Let’s Talk Film: Oscar Overview
Joel: Okay Kevin, so as of last week, we’ve both seen all of the Academy Awards nominees for Best Picture. Let’s start with my favourite film nominated. My pick would probably be Lady Bird. Maybe because it’s because I have a soft spot for coming-of-age films, but Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is next level. I didn’t feel like anyone was acting. It felt so true to life. The parent-child dynamic was so far from perfect, and in that sense, it was perfect. Kevin: Yes, Lady Bird is so great! Its writing is superb, so organic and natural. Perhaps my favorite was The Shape of Water. Guillermo del Toro loves his classic movies and fairy tales, with Pan’s Labyrinth of course being an example of his expertise with the fantasy genre. The costumes, set design, cinematography and performances are so breathtaking. I feel like del Toro was able to craft something so meaningful and genuine without relying on cynicism, like Three Billboards.
Joel: I think we both have a fair amount of salty feelings regarding Three Billboards. Shape of Water was a middling one for me. It is well produced; del Toro is a master at creating a vibrant world that flawlessly blends the mundane and the fantastical. But I found the film to be a little shallow. I wanted a little bit more, personally. It’s a feeling I get often with del Toro’s body of work. On to Dunkirk, which was a huge hit this summer. Did you enjoy it as much as I did?
Kevin: I loved Dunkirk. It shows Christopher Nolan’s technical mastery: the IMAX footage is ground-breaking in its technique. And it’s refreshing to see a WWII film about failure. And finally Nolan was able to make a film that’s under two and a half hours, with less speechifying. I love The Dark Knight, Inception, and Memento, but often his films are weighed down by these two factors. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room … Three Billboards!
Joel: I feel like you and I are the only people on the face of the earth that weren’t floored by Three Billboards. I liked the unpredictability of its storyline - you never know what was going to happen next - but wow, some pretty awful dialogue in this thing. Lucas Hedges, while excellent in Lady Bird and Manchester by the Sea, gives a pretty atrocious performance as Frances MacDormand’s son. He’s barely in it, but his screen time certainly left a mark on me.
Kevin: Yes, shockingly bad dialogue and underwhelming performances throughout! While Frances MacDormand gives a powerful performance, Martin McDonagh seemingly forgot to create any kind of arc for the film’s protagonist. In the wake of the “Me Too” moment, it is undeniably ironic that instead of focusing on giving justice to MacDormand’s character, the focus is given to the two male cops. I love redemption stories, but the arc of Rockwell’s character had little impact on me, mostly because his chief flaw – his racism – went unaddressed.
Joel: The other two films that I was a little underwhelmed by were Darkest Hour and The Post. I thought The Post was a decent film - and a relevant one - but it felt a little too familiar. It felt like Oscar bait. But it did avoid one thing which I can’t stand in historical dramas, and that is forced exposition. The Darkest Hour certainly has that in spades, persistently explaining why certain events are important as they unfold on-screen.
Kevin: Personally, I thought Gary Oldman is the best part of Darkest Hour, taking on the role of Winston Churchill so perfectly that I think he’s a lock for Best Actor. Both Darkest Hour and The Post are pleasant and enjoyable, but they didn’t shock me or challenge me as much as some of the other nominees.
Joel: We have three films left to look at: Phantom Thread, Call Me By Your Name and Get Out. I enjoyed CMBYN quite a bit. Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet’s relationship felt both very real and…kind of bizarre? Although nothing about it blew me away, save its final 15 minutes. As for Get Out, while entertaining, its social commentary is more muddled than most people want to admit. I don’t think we really have enough time to get into that now though.
Kevin: You hit the nail on the head in that their relationship is bizarre in a way…while other movies like Carol or Moonlight featured heartfelt LGBTQ relationships, the age difference of the two leads made me uncomfortable. I have a suspicion that if Timothee Chalamet’s character was changed to a 17-year old girl, the response would be far different.
Joel: And now for Phantom Thread, which I absolutely loved. Right up there with Lady Bird for me. Daniel Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville’s relationship is so delightfully twisted, their performances – especially Day-Lewis’ – are so intense. Paul Thomas Anderson has yet to make what I would consider even a mediocre film. Fun fact: Christopher Nolan took his kids to see Phantom Thread and they now call him Woodcock when he’s being mean.
Kevin: I loved that PTA really took his time with developing Phantom Thread’s story. And I agree, the central relationship is so sick and twisted. Watching it unfold is like a psychotic game of tennis. However, I think parts of this movie could have been trimmed for time.
Joel: And what do you think will take home Best Picture?
Kevin: Not just because its my personal favourite, but I think it will go with The Shape of Water; not only because of what’s happening with the Guild Awards, but also because it features a message necessary for contemporary audiences.
Joel: I would agree Shape of Water stands a high chance of winning. I think we can write out The Post immediately because Spotlight won two years ago, and Call Me By Your Name, because it bears superficial resemblances to Moonlight. Dunkirk is my dark horse.