Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Ranking of the 2017 Best Picture Nominees

It has been over a week since The Academy announced the nominees for this year's Oscars. While there will be plenty to talk about in the interim, it feels right to kick things off by ranking the Best Picture nominees. This is by no means a prediction on what film will win, but is more of a look into my personal preference. All things considered, I believe that this is one of the best years in general, with eight of the nine being among my Top 20 of last year. This new class of Academy voters has definitely brought forth an interesting mix of the old and new, and I think it's going to produce a very interesting discussion going forward. If you're interested, feel free to rank the films in the comments section, if just to see how much we differ from each other.

1. Lady Bird

It was the feel good movie of the Fall in which director Greta Gerwig created the first film about faith in the 21st century that felt honest without pushing an agenda. At the center is Saorise Ronan as the titular Lady Bird, who wishes to find her identity in the waning years of high school and finds her conflicts challenging her identity. Thankfully, Gerwig is great in the script department and produces something with plenty of wit and heart, proving that she's more than capable of delivering indie comedies with more to say than the initial mumblecore she was associated with. This is a film about youth and the dawning of adulthood, which includes family and relationships that are plenty awkward but also completely honest and at times heartbreaking. 

2. Dunkirk

After years of producing great blockbuster entertainment, Christopher Nolan finally breaks through big time with a war film that goes against everything the genre stands for. It doesn't really have a protagonist, unless you consider a country as one. It doesn't have an A to B to C story so much as Nolan finds an artful way to play with time and structure to create a pulse-pounding cinematic experience that is rich on technical elements (the sound design alone is incredible) and features a score by Hans Zimmer that may as well make this Jaws where the shark is flying just off screen as an imminent threat. This redefines war cinema for the better, and it more than anything plays into community and working together in times of chaos. It's hard to know if any war film to come will be as effective as any 10 minute stretch of this film, which also may be Nolan's best directed film.

3. Get Out

It's tough to not call this the dark horse of the Oscar season, if just because a horror movie that's about to be over a year removed from its release doesn't usually wind up as a year end favorite. Then again, nobody expected director Jordan Peele to be a savant who not only knows how to fill in the scenes with chills, but also racial history that makes every scene worthy of a course lecture (in fact, there's been a school offering it to the public). This is the film that restores faith to anyone doubting major chances from The Academy. This proves that they'll recognize talent no matter what genre from any time of year. As long as it's great and has something important to say, it will stand a fair chance. Now back to the iconic memes... 

4. Call Me By Your Name

There wasn't a performance in 2017 that was as effective in nuance as that of Timothee Chalamet. It's in the way that he depicts his first major love, finding moments both internal and external to react to his frustrations. It also helps that the rest of the film is a beautiful study or romance through the ages, and features fantastic and overlooked performances by Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg. This is the best love story of the year, and it manages to do so with honesty and heart but isn't afraid to occasionally make you cry. It's a powerful experience, and one that will provoke long after it's over.

5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

To many, this has become one of the most controversial Best Picture nominees of the year. It's definitely got a flawed look into sociopolitical issues. However, it's all part of a rich tapestry from director Michael McDonagh that shows the conflict with seeking revenge. No person is flawless, and they're usually more than what's seen. As the titular billboards would suggest, it tells you what these characters should be, but eventually shows you what they are. It's got plenty to offer in its casting, especially in Frances McDormand, and it may be tough to find a film that's both magnetic and polarizing in equal measure.

6. Phantom Thread

It may just be coincidence, but what were the odds that director Paul Thomas Anderson's second Best Picture nomination would also be with Daniel Day-Lewis? It helps that the actor delivers another powerful performance opposite great work by Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville and tells a story that's cryptic and unnerving in its exploration of romance. In some ways, it's Anderson's most restrained film and manages to be his most distressful one at the same time. The conflict exists just outside of the actors' stares and innuendo language, and the depiction of introverts has rarely been better. The only thing that would make the film better is if Lewis designs Krieps' dress for Oscar night.

7. The Shape of Water

It's a tad insane that director Guillermo del Toro's interspecies love story has become one of the year's most nominated movies. It's not that it lacks a technical grace that is beautiful in every sense, but that it seems like a major turning point for monster movies. This is clearly a progressive narrative about outsiders turning to each other for acceptance. Even then, it's one that is so tender and vulnerable that it ends up becoming beautiful altogether. Sally Hawkins delivers a great performance with nothing more than her physicality. It's a film that has plenty to say about the modern era, making it one of the few contemporary fairy tales that is both inventive and important.

8. The Post

What does a film look like in which Steven Spielberg tries to cover the political moment? It kind of looks like The Post, which seemed to have a rushed production in order to capture a moment quite as damning of The White House as that of The Pentagon Papers. It's a romantic ode to journalism and a moral discussion of what integrity means when the truth matters. As much as the film feels safe and convenient, it does feature some of Spielberg's richest directing in quite some time and a performance by Meryl Streep that's among her very best. This may be a bit shy of the greatness it wishes to be, but it has a lightning effect that Spielberg hasn't had in awhile (we'll forgive him for that goofy Tom Hanks accent).

9. Darkest Hour

Along with The Post, this is one of those few films that feels resonant of an old style of prestige. With Gary Oldman donned in Winston Churchill make-up, he gives a performance that is rapturous at times thanks to his oratory skills. However, the make-up is at other times distracting and takes away from the physical tics that could make Oldman a far more interesting performance. It's a conventional yet distant narrative of an important historical figure that is given a certain boost from period piece maestro director Joe Wright. It's a film about working together to fight evil, and it sometimes comes at an odd price.

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