Menu Close

Oscars 2018: Mini-Reviews

For those considering in the Oscar Noms, here are my mini-reviews (WITH SPOILERS) for the Best Picture category:

Oscar Statues

Call Me by Your Name

This year’s Blame It On Rio! is a tragedy about a 17-year old sexually confused guy who loses his soul after a homosexual fling with his father’s research assistant.

Don’t believe any nonsense about this being a beautiful love story or any of that. It’s a tragedy, compounded by the boy’s father’s inability to establish appropriate boundaries, or even counsel the boy on morality.

Every tragedy needs a “grace path” that the hero considers but ultimately refuses. That is Marzia: she’s hot, age-appropriate, willing, and available. She warns Elio that she’s afraid he’ll hurt her, but he seduces and leaves her anyway.

While she forgives him and wants to stay friends, the emotionally and morally untethered Elio can’t do the same when Oliver treats him the same way, leaving and marrying someone else.

Also note: the title, based on the line, “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine”may sound strangely seductive, but it is identity eradication. It’s demanding the other person’s body as part of one person’s selfish need.

Darkest Hour

This year’s “British Oscar bait” should win Gary Oldman Best Actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill. It’s a competent drama about Churchill’s wrangling involved in the Dunkirk evacuation. It’s very well acted and appealing.

It, however, doesn’t have any of the actual war conflict, which would have truly earned it Best Picture. Someone will probably splice together this movie with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and perhaps part of Atonement to complete the experience.


This year’s “Nolan time-bender” is the beautifully shot Dunkirk evacuation without all that boring Darkest Hour dialog stuff.

Well acted and cleverly edited, it unfortunately fails to express the full force of the evacuation because we don’t get enough civilian passenger boats. We settle on a single vessel, piloted by the always solid Mark Rylance, but we don’t get character development or dramatic dilemmas that might deepen the movie experience.

In fact, there’s only one moral decision in the whole movie: lying to the soldier (played by Cillian Murphy) about the boy dying in the boat. Every other important decision was assumed or made off-screen, which makes Dunkirk a grand spectacle, but not emotionally impactful.

Get Out

This year’s Look Who’s Coming to Dinner (and my pick for Best Picture) is a twisted horror movie whose subtitle should be “How Chris Became a Republican.”

Starting as a Meet the Parents tale of a laid-back black dude Chris going to meet his white girlfriend’s parents, it slow-burns into thriller territory with the strange behavior of the black servants before falling headlong in horror after he’s hypnotized by the mother.

The tale of how far white Democrats will go to rob black people of their souls came as a wondrous shock to the system early in 2017.  Director Jordan Peele merged black paranoia horror with one hilarious subplot to make this one of the most satisfying movies this year.

And aptly named, since the audience kept yelling the title back at the screen throughout the second act. The ending is also quite satisfying, with cascading plot reveals that also revealed character.

Lady Bird

This year’s “coming of age” teen dramedy became the darling of the #metoo movement after director Greta Gerwig failed to be nominated for Golden Globe.

It’s a decent movie about a Catholic school girl rebelling against her mother, and horribly dating a couple guys (or is it dating a couple horrible guys?) while finishing high school.

Her character arc was weak. She admitted that her mother was right about certain things but I didn’t get the sense she morally changed at the end.

And I would like to remind everyone: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. In fact, NOT ONE John Hughes movie was ever nominated for an Oscar. And I thought 2016’s The Edge of Seventeen was also better, and ignored.

Phantom Thread

This year’s Jane Eyre / High Society tale shows how a marriage could work when a strong-willed man is brought low by poison and a nettlesome bride.

It’s a dull movie about making dresses, irritating artistic minds at breakfast, and using poisonous mushrooms and passive aggressiveness to get one’s way. Seriously, that’s all you need to know.

I wish Daniel Day Lewis had bowed out on a better movie.

The Post

This year’s cynical Hollywood political statement gives us the Pentagon papers through the brave, brave, and utterly brave efforts of one brave, underestimated woman (Meryl Streep of course) running the Washington Post.

While the Nixon administration (correctly) demanded that they not reveal sensitive material during a war, the Post finds, debates with their lawyers, and ultimately publishes the material with chin high.

This movie might have been more timely a couple years earlier when the previous administration was tapping Journalists’ phones, and not during the Nunes memo controversy, in which the press opposed the release of sensitive information. The hypocrisy was deafening.

The Shape of Water (Oscar Winner)

I thought Shape of Water was this year’s Blame it on Rio, but instead, it’s “Creature from the Black Lagoon as a love story.” See my full analysis here.

A mute janitor inexplicably falls for a fish god brought up to Baltimore by an evil mean bad government for dissection and study, so she decides to rescue him and return him to the river – even though the cold, polluted Baltimore River would probably kill them both, but whatever.

This movie is beautifully shot, well acted (Richard Jenkins deserves the Best Supporting Oscar), but it fails to establish the creature as a human at the end of the first act (5-act structure), which would have elevated its romance above bestiality. Sorry.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This year’s Flannery O’Connor award for drama goes to…

A girl is raped and murdered, and the case grows cold… Until her mother Mildred (Frances McDormand) rents three billboards to provoke the local police back to action. One dies of cancer, and another, Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is fired for beating up the billboard administrator.

Dixon burns down the signs and Mildred burns down the police station, but it all turns around when they team up to hunt down and possibly kill (though they’ll decide on the way) a guy who didn’t rape and murder the girl but he probably did some really bad stuff as a soldier in Iraq.

Yes, the problem with the movie is that it fails to answer the Essential Question (see my Pre-Script Pro-Strategy Seminar for more), which is “Does the hero solve the crime?”

No, she or he doesn’t. And the characters actually don’t arc. Mildred may get less mean to the townfolk, and Dixon is potentially on the road to a new moral purpose… But they’re not there yet. The movie does not complete that circle, which makes the ending thematically consistent, “Violence begets violence” but that’s not cathartic.

While I enjoy director Martin McDonagh’s work, this is no In Bruges.

Other Contenders

While most independent films this year wallowed in (and even celebrated) mediocre characters, I, Tanya stands out as an entertaining but tragic-like (tragic-ish?) tale which should win in both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress category.

The Big Sick is worth seeing, perhaps the only romantic movie I saw in 2017. It’s a weaker While You Were Sleeping, only he’s hanging with the girl’s parents instead of her, or a sister.  If you’re confused, see both and compare.

So what about The Greatest Showman? Yes, well, it’s weak in character development and it’s a celebration of identity, the “love me perfect as I am”attitude. Compare that to Trapeze (1956), where Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis actually struggle to work up a risky triple flip. Showman doesn’t bother with the work of becoming, and that, despite its soaring music, keeps it out of Oscar contention. Plus, the temptation subplot with the singer was badly written.

That said, if you’re not into Get Out, you must agree that the most FUN movie of 2017 was Baby Driver.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *