Okay so I’ve been really bad lately about getting my movie reviews done and with the Oscars this weekend I thought I would drop a couple paragraphs about the various Oscar-nominated movies I’ve gotten to check out and what, among the movies I’ve seen, I would give awards to if I were running things. Let me be clear this is solely based on the movies I have gotten the chance to check out, which is certainly not all of them. Anyways here goes:
Best Supporting Actor
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Playing the likeable but stern Chief of Police in the tiny town of Ebbing, Woody Harrelson conveys the tragic arc of Willoughby with all the charm and emotion we’ve come to expect. The monologue he delivers midway through the movie is heartbreaking and spectacular.
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
I pretty much love everything that Richard Jenkins is in and in The Shape of Water he almost steals the entire show, which is saying a lot of a movie about a woman falling in love with a swamp creature. His relationship with Elisa is dynamic and complicated, a lot like his character’s relationship with the world as a whole. When the mysterious creature enters his life, he appreciates the beauty of this bizarre man and doesn’t balk at the growing love between it and Elisa.
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
I’ve already written about Christopher Plummer’s work in All the Money in the World. Naturally the most impressive thing is the fact that he was able to put together a performance as the grand J Paul Getty in such a short amount of time and have it come out as good as it did. That, on top of the great performance he gives, says a lot about just how good of an actor Christopher Plummer is.
Didn’t See: Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Should Have Been Nominated:
Idris Elba – Molly’s Game
Elba is great in many things, but one of his best so far is as Charlie Jaffey, the lawyer set to defend Molly Bloom. His interactions with Chastain are great but most memorable is a long monologue he gives in defense of Molly’s selflessness. It’s a minor role but an incredibly memorable one.
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Sam Rockwell is one of those characters that has always been great in movies and he finally found the role that is earning him the attention he deserves. As the horrible, violent, racist police officer Dixon, he is at the center of the conflict surrounding the inflammatory billboards. While it should be, and is, easy to hate the character Rockwell presents, he also manages to show off the tragic side of Dixon as a man who simply doesn’t understand the world he is in and how to behave, despite wanting to do the right thing.
Best Supporting Actress
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water
As the friend and co-worker of Elisa, Octavia Spencer mostly plays proxy for the audience in The Shape of Water. She’s there to ask the questions we want to ask and say the things we want to say. She also plays the incredibly important role of being Elisa’s voice, interpreting for others, and us, in the movie. She’s a fun character that also shows moments of bravery and gentleness.
Didn’t See: Mary J Blige – Mudbound, Allison Janney – I, Tonya, Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
Should Have Been Nominated:
Dafne Keen – Logan
Twelve-year-old actress Dafne Keen is spectacular as Laura. The fact that she holds her own against Hugh Jackman, a man who has portrayed Wolverine since 2000, is impressive. She channels the same type of rage that Jackman has been so good at over the years but at the same time she has the softer side to deal with tragedies that take place in Logan. She is very impressive.
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
This category is tough because I have seen so few of the movies in this list. Even still, Laurie Metcalf is fabulous in Lady Bird as the tough mom who must deal with the coming of age of her daughter. Her relationship with her daughter is the pivotal relationship of the entire movie and she does a fantastic job. By all accounts she is a terrible mother, belittling her daughter, advising her to aim lower rather than take chances and refusing to support her decisions. Even with all of that, you can still see the love that she has for Lady Bird and their constant fighting while still showing the love between them rings truer than most movies dare to show.
Didn’t See: Timothee Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name, Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread, Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour, Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Should Have Been Nominated:
James Franco – The Disaster Artist
Up until this year I knew very little about The Room and Tommy Wiseau except for the infamy surrounding the 2003 film. However, after hearing the buzz surrounding The Disaster Artist I explored more on this subject and ended up totally loving the movie. Naturally this comes in large part to the acting of James Franco who perfectly captures Wiseau’s incredibly odd demeanor. Franco is almost unrecognizable in the film and breathes life and humanity into the mysterious Wiseau. He is funny and smart and shows complete dedication in his portrayal of the over-the-top figure.
