This time last year, I wrote about the nine Best Picture nominees. With just 48 hours to spare, I’ve managed to watch all nine nominees in this years’ Academy Awards. Here’s my ranking, in descending order:
9. Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)
Get Out was an enjoyable and innovative genre film. Nothing more, nothing less. As such, it doesn’t deserve to be in this list, especially when better films didn’t make the cut for a Best Picture nomination. The film’s first two acts were an intriguing study into racism in the 21st century, but it loses points with a messy, typically Hollywood final act.
It really makes me wonder whether the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. It’s an incredible achievement for Jordan Peele, but one has to wonder if he’s being nominated here out of merit, or just to tick a box?
8. The Shape Of Water (Guillermo del Toro, 2017)
Yes, I know it’s the most nominated film this year, and as a result it looks likely to be the big winner on Sunday night, but del Toro should be ashamed for stealing so much from Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
A green colour palette, a quiet elfin brunette, a friendship with an old hermit neighbour who watches an old black and white television set, an unusual love story. I know they say that nothing under the sun is original, but did del Toro even think about what he was doing here?
In Consequence Of Sound’s picks for the Oscars, their writer Blake Goble wrote that Blade Runner 2049 is not deserving of the Best Production Design award as it’s ‘a work of homage – to other artists like Tarkovsky and Ridley Scott. Done bigger and louder.’ In contrast, he claims that ‘The Shape Of Water is actual creation.’
So says another American who hasn’t seen Delicatessen or Amelie.
7. The Post (Steven Spielberg, 2017)
A nice film, especially in the way that its final scene segues nicely into Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men – itself a Best Picture nominee in 1977; great – but not career-best – performances by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep (together with a great ensemble supporting cast), but…that’s…about…it. A 2-hour film featuring little other than people talking to each other in offices – no matter how riveting – does not a Best Picture make.
6. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)
This year’s picture postcard to heartbreak – following last year’s Manchester By The Sea – the cinematography and exuberant piano score in Call Me By Your Name is more than worth the price of admission.
5. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)
Paul Thomas Anderson films used to be a tray of donuts; now they’re a cake stand at high-tea. Phantom Thread finds the director disappearing down the hole he started drilling in There Will Be Blood and The Master, but it’s nothing compared to the sleeze of Boogie Nights and the tension of Magnolia.
Once again, Daniel Day Lewis gives us a masterclass in how to portray petulance on screen (with some delicious put-downs), in what is touted to be his final film role. Here he seems to flesh out the male subject of Charlie Kauffman and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa, particularly in his intolerance of people eating loudly.
Still, the film does contain perhaps the greatest breakfast order ever seen on film:
Alma: Good morning.
Alma: What would you like to order?
Reynolds: A welsh rarebit….With a poached egg on top, please…Not too runny…And bacon…Scones…Butter, cream, jam…Not strawberry.
Alma: No. Raspberry?
Reynolds: What else?
Alma: Coffee or tea?
Reynolds: Do you have lapsang?
Reynolds: I’ll have a pot of lapsang please.
Alma: Good choice.
Reynolds: And some sausages.
Alma: …And some sausages.
4. Darkest Hour (Joe Wright, 2017)
In a lovely bit of serendipity, Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour could play in a double-bill with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. They could probably be intercut, as Wright’s film opens with the bureaucracy behind the Dunkirk problem that is the sole focus of Nolan’s film.
Both films are outstanding – Darkest Hour from a performance viewpoint (Gary Oldman playing an – erm – old man, in a career-best performance), and Dunkirk from a technical viewpoint. However, the weakness of each film is the strength of the other, and vice versa.
3. Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017)
Nolan’s tenth feature-length picture is a beautiful – yet tense – retelling of the Dunkirk evacuation. It would probably top this list if there was a bit more humanity in the film, but Nolan instead focuses on the technical aspects of filmmaking rather than characterisation or dialogue. Filmed almost as a silent picture, it’s Nolan’s most distant work yet – perhaps to symbolise the distance of the stranded forces, so near yet so far away.
Nolan’s films are always outstanding, particularly in the way he utilizes IMAX camera technology. Filmed entirely in huge 65mm stock (75% of it using IMAX cameras), Dunkirk looks stunning and was a treat to see (and hear!) in an IMAX cinema. Quite how they filmed the spitfire cockpit sequences with huge IMAX cameras will eat at my brain forever, but I’d rather not know, I’d rather not peek behind the curtain.
This year’s Best Picture nominees feature a wealth of fantastic musical scores, but Hans Zimmer’s work on Dunkirk is well deserving of the Best Original Score award.
2. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017)
Greta Gerwig has been a star on the rise for the past decade, and here she offers her directorial debut. She’s also up for the Best Director award – only the fifth time in history a female has been nominated (with only one going on to win the accolade – Katherine Bigelow for The Hurt Locker).
The always watchable Saoirse Ronan stars as the titular character in a coming-of-age dramedy, with an impressive supporting cast featuring Laurie Metcalf (‘Jackie’ from Roseanne), Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges (also appearing in Three Billboards) and Timothée Chalamet (nominated for Best Actor as Elio in Call Me By Your Name).
1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh, 2017)
None of the nine nominees this year have really struck a chord with me, like my top three of Lion, La La Land and Manchester By The Sea from last year’s line-up. Three Billboards is therefore the best of a just very good bunch.
Frances McDormand is great – but has been better before (it’s Margot Robbie who deserves the Best Actress award, for I, Tonya), McDonagh’s script walks a tight balance between tragedy and comedy, and Sam Rockwell easily earns his Best Supporting Actor nomination.
Here are my other favourite (eligible) films from the year (in alphabetical order):
A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017) – a love story that transcends time, dimensions and bedsheets.
Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, 2017) – a stellar pop soundtrack and quite possibly the last time we will ever see the once fantastic, now disgraced, Kevin Spacey on the silver screen.
Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017) – a wonderfully respectful sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 original, with director Denis Villeneuve still going from strength to strength.
Brigsby Bear (Dave McCary, 2017) – a nice slice of feel-good fish-out-of-water comedy from three former Saturday Night Live cast members.
It (Andy Muschietti, 2017) – could anybody make Pennywise the clown creepier than Tim Curry’s portrayal in the 1990 TV mini-series? The answer – in the form of Bill Skarsgård – is a big fat yes. One of the most innovative horrors I’ve seen in years. Look out for rising star Sophia Lillis.
I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie, 2017) – “…and the award for ‘Best Sporting Moment Set To The Music Of ZZ Top’ goes to…”. An early career peak by Margot Robbie in a more worthy contender than Get Out for Best Picture.
Ingrid Goes West (Matt Spicer, 2017) – Aubrey Plaza plays to type as a creepy stalker to Elizabeth Olsen’s perfect It girl. Unnerving, like Scorsese’s Taxi Driver with smart-phones instead of guns.
Kong: Skull Island (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017) – Hollywood can still knock out a decent B-movie if it puts its mind to it.
Logan (James Mangold, 2017) – after the endless junk of Marvel and DC films over the last decade, at last something a bit different from the usual template.
Split (M. Night Shyamalan, 2016) – I’ve never really understood the appeal of James McAvoy until now. A great twist too, as Shyamalan returns to his trademark curtain reveal.
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, 2017) – thankfully the most anticipated film of 2017 wasn’t a let-down, even if Rian Johnson did sweep the table of most of the questions posed by J.J. Abrams’ Episode VII.
The Big Sick (Michael Showalter, 2017) – finally, a rom-com that breaks the mould. Contains a great 9/11 joke. Too soon?
The Disaster Artist (James Franco, 2017) – overachiever James Franco directs and stars in a passion project about the making of 2003’s The Room, one of the best worst films ever made. Very funny, particularly for those already in on the joke.
The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017) – Best Supporting Actor nominee Willem Dafoe is dependable as the manager of a motel near Disneyworld (the film is named after the construction name for the theme park). Almost a companion piece to Andrea Arnold’s American Honey (2016), the film deals with the trials and tribulations of those stuck in temporary accommodation on the outskirts of Orlando.
T2 Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 2017) – the other mega-respectful sequel of 2017, Danny Boyle’s film spliced joyous nostalgia with a stinging sense of regret. Also, I was lucky to get to meet him when he was in New Zealand promoting the film.
Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi, 2017) – from one of the greatest trailers ever put together, came a film that followed through on its promise of a fun, fun ride. I’m not sure how it will be viewed in the future – particularly next to the other films in the series – but it sure beats all the po-faced posturing by Captain America and the rest of the Avengers.
Voyeur (Myles Kane, Josh Koury, 2017) – documentaries these days are so well produced and directed, they really entertain and envelop you in a narrative that wouldn’t be possible with the restrictive talking head format of yesteryear. This film follows celebrated New York journalist Gay Talese as he tackles the story of a Colorado motel owner who claimed to have been spying, unimpeded, on his guests for decades.
Wind River (Taylor Sheridan, 2017) – Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell Or High Water) can pen a decent story, usually concerning law enforcement fighting a losing battle, and Wind River is no different. Elizabeth Olsen plays an FBI agent sent to Wyoming to investigate a murder on an Indian Reservation.