Oscars 2018 – We Saw Them All

I gave Brian a bit of an ultimatum. I wanted something for Valentine’s Day, but I was not going to tell him what. He prefers when I tell him exactly what I like because he claims that I generally buy what I like. And he hit a home run. He bought me (and him) the Cinemark Oscars Week Pass. For $35, we could see all of the Best Picture nominees and the Oscar-nominated Shorts. I had always wanted to do this, but never pulled the trigger. He finally did and it has been a wonderful (and busy) week because of his wonderful gift.

I had differing levels of enthusiasm for the movies. But none of them were absolute no’s.

So which ones did I like and what are my Oscars predictions for this evening?

The Shape of Water

Our first movie was The Shape of Water. Since it is among the favorites to win, I wanted to see it but really did not know what to think going in. It reminded me of a mix of different types of EC Comics. A Cold War inspired science fiction story mixed with a romance created a unique story. I could imagine Wally Wood drawing it. It looks marvelous.

But Michael Shannon sure seems to have a role type at this point. He also fit into Del Toro’s villain role as well – a father who did not like the world around him to change. Richard Jenkins, however, perfected a role that could have easily seemed ridiculous. As a closeted unemployed neighbor, he provided a sympathetic and relatable character who truly just loved his lone friend. He wanted her safe and her to experience what he could not, but I do not think other actors could have carried it off so well. I also have seen lots of movies with Sally Hawkins (and liked many of them) but I have never seen so much of Sally Hawkins. I’m sure the nudity symbolized some sort of meekness and vulnerability she sought, but it seemed a bit over the top. But I loved her character and she provided her with the right amount of pluckiness, stubbornness, and sadness.

However, I didn’t feel the heart in the story by the end compared to what I think I could have felt. A few moments in the movie basically took me out of the love story and brought it back into the sci-if horror world. Imagine if near the end of The Beauty and the Beast, all of the other characters become human in grotesque ways.

Get Out

We saw Get Out in February way before Oscars week. I listened to too many podcasts that told me I needed to see it. I loved it then and I love it now. But I still jump when the horror scenes appear. However, I believe the storytelling mechanisms and the blending of genres worked well – similarly to The Shape of Water. I don’t think I will ever seen Catherine Keener the same way either. I felt like her portrayal of the mother exceeded all of the other actors. Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris was sympathetic and heroic. He had to truly shift into different mindsets so many times. I will most likely scream for the car keys the same way he did for the rest of my life. Additionally, when he finds the shoebox at the pinnacle of the movie, he has perfect reactions.

The only weak spot in the story is the brother. He’s the least developed but remains around longer than other characters. Outside of his racism and drunkenness, I don’t know what I am supposed to take from his part of the story. It differs from the rest of the family and their motivations.

However, the script and the direction seem like something Jordan Peele had in his mind for an incredibly long time. I love seeing a story that definitely has a lot of depth put to life. It’s my pick for Best Picture.

The Post

When I was in college, I got addicted to Woodward and Bernstein and the Washington Post. I read everything I could find about the newspaper, its history, and its work in the 1970s. It made me want to be a reporter and I even joined Ripon’s terrible college paper for about two months to try my hand at journalism. Of course, a small college newspaper run on politics did not fit what I wanted to do, so I quit, but still love journalism. The Post did bring that out again. But overall, I felt it became too sentimental and too many scenes seemed terrible.’

Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, and Matthew Rhys performed wonderfully with an inadequate script. I love the idea of putting the story of the Pentagon Papers on the screen, but this movie had too many flaws – Kat Graham seemed a bit over the top compared to what I have read, the McNamara storyline needed something more to it, and I hated the sentimentality of Graham always seeming to find a line of women to walk in front of. I’m glad this story exists on screen, but it definitely needed more of the Lincoln Spielberg. A fine movie, but not really Oscars level in my mind.

Phantom Thread

With Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread led the list of movies I wanted to see. I knew there was a twist based on what I heard but I stayed away from what it was. If you haven’t seen the movie, do not read anything about it. It’s amazing if you don’t know what the twist becomes.

I did not think that I would laugh more to this movie than most of the other movies we saw this week. Lewis was remarkable. Anderson knows how to get everything out of his own script. Johnny Greenwood’s score may be the best I have ever heard in a movie. But the person that stole the movie for me was Lesley Manville as Woodcock’s sister. For sure, the hardest category this year to choose between performances is Supporting Actress.

I think Phantom Thread on first viewing surprises but I want to see it again. I think I may need to see it again. And that seems to be the purpose behind Phantom Thread.

Call Me By Your Name

I follow a lot of gay men on Twitter. Call Me By Your Name rang through the tweets. I wanted to love the movie. But I walked away thinking it was good. I thought the performances were very strong. The story seemed wonderful and I think I may want to read the book. However, I missed something. I did not cry and I am an easy tear.

