Ranking the Oscars 2018 Best Picture Candidates

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Two things to clarify:

  1. I have not seen all films nominated—only five of nine. This post will only chronicle those five. I may see Get Out and Call Me By Your Name at some point, and if so, I may edit this list. But for now, it will only be a top five.
  2. I don’t normally care for Award ceremonies and the like, but a friend of mine seems excited for them, so I can’t help but share her enthusiasm. I also enjoy sharing my opinion.

Something else which is interesting to note (perhaps solely to me) is that none of the films I’ve seen that were nominated for the top award garnered more than an 8.5 from me, when three of last year’s nominees received nines (Arrival, Moonlight, La La Land). I could say this year is a down year for top pictures, but I’ve liked those that I’ve seen well enough to feel they should be considered, though are perhaps overrated in the big picture. Without further filibuster, my personal rankings for the five nominations I’ve seen.

#5 – Dunkirk

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My Score: 7/10

Fun fact: this is the first Nolan film I have ever seen. Haven’t seen Inception, Interstellar, and until about a week ago, any of the Dark Knight films. Yet the prestige of Nolan as a director, despite my never seeing his films, was enough to make this film appealing despite the somewhat uninteresting premise of Dunkirk (“War” films are a dime a dozen to me). I saw this film with most of my family, including ones from out of state. Most thought it was wonderful; I thought it was “pretty good.”

I liked the constant tension, the atmosphere of survival, and the ticking-ticking-ticking of time spent before chaos and ugly death. By the end, however, the thing I felt was riveting became a little overdone. It didn’t help that the film is split into three different perspectives with completely different characters between them, and I did not give half a shit about one of them. Dunkirk is a very immersive experience, rather than an impactful story of weighted production. It’s rather feel-good synopsis based on true events, and it was a good time despite me not being particularly fond of those present within the hellhole. I remember seeing the ratings for this when it was just coming out and being flabbergasted at how unanimously praised it was, only to have the ratings sink ever-so-slightly around a week after its release. I recall its average rating on Rotten Tomatoes being somewhere in the vicinity of 9.0/10, where it’s now 8.6/10.

#4 – The Shape of Water

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My score: 7.5/10

Yet another film by an established director with multiple classics under his belt. Who’d have thought, huh? I commented that Dunkirk was rather feel-good; The Shape of Water is really feel-good, with layers of serious societal issues at the forefront because… why not? But hey, people come for the suspicion. You know what I mean. “She’s-She’s not really gonna fuck that fish dude… right?”

In all seriousness, there’s an enchanting magic to The Shape of Water that makes for a good time despite the relative lack of anything truly new to the formula/genre. If one were to ask me, I’m actually more fond of how the characters’ motivations and scenarios are shaped by their peers and surroundings, but the romance is… okay, I admit, I wasn’t super fond of the romance. Not that I don’t think mute girl and fish boy can love each other unconditionally, but the lead-up to their bond felt too rushed. True, their mutual situations (despite the seriousness of fish boy’s) of being misunderstood and manipulated offers a spark of familiarity. However, there has to be a sense of strong impact with a feeling as enveloping as romantic love, I think. The Shape of Water uses it more as a set-up.

Those political undertones, though, leave me drooling. I had no idea it would be so hamfisted and yet I loved it specifically for it! Isn’t it weird when you go into something expecting one thing and you get another, then love that more than what you expected?

#3 – Phantom Thread

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My score: 7.5/10

And fresh off the grill is Phantom Thread, a film I finished literally two hours ago. Much like with The Shape of Water (I swear I’m not intentionally connecting all of these films together in corresponding order), I went into it expecting one thing and came out surprised by how the film presented itself. This time, however, I wasn’t as fond with what I received.

This isn’t to say I thought the film was worse for it, only that I had run into something I don’t normally find with films of this caliber: creative differences. Much like mother!, I didn’t “enjoy” this film all that much—some moments of great clarity and intrigue scattered throughout and a terrific ending sequence, but overall a somewhat mellow experience. I didn’t care too much about the characters, nor how the things occurring would affect their lifestyle. Foreshadowing is on-point and a lot of the more tensile moments proved fruitful, but none of it could fix the flatline feeling I had during 80% of the runtime.

It’s a great boring movie. Harsh as it is to put it that way, I find it more suiting of my analysis of the picture than anything else, lest I lie and say it was riveting outside the final scenes. Good performances, great atmosphere, and a harrowing interpretation of love—one that surprised me into changing my facial expression—can’t save it from being rather dull.

#2 – Lady Bird

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My score: 8/10

Here’s where we get to the films I wouldn’t mind seeing win Best Picture.

Let me comment first off how amazingly the reception for this film is both with critics and audiences (particularly the Letterboxd audience). Rotten Tomatoes has an average critic rating of 8.8/10—Only Call Me By Your Name has an average that high among nominees. And the Letterboxd community? Jesus, hoards of people throwing 5/5’s at it like it’s a starving child in need of fresh numerical nourishment. I could almost feel my younger, more cynical self coming forth wanting to hate this film out of spite. Then I saw it, and hey, it’s really good!

Not 5/5 good, but I digress…

Lady Bird’s claim to fame is love. Sure, so is The Shape of Water’s, but where in the latter love is cluttered together with a romanticized romantic aspect, the former has love in a realistic situation. I suppose that realism is what makes this film so down-to-Earth for most people; never doubt the power of “same.” Characters, humor, teenage angst, political duelings; Lady Bird puts up many hurdles for itself, and gets through them mostly unscathed. By the end, I wanted to gather all my friends and family and tell them how much I loved them and what they mean to me. It’s the little things that films can do to someone that makes them so lasting and memorable. While it is by no means as delicately-crafted as Phantom Thread or as immersive as DunkirkLady Bird has a lot more heart than any film mentioned thus far in this countdown. That’s enough to garner the praise it’s received.

#1 – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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My score: 8.5/10

Hate begets more hate. That’s all that needs to be said. Everyone can click that little “x” on their tab.

In an amusing discovery, this film is actually rather polarizing on Letterboxd. Why? Well, should one want to know, go ahead and look at its page on the site, as it displays many spoilers I’d rather not get into. Despite this, and agreeing with a number of points those not fond of this movie present, it’s my favorite among those nominated for Best Picture this year. Performances, tone, questions about institutional racism, and more await those who choose to watch Three Billboards; that, and three billboards. Those three damn billboards. So beautifully indicative of how words can shape an environment.

More than anything, I liked this film the most simply because it actually touched me in a moral way. That “Hate begets more hate” line actually made me reconsider the things I was originally set in stone about politically and ideally. A fucking movie where a little dude tries to get in a crotchety old woman’s pants for half the film made me rethink my entire mindset on life. How can I not rate it so high?

Aspects of the film itself do, indeed, have some problems to them. The ending half-hour isn’t as poignant or powerful as what came before, while some scenes feel a little too set-up to be taken seriously within the context of “Insert ‘Scene where a character feels bad because of another character’s long speech’ here.” Not to mention, there are some logical pitfalls when it comes to Sam Rockwell’s character’s development. Even so, the end product is surprisingly insightful, especially one who grows tired of the increasingly hostile climate surrounding the United States’ policing communities. I love the questions it raises, the simple messages it provides, and the way love and hate are thrown around like dodgeballs every which way. Some lost potential here and there doesn’t dissolve an otherwise fantastic experience.

. . . . .

#What Should Actually Win – Blade Runner 2049

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My score: 10/10


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