something’s really off. The black servants, Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel) are acting really weird. Soon Chris suspects that all isn’t as it seems.
Get Out skillfully walks the line between a realistic portrayal of racism in the world today and the humor the audacity of the situation brings about.
Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams in "Get Out" (Universal Pictures)
Set in the 1950’s, Phantom Thread is really all about manipulation. Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis, also nominated for Best Actor) is a dress designer to the rich and famous. Alma (Vicky Krieps) is his muse, live-in model and sometimes lover. Cyril Woodcock (Lesley Manville, nominated for Best Supporting Actress) manages both the household and Woodcock’s business. Superbly acted and visually stunning, Phantom Thread, nevertheless, needs a bit of humanity injected into its story.
To put it bluntly, Reynolds is a spoiled brat. Brilliant, yes, but he’s gotten away with acting like a moody pre-teen for too long, manipulating everyone around him to satisfy his every whim. He’s totally put out when Alma decides to surprise him with a romantic dinner. He can’t stand any noise at the breakfast table. But he’s not the only one. Alma goes to great manipulative lengths to keep her place in the household and in Reynolds’ heart.
Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps in "Phantom Thread" (Focus Features)
The Shape of Water
Mexican director, Guillermo del Toro is known for his strange creatures. Just take a look at Pan’s Labyrinth. The Shape of Water is in the same vein. Knowing that, and having seen the film’s trailer, I knew that there was going to be some weird interspecies romance. Once you acknowledge that it’s weird, you can get on with enjoying the love story.
Ultimately, it’s about two “people” on the edge who could be considered outsiders. Elisa (Sally Hawkins, also nominated for Best Actress) is a humble cleaning lady at a 1950’s era government facility. She’s mute but her friend and fellow cleaner, Zelda (Octavia Spencer, nominated for Best Supporting Actress), talks enough for the both of them. When the G-men bring in an aquatic creature (Doug Jones) to study it, Elisa is drawn to it. Eventually referring to it as “him,” she sneaks into the area where he’s kept and begins to communicate using sign language.
All the actors in this film are fantastic, including Michael Shannon as the creature’s cattle prod-wielding jailer, and Richard Jenkins (nominated for Best Supporting Actor) as Elisa’s best friend and next door neighbor. When the government decides its time to kill the creature, Elisa and a sympathetic scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg) devise an escape plan. Like I said, it’s weird.
Even weirder is the romantic aspects and its creepy to see a naked Elisa in the creature’s arms. Their, ahem, physical liaison is, thankfully, consummated off-screen.
Strange as it was, I liked the way The Shape of Water took two “people” whom others rejected and who sometimes thought less of themselves and discovered that they had worth, found love in each other, and were willing to sacrifice life itself for the other.
Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in "The Shape of Water" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
My take on Best Picture
When I judge a film, I’m usually looking at the narrative, the elements of the story. The Academy looks at much more than that so we often disagree about what makes a “great” movie. Me, I like films that affirm the human person, even in the midst of struggles. Films that overtly fly in the face of Catholic teaching don’t usually make it on my list of favorites so here’s my hopes for Best Picture.
Phantom Thread, Get Out and Call Me By Your Name are on the bottom of my list. I really loved Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, and The Post but I don’t think they have much chance of going home with the big prize. The Shape of Water is an extremely well-made film, original (to say the least), and mesmerizing. However, I think it will come down to Lady Bird or Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri for Best Picture. I would be happy if either film walked away with the little golden statue. Both are worthy. We’ll see if I’m anywhere close on March 4th.