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Oscar time: Sizing up the best-picture nominees

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If you're unfamiliar with the films Tinseltown is honoring this year, we have a handy guide to help bring you up to speed.

The time has come once again for the Motion Picture Academy to announce its nominations for Best Picture of the Year. That means it’s also time for America to shake its collective head and ask the perennial question, “Are we supposed to have heard of any of these movies before?” Not to worry, though; if you are among the majority who managed to avoid seeing any of the films Tinseltown is honoring this year, we have a handy guide to help bring you up to speed.

Having garnered 13 nominations, The Shape of Water would appear to be a shoe-in for Best Picture. Don’t count on it to win, though. As noted in my earlier review, Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant, though flawed, reworking of The Creature from the Black Lagoon is indeed one of the most poetic and heartfelt movies of the year. That being said, this girl-meets-fish-boy fairy tale is probably just a little too weird to take home the top prize. Best Director maybe, but not Best Picture.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has a better chance at the top spot, having already collected most of the non-Oscar accolades this awards season. It’s a difficult and uncomfortable movie about the soul’s need to forgive the unforgivable. However, as I brought up in my recent review, being expected to forgive “the other side” is not in vogue right this moment. That may dampen Three Billboards’ chances just a bit.

On the lighter side is Lady Bird, one of the year’s most praised films with an astonishing 99 percent approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. What makes the positive critical reception so shocking is that this story of teenage rebellion was inspired by director Greta Gerwig’s fond memories of attending a private Catholic high school. I know, right? As John Asay explains in his review, while the film covers some profane material, it’s also a sincere, heartening look at faith, and that may be resonating with viewers. Hollywood take note.

Returning to more somber fare, we have Dunkirk, the harrowing true tale of the famous rescue of beleaguered British forces in 1940. This is one of two nominees this year which could legitimately be considered a box office hit, and deservedly so. A full review of Christopher Nolan’s master class in mounting apprehension can be found here. For this article, we’ll just restate that it’s a tale of perseverance, charity, self-sacrifice, and finding victory in defeat. Which is a good thing, as it will almost assuredly lose on Awards night.

Interestingly, the Dunkirk rescue effort also plays a part in another of this year’s nominees, Darkest Hour. This character study of Winston Churchill follows the legendary leader from his first days as Britain’s prime minister to his faithful speech before the House of Commons on May 13, 1940. While not everyone is pleased with the portrayal of Churchill, I saw the film at a special screening with The Winston Churchill Society of Georgia and they were fairly ecstatic over Gary Oldman’s take on The British Bulldog. The Academy might just agree and grant Oldman a gold statue for his efforts.

Unlikely to be awarded anything is Phantom Thread, the new Paul Thomas Anderson movie. If you are familiar with that name and the often divisive movies that accompany it, then you already know if you want to see Phantom Thread or not. We’ll just leave it at that.

Speaking of movies with baggage, Call Me by Your Name has two major problems. The first is that Moonlight already won Best Picture last year, and the Academy might not be willing to go for two homosexual coming of age stories in a row. More problematic is the fact the movie details the sexual relationship between a 24-year-old man and the 17-year-old boy he is tutoring. In this #MeToo era, that’s probably way too icky for even Hollywood to give a stamp of approval. At least publicly, anyway.

The Post isn’t icky or anything like that, but it is still the one movie this year that epitomizes why more people don’t go to see Academy Awards fodder. This retelling of The Washington Post’s investigation into the Pentagon Papers is directed by Stephen Spielberg, stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, and has a timely message it really wants you to associate with the current administration in the White House. And that’s exactly why not many people are going see it. We hear plenty of political proselytizing at home. Who wants to pay 10 bucks (or more) a head to get another dose of it at the theater?

That brings us to Get Out, perhaps the biggest surprise on the list. This tale of a black man running into trouble when he goes to meet his white girlfriend’s parents also has political undertones to spare, but it never forgets that it is first and foremost a piece of entertainment. The Academy rarely honors horror/comedies, especially those audiences seem to enjoy, but this fun poke at the passive bigotry of Progressives could change all that. The whole dismal Awards ceremony might be worth watching just on the chance that Get Out pulls off an upset.

Or we can just ignore the whole thing, as most audiences did for these movies at the box office, and watch something else instead. That works, too.

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