The Chronicle Critics on Oscars' Best Picture Nominees

Revisit the nominees and get prepared for the pomp this weekend

Ah, the Academy Awards. A time to reflect on and celebrate the year in film, not to mention suffer through horrible jokes and cringe-inducing skits.

Movies have always defined us as a culture, but more and more it seems that as TV has ventured out into more complex narratives, the big screen seems to have countered with more glamour, glitz, and superhero suits. There were many milestones set this year, both on and off the screen, and there will probably be an inordinate amount of proselytizing speeches from the winners (but let’s face it, that’s one of the reasons we all tune in).

So, if you haven’t filled out your Oscar pool picks yet, here’s a handy run-through from our cadre of critics on this year’s entries, and in a completely random sequence that does not denote, in any way, a preference in quality.


Darkest Hour

In the historical drama Darkest Hour, an unrecognizable Gary Oldman slips into Churchill’s sallow skin to replicate this wartime hero during his early tenure as prime minister, down to the chomp of his cigar. It’s an uncanny physical transformation, as if a holograph from 1940 were beamed to the present day to perform the role. … A nagging question persists throughout the film: Is Oldman’s compulsively meticulous turn here anything more than a brilliant impersonation? The answer is yes, but it’s a performance that always stands apart from the rest of the film. – Steve Davis
Full review

The Post

The Post is more about these personalities than a straightforward newspaper thriller devoted only to following a story lead to its conclusion. Especially in the film’s closing chapters, the director relies on too many laudatory moments and heroic shots that elevate these characters over the essence of the story. Yet Streep is magnificently Streepish and Hanks, playing tougher than usual, more than holds his own against the memory of Jason Robards’ Oscar-winning version of Bradlee in All the President’s Men. – Marjorie Baumgarten
Full review

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

However commanding and absorbing Three Billboards may be, the film is diminished by its neatness and unconvincing resolutions to the many dilemmas it puts into play. There’s a redemptive ending for the bigot, a predictable romantic pairing between the film’s two black characters, and an uneasy balance between pathos and comedy. … Nevertheless, the film is a momentous achievement, presenting us with a remarkable female character and topical plot about the conspiracy of silence that pervades our culture. – Marjorie Baumgarten
Full review

Dunkirk

Dunkirk is nothing if not a sustained effort on the part of the entire cast and crew to turn the audience’s knuckles permanently white. Nolan maintains gut-wrenching suspense throughout by cross-cutting between the various characters and their plights. I’d go so far to say that Dunkirk could easily serve as its own master class in the art of film editing. Add to that an absolutely terrifyingly discordant score from Hans Zimmer and the result is, well, a bona fide classic. – Marc Savlov
Full review

The Shape of Water

Del Toro is and always has been a notably romantic fabulist, firmly on the side of the monsters, the unloved, the castaways, and those noble of heart no matter what form they assume. The piscatorial individual at the heart of The Shape of Water represents a downright Darwinian leap into ever deeper waters for the director, crossing as it does through the once-taboo meridian of interspecies ardor and ending its voyage at what appears to be only the beginning of a very fine romance. – Marc Savlov
Full review

Phantom Thread

Sumptuously dressed in Jonny Greenwood’s era-callback piano score, the exactingly composed frames, and so many divine costume designs by Mark Bridges, it takes a while to catch on that Phantom Thread is Anderson’s most playful and most kinky movie to date – a Molotov cocktail gift-wrapped in taffeta and lace. It is also, not paradoxically, a dead-serious exploration of the act of artistic creation, the essential role a romantic partner plays in that creation, and the toll that subordination to another’s craft takes. … That topic has certainly been batted around before on film – auteurs do so love splaying their emotional guts on the screen in shadow plays of life-begets-art – but what sets Phantom Thread apart is that it isn’t an apologia, or an exorcism. It’s a Valentine. The heart, after all, is our strongest muscle. – Kimberley Jones
Full review

Get Out

This movie is more of a psychological thriller than an out-and-out horror spectacle; blood and guts aren’t spilled until the film’s final act, at which point the story’s closely held secrets also come tumbling forth. Not only does this genre exercise deliver the little jolts and inside laughs that keep modern horror fans pleased, Get Out is also one of the smartest, funniest, and most socially astute films to come around in a while. Entrenched and perceived racism are put under the microscope, and then spattered to the four corners of the screen. – Marjorie Baumgarten
Full review

Call Me by Your Name

Director Guadagnino uses a technique throughout of fixing the camera focus and letting his actors move in and out of it, a stylistic choice that reaches its emotional apex with Hammer, at the end of Oliver’s Italian idyll. No words are spoken, but again there’s that layering of detail: We know enough to know the stakes are higher for Oliver, and the camera shifts from focused to fuzzy subtly convey how full up with feeling he is. Chalamet … brings great physicality to his part, too. But it’s his face that’ll stop your heart, especially in two prolonged close-ups set to original songs by Sufjan Stevens, confessional lyrics simpatico with the actor’s open face. As for words? The script gives Stuhlbarg – a character actor who elevates everything he’s in – the monologue of a lifetime, which he delivers sotto voce, all kindness.

And that is perhaps the prevailing note of Call Me by Your Name – of kindness, of tenderness. Be it a besotted lover, a best friend, or devoted parents, they’re all a kind of welcoming committee, nurturing Elio into adult feeling. That includes pain. And it is a gift. – Kimberley Jones
Full review

Lady Bird

Lady Bird goes through the rituals we’ve observed in tons of other coming-of-age movies – drama club productions, first love, the loss of virginity, trading in one’s dowdy friend for the attention of the most popular girl at school, and trying to forge one’s own identity while trying to meet the (high) expectations of parents and teachers. Initially almost an affectation, Lady Bird’s individuality grows into something honest and hard-won. This character could have easily become a caricature, as might have all the other familiar characters in play here, but Gerwig manages to imbue these people and their foibles with humanity and compassion. So many moments throughout the film exude a sense of genuine reality, so deft is the execution by the writer/director and her actors. And amid the customary sequences for this type of narrative, Gerwig sprinkles scenes of great ingenuity and unexpected humor. Like her namesake, Lady Bird, the film, is not one to be trifled with. Her name – and Gerwig’s – will ring out as one of the bright spots of 2017. – Marjorie Baumgarten
Full review

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Academy Awards, Darkest Hour, The Post, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, Phantom Thread, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, Get Out

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