Since joining the Deadshirt crew in 2013, I’ve written about a lot of movies. But the strange world of Oscar prognostication and awards season commentary was something I only touched on twice. In 2014, I wrote about my then complicated feelings toward the discourse surrounding this particular time of year. The year after, amidst the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, I made the original iteration of the guide you’re about to read now. The landscape today is different, but not by much. There’s some cosmetic progression at play with regards to how we discuss the Oscars and the Academy has made some steps in the direction of diversifying their ranks, but really, even with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements shaking Hollywood up further, a lot of shit is still the same.
With Deadshirt’s time drawing to a close and me having already seen eight of the nine Best Picture contenders before the nominations were announced, I felt like it was the right time to do another round up as my swan song here on the site. This meant, in the interest of parity, seeing one final film I had less than zero fucking desire to watch, and revisiting the rest of field. I’ve loved my time with Deadshirt, so sitting through a movie about a racist played by a crazy man in a fat suit is really the absolute least I can do for a place that brought me so many meaningful friendships, an outlet for exploring my voice and ideas on the internet, as well as the opportunity to, for the first time in my adult life, feel like a real writer.
Over the years, no matter what other publications I brought my byline to, I’ve been lucky to be able to come back home and write about anything I wanted to here. Knowing that won’t be an option anymore saddens me, but I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate what we all built here than to wax philosophic on the myriad films vying for the lil naked golden man on live TV. The thrust of my work here, outside of turning as many geeks into pro wrestling fans as possible, has been navigating the uneven playing field of diversity on the big screen. This year has been a step forward in many ways, but a depressing reinforcement of the status quo in others. Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig made it into the Best Director category (yay!) but Dee Rees has been left on the outskirts of the discussion, and uh, you know why.
So let’s dig into the nominees. If you’ve made it through awards season without catching any of these films in theaters, hopefully this piece will give you an idea of which ones you actually want to seek out, using my extremely personal opinions as a barometer for your own potential enjoyment. If, like me, you end up watching a lot of this stuff regardless and just want something to argue about on Twitter, you know where to find me. Turn your locations on before you come into my mentions, though, so I can visit you and explain my passions.
Call Me By Your Name
There’s been some controversy about the film’s core premise, about 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) developing a relationship with the older Oliver (Armie Hammer). By “some” controversy, I mean that there’s a complex conversation about the predatory nature of the film’s romance that literally no one seems to want to have. There’s this Slate piece that addresses the basics, but few others seem to want to engage the work quite as thoroughly as this article on Medium was willing to. The film’s stirring and lauded conclusion seems to absolve the on screen romance of any wrongdoing in such a beautifully naive fashion that I think the film’s supporters are afraid further examination will ruin the sweet little gem they enjoyed.
I quite liked it, too. Luca Guadagnino crafted a gorgeously photographed, well acted film full of passion and heart. But, yo, let’s not pretend that if Woody Allen had made this and Chalamet was a woman many of the folks fighting for this film wouldn’t be ready to throw thinkpiece bows on opening day. We can admire the craft and the storytelling power and still question the film’s morality. This is one of those films that makes sense as a Best Picture nominee with the expanding up to ten potential film field, but would be cut expeditiously if we still stuck to five.
I almost made it through all of awards season without watching this pointless ass movie. Why do we have to reward British people for annual hagiographies to assholes? What do we owe these people? Isn’t that what the BAFTAs are for? Joe Wright is not a director whose work I seek out, but I will give him minor props for his staging in this otherwise very boring, very purposeless pile of shit. He has a knack for orchestrating movement and making flat dialogue scenes feel lively, largely through blocking. But that’s not enough to overcome the sense that this is an expensive TV movie I’d see advertised during Doctor Who reruns and scoff at.
It’s 125 minutes of parlor banter designed to get Gary Oldman an Oscar for yelling a lot in a fatsuit. That’s it. Eddie Murphy did that in The Nutty Professor and we didn’t give him a goddamn thing and he played several different characters at the same time. You want me to cream my jeans because it’s Churchill? No, thank you. I’m good.
No, really, if Gary Oldman wanted an Oscar this bad, couldn’t Nolan have just cut in a few Churchill scenes into this movie? That would have sufficed for the voters, I should think. I’ve been a diehard Chris Nolan fanboy since 2001. I’m not quite the Dark Knight absolutist some of his IMDB rating devotees are anymore, but his gift for construction is still something I admire. But Dunkirk, while technically impressive, didn’t do very much for me at all. Like, I “get” it. Making a WWII movie where you never see the Germans and the story is about retreat and duty and the way time is manipulated, yadda yadda yadda, I GET it, but I didn’t feel anything.
This is an easy Best Picture nominee, because it’s huge and made a lot of money and it’s about everyone’s favorite fucking war, but I just wasn’t engaged on an emotional level. This isn’t another of those bland criticisms of Nolan as a clinical storyteller. Usually, his crystalline approach floats my boat, but here, there was so little to really grab onto. With his stature, I know Nolan has to keep looking for bigger and more esoteric ways to spend Warner Bros.’ money, but I pray we get something smaller, on the scale of The Prestige next.
When I reviewed this film back in February, in the back of my mind I thought it might get a little Oscar love. That’s how optimistic I was. I had a nagging feeling this brilliant, hilarious, haunting Deadshirt movie of the year was going to get itself a Best Original Screenplay nod, the “cool” category for films like Pulp Fiction, Memento and Juno. Not once was I stupid enough to let myself believe it’d be up for Best Picture or Best Director, let alone Best Actor for Daniel Kaluuya.
But it is! It really fucking is! This is one of the blackest films I’ve seen in recent memory and it’s a straight up horror comedy AND IT’S NOMINATED FOR BEST PICTURE. It holds up well and I have no doubt it’ll continue to do so over the next several years. It made a ton of money, it penetrated the social consciousness and it’s timely as fuck. This movie has everything you could conceivably want from a Best Picture. So, it’s definitely going to lose. But for real, the fact that it made it at all is mind blowing. A year ago, I didn’t even think it’d be nominated. So perhaps I’m wrong about its chances of winning as well.
As hard as I ride for Get Out, my actual favorite movie on this list is Lady Bird. I loved Greta Gerwig’s two collaborations with Noah Baumbach (Francis Ha and Mistress America) and it’s clear from his latest, Meyerowitz Stories, that her effervescent creative energy has rubbed off on him. But her finally getting to write and direct her own solo feature couldn’t possibly be more perfect. It’s a beautiful, quirky coming of age tale with a tight running time, equal amounts of pathos and humor, and some fantastic performances. In one fell swoop, Gerwig has made the platonic ideal of the indie film every disaffected twentysomething hipster thinks they have sitting in Final Draft on their MacBook.
It’s laugh out loud funny where so many independent films tend to barely be ha ha clever. There’s a specificity to the story Gerwig is telling, but it feels universal without implying that the artsy white upbringing is the normal order of things. There’s just something so refreshing about this movie. It’s the only film this year that I recommend to people and genuinely mistrust when they don’t enjoy it. Everything else, I respect subjective disagreement on. But this? How can you not love this?
Largely ignored through most of the big awards shows thus far, the Oscars give Paul Thomas Anderson his due for making another certified cinematic banger. But can you believe Daniel Day Lewis is retiring and for his final performance, easily one of his finest, he’s going to lose to Gary Oldman in a fucking fat suit? This man learned how to make dresses and delivers quietly heartbreaking moments on screen the way Al Pacino gives loud exclamations, but he’s gonna get stepped over to lionize motherfucking Winston Churchill. Yuck.
I reviewed this film elsewhere, but I cannot overstate how special and well made it is. A gorgeously lensed, darkly comic romance that proves PTA is one of the funniest writers alive, as well as being one of the most skilled visual storytellers. This is a movie that is probably going to have longer legs than anything else nominated, but because it doesn’t have a narrative that feels of the moment, it’s an easy one to discount in the discussion.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, The Post is only here because of how of the moment it’s designed to be. Oh, it’s a pretty good movie. It’s basically just Spotlight but with a wilder cast and Spielberg doing Spielbergy things, but it’s also Very Relevant and Anti-Trump and all that, so it feels bigger than it really is. I’m glad Spielberg made this movie and I’m glad Bob Odenkirk and David Cross are in it, but I didn’t give half the fucks about it I expected to. Meryl Streep’s performance is Fine and there’s some exciting visual moments, but this one is getting artificially inflated by how badly liberals want a movie like this to champion.
Which, of course, means it really really might win, even if five years from now, no one will be going out of their way to watch it again. I personally maintain that Spotlight is a better movie and I have zero need to revisit that, either, and that one has Michael Keaton. This one doesn’t have Michael Keaton.
The Shape of Water
Another film I’ve reviewed elsewhere. We’re officially living in a world where one of Guillermo Del Toro’s monster fetish art pornos is a legitimate contender for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and I love it. Shape is a lyrical, touching ode to otherness, like a Disney musical for the outcast, and nothing makes me smile more than it getting its due in the mainstream. I wouldn’t make it my number one for the year, but if it went home with a bunch of statuettes, I wouldn’t be bothered in the slightest.
I do, however, feel like Michael Shannon should have gotten a Best Supporting Actor nomination. He’s a huge part of why this film works so well, and he’s been doing sterling work all over the place, despite being regularly ignored. It’s almost as though another, considerably less deserving film is hogging two slots in that category for no discernible reason.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Oh, yeah! That’s right. Another considerably less deserving film IS hogging two slots in the Best Supporting Actor category for no discernible reason. Normally, I’d be okay with that, honestly. Three Billboards, as a movie, is laudable for its cast and little else. Frances McDormand turns in one of her best performances in the lead role and should absolutely be getting all the love in the world for it. Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, two of my favorite actors, bring a lot less to the table, but they’re still talented performers whose plaudits don’t offend me so much.
But the film itself is a shit show. I liked In Bruges as much as the next guy, but this is the worst thing Martin McDonagh has ever written. As a mixed up vehicle for some powerhouse acting, it’s fine. The kind of movie that should get some acting nods and a win or two but not much else. But it’s somehow a frontrunner for Best Picture when 1) it barely functions as a coherent movie 2) it’s largely compromised by All Lives Matter idiocy in its cloying, lazy depiction of police community relations and 3) it has one of the stupidest fucking endings in recent prestige picture history. Three Billboards is the kind of movie that thinks it’s profound and boundary breaking, when in reality it’s a double masquerading as a home run.
McDonagh got on base on the backs of his actors, but seems to think this fascinating portrait of grief muddled by a misguided redemption arc is him knocking it out of the park. He’s wrong. This movie getting all the ink and praise it’s getting is indicative that the more things with the Academy change, the more they stay the same.