Let’s start with the nine Best Picture nominees. If you asked me to predict the leading contenders months ago, I wouldn’t have anticipated a standoff between The Shape of Water and Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. But though neither is #1 on my ballot, both movies, in their own way, are representative of the 2017 movie landscape.
I’m kicking off the Oscars Week countdown with a few performances that shouldn’t have been overlooked this awards season.
Eight years in Hollywood, two years in New York. Movie stars, celebrity athletes–and Russian mobsters. With Molly Bloom as our guide, we gain access to an exclusive club, where the money flows freely and the rich and famous meet once a week to gamble their wealth away. It’s prime Aaron Sorkin territory, sweeping back the curtain on the garish underworld of high-stakes poker like he did for politics, television, and Silicon Valley. And for two-thirds of Molly’s Game, he delivers a smart, sleek movie that works his crisp repartee into the glitzy adrenaline of the game. But when Molly’s poker career folds, Sorkin squanders his own hand by playing the wrong cards.
The last five minutes of BPM (Beats per Minute) are extraordinary. Director Robin Campillo takes all the strands of his story and cuts them together into an intoxicating, heartbreaking montage. Men and women are dancing their hearts out at a nightclub, while a man whose lover died spends the night with a friend, pouring out his grief in bed; all the while the ACT UP community makes one more triumphant political statement. The personal and the political are not separable…
Phantom Thread, with Daniel Day-Lewis’s alleged final performance, is as mysterious as its title suggests. Like much of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work, the movie is hypnotic, engrossing–and restless. Watching one of Anderson’s movies can be an exercise in surrender: the path can feel circuitous, and the destination sometimes unfathomable.
Nothing is more stirring in Steven Spielberg’s The Post than watching the early morning newspapers get printed. Spielberg’s movie intends to rouse and inspire us, but the printing montage does that work all on its own. We watch the news text printed letter by letter, type placed into trays, trays imprinted onto a plate, and plates pressed onto newsprint. As Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks wax philosophical about the press, copies of the morning papers spiral up to the ceilings, ready to be delivered to homes across Washington. It’s dynamite for publishing and journalism geeks.
So the “incident,” which is how everyone describes it in I, Tonya, didn’t cause that much physical damage. Nancy Kerrigan pulled it together to win a silver medal six weeks later at the 1994 Winter Olympics. It’s not the most violent scene in the movie, that’s for sure. One poorly executed hit job, and Tonya Harding’s skating career ended while her life of infamy began.
With Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and season one of The Crown fresh in our consciousness, Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour arrives at a moment when we’re steeped in British World War II nostalgia. Wright’s even making his second attempt at the evacuation of Dunkirk, following the middle chapter of Atonement, so there’s a real déjà vu watching this new biopic.
Guillermo del Toro’s new movie The Shape of Water fits into a storied tradition of folklore and fantasy from Hans Christian Andersen to Godzilla. It’s an old-fashioned fairy tale and a classic film throwback that clearly enchanted the director. Though Universal tried to revive its classic monster franchise this year with The Mummy, their failed attempt to create a new Dark Universe, del Toro has beaten them at their own game. The key to a new monster, it turns out, is a lighter–not darker–touch.
Honestly, this movie is so good. I want to move to Northern Italy to read literature and bike through the country and fall in love with Armie Hammer every day. The movie looks beautiful: Guadagnino clearly enjoys the lush flora and blue waters of Crema, where it’s impossible to resist the sensuality of your surroundings. He films the building romance simply, using few close-ups, to suggest a placid exterior that the lovers’ impulses push against.