The Oscars take place this weekend, highlighting – in some people’s opinion – the best movies of the year. And this was a great year for film, with a number of pictures that are guaranteed to be considered classics in years to come. But what was the best? Let’s take a look at this year’s nominees for Best Picture from worst to best.
But first, which great movies didn’t make the cut?
Honourable Mentions: Blade Runner 2049, The Big Sick, Mudbound, I, Tonya, Wind River, Molly’s Game, The Beguiled, Detroit
Now on to the countdown.
9. The Darkest Hour
Biopics of famous people are common place in the annual Oscar race with the Academy falling in love with larger-than-life figures from history. These films also tend to be great showcases for the leading actors know have the unenviable challenge of inhabiting these personalities the public usually knows so well. Unfortunately, these movies also tend to rather paint-by-numbers, and sadly that is the case with this competent but ultimately dull film about Winston Churchill. The film does tackle a very interesting and dramatic time in Churchill’s life, starting with his election as Prime Minister while England found themselves facing defeat in World War II. Gary Oldman is considered the frontrunner for Best Actor for his portrayal of Churchill and it’s not hard to see why. It is not only a physical transformation, but Churchill is entirely believable as the hot-tempered, humourous and hard-headed bull dog. Oldman makes the film pretty enjoyable to watch, but in the end, it’s an empty and all too safe portrait of a complicated man at a terrifying time in history. It doesn’t help that the film is also a much duller account of the Dunkirk situation than its fellow nominee. Aside from a great performance at its center, this film is out of its league.
8. Call Me by Your Name
This film seems almost out of place among this year’s other batch of Best Picture hopefuls. It’s a small, quiet arthouse film that has gone the distance in a very competitive year. But while the film has received near-universal praise, I must admit, this one was lost on me. The film follows a young man in spending the summer in Greece who embarks on an impactful relationship with an older man. There’s plenty to admire about the film, to be sure. It’s beautifully shot, engrossing in its atmosphere, and features great performances, especially from young Timothee Chalamet. It is the relationship at the center that is hard to get onboard with. It develops seemingly out of nowhere, is impossible to root for and, because of the age difference, comes off as very inappropriate. You might argue that the focus should be on the coming-of-age story, but its ultimate message is unclear. Plus, there is a far better coming-of-age film on this very list.
7. The Post
Directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks – this movie was destined for a Best Picture nomination before the cameras started rolling. That’s not even accounting for the true-events story, following the Washington Post’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers. Meryl Streep stars as Kay Graham, the first female publisher of an American newspaper, who the decision ultimately fell upon. Her performance is predictably excellent and the story, despite the time period, is very timely. When the film focuses on Graham’s journey, the film excels, however, as an exploration of journalism it falls a little flat. While a movie like Spotlight was a thrilling depiction of investigated journalism, this film disappointingly washes over those aspects. A solid effort but less than the sum of its parts.
6. Phantom Thread
Writer-Director Paul Thomas Anderson and actor Daniel Day Lewis last collaborated on There Will Be Blood, a film widely thought to be one of the best of the 21st century. Needless to say, their next film together had high expectations, especially since it is said to be Lewis’s final acting performance. While it might not reach their previous work, this truly unique love story is an extraordinary piece of art. Lewis stars as an obsessive and very particular dressmaker in 1950s London who begins a relationship with a younger woman. To say more than that would spoil some of the truly surprising and brilliant avenues this film goes down. If this is to be Lewis’ last performance, it is a great way to go out. He is at both charming and greatly off-putting, professional and childish. His partnership with Anderson shows two artists at the top of their game. However, it would be wrong to omit the performances of Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville, which are equally as important to the films success. If there is one aspect the film fails it is in fleshing out Krieps’ character, the other half central relationship, which would have made their courtship and where it leads all the more impactful.
5. The Shape of Water
Surely no one could have predicted a story of a woman falling in love with a fish creature would be an Oscar frontrunner, but then again, no one could have predicted such a story would be so touching. Set in the paranoid era of the 1960s, a deaf cleaning lady at a military research lab develops a connection with a unique creature retrieved from the Amazons (think Creature from the Black Lagoon). What makes this film work so well is not the outrageous plot, but the fact that at its core it is a story about the voiceless finding their voice. Writer-director Guillermo Del Toro has crafted an enthralling fairy tale for adults that dares you not to fall in love with it. And the whole cast is game for the wild ride. Sally Hawkins has a very challenging role as the lonely but strong female lead. Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins provide warmth and humor as her co-worker and neighbour respectively. And Michael Shannon is perfect as the well-rounded and despicable villain. Some viewers might be unable to get past the premise and the rather extreme places the story goes, but if you can get onboard early, it is magic to behold.
4. Lady Bird
Where Call Me By Your Name’s coming of age tale failed to connect, this film knocked it out of the park – even though it is a equally unrelatable story for me. Set in Sacramento in the late 90s, this comedy follows a young girl navigating Catholic school, friendships, boyfriends, impending college and her constantly combative relationship with her mother. Surprisingly, so much of this film rang so true, regardless of whether I lived it myself or just recognized it from others. Writer-director Greta Gerwig is clearly infusing a lot of her own experiences growing up to make this a touching, hilarious and honest film. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are perfection as the daughter and mother, each flawed and believable. While not as flashy as some of the other big movies on the list, this is one that will be watched by generation of young people for years to come.
3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The award for longest title has a clear winner and it is aptly saved for maybe the most complicated film of the year. The story follows a stubborn and blunt mother who takes out ads on some local billboards calling out the police for failing to catch her daughter killer. This small act of raging against those in power sets off an unexpected chain of events. The script for this film is unbelievable with playwright Martin McDonough expertly balancing the bleak and heartbreaking themes at the films center with pitch black humour you can’t help but laugh at. The film has received a good deal of criticism since its nomination for its handling of minority characters and how it deals with a racist police officer character. While some of these criticisms are valid, many seem to be missing the message at the films center which is ultimately a positive one amongst a very dark world.
Filmmaking is hard so to say one film is more ambitious than another is difficult, but if you were to say this is the most ambitious film of the year, I don’t think I could argue against you. Auteur director Christopher Nolan did the unthinkable, taking a war epic and making it into an almost entirely visual experience. Dialogue is scarce in this film, but that does nothing to lessen its impact. Telling the story of the evacuation of nearly the entire British army as they were stranded in Dunkirk, Nolan unfolds the tense story in a unique way. Told in three stages and over three different time periods. We witness a week from the eyes of the soldiers on the beach, a day through the civilian sailors recruited to for the massive rescue attempt, and an hour from the pilots coming to hold back the enemy. The various timelines overlapping can be confusing at first, but the scope and epic feel of the film is intoxicating. It’s beautiful, haunting and a truly cinematic experience. Unlike any other war film, Dunkirk looks at the heroism in surviving.
1. Get Out
While there are a number of truly excellent films on this list, this is the one that will go down in history. A movie that is not only a cultural phenomenon, an insightful social commentary and a genre-defying masterpiece that will stand the test of time. Following a young African-American man as he goes to meet his Caucasian girlfriend’s family for the first time, the friendly weekend begins to unravel revealing a terrifying truth. A psychological horror film, this can stand proudly in the ranks of the best of Hitchcock’s work. But the film also has a hilarious comedy edge to it that continuously throws off the viewer and keeps them guessing. And while the goes to some brilliantly outlandish places, it also looks at racism in a way that will be eye-opening to many. In a year of strong contenders, this one stands high above the rest.