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Yeah, this category is a little awkward because through pure coincidence all but one of the Best Actor nominees are from movies I have not seen. That should certainly not take anything away from the spectacular, breakout performance of Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out. What starts out as simply a charming, loving boyfriend who must put up with his girlfriend’s odd family and their condescending, racist friends quickly spirals as he is dragged into the Sunken Place and unravels the terrible truth behind what is really going on with the Armitages. Kaluuya gets to pull out all the stops: showing incredible depth with rage, despair, sadness, comedy and much more.
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Frances McDormand is known for her powerhouse performances but takes it to an entirely new level in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. She portrays a character of true depth, making rash, sometimes ill-conceived decisions, all which stem from the brutal murder of her daughter. Flashbacks to interactions with her daughter show that she was a tough but loving mom and her ability to show both anger and sorrow in standing up to the harassment of the police department is fantastic. Her ability to deliver scathing lines of dialog is equally impressive and entertaining and she gets a great opportunity to show off her ability.
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
A story about a teenage girl trying to find her place in the world is not exactly the most original idea for a movie but Lady Bird stands out because of the performances from Laurie Metcalf and the titular character played by Saoirse Ronan. Lady Bird is crass, impulsive and, like many teenagers, quick to change everything about herself to fit in and discover who it is she really wants to be. Ronan brings the movie to life with a character full of charm and insight, even as you cringe at the unfortunate missteps that you witness her character making. Above all her relationship with her mother is one of the most realistic portrayals ever in cinema, daring to show both the love and hate that goes into raising a teenager.
Meryl Streep – The Post
Seriously is Meryl Streep ever bad in something? This is her 21st Oscar nomination and for good reason. Her role as president and publisher of the Washington Post amidst the turmoil of the Pentagon Papers shows not a woman of confidence, which we are used to seeing with Streep, but instead of a woman struggling with many factors. Her internal battle over the course of the movie between doing what is right by principle versus what is right for her company and the people it employs is fascinating. Once she finds her strength and determination to stand up not just to the US Government but also to her various male advisors, we see Katherine Graham finally accept her role at the Washington Post and her place of importance as a member of the press.
Didn’t See: Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Should Have Been Nominated:
Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game
Molly’s Game, like the other nominees here, relies almost entirely on the acting of the lead actress. Here Jessica Chastain is the entire movie and the rise and fall of her high-stakes poker empire is a fascinating watch. You get to watch her ambition take her from waitress to secretary to assisting with poker games to running her own. Her drive and desire for success is captivating, as is the eventual downfall and failure that often coincides with such characters.
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Best Actress is by far the most contentious category for me to decide on. While I could easily see any of the nominees winning, my vote has to go towards Sally Hawkins. When you first hear about the main character of The Shape of Water being a mute woman in the 60’s, you would expect her to be mild-mannered and reserved. In contrast Sally Hawkins, without saying a word, fills Elisa with so much more emotion. She is brave and rebellious, standing up to Michael Shannon’s terrifying Richard Strickland, while also managing to show the love and acceptance by taking in and loving the mysterious creature. It’s a beautiful performance that will make you believe that it is possible to fall in love with something so foreign and unknown, a task that lifts The Shape of Water higher than just the “fish-lover” movie to a true romance classic.
When people ask me what I thought about Dunkirk, I always tell them the same thing. “Dunkirk isn’t a movie you watch, it’s a movie you survive.” It doesn’t really have much for characters or even a cohesive plot. That doesn’t matter though as Christopher Nolan mimics the discomfort and fear of the soldiers stuck in hell on a beach in Dunkirk by disorienting and assaulting the audience. You feel the terror and anguish the soldiers are going through and, like the best war movies, the action is something frightening and visceral. It’s a movie about feeling something, about being in a trying, terrible experience and what it means to live through it.
