Thursday, 1 March 2018

Ranking the 2018 Oscars Best Picture Nominees

I'm just diving straight into this one: this is strongest Best Picture lineup in a very long time. I think you'd have to go back to the 83rd Academy Awards in 2011 to find a lineup as relentlessly good as the one we have here. This year's roster includes a film with more bullets than words, a film about some posters, a film involving the sexualisation of fruit, a film about small spotted insects, a film about dresses, a film about newspapers and a film about a woman falling in love with a fish. I might be under selling them a bit, most of them really are great. I promise. Let's take a look at this year's nine Best Picture nominees and try to rank them from weakest to strongest.

9. Darkest Hour [dir. Joe Wright]

Every year has one bizarre contender and even this strong lineup is no exception. There are far worse films out there than Darkest Hour, and as a way to pass the time and learn some history the film does alright, but should it really be included here over so many other, stronger contenders? Coco could have joined the elite crew of Best Picture nominated animations, Mudbound could have completed its impressive nomination haul with a nod here, even The Florida Project could've crept its way in instead. Darkest Hour is by no means a bad film, but it's the only one on the lineup that doesn't make a lasting impression and ultimately falls victim to those two dreadful, horrible words: Oscar bait.

Full review here.

8. The Post [dir. Steven Spielberg]

There's just something missing from The Post. It's directed by Steven Spielberg and its leading cast members are Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, and yet it doesn't quite leap off the screen. It tells a gripping true story, the kind that Oscar voters eat up too, but it finds a way of branding its own identity to itself - despite the awards-friendly premise, The Post rarely comes across like an awards-seeking film. It's calm and slow and subdued, until it launches into an exhilarating finale to tie everything together. Everything on screen works and you'll come away satisfied, but Spielberg's dedication to detaching his film from your typical award season fare perhaps does as much harm as it does good - it holds The Post back from being the great film it desperately wants to be.

Full review here.

7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [dir. Martin McDonagh]

I really, really love this film. In fact, part of me remains convinced it's winning the big prize come Oscar night. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is bold film making, relentless in its verbal attacks and unashamed of its powerful, frighteningly modern premise. Frances McDormand unquestionably steals the show with her brutally powerful performance here, but it's the supporting characters that turn Three Billboards from a good film into a great one. Woody Harrelson's cancer ridden, well intentioned Sheriff, Sam Rockwell's racist cop with a slowly developing conscience, Lucas Hedges' morbidly depressed son who longs for a normal life - it's a roster of characters that bring the film to life while seamlessly fleshing out the kind of town we're spending our time in here. It all makes for a film as unabashedly entertaining as it is thought-provoking.

Full review here.

6. Call Me By Your Name [dir. Luca Guadagnino]

It's a testament to the strength of this year's lineup that a film as great as Call Me By Your Name finishes in sixth place. This is dizzyingly emotional film making, almost overwhelmingly so. I have to confess to not really liking Luca Guadagnino's film on first viewing - feeling detached from the love story and unable to break down the barriers that the distant, picturesque cinematography put up outside the emotionally vulnerable characters - but on a second viewing Call Me By Your Name hit me like a fire truck, and it just gets better with each subsequent watch. Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg are terrific (and both robbed of an Oscar nomination, if you ask me) but it's Timothée Chalamet's devastating, star-making performance that you'll struggle to forget. Tell me those ending credits didn't get your tear ducts flowing and I'll probably never trust you again. 

Full review here.

5. Lady Bird [dir. Greta Gerwig]

Directorial debuts rarely come much better than Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird. It's a simple coming of age story about a girl's life before College, touching on friendship, jealousy, first loves, first lusts and, most notably, the relationship between daughter and mother. It's all been done before and the film overflows with clichéd moments, but Gerwig writes them so beautifully and so realistically that they twist back around into feeling fresh again. Saiorse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are on peak form, but Gerwig is the true talent in making Lady Bird such a powerfully effective feature. On paper it's perhaps the simplest film in this year's lineup, but in execution it transcends every expectation and finishes as one of the warmest, most emotionally resonant films of the year. Gerwig has a hell of a career ahead of her and I can't wait to see what she does next.

Full review here.

4. Get Out [dir. Jordan Peele]

If Lady Bird demonstrated one of the best directorial debuts in recent memory, then Jordan Peele's Get Out might have to be the best. Not only does it already have the rare distinction of being a Best Picture nominated horror film, Get Out also makes a solid claim to be one of the most universally respected films in years - I quite literally haven't come across anyone who doesn't like it. It's easy to see why, too: Peele almost singlehandedly revitalises both the horror genre and cinematic social commentary in one swift move, with a film as funny and scary as it is original and eye opening. It can be enjoyed when viewed on a phone screen on your own, it can be enjoyed watching at home with your family or your friends, it can be enjoyed in a packed and (probably) riotous cinema. It's a film that just works, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

Full review here.

3. Phantom Thread [dir. Paul Thomas Anderson]

Phantom Thread was a film I didn't know much about when I went into it, and that turned out to be the best thing I could've done. Paul Thomas Anderson has crafted a delicately woven tapestry of a film, one that charts the rise and fall of a toxic relationship - it's essentially a two hour power struggle and it's completely thrilling. It's phenomenally well performed by all involved - notably Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps and the gleefully biting Leslie Manville - and it gives us what may be the most daring final act of any film on this lineup. Trust me when I say this film's ending is unforgettable. Phantom Thread has the look and feel of a film that will be studied for years to come - it's a masterclass in, well, just about everything.

Full review here.

2. Dunkirk [dir. Christopher Nolan]

I'm not a huge lover of war films in general, but with Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan turns the genre on its head, strips it to its bones and gives us what's left. Clocking in at under two hours - a rare trait for films of this kind - Nolan essentially takes a well known story and makes just the final act of it. He chooses to ignore character development and plot in favour of white knuckle thrills and blood pressure shattering tension - it's a cliche, but Dunkirk is the rare film that can make legitimate claim to not slowing down for a second. That the film is comprised of Nolan's most complex narrative structure yet while also remaining the technical showcase of his career is what makes Dunkirk so excellent - it's both Nolan's riskiest film yet,as well as the one that most effectively defines his talents as a film maker.

Full review here.

1. The Shape of Water [dir. Guillermo del Toro]

Guillermo del Toro has been making good films his whole career, but in the years following Pan's Labyrinth he settled into a trend of serving up good work that never quite blew you away. Not only is The Shape of Water a stunning return to form, I'd even argue it's del Toro's greatest film yet. It's a beautiful, emotional tale of love and acceptance, a timely deconstruction and dismissal of xenophobia. It's ingeniously casted - particularly Sally Hawkins, who gives a career-defining performance here - and perhaps even the best example yet of what del Toro can do with a film's visual style. The Shape of Water exists in its own world, it breathes its own air and talks its own language, and it's the rare film that can lay claim to transporting its audience somewhere magical for a little over two hours. I'm not entirely sure yet how I'd describe the place del Toro takes us here, but it's somewhere I'll never grow tired of.

Full review here.


Full Oscar predictions are here!

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