Take me back to Call Me By Your Name‘s warm Italian summer of 1983. I devoured André Aciman’s sun-kissed pleasure of a novel early last year and I was looking forward to Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation with eager anticipation. The film was everything I had hoped for and more. Call Me By Your Name is an intoxicating dive into the thrill, ache, lust and heartbreak of first love. A sweeping primal dance between the inner and outer lives of awakening and desire.
It’s a refreshing gift to watch a story of gay love unfold where the villain isn’t crippling self-hatred, devastating disease, or homophobic violence. We’re free to just be and exist with these characters. At the same time, there are signifiers of potential ruin and as an audience, we’re conditioned to wait for the other shoe to drop. Instead, the enemy of Call Me By Your Name is time. The movie speaks beautifully to the delay of queerness, how queer people typically aren’t able to act on their feelings at the same time as the sexual discovery of their heterosexual peers.
Timothée Chalamet delivers a knockout performance as the 17-year-old Elio, every fiber of his physicality bursting with curiosity and confusion. As the heart and soul of the film, he is my pick for Best Actor by a mile. His magnetic attraction to Armie Hammer’s handsome and seemingly aloof Oliver develops at a restrained pace, a yearning bubbling just under the surface, until the floodgates of infatuation are no loner able to contain him.
Call Me By Your Name‘s journey of discovery certainly has moments of pure gay wish-fulfillment. Towards the end of the movie, Michael Stuhlbarg, as Elio’s father, delivers a stunning monologue so full of empathy and humanity, an appeal to his son to accept both love and pain, that it left me breathless. (Stuhlbarg’s lack of an Oscar nomination is the season’s biggest disappointment.) Soon after, Elio’s final moments left me a silent, emotional wreck. Call Me By Your Name instantly became my favorite film of 2017.
Lady Bird considers that paying close attention to something is an act of love. You can truly feel the love and compassion Greta Gerwig has for all of her complex characters in her first outing as a solo director. Not only is it wonderful to see all this affection focused on the life of a teenage girl, but we’re able to feel the perspectives of both generations, of Saoirse Ronan’s Christine, aka “Lady Bird,” and her mother Marion, played by marvelous Laurie Metcalf (how unfortunate she hasn’t gotten the awards recognition she deserves). This is both a coming-of-age film and a gracefully realized examination of parenting, as these women so desperately want to be seen by each other.
The early 2000s NorCal high school setting and theatre kid experiences rang so true for me. While many of my peers deeply related to the relationship between mother and daughter, I was moved most by the arc of Lady Bird and her first boyfriend, Danny (Lucas Hedges). Lady Bird succeeds because its lovingly crafted specificity is key to universality. Again, love and attention. The more I think about what worked so delightfully about Lady Bird, the more I fall in love with it.
Special shout-out to Beanie Feldstein’s buoyant charisma as Lady Bird’s best friend, Julie. These two share my favorite dialogue from all the nominated pictures:
JULIE: Ms. Patty assigned you a role, by the way. You just never showed up to claim it.
LADY BIRD: What role?
JULIE: The Tempest.
LADY BIRD: There is no role of The Tempest.
JULIE: It is the titular role.
If I were casting an Oscar ballot, I would vote Get Out for Best Picture in a heartbeat. No other film speaks so urgently and directly to these troubled times we live in. Part racial satire, part societal thriller, Jordan Peele’s audacious directorial début captures a vital American horror story. Peele masterfully explores real-life anxieties and dives into both the absurdity and menace, illuminating along the way, hypocrisies in performative wokeness. I’m thrilled with the awards recognition of Daniel Kaluuya’s complex performance, as his character struggles for a sense of normalcy in an increasing abnormal environment, from being black in a white space, from blackness simply existing. Get Out will leave an enduring impression in our pop culture psyche long after this awards season is over.
Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a gorgeous film. Every frame is exquisitely rendered in lush and opulent blues and greens. The radiant Sally Hawkins, as the mute janitor, Elisa, lures you into her world with a silent tenacity, as she races to save her fish-man love, with whom she connects so profoundly.