Instead, I kept thinking about what would come next. I knew the ending before it began, not even with spoilers. Timothée Chalamet will become an actor we will enjoy for decades. He flows off of the screen and each motion of his face reveals more and a more about the world. But nothing about Arnie Hammer’s character seemed attractive to me – outside of his looks. He seemed brash and obnoxious. And I know that that becomes many of our first loves. But I didn’t love his character at all. I got why Oliver liked Elio, but had no reason why Elio liked Oliver. And I wondered if that is why Oliver asked Elio to call him by his name – Oliver did not like Oliver either and wished he was Elio.

But I think I may need to put my own ideas of romance behind and just accept romance for what it is. We all have different tastes. And I may have to see the movie again just to understand why this romance begins because I understand why it ends.

Dunkirk

I had wanted to see Dunkirk when it came out but Brian does not really like war movies. Everything I read made it seem less like a war movie and more like a thriller. Honestly, I loved it. The only movie where I had tears in my eyes up to this point and it mainly seemed to be because I really hate Nazis and our current politics of re-imagined fascism. I knew a little about the events of Dunkirk. This movie doesn’t really get into the details, but it creates a hopeless environment.

The enemy knows you are standing in long lines on the coast without any ships to bring you across the channel. Like sitting ducks, the British troops could only duck and cover as bombs rained down on them. You really don’t learn much about the characters (outside of Mark Rylance’s civilian – which due to the story, makes a bit of sense). You don’t have a plot. Everyone is just running to save lives.

Dunkirk provided me with the hope that I need in a movie with a message I greatly appreciate – it takes the rest of us to save a country.

Lady Bird

Quirk indie comedies define me. And Lady Bird proved itself a fitting addition to this genre. I related a bit too much to the main character’s relationship with her mother. It didn’t hurt that Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts spent a lot of time in Chicago to see my family in their portrayal. The concept of a girl who does not meet the high standards set by her mother reminded me a lot about my lofty teenage years with a father who wanted me to exceed more than anything. Similarly, I think we missed each other often but as you grow up, you miss each other a lot less.

Each actor truly excelled and the scrips jumped off the page. I laughed a lot and cried. It also doesn’t hurt that the first half of the movie centers around Merrily We Roll Along and Stephen Sondheim. Of course, a character named Danny too…a bit too close to home there too.

Lady Bird reminded me a lot of Boyhood and how I felt walked out of the movie. Both are movies I want to see again, but I don’t know if I ever will. Regardless, I will smile often remembering small scenes in the movie.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

When it came out, I wanted to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. In Bruges remains one of my favorite movies of the 2000s. And I love crime stories. But I walked out very uncomfortable. Brian loved it. And I can see why. Everything he said made sense. It did fly off the screen and the performances truly fixated you to the characters and their stories. But in the end, the two characters who become the ending do not make me happy. All of the other side characters who truly seem good get left behind in a town that does not deserve them.

The police are inept. Nothing successful appears to exist and people live the best lives they can. Frances McDormand acts in a way only she can. She adds a humor to a character that seemed humorless. Sam Rockwell acted bravely in a character that could have been a caricature. Woody Harrelson did fine with a bad role.

But what really stood out for this film was how little seemed to matter. The stakes seemed high but outside of a random stumbling into a potential suspect, no one wanted to solve the crime central to the story. Everyone just seemed angry. All that mattered was their anger. I don’t think anger begets anger as the fortune cookie moral of the story seemed to imply. Anger begets complacency.

Darkest Hour

Each year a British period piece seems to enter the Oscar fray. This year has Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in that role. It felt like it was a high priced Masterpiece Theater movie. I didn’t feel anything at all. Overall, it was fine but since it was the last movie, it felt a bit deflating. I think every movie was better. Dunkirk had emotion and suspense in a story where we knew the ending. This added very little to what I know about Churchill or Dunkirk. And worst, it had a text piece at the end to tell us that the British eventually helped in defeating the Nazis. Thanks for that information. I think the Oscars could have picked something else here. Oldman was fine as Churchill, but nothing really jumped out in his performance either.

My Rankings

  1. Get Out
  2. Phantom Thread
  3. Lady Bird
  4. Dunkirk
  5. Call Me by Your Name
  6. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  7. The Shape of Water
  8. The Post
  9. Darkest Hour

My Oscars Picks

I put my Oscars choices in Bold and anything I did not see in red.

Best Picture:

“Call Me by Your Name”
“Darkest Hour”
“Dunkirk”
“Get Out”
“Lady Bird”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Post”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

Lead Actress:

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”

Supporting Actor:

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

Director:

“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro

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