As a thirty-something white man who grew up in the Midwest, I’m not sure there has ever been a movie that is less for me than Lady Bird. The tale of a teenage girl growing up in Sacramento in the 2000’s still ends up being effective, not for the subject matter and struggle, much of which I can’t relate to, but more for the beautiful and terrifying relationship between Lady Bird and her mother and those around her. They show real emotions and have real conversations. You can see the love between them, even when her mom is saying and doing terrible things. You get to watch Lady Bird make terrible decisions herself, which naturally is part of being a teenager (that is something I can relate to) and cringe when you see her give in to what she thinks is love or ignore her friend for the new friends she is trying to fit in with. What would be incredibly cliché in other movies ends up working here through the strength of the performances, especially from Saoirse Ronan.
I won’t lie: I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I went into The Post. I mean sure you have Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, two of the best actors working today but the ins and outs of a newspaper deciding whether to report on the Pentagon Papers, an event from way before my time, doesn’t exactly scream excitement. Give it up to Steven Spielberg for taking this topic and making it fascinating and entertaining. You feel the tension over the decision and the real implications of what the cost could have been, which is still effective even though I went in knowing exactly how everything ends up. The acting is superb not only from Streep and Hanks, but from the various supporting characters such as Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood and Bradley Whitford.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
In a small town in Missouri, we get to witness the lives of several normal people living through difficult circumstances. A woman dealing with the murder of her daughter. A police chief dealing with cancer. A deputy coming to terms with the awful things he’s done. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a movie about the gray areas of morality, about people making poor decisions and having to deal with the consequences. While the characters in the movie may be good people, they still act out and do reprehensible things while trying to struggle through life. Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell all put on fantastic performances in a movie that is full of drama but also manages to offer great humor and insight at the same time.
The Shape of Water
It’s crazy that a movie about a mute woman falling in love with a fish man is one of the best films of the year. Unique as they come, with great performances all around, The Shape of Water is a moving love story about acceptance and taking chances. The film is beautiful, with memorable shots and great music. Despite the two main characters being unable to speak, you feel and believe the love that grows between them, never questioning the bizarre nature of it being cross-species. Surprisingly there is also a lot of humor to found. Yes, it is a love story but at times feels more like a light-hearted, fairy tale. When it does go serious, like with the conflict with Michael Shannon’s villain, it doesn’t hold back, becoming frightening and brutal.
Didn’t See: Call Me By Your Name, Darkest Hour, Phantom Thread
Should Have Been Nominated:
The Disaster Artist
The Disaster Artist is an amazing look at ambition and the desire to create something, while also with how great passion can still end up a complete train wreck. It’s an often-hilarious look at the creation of one of the most iconic terrible movies of all time, while also managing to shed light on the mysterious Tommy Wiseau. James Franco is fantastic as Wiseau and Dave Franco is similarly impressive as Greg Sestero. On top of the humor, The Disaster Artist also serves at a great look at just film-making from a production standpoint, showing how things are accomplished for a low budget movie and how a bad movie ends up getting made in the first. The pure dedication James Franco clearly had in making this movie is apparent from the way they flawlessly recreate scenes from The Room, down to things like audio cues and subtle motions by the characters. It’s a great journey.
No other movie I have seen this year has been effective emotionally as Get Out. Crossing through various genres from comedy to drama to sci-fi to horror, Get Out does almost everything right from start to finish. It starts out like a creepy version of Meet the Parents: sure, there are awkward conversations but in general everything seems like it’s going okay. Then things start to escalate and Daniel Kaluuya’s character Chris starts to question his own sanity after various bizarre events start to paint a picture that something sinister is going on. That’s when the movie really amps up and you discover that not only is something terrible going on, but it’s even darker and more twisted than you could ever have imagined. The finale of the movie is non-stop and literally left me breathless. This is the type of film that terrifies not from jump-scares or torture porn, but instead from the antagonists of the film and their views on human life, in this instance specifically towards African Americans, that frighteningly is not too far off from what many in the world actually believe. This is the true terror that the movie is trying to convey and it’s the kind of movie that keeps you thinking about it long after the film is over.