Elisa’s friends on the fringes (Richard Jenkins and a woefully underused Octavia Spencer) have touches of inner lives, elevating them from mere thankless sidekick tropes. Jenkins, as a lonely gay man, gives an especially nuanced performance. The Shape of Water is told from an artist’s point of view, framing the story as a fable. Though a feeling of inevitability permeates throughout, there’s enough clever originality that satisfies like a warm wave of emotion. Truth be told, I’m done with the “love letter to Old Hollywood” for a while.
I’m not fond of war movies, and I’ll never forgive the Oscars for making me watch Hacksaw Ridge. Much to my surprise, I was thoroughly entertained by Dunkirk. Whereas Hacksaw Ridge was at once both achingly saccharine and punishingly cruel, Dunkirk was thankfully neither. Though the film features a sea of same-looking brown-haired Brits, emphasizing the anonymity of war, I still managed to care for the survival of these soldiers, even without knowing much about them. Deep in the chaos of war, Dunkirk makes no time for clichéd backstories and stock characterizations, unlike other war movies.
Director Christopher Nolan has crafted an immersive war epic that celebrates the perseverance of the human spirit, yet doesn’t shy away from showing a primal fear. Through a clever storytelling structure that weaves timelines and narratives, this harrowing rescue mission is depicted on a scale both epic and personal, claustrophobic and cavernous. Dunkirk was such a technical achievement that Harry Styles wasn’t much of a distraction.
An exquisitely delicate film by Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread, chronicles the tense emotional life of an obsessive artist (Daniel Day-Lewis) who meets his match in his muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps). Their passionate love is a twisted and destructive duet, and while I admit I’m tired of meticulous creative geniuses (who are almost always white men), Alma’s keen resolve keeps the story on its toes. Their relationship weaves in surprising directions, but I could only enjoy Phantom Thread at a cool distance.
On paper, The Post screams Oscar excellence: a Steven Spielberg-directed movie about the true story of Washington Post journalists rushing to expose government flaws, starring American treasures Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Onscreen, The Post was… fine. It was more impressive for its timeliness and political relevance than anything else. Even so, there were sequences when film was too heavy-handed with its modern parallels; the shot of Streep as Katherine Graham, the first female publisher of an American newspaper, walking out of a courthouse among admiring female onlookers comes to mind.
Honestly, I was more entertained, if not a bit distracted, by the seemingly endless cavalcade of television stars. Carrie Coon! Sarah Paulson! Zach Woods! And on and on and on. It’s only when the Pentagon Papers are actually acquired, maybe halfway through, does the movie actually pick up steam. Historical spoiler alert: We know that the Post does publish the Pentagon Papers, so the sweeping climax of Streep in a kaftan making that history-altering decision just sits there, no matter how awesome the kaftan.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is my anti-Lady Bird; the more I think about it, the less and less I like it. On its surface, it’s a thrilling rollercoaster, racing from searing drama to black comedy and back, featuring Frances McDormand’s visceral and raw performance. Her portrayal of a grieving mother who turns her agony into a steadfast rage is worthy of acclaim, but boy, is the film that surrounds her problematic AF.
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards feels like it’s made by someone who isn’t acquainted with the place they’re operating in. The way race is handled in this contemporary rural setting just doesn’t work. Unlike in Peele’s Get Out, McDonagh doesn’t have a coherent understanding of American racism. Rockwell’s violent and racist cop, who has tortured a black man in custody in the past, gets a redemption arc that is completely misguided and unearned. Rockwell is admirable in the role, but his character’s transformation is unjustified. It’s also extremely disappointing to see black characters, both onscreen and off, as merely plot devices and ciphers.
So much more of Three Billboards doesn’t come together, including the aforementioned tonal whiplash, unexplored consequences, a plethora of narrative coincidences and false endings, and whatever Abbie Cornish is doing.
I must give Darkest Hour credit; it was way more visually interesting than I expected it would be. On the flip side, I expected the movie to be a talky snooze… and it was. This plodding historical drama attempts to portray Winston Churchill not as a revered deity, but as a flawed man. It’s a damn shame that the luminous Timothée Chalamet will lose the Oscar to Gary Oldman, impressive as Oldman’s prosthetic and skilled imitation may be. The Academy has filled its ranks with younger and more diverse voters, and you can sense these Best Picture nominations as a result, with one foot in the thrilling contemporary (Get Out) and one foot in the stodgy past (Darkest Hour).
[gifs courtesy of son-of-athena-dg.tumblr.com]