Friday, March 2, 2018

Long Shot Week: Best Picture - "Lady Bird"

Scene from Lady Bird
Welcome to the first Long Shot Week, where I will attempt to persuade you to think outside of the Oscar box. While it's too late to change voters' minds, I believe that audiences need to take a moment to look at the other contenders in any category and give them a chance. Long Shot Week is designed as a way to highlight these talents that likely don't stand a chance of winning, but more than deserve a chance to be appreciated for what they bring to the game. In a way, this is my list of "Films that should've won," though it's not always indicative of my favorite. Join me all week as I look at different categories and pose the question "Why not?" in hopes that The Oscars still have a few surprises up their sleeve.

Long Shot: Lady Bird
Category: Best Picture
Other Nominees:
-Call Me By Your Name
-Darkest Hour
-Get Out
-Phantom Thread
-The Post
-The Shape of Water
-Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Likely Winner: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The Case for Lady Brird

One of the reasons that this is a very exciting for The Academy Awards is because of how unpredictable certain fields have been. It's crazy to think that it'll be a year dominated by two horror films (Get Out and The Shape of Water) and a variety of films that range from prestige dramas to flat out comedies. With all of this in mind, the Best Picture field is both the most exciting and predictable category yet. The one thing to consider is that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has been steamrolling awards season, so its chances seem greater. With that said, the very fact that Moonlight won Best Picture last year suggests that there's a possible upset from something like The Shape of Water. It will be fun if things end up going in a more interesting direction, but the patterns suggest otherwise. It's going to be another year of a bland winner if The Academy resort to their old predictable ways, which could be unfortunate.

With that said, I think that the most exciting Best Picture would be Lady Bird. In some ways, it's one of the more "isolating" films on the list because it centers on a coming of age story in the early-00's. What adult is going to enjoy a film about a girl learning to grapple with faith and romance? As universal as its themes are, the film follows in a long line of indie comedies that get love for being quirky and heartfelt, but don't stand a chance at doing much better. There's some credit to director Greta Gerwig getting a Best Director nomination. It raises the chances of the film resonating at all with voters. However, it's still a film that goes against the patterns of every Best Picture winner going back decades. The story is too personal and specific to be the embodiment of all voters, unfortunately. It doesn't have any major message to offer, making it difficult to resonate for those who gave up being teenagers a long time ago.

But in its own way, Lady Bird is a great embodiment of what the past year has been about. It's been about listening to women and hearing their stories. While Lady Bird has thankfully avoided being a poster child of the Me Too movement, it still embodies a type of Oscar winner that could portray women in a more complicated form. It's just not in the teenage protagonist, but her mother and how they together learn to accept each other. It's a journey that doesn't have any grand spectacle, but is rich with memorable dialogue, another great performance by Saoirse Ronan, and an overall sense of modernity. There's plenty to love and hate about these characters in large part because they feel honest. They are no different from the women who grew up no more than a decade ago within the school system, who dreamed of being the artist that Gerwig became. If nothing else, it's personal in ways that mostly male stories like Marty or Annie Hall have been allowed to be.

It does help that it follows another trend. It's an A24 film, which produced last year's winner Moonlight and told another story about personal identity that defied Oscar norms. In some ways, the downfall is that Lady Bird's cinematography and execution aren't nearly as flashy as Barry Jenkins' movie. Instead, it's got a series of small moments that are endearing and at points nostalgic without ever being pandering. Its characters are allowed to be realistic and convey human emotion. Most of all, Gerwig's sense of character allows the small moments to even hold deeper nuance that captures the brilliance of the acting. It's a film about life's mistakes and learning to be adult, and it never falls into the terrible tropes of a raunchy comedy or catty girl drama. It's always a pure form of itself.

The film is also one of the first 21st century films to address faith in a realistic fashion. While there's been a lot of hyperbole around religious cinema, Lady Bird recognizes that faith is part of a bigger picture. It's about the doubt that comes with going to church and growing up in a small community. It's about learning in small ways while naively disobeying laws that don't seem dangerous. Teenagers are best when they're trying to figure out their personalities, and this film captures that moment brilliantly. Lady Bird is about a woman who learns to listen. It's not a complicated story structurally, but emotionally it's one of the stories that fits the idea that women are allowed to be flawed and interesting on screen. As much as Moonlight was a big deal for black and queer cinema, Lady Bird could hopefully usher in the idea that female-lead stories can be taken as seriously for Best Picture as the male leads.

Lady Bird is definitely a long shot in almost every category to the point that I wouldn't be surprised if it walks away empty-handed. It's unfortunately falling behind in acting fields despite giving what I feel are superior performances. Ronan will have her Oscar win eventually, but one could hope it's for a role this exciting and layered. Likewise, Gerwig will hopefully be coming back around in not too long with more Oscar nominations for movies that are just as intricate in personal detail. If The Oscars wanted to send a clear message, it would use Lady Bird as a springboard, and it would be much deserved. There's not a lot of bad choices for Best Picture this year, but few are as great to me as this one. 

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