2017 was a surprising year in cinema, and with a little over a month to go until the red carpet is rolled out for the 90th Annual Academy Awards on March 4, I’m sure many of us have some catching up to do. Of the nine films nominated for the best picture award, it is hard to say whether any of them stand out as the clear frontrunner. With the wide variety of tones, genres and subject matters present in the nominees, no film is any less deserving than the others. Yet, only one film will earn the golden statue. Here are the nominees for best picture.
“The Post”- Every Academy Awards has its surprises, and this isn’t necessarily one of them. From acclaimed director Steven Spielberg comes yet another historical drama, much in the same vein as a lot of the industry titan’s work in the new millennium, including “Munich” (2005), “Lincoln” (2012), and “Bridge of Spies” (2015). Boasting a star-studded cast led by repeat Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, the film follows the real-life exploits of Kay Graham (Streep) of the Washington Post, the country’s first female newspaper publisher, and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) who team up to publish leaked documents incriminating the U.S. government for having lied to about the Vietnam War, putting their paper and their freedom on the line.
“Dunkirk”– From fan favorite Christopher Nolan, director of “The Dark Knight” Batman Trilogy (2005-2012) and “Inception” (2010), who has been as of yet unable to secure Oscar gold, comes Dunkirk, a visceral and finely crafted depiction of one of the most pivotal battles of the second world war. As his first film since 2014’s successful yet divisive sci-fi epic “Interstellar,” Nolan trades his preferred genre of science fiction for a war film starring Oscar winner Mark Rylance as well as Kenneth Branagh, Chris Nolan regulars Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy, and former One Direction star Harry Styles.
“The Shape of Water”– From adored genre-director/writer Guillermo Del Toro comes an unlikely love story between Elisa (Sally Hawkins) a mute custodial worker in a top-secret cold-war era U.S. government lab, and a mysterious humanoid sea creature (Doug Jones) who is brought in to be studied and possibly weaponized against the Soviet Union. Like many of Del Toro’s films, this one is about monsters, but not always the kind of monsters one may expect. With wonderfully realized supporting roles by Oscar winner Viola Davis, and former nominees Michael Shannon, and Richard Jenkins, who is again nominated for this role, Del Toro has earned himself an unexpected but much deserved nomination.
“Get Out”– One of the most surprising entries to this list is the writing and directorial debut of Jordan Peele, one half of the popular sketch comedy duo Key and Peele. The horror/comedy sleeper hit was released early in the year and met with praise and controversy over its racially charged themes, and it has persevered to become one of the biggest award seasons contenders around despite its release early in the year. It joins Lady Bird as one of two nominated films billed as a comedy, putting both films in contention to become the second ever comedy film to win best picture at the Oscars- the first being Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” (1979).
“Lady Bird”– Another comedy, and another debut, this time for actress turned writer/director Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird” is a coming of age tale centered around Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), a 17-year-old girl in a crummy high school in early 2000’s California who is dissatisfied with her life and longs for adventure and sophistication. Though it won the golden globe in the comedy/musical category, the film, anchored by Saoirse Ronan’s central performance, is admittedly comedic, but not without heavy themes.
“Phantom Thread”– A film with all the necessary ingredients to secure the Oscar- a veteran director with eight previous nominations under his belt in Paul Thomas Anderson, a historical 1950’s English setting, elaborate period costuming, an esoteric subject matter, an incredibly wordy script, beautiful photography, and a lead performance by Daniel Day-Lewis (reportedly his last film performance ever), nobody was surprised to see “Phantom Thread” amongst the best picture contenders. The period drama confronts themes of love, obsession and compulsion, centered around the tale of enigmatic, world renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) and his troubled romance with his muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps).
“Darkest Hour”– Another clear Oscar contender, Gary Oldman as well as many pounds of makeup and prosthetics star as Winston Churchill in this period drama about the first days of the Prime Ministers term in the onset of World War 2, as he struggles to fight back against the fast approaching German army and unify his own nation. With a cast completed by up-and-comer Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, and Kristin Scott Thomas, Darkest Hour has received praise as one of the best biopics in recent memory, and Gary Oldman’s performance has been called the best depictions of Churchill himself in history.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”– Writer/director Martin McDonagh’s film may have walked away from the Golden Globes with the award for best dramatic picture, but there is no shortage of laughs in this black comedy about Mildred (Frances McDormand), a woman from Missouri who pays to put up billboards calling out the local police for failing to catch the person who murdered her daughter. With a best leading actress nomination for Frances McDormand, as well as a pair of Oscar nominated supporting performances by Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, who also won the supporting actor award at the golden globes, Three Billboards is poised to potentially become the 46th film in history to win best picture at both the Golden Globes and the Oscars.
“Call Me by Your Name”– One of the more topical films in Oscar contention this year, Italian underdog director Luca Guadagnino’s film is really a simple, lackadaisical tale about a gradually forming relationship between two young men, Oliver (Armie Hammer) and Elio (Timothee Chalamet) in Northern Italy in the summer of 1983. With a script, based on the novel by Andre Aciman, nominated in the best adapted screenplay category, and a leading actor nomination for Chalamet, the indie-style flick has a lot to prove going